Ah, January. Welcome back, you beautiful month.
If you’re a football fan, this is what you live for: seeing your team play into the new year. For me, the NFL playoffs crack the top three of my favorite events on the sports calendar, along with the NBA Finals and the NBA Draft, and just barely edge out the NCAA tournament. Bring on the cold weather (maybe even some snow), and bring on the do-or-die atmosphere surrounding every single game.
Once again, I’m here to make some betting picks throughout the playoffs as we work up to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. My regular season ended in disappointment for the umpteenth consecutive year; I finished at 120-127-8, failing again to reach my goal of hitting the .500 mark or higher. But if I can get back on track during the postseason, then maybe it will have all been worth it.
In the name of Bill Simmons, head honcho of The Ringer and world-renowned Patriots fan, I will try to achieve the unattainable goal of going 11-0 against the spread in the NFL playoffs. Crazier things have happened, right?
With that being said, let’s indulge in some Wild Card Weekend action …
(Home teams denoted in caps, and lines courtesy of OddsShark.com)
Bills (+2.5) over TEXANS
There is always at least one coin flip of a football game every year on Wild Card Weekend. Sometimes there are a multiple, but there is always at least one. Buffalo-Houston is definitely one of them.
When I first saw the line of Texans -2.5, I wasn’t sure which direction to lean in. But there were a couple of interesting little pieces that swayed me in favor of the Bills.
Opposing offenses converted 48.5 percent of third downs against Houston’s defense this season, which is the second-highest in the NFL. The Texans are also allowing opposing offenses to convert 71.43 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns. Those two tidbits were a little too glaring to ignore.
Additionally, Buffalo is 7-1-1 against the spread in its last nine road games, while Houston is 1-6 in its last seven games as home favorites. When you take all of that and combine it with the reality that you can never fully trust Bill O’Brien in a playoff game because he almost always seems to break your heart, it seems like just enough reason to believe that Josh Allen and the Bills can pull off the upset in the Lone Star State.
It might be an ugly win, but these Bills are certainly no stranger to those.
Prediction: Bills 17, Texans 14
PATRIOTS (-5) over Titans
On Saturday night, I may very well regret writing this, but I have to do it anyway.
Football fans everywhere are ready to pounce on the opportunity to celebrate the end of the dynasty. And if I’m forcing myself to be honest --- with the Pats having lost three of their last five games, including a jaw-dropping loss AT HOME to the pitiful Miami Dolphins to conclude the regular season --- the end might be almost here. Many football enthusiasts seem to believe Tom Brady won’t be back in New England next season, whether it be due to retirement or because he wants to give it a go with another team (after 20 season with the Pats, I just can’t see that last one happening, but I digress). If Brady goes, who knows what will be in store for Bill Belichick.
But nevertheless, even if the final spark of the dynasty is about to flame out, my gut feeling tells me that it’s not happening this weekend. After everything Brady and Belichick have been through, it just doesn’t seem appropriate for it all to come to an end against the Tennessee Titans in the wild card round. I feel more comfortable betting on the GOAT quarterback and the GOAT coach having one more gem up their sleeve.
And the fact that I’m having that gut feeling means I’m being saved from betting on Ryan Tannehill in a playoff game in Foxboro. As mind-numbingly excellent as Tannehill has been since taking over at QB for the Titans back in October (did anyone see that coming?), there is something about that sentence that frightens the living daylights out of me.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Titans 17
(On the other hand, how freaking poetic would it be if Tannehill, the guy that Pats fans have disregarded for years as the meaningless quarterback of the doornail Dolphins, is the guy that finally comes into Gillette Stadium and knocks the Patriots out of the playoffs? I just shuddered from pure terror …)
SAINTS (-7.5) over Vikings
Here is a golden opportunity for the Saints to avenge the “Minnesota Miracle” travesty that happened two years ago at U.S. Bank Stadium, when a Vikings team quarterbacked by Case Keenum inexplicably reached the NFC Championship Game via what can only be considered a true miracle --- Keenum completing that 61-yard game-winning touchdown to Stefon Diggs (who did next to nothing for me in fantasy football this season) as the clock ran down to zero.
That “miracle” play set up a Keenum vs. Nick Foles matchup in the NFC title game between the Vikings and Eagles, which to this day remains the second most nonsensical thing I’ve ever seen in professional sports (behind only Foles somehow beating out Brady for a Super Bowl ring two weeks later).
Now the Vikings are playing the Saints in January again, only this time their quarterback is Kirk Cousins, who isn’t much better than Keenum but is getting paid $28 million a year. The Saints are at home and, quite frankly, should be a little ticked off that they have to play in the wild card round despite going 13-3 this season. Drew Brees --- the NFL’s all-time passing touchdowns leader who is just weeks away from turning 41 years old --- is still slinging the football as well as he ever has, and he has a slew of outstanding weapons around him such as Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
I’m all in on New Orleans hammering this overrated Vikings team into the ground and owning this 7.5-point spread as home favorites.
Prediction: Saints 37, Vikings 20
Seahawks (-1.5) over EAGLES
And now we must deal with the uncomfortable “road favorite” scenario. Well, these might not be the “Legion of Boom” Seahawks anymore, but here are a few things to keep in mind for this game:
1) Beast Mode, also occasionally referred to as Marshawn Lynch, is back. Nothing more needs to be said, as long as Seattle agrees to give him the ball this time … (sorry, couldn’t resist).
2) The Seahawks battled with every breath they had from beginning to end, trying to beat out an extremely good 49ers team for the NFC West title. They came up short at 11-5, but they still deserve to be playing at home this weekend rather than on the road.
3) The Eagles, at 9-7, were barely good enough to win the pathetic NFC East. Neither Philly nor Dallas actually showed any interest in winning the division this year, but the NFL makes somebody win it every year and that’s why the Eagles are hosting a playoff game on Sunday --- not because they deserve to, but because the rules of the league state that they must.
If you’re unsure about this one, just ask yourself this: if your life was on the line in this game, would you feel comfortable putting your fate in the hands of Carson Wentz, who just hasn’t been the same since his 2017 ACL injury? Or would you rather put your eggs in the basket of Russell Wilson, regardless of whether he’s playing at home or on the road?
For what it’s worth, there are probably only three current NFL quarterbacks that I would feel somewhat relatively safe trusting my life with, and Russell Wilson is one of them.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Eagles 20