Wow! It was indeed a wild Wild Card weekend. The scoring started with a 106-yard kickoff return in the weekend’s first game in which Kansas City shut out Houston 30-0, and ended in a game in which the first score of the game was a safety by the team that ultimately lost the game as Green Bay eliminated Washington.
In between were a pair of games with as wild a pair of finishes as has ever been seen in NFL history.
And the final exclamation point on the weekend was that all four road teams advanced into the Divisional round of the Playoffs for the first time since the NFL Playoffs format was expanded a quarter century ago!
Kansas City’s win was its eleventh in a row since a 1-5 start and the Chiefs were efficient on offense and dominant on defense, forcing five Houston turnovers and limiting the Texans to 226 net yards, 3.7 yards per play. Knile Davis returned the game’s opening kickoff 106 yards for the game’s only touchdown until Chiefs, up 13-0, scored again with just under 5 minutes in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh’s win resulted from taking advantage of an opportunity after the Steelers had blown a 15-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Trailing 16-15 and time running out, the Steelers appeared on the verge of elimination when a pair of personal fouls on the Cincinnati defense gave Pittsburgh 30 free yards of real estate that enabled K Chris Boswell to kick the game winning 35-yard field goal.
On Sunday Seattle and Minnesota played in what was the third coldest game in NFL history as temperatures were in the single digits below zero for most of the game. It appeared the Vikings would win 10-9 as reliable K Blair Walsh set up for a short 27-yard FG. But the kick was shanked and the Seahawks advanced to the Divisional round.
The final game of the weekend saw Washington get out to an 11-0 lead over Green Bay. But the Packers started to participate in the second quarter, taking a 17-11 halftime lead en route to a strong second half and a 35-18 win.
Despite playing on the road the four experienced quarterbacks – Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers – displayed the savvy their inexperienced quarterbacks – Brain Hoyer, A J McCarron, Teddy Bridgewater and Kirk Cousins – did not.
All four quarterbacks and their teams will again be on the road this week for the Divisional round of the Playoffs when the top seeds in each Conference see their first playoff action following byes this past week.
Unlike last weekend, when three of the four road teams were favored in their games, all of last week’s winners will be road underdogs this week. The Green Bay at Washington game was pretty much a pick ‘em with each team able to be found at plus one and minus one at some point in the days leading up to the game.
Here’s a preview of the four Divisional round games.
Kansas City Chiefs +5 at New England Patriots (44): The Patriots have the more potent passing offense but KC has been significantly better at running the football, averaging 49 more yards per game (128) than the Pats. The line is around 5, which is a pretty neutral number that almost suggests the books are taking a “wait and see” approach. There is statistical support for the Chiefs that is offset by “football support” for the Pats. The public is likely to back the Pats and the pros are more inclined to back the Chiefs. Ultimately this game may come down to big plays and New England has the more proven big play ability. The Pats will be well prepared and although a blowout win is not forecast, a solid win is. NEW ENGLAND/UNDER.
Green Bay Packers +7 at Arizona Cardinals (50): Green Bay’s defense improved by 71 yards per game over the second half of the season and was much better at avoiding turnovers, ranking fourth in fewest turnovers lost. Arizona was just average in that category, averaging about a half turnover more lost per game. But Green Bay’s performance over the second half of the season gives reason to doubt if last week’s performance can be repeated. My initial inclination before last week’s games was to fade the Packers in this rematch. But that was with an expectation the line would be less than a TD. But at 7 or more the Packers are attractive given their Playoffs experience and Arizona’s slim margins this season against quality foes, notwithstanding that one of those foes was Green Bay and the Cards won 38-8. GREEN BAY/OVER.
Seattle Seahawks +3 at Carolina Panthers (44): This may be the most attractive matchup we will see throughout the Playoffs as two of the NFL’s best defenses meet for a second time this season. The line for this game opened at pick ‘em at some offshore books and with Carolina a 1.5 favorite at most Nevada books. By Monday morning the Panthers were pretty much a solid 3 point favorite and that generally means the game should close right at that number with some give and take on the attached vig.
There is much to like about both teams. Along with Arizona these are the three best teams in football with all due respect to defending champion New England. Carolina continues to play the disrespect card very well. But now they are the favored team, expected to win. Seattle gets to relish in the underdog role. The only result that would really surprise in this game would be a blowout win by either side. SEATTLE/UNDER.
Pittsburgh Steelers +7 at Denver Broncos (40.5): This game is off the boards at many Las Vegas books due to the injuries suffered by QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown in the victory over Cincinnati. Brown still must pass the league’s concussion protocol before being cleared to play while Big Ben is expected to play but likely at less than 100 percent. As both players’ status becomes clearer we should see some movement in the line although both were listed as “probable” on Monday.
Denver has named veteran Peyton Manning its starting QB after Manning missed much of the second half of the season with injuries. Many sharp handicappers and bettors felt throughout the second half of the season that in a wide open AFC Pittsburgh had a very good shot at making it to the Super Bowl, knowing they would almost certainly have to do so as a Wild Card and likely have to knock off both the number one and number two seeds along the way. The Pittsburgh defense has matured throughout the season and has been able to make big plays when needed. PITTSBURGH/UNDER.
Playoff record: 5-3.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]