SportsGrid’s NFL Pick$ Against The Spread: Divisional Round Edition

  • Matt Rudnitsky

I picked NFL games against the spread all year long. Despite a disastrous start in which I overextended myself and bet on everything under the sun, I managed to finish the year plus-money. It was wonderful.

I didn’t like a single bet on the board enough to recommend strongly last week, which was unfortunate. But with the way things played out, I’m glad I didn’t. The only easy winner was the San Diego Chargers, and I didn’t love them, personally.

But this week looks better. Of course, I could fail miserably, because this is gambling.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Many people blindly bet more money in the playoffs than they do in the regular season. That’s incredibly dumb. A dollar made in the NFL playoffs is the same as a dollar made betting on yourself to poop weekly. Value is everything, and sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not.

Here are my NFL picks and bets for the Divisional round. As always, I hope you discuss them, and your own picks with me, on Twitter. Hit me up, friends.

Seattle Seahawks* (-7.5) over New Orleans Saints

(If you’ve been reading all year, you know that I like to use Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings to give myself a general idea of a team’s strengths and weaknesses. The stat is not perfect, but it’s infinitely better at saying “this team is good at throwing” than, say, passing yards per game. Other stats are good, too. The playoffs aren’t included in these rankings.)

DVOA Rankings

Seahawks: 7th offense (8th passing, 7th rushing), 1st defense (1st passing, 8th rushing)
Saints: 3rd offense (3rd passing, 19th rushing), 10th defense (6th passing, 20th rushing)

This is a rematch of their Week 13 matchup, which opened at Seahawks -4.5 and was bet up to -6.5. The Seahawks won 34-7, so it’s not a shock the second matchup is -7.5, which is a significant difference from -7, because 7 is a key number.

But I will say — as well as the Seahawks played, the game sort of got out of the Saints’ hands early. They gave up a 22-yard fumble return for a TD early on to go down 10-0 and faced a 17-0 deficit after the first quarter. From there, down 17 in Seattle, they were doomed. I’m not saying this means they’ll cover, but I am saying that given the unfortunate start, the blowout win wasn’t a shock.

The biggest factor in that game, besides the fast start, was Russell Wilson dominating. The Saints had the 6th-ranked pass defense in DVOA this year, but Wilson torched them for 310 yards and a 94.7 QBR. If you (understandably) still don’t understand QBR, that’s like having sex 100 with 100 girls with a condom yet impregnating 94.7 of them. (I am exaggerating, but it’s 94.7 out of 100, on a difficult scale.)

But as you should know, one game means little in the grand scheme of things. One result holds virtually no predictive power.

I’m honestly more concerned with the Saints’ performance last week than their performance against the Seahawks. The Seahawks are infinitely better than the Eagles on defense, and Drew Brees looked fairly shaky, throwing two picks against a shitty secondary. Against the ‘Hawks top-ranked pass-D… I think he’ll struggle.

But… the Saints somehow contained LeSean McCoy. That was the biggest surprise of the weekend for me, and I think it’s a solid sign for them on defense. Especially for containing Russell Wilson on the edge.

I think the Home Seahawks are the better team on offense, especially vs. Road Brees in rainy, windy, cold weather. I can’t think of anything to talk me out of the Seahawks as a teaser piece, as well as an under play.

6 out of Seattle’s 8 home games went under 42 points, if you were wondering. This is my favorite bet of the weekend, skewed high because of the perception and overall stats of the Saints’ offense, which matches up poorly vs. Seattle and struggles on the road and in bad weather. Home Saints games have gone OVER in 7 out of 8 games. But on the road, the UNDER has hit in 7 of 9. These things should be built into the line, but I don’t think this number is low enough. Brees has looked shaky on the road all year long. The picks are actually what worry me most.

Other helpful thing for the under: The Saints bring good pressure, Russell Wilson takes lots of sacks.
Other helpful thing for the Seahawks: Percy Harvin should be back.

Bets: UNDER 46.5 (-110), $220 to win $200 AND Seahawks TEASER, coming right up…

New England Patriots* (-7) over Indianapolis Colts

DVOA Rankings

Patriots: 4th offense (7th passing, 6th rushing), 21st defense (14th passing, 27th rushing)
Colts: 13th offense (17th passing, 11th rushing), 16th defense (13th passing, 22th rushing)

I’m pretty down on the beat-up Pats… but you realize the Colts just got TORCHED by Alex Smith. And the Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs. Ew. I sort of want to stop my analysis here, but I know everybody is infatuated with Andrew Luck. I like Andrew Luck. He’s very good. But the talent around him (besides T.Y. Hilton) is Jets-esque. Andrew Luck, though probably not his fault, has not been that good this year. My case:

– The Colts are just 17th in pass-offense DVOA.
– They’re 14th in average passer rating. (Though, to be fair, the Pats are 15th.)
– They’re 14th in yards per attempt. (6.6, though again, the Pats are behind them, at 6.5).
– They’re 16th in passing first down percentage.
– Luck is 9th in Total QBR.

(And of course, almost half of these numbers came with Reggie Wayne.)

What’s my point? I’m not evaluating Andrew Luck’s skills. I’m not a scout. I’m sure he’d be better on a better team. Shit, maybe he’d be as good as Peyton Manning if he was on the Broncos. But I don’t care. He has to play with this cast of oddballs, and that’s how we have to evaluate him, for betting purposes.

The Colts are overvalued. They should’ve lost last week. They got torched by the Chiefs. Why won’t the Pats, a much better team, do the same? And Bill Belichick assuredly won’t choke like Andy Reid did. It’s weird because he eats wings a lot and is still alive (get it! creative fat joke!).

I am genuinely concerned about the Pats’ ailing defense, though, and I’m afraid to back them at-7 (and especially 7.5). I think one of those tiny finger bandaids is playing middle linebacker.

But, I’m more concerned about the Colts’ defense. New England has been playing tough defenses all year and faring pretty well. Look at their schedule. It was damn tough. I think they’ll go off on offense. Off²ense. In fact, I will likely add the Patriots team total OVER.

Bet: Patriots -1/Seahawks -1.5 TEASER (-110), $110 to win $100 AND Pats team total OVER (probably at 30)

Carolina Panthers* (+2) over San Francisco 49ers

DVOA Rankings

Panthers: 10th offense (14th passing, 4th rushing), 3rd defense (3rd passing, 6th rushing)
49ers: 8th offense (4th passing, 14th rushing), 13th defense (10th passing, 14th rushing)

I thought this would be a pick ’em, but I only half-know what I’m talking about. The 49ers looked pretty good last week and outplayed the Packers, but moving the ball well against the Packers ≠ moving the ball well against the Panthers. Remember: they put up nine points at home vs. Carolina. Realize: Frank Gore has averaged under 4 yards per carry in 8 of 9 road games this year, last week included. He’s been under 2 yards per carry in 4 of them.

So… why exactly are the Niners considered the better team? Because they’re more “proven?” That’s the only argument I can think of. Usually, you have to argue against the team that won the previous matchup, because everybody’s all like BRO HOW CAN A TEAM LOSE IF THEY ALREADY BEAT THEM ONCE? EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN THE PAST REPEATS ITSELF, ESPECIALLY IN A COMPETITION AS RANDOM AS FOOTBALL!

Instead, we got headlines like this:


But ESPN doesn’t make the lines. If they did, this would probably be Niners -19.5, and Skip Bayless would bet his seven figure salary on it. Can Cam Newton win the big one? His skin is darker than Kaep’s! This line would be -42.5 if Tebow were playing!

Where’s the argument for San Fran, exactly? Carolina has one loss at home (a game they almost won) Week 1, versus the Seahawks.

This isn’t a “lock” or anything, but it makes no sense why the 49ers are favored, so I’ll gladly take plus-money on Cam. Sell your stolen laptops and bet the profits. It’s risk free, except for the jailtime.

NOTE: I wrote this when the Panthers were priced at +105. That price has been dropping, since. Still worth a bet, at plus-money or close to it, in my humble, semi-informed opinion.

Bet: Panthers ML (+105), $250 to win $262.50

Denver Broncos* (-9.5) over San Diego Chargers

DVOA Rankings

Broncos: 1st offense (1st passing, 10th rushing), 15th defense (21st passing, 9th rushing)
Chargers: 3rd offense (2nd passing, 12th rushing), 32nd defense (31st passing, 31st rushing)

As I wrote earlier, the Broncos are significantly better than the Chargers. However, the Chargers are their worst matchup.

There’s nothing in the numbers that suggested that the Chargers could slow down the Broncos on offense. Last in DVOA. 30th in yards per play allowed, tied with the Cowboys and Falcons. 30th in opponent’s passing yards per attempt.

But… they went 1-1. They beat the Broncos on the road. They held them to 20 and 28 points. Mainly, as I discussed, that’s because of their offense. They dominate time of possession (1st in NFL), and that’s exacerbated by Denver’s masturbation (oops that was for my poetry class) quick-strike offense (16th in time of possession, despite often playing with a lead).

Still… I lean towards those games being fluky. The Chargers’ full season of shitty defense outweighs one pretty good game (the win) and one passable performance (the loss). The Broncos 3-for-8 on third downs in the win, and 2-for-9 in the loss. Their season average? 46.34%.

The Broncos only won the first game by 8… but they dominated. Peyton went for 330 yards and 4TDs. They were up 21-6 at halftime. As I wrote in the preview of the last game…

The Chargers and Broncos are very similar teams… except that the Broncos’ offense is better, all-around, and their defense occasionally has a pulse, while the Chargers’ seemed literally dead until Eli Manning kept throwing defibrillators into their chests, giving them enough of a pulse to hold one of the most pathetic offenses in the league to 14 points.

(Which is why one of these teams is a Super Bowl favorite, and the other is mediocre.)

These things obviously SCREAM over. However, as bad as the Chargers’ defense is (32nd in DVOA, allowing 6.3 yards per play), they give up just 22.4 points per game (12th in the NFL).

So… what the fuck?

It’s simple. They can’t stop anybody, but they can keep them off the field. The Chargers know how bad their defense is, so they do their best to keep them on the bench. They are 2nd in the NFL in opponent’s time of possession, allowing opponents to have the ball for just 27:10 per game.

I remember watching the first matchup… where I bet (and lost) on the over, and it felt like Denver could’ve easily gotten me the win, but they didn’t. They just didn’t have the ball enough, and they didn’t need to score at the end. Time of possession, in a game that Denver mostly controlled, was 38:03-21:57, in favor of San Diego.

I actually sorta like the over, because theoretically, the Broncos offense should have wild success early and force the Chargers to play quicker than normal. And if both offenses are playing fast, this should sail over, because it’s the top two passing offenses against two bad secondaries. But, 54.5 seems like the right number. Can’t touch that.

I think the spread should probably be -10.5. But the whole time of possession thing has me a bit worried, that the Broncos could dominate (again) and not cover (again). I think it’s a very slight overadjustment due to the late-season Chargers fellating, and the unexpected Week 15 win.

I really want to tease these hoes, the Broncoes. But I’m sure I’m not the only one wanting to do this, hence this line sticking at -9.5. At the current number, you’ll have to pay -130 to get through -3, which is unfortunate. I will wait to see if there’s any shot I can save 10 or maybe even 20 cents, but I’ll probably have to bite the bullet and pay up.

Bet: TEASER, probably, but will confirm on Twitter: Seahawks and Broncos, probably… maybe just a half-bet

I will also be on the lookout for player props and any other bets I decide on. So, follow along on Twitter. I’ll notify you. You can also email me at I want to hear from you, friend.

Happy betting, and good luck!

BUT, WAIT! HERE’S A SHITS AND GIGS PARLAY: Shits and gigs parlays are stupid. But laying off from a whole week of betting is not. I’m proud of myself. Thus, I grant myself this stupid bet:

STUPID BET: Patriots -7, Pats Colts OVER 53, Seahawks/Saints UNDER 46.5, Seahawks ML, Broncos ML, Panthers ML (+2000), $25 to win $500

Last Week’s Dart-Throw Record: 1-3
Last Week’s Betting Record: 0-0 (.000) (+$0.00)
Playoff Record: 0-0 (.000) (+$0.00)

Betting Record, Since Limiting My Crazy, Overextended Self: 68-37 (.648) (+$2,759.76)
Overall Betting Record 88-60 (.595) (+$800.42)
Regular-Season Dart-Throwing Record: 137-114 (.546)