Wildcard Recap

Another very strong week is behind us. We went 4–2 ATS and 1–1 on game totals, hitting our two biggest plays for a net profit of +5.77 units. As always, I’m going to recap my picks and focus on key takeaways moving forward.

BAL -3 (-114) @ TEN (5 Units): Win 4.39 Units, BAL 20–13.

Well I absolutely nailed half this game. As we’ve seen many times, the Titans simply are not a good offense when they can’t establish the run. They were unable to sustain drives because Derrick Henry ran for 40 yards on 18 carries. What shocked me was how much the Titans’ defense came to play. They almost ruined my big play, stopping the Ravens early and even “forcing” a turnover to stake out a 10–0 lead (which was really just an absolutely awful throw by Lamar). But, as predicted, the Ravens simply out-matched the Titans over the course of the game, essentially doubling their yardage total and averaging 2 yards per play more than the Titans. They covered the spread and they had the ball at the end of the game in scoring position, so this could have been a bigger win. I’m not sure how I could have predicted that performance by the Titans’ defense, which has been truly terrible this season. But luckily the margin for error was wide given how much the Ravens’ defense dominated. There’s a lot of bad blood here so this is going to be a fun little rivalry. But until the Titans show that they can play defense they will continue to be an easy fade.

IND +7 (-115) @ BUF (3 Units): Win 2.61 Units, BUF 27–24.

This one was another solid play, as we took the 7-point underdog in a game that either team could have won. My game evaluation even says the Colts outplayed the Bills here for most of the game but squandered two opportunities with a turnover on downs deep in the Bills’ territory and a missed field goal. Yes, Zach Pascal fumbled and the game should have been over before it was, but it still would have been 27–24. Both teams were very impressive and this score was definitely about the Colts being legitimately competitive as opposed to any significant weakness by the Bills. I was very impressed with how Josh Allen didn’t get rattled when he was down and I continue to think highly of these Bills. On the other side, if Rivers comes back next year, you have to give him credit for his vision even if he looks like he struggles to throw the ball 15 yards. I’d comfortably back him again.

PIT -5.5 v. CLE (2 Units): Loss 2 Units, CLE 48–37

I was probably on the wrong side of this one, which was a Browns blowout at Pittsburgh. But the Steelers snapped the ball into the end zone on the first play and let the Browns recover for a touchdown, and then Big Ben — who has thrown 10 interceptions all season — proceeded to throw three more first half interceptions against a team missing its top corner to put themselves in a 28–0 hole. From there the Browns were on cruise control so I don’t think we need to put too much stock in the gaudy stats the Steelers put up in catch-up mode. One flaw in my current handicapping formula is that it doesn’t yet weigh recent performance more heavily than early season performance, other than when I go in and make my manual adjustments. The Steelers really faded down the stretch, and that can be attributed to the build-up of defensive injuries. When Devin Bush went down they didn’t skip a beat, so I decided “Steelers play ‘next man up’ defense and they’ll be fine.” The problem is, the cumulative effect of losing multiple defensive playmakers was too much. So in the offseason I’m going to analyze the data to improve my formula to appropriately account for trending performance, particularly when injuries are involved. For now, I’ll take the loss here and learn from it.

SEA -3.5 (-105) v. LAR (1 Unit): Loss 1 Unit, LAR 30–20
Over 42.5 (-105) (1 Unit): Win 0.95 Units

I should have just stayed off the spread here instead of putting 1 unit on Seattle. My handicapping formula said the Rams were the better team, but I just ignored it because I was getting Russell Wilson v. Jared Goff/John Wolford in the playoffs. In those circumstances, where two strong angles counter each other, I should just leave the spread bets and either bet the over/under or pass the game. It’s a lot easier to do that when there are more games on the slate, but I just need to be disciplined. The Rams were the better team here and deserved to win. We’ve seen teams over the years make Super Bowl runs with subpar quarterback play when they have a dominating defense. They’ll need Aaron Donald to be healthy, but these Rams have real potential to be one of those teams.

WAS +8.5 v. TB (1 Unit): Win 0.91 Units, TB 31–23
Under 45.5 (1 Unit): Loss 1 Unit

Taylor Heinicke was my hero on Saturday night. I was wrong about the level of pressure that the Washington defensive line would bring against Brady. The Bucs’ offensive line played really well, and perhaps more importantly, Washington’s weak secondary allowed Brady’s weapons to find all kinds of room all night. That’s something to keep in mind — yes, Brady struggles when the front four get pressure, but only when he can’t hit his hot reads consistently. It takes a front four plus secondary play to shut him down. But we still got the cover because Taylor Heinicke played like a grown ass man and put the team on his back. It’s only been one and a half games, but he’s earned a shot to start next season in my opinion.

NO -10 v. CHI (1 Unit): Win 0.91 Units, NO 21–9

I should have put more units on the Saints. When I wrote up my play it was still early in the week, and I liked them more and more as the week went on. The score says this was a 12 point game, but it wasn’t that close. Trubisky had some live throws early on (a dropped touchdown comes to mind), but that didn’t last long. And in the end, the better team just rolled in the second half. The Saints had 1st and Goal with 3 minutes left, up 21–3, and had a touchdown run overturned on fourth down. Then the Bears drove up the field for a garbage touchdown as time expired. One thing that scares me from backing New Orleans is how Sean Payton insists on using Taysom Hill. In this one, the Saints were up 7–0 and had just earned a first down, and Hill went in to throw a pass and immediately turned the ball over, giving the Bears a short field. Hopefully that result will deter Payton from trying that again when he has a hall of fame quarterback at his disposal so we can continue to ride the surprisingly underrated Saints.

Overall, another fantastic week with some good lessons learned. Let’s keep the hot streak rolling through the playoffs. Divisional Round picks coming soon.



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