After putting up four winning picks last week, Mike Carlson returns to look at this weekend's Divisional games and expects the favourites to progress - and Philadelphia...
"This one depends on how efficient you think Nick Foles can be. I came insanely close to picking the Eagles straight up, and still feel like I should have. Getting three points gives you a shield though."
The worst thing about the playoffs is the idea that having only four games means possibly searching harder for a bet that actually seems really good to you, and even worse, over-thinking those games you are examining.
In a 16-game weekend, you tend to go with your gut feeling; this week I have flip-flopped internally on Atlanta at Philly -- considering all sorts of factors that might mitigate my sense that the Eagles are not going to be able to put up enough points with Nick Foles at quarterback.
Yes, it is a quarterbacks' league, but how much weight can you give one player when you're making such an effort to undercut every thing else about the opposition?
Last week I went 2-2 straight up. My best bet failed to cover by a point and a half. But my other four suggestions all came through. None of them were easy choices, which may be why I over-thought the straight up picks, who knows.
One thing I do know is that divisional weekend is the biggest home-team advantage in American sports: the home teams, which are higher seeded because they have better records, have had a bye week to rest and prepare, and of course enjoy the spirit-lifting, referee - intimidating advantage of the home crowd, win 75% of these games.
It doesn't always work out 3-1; last year they were 2-2; in 2015 they were 4-0, but it averages out. So the crucial thing is to pick the one road team right. And this year we have an interesting phenomenon: a number one seed (Eagles) who are home dogs (to Atlanta), the first since the new playoff format began.
Divisional Playoff Picks
When these teams met in week five it went 30-9 for the Jags, but that's not why I'm looking under. That one was 9-7 Pittsburgh at the half, and Jacksonville's points came from two pick-sixes and a late 90 yard run by Leonard Fournette.
I don't expect the Jags to intercept Ben Roethlisberger five times again, but they are one of the two best defensive teams in the league, and the best against the pass, so I think they will be able to contain the Steelers' pass game, even though Antonio Brown (who caught 10/157 but no scores in that loss) is back and apparently fully fit.
The other reason for liking the under is the total failure of the Jags' offense in the past few weeks, including last week when they could manage only ten points at home against the Bills (whom they held to three).
And I was amazed that their sole TD, a pass to tight end Ben Koyack on fourth and goal, was not overturned: not that I would have overturned it, but that seems to be the specialty of the NFL reviewer in New York.
The Pats covered 16.5 in week 17 against the Jets, and loathe though I am to back double digit favourites, at home New England are surprisingly efficient at covering.
The Titans could give them trouble, but they are not a quick-strike, high-scoring team, and once the Pats establish a lead, they could well wind up turning balls over if they try to chase that lead.
The Pats also don't take their feet off the pedal, even with a 40-year-old quarterback, so something like a 28-10 scoreline seems reasonable to me. In which case you might also consider the under 48 at 10/11 on the Betfair Sportsbook which may be an even better choice than my best bet.
Again, this one depends on how efficient you think Nick Foles can be. I came insanely close to picking the Eagles straight up, and still feel like I should have. Getting three points gives you a shield though. The Falcons may be getting the benefit of recency bias, but when you look at that win over the Rams, they were helped mightily by two muffed punts early and by the officials letting them play, shall we say very aggressively, against the Ram receivers and against Aaron Donald.
Losing Michael Brockers hurt the Rams as well. The Eagles' defense is very good; the Rams' looked good the past few weeks, just as they did last year on their path to the Super Bowl. But the Falcon offense may have been over-valued somewhat in that Rams game. I've picked the Vikings straight up against the Saints, but New Orleans +5 at 10/11 might tempt you.