Hello, I am back!! Happy New Year! I hope everyone was able to enjoy the Holidays. I spent my break recharging my batteries and getting ready for 2018. Over the break, I was able to watch some of the Wild Card games. I spent most of my time watching the Saturday games, which saw both road teams win. In fact, against the spread, all four underdog teams won. That was shocking because a couple of these underdogs–looking right at you Titans–I thought didn’t have a chance to win or cover during the weekend. However, the signs were there if one looked deep enough. The Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid had lost five straight home playoff games before Saturday, which rose to six straight home losses after the Chiefs’ second half collapse. For the Falcons-Rams game, I totally discounted the Falcons’ playoff experience and the Rams’ lack of playoff experience. It really showed, as the Rams’ punt returner set the tone early with two muffed returns.
Now, let’s talk about my betting predictions. I will admit, these predictions are tougher to make than in the regular season. In the regular season, I’m able to choose from 15 games a week–never pick the Thursday Night game. When I look at all these games, I feel confident about three or four of the picks but there is always a pick or two I’m not absolutely sure about. Here in the playoffs, there are only four games to choose from. I am going to predict all four games against the spread, but some of these predictions will not be as strong as they have been in the past. I will rank the games in terms of how confident I am, with my first prediction being my most confident pick and the last prediction being my least confident pick. Anyway, I’m ready for another exciting weekend of playoff football, so here are my Divisional Round Betting Picks!
- Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles: I’m taking the Falcons to win this game in Philadelphia by more than a field goal. This game and last week’s game could not have worked out more perfectly for the Falcons. In the first NFL Wild Card round, the Falcons drew the Los Angeles Rams, who had a terrific year with a record of 11 wins and only 5 losses, but showed their lack of playoff experience as the Falcons proved their dominance under the bright lights. The Falcons are set to play the Eagles in the next Divisional round, who lack the playoff experience the Falcons have. Also, the Eagles are continuing to ride with backup quarterback Nick Foles, who has been underwhelming in his last two games throwing just one touchdown and two interceptions. Philly has a very good run defense, but I worry that they will be on the field for too long because of their ineffective offense. The Falcons’ offense should be able to throw the ball on the Eagles, who have struggled defending the pass at times this season. In addition to all of this, the temperature is supposed to be around 50 degrees during kickoff. Atlanta, who plays their home games in a dome, shouldn’t be fazed by the mild winter temperature, which could have been much worse. I think the Eagles can keep this game close for maybe three quarters because of their fantastic front seven on defense, but as the game reaches the fourth quarter, Atlanta should have enough offense to pull away late. Falcons 23, Eagles 17
- New Orleans Saints (+5) at Minnesota Vikings: I’m taking the New Orleans Saints plus four and a half against the Vikings. I think the Saints can win this game, so the smart pick is to take the points. This game will probably decided by three points in either direction. New Orleans was able to survive last week without a dominant running game, but I think they will need to establish the run here in Minnesota. Both of these teams are much different from when they played back in Week 1 of the regular season. In that game, the Saints were still splitting carries with Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson, which turned to be ineffective. After the Saints traded Peterson to the Cardinals, Kamara was able to showcase his offensive talent. He has single handedly unleashed a new dimension to the offense. Both of these teams have a very good running back combo in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara for the Saints, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray for the Vikings. The Vikings defense has the edge over Minnesota, as they are much better at defending the run. However by picking the Saints, I’m taking the team with the better quarterback. Take nothing away from Vikings’ Case Keenum’s fantastic year, but Saints Qb Drew Brees has been in the postseason before and knows how to win games. I think whichever team forces a couple turnovers wins this game. I’ll take Minnesota to win but the Saints will cover. Saints 28, Vikings 30
- Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13). Sigh….I hate writing about these types of games when the spread is obnoxiously high. Last year in the divisional round, the Patriots were favored by 16 against the Texans, another bad opponent from the AFC South. However, I have to side with the Patriots here. Before Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce left the game with a concussion, the Chiefs moved the ball at will against the Titans. What do you think is going to happen if Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski stays healthy for the entire game? Gronk and the Patriots offense should have a field day against the Titans. And while the Patriots defense has been terrible this year, they started to play better situationally during the year. I think it’s a fluke that the Titans have made it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Patriots should ease into the conference championship game. Titans 20, Patriots 37
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7): Before I get into why I chose Pittsburgh, I’m going to warn all readers and say stay away from this game. I have very little confidence in this pick. The Jaguars beat the Steelers 30-9 in Week 5 on a day when Pittsburgh quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions. “Big Ben” shouldn’t throw five interceptions again on Sunday, but this Pittsburgh team, which is known for coming out flat in games, can be a little rusty and flat coming off their week off. However, I think this is a revenge spot for the Steelers. In that Week 5 game, the Jaguars had two defensive touchdowns and a meaningless 90-yard run by Leonard Fournette at the end of the game. Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles through for 95 yards in that game. Also, the Jaguars offense looked horrific during their Wild Card matchup vs the Bills. The weather must be factored in when deciding this game. The game is supposed to be played in the low 20s, something Jacksonville is less accustomed to than Pittsburgh. I think this helps Pittsburgh too because they will rely on their running game led by star back Le’veon Bell. I think Pittsburgh wins this game to set up a rematch. However, I will remind you, stay away from this game!! Jaguars 12, Steelers 23
photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer Joe Kim