The regular season didn’t end with a bang for me as I had a losing week (7-9) against the spread, but the season was solid with a 125-106-7 total record. Now the pressure is on for the playoffs.
Let’s break down the games (a little more in depth then the regular season because there’s much less games).
Oakland Raiders (+3.5) at Houston Texans
When you’re cursed, you’re cursed. The Oakland Raiders are an ascending football team in the league in large part due to the play of the sensational Derek Carr. Carr threw 28 touchdowns on the season with only 6 interceptions while completing 63.8 percent of his passes on the season and it’s not like he’s in a cake walk of a division facing the terrific Chiefs and Broncos defenses twice a year. But, alas, Carr broke his leg right before the season ended and the Raiders will enter the playoffs with or Connor Cook as their starting quarterback this weekend. While the Raiders are just not good enough to overcome the loss of Carr for any extended period of time, though they might squeak one out at Houston.
The Raiders’ defense is giving up 375 yards per game and 24 points. Fortunately, for the Raiders the Texans’ offense is utterly inept with their "franchise" quarterback who will rack in $72 million over the next few years. A man who is averaging a pitiful 5.8 yards per pass attempt (absolutely awful)! Those kind of numbers will get you benched and replaced by Tom Savage (who in an action of cruel irony received a savage blow to his head on a quarterback sneak and will likely miss this game.)
To me, this game comes down to this — the Raiders ended the season 12-4 because they are more than just Carr. I've seen the Texans at full strength and it's not pretty.
The Raiders are getting points and even without Carr they might be the better team.
Detroit Lions (+8) at Seattle Seahawks
When you lose a big-time NFL player things can sometimes derail in a hurry. The Seattle Seahawks are discovering this with the loss of Earl Thomas, the league’s best free safety. Ever since Thomas went down the Seahawks have not been the same team. Since Thomas went out for the season the Seahawks have beat the Rams (who doesn't), lost 38-10 to the Green Bay Packers, lost at home to Arizona, and squeaked out a victory against the 49ers. This team is beatable. The offensive line is not very good. Their run game is more often stagnant then dynamic.
The Seattle defense is still legit, but it’s not invincible. The Lions are a good team, probably the worst team in the playoffs in the NFC, but a tough team that finds ways to win some games. The Lions do have issues. though. They don't force a ton of turnovers, they don't run the ball all that well, and they don't particularly get after the quarterback all that well. Simply put, they don't match up with the Seahawks all that well.
Pick: The Seahawks are beatable, but it's not happening this week. Seattle by more then 8
Miami Dolphins (+10) at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are not the favorite to win the AFC, but they are the “hot team” going into the playoffs. The Steelers have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and perhaps the two best players at their positions in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown (but of course I’ll listen to any debates for Odell Beckahm Jr./Julio Jones).
The Steelers’ defense is also improving. The Dolphins last week played the Patriots and got blown out of the water. They’ll be entering this game without their franchise QB, but unlike the Raiders with McGloin, or the Texans with the Savage/Osweiler combo the Dolphins enter the game with the experienced and at times very proficient Matt Moore at quarterback. Moore has played some very good football in his career. Matt Moore has 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in his action this year with the Dolphins.
The Dolphins have a very strong run game lead by Jay Ajayi and a solid defense led by Suh. The Dolphins do a good job of creating turnovers (16 interceptions) this year.
Pick: I don't think the Dolphins can go into Pittsburgh and win, but I expect this game to be closer than 10 points.
New York Giants (+4.5) at Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers remains the best quarterback in the game. He does things that no one else can do and there are a few issues he will give the Giants this weekend. Chiefly, his ability to make something happen out of the pocket. When the Giants played the Eagles, Carson Wentz, was able to duck out of a few sacks, run around and make things happen. Rodgers can do the same thing, except better. And lately he’s been good, very good.
The Giants will have to maintain their pass rush lanes and execute to slow down a terrific Packers offense. But I think they can because of their terrific secondary. In my (very biased) opinion the Giants have the league’s best secondary in terms of coverage, tackling, and making plays.
In the first meeting between the two teams the Giants could not tackle well and Eddie Lacy rumbled down the field breaking tackles and causing big problems. The Giants were also very short-handed in the secondary and should be at full strength this weekend (though they will be without Jason Pierre Paul). The biggest difference between this game and the first one is I believe the Giants will tackle much better.
Pick: It’s playoffs, time to let the bias show, go Giants!