John Halpin's Divisional NFL Picks
“Saints win, Panthers cover?” Nailed it. The rest of Wildcard Weekend? Not so much.
On the way to my son’s Saturday afternoon basketball game, we listened on the radio as Travis Kelce scored the Chiefs’ second early touchdown against the Titans. I said, “I told you the Chiefs were gonna kill these guys.” Um, right.
On to the picks, with selections being both straight up and against the spread unless noted otherwise. If you have any questions, catch me on Twitter (@jhalpin37).
(Home team in CAPS.)
Week 18 records: 2-2 SU, 1-3 ATS
Overall: 164-96 SU, 131-117 ATS
Falcons at EAGLES (+3)
Since the Eagles clinched the NFC’s top seed in Week 16, the conventional wisdom has been that they’d be the softest divisional round host, thanks to Nick Foles replacing the injured Carson Wentz. An easy out, so much that we should book the Falcons’ trip to the conference championship game now. Move on, right?
Not so fast. Eager as I am to pick the better QB across the board this week, the Eagles still have one of the the NFL’s best defenses, and a strong O-line that should help them run the ball. The Falcons are pretty good in their own right, with a D that has gained strength as the season has progressed. This should be a low-scoring game – the Falcons will dare Foles to beat them – but I’ll go against the grain and take the Eagles to come out on top behind an inebriated, er, raucous Saturday evening crowd.
Note: The over/under here is 41. The Falcons’ last five games have gone under, and five of the Eagles’ last seven have done the same.
The pick: Eagles win and cover
Titans at PATRIOTS (-14)
I did NOT see the Titans’ win at Kansas City coming. At all. I thought they were the worst team in the playoffs, and had lost some faith in Marcus Mariota. When this game was 21-3 at halftime, we all thought Andy Reid’s squad would cruise toward a date with the Pats. And then … they didn’t.
However, one game shouldn’t convince us that the Titans are much different than the inconsistent team that had a negative point differential for the season and lost three in a row before beating the Jags in a must-win Week 17 home game. I know you don’t want to lay two touchdowns, but the Pats won seven of their final eight contests, with only one of those wins coming by fewer than 18 points. They should roll.
The pick: Patriots win and cover
Jaguars at STEELERS (-7.5)
The Jags crushed the Steelers at Heinz Field in Week 5, winning 30-9 on the strength of five interceptions, including two pick-sixes. After the game, a frustrated Ben Roethlisberger said, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.”
Since that day, Roethlisberger has thrown 22 touchdown passes against seven interceptions while averaging 298 passing yards per game. The Steelers have won 10 of 11 over that span, with the only blemish being the Jesse James no-catch TD catch in Week 15.
The Jags won seven of their next nine games after beating the Steelers, before dropping their final two to the Niners and Titans. In a low-scoring Wildcard Weekend win over the Bills, Blake Bortles’ legs were pretty much the offense. They’ve scored 20 points over the last two games after averaging 34.6 in the previous five. Which Jags’ team are we going to see? And will the frigid weather (high of 18 degrees) bother them?
This is the toughest ATS game on the board to pick. I think the Steelers win, something like 20-10. I’m assuming that Antonio Brown (ankle) is at or close to full health.
The pick: Steelers win and cover
SAINTS (+4) at Vikings
Since midseason, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of the Vikings hosting a Super Bowl. Some people would be angry about the unfairness of it, and we’d expect some ridiculous hot takes about locations, ranging from “Have them all at home fields” to “pick sites that will always be neutral” (Albuquerque, perhaps). Gotta write about something, right?
I was going to pick the Saints here – Brees over Keenum, basically – but I changed my mind. The Saints lost three of their final six regular-season games, and snuck out with a close win over the Panthers in their playoff opener. They might be fading just a bit.
The Vikings have been wrecking opponents at home, going 6-2 against the spread and 7-1 overall with an average victory margin of 15 points. Their defense led the NFL in yards allowed, yards per play allowed and points allowed. The unit is excellent, and good enough to check a Saints’ offense that hasn’t been quite as good on the road (25.9 ppg) as it has at the Superdome (30.1 ppg). I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints win, but I don’t think it’ll happen.
The pick: Vikings win and cover