SportsGrid’s NFL Pick$ Against The Spread… Wild Card Playoffs 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 hope you join me for the playoffs.

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 Wild Card round. As always, I hope you discuss them, and your own picks with me on Twitter.

Kansas City Chiefs (+2.5) over Indianapolis Colts*

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.

DVOA Rankings

Chiefs: 9th defense, 15th offense
Colts: 16th defense, 13th offense

The Colts have their trio of incredibly impressive results (vs. Seattle and Denver, and at San Francisco)… yet some pretty meh season-long numbers.

The Chiefs have… one win over a winning team all season. They beat the Eagles, in Philly, but that was when Michael Vick was starting and the Eagles moved the ball extremely well. Five turnovers killed them. They also played fairly well, twice, against the Broncos.

I’m not a big fan of either team. But one must win, I’m told.

The teams are virtually even in yards per play. The Chiefs average 5.3 on offense and allow 5.5 on defense. The Colts are at 5.3 and 5.6. The Colts pass a bit more. The Chiefs have Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs sacked quarterbacks an obscene amount early in the year… but those numbers have dropped off significantly. The Chiefs have an edge in red-zone defense. Most of the efficiency numbers are pretty similar.

I’m a tiny bit confused why the number is -2.5 instead of 3, because I don’t see what separates these teams at all, and I think Charles and Andrew Luck cancel each other out. I suppose I’ll watch for a live bet or something, but yeah, I don’t wanna bet on this game, at all.

The Pick: Chiefs (+2.5), I guess…
Confidence: -∞

Philadelphia Eagles* (-2.5) over New Orleans Saints

DVOA Rankings

Eagles: 23rd defense, 2nd offense
Saints: 10th defense, 5th offense

The Eagles move the ball incredibly well (T-1st in NFL in yards per play), but they are slightly hindered by their mediocre 3rd-down conversion rate (38.97%, 12th) and TD% in the red zone (52.63&, 18th). I’m speculating here, but I honestly think this is a testament to Chip Kelly’s offensive gameplanning, because I think the Eagles are pretty limited at WR post-Jeremy-Maclin, and that’s the main reason they’re just average in these areas, but amazing elsewhere. My harebrained theory is that he can make good players look great with a lot of field to work with, but he is limited when the field is cut down. I could be wrong about that, but it’s the conclusion I’ve come to in watching Eagles games. (Which is why I think they’ll be even better next year, if they upgrade at WR.)

On defense, they occasionally play weirdly well, but they are bad overall, especially in the secondary. They are 25th in pass-defense DVOA. They allow 6.9 yards per attempt. They do not sack quarterbacks often.

The Saints on defense are… confusing. That No. 10 number in DVOA seems a bit high. But…they’re 6th in pass defense DVOA. They have played mostly-good defense this year. Still, they are highly vulnerable on the ground, don’t play great on the road, and the Eagles’ top-ranked rushing attack will do things to them. Unspeakable things. I do not think they have a chance.

But, the Saints seemingly have a good matchup on offense, too. The Eagles’ weakness is their secondary. You know the Saints’ strength. The Eagles gave up like 700 yards to Matt Cassel.

The truth is, I don’t have a strong lean here. But I think this should be -3, because of the Saints’ road woes. And since I need to bet on something, or my head will explode, I do lean towards the Eagles. I’m incredibly confident they will score. I do think they have a shot to slow down the Saints. Because, Drew Brees:

The Pick: Eagles (-2.5)
Confidence Level: An average man as a third-wheel on a date with Tom Brady and Gisele

Cincinnati Bengals* (-6.5) over San Diego Chargers

DVOA Rankings

Chargers: 32nd defense, 3rd offense
Bengals: 5th defense, 17th offense

Like virtually all of the non-Broncos teams in the AFC, I don’t particularly like the Chargers or Bengals. Possibly the worst offense in the playoffs (Bengals) vs. the worst defense (Chargers).

These two teams played already. The Bengals won on the road, 17-10. Philip Rivers struggled a bit. Andy Dalton played well against this poor excuse for a defense (except for weird outliers where they slowed down Peyton Manning).

The Bengals were significantly better at home than on the road. At home, their most similar matchup to the Chargers was the Colts. They won, 42-28, but the Colts’ offense actually had tons of success. Andrew Luck played very well. But obviously, so did Andy Dalton, and when Andy Dalton actually plays well, the Bengals are really, really good.

And that’s the main reason why I can’t take the Bengals. I love what Philip Rivers is doing, but as bad as Andy Dalton can be, I’m not counting on the 32nd-ranked defense in DVOA to make him look bad. The Bengals are a good team with Average Andy Dalton, but if they have a quarterback who’s playing well, they can look like the best team in the NFL.

But, I don’t see a reason to take them at -6.5.

The Pick: Bengals (-6.5)
Confidence Level: I am not making a bet, and thus I will not lose.

Green Bay Packers* (+2.5) over San Francisco 49ers

DVOA Rankings

Packers: 9th offense, 31st defense
49ers: 10th offense, 13th defense

The only home underdog. This is what happens when you let an 8-7-1 team host a playoff game.

You’re probably a bit surprised the 49ers don’t rank higher on defense. I am. They’re 8th in yards per play allowed, if you were wondering. They’ve given up points to good offenses. 28 to Green Bay, 29 to Seattle, 27 to Indy, 23 to New Orleans, 24 to Atlanta, 20 to Arizona (twice).

My point: They are a very good defense, but not unbeatable. And given that the Packers are ranked 9th despite playing almost an entire year without Rodgers, I’m fairly confident they’ll have success. Although Eddie Lacy looked hurt last week, so I’m slightly concerned about the normally-good running game.

San Francisco is getting its act together on offense and should have no problems.

Which would make you want to bet on the over, right! Of course. Especially since it’s at just 46.5. These teams scored 62 points in their first meeting.

But… there’s this:

…with the wind chill, it may feel as cold as -45 degrees by the end of the game.

Wind-chill is a stupid statistic, but the point is… it will be COLD.

Cold weather does affect passing statistics negatively. The 49ers also might be at a disadvantage, being a warm-weather team playing in the cold. But that’s less-proven.

I had a tiny, tiny lean towards Green Bay before the weather thing, and it has graduated to normal-tiny, because I’m more worried about Cold Kaep than Cold Rodgers. My thought is that the cold weather will close the gap in defensive performance a bit. I didn’t think the Packers had a chance on defense, but they might now, just due to the weather. (Not actual ability. The Packers suck on defense.)

The Bet: Very small amounts of money on Packers +3 when I can find it
Confidence: Jewish Andy Reid on Yom Kippur

I think the lines are incredibly tight this week, hence the lack of any real bets with real confidence. However, I will monitor line movement and see if anything changes. Also, there’s a chance of a teaser or parlay or some player props when they are released. STAY TUNED; I will update you.

Happy betting.

Good luck, friends. Please hit me up on the Twitters to argue, call me names, ask a question, or say anything else that comes to mind. You can also email me at I want to hear from you, friend.

Last Week’s Betting Record: 11-4 (.733) (+$726.33)
Since Limiting My Crazy, Overextended Self: 68-37 (.648) (+$2,759.76)
Overall Betting Record 88-60 (.595) (+$800.42)
Dart-throwing record: 137-114 (.546)