If sports have shown us anything over-the-years, it is that the playoffs – in which an entire season is on-the-line – rarely disappoint. Even when the matchups appear to be one-sided, we are almost always treated to a show at one point-or-another. This is especially true for the Wild Card round of the 2017 playoffs, as all four games have spreads of six-and-a-half-points or higher.
We can safely assume that we will not be witnessing four noncompetitive games.
One of the most important considerations for this weekend’s action is that, with the Eagles and Vikings having quarterback issues, there is a distinct possibility that one of the four NFC teams playing in the Wild Card round can make a run to the Super Bowl. At least, the teams think so. And that is more than enough for us to use to our advantage.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2017 Season: 51-46-4 (Last Week: 4-2)
(2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (3-Year Total: 183-158-7)
All Picks Against Spread – 2017 Season: 134-112-9 (Last Week: 11-5)
(2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (3-Year Total: 415-367-19)
Wild Card Picks Against the Point Spread
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
I try to place a higher importance on statistics and trends when given the opportunity, but sometimes it is naive to turn a blind eye to what we have seen. The Los Angeles Rams’ offense has been a juggernaut for nearly the entire season, and it helped bludgeon teams en route to a division title. But, it only bludgeoned the teams it could bludgeon. What about the better opponents?
If we look at the back-half of the Rams’ schedule, we can find four playoff-bound teams. Immediately, we should notice some glaring scores.
For a Rams offense that led the league in scoring, it managed a total of 95 points against the Vikings, Saints, Eagles, and Titans – for an average of 23.75 points-per-game. Including these four games, the Rams averaged 29.88 points-per-game all season. We have found our first red flag.
We can discount the Rams further by highlighting the 2-2 record in those games and compare that to the 11-5 mark over the full season. The story continues.
Buried within arguably the premier matchup of the Rams’ season, we can uncover the single-biggest liability for Los Angeles. When the Rams hosted the Philadelphia Eagles with the inside track to home field advantage on the line, Los Angeles blew a fourth-quarter lead in uncharacteristic fashion. That is, the team with the relentless offense could not move the football when it mattered most and tallied nine plays – including a punt – on three possessions after taking the lead to start the fourth quarter. To rub further salt in the metaphorical wound, possibly the biggest drive of the game was cut short when quarterback Jared Goff fumbled on a strip-sack. He was not immediately under pressure on the play.
This is not captured in the statistics. It is what separates a Super Bowl contender from a pretender.
The Rams deserved every ounce of credit they received after recovering from a dismal 2016 campaign, but the road gets significantly more difficult in the postseason. And Los Angeles has the unfortunate draw of hosting a Falcons team that famously collapsed in last year’s Super Bowl. Perhaps Atlanta can’t finish what it started one year ago, but it has been here before and is ready for the moment. In fact, the Falcons needed to win in Week 17 and did not disappoint.
The spread between the Falcons and Rams is too large, and it does run the risk of being a ‘reverse trap,’ in which the favorite is the better team. But, the Rams are the better seed and head coach Sean McVay is being praised at every turn. It would have been impossible for the Rams to not be favored on Saturday.
They shouldn’t be. The Rams drew the short straw. They just don’t know it yet.
The Falcons win a back-and-forth battle by a single point and beat the spread.
Confidence Pick: Atlanta Falcons (+6.5)*
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
It was wise for the league to position the matchup between New Orleans and Carolina as the final one of the weekend. It is the only game between divisional opponents, and it features the smallest spread of the four contests. “Smallest,” however, is a term being used relatively, as there is nothing small about a number greater than four or five points.
Carolina and New Orleans both finished 2017 with identical 11-5 records, and their style-of-play was surprisingly similar.
Click here to sign up for Sporfolio to see the rest of Mario Mergola’s NFL picks against the point spread. Mergola finished with the highest total of correct NFL picks against the spread for 2015 and 2016 – tracked by NFLPickwatch – and finished 2015 with an accuracy of 60.53% for his confidence picks.