It’s playoff time! Three of the games have relatively close lines and three games are going to be played in bitter cold, if not worse, so hopefully it should be a good weekend. I’ll take a quick look at each game one by one along with the usual tables of predictions. If you want to see Bill Simmons’ picks, you can go here.
Kansas City at Indianapolis: When I checked on the line a day or two ago, the Colts were the ‘default’ -2.5 home field favorites. Then I read Simmons’ article and he had the line at -1. Man, I thought, way to dig out a favorable number at crazy juice so you can pick away from 3. Now I go to SBR and the consensus there actually seems to be pick ’em (although the Colts are still the moneyline favorite). I don’t think I heard any news that would swing things this way, but in either case I think the Colts as a small favorite is about right. These two did play just a few weeks ago and the Colts handled things in Kansas City, so you might think that the Colts should be bigger favorites. However, as Bill Barnwell covered, the Chiefs had a few key people out for that game. The Chiefs were also 7 point favorites going into that game, although the models had it closer to 4. So if you think that the line was closer to reality and throw a 5 or 6 point swing in for the trade in home field, that would put us at something like KC -1. Obviously you would side with them at Colts -3 then, which might explain some of the swing. You might also lean towards KC on account of those injuries and how well their back-ups played against the Chargers; even if those guys don’t get in the game much, they now look much better given the week 17 game. In any event, Luigi and Yoshi 2 have the Colts by about a point while Yoshi 1 is being more of a homer as usual and saying a field goal, so I expect the game to be close and probably come down to something fluky like a big kick return or a turnover.
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New Orleans at Philly: The big story on this one so far has been the weather in Philadelphia. They just had a ton of snow and it’s going to be awfully cold there. This is really only important in that Drew Brees, as a dome quarterback, is being hit with the dreaded Cold Weather Failure tag. I’m not sure that’s actually a thing, so I just expect a shoot-out (which everyone else does as well, with the over/under at 53.5). If it does go that way, it will be for different reasons; the Saints will pass everywhere whereas the Eagles will be running the ball like crazy. This is the only game of the weekend that isn’t a rematch, so instead here are the common opponents: the Saints beat Dallas by 32 while the Eagles split the series (losing by 12 in aggregate), the Saints won the Tampa series by a total of 27 while the Eagles won by 11, and the Saints won in Chicago by 8 while the Eagles won at home by 43. So Philly lost the only game in there (one to Dallas) and the Saints had the larger total margin of victory (67 to 42) despite having an extra road game (although also one more game against Tampa). The line here is still at the Eagles -2.5 number I saw earlier in the week, and much like the earlier game the models think that’s about right.
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San Diego at Cincinnati: This is our one mismatch of the weekend, with the Bengals favored by about a touchdown. You can imagine why, as the Chargers limped into the playoffs at the last possible moment and the Bengals beat them 17-10 in San Diego during the season. That being said, the Chargers are not a bad team by my rankings. On the other hand, Advanced NFL Stats has them solidly in the middle with the worst defense in the league but the second-best offense. So it’s safe to say the Chargers will probably lose. But, are you willing to bet they lose by a touchdown? This is the same team that won in Philly, beat the Colts, beat the Chiefs twice, and won in Denver. They’re Jekyll and Hyde for sure, but I think that means you want to play it safe. The models have the Bengals by 3 or 4, which is still the largest margin of the weekend.
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San Francisco at Green Bay: Wrapping up the weekend we have a rematch of the week 1 game that the 49ers won by 6 at home. Aaron Rodgers mostly had his way that game, throwing for 333 yards and three touchdowns (countered by one pick) on 37 passes, but Kaepernick really had his way with 412 yards and three touchdowns on 39 passes. After that the 49ers kind of weren’t that good for a little bit but then played much better, whereas the Packers were mired in two months of not having Aaron Rodgers; they were 6-2 when he played (not counting the game he was injured) and 2-5-1 otherwise. The main concern for Green Bay has to be their defense, as they probably don’t want to sweat out another shoot-out with Rodgers being only one game back from two months off. It seems reasonable to put the 49ers in as favorites, which they are to the tune of about a field goal. The models see the game as a toss-up though. And if they were to adjust for Rodgers missing all that time, they would presumably lean a bit more towards Green Bay. So this one might be interesting.
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Overall, the models only agree on two games, the Colts (versus pick ’em) and the Chargers to cover. Even then, as you can see in the tables, that Colts pick is awfully tight. So I’m hoping for some good close games, and the only pick I feel particularly strongly about is the Chargers to cover. I hope the games go the way you want them to!