If you aren’t sure which side to bet in Sunday’s postseason matchups, thankfully we’ve enlisted the help of expert NFL bloggers to debate why their favorite team covers the spread in the Wild Card Round.
Rob Davies of Seattle blog Field Gulls stands toe-to-toe with Arif Hasan of Minnesota blog The Daily Norseman, and Jason B. Hirschhorn of Green Bay blog Acme Packing Company trades blows with Bryan Frantz of Washington blog Hogs Haven.
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings (+5, 39.5)
WHY THE SEAHAWKS COVER
Rob Davies writes for Field Gulls. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @FieldGulls.
Old news, but Seattle’s defense
Perhaps the worst kept secret on this Wild Card Weekend is that Seattle will force Teddy Bridgewater to win it for Minnesota through the air. The Seahawks will key in on Adrian Peterson, something they did with aplomb in Week 13.
While it’s likely he’ll accumulate more than 18 yards on eight carries, it looks inevitable that Bridgewater will have to play his most accomplished game of the season and all this against a defense that’s just finished as the stingiest unit in points per game allowed for the fourth consecutive year.
Since 2012, Seattle has learnt how to win in the playoffs – and often – and that began happening as a young team. Minnesota’s that same young team now, but one that lacks the talent the Seahawks were building and that’s an honest appraisal.
Granted, a lot of Seattle’s playoff wins have come at home, but it’s the unparalleled feel of true knockout football that the Seahawks aren’t scared of and that’s something Minnesota will have to overcome on Sunday, against the hottest quarterback in the NFL on the hottest team in the NFL right now.
Seattle’s form on the road
Yes, the weather promises to do the Seahawks no favours on Sunday, but it’s nigh on impossible not to look at Seattle’s last three road games, where they’ve won by an aggregate score of 109-19. That is frightening for any team to face, even one enjoying some particular home comforts this week.
The Seahawks have been fearless away from CenturyLink Field since Week 13 – not just beating teams but executing magnificently and simply destroying them, two of which had winning records and who are also both now in the playoffs.
WHY THE VIKINGS WILL COVER
Arif Hasan writes for the Daily Norseman. You can follow him on Twitter @ArifHasanNFL and read his most recent work on Teddy Bridgewater’s numbers here.
Unsurprisingly, the Vikings are far better in cold weather games than Seattle is, at least relative to their talent-levels. In below-freezing games, the Carroll/Wilson Seahawks are 6-5 SU and 4-7 ATS. The Zimmer/Bridgewater Vikings are 7-2 SU and 6-3 ATS.
Seattle doesn’t perform well when traveling east for early games, either. In early games, the Seahawks are 8-8 SU and 7-8-1 ATS, while the Vikings are 14-8 SU and 16-6 ATS. The game is scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m. ET, when the temperature is projected to be 1 degree Fahrenheit.
Return to health
The Seahawks and Vikings are both returning a number of players for the playoffs, but it’s more substantial for Minnesota. Seattle is returning Kam Chancellor, Marshawn Lynch, Russell Okung, J.R. Sweezy, Luke Willson, Jeremy Lane and Jordan Hill. That’s very good, but Okung and Sweezy have struggled recently and so has Lynch.
The Vikings are projected to return Linval Joseph and will have Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr back, both of whom missed the majority of the last Seattle matchup. The Vikings’ defensive DVOA ranks 11th in the NFL with all three PFF All-Pros on the field and 23rd otherwise. Seattle has not seen the same changes, even with Kam Chancellor (from third with him to seventh without).
Rough analytics agree
Most simple models won’t take the above injuries into account, but they still think the Vikings cover. Pro Football Reference’s adjusted margin of victory argues the Seahawks only have 2.5 points on the Vikings on the road, while NumberFire gives Minnesota one point ATS. Football Outsiders’ DVOA favors Minnesota ATS by 1.5 points and 538’s ELO agrees.
While public and crude models aren’t great against Las Vegas, the fact that all of them agree that Minnesota should cover is soft evidence that sportsbooks think people will be overconfident based on one game rather than data from the whole season. If nothing else, Seattle is 8-7-1 ATS and Minnesota is 13-3 (Seattle is 4-3-1 ATS on the road, Minnesota is 6-2 ATS at home).
Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins (+1, 45.5)
WHY GREEN BAY WILL COVER
Jason B. Hirschhorn is an NFL writer for Sports on Earth. He also covers the league for SB Nation and the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow him on Twitter @by_JBH.
While Washington has played well over the latter half of the regular season, it remains one of the more untested teams in the playoff field. Contrast that with the Packers, who have qualified for the postseason for the past seven seasons, the longest streak in the NFC. Winning in January requires mental toughness, something Green Bay possesses in spades.
Strong defensive play
Many have asked how the Packers won 10 games despite their offense struggling for most of the season. Though few have noticed, Green Bay possesses one of the league’s better defenses. The unit finished the year ranked ninth by Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and only four NFC teams gave up fewer points during the regular season.
The 2015 season ended up being a down year for the reigning MVP. He finished with his worst marks in completion percentage (60.7), yards per attempt (6.7) and yards per game (238.8) since becoming a starter. Beyond the numbers, Rodgers couldn’t always perform his signature magic and played objectively poor more often than any previous season.
Still, his track record in the playoffs has few peers in today’s NFL. In those games, he boasts a 65.4 completion percentage, a 23-to-7 touchdown-to-interception count and a 7-5 record. Just as importantly, only two of those losses came by more than a single score. He has also proven he can succeed on the road as evidenced by the four consecutive postseason games away from Lambeau Field to win a title in 2010.
WHY THE REDSKINS WILL COVER
Bryan Frantz is a writer for Hogs Haven. You can follow them on Facebook and on Twitter @HogsHaven.
Kirk Cousins on a roll
Kirk Cousins has been absolutely on fire for the second half of the season, especially at home. Whether it’s an indicator of his career potential or a fluke is irrelevant. He has 23 touchdowns and three interceptions since the Week 7 comeback win over Tampa Bay, including 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the past three weeks. He led the NFL in completion percentage and his early-career interception problem appears to be a thing of the past.
Aaron Rodgers struggling
Arguably the best quarterback of his generation, Aaron Rodgers, has looked nothing like himself recently. Of course, the worst season of his career was still pretty good compared to the rest of the league’s signal-callers, but it’s been a dramatic dropoff from what we’re used to seeing out of the NFL’s all-time leader in passer rating. If he plays anything like he has been, Green Bay is in trouble.
Redskins pass rush + Packers’ shoddy offensive line
It’s something of a perfect storm: Green Bay’s offensive line has struggled mightily recently, thanks to a bevy of injuries and overall lackluster play, and the Redskins have had much more success getting to opposing quarterbacks than they did in the first part of the season.
Top pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan got off to a slow start, at least in part due to injury, but he has turned it up with six of his 9.5 sacks coming in the past seven weeks. Rookie Preston Smith has five of his eight sacks in the past three games, and defensive lineman Chris Baker has broken out this season with six sacks after just two in his first three seasons as a regular.
Join the debate in the comment box below. Who covers in Sunday’s Wild Card games: Seattle or Minnesota? Green Bay or Washington?