“I’m back!” Sure, it’s an over-used term in the world of the sports, but after two years, Colin Wynner has emerged from witness protection ready to call 2016 the year of “Wynners.”
What better way to start the comeback than to run the table in the 2016 NFL post-season – “The holy grail” of sports handicapping as no other feat is anywhere near as big of a challenge. Why is it so daunting? Well it’s simple – this is the playoffs for the books as well, and, just the NFL teams, they have to win to advance. And by advance, I mean stay gainfully employed. Post-February, it’s a long, lonely period for the books and even more so if they’re trying to make up a massive post-season loss.
The books sharp lines are tough enough but then throw in the following: line moves, every half point can be interpreted as somebody who “knows” something making a move. Of course, it could also be a small, strategic play to get the line moving with a bigger play looming. I find it is best to ignore the movement in the altogether; information overload as each game features week-long, non-stop discussion; we, as humans, are shaped by our recent history, we place value on patterns, attempting to fit each playoff team into former playoff team mold. This team reminds of me of that team and that team did this. . . ; and, finally, luck! Luck seems to find its way to Las Vegas Blvd more often than not. Leggo!
Some wildcard weekend notes (since 2002):
- All four home teams come in as the underdog, that has not happened before
- The visitor is 23-33 in the wildcard round; 29-24-3 ATS
- Based on spreads, the expectation would be all four road teams will win. That has not happened since the NFL expanded the wildcard round to four games.
- Road favorites have gone 8-4 SU; 6-4-2 ATS
Here is a list of my playoff rules.
The back of Colin’s player card:
Note: Lines are courtesy of Westgate Superbook listed at vegasinsider.com
Kansas City (-3, 40) @ Houston
My first instinct was this is the easiest game of the week – Kansas City all day. Then I have to remind myself that the books are not giving away freebies in the playoffs. Or are they? I think you could make a case that if you want all of someone’s money, you let them win a little bit first. That is the way it works in any hustle. Let’s take a golf hustle as an example, if you want to maximize profits, do you show up on the first hole and drill a 350 yard drive down the middle of the fairway, then knock a wedge to two feet for a virtual tap-in birdie or do snap hook a tee shot out of bounds, skull a chip shot across the green and miss a five footer for a snowman? Obviously, it’s the latter, you want the opponent feeling comfortable, maybe get them mentally spending some of their winnings. Then you bring the hammer, taking not only initial amount but also dipping into and draining junior’s college fund. The point is – it might look too easy and just be that way.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the case for the Texans. There is a scenario where JJ Watt simply takes this game over – sWatting balls out of the air for interceptions, forcing punts with bone rattling third down sacks of Smith and tracking plays from the backside putting the Chiefs in uncomfortable down and distance situations. For my purposes, I am going make the assumption that Watt will merely be great and not SuperHuman.
Let’s look at how the Texans finished – 7-2 their last nine, including winning three straight to close the season. That’s a hot team, right? Not so fast, the best win in the group was the 10-6 win on Monday night in Cincinnati. The other six were Titans twice, Jaguars, Colts, Jets and Saints. Not exactly murderers row of opponents.
We know more about them based on their two losses in the stretch – at Buffalo and v. New England. The Pats game stands out to me as their floor. Houton was coming off a loss to the Bills, playing on a Sunday night against the Pats, you would have expected a great effort. Instead, we got an indication of the true identity of the Texans – the 2016 Michigan State Spartans – very mediocre team that happen to play one amazing game and was marginally better than a bunch a crap teams.
Virtually every important metric favors KC in this game, expect this one – yards after catch. Kansas City is one of the top 3 teams in “yards after catch,” they are also one of the bottom four teams in “yards at catch.” Translation – they rely on receivers running after the catch to move the chains. Houston is one of the top defensive teams in limiting “yards after catch.” Translation – they don’t miss tackles and their coverage is tight. Add all this up and it might be significant, including reducing Alex Smith’s margin for error – a slightly off target pass this week might be incomplete or picked. In addition, limiting a receiver to four yards instead of six yards after a three yard pass on 3&8, means a punt and a lost possession.
There is the case for Houston. As Martin Riggs would say, ‘That’s thin, that’s really thin!” I agree with Riggs, no way I am risking perfection on the Texans ability to limit YAC.
Plus, Andy Reid gets a bad playoff rap for losing four straight NFC title games. The truth is his record in the first playoff game is very respectable 7-3. And Alex Smith has been at least above average in his three playoff games despite a 1-2 record. That, and the superior team, is enough for me.
Kansas City 23 Houston 14
Pittsburgh (-3, 45.5) @ Cincinnati
I love all conspiracy theories! Therefore, I loved the one about the Pats intentionally losing to the Jets to knock the Steelers out of the playoffs. And in typical Jets fashion they double crossed the Pats by losing to the Bills, thus giving the Steelers, who were finishing up with the practice a.k.a. playing the Browns, the playoff berth. Ahh, but Belichick had the last laugh in Miami. Instead of coaching, Belichick was clearly calculating win probabilities for NYJ/BUFF and PITT/CLE. Once it became statistically probable that the Steelers would make the playoffs, Billy boy intentionally lost to the Dolphins to avoid playing the Steelers until the AFC title game. Belichick always gets the last laugh!
That is an absurd, completely unbelievable theory. You know why? Because the missing piece here is that for any of this to make sense the Steelers had to lose the Ravens in week 16. Yep, the 2016 Ravens! Or was it the Ravens freshman team? The Ravens, quarterbacked by journey-man Ryan Mallet beat the Steelers in a must-win game for the media anointed, “nobody wants to play them” team.
Speaking of the “nobody wants to play them” team, I know it comes as a surprise but this isn’t the first time the media has anointed a team with the tag. In fact, let’s look at a couple recent:
2014 Steelers – finished by winning 4 straight and 8-2 heading into the playoffs; Result: giving the Ravens 3 points, lost 30-17 at home. Granted they did not have their starting running back, LeVeon Bell.
2013 Eagles – finished 7-1 heading into the playoffs; Result: giving the Saints 2.5 points, lost 26-24 at home.
Given the above, I am good going against the alleged “nobody wants to play them” team.
Final thought – Cincinnati’s roster is superior to the Steelers, outside of quarterback where the Steelers have the advantage. The Bengals simply need AJ McCarron to avoid colossal mistakes and the defense to play like normal. Done and done!
Cincinnati 30 Pittsburgh 21
Seattle (-5.5, 39.5) @ Minnesota
1! As in degree, one degree Fahrenheit, yikes! That is bitter, bitter Antarctica cold! And considering this will be one of the coldest NFL games ever played, it is safe to assume none of these players have played in colder conditions. And believe me, the difference between cold (20s-30s) and bitter cold, is significant.
Captain Obvious would say this bitter cold is not conducive to the passing game. Truly that is obvious but here are some facts that limit the passing game – the ball becomes a frozen slippery rock making it difficult to grip and even more difficult to throw, the offensive line has no desire to pass block, since pass blocking involves absorbing the attack from a group of pissed off Neanderthals, a.k.a. defensive players. Finally, would you want to catch a block of ice heading your way at 40 MPH? Yeah, me neither Well, neither do these diva receivers.
Add all that up and it is difficult to believe this game goes over 39.5. I can actually see both teams mutually agreeing to not run any hurry-up offense at all. “Keep the clocking moving” could be the NFL films name when replayed years from now.
If that is the case, then smart money is to take the points, figuring the Vikings merely need to muster 17 points to cover the number. I generally would agree with that logic. But . . .
I was all set to take the Vikings until I looked through their previous meeting. The Vikings first 4 possessions featured two drive ending sacks, a measly three offensive 1st downs and a single deep pass, which was picked off. By the time the Vikings got the ball for their 5th possession they were down 21-0. Now if you’re holding a Vikings ticket in that situation and someone offers you 10 cents on the dollar, tell you are not jumping on that.
My point – the Vikes are not going to have any more success establishing the run with AP or mixing in short passes in this game than they did a month ago. They need to stretch the field early. And in a game with these conditions and after watching Teddy’s flutter ball in balmy Lambaeu last week, I have zero confidence that the Vikings can stretch the field or have any success in the passing game. I am thinking the Seahawks feel the same way and will bait Teddy ballgame into firing flutter-balls deep early and often.
While the temp is going to have an impact on the Seahawks offense as well, I think overall the Seahawks find a way pound the rock and execute the short passing game. Plus, we all know at a critical point in the game, Wilson make a big play with his legs.
Before the official pick – let’s throw in the following – (a.) The Vikings might be happy with the division title. The “Inside the NFL” post-game speech by Zimmer was focused on how ballsy of an effort it was to beat the champs. The division champs. It was almost an afterthought when Zim mentioned, “There is a bigger prize.” That was not met with a hearty, collective “Yeah!” but rather a more subdued, scattering of “uh huh.” Almost as if they are resigned to their fate; (b.) Remember in Tim Green’s book “The Dark Side of the Game” where he stated on the way home from a loss, “we” saluted the “win.” You see the NFL is so physically grueling that these players look at a loss like a win, because they get to go home and heal. Now don’t get me wrong, no one goes into the playoffs to lose games, but let’s say the Seahawks grind out a 17-0 lead mid-way through the third quarter, I say the chances the Vikings pack it in and get ready for next season are pretty good; and (c.) I hate laying points, but these playoff games can become a snowball rolling downhill in a nanosecond. Given the weather and the Seahawks defense, I would hate to have the Vikings and watch the Seahawks go up 14-0 early in the 2nd quarter. Anyone interested in a Vikings ticket for 20 cents on the dollar?
Seattle 23 Minnesota 10
Green Bay @ Washington (PK, 46)
Check out season numbers for the following two quarterbacks, which one of these is in the playoffs:
Pretty obvious, right? Right, neither of these guys is the playoffs because these two quarterbacks are not real. Those are split season numbers for two current NFL quarterbacks – quarterback A is Matthew Rodgers, while the quarterback B is Aaron Stafford. You see what I did there!
My theory goes like this, on the flight back from the London beating, Matthew Stafford, who was fed up with his current situation, sold his soul to the devil to switch places with Aaron Rodgers. Given Matty’s bye week, the devil assured him the next time the Packers took the field it would be his soul playing QB for the Pack. Now let’s look at the four splits that made up those two quarterbacks:
Is there any other explanation than mine? Poor Matty, here he is thinking he is going to pull off some Johnny Favorite move by stealing Rodgers identity, but what ends up happening is he finds himself in worse shape than ever. Let that be a lesson to you, young pup, next time you want to trade the bone in your mouth for the “bigger” one in the water’s reflection.
The important part of this is that Rodgers is playing like Matty Stafford. Even worse, when you look at the efficiency – 5.89! That is full blown “Checkdown” Sammy Bradford territory. This dude, Rodgers, was once a calm, cold-blooded killer in the pocket, but now has morphed into a skittish version of Jim Everett these last 8 weeks.
Now it is true that Rodgers WR’s are horrible. Ok, but how do you explain the first eight weeks then? Was Randall Cobb more than a poor-man’s Az Hakim at that point? Did Devante Adams develop arthritis in week 9, affecting his ability to catch routine passes? Did James Jones lose a step? The obvious answers are no, hell no and no. Maybe the first few games teams respected these clowns, but this league takes about a nanosecond to figure out opponents weaknesses. The league knew Adams cannot catch and knew that none of these guys could get separation by week four.
No, the problem with the Packers isn’t the receiving core, it’s the quarterback core. Rodgers hasn’t been the same player since the Denver game where he took a royal beating. And that beating was been in the back of his mind ever since. He doesn’t give his receivers a chance to separate because he is looking at the rush, then he starts dancing in the pocket. That is when all hell breaks loose for him.
Now can the Packers win this game? Of course they can, just ask any one of the 400 billion Packers fans. #delusional. However, bunch of clowns also believe they can beat the Cardinals in Arizona in the divisional round. Too bad the Packers will be on the golf course during the divisional round.
Washington 23 Green Bay 17
Good luck to all!