An early look at NFL wild-card weekend: Falcons-Rams line looks too high
NFL favorites closed out the regular season by posting an 11th consecutive winning Sunday, finishing 9-6-1 against the closing number. Over the past 11 Sundays, favorites have hit at a combined clip of 81-47-8 ATS (63.3%). Five of the six underdogs that got to the window did win outright: Cardinals +8, Bengals +8, Buccaneers +6, Giants +5, and Chiefs +3. The Browns covered, but dropped to 0-16 on the season. Cleveland became just the fifth NFL team to go winless in a season since 1944, and only the second to ever finish 0-16 (2008 Detroit Lions).
Home teams and unders both squeaked out a small profit, as the former finished 8-7-1 against the spread, while nine of the 16 games stayed under the closing total. Ten of the 16 games played on Sunday finished with a final margin of nine or fewer points.
Final AFC Playoff Picture
- Patriots (13-3)
- Steelers (13-3)
- Jaguars (10-6)
- Chiefs (10-6)
- Titans (9-7)
- Bills (9-7)
New England took care of business in Foxborough to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Titans held on for a victory in Nashville in a win and in scenario. The Bills and Chargers took care of business as well, but they needed help. Ultimately, Buffalo got the help they needed to end a 17 year playoff drought, as the Bengals came back in stunning fashion on a 4th and 12 touchdown pass in the final minute to eliminate the Ravens. Baltimore allowed Cincinnati to drive 90 yards for the game winning touchdown, after just missing a fumble recovery on the punt prior to the Bengals possession. The city of Pittsburgh had to enjoy that game, especially considering former Pitt Panther Tyler Boyd caught the game winning touchdown. As a result of the Bengals comeback, the Jaguars avoided playing the Titans for a third time next week. Both Buffalo and Tennessee are the only teams in the playoffs with a negative net point differential this season (also only teams with a losing road record).
Titans at Chiefs (-7.5) | O/U: 44.5
Marcus Mariota has performed substantially worse on the road this season (8 TDs/4 INTs at home vs 5 TD/11 INT on the road). The Titans average 1.6 turnovers per game (23rd in the NFL), and that number that gets much worse on the road (2.2 turnovers, 29th overall). That spells trouble in a hostile environment in January, especially against a Chiefs team that turns it over fewer than any other team in the league at 0.7 times per game (only 0.5 at home). The Titans do at least have the ability to shut down the Chiefs’ rushing attack, as they only allow 3.6 yards per rush (fourth-best in the NFL). Conversely, the Chiefs may struggle to contain Derrick Henry, as their rush defense, which ranked 31st DVOA through 16 weeks, allows 4.3 yards per rush (24th in the NFL).
Bills at Jaguars (-7) | O/U: 40
The Bills head to Jacksonville this weekend, and might not have the services of LeSean McCoy, who left Sunday’s game in Miami on a cart with an ankle sprain. The MRI came back negative, but it’s hard to envision Buffalo will have a fully healthy Shady ready to take advantage of a Jaguars defense that gives up 4.5 yards per rush (29th in the NFL). That spells trouble against the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL through Week 16. The Jaguars defensive line, ranked third in adjusted sack rate, should live in the backfield against a Bills offensive line ranked 30th in the same metric. I’m just not sure how Buffalo’s offense, the NFL’s third-worst unit per DVOA, will move the ball without a healthy McCoy, who accounted for more than 32% of the Bills yards this season (third-highest percentage in the NFL). The Under 40 also warrants strong consideration.
Final NFC Playoff Picture
- Eagles (13-3)
- Vikings (13-3)
- Rams (11-5)
- Saints (11-5)
- Panthers (11-5)
- Falcons (10-6)
No movement in the NFC playoff picture this week, despite losses by four of the top six teams. As expected, the Vikings got the job done at home as a 13-point favorite against the Bears to secure a first round bye. The Rams, who seemingly didn’t want the No. 3 seed, will end up there anyway since the Saints also lost on Sunday. The Panthers could not capitalize on the New Orleans loss, as win in Atlanta would have given them a division title. The reigning NFC-champion Falcons, who ultimately didn’t need to win after Seattle lost, clinched the final NFC playoff spot.
Falcons at Rams (-5) | O/U: 49
At first glance, this line looks too high, considering Los Angeles will not benefit from a massive home-field advantage. The Falcons will have opportunities to move the ball on offense. The Rams’ run defense that allows 4.6 yards per carry (30th in the NFL), and also through the air against a banged up Rams secondary (starter Kayvon Webster is on IR, and new starter Troy Hill is questionable). The Falcons have had much more success in the red zone, as they rank fifth in the NFL in red zone TD scoring percentage (Rams rank 25th). Atlanta will have a significant postseason experience advantage against a very young Rams roster. One of the Rams’ biggest advantages is on special teams (third in DVOA, compared to 24th for the Falcons) is neutralized by not having stud kicker Greg Zuerlein healthy.
Panthers at Saints (-6) | O/U: 48.5
The Saints will look to complete a three game season sweep of the Panthers in New Orleans, where they have compiled a 7-1 record this year. A team has not finished 3-0 over an opponent in a season since 2009, when the Cowboys swept the Eagles. The Saints won both previous meetings by double digits. Carolina’s defensive line, which ranked No. 1 in adjusted sack rate through last week, has carried them this season. However, they will run into a Saints offensive line that can neutralize their havoc (No. 1 in adjusted sack rate), helping Brees stay upright to take advantage of a weak secondary.
Week 17 Playoff Impact Injuries:
Bills RB LeSean McCoy – Ankle (?)
Bills CB Shareece Wright – Concussion (?)
Chiefs WR De’Anthony Thomas – Leg (?)
Falcons WR Taylor Gabriel – Hamstring (?)
Jaguars SS Barry Church – Hamstring (?)
Rams CB Troy Hill – Concussion (?)
Photo via Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports