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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Friday, 10 January 2020

NFL PlayOffs Divisional Round Weekend Picks 2020 (January 11-12)

The first weekend of the NFL PlayOffs did not let anyone down even though expectations had been raised by some of the performances of teams heading into the post-season. Two games went to Overtime, but none of the four were blowouts which is always fan friendly.

Things might be a little different in the Divisional Round with two favourites bigger than any that played last weekend, while none of the games have a spread of less than 4 points at the time of writing. Even then I am not going to draw a line through the Divisional Round and expect things to be plain-sailing for any of the favourites involved even if I ultimately am siding with a couple of them to come through with good looking wins.

Below are just a few thoughts that came out of a wild Wild Card Weekend and then I will get onto the Divisional Round Picks from the PlayOffs.

A Game of Inches- we all know what kind of impact the Jacob Hollister play at the end of the Seattle Seahawks Week 17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers had on the Seedings, but that seeped through to the PlayOffs this past weekend.

If Hollister had found the one inch needed, Seattle would have still been playing in the Wild Card Round, but would have been hosting the Minnesota Vikings who showed what they can do when upsetting New Orleans on the road in the Wild Card Round.

New Orleans Saints suffered yet another bad PlayOff defeat instead of resting at home as the Number 2 Seed waiting for a Wild Card winner, while the San Francisco 49ers would have had to be playing on the road with a Quarter Back making his PlayOff debut instead of waiting and resting like they were.

It just goes to show what kind of impact just one single play has had, while the New England Patriots must also be kicking themselves for allowing the Miami Dolphins to score a late Touchdown which consigned them to the Wild Card Round for the first time since 2009. The loss to the Tennessee Titans doubled down the pain, but more on that below.

Tom Brady is Not Going to Retire Like That- there has been speculation for months about what Tom Brady was going to do at the end of this season having signed a contract which gave him room to explore Free Agency. Some suggested retirement was an option and many were talking about this last week at the end of the loss to the Titans.

It would have meant Tom Brady's last ever NFL throw was a pick six which ended the Patriots chances of a comeback late in the game against the Titans and I had no doubt that he was not going to allow that to be the lasting image of himself.

Finally this week he ended those thoughts although it could be the last throw he makes as a New England Patriot player. This is a team whose ageing Defense showed signs of wear and tear come the end of the season and who don't have an endless stream of Offensive skill players that could have made up for that despite their Quarter Back and all of the achievements Brady has had throughout his career.

I have no doubt Brady is not the player he once was, but I still think he can be very effective with the right pieces around him and I no longer believe that is the case in New England.

Seeing TB12 in a different uniform would be weird to say the least, but Peyton Manning and Joe Montana are but two big name Quarter Backs in the pantheons of the NFL that have left teams they have played for through the majority of their career. Peyton Manning even won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos and I just have this feeling that Brady wants to prove he can win outside of New England too.

Where could he land? I have long thought the Los Angeles Chargers would be the best fit for Brady, although their Offensive Line concerns would maybe lessen the belief he ends up there... But what about the now Las Vegas Raiders?

This is going to be an interesting couple of months to see how things shake up, but I have almost zero doubt that Brady is playing in the NFL in September.

You Like That- I have to say I did like the performance from Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings... Another big road test to come, but it should at least reduce some of the talk about Cousins and his performances in big games.

Is the Drew Brees Window for another Super Bowl Ring Closed?- now first things first, I am not disputing what a very good Quarter Back Drew Brees is, although his breaking of a lot of records is very much down to the era in which he is playing.

He has won a Super Bowl so his place in Canton is secured when coupled with those records, but I do wonder if the New Orleans Saints chances of winning a second Super Bowl with Brees under Center is now over.

For the third season in a row the Saints have lost a heartbreaker in the post-season and while it wasn't Brees' fault, he also didn't have a very good game last week. The regular season suggests there is something left, but I do think Brees is going to need another Receiver to take the pressure off of Michael Thomas, and there are some teams that look like they are approaching their peak rather than coming off it like this Quarter Back is.

There has been some talk about retirement, but like Brady I do think Drew Brees will give it at least one more crack even if the Saints might have missed their big opportunity to add another Super Bowl in the last couple of years.

Divisional Round PlayOff Picks
Last week almost summed up the disappointment of this season's NFL Picks when the Buffalo Bills found a way to blow a 16-0 lead in a game they were dominating to lose in Overtime. The small spread meant missing the cover thanks to that collapse and also a 2-2 record in Wild Card Weekend.

My New Orleans Pick looked pretty poor throughout the game so I only have myself to blame, but Tennessee and Seattle both covered.

All of the Wild Card winners are underdogs in the Divisional Round which won't be a surprise considering the teams coming off a Bye are 7-1 in this Round of the PlayOffs in the last couple of seasons. Three of the underdogs are being given a Touchdown or more start on the spread and I think it is a little difficult to dispute that too with the rested teams looking very strong.

Still, these things are decided on the turf and not on paper so the games will be played. This week we have one NFC and one AFC PlayOff Game on the Saturday and the same on the Sunday and my Picks can be read below.

Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: The biggest underdog in the Wild Card Round of the NFL PlayOffs was the Minnesota Vikings and they were one of two teams to not only cover, but win outright. The victory over the New Orleans Saints in the SuperDome is a huge one for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings, although the 'reward' is a road game against the Number 1 Seed in the NFC.

At least the Vikings will head to the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round having proved they can beat one of the better teams in the NFL. This season they had already lost twice to the Green Bay Packers and also been beaten by the Seattle Seahawks, both teams who made the PlayOffs in the NFC, while the Vikings also suffered a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs who are in the AFC bracket of the post-season.

It led me to question whether they could beat a team like the Saints, but it was the first time in a while that all of their Offensive weapons could be called upon, while the Defensive unit stepped up their play too. Kirk Cousins is going to need all of that again this week if he is going to lead his team to another upset, so news that Adam Thielen is banged up and Stefon Diggs is dealing with an illness will not be music to the ears of the Quarter Back.

Both are expected to suit up, but the Vikings can't afford for either to be limited as they take on this San Francisco Defensive unit which has been stellar for much of the season. At least Minnesota can call upon Dalvin Cook and the Running Back showed last week that he is feeling as good as you can in January and should be able to give the Vikings a platform for success.

There were some positive signs from the 49ers Defensive Line down the stretch when it came to stopping the run, but Dalvin Cook has had a big impact no matter who he has played this season. The Vikings Offensive Line will feel they can win up front and it will be key for their successes to make sure Kirk Cousins and company are in front of the chains when it comes to trying to convert Third Down plays.

Even then it won't be easy for Cousins as San Francisco have been boosted by the likely returns of Dee Ford, Jaquiski Tartt and influential Kwon Alexander who was expected to be out until the NFC Championship Game at the very least. I think Dee Ford's presence could be most critical as San Francisco did struggle with their pass rush in the final weeks of the regular season, but Alexander has been called the 'heartbeat' of the Defensive unit and a healthy 49ers team is going to be very hard to knock off without a big game from Dalvin Cook.

Having both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen does open things up for Kirk Cousins though and I think the Vikings will have some success moving the ball which puts the pressure on San Francisco behind a first time Quarter Back. As well as Jimmy Garoppolo has played since becoming a full time starter in the NFL, the position of home favourite has not been his most productive when it comes to covering the spread.

At least Jimmy Garoppolo is well rested though and he does have some key weapons who can cause problems for Minnesota if he is given the time to find them. The Minnesota Secondary is still banged up and they did allow some big plays last week, but there are some positives from the Vikings which will make them a big threat if they can replicate them in this PlayOff Game.

First is the way the Vikings were able to clamp down on both Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara when it came to running the ball, although Taysom Hill did break a couple of big ones. The Hill runs made the numbers look better than they were, but for the majority of the game New Orleans did have issues establishing the run and I am not sure Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be asked to run the same plays that Hill was in that Wild Card Game.

Throughout the season the San Francisco 49ers have shown they have been able to run the ball very well so it would be a surprise if they can't in this one, but I am not sure they will be able to hope for positive plays every time. If the Vikings Defensive Line can force some third and long opportunities, that is where the second part of their success from last week can show up again.

In the win over New Orleans, Minnesota's front four wrecked the Saints Offensive Line and managed to Sack Drew Brees three times while forcing countless other quick passes. The 49ers Offensive Line have paved the way for some big runs with their misdirection and screen ability, but they have not been as strong when it comes to protecting Jimmy Garoppolo and that should lead to some stalled drives as well as settling for Field Goals rather than Touchdowns.

If the Vikings can get into those positions where they are facing obvious passing downs, Minnesota will feel they can win against this Offensive Line and that will give them a chance of the upset.

Even then it has proven to be tough for Wild Card winners to do that in the Divisional Round in the last couple of seasons which reduces enthusiasm for an outright upset. However I do feel the Vikings are getting too many points here even with the return of some influential figures on the Defensive side of the ball for the 49ers especially if they can limit the points the 49ers score as I believe Minnesota can do.

A backdoor cover would not be a big surprise, but Dalvin Cook's ability to run the ball as well as he does should mean the Running Back is able to help control the clock and keep things close.

The Vikings might not have a great record as the road underdog, which is a concern, but the win in the SuperDome should give them a huge boost in confidence. Add in the fact that the San Francisco 49ers are 6-19-1 against the spread in their last twenty-six games as the favourite as well as the home favourite and you can see why the Vikings are appealing here.

Jimmy Garoppolo is making his first PlayOff start this week and those players are 5-16 against the spread in this spot as the home favourite. I respect the San Francisco 49ers and they are well rested and been preparing for this game while Minnesota were in a dogfight, but only two of their last six wins came by more than 7 points and one of those was the ridiculous cover against the Arizona Cardinals when they threw the ball towards their own End Zone while down 3 points and with time expired.

The Vikings should be able to hang tough in this one so taking the points is the call for me.

Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: The first AFC Divisional PlayOff Game comes between the Number 1 Seed and the Number 6 Seed and that is something of a surprise after the Tennessee Titans upset the New England Patriots in Foxboro in the Wild Card Round. They are even bigger underdogs in the Divisional Round when taking on the Baltimore Ravens who have won twelve games in a row to finish with the best record in the NFL at 14-2.

This is a chance for redemption for Lamar Jackson who is almost certainly going to finish as the regular season MVP when those honours are dished out before the Super Bowl. That might sound a little funny with that regular season in mind, but Jackson is not playing in his first PlayOff Game and he had a hard day twelve months ago which had the fans calling for Joe Flacco to replace him.

Those same fans would not even think about that nowadays, but Jackson sounds like someone who has a long memory and he will want to show he can produce his best when the spotlight shines on him brightest. The Ravens have been built around his attributes as Jackson has shown he is more than a Quarter Back who can move the chains with his legs, although that remains a big part of his threat.

Lamar Jackson will still be hoping that Mark Ingram can find a way to suit up to aid the running game which is going to be a key part of the Ravens game plan on Saturday. The Titans Defensive Line didn't do a bad job against the New England Patriots in the Wild Card Game, but stopping the Baltimore Ravens is a different kettle of fish altogether and Tennessee still allowed 4.4 yards per carry last week.

Even without Ingram I would think Jackson and Gus Edwards will be able to establish the ball on the ground against this Titans Defensive Line and that is going to be key for them to get into a position to secure another big win. Lamar Jackson has also been able to target his Tight Ends in the passing game and has a couple of Receivers who can stretch the field, so there is every opportunity for the Quarter Back to have another very big game and show he is capable of doing that in the PlayOffs as well as the regular season.

Running the ball is going to be all important to the Tennessee Titans as well as the Baltimore Ravens and that is not going to be a surprise to anyone who is interested in this game. Derrick Henry was a monster behind this Offensive Line in the win over New England and he has been almost unstoppable for fourteen months in the NFL as the Titans have been happy to lean on him.

If you are looking at the raw numbers over the course of the season you would think Henry is going to be able to have another very big game in this one, but that might not be the case as Baltimore have improved down the stretch. In their last three games the Ravens held teams to 3.8 yards per carry, but their best way to try and shut Henry out of this game is by building a lead and forcing Tennessee to have to throw the ball and stay competitive.

Even with the improvement the Ravens Defensive Line have made, Derrick Henry and the Titans will feel they can rip off some big gains on the ground while this one is close. However I do think the Baltimore Coaches would have spent two weeks thinking how they can erase the Running Back from this one and the Ravens are helped by having a much improved Secondary that will look to stuff Ryan Tannehill and the passing game.

I have to admit that Tannehill has played well as starter for the Tennessee Titans, but the Quarter Back will have his issues if being asked to throw from third and long spots. Since Marcus Peters was acquired and the health of the Baltimore Secondary improved around him the Ravens have been very difficult to throw on and even more so when they know it is coming while defending big leads.

Ryan Tannehill has been largely well protected, but I do think he will still find it hard to stay in this game if Tennessee have to lean on him. The weather conditions look like they could make it difficult to throw too and I think the Titans will struggle to match the intensity of last week against a Baltimore team who are certainly going to be well prepared with the Bye behind them.

The Ravens don't have the best record as the home favourite when it comes to the spread, but they have an impressive 12-1 record against the spread when facing a non-Division opponent off a Bye. Baltimore are also 9-2 against the spread when playing at home off a Bye and I think they will be able to wear down and pull away in this one against a Tennessee team who have been beaten seven times this season and four of those by double digits.

Tennessee have been very competitive since moving to Ryan Tannehill as the starting Quarter Back, but I feel that run comes to an end here. The Ravens have won their last three games in blowout fashion and I think they make it four in a row here.

Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs Pick: Winning a first PlayOff Game is a huge achievement for any Quarter Back in the National Football League, but Deshaun Watson strikes me as someone who expects himself to be playing in much bigger games than a Wild Card one. This is a player who has won the National Championship in his College Football career, but winning in Arrowhead against a rested opponent is going to be far from easy.

In saying that Deshaun Watson has already led the Houston Texans to a win here in the regular season and that is going to have plenty of people ready to back the Texans as the road underdog. The way they rallied to beat the Buffalo Bills will have impressed some, but it was a game they could have easily lost and Houston will know they need to be a lot better if they are going to upset the odds in this one.

The Kansas City Chiefs earned the Number 2 Seed in the AFC thanks to their win in Week 17 and the New England Patriots losing to the Miami Dolphins and that means Andy Reid is going to come head into this game with a Bye behind him. Andy Reid has been very effective coming off a Bye during his Head Coaching career, and the Kansas City Chiefs also look to be peaking at the right time having ended the regular season with six straight wins and most in dominant fashion.

When these teams met in Week 6 the Kansas City Chiefs were banged up on both sides of the ball and that is a big change compared with now as they look to be about as healthy as any team in the PlayOffs. Patrick Mahomes has one PlayOff run under his belt and I think he is going to be very excited about coming up against a Houston Secondary which is banged up and giving up some big plays.

Patrick Mahomes will be able to hurt the Texans through the air, and he is going to be ably supported by whoever is running the ball for the team. Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy are both going to be healthy coming into this game and they will have seen the yards that Houston have been giving up on the ground which is only going to open things up even more for a special Quarter Back.

The Offensive Line is not only paving the way for some strong yards on the ground, but they have protected Mahomes very well and so I am not expecting a big impact from JJ Watt and company. While Watt did way more than most would have expected in the win over Buffalo, he won't have it easy making an impact on this Kansas City Offensive Line especially not if the Chiefs are running the ball as well as they should.

With the Chiefs moving the ball either on the ground or through the air, I do think they are going to score plenty of points in this one. This means it is going to be on Deshaun Watson and the rest of the Offense to keep the Texans competitive and look for the upset bid.

And it really feels like this is going to be on Watson's shoulders with the Houston Texans Offensive Line struggling to open holes for Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson in the running game. Both can have an impact, but they are going up against a much improved Kansas City Defensive Line and so everything is likely to go through Watson and his arm.

The Quarter Back is capable of moving clear of pressure and making First Downs with his legs, but the Offensive Line has struggled to protect Watson all season even after the trades made to try and improve things. Now they are going to be facing a very good Kansas City pass rush and that is going to be a real issue for Deshaun Watson if the team is stuck in third and long or any time they get behind the chains.

He won't be helped by the fact that both Will Fuller and Kenny Stills are banged up going into the weekend with both questionable to play at best. DeAndre Hopkins is a solid target, but Houston are going to need a lot more to stay competitive with this Kansas City team that is capable of putting up points on every possession they have.

Turnovers may help the Houston cause, but those are the 'x' factor in a game that can't be determined and in reality I think Kansas City are peaking and ready for revenge for the regular season upset. This is a huge amount of points when you think of how effective Deshaun Watson has been as a road underdog in his NFL career, but his Houston Texans were blown out in Baltimore and something similar could occur here after the huge effort put into the Wild Card loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Houston are 4-11 against the spread in their last fifteen road games against a team with a winning record. The Chiefs are well rested and Andy Reid has produced big time game plans in those situations throughout his career and also has a winning record against the spread when playing with revenge.

While I will admit this is a huge spread, I think the Kansas City Chiefs score enough points to be in a position to cover.

Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers Pick: There have already been some very good PlayOff Games played between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers in the recent past and I do think the final Divisional Round Game of the weekend has every chance of joining those clashes of recent seasons.

The Seattle Seahawks know they have to run a rough ride if they are going to make it back to the Super Bowl but this is a team who are confident on the road. The win at the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round improved the Seahawks to 8-1 for the season on the road, although Seattle have a miserable recent record at the famous Lambeau Field that they visit on Sunday.

Seattle have lost eight in a row at the Green Bay Packers and Russell Wilson has Quarter Backed the team in 2015, 2016 and 2017 in defeats here. Much is going to depend on Wilson in the Divisional Round as he continues to play to a high level and show he is capable of leading this team to a second Super Bowl ring.

However Pete Carroll and company know it is very important for Seattle to run the ball efficiently to just make things a little easier for Russell Wilson. Over the course of the season it has been possible to run on the Green Bay Offensive Line and nothing much has changed in recent games which has to be encouraging for Marshawn Lynch and Travis Homer even if they have not really been as effective on the ground without Chris Carson.

Lynch has had another week under his belt to get up to full fitness and I do think the Seahawks are also capable of having Wilson escape pressure and try and get closer to the First Down marker when his protection does break down. There is little doubt that the Offensive Line is going to have one or two issues in keeping Wilson upright in this one, but the Quarter Back has shown regularly that he can move around and find his Receivers down the field with some big plays keeping Seattle moving at times.

Ultimately they won't be having consistent success much like we saw in their narrow win over the Eagles in the Wild Card Round, but that doesn't mean it is impossible for them to cover with the start being given to them.

A major part of the reason for that is the Offensive struggles Green Bay have had all season despite having Aaron Rodgers leading the team from Quarter Back. The Packers have scored more than 24 points in one of their last eight games to end the regular season, but having a week off to prepare for this game will be a boost for the team as they look to get on track in their latest bid to reach another Super Bowl with Rodgers at Quarter Back.

Aaron Rodgers might not be the key Aaron in this game with Running Back Aaron Jones likely to have a big impact on the ground against the Seahawks Defensive Line. Teams have been able to wear Seattle down on the ground and the Green Bay Offensive Line have opened some big holes for Jones and Julian Williams at Running Back which could be key to just ease the pressure on Aaron Rodgers and put Green Bay ahead of the chains for much of the Divisional Round Game.

It will be important for Rodgers to be in that position as his Offensive Line has not always been at their best in pass protection, while his Receivers have struggled outside of Davante Adams. That has shown up with some weak numbers from Rodgers throughout the season, although he has largely taken care of the ball which has proved to be important to the team.

The lack of points being scored by Rodgers and the Packers does open the door for a backdoor cover at the very worst in this one. Somehow Russell Wilson always finds a way to start getting things done for Seattle and the 'Road Warrior' mentality will hold them in good stead in this one.

Seattle are 11-3-1 against the spread in their last fifteen road games, while they are 8-1 against the spread in their last nine as the road underdog. The Packers are 1-4 against the spread in their last five at home against a team with a winning record on the road and I do think the Offensive struggles will make this a lot of points for Green Bay to cover even if they do win.

This should be a fun game in what look like being very cold conditions, but I can't see the home team blowing out Seattle considering how well the latter have played on the road. Lots of ground attack should keep the clock running and a narrow win for one of these teams is forecasted which makes the points on offer that much more appealing.

MY PICKS: Minnesota Vikings + 7 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Baltimore Ravens - 9.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Kansas City Chiefs - 9 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Seattle Seahawks + 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Wild Card: 2-2, - 0.20 Units (8 Units Staked, - 2.5% Yield)
Week 172-4, - 3.98 Units (12 Units Staked, - 33.17% Yield)
Week 167-4, + 5.04 Units (22 Units Staked, + 22.91% Yield)
Week 151-7-1, - 12.28 Units (18 Units Staked, - 68.22% Yield)
Week 142-5, - 6.36 Units (14 Units Staked, - 45.43% Yield)
Week 135-3, + 3.26 Units (16 Units Staked, + 20.38% Yield)
Week 124-2, + 3.20 Units (12 Units Staked, + 26.67% Yield)
Week 114-3-1, + 1.48 Units (16 Units Staked, + 9.25% Yield)
Week 104-3, + 1.10 Units (14 Units Staked, + 7.86% Yield)
Week 94-4, - 0.64 Units (16 Units Staked, - 4% Yield)
Week 82-4, - 4.20 Units (12 Units Staked, - 35% Yield)
Week 72-4, - 4.10 Units (12 Units Staked, - 34.17% Yield)
Week 66-3, + 4.84 Units (18 Units Staked, + 26.89% Yield)
Week 54-5, - 2.72 Units (18 Units Staked, - 15.11% Yield)
Week 43-6, - 6.54 Units (18 Units Staked, - 36.33% Yield)
Week 35-2, + 3.28 Units (12 Units Staked, + 27.33% Yield)
Week 23-4, - 2.70 Units (14 Units Staked, - 19.29% Yield)
Week 14-4, + 0.16 Units (15 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Season 201964-69-2, - 21.36 Units (267 Units Staked, - 8% Yield)

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