Since the Lions were knocked out while simultaneously demonstrating that the officiating system is broken while the NFL does nothing to fix it, it’s unclear why there are still playoff games. After all, I just wanted to watch the Lions. And it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that the referees will get things wrong and affect the game. Maybe they’ll change the rules next year…. again. But I guess some fans would be disappointed if we didn’t play out the string, so we have another pair of games each day this weekend. This round we have division champs coming off the bye, so not only do they tend to be pretty good, but they’re also rested and at home. Let’s see how things might play out.
First up is Baltimore traveling to New England. Since this game is first, it’s a good place to note that, as you’ll see in the tables, the models are all leaning towards the underdog. Also, I’ve apparently internalized my models a bit because when I made guesses as to what the lines would be for this weekend, I guessed more Luigi’s numbers than Vegas’. So while the actual spread is about Pats -7, Yoshi 1 tops out at Pats -5 and the other two have it at closer to -3.5. It’s unclear how much we should transfer about games in one NFL season to the next, but for what it’s worth the Ravens have played the Pats pretty well. As Bill Barnwell noted, going back to 2009 the Ravens are 3-4 against the Patriots even though 5 games were played in New England. They were only 18 point underdogs in those seven games according to the spread, and ended up losing by a total of 11 points. So Baltimore seems to play about a point better than expected in the recent history of this series. Again, it isn’t clear that that means anything, but it probably means a little something. Just to put in a little of my own ‘insight’, I think Baltimore is good enough to keep this game within a touchdown, and the Pats are good enough to be up two scores and let the Ravens get the cover while time runs out.
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Saturday evening we have Carolina heading to Seattle. This was the one game I identified as having a relatively large favorite, and (unsurprisingly) I was right. I pegged the Seahawks as touchdown favorites and everyone else at closer to 4, but instead they are favored by 11 while everyone is favored by 7. Honestly, it’s hard to argue with 11. Seattle is really good, and Carolina made the playoffs in the last week with a losing record. But, if the Ravens-play-the-Pats-tight thing has anything going for it, then it’s also worth noting that the Panthers have played Seattle tight recently as well. I don’t think it’ll help in this particular case though.
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Sunday starts with Dallas going to Green Bay. As this game features the Packers and the team that beat the Lions, I’m not going to focus on it too much besides hoping that it’s really cold and everyone has a miserable time. Instead let’s do Bill Simmons’ picks. He was only 1-3 last week. I apparently managed to not put up a wild card predictions post (whoops), but the models would have been 2-2 (Luigi and Yoshi 2) or 1-3 (Yoshi 1) against his lines. The Bengals-Colts game was the tough one there; at -3.5 Luigi and Yoshi 2 barely take the Colts and win, but at Simmons’ -4 they take the Bengals and lose. Yet another reason to not try to make a play on every game. I already mentioned that the models are all on the underdogs, so the disagreements here are where Bill takes the favorites: Seattle and Denver.
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Speaking of Denver, the weekend ends with the Manning Bowl as his old Indianapolis team heads to Denver to say hi. The Broncos have changed their persona in the past few weeks, but I don’t see any reason to think that means they’ll be less effective. But Andrew Luck has been the king of covers in his short time in the NFL; his Colts started with some dumb luck (winning a disproportionate number of close games) but have transitioned into an actual good team. It seems like at the least they could keep this one close or get a garbage score.
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