Thursday, January 29, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots Vs Seahawks

New England Patriots Vs. Seattle Seahawks: SEA PK (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

The lookahead line for the game was supposed to be in the Seattle -3/-3.5 range. It opened at -2.5, but for the second year in a row we saw early money fade the Seahawks as soon as the line went up.

The line now sits at "pick em", and some books even have the Patriots as -1 point favorites. Weekend betting hasn't started yet, but so far we are seeing 71% of the tickets, and more of the money, on New England.

Bottom Line

Early money poured in on the Patriots, just like it did last year with the Broncos.

Is that the right call?

As far as I'm concerned, the Seahawks are still the best team in football, and until someone dethrones them, I'm not about to bet against them. On top of that, I like the option to take Seattle as a "pick em", rather than -2.5 or -3, like books originally intended.

Can a legit case be made for the Patriots? Sure. Some of the best football minds out there are predicting them to win on Sunday, and I won't be that surprised if it happens. Football Outsiders does have it as one of the closest statistical matchups on record.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are also no strangers to controversy, and they're no strangers to Super Bowl pressure either. Gronk presents a matchup that even the Seahawks could have trouble with. And they finally have a defense that can compliment the offense.

Yet, there's two factors that I keep coming back to when I look at this matchup.

One, is just how dominant the Seattle defense is. Can a weakness be found? If Gronk doesn't have one of his best performances, don't look for the Patriots wide receivers to make up for it against the Seattle secondary. Top to bottom, this Seahawks unit has been historically good.

The other factor is Russell Wilson. Did he have a bad game against the Packers? No question. Will we see a repeat of that in the Super Bowl? It's possible, but I doubt it. And it's primarily what he can do with his legs that makes Seattle's offense so hard to defend.  If Wilson's mobility can't be contained, he and Lynch will be dictating the game more often than not.

Combined, it puts Seattle in a prime position to cement themselves as a team to remember for a long, long time.  I went against the grain and picked them last year, and I have no second thoughts about doing it again this year.

NFL Pick: SEA PK.

Monday, January 19, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015: Super Bowl XLIX

Championship Sunday is in the books and favorites and dogs split 1-1 ATS.  No matter what happens in the final game, dogs will come out on top as they are 6-4 ATS in these playoffs. Favorites have actually won 8 of the 10 games straight up though. Unders are 5-4-1.

Around town, Football Outsiders took both dogs, which left them at 1-1 ATS this week. In fact, they've taken every single dog in every game ATS in these playoffs, and every favorite to win straight up. Go figure. In Vegas, the public and pros were both on Seattle, but they split in the AFC game, with the pros on Indy, and the public on New England.

My picks split 1-1 ATS, with the Seahawks as the non-cover. I got -6.5 before the line moved all the way up to -8.5, but it didn't matter in the end. Wilson had one of his worst games as a pro, and it was all uphill from there. Thankfully, they did manage to pull out the straight up win to cash the teaser. And as a fan, does it get much better than that game?

The line for the Super Bowl is up, and there's already been some interesting line movement. The look-ahead line was going to be Seattle -3/-3.5, but after Sunday's action it opened at -2.5 instead. Within the hour, early money came in on New England to bring it down to a "pick em". Some books are even making the Patriots as a -1 point favorite. This is a bit of deja vu since the same thing happened last year, with early action coming in on Denver. I didn't agree with that at the time, and I'm not sure I agree with it this time around either.

We now have two full weeks to over-analyze the Super Bowl matchup to death, and another 300+ prop bets to sift through, too. I'm already leaning Seattle to repeat, but I'll wait until I dig through all the numbers and variables before I lock it in. I'll also have the prop picks up - including some exotics.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 AFC Championship: Colts Vs Patriots

Indianapolis Colts Vs. New England Patriots: NE -6.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Like the Packers/Seahawks game, this line opened at -7, but instead of going up, it moved down. It's a pretty big shift to go off a key number, especially in a game as high profile as this. It could go even lower, but I'm happy with anything under -7. So far, 63% of the bets are favoring the home team.



Bottom Line

Where do we start with the Colts?  How much credit do we give them for going into Denver and coming away with a fairly one-sided win?  And if they are as good as they looked, how does that factor into their matchup versus the Patriots?

Last week I took Baltimore +7 for two main reasons - one, they were a pretty well-balanced team on both sides of the ball for most of the year, and two - they matched up fairly well against the Patriots.

When I look at the X's and O's, I can't make the same case for the Colts, regardless of what happened in Denver. More times than not, Indy have shit the bed against the better teams this year because they have too many flaws. Offensively, they can pass the ball fine if Luck is on his game and he gets protection, but there were problems on 3rd down and red zone scoring most of the season. The run game has been better since Richardson has been parked on the bench, but is that saying much? It's hard to be any worse.

The Patriots defense isn't anything like the Seahawks, but they are improved from what we saw last season, and they should be able to force Luck into a few mistakes. If Revis limits Hilton, the rest of the secondary would be freed up to blanket the rest of the receivers, and come up in the box to handle the underneath stuff.

What will the New England offense do? That's anyone's guess, especially given what happened last time these two met.  Last week, the Pats completely abandoned the run, and had no problem putting up points. Either way, I expect Gronk to be a big part of the offense per usual, and per usual that matchup will cause problems for the D. It will also allow Brady and company to take advantage of other mismatches. Beyond Davis, there is nothing really special about this Indy D, and New England will find ways to exploit it.

I think a decent case could be made for the Colts at +7, since Luck is never really out of a game if he's playing well, and there is always the possibility of a backdoor cover. That said, I think Denver mostly beat themselves by putting in an uncharacteristic stinker. The Patriots will be a better challenge, and should be able to win this one by a touchdown or more if they simply execute the game plan and play to their strengths.

NFL Pick: NE -6.5.

Read more: Conference picks.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 Conference Playoffs: Teasers

Patriots -1 & Seahawks -1

Ducks PK & Seahawks -1

NFL Predictions 2015: Championship Playoff Picks

For the Divisional games, the dogs reigned supreme going 3-1 ATS, and now lead 5-3 ATS in the playoffs. Also of note, dogs are 7-0-1 ATS in first halves this post-season. Finally, unders are slightly ahead at 4-3-1.

Around town, Football Outsiders once again took every dog on the spread, and every favorite straight up, which means they went 3-1 ATS. The consensus picks out of Vegas were not as obvious as last week. The public were split on all the weekend games, while the sharps were all over Seattle and Denver.

Unlike last week, my picks came out 2-2 ATS this weekend. The Packers came close, but were one point short. Their offense didn't have as dominant of a day as I expected, but they still picked apart the Dallas defense in the second half to take over the game. The other non-cover came courtesy of the Broncos. This was the big surprise of the weekend as the line got steamed by sharp money from -7 up to as high as -10 by kickoff. For whatever reason, what made Denver good all year was nowhere to be seen on Sunday - on either side of the ball.

Now all the attention goes to the conference championships, and I already have one pick posted. There's been some early line movement, so if you like Seattle, it's best not to wait. Both home teams are clear favorites, but as we saw in the divisional round, anything can happen. I'll have a pick and preview for the AFC game up soon, and I'll update both games with any relevant betting info I come across during the week.

NFL Predictions 2015 NFC Championship: Packers Vs Seahawks

Green Bay Packers Vs. Seattle Seahawks: SEA -6.5 (-120) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This line opened -7 (+104) shortly after the Packers took out the Cowboys, and I wanted to get on it before it had a chance to move up. If I was setting this line, I'd open it at -7.5 at minimum, and even as high as -9 to keep it out of the teaser window. There's not a lot of action on this game yet, but the early money is on Seattle.

Bottom Line

I've been on the Packers the last couple times they traveled to Seattle. We all remember how they got robbed by the replacement officials, but when they returned there this year they got manhandled.

What can we expect in a rematch?

As high as I am on the Packers, I don't think they'll be able to hang with the Seahawks on Sunday. Rodgers simply doesn't have the mobility to make the magic happen. He's fine getting the ball out as a pocket passer, but that probably won't be enough versus the best defense in the NFL. His ability to bide time and scramble for first downs will be missed.

And even beyond a gimpy Rodgers, they weren't nearly as dominant on the road as they were at home. They were still 6th in the league, but that's a far cry from first. In contrast, Seattle's defense is the best unit when playing at home, which is always bad news for anyone coming to CenturyLink. At home, Seattle is 7-2 ATS this season, while Green Bay is 3-5 ATS on the road.

Yet, the bigger problem for the Packers will be when their defense is on the field. This side of the ball just never elevated to the level I thought they would reach this year. They finished the season average across the board, and poor versus the run, which means they'll have virtually no strength to impose on Seattle. With so many options, Wilson and Lynch should be able to feast on the ground and dictate the game - much like the Cowboys did in the Divisional round. They'll also be able to take shots down the field if the Packers commit too much to the line of scrimmage.

And in case you were wondering what might happen if this was close heading into the final quarter, the Seahawks have outscored their opponents 62-0 in the 4th quarter over the last seven games. A big part of that is how both sides of the ball performs in 3rd down and red zone situations. When you combine that with Pete Carroll's 16-1 prime-time record, and the team's championship pedigree, there's no way I'm betting against them this week.

If your book doesn't allow for the affordable -6.5, I'd still go ahead and play this at -7. UPDATE: some books are moving this off the -7 (like they should've to start), so it's best to get in on that before it's too late.

NFL Pick: SEA -6.5.

Friday, January 9, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015: Divisional Playoff Picks

Wild Card weekend is done and favorites/dogs split 2-2 ATS. Unders went 2-1-1.

Around town, Football Outsiders hedged all their picks by taking every dog on the spread, and every favorite to win straight up, so they finished 2-2 ATS.  To no one's surprise, the consensus wiseguy picks out of Vegas were on all the dogs, while the public were on the favorites. They too, split 2-2 ATS.

I fared better by going 3-1 ATS to start the post-season. The only non-cover came from the Steelers. They needed Big Ben to be good to win that game, and he wasn't.  I wasn't exactly surprised since they've been boom-or-bust most of the season, but I also didn't expect Baltimore to be that good either. Also worth noting, the Lions came close to a straight up upset, but don't even get me started on that ref's decision to pick up that flag. On the bright side they still covered the spread, but it shouldn't have been that close.

We now look-ahead to the Divisional round next week. Every home team is about a touchdown favorite, with the exception of Seattle, who are listed at double digits. Can any of these dogs win straight up?

Like last week, I'll have picks and previews for each and every matchup during the week, so you can refresh this post for updates.  I have a good idea which side I like in every game except one.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 Divisional Playoffs: Teasers

The best options for teasers are games that either bring a favorite down under -3, or brings a dog up over a touchdown. Ideally, you want to be crossing both the key numbers of 3 & 7 to maximize your value.

Packers PK & Broncos -1

I'm also throwing in a combined NFL/NCAAF teaser.

Ducks -0.5 & Broncos -1

NFL Predictions 2015 Divisional Playoffs: Colts Vs Broncos

Indianapolis Colts Vs. Denver Broncos: DEN -6.5 (-117) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

When these teams met in Week 1, the line was set at -7, but eventually closed at -7.5. For this week's rematch, it once again opened at -7, but now we're seeing signs of it moving the other way. Currently it sits at -7 at EVEN money, which makes it affordable to buy the half point down to -6.5. I'm not sure it makes a full move off the key number, but late money could surprise us. Thus far, 55% of the bets are on the Broncos.

Bottom Line

When these teams matched up in Week 1, I took a pass on Denver -7.5 for the sole reason of a potential backdoor cover from Andrew Luck. And that's exactly what happened. The Broncos were up 24-7 at halftime, only to see the Colts rally for a 31-24 finish. Now we have the opportunity to try this again, but with a more favorable point spread, and an extra week of rest for Denver.

Out of all the games this weekend, I don't think any team will rely more on their QB than the Colts. If Luck doesn't bring his "A" game, they don't have a chance. And even if he does, it's still unlikely they keep this within one score.

Why?

The Broncos are going to protect against the deep ball, and they have a much better (and healthier) defense heading into the post-season then they did last year. For this game, they won't have to worry much about the run game, and they'll allow Luck to take the underneath stuff all day. This defensive unit have been good against the pass all year, and they're good on third down.  The one area where they've struggled is inside their own 20, but some of that is due to garbage touchdowns given up in the 4th quarter.

And this Indy offense isn't as good as it was earlier in the year. Yes, they looked just fine at home against the Bengals, but that was against a defense that had zero pass rush ability. That won't be the case this Sunday.

Can the Luck-Hilton combo be enough to overcome all this?  I doubt it.

When Denver have the ball, they'll basically be able to do whatever they want. Indy have no speed pass rushers up front, so they'll have to employ the blitz in order to get to Peyton - and he's more than capable of dealing with that. This OL finished with the best-adjusted sack rate in the NFL. Manning will also have the 7th best rushing attack to lean on if he wants to take a balanced approach. Once they get inside the 20, they'll face a defense that couldn't keep anybody out of the end zone this year.

When we look at the home-road splits, Indy's defense was much better at home (6th) than they were on the road (21st). In contrast, Denver's offense was number one in the NFL at home, compared with 18th best on the road.

Add it all up and I see clear value on the Broncos. They outmatch the Colts on both sides of the ball, which is only enhanced by home field advantage and extre rest time. I have no issue with laying the points, and I'd even play it at -7 if that was my only option. UPDATE: this spread has been steamed up to -9.5 and -10. Given how long -7's were available during the week, you're too late to the party at this point.

NFL pick: DEN -6.5.

Read more: Divisional picks.

NFL Predictions 2015 Divisional Playoffs: Cowboys Vs Packers (update)

Dallas Cowboys Vs. Green Bay Packers: GB -5.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Both of these teams are big "public" teams, and so far, there is a lot of respect for the road team in this one. The line opened Packers -6.5, moved to -6, and has now gone down to -5.5 since Rodgers likely won't be 100%. 51% of the tickets are on Green Bay so far.




Bottom Line

I've known all along that I was taking the Packers in this game, but I wanted to wait to see if I could get a better number than the opener. As of now, we're seeing -5.5. If I see indications that it will go back up then I'll lock in at this number. If not, maybe it goes down a bit further. Either way, I'm happy with anything under -7.

This is an interesting game to handicap because I think someone could make a legit case for either side.

For the Cowboys, they went undefeated on the road this year, including 7-1 ATS. The passing game finished best in the league on the road, compared to 10th at home. The defense was 15th on the road, compared to 27th at home. When the offense is on the field, they'll be going up against a defense that ranks average right across the board. This should allow Romo and company to keep a balanced attack, possibly keep Rodgers off the field, and put up points. Naturally, they look like a good bet, right?

Well, that's where I'm going to disagree. The thing about Dallas is that nobody has really exposed their defense yet. It's a credit to the job they've done, but I think it's going to be a whole different story going into Lambeau against Rodgers, who just happens to be unstoppable on home turf. And it's not just Rodgers either. If the Pack want to run the ball, they should be able to do that too, especially since it will likely be a soft box more times than not.

The key thing for this Dallas defense is that they haven't been that good in the categories that matter most.  Coming into this game, they sit 29th in adjusted-sack rate. I'm sorry, but if you can't disrupt Rodgers, it's going to be a long day. They are also below-average on third down, and poor keeping teams out of the end zone once they get inside the 20. Finally, they've been on the fortunate end of turnovers this season, further masking the "improvement" for this unit.

And that's really the bottom line for me. Both offenses have the edge in this game, but it's a much wider margin for Green Bay - even if Rodgers is only 80%. That, along with a week of rest and home field?  I'll go ahead and lay the points.

NFL pick: GB -5.5.

Read more: Divisional picks.

NFL Predictions 2015 Divisional Playoffs: Panthers Vs Seahawks (update)

Carolina Panthers Vs. Seattle Seahawks: SEA -10.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Point spreads have increased across the board for the divisional round, but none are higher than the double digit number we see in this game. This opened at Seahawks -11 (-11.5 at some books), but we've seen a slight move down to -10.5 since then. The fact that it hasn't gone down to -10 tells us there isn't exactly overwhelming support for Carolina, even at double digits. 59% of the bets are on the defending champs.


Bottom Line

Of all the games this weekend, I had the most trouble with this one. Mostly because of the inflated point spread, but also because of Carolina's late season surge. For the most part, the season-long stats held form in the Wild Card round, with the Panthers as the primary exception.

Are the Panthers a no-brainer pick with this point spread? I doubt it. The longer I dig into this matchup, the harder it becomes to make a strong case for Carolina.

The obvious case against them is the fact that Seattle ranks as the best team in the league, with championship pedigree, and the most dominant home field advantage in the league. Carolina might have played this team tough over the last few years, but those were all at home, and they failed to pull out a win in any of them. Pete Carroll is also 15-1 in prime-time games during his time as Seattle's coach, too. That's a daunting wall to climb if you're the road team, no matter how well you're playing coming in.

How can the Panthers stay close? A big key will be the play of Cam Newton. Yes their read-option game caught fire at the right time, but they didn't face any fast defenses during their five-game winning streak - nor did they go against a unit as talented. Even if they do manage to break through to the second level, Seattle has a secondary that is capable of coming down to make the tackle. Instead, they'll need Cam to make big plays with his arm, and from where I'm sitting, that's not a winning proposition at all. There are simply no weaknesses in the Seahawks D to exploit.

A better chance for the Panthers will be with their defense. They finished as a top 10 unit, but they were still a better side at home (11th) than they were on the road (17th).  They also have red flags in their make-or-break situations. Despite shutting down the Cardinals, they still gave up two red zone touchdowns when Arizona had the opportunity. Now they face an offense that is near the top of the league in third down/red zone situations.  Keep a close eye on this, because the Panthers only allowed one TD in eight red zone trips in their previous three games versus Seattle - something that I don't think carries over to this game.

If they are to slow down Seattle, they'll need excellent play from their secondary so that their front seven can play downhill with speed and aggressiveness. That's a tall task though, since no one is better at extending plays with their feet than Wilson. It's basically impossible to maintain coverage when he improvises in and out of the pocket.

This is also a Carolina D that no longer has Greg Hardy at their disposal, nor Star Lotulelei. On the other side, the Seahawks welcome back Max Unger at center - a big addition coming at just the right time.

Even worse for the Panthers, they enter this game with the 30th ranked special teams units in the league, and we all know that can become a bigger-than-usual factor come playoff time.

In the end, I just can't back the Panthers here, even with all these points on the spread. Their margin of error is too slim, and they need a lot of breaks to go in their favor. The odds of that happening are significantly stacked against them.

It's a lot of points to lay, and I won't be surprised if the Seahawks win without covering, but when forced to make a pick, Seattle is the only option I can consider. I'll wait as long as possible to see if I can get -10 before locking in this pick, but if -10.5 is the lowest it goes - so be it. UPDATE: as books begin to adjust juice and move this line back up, I'll go ahead and take the -10.5. It's not a good number, and it still might come back down late, but it could be the best we get.

NFL pick: SEA -10.5.

Read more: Divisional picks.

Monday, January 5, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 Divisional Playoffs: Ravens Vs Patriots

Baltimore Ravens Vs. New England Patriots: BAL +7 (-120) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This line opened up Patriots -7.5, but early money scooped those up right away and the books quickly moved it to -7.  Now they've adjusted the juice as well. Is this going to come off 7 and move to -6.5?  It should based on how these teams matchup, but I don't know if it will. Either way, I'm not going to wait around to see, so I'll lock in at this number while I can. Bettors are pretty split overall with 51% of the bets on the Ravens so far.

Bottom Line

Despite a 2-6 record against winning teams this season, the Ravens came out in Wild Card weekend and looked fully prepared, and equally efficient, while taking out the Steelers. The two big keys for that game were the front seven on D, and Joe Flacco on O.

And I'll start with their defense, because that's what could give the Patriots the most trouble. It doesn't matter who you are, if the Ravens front plays like it did last Saturday, then they can disrupt any offense. Up front, they have the 5th best adjusted-sack rate in the league, and they've climbed to 3rd in the league against the run. They've been average on third down, but one of the best inside their red zone.

In contrast, the Patriots have been equally good at keeping Brady upright, and turned a 32nd ranked run offense to 2nd in the NFL at year's end. They've also been fantastic on third down from start to the finish.

So which side wins that battle? I think both will have some success, because we are talking about Belichick and Brady here, and the Ravens secondary is still held together by duct tape, but the Ravens should also be able to disrupt enough drives to keep this from being a double-digit loss.

On the flip side, the Ravens OL is top 5 in adjusted sack-rate, and they've been great at sustaining drives all year. Flacco can be hit-or-miss, especially this season, but he just proved once again that he can go into a hostile environment and get the job done.

The problem for Baltimore will be the fact that the Patriots defense is better than what the Steelers put out on the field.  They finished the year 2nd best against the run, and have one of the better red zone defenses in the league - an area where the Ravens have had problems.  It's not all good news for New England though, because they were only average on third down this year, average in adjusted-sack rate, and 20th in the league as an overall unit at home, compared to 4th best on the road.

Both of these teams also feature top 5 units on special teams.

When it's all said and done, the Ravens matchup pretty well against the Patriots - at least on paper. After factoring in the extra week of rest and home field advantage, this line should probably be around -4.5 to -5.5, but certainly not -7.  I've been burned by New England a lot over the years, but I have no choice but to take the points for what could turn out to be a really close, hard-fought game.

NFL pick: BAL +7.

Read more: Divisional picks.

Friday, January 2, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015: Wild Card Playoff Picks

Week 17 is all wrapped up and we can put a bow on the 2014 regular season. Underdogs won the weekend yet again with a 9-7 record ATS.  Dogs finished on top for the year at 127-122-3 ATS.

Football Outsiders was 7-9 in the final week, and finished the season with a total of 111-136-9 ATS. The Las Vegas SuperContest top 5 consensus picks was 3-2 for Week 17, with a final tally of 49-33-1 ATS for the season.  The entry that won the $736k jackpot crushed the competition with a 64-20-1 ATS record (76.19%), which is just ... wow. Via Jay Kornegay in Vegas, the public consensus picks were 1-2 in week 17 (48-46-2 YTD), while the wiseguys went 4-3 (40-49-1 YTD).

My picks went 1-2 ATS, and 1-1 on teasers. Philip Rivers didn't come up with his usual magic this time around, coming up empty on three straight red zone trips in the 4th quarter. The other non-cover came from the Falcons, who got annihilated from start to finish ... at home. The way Matt Ryan was playing in December, I expected a whole lot better than that, but the Panthers closed the season out strong and clinched their playoff birth in convincing fashion.

More importantly, we now look ahead to the real season - the playoffs. The odds are already up on the board, and the consensus lines have quickly taken shape. That Dallas line looks a tad inflated to me, so I'll likely be on Detroit unless I dig up a reason to change my mind.

I'll have betting previews and picks for each and every playoff game, so you can refresh this post for updates on the Wild Card weekend.

Survivor Pick

Every obvious survivor choice won in Week 17, but if you were one of the few who rolled the dice on Miami or New England, you came up short at the final buzzer. 12% of the votes chose "other", which I assume meant the Cowboys, who also won with ease.  I voted for the Texans, but forgot to list it as my pick on the site. They were the only logical option I had left among the big favorites.

Week 17: Texans
Week 16: Bills
Week 15: Chiefs
Week 14: Lions
Week 13: Dolphins
Week 12: 49ers
Week 11: Steelers
Week 10: Ravens
Week 9: Bengals
Week 8: Cowboys
Week 7: Patriots
Week 6: Broncos
Week 5: Saints
Week 4: Chargers
Week 3Colts
Week 2: Packers
Week 1: Bears

NFL Predictions 2015 Wild Card Playoffs: Lions Vs Cowboys

Detroit Lions Vs. Dallas Cowboys: DET +7 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This line opened at Cowboys -7, but we've seen a recent move down to -6.5. Some shops are still hanging -7's though, while others have simply adjusted the juice. No matter what side you like, you should be able to get the number you want (for now). 72% of the bets have come in on Dallas.



Bottom Line

We arrive at what will be the most watched, and probably most bet, game of the weekend. With so many bets coming in on the Cowboys, I'm clearly going to be in the minority with this pick.

The narrative for this game will undoubtedly be the "Stafford can't win on the road against good teams" vs "Romo is a choker". Thankfully for our purposes, we don't have to worry too much about that with a spread of -7.  I also think that there will be more important factors to consider in this matchup.

The most important will be the Cowboys running game vs the Detroit rush defense. With Suh back in the lineup, the odds tipped in the Lions favor. The big thing to know here is that the Cowboys running game hasn't been as dominant as earlier in the season. After they bye their YPC dropped a full yard, which is right around league average. Given that this area is the strength of the Detroit defense, Dallas would be better off with a pass-first approach.

But will they?  The Dallas passing game has gone from 14th at the midway point, to 2nd at season's end. And even if they do, who will come up big in the clutch moments? We have a top 10 3rd down/red zone offense vs a top 5 third down/red zone defense.  The Cowboys offense has strangely been better on the road than at home, too (10th vs 1st).

On the flip side, the Detroit running game has climbed from 30th in the league at the halfway mark, to 18th by Week 17.  They haven't been great in the red zone, but neither has the Cowboys red zone defense.  What the Lions do thrive at is sustaining drives, where they rank 5th. The Cowboys rank 28th on third down. And just like the offense, the Dallas defense performed better on the road (27th vs 15th).

The way I see this playing out is dependent on the Lions rush D. If they can force Dallas into third and longs, and disrupt enough drives to keep this game within reach, the Detroit offense should be able to maintain a balanced attack.  This would take pressure off of Stafford, and open things up for CJ and Tate.  It would also force the Dallas defense to be on the field more - something they haven't had to do as much thanks to their dominant offense.

I'll go ahead and take the points. I think this is too much to give to a team with a great defense, and capable offense. If you're stuck with +6.5, I'd likely wait to see if you could get a +7, but even +6.5 is an inflated number IMO. I think the Lions even have a decent chance to pull off the straight up upset, and I wouldn't blame anyone for taking a shot with them on the ML at +250.

NFL pick: DET +7.

NFL Predictions 2015 Wild Card Playoffs: Bengals Vs Colts [update]

Cincinnati Bengals Vs. Indianapolis Colts: IND -3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This is another game where we've seen some line movement. The Colts opened as -4 point favorites, but early money dropped this number all the way down to -3. That's only 1 point, but the fact that it moved to the key number of 3 tells us that there isn't a lot of respect for Indy out there. And that's saying something considering the narrative on Dalton.  Most casual bettors are still on the Colts though, with 69% of the tickets on the home team.

Bottom Line

Like most playoff games, this one is a tricky matchup to handicap. I can certainly understand why people took Cincy plus the points. The Colts have not been that impressive, and the underlying numbers signal some red flags.

That said, are the Bengals any better? Their passing game fell from a middle of the pack unit to 24th in the second half of the season. The run game? Fell from 6th in the league to 17th. The offense as a whole is worse on the road as well - 22nd, vs 14th at home.

Even if they do have A.J. Green, Davis has done a good job against #1 WRs this year. UPDATE: AJ Green has just been downgraded to "doubtful". The Bengals have also switched to a run-first attack since they got beat down in Indy earlier in the year.  This approach should be able to counter an iffy Indy run D, and blitz-happy scheme. At the end of the day, Dalton is still going to have to make plays to win this game though.  Indy's D might not be that great, but they were 6th in the league at home, compared with 21st on the road.

I think the primary reason that people are fading the Colts is because of what's happened to their offense. Much like the Bengals, Indy's offensive numbers have declined as the year has gone on. Their passing game fell to 25th in the league by the end of the season, and the running game was poor throughout. The offense is also worse at home than they were on the road - 20th vs 13th.

Making things more complicated, the weakness for the Bengals D has been on the ground - something the Colts don't really know how to take advantage of.

Yet, what I think is the biggest factor when the Colts have the ball is whether or not Cincy can get pressure.  If Luck has time to throw, I'm not worried about this matchup.  And the numbers say he will. The Bengals have the worst pressure-rate in the entire NFL. After Dunlap, who is a threat?

That's not a recipe for success against Andrew Luck on the road. I'll go ahead and lay the -3.

UPDATE: This line is headed for -3.5 fast, and has already moved at a number of shops. If you want IND -3, don't hesitate.

NFL Pick: IND -3.

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 Wild Card Playoffs: Ravens Vs Steelers

Baltimore Ravens Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: PIT -3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

When it comes to the Ravens and the Steelers, it's pretty much become the norm to just assign the home team as the -3 point favorites and be done with it.  This time around, two out of every three bets are siding with the home team, and I'm about to join them.  I even think we could see a move off the -3 to -3.5 by kickoff.  We've already seen a slight adjustment with the juice.

Bottom Line

Before I dug into the research for this game, my first instinct was to take the dog. The Ravens have been the better balanced team all year, and that usually bodes well when going up against a boom-or-bust team.

Yet, when we take a closer look some things stick out in Pittsburgh's favor.

Baltimore is 1-6 against teams with a winning record this year. In contrast, the Steelers are 6-1 against winning teams. And head-to-head, Flacco is 4-8 straight up when facing Big Ben.

Offensively, Baltimore should have the advantage when they take the field, but they've had a hard time converting drives into TDs all season long, and they struggled badly on third down in December. That might not matter since Pittsburgh's D isn't exactly good in those situation either, but they did improve inside their own 20 in December. Their rush defense also climbed from 21st in the first half of the year to 12th in the second half.  Overall, I still expect the Ravens to have some success, but I'm not sure it's going to be enough to compensate for their defense.

And that's really where I expect this game to be won. The Ravens rush defense improved as the season went on, and Bell is officially out of this game, but I'm not sure any of that will matter.

Can the Ravens secondary stop Big Ben and this passing attack?  The secondary is running on fumes and they rely heavily on what the front seven does at the line of scrimmage. When Brown lines up in the slot, Baltimore basically has no answer for stopping him. Also, if Pittsburgh's OL can get good pass protection, the lack of a dynamic run game could be largely nullified. Bell wasn't much of a factor when Ben tore up the Ravens earlier in the year, either.

I think that mismatch, along with home field advantage, should be enough for Pittsburgh to win and cover this game.  I'll lay the points and ride the Steelers.

NFL Pick: PIT -3.

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NFL Predictions 2015 Wild Card Playoffs: Cardinals Vs Panthers (update #3)

Arizona Cardinals Vs. Carolina Panthers: CAR -5.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This point spread opened at Panthers -5 after Week 17, and then got bet down to -4 on Monday.  It's interesting that early money was on the Cardinals because since then all we've seen is a climb back up. It's currently at -6.5, but I'd be surprised if it closes at this number. Right now, there is more action on Arizona with 58% of the bets in their favor.

Bottom Line

If you're sitting there with -4 in your pocket, I think you're on the best number available. I wouldn't consider a play on Arizona unless this hit +7, and even then I'd probably just take a pass.

A big reason for that is the fact that Ryan Lindley is starting this game. If they had Drew Stanton, at least the full playbook would be available for Arians to use. With Lindley under center, I don't see how they can come back if they fall behind.

The main hope Arizona has is with their defense, who ranked 5th in the league on the road this year (compared to 15th at home).  The problem is their pass D fell from 7th in the 1st half of the season to 18th in the 2nd half. The run D also dropped from 4th to 11th.

On the flip side, everything is trending up for the Panthers. They made a dramatic turnaround down the stretch on both sides of the ball. They improved their run offense from 23rd in the first half to 11th in the 2nd half, and they've been good on third down all year. This should dictate the game and force the Arizona defense to stay in their base packages more often, ultimately making them less effective.

The bigger challenge for the Cards will be how to combat the Panthers defense. Carolina has been poor in the clutch situations (3rd down/red zone), which is always a big red flag for me, but they climbed from 21st in pass D earlier in the year, up to 5th best by Week 17. On the ground, they finished the year strong at 9th in the league.  This is also a unit that was better at home than they were on the road.

In the end, this could be close if Arizona's D has an A+ effort, but realistically they are going to be hard-pressed to keep this within a touchdown.  I'll be on the Panthers, but I'll wait a little longer to see if I can get a better number before kickoff. I also like Carolina as a teaser option, essentially asking them just to win the game straight up.

UPDATE #3: Line has moved to -5.5. Some books are moving back up to -6, so I think -5.5 might be the best number we can get on Carolina.  There might be another late surge on Arizona, but I'll go ahead and lock in at this number.

NFL Pick: CAR -5.5.

Read more: Wild Card Picks.