Wild Card Weekend (NFL Playoff Picks)
I made my first sports wager in 1970.
I was 8-years-old.
My pick lost when Jim O’Brien kicked a last-second field goal. The Baltimore Colts upset the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in the clusterfuck known as Super Bowl V. I had to pay $1 to the neighborhood bully, an older and much bigger kid who came to my house and pounded on my front door in order to collect his loot about the time O’Brien’s kick sailed through the uprights and landed in the end zone seats at the Orange Bowl.
I’ve been chasing that missing dollar ever since.
In my defense, at least I was was getting the best of it with a favorable number. The Vegas line was Dallas -2.5. I got the game at PICK. What a sucker that stupid mean kid was. On second thought, he could have been freerolling, since I’d likely have had trouble getting paid. Hmm, perhaps I was the sucker.
In the 45-years that have since passed, I don’t recall ever seeing something that’s apparently a first for this week’s four playoff games. Remarkably, in all four matchups being played Saturday and Sunday, the visiting team is favored. That gives us four very tempting home underdogs.
Accordingly, that’s where my money is targeted as I’ll be taking three of the four home teams plus the points. Recent trends don’t show this to be profitable, at least purely as a blind bet. But, it’s not a loser either. It’s been break even when bet blindly since 2000.
My reasoning has everything to do with each situation and matchup which significantly favors two home teams which I believe will win outright. I’m also hoping the generous number of points might come into play in the other game, which also compels me to make a wager. I do see one contest where the road dog is rightfully favored and should perhaps be laying even more points given the unique situation and history of the two teams in playoff games.
Before I break down each game and list my reasons for making these plays, first allow me to do some housecleaning. Updating my record from last week, I posted 11 winners and 4 losers on my totals, for a solid profit. But, I also had to subtract -$2,425 for the season win total wagers (which went a disappointing 2-3). Now completely updated and heading into the NFL playoffs with a clean slate, I’m still ahead $4,090 for the season, despite picking just 43 percent winners and paying a shitload of vig. Call that remarkable talent.
QUICK SHOUT OUT: I was invited to be a guest for nearly the full hour on Ben Mintz’ sports talk radio show yesterday, when we talked about all the NFL games, plus the coaching situation with the New Orleans Saints. Ben is a terrific on-air talent, a real natural who knows his subject matter. Follow Ben on Twitter at: @benmintz531 His shows are based in Louisiana and are broadcast all over the state, plus East Texas and Arkansas. Well worth a listen.
Now, on to this week’s four games:
Houston +3 vs. Kansas City — Risking $825 to win $750…..It’s tough to fade a steamrolling team that’s won 10-straight regular season games and has proven to play well on the road. It’s tougher still to back a Houston team that started four different quarterbacks this season and comes into this game with massive question marks at the game’s most important position. However, Houston’s 7-2 W-L record down the stretch could be overlooked by some and the defense certainly improved quite a lot after getting hammered much of the first half of the season. I’m counting on the prospect that there’s not a huge talent gap between KC’s Alex Smith and HOU’s Brian Hoyer. Both teams also have successfully overcome serious injuries, particularly at RB. The defenses should both factor big in this game and I’m counting on that to also be a toss up where a big play here or there determines the final outcome. With neither team particularly experienced in playoff games and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s lackluster playoff record (10-10), I’ll gladly take a home dog that doesn’t face nearly as much pressure. No one expected the Texans to be here frankly, so I think that plays into a slightly more comfortable spot for the dog. Given home field advantage is worth +3 points, I don’t make necessarily Kansas City -6 points better than the Texans, at least not at this stage of the season. In a game that should be close and played close to the vest offensively by both teams, I like getting the field goal.
Pittsburgh -3 (+110) vs. Cincinnati — Risking $500 to win $550…..You really have to feel sympathy for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who seems to have been in games like this going back the last century, and failing every time his team reaches the playoffs. Worse, he comes into this critical game without his top QB and has to start ROOKIE! AJ McCarron, who has more experience throwing passes against Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern than an NFL defense. Normally, I would never lay points, especially in a divisional rivalry. But this is a notable exception because of the vast disparity at QB and playoff experience. Pittsburgh was burdened by several key injuries and actually posted some remarkable numbers considering just about everyone on the offense was out at some point during the season. No one is stopping WR Antonio Brown right now, who is playing as well as any receiver in the league. He alone makes Pittsburgh a legitimate scoring threat on every offensive play. On the other side of the ball, in his defense, AJ McCarron did start two games this season, splitting his tries by going 1-1, including a 13-point loss to the Steelers. He won’t be asked to win the game, instead scripted with the task of just not losing it. That should allow Pittsburgh to focus on stopping the run more. If Cincy falls behind, this game is all over. If Pittsburgh falls behind, we all know what Rothlesberger and the Pittsburgh offense can do. I’ll lay the points in this game and take the coach who knows how to win the playoffs and a much better proven quarterback.
Minnesota +5 vs. Seattle — Risking $825 to win $750…..With a posted total of 39.5 and gametime temperatures predicted to be at around zero degrees, this could be a very low scoring game where points come at a premium. Seattle might be favored rightly by this number in neutral field conditions. But given the challenging elements and Minnesota’s strong run game that should enable the home dog to keep the game close and fall within the number. Lots of handicappers look to the game played between these two teams a month ago when Seattle destroyed Minnesota on this same field. However, that game was played with four injured defensive starters out of the Vikings. Once Minnesota fell behind, it seemed that the team sort of went through the motions saving their best for another day. That certainly came last week when Minnesota won convincingly versus rival Green Bay, and now get to host an unexpected home playoff game. Experience obviously favors the Seahawks who were one bad coaching decision away from being the defending Super Bowl champions. However, the elements could pose some problems here for the offenses in which case +5 just looks too tempting to pass. I also am counting on the Vikings coaching staff to learn some things from the previous blowout and come in far more prepared, especially with the run game. Certainly possible to see an outright Vikings home win here. I’ll say Seattle gets the win, by a field goal, but Minnesota manages to cover.
Washington +1 vs. Green Bay — Risking $1,100 to win $1,000 (BEST BET)…..These are two teams moving in totally opposite directions. Green Bay has stumbled into the playoffs, losers of two straight games. It’s not just the losses, but the way they lost that’s troubling. Packer’s offense has been in a bad funk lately, with wideouts unable to generate separation. Offensive line has been dominated by two admittedly strong defensive fronts (ARZ and MINN). The OL is also hampered by injuries, and hasn’t played together much as a unit all season, now facing a Washington defensive front with 17 sacks in their last four games. Meanwhile, QB Rodgers has been sacked a whopping 13 times in the past two weeks. That doesn’t bode well for a team now going on the road and facing opponent playing its biggest game in quite a while. Green Bay’s record shows they’ve won just 4 of last 1o games, and one of those was the Hail Mary pass in Detroit, which means they’ve played below expectation in 7 out of their last 10 games. There’s nothing to suggest the Packers can simply flip a switch as in seasons past (recall 2015 when QB Rodgers told everyone to “relax” and then backed it up). This line is clearly predicated on another rebound and the Packers’ historical playoff relevance. Meanwhile, Washington has continued to improve on both sides of the ball. Redskins have won four straight, scoring 24+ points in each game. QB Cousins is playing at an All-Pro level. Washington’s three losses during second half of the season were to NWE and CAR (no shame in those defeats), plus a 3-point loss to DAL. There’s no question WASH is playing much more solid football the second half of season and especially the last few weeks. We have arguably at least as good a team, playing with home field advantage, versus struggling opponent with several question marks. I can’t emphasize enough how serious the Packer’s OL problems are at this moment, and I expect this to be the major factor in the game. This appears to be the best bet on the card this weekend.
TEASER: Minnesota +11 / Washington +7 — Risking $825 to win $750…..I’ll add some frosting on the money cake with one teaser, playing two very live dogs getting generous points.
NOLAN DALLA — 2015 NFL SEASON RECORD (season win totals have now been included)
72 WINS – 97 LOSSES — 3 PUSHES
STARTING BANKROLL: $10,000.
CURRENT BANKROLL: $14,090.
NET GAIN/LOSS: + $4,090
BEST BETS OF THE WEEK: 12 – 9 – 2
LAST WEEK: 11 — 4 — 0 (+4,680, but +$2,255 after season win losses were adjusted)
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS: (all wagers were risking $770 to win $700)
NY Jets at Buffalo — UNDER 41.5…..WON
Tampa at Carolina — UNDER 45.5…..LOST
New England at Miami — UNDER 46.5…..WON
Baltimore at Cincinnati — UNDER 41.5…..WON
New Orleans at Atlanta — UNDER 52.5 (BEST BET)…..WON
Jacksonville at Houston — UNDER 45.5…..WON
Pittsburgh at Cleveland — UNDER 47…..WON
Oakland at Kansas City — UNDER 44…..WON
Washington at Dallas — UNDER 39.5…..LOST
Detroit at Chicago — UNDER 45.5…..WON
Philadelphia at NY Giants — UNDER 51.5 (BEST BET)…..LOST
Minnesota at Green Bay — UNDER 45.5…..WON
San Diego at Denver — UNDER 41.5…..LOST
St. Louis at San Francisco — UNDER 38.5…..WON
Seattle at Arizona — UNDER 47.5…..WON
SEASON WIN TOTALS — WAGERS (-$2,425 was added/subtracted into record this week)
Pittsburgh Steelers UNDER 8.5 (+115) — wagering $2,000 to win $2,300…..loser
Philadelphia Eagles UNDER 9.5 (-110) — wagering $1,050 to win $1,000…..winner
NY Jets UNDER 7.5 (-120 /-135) — wagering $1,275 to win $1,000…..loser
Tennessee Titans OVER 5.5 (-150) — wagering $450 to win $300…..loser
Cleveland Browns UNDER 6.5 (-170) — wagering $510 to win $300……winner