NFL Wild Card Weekend Free Picks

Chiefs vs. Colts, 4:35PM ET
The Colts hammered the Chiefs 23-7 in Indianapolis in Week 16 but expect a different outcome today. Kansas City wasn’t prepared for the hurry up that Pep Hamilton threw at Bob Sutton’s defense but with more time to prepare, the Chiefs should adjust. Injuries could impact this game from Kansas City’s side of things, as Tamba Hali is questionable and Eric Fisher has been ruled out for the contest. But Fisher the Chiefs expect Hali to play and Fisher wasn’t performing well before suffering the injury so his loss shouldn’t play a significant role in today’s outcome. The Colts aren’t a very good first half team but they’ve done well playing from behind with Andrew Luck under center. Unfortunately that plays into Kansas City’s hands. Look for the Chiefs to build a lead and then protect it with a combination of Jamaal Charles and their pass rush.
FREE PICK: Chiefs -2.5

Saints vs. Eagles, 8:10PM ET
The Eagles have only beaten one playoff team this year and that came in Week 10 against an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers squad. But you’re naïve if you believe that Philly’s success this year is somehow marginalized by its schedule. Look at the NFL this year – half the league is garbage, which contributed to the Eagles’ “soft schedule.” Regardless, the Saints are a completely different team on the road than it is playing on the fast track of the Superdome. Drew Brees can talk about the Saints’ road record since 2009 all he wants but the fact remains that he’s a less accurate quarterback, Sean Payton is a more conservative play-caller and Rob Ryan’s defense isn’t as potent. Look for the red-hot Eagles to advance to the next round with a victory.
FREE PICK: Eagles -3

Chargers vs. Bengals, 1:05PM ET
The side is difficult to handicap for this matchup because nobody knows which Andy Dalton will show up. He’s as likely to throw for four touchdowns and 350 yards as he is to turn the ball over four times and keep his opponent in the game nearly single-handedly. Thus, the true value of this matchup may be in the total. The over is 4-0-1 in the last five meetings between these two teams in Cincinnati and 7-2-2 in the last 11 meetings overall. The over is also 4-0 in the Bengals’ last four games overall, 5-0 in their last five home games and 4-1 in their last five games versus AFC opponents.

49ers vs. Packers, 4:40PM ET
Everything about this matchup screams 49ers, at least on paper. They have the significantly better defense, they’re built to win on the road thanks to their running game, and they’ve owned the Packers in the recent past. But this Green Bay team is eirly similar to the one that won the Super Bowl in 2010. That year, the Packers suffered key injuries throughout the season and barely made the postseason before riding a red-hot Aaron Rodgers to the title game versus Pittsburgh. Rodgers looked rusty last week versus the Bears but his second-half magic makes it hard to bet against him at home tomorrow night. If this game turns into a shootout, I like Rodgers over Colin Kaepernick, who has gotten a free pass for his inconsistent play this season after leading the Niners to the Super Bowl last season and playing with Michael Crabtree for most of this season.

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Fade Material: NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions

Pittsburgh Steelers James Harrison sacks Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton for a lost of six yards in the second quarter at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 4, 2011. UPI/Archie Carpenter

My predictions for the college football regular season were 31-23-2 against the spread and my picks for the NFL regular season were 33-32-3 ATS after a 3-1 effort in Week 17.

Is that enough intro foreplay for you? Good – let’s get to the Wildcard Weekend predictions.

Bengals @ Texans, 4:30PM ET, Saturday
Andy Dalton has officially hit the rookie wall. As I noted in my Wildcard playoff preview, he’s topped 200 yards passing in just one of his final five games and he missed practice earlier this week after being hospitalized with the flu. He should play but how effective he’ll be after spending the week with his face presumably hovering over a toilet bowl instead of the Bengals’ playbook remains to be seen. I fully expect Wade Phillips to throw a few wrinkles at the rookie and for Houston’s defense to take over this game from the start. The Texans can worry about the fact that T.J. Yates is their starting quarterback next week when they travel to Baltimore.

Lions @ Saints, 8:00PM ET
I truly believe that the Lions have a shot at upsetting the Saints this weekend in New Orleans. They have a legit quarterback in Matthew Stafford, one of the best players in the game in Calvin Johnson, and a pass rush that can get after Drew Brees. But betting against the Saints at home is the equivalent of sticking your hand in a circular saw and expecting there not to be blood. (Too much?) Thus, I’m taking the easy way out and going with the over. New Orleans’ defense is a much better unit at home than on the road, but Detroit’s passing game is explosive. Points won’t be an issue in this game but both teams will probably have to get into the 30s for the over to hit. No problem – I’ll take that bet.

Falcons @ Giants, 1:00PM ET
A lot of people are expecting a shootout for this game but I just don’t see it. Both teams have a tendency of playing things close to the vest and conservative in big games, which is why the under is an attractive play. Even though striking a balance offensively should be their main goal, Atlanta will likely lean on Michael Turner in attempts to avoid New York’s nasty pass rush. On the flip side, the Giants haven’t been able to run the ball much this year but that doesn’t mean they can’t. The Falcons will be without starting strong-side linebacker Stephen Nicholas (knee), who is one of their better run defenders. In his place will be 2009 sixth round pick Spencer Adkins, who has mainly been a special teams contributor throughout his short career. Those, look for the Giants to pound the rock as well in what should be a close game throughout.

Steelers @ Broncos, 4:30PM ET
The total is sitting really low but I’m not going to over-think this one. Tim Tebow is going to have a hell of a time figuring out Pittsburgh’s defense and Denver’s D is good enough to slow down a Steelers’ offense that has been in a major funk the past couple of weeks. Without Rashard Mendenhall (season-ending knee injury), the Steelers will rely on Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game, which is worrisome seeing as how Big Ben is dealing with an injury of his own. If Pittsburgh was at full strength I wouldn’t hesitate to lay the nine points but at this point the under is the safer bet.

Check out the most current NFL Betting Lines.

2010 NFL Divisional Round Prediction: Ravens vs. Colts

Baltimore Ravens (9-7, 3-5 away) at Indianapolis Colts (14-2, 7-1 home)
Kickoff: 8:15PM ET
Odds: Colts –6.5

There are a lot of people that are hopping onto the Ravens bandwagon – and for good reason. They absolutely took the Patriots behind the woodshed last week and beat them in all phases of the game. Ray Rice is a legitimate star in the making and the defense is playing quality football.

But have we forgotten how good the Colts are? I get it – momentum can be very important in sports and the Colts don’t have any right now after dropping their final two regular season games. But this is Peyton Manning’s show and simply put, Baltimore’s secondary isn’t good enough to stop Indy’s offense for four quarters on the road.

If Baltimore runs the ball effectively with Rice and keeps Manning on the sidelines, then I’ll be eating my words come late Saturday night. But the strength of Indy’s defense is its speed and I think they match up very well with the Ravens’ rushing attack. Plus, Flacco got away with only attempting 10 passes last week – that’s not going to be the case this Saturday. It’s going to be a much different game and I don’t see him out-gunning Manning.

I like the Ravens, I really do. They’ve already proven that they can go into a hostile environment and win on the road. There’s also no doubt that they’re going to be well prepared thanks to John Harbaugh and they’ll be fired up to prove themselves once again. But in the end, I don’t think Baltimore has the talent in the secondary to slow Manning and the Colts’ offense down.

Prediction: Colts 27, Ravens 17.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

NFL Divisional Round Playoff Prediction: Cardinals vs. Saints

Arizona Cardinals (10-6, 6-2 away) at New Orleans Saints (13-3, 6-2 home)
Kickoff: 4:30PM ET
Odds: Saints –7

The Saints have plenty to be concerned with entering this game, none bigger than the fact that they’ve stumbled into the playoffs by losing their last three regular season games. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have the momentum after beating the Packers last week and the more recent postseason experience after earning a trip to the Super Bowl last season.

That said, people tend to forget how good New Orleans was in the regular season. And now that they’re at full health, we’re going to see a different Saints team this Saturday then we did in the final three weeks of the season. Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis appears healthy, which will help NO stop Beanie Wells and Arizona’s running game. With Ellis in the lineup, the Saints are a different team and one that can force opponents to be one-dimensional. Kurt Warner is excellent at making reads and getting the ball out of his hand quickly, but he and the rest of the Cardinals’ offense will have a harder time scoring in the red zone than they’re used to. New Orleans has the second best red zone defense in the league and safety Darren Sharper has shined when the Saints have their backs against their own goal line.

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