The NFL playoffs, at long last, are here.
Four weeks of the preseason and 17 weeks of the regular season are behind us, and now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty, starting with four NFL wild-card playoff games this weekend.
NESN.com’s trio of Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian are all moving on to the playoffs (whether they deserve it or not) to make picks all the way through Super Bowl LI.
Here’s how they fared in Week 17 and for the entire regular season.
Mike Cole: 8-8 (120-127-8): He’s sadly OK with finishing the regular season eight games under .500.
Ricky Doyle: 10-6 (127-120-8): Consistent all season, Ricky got especially hot down the stretch to earn the No. 1 seed, so to speak.
Andre Khatchaturian: 6-10 (114-133-8): He dropped like an anchor in the final two weeks (11-21) to finish the regular season in the basement.
And here are their picks, with lines courtesy of OddsShark, or watch the weekly picks video show, “The Spread,” above.
Oakland Raiders at (-3.5) Houston Texans, Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET
Mike: Texans. The Texans have allowed more than 21 points just twice since Oct. 24 and one of those instances came last week in a game against the Titans that Houston didn’t need. At home, they’re even stingier, allowing 16.25 points per game all season. Connor Cook actually moved the ball pretty well for Oakland against the Broncos last week in relief, but that appearance was totally unexpected. This week, the Texans have a half of game tape and a week to prepare for the rookie third-string QB.
Andre: Raiders. Oakland still can win without Derek Carr because it forces turnovers. The Raiders had a plus-16 turnover differential (tied-first) and 30 takeaways (second) this season. With Brock Osweiler playing quarterback for Houston, expect the Raiders to force turnovers and get good field position for Cook, who didn’t stink against a tough Broncos defense last week. Finally, Cook will have time to throw in this game. Houston’s pass rush has not been effective without J.J. Watt. The Texans defense has a 5.6 sack percentage this season compared to 7.5 percent last season.
Ricky: Texans. Of course, there’s always an outside chance Cook — an unknown quantity — lights the world on fire. But in this instance, I’ll go with what I know: For all of the Texans’ flaws, including their own at quarterback, their defense has been good. Houston, which had the NFL’s best D in terms of yards allowed this season, finished tied for sixth in opponent yards per play (5.1). The Texans allowed just 4 yards per play over their final three games, which was the league’s best mark in that stretch by a wide margin (the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys tied for second with 4.6 opponent yards per play). I just can’t see how the Raiders move the football and score points.
Detroit Lions at (-8) Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Mike: Lions. Seattle will find a way to win this football game because postseason experience and home-field advantage are on its side. Covering the spread, however, will be a different story. Detroit shouldn’t be intimidated by going up to Seattle. The Lions, you might recall, went to Seattle last year (on a big primetime stage, mind you) and lost by only three points — with a controversial ending.
Andre: Lions. Five of the Lions’ seven losses this season were decided by seven points or less. I think the Seahawks win, but the Lions will keep this one close and I wouldn’t be surprised if they win. Seattle gives up plenty of air yards, allowing 7.8 yards per pass attempt. Unlike Oakland, though, Seattle doesn’t make up for it by forcing turnovers (19 takeaways, 22nd). If Matthew Stafford plays mistake-free football, which he’s been able to do against teams with strong pass rushes (10 TD, 4 INT, 61.2 completion percentage vs. teams with 40-plus sacks this season), Detroit should be able to move the ball. Finally, which Russell Wilson shows up? The guy who beat New England on the road or the man who stunk against the Eagles at home?
Ricky: Seahawks. It just feels like the Lions — much like Andre over the last few weeks of our picks column — have run out of gas. Detroit lost three straight to close out the regular season, and those defeats coincided, perhaps not so coincidentally, with Stafford battling a finger injury that forced him to wear a glove. Now, the Lions, who have only one playoff win since 1957, must travel across the country with a banged-up quarterback and injury questions along their offensive line to play outdoors (Detroit went 0-3 in outdoor games this season) against the Seahawks, who have won their last nine home playoff games (5-0 under Pete Carroll). Smells like a blowout.
Miami Dolphins at (-10) Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Mike: Steelers. I was going to take the Dolphins in this game, in part because of what Miami did on the ground earlier this season vs. Pittsburgh. Then I remembered the Dolphins had center Mike Pouncey in that game. In the five games he played this season, the Dolphins averaged more than 154 yards per game. In the 11 games he missed, Miami averaged just 95.6 yards per game on the ground. I’d feel better if the spread was, say, 9.5, but I’ll take my chances with the team that has the three best players on the field.
Andre: Steelers. The Steelers have been winning despite Ben Roethlisberger, who has nine touchdowns and six interceptions in his last six games. It’s their defense that has come alive. They have 25 sacks in the last seven games (most in that span) and have allowed 4.7 yards per play (fewest in that span). Miami also has allowed 4.8 rushing yards per carry this season (most in the league). Good luck going up against Le’Veon Bell, who has 1,091 total yards and seven touchdowns in the last six games.
Ricky: Steelers. Only the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers allowed more rushing yards in the regular season than the Dolphins. Those teams, as you might recall, finished with a combined 3-29 record. The ‘Fins obviously aren’t that bad, otherwise they’d be golfing this Sunday, but those struggles against the ground game comprise a recipe for disaster against Bell and the Steelers, especially when you consider Miami also could have a hard time slowing down Pittsburgh’s passing attack due to its hobbled secondary.
New York Giants at (-4.5) Green Bay Packers, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET
Mike: Giants. First, the fact that that the Giants have won two playoff games at Lambeau in Eli Manning’s career has just about nothing to do with this game. That being said, it’s a potentially tough matchup for the Packers, who are one of the NFL’s hottest teams right now. Not only is the Giants’ defense one of the best in the NFL and capable of slowing down Green Bay, New York’s offense could give a depleted Packers secondary some problems. I mean, the Packers promoted rookie Herb Waters from the practice squad; he played receiver in college. I’m not betting against Aaron Rodgers to win, but at the very least, the Giants keep it close.
Andre: Packers. It will be 11 degrees at Lambeau Field. Manning has only played in two career games when it was below 20 and he has a touchdown and three picks in those games. Rodgers, on the other hand, has a 62 percent completion percentage, six touchdowns and three picks in five regular season games below 20 degrees. Although the Packers defense gives up plenty of yards, they force turnovers (10 interceptions in the last six games, most in the NFL) and they pressure the quarterback (40 sacks this season, sixth). That, along with the cold weather, will be enough to subdue the Giants offense.
Ricky: Giants. This is a tough draw for the Packers to open the playoffs. In fact, it could end up being the biggest hurdle standing between them and Super LI. Green Bay’s secondary is decimated and now Dom Capers’ defense is tasked with slowing down a talented receiving trio in Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard. It’s so hard to pick against Rodgers at this point, but he’ll need to be otherworldly against a Giants defense that is capable of taking away Green Bay’s rushing attack. That’s a lot to ask, especially if you’re giving me points on top of it.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images