Spread picks for NFL Wild Card weekend
The playoffs start with some compelling matchups, including three rematches between non-divisional opponents and two relatively large spreads. Usually, road teams do okay in the wild card round of the playoffs (last year, all four road teams won), but this year is a bit trickier, as all four division winners are favorites to advance to the next round.
[Editor’s note: Analyst Eric Eager utilizes Pro Football Focus’ NFL Premium Stats in his predictive model. For more on Premium Stats, click here. For more game predictions, follow Eric on Twitter at @EricEager82.]
Raiders at Texans (-3.5)
Prediction: Texans win by 1 (Oakland covers)
In a rematch of the Raiders’ come-from-behind win in Mexico City a couple of months ago, only one of these two teams are starting their opening-day quarterback. The problem for the Texans is that their quarterback is Brock Osweiler, who is only starting because fill-in Tom Savage sustained a concussion a week ago in Tennessee. With rookie third-stringer Connor Cook on the other side, the defenses will probably settle this one, and while the Raiders have improved with the additions of S Reggie Nelson (80.6 overall grade), OLB Bruce Irvin (83.6), ILB Perry Riley Jr. (84.2), and S Karl Joseph (79.9), the Texans, even without J.J. Watt, have been phenomenal this season, with only nagging/persistent injuries to stalwarts like DE Jadeveon Clowney (85.8), CB A.J. Bouye (90.9), CB Jonathan Joseph (73.7) and OLB John Simon (78.3) keeping them from being the clear pick in this one. While 3.5 points isn’t a big number, I don’t see this game being high enough scoring to yield more than a field-goal difference, and hence I’m picking Oakland to cover.
Lions at Seahawks (-8)
Prediction: Seahawks win by 7 (Detroit covers)
Both of these teams sputtered into the playoffs, with the Lions fresh off of three straight losses and the Seahawks looking less than stellar in a home loss to the eliminated—and largely-injured—Cardinals, and downright lethargic in a two-point home road win against a 2-14 San Francisco squad. While I think it’s more likely that the Seahawks pull it together and win this, I have a hard time seeing them generate enough success offensively to cover more than a touchdown spread, and hence I’m picking the Lions to cover this one. A big matchup will be the oft-injured Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy against Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham. Levy has produced two highly-graded games in his four outings since returning to action, generating nine stops. However, he has allowed five of five pass attempts into his coverage to be caught for 59 yards and a touchdown, meaning that Graham, after catching just eight of 16 targets the last four weeks, might be able to break out against a Detroit linebacking corps including Levy, Tahir Whitehead (37.7) and Josh Bynes (71.7).
Dolphins at Steelers (-10)
Prediction: Steelers win by 10 (No pick ATS)
Miami won an earlier meeting with Pittsburgh this season by riding Jay Ajayi’s 204 yards (with 148 yards after contact) and knocking Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from the game. The Dolphins are now the team without their starting quarterback, with backup Matt Moore grading out as slightly below average in his three starts since taking over for Ryan Tannehill. Although this number is big, an improved Steelers’ defense, allowing an average of fewer than 300 total yards and 18 points per game in the last seven games, should at least be able to keep the depleted Dolphins from keeping pace with Roethlisberger (79.9), RB Le’Veon Bell (86.6) and WR Antonio Brown (89.7).
Giants at Packers (-4.5)
Prediction: Packers win by 6 (Green Bay covers)
Two of the hottest teams in the league square off in Lambeau Field, utilizing disparate approaches in their attempt to reach and win a Super Bowl for the first time in half a decade. The Giants’ defense has the secondary to match the Packers’ offense, featuring cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (91.3), Janoris Jenkins (88.3), and PFF first team All-Pro safety Landon Collins (92.1).
Introducing PFF’s 2016 All-Pro Teamhttps://t.co/iVcfb9Ejni
including Giants safety Landon Collins pic.twitter.com/zUxTpKhejv
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 5, 2017
However, the Packers newfound weapons, wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery and athletic tight end Jared Cook, are bona fide mismatches going against a Giants linebacking corps that has been effectively hidden during a fantastic season by the New York defensive line and secondary. If the Packers can effectively exploit these matchups effectively, look for the Giants and their sixth-lowest graded offense to have a hard time covering the spread, let alone advancing to the next round.