NFL Wildcard Weekend – Saturday Edition
The NFL Playoffs are finally here. Wildcard weekend is upon us, with the action kicking off at 4:35 EST as the Raiders take on the Texans in Houston. We will have free picks for every playoff game this season, culminating with the Super Bowl.
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The league will kick off the playoffs with perhaps one of the worst matchups in history, at least on paper. There’s a reason the NFL put this game in the 4 pm Saturday timeslot. It’s because it’s easily the least interesting matchup of the weekend and it’s not close. It’s a game that ESPN will foolishly lose $75 million to broadcast.
After losing starting quarterback, Derek Carr, for the reason of the season after he broke his fibula in Week 12, the Raiders moved onto backup, Matt McGloin. He played poorly before hurting his shoulder, in a game that amounted to a 24-6 loss to Denver.
McGloin was replaced by rookie quarterback, Connor Cook, who comes out of Michigan State. Despite reports of McGloin being healthy enough to play this weekend, the Raiders have announced they will go with Cook.
On the other side of the ball, we have the Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage “situation.” Both quarterbacks have played poorly this season and Osweiler was benched in Week 16, despite signing a $70 million-dollar contract this offseason.
Tom Savage took over for Osweiler, and the Texans did win the game that he replaced him but didn’t play much better in the next few games. Savage was also injured in Week 17 and will not available for Houston’s playoff game. Osweiler will start Saturday’s game and will be backed up by a journeyman quarterback, Brandon Weeden.
Oakland Stumbles into the Postseason
The Raiders clinched a playoff spot weeks ago, but they were in the driver’s seat to win the AFC West and perhaps get a first round bye before Carr’s injury. Instead, they finish the season second in the AFC West to rival Kansas City with a 12-4 record after losing at Denver 24-6 to end the season.
Houston Hasn’t Been Much Better
The Texans did win three out of their last four games, but they’re not exactly world-beaters. In any other division, Houston wouldn’t have made the playoffs, let alone host a game in the first round. They ended the season with a 17-24 defeat at the Titans, giving them a 9-7 record, which gave them first place in the pathetic AFC South.
The Texans opened as -3 favorite in this one. They’ve received slightly more betting action than the Raiders. The odds have moved off -3 to Texans -3.5 at just about every sportsbook online. The total opened at 37.5 and is now listed at 37 and 36.5 at most betting sites.
Games like this are one of the reasons the NFL shouldn’t distance themselves so much from sports gambling. Aside from fans of the Texans and Raiders, few will be tuning into this game, unless they have a financial interest in the outcome.
This isn’t one of my favorite games on the slate, but I do think there’s some money to be made on Houston against the Raiders with Connor Cook at the helm.
The team likes Cook, so much so, that there have been rumors that they will move on from McGloin as the number two in the offseason. However, this shouldn’t be an endorsement of the guy’s talent.
The Texans defense hasn’t been good lately, but they should be able to handle a quarterback who is making his first ever start. Let’s also not forget how bad Oakland has been on the other side of the ball, as well.
They’re 23rd in Football Outsiders’ final DVOA rankings and have bled big plays all year. The Texans offense has plenty of weapons, including a now healthy, Lamar Miller. The running back is in Week 1 form after two weeks of rest.
This one may be worth waiting until we get closer to game time to place a bet. It may be possible to get Houston at -3 as we get closer to kick off. However, -3.5 is still viable as there’s a good chance they win this by a touchdown.
Pick: Texans -3.5
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks -8 Total: 43.5
This game is a lot more intriguing from a matchup perspective. Don’t get me wrong, both the Lions and Seahawks have had their fair share of injuries, but the main pieces are still in place. More importantly, these teams have realistic title shots.
A Surprising Year for Detroit?
Lions’ fans should be happy with their season, even if it all ends on Saturday evening at CenturyLink Field. Few thought the team was a playoff contender, especially after one of the best wide receivers to ever play in Calvin Johnson decided to retire from the team.
Detroit started the year strong and up until a few weeks ago, just had four losses and were in a position to win the NFC North. However, they lost their final three games, including a chance to win the North against the Packers in the last game of the season. They lost that game 31-24, but it was a game that Green Bay dominated at Lambeau. Their 9-7 overall record was good enough for the final wildcard spot in the NFC.
Seattle Back on Top
The Seahawks have definitely had their ups and downs this season, but after a year where most expected the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFC West once again – Seattle is back on top. However, like the Lions, their record down the stretch hasn’t been all that encouraging.
They begin the season going 7-2-1, before ending the year with a 3-3 record. They still managed to win the NFC West with a 10-5-1 record, which was easily the worst division in football this season. They finished the year with a 25-23 victory at San Francisco.
Seattle opened this game as -7 favorites, but that has swelled to -8 at most online sportsbooks. The Lions have garnered about 60 percent of public wagers as of Friday morning. The total opened at 42.5 points. The clear majority of bets have come in on the over. This has moved the total to 43.5 at most bookmakers.
A few seasons ago, this was a dream spot for Seattle and one where most bettors wouldn’t hesitate to lay a bit more than a touchdown, with many being comfortable laying double-digits. With their dominant defense and the noise of the “12th man”, there are few better spots.
However, Seattle hasn’t been quick as dominant in recent memory. Their defense has suffered since Earl Thomas went down with a season-ending injury. Their offensive line is one of the worst units in the league.
The Lions defense is rather weak, but their ball-control offense, with a recent extra emphasis on the ground game has allowed them to take the air of the ball and shorten games. Any offense will have a tough time moving the ball against Seattle, but Detroit has enough weapons to put up points.
If we could grab Seattle at less than a touchdown, that would be great, but that’s unlikely to happen. They’re no longer the dominant team they once were on the defensive side. They may end up with a statement win in this one, but at this point – they need to prove their dominance defensively before I buy-in again. Take the points with the dog.
Pick: Lions +8