The regular season is complete with no lost games, which is pretty impressive given the scale of the pandemic in the states, and last week was actually a pretty decent weekend of football, but we’re in the final month now with 14 teams remaining.
As the respective #1 seeds, The Chiefs and the Packers have their bye weeks and home-field throughout the playoffs, they’ll face the lowest ranked of the remaining teams after this weekends games.
There’s 6 games for the first time with 3 on Saturday and 3 on Sunday, at reasonable times for UK fans to catch at least 1 and a half games without having to worry about the morning.
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Colts (+6.5) @ Bills: 51
The 7th seed vs. the 2 seed of the AFC kicks off the action for the first weekend of the post-season and it should be an entertaining game. The Colts finished with the same 11-5 record as their South foes the Titans, so they’re probably a little unlucky not to have won the division, but the AFC was a very top and bottom conference this year and it is what it is. The Bills finished with 13 wins as the AFC East crown was finally taken away from the Patriots.
It’s been a weird year for the Colts, they were gifted the easiest schedule in the league according to pre-season win totals and they promptly knocked me out of my survivor league in week 1 after giving the Jaguars their only win of the season. The 5 games they lost were to the Titans, Jags, and the 3 good AFC North teams (they should have lost to the Bengals too in fairness) and they’ve just kind of got on with it. Just a well-coached solid team all round.
Philip Rivers has a 5-6 playoff record in his time in the NFL, making the AFC Championship once with the Chargers where he quite famously played just 6 days after tearing his ACL, obviously they lost to the Patriots. He’s now 39 and moved to the Colts this year to take them to the promise land after a few years of the Chargers missing out, and he’s managed just that. 4,169 yards, 24:11 and a QBR ranking him 19th. So it’s safe to say that their success hasn’t really been down to him but he’s been an important part of the team and an upgrade on Jacoby Brissett from last year. He’s done what’s been needed, he’s still fairly accurate (68% completion percentage) and spreads the ball around.
The run-game has come on markedly in the back end of the season as Jonathan Taylor found his feet after a week off in their loss to the Titans and blew up in the final 5 games averaging 130 yards per game and scoring 7 TDs in those. 4 of them were against terrible defenses, but 74 and 2 TDs vs. the Steelers is of note. He ran for 2,000 yards a season in college, so the talent was always there, just started a bit slow. Nyheim Hines has done well as a change of pace/3rd down back averaging 4 receptions and about 25 per game since Taylors’ emergence.
The pass catching group has been varied. TY Hilton the seasoned vet leading them in yardage after a slow start to the season himself, Zach Pascal finished the season well and is fine, Michael Pittman has shown flashes, but seems to have struggled to put a few games back-to-back, Marcus Johnson is the deep threat and then there’s the trio of tight ends. Big Mo is my guy, but he seems to be third in the rotation despite being a giant, Trey Burton had a good spell in the middle of the year with a few receiving and rushing TDs, used on jet-sweeps near the goal line, but Jack Doyle gets more of the receptions in general. Zach Pascal leads the team in redzone targets with Hines second.
Defensively they’ve been decent, DVOA ranks them 7th, with them 8th vs the pass, 9th vs the run, so they’re well rounded, Deforest Buckner has been a good addition and they’ll be hoping he’s near fully fit while Darius Leonard has continued to show why he’s one of the best in the league with 40 more tackles than anyone else on the team despite missing a couple of games.
I don’t mean to sound down on the Colts, they’re a good solid team on both sides of the ball and have one of the better coaches in the league, there’s just not a whole lot that makes me stand up and take note. Sorry Colts fans.
It’s safe to say the Bills have got hot at the right time of the year and they’d be coming into this on a 10-game win streak had it not been for the Hail Murray at the end of their game vs. the Cardinals. Unsurprisingly having won 7 of their last 8 games by at least 10 points they’ve covered the spread in all 8, and they’re averaging over 31 points per game this year.
It’s been a quite remarkable improvement from Josh Allen who threw away the AFC Wildcard game against the Texans at this time last year, it was his first playoff performance and the decision making was… sub par. This year he’s been great, the coaching and front office work has played to his strengths and worked to make him great. He’s 5th in yards, 5th in TDs with 37 (as well as rushing 8 in) and 3rd in QBR this season. If he’s feeling the pressure of a return to the playoffs, he and his team aren’t showing it.
It helps that he’s got the leagues leading receiver both in terms of yards and receptions with Stefon Diggs performing up to the hefty price tag they paid for him over the summer. His route-running is perfection and if he’s open anywhere on the field Allens arm will find him. Cole Beasley fell just short of 1,000 yards, but is on the injury list today, I feel he’ll miss out, but it looks like it’s in the balance, he and Diggs are both officially questionable but I’ve no worries about Diggs going. John ‘Smokey’ Brown has been great when available and scored in the first half the main guys played last weekend, and Gabriel Davis has put in a good rookie performance spreading the field and filled in well when injuries have occurred, I need to mention Isaiah McKenzie too who scored 3 last week, they use his speed well on gadget plays, and he’s capable of taking one to the house from anywhere. Dawson Knox has come on at TE, and they’ve got a few other big lads they like to use near the endzone.
The run game has been fine. That’s about the best I can say, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss work well together, but make it tough for me personally to figure out who’s going to get the ball in any given game. Singletary had a huge game against the Texans last year, could be him again, could be Moss. I don’t know. Even Anotonio Williams could chip in after finishing off the Dolphins with a couple of scores last weekend once the starters were rested, that was many TDs as Singletary has all year. Moss has 5 in total…
They’ve come on defensively after a below-average start to the season and got to rest pro-bowler Tredavious White last week, while fellow Pro-bowler Tremaine Edmunds has proved every bit as good as his high draft pick leading the team with 119 tackles again. Sack-wise they have spread it around. DVOA has them ranked 12th.
I’ve got to take the Bills to win, they’ve smashed the second half of the season and I have to think they’ll be able to put up points even on a solid Colts defense. – Good teaser leg with the Buccs if you do that kind of thing.
Random stats – Colts have won 11 1st halves, 12 2nd halves. – The Bills 13 1st halves, going on to win 12 of those games and 7 2nd halves.
Bet wise, there’s no line for John Brown (2/1 anytime) at the moment for some reason, o3.5 for him is my usual go-to especially if Beasles is out (probably why there’s no line tbh) – From the Colts side Nyheim Hines (9/4) is getting a lot of chat as he’ll be involved more if they’re chasing the game which was all expect, his rec. line is 26.5 on PP/Betfair. 3.5 receptions. Over that makes sense.
Longshot, as always, the big man, Mo Alie-Cox (8/1 at William Hill)
Rams (+3.5) @ Seahawks: 42
An NFC West re-match for the first of the NFC games and it’s 6th seed vs 3rd seed as the Rams travel to the NW to take on the Seahawks, the two were split during the season, a 23-16 home win in LA and a 20-9 home win in Seattle – In their careers McVay is 5-3 vs. Carroll. The Rams finished 10-6 while the Seahawks were 12-4.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are hoping to have Jared Goff back for this one after he injured his thumb in the loss to the Seahawks in week 16. They operated straight away with the intention of having him back, but they’ve been coy on who’s playing QB all week after John Wolford did all right in relief against the Cardinals last weekend. I’ve thought all week it will be Wolford starting, but I’ve no idea. He’s more mobile and they play-called around him with easy passes and his rushing was a good addition to the offense. Goff has been fine despite criticism for him, he works well within the Rams system, 20 TDs, to 13 INTs isn’t exactly inspiring. I actually think Wolford starting will be better, these two teams know each other very well, so mixing it up might not be the worst thing in the world.
They welcome back Cooper Kupp this week after he missed last week on the Covid list, that’s a big addition to go alongside Robert Woods, they were the only double act to hit 90 catches each on the season. Kupp has scored just 3 times this season, the lowest return of his career, partly due to them going more run-heavy, while Woods topped had a few more yards and 8 total TDs. They’ve still the main two, but the supporting cast isn’t terrible either, Josh Reynolds, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett the vets, while Van Jefferson the rookie has had a couple of games as well. (If Wolford plays then Everett receptions seems good, he had 7 targets last week)
This Rams team though is more run-heavy, Cam Akers returned from an ankle sprain last week and while he didn’t have the best game on paper (21 for 34), he’ll come on for the game-time and should be better this week, he improved as the season went on and looks like he’s the main man in the backfield. He’s only scored a couple of times this year though which must be a concern. Malcolm Brown will be the 2 with Henderson still out, he’ll have a few carries, and is generally in on 3rd downs, usually if he scores 1, he’ll get another so keep an eye in-play.
It’s the defense that’s got the Rams to the post-season though 1st in yards given up, 1st in pts allowed, 1st downs and TDs allowed. Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey have earnt All-pro places, while Leonard Floyd reached double-digit sacks alongside Donald and Troy Hill finished the season with a couple of pick 6s. Donald finished 2nd in sacks with 13.5, while Ramsey is one of the few true shutdown corners in the league. Next gen stats have Ramsey covering DK Metcalf on 71% and 66% of routes in their 2 games this year, allowing 1 receptions on 4 targets for 11 yards. He’s allowing 20.6 yards per game this year.
The Seahawks won a hard-fought NFC West with a strange season. They started the year being mostly offense based, with Russell Wilson on target for 1,000 TDs and 45,000 yards after the first half of the season, but they flipped completely at the back-end of the season to become the same plodding run-first, defense driven team that we’re used to.
Wilson had 28 TDs (3.5 average) 2,541 yards (317 per) through the first half of the season, but after the mid-season loss to the Rams where he threw 0 TDs and 2 INTs they got scared of his brilliance and went back to running the ball and controlling the clock. He’s thrown just 12 TDs and 1,671 yards in the second half of the year. 4 of those scores came against the Jets. The thing is, he can turn it on when required and is used to leading 4th quarter comebacks, they “let him cook” early in the season then reigned him in when Chris Carson returned from injury. He’s taken 11 sacks in the 2 games against the Rams this year, but has 18:3 vs. the Rams at home in his career.
Chris Carson leads the backfield despite missing a fair bit of the season with injury, he was far better first half when the whole offense was, but has been grinding out the yards since his return with double-digit carries in his last 5 games as well as being good through the air as well. Rashaad Penny is back from injury but hasn’t done a whole lot, 11 carries for 34 yards. I like him, but he needs to show more and the raising of Alex Collins from the practise squad probably means more carries for him after he scored last week for them. (16/1 best price at Betfred for Collins) Oh, shit, forgot about Carlos Hyde, he missed last week but seems he’s healthy this one, he’ll probably be the RB2
DK Metcalf set the league alight at the start of the year, but scored only 2 of his 10 TDs in the second half of the season and hasn’t done a whole lot against the Rams. He’s a physical freak and can break one if he gets free, it’s just whether he gets free or not. The Rams obviously know how to play him. Tyler Lockett is frustrating, clearly a very good player, he has blow-up games or nothing, he’s got 10 TDs this year, they’ve come in 5 games. My man David Moore has 6 TDs this year and earnt a tasty bonus last week thanks to Russ getting him a shovel pass to reach his season target. They’re the main three then you’re looking at rookie Freddie Swaim, and the tight ends, Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister.
Defensively they’ve improved a hell of a lot since Carlos Dunlap came in from the Bengals to add some vital pass rush up front, but it’s Jamal Adams who leads the team in sacks with 9.5, unsurprisingly Bobby Wagner leads in tackles with 138 on the season. He’s apparently quite good. They were historically bad at the start of the season, weighted DVOA has them ranked 11th at the moment.
What’s gonna happen?
This is the one upset I’m predicting all weekend. The Rams and Seahawks know each other well and it will likely be a tight game. The Seahawks have been involved in 11 one-score games this season.
Weird stat – The Rams have won 14 2nd halves, and have won all 9 games they’ve led at the half, while the Seahawks have won 11 1st halves this season. So the obvious look there is Seahawks/Rams HT/FT.
The Rams have only topped 24 points once in the final 6 games of the season, the Seahawks only above 26 once in that span.
So obviously the look here is the under, with that you’re generally looking to go over RB yards. The Ramsey-affect makes under on DK look tempting, but 60.5 is a fairly low line and that puts me off. Gerald Everett at 15/2 isn’t terrible especially if Wolford starts and I do like o19.5 on his rec. line, (or o2.5 at plus odd). Obviously with it probably being low-scoring the TD markets are a bit of a crap shoot.
Best bet has to be the under, but it’s low and getting lower as the week has gone on.
Bucs (+8.5) @ Washington: 44.5
The 5th seed 11-5 Bucs take on the “champions” of the NFC East, the 7-9 Washington Football team who back doored their way in with a default win against the tanking Eagles last weekend, I would imagine the NFL will have a chat over the summer about that “incident”.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs have been brilliant at the end of the year, admittedly they seem to be on the Ravens side of “smashing the shit teams” putting up big points against the Falcons twice, the Lions and the Vikings in the last 4. In fact they’ve done that throughout, but have struggled in prime-time and against some better defense. Their 5 losses this year; Chiefs, Saints twice, Rams and Bears. 4 good defenses, all prime-time games.
Mr. Brady took the post-season as they expected when they brought him in over the summer. He was a little up and down, with a spell in the middle of the season where he couldn’t throw downfield, but that seems corrected. He finished the year with 3rd best 4,633 yards, 2nd best 40 TDs and a QBR which ranks him 10th. They filled the roster with offensive talent and he’s been able to take advantage of that. The worry for him here would be pressure up the middle from the Washington DL.
They may be without Mike Evans who hyper-extended his knee when slipping last week, he officially questionable which in fairness is better than it looked when the injury occured, he did manage to become the first WR ever with over 1,000 yards in his first 7 seasons and this year was his highest TD count with 13. They’re OK without him frankly with Antonio Brown looking back to his old self with Evans out last week, he’s come on in recent weeks (4 TDs, 250-odd yards in 3 games) and if he’s back in game-form he’s tough to stop, and Chris Godwin is a top 10 talent in the league as well and looks good now he’s a few games back from injury. Scotty Miller is the deep threat for them, and has the odd reception. The “emergence” probably not the right word, of Gronk has been huge for them, it’s tough to look like the “old gronk” as that was unstoppable, but he’s probably not far off, he finished with 623 yards and 7 TDs. Cameron Brate gets the odd bit as well.
Ronald Jones is back healthy and will likely lead the backfield he finished just under 1,00 yards and had 7 TDs this year, he’s adequate and should get the job done for them, if not then Leonard Fournette is waiting in the wings to try and run through some faces and with Lesean McCoy confirmed out, rookie Keshawn Vaunghn will probably be the 3rd down back.
They finished the year as the 5th ranked defense according to DVOA, #1 against the run. Ndamukong Suh is a machine, and they’ll be hoping for JPP back, he was listed as light practise on Thursday, and Lavonte David led the team with 117 tackles.
Washington Football Team
They may well have backed their way into the post-season but it’s a remarkable achievement by Ron Rivera to get them here after a mess of a pre-season on and off the field, both professionally and personally for him.
Alex Smith just returning to the field won him comeback player of the year, to then go on and win games at QB is amazing, even if it’s not entirely on him, although they did win the final 5 games he was involved in this season, so he’s obviously got something out there. He is what he is basically. Captain check-down, keep it safe and let the pass-catchers do the work. There’s seemingly a strong chance that he doesn’t start the game, apparently they’ve split reps between him and Taylor Heinecke through the week. He adds more passing threat, but also more danger of turning the ball over, and they really can’t afford to do that.
Antonio Gibson is likely playing through an ankle sprain, but was out there last week where he averaged 4 yards per carry. He’ll obviously be playing this week but it will be tough against this run defense, finished the year with 11 TDs. If it’s Alex Smith expect a decent amount of dump-offs to either Gibson, or more likely JD McKissic who went through a run earlier in the season with multiple receptions, if they’re trailing which seems likely then his reception line probably can’t go high enough.
Terry McLaurin is brilliant. He finished with 1,118 yards on a team who only threw for 3,000 or so that’s damn impressive, as with Gibson he played through injury last week and there’s no chance he misses this one, outside of him the WRs threat is minimal, Steven Sims, Cam Sims, rookie Antonio Gandy-Golden who’s only just returned from injury, nothing much inspiring. Logan Thomas at TE on the other hand has been hugely involved at the end of the season with 38 receptions in the final 5 games. That’s basically it on offense, it’s shallow and not great, but it’s got the job done.
They do however possess probably the most stacked defnesive line in the league filled with 1st round talent. Chase Young led all rookies in sacks and will probably get defensive rookie of the year, he’s said already he “wants Tom Brady”, Montez Sweat led the team in sacks, Jonathon Allen and Da’Ron Payne were both 1st rounders as well, it’s fearsome and the key to them having a chance. Jon Bostic led the team in tackles, and Kendall Fuller has 4 INTs this year.
Can Washington win?
Probably not. The only chance they have is to capitalise on turnovers and short fields, but even then I think the Bucs have too much offensive talent to be stopped.
Washington have only scored more than 23 pts once in the final 7 games of the season, unsurprisingly they had 5 UNDERS in a row to finish the year, and averaged fewer than 21 points per game. They come into the playoffs with a +6 point differential.
The Bucs scored over 24 points in all of their final 7 games and had a +134 point margin.
Random stat – The Bucs won all 7 games where they led at the half, while Washington somehow won 13 2nd halves this year, something which had me questioning my mega-sheet, but it’s true.
I don’t think they’ll give Evans a big workload if he plays which makes the over on AB yards a sensible look 58.5 on Skybet and 365. Logan Thomas o4.5 receptions fits with backend of the season, and JD McKissic at 4.5 is tempting, although I won’t take 4/6 on that.
All TD scorers are above evens if you look around, value wise, there’s not a whole lot I like tbh.
I can’t look past the Bucs winning, and will tease them down with the Bills.
Good Luck if you’re betting this weekend, should be a great day of games, thankfully the best on paper is the early one for us in the UK. Should be a cracker.
I’m running a Playoff competition on Runyourpool – TDTips Playoff competition – Entries close at 5 PM TONIGHT – about £400 in the pot at the moment!