One of my favourite writers – and the reason I started spread picks in the first place – is Bill Simmons. He always said he had a goal of going 11-0 against the spread in the playoffs. A perfect run – picking games between the very best teams in the NFL. A bookmaker will give you, roughly, 1200/1 odds for 11 spread bets in an accumulator – so it’s highly unlikely to actually happen, regardless of how much you know or how many projection algorithms you run. But long odds has never stopped me trying! After a, reasonably successful, regular season where I finished 13 games above .500, which was just profitable, I feel pretty good going into these playoffs. However there is one issue… In years past there have been a few dominant teams that could be relied upon to be consistent and spectacular. This year the top 4 seeds all lost in the last 2 weeks of the regular season – the best NFC wild card team (seattle) can lay an egg at any moment on offense – while the best AFC wild card team is lead by Andy Reid, who hasn’t won a playoff game since January 2009. These are easily the least predictable playoffs I can remember. Which is going to make these picks particularly hard, but so it goes. I will be giving one “Best Bet” out a week over the playoffs as well as the rest of the picks so let’s get into it. The lines are from William Hill and the home teams are in capitals…
BEST BET: WASHINGTON REDSKINS (+1) over Green Bay Packers
Washington are by far the in-form team here. They’ve won their last 4 games and have a far better passing game than Green Bay – as hard as that is to imagine. They’ve come on a lot this year with Kirk Cousins at the helm, and, while the running game has been poor, they have a good offensive line that has been gelling together well. Defensively, the Redskins should be able to bottle up a poor Green Bay run game and get enough pressure on Rodgers. Speaking of Rodgers, it’s never fun betting against him. He has the ability to take over a game and drag his team kicking and screaming to victory, but, with the way his receivers have been struggling to get open all year and the injuries across the offensive line, I think a playoff run is just too much to ask from the Packers this season. Rest of the picks:
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) over HOUSTON TEXANS
This should be a low scoring affair dominated by the front sevens of both teams. I picked the Chiefs because I think they can better handle the pressure up front. They have a better offensive line and Alex Smith keeps a cool head and has the legs to get out of trouble. They also have a better run game to lean on. Justin Houston should be back to bring pressure off the edge while the interior defensive line continue a strong season. While Houston have DeAndre Hopkins on the outside I think Kansas have a good enough secondary to keep him at bay somewhat.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (+3) over Pittsburgh Steelers
Yep. I’m picking AJ McCarron over Ben Roethlisberger. Not only that, I’m not picking Antonio Brown, who I’ve basically been writing love letters to in my Team Of The Week column every week. For me it comes down to the Bengals defense being good enough to handle what will be a one dimensional Steelers attack. DeAngelo Williams is more likely than not to be on the side-lines for this one after injuring his ankle on Sunday and, while the Steelers passing attack is perhaps the best in the NFL, I wouldn’t like to get predictable with drop backs against Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (+5) over Seattle Seahawks
Weather is likely to play a huge factor in this one. Reports are it could be as low as -17C at kick-off (1F) and in those conditions many factors go out of the window. You can theorise all you like about Russell Wilson having played a year at Wisconsin and so being used to the cold, or Adrian Peterson and the ground game dominating as defenders freeze but, quite frankly, this is a shrug of the shoulders, take the points pick for me. On a neutral field indoors I would take Seattle -5 in a heartbeat. Out in the frozen wilderness of Gopher Stadium I honestly don’t have a clue. If the reports prove to be false and the weather isn’t so bad then I’ll be quickly changing sides of this one. Playoffs: 0 – 0 – 0 Regular Season: 130 – 117 – 9 (26 – 24 – 1)