NFL Pick'em: Wild Card Round

NFL
Written by John Ferguson
January 3, 2020
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We made it through the regular season and now it is time for the most exciting part of the year! The NFL playoffs are upon us and first up we get four games of wild card action. There will be two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday which helps spread out the excitement. If you've been following our weekly pick'em articles here this season, you know that I had a pretty good season as far as accuracy is concerned. I beat Betting Antelope's impressive machine learning model in our weekly battle here at Fantasy Data and I was featured as one of the most accurate pick'em specialists over at Tallysight. So, for the playoffs, we're going to keep the good times rolling and offer the same picks and analysis of each playoff game all the way up to the Super Bowl! Without further ado, let's get to the content!

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Saturday Slate

Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans (-2.5) (O/U 44)

Matchup Notes:

  • Josh Allen has completed just 58.8% of passes this season -- 2nd worst of 33 qualified NFL QBs; League Avg: 63.5%
  • Josh Allen has committed 14 fumbles this season -- 3rd most among NFL QBs
  • Offenses facing the Bills have thrown deep balls on just 8.7% of pass attempts this season -- lowest in NFL; League Avg: 12.2%
  • The Bills defense has allowed an average of 2.6 yards after contact per carry (378 carries) this season-worst in NFL; League Avg: 2.0
  • The Bills defense has allowed just 5.6 yards per attempt (3,112 yards/552 attempts) this season -- 3rd best in NFL; League Avg: 6.7
  • The Texans have converted first downs on 50 of 130 plays (38.5%) in the red zone this season -- 2nd best in NFL; League Avg: 30.6%
  • Texans WRs have caught 228 of 332 passes (68.7% Reception Pct) this season -- 2nd best in NFL; League Avg: 61.5%
  • The Texans defense has allowed 8.3 yards from scrimmage per touch this season -- tied for worst in NFL; League Avg: 7.6
  • The Texans defense has allowed 4.4 yards per attempt (323 yards/73 attempts) in the red zone this season-worst in NFL; League Avg: 3.2
  • The Bills are averaging 19.6 PPG overall this season and 13.3 PPG over their last three games. They average 21.5 PPG on the road.
  • The Texans have allowed 24.1 PPG overall this season.
  • The Texans are averaging 23.6 PPG this season.
  • The Bills have allowed 16.2 PPG this season -- second-fewest in NFL.

Watson.jpgThe first matchup of wild card weekend will feature two teams who haven't had the best of luck in the playoffs in recent years. The Bills haven't won a playoff game since 1995, going 0-4 since then in the postseason. They ended the season on a fairly shaky note losing three of their last four, but they also had some tough opponents and rested starters in Week 17 against the Jets. The story of the season for the Bills has been their defensive strength and plus rushing game. They don't have a prolific offense but may not need one against a Texans defense that has been fairly generous to opponents. 

One of the bigger stories coming into this game for the Texans is the return of Houston hero J.J. Watt to the battlefield. If near full health, Watt will be a welcome sight to a defense that has gotten gashed both through the air and on the ground all season. The defense is desperate for a more fierce pass rush. Outside of their bizarre loss to the Broncos recently, the Texans still managed to finish the season on a pretty strong note by knocking off the Patriots, out-dueling the Bucs and splitting a series with a hot Titans team. The Texans have been knocked out of the wild card round in two of their last three playoff appearances including their no-show last season where they lost 21-7 to the Colts. 

The Bills are the favorite pick across the board this week despite the Texans coming into the game as the actual favorite to win. I'm siding with the strength of the Bills defense to help them move on to the next round in this one.

My Final Prediction: Bills win 21-17

My Picks: Bills +2.5, Under 44

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-5) (O/U 44.5)

Matchup Notes:

  • Ryan Tannehill has a passer rating of 124.6 (132 Pass Attempts) since week 13 -- 2nd best of 35 qualified NFL QBs; League Avg: 88.7
  • Ryan Tannehill has averaged 10.1 yards per attempt since Week 9 -- best of 26 qualified NFL QBs; League Avg: 7.0
  • Titans WRs have averaged 17.5 yards per reception since Week 9 -- best in NFL; League Avg: 13.2
  • A.J. Brown has averaged 22.4 yards per reception since Week 13 -- best of 67 qualified NFL WRs; League Avg: 13.2
  • Derrick Henry has averaged 6.3 yards per carry (959 yards/152 carries) since Week 9 -- best of 33 qualified NFL RBs; League Avg: 4.3
  • Patriots RBs have caught 4 touchdown passes since Week 13 -- most in NFL.
  • The Patriots have an average drive start position from the 32.3-yard line this season-best in NFL; League Avg: 26.6
  • The Patriots defense has allowed first downs on just 23.4% of plays this season-best in NFL; League Avg: 28.7%
  • The Patriots defense has allowed a passer rating of just 62.8 this season-best in NFL; League Avg: 90.4
  • The Patriots defense has 25 interceptions this season -- most in NFL.
  • The Titans are averaging 25.1 PPG this season.
  • The Patriots have allowed just 14.1 PPG overall this season (fewest in NFL) and 19 PPG over their last three games.
  • The Patriots are averaging 26.2 PPG this season.
  • The Titans have allowed 20.7 PPG overall this season and 25.3 PPG over their last three games.

The second game of the Saturday slate isn't quite as close as the early game on paper, but there is plenty of intrigue and potential for upset here. The Titans have been reborn under Ryan Tannehill who now looks like the comfortable choice as the franchise QB going forward. The Titans offer a well-rounded threat right now with regular-season rushing king Derrick Henry in the backfield and Ryan Tannehill finding a quick connection with rookie wideout A.J. Brown. We all know Belichick's master plan of erasing the opposing team's biggest threat and forcing them to beat them with their weaker offensive options. But that won't be so easy to do against this suddenly diverse offensive unit. There are a lot of trends going against the Titans in this though like the fact that they haven't won a game in New England since they were the Houston Oilers in 1993. This also marks Tannehill's first career postseason appearance which could be a daunting experience against arguably the most ferocious dynasty ever. 

We know the story all season with the Patriots. What's wrong with their offense? They're not dominant anymore. And most recently, they let the Miami freakin' Dolphins walk into Foxborough and pull off an upset. Not exactly the momentum-builder you're looking for heading into an extended postseason for a team that is used to playing with a first-round bye on their side. As it has been all season, however, the defense is fierce and the last people you want to run into in the postseason are Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in Foxborough. I think there is still enough magic in Brady's hat to push his team past the wild card round at least, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Titans keep it close.

My Final Prediction: Patriots win 24-20

My Picks: Titans +5, Under 44.5

Sunday Slate

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (-8) (O/U 49.5)

Matchup Notes:

  • The Vikings defense has forced 16 turnovers since Week 13 -- most in NFL.
  • The Vikings defense has allowed 4 touchdowns on 125 completions (31.2 Completions Per TD) since Week 13 -- best in NFL; League Avg: 13.7
  • The Vikings have run the ball on 47.6% of plays (462 carries/970 plays) this season -- 2nd highest in NFL; League Avg: 40.1%
  • Xavier Rhodes has allowed receptions to receivers he was covering on 65 of 82 targets (79.3%) this season -- worst of 57 qualified NFL defensive backs; League Avg: 62.5%
  • Trae Waynes has allowed receptions to receivers he was covering on 69 of 94 targets (73.4%) this season -- 2nd worst of 57 qualified NFL defensive backs; League Avg: 62.5%
  • Drew Brees has a passer rating of 128.4 since Week 13 -- best of 35 qualified NFL QBs; League Avg: 88.7
  • Jared Cook has averaged 19.2 yards per reception since Week 9 -- best of 38 qualified NFL TEs; League Avg: 10.7
  • The Saints have averaged 76.4 penalty yards per game since Week 9 -- worst in NFL; League Avg: 52.4
  • Michael Thomas has 149 receptions on 186 targets (80.1% Reception Pct) this season -- best of 68 qualified NFL WRs; League Avg: 61.5%
  • The Saints defense has allowed an average of 0.8 yards after contact per carry (55 carries) in the red zone this season -- tied for best in NFL; League Avg: 1.3
  • The Vikings are averaging 25.4 PPG overall this season and 22.7 PPG over their last three games.
  • The Saints have allowed 21.3 PPG overall this season and just 15 PPG over their last three games.
  • The Saints are averaging 28.6 PPG overall this season (fourth-most) and 38 PPG over their last three games.
  • The Vikings have allowed 18.9 PPG overall this season and 21.8 PPG on the road.

Dalvin Cook.jpgThe first matchup on Sunday is expected to be a lopsided affair with the Saints coming in as heavy favorites. The Vikings have had an up and down season by beating teams they should have and struggling against other playoff-caliber opponents. This has basically been the story of Kirk Cousins' life as a QB in the NFL. The Vikes lost three of their last five games against the Seahawks and Packers and rested their starters against the Bears in their Week 17 loss. The star of the offense all season was running back Dalvin Cook who went down with an injury towards the end of the season. Though he boasts to magically be back to 100% again already, I'm not fully convinced of this. Even with Cook at full health, he would have a tough fight against a stout Saints run defense. The Vikes need to conjure some more postseason magic or hope the refs are once again against the Saints moving forward in the playoffs.

The Saints finished the season on a tear winning six of their last seven games with their only loss coming against the 49ers in an epic shootout. The team has won their last three wild card games and Drew Brees has been performing in vintage form. The Vikings secondary has been unusually vulnerable this season and will have their hands full. To make matters worse for the Vikes, RB Alvin Kamara looks to be back to full health offering a dual-threat out of the backfield. I know a lot of people feel like eight points is a lot for the Saints to cover, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them win by 10.

My Final Prediction: Saints win 30-20

My Picks: Saints -8, Over 49.5

Seattle Seahawks (-1.5) at Philadelphia Eagles (O/U 45.5)

Matchup Notes:

  • The Seahawks defense has allowed 7.2 yards after the catch since Week 13 -- worst in NFL; League Avg: 5.3
  • The Seahawks defense has allowed an average of 2.3 yards after contact per carry (21 carries) in the red zone since week 13 -- 2nd worst in NFL; League Avg: 1.3
  • The Seahawks defense has allowed 8.5 yards from scrimmage per touch since Week 13 -- 2nd worst in NFL; League Avg: 7.5
  • The Seahawks defense has averaged a sack every 22.4 pass attempts this season -- 3rd worst attempts per sack rate in NFL; League Avg: 15.0
  • Tyler Lockett has been targeted 23 times in the red zone this season -- most among NFL WRs.
  • Offenses facing the Eagles have thrown the ball 63.2% of the time since Week 13 -- highest in NFL; League Avg: 54.9%
  • Eagles TEs have been targeted 89 times since Week 13 -- most in NFL.
  • Eagles WRs have averaged 2.3 yards after the catch since Week 9 -- worst in NFL; League Avg: 4.4
  • The Eagles defense has stuffed 30.6% of rushing attempts since week 13 -- best in NFL; League Avg: 18.5%
  • The Eagles defense has allowed an average of 2.8 yards after contact per carry (9 carries) in the red zone since Week 13 -- worst in NFL; League Avg: 1.3
  • The Eagles have run an average of 72.9 of plays per game since Week 9 -- 2nd highest in NFL; League Avg: 63.9
  • The Seahawks are averaging 25.3 PPG overall this season and 21.3 PPG over their last three games.
  • The Eagles have allowed 22.1 PPG overall this season, 17.7 PPG over their last three games, and just 16.8 PPG at home.
  • The Eagles are averaging 24.1 PPG overall this season and 29.3 PPG over their last three games.
  • The Seahawks have allowed 24.9 PPG overall this season and just 21.1 PPG on the road. 

The last game of the wild card weekend is the only one on the slate that features two teams that faced each other earlier this season. These two birds are different teams now at this point in the season though as they come into the game looking like they both just flew through the engine of a 747. The Seahawks lost basically all rostered RBs over the back half of the season which forced them to revive the skittle-fiend, Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks haven't weathered the storm well over the final stretch as they lost three of their last four games, two of which were upsets against division rivals the Rams and Cardinals. The passing game just isn't firing on all cylinders right now despite Russell Wilson still looking like one of the better QBs in the league. A run-first offense without a running game to speak of right now doesn't offer much to be afraid of when you're going up against a stout run defense like the Eagles. The Seahawks were knocked out of the wild card round last season by another NFC East opponent last season in the Cowboys and I think the same could happen this week.

The Eagles have handled the losses of pretty much every starting offensive skill position player with grace as of late as practice-squad regulars like Greg Ward Jr. and Boston Scott have stepped up when their team has needed them the most. The offense still looks like the Eagles offense whereas the Seahawks just look a little lost right now. The Eagles have been clutch heading into the postseason winning four straight games that basically were all must-win scenarios. I think they have momentum on their side, a more cohesive offense, and an improved defense from the unit we saw earlier in the season which will all help put them over the top.

My Final Prediction: Eagles win 26-24

My Picks: Eagles +1.5, Over 45.5


John Ferguson

John Ferguson is an avid Fantasy Football fanatic with 10+ years of experience in friends and family leagues, paying public leagues, and DFS Tournaments. Ferguson specializes in draft strategies, trade negotiations (Buy Low/Sell High) and DFS value picks amongst other parts of fantasy football analysis. When Ferguson isn’t spending time skimming over stats while at the beach, he follows the Oakland Athletics closely as a diehard fan and enjoys spending quality time with his beautiful wife and three children. A native of Monterey, California, Ferguson now calls Quintana Roo, Mexico home.