I cannot tell you how frustrating this weekend was.
By my calculations, I put in about ten hours a week of research and writing. That means for the season I have put somewhere in the ballpark of 180 hours into understanding and predicting the NFL. That breaks down to seven and a half straight days or 10,800 minutes of work, depending whether you want to get bigger or smaller.
And all of that led to an 0-4 weekend, an empty bank account, and dozens of texts either mocking me or pitying me. I went on a podcast and blasted these picks out, I wrote and article cementing these picks as the best, I put my hard earned money on the line, and I even picked these in my family picks contest. The four misses also happen to bring my Best Bets for the season below .500.
All, everything, down the drain.
So this was a depressing weekend, but the weekend is over, and today I feel enlightened to a few truths in the gambling world that I honestly believe are as valuable as all of that (not really but I need something to hold onto).
Therefore, today’s recap is going to revolve around the most singular truth to come out of this sh*tstorm: playoff football is not as much about trends as about moments.
Now, I am partly stealing this from Robert Mays from the Ringer NFL Show, but also from our work earlier in the season with the What Didn’t Happen recaps. The difference, and the shift I didn’t make, is that in the playoffs there is no accounting for a moment gone awry. There is no way to leverage that into a better prediction the following week. All there is after a blown moment is the realization that gambling on the playoffs is about considering which team can win those one, two, three moments in a game.
So, without further ado, here is the Wildcard Weekend recap that looks at what moments swung the games and how we could have seen these moments coming. This isn’t an apology tour, this isn’t trying to rewrite history, but rather this is trying to identify moments in the past to better predict them in the future. Along with each game, I’ll include a title to let you know how I view the pick now that the result is set in stone.
BUF @ HOU - The game I think was correctly predicted and we were unlucky to lose
The moment(s): 1) Josh Allen takes a huge sack 2) The Bills can’t run for a first down in OT
How we could have seen this coming: Deshaun Watson is better than Josh Allen (right now).
Of all the losses in all these games, this one stings the most.
Now, in my rationalization of how this weekend could have gone so terribly wrong, I do want to note that every game was a one score game, two of the games went to overtime, and one of the games had the starting QB of my pick leave less than 20 minutes in.
Still, with all of the closeness, this is the game that broke my heart because it was the only game in which the team that should have won lost.
Buffalo dominated this game, had a better game plan, and was the team I believed in more than the consensus. So how did they lose?
Essentially, this game came down to the fact that both QBs can make amazing plays, but only one can avoid making terrible plays.
Josh Allen is still in my heart, and I see him becoming far more than public perception does. He is athletic, durable, tough, and has a cannon for an arm. Those attributes aren’t going anywhere. If he manages to cut out the plays in which he hurts his team, he will be the perfect quarterback to pair with a tough running game and ferocious defense in cold Buffalo home games.
In this instance, though, he was playing in a warm dome in Houston, and he was involved in multiple plays that cost his team, although not all his fault.
See, in this matchup, Allen threw a forty yard bomb to his sub six foot fullback as well as threw a blind lateral on a twenty yard run, yet still his worst play was the sack he took with Buffalo down three.
The Bills were in field goal range to tie the game, yet Allen saw a blitzer coming twice in a row and failed to throw the ball away to preserve the field position. Granted the Bills were able to get the ball back and tie the game, but Allen cost his team the chance to tie it earlier and potentially get the ball back for the win in regulation. Juxtapose this with Deshaun Watson’s miraculous sack escape and completion in OT and the two moments defined the QBs successes in this game.
But that Watson play would never have happened were it not for the Bills series on their first (and only) possession of overtime. This sequence started with Allen taking off on a designed run to the right. As he got around the edge, he had two blockers in front of him and one defender with a chance to tackle him in the next ten yards. If that defender is picked up, Allen makes it to at least the first down marker inside the forty and the Bills are in business.
Instead, both blockers whiff and Allen is rocked after a minimal gain. His next pass is off the mark and it’s fair to wonder if his “bell was rung” (which is code for - he may have suffered a traumatic brain injury that is common place in a sport where players are treated as disposable objects - see Carson Wentz).
On third down and nine, then, the Bills managed to get the ball to the 37, enough to try a long field goal for the win or potentially even go for the first if they didn’t like their kicking chances. Instead, though, the refs called a blindside block on a play where their lineman blocked someone in the front of their body (where one’s eyes are located, straining the definition of blindside). The penalty pushed the Bills back, they missed on an attempted screen and the Texans got the ball back and won the game.
I can accept that a lot of this weekend was my fault, but if I had to pick it over again 100 times, I would not change this pick. The Texans offense was just Watson running around, the Bills defense was lights out, and Josh Allen needed just one more play to win.
This was a tough one to swallow, but I know that next year I will be firmly captaining the Josh Allen hype train. Whether we can keep that train on the tracks is something we’ll have to revisit in September.
TEN @ NE - The game that I should have known better
The moment(s): 1) The Patriots get stuffed at the 1-yard line 2) Julian Edelman drops a pass
How we could have seen this coming: The Patriots have no weapons
As the title for this game says, this was my worst pick.
It may not have been crazy to favor the Patriots to win this game, but it was reckless to pick them to win by more than four points considering they consistently struggle to get to twenty.
The thesis behind the pick was that Tennessee would not be able to pass on New England and that if the Patriots could just limit Derrick Henry, then they should win the game with ease. They allowed 14 points (and although the Titans ended with 20, we are going to move forward ignoring the meaningless pick 6 in the final thirty seconds) so that thinking was correct, despite the fact Henry ran all over them.
What I was blind to, however, is the fact that the Patriots were a team without an offensive identity, and that matters.
The first place where this cost us was when the Patriots lined up on first and goal from the one and ended up kicking a field goal from the four. Bill Barnwell has a great piece on this, but essentially a season of injured offensive linemen, the departing of Gronk, and disappointing Sony Michel play conspired to result in a situation where the Patriots had nowhere to turn in a moment like this. Predicting them to win by five or more in this game was foolish considering I didn’t have faith in them to score from the one as it was happening.
But that did not end the Patriots hope. After going one of three on touchdowns in the red zone, the Patriots defense managed to limit the Titans and the offense got the ball back with just over four minutes left, only needing a field goal to win or a touchdown to cover.
Foolishly, I liked their chances.
Which didn’t seem foolish at first. A screen and some short routes got the ball close to midfield and gave the impression they were rolling. All that came crashing down, however, when Julian Edelman dropped a would be first down on second and eight on a ball that he might never have dropped before in his career.
To say this was unlucky, though, is to miss the point. Edelman and Mohammed Sanu, the Pats’ 1 and 2 receivers, have both been severely injured and underperformed for the last month. N’Keal Harry has been disappointing and Phillip Dorsett is nearing the end of his time as an effective receiver.
In a moment where the Patriots needed plays, they didn’t have healthy or competent receivers, and this was entirely predictable.
I think the burying of the Patriots’ dynasty is slightly premature. I see Brady coming back next year, the offensive line and fullback positions returning to health, the addition of speed and playmaking on the offensive side of the ball, and the retention of at least part of this defense.
In this game, though, none of those pieces were fully there and that should have made the result obvious.
It makes me sad that it happened, but it makes me angry that I didn’t see it coming.
MIN @ NO - The game that no one predicted
The moment(s): 1) Drew Brees throws a terrible interception 2) The Vikings win the coin toss
How we could have seen this coming: Style of play matters and the Saints are cursed
How do I explain this one?
In my earlier article, I predicted the Saints would blow the doors off the Vikings here.
My reasoning was sound. The Saints were lighting the world on fire for the past month while the Vikings had beaten one playoff team all season (the Eagles), were coming off a loss in a game that could have won their division and given them a home field game if not a bye, and were seemingly injured all over.
What I missed, however, was the matchups that the Vikings needed to win were tilted in their favor. Namely, their defensive line came to play and they hassled Drew Brees into playing perhaps his worst game of the year - not dissimilar to what the Falcons did against him earlier in the year.
The moment that encapsulates this is when Brees threw an ill-advised pass under pressure as the first quarter came to a close, that gave the Vikings the ball back and allowed them to take the lead 13-10.
The genesis of this play, the pressure forcing Brees into mistakes, carried on the rest of the game and allowed the Vikings to overcome terrible fourth quarter play calling to send the game to overtime (along with a little help from Sean Payton’s clock management).
That lead to the second moment that changed the game - the Vikings winning the coin toss.
As I stated earlier, losing all four bets when two were overtime games and one was a one point game until thirty second left, is hard to swallow.
In this case, my bet was lost as soon as it went to OT (barring the almost impossible Saints win the toss, get a FG, and then score a defensive TD) but a Saints win would have still felt better.
Instead, they lost the toss, got knifed through by Kirk Cousins (of whom I have trumpeted as underrated but still thought wouldn’t come through here), and went home.
This bet was one I felt supremely confident in, but now I see was too good to be true. The playoffs aren’t about the sixteen games before, they are about the sixty (plus) minutes on this day.
Given that so many moments are decided by individual and team play, it was naive to think the Vikings couldn’t win enough of those moments to keep it close.
Considering this over the upcoming weeks can be a way we can honor the Saints memory while winning back some of the money we lost this week.
SEA @ PHI - The game that was defined by injuries that I ignored
The moment(s): 1) The Eagles injury report comes out 2) They lose Carson Wentz
How we could have seen this coming: The Eagles #1 receiver was Greg Ward
After Tennessee New England, this is the game that I am most angry with myself for picking.
With a ton of research, it seemed obvious to me that the Eagles were the team that was built for the playoffs. They were playing at home, had a better defense, a better point differential, and were hotter coming into the playoffs.
The Seahawks were 2-3 since beating the Eagles in Week 12, and had been outscored by 22 points in that span. They had limped into the playoffs while the Eagles had won their last four (against poor competition but still) to earn a playoff spot.
But with all of that being true, the Eagles were also the team that had more consequential pieces injured. They were missing their best receivers, one of their best offensive linemen, and some key pieces on the defense. They were also playing with a banged up TE1, RB1, and left tackle.
So, with that knowledge, it is not surprising that when Carson Wentz went down with a concussion (on a play that would have gotten Jadaveon Clowney ejected from a college game, but in this game drew not even a flag) the Eagles didn’t have the pieces to make it work.
It would be easy to write off this game as unpredictable because the Eagles lost their starting QB, but the fact is that if both teams were playing with backups, the Seahawks would have had a healthier and more complete roster than the Eagles.
As of now, injuries are the NFL component that we at OEF have had the hardest time quantifying. I have plans to create and injury tracker as well as find a way to quantify pieces missing from the puzzle (ie how valuable a certain player is over their backup), but for now it needs to be done by sight and mind rather than computer.
With that in mind, this missed pick falls on my shoulders as I should have seen the holes created by missing pieces rather than the strength of the Eagles data.
Another lesson to remember as we head into a Divisional round that could make or break my bank account, my sanity, my engagement, and quite possibly this site.
We’ll be back later in the week with picks from WORMS and myself to try to save all four.