Saturday, January 7, 2017

NFL 2016: Wild Card Weekend Picks

(A5) Oakland Raiders (12-4)  @  (A4) Houston Texans (9-7)
Saturday, January 7th, 4:30 - ESPN
Line: Texans -3.5

State of the Teams: Obviously, this game turned into a disaster when Derek Carr went out. The game is now essentially a fight for who gets to be the Patriots (or Chiefs) whipping boy in a week. Derek Carr's loss turns the game into a complete toss-up. The Texans of course have their own QB issues, turning back to Brock Osweiler a week after ceremoniously benching their $72MM man. The Raiders are largely healthy outside of Carr, with their O-Line at full strength and the return of Karl Joseph. Adding a rookie safety back into the fold may seem like a small victory, but when he was healthy the Raiders had a surprisingly good pass defense by advanced metrics (tops in the league by QBR, for what that is worth). The Texans are also relatively healthy, but they've already lost JJ Watt for the year back in Week 2. While they've been able to make up for a lot of the drop-off with the rest of the defense - including a siliently great Jadeveon Clowney season - taking a step-up, there still is something missing with Watt out. Let's move on before going too far into this. As I said, this is merely an exhibition. Neither team is really any good at the moment and is merely a lamb being fed for slaughter next week.

The Matchup: Again it is so hard to break this game down. Not only because there is no desire to, but I have no idea what the Raiders offense will be with Connor Cook. Given who he was playing (still the best pass defense in the NFL), Cook wasn't awful, but he is a rookie with no real playing action. The Texans themselves were in this situation five years ago, with 3rd-string TJ Yates having to start playoff games. Yates was serviceable in the Wild Card win, but even he had a few games in the regular season and the 2011 Texans may have been the best team in the NFL before Matt Schaub went down. On other other end, who knows what we are getting from Osweiler. Both teams will likely try to lean on the run, and neither rush defense is very good (Texans are 17th in DVOA, Raiders 18th). The home team has a slight advantage because however bad Osweiler is, he is probably better than a guy who has never started a game in the NFL before. 

The Pick: Raiders 13  Texans 20  (HOU -3.5)

(N6) Detroit Lions (9-7)  @  (N3) Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
Saturday, January 7th, 8:15 - NBC
Line: Seahawks -8

The State of the Teams: The Lions are coming into the playoffs as cold as possible, losing three straight games. Very few teams have ever made the playoffs losing their last three games. The last team did so after starting 13-0 (the 2009 Saints). Worked out pretty well for them, but it is different when you don't need any of those games. The Lions offense has never been the same after Matthew Stafford broke his finger against the Bears. While they won that game, the Lions have not been close to the same, with Stafford spraying passes high way too often. The offense is still designed well, but they may have to resort to their ultra-short passing game that somewhat worked in 2015. The Seahawks are also entering the playoffs cold, with a 2-3 finish to the season that knocked them out of a first round bye. Just like we have a key turning point with Matthew Stafford, we have a clear turning point for Seattle with Earl Thomas. The first time he missed games in his career the Seahawks defense went down the drain. The worst performance was their 10-38 loss to the Packers, but overall their defense has given up way too many big plays, way too many sustained drives on 3rd down completions, and worse red zone performance. The OL remains a disaster, but not as bad as it was early in the season. Wilson will need to raise his game, as his form dipped along with the defense.

The Matchup: The last time these two teams played, Kam Chancellor knocked the ball out of Calvin Johnson's hand at the goal line to save a victory. The Lions showed in that game, a loss during their 1-7 start to the 2015 season, that they don't really fear playing in Seattle. The Lions defense is not as good this year, mostly due to drop-offs from Ezekiel Ansah and Tahir Whitehead, and while their secondary is very strong, their rush discipline was very poor against Green Bay and the more-mobile Russell Wilson may expose that even more. The other side of the ball can go either way, but I don't think that Stafford is healthy enough with that finger to expose the issues Seattle is having so much trouble defending the deep third but with Stafford's inconsistent accuracy deep right now that shouldn't be as big of a problem.

The Pick: The Lions rarely get blown out. This is a high line for a team that struggled to put away the 49ers last week. There are issues with the Lions for sure, and you can foresee a situation where they tank early after blowing the division last week, but the Lions are a well-coached, fearless team that I don't think will wilt in the Seattle energy. The Seahawks are still better, at home, and their weaknesses don't match-up with the Lions strengths, but I do think the Lions keep it closer than expected.

Lions 17  Seahawks 23  (DET +8)

(A6) Miami Dolphins (10-6)  @  (A3) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
Sunday, January 8th, 1:00 - CBS
Line: Steelers -10

State of the Teams: Stop me if this sounds familiar. An AFC team playing in Wild Card weekend has serious questions at QB?! Matt Moore is likely getting the start - I think it is basically confirmed at this point. Now, Moore has way more history than, say, Connor Cook, but most of that history prior to these last four games came in 2011 and 2009. Moore is decent, probably the best backup QB playing this weekend, but still this is not Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins as a whole had nothing to play for in Week 17, but before that had gone 9-1. Now, most of those nine wins came against bad teams (or teams with injured QBs like Roethlisberger), and their one loss was a disaster, a incompetent 6-38 loss to Baltimore, but that still is nine striaght wins where both sides of hte ball look good throughout. Of course, one of the few teams who can rival the Dolphins' recent success, it is the Steelers, winners of 7 straight. Those seven wins weren't all that impressive either, but did include a 10-point win over the Giants, and a great win over Baltimore to seal up the division. The Steelers are more of a concept than a reality. We still think that if Ben, Bell and Brown were fully healthy all at once they would be unstoppable, but they have been more or less healthy for most of that seven game win streak and were never nearly as unstoppable as we would have wanted.

The Matchup: We can throw a lot of their earlier meeting this season away. Ben Roethlisberger got injured early and hobbled his way through a dreadful performance. Ryan Tannehill was the starter for the Dolphins. However, there are a few things we could learn. That earlier game was Jay Ajaye's breakout, and the Steelers have been susceptible all year long to running backs. The Dolphins did a great job dominating the Steelers OL, which is tough to do, but the Dolphins do have the talent to repeat that performance. As a whole, the Steelers are a better team, playing really well, and they have that tantalizing potential that everyone still loves, but the Dolphins are, for the first time in a long time, well coached and have a capable backup QB to aid in not allowing the Steelers to load the box on Jay Ajaye.

The Pick: The line is high, no doubt about it. I think Moore is well-regarded enough the line would only drop to around -7 had Tannehill been playing. The Steelers line has to be built off of the hope that it all comes together. The best Steelers performance is still either Week 1 (rout in Washington on MNF) or Week 4 (rout over KC at home on SNF). This is a not a team that has lived up to their potential and has rarely blown out teams. They have at very few times where they've covered a 10-point line. With that in mind, and a sleepless 1PM type start, I'm leaning towards the underdog covering.

Dolphins 17  Steelers 26  (MIA +10)

Giants 21  Packers 17  (NYG +4)

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.