The NFL’s 2016 regular season may have come to an end, but MTS’ weekly picks against the spread must go on. Perry finished the season strong going 10-6 in Week 17, including 3-1 on his “Pledges” of the week. But how will he handle the bright lights of the playoffs?
An asterisk denotes Perry’s “Pledge of the Week.” (Don’t call it a “lock”; there’s no such thing!)
Wild Card Weekend Picks ATS
Saturday, January 7
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans (-3.5)
Week 17 affirmed what we already expected about the Raiders: Derek Carr was the offense. With Matt McGloin and Connor Cook under center against the Broncos last week, Oakland only managed 11 first downs and 221 yards of total offense – both are season-lows – while turning the ball over three times (a season-high). McGloin is not expected to be ready to play this weekend after suffering a left shoulder injury in Denver, so Oakland will rely on Cook, a rookie, in Houston.
The Texans don’t have the most inspiring situation at quarterback, either. Tom Savage, who replaced Brock Osweiler in Week 15, left the game last week with a concussion; and although Savage’s play wasn’t making headlines, he wasn’t costing them games like Osweiler. Now the Texans will turn back to Osweiler, who has thrown 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions this season.
Oakland has been driven by Carr and their offense all season, and without their field general, it doesn’t look like they’ll have much of an offense anymore. Houston has been carried by their defense all year, ranking first in total defense, and know what it takes to overcome poor quarterback play. I expect the Texans to put the ball in Lamar Miller’s hands, and sellout to stop the Raiders’ sixth-ranked rush attack. Connor Cook will not have much success against the second-ranked pass defense, and Houston will be able to wear down Oakland’s defense.
Pick: Texans (-3.5)*
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks (-8)
The Lions enter the playoffs having lost three-straight to give away the NFC North. Instead of playing at Ford Field this weekend, where they are 6-2 this season, Detroit has to travel to Seattle, where they haven’t won since 1999. The good news, though, is that Matthew Stafford may be telling the truth about his middle finger not bothering him. In spite of losing in Week 17 to Green Bay, Stafford played very well: 26/41 for 347 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. For Detroit to win their first playoff game since the 1991 season, they’ll need a similar performance from their leader in Seattle.
The Seahawks furthered the belief they can’t play on the road in Week 17, when they barely came out victorious over a 2-14 Niners team. Fortunately, they get to stay at home this weekend, where they have won nine-straight playoff games and finished 7-1 this season. Seattle’s offensive line has been a major concern this year, though, allowing 42 sacks (sixth-most); and their defense has not looked the same without Earl Thomas.
Russell Wilson should not find himself under much pressure in this one, as Detroit recorded the second-fewest sacks this season, but he doesn’t have his big-play threat in Tyler Lockett. I expect Stafford to spread the Seahawks out defensively, and exploit Steven Terrell and DeShawn Shead in coverage. He may not be able to leave C-Link with a win, but this is too many points for me to pass on.
Pick: Lions (+8)
Sunday, January 8
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers (-10)
The Dolphins are one of the better turnaround stories of the league this year. After posting a 6-10 record in 2015, new head coach Adam Gase was facing a lot of scrutiny when the team started the season 1-4. However, Miami went on to win nine of their last 11 games to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Gase’s squad played their final three games without starting quarterback Ryan Tannheill, but they have yet to officially rule him out of the Wild Card game. In his place, Matt Moore has performed very well, posting a 105.6 passer rating. Who starts under center will not be the biggest concern for the Dolphins, though. Miami has allowed more than 100 yards on the ground in seven-straight games, surrendering an average of 155.4 rushing yards per game in that time.
Pittsburgh enters the playoffs having won seven-straight, and appears to be peaking at the right time. The Steelers offense is clicking, scoring at least 24 points in eight-straight, and their defense has become a very respectable unit, ranking 12th in total defense and tenth in scoring. Le’Veon Bell looks as dangerous as ever, averaging 181.8 yards from scrimmage over his last six games, and will be well-rested after he, Big Ben, and Antonio Brown sat out Week 17.
When these two teams met earlier this season (Week 6), Miami ran for 222 yards while holding Pittsburgh to just 297 yards of total offense in a 30-15 victory. The Steelers may not be stout against the run, allowing 4.3 yards per carry (19th), but the Dolphins have not run the ball as effectively without center Mike Pouncey, who has been put on the IR. In five games with Pouncey, Miami averaged 154.4 rushing yards per game; in the 11 without him, that number dropped to 95.6 per game. Le’Veon Bell will run all over the 30th-ranked rush defense, and Matt Moore will not do enough to keep this game competitive.
Pick: Steelers (-10)
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers (-4.5)
After a pitiful defensive performance in 2015, the Giants put a lot of money into that side of the ball in free agency. It is clear that it was money well-spent, as they rank tenth in total defense and second in scoring. It has instead been the offense holding the team back this season. Eli Manning and company rank 25th in total offense and 26th in scoring. Although they have only allowed 22 sacks (third-fewest), that stat does not accurately portray the protection Manning has received. The two-time Super Bowl winner has been under pressure all season, and the low sack total is a testament to his blitz recognition and quick release. The Giants lone consistent source of offense this year has been putting the ball in Odell Beckham Jr.’s hands, who racked up 1,367 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
It’s hard to argue that there’s a hotter player right now than Aaron Rodgers. In his last seven games he is completing 69.7-percent of his passes for an average of 288 yards per game, and has thrown 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions. All of that tallies up to a stunning 120.0 passer rating. Rodgers’ outburst has led the Packers to six-straight wins, and their seat atop the NFC North back. The MVP candidates play has made up for the horrendous football being played by the Packers defense, too. Green Bay’s secondary has been terrible all season, allowing 35 passing plays of 25 yards or more. The unit ranks 31st against the pass and are allowing 346.3 net passing yards over their last three.
Looking at this game straight-up, it’s way too hard to bet against Rodgers right now; but this is a lot of points to give up against a very good defense and one of the most explosive players in the league. When these two played back in Week 5, the Packers dominated the game, nearly doubling the Giants total yardage. Although Manning and the offense are still not putting many points up – 15.8 points per game over their last five – the Manning-OBJ connection is at least nearing fruition. This was not the case in their earlier meeting, as Beckham only caught five of his 12 targets. Green Bay will be able to pressure Manning all game (sixth-most sacks recorded), but Beckham will eat them up when he gets his hands on the ball.
Pick: Giants (+4.5)
(Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck derivative: Diddykong1130 (Matthew Stafford) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)