EDITOR'S NOTE: Austin has added Cleveland (+3.5 first half to his official card)
The NFL picks are back for Wild Card weekend. We are hoping to build upon a successful regular season finishing with a 54-40-2 overall ATS record (57%).
We are going to preview all six playoff games and I will give a pick, lean, or a simple stay away on the picks. Late Friday I dropped my Saturday picks, and now it's time to turn our attention to Sunday.
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Now, without further ado, let's get to the picks:
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans
Spread: Baltimore (-3.5)
We get a rematch of the divisional round from last year where the Titans shocked the No. 1 seeded Ravens. This is probably the most entertaining matchup of the Wild Card weekend slate. We get to watch unicorns Lamar Jackson and a total monster in Derrick Henry battle it out. Expect this one to be high scoring.
We have mentioned it before, but the Titans defense is simply horrific. We bet against them in Week 17 and unfortunately bet on them in Week 16. The Titans defense ranks 29th in overall team DVOA, 25th in yards per play allowed, 30th in red zone TD percentage, and 27th in 3rd down percentage. It’s honestly fair to note, the Ravens had success moving the ball against the Titans in their previous playoff game last year averaging 5.8 yards per play, but the Ravens had four turnovers with three of them occurring when driving into Titans territory. Furthermore, the Ravens have scored 30+ in four out of their last five games and the Titans have given up 35+ in four of their last five games. Lamar Jackson is playing confidently and he should torch this Titans defense.
In order for Tennessee to compete, their offense is going to have to continue to play stellar football. The Titans rank fourth in total offensive DVOA and Derrick Henry has essentially been a one-man wrecking crew all season. Henry ran for over 240 yards in the Titans win over the Texans last week and has eclipsed over 2,000 yards for the season. Henry ran for 133 yards against the Ravens earlier this year and ran for 195 in last year's playoff match-up.
I like the revenge angle for the Ravens but I’m not comfortable giving three and a half points on the road to Tennessee. The pace of the game is an unknown factor. Tennessee ranks fourth in overall pace but Baltimore ranks 31st in pace. I imagine Tennessee is going to try to put up a big number early to force Lamar Jackson to beat them throwing the football. I trust the Ravens to keep the pace if this one does turn into a shootout. The Ravens are the public side, but we will step away and just enjoy the over in this one.
The pick: Over 54.5
Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
Spread: New Orleans (-10)
This is a situation where I love the number (Bears +10) but I hate the overall matchup and the team getting those points. Typically teams getting double digits in the Wild Card round cover. However, I’m not sure if I want to back this Bears team against an explosive Saints squad that is finally getting healthy. If we were playing a game of "who doesn’t belong," the Bears are the team that does not belong in this playoff Wild Card bracket. Although, they may use the "no one believes in us" angle to their advantage, I don’t want to back a Matt Nagy coached team in a playoff bout.
This Chicago team has essentially teeter-tottered since mid-season. Earlier in the season the Bears defense ranked third in DVOA but they have ranked 28th in passing success rate since Week 13. Conversely, the Bears offense ranks seventh in DVOA since Mitch Trubisky took back the reins as the starting QB spot. But it is hard to trust Trubisky's success knowing the former Tar Heels' history in the league.
On the other side, Saints have found their stride and Alvin Kamara - like Derrick Henry above - has been a one man wrecking crew. The Bears won’t have Roquan Smith to cover Kamara out of the backfield. It is really hard to trust this Bears defense without their middle linebacker.
This is Drew Brees' last run, so it's hard to imagine him ending it with a loss to Mitch Trubisky, but the 10 points is simply too much to give so we will stay away.
Betting prediction: Too much variance to pick a side. Just enjoy what may be Drew Brees last playoff run as the Saint’s quarterback
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: Pittsburgh (-6)
We got a Sunday Night Football night cap with a divisional matchup with the Browns and Steelers. This game has all the narratives for a thrilling matchup. The Browns are in the playoffs for just the second time since I have been alive, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski is out with Covid, the Steelers let the Browns in the playoffs playing back ups, you got Browns Twitter harassing Steelers
Twitter, and you got Pittsburg WR JuJu Smith-Schuster already talking shit through the media.
Simply, this is why we love the NFL.
We were on the Browns since Week 1 of the season because of the new addition of Stefanski as head coach. With Stefanski coaching through Zoom, how are the Browns going to play? This is former No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield’s first playoff game, and quarterbacks making their playoff debuts traditionally have not fared well. Then you got the old guard of the Steelers who are making maybe their last Super Bowl run with Big Ben at helm. The Steelers looked like it was going off the rails after three consecutive losses, but a majestic second half comeback against the Colts has brought new enlightenment to the Steel City. It is really hard to project this game out.
The Steelers offense has been below average all year. They can’t run the ball, ranking 30th in running success rate and are inconsistent passing the ball - 24th in passing success rate. The one thing the Steelers have found success with, has been in the explosive passing game, and that is one thing the Browns have been bad at defending - ranking 25th overall in pass DVOA. The Browns will get Denzel Ward back at corner, but I’m not sure his presence will be enough to patch up their shortcoming. The Steelers dominated the Browns earlier this season at home 38-7, but the Steelers offense was set up from Baker Mayfield turnovers and special teams blunders. Mayfield was playing at less than 100 percent with a cracked rib, and the Browns were also missing Nick Chubb and Wyatt Teller, which is worth remembering here.
In the bigger picture, the Browns are more or less playing with house money being in the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades. Metrically, the Steelers seem like the right side, but there is just something about the Browns underdog story that keeps me off of them. The Browns haven’t been in their facility and essentially have not had a physical practice all week. So the Steelers side makes sense and won’t blame anyone for taking the Steelers. .
But there is something about the Browns underdog story that is captivating. It’s Baker Mayfield’s swagger, the toughness in the trenches, and the passionate loyalty of the Browns fan-base. Then add to the fact the Steelers have been overrated this entire year.
The Browns are going to come out of the gate energized and loose. The team that is playing with house money is a dangerous one. Nobody expects Cleveland to win this game, but a Browns win is not out of the realm of possibility. The Steelers have started out slow in every game this season - incredibly - and this is a wild stat - they have accumulated a grand total of one first down total, on opening drives this season. One first down, in 16 opening drives. UN-REAL!!!
Stefanski will have a solid opening game script to help quarterback Baker Mayfield. If the Steelers come out lackadaisical in the first half once again, I can see the Browns jumping out to a big lead- putting them in a position to shock the NFL universe.
The Pick: Browns (+3.5 - in the first half)
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