NFL Wild Card Round - Saturday
The 2020 regular season had its fair share of ups and downs, to say the least. With the combination of Covid craziness and essentially no home-field advantage, we had our wheels spinning trying to get in tune with the true level of ability for almost every team for most of the year. We shut the machine down for week 16 and 17 because with the tanking potential layered on top, our data was basically meaningless down the stretch.
Well, lucky for us, those last couple weeks of Nate Sudfeld types being in games is over and we have the NFL Playoffs to bring out the best of each team. There is still the lack of home-field and Covid disruption for us to deal with, but we at least know each team is going to be going as hard as possible with what they have available. Also lucky for us, the NFL went to back-to-back triple-headers with the new Wild Card round 6-game format, so we have plenty of football to enjoy all weekend. On to the picks...
[6.6 Units] Buffalo Bills (-6.5) at home vs. Indianapolis Colts
6.6 Units – BUF -7 or less
No Action – BUF -7.5 or more
It is hard to overstate how good the Bills have been over the last 2 months of the season. Outside of the Hail Murray in mid-November, the Bills' only losses this season came in October to two playoff teams (KC, Ten). Josh Allen has to be in the MVP discussion with no one even coming within single digits of the Mafia during their current six game winning streak. The argument for the Colts is the offensive line/run game, but the reality is, despite recent success, Indy has an average run game and does not have the explosiveness over the top with Phil Rivers behind center. Even with the limited fans, playing this game in Buffalo will have an impact. Rivers is 1-5 (0-3 in the playoffs) in his career when the temp is freezing or colder at kickoff. In those games, Rivers has completed 58.9 percent of his passes, averages 298.2 passing yards per game, thrown 10 touchdown and 7 interceptions, with a passer rating of 84.2. Those numbers are not necessarily awful, but he is going to have to turn in an ELITE performance to keep this one close. One last note, if John Brown does play for the Bills, and it's looking good, watch out. This one could get uglier than a day old trash plate, and we are confident the pride of Western New York can clear the touchdown threshold needed for a cover.
[6.6 Units] Seattle Seahawks (-3.5) at home vs. LA Rams
6.6 Units – SEA -4 or less
3.3 Units – SEA -4.5 or -5
No Action – SEA -5.5 or more
Our models see this as about a 7-point spread in favor of the Seahawks based predominantly on their superiority on offense and those hidden yards on special teams. Los Angeles has quietly struggled with their ST, coming in at 30th in football outsiders special teams DVOA over the course of the 2020 season. Seattle, on the other hand, is number 3 in the league and our systems have that playing a material role in their comparative advantage. Additionally, Russell Wilson has this Seattle offense performing at a consistently high level. There aren't a lot of unknowns about what we'll see from the Seahawks on Saturday, but there is a lot of doubt about how the Rams will perform on the offensive side of the ball due to Jared Goff's surgically repaired right thumb. He hasn't played the last couple of weeks and the Rams offense has struggled mightily. Sean McVay has played it coy on whether or not he'll be available and/or limited... our take is that a thumb on the throwing hand can't possibly be something that improves this Rams offense, so we are comfortable with the models output giving the Hawks the cover by a comfortable margin.
[6.6 Units] Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5) at The Washington Football Team
6.6 Units – TB -9.5 or less
3.3 Units – TB -10
No Action – TB -10.5 or more
All fairytales have to come to an end at some point. It's been a heck of a run by the Washington Football team and you couldn't root for better guys than Ron Rivera and Alex Smith who have overcome tremendous personal obstacles leading up to this playoff appearance. That being said, they are completely outgunned in this matchup. We have this Washington offense as #32 in the league... yes, the worst offense in the NFL is hosting a playoff game. It was 2020, after all. They obviously relied heavily on their defense throughout the season and when Alex Smith was close to 100%, they were able to make some big plays in key divisional games to pull out the NFC East with a 7-9 record. That all comes to an end this Saturday night. Tampa Bay has a top-5 offense and a top-5 defense and will be able to put points on the board, despite the WFT's strong defense. We aren't sure the same can be said about Washington...especially with Alex Smith going to be limited by his calf and potentially not even able to finish the game. A top-5 defense vs. the worst offense in the league is a combination we will gladly take almost every single week...when you also get Tom Brady leading that teams offense in the playoffs, it's a no doubter.