2019 NFL Playoff Picks, Odds: Chargers take out Patriots, Saints roll Eagles in divisional round
The divisional round is going to feature some underdogs winning in a big way
The first weekend of playoff action lived up to its name -- Wild Card Weekend was wild, with three road teams, all underdogs, pulling off upsets. It was nearly a clean sweep, with the Seattle Seahawks holding a second-half lead over the Dallas Cowboys before coming up short.
Can the trend hold? I tend to think so, primarily because of the matchups these teams are facing in the coming weekend. History already tells us there should be some kind of underdog win: since 1990 there have been 31 upsets in the divisional round. That's not a ton. But of those 31, 22 have happened since 2004, an average of 1.5 upsets per season, and 14 of them have come in the last 10 years, so the trend has held pretty steady. Only two of those upsets have been by home teams (Philly over Atlanta last year, San Francisco over New Orleans back in 2011).
Half of those 14 wins by underdogs came by heavy 'dogs, with seven teams who were favored by seven points or more falling in the divisional round.
Suggesting there will be three upsets by road teams this week is asking a lot, especially with Vegas pegging all four of these games as more than the standard three points for home-field advantage. However, since 2008, divisional-round underdogs of four points or more are 17-12 against the spread. That's not bad, but wipe out the Patriots -- we're taking out the Patriots because they've destroyed a litany of young/questionable quarterbacks when Bill Belichick has an extra week to prepare -- from this study, and you realize underdogs do really well (15-6) in this spot, covering more than 70 percent of the time.
Can the 2019 divisional dogs live up to the hype? I think so, and I believe several of them can even win outright.
Sat. Jan. 12, 4:35 p.m. ET (NBC)
The Colts simply aren't a good matchup for the Chiefs. Look at the final five games of the Chiefs season: two wins against the Raiders, a near loss at home to the Ravens, a loss at home to the Chargers and a loss on the road to Seattle. The non-Raiders teams are all offenses that like to run the ball and chew up clock with methodical drives. That's exactly what the Colts will want to do, featuring Marlon Mack running through holes created by Quenton Nelson. Andrew Luck has plenty of playoff experience, while Patrick Mahomes will be making his first playoff start. Mahomes is the MVP, but he's looked shaky at the start in some primetime games this year.
I think Andy Reid will create plenty of easy throws against a defense that can't slow down the Chiefs all day, but I also believe the Colts could get a lead early in this one, hold it for a chunk of the game and/or storm in the backdoor if the Chiefs come out hot. The playoffs are a different animal, man. If you like the Colts and want to bet on them, consider waiting on it -- the line moved up from five to six pretty early on, and it could approach a touchdown. If you like the over (I don't?), take it now because it's climbing as well.
Prediction: Chiefs 28, Colts 24
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Cowboys (+7) at Rams
Sat., Jan. 12, 8:15 p.m. ET (FOX)
This was a really surprising line to me. Dallas is playing great football and the Rams didn't blow out any good teams down the stretch. In fact, the Rams didn't really blow out any good teams period. They were favored by a touchdown or more in 12 games this year and covered six of those. The only team they beat by more than seven that finished above .500 was the Chargers; the other five games were against the Lions, 49ers and Cardinals. The Rams like to run the ball and Dallas excels at stopping the run (fifth in DVOA). The Rams aren't great at stopping the run (28th in DVOA), and the Cowboys love to run.
Los Angeles' passing offense hit a speedbump when Cooper Kupp went down. Sean McVay with two weeks to prepare is kind of a new thing, but it's definitely scary: he has two wins, both on the road, following a bye as a head coach and the Rams won those games by a combined score of 81-33. Those games were against the Lions this year and Giants last year, so grain of salt, but the scores are eye-popping. The Rams only playoff game under McVay was a stunning 26-13 loss to the Falcons last year. The biggest thing that scares me is Wade Phillips wanting revenge against Jason Garrett and the Cowboys, but ultimately this line is just too big for a Cowboys team that has morphed into a dangerous team since Amari Cooper arrived.
Prediction: Cowboys 21, Rams 18
Listen to Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough break down Wild Card Weekend and look ahead to the divisional round on the Pick Six Podcast:
Chargers (+4.5) at Patriots
Sun., Jan. 13, 1:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Head, meet heart. My head looks at this game and sees a ton of value with the Patriots as a home team laying the shortest number of any team during the entire weekend. The Patriots! They're 6-1 against the spread in their last seven divisional-round games. All of those came at home, because the Patriots have the bye every year. Tom Brady is 7-0 all time against Philip Rivers, including twice in the playoffs, although it's been a decade since the two matched up in the postseason (January 2008). So that's where my head is at.
But my heart sees this game and believes Rivers is somehow comfortable in this setting. Of the possible draws for the Patriots in this field, I think the Chargers are the worst matchup. They play great defense, can be versatile with how they use defenders (seven DBs on the field for 90 plus percent of their snaps against the Ravens!), and have stud pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They can beat you passing or running the ball and Rivers isn't some young quarterback Belichick can just fool. Rivers wants redemption for his record against the Pats and two brutal losses in the postseason to them -- in January 2007 the Chargers lost in the worst possible way (the Pats rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final 8:35); the following year, Rivers nearly toppled an undefeated Pats team despite having a torn ACL. We'll remember Gus Bradley's Jaguars getting blown out 51-17 by the Patriots, but let's not forget Bradley's Seahawks defense beating New England in 2012.
Here's an interesting trend for the Patriots in divisional-round games: after seeing the total go under in every game from 2001-2007 (six games) the Patriots have seen the total go over in every single one of their divisional round games since (eight consecutive games). This total (47) would be the third-lowest of all those games. The Patriots have averaged 35 points per game over that stretch.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Patriots 24
Sun. Jan. 13, 4:40 p.m. ET (FOX)
If I'm being honest, the pick I like here is the over. The Saints have hosted five playoff games in New Orleans with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, and have hit the over in every single one of them. The Eagles are just 2-2 in the postseason on the over/under the last two years so far, but they've scored at least 15 points in every single game, including 41 in their only indoors game. The over/under is 51 in this game and it shouldn't be that low -- the Saints aren't going to take their foot off the gas with a chance to go win a title. And that's what makes this number so scary if you're backing the Eagles. The Saints have blown up teams they're supposed to smash in the playoffs: they won and covered their two games as favorites of a touchdown or more and didn't cover their three games as a touchdown or less. I think it's more about the competition. The Panthers last year, the 2010 Vikings and the 2006 Eagles covered against Brees/Payton, and those were good teams. The Cardinals in 2009 should qualify too, but they got smacked (45-14) by a buzzsaw of a Saints team. Since that 2009 season, by the way, the Saints have had 1 games (ten regular season, one playoff) where Payton and Brees had two weeks to prepare. In those 11 games the Saints are 9-2 with a point differential of +116. Even more stunningly, the Saints are 10-1 against the spread in those games. Maybe we're not talking enough about Sean Payton After the Bye. Fading Nick Foles feels like a mistake after everything he's done the last two years and I'm sure I'll regret it (again) on Sunday afternoon. But the Saints are Thanos-level destroyers in these spots. Fading them is even more dangerous.
Prediction: Saints 38, Eagles 24
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