Let me introduce the gang, The Experts are made up of myself (Lazarus76), Jim Brown, Gman84, Arniehi, Toadie21 and Touchdown Tips, we’re all NFL mad and come together each week to take a look at the slate of games, we all write our pieces without seeing what the others have written, there are some certainties though, Jim loves an underdog, I’ll always pick the Falcons and it seems we all hate the Cowboys apart from our Scottish Texan!
Loz, I’m a totally biased Falcons fan with a rather large hate of the Cowboys, I’ll make no apologies for giving the Falcons plenty of love, and I’ll be slagging off the Cowboys at every opportunity.
Jim, Long time NFL fan, frustrated Cowboys fan, a Scot living in Texas, within 5 miles of the centre of the NFL world - AT&T stadium! Always keen to pick out a good underdog. Owner of the NFL Underdog Blog on OLBG.com
Chris, Redskins and NFL fan since the mid-80’s.
Arnie, I'm a Saints fan, and while I prefer College Football, I'll happily spend Sundays watching the NFL if I can. One day I'll manage to go watch the Superbowl live. This year, I'm high on the Chiefs offense, down on the Cowboys (as I always will be, because of Jerry Jones), and would like to use this platform to say screw the Ohio State Buckeyes, Urban Meyer, and Zach Smith.
Andy, Packers fan. In love with Scott Hanson and RedZone. When it comes to picking games I’m always looking at the spread. Winning isn’t important, did they cover?
Adam, Touchdowntips, and I run touchdowntips.com and unsurprisingly @touchdowntips on twitter, I've been doing write-ups and previews on all games for a couple of years now on there, had a great first year, not so great, but still profitable 2017 and have started this year fairly well.
Week 17 Recap
Week 17 Recap
So the regular season is done and dusted and we are left with the final 12, the final round of games saw a few surprises and a few games a lot closer than expected, as a collective we did amazingly well with myself, Chris and Arnie all hit an impressive 81% strike rate, as we are looking at our performances, ladies and gentlemen we have a winner overall on the season, GMAN84 finishes the season as our best tipster with a very impressive 64% strike rate, well done Chris, to be honest it was very close and we all were more than respectable.
Last Week’s Performance
Lazarus76 13/16 (81%)
Jim Brown 9/16 (56%)
Gman84 13/16 (81%)
Arniehi 13/16 (81%)
Toadie21 11/16 (69%)
Touchdowntips 11/16 (69%)
Season Strike Rate
Jim Brown 62%
No more 2nd chances lose and you’re on the beach! 4 games for us to look at and many of the guys have gone in to major detail, we’ve all tried to look for and additional bet or 2, points, handicaps, props, td’s and specials all get looked at, so strap yourself in and take a look at the experts views.
Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans
This one is probably the toughest game to decipher of the weekend, both obviously know each other really well and the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” becomes all too apparent here, usually being the road team in the playoffs is a little harder but the Colts will have no fears rolling into Texas as they’ve done it a plenty of times before, if this game had of been in week 9/10 I’d be all over the Texans, they were flying at that time but their end of season run wasn’t the best, the Colts have gradually improved all season with Luck getting back to his best and Reich slowly getting his team playing in his image, the line is just about right for the game with the Texans narrow favourites, the points are currently at the 47 mark and again that is about right, this could be close and I don’t see it going over, I am a player on the Colts with a couple of points start and I’ll take them outright as well. COLTS
Successful 2-point conversion @100/30
And here we go again. Last month the Colts took the route south to Houston and upheld their outstanding recent record against the Texans with a close 24-21 win. Indy have progressed really well this season with Andrew Luck back and are starting to look like the type of team we expected when Luck was brought in. That great recent record against Houston (5-1 in Houston and 9-4 overall), should be kept going. The games between these two tend to be on the tight side, so the under 49.5pts at around 4/5 looks attractive. COLTS (NAP)
If the regular season is anything to go by, this game should be tighter than Jim Brown's round at the bar! They split the series, each winning in the others back yard and each by three points. I've raved about the Colts and the job Frank Reich has done over the past few weeks and I'm not deserting them now as I think he can outfox Bill O'Brien but they must start well and not let the home team create a frenzy behind them. We've been asked to pick a NAP this week and this will be mine but to be clear, this is as much about conviction as a strong selection, all this week’s games are tight to pick. COLTS (NAP)
Third meeting of the season between these teams, with the road team winning by 3 points on each occasion so far (the Texans picked up their first win of the season with an overtime victory in Week 4). Both these teams feature solid offenses, with Deshaun Watson once again proving himself an exceptional Quarterback in his sophomore year as a professional, while Andrew Luck has continued his comeback from injuries to show just how good he can be. The Colts are racking up about 20 yards more per game than the Texans (7th and 15th in the NFL respectively), but those extra yards have only amounted to about 2 more points to game (5th and 11th respectively), while Houston have been able to run the ball with greater efficiency (8th on the ground with 126 yards per game compared to Indy's 20th with 107 yards per game). The real difference I see here is the pass protection both teams afford their quarterbacks, with the Texans giving up a league high 62 sacks - 12 of which game against the Colts across their two games - and the Colts having only given up 18 sacks on the year. I have a strong feeling that that will be the difference between the two come Saturday, and with that in mind have to favour the Colts to edge this one again on the road.
The game total has been set at 48.5, and it's a fair enough one. Only one of the previous 5 games between these sides has hit the over, but both Quarterbacks are explosive and there has always been something about Watson in the big games that anyone could see from his College career at Clemson. He's thrown for 26 touchdowns this year, and added another 5 on the ground, while Andrew Luck has thrown for 39, including 5 in his last 2 games. I can certainly see this one going over in decent conditions (roof open or closed) at NRG Stadium.
On touchdown scorers and general game props, Marlon Mack has picked up 5 touchdowns in his last 4 games, but 1.8 isn't a price I like, particularly for a team that's only recorded 13 rushing touchdowns all year and against a Texans team that has only allowed 8 on the season. Of more interest is Tight End Eric Ebron, who has two touchdowns for the year against the Texans included in his 13 for the year, and is hard to match up against. 2.5 for him to find the End Zone anytime is far more appealing, particularly with the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, and Dontrelle Inman all listed as Questionable. However, the way the Texans offense has been playing recently makes me far more happy to side with Quarterback Deshaun Watson at a decent enough price of 3.75. He may only have 5 rushing touchdowns for the year, but 3 of those have come in the last 2 games, while the Texans scored twice on the ground in their loss to the Colts (Blue and Miller), and he also found pay dirt in their win over them in Week 4, and has been the Texans leading rusher for five games straight. One final prop of interest is the an OddsOnThat available from Betway, with 9+ total sacks in the game, along with a Defense or Special Team touchdown available at 13.0. The Texans have scored two touchdowns on turnovers against the Colts this year, and with the amount of sacks they give up, and the pressure that the Texans pass rush can generate, those odds look fairly interesting. COLTS and over 48.5
Anytime Touchdown Scorer: DESHAUN WATSON
Chance Game Prop: OVER 9.5 SACKS & EITHER TEAM D/ST TO SCORE
The Colts have owned the Texans in recent meetings and are 11-5 in the Andrew Luck years including going 2-0 last season without Luck, showing their maybe a physiological edge. The Texans do have the all important home advantage and are a team with solid home form 6-2 but one of those defeats was to the Colts. I’d side with the Colts +2.5 on the spread. I’d lean towards the over 48.5 in this game, the Texans are bracketed as a strong defensive team but if you ignore the results against the Jaguars (who have zero offence) it hasn’t played out like that this year teams such as the Titans, Redskins, Jets, Dolphins have has success scoring on them and the Colts themselves have scored 58points against them in their 2 games. TY Hilton has over 300 receiving yards against the Texans this year and that’s even more impressive since he missed the 2nd half of the 1st game 10/1 1st TD seems fair. COLTS
Well, this line has come in! It opened with the Colts getting 2.5; I knew I should have taken my acca at the start of the week... These two split the series during the regular season, both games decided by 3 points, the first being the overtime debacle from Frank Reich leaving the Texans an easy field goal to win the match, the second a far tighter affair. The Colts have looked really good this year, I'll admit that I was one of those who thought that Andrew Luck might never be fit again but I'm happy to say I was wrong on that front, he's been brilliant this year, 5th in yards, 2nd behind Paddy' 'homes in TDs thrown, 2nd best in INTs. He's had a great season thanks in part to a greatly improved offensive line, he's 2nd only to Drew Brees in sacks taken by QBs who've played most of the season, and they went 5 games in a row earlier in the year without allowing a hit. The line vs. the Texans pass rush could well be the key to this game.
The passing game runs mainly through TY Hilton, he topped 1,200 yards, at an average of 90 per game, finishing 6th in that stat, to say that he's the only name in the WR corps could be seen as a little disparaging, but honestly, Zach Pascal, Dontrelle Inman, Chester Rodgers? Well they've all been important for the Chiefs this year, possibly not as important as the tight ends though, Eric Ebron has finally lived up to his draft position (You may have heard he was picked ahead of Odell Beckham) with 13 TDs this year, second amongst all pass catchers. Even Mo Alie-Cox, Eric Swoope and Ryan Hewitt have chipped in with TDs this year.
The running game has really picked up over the last month as well, Marlon Mack has been very good with 2 100 yard games in the last 3, and 5 TDs in his last 4 games: He and Nyheim Hines have formed a good partnership with Hines being active in the passing game, without Mack playing in their first encounter Hines scored 2 TDs against the Texans. There's also Jordan Wilkins who has barely been used in the second half of the year but isn't awful.
The defense is average but has the leading tackler by quite a way in rookie LB Darius Leonard who somehow didn't make the pro-bowl.
The Texans boast a very good pass rush which has been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks; JJ Watt is 2nd in sacks with 16.5 this year. I'm still not sure he's what he used to be but it's more than enough for most offensive lines in the league, oh and he's also top in forced fumbles as well...He and Jadeveon Clowney on the other side of the line have been destructive to say the least, they will do well to find a way through the Colts offensive line though and as above it will probably be the key to the game. One word of caution on this side of the ball, Watt appeared to injure his elbow last week, he has said he's all right during the week and I wouldn't expect it to keep him from being a beast, but still.
DeShaun Watson, for some reason in a fairly meaningless second half last week, was constantly running the ball finishing with his second highest rush yards of the season, and what should have been more than 1 TD. It was a weird decision given what is behind him at QB, but he came through unscathed and threw the ball well too, especially given what he's got to throw to.
Even more so than the Colts they're reliant on one player in the receiving game, DeAndre 'Nuk' Hopkins is cementing his position as a top 3, and possibly the best WR in the league this year, he is yet to drop a ball. HE HASN'T DROPPED A CATCH ALL YEAR! 115 catches and no drops. It's remarkable as they're not exactly easy catches for the most part, it seems he's inevitably fighting with at least one cornerback for the ball and somehow always seems to emerge with the completion. He's great fun to watch when it's not against your team, he finished 2nd in yards behind Julio and with 11 TDs, good for 5th in the league for pass catchers. Outside of him they'll be praying Keke Coutee is finally fit enough to go from the hamstring injury that's kept him out for seemingly the last 2 months of the season. He was a vital chain mover for them when fit and without their mid-season signing Demariyus Thomas (bust Achilles) they are currently relying on Vyncint Smith and DeAndre Carter who was cut by the Eagles a month or so ago. They do have 3 tight ends that can provide assistance, Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins and Ryan Griffin (ordered from most to least interesting) although Griffin leads the three in targets and receptions they're rarely red-zone targets.
Lamar Miller is somehow an effective running back. I have never seen it in real life but his stats are remarkably good, nearly 1,000 yards and 5 TDs won't blow anyone away but he does a decent job for the team although he has been struggling with an ankle injury he did get 17 carries last week which must be a good sign for him. If he does drop out then Alfred Blue will come in but definitely can't be relied on to do, well, anything really. D'Onta Foreman is one of "my guys" - They have eased him in since his return from a blown Achilles late last year and he was a healthy scratch last week despite scoring a TD the previous week. I'll be checking team news to see if he's involved.
The Colts pass rush has been average but the Texans have allowed more QB hits than any team in the league, and that's with one of the most mobile QBs in the league back there, he was constantly scrambling against the Jags last week so the Colts may well be able to cause some issues.
So... I think the Colts will win. I think they're the better roster and are better coached. The key will be keeping Watson under wraps, and obviously limiting Nuk as much as possible. - Player props? Well, total sacks o5.5 looks like a solid bet (usually available on 365) - TD Scorers - Nuk and Mack at short prices, the tight ends Jordan Thomas and Mo Alie-Cox at bigger prices. - It's the highest total of the weekend by some way and I think despite it being a playoff game which is usually lower scoring that it will go over 48. COLTS
Seattle Seahawks @ Dallas Cowboys
Won’t be waxing lyrical about either of these but my colours are nailed firmly in the Seattle camp, my hatred of the Cowboys is absolutely clouding my judgement but I just can’t pick them, there are a couple of football reasons to back me up as well though, the Cowboys are a one-man team and keep Zeke Elliott quiet and Prescott doesn’t have the skillset to put this team on his shoulders and carry them through a game, it will be difficult to keep Zeke quiet but it can be done, Seattle run the ball more than anyone in the league and that is the key to the game, Sean Lee is a great LB when fit and makes a difference to the defence but he misses far too many games and seems to be made of plastic, with decent rookie Vander Esch also carrying an injury the potential weakness in the Cowboys defence will be music to the Seahawks ears. Not surprised that the line is quite low for the game (currently around the 43 mark) as I don’t see this being a Pointsfest, the Cowboys are narrow favourites and once again I’m on the road team with the points and outright as well. SEAHAWKS
Russell Wilson to score a TD anytime @4/1
Home advantage is going to be crucial for the Cowboys, because they haven't done that well recently against Seattle, losing the last three - two of those here in Dallas. But the Cowboys come into the play-offs with that magical ingredient - momentum. Although resting Zeke Elliott last week, they still played with a first-team squad and that could play off. Defense has become more solid as the season has gone on, and even Prescott has started to look downfield for big plays - and making them! So my pick will be my Cowboys but have a serious look at the unders for this game too. Defense could keep this really tight. COWBOYS
A few things to consider here. First off, both teams have changed a bit since their early season regular season meeting which Seattle won. The Cowboys have found their identity to a certain degree with a heavy dose of a rested Zeke, enough solid throws from Dak and the odd big play from Amari Cooper whilst their D plays solid ball too. But, I think they are still not a team to trust. They were gifted the NFC East this year and they face a hardened playoff team with a canny coach so despite the Cowboys strong home record, I'm a believer the Seahawks will come into town and nick this. I do think it'll be a low scorer though. SEAHAWKS
The Seahawks have dominated this series of late, winning 4 of the last 5. Things will be tougher this time around as they travel to Dallas who had a 7-1 record at home through the regular season, including an impressive (if fortuitous) win against the Saints. Neither team has been particularly productive - to the way one would expect a Playoff team to be at least - on offense, with both ranking in bottom half of the NFL in yards per game, although Seattle did make use of the 353 yards per game average by putting up almost 27 points per game (T-6th) - a whole touchdown more than the Cowboys at just around the 21 points per game mark (22nd). Key to both offenses is the ground game and eating up clock time, with the Seahawks looking much better using a workhorse running back in the guise of Chris Carson and almost everything the Cowboys do on offense coming through Ezekiel Elliot, who averaged 108 yards per game through the last 7 games of the regular season and finished as the NFL's leading rusher. This will be a particularly interesting matchup, as Dallas rank 5th against the run and managed to slow down one of the best pair of rushers in Kamara and Ingram when beating the Saints at home. The Seahawks aren't bad against the rush themselves (13th), giving up only 113 yards per game and - more importantly - only 9 touchdowns. The key will certainly be if Seattle can continue to flaunt their league high 160 yards per game on the ground and control the clock. The Seattle defense may not be what it was when the almost won back to back Superbowls, but they have still recorded 43 sacks, 12 interceptions, and 21 forced fumbles this year.
With the total set at 42.5 points, I'm inclined to take the Under in what should be an attritional game. Both teams love to run the ball, and that in itself should run a fair bit of clock. Prescott and Wilson are both very good on the ground themselves, and both teams have also given up over 50 sacks on the year.
There aren't really many prop bets I like the look of in this game, as it could certainly go either way and looks a tight affair. Seattle's offense can be dynamic with Wilson prone to make some barely believable plays in crunch games, but it is interesting to see Doug Baldwin at greater odds than Tyler Lockett to score a Touchdown anytime. Lockett is a potent deep threat, but Baldwin has very much been Wilson's go-to for a couple of seasons and had some incredible catches including a touchdown and a grab at the 1-yard line against the Chiefs two weeks ago. SEAHAWKS
Total: UNDER 42.5
Anytime Touchdown Scorer: DOUG BALDWIN
Two teams that have grown into the season and I would of dismissed from any playoff calculations at the halfway point but isn’t that why we just love the NFL? Cowboys hype hit the unbearable height when they beat the Saints and since then they are known as some defensive juggernaut but since that game they’ve let their opponents score an average of over 27 points. The Seahawks who have a win over the Cowboys this year already have produced some big wins such as over the Chiefs but the win that impressed me the most and shows something stats can’t was their 4th quarter victory over the Panthers as it tells me that Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are winners who rise to the occasion. The Seahawks have playoff experience, winning experience and that can be the difference. With both teams expected to run the ball this could be a cagey affair and that experience could be the difference. Seahawks +1.5 and the total under 44.5. I’m expecting a run game but the price for the RB’s to score is too low for me so a bit of outside of the box thinking and Nick Vannett who’s the Seahawks most targeted TE and has found the end zone 3 times this season is a healthy 8/1 anytime TD 50/1, 1st TD for you degenerates out there. SEAHAWKS
Run, run, run, pass, and then run some more! That seems to have been the mantra of both of these teams on the whole, but especially the Seahawks who have turned back the coaching clock and gone for an extremely run heavy approach this season which has obviously worked.
A crazy stat I saw today... Russell Wilson has had 7 seasons as the Seahawks QB and played a part in all 16 regular season games during that time. For a QB who scrambles so much and takes hits in most games, that's quite remarkable, and while they've tried to protect him this year by running the ball so much he's still taking 51 sacks, 8th worst in the league. Somehow, despite seemingly hardly throwing a pass he's also finished the regular season with his highest number of passing TDs in a season, and that's without Doug Baldwin (or a fit Doug Baldwin) for most of the season.
Speaking of... Doug Baldwin has struggled all year with the knee injury he picked up towards the end of the pre-season, but a fortnight ago finally looked like he was back somewhere near his best, 126 yards from 7 receptions and a TD vs. the Chiefs after 77 and 2 TDs from 4 catches the week before that against the 49ers, the game against the Cardinals wasn't his best but I think he was probably matched up against P2, either way he finished the season with 4 in 4 games, and 5 in his last 6. The main man for most of the season was Tyler Lockett who had some ridiculous efficiency: 16.9 yards per catch, a touch behind Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans, he scored 10 TDs, in 10 separate games this year including one against the Cowboys at the CLINK earlier in the year. David Moore has provided a big body as well but seems to have dropped off over the last month after "famously" winning me a 500/1 2+ TD bet earlier in the year, but they have increased his targets again over the last few weeks so a TD from him isn't beyond the realms of possibility. Jaron Brown is the possibly worth a look but it's impossible to judge his input on any game. 14 receptions from 19 targets on the year, but 5 TDs from that small target share. The tight ends are a bit of a muddle as well, Nick Vannett has 269 and 3, Ed Dickson 143 and 3 from considerably less games and targets. So good luck picking either to score.
The running game is the main thing for the Seahawks, it was assumed it would be largely their first round pick Rashaad Penny but he struggled in blocking to start the year and Chris Carson took his chance with both hands, finishing the season 5th in rushing yards thanks in part to 3 x 100 yard games to close out the season, scoring 5 in the last 4 to finish on fire. Penny has been out with an injury (4 carries vs. the Cards) but Mike Davis has provided good backup for Carson when needed, he also scored last week, even JD McKissic got some snaps last week, he'd be a crazy anytime shot in the dark.
The Seattle defense received an overhaul this year, but they kept their main man in Bobby Wagner and he's been phenomenal this year PFF #1 LB in the league and pretty much locked on to be a first team all pro when that's announced. They've added youth around him and it's worked well for them on the whole, although they have struggled against pass catching RBs...
I'll get this out of the way early. I don't like the Cowboys. I don't rate Dak, as with most people, I think Garrett is a clown.
Ok. Proper preview now.
In a game that he shouldn't have even been playing, Dak was brilliant last week. 4 TDs, 387 yards, and the game winning throw to Cole Beasley was amazing - Seriously it was a beautiful throw! He's actually been pretty impressive since Amari Cooper arrived during the season; it's freed up space for the other players and given him a solid target to aim for. I'll be honest; I didn't think he was capable of clearing 200 yards in a game let alone the 455 he threw for against the Eagles a few weeks back. I'm not going to call him good, but he's been far better than I thought he could be and has run in for 6 TDs as well this season. (That was painful)
You may have heard of Ezekiel Elliott. He's rather good. He has led the league in rush yards this year with 1434 on the ground but surprisingly to me, only the 9 TDs, 6 rushed and 3 caught. They just don't seem to use him at the goal line (LIKE THEY DID WITH F*****G ROD SMITH LAST WEEK) - He has been increasingly used in the passing game as well, which he should do, any way you can get the ball in his hands you should be using - He's averaged just over 7 targets and 49 yards per week since the bye. He goes up against one of the better run defenses in the league, but a team who are susceptible to pass catching backs, so logically you've got to think they'll use him that way.
As mentioned the Amari Cooper trade was the pivotal moment of the season for the Cowboys, he was a breath of fresh air for a team who basically had 3 WR3s before he turned up, he started on fire but has been absent in recent weeks, I assume teams have paid more attention to him opening up chances for others but restricting his stats. He has still been getting the targets, but 32, 20, 31 yards in the final 3 weeks doesn't convince me to take any bet on him. Michael Gallup trotted up 50 yards in each of the last two games and got himself a TD against a poor Tampa team a fortnight ago, he has promise and while I won't back any WR/TE on this team he may well pop up when needed. Cole Beasley scored that beauty last week but hasn't been reliable week in, week out although he did finish the season quite well with over 50 yards in the last two. They do however boast the HOTTEST TE IN THE LEAGUE! The ever-reliable Blake Jarwin of course... 3 TDs and 119 yards last week was ridiculous and a quite possibly a total anomaly. Again not one I'll bet on but it will be interesting to see if they get him the ball again this week.
The defense has been good this year, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esche have managed to oust Sean Lee and become one of the best linebacker duos in the league. They've been brilliant frankly.
I'll be honest I was convinced the Seahawks would win this game thanks mainly to having more experience in the playoffs and the better QB. But after listening to the "RJ Bell dream preview" I'm not entirely sure! He quite rightly pointed out that the Seahawks road form hasn't been great and they haven't really beaten any real challengers, whilst the Cowboys home form has been brilliant (7-1) and they beat the Superbowl favourites (admittedly on TNF) - Actually saying that, after looking at their schedule, they've barely played any good teams either, the Saints being the one marquee win. I think it'll be a close game, the run heavy styles of both teams don't really lend themselves to winning by more than a TD and playoff games are notoriously close affairs in general. SEAHWAKS
Shorter odds - Chris Carson, Zeke: Longer odds - Ed Dickson
Seattle to win and obviously cover would lean over on the total but not a bet for me.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore Ravens
Objectivity is proving to be tough for me in this one as well, I’ve never been a Chargers fan and never saw what many see in Rivers (I mean I don’t even like the way he throws the ball!!), these two played each other just a couple weeks ago (week 16 Ravens won 22-10) and I completely see this game going the same way, the Ravens defence shut Rivers and Gordon down and won the game with relative ease, why will it be a different story this time? There hasn’t been enough time for anything to have changed form-wise and it’s not as if the Chargers were missing a raft of players either, again we have a small points total (currently 41) and again I don’t see it going over, the Ravens are favourites and have to cover less that a FG on the handicap (-2.5), change of tack for me and I’m absolutely on the home team and think they’ll cover the handicap as well. RAVENS
This pair doesn't meet that often (12 games) and the Chargers have only ever won once from four in Baltimore - a frantic 34-33 victory in 2014. The Chargers recorded 12 regular season wins yet found themselves on the road in the wild-card game thanks to the talents of the Chiefs and Mahomes. The Ravens needed the last game of the season to secure the AFC North from the Steelers, and are certainly battle hardened. It's really a simple case of can the Ravens defense stop the Chargers offense? Well they did it on the road to LA in week 16, winning 22-10. A repeat out to be enough and if that defense holds sway again, those unders will look attractive too. RAVENS
All this week’s wild card games feel like coin tosses and this is no exception. Can the Ravens keep their wonderful run with Lamar Jackson going? It's not just his running ability but their run game a whole that is tough to stop. I think the Chargers need to make this a shoot out but that's easier said than done on the road against one of the best defenses in the league but I do think they can score some points and make the Ravens offense have to open up a bit but it doesn't look made to play from behind. CHARGERS
This is a really intriguing matchup and the Chargers can consider themselves fairly unlucky to have to play on the road during Wildcard weekend. The two teams faced off a couple of weeks ago and the Ravens got the win, forcing 3 turnovers and limiting the Chargers to only 198 total yards. They failed to convert their superiority into a clear win until grabbing a punt return touchdown, generally being forced to settle for Field Goals. Both teams average around the same yards per game as each other, and it's fair to say that the Ravens offense has looked a lot more dynamic since Lamar Jackson took over the starting role at Quarterback. It's interesting that, given how good the Ravens defense has generally been all year, they actually have a negative turnover differential, and ultimately I think this will be a game where their defense wins it for them.
With a solid defensive backbone to build upon, coupled with the Ravens difficulty in executing to score touchdowns in the last game between these sides, the Under looks a fairly useful call in a game where the weather could also come into play. Buffalo will look to keep the ball on the ground and boss the time of possession, so if they can get a lead they'll rely on their stingy pass defense to stop the Chargers scoring.
Justin Tucker is a reliable kicker and I do think this game will be tight. Over 3.5 Field Goals is even money and I think that looks a reasonable price in what I presume will be a game of attrition. RAVENS
Total: UNDER 42
Chance Game Prop: OVER 3.5 FIELD GOALS
This game a couple of weeks ago had me bashing my head against the wall. I like the Ravens I love defence in the NFL but I also like Flacco a bit unpopular of an unpopular opinion but there I’ve said it. Jackson yes he can run and the run game has improved but the worry I have is if they go down a score or 2 there’s no return for them, Jackson can’t pass the ball I just don’t get the hype.
Chargers +2.5 at 41 I’m going over on the points too. Melvin Gordon has been back from injury for a couple of weeks now and in the playoffs I expect him to see more of the ball 13/2 1st TD. CHARGERS
Another regular season re-match, and one that took place quite recently in LA with the Ravens coming out on top on that occasion. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing for either team in all fairness. It seems pretty obvious what the Ravens game plan is but that doesn't mean it's easily stopped, and the Ravens D is good enough to adapt and stop whatever is thrown at them.
The Chargers road form gives me hope that they can come out with the win, they've put up a few statement wins away from the Stub Hub, beating the Chiefs, Steelers, Seahawks and to a lesser extent Denver. The wins against the Chiefs and Steelers were particularly impressive coming from big deficits in the second half to win both. I will be referring a lot to the previous game against the Ravens as it's fairly relevant!
It could well be the last good chance that Philip Rivers has to make/win a Superbowl. He's been very good this year on the whole despite throwing an Interception on the first drive of the game in the last 3 games in a row which is quite ridiculous, and he's finished with 2 in each of them. In fact, worryingly the last 3 weeks of the season have been his worst. That may well be down to not having a fit Melvin Gordon in those weeks but it's a worry especially coming up against the Ravens on the road. I love Rivers, I like that he has his own style although it's horrible to see it's clearly very effective for him.
The passing game mainly uses Keenan Allen as the chain mover in the slot with the Williams bros. Tyrell and Mike used a lot in the deeper passing game and RedZone. Allen has a low of 44 yards in any game this year, a breakout of 148 against the clueless Steelers who tried to defend him with linebackers. Tomlin is a moron. He's been very consistent without doing anything too much that entices me on the betting front. Mike seems to have taken over RedZone targets in recent weeks and he should do, they drafted him because he's a big body with a good wingspan and gives Rivers that target, he was only targeted 3 times vs. the Ravens though, catching 1 for 7 yards, in fact the whole passing game was pretty inept in their first matchup. Tyrell 1 for 12 from 2 targets. So frankly not a lot to go off there. Travis Benjamin adds a little extra downfield threat as well and has been involved more in the closing weeks of the season. The tight end position could be interesting this week as Hunter Henry is apparently a full participant in training after returning very quickly from a torn ACL. It will be interesting to see if he goes as he's a very reliable target for Rivers in general. Old man Antonio Gates has filled in well enough in his absence but again, nothing really worth a bet.
Melvin Gordon for some reason was still in the game in the closing stages of a meaningless game last week and went off for a while with a knee injury but has been training fully all week so should be fine to go. He's a top 10 RB in the league so they could definitely do with him being good to go. He's scored 14 TDs this year, 10 on the ground and 4 through the air, and is equally adept at each. The previous game vs. the Ravens they heavily targeted Justin Jackson (10) out of the backfield and he finished with 47 yards from 7 catches. Those targets will either go to Ekeler or Gordon in this one. Speaking of... Ekeler is a very good 3rd down back who had to try and step into RB1 status when Gordon was out, he'll be better as the 2 of a 1-2 punch so should do well enough in this one, both he and Gordon scored last week.
The defense will have to play well to either get to, or keep an eye on Lamar Jackson when he runs. They a top 3 pass rush duo in Ingram and Bosa who will face a challenge against the Ravens O-line and their 17 Tight end sets. They actually allowed Jackson to have the best passing game of his short career against them.
The coaching job done by Harbaugh and Mornhinweg in playing to Jacksons strengths is the reason they've made the playoffs, losing just 1 game (at the Chiefs, in overtime) since Jackson took the reins. They know he's not yet ready to throw the ball 40 times a game and have done a good job of covering that with a ton of RPO and when you've got a QB as electric as Jackson then that's definitely the right move, his burst is remarkable, and despite only starting 7 games he's had more rush attempts than any QB in a season ever. It's probably not maintainable in the long-run but it's working this year! He only had 39 yards on the ground against the Chargers, but as mentioned above that coincided with his best passing game.
The arrival of Jackson opened up the entire run game which has by some way led the league in those 7 games, averaging 224 rushing yards per game between them. Gus "the bus" Edwards came in with Jackson and his direct style has been very effective as a counter-punch to Jackson's ability. He's run hard without really getting any scores, 92 from 14 attempts in that Chargers game, and averaged about 5.5 yards per carry in those games. There has been more input from Kenneth Dixon in the last 6 games of the season, averaging about 10 carries per game and going for 117 against the Browns in the last game of the season last week. He also adds a little in the passing game which Gus doesn't get any use at all. They do have Ty Montgomery as well but he seems to have been faded out of the picture since getting Dixon back fit.
The passing game is very difficult to talk about because they just haven't had to use it much with their rushing ability. Frankly I can't pick any of them to do anything in any week. John Brown was good with Flacco, Willie Snead has had an unimpressive but efficient season on the whole, and Crabtree is a big guy. Chris Moore has some pace to him but is unreliable, and then there are all of the tight ends. Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Maxxxxxx Williams and my personal favourite for props - Mark Andrews, he beasted a 83 yard TD run against the Chargers and in my mind is the best pass catching guy of those 4.
The defense in Baltimore is the best in the league (despite conceding 55 in 2 games to my Bengals) they caused Rivers all sorts of issues in the first matchup. In theory having that tape you'd think the Chargers should be able to work around those issues, but I'd expect a lot of different looks to be on show from the Ravens in this one.
Well... I have no idea which way this is going. My brain goes straight to the Baltimore Ravens taking care of the Chargers again; they have a good home-field and are seemingly unstoppable with the run. However, betting logic suggests you don't back a rookie QB in his first playoff start, and going up against one of the most experienced QBs in the league is a nice juxtaposition.
Short odds? - Lamar Jackson, Mike Williams: Longer odds - Chris Moore
I would lean to the Chargers winning on the road, and over on the total. But I don't want to back either with my own money. CHARGERS
Philadelphia Eagles @ Chicago Bears
The Eagles used up all their luck to even get this far and owe the Bears a huge debt of gratitude, I agree that form counts for a lot in the playoffs and Nick Foles is doing his very best to secure another mega contract somewhere but this is where the Eagles defence of the Superbowl ends and that is down to this Bears defence (echoes of the 85’ Bears, for anyone old enough to remember, or young enough to use Google!!), now I may be talking through my pocket a little here as I backed the Bears at the start of the season @100/1 but I think this team is for real, the secondary is as good as it gets and Khalil Mack is one of the best in the business (Raiders what were you thinking?) Trubisky has shown he is more than capable on offence and overall this team seems to have a great balance, not the biggest points total to overcome (41) but the biggest handicap of the week (-6), I do actually think this one will go over and the Bears defence has more than enough to cover, wouldn’t be surprised to see a D/ST TD for the Bears in this one as well. BEARS (NAP)
Bears D/ST 1st TD @14/1
Bears D/ST Anytime TD @9/2
The Bears have done me proud this season, upholding the pre-season picks of winning the division and making the play-offs and under Trubisky have evolved into a genuine contender. However, this may just be a season too early for Superbowl dreams. The Eagles scraped into the play-offs thanks to class telling over the last few weeks. Now that they’re in the play-offs and with Foles again at the helm I suspect the Eagles will start to show the form that took them to the ultimate win last year. They've won the last three against the Bears and hold a 9-4 record covering the last 13 games. Expect a tight game, but possibly a high scoring one as they go at each other. The points total is set at 41.4pts and that can be surpassed. EAGLES
I'll show my age now and state how I recall the last time these two met in the playoffs at Soldier Field, the Fog Bowl back in 1988. Randall Cunninghame heaving balls up into the gloom! The Eagles lost that day but they come into this with momentum and the experience that the Bears do lack. However, that Bears defense is just so good and I think they'll give Nick Foles fits and uncrown the defending champs. BEARS
Much has been made about the Eagles comeback to sneak into the Playoffs, and while their late season run was impressive, they should owe a lot of thanks to the Bears for putting a beat-down on the Vikings and coming up against injury ravaged Washington twice in that stretch. The Bears were absolutely brilliant through the year defensively, putting up 50 sacks for the year, and have a 7-1 home record going in to this. The Eagles have a depleted secondary that Mitch Trubisky can exploit, despite him being far from the finished product under center. The Eagles have had troubles moving the ball - particularly on the ground - this year, and the pass rush the Bears have could really hurt. It'll likely be a methodical approach with short passes and screens when it comes to their offense, particularly as the Bears were the best team in the NFL against the rush all year.
Despite the rally from the Eagles, I find it very hard to see this game being points-y. The weather could be a factor at Soldier Field, but both teams will be used to playing in the cold. I really like this Bears defense, and it's been the foundation of their season which has limited opponents to 17.7 points per game - the best tally in the NFL.
It's not really a price I'm attracted to, but Jordan Howard is almost certainly the most likely touchdown scorer the Bears have. He picked up 9 during the regular season and has found the end zone 4 times in the last 3 games.1.8 isn't anything to get excited about, however. BEARS (NAP)
Total: UNDER 41
Anytime Touchdown Scorer: JORDAN HOWARD
The Eagles are back into the playoffs, how did that happen they looked a lost cause maybe a month ago. Is it Nick Foles maybe? The main thing that worries me is that the Eagles defence is not at the level that they were last season. The Bears defence on the other hand is a beast and will give Foles troubles he hasn’t faced this year. The Bears are 7-1 at home this year with only 3 teams scoring 20 or more at Soldier Field. Easy win for the Bears -6 and over the total of 41 points. With 6 defensive TDs and 27 INTs this year it could pay to back the Bears Def/ST 3/1 anytime TD (20/1 1st TD for you degenerates). Foles was banged up in the last game and reports are he will play but with bruised ribs. The Bears pressure is relentless with 50 sacks this season they squeeze the QB into a mistake. BEARS (NAP)
BIG **** NICK! The man who will never have to pay for anything ever again in Philly is back and leading his team on the Superbowl trail again. They were down with a single percent chance of making the playoffs before they somehow beat the Rams in LA 3 games ago, they had to win all 3 and get help from elsewhere and that's what they did. He threw for 471 yards and 4 TDs against the Texans a couple of weeks ago and had an efficient 85% completion rate against a broken Redskins team last week. He has bruised ribs from a Clowney hit in that Texans game but will be playing this week. I don't know how he does it, but he's special in these key games.
Alshon Jeffery was his favourite target in the Rams game, and has 5 targets in each of the other weeks with Foles after an average year with Wentz. Nelson Agholor was the man last week though catching 2 TDs in that easy win, and 1 the week before as well. Then you mix in Golden Tate who is capable but has shown very little now with the Eagles, and Mike Wallace is back in the fold as well after being re-activated from IR, although is listed as doubtful. The main man in general in the passing game is their tight end, Zach Ertz, he finished the season with 116 receptions and 8 TDs, the Bears allow 42 yards per game against the position but Kittle is the only decent TE they've faced this year and he finished on 74 yards in that game. I wouldn't be shocked to see Dallas Goedert get into the end zone this week to be honest; it seems like something they'd look for in a crunch game.
The running game hasn't been electric but is good enough, and going up against one of the best 5 run defenses in the league could prove a bit of a problem for Josh Adams who is the main basher there. They have mixed in Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles though who are both good in the passing game and add more options against a stupidly good Bears pass rush.
The Eagles defense seems to have settled a little since they got decimated at cornerback and done a far better job in the last month now they've bedded in a little. The pass rush is very good. Fletcher Cox got 3 sacks by himself last week!
Apologies for this preview if you're a Bears fan. I just don't really "get" their offense.
Mitchell Trubisky is leading his team into the playoffs in his first full season as a QB, but in my opinion it's not really much to do with him. I think he's distinctly average and I've compared them to the Jaguars of last season (admittedly I do think he's better than Blake was last year) but in fairness they have won the last 8 games he's started in so whatever he does, or doesn't do it generally ends in a win. He's very mobile as well although has only once gone over 23 yards on the ground in his last 7 games.
I can't even really tell you who the passing game runs through; it's a mix of Robinson, Miller, Gabriel, Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen? I have no opinion from a betting front, one thing that probable coach of the year Matt Nagy has done is mix things up each week, and it has definitely left me stumped. Anthony Miller went off with a nasty looking shoulder injury last week but apparently it's not too bad, Robinson and Gabriel have both been listed on the injury report as well but all are expected to play. Robinson at least has the targets over the last month, averaging more than 8 per game, and against a weakened Eagles secondary I think he'll probably have the best game of the options available. It was expected before the season that Trey Burton would be used like Travis Kelce in KC but he's had far too many nothing games for me to trust in any sense whether TD or yards.
I can't even tell you who's going to have a good game at running back, but since it's got colder over the past month Jordan Howard has had more carries and scored 4 times in those. Tarik Cohen is definitely the more exciting back to watch, the human joystick can make something from nothing each and every time he gets the ball.
The defense is where this time excels. They lead the league in turnovers, Eddie Jackson has 6, Kyle Fuller with 7, due in part to the amount of pressure the defensive line gets on opposing QBs. Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks are wrecking balls up front and seem unstoppable, the matchup against a very good Eagles offensive line will be a great matchup. I have to think the Bears defense will be able to shut down Nick Foles and the Eagles offense. BEARS
Short odds - Jordan Howard, Zach Ertz: Longer odds the TE2s - Shaheen and Goedert.
Bears win, total goes under. NAP
Wildcard Weekend Reccomendations
So there you have it, to be honest I’m a little surprised the Bears are getting so much love with 4 of us going all in on the Soldier Field crew, the Colts also get a couple of nods, with that the NAP acca becomes a double and as we can’t split the Chargers/Ravens the Consensus acca becomes a treble. I’ve also coupled together an Anytime TD Scorer Acca for all you value hunters out there.
Anytime TD Acca
TY Hilton (Colts)
Doug Baldwin (Seahawks)
Lamar Jackson (Ravens)
Bears D/ST (Bears)
4-fold @ 65/1 (1st TD acca pays over an insane 17000/1!!)
Thanks guys for the input this week, if you fancy following us on Twitter we are all on there.
Jim Brown @ebook_olbg
We have all taken a look at the overall winner (some in more detail than others!) and a couple of us have some of our hard earned down, here’s what we think to win the great big shiny thing in Feb.
My only remaining ante-post bet is on the Bears and they are my Superbowl pick, I’ll admit it was more of a speculative bet back in the off season but they have really surprised me this season, their defence is right up there and will keep them in most games, offensively Mitch Trubisky has come on leaps and bounds this season and the rest the offence isn’t exactly spectacular but more than capable, it’ll be tough having to go on the road later on but I’ve just got that sneaky feeling they’ve got what it takes. BEARS
Despite the Chiefs looking top dogs in the AFC, I doubt a rookie even as good as Mahomes has the experience to win the big one. Andrew Luck and the Colts have quietly got there and even starting in the wild-cards may not stop this progressive team reaching the Superbowl. In the NFC, the Cowboys will likely have to play a road game at some point and that will be their downfall. The Saints offense has been stunning this season but, as with all great-looking offenses, the falter when facing a decent defense. The Eagles have barely made it in, but showing a right form when changing QB to Foles is no coincidence and now they are in the postseason, I suspect they'll raise their game back to the level we've been expecting all season! So I predict a Colts/Eagles Superbowl, with the Eagles snatching a repeat! EAGLES
As for who wins it all...I genuinely have no strong feeling but if pushed I'll go for a Saints - Chiefs Super Bowl with the Saints winning. Let's be honest, that or a Rams - Chiefs is the match up we'd all love to see. SAINTS
Also, as we're picking an outright winner now, I'll take the Saints. SAINTS
I backed the Bears midway through the season and I’m happy to stick with that selection. I know that home field is important and it’s rare for a Wildcard team to win the Lombardi Trophy but the Bears have a great defence and look suited to playoff football. I don’t like the seeded teams they look as if they have lost their early season momentum. Rams, Saints, Chiefs looked unstoppable but now they look fragile in defence and the Saints offence seems like it’s dropped off of a cliff. That said the Saints look to have the best home advantage and the Chiefs offence hasn’t missed a beat. But I’m a dreamer and I’m backing the Chargers to represent the AFC in the big game. Bears to beat the Chargers in Superbowl 53. BEARS
Bah, gotta be Saints unfortunately
Colts, Hawks, Chargers, Bears...
Colts lose to Chiefs. Chargers beat Pats, Chargers beat Chiefs.
Hawks lose to Saints, Rams beat Bears. Saints beat Rams again.
Saints beat Chargers. SAINTS
No surprise our Jim goes for an outsider with the Eagles, the Saints and Bears get a couple of likes, we don't all agree (no shock there then) but we do all think the Lombardi will be going to the NFC.