We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. The AFC Wild Card round gives us both options for our NFL picks – the hard way, of course, is with the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jason’s record after Week 17: 40-52-1 ATS, 19-28-1 Totals
Which do you choose, the hard or soft option? You get your choice this week with the AFC Wild Card games. The hard game to pick is Saturday night’s matchup (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC) between those jolly AFC North rivals, the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The easy game is Sunday afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS) between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Indianapolis Colts. We’ll help you with both games, degree of difficulty be damned.
In theory, this game should be easy to handicap. The Ravens (10-6 SU, 7-8-1 ATS) always seem to have all the things that sharp bettors prefer when they make their football picks: regional market, superior defense, game-manager quarterback, yadda yadda. But the Steelers (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS) have gone 9-7 SU and 9-5-2 ATS against Baltimore in the Joe Flacco-John Harbaugh Era, regular season and playoffs.
We typically see small spreads between these two equally-matched teams, and Saturday’s NFL odds are no different. The Steelers have opened as 3-point home favorites at –120 juice, which suggests an even contest on neutral ground. Our consensus numbers show a virtual 50-50 split in early action, so not much help there. The two teams also split their two regular-season games SU and ATS, home and away, with a combined score of 49-49.
Again, in a vacuum, it would be easy enough to pick the Ravens. They’ve played strong enough defense to earn a plus-4.6 SRS at Pro Football Reference, while the Steelers D has been disappointing enough to leave them at plus-2.2 SRS. Football Outsiders also had Baltimore ahead in terms of efficiency going into Week 17.
We’re going to have to go with the Steelers, though. They’ve won their last four games SU and ATS, while Baltimore is on a three-game ATS losing streak. Pittsburgh is also 6-3 SU and 4-3-2 ATS against the Ravens at the Mustard Bowl dating back to 2008. That includes playoff games at the end of the 2008 and 2010 campaigns. Home is where the money is in this matchup. We’ll recommend the favorite-OVER parlay while we’re at it; the OVER is getting unanimous consensus as we go to press on the total of 47 points, despite the possibility of snow in the forecast.
Free NFL Pick: Take the Steelers -3 and the OVER at 5Dimes
Easy Like Sunday Morning
Now we get to hit the easy button. As we’ve already documented elsewhere, the Colts (11-5 SU, 10-5-1 ATS) are pulling in 60-pecent consensus as 4-point favorites over the Bengals (10-5-1 SU, 8-7-1 ATS). The sharps are getting in early on this one before the Indy-loving public comes in and inflates the football odds this weekend. We have little reason to be contrary.
Okay, in theory, we have lots of reasons. The Bengals are the more efficient team, they’ve got less of a national following, they’ve got the stronger defense – all the earmarks of a sharp NFL pick. But Cincinnati has lost three straight Wild Card games SU and ATS since Andy Dalton took over as quarterback. Worse, the Bengals are 0-5 SU and ATS in the Wild Card round with Marvin Lewis as their head coach. Carson Palmer was the quarterback in those other two losses.
For more recent results, we can look at Week 7 of the regular season, when the Colts beat the Bengals 27-0 as 3-point home faves. Wideout A.J. Green (69 catches, six TDs) didn’t play for Cincinnati that day, but he’s not in good shape to play this Sunday either, after getting his bell rung in Week 17. Dial us up for another favorite-OVER combo on the total of 49.
Free NFL Pick: Take the Colts -4 and the OVER at BetOnline