#NFL SUPER Wildcard Weekend – Sunday games

An interesting day of football yesterday, just the one upset straight up, but the underdogs covered all the spreads (Washington went up to 10 with Smith being ruled out). meaning that underdogs are now 14-1 in the last 15 playoff games, that’s quite a streak. – There wasn’t an under on the day, the Bills game probably pushed, although I’m sure some won, the other two were fairly comfortably over.

I got the sides right on all games yesterday, but my leans on pretty much everything else didn’t go well.

The first game and the last game were entertaining, the Rams v Seahawks was dismal and seemed to last an eternity, the ineptitude of the Seahawks was disappointing. It turns out if they’ve not got Metcalf they’ve really not got much at all, pretty much all there is to say about that one. Hopefully Aaron Donald will be good to go next week probably against the Packers, the guy is an animal so I’m sure he’ll get over possible cracked ribs easy enough.

The Colts probably should have beaten the Bills, they controlled possession and moved the ball up and down the field well, but left too many points on the field and Josh Allens’ arm did the damage quickly when needed. Still could have gone to OT but Rivers failed to move the ball on the final drive and it was a 3 point loss for the Colts. Diggs and Allen put on a show again, the flick of the wrist from Allen on a 50 yard pass is remarkable, he’s really quite fun to watch.

The Bucs looked like they were going to smash Washington and early on when they got out to a lead and make Wash punt it looked like that was going to be the story of the game, but Taylor Heinecke did well, his scrambling was essential and provided a hell of a TD in the corner of the endzone, and it looks like he did a decent job. (I managed till half time, around 230am) Brady was under pressure and Washington seemed to be doing a good job defensively from the start. I at least managed to get on Fournette inplay when they said Rojo was questionable to return and I woke up surprised that Brady didn’t top 2.5 passing TDs after he had 2 in the first 20 mins or so. Fair play Washington.

Ravens (-3) @ Titans: 54

Both of these teams come in at 11-5, that was good enough for 3rd in the AFC North, but won the AFC South for the Titans. They’ve both been putting up points this season, especially in the final few games of the year so I think we’re all expecting an exciting game here and glad it’s the early game at a perfect time for us in the UK.

This is a re-match of earlier in the year, the Titans won, and the divisional game last year which the Titans pulled off the upset in Baltimore, with a decent game plan which took away Lamars’ main weapon and they couldn’t adapt.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens smash the poor teams, yet seem to struggle against better teams, their losses this year came to the Chiefs, Steelers twice, the Titans and… the Patriots, not sure how anyone lost to the Pats this year. One of the Steelers game was heavily covid-influenced so we’ll ditch that, but the Chiefs game they were out-classed, the Titans game wasn’t great, they gave up a decent lead and Derrick Henry ran it home from a mile out in OT to take the win there. – They did lead the league in point differential this year though at +165 points. – They come into this game on a 5-game win streak, covering the spread in the last 6.

The Ravens are still a run-heavy team, and if anything have gone even further that way this season, they average 171 yards per game through the air, which is terrible, but lead the league in rush yards per game at 191, the 400 yards against the Bengals last week help with that figure. They’re fairly unique in the way they use the run game though, they use all three or four of their weapons, Lamar, Dobbins, Edwards and a little of Ingram sometimes, although they have made him inactive a few times over the last month, so we’ll have to wait on that.

Lamar is the first QB in history to rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive season, he’s responsible to 33 TDs this year, 7 on the ground and 26 passing scores, despite the lack of passing he’s thrown a TD in all but one game this season yet thrown over 20 completions in just 2 games, his QBR is good for 7th in the league, so while the numbers aren’t there in a typical sense, he’s obviously not been a terrible player. Just not as good as last year.

The run game is fairly dominant, as mentioned and it’s shifted markedly towards the rookie JK Dobbins in recent weeks, he’s been great culminating with the best game of his short career last week against the Bengals, 160 and 2 TDs making that now 6 games in a row with at least one score and he averaged 6 yards per carry this year, good for 3rd in the league, he’s adept in the passing game as well, really good to watch. My man Gus ‘the bus’ Edwards used to be the goal-line back and still gets attempts there but hasn’t scored for 3 games now. He shares carries, actually had more last week, and they will plan for more of the same, with Dobbins, Edwards and Lamar probably all getting near double-digits carries. Ingram may be inactive, they seemed to have phased him out recently, but he’s a decent back if he gets the time.

It’s tough to talk about the passing game as it’s not really there. Mark Andrews is still the main target in the middle of the field, down the seam, the Titans have done a good job taking him away in their games against them, he’s averaging 5 catches per game over the last month, had 5 recs and a TD against the Titans in the regular season game this year. They use him to move the ball then some deep shots to the likes of Marquise Brown, who will probably drop them, Myles Boykin, scored last week, Devin Duvernay and maybe a bit of Dez, although he’s not in the speedy category any more, he knows how to get free. Brown is the main target and has 8 TDs from 58 receptions this year, 6 of them coming in the last 6 games although he did sweet FA vs. the Titans in their game.

Defensively they’re always good and have kept that up this year, they’re pretty much fully fit. DVOA has them ranked 9th on defense.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans come into this having scored over 30 points in 6 of their 7 games including a couple where they topped 40. They’re crap on defense, so the scoring is needed and the way they work seems ideal for the talent they’ve got.

Ryan Tannehill is responsible for 40 TDs this year, 33 passing and 7 on the ground, 5 of those coming in the last 3 games as teams concentrate on Derrick Henry at the goal-line. He will get the ball out at the last second before getting smashed in the face and usually finds his man. He’s been great for the Titans since joining from the Dolphins. He’s ranked 4th by QBR.

Derrick Henry is obviously the key to the game though, he topped 2,000 yards this season becoming the 5th player to do so, and is basically unstoppable when he gets up a head of steam. He leads the league in carries, yards, rushing TDs this year and went over 200 yards twice in the last final 4 games of the season, in all he had 10 games with over 100 yards on the ground, including 133 against the Ravens in that matchup. Everyone knows who he is and what he does. If they get ahead they’ll just pound the ball all game with him.

AJ Brown is the Henry of the passing game, he’s a YAC beast and if he gets going in the slot is another who’s tough to stop as he proved running through 4 or 5 tackles in their game this season, he finished with career highs in receptions and TDs with 11 this year, it was also a good year for Corey Davis who finished just short of 1,000 yards, had 5 TDs. They’re the two main receivers, but the Titans use the tight ends a lot as well, Jonnu Smith is great with the ball in his hands, he’s scored 9 this year, all coming within the redzone including vs. the Ravens, Anthony Firkser had a couple of receptions fewer than Smith this year and scored twice in the playoffs last season, and even Mycole Pruitt and Geoff Swaim have found the endzone this year. Kaliff Raymond is a deep threat.

They’re poor defensively, although a little better against the run than the pass which should help them here, they rank 30th vs. the pass and allow a ton of points.

What’s the deal?

I think the Ravens win and cover, but I thought that last year, and in the regular season and the Titans won both of those games, so what do I know.

The key for both teams is shutting down the run game and getting out to a lead. Get in front, run the ball. Control the clock is the basic mantra of both.

The Ravens scored in every quarter of 10 of their 16 games (only failed to score in 8 quarters all season), best in the league. They won 10 of the 12 games where they led at the half, and won 9 of the 10 games where they won the 1st quarter. They average 30 points a game.

The Titans won 8 of the 9 games where they won the 1st half, 7 of the 8 where they won the first quarter. They were 12-3-1 to the overs this season averaging 31 points per game.

Should be a cracker, I’m on Ravens covering and have to think it goes over the total.

Bears (+10) @ Saints: 48.5

The Bears snuck into the playoffs as the 7th seed in the NFC after losing to the Packers last week, they had a weird season while the Saints showed again they’re one of the best teams in the league in the regular season taking the 2 seed with a 12-4 record.

Chicago Bears

It’s been a weird year for the Bears starting the season at 5-1 with Mitchell Trubisky under center before changing to Nick Foles, doing fuck all, losing 6 in a row in the middle of the season before reverting to Trubisky and finishing the year 3-1 to scrape in. They are the definition of average – an 8-8 record, 8-8 ATS, and 8-8 on totals as well.

Trubisky isn’t good but he’s at least entertaining, their games went over the total 8 times this year, Trubisky was under centre for 7 of them. He did get to face some poor defenses though. He’s mobile and they’d be sensible to get him moving against a great Saints defense.

David Montgomery got going at the end of the season and finished the year scoring in 5 consecutive games. They were poor run defenses, but he took advantage as the only weapon back there. 7 of his 8 TDs this year came in that 5 game stretch.

Allen Robinson is probably moving on after this season and will be a good addition to whoever gets him, he’s put up numbers everywhere despite some terrible QB play. He finished with 102 receptions, 1,250 yards, good for 6th and 9th in the league respectively, he’ll be the main target obviously. Outside of him Darnell Mooney has had a decent year but is ruled out, and I guess Cole Kmet or Jimmy Graham? It’s not great.

They’re good defensively still, not to the level of a couple of years ago, but still ranked in the top 10, and ranked 4th vs. the run. Roquan Smith missing out is a bit hit for them.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints have done what they needed to do, they once again won the division and made the playoffs despite losing Drew Brees in the middle of the year, they finished 9-7 ATS, 10-6 to the overs.

Drew Brees will be under center but they’ll invariably mix in Taysom Hill as well. Brees just doesn’t excite me despite his numbers being good again. It’s probably his final season and he’ll want to go out on top. QBR has him ranked 6th on the year. He keeps the ball safe.

Alvin Kamara should be back after testing positive for Covid and missing last week, he’s due to come off the list today and there’s no reason why he won’t. He has been back to his best this year and is the main reason they’re in the playoffs after a massive start to the season he did drop off a little, but as long as he’s back all right from the illness he’ll be the main man. He finished with over 1,600 combined yards and a league leading 21 TDs this year, and had over 160 yards vs. the Bears in their match eariler this year. Latavius Murray gets a decent workload too in the backfield averaging about 8 carries per game, 5 TDs on the year for him.

They welcome back Michael Thomas after he missed most of the year, apparently he played in 7 games this season, but I’m fairly sure he was playing through injury for a lot of it, so they shut him down for the final 3 games to rest his sprained ankle and get back healthy for the playoff run. I’ve got to assume he gets his usual workload and nears double-digit receptions on his return. In his absence they didn’t have much but still moved the ball fairly easily, Emmanuel Sanders was the main man, Tre’quan Smith chipped in and the likes of L’ilJordan Humphrey, Austin Carr, Juwan Johnson, Marquez Callaway got involved as well, there’s actually been a little hype on Callaway getting involved more but he’s been injured. – Jared Cook is a decent tight end and Brees likes him in the redzone.

They’re good defensively, DVOA has them ranked 2nd. I’m not sure they’re THAT good personally, but I’ve used DVOA for everything else this year as a guide, so I’ll go with it.

Do the Bears have a chance?

Probably not. They’re not a great team. The Saints do seem to have a habit of losing in remarkable ways in the playoffs though, so I can’t say they’re completely dead in the water. Roquan Smith missing is a big loss in the run-stopping game though and they Saints have the talent to capitalise.

The Bears were involved in 11 one-score games including the regular season game between these two which went to overtime, but that was outside in Chicago, this is in the dome. The over has landed in 5 of their last 6 games but that was against terrible defenses, this is much better than the Lions, Texans, Jags, Vikings that they’ve faced recently. They’ve a +2 point margin.

The Saints won 11 1st halves, 11 2nd halves, and average 30 points per game. They didn’t score fewer than 21 points in any game this year.

Saints win, probably shouldn’t take them to cover, lean over the total, but wouldn’t be shocked if this was a blowout.

Browns (+6) @ Steelers: 47.5

An AFC North clash to finish off wildcard weekend with the Browns making their first playoffs since 2002 taking on the Steelers who faltered after winning their first 11 games this year and ended up as the 3 seed. They split the series this year, the Steelers smashing them early on and the Browns scraping past a B team Steelers last week to guarantee their place in the playoffs.

Cleveland Browns

It’s been a weird old month for the Browns, they clearly haven’t managed to get rid of Covid as it’s been floating around for a while there now and they’ve had quite a few weeks where they’ve been closing their facility during the week. It can’t have been easy preparing for games due to it, they lost their WR corps 2 weeks ago against the Jets and come into this one without LG Joel Bitonio and Khadarel Hodge. Bitonio is a rough loss especially for him as one of the longer serving players on the roster who’s been through their dire years.

Oh shit, yeah, they’re without their head coach (and play-caller) today because of Covid as well and NFL rules state he’s not allowed any interaction with the team once the game starts. That’s a big loss.

Baker Mayfield has played well this year, 12th in TDs, 10th in INT and 10th in QBR this season. They have done a good job of not putting too much on him. He messes up if he does too much. He’s had to do a lot this season without a huge amount of established pass catching talent and he’s done it well. The worry for him is if they get behind and he starts trying to put the game on his back, that’s where he makes mistakes, he’s an arrogant prick and it costs him sometimes, he’ll always have his acting career to fall back on should he flop anyway.

The run-game is the key for them, Chubb and Hunt are the only partnership to have over 1,000 scrimmage yards each and despite Chubb missing a few games in the middle of the season he finished with 12 TDs and 1,067 on the ground. Hunt finished with 11 TDs. They use the backs well, they’re basically both RB1s so there’s not really any “running back, pass catching back” in there, they give them a drive or two each and mix them up, it means they usually come on well at the back of the game as they keep them fresh. It works.

The pass catching group is led by Jarvis Landry as Odell Beckham has missed most of the year with injury. Landry has done well finishing with 840 yards but just 4 TDs on the season, Rashard Higgins is the WR2, he’s fine, seems to get a fair few endzone targets on the odd occasion they throw the ball in the final 20. Hodge probably would have been the WR3, so that moves up Donovan People-Jones who’s had some big plays as a rookie and looks like he’ll be a decent player in this team. Then you’re on to the tight ends really, Austin Hooper is the main man there with David Njoku and rookie Harrison Bryant getting a few targets as well. Hooper found the endzone last week to make it 2 in his last 3 games.

They’re without Olivier Vernon on the defensive side which hurts, it means Myles Garrett and Adrian Clayborn will be the main men, but Clayborn can only go from one side, so in theory the Steelers would have concentrated on the other side this week and topping Garrett. He should get home as the Steelers OL isn’t what it used to be. They are poor in the secondary though without Denzel Ward and Robert Jackson was picked on last week, that will probably be the plan this week too.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers were the last unbeaten team in the league after winning their first 11 games of the year. I said throughout that they didn’t look like they should have been unbeaten, Big Ben didn’t look great he threw up a load of air balls that should have been intercepted but such has been their season with their own players and the opposition, they were frequently dropped. They still finished 12-4 but lost 4 of the last 5 games including games against the Bengals and Washington.

Big Ben returns after a week off last week, and it looked like it was needed, he lost his deep ball and everything was thrown short of the sticks. Steelers fans blame the play-calling, I think it’s more half and half, the play-calling isn’t good, but I think he’s suffering from lack of rest between games coming off surgery last year. He’s old and fat, it can’t be easy for him. The worry for me as a Steelers hater is that they were purposely vanilla after the start they had. They knew they’d be in the post-season and just didn’t try anything in the second half of the season. After a week of rest I think there’s a good chance he tries more deep passes and they could well torch a poor Browns secondary. QBR ranked him 22nd this year.

The run game has been terrible. James Conner was all right at the start of the year, but they didn’t use him too much, he went out and Benny Snell has apparently earned carries as replacement now, he’s not good either. He will probably get the goal-line work regardless of who the “starter” is. Either way I don’t trust it. Anthony Macfarland looks like he’s got burst but is rarely used.

The passing game is much touted, they are after all the only team in the league capable of drafting wide receivers, maybe they just put up numbers because Ben tries more attempts than anyone else in the league? Nah, must be the brilliance of this amazing franchise. Juju is average, he gets a lot of short passes, led the team in receptions, averaged 8.6 yards per catch, good for 126th best in the league. Diontae Johnson is the 1 though, he gets more valuable targets and if he didn’t drop half of them he’d be away at the top of this WR chart, while Chase Claypool is the deep threat, and excelled early in the year, they’ve reigned him in a bit over the second half, but he still gets a lot of targets and I imagine they’ll have him on Jackson again tonight, he killed him last week. Eric Ebron has disappointed at TE for them, he has dropped a lot as well, but scored 5 times.

The defense has been great for them this year, DVOA ranks them as the best in the league and it was especially good against the run, they had a few injuries at LB (they’re still one of the least injured teams in the league) which hurt them a bit but Spillane the backup LB should be back tonight which helps them. TJ Watt led the league in sacks this year and should get DPOY, I hope, I’ve got him at 12/1 for it.

Can the Browns beat the full Steelers team?

Probably not. Even without the Covid issues I think they’d have struggled, they just don’t seem to be able to get over the hump against the Steelers and Ravens. Even last week against a lot of backups they nearly messed it up.

Cleveland were 6-10 ATS, 9-7 on totals. They won 10 1st halves, and won all of those matches, they won every game where they led at the end of the 1st quarter (5)… however enter the playoffs as the only remaining team who had a minus point differential, finishing the season on -11.

The Steelers were 10-6 ATS after covering 8 of their first 10 games, they were 8-7-1 on totals. They only won the 1st quarter 4 times this year, winning all of those games. In fact 1st and 3rd quarters were a struggle for them.

1st and 3rd quarters were sluggish for both teams, they’re both in the 60s in scoring at the start of halves. The Steelers specifically have only scored once in the last SEVEN 1st quarters at the end of the season.

Steelers should win, if they do they’ll probably win by a comfortable distance.

Apologies for this being late, and for not being very good.

I like the Ravens to win and cover, Saints to win and not cover, and the Steelers to win and cover.

Good Luck with any bets tonight, enjoy the games.

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