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Wild Card Round Picks

January 5th, 2017

I think I’ll just pretend that my strong (strong-ish) finish in week 17 wasn’t mostly the product of a slate of games that were mostly over before they kicked off. Because it helps me feel better about myself, that’s why. What’s it to you, anyhow?

I went 13-3 straight up in the final week of the season, 9-7 against the spread. So I finish the season 165-89-2 (.648) straight up, 119-134-3 (.471) against the spread. I’m going to find a way to be OK with that. Maybe it’ll be easier after I take a bath with my wild card picks. These games never go the way I anticipate.

Here’s what not to expect.

Oakland (+3.5) at Houston
There are some who will say (who have said) that trying to win on the road in the postseason behind a rookie quarterback who was third on your depth chart two weeks earlier and who’s making his first ever NFL start is an impossible task. I should be one of those. I know I should. I should also be thinking that Romeo Crennel will have the Texans defense well positioned to make Connor Cook‘s day as painful as possible. And, you know, I do think that. I truly do. But I also think (by which I mean I know) that the Texans don’t really have any business in the tournament. They backed into the the AFC South title with a record of 9-7, scoring an average of 17.4 points per game while giving up 20.5. Do you know how many other division winners had negative scoring differential for the season? None. That’s how many. Indeed, there are only three teams in the playoffs that gave up more points over the year than they scored: Houston, -49; Miami, -17, and Detroit, -12. And the Texans were outscored by their opponents by 20 points more than the two six seeds combined. And, yeah, I know the Raiders have been an unbalanced team that was carried by offense, the same offense now looking to a third string rookie to lead them to a win. But here’s what I’m thinking: the Raiders might not need their quarterback to do all that much this week. Oakland finished this season tied with Kansas City for the league’s best takeaway-giveaway differential, +16. That was on the strength of 30 takeaways, 16 of which were interceptions. Brock Osweiler threw 16 picks (which is tied for fourth most in the league) while playing in 15 games (14 starts), a major factor in his team’s -7 takeaway-giveaway differential. That, by the way, is also worst among playoffs qualifiers. The only other postseason teams with negative turnover differentials are the NFC wild card teams. And the Giants, -2, and Lions, -1, combined didn’t end up half as deep in the hole as the Texans. I think the Oakland defense may well put seven points on the board in this game. At the very least, I expect the Raiders D to give Cook and company a few short fields to work with. However it works out, I suspect the Raiders will be able to put up somewhere just north of 18 points, which has typically been enough for Texans opponents. So, yeah, I’m taking Oakland to start wild card weekend with an upset. Let’s call it Oakland by two.

Detroit (+8) at Seattle
The Seahawks are vulnerable enough that it wouldn’t absolutely shock me if they dropped this game. But the Lions have been fading for roughly a month now. I can’t see them reversing that trend in a road trip into a hostile environment. I expect a low scoring game that the Seahawks take by something like four points.

Miami (+10) at Pittsburgh
There are a lot of things one could say about this matchup, not one of which would indicate that the Dolphins have much chance of hanging with the Steelers. For simplicity’s sake, let’s just go with one: There’s no way a team that gives up 140 rushing yards a game, let alone 4.8 yards a carry, finds a way to stop Le’Veon Bell. Pittsburgh by two touchdowns.

NY Giants (+4.5) at Green Bay
Spare me the Eli Manning has some kind of postseason magic nonsense. And save the bit about how the Giants have some kind of power over Green Bay and New England in the playoffs, too. Here’s what the Giants have (again): A much better defense than anyone other than Giants fans seems to realize. And more to the point, a defense with a great ability to disrupt typically strong passing offenses. That could be trouble for a team like the Packers (or the Patriots, but that’s a different story for a different day — maybe). I think Manning can do one of two things here. He either plays well enough for his team to capitalize on the opportunities the D creates or we see the guy who threw 16 interceptions in the regular season and he finds a way to lose the game (taking a page from his brother’s book). If I’m betting, which I’m not, I’m betting on the latter. Oh, by the way, because this match looked so close, I worked out the big three predictive stats. They go like this: Scoring differential, Packers +0.5; passer rating differential, Giants +1.9; takeaway-giveaway differential, Packers +6. Unbelievably close until you get to that last one (thence my take on this game). Green Bay by a point.

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