We spun our wheels last week, going 2-2, which is always less fun when the two losses come after the two wins. But no harm, no foul, so let’s get into the best weekend in the NFL calendar, the divisional round.
My favourite bet comes in the ‘main event’ this weekend, as the Saints travel to Minnesota as 3.5 or 4 points dogs. The handicap here is quite straightforward. The current line, when accounting for the Viking’s strong home field and the bye, essentially says these are two equal teams. And while I love the Saints,(I backed them last week), I don’t think that’s true as currently constituted.
The Saints defense which helped make this team the best in the league in adjusted yards per play is no longer present.
Injuries have claimed three key starters in the form of Alex Okafor, A.J. Klein, and Kenny Vaccaro.
Crucially, Klein and Vaccaro were responsible for calling out the plays and making adjustments in their position groups, and both have been replaced by inferior options. In the last two weeks Tampa Bay and Carolina, no-one’s idea of offensive juggernauts, rolled for 868 yards and converted 21-35 on third-down.
Last week alone, Cam went for 306 passing yards with no interceptions, after seven of his last nine efforts had been 183 passing yards or less. There were numerous coverage busts, and the damage could have been a lot worse had Carolina’s receivers not dropped two more touchdowns (I think Funchess should have come up with that ball on the penultimate play of the game).
In short, Case Keenum and this offense should carve up the Saints defense, while they also bring the firepower on defense to limit Brees.
The Minnesota D is first in the league in points allowed per game (15.8), yards (275.9) and third-down percentage (25.2). Twelve of the Vikings’ sixteen opponents managed less than 20 points, including these Saints in Week 1. Back the Vikes to get the job done again.
The other game I have bet on as of this minute is under 41.5 in Philadelphia. The Falcons have morphed from last season’s high flying outfit, into a well-balanced team. Over the final eight weeks of the regular season, only four teams allowed fewer points per game than the Falcons’ 17.88. Last week they held the league’s best offense to just 13 points and anyone watching the game knows they earned it. I expect more of the same against the Nick Foles-led Eagles offense which has been truly abysmal.
Foles has posted 5.1 yards per attempt and a Total QBR of 28.1 over his three starts in December, placing him behind Mitchell Trubisky and DeShone Kizer for 29th in the league in that time. The Philadelphia running game also dropped off, falling to 28th in expected points added in Weeks 15-17.I don’t think Philly gets past 20 here.
On the flip side, I’d say the Falcon’s 26 points last week were a mirage, buoyed by turnovers and short fields.
Matt Ryan actually threw shorter (3.8 air yards per pass) than in any game of his career, largely thanks to the ferocious Rams pass rush, which dominated the Falcons o-line, particularly the interior, where backup Ben Garland was starting.
Well, guess what. This week Mr. Garland will have Fletcher Cox and arguably the best defensive line in the league in his face, and subsequently, I can see Matt Ryan struggling again. I’d be surprised if the Falcons get past 20 as well, so take the under 41.5.
On the AFC side of the ledger this weekend, things look somewhat trickier, although I do expect to make a wager on the Titans plus the points.
I’m holding out for the +14 at the minute but will take 13.5 if it never comes.
I think the Titans on the field on Saturday are a little underrated compared to their season-long numbers. For starters, Derrick Henry will take the majority of snaps at RB. Henry’s 48 percent success rate is 15th in the league, while the man he’s replacing, Demarco Murray, posted a 39 percent success rate, good for 43rd among 47 backs.
The passing game also has been more productive with Henry around. Per ESPN’s Bill Barnwell: “With the former Alabama star on the field this season, Mariota & Co. have posted a 105.3 passer rating and averaged 8.1 yards per throw. With Murray in the backfield, though, the passing game has been brutal, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt with a passer rating of just 65.1.”
The Patriots rank 30th in rush defense DVOA, and Henry should have a good amount of success on Saturday, moving the offense but also crucially keeping Tom Brady on the sidelines.
What’s also interesting here is that Tom Brady has not been playing like himself in recent weeks. Brady appeared on the injury report in Week 12 with an Achilles issue, and proceed to throw interceptions in five of the next six games while failing to throw for 300 yards once. He threw for 300 six times in the first ten games.
I don’t know if the drop off is related to age, injury, or opponents adjusting, but it is real, and not accounted for in this line in my opinion.
It’s even more important that Brady will have to win this one through the air because no-one has rushed the ball successfully against the Titans (seventh in rush defense DVOA).
This one should be a lot closer than the line suggest.
Finally, I have no play on the Steelers/Jags game. I can’t back the current version of Blake Bortles, who ran for more yards than he passed for on Sunday and has been this bad for a month now. But I also don’t want to lay 7.5 points against one of the best passing defenses this decade. The under 41 would get my vote if forced to play at current prices, and I’d take the Steelers if they hit -7.
Good luck all!
Brad’s Divisional Weekend Bets:
- Vikings -3.5
- Under 41.5 points Falcons @ Eagles
- Titans +14