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Friday, January 4, 2019

Week 18: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) WILD CARD PLAYOFFS EDITION

Week 18:  #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) WILD CARD PLAYOFFS EDITION

2018 season totals: 167-87-2 .652 (WINS); 119-129-8 .480 (ATS); 140-113-3 .553 (O/U) 

Note/Key (when applicable): Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN); Against the spread (ATS).

 Andrew Luck has led a band of young players from 1-5 to the Wild Card Round of the playoffs and is even in serious MVP consideration.

Indianapolis Colts 10-6 (+1.5) @ Houston Texans 11-5 (48.5): Colts 24-23
Saturday, 4:35 PM, NRG Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: I can’t imagine the Texans are too psyched about seeing a red-hot Colts team, a divisional opponent that they split the season series with no less, especially considering how each team started the season. The Colts were widely considered a project, whose progress relied heavily upon the health of Andrew Luck, who appeared to be heading down the Peyton Manning path. No, the other path to not being able to throw a football. Instead, the Colts drafted well and almost won the division after starting the season 1-5. Think about how insane that is: The Colts started 1-5. Indianapolis then went 9-1 and now brings perhaps the youngest team into the playoffs, which could be a curse or a blessing. Guess who else has never played a playoff game? Deshaun Watson, who leads a Texans team that has lost their identity the past few weeks and almost lost the division after leading it by a wide margin for most of the season. Truth be told, the Texans started 0-3 themselves, and Billy O’Brien had some of the best early odds to lose his job, but alas, the Texans rattled off their own winning streak (9 games) starting Week 4 against these very Colts before, well, these very Colts ended that streak during Week 14. Speaking of those regular season matchups, these teams split 1-1, both games decided by three points. So basically what we have here is a rubber match between two divisional opponents in which the Colts team is full of inexperienced players led by a seasoned playoff veteran and the Texans are an experienced playoff team led by a quarterback with no playoff experience. The bottom line is the Texans are 2-2 to close the season, one of those wins a one-possession game against the NY Jets they almost lost. That’s no way to enter the playoffs against a Colts team that ended the regular season top-10 in total offense, defense, points scored and points allowed. The Texans were that once…

 So much for a rebuilding year. Russell Wilson has led the Seahawks to another playoff appearance.

Seattle Seahawks 10-6 (+2) @ Dallas Cowboys 10-6 (43): Seahawks 24-21

Saturday, 8:15 PM, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Cowboys won seven of their final eight games to win the NFC East after starting the season 3-5, one of those losses coming to these Seahawks (24-13 Week 3), but those seven wins were all one-possession games. You could call those gutsy wins or you could call them games they could’ve easily lost. Those games were largely won on the Cowboys top-10 defense (now 12th in total defense), Ezekiel Elliot’s legs (1434 rushing yards; 6 TDs) and the mid-season trade of Amari Cooper (53 receptions; 725 receiving yards; 6 TDs with Dallas). Unfortunately for Dallas, all three of those phases of the Cowboys game have suffered or didn’t play at all the past three games. The Dallas defense surrendered 26 ppg, Ezekiel Elliot rushed for 171 total yards and fumbled twice in the two games he played, and Amari Cooper caught 13 balls for 83 total yards in those last three games. That’s not how you want to enter a rare playoff appearance against the dark horse of the NFC, a Seahawks teams that averages 26.8 ppg (6th) led by Russell Wilson (3,448 passing yards; 35 TDs; 7 INT), who, the last time I checked, is smashing quarterback pace records in his seventh season while playing in multiple Super Bowls already. The Seahawks compliment Wilson with the league’s top rushing attack by a wide margin, which just happens to play right into the Cowboys 5th-ranked rush defense. The 13th-ranked Seahawks are no run-stopping slouches themselves, so this game likely comes down to Wilson versus Dak Prescott (18th-ranked QB by Pro Football Focus), in which Wilson holds the decided advantage.

 Remember this guy? Neither does anyone outside of Audubon, NJ. Go Green Wave!

Los Angeles Chargers 12-4 (+2.5) @ Baltimore Ravens 10-6 (41.5): Ravens 21-20
Sunday, 1:05 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD (Weather: Sunny; low 50s) 

Reasons: The Chargers lost to these Ravens just a few weeks ago (22-10 Week 16), but that game was in Carson, CA, or “home” as we’re supposed to call it when referring to it in the context of the Chargers. Before I lose you, the Chargers were 7-1 on the road this season, tied for the best road record in the NFL (NO Saints), which brings me to my point: The Chargers are better on the road. Unfortunately, the Ravens are 6-2 at home this year, and 6-1 since turning the team over to rookie Lamar Jackson, but what does that mean? Jackson was an average quarterback at best in his seven games (58% completion; 6 TDs; 3 INTs; 7.0 ypa), while almost all the hype came from his legs (147 carries for 695 rushing yards; 4.7 ypc; 6 TDs) and those six wins. Those six wins belong more to the clock ticking as the Ravens ran the ball over 45 times per game after the bye week (Week 11) once Jackson took over, an almost unthinkable metric by today’s NFL standards. The Ravens defense isn’t the best overall defense in the league for nothing. Jackson also looks like a Michael Vick injury in the making. The Chargers are the more talented team, and we could be looking at a HOF quarterback in Philip Rivers (4,308 passing yards; 32 TDs; 12 INTs) against a rookie quarterback, but the Chargers never accomplished anything in San Diego with better teams, so it’s hard to imagine they beat the best defense in the NFL on the road against a dynamic rookie who chews up the clock when you just got destroyed by said team three weeks prior. Add the attrition issues with Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler and what we have is a Chargers team that started slow, peaked late and seems to have hit the offensive wall at the worst possible time. The Chargers spent another year underachieving due to injuries, overachieving with replacements, dominating once the team was back intact and then exiting the playoffs early. Same team, different city. Well, I guess Carson is a town.

 It's that time of the year again when Carson Wentz gets seriously injured and hands the keys to Dick, sorry, Nick Foles to work his magic.

Philadelphia Eagles 9-7 (+6) @ Chicago Bears 12-4 (41): Bears 24-20

Sunday, 4:40 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: Cloudy; low 40s)

Reasons: The final game of Wild Card weekend is the only game in which the home team is actually favored. I know what you’re thinking, every home team is favored. Not really in Las Vegas terms, though, because the home team generally gets two to three points in a spread just for being home. If you’re favored by 1.5 points at home, you’re not really favored. Well, the Bears are heavy favorites, which has to be based on two things: Nick and Foles. The greatest back up quarterback since Jeff Hostetler, Foles was injured in Week 17, but managed to avoid the injury report heading into the game Sunday. The other Foles aspect is that most experts simply don’t trust him. Despite all the heroics, there’s a reason Foles is a journey man at best. Mediocre with a splash of madness and miracle. The same man who holds NFL records and a Super Bowl MVP has almost been run out of the NFL several different times. The Eagles had a nightmare season, rife with chemistry issues, a defensive coach (as in angry, not Xs and Os) and injuries that even affected several layers of depth. Yet, here the reigning NFL Champions are, in the playoffs and four wins away from another Super Bowl title, which would put their season win total one below what the Eagles won during the regular season last year alone. The Bears, on the other hand, won their first division title since 2010 and likely wouldn’t even be here if not for the trade heard ‘round the world that landed them Khalil Mack. The Bears had defensive talent to begin with; Mack gave the defense the freedom to play to their potential knowing he was in the middle to save everything. The surprising aspect of the Bears was their dynamic offense, one that averaged over 29 ppg and were ranked as high as 5th not long ago. Chicago ended the season ranked 9th at 26.3 ppg, but only scored 19.3 ppg their last four games, which led to the dip in average, but also concerns about Mitch Trubisky, who after missing weeks 12-13 only threw four TDs in his final four games (Trubisky averaged 1.8 TD passes/g in his first 11 games), threw three INTs, fumbled twice and was sacked four times. For the record Trubisky only fumbled four times in his previous 11 games and only threw nine INTs. In other words, after a fast start Trubisky fizzled slightly, meaning the Bears chances will come down to what everyone assumed: The defense. The Bears are better than the Eagles in every major metric besides total offense and defensive penalty yards, but many of those offensive metrics are padded by the first three quarters of the season. This is the only game of the weekend in which these teams didn’t face each other in 2018, so I’ll assume the game comes down to Mike Nagy calling a Chi Chi, how the Bears suffocating defense plays if Eddie Jackson can't go and the Eagles late season magic. Does Philly Philly have another miracle up their sleeves or will Mack swallow their hopes? One big hit to Foles and we have our answer.

Stay tuned for Tuesday’s Gone: Week 18 #NFL Game Reviews WILD CARD ROUND EDITION coming Tuesday!

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