NFL Playoff Predictions

NFLplayoffsBy Derek Simon

It’s starting to “get real” (as the kids say) in the NFL playoffs. After last weekend’s Wild Card round, just eight teams remain — and all of them would seem to have a reasonable shot of winning the Super Bowl.

In fact, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, the difference between the top team (Carolina) hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and the bottom team (Green Bay) winning it all is approximately 11 percent.

TEAM (Super Bowl Odds)

Carolina (9/2)
Arizona (5/1)
Kansas City (6/1)
Denver (6/1)
Seattle (7/1)
New England (8/1)
Pittsburgh (12/1)
Green Bay (14/1)

The betting lines at USRacing.com highlight this parity:

AFC

NFC

Super Bowl Odds

So, with the odds in mind, let’s take a look at the Divisional Playoff match-ups on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday (1/16)

KANSAS CITY AT NEW ENGLAND (-5)

The last time these two teams met, the Chiefs won 41-14 and all the Chicken Little’s of the NFL swore that the sky was falling on the New England dynasty. The Patriots promptly won their next seven games in a row en route to their fourth Super Bowl championship.

This year, New England bolted out of the gate with 10 straight victories before sputtering down the stretch and losing the AFC’s top seed to the Denver Broncos. However, notwithstanding some questions regarding Rob Gronkowski’s knee, Bill Belichick’s crew is getting healthy now, while the Chiefs have been hit with the injury bug, particularly on the offensive side of the ball where wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is a game-time decision.

Key Stats:

  • Chiefs are Chiefs are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games overall, but just 1-6 ATS in their last 7 playoff games.
  • Patriots are 36-17-1 ATS in their last 54 games following a loss.
  • Patriots are 0-4-2 ATS against teams with a winning record.

Team to Bet: New England.

GREEN BAY AT ARIZONA (-7 ½)

Early in the season, the Packers looked like bona fide Super Bowl contenders… and then the wheels fell off. Facing increased pressure, Aaron Rodgers looked more and more like Mr. Rogers as the year progressed.

After recording a 115.9 quarterback rating in Green Bay’s first six games (all wins), Rodgers recorded an 81.9 QB rating in the Packers next 10 contests, resulting in a 4-6 record (by way of comparison, Tim Tebow has a 75.3 career quarterback rating).

Arizona, on the other hand, got stellar play from 12-year veteran Carson Palmer in capturing the NFC West with a 13-3 record. After leading the League in QBR, Palmer is deserving of the MVP award, in my opinion… but he probably won’t get it.

That said, the Cardinals have lost a lot of talent on defense in recent weeks and I think they’re vulnerable against Rodgers, who, like Stella, seemed to get his groove back against the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card round.

Key Stats:

  • Packers are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 road playoff games.
  • Cardinals are 15-5-1 ATS in their last 21 games following a ATS loss.
  • Cardinals are 21-9 ATS in their last 30 vs. NFC.
  • Cardinals are 27-12 ATS in their last 39 games following a straight up loss of more than 14 points.

Team to Bet: Green Bay.

Sunday (1/17)

SEATTLE AT CAROLINA (- 2 ½)

First, I have to confess: I’m originally from Seattle and now live in Denver, so I’m not exactly unbiased here. Still, I think this particular game will be a doozy (as the kids don’t say).

Much has been made about Russell Wilson’s spectacular play over the latter half of the season… well, the same can be said for Cam Newton. Despite his team being undefeated, Newton had a quarterback rating of just 81.4 through the first eight games of the year; in games 9-16, however, Newton exploded with a 21-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 116.7 rating. Better still, his completion rate — which has always been a bit of a liability — jumped from 53.6 percent in games 1-8 to 65.6 percent in games 9-16.

Nonetheless, this game is likely to be won on the other side of the ball and the late-season depletion of Carolina’s secondary in comparison to Seattle’s late-season additions (most notably Jeremy Lane), could prove to be pivotal.

Key Stats:

  • Seahawks are 6-1-1 ATS in their last 8 road games vs. a team with a winning home record.
  • Panthers are 9-4 ATS in their last 13 games overall.
  • Over is 8-3 in Seahawks last 11 vs. a team with a winning record.

Team to Bet: Seattle.

PITTSBURGH AT DENVER (-7 ½)

A supposedly healthy Peyton Manning returns for the Denver Broncos, while a banged-up Ben Roethlisberger, minus his star receiver and arguably the NFL’s best, Antonio Brown, takes the field for Pittsburgh.

Given the injury situation, I don’t really have a firm opinion on this one. In year’s past, I would have strongly advocated for the Steelers — 7 ½ points seems like a lot — but this is a different Broncos’ team, one led by its defense instead of its quarterback.

Key Stats:

  • Steelers are 11-3-1 ATS in their last 15 games in January.
  • Pittsburgh is 21-8-1 ATS in its last 30 road games against a team with a winning home record.
  • Broncos are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games following an ATS loss.
  • Denver is 13-6 ATS in its last 19 games after accumulating more than 150 yards rushing in its previous game.

Team to Bet: Pittsburgh.

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.