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Wild Card Picks

January 3rd, 2020

I managed to stumble into the end of the regular season. And maybe that isn’t so terrible given that it was virtually impossible to know heading into week 17 whether both teams would actually opt to participate in a solid third of the games.

And still, neither 10-6 straight up, nor 8-8 against the spread feel like anything anyone should be happy about. With those results, I hit the end of the season 168-87-1 (.658) picking straight up, and 128-122-6 (.512) picking with the points. Again, not awful, but not exactly glorious.

The good news is that I can’t possibly make more than four wrong picks in either format this weekend.

Here’s what I know about the wild card round: road teams win. Over the last 10 years, 19 of 40 wild card games have gone to the visitors. That’s pretty much half.

Let’s assume the average holds and two road teams are winning this weekend. Which two?

The Seahawks seem a pretty damned safe bet (which means they probably end up losing). And the Vikings are clearly the longest shot of the weekend (which means they probably end up winning.) So it’s simple to play the odds on Sunday. But in the AFC you have two road teams that are clearly capable of winning. And maybe things break right for both.

Chances are, if I try to pick two road teams to win, I’ll end up picking the wrong two. So I’m not gonna bother. I’m just picking the games the way I see them and figuring I’ll probably get them all wrong anyhow.

Here’s what not to expect.

Buffalo (+2.5) at Houston
In an attempt to keep myself from losing focus, I’m going to start with the big three predictives on all of this weekend’s games. Passer rating differential, Bills +3.2; scoring differential, Bills +2.0; takeaway-giveaway differential, Bills +4. In Buffalo, that points to a narrow win for the Bills. In Houston it might be enough to neutralize home field. Or it might not. The temptation is to figure the game comes down to quarterback play, in which case the Texans ought to come out on top. But there’s a solid chance the game is decided by run defense, which would mean the a slight advantage for the Bills (yet again). I think it’s a coin toss. And in that scenario, I can’t bring myself to pick against the home team. Texans by a point.

Tennessee (+5) at New England
As above. Passer rating differential, Patriots +3.8; scoring differential, Patriots +3.9; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +15. Without that last one, it’s a toss-up on any field. With the last one … maybe still a toss-up. The Titans are a good football team. But an inconsistently good one. If they have a good day, they pose a danger to all but the very top teams (and maybe even those if the ball bounces the right way). But I think it’s been a while since they played their best football. And I’m not certain they’d have made the cut if the Texans opened the door for them by taking week 17 off. The Patriots haven’t been turning their best games of late either. But they remain the better squad in this match. And I think when you combine that with postseason experience and home field, it should add up to a New England win. Patriots by a field goal.

Minnesota (+7.5) at New Orleans
The predictive stats say this one’s a good bit closer than the oddsmakers apparently think. Passer rating differential, Saints +2.1; scoring differential, Saints +0.4; takeaway-giveaway differential, Saints +4. And still I have a hard time believing the Vikings can go into New Orleans and keep it competitive. I’ll take the points, partly because the predictive stats tell me to and partly because I think Alvin Kamara is the guy who ends up winning it for the Saints and reliance on the run tends to produce lower scoring games. I won’t exactly be flabbergasted if its a blowout by the home team. But for the sake or registering a pick, I’ll say New Orleans by four.

Seattle (-1.5) at Philadelphia
Passer rating differential, Seahawks +9.2; scoring differential, Eagles +0.8; takeaway-giveaway differential, Seahawks +15. I don’t care where or when this game is played, the Eagles barely belong in the postseason. They’re not advancing past the first round. Seattle by a touchdown.

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