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For The Win: Divisional Round

NFL Picks Against the Las Vegas Lines

Here I am again this year, back for more NFL picks. Just like last season I will still be picking all of the NFL games each week, but I will try and help some of you with some confidence and rankings of the selections - which also may assist those of you with Las Vegas trips. I tend to rate games that I like (and some extras like Over/Unders) with 1-3 "Stars", which basically highlight my best bets for the week. Those games which have zero stars I don't truly like one way or the other, but will select to help those trying to get some advice for their weekly office pools or other contests that they may be participating in either this week or this season. 

Ugly.  Horrible.  Disappointing.  Terrible.  Horrendous.  Does that cover it?

Last week I was 1-3 and 0-3 in my Best Bets (which I knew when I re-read it I should have made the teasers pick, but that would have only made the burns second degree instead of third).  Upsets galore for the weekend with Tennessee surprising Kansas City, but I should have known that Andy Reid can implode with the best of them.  Atlanta stomped on the Rams, who could not win the decision of resting players or not resting them.  Los Angeles gave the starters Week 17 off for the most part, and they looked flat last weekend against a veteran Falcons team.  Turning the page to Sunday (gladly) and Jacksonville took care of business – but only by a touchdown.  The best game was the last game, and it was only fitting that a late touchdown turned a Saints cover into a fourth and final loss.

So what is the good news?  Well, this is a new week, and I am sticking with what has worked well in the past.  The best teams play at home in the Divisional Round, and we also have two rematches.  Let’s see how I lean this week with a clean slate.  I can’t wait to wash away last week with a fresh set of picks.  Here we go:

Note that the lines and Over/Unders are taken from VegasInsider.com.

 

(Saturday, 4:35PM Eastern, NBC) PHILADELPHIA (+3) vs. ATLANTA (Over/Under = 41-41.5)
“Okay Jeff, you have lost your mind.  Are you seriously taking the Eagles?”  I hear you, believe me, I do – and I am well above any favoritism in these write-ups towards the team I have followed for a long, long time.  I understand that the Falcons looked great last week, but Philadelphia is a team of 45 players that went 13-3 on the year and got better all season long – until Carson Wentz tore his ACL.  If Wentz was under center, the Eagles would be favored by about 5-6 points easily in this spot, but instead they are getting three and are a #1 seeded underdog after a bye.  Atlanta actually did the Eagles a favor by beating the Rams, as now Philadelphia hosts a less-talented team (in my opinion) than having to face the Saints.  The Eagles have strong, favorable matchups against Atlanta at tight end (Zach Ertz plus some Trey Burton) and running back, especially pass-catchers (Jay Ajayi, possibly Corey Clement or Wendell Smallwood).  Philadelphia also has a good defense, although I do expect Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu to test the secondary.  Bottom line for me is this – Vegas is telling you that Nick Foles is worth more than a touchdown swing away from what the Eagles would be as 5- or 6-point favorites at home.  I believe that Doug Pederson and OC Frank Reich can devise enough West Coast style offensive plays to get the ball out of Foles’ hands quickly and to his tight ends and backs in space.  Do I think this will be a close game?  Absolutely.  Am I taking a #1 seed as an underdog after two weeks to rest and prepare, even with a veteran backup quarterback starting?  You better believe it.  Eagles 27, Falcons 23.  PICK:  Eagles

(Saturday, 8:15PM Eastern, CBS)  NEW ENGLAND (-13) vs. TENNESSEE  (Over/Under = 47-47.5)
New England gets as close to a gimme as you can get here.  The Patriots are rested and getting a low seeded team that must feel like they played and won their Super Bowl last week with an unexpected comeback win in Kansas City.  One could argue that the Chiefs blew it just as much as the Titans won it, but fair is fair and Tennessee got the job done.  Now comes a far steeper challenge with Marcus Mariota heading to Foxboro.  Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and an underrated defense await the Titans, and I expect Brady to pick apart Tennessee all day long with both passing and also plenty of running to keep the Titans’ offense on the sidelines.  The Titans may score some points, but it will not be over 17 and New England looks poised for at least 31, so that’s my call – Patriots 31-17.  PICK:  Patriots

(Sunday, 1:05PM Eastern, CBS)  PITTSBURGH (-7) vs. JACKSONVILLE  (Over/Under = 40.5-41.5)
Jacksonville kicks off “Rematch Sunday” as the Jaguars visit Pittsburgh for the second time this season.  Back in Week 5, Jacksonville dominated the Steelers 30-9, winning in convincing fashion on the road.  The game really got away from the Steelers for several reasons.  First, they could not establish a run game with LeVeon Bell, who finished with just 47 yards on 15 carries (he did add 10-46 receiving).  Second, Pittsburgh had to settle for three field goals in the 40 minutes of play instead of touchdowns, which left the score 9-7 in favor of the home team.  When the weather started to turn ugly with heavy rain, Ben Roethlisberger was bitten twice by the interception bug in the third quarter, and both of them were returned for touchdowns by Telvin Smith and Jalen Ramsey, respectively.  That turned the game quickly, and Pittsburgh had little choice but to throw most of the fourth quarter, and two interceptions and a meaningless (but lengthy) second touchdown run for Leonard Fournette iced the game late.

Fast forward to this week and I believe that the Steelers will look to flip the game script on its head.  Jacksonville is small on the interior of their defense, and I expect Pittsburgh to run early and often with Bell.  That will set up play action to Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Brown had a big day (10-157) in the first meeting.  The Pittsburgh plan should be to run it and play defense, especially against the run and force Blake Bortles to beat them.  In the first matchup Bortles only attempted 14 passes, so making him do something to move the ball will be the strategy for the Steelers.  After watching how ineffective the Jaguars were against Buffalo, Pittsburgh has to like their chances in the rematch, and I tend to agree.  Steelers 27, Jaguars 13.  PICK:  Steelers  

(Sunday, 4:40PM Eastern, FOX)  MINNESOTA (-4) vs. NEW ORLEANS (Over/Under = 45.5-46.5)
The Wild Card Weekend closes with our second rematch of the regular season.  Back in Week 1, the Saints were blown out by the Vikings on Monday Night Football 29-19 (it was 29-10 until the final two minutes left), but so much has changed since that matchup it is hardly worth analysis.  The Saints changed their starting cornerbacks so erase the Stefon Diggs two touchdown performance (to a degree).  Dalvin Cook was lost for the year mid-season, so his big performance is a distant memory, as is Sam Bradford’s 346-yard, three touchdown game.  Everyone is going to be looking at the Saints and their win at home over Carolina last week, but their defense allowed Cam Newton to throw for 376 yards and two scores and yielded 26 points – at home.  Meanwhile, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram struggled, and Minnesota’s defense is much, much better than the Panthers, especially against the run.  The Vikings will be overlooked, but I like all of Minnesota’s passing game with Kyle Rudolph looking to replicate Greg Olsen’s 8-107-1 afternoon from last weekend.  The Vikings also have to be encouraged by the combined Carolina ground game (26-107) against the Saints last week, so both Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon have upside.  The biggest factor for me is going to be the home team and their defense, and I believe the Vikings stuff the run and get after Drew Brees.  Minnesota is the best dark horse left in the NFC, and they are being underestimated as they look like a complete team to me.  Vikings 30, Saints 20.  PICK:  Vikings 

BEST BETS

Once again this year I will give not only the "Best Bets" but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 "Star" scale. The more stars, the more I like that side of the game.

Before I delve into the picks, I will say this time of the year is when you can really use Las Vegas against themselves.  The sportsbooks spend extra time analyzing these four contests, and the lines they set are usually rather strong.  To use this, it is a great time to use teasers and pair up teams you expect to win and take the leverage that those teasers give you.

In addition, the spreads this week are set up perfectly for several Wong Teasers in play.  These are teasers that target margins of victories of 3 and 7, so point spreads at -7.5 to -8.5 are perfect targets as a 6-point teaser moves across both 3 and 7.

* ONE STAR *

  • (Saturday) PHILADELPHIA vs. ATLANTA (Over 41)
  • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND (-13) vs. TENNESSEE 
  • PITTSBURGH (-7) vs. JACKSONVILLE
  • PITTSBURGH vs. JACKSONVILLE  (Under 41.5)   
  • PHILADELPHIA “FOR THE WIN” (+140) vs. ATLANTA  
  • JACKSONVILLE “FOR THE WIN” (+300) at PITTSBURGH (Good odds / hedge)
  • NEW ORLEANS “FOR THE WIN” (+190) at MINNESOTA (Good odds / hedge)
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  (Saturday) PHILADELPHIA (+9) vs. ATLANTA (Over 35)
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  PITTSBURGH (-1) vs. JACKSONVILLE (Under 47.5)
  • 7-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (8.9-1 ODDS):
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND (-7) vs. TENNESSEE 
    • PITTSBURGH (-1) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • MINNESOTA (+2) vs. NEW ORLEANS
    • MINNESOTA vs. NEW ORLEANS (Over 39.5)
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND vs. TENNESSEE (Under 54.5)
    • PITTSBURGH vs. JACKSONVILLE  (Under 47.5)   
    • (Saturday) PHILADELPHIA vs. ATLANTA (Over 35)
  • 8-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (12.75-1 ODDS):
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND (-7) vs. TENNESSEE 
    • PITTSBURGH (-1) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • MINNESOTA (+2) vs. NEW ORLEANS
    • MINNESOTA vs. NEW ORLEANS (Over 39.5)
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND vs. TENNESSEE (Under 54.5)
    • PITTSBURGH vs. JACKSONVILLE  (Under 47.5)   
    • (Saturday) PHILADELPHIA vs. ATLANTA (Over 35)
    • (Saturday) PHILADELPHIA (+9) vs. ATLANTA

** TWO STAR GAMES **

  • (Saturday) PHILADELPHIA (+3) vs. ATLANTA  
  • MINNESOTA (-4) vs. NEW ORLEANS
  • MINNESOTA vs. NEW ORLEANS (Over 45.5)
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND (-7) vs. TENNESSEE (Under 54.5) 
  • 5-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (4.1-1 ODDS):
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND (-7) vs. TENNESSEE 
    • PITTSBURGH (-1) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • MINNESOTA (+2) vs. NEW ORLEANS
    • MINNESOTA vs. NEW ORLEANS (Over 39.5)
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND vs. TENNESSEE (Under 54.5)
  • 6-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (6.1-1 ODDS):
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND (-7) vs. TENNESSEE 
    • PITTSBURGH (-1) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • MINNESOTA (+2) vs. NEW ORLEANS
    • MINNESOTA vs. NEW ORLEANS (Over 39.5)
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND vs. TENNESSEE (Under 54.5)
    • PITTSBURGH vs. JACKSONVILLE  (Under 47.5)
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  MINNESOTA (+2) vs. NEW ORLEANS (Over 39.5)
  • 3-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (1.65-1 ODDS):
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND (-7) vs. TENNESSEE 
    • PITTSBURGH (-1) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • MINNESOTA (+2) vs. NEW ORLEANS 
  • 4-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (2.65-1 ODDS):
    • (Saturday)  NEW ENGLAND (-7) vs. TENNESSEE 
    • PITTSBURGH (-1) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • MINNESOTA (+2) vs. NEW ORLEANS
    • MINNESOTA vs. NEW ORLEANS (Over 39.5)

PICKS OF THE WEEK:  New England, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and any two of the following teasers combine in 6-point pairs (NE-7, PIT -1, MIN +2, NE/TEN Under 54.5 – pick two)

RESULTS 

Last Week

  • OVERALL: 0-4 (0%)
  • BEST BETS (STARS): 5.6-25 (18.3%)
  • PICK OF WEEK: 0-3 (0%)

Regular Season

  • OVERALL: 127-124-5 (50.6%)
  • BEST BETS (STARS): 172.65-213-3 (44.8%)
  • PICK OF WEEK: 58-60-1 (49.2%)

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.