XN Sports

Sports News, Stats, Opinion, Daily Fantasy advice and more.

NFL Picks: 2018 Wild Card Picks Against the Point Spread

Mario Mergola

Mario Mergola is a writer, avid sports fan, former ESPN Radio producer, husband, and father who specializes in finding the hidden gems of the less-explored option. Follow @MarioMergola

It’s no secret that I spend much of my days looking at the spreads for football games and, while I always try to explain that they are not an indication of what should or will happen, it is fun to see so many small numbers for a weekend of action. Because, even if none prove to be true, we still have the impression that we are about to watch some competitive games. Compared to recent years, this is fantastic.

Last postseason, we had an Opening Round matchup between Tyrod Taylor and Blake Bortles – that featured a cameo from Nathan Peterman. The Wild Card Weekend before that? Brock Osweiler and Connor Cook. That really happened. And before that, it was Brian Hoyer.

To say that this year’s games should be more exciting is an understatement. It’s the best set of first round matchups we have seen in a long time.

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 – 2018 Season: 60-48-4 (Last Week: 3-4)

(2017 Season: 53-48-4) (2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (4-Year Total: 236-206-11)

All Picks Against Spread – 2018 Season: 128-116-12 (Last Week: 7-8-1)

(2017 Season: 137-119-11) (2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (4-Year Total: 552-486-30)

picks against the point spreadSeattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys

Of the four games to be played on Wild Card weekend, the one that had the first significant move in the spread is Saturday night’s excellent matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks. And this is compared to a Sunday afternoon game in which one of the quarterbacks is currently injured.

The reasoning is simple. As much national appeal as the Cowboys have, Seattle is accomplished in the playoffs and likely had a more impressive road to the postseason, this year. The Seahawks never really came close to threatening the Rams for the division title, but Dallas was helped in its quest by injuries to Washington’s quarterbacks and a major decrease in output by the Eagles, as a whole. It could even be argued that the Cowboys were NFC East champions by default, while the Seahawks were easily the best team in the NFC that wasn’t a division winner.

Heading into the final week of the season, these same reputations were present in meaningless games. Seattle didn’t need to win its last game, yet it was a heavy favorite. Dallas had absolutely nothing to gain nor lose by Week 17’s outcome, and was getting nearly a touchdown worth of points. Essentially, in similar positions, Seattle was expected to perform much better than Dallas.

Fast-forwarding one week to Saturday’s matchup, the Cowboys are favored, although the number continues to shrink. Again, the ‘easy’ play is to stick with the Seahawks and Russell Wilson – I never skip the opportunity to mention him as one of the game’s elite – and it’s certainly why the spread is getting smaller. But, as always, this could not have been a surprise to those who make the odds. The spread was released with intention, and we can read between the lines.

Every home team opened the weekend as a favorite – and the same will almost certainly happen, next week, unless something catastrophic occurs – and the Cowboys were no exception. Therefore, it’s easy to miss the fact that they were giving points. It’s a throwaway, because Seattle has such a positive imprint on the collective mind of the football-watching world. But, this is the same team that the same group of people argued was ‘rebuilding’ before the season began. And these same people are now climbing back onto the bandwagon that they recently left. Which means the perception has swung in both directions, and it is now about to overvalue the Seahawks. And, because we are dealing with a balance of power between two teams and the spread, the Cowboys are subsequently being undervalued.

One of the easiest conclusions people can draw about anything that unfolded toward the end of the season was that Dallas playing its starters for the entire game, last week, was a mistake. I was obviously guilty of this same opinion. But, maybe there was more to this decision that we originally thought. Certainly, it was a major risk in terms of injury, but it was also important for Dak Prescott’s confidence, and not because he was allowed to play for sixty minutes.

Prescott is rarely on the field without running back Ezekiel Elliott. In many people’s minds, Elliott is the Cowboys’ offense, and Prescott holds the role of ‘game manager.’ To see Prescott, alone with only the passing attack, lead a come-from-behind victory probably means a lot more than we realize.

And, why shouldn’t the Cowboys have tried something different from the norm? The franchise has won just one playoff game since Jason Garrett took over as the head coach in 2010, and its last appearance saw a 13-3 squad lose its first game in the postseason. Maybe Dallas is ahead-of-the-curve by not falling into the same, easy routine. The kind that also fooled me and is undoubtedly fooling most who look back to last week’s game as a precursor to what’s still to come.

The Cowboys are experiencing the perfect storm in perception, and it still led to the team being listed as the favorite when the spread first arrived. The influx of support for Seattle – expected as it may be – is making it appear as if Dallas is not ready for the step up in competition. Really, this is the more likely case for the Seahawks.

The Cowboys enter the playoffs on a 7-1 hot streak, and the only loss was a visit to Indianapolis in which regression was evident. Seattle’s most impressive win of the season was probably a home victory against the Chiefs in Week 16, but it also came against one of the worst defenses in football – hence a 38-point outburst. And that is where the Seahawks will find their season end on Sunday.

Seattle is 7-2 when scoring at least 27 points, this year. Both losses were to the Rams – whose offense ranks second in points and yards. In the other seven games, the Seahawks scored no more than 24 points, and were 3-4 in that stretch. Dallas allowed 24 points or fewer in fourteen games.

The Cowboys are being dismissed as possibly the least deserving division winner, despite a truly outstanding defense and an offense that now has the momentum to win a home game in the first round of the playoffs. It happens, as Dallas wins by six points and covers the spread.

Confidence Pick: Dallas Cowboys (-1.5)

Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens

The Los Angeles Chargers must have emitted an audible groan. Of all teams and all the places to play, they have to face the Ravens again, only, this time, in Baltimore.

It could not be a worse setup for the Chargers. At least, at first glance. But really, is this any different than what we normally find in the regular season?

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. His 4-year record for all NFL games against the spread is 552-486-30!


Photo Credit: Keith Allison / Flickr