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Friday, 3 January 2020

NFL PlayOffs Wild Card Weekend Picks 2020 (January 4-5)

A lot of people speak about how quickly time seems to move between the NFL kicking off and getting into the PlayOffs and I have to very much agree with those thoughts.

Seventeen weeks of Football are now in the books and we are down to the final twelve teams who are going to be entering a 'new season' as they push for a spot in the Super Bowl and winning the NFL Championship.

There are some really good teams involved in the next few weeks and I am looking forward to all of the potential PlayOff games we are about to see. Like many others, I am stunned to see the New England Patriots in the Wild Card Round after they failed to win a game in which they were over 17 point favourites in Week 17 of the season.

It has led to more questions about the Patriots and whether this dynasty is now over, but they are big favourites this weekend and any team with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's experience have to be respected.

Teams like Baltimore, Kansas City and New Orleans look way better equipped to win the Super Bowl, but we will get to see it all played out beginning with this Wild Card Round played over two days.

My personal lean is towards a Kansas City Chiefs versus New Orleans Saints Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens not too far behind. I do think the majority will be behind one of those four teams as far as Super Bowl predictions will go so I am not putting my neck on the line with my own selection of teams, although I will also admit it will be a Super Bowl I can really enjoy without the Patriots involved no matter how the final two shake up from the four teams selected.

Buffalo Bills @ Houston Texans Pick: I don't think too many people will be expecting either one of these teams to have a very deep PlayOff run, but a win in the Wild Card Round could be a big boost in the development for one of the Quarter Backs playing. Deshaun Watson is playing in his second PlayOff game on Saturday, while Josh Allen is at this stage for the first time in his career and the two players have shown they are men you can build your franchise around.

Winning a PlayOff game will give the successful Quarter Back a huge boost going into the 2020 season and I also think it will be a boost for the winning team even if they will be significant underdogs in the Divisional Round of the PlayOffs regardless of whether that game is in Baltimore or Kansas City.

The Texans and Bills were both beaten in Week 17, but key players were rested in losses to Divisional rivals which meant very little to two teams locked into their Seeding in the AFC. However the Bills almost had a scare when Levi Wallace was banged up before the starters were pulled, although they look to have escaped a serious injury after Wallace returned to practice this week.

He looks to be trending towards playing in this Wild Card Game and that is very important to a strong Buffalo Defensive unit which sets the mood for the team. One of the big strengths of the Houston Offense has to be the depth in the Receiving options so missing a key Corner Back like Wallace would have hurt the Bills and especially after Will Fuller returned to practice for Houston and is almost certainly going to play in this one.

Deshaun Watson is a very good Quarter Back, but he has had one or two issues finding consistency when Fuller is not in the line up. The Wide Receiver stretches things out and makes it easier for Watson to make plays, but this is going to be a tough test for him against the Bills whose Secondary have played very well all season.

The problem for Watson is that even the improvements made to the Offensive Line have not been enough to prevent the protection breaking down when teams begin to rush him. The Texans will find it tough to give Watson a lot of time when he drops back to pass and things won't be helped by what is expected to be a challenging day trying to run the ball against the Buffalo Defensive Line.

If the Bills can clamp down on the run like they have, they should be able to stay in front of the chains and from there I would expect the pass rush to stall a couple of drives and perhaps even lead to a mistake or two from Watson at Quarter Back.

Avoiding mistakes is likely going to be a key part of the team meetings in the week leading up to this PlayOff game for both teams and it is important for Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills that they give their Defensive unit the best chance to put the team in a position to win. Josh Allen has been much improved in his second year as Quarter Back of the Bills, but he will know he doesn't need to push himself to make huge plays to give his team the best chance of winning a PlayOff game for the first time in twenty-five years.

Buffalo are a team who want to pound the ball and they will believe they will be able to establish the run in this one. Recent games were not the best for the Bills in terms of the run, but the Houston Defensive Line has struggled up front and Devin Singletary could have a decent outing, while Josh Allen is more than a capable scrambler from the Quarter Back position which will double his threat in this one for the Texans.

There is the boost of having JJ Watt back, although that is going to impact the pass rush rather than the ability to clamp down on the run and I think Buffalo will have a chance to establish the ground game which really opens things up for them Offensively. If they are able to get things going, Josh Allen will be able to turn and attack this Secondary with real success and the Bills look a live underdog here.

JJ Watt's return will give the Texans a boost emotionally as well as helping what has been an inconsistent pass rush, but even that may not be enough. The Bills have proven to be very comfortable playing on the road and Josh Allen has come on leaps and bounds which could see him produce a rare success for a first time PlayOff Quarter Back.

There is a real trend where opposing a Quarter Back making his debut in the PlayOffs is concerned, but I do think Buffalo have the Defensive unit to restrict Houston and give Josh Allen all of the chances he needs to help win the game.

Buffalo are 8-1-2 against the spread in their last eleven games on the road and they are 5-0-2 against the spread in their last seven as the road underdog. The Texans are 1-6 against the spread in their last seven as the home favourite and I do think Deshaun Watson can be rattled by the kind of pressure he will face in this one as well as the lack of separation his Receivers might have.

It'll all be on Watson who won't have much support from Carlos Hyde running the ball and I think it may lead to Buffalo winning the turnover battle.

I am a little concerned by the record of first time Quarter Backs playing in the PlayOffs, while Buffalo have not played well against the best teams they have faced. However home favourites of less than 3 points are 1-9 against the spread on Wild Card Weekend since 2000 and I am going to take the points in this opening PlayOff game.

Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots Pick: When 'all' you have to do is beat the Miami Dolphins to secure the Number 2 Seed in the AFC it is not just a disappointment that the New England Patriots have failed to do that in Week 17, but potentially one that costs them a realistic chance of making the Super Bowl. The Patriots were 17.5 point favourites against the Miami Dolphins, but stunningly lost in Foxboro and that means playing in the Wild Card Round of the PlayOffs for the first time since 2009.

There are plenty of doubters now and that has to be fuelling the New England Patriots although the second half of the season has seen them not really go into the kind of PlayOff mode we have seen in the past. Instead the Patriots have not really found the consistency they would have liked and now have to face a Tennessee Titans team who were playing as well as most down the stretch in the regular season.

It was some benefit for the Titans that they were able to play a Houston team resting key starters in Week 17, but they still had to win on the road and did that very well. This is a far biggest test for the Titans though considering the experience that is in front of them, but Tennessee do have a very strong minded Head Coach in Mike Vrabel and I do think they will be as well prepared for this test as they can be.

The weather was looking like being a big concern for this game with Winter Storm Henry approaching Foxboro, although it sounds like it will be rainy and not snowy when this game kicks off.

So while the main impact of Weather Storm Henry won't be felt, one Henry will be heading to the Stadium and looking to make as much rumbling as possible. Derrick Henry is a huge part of the Tennessee Offense and he is likely to have even more of the ball if the rain makes it difficult to throw down the field.

We have all known how impressive Bill Belichick has been in planning to erase the biggest threat his opponent has on the field, but taking away Henry completely won't be easy. The Titans Offensive Line have been opening some big holes for Henry, while the physical nature of the Running Back means he can wear down Defensive Lines and eventually break a big one down the field.

The Patriots have been pretty good on the Defensive Line when it comes to clamping down on the run, but Ryan Tannehill has also played well enough when he drops back to throw which gives them the balance to at least keep New England guessing. It would be a surprise if New England don't try and force Tannehill to beat them through the air considering the conditions expected in Foxboro, but Henry will get his numbers.

And I do think Tannehill and the Titans will be encouraged by what Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Miami Dolphins did in Week 17. With AJ Brown beginning to show he could be one of the top Receivers in the NFL in the years ahead, Tennessee should be able to move the chains in this PlayOff game and give themselves an opportunity to win.

Much will depend on how Ryan Tannehill handles the pressure of playing in his first ever PlayOff game, while he also has to exorcise some demons in Foxboro having never won here with the Miami Dolphins. Like with the first PlayOff game, the trend against first time Quarter Backs playing in the post-season is not a good one for Tannehill, but Tennessee have been confident since he came into the starting line up and that should mean they can score enough points to potentially earn the upset.

It would be an upset even if Tennessee will be a trendy pick for some, because the New England Patriots are still a team who have shown they can overcome adversity. The long-running Super Bowl successes just can't be ignored and Tom Brady will have spent all week hearing about how the Patriots time is done which will have lit a fire under a player that may be finishing up his personal time here.

No one will dispute Brady's place in the pantheon of NFL history, but the Offensive unit has struggled this season and it is hard to see how much they can turn that around. Like Tennessee, the Patriots are going to try and establish the run and they may have some success doing that through Sony Michel if they pick up from where they left off last week.

Running the ball against the Tennessee Defensive Line is far from easy, but New England's Offensive Line have shown better shape in recent games and so they may have more success than most. In the conditions it is likely going to be the first port of call for the game-planning, although the Titans Secondary has been struggling in recent weeks too and that can't have escaped the attention of the Patriots either.

Unfortunately outside of Julian Edelman, who is banged up, the Patriots don't have the reliable Receivers of years gone by which will make it hard for Tom Brady to have the kind of successes he has enjoyed. The Titans also bring a pass rush which can be disruptive and I do think they are going to have the insight of their Head Coach to make this a close game on Saturday evening.

Tennessee have covered in their last four road games against teams with a winning record, although the trends largely favour New England in this game. The Patriots are a team who bounce back from losses, have been very strong at home and who have a very good record in PlayOff games as the favourite.

However I think the right play is with the road team and the points in what I feel will be a close game in the conditions. I hate opposing New England because they are capable of turning it on and getting things done, but my feeling is that the Tennessee Titans are playing well enough to keep this one close.

If Derrick Henry can get rumbling, this feels like a game that might be settled by a Field Goal margin in Foxboro on Saturday.

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints Pick: Any build up to this game is going to feature images and video from the 'Miracle of Minneapolis' two years ago when somehow the New Orleans Saints snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against the Minnesota Vikings. That was a Case Keenum inspired Vikings team that moved past New Orleans who suffered another heartbreaking PlayOff defeat twelve months ago.

Revenge is going to be on the minds of the fans who travel to the SuperDome on Sunday for this Wild Card Game, but I think Sean Payton will be playing down the significance of that. In Week 17 one inch prevented the Saints from having a Bye into the Divisional Round so the only focus this week is not revenge, but simply winning a PlayOff game against a quality opponent.

New Orleans won't deny there is something for them to prove having lost in the PlayOffs in the manner they have in each of the past two seasons, but Kirk Cousins will heading into the game with the Minnesota Vikings knowing many are expecting the latest implosion from him in a big game environment.

That narrative was added to in Week 16 when Cousins was downright awful against the Green Bay Packers in a game that ended their hopes of winning the NFC North. It came at home on a Monday Night Football and Minnesota have to be concerned about how they have played against fellow PlayOff teams in the regular season.

Granted that doesn't matter once you get into the post-season, while Cousins will also have Dalvin Cook back and hopefully a healthier Adam Thielen to throw to. The absence of Cook has been difficult and one of the premier Running Backs in the NFL is hoping to have a big impact on this game when making his first PlayOff appearance at the end of a season in which he cracked 1000 yards on the ground.

The Saints Defensive Line has just clamped down on runners of late as they have filled some of the gaps left behind by injuries and so it won't be easy for Cook who is unlikely to be fully healthy. However Dalvin Cook has shown he can burst through some small holes to open things up for Kirk Cousins and the key for the Vikings will be to try and control the clock on the ground while also keeping the team in front of the chains.

For much of the season it has worked for the Vikings who haven't asked Kirk Cousins to do too much, but in a potential shoot out with the Saints more may be expected of the Quarter Back. He does have a couple of solid Receivers, although the injury to Adam Thielen has made the passing attack that much easier to defend, while the Saints Secondary has overcome some injuries and continue to play at a high level.

They are helped by the pass rush that can be generated and I do think that is going to be an important part of slowing down the Vikings when they do have the ball. The last thing Minnesota want to do is get down multiple scores and have to move away from the game plan and drop back to throw fifty times to stay with their hosts.

Judging by recent games played by the New Orleans Saints, it is not too far fetched to believe they will be able to score on most possessions. Drew Brees is playing as well as at any time in the last twelve months and the Minnesota Secondary is banged up which leaves them vulnerable to a team who have scored at least 34 points in four games in a row.

Things could become very problematic for the Vikings if they do give away a couple of big runs on the ground as that will just open things up for Brees who has been carving up opponents. Alvin Kamara has played well in the last couple of weeks, but he is also a major threat catching short screen passes and all in all it looks like a game in which New Orleans are going to be able to do what they want Offensively.

Despite the public favouring New Orleans, sharp money has come in on Minnesota to drop the spread, although it is still above the key number 7. I do think the Vikings could potentially sneak a backdoor cover which makes this a dangerous number to lay, but the favourite is 5-1 against the spread in the last six between these teams and New Orleans have plenty of momentum behind them.

Minnesota are 1-5 against the spread in their last six road games when set as the underdog, and while the Saints have not been the best home favourite to back, they are a team with plenty of good trends behind them.

Kirk Cousins lost his only other PlayOff start to the Green Bay Packers and I think the Saints will be too potent Offensively for this Quarter Back to keep the Vikings with them. It is a big number without a doubt, but the New Orleans Saints can find the points to earn the cover and get ready for a trip to the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the PlayOffs.

Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles Pick: Since Carson Wentz was Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles he was named the starter and the team have gone on to two PlayOff runs which includes winning the Super Bowl. However injuries meant Nick Foles led those post-season runs and so, stunningly, this is the first ever PlayOff start for Carson Wentz.

Four wins in a row gave the Philadelphia Eagles the NFC East title and that means they get to host this Wild Card Game despite winning two games fewer than the Seattle Seahawks. The latter are only here because they failed to convert a pass which landed on the one inch line on Sunday Night Football last week which would have given the Seahawks at least a home game in the Wild Card Round.

Pete Carroll is not bothered about how things have shaken up for his team which has been decimated by injury. The Seahawks finished 7-1 on the road in the regular season so having to win three road games to make the Super Bowl is not something the players will be intimidated by, even though they have lost key personnel to injury.

Some of the Defensive players will be back for Seattle which is a boost, while Marshawn Lynch has had an extra week with the team having been signed just before Week 17 after Chris Carson joined the other Running Backs in being ruled out for the season. I expect Lynch will get to see a bit more playing time in this one, and injuries on the Philadelphia Defensive Line should mean Seattle can get things going on the ground.

It will certainly be music to the ears of Russell Wilson who is playing behind a shaky Offensive Line when it comes to pass protection, although the Quarter Back scrambles from pressure as well as anyone. More importantly Wilson is one of the best passers of the ball when on the run and his ability to extend plays does see the Seahawks hurt opponents when they don't always expect it.

There are some holes in the Philadelphia Secondary which Wilson can exploit if the Seahawks are running the ball as they can and I do think this will make it a tough day for Carson Wentz on his PlayOff debut.

Give the Quarter Back his due first of all- Wentz has been brilliant the last four games and he has shown the Eagles are right to see him as a franchise Quarter Back. Unfortunately the Eagles have been destroyed by injuries on both sides of the ball and I can't see a magical run like they had when winning the Super Bowl three years ago.

Carson Wentz is likely going to be throwing to players that were way down the depth chart or coming off practice squads again on Sunday, but the Seattle Defensive unit is likely to be bolstered by a couple of key returns from injury. That makes the challenge for Wentz all the greater, although he should be aided by Miles Sanders at Running Back.

Sanders was banged up last week, but can come in with Boston Scott to at least make some big plays on the ground against a Seattle Defensive Line which has struggled against the run for much of the season. That will give the home underdog a chance for the upset if they can keep Carson Wentz in third and manageable spots, but even then you do find it hard to know whether the Receivers can make enough plays for their team and Quarter Back.

The Eagles have used being an underdog as a huge motivation in their last couple of PlayOff runs and one led to a Super Bowl win. That means they need to be respected, but Seattle look to be coming in a little healthier and I do think they are the stronger all around team.

Seattle have also won here already this season which has to give them a mental boost and they have now covered in their last four visits to Philadelphia. They have an impressive record bouncing back off a loss and the Seahawks are also 10-3-1 against the spread in their last fourteen road games.

Philadelphia have been very impressive as an underdog in the PlayOffs, which I have mentioned, but they are also 5-12 against the spread in their last seventeen as the home underdog. As much as I love the spirit they have shown under Head Coach Doug Pederson, I think a competitive loss is on the cards for the Eagles.

MY PICKS: Buffalo Bills + 2.5 Points @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tennessee Titans + 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
New Orleans Saints - 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Seattle Seahawks - 1.5 Points @ 1.95 William Hill (2 Units)

Week 17: 2-4, - 3.98 Units (12 Units Staked, - 33.17% Yield)
Week 16: 7-4, + 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 2019: 62-67-2, - 21.16 Units (259 Units Staked, - 8.17% Yield)

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