The playoffs start this weekend! That means I get to sit through another nerve-wracking football game this week, the first being Michigan’s completely undeserved (yet satisfying) win in the Sugar Bowl. Here are the game by game breakdowns.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans: The Texans won this match-up earlier in the season on a last-second touchdown pass on the road. If anything they’re slightly healthier now. Also, T.J. Yates has been their quarterback long enough that the season-long stats should be a fairly decent reflection of the current Texans team. So it isn’t overly surprising that Luigi favors the Texans in this game by about 5 points, and gives them a 66.7% chance of winning. The Bovada line is 3.5 with the moneyline at -220 for the Texans and 180 for the Bengals. So there’s a slight preference to take the Bengals and no opinion on the moneyline. Luigi thinks it would be a good idea to take the over on 38.5, but I wouldn’t give that any credence. The lines in general have been moving toward Houston, so this looks like a decent choice.
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints: We have another rematch here, this one a game that the Saints won by 14 although it was close throughout and the Lions had a decent shot at winning. They were down a couple defensive players and committed a number of dumb penalties. Assuming they can keep away from that this time, they might have a reasonable shot at winning. Luigi puts the Saints at 65.6% to win though, by 6.3 points. The Bovada line is -11 and the moneyline is -650/+420, so the Saints are big favorites. Obviously Luigi thinks the Lions are worth a look at both the spread and moneyline. The Lions only need to win about 20% of the time for the moneyline to be worthwhile, so if you think the first game was close enough to merit an upset one in five times then this is your second chance. More of the gambling discussion has been on the total, which Bovada has at 59.5 and is generally around 59, which is a playoff record. When they played earlier in the season the total was 54 and they came in under, so this is a little interesting. Luigi would again take the under. While the moneyline has moved toward the Saints the spread has moved toward the Lions, so this one is a little confusing. Of course, I hope the Lions win.
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants: We already know that the Giants are a threat to win the Super Bowl, so this game is in the bag, right? Unfortunately for the Giants, that probably isn’t the case. While it’s true that the Giants beat the Patriots and put a scare into the Packers and 49ers, this is also the same team that lost to the Seahawks and the Redskins – twice. The Falcons don’t have any signature wins, with their best probably being over the Lions, but they’re a solid team. Luigi gives the edge to the Giants with a 57.% chance of winning and a point difference of 2.4. The Bovada line is -3 and the moneyline -155/+135, so Luigi would stay away from both. It does see the total going a little over the 47 set by Bovada. The lines haven’t moved very much at all but they have nudged toward the Falcons, so that seems to agree with Luigi.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos: Tim Tebow has managed to make the playoffs, but he might wish he hadn’t. Despite a spectacular run of wins that he got a lot of credit for, many more statistically minded people have noted that the Denver defense and amazing timing were probably more to thank. And looking a bit more at the teams the Broncos played during Tebow’s tenure, they got spanked by the only two playoff teams in that stretch (the Lions 45-10 and the Patriots 41-23), lost two other games to back into the playoffs, and won two other games in overtime. In short, the Broncos may not be the most deserving playoff team (on the other hand, it’s hard to argue for the Raiders and the Chargers are only something of a step up). On the other hand, they get to play at home. The Steelers are also banged up, with Mendenhall out and Roethlisberger somewhat hobbled. With all that being said, the Steelers are still a 12-4 team that is only playing in the first round because they lost a tiebreaker to another 12-4 team; they only lost to playoff teams (the Ravens twice, the 49ers, and the Texans) and they also beat other playoff teams (the Bengals twice and the Patriots). Put it all together and Luigi sees the Steelers winning 68.9% of the time, by 5 points. Bovada puts the line at 9 (for the Broncos, -9 for the Steelers) and the moneyline at 350/-500. That means the Broncos are worth a look for both, although I wouldn’t hold my breath on that victory. I see more of a defensive ‘shootout’, like the Steelers’ two games against the Browns. That being said, Luigi likes the over against a total of 33.5. This game is like the Saints and Lions in that the moneyline has moved against the Broncos while the spread has moved towards them; it’s like people are confident they’ll cover but lose. That isn’t how lines generally move, so it’s a bit odd. But it also matches up with Luigi’s prediction on the spread, so I’m happy to see that.
I haven’t seen Bill Simmons’ picks anywhere; I bet they’re in the giant podcast he put up this week. I’m in the apparent minority of people who don’t like podcasts, so I have no idea which way he went. But if I get the numbers, I’ll keep up our contest from the regular season. Update: Bill’s picks are here. He went with Houston at -3 (agree), the Saints -10.5 (disagree), the Giants -3 (technically disagree), and the Broncos +8.5 (agree).