Welcome to the Post-season Playoff Edition!
Wow! This season has set up quite the explosive playoff run. These lines are so close that you might not want to miss any of these games. Justice is served as well as the Steelers are in, and deservedly so. Plus, storylines galore across the board this post-season to follow: Can the Seahawks complete their way back to the top after people had written them off early? Can Brady perform miracles while Belichick geniuses his way out of what seems to be Mission Impossible? Have the Panthers come this far only to falter? And OMG, will the two most potent offenses (Arizona and Pittsburgh) clash in the big show? Stealing a phrase, “Get your popcorn ready!”
2015/16 Playoff Teams: (Bye Teams) Patriots, Panthers, Broncos, Cardinals / (Wild Card Teams) Chiefs, Texans, Steelers, Bengals, Seahawks, Vikings, Packers, Redskins
SATURDAY’S AFC WILD-CARD ROUND:
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS @ HOUSTON TEXANS
The Line: Chiefs -3
The Game: Saturday, January 9, 2016 – 1:35PM, PT on ESPN/ABC – Forecast: 58f Clear/Winds 14m
The Skinny: I’m sure you’re well aware of the fact that the Chiefs are the hottest team entering the post-season, having won their last 10 games. Well, the Texans have won 7 of their last 9, so this figures to be a blast, especially on the defensive side. The two teams are #4 and #5 in the league in sacks. However, one stat caught my attention; the Chiefs are the 6th-worst team in sacks given up, and the Texans are 17th. So, then how are the Chiefs the #2-ranked turnover ratio team with a +14, while the Texans are 13th-ranked with +5? It’s obvious, the Chiefs make fewer mistakes. They’re ranked in the top in fumbles lost, and top the league in INTs thrown. The Texans are mid-level in both categories, and that’s not all that bad considering the troubles the team has had at the quarterback position. Still, this defensive-sided game tilts towards Kansas City, and my predictions is somewhat generous, so take the “under” is 35 or higher, but I recommend leaving the spread alone. This game wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out a final of 9-6 either way. Chiefs Win, 20-13
PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Line: Steelers -2.5
The Game: Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016 – 5:15PM PT on CBS – Forecast: 50f Overcast/Winds 6m
The Skinny: (CRINGE!) The AFC almost got off easy, but nope, the most offensively-loaded team in the AFC is in the playoffs. And this one will probably be the one to watch if you only watch one game all weekend. One good reason to watch will be the game undoubted theme, THERE WILL BE BLOOD. This year’s Steelers versus the Bengals is the new Steelers and Ravens event.
The two teams are split 1-and-1 in division head-to-heads this season, but the Bengals beat the ‘bergerless version of the Steelers first time around. Less than one month ago, Pittsburgh whooped the big cats 33-20, and I don’t see much of anything new that tells me the outcome will be much different here…except that it’s ‘the playoffs,’ DeAngelo Williams [most likely]won’t be on the field, and Big Ben had to call out Martavis Bryant this week to toughen him up. Cincinnati QB AJ McCarron, labeled a ‘game manager,’ will likely be forced into some risks against the Steelers high-octane attack, but Pittsburgh’s secondary is not a scary bunch. TE Tyler Eifert’s return last week sure helped the offense while adding confidence to an improving offense overall under AJ. The Bengals defense is a couple notches better than Pittsburgh’s despite giving up 33 points in the last contest.
Additionally, if there’s actually such a thing as a ‘hunger’ factor, the Bengals must have the edge. They are the only team in league history to lose an opening-round game 4 years in a row. Only one of those games were decided by less than 16 points, with an offense averaging 10.8 points and 297.8 yards. While falling short of guaranteeing my prediction is the most accurate you’ll find, I promise this game’s final score will be much closer than the 13-point difference of the last…so close, in fact, that my prediction here is slightly influenced by the fact that Pittsburgh is my second-favorite team. Take the points, leave the over/under, or better still, keep your coins in your pocket and simply enjoy. Steelers Win, 27-26
SUNDAY’S NFC WILD-CARD ROUND:
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS @ MINNESOTA VIKINGS
The Line: Seahawks -5
The Game: Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 – 10:05AM PT on NBC – Forecast: 6f Partly cloudy/Winds 11m
The Skinny: The Vikings won their last three games of the season, including that gutsy performance against the Packers last week, but none of those games were against the likes of what the NFC West powerhouses have to offer. The Seahawks are in stride now and only another train can knock a train off the tracks when it gets going.
The return of Beast Mode does nothing to increase Minnesota’s chances, and should Lynch stay on the field, he becomes crucial in the fourth quarter after three quarter of pounding in what is expected to be freezing weather. Seattle appears to be built better for such a game. What does increase the Vikings chances is that in that blowout a few back against the ‘hawks, they were without key defensive players, especially in the trenches. What also helps is that the game-planning has been more aggressive since those two losses to Seattle and Arizona. Desperate times calls for desperate measures, and this certainly is a desperate time in Minnesota. They are on the improve, but in the end, the NFC West has more meat on its bones, and that meat comes in handy facing the league leading fumbler Adrian Peterson in cold weather. Seahawks Win, 24-20
GREEN BAY PACKERS @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS
The Line: Packers -1
The Game: Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 – 1:40PM, PT on FOX – Forecast: 58f Clear/Winds 11m
The Skinny: From a handicapping perspective, this game intrigues me most. Up until two or three weeks ago I might have taken Green Bay easily. But things come and go in life, and especially in sports. Momentum is one of those things. NOTE: FYI, Mr. Betting Mann, this game opened at Redskins -1…just sayin’.
The Redskins are trying to win their 5th game in a row, and that’s a wonderful-for-them enough thing in itself, but the wins aren’t simply a stretch of bad teams, they are a show of improvement and growing Redskins confidence. Kirk Cousins is at that place now where he’s no longer second-guessing his ability (and he was, regardless of what he says on camera). The season TE Jordan Reed is having is a huge part of that with the receivers they have attracting attention. Cousins is no Aaron Rodgers, but his confidence level is higher and he and his weapons are looking considerably more hungry these days.
You can bet Rodgers will go down swinging, if he goes down at all. His offensive targets need to up their game for the Packers to have a chance. But ultimately, the key to this game as I see it on paper is quite simple. Both teams’ defensive play is hovering around the mid 20s in points given up, and the game looks really close on paper. On the field, however, whichever team’s defense/special teams comes up with the biggest plays moves on because the winner here may be the team that allows 20-or-less points. All things being equal, I’d side with the Packers. Home field slightly tilts the scale. Redskins Win, 24-23
Last week vs. the spread: W11 – L5 (Final 2015 season record: W99 – L81)
Good luck in the post-season. Thanks, and good luck, Mr. Betting Mann!