Round one of the NFL playoffs was a major let down with the AFC having quarterback issues left and right and the NFC giving us two blowouts. But not this week, as the Divisional Round gave us some great games particularly Sunday with two nail-biters that finally saw some road underdogs victorious.
We put it all on the line in the two bouts on Sunday, which meant we suffered like dogs through the two games of the year. That suffering gave us a split week (1-1) for our picks, while we went 3-1 with overall winners, and our adjusted metrics went 2-1. That keeps us at .500 on the year - 32-32-3 - against the spread.
All that happened plus the fall of the Seattle Seahawks and a game in Boston that had a historical favorite looking poised for an upset. Let's dig in.
Our picks of the week
Pittsburgh kicks its way to a road win
Let's start with our win of the week, a game that got postponed and threatened to be delayed even more do to miserable ice storms in Kansas City. With Ben Roethlisberger banged up it was hard to say who the weather really favored though it did seem to even out the playing field as bad weather almost always hinders an explosive offense reliant on speed more than anything else, meaning the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With the line at -1.5 for the Chiefs going into this, we liked the Steelers by the slimmest of margins thanks to our adjusted numbers and that played out to perfection.The game was undoubtedly very even, though the Steelers had more than a few chances to break this one open, punting only once the entire game. The biggest example of the wasted opportunities by the black and gold is Big Ben’s second quarter tipped interception 5 yards away from the Chiefs end zone on 1st and goal a huge swing in the final score.
Luckily Pittsburgh kicker Chirs Boswell was money, making all six of his field goals in a playoff record performance, keeping the Steelers ahead for most of the affair though never comfortable. The Steelers also dominated time of possession by almost 1o minutes and outgained the Chiefs by 1.3 yards per play.
Kansas City's offense didn't inspire much confidence, a big part in us taking the Steelers. But, in the end, they did finally muster up a touchdown drive to make this interesting.
You know what followed; the converted two-point conversion that didn't end up counting, and eventually the Steelers won as Alex Smith was unable to squeeze the decisive throw into double coverage.
A true nail biter with our week coming down to the last game.
The Cowboys grow up in the fourth quarter only to be defeated at the end
This did not look like a good call at all at the onset. Aaron Rodgers was throwing dimes all over the field and the Dallas Cowboys looked demoralized while not showing the same efficient offensive execution they had all season.
As this was 21-3 for the Green Bay Packers with half the second quarter remaining, this seemed over. Forget the 4.5 points, this was a done deal with both the Cowboys offense and defense not seeming up to the task.
Things evened out and Dallas raged back to tie everything up at 31 a piece with 35 seconds remaining to make this another epic contest. You know what happened next and that was always the risk of betting against the NFL’s most lethal quarterback. Numbers can’t quantify the importance of having Rodgers behind center with 30 seconds remaining in a playoff game on the road and he proved to be the difference.
Both our metrics had the Cowboys as touchdown favorites which wasn’t a huge differential but in the playoffs, it was large enough to believe in. Some pause was brought on by our adjusted numbers accounting for the Packers recent surge (having Dallas as only -4) but given little improvements defensively - at least from a YPP standpoint in the recent stretch - everything seemed to point to a great Cowboys game on offense. It was. Only a bit too late in the end, as they were behind the eight ball from the start.
The Cowboys have some growing up to do sure but really if they just add a few more pieces on defense watch out in 2017.
Rodgers stays amazing and he's taking this Packers team to unexpected heights. In a battle of potent offenses, it’ll be a blast to see him and Matt Ryan go head-to-head next week.
The other two
The Greatest Show on Turf, in 2017, is in Hotlanta
No disrespect is meant to the early 2000’s St. Louis Rams who put up the seventh (2000) and ninth (1999) highest scoring offenses in NFL history. Smack in between those two great years is the 2016 Atlanta Falcons who’ve tied those great Rams offenses best season with 540 points this year - in the regular season alone.
Few teams have had answers for Atlanta this season on offense and we’ve been taking the overs on them more than a few times. And, for the most part, it’s paid off. Matt Ryan and his crew were as lethal as always in their dome that’s quickly becoming a very tough place to play in and might merit 3.5 points in our spread next week. The combination of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu was enough to allow Ryan plenty of choice and speedster Taylor Gabriel gave the Seahawks lots of headaches. As did Devonta Freeman who only had 3.2 yards per carry but managed 125 all-purpose yards.
Seattle was in it early on, thanks in large part to a retro-performance by Devin Hester. But special teams penalties killed his biggest play, swinging the game. While the offensive line issues just became too much to handle on the road with the crowd noise against, resulting in a crucial Hawks safety.
The story of this game was a depleted Seahawks secondary - that became even more so once cornerback DeShawn Shead was knocked out of the game - against the powerful Atlanta offense. The Falcons have just been the better unit this season especially in the latter part of the year and this game showed it.
From a betting perspective, the line was at -5 for the home team and that’s almost exactly where our two metrics had it with EW having the Dirty Birds as 4 point favorites and YPP at 5.5. The one spread that favored the Falcons a bit more was when we adjusted for the Seahawks recent play without Earl Thomas. That spread still only had the Falcons at -6.5 points, 1.5 over the actual spread, and the Hawks performance hadn’t dropped off on defense rather on offense in that stretch. A factor that should have been considered was the split between Seattle’s home and away performances. The Seahawks were 3-4-1 on the road this season with a -29 point differential in those games. Going on the road to the Falcons proved to be too much for a team that's been far too inconsistent this season.
The Texans put us on upset alert for two-quarters
As we got closer to game time and it became clear Brock Osweiler and not Tom Savage would start this game for the Houston Texans, the spread kept rising on this game going all the way to -17 points in some places in favor of the New England Patriots. Exceeding the 15.5 that we talked about when our picks published mid-week, it ended as one of the largest point spreads in NFL playoff history.
In all of this, the New England Patriots managed to cover that huge number and still looked extremely disappointed with their performance when it was all said and done.
Houston on their part played a great game defensively with Jadeveon Clowney creating pressure and Romeo Crennel dialing up some great blitzes to manufacture pressure up the middle thus limiting Tom Brady’s ability to step up in the pocket and affecting the Pats passing game. Whitney Mercilus was particularly effective in blitzing up the middle as the Texans got eight hits on New England’s N.12, harassing him a bunch in the early going.
The problem is Houston only turned two of those eight hits into sacks and too often alternated swarming pressure with snaps in which Brady had all day to throw. Eventually, the Patriots quarterback found Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan with some accurate throws and the Texans offense was unable to match their execution and scoring output, which was the obvious concern going into the game for Houston.
Even with the line ballooning to 17 points, the Patriots covered the spread with a Will Fuller drop in the end zone that was especially costly for those of you who followed our “gun to my head” pick of the week though we always warned to use caution with the Texans.
It’ll be nice to have the Patriots facing a more evenly matched opponent with a much smaller number next week - Roethlisberger’s injury permitting.