Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. After a long season, the playoffs are finally upon us! We finished the regular season with a (6-2-1) record but did suffer a brutal loss during our last article in Week 16. The New York Jets +3 over the Green Bay Packers looked like a foregone conclusion with the Jets leading 35-20 in the fourth quarter, but a combination of boneheaded penalties from New York mixed with a ridiculous performance by Aaron Rodgers forced the game into overtime. Naturally, the Packers received the opening kickoff in extra time, and the rest was history.
If you are going to bet sports, you need to have an extremely short memory. A single bet should never make or break you (assuming you are following proper bankroll management), and these are situations that we need to brush off and quickly forget. When you let a bad beat linger in your mind for too long, that is when you stop accurately accessing lines the way they need to be broken down.
The Wild-Card round of the playoffs features four quality matchups on Saturday and Sunday. Early money has driven the Indianapolis Colts from +2.5 to +1 at most books, with the over/under bouncing back and forth between 47 and 49. I believe the Colts are the right side of this contest and did fancy over 47 when the line first opened up, but this game is going to come down to how the Indianapolis offense decides to attack the Texans defense. If they take an approach of trying to beat Houston with their run game and attempt to set the tempo with running back Marlon Mack, it could turn into a long Saturday for Colts money and over bettors. However, if they let Andrew Luck open up the playbook and come out with an aggressive approach, the Colts and over should both materialize into prosperous wagers.
The Los Angeles Chargers (+2.5) and Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) just missed out on being my main breakdown of the week. Outside of any statistical mismatches being included, the Chargers got the worst luck of the draw of any organization in the playoffs. There 12-4 record would have won any other division in the AFC, but instead, they are forced to travel on the road to take on a robust, hard-hitting Baltimore team. To make matters even worse, the NFL scheduled them as the early game on Sunday morning, which has historically been a massive disadvantage for west coast teams traveling on the road. I am aware that the Chargers have won their last four games that have kicked off at 10:00 PT or earlier and that they are 7-0 this season in games held outside of Los Angeles, but this is an extremely difficult stylistic matchup for the Chargers. Can they win? Of course. But it is going to take a gritty effort. I will be laying the 2.5 points with Baltimore but do hope I am wrong for the sake of my Chargers futures wager that I placed before the season started.
And the Philadelphia Eagles (+5.5) versus the Chicago Bears (-5.5) is our last game that will be played on Sunday. The total currently resides at 41 points, and I think we are in store of a low-scoring affair. Nick Foles leading the Eagles back into the playoffs is why we watch sports, but I can’t help but feel like the magical run is going to come crashing down against the NFL’s best defense. If you exclude Week 17’s performance against the Washington Redskins, Foles has the Eagles grading out 17th in the league in success rate passing during his previous two starts — which includes a Week 16 game against the Houston Texans that rank 22nd in defensive efficiency against the pass. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is a liability for Chicago, no doubt about it, but this probably won’t be the game that he stunts the Bears progression in the playoffs. I look for Chicago to hold Philadelphia in check and most likely cover the 5.5 points while staying under the total.
Seattle Seahawks (+1.5) versus the Dallas Cowboys (-1.5) O/U 43.0
Our bet this week brings us to Arlington, Texas for a repeat of Week 3’s showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys. During the early season confrontation, the Seahawks captured a 24-13 home victory. Russell Wilson led the way for Seattle with a 109.8 passer rating, adding 192 yards through the air, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 61.5 percent completion rate was 4.1 percent lower than his season average, but he was his usual game-managing self during the win.
I don’t want to get too hung up on a Week 3 meeting because both of these teams are completely different than they were to start the season, but there are a few points of emphasis that I would like to make. Seattle rushed for 113 yards as a team, but it did take them 39 carries (2.9 average) to eclipse the 100-yard mark. Most of the team’s success starts with their ground-and-pound mentality, but Dallas featured the fourth most efficient rushing defense in the NFL in 2018, and they were able to slow down a lot of what Seattle was attempting to do.
None of this may have registered on the scoreboard, but that had more to do with Dallas’ horrific passing attack in the game. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished the contest 19-for-34, throwing for 168 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The two interceptions proved costly, but they weren’t the only blunders that the offense had on the day.
While Dallas did bludgeon the Seahawks on the ground, gaining 8.7 yards per carry en route to 166 total yards rushing, Ezekiel Elliott committed a pivotal fumble in the second quarter that stunted a Dallas drive in Seattle territory. Those three crucial turnovers negated the fact that Dallas outgained Seattle in yardage by eight yards (303 to 295) and averaged nearly a full yard more per play.
If we fast forward to the present, there are a few additional alarming signs for the Seahawks. They have been impressive this season on offense, ranking eighth in total offensive efficiency and 12th in success rate rushing the football, but the team is just 24th overall in the league in success rate passing, recording a successful play only 44 percent of the time. The reason for the disparity in efficiency versus success has a lot to do with the explosive plays that Seattle has been able to connect on this season. The Seahawks rank 8th in the league in explosive rushes and 10th in passes. Being dependant on big-plays isn’t necessarily a negative, but the Cowboys rank inside the top-six when it comes to preventing long plays of any kind. Without the ability to convert lengthy runs or passes, Seattle could find themselves in trouble if they fall behind early.
The biggest knock on the Cowboys this year has been their inability to pass the football. Through 16 weeks, they ranked 27th in efficiency through the air and 20th in success rate. However, when you condense the statistics to include only Week 9 through Week 16, which is when the Cowboys acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper, they are 7th in the NFL in passing success rate. The one noteworthy thing to mention is that Cooper has performed better against man-to-man defenses than zone, and Seattle plays zone primarily. It isn’t a deal-breaker by any means since Seattle’s secondary isn’t the “Legion of Boom” that they once were under players such as Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, but it does present an additional caveat to consider.
Russell Wilson shouldn’t be counted out of this by any means, and there are undoubtedly multiple paths to victory in this tough matchup for both units. But I just think that Dallas has a substantial chance to control the tempo if they can limit their turnovers, and Elliott has a huge possibility to feast against a weak Seattle run defense. I don’t love the fact that some considerable Seahawks money has taken this from -2.5 to -1.5, but it has given us a better price, and I do believe we will see some sharp money come back in on Dallas as the game gets closer. With the moneyline currently sitting right around -120, I think that is probably the best way to play this game as of right now.