After airing it all out in Monday’s article, it feel it’s time to get back to a more light-hearted and positive view here.
So let me tell you a story from my night after the Patriots lost.
For some reason that is unclear to me, but the Night Owl would say is random events clustering, I have a lot of people in my life with early January birthdays.
After attending a birthday party Friday night, I watched football with a friend for his birthday during the day on Saturday and then was scheduled to meet up with my fiancé and a group of friends to go to karaoke for a third birthday.
As I’ve stated before, I have been a Patriots fan my whole life and have an allegiance to the team that is pushing unhealthy. Thus, when they lost on Saturday night, I was not in a good mood as I headed over to karaoke.
Arriving there, though, I was struck by something profound and obvious. These people didn’t care at all. They were of course apologetic to me that something I was invested in didn’t work out, but their lives were perfectly the same as they would have been had the Patriots blown out the Titans. The words “Derrick Henry breaks a tackle” inspired no fear in them.
You might be sitting there in disbelief that this was something that needed to be shown to me, but the reality is that sometimes we can lose ourselves in the detail of work, projects, relationships, etc. and only when we are forced outside of our bubble do we truly understand the meaning of everything we have been working on.
I am incredibly proud of our site here, but also I recognize that the success of this is not the end all be all of everything.
As OEF superfan Robert pointed out, the site is meant to be grounded in entertainment and information, not in living and dying by the success of picks. As the Night Owl suggested, not every week is going to be a winning one and since every team has somewhere between 0-100% chance of winning, we have to be prepared to just get unlucky or be wrong.
So that night at karaoke, I pulled up all the Big Sean songs in their catalogue and sang (more rapped in monotone, rhythm-less speaking) my way out of my bubble and into the real world.
And perhaps the highlight of the evening was singing a duet to “Sweet Caroline” with someone who has a successful career, a growing family, many responsibilities, but who said he reads the site. He didn’t read it to make millions, he read it because he liked reading it. My losing week was not a deterrent to him, but rather fodder for future entertainment.
When picking this weekend’s games, then, we are not going to try to thread the needle perfectly and we are not going for machine-like precision based on overwhelming data and information. Rather we are going to try to have some fun and I am going to share with you what I think will happen.
Because after all, no matter what happens in these games, the karaoke bar will still be open next week, and Big Sean will still be there waiting for me.
Here are the Owl Eats Football WORMS picks for the Divisional Round:
MIN @ SF
Vegas: SF -6.5 WORMS: SF -14.7 WORMS PICK: SF -6.5 Owl’s Pick: SF -6.5
This is the easiest game in my mind, so let’s not go too deep, but rather run through the factors as quickly as possible.
San Francisco was devastatingly consistent this year on their way to the top seed.
Minnesota was uneven on their way to the sixth seed.
San Francisco had a week off and got healthier than they have been in months.
Minnesota played a draining overtime game on the road in New Orleans.
San Francisco is at home where they were 6-2.
Minnesota is on the road where they were 4-4 (5-4 if you count New Orleans).
San Francisco’s last six games: 4-2. Opponent’s record: 67-29 / 5 winning teams / 4 playoff teams.
Minnesota’s last six games: 3-3. Opponent’s record: 53-42-1 / 3 winning teams / 3 playoff teams.
In that span, common opponents were New Orleans, Green Bay, and Seattle.
San Francisco was W-W-W
Minnesota was W-L-L
So, all in all this is a matchup between a team that has been consistently playing and beating tough competition while Minnesota is a team that has been stumbling and bumbling its way to the playoffs.
New Orleans was an impressive game for the Vikings, but it is also important to note that they could have lost that game a few different times and a few different ways – most notably if Drew Brees had played competently or if New Orleans had won the overtime toss.
But the deeper we get into the playoffs, the less we should worry about past performance and the more we should worry about matchup, so here it goes.
Kirk Cousins enjoyed success Sunday because he was unpressured and had time to make decisions. The Niners get back several key pieces on a defense that generated pressure at one of the highest rates in the league. The Vikings defense enjoyed success when the Saints dropped back and passed in traditional ways, but were burned with play action, motion, and Tayson Hill. No one is more exotic on offense in the NFC than the Niners.
In the end, I believe in San Francisco as a complete and devastating force. I believe in the Vikings as a competent team capable of an upset.
Just not here.
TEN @ BAL
Vegas: BAL -9.5 WORMS: BAL -8.6 WORMS PICK: TEN +9.5 Owl’s Pick: TEN +9.5
Once again, the hardest part in this part of the season is writing a well-reasoned and data supported prediction about a single game that could go a million different ways depending on each bounce of the ball.
So in this case, let’s focus on what is most likely and most unlikely in a matchup of perhaps the two hottest teams in the NFL entering the playoffs.
Tennessee is going to be really hard to blow out.
The Titans haven’t lost a game by double-digits since November 3rd, and before that it was the 16-0 loss to the Broncos that gave us Ryan Tannehill. This is a team designed to win or keep it close.
On top of that, this game will be one that features a lot of running. Like a ridiculous amount of running. Like before the forward pass was invented type of running.
Baltimore had the most rushing attempts in the league with 596 during the regular season. Second in the league was San Francisco with 498. So, yeah, Baltimore runs a lot.
Meanwhile Tennessee finished tenth, but if you factor in their playoff game against the Patriots, averaged the seventh most per game. Over their last three weeks, they’re second in rushing attempts per game. A larger reason for this is that their offense is rolling, which means that they have more chances to run it and are in the lead more often.
Perhaps most impressive is that while Baltimore is a predictable first in rushing yards during the regular season, Tennessee was third despite being tenth in carries.
So with two of the most run heavy teams in the league facing off, there is a good chance that this game has a rolling clock and is shorter than let’s say KC Houston will be. The less time there is, the less likely a blow out.
But even with that aside, I also think Tennessee has an offense that can create opportunity here.
Baltimore blitzes at the highest rate in the league, which means they trust their defenders to make plays against the skill positions of the other team. Enter slants to AJ Brown and screen to Derrick Henry, two players who can make a team regret manning up very quickly.
And all of this is before we even mention that Mark Andrews and Mark Ingram are banged up and haven’t practiced fully in a couple of weeks.
I really like Baltimore to win this game (and the next and the next), but I find it hard to believe that this will be a double-digit win given the matchups and the styles of play.
Expect a lot of running, but don’t expect either team to run away with this one... (thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week).
HOU @ KC
Vegas: KC -10 WORMS: KC -10.4 WORMS PICK: KC -10 Owl’s Pick: HOU +10
These Sunday games are defined by two teams making it this far who, in my opinion, are overachieving what they should be able to do.
In Houston’s case, they were outplayed by Buffalo, their coach showed little aptitude for making game winning decisions (i.e. multiple punts in opponent territory at home against a good defense), and they have missed key players throughout the year.
But with all that said, at a certain point it is necessary to accept that statistics, data, and logic all have limitations that fall short of those possessed by certain people. Deshaun Watson’s limitations are few and far between and it is time to recognize that.
Another thing to recognize is that Will Fuller is the second most valuable Texan.
In games where he plays, this offense hums and is a legitimate top five offense. When he doesn’t, teams double DeAndre Hopkins, ignore Kenny Stills, and blitz Watson.
So that fact the Fuller is on track to get back in this game is noteworthy because it means that Houston will be back to scoring points again. Which is something they’ll need to do if they intend to keep up with Mahomes in this one.
Usually, betting a large spread is most advisable in a low scoring game. If the winning team only has 17 points, it is much easier to cover a ten point spread. If they have 40, you can score 28 and still not cover.
But as I have been trumpeting all along in this article, we need to move away from history and look at present matchups. While Kansas City is certainly a shoe in to score in bunches, they have struggled against the run and will be facing a world class QB with his full compliment of receivers.
It scares me that this game is in KC, it scares me that the Chiefs have had rest, and is scares me that Bill O’Brien still coaches the Texans. But as much as all that scares me, it’s scarier to bet against Deshaun Watson in a game where the point should be flying.
So the predictions are: KC to win, Houston to cover, and my heart to explode.
SEA @ GB
Vegas: GB -4 WORMS: GB -3.2 WORMS PICK: SEA +4 Owl’s Pick: GB -4
And what the heck are we supposed to do with this game?
As a reminder, this is the matchup that brought us the Fail Mary, the Brandon Bostik game, and countless other unpredictable and zany results.
On the podcast I appear on, we talked through this game and decided that all of this history and they way these two teams play (almost 20 one score games this season) mean that taking the Seahawks and the points is the wise thing to do. If these teams always end up in razor thin contests, either one getting four is a benefit.
But we’re not here to play it safe.
So I’m taking Green Bay (where you at Mike?!).
And this is not without reason. Seattle is terrible at covering tight ends and running backs in the passing game, giving Aaron Rodgers more weapons than he typically has. Green Bay has the better defense, is rested, and is at home.
I spent approximately an hour pouring over stats for the game, but what I have determined is that these are two teams beyond quantifyability. They have both laid eggs and have both beaten great teams. They have won and lost defensive battles and shoot outs. They have had weaknesses become strengths and strengths become weaknesses.
In actuality this game will come down to a handful of plays that are ultimately coin flips. A field goal difference might be the most likely outcome, but I smell something different here.
I smell the Seahawks coming apart, I smell the Packers executing, I smell people feeling silly for discounting a 13-3 Green Bay team, I smell people looking back and realizing the Seahawks were overachieving just to be here.
Perhaps my sense of smell is off, but like we said at the beginning of this article, we aren’t trying to thread the needle here, we’re trying to grip it and rip it.
Packers by double figures. You’re welcome Mike, just have that Big Sean ready if it goes another way.