Nik’s Picks: NFL Super Wild-Card Sunday 2020

It’s NFL playoffs time. With no Canadian football to watch in 2020 my eyeballs crossed over the border to the American game, which had its most unique regular season in history. Betting yesterday I went 4-2 for +2.48u, a nice start. Onto Sunday’s games!

Baltimore (-3.5) @ Tennessee

The Ravens are the not-so-popular dark horse pick to go on a deep run and for good reason. Lamar Jackson is playing as good as ever, his offence possesses a multi-dimensional running attack that can strike in several ways, and Don Martindale’s defence has talent like few others.

I’m sold on the Ravens too, and understand why they’re road favourites. My eyes tell me that lines up. There’s just one issue, my numbers say this is a pick’em which means the Titans at +3.5 have a ton of value. Tennessee enters with just as good of offence, one that’s if anything more balanced, but with huge defensive flaws.

Why Baltimore:

The Ravens’ running attack is the best in the NFL. They dial up a whole playbook of power and bash runs, and when they field weapons like Lamar Jackson and J.K. Dobbins — good luck defending Baltimore’s ground game. Then of course there’s the Ravens first half point differential. It ranked second in the NFL and led to an asinine 13-3 ATS record that every gambler should be aware of. Baltimore’s also a top-10 possession team whereas Tennessee is fourth-worst. Parlay that with the Titans’ 30th ranked red zone defence and second-worst team field goal conversion rate and an easy Baltimore dub should result.

Why Tennessee:

Well Derrick Henry, for starters. Only eight players have rushed for 2,000 yards in an NFL season and Mr. Henry is the latest. He spearheads the Titans’ second-ranked ground game meaning we got the two best running teams squaring off Sunday. The Titans other not-so-secret weapon is Ryan Tannehill, who ranked fourth in total QBR and fifth in EPA this season. It helps he’s got A.J. Brown and Corey Davis to throw to. Tennessee had the worst third-down defence in the NFL, a situation that likely determines the winner of this game.

Baltimore 27 Tennessee 28

Chicago at New Orleans (-10.5)

Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are active Sunday, which has to be the driving factor toward the Saints’ climbing spread number. The Bears have been playing sound football down the stretch, and look, no one’s touching Green Bay right now so don’t put too much stock into the Bears’ Week 17 showing. Problem is, Drew Brees and the Saints are a force right now.

New Orleans is the fourth-ranked playoff team according to my numbers, and that’s even with a 29th ranked red zone defence. Chicago’s got their own problems, but I full-heartedly believe they have the most talent on defence in the NFL. The Bears just need Mitchell Trubisky to play like a second-overall draft pick.

Why Chicago:

Defence! The Bears’ defence may not scream elite, but they still rank in the top half of most key statistical categories including a top-five red zone defence. They’re strong on special teams, with Cairo Santos finishing seventh in field goal percentage and Cordarrelle Patterson as the first team All-Pro kick returner. Chicago’s receivers also had the second fewest drops, so it’s a matter of Trubisky getting them the ball. These are things New Orleans doesn’t do well either, weaknesses one might say. The Saints have the third-worst red zone defence, finished 18th in field goal percentage, and 24th in dropped passes.

Why New Orleans:

The Saints do a long of crucial things right. New Orleans finished in the top 10 of the following categories: early down success rate, first half point differential, yards per pass attempt, yards per rush, and time of possession. In past years it would’ve gave the Saints a bye, but they have to suit up for Wild-Card Sunday in 2020–21. That shouldn’t be a problem for a 12-4 team. Sean Payton’s club is usually in control, which is an issue for a Bears team that’s 16th in time of possession and 20th in passes completed plus rushing attempts.

Chicago 20 New Orleans 28

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-6.5)

Let me preface this with it mostly having to do with key defensive injuries, but I’ve been skeptical of Pittsburgh all season. I swear it wasn’t intentional that of the 14 playoff teams, the Steelers only ranked above Washington. It only reassured what I’ve been seeing, which makes for great upset potential.

Now this doesn’t factor in the Browns’ COVID-19 outbreak headlined by head coach Kevin Stefanski, but before the news my numbers had Cleveland as a three-point favourite. That’s not a typo, and yes that’s easily the largest discrepancy between the actual spread of any game.

Why Cleveland:

The Browns operate under two mantras: run the ball and play efficient. Cleveland’s fielding the NFL’s fifth-best rushing attack and Baker Mayfield finished with the ninth-best total QBR. Now to the more important stuff: what Pittsburgh does poorly that the Browns are not bad at. For starters, early down success rate. Pittsburgh finished 28th, Cleveland 12th. Then yards per rush and wide receivers drops. Pittsburgh was dead last in both areas, Cleveland 5th and 13th respectively. The Steelers were also 25th in yards per pass attempt behind Ben Roethlisberger and his 22nd rated total QBR.

Why Pittsburgh:

The first defier is twelve wins, because 12-4 seasons don’t grow on trees. The second is defence. It’s well-documented that Pittsburgh has an elite defence even without Devin Bush, Bud Dupree, and now Joe Haden. T.J. Watt’s my personal choice for defensive player of the year, but only in a world where Aaron Donald doesn’t exist. Pittsburgh sat atop the NFL in sacks, and finished sixth in red zone defence. The Steelers also have a major advantage in field goal kicking, which becomes an even more crucial aspect come January. Oh, and their head coach doesn’t have COVID-19.

Cleveland 24 Pittsburgh 21

Bet of the day
CLE +7 -119

Personal plays
TEN +3.5 -120 1u
J.K. Dobbins over 61.5 rushing yards -120 1u
Corey Davis over 58.5 receiving yards -120 1u
BAL-TEN over 47.5, CLE +14 -122 1u
Jared Cook anytime TD +200 .5u
CLE +7 -119 1.5u
CLE ML +235 .5u
James Conner under 47.5 rushing yards -114 1u

Playoffs: 4-2 +2.48u
Year to date: +5.95u

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