Thanks to a 7-9 finish last week against the spread, I managed to salvage my season and finish one game above .500. For the year, I went 129-127 against the spread. Pretty pathetic, if you ask me, considering I went 17-31 over the final three weeks. Last week, I went 12-4 picking games straight up, my second best week of the season. That allowed me to finish the year 166-89-1 just in picking straight winners.
Both regular-season records are improvements from last season, but all in all I think I’m going to retire the picks after this year’s playoffs. I started publishing them in 2013 because in 2012 I did extremely well in the forum’s picks contest. But ever since then, I have just not been able to reacquire that mojo.
We’re coming up on the playoffs and traditionally road teams fare relatively well in the first two rounds. In the wildcard round, road teams are 19-21 over the past decade. In the divisional round, that becomes 15-25. In the conference championship round, road teams are 7-13 over that same span. So my recommendation is that this is the week where you should be more willing to take a chance on some road underdogs.
* All lines come from ESPN.
Arizona Cardinals (11-5) at Carolina Panthers (7-8-1)
Saturday, January 3 at 4:20 pm ET on ESPN
*Line: Panthers (-6.5)
Ryan Lindley will be starting for the third week in a row. Most are going to write off the Cardinals, but Lindley looked competent in Week 17 against the 49ers on the road. A lot more competent than Drew Stanton had looked at any point on the road during the season. Lindley turned the ball over three times, which gifted the 49ers 10 points. If he can do a better job protecting the ball, then the Cardinals have a chance to win.
The Panthers’ key will be getting an early lead and making the Cardinals play from behind, which should lead to those Lindley turnovers. But the Cardinals’ defense is still formidable and their ability to stop the run makes them a good matchup against the Panthers. This should be a low-scoring affair, but I think Bruce Arians has a little bit more magic in his kangol. I don’t have a lot of confidence that Carolina can move the ball and score against a good defense.
Spread Pick: Cardinals
Straight Pick: Cardinals
Baltimore Ravens (10-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
Saturday, January 3 at 8:15 pm ET on NBC
*Line: Steelers (-3.0)
The injury to Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is a huge one for the Steelers. But the Steelers still have wide receiver Antonio Brown going against one of the league’s weakest secondaries, so they are far from dead in the water. The problem the Steelers face is that the Ravens’ front seven is only going to be stronger with the return of nose tackle Haloti Ngata this week. The Ravens will rely on creating pressure on Ben Roethlisberger to limit how dominant a game he and Brown can have, and they have the horses to do so.
The Ravens are the most dangerous wildcard team in the AFC. Their ability to create pressure on defense and dial up the big play on offense is a similar formula to success they had in 2012 when they made their successful Super Bowl run.
Spread Pick: Ravens
Straight Pick: Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Sunday, January 4 at 1:05 pm ET on CBS
*Line: Colts (-3.5)
No A.J. Green, or at least a good possibility that his concussion will keep him out of the lineup on Sunday. Without him, I like the Bengals the least of all the road teams. But I do think that the Colts are probably one of the more vulnerable home teams.
A key for the Bengals is going to be taking advantage of a weak Colts offensive line and put heavy pressure on Andrew Luck. Unfortunately, the Bengals’ pass rush has underachieved this year and thus I’m not convinced they are going to suddenly show up this week. If Green is limited, they’ll have to manage Andy Dalton and hope that the run game led by Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill are going to run wild over the Colts defense. That’s certainly possible. But at the end of the day, you need a quarterback to elevate his game somewhat. And I’m way more confident Luck will do that instead of Dalton. The Colts generally find a way to win at home as their record there under Luck is 20-5, including their magnificent comeback win against the Kansas City Chiefs a year ago.
Spread Pick: Colts
Straight Pick: Colts
Detroit Lions (11-5) at Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
Sunday, January 4 at 4:40 pm ET on FOX
*Line: Cowboys (-6.5)
So Ndamukong Suh will play in this game and that changes everything. The Lions have a formidable defense and will hope to clamp down on the Cowboys’ rushing attack. The Lions want to be able to get an early lead, pin their ears back and get after Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. They can do that with Megatron going up against a very weak Cowboys defense. The Cowboys defense have avoided exposure for much of this season thanks to their offense’s ability to control the ball and slow the game. Against the Lions, I’m not sure they’ll have that sort of success. And thus, I’m actually going to suggest that Matthew Stafford will actually get his first postseason win.
Spread Pick: Lions
Straight Pick: Lions