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FOOTBALL KEY RELEASES
REDSKINS AT SEAHAWKS
4:30 PM EST
This is a tough game to handicap, mostly because of the difference in these two teams schedule. If we handicap this game statistically, it would be a no brainer in favor of the Seahawks.
Just take a look at our trustworthy yards per point numbers, for the Skins on the Road, and for the Seahawks at home.
Skins a terrible 18.2 on offense and 14.2 on defense for a -4
Seahawks 13.3 and 22.1 for a +8.8
Edge to Seattle by almost 13 points folks.
But we have to take a look at both teams schedules here. Schedule strength in the NFL isn't the same as College football. The margin between the best and the worst in the NFL is thin. These are, after all, the very best players in the world.
Still, it may apply to this game. The Redskins play a tough NFC East schedule, filled with playoff teams. To start, they get the Cowboys twice, The Giants twice, both playoff teams and even the Eagles twice which is no walk in the park. But it doesn't end there. They also played the Packers, Patriots and Tampa Bay, all playoff teams, and had to win at Minnesota, almost a playoff team just to get here.
When you look at the Seahawks, you don't see anything close to a schedule like the Skins. To start with, they get the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals twice. They also played the Bengals, Bears, Panthers, Falcons and Ravens. They only played two playoff teams all year, a win over Tampa in the first game of the season and a shut out loss at Pittsburgh back in early October.
The Redskins have essentially been playing playoff games for the last month, having to win to get in. The Seahawks have been on cruise control with no real pressure, finishing up against the Panthers, Ravens and Falcons, resting players in the finale. They clinched their division back in the beginning of December!
The Seahawks rate the edge at QB with Hasselbeck, who is playoff and Super Bowl tested while Skins QB Todd Collins hadn't started a game since 1997 before being called to duty a few weeks ago. But, to his credit, Collins has delivered, while both teams have been running the ball effectively.
Our selection here is going to be on the Skins. They have played a very tough schedule, with decent results. With the exception of the Patriots, no one has been able to put this team away. The Skins even went into Green Bay and lost by just a field goal. They play close games. They pound the ball, try to control the clock and keep the opposing offense off the field, while limiting their opponents to less then 20 points per game just about every time they take the field. We'd be very surprised if the Seahawks are able to do what only the Pats have done all year, beat the Skins convincingly.
There is still a +4 or two out there at -115 and we'll look to take all the points we can here.
1* REDSKINS +3.5
PLAYOFF GAMES RATED A LOW OF 1* TO A HIGH OF 7*
JAGUARS AT STEELERS
8 PM EST
We'll tell you from the get go that had Willie Parker not gone down with a season ending injury for the Steelers, we'd more than likely be looking to play the Steelers in this match up with the Jags. It's extremely difficult to beat a quality team like the Steelers in their own building twice in one year and only a few weeks apart to boot. Matter of fact, in their 75 year history, the Steelers have never lost to the same team twice, at home, in the same season. How important is the Parker injury? He was the NFL's leading rusher when he went down against the Rams. Nuff said.
As we have mentioned many times, the margin between the best and worst in the NFL is thin. Just look at Tampa. Worst to first in one year. So, if the difference in general is thin, you can imagine just how thin that margin is when you're talking about two playoff teams that have won 21 games between them this year.
So why would we like the Steelers so much if Parker was here? Again, it's very difficult to beat a good team twice in their own building a few weeks apart. There are some coaches getting paid very, very well, to make adjustments in order to make sure the same thing doesn't happen again. No question they were soundly beaten the first time around against the Jags. But we're still talking about a 10 win team that was 7-1 at home this year.
Both of these teams are built for this kind of game. A playoff game, in cold weather. Pound the ball. Stop the run. Make the other team make mistakes. Win a close game and move on.
You can't ignore the home field in a game like this. This is why you win games all year. So you can get a playoff game at home in January. We have to believe that Pittsburgh will be able to have a little more success stopping the run this time around. You also can't ignore the home team being a dog. Home dogs are 8-2 against the spread in the Wild Card games since 1978. Underdogs in general, getting 1 to 3 points are 20-14 against the number during the same stretch.
You also have to consider some motivational edge as well. Sure, emotional edges in the NFL aren't as easy to come by as in College ball, but they exist. Imagine you play for the Steelers. Here you are, a 10-6 team, 7-1 at home this year, and all anyone can talk about is how the Jags are built to beat the Pats. The Jags are the one team that can upset the Pats in the playoffs. Jags, Pats, Jags, Pats, Jags, Pats. Enough already. I'm sick of hearing about it myself. Can the Jags win a playoff game first? Can we take one game at a time please?
But all the Jag praise is warranted. A game like this will be decided by who can run the ball more effectively and who can hold on to the ball and not turn it over. The Jags doubled up the Steelers in total yards in their first game, 421 to 217. They have a QB in Garrard that has only thrown 3 interceptions all year long.
We like to use yards per point to get a snap shot of a teams performance. You can use this stat in a variety of ways, home, away, last 4 games, season to date and so on. Certainly, if you took this stat season to date, and home and away, you could make a nice case for the Steelers. But perhaps it's best to take a look at the 2nd half of the season for both teams. The last 7 meaningful games each team played, to get a better idea of who might come out on top this week.
For the Jags, in these 7 games, they are 6-1 with their only loss being a 3 point loss to the Colts. They outscored their opponents 33-15 in these 7 games, topping 400 yards of total offense in 5 of the 7 games. They weigh in with an 11.7 yards per point on offense and 17.5 on defense for a total of +5.8.
The Steelers are 4-3 in their last 7 meaningful games. They lost to the Jets, Pats and Jags. They outscored their opponents 21-20 in those 7 games. They gave up 421 yards to both the Jags and Pats and 24+ points in each of their last 3 games. They weigh in with a yards per point number of 14.3 on offense and 14 on defense, making them even, or, 0 for a total yards per point number.
So when looking at the most important snap shot in time, which is now, the last 7 games, we see a decisive edge in favor of the Jags on BOTH sides of the ball against a tougher schedule in general. A football season can be broken up into segments, with no segment being more important than the present.
We really wanted to make a case for the Steelers here. Had Parker been healthy, we would have had a stronger argument. In which case, we may have bought this game up to +3 and taken the Steelers and a field goal.
But the Jags are the better team right now, enough so that, even the terrible towels probably can't save them here. We're not going to get involved with the pointspread here and instead will play the money line, with -140 available at many shops.
3* JAGUARS PK -140
PLAYOFF GAMES RATED A LOW OF 1* TO A HIGH OF 7*
GIANTS AT BUCS
1 PM EST
As much as Eli Manning downplays it, there's no getting away from the fact that this game is a defining moment in his career. There's no guarantees in the NFL that you'll ever get back to the playoffs. Yet Manning has had two cracks at it already, both losses. Getting past the first round will at least at some level, validate his career. He's no Peyton. We understand that. But this game really lies squarely on his shoulders.
The Giants have talent on both sides of the ball. On offense they have a balanced attack. They field the 4th ranked rushing game in the NFL behind 6-4 265 pound monster back Brandon Jacobs. Their passing game can be very good when Manning and company are "on". They will miss Shockey big time in a game like this, but still have Burress, Toomer, Smith and Moss. They also can be a big play team and big plays can be the difference in a game like this. By big plays, we're thinking of a 50 yard jump ball to Plaxico Burress in the End Zone. That threat is always there.
On defense, the Giants led the league in sacks and have the best pass rush in the League. They'll be gambling on defense with their blitz packages against a mobile QB like Jeff Garcia. Garcia has the potential to make big plays when "on the run".
The bottom line is that the Giants have enough big play makers and talent on both sides of the ball to make the difference Saturday in Tampa. The missing piece to the puzzle is which Eli Manning shows up. You can throw out last weeks game against the Patriots as far as we're concerned. There was virtually no pressure on Manning and the Giants last week. All of the pressure was on the Patriots to stay undefeated and break a few records. For the Giants, whether they won or lost, they would be playing Saturday in Tampa. There's a big difference between a QB having a big game with no pressure on him, and a QB having a big game with the season on the line. Thus far in his career, manning has not been able to deliver with the season on the line. Perhaps the 3rd time will be the charm?
It won't be easy. The Bucs are getting it done on defense and have put together a balanced offensive attack of their own. Garcia is a winner. He wins wherever he goes. The big question mark for the Bucs will be whether taking the last two weeks of the season off will leave them a little rusty for this playoff game. By kickoff time Saturday, the Bucs will have gone 3 weeks without a meaningful game, with key players sitting out.
When we break this game down using yards per point, we get the idea that perhaps this should be a Bucs call. The Giants played great football away from home this year. They went 7-1 on the road, including their trip across the pond to England earlier in the year. Their yards per point numbers on the road were 14.9 for the offense and 17.7 for the defense for a +2.8 total number. But if you look strictly at the Giants road numbers, then you have to look strictly at Tampa's home numbers, and they were pretty damn good. The Bucs, at home, on offense had a ypp number of 13.6 while they put up a very good 20.5 number on defense for a total of +7.3. Edge to the Bucs.
Taking it a step further, looking at the last 7 meaningful games, for each team, we have the Giants being outscored 20-22 with ypp numbers of 16.7 on offense and 13.7 on defense for a -3.......not good folks. The Bucs outscored their opponents in their last 7 meaningful games 24-15 and have ypp numbers of 13.6 on offense and 16 on defense for +2.4.......so, a 5.4 point edge for the Bucs before adding in home field. So, with home field, the Bucs would rate a 7 point edge or so here.
So using home and away numbers the Bucs have a 4.5 point edge. Using the last 7 meaningful games, the Bucs have a 7 point edge. Either way you slice it, when laying only -2.5, you'd have to take a close look at the Bucs from a statistical handicapping viewpoint. Throw in the Giants turnover ratio of -8 compared to the Bucs +15 and you have the makings of a very strong case for the Bucs.
Sometimes though, you have to abandon the stats. They don't always tell the whole story. Sometimes, as a handicapper, you have to go with your gut, based on your assessment of the teams not from stats but from having watched them in action many times over the course of a season. As mentioned above, the talent is there for the Giants. If all the pieces of the puzzle come together for one game, if Manning has a good game, if the Giants don't turn it over, if the receivers don't drop passes, if they don't miss tackles and give up big plays, they win this game. The Bucs have some impressive numbers but they also don't play in the NFC East. They get to play the Falcons twice, the Panthers twice, along with teams like the Rams, 49ers, Lions and Cardinals. That's a little different than the Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles twice. with Green Bay, New England and Minnesota thrown in for good luck. In spite of that, the Giants still fished with one more win than the Bucs. Time for all the pieces of the puzzle to come together for one, complete game.........
3* GIANTS +3 -120
1* Giants Money Line +130
1* Giants/Bucs Under 39.5
TITANS AT CHARGERS
4:30 PM EST
We'll try and make this write up short and to the point. We feel the Chargers take this one rather easily. The Titans are up against it here. They are banged up. There's question marks at Quarterback. To their credit, they won 10 games. But this won't be the same team that won those 10 games. The Chargers on the other hand, are back in the play offs where they have been dying to be ever since going down to the Patriots at home last year in a game they had in the bag .
Even of we give the Titans credit for the whole season and forget the current injuries, take a look at these yards per point numbers using the Titans road stats and Chargers home stats.
Titans offense 17.4 (bad) and defense 14.5 (bad) -2.9 total
Chargers offense 11.1 (very, very good) and defense 21.6 (very, very good) +10.5
So, an edge of 13.4 The Chargers way. That's before considering the obvious motivational edges in favor of the Chargers. No wonder the line moved from an opener of -7 all the way up to -10.
Which brings us to the problem of betting this game. You can't lay -10 on a football game that was less than 10 all week. Only a few sharp bettors were able to lay -7, and all the numbers in between 7 and 10 are fairly insignificant in the NFL, but the 10 is key. If you had to bet this game, make sure you get -9.5 or better.
No real opinion on the total here. So, while we see no way San Diego loses this game, we can't lay -10 either. It's too many points to get involved with in a wild card game. So, we'll make the play here a small 1* play.
1* Chargers -9.5
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