Last week we delved into some wild card stats and came up with a 4-0 week. Alright, that wasn’t necessarily the toughest slate of games we’ll ever pick, but still… let’s do it all again for the divisional round.
Seattle @ Atlanta
This feels like the first really big matchup of the postseason after 4 relatively benign games last week. The divisional round is usually one of the high points of the football calendar, and with the exception of Houston and New England, there’s really not a ‘dud’ matchup. Even then, there’s always a chance Houston will upset the Pats which would be enormously fun for all concerned (who aren’t Pats fans).
As for this game, well lets take a look at two of the trickiest teams to predict in the NFL this season:
I mentioned last week, but the Seahawks have generally been very difficult to predict over the second half of the season. Interestingly, this is the second time all season that they’ve not been favored, but they did actually win that game against a Patriots team that as we shall see, were on a good run of form.
The Seahawks have been anything but reliable, so let’s see the Falcons and see if they were any b…
Oh. Well I guess on the one hand, they’ve got better. Not that it was a tough achievement given they upset the expert consensus no fewer than 6 out of the first 7 games.
Of course, a lot of that really comes down to a lack of faith in the Falcons that was pretty swiftly rectified after the Denver game, the 4th in a row that they had managed to win as underdogs. From week 7 onwards they were favored in every matchup, losing 3 times to the Chargers, Eagles and Chiefs. The Eagles are notable because they were the hardest team to predict in the NFL this season based on our stats, so getting that pick wrong is perhaps to have been expected.
Now then, these two teams have played each other, but it was in Seattle, and that really does matter. The Falcons were not favored and didn’t win that matchup, whereas this time, they go into the game as home favorites. I’m cautious here though. The Seahawks are a horrible team to predict because they have the annoying tendency to win when the game comes down to the wire, but I have to side with the Falcons here. Not only have they been reliable down the stretch, but they have a plethora of receivers in Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Aldrick Robinson and Mohamed Sanu who can break even the best defenses.
This defense is one of the best in NFL history, make no mistake. They are playing at a level that is unheard of in the post-free agency era, but they are missing key parts this season and the loss of Earl Thomas particularly worries me against this offense.
Straight up: Atlanta
vs Spread (-5) Atlanta
Houston @ New England
I could go on and on, but there really isn’t much point. I will say that any team can beat any other in the NFL though, and I remember more than a few games where teams have failed to show up and win, when they’ve been expected to do so comfortably.
Make no mistake though, if the Patriots play well, the Texans are in serious trouble. The spread for this game is around -15 points in favor of the Pats, a staggering number that ranks among the highest in 2016.
As covered last week, the Texans have won when expected, and lost when expected. They conveniently did not buck that trend last week either, beating the Raiders with some ease in the end. Brock Osweiler is (for me) not a lost cause, and I think his benching and subsequent improvement will serve the team well next season.
However, if the portents of the season are to be believed, the Texans are not particularly likely to cause an upset. MAYBE THE PATRIOTS WILL HAVE SOME STATISTICS THAT HELP US DECIPHER IF THEY’RE SUSCEPTIBLE TO AN UPSET?
Excellent. Well that’s the end of that then.
Seriously, a brief analysis can be done as follows: Ignore the first 4 games, then remember they have lost once all season, to the Seahawks. In that run they’ve beaten playoff teams including Pittsburgh, Miami… oh what? Wait a minute! Look at that schedule! The Pats haven’t had a decent game in 8 weeks!
In all seriousness, it has been quite an easy run to the playoffs for the Patriots, but in that time they’ve played extremely well and have failed to cover the spread in victory just once all season (discounting the two losses where they didn’t cover obviously). That’s insane. The bookies keep raising the points, and they keep covering.
So the biggest questions here are can the Texans pull off the upset? and can the Patriots cover if they win?
I don’t think the Texans offense is good enough to compete with this Patriots D which is sneakily one of the best in the league. I think the Texans D is the key unit here, because the Patriots offense is not some high-powered behemoth like the Falcons, they just have a tendency to play flat out well for 60 minutes and grind opponents down with good running from LeGarrette Blount.
I have this theory that you should always take a huge underdog if they aren’t a bad team. I think the Pats will win but the Texans will cover the huge spread, because that sounds about as safe as it gets.
Straight up: New England
vs Spread: Houston (+15)¬†