NFL Wild Card Sunday Preview

(#5 AFC)Baltimore Ravens at (#4 AFC)Tennessee Titans (+3, 54.5)

Breakdown: The Ravens are one of the hottest teams in the league, having won their last five in a row, but it hasn’t been against the best of competition. Even though they lost to the Titans back in Week 10, the oddsmakers clearly think things will be different this time around. Over Tennessee’s last five games they’re 3-2 with serious beatdowns handed out to them by Cleveland and Green Bay, and a razor-thin escape against the Texans in Week 17. Heat Check Edge: Ravens

These two teams are very evenly matched offensively. Both are in the Bottom-10 in the league in passing yards, but they are 1st(BAL) & 2nd(TEN) in rushing, 4th(TEN) & 7th(BAL) in scoring, and 4th(BAL) & 5th(TEN) in 3rd down conversions, but the Titans have an edge in red zone TD%. Even their drive averages line up fairly close. Offensive Edge: Push  

I know Derrick Henry ran all over the Ravens last time they squared off, but they do have a marked statistical advantage on defense. Baltimore is Top-10 against the run and the pass while Tennessee doesn’t rank higher than 19th on either and has the 4th worst pass defense in football. The Titans’ 24th ranked scoring defense also gives up nearly 10-points more per game than the Ravens’ 2nd ranked unit. Baltimore is also the #2 3rd down defense in the league while Tennessee is last in that category and it’s basically the same situation when it comes to driving averages against. Defensive Edge: Ravens

Neither team has anybody out due to injury although the Ravens have a lot of questionables, so let’s call it a draw. Health Edge: Push

Since returning from the Covid list Lamar Jackson has been playing his best football of the season for the Ravens, resembling the dynamic-threat MVP we all saw in 2019. King Henry never slowed down, winning the triple crown (attempts, yards, TDs) again, breaking the 2,000-yd mark, and having the best season of his career in what may be his MVP season. He even put 133-yds and a score on the Ravens in their last meeting. However, since Henry is only going to threaten with the ground game, I have to give this one to Lamar. X-Factor Edge: Ravens

Baltimore is looking to get revenge for last year’s playoffs and return the favor of upsetting the higher seed at home. The Ravens are 5-3 on the road but the Titans are also 5-3 at home. This should be a great game between two similar and evenly matched teams. 

Pick: Ravens

ATS: Ravens -3

Over/Under: Over 54.5

(#7 NFC)Chicago Bears at (#2 NFC)New Orleans Saints (-10, 47.5)

Breakdown: Of all the playoff games, this one looks to be the most one-sided. Chicago wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if not for Arizona choking hard in Week 17, but I’ll give them credit for pulling out of that nosedive they were in during the middle part of the season. New Orleans survived Drew Brees’ injury late in the season and even went 6-2 down the stretch with him and Michael Thomas missing some games. Let’s not forget the Saints went into Chicago and won without Thomas during the season too. Heat Check Edge and Strength of Schedule: Saints

No disrespect to the Bears but the Saints are better on both sides of the ball, especially on offense. New Orleans has the edge in every offensive category that matters (scoring, yards, efficiency) and they hold the edge in all those categories defensively as well. Offensive and Defensive Edge: Saints

New Orleans will be without the services of offensive lineman Nick Easton and defensive end Trey Hendrickson but Chicago will be missing WR Darnell Mooney, CB Buster Skrine, and LB Roquan Smith. This is the kind of game you want to be shorthanded for if you’re the Bears. Health Edge: Saints

Alvin Kamara is coming off the best year of his career, accounting for over 1600 all-purpose yards and scoring 21-TDs. Considering how much NO leaned on him when times were tough, there’s an argument to be made for him as the league’s MVP. Mitch Trubisky is going to be the X-Factor guy for the Bears as his resurgence has led Chicago to the postseason…if their defense can give him a chance to win it. X-Factor Edge: Saints

There’s no world in which I see the Bears pulling this game off, but the spread is pretty big for a playoff game as we saw between Washington and Tampa Bay on Saturday night. 

Pick: Saints

ATS: Bears +10

Over/Under: Over 47.5

(#6 AFC)Cleveland Browns at (#3 AFC)Pittsburgh Steelers (-6, 47.5)

Breakdown: As the Browns celebrated their first playoff appearance in 18 years, they had a Covid outbreak at the worst possible time. Their coach, Kevin Stefanski, has done a great job this year (possibly Coach of the Year), but tested positive and has been isolated from the team at the most crucial time in their season. He won’t be there to see the fruits of his labor on Sunday in Pittsburgh and Cleveland will also be without starting corners Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson, O-lineman Joel Bitonio, and receiver KhaDarell Hodge. Getting promising young TE Harrison Bryant back along with linebackers Malcolm Smith and Montrel Meander seems little more than a consolation. Pittsburgh won’t be missing anyone. Health Edge: Steelers

Cleveland finished the years on a solid note, even with the loss to the Jets that nearly cost them their playoff lives and they even beat Pittsburgh in Week 17. Keep in mind, the Steelers were resting a number of key starters. The Browns went 6-2 over their last eight while PIT went 4-4, including a 3-game losing streak. Cleveland is the hotter team but the Steelers resume. Heat Check Edge: Browns, Strength of Schedule Edge: Steelers

If I’m being honest, neither of these teams has a good offense, but it’ll be a fair contest in that regard. Pittsburgh has a modest edge in passing offense but the Browns have a huge advantage on the ground, where the Browns rank 3rd and Steelers rank dead last. They are about the same in terms of scoring offense and close in both 3rd down and scoring-drive averages, but Cleveland has a 10% edge in red-zone TDs efficiency. Offensive Edge: Browns

While these teams are almost identical in terms of run defense, the Steelers have a distinct defensive advantage everywhere else. They are 3rd best overall, far better against the pass, lead the league in sacks, 2nd in turnovers, give up about a TD less per game, and they’re better on 3rd down and in the red-zone. Defense is Mike Tomlin’s thing. Defensive Edge: Steelers

The Steelers’ run game has been non-existent this season and, during their struggles, Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t played well. Pittsburgh also leads the league in drops which hasn’t helped. If they are going to win this game, they are going to have to make the catches they are supposed to but Big Ben is going to have to put the ball on the money too. Baker Mayfield hasn’t shown only moderate improvement in my eyes, but he has been more responsible with the football and cut down on the costly interceptions. The offense is moving better thanks to their two-headed running game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, which helps take the pressure off. Even if he and the offense play well, they’ll be going against one of the best defenses in the league. If the Steelers’ playmakers get going, they will be tough to deal with for Cleveland’s short-handed secondary. X-Factor Edge: Steelers

As a Bills fan, I know the struggle the Browns have faced over the last two decades. I’m happy for that organization and its fans. I want them to beat the Steelers, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. 

Pick: Steelers

ATS: Steelers -6

Over/Under: Under 47.5

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