For The Win: Week 18

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. 

So I wrapped up the regular season in Week 17, and oddly enough, it was one of my better weeks.  Now, I know what you are thinking – how can a week where I go 7-8-1 overall and 1-3 for my “Best Bets” be such a good week?  Well, that’s why I pick certain games (and bets) to target each week with the “Star” picks.  I nailed all three upset picks (“For The Wins”) and all three teasers, leading me to a 17.7-3 week (85.5% correct).  That strong finish allowed all of my sets of picks – Overall, Best Bets and Stars – to finish not just over 50%, but also over the Las Vegas breakeven point of 52.3%.  I’ll take that every year, thank you very much.  Hopefully you stuck with me this season and turned some fun into a little profit here or there – but if you did not, well, that’s what this week’s picks are for, right?  Playoffs are here, which means far fewer games each week to choose, and these contests (and lines) will be scrutinized much harder.  Let’s get started:

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

Bye Week Teams:  New England, Arizona, Carolina, Denver

KANSAS CITY (-3) at HOUSTON

(Saturday, 4:35PM Eastern, ESPN / ABC)
Wild Card Weekend starts off with what should be a slower pace with two strong defensive teams squaring off in Texas on Saturday afternoon.  Kansas City, the hottest team in the league right now, travels to visit the AFC South champion Houston Texans, who are on a three game winning streak of their own.  Both teams have been winning with defense first of late, as the Chiefs have given up 17 or fewer points in all but two games during their 10 game winning streak.  Houston’s defense has been pretty solid in their own right, holding teams to 17 or fewer points in seven of their last nine games, and 10 or fewer points against in six of those contests.  So I am expecting a lot of defense in this one – although if there is one weakness for either defense it is the cornerbacks for the Chiefs, so DeAndre Hopkins will be a threat all day.  I still expect the Chiefs to run the ball with both Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware to set up some play action (and runs) from Alex Smith.  Houston will take a shot now and then for sure, but I expect the Chiefs to be better on offense and do just enough on defense to get the road win here.  Chiefs by about a touchdown, something like 20-13.  PICK:  Chiefs 

  • Latest Lines:  Kansas City Chiefs -3 to -3.5, Over / Under 40 to 40.5 points
  • Money Lines:  Kansas City -170 to -180, Houston +150 to +165
  • Prediction:  Kansas City Chiefs 20, Houston Texans 13
  • Pick: Chiefs

CINCINNATI (+3) vs. PITTSBURGH

(Saturday, 8:15PM Eastern, CBS)
This was the hardest game for me to pick.  On the one hand, Pittsburgh’s offense has been extraordinary at times this season, with Antonio Brown going off several times this season, but then you look at the past two games and see that Pittsburgh was not as dominant as it might seem (loss at Baltimore, win in Cleveland).  The 28-12 victory last week for Pittsburgh was a 17-12 game in the fourth quarter until the Steelers kicked it up a notch and got the final 11 points against the hapless Browns.  As has been typical in the past few years, Pittsburgh played better in the hurry up, which they went to more often especially after DeAngelo Williams was sidelined.  That is likely to be the case again this week for Pittsburgh, and I expect Ben Roethlisberger to throw 35-40 times this week against Cincinnati, but the Bengals will know that to expect.  I think the Cincinnati defense will play pass first all night long, daring Pittsburgh to run.  As for Cincinnati on offense, A.J. Green has a great history against the Steelers (last four games he has had 100 yards and a score in three of those matchups, and posted an 8-82 line in the other) and I expect more of the same as that is how to beat Pittsburgh – throwing the ball.  McCarron has done a solid job after being forced into action against Pittsburgh when Andy Dalton got hurt in Week 14, a sign that he can do just fine with a week’s preparation.  With Tyler Eifert now back and healthy, I can see the Bengals throwing quite a bit to both Green and Eifert, plus Giovani Bernard out of the backfield. I will stop short of guaranteeing an upset here, but I will not be surprised at all to see a 12-4 home underdog win against a team that will likely have to start their third string tailback.  I see three touchdowns for Cincinnati - one for Green, one for Eifert and one for either Bernard or Jeremy Hill (I think Bernard) and a career day for McCarron.  Bengals 27, Pittsburgh 24.  PICK:  Bengals

  • Latest Lines:  Cincinnati Bengals +2.5 to +3, Over / Under 45.5 to 46.5 points
  • Money Lines:  Cincinnati +120 to +130, Pittsburgh -140 to -150
  • Prediction:  Cincinnati Bengals 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 24
  • Pick: Bengals

SEATTLE (-5) at MINNESOTA

(Sunday, 1:05PM Eastern, NBC)
Seattle went to Minnesota in Week 13 and blew out the Vikings 38-7, but I am not exactly calling for a full repeat of that outcome.  Thomas Rawls was active in that contest, and the Vikings were short players on defense – but still, Minnesota could not do much of anything on offense that day against the Seahawk defense.  Russell Wilson also went off that day, throwing for three scores and rushing for another.  Wilson completed over 75% of his passes (21 of 27) on a very efficient day where he connected with Doug Baldwin twice (who else) for touchdowns. Rawls had over 100 yards rushing and a score as well.  Adrian Peterson was held under 20 yards rushing and only a Cordarrelle Patterson kick return kept the Vikings from being shut out that day.  So what do I expect five weeks later?   Peterson will find a way to run some more, but Seattle’s defense will still key on him and force Teddy Bridgewater to throw and to try and beat a pass defense that has stepped it up in the second half of the season.  Wilson will still lead the Seattle offense as both a rusher and a passer, and he will be very efficient yet again against a more formidable Minnesota defense this time around.  Marshawn Lynch will probably give it a go, but the ideal game script for Seattle would be to get a lead early thanks to Wilson’s arm and legs and ease Lynch back in to a committee-type approach for his first game back.  Seattle would then ride on the backs of their defense and a committee rush attack in the second half for the win.  That’s exactly how I expect it to go on Sunday.  This will be Bridgewater’s first ever playoff game, and while it will be at home, Seattle is one team no one really wanted to play this week, especially the Vikings, but that’s the way the schedule lined up.  While 38-7 again is a bit much to ask, I see the Seahawks doing what they need to do to get the job done in the first half and leading something line 20-6 at halftime, then scoring once or twice in the third quarter to cruise to a victory, just like in December.  I see Wilson scoring three times (once on the ground) and the defense creating short fields for him on Sunday.  It would not surprise me if they get Lynch a goal line rush or two just to get his feet wet again, then rest him in favor of Christine Michael and Fred Jackson with a two- or three-score lead.  I see the Seahawks taking care of business handily this week.  PICK:  Seahawks 

  • Latest Lines:  Seattle Seahawks -5 to 6, Over / Under 39.5 to 40.5 points
  • Money Lines:  Seattle -220 to -240, Minnesota +180 to +200
  • Prediction:  Seattle Seahawks 27, Minnesota Vikings 16
  • Pick: Seahawks

WASHINGTON (+1) vs. GREEN BAY

(Sunday, 4:40PM Eastern, FOX)
This game has some shootout potential to close out Wild Card Weekend, as both defenses have been giving up plenty of yards and points to the opposing passing games all season long.  Kirk Cousins has also been, rather quietly, one of the hotter quarterbacks in the NFL of late, throwing 11 touchdowns and rushing for another against zero interceptions the past three contests.  Strangely enough, Aaron Rodgers is the colder quarterback heading into this game, and that is one of the reasons that Green Bay lost the NFC North this season.  Green Bay’s passing attack has struggled this season, as Rodgers has not topped 300 yards passing since Week 9 and he has averaged only 1.5 passing touchdowns per game.  This year is the fourth time in five seasons that Rodgers had played 15 or more games, and his 31 passing touchdowns is his lowest total out of those four seasons.  Basically we have come to expect more from Rodgers and the Green Bay passing game, but it has not been there this season thanks in part to the loss of Jordy Nelson, but also pressure on Rodgers and lackluster receiver play.  The good news this week is that Washington has given up four 300+ yard passing games in the past six weeks, including Sam Bradford and Kellen Moore, so Rodgers has the potential to have a very big deal.  The problem is that Cousins is playing better right now than Rodgers, and that could be the difference here.  I expect Washington to come out with pressure on Rodgers and I can almost guarantee that DeAngelo Hall will gamble on making a pick six Sunday.  If he succeeds, that will be the difference, and given that Rodgers has thrown an interception in five of the last six games, it very well could happen.  If not, it could be an easy walk-in long touchdown for Green Bay, and that single play could swing the result here.  The ground games for both teams are also pretty similar, as both Washington and Green Bay have given up over 4.5 yards per carry and over 119 yards on average per contest this year, putting both run defenses well in the bottom half in those stat categories this season.  I still think the run sets up the pass here, and Washington’s pass game has been far better than Green Bay’s – so as long as Hall does not give up an easy touchdown to keep this game close, I see Washington winning their first playoff game since 2005 and the first home win since 1999.  PICK:  Washington

  • Latest Lines:  Washington -1 to +1, Over / Under 45 to 45.5 points
  • Money Lines:  Washington -100 to -110, Green Bay Packers -110 to -120
  • Prediction:  Washington 27, Green Bay 24
  • Pick: Washington

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 get to my picks for Wild Card Weekend, I thought it might be valuable to provide my rankings of the common eight picks (against the spread, over/under) for these games:

  1.       SEATTLE (-5) at MINNESOTA
  2.       KANSAS CITY (-3) at HOUSTON
  3.       CINCINNATI vs. PITTSBURGH (OVER 45.5)
  4.       WASHINGTON vs. GREEN BAY (OVER 45)
  5.       WASHINGTON (+1) vs. GREEN BAY
  6.       CINCINNATI (+3) vs. PITTSBURGH
  7.       KANSAS CITY at HOUSTON (UNDER 40.5)
  8.       SEATTLE at MINNESOTA (OVER 39.5)  

* ONE STAR GAMES *     

  • SEATTLE (-5) at MINNESOTA
  • KANSAS CITY (-3) at HOUSTON
  • CINCINNATI vs. PITTSBURGH (OVER 45.5)
  • WASHINGTON vs. GREEN BAY (OVER 45)
  • CINCINNATI “FOR THE WIN” (+130) vs. PITTSBURGH
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  SEATTLE (+1) at MINNESOTA (UNDER 46.5)
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  SEATTLE (+1) at MINNESOTA (OVER 33.5)
  • 3-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (1.8-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (+1) at MINNESOTA
    • CINCINNATI (+9) vs. PITTSBURGH
    • WASHINGTON vs. GREEN BAY (OVER 39)
  • 4-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (2.65-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (+1) at MINNESOTA
    • CINCINNATI (+9) vs. PITTSBURGH
    • WASHINGTON vs. GREEN BAY (OVER 39)
    • KANSAS CITY (+3) at HOUSTON
  • 5-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (4.5-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (+1) at MINNESOTA
    • CINCINNATI (+9) vs. PITTSBURGH
    • WASHINGTON vs. GREEN BAY (OVER 39)
    • KANSAS CITY (+3) at HOUSTON
    • CINCINNATI vs. PITTSBURGH (OVER 39.5)

** TWO STAR GAMES **  

  • 6-POINT TEASER:  KANSAS CITY (+3) at HOUSTON (UNDER 46.5)
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  CINCINNATI (+9) vs. PITTSBURGH (OVER 39.5)
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  WASHINGTON (+7) vs. GREEN BAY (OVER 39)

*** THREE STAR GAMES ***

  • None this week.

PICKS OF THE WEEK: Chiefs, Seahawks, Cincinnati/Pittsburgh Over 46, Washington/Green Bay Over 45

RESULTS

Last Week

  • OVERALL: 7-8-1 (46.7%) 
  • BEST BETS (STARS): 17.7-3 (85.5%)
  • PICK OF WEEK: 1-3 (25.0%)

Regular Season

  • OVERALL: 132-119-5 (52.6%) 
  • BEST BETS (STARS): 193.05-169-2 (53.3%)
  • PICK OF WEEK: 54-49-3 (52.4%)

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


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