SportsGrid’s NFL Pick$ Against The Spread: Conference Championships 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.

Last week, we won five dollars. Thrilling.

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 AFC and NFC Conference Championships.. As always, I hope you discuss them, and your own picks with me, on Twitter. Hit me up, friends.

Denver Broncos* (-5.5) over New England Patriots

(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

Broncos: 1st offense (1st passing, 10th rushing), 15th defense (21st passing, 9th rushing)
Patriots: 4th offense (7th passing, 6th rushing), 21st defense (14th passing, 27th rushing)

Both teams are beat up on defense. Chris Harris and Von Miller for the Broncos… and for the Patriots, Brandon Spikes, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo for the Pats.

And these teams are different than they were in the last meeting:

Von Miller played last time and played well. Julius Thomas didn’t play. Harris did play. But Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left at halftime, and the Pats subsequently went off. Clearly, a cornerback being out will be significant. Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe are gone from the Broncos’ defensive line. Gronk is out. LeGarrette Blount barely played. Now, he’s a beast. Spikes and Sealver Siliga played last time. They won’t play.

I won’t spend too much time recapping their last meeting. It’s important, but so is the full-season data. The recap:

Tom Brady did very little in the first half. 4.8 yards per attempt, 59 CMP% 0 TDs. Then (after DRC came out), 8.8 yards per attempt, 81 CMP%, 3 TDs. Peyton was bad. 3.7 yards per attempt and a pick. Knowshon Moreno had 37 carries for 224 yards.

I have a very simple opinion on this game: I don’t trust either defense. Both teams had nice results last week, but the Broncos struggled late once Philip Rivers opened things up, and the Pats won by a lot… but they allowed 331 yards and 8.1 yards per attempt to Andrew Luck and his shitty supporting cast. It was the four interceptions that did him in. It’s unlikely Peyton Manning throws four interception.

This simple analysis suggests a simple, obvious bet. The over. Here’s the case:

– 11 of the Broncos’ 17 games have gone over the total. The six that didn’t were: three times against San Diego, understandably, because they are No. 1 in the NFL in time of possession and ate the clock. Then, once against Houston and Oakland, two offenses that just couldn’t score, because they suck. Then, once against Kansas City, who, again, couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain (though I wouldn’t say they suck.

– What I’m trying to say is: Every time the Broncos have played a competent offense (except for the one game against KC), their games have gone over the total. Often way over the total, even though their totals have been really high.

– I’m not big on trends, but it doesn’t hurt my case that both Denver Manning vs. Brady meetings have gone over the total, once set at 54 and once at 50.5.

– The Broncos have scored 31+ in 13 of 17 games.

The only questions are:

Will Bill Belichick try to take the Chargers’ strategy of running and milking the clock? Or will he attack the weaker link of the Broncos’ defense… the secondary?

Will the Broncos do that, since the Patriots’ weak link is their run defense?

Those things are worrisome. Regardless, you can’t convince me not to bet the over at 55. I don’t care if that’s a high number. It’s not high enough. There is a very good chance it goes over, in my opinion.

Also, if the Broncos’ team total is really set at 30, like the line implies, that will have to be a bet, too…

Of course… this means I copped out on a prediction. The Broncos clearly deserve to be favored. Peyton has been good in almost every game this year, especially at home. His worst home game was in the loss to the Chargers… and he wasn’t even that bad. There’s no reason to think he’ll play poorly against a beat-up defense.

In a high-scoring game, I’ll definitely take the favorite, at home, with the better offense. But I don’t see a reason to take the Broncos against the spread. You can’t trust this defense. I like the Broncos a tiny bit, but it makes more sense to take their team total over than them against the spread. The chances of a Broncos win in a game where they score under ~30 points seem much lower to me than a Broncos non-cover where they score 30+.

Bet: OVER 55 (-110), $110 to win $100, possibly Broncos team total OVER… and Broncos -6 if you’re a junkie who has to pick a side…

Seattle Seahawks* (-3.5) over San Francisco 49ers

DVOA Rankings

Seahawks: 7th offense (8th passing, 7th rushing), 1st defense (1st passing, 8th rushing)
49ers: 8th offense (4th passing, 14th rushing), 13th defense (10th passing, 14th rushing

I keep hearing things like: The 49ers are clearly the best team in the NFL, and the Seahawks are struggling on offense. Both of these things are exaggerated. The Seahawks aren’t really struggling much on offense. They’re just a conservative team that often doesn’t need to score a lot.

They’ve put up 23+ points in 12 of 17 games this year. The five they didn’t: Week 1 in Carolina, Week 8 in St. Louis, Week 14 in San Francisco and Week 17, at home, vs. Arizona. All of those are very good defenses. All but one came on the road, and that one home game was against the Cardinals, the No. 2 team in defensive DVOA this year, right behind the Seahawks. If the Seahawks score 23+ points… there’s a damn good chance they win. There’s a pretty good chance they win with fewer than that.

They weren’t fantastic last week. But they played a good defense with an excellent defensive coordinator… and they didn’t need to be fantastic. They only threw the ball 18 times. They got out to an early lead and didn’t need to do much. That’s not cause for concern.

The Seahawks’ defense is unquestionably better than the Niners’, by any metric. And they’re at home, where the defense is even more ridiculous. The 49ers didn’t look great last week on defense. The Panthers dominated the first half, and got killed in the second half… but it appeared to be more Cam Newton fucking up than the Niners’ defense dominating.

In the teams’ first meeting, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis were eliminated, and Colin Kaepernick averaged 3.8 yards per attempt. Frank Gore was stuffed. Their only offense came from Kaep’s legs: 9 rushes for 87 yards. They turned the ball over five times. Seattle wasn’t much better on offense, but won easily due to the turnovers.

In the second meeting, the return of Michael Crabtree was significant, because Richard Sherman couldn’t shut down both Boldin and Crabtree. Crabtree had 40 yards, Boldin had 93. But Kaepernick still struggled and averaged just 6 yards per attempt, as opposed to Russell Wilson’s 8. The game could have gone either way. Both Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch had underwhelming numbers… except for Gore breaking a 51-yard run, which was a massive play.

I took this bet at Seahawks -3 (-120). But I’m not that comfortable with -3.5. I think the Seahawks, over the full year, have proven to be a slightly better team. They’re definitely better on defense. They might be better on offense, but the 49ers have more upside there. When you factor in the absurd home field advantage… I don’t see how the Seahawks aren’t the play. This is by no means a guaranteed win, but it’s the only bet I can recommend. I don’t see an argument for the 49ers.

The only way you can take the 49ers is if you believe they’re clearly the better team. I think they’re probably the worse team.

(Per usual, here is IRREFUTABLE PROOF that I am not a liar, that I got the line right away at -3)

Also, the total seems very fair. I would play the over if I was forced to pick, but I don’t see any value.

Bet: Seahawks -3 (-120), $240 to win $200

I will also be on the lookout for player props and any other bets I decide on. Follow along on Twitter. I’ll notify you. Also, especially be sure to follow me THIS weekend, because I will be running an interesting experiment involving betting, writing, drunkenness and good beer during the game. You can also email me at I want to hear from you, friend.

Happy betting, and good luck!

Last-minute adds: Broncos team total OVER 30.5 (-115), $230 to win $200 and Broncos -4.5 (-110), $55 to win $50… and another bet on Seahawks -3 (-130 at Bovada), $130 to win $100

Last Week’s Dart-Throwing Record: 2-2
Last Week’s Betting Record: 3-2 (.600) (+$5.00)
Playoff Betting Record: 3-2 (.600) (+$5.00)
Playoff Dart-Throwing Record: 3-5 (.375)

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