Wild Card Saturday – Jan. 4th, 2013
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The Chiefs head to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Colts in the first game of the Wild Card Round. These two teams met just two weeks ago at Arrowhead Stadium, a game that Kansas City was dismantled by Indianapolis, 23-7. Both of these teams finished with identical 11-5 records, though the Chiefs did rest their starters last week and narrowly lost to the Chargers, 27-24.
Even if Kansas City loses tomorrow, it would be tough to call their season a failure as just one season ago they finished with the NFL’s worst record at 2-14. Their backups almost ended up beating the Chargers starters to get into the postseason in Week 17, but their last “real” game was the beating they took at the hands of the Colts.
Offensively, the Chiefs have been strong all-season using their ball-control run first style of play. Jamaal Charles has been the focal point, but quarterback Alex Smith has quietly had an excellent year. Before his turnover ridden performance against the Colts several weeks ago, he had thrown seven touchdowns the previous two weeks and no interceptions. As a whole, Kansas City has been excellent on the road, going 6-1 this season.
They have a few key injuries to watch on the offensive side of the ball. Tackle Branden Albert is expected to play, but right guard Eric Fisher is questionable and it looks as of now like he may not play. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has been cleared to play Sunday after missing several weeks with a concussion, as well.
The Chiefs’ defense has been fading fast in recent weeks and is nowhere near the unit that was ranked no. 1 for much of the year. Injuries have been an issue, but strength of schedule and tougher opponents are likely the true reason. Regardless, as they head into the playoffs, this side of the ball has to be Andy Reid’s biggest worry.
Like their offense, there have been some injury woes for the defense, as well. Linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali have been injured for several weeks now and are expected to return. Houston is more a certainty to return while Hali is questionable and has not practiced, but Reid has said he expects him to play. Both will be significant upgrades to a defense that needs the help.
The Colts finished the season with a dominant win against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, winning 30-10. Andrew Luck threw for 283 yards and a touchdown and running back Donald Brown rushed for a TD and the much maligned Trent Richardson added another.
Indianapolis has ridden their passing game for much of the season, and we would be surprised if that changes this week. T.Y. Hilton was targeted heavily last week and should have success again against Kansas City. The running game has been hit-or-miss with Donald Brown getting the Lions’ share of the carries. The matchup against KC’s front, especially with Justin Houston back, will be a tough one.
Defensively, the Colts have been much better through the air than on the ground. They have one of the better secondaries in the league but have given up 100 or more yards in four out of their last five games. This does not bode well for the unit as they head towards a matchup with Jamaal Charles this Sunday. Their top cornerback, Vontae Davis did play last week but is questionable for Saturday’s contest with a groin injury.
Action is relatively even in this contest, but current bets are coming in more on the Colts. The line moved from a Colts -2.5 opening number to -2. However, some books do have the game at Indy -1.5, so it trending towards Colts’ backers. The total has not moved much off the opening number of 46. Most sportsbooks have the game at 46 or 46.5.
Let me start off by saying this is not one of my favorite games to bet this weekend. While the Colts demolished the Chiefs just two weeks ago, that was without Justin Houston who stands to make a sizeable impact on Sunday. These two teams are remarkably closely matched, but I have to give Kansas City the edge.
If there was ever a team built perfectly for postseason football, it is the Chiefs. Their ball control offense and strong run game will be relied upon heavily this week. I think Andy Reid dials back the downfield passing attack he opened up after their bye week, and goes with what gave him an undefeated record throughout the first half of the year.
As long the defense gets back into order, which it should with Houston’s return, this could be a long day for Luck and the Chiefs. Kansas City’s cornerbacks are large and should limit T.Y. Hilton’s effectiveness, and with no true second option, Luck could be in trouble if they get down early.
Andy Reid should have an excellent gameplan ready and is the better coach when compared to Colts’ head coach Chuck Pagano. This one will be close, but I think Kansas City gets the job done and move on to the Divisional Round.
Pick: Chiefs +2. Bet now at www.betonline.ag
Despite the better record, the Eagles will host the Saints this Sunday due to their NFC East Divisional win which they locked up last week. New Orleans fought hard to win the NFC South, but were overtaken by Carolina in the final weeks of the season.
The Saints finished the season at 11-5 after a 42-17 win against Tampa Bay last week to finish off their season. However, their struggles on the road as of late are not something we can ignore. They scored about 13 fewer points on the road versus at home and have lost their last three games away from the Super Dome.
Still, they have Drew Brees, a former-Super Bowl winner and MVP, so their ability to score is always there. Tight end Jimmy Graham will be a matchup nightmare for an Eagles defense that allowed Jason Witten to grab 13 receptions for 135 yards. Few teams can stop New Orleans’ offense, and the Eagles will not likely be one of them.
The most improved aspect of New Orleans’ this season has actually been their defense. Overall, they are a top ten unit and have been especially strong against the pass. Their run defense has been shaky all season and has been prone to blowups. All-purpose Eagles’ tailback LeSean McCoy has a mouth-watering matchup in this one.
Other than a crucial injury to running back Pierre Thomas, the Saints best running back this season, they are relatively untouched with the injury bug. Thomas is questionable to play and has not practiced all week. Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram will see more snaps if Thomas cannot go.
Philadelphia won a winner-take-all affair in the NFC East last Sunday night at Dallas to get themselves into the playoffs with a 10-6 record. The Eagles won the game 24-22, which did the job to get them into the playoffs, but they struggled most of the evening against a terrible Dallas defense.
Nick Foles did throw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, but receivers DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper failed to get open on the perimeter and much of the game was left up LeSean McCoy on the ground. Dallas defense was the worst in the league this season, so this is a little bit concerning heading into this matchup.
The Eagles defense could be in for a rough night on Saturday. They gave up nearly 290 yards per game during the regular season through the air which was last in the NFL. They don’t have much of a pass rush, and it looks like safety Earl Wolff will be out this week, forcing Patrick Chung into a starting role.
The spread opened at Eagles -2.5 and has not moved off that number at any major books. The total opened at 55, the highest total of the weekend and has since moved down to 54 and 53.5. Weather may be a factor as it will be cold in Philly this Sunday. However, it looks as if the snowstorm will miss the game and hit Friday night. Though, it is a situation worth monitoring up to game time.
While I could go into this game from a point spread perspective, I do not feel that there is much value in the line. These two teams are closely matched, and I think this game could easily come down to a field goal either way. Though, I do love the total. I feel 54 is much too high for two teams that have shown to be offensive powerhouses, but depending on the situation can put up some clunkers.
The Eagles struggles against Dallas last week are not just a blimp on the radar for my handicapping analysis. They truly seemed to struggle scoring the ball, and there is no easier defense in the league than the Cowboys. New Orleans has a much better defense, especially in the secondary. I would not be shocked to see the Eagles struggling to move the ball in this matchup. This is a massive stage for Foles, and I am not sure he is ready.
Likewise for New Orleans, they are clearly a different team on the road and without their dome. Cold weather is another factor against them in this one. They are scoring just 17 points on the road this season and will likely be without their starting running back, as well.
I think this total is ridiculously high. The Under 54 is by far my favorite play on Wild Card Weekend.
Pick: Under 54 – Place your bets now at www.betonline.ag