Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Thursday, January 12, 2017 at 12:52 PM
Smart NFL handicapping is comprehensive. Statistical data is a big part of it, but so are things like personnel matchups and that’s information that can best be gleaned from a studious breakdown of game tape. What follows are some things to take into consideration for each game of this weekend’s NFL Divisional Playoffs.
Seahawks (+5, 49.5) Falcons (Saturday, 4:35 PM ET, Fox): Seattle’s offensive tackles, Gary Gilliam and George Fant are frankly about as bad as it gets in the NFL. On Saturday, these two have to block Atlanta’s Vic Beasley and Dwight Freeney. The latter might not be the player he once was in Indianapolis, but Beasley has a case to make for Defensive Player of the Year the way he comes off the edge.
That the Beasley/Freeney duo should dominate Gilliam and Fant isn’t so much the question, as how bad will the domination be? It might not translate into sacks, given how mobile Russell Wilson is, but if Seattle can’t find any offensive rhythm or ever get the ball down the field, it’s going to be a long day. Can they find enough time for Wilson to at least get an ATS cover, with the line having risen a point from an opener of (+4)?
Texans (+16, 49) Patriots (Saturday, 8:15 PM ET, CBS): The battle between Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and New England corner Malcolm Butler is the showcase personnel battle for personnel junkies. If you assume this one ends in a wash, that makes the corresponding battle between Will Fuller and Eric Rowe that much more important. It’s the Texans best chance to move the football.
When New England has the ball, covering this big of a number means someone has to step up and help Tom Brady with big plays. With Rob Gronkowski out, that job has lately fallen to Chris Hogan. Can he win his battles with A.J. Bouye, one of the top corners in the league?
Steelers (+1, 44.5) Chiefs (Sunday, 1 PM ET, NBC): The market reaction to this game has been interesting. Oddsmakers clearly believe the Steelers are the better team on a neutral surface, with a spread of only (+1) in Arrowhead. Yet the line opened at a pick’em and the early money has shown for Kansas City.
The personnel matchups here are less about specifics and more about what NFL bettors value most. Pittsburgh has the superior top-level talent, with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, William Gay and James Harrison. Kansas City only has Eric Berry and Travis Kelce as game-changers, but the Chiefs also have more consistent depth through their starting lineup. Will this about stars or balance?
Packers (+4, 52.5) Cowboys (Sunday 4:40 PM ET, Fox): I’m as excited as anyone to see if Aaron Rodgers can keep his amazing hot streak going, especially with Jordy Nelson now out. And to see how Dak Prescott responds to playoff pressure or how Ezekiel Elliot and the great Dallas offensive line try and control tempo. But it could be a less heralded matchup that decides the ATS and perhaps outright winner in this one.
Dallas’ soft underbelly all year has been the interior of the defensive line. Green Bay has gotten production in spurts from big fullback Aaron Ripkowski. If the Packers get anywhere from 6-8 good carries from Ripkowski, it’s a big X-factor in a close game.
These are just a handful of the issues to be looked at. To find where I ultimately come down, sign up for my NFL Playoff Package—you’ll get this weekend’s games, Championship Sunday, the Super Bowl and bonus basketball during the week.