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Saturday, 7 January 2017

NFL Wild Card Round Play Off Picks 2017 (January 7-8)

After a tough Week 16, the NFL Picks bounced back in Week 17 and that gives me some positive momentum to take into the Wild Card Round of the Play Offs which are played over this weekend.

We have one AFC and one NFC Wild Card game on both Saturday and Sunday and I think I speak for most people when I say the NFL Play Offs are the best post-season set of games in any sport.

The games usually get better and better at this point with the Super Bowl arguably an anti-climax to some of the games we will see on the road to the Super Bowl over the next three weeks. I will admit that the Wild Card Round is not as exciting as it may have been if all of the teams were coming into this weekend fully healthy, but if the teams I expect move through to the Divisional Round I would say at least three of the four games should be a lot of fun to watch.

It seems the fashionable thing is to pick a Super Bowl winner at this time of the season and there are plenty putting their brackets out there. The easiest selection is going with the New England Patriots taking on the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl as the two top Seeds in the AFC and NFC have looked very strong through the season and both come in with some momentum behind them.

While I think it is going to be very difficult to knock them off, I wouldn't be surprised if we get a repeat of a Super Bowl that was actually played just five years ago. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers look like they have the tools to win tough road games at the Patriots and Cowboys at some point over the next couple of weeks and both have have looked like they are getting hot at the right time and have plenty of experience of the post-season to head to Houston on Sunday 5th February.

Last season saw all four road teams win in the Wild Card Round to improve those teams to 8-4 over the last three seasons, but I think we will see a reversal from last season. In my opinion the four home teams have every chance of sweeping the Wild Card Round for the first time since 2012 but all will be revealed by Sunday evening when the Divisional Round has been set.

Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans Pick: The problems the Houston Texans have had at the Quarter Back position have been well documented through the 2016 season and an injury to Tom Savage means they will be going back to Brock Osweiler to open the Play Offs. Motivation has to be high for the Texans knowing the Super Bowl will be held in their home Stadium and they go into this one as the favourites thanks to a brutal injury suffered by the Oakland Raiders in Week 16.

Derek Carr had led the Oakland Raiders into a position to at least finish with a Wild Card Round bye before breaking his leg in the win over the Indianapolis Colts which has effectively ended his season. This game would have had a ready made storyline if Carr was available as he would be playing a Play Off game against the team his big brother was the Quarter Back in the early part of his century, but Oakland have suffered a huge blow with his injury.

The Raiders are actually down to their third string Quarter Back after Matt McGloin went down with an injury in Week 17. That means Connor Cook will get the call for Oakland and will become the first Quarter Back to make his first start in the post-season during the Super Bowl era.

With the problems at Quarter Back it is no surprise this is making the news in Oakland this week as they return to the Play Offs since reaching the Super Bowl in 2002 and really felt they could do something with Derek Carr. However one piece of news that can't be ignored is the injury to Left Tackle Donald Penn which rules him out of this game and that means Cook is going to have to be very careful.

Being hit from the blind side is always trouble for the Quarter Back and Cook is going to struggle to keep the Houston pass rush off him in obvious passing situations with their Defenders well rested in Week 17. Cook is also throwing into the Houston Secondary which is one of the better ones in the NFL after struggling with the Denver Broncos and that means leaning on the running game and hoping that can keep the Raiders in third and manageable spots for much of the afternoon.

Oakland have been able to run the ball but the injury to Penn hurts them in that department too and the Offensive Line looks like it is going to be banged up heading into the Wild Card Round. It has to be noted how good the Texans Defensive Line have been in shutting down the run and that means it could be a long day in the office for the Oakland Offense who will likely need some big plays from their own Defensive unit to try and stay with the Houston Texans and set up strong field position.

With the Oakland Raiders likely to struggle Offensively, Cook and company have to at least look after the ball and put pressure on the Texans with the field position battle. They have to know how much Brock Osweiler has struggled at Quarter Back, even if one of his best performances of the season came against the Texans in Mexico City.

Osweiler has been guilty of being something of a turnover machine this season and has to be careful throwing the ball with the likes of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin trying to make plays up front. To be fair to the Houston Offensive Line, they have protected the Quarter Back who can be guilty of staring down Receivers and throwing right to the mark where Defenders can make a play on the ball.

It might be down to Osweiler to make some big plays for the Houston Texans despite the return of Lamar Miller at Running Back. Miller has proved to be a big weapon for Osweiler, but Houston have struggled to run the ball and this Raiders Defensive Line have been able to shut down the run which could leave Osweiler in third and long spots.

Turnovers and Special Teams are going to be massive in this game and could prove to be a difference maker. I think Houston have an edge on the Offense solely because of the experience Osweiler has over Cook and I think the Texans Defense is likely to be able to do more in shutting down what their opponents are trying to do.

I might hate myself for saying this, but I do like the Houston Texans in this game and I think they cover the spread. Scoring 17 points might be enough to do that and Osweiler has tended to play better at home for the most part, while also having some confidence of seeing this Oakland Raiders Defense previously in Mexico City. I simply don't know how Oakland are going to score enough points to stay with Houston outside of turnovers and Special Teams winning the game for them and ultimately I think the Derek Carr injury is going to be pointed as the moment this team was let down.

Cook is also likely to throw a ball or two that is either picked or close to being picked and I think Houston win this one by around a Touchdown in a low scoring game. The Texans Defensive unit can make a late play on Cook against the banged up Offensive Line to seal the deal and I will take the home favourite in this one.

Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks Pick: The Week 17 tilt between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions was flexed into Sunday Night Football with the belief that the winner would get into the Play Offs and the losing team would be heading home. A Washington Redskins loss earlier in the day meant the game was going to decide who hosted the New York Giants and which team would have to visit the Seattle Seahawks on Wild Card Weekend and it was the Lions who have drawn the tougher assignment.

Playing Seattle in Seattle in the Play Offs has proved to be a big challenge for teams in recent seasons and the Seahawks are definitely a team that have the experience and the Quarter Back to go deep in the Play Offs.

However it has to be said that the Seahawks have not quite come into the Play Offs as they have in previous seasons with a number of wins behind them. Instead they have been erratic and injuries to players like Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have exposed a Defensive unit that prides itself on shutting teams down.

The Seahawks might have caught a break this week in facing a Detroit team led by Matt Stafford who has definitely not been as effective since hurting his finger on his throwing hand. His supporting cast is not as strong as some of the other teams in the Play Offs, but Stafford is a warrior and will believe he can make some plays downfield to give Seattle some issues.

The issues for Stafford may be if he is in third and long spots during the game as the Seattle pass rush has come alive and the Lions Offensive Line had issues blocking Green Bay last week. Now they face Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril up front with the likes of Frank Clark also able to create a push and that may take away some of the time Stafford needs if the Lions are not able to get in front of the chains.

Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Marvin Jones can have some success catching the ball and moving the chains, even when Stafford is under pressure, but the key player could be Zach Zenner at Running Back. Zenner has been praised by the Seahawks this week but running the ball against this Defensive Line is a much bigger test than doing that against the Green Bay Packers and it looks like Detroit will be inconsistent on the Offensive side of the ball.

That means Stafford and company will be hoping their Defensive unit can at least help out by limiting what the Seahawks can do and I do think they have some chance to do that. Seattle have struggled to run the ball all season without Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson being a little gimpy, although the latter is going to perhaps take off the knee brace to offer more mobility this weekend.

Even with that in mind, I am not sure Thomas Rawls or Alex Collins can get on track having had issues on the ground even when facing those teams that have struggled to stop the run like San Francisco last week. The Lions have not been the strongest up front and that was exposed by Green Bay last week, but this one looks like it will be down to their Quarter Back Russell Wilson to take any yards the Defense gives him and rely on his arm for the majority of the time.

Wilson's Offensive Line have not been very good in protection, but Detroit have just struggled for an effective pass rush up front and I am not sure they are the team to take advantage. I don't doubt we will see Wilson having to scramble from pressure at times because the Offensive Line has been that bad, but he is very dangerous on the run and still has some decent targets in the passing game even with Tyler Lockett's injury.

Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham are players that will keep running their routes even when Wilson is scrambling knowing how good his arm is on the run. Darius Slay was back for the Detroit Lions in the Secondary last week and he can at least give Detroit a chance to make some plays back there, but I do think Seattle will be able to move the chains in this game and it will be up to the Lions to keep up.

This is another home team I like this weekend and I do think Seattle can make a few plays on the Defensive side to pull away from the Detroit Lions who would have lost by double digits in three straight weeks if not for a Hail Mary at the end of the Week 17 game against Green Bay which ended in a 7 point loss. The Wild Card Round favourites of 7.5 points or higher are also 7-2 against the spread since 2005.

Add in how strong Seattle have been as a home favourite and Detroit are 0-3 against the spread and straight up outside this season and I think the Seahawks will be too good. The Seahawks lost their last home game, but the previous three had all been won by double digits and I think they win this one and cover the spread.

Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: This is another Wild Card Play Off Game that was played in the regular season, although this time the Pittsburgh Steelers will be hosting the Miami Dolphins. After a really poor start to the season, the Dolphins beat the Steelers at home in the regular season to move to 2-4 and that sparked the turn in form that saw them finish with a solid record that was good enough to end as the Number 6 Seed in the AFC.

It is clear there isn't a lot of belief in the Dolphins, who will be starting back up Quarter Back Matt Moore in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill, when you note they have been given as many points as they have in this one. The double digit favourites in the Play Offs since 2009 have gone 5-1 against the spread, but historically this has been a difficult situation in which they can cover.

Miami will be looking to control the clock and keep the Pittsburgh Offense off the field for as long as possible when they have the ball and that is by leaning on Jay Ajayi at Running Back. Ajayi had one of this three 200 yard rushing days against the Pittsburgh Steelers which should mean the latter are well aware of what he can do, but I don't think Miami should move too far from the game plan and make sure they try to establish the Running Back in this one.

Ajayi has a chance to do that because the Pittsburgh Defensive Line have had a few issues containing the run all season and struggled down the stretch. While the Dolphins Offensive Line is not at full strength, Ajayi should be able to produce a solid outing which at least keeps the Dolphins in third and manageable spots for Matt Moore at Quarter Back.

Moore hasn't played badly in relief of Tannehill and he has made some solid throws, but the one concern has to be the turnovers that have either been taken from him or barely been missed. The veteran has to be smart with the Pittsburgh Secondary capable of Interceptions but Moore should have time and Miami being able to run the ball means it could open things up down the field with some speedy and tricky Receivers on the roster.

The Dolphins didn't rest their starters in Week 17, but Pittsburgh Steelers had the luxury to do that with the Number 3 Seed in the AFC locked up in Week 16. A more recognisable team will be playing than the one that barely beat the Cleveland Browns last week and you have to think the Steelers will come out with some revenge on the mind after being beaten so easily in Miami as a big favourite in the regular season.

Le'Veon Bell has been a star for the Steelers down the stretch in a contract season and you have to think he will have a much better game than when first going up against the Dolphins earlier this season. Bell has had some big games for the Steelers as both a Running Back and a Receiver coming out of the backfield and the conditions in this Wild Card Game suggests Bell is going to have a big impact on Sunday.

Despite the star power on the Miami Defensive Line, the Dolphins have not been very good at stopping the run this season and so Bell should have a better outing than in the first game. That came off the back of a suspension to open the season and Bell is motoring now so expect the Steelers to be able to run the ball effectively.

That will make life all the easier for Ben Roethlisberger at Quarter Back who has the Play Off experience of being a two time Super Bowl winner. There might be some pressure up front from the likes of Suh and Wake, but Roethlisberger is a hard man to bring down and he will be able to make his throws downfield to the likes of Antonio Brown if the Dolphins are being forced to send men closer to the line of scrimmage to defend the run. Roethlisberger should have a big game in this one as well as Bell and you can understand why the Steelers are the favourites to win this game.

Even so, this feels like a big number for the Pittsburgh Steelers to cover. They are just 11-17 against the spread as a double digit favourite with Ben Roethlisberger while Matt Moore has been solid against the spread as the starting Quarter Back through his career. If Miami can run the ball as effectively as they in the second half of the season, I think they can keep this close and I will take the Dolphins with the points despite how well recent double digit Play Off favourites have played.

New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers Pick: When you looked at the four Wild Card Games this weekend, the one that most would have picked an upset from has to be the final one from Lambeau Field. Twice in recent years the New York Giants have upset the Green Bay Packers on this hallowed turf and both times they have gone on to win the Super Bowl so I am not surprised a lot of bettors are picking the Giants with the points.

There are some similarities with those recent Play Off games between these teams and the one going into this weekend. The Giants have looked a little inconsistent on the Offensive side of the ball and they have a Defense that will feel can lock down any team they face having beaten the Dallas Cowboys twice in the regular season.

Also in both of those Play Off upsets here, Green Bay had beaten the New York Giants in the regular season and they have done that again this season.

It has to be a worry for the home team, but I think Aaron Rodgers has been playing at a very high level and I am fully behind Green Bay as a team that can it all together and reach the Super Bowl in Houston. Finding an effective running game behind Ty Montgomery to balance out the Offense has been huge for the Green Bay Packers, but running the ball against this New York Defensive Line has been far from easy so it might be down to Rodgers being able to throw the ball against the NYPD (New York Pass Defense).

I am not sure I am any more impressed with that nickname than the Green Bay Receivers seemed to be earlier this week because this Giants team is one that has a couple of holes in the Secondary that a Quarter Back like Rodgers can expose. His Receivers have begun to win their battles on the outside and the return of Randall Cobb will give Green Bay another option, although Rodgers has to be wary of the likes of Landon Collins who have turned the ball over with the Giants capable of doing that.

Rodgers has looked a little more mobile down the stretch so even the pressure up front might not a be a concern for him and he is capable of taking off and running for First Downs where necessary. The Packers have looked very good on the Offensive side of the ball and should be able to move the chains and will look for the Defensive unit to step up and make some plays for them to win this game.

The Packers have to be concerned that Eli Manning tends to become a really strong Quarter Back at this time of the season despite some inconsistent play during the regular season. The Giants Offense have found a little more balance down the stretch with Paul Perkins showing he is the strongest Running Back they have on the roster and he should be able to establish the run and give Manning some support in this one.

Keeping New York in third and manageable spots will open things up for Manning while also easing the Green Bay pass rush and the Quarter Back should be able to hit the likes of Odell Beckham Jr for some big gains against this Green Bay Secondary which have struggled. There are enough pass catching Receivers here to make the Giants dangerous and not simply an option to keep OBJ quiet having seen the Receiver go off being lined up in different spots on the field.

I have said I do think the Green Bay Packers will come through this tough Wild Card Game, but this might be too many points for them to cover. You can't ignore the fact that the Packers are 2-6 against the spread in their last 8 home Play Off games when they have been set as the favourite, nor the fact that the Giants are 8-0 against the spread as the underdog in the Play Offs since Manning took over as Quarter Back.

The Giants have matched up well with the Green Bay Packers and I think the Offense will play better and more consistently at this time of the season as their past successes have shown. It should be a really fun game to watch and I will take the points with the Giants in this one as I look for the underdogs to show some bite on Sunday after two favourites complied on Saturday.

MY PICKS: Houston Texans - 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Seattle Seahawks - 8 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Miami Dolphins + 11.5 Points @ 2.05 William Hill (2 Units)
New York Giants + 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

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