Our NFL handicapping professional take an early look at the opening NFL odds for this upcoming weekend’s playoff matchups. He also touches upon some injury issues.
NFL Wild Card Weekend
It’s an exciting time of year with the NFL Playoffs set to begin. I’ll provide an early outlook as it pertains to NFL odds for the upcoming Wild Card games. I’ll also touch upon what I deem to be pertinent injuries that may affect any of the eight participating teams.
Three (Houston, Cincinnati, & Minnesota) of the four home teams this weekend have been installed as an underdog, and the other (Washington) is a mere 1.0 point favorite. Is this unusual? Well I’m glad you asked. Since 1980, home playoff teams have been an underdog just 32 times prior to the upcoming slate. That’s less than one time per playoff season over the last 35 years. Saying the current point spreads for this weekend’s games are an oddity, would qualify as a vast understatement.
Past Playoff ATS History
Playoff home underdogs during the aforementioned time frame have gone 22-12-1 ATS, and have won 20 of those 35 games outright. The Minnesota Vikings will be an extremely rare situation as a sizable 5.5 point home underdog versus Seattle. There were only four playoff home underdogs of 4.0 or more during the last 35 years, and they covered on each of those occasions, in addition to winning three of those contests straight up. Since 1980, home teams in the playoffs have gone 225-106 (.680). So there’s certainly a decisive edge to playing at home during the postseason.
The lone exception in these home underdog scenarios is the Washington Redskins, and that’s a minimal exclusion. Washington opened as a pick against Green Bay, and was quickly moved to a 1.0 point favorite. Since the 1989 playoffs, home teams as an underdog or favorite of 2.5 or less, have gone 13-19 ATS, and are 1-5 SU&ATS since 2011.
For those of you who’ve followed me for awhile, you’re well aware that I very seldom discuss injuries. My logic is quite simple in that regard, injuries are all factored in by the odds makers. However, at the time of this writing (1/4), this weekend’s playoff contests are still five or six days away. It’s very worthwhile to mention the questionable availability of noteworthy players. These are individuals that if ready to go, can affect the line in some way, shape, or form. One thing I’ve learned over the years at playoff time, doubtful is most likely questionable, questionable means probable, and probable can be ascertained as a 99.9% chance of playing.
Pittsburgh Running Back Situation
The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a huge blow earlier this year when they lost star running back Le’Veon Bell to a season ending injury. They did have the luxury of veteran backup running back D’Angelo Williams at their disposal. Williams had vast starting experience in his time with the Carolina Panthers. He’s been nothing short of sensational in filling the void, rushing for 907 yards, and scoring 11 touchdowns. He also had 40 receptions for 367 yards as well. Williams had a more than realistic chance to attain a 1000 yard season in the regular season finale against Cleveland. That is until he was carted off after just 5 carries with an ankle injury. As of this moment, he’s listed as questionable. Between Williams and Bell this season, they amassed 1966 yards of total offense, and scored 17 touchdowns. If Williams can’t go, it will be former Michigan running back Fitzpatrick Toussaint who will make his first ever start in the NFL. Toussaint has a grand total 18 carries this season, and is averaging a less than impressive 2.3 yards per rushing attempt.
Cincinnati starting quarterback Andy Dalton has been upgraded to questionable for Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh. Dalton has been sidelined for the last three regular season games due to a thumb injury on his throwing hand. Prior to that mishap, he was enjoying the finest season of his career, passing for 3250 yards, 25 touchdowns, and tossing only 7 interceptions. On a negative note, Dalton has gone 0-4 in his career playoff starts, throwing for just 1 touchdown, completing only 55% of his pass attempts, and was intercepted 6 times.
If Dalton isn’t ready to play, Cincinnati has faith and trust in backup A.J. McCaroon who’s gone 2-1 in his three starts. McCarron has completed 66% of his passes for 6 touchdowns against only 2 interceptions. The youngster led Alabama to two national titles, and was 39-3 as the starting quarterback in Tuscaloosa.
Other Notable Question Marks
Marshawn Lynch: If “The Beast” can return from abdominal surgery this week, it would be a huge boost for an already red-hot Seattle team. Seattle already lost backup running back Thomas Rawls to a season ending injury. Between Rawls and Lynch they’ve amassed 1403 yards of total offense this season.
Sam Shields: The underrated cornerback of the Green Bay Packers has missed the last four regular season games. The former Miami Hurricanes wide receiver has developed into one of the top corners in the NFL despite his lack of notoriety outside of Wisconsin. This season he’s intercepted 3 passes, recovered a fumble, and has been in on 39 tackles in 12 games. He’s often drawn the assignment of covering the top opposition wide receiver. He’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s game at Washington.