The NFL regular season has come to a close and the 12 playoff teams and their seedings are known. Now comes the first weekend of the New Year and the four Wild Card matchups.
Due to the New Year’s holiday and the acceleration of our publishing deadline, this column is being written prior to the playing of the final week’s games. As such, none of the Wild Card matchups were known and guidance can be provided only in a generalized and speculative nature with most, but not necessarily the entire schedule.
Things could really have gotten messed up if one of last Sunday’s key matchups ended in an overtime tie. The winner of Dallas and Washington captured the Eastern Division and is seeded fourth, thereby hosting the sixth seed in one of the two Wild Cards this weekend.
Heading into Week 17 five teams remained alive for the final two playoff spots with Minnesota controlling its fate in addition to the winner of Cowboys vs. Redskins. A Vikings win at home over Green Bay would give Minnesota the sixth playoff seed. A Vikings loss would open the path for Chicago to have earned the Wild Card with a win at Detroit.
The New York Giants would have needed several results to make the playoffs. Dallas could not have made the playoffs as a Wild Card but the Redskins could and might have already clinched a playoff spot before last Sunday night’s kickoff. Still, the Redskins had great motivation to win since that would mean hosting a Wild Card game.
There are many more possible scenarios that could have taken place in the NFC in determining the Wild Card matchups. The only certainty was that Atlanta has a first round bye after clinching the top NFC seed in Week 16.
Green Bay was favored to win at Minnesota and, if form held, the Packers would also have a bye and be seeded second. A Vikings upset would have given San Francisco the opportunity for that No. 2 seed if they simply defeated Arizona at home. As nearly 17 point favorites and facing a first time starter at QB, a win by the offensively inept Cardinals would have been the biggest upset of the 2012 season.
The preference in the Wild Cards would be to back the home team in the game hosted by Green Bay, Seattle or San Francisco if favored by 10 points or less against any of their potential opponents. The UNDER would also be attractive if the posted total is no lower than 37, whether the game is in Seattle or San Francisco, and UNDER 41 or higher if the game is played in Green Bay.
San Francisco would be seeking to avenge regular season losses to both the Vikings and Giants, while having earlier routed Chicago. Seattle owns wins at Chicago and Minnesota and was a perfect 7-0 both SU and ATS prior to the regular season finale against St. Louis. Green Bay has a pair or wins over Chicago and, if in this game, would have split a pair against the Vikings. They would also be seeking major revenge if hosting the Giants.
Either Dallas or Washington will host the other Wild Card and, as the No. 4 seed, will likely be facing either the 49ers or the Seahawks, depending on which team finishes second in the West and is seeded fifth.
Dallas’ poor record as home favorites would suggest a play on their opponent, which would be an even more attractive play if the ‘Boys are favored by more than a FG. In the unlikely event Dallas is a home underdog, the play would be on the ‘Boys but only as an underdog. At pick ‘em, the preference would be for the road team. OVER 43 or less would also be attractive.
If form held on Sunday, however, Washington would be the host team and could well be underdogs, especially to the 49ers. A matchup against Seattle would be especially intriguing as the game would feature a pair of rookie quarterbacks. In such a matchup the preference would be to lay 3 points or less with the ‘Skins or take 4 or more with Seattle. In either matchup the UNDER is the better option for the Total, especially if the line is 38 or higher.
Heading into Week 17 all six of the playoff teams were known with Indianapolis locked into the 5 seed and Cincinnati as the 6. Both are on the road for their Wild Card games but the opponents will have been decided. Houston would have earned the top seed and a first round bye with a win at Indianapolis. The Texans were nearly a touchdown favorite. A loss to the Colts and Houston could have fallen to the third seed behind both Denver and New England.
The most likely scenario for Baltimore is a 4 seed hosting Indianapolis. If New England was upset by Miami and Baltimore won at Cincinnati, the Ravens held the tie breaker edge over the Patriots and would be seeded third. That would result in Baltimore hosting the Bengals in a quick rematch of their Week 17 game.
The selection for the Wild Card game involving the Ravens would be to lay up to 8 points with Baltimore, if hosting Indianapolis, but to take 4 or more with the Bengals if we have that quick rematch. The UNDER would also be the preferred Totals play, especially at 40 or more if the Ravens are hosting the Colts, and UNDER 37 or more if Baltimore hosts Cincinnati.
The Colts will be sizeable road underdogs and could be facing Baltimore, Denver or New England. TV would love for it to be Indy at Broncos with ex-Colts QB Peyton Manning looking to eliminate his long time employer. But more likely the Colts will be in New England if the Texans, Broncos and Patriots all won their final regular season games.
In playing the Wild Card game involving the Colts the preference would be taking 10 points or more against Baltimore or taking at least 14 if Indy is in Denver or at New England. As noted above, Baltimore would be playable against the Colts if laying 8 or less, while backing the Broncos or Pats if giving 10 or less.
A game involving the Pats or Broncos would likely be higher scoring than one against the Ravens. Playing OVER 41 or less would be the better totals play if the Colts face the Broncos or Patriots. But if the line is as high as 48 then the UNDER becomes a very attractive play.
By next week the playoff field will have been reduced to just eight teams and the path to Super Bowl XLVII will be clear. The Divisional round is often the most exciting of the four playoff weeks as the winners will advance to the Conference Championship games and be just one step removed from playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Happy New Year to one and all!
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]