Divisional Round Survival Guide
We need to cherish these last few weeks of football. Sundays will soon no longer be a day where your biggest concern is losing the remote in between two couch cushions or spilling salsa on your jersey.
Last Week’s Results (my pick in bold)
Oakland 14 @ Houston 27 (-4) W
Detroit 6 @ Seattle 26 (-9) L Over/Under 45.5 W
Miami 12 @ Pittsburgh 30 (-11.5) W
New York 13 @ Green Bay 38 (-5) W
Pretty much all of the fat got trimmed last week. Each team won by double digits for the first time since 2001. All four divisional round matchups feature teams that already met during the regular season. This week is much tougher but hopefully the previous matchups can provide us some insight. We’ll take a quick look into the past, analyze what has changed, and what it all means in terms cashing in.
Seattle @ Atlanta (-5) O/U 51
Previous matchup week 6: Atlanta 24 @ Seattle 26
Seattle has gone 8–1 at home compared to a 3–4–1 mark on the road. The change of venue is one of the biggest factors here. Pro Bowl defensive backs Desmond Trufant and Earl Thomas were both active in that matchup but won’t be suiting up this weekend. The Seahawks lack a playmaker on the outside that can take full advantage of Trufant’s absence. On the contrary, Thomas’ sideline to sideline predatory style of play will be missed against an Atlanta offense that excels in all areas. The Falcons finished the year 3rd in passing yards and 5th in rushing. The most effective wrinkle they have added is a complimentary short passing game featuring their backs and Taylor Gabriel. Julio is the healthiest he’s been in a while and has continued to demonstrate his elite ability to take the top off of the defense, but his target share is down 9% from a year ago. The downfield threat of Julio keeps the defense honest while spreading the ball out has proved to be more effective as the Falcons offensive unit received the highest DVOA grade on the year.
Even with the Falcons offense making the jump from good to elite, their biggest breakout star was edge rusher Vic Beasley. Beasley led the league with 14.5 sacks and could feast on the Seahawks 29th ranked offensive line. Seattle can’t afford to play from behind and let Beasley disrupt their offensive flow. They need to control the clock and the line of scrimmage in order to pull this one out. Which seems very plausible due to the Falcons giving up 4.5 YPC on the year, almost identical to the 4.4 YPC mark of the Lions D. Thomas Rawls was inactive for the week 6 game and remained banged up for the remainder of the regular season. He gashed the Detroit defense for 161 yards and a score in the wild card round. He’s finally healthy and let’s not forget that this is the same guy that led the NFL in YPC just a year ago. A healthy Russell Wilson will open up additional running lanes, as well as helping the poor offensive line neutralize the Falcons best unit (pass rush) with his scrambling ability.
Verdict: Seattle +5
This is my prop of the week. 14 of Atlanta’s 16 games went over the projected point total. In addition to this, all 8 of their home games went over. 4 out of Seattle’s last 6 games have also gone over. I expect them to follow suit here. Both offenses are in rhythm while both defenses have some question marks. Give me the OVER
Houston @ New England (-16)
Previous matchup week 3: Houston 0 @ New England 27
Remember week 3? Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz were leading the MVP race and Ken Bone was a thing. Obviously a lot has changed since then. The Patriots have since handed the keys to their well oiled machine back to Tom Brady and they have showed no signs of slowing down, averaging 27.6 points per game. These two rosters actually look relatively the same outside of Brady’s return. The only other major differences are the emergence of Malcolm Mitchell (questionable) and Clowney, plus the return of Dion Lewis. The Patriots 27 point performance ended up being the most Houston gave up all year. They also finished the regular season as the league’s top defense in term of yards allowed.
Even with their elite defense, Houston ended up at 2–6 on the road ATS while the Pats finished 6–2 ATS at home. Yes Clowney and company have been great, but it’s simple, I can’t find one stat that has me even considering betting on the Brockening on the road over Brady this year; especially because almost this exact Texans team lost to a Brissett lead squad by 27. It’s not like the Pats D has been slacking either, finishing at the top of the league in scoring defense at 15.6. Houston’s anemic offense finished tied for 28th in scoring offense by posting 17.4 points per game. That number includes the points from Houston's D and special teams reaching the end zone. Which is extremely unlikely to happen due to New England turning the ball over a league low 11 times. This has all the makings of a blowout.
Verdict: Pats -16
Pittsburgh @ Kansas City (-1.5)
previous matchup week 4: Kansas City 14 @ Pittsburgh 43
The Steelers are the hottest team in football. They’ve won 8 in a row and are 4–1 ATS on the road over that span. The Chiefs aren’t far behind as they are 6–2 in their last 8. Big Ben got a little banged up last week but is already practicing. It will be far from the biggest factor, just take a look at his home and road splits.
However, I think Ben and the passing game will play more of a complimentary role in this one. He won’t need to put up another 5 scores as the Steelers should overwhelm a weak Chiefs run D (4.5 YPC against) with Lev Bell, who’s averaging over 157 total yards per game. In addition to this, the Chiefs best interior linebacker, Derrick Johnson, recently went down with an injury and won’t play this weekend.
Tyreek Hill has found the end zone 8 times in his last 6 games. Hopefully they spent their bye week figuring out ways to get him the ball as he represents the Chiefs only chance of keeping pace with the Steelers. Maclin has topped 75 yards only twice on the year while Spencer Ware has been nagged by injuries over the home stretch of the season. Kelce has emerged as this year’s premier pass catching tight end but that isn’t enough to carry an entire offense. The Chiefs rely heavily on their defense creating opportunities and points. I don’t see them capitalizing on a likely run first Pittsburgh attack.
Verdict: Pittsburgh (+1.5)
Green Bay @ Dallas (-4.5)
previous matchup week 6: Dallas 30 @ Green Bay 16
The Cowboys have remained consistent all year while Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers have gone from contenders to borderline unwatchable; only to return to contending status. The ‘Boys confidence has steadily grown as this was the win that really cemented the Cowboys status as legit contenders. Let’s not forget they won at Lambeau without Dez Bryant, who is back and in prime form. Dak, Zeke, and the o line have performed all year; it’s edge rusher David Erving that has recently emerged as a difference maker over recent weeks. However, even if Claiborne suits up, Dallas can be exposed on the back end. Which plays exactly into the Packers strength.
Rodgers is fresh off an 360 yard game against one of the league’s best defenses. He unfortunately is also leading the team in rushing touchdowns on the year with 4. That says way more about the ineptitude of the Packers running game than Rodgers’ above average athleticism. The explosion of the Packers pass offense has come at the expense of the run game. It has all but disappeared. I would be less concerned if the Pack were able to trot their usual guys out there, but Jordy Nelson is nursing some fractured ribs and is a long shot to play. I realize Adams has made great strides, finishing the year with 997 yards and 12 scores, but 2015 served as a year long sample of what the offense looks like without Nelson. Cornerback Quinten Rollins is also unlikely to suit up. He shows the occasional positive flash in one of the leagues worst pass defenses. It’s tough to bet against the surging packers and possible GOAT Aaron Rodgers, but they are completely one dimensional and missing their best playmaker. The Cowboys should impose their will.
Verdict: Cowboys (-4.5)
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