Everything old is new again – or so the adage goes. The NFL regular season is old and over; the NFL playoffs are new and starting. With Wild-Card Weekend about to happen, it is time for some analysis and picks.
The Chiefs host the Titans and the Chiefs are 8.5-point favorites at home. The Chiefs came out of the gate in September looking like Lombardi’s Packers from 50 years ago and then went into a fugue state for about a month only to come back to normal and play well down the stretch. The Titans ended the season on a low note; they lost to the Niners and the Rams and narrowly beat the Jags last week when the Jags had exactly nothing to play for. Here is a team stat for the Titans that is surprising for a team participating in the playoffs:
- The Titans threw more INTs (17) than TD passes (14) for the season.
The Titans succeed when they can run the football and the biggest weakness for the Chiefs is their run defense. If you just look at the stats, you would likely conclude that the Titans will control the clock with the run and keep it close. That scenario makes the 8.5-point spread look like a lot for the Chiefs to overcome. Having said that, I have trouble putting faith in the Titans; I just think the Chiefs are the better team and they have the better coaching. Without a lot of conviction, I like the Chiefs to win the game and to cover that big spread.
The Rams host the Falcons and the Rams are 5.5-point favorites at home. The line opened at 5 points and as of this morning you can find it as high as 6.5 points at one of the sportsbooks in Las Vegas and as low as the original 5 points at one of the Internet sportsbooks. Everyone has focused on the Rams’ offensive awakening this year as is evidenced by this historical fact:
- The Rams are the first NFL team ever to lead the league in scoring for a season after they were the lowest scoring team in the league in the previous season.
- In round numbers, the Rams scored an average of 14 points per game in 2016 and an average of 30 points per game in 2017.
I think there is a factor that has been overlooked regarding the Rams. Defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, has been successful just about everywhere he has been, and he has some very talented players to implement his schemes; Aaron Donald is a human wrecking ball in the middle of that defense. The Falcons’ defense has played well in recent weeks, but I would be hard pressed to make the case that the Falcons’ defense will shut down the Rams’ offense here. I’ll take the Rams to win and cover here.
The Jags host the Bills and the Jags are 9-point favorites at home. The Total Line for the game is 39 points. If you want to see a game between newbies to the playoffs, this is for you. The Bills’ last appearance in the playoffs was in 1999; the Jags have not been there since 2007. I think the oddsmaker has the Total Line right:
- I do not trust Blake Bortles and the Jags’ offense to light up the scoreboard.
- With LeSean McCoy at less than 100% – – if he can go at all – – the Bills will have to rely on Tyrod Taylor to manufacture points against the Jags’ top-rated defense.
- Neither choice is particularly appetizing…
McCoy leads the Bills in rushing (1138 yards) AND he is the leading receiver on the team (77 receptions). If he doesn’t play at all, the Bills may be hard-pressed to score 13 points. On the other hand, if Bortles goes into “interception mode”, the same can happen to the Jags. Purely a hunch, but I like the Bills to keep this game close; I’ll take the Bills plus the points here.
The Saints host the Panthers and the Saints are 7-point favorites at home. The Saints beat the Panthers twice this year; I know it is difficult for one team to beat another team 3 times in a season, but I expect that to happen here. The Saints – for the first time in several years – are a balanced team. They can run the ball; they can throw the ball; and, most importantly, they can stop the other team more than occasionally. I think the Saints will win and cover here and move on to the next round of the playoffs.
Since I will be in transit next Monday, I need to make a pick in the CFP championship game here. With Alabama as one of the participants yet again, some might be tempted to rename the CFP as the AJIT – the Alabama January Invitational Tournament. As of this morning, Alabama is a 3.5-point favorite over Georgia. Making a selection in this game comes down to what you believe you saw in last week’s semi-final games:
- Georgia’s run attack dominated Oklahoma amassing 319 yards. Do you believe they can do that to the Alabama defense? If so, Georgia will win the game outright and be the national champions.
- Alabama’s defense simply throttled Clemson holding the Tigers to a mere 154 yards of total offense for the game. Do you believe that is the sort of defensive effort Alabama will demonstrate on Monday night? If so, Alabama will win handily.
I think the outcome of this game will be in doubt late in the 4th quarter; in the end, I like Alabama to win the game, but I like Georgia plus the points.
Finally, with the CFP championship game involving two teams from the SEC, here is a pertinent comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:
“LaVar Ball plans to start a league for players who want to skip college. This sounds similar to the SEC.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………