Friday, January 7, 2011

Rambling Gambler: Pick Six Wildcard Week

Ramblings and Gambling
By Erik Laurinovics, for The Football ERA
There weren't many surprises to end the regular season, with most things going as predicted for the playoff picture. Tampa was the only game that surprised me... they simply had not brought that level of play against a quality opponent at any point this year. They'll definitely be right back in the mix in the NFC South next year. Anyway, I went 3-3 in the week to conclude a miserable year... 38-62-2 is not what I envisioned at the beginning of the year, but it's what I've got now. Until this season, I've always done more or less ok in the regular season (2007-2009, in order: 61%, 51%, 59%). In 2010, the winning percentage comes in as... about 37%. I apologize for the low percentage this season, but hopefully some of you out there started betting against me and won 63% of the time instead. The silver lining is having a much lower bar to beat next year!
Moving into the playoffs, I will disclaim that I am historically awful at predicting playoff games. I have done so poorly at it that I stopped entering any sort of pool or doing any serious wagering several years ago. However, with this regular season going so poorly, I figured the only way we can go is up, so why not give the playoffs a shot? It wouldn't be the craziest thing that's happened this season. For those of you who managed to have money left to bet on playoff football after this tumultuous regular season, good luck in the postseason!
Week 17 Recap
GREEN BAY -10 over Chicago: Crazy ol' Lovie Smith really did play the whole game, letting Cutler get whacked far too many times. Must have put his paycheck on the Bears and the points.
NEW ORLEANS -9 over Tampa Bay: It wouldn't be the same with out having an upset like this one in the losses column week after week... Tampa played their best game of the year and earned this one.
St. Louis -2.5 over SEATTLE: Of course! The worse of the two NFC West teams contending for a division title won! How did I not see that one coming?
HOUSTON +1.5 over Jacksonville: This game went off at -3. The Jags defense had no answer for Arian Foster.
Pittsburgh -6 over CLEVELAND: Wow, that was a statement. Pittsburgh looks solid heading into the postseason.
ATLANTA -14.5 over Carolina: These wins sure did go as planned, for once. Covering a double-digit spread doesn't get much easier than that.
2010 Overall Record: 38-62-2
Wildcard Picks
New Orleans -10.5 over SEATTLE
I am not going to say much about this one. Seriously. I've beaten the "any good team vs. the NFC West" drum for the past two months now. After upsetting two teams with winning records early in the year (Chicago and San Diego), the Seahawks proceeded to lose every game against a winning team after that. Seattle lost at home to the Giants, Chiefs, and Falcons, and on the road to the Bucs and the Saints (back in week 11), Furthermore, in those five games, Seattle went 0-5 ATS, losing each game by 15+ points. Done. The Saints don't need running backs. The Seahawks have one of the worst pass defenses in the league (27th). This is the easiest pick of the week.
INDIANAPOLIS -3 over New York Jets
And now on to the hardest pick of the week. Both of these teams have been inconsistent at times this year, and this game is going to come down to who brings the good, consistent version of their team to the game. If both teams show up, this will be a great game. The problem is, both quarterbacks have had their share of bad days so far this season. Manning has thrown some disastrous interceptions in losses while Sanchez sometimes looks like he shouldn't be a starting quarterback. Defense wins championships (Jets?) but in the playoffs, you're supposed to pick the better quarterback (Indy?). It can go either way.This game is slippery and seems dangerous to bet on to me, but I've got to make a pick, and I've got to take Indy. Despite a plethora of injuries, the Colts offense is still 4th overall, 1st passing. I realize the Jets may run all over the Colts, but in my mind there's a better chance that Sanchez has a terrible game, and I think a bad game from Sanchez loses this for the Jets. The Colts also have a history of stepping up their run defense in the playoffs, and we may be seeing the beginning of that trend; Indy has not allowed a 100-yard game from a running back in the past 3 weeks. Who have they faced? MJD, Darren McFadden, and Chris Johnson, ranking 5th, 12th, and 4th, respectively, in individual rushing yards.
Baltimore -3 over KANSAS CITY
The AFC West was actually similar to the NFC West over the course of the season, but not as bad. The Chiefs though, similar to their NFC counterparts, were completely unsuccessful at beating winning teams, save for the season-opener (bad weather) against San Diego. Granted, it's not entirely their fault, as the only other winning team they played besides San Diego (twice) was Indianapolis. Nonetheless, the Chiefs are 1-2 ATS against winning teams and I worry about a team that has lacked quality competition. Are the Chiefs hardened enough to face a playoff-caliber team after having such a cupcake schedule? Baltimore feels like the safer pick here, and while I'm not entirely risk-averse, Kansas City doesn't really have anything tempting to entice me into taking the 3 points. They've got a great ground game, weak passing game (despite good numbers from Cassel), and an average defense. The Ravens aren't really too much better (22nd offense, 10th defense), but they've got the edge when it comes to experience against quality opponents, and it's tough to disagree with that. Baltimore has faced a murderous schedule (7 teams with a winning record, 5 current playoff teams) and they finished 12-4 and made the playoffs. So, the stats and numbers may be relatively equal, but I think you need to consider how they got them. The discrepancy between the level of competition has faced is enormous and that's enough to push me on to Baltimore.
PHILADELPHIA -2.5 over Green Bay
Michael Vick has made the Eagles a lightning rod for the media this year, and it's laughable to hear the latest rumors that he can't read a blitz, may be on a short leash, and all of the sudden the Eagles are in trouble. The loss to Minnesota wasn't the end of the world and the Eagles still have a good team. Problems with the blitz? Philly only allowed two sacks to the Cowboys last week, with the much less mobile Kevin Kolb in at QB. Even good teams can have a bad day.

That being said, this is still a very difficult game to pick. Both teams can be tremendous offensively, but the Packers don't have much of a run game, whereas the Eagles are 5th in the league rushing the ball. Defensively, Green Bay is 5th to Philadelphia's 12th, and the Packers are one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league with 47 sacks (tied 2nd in the league). Statistically, Vick has been great, but if you watched his last game, he didn't look great. It's since been said that he injured his quad early on, and assuming that's true, it's obvious that Philly needs him healthy to have a chance of winning. The real question to me becomes, "How healthy is Michael Vick?" If he is 100%, the Eagles offense has a dimension they didn't have against Minnesota (he got injured early in the game) or Dallas. Philly played great when they came off their bye week and had Vick coming off an injury, beating the Colts then putting up 59 on Washington. This being an even matchup, I'm going to side with home-field and a week 17 bye for key starters... a little R&R at the right time can be quite productive.

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