If you’ve been watching the NFL for long enough, you will nod in agreement when I tell you that the best football of the year is about to happen in the next two weeks.
Wildcard and Divisional Round playoff games have everything: suspense, tension, upsets, shootouts, grind it out battles and even rivalry games. Sadly, the Conference Championships and Super Bowl rarely measure up, although just look at last year’s Seattle/San Francisco NFC title joust for what the exception looks like.
More playoffs like this, please
In any case, there are four wonderfully diverse games on the schedule for the upcoming weekend, and the best part of all is that you can get your NFL jones going Saturday afternoon and not have to start coming down until Sunday night.
For the duration of the playoffs, I’ll be picking all games on both the over/under and against the spread.
Arizona (+7) @Carolina o/u 37.5 (Westgate Superbook)
Poor Cardinals. When healthy, this is probably the second or third best team they’ve put on the field since the advent of the Super Bowl. Think about that. That’s 50 years ago. Too bad they will once again be going into this game playing with a quarterback that is roughly the same talent level player as the guy who runs your scout team. And if you’re thinking they lucked out drawing the 7-8-1 Panthers, forget it. Did you know that 5 of the 6 teams to make the playoffs with records of .500 or less went on to win at least one playoff game. Oh yeah, Carolina is also on a hot streak.
That said, I don’t like the Panthers giving a touchdown. The Cardinals have proven they can keep games close and I predict that’s just what happens here. Look for a relatively low scoring game that comes in under the 37.5.
Carolina Panthers 20 Arizona Cardinals 14
Baltimore (+3) @Pittsburgh o/u 45 (Westgate Superbook)
No doubt this is the game of the week going in. Ravens/Steelers is as tried and true a 21st century rivalry as there is in the NFL, and have these two teams butt heads in round 1 is football heaven. I also have no idea who’s going to win, so other than liking the over this week, I do not have a strong pick to endorse for you.
To make matters worse from a pick perspective, both teams have injury concerns. Pittsburgh is missing their prolific all-purpose back LeVeon Bell while the Ravens are banged up on the offensive line, which is just a terrible place to be banged up. Ultimately, I’m taking the Steelers here, primarily because my perceptions of these teams are that Baltimore peaked too soon and is hanging on while Pittsburgh is still reaching for its high point.
Pittsburgh Steelers 31 Baltimore Ravens 27
Cincinnati (+3) @Indianapolis o/u 49 (CG Technology)
I’m no fan of the Bengals here, they’ve come up short repeatedly in the playoffs and there is no chance I would take them here, on the road, getting what amounts to only home field advantage points from Indianapolis. The problem, of course, is that the Colts haven’t exactly looked great down the stretch either, but Andrew Luck has continued to win games under center. He’ll win another one this week.
As for the over/under, I’m inclined to go under. I know I rode the “over 55” wave with the Colts for quite a few weeks this season, but their production is down a bit, and the Bengals are missing multiple weapons on offense, which shades their overall point potential down.
Indianapolis Colts 27 Cincinnati Bengals 20
Detroit (+7) @Dallas o/u 48.5 (Golden Nugget)
I don’t know how in the world the Cowboys are giving 7 points in what is essentially a pretty even matchup, with a home team that had a scant home field advantage this season. The fact is, up to this point I’ve predicted three home team winners and I can’t remember the last time four home teams won on Wildcard Weekend. It never happens.
Consequently, I’m not only picking Detroit to cover, I’m picking them to win outright. As for the point total, you have a great Detroit defense out there and a Detroit offense that has played game manager style football all year, avoiding mistakes and not taking risks. For Dallas’ side, you have an offense predicated on long deliberate drives designed to eat up clock and keep their defense on the sidelines. I’m not doing Best Picks in the playoffs, but if I were, both Detroit plus 7 and the under 48.5 would be in my Bests this week.
Detroit Lions 24 Dallas Cowboys 21
Featured image via Seahawks Twitter