Did you think that Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year? All of that family bliss, catching up with friends, and an obscene amount of cheese? Well, you’re wrong. The most wonderful time of the year starts now, as it’s the NFL playoffs with a Rollover pool. Time to indulge like you’re offered the best of the vol au vents.
Let’s start with a relatively simple one, shall we?
The Colts and Texans have played each other twice this season in their divisional matches, and are tied 1-1. Both games were won by 3 points, and there’s no reason not to expect another close encounter on Saturday night. The slight edge, though, has to go to the Colts.
Andrew Luck is back and better than ever, leading the Colts to the league’s 6th best passing offense (278.8 YPG). He’ll be facing a Texans D which conversely is the 4th worst, giving up 260.4 YPG.
The Texans also rely on running the ball, either by design or when Deshaun Watson gets a case of the zoomies. However, the Colts have been relatively effective at shutting the run down (101.6 YPG), meaning Watson might have to throw more often than he’d like. And in a gun slinging match, he’s not going to outscore an in form Colts team lead by Andrew Luck.
When the Seahawks played Dallas earlier in the year they resoundingly won 24-13 and I expect them to do it again.
Dallas are a good team; they’ve got the best running back in the league with Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott has evened out into a solid quarterback. Since adding Amari Cooper they’re downright dangerous moving the ball. Thing is, they just don’t score many points.
The Cowboys only average 21.2 PPG compared to the 26.8 PPG of the Seahawks. A few weeks ago, they were completely shut out by the Colts too. In fact, they’ve only won one game by more than a score (a 28-14 victory against the Titans) since the start of November.
The Seahawks have 89 more points over the regular season than the Cowboys, and average a touchdown more per game than their opponents. The specifics of this game weigh towards the Seahawks too, but this ability to simply outscore the Cowboys should be the headline.
This is the worst kind of game to analyse, because since switching to Lamar Jackson as QB, the Ravens have become a totally different beast and rendered a lot of statistics useless. The important one, though, is that since usurping Joe Flacco, Jackson is 6-1 as a starter and one of those wins was over… yup, you guessed it, the LA Chargers.
In that game, the Ravens came out on top 22-10, and I can see a similar result on the cards again on Sunday. Put simply, the Ravens are heating up as the Chargers are cooling down.
Put more complex, Philip Rivers has forgotten how to quarterback. In his last three games he’s thrown 2 interceptions a time, with quarterback ratings of 51.7 and 60.4 in his last two. He’ll be helped by the returns of Melvin Gordon and Hunter Henry, but the wheels are coming off the Charger bus.
The Ravens have the best defence in the league (292.9 YPG) and an out of sorts Chargers offense will struggle against them. Expect a two score win.
This is the trickiest of the lot. On paper, the Bears are just better: their 12-4 record is superior, they score more points per game (26.3 compared to 22.9), and their defense (lead by our lord and saviour, Khalil Mack) is keeping opponents to under 300 yards per game. Add into this their +12 turnover margin (the Eagles are on a shocking -6) driven by the fact that the Bears have 17 more interceptions than the Eagles, and you see the point.
Then there’s this fun thing in sports betting: the intangibles. In this case, the intangible is a nice young chap called Nick Foles.
Big [insert actual nickname here] Nick has returned to replace the injured Carson Wentz and turned the Eagles around. Since leading the team to an upset victory over the LA Rams – the same fixture he stepped in for Wentz last year, too – the team look like the Super Bowl champions again. He is the emotional heart of that locker room, and he has galvanised an injury hit and underperforming squad.
The Bears are tangibly the better team, but the Eagles have that aura of a fairytale around them.