The term “game of inches” went viral with the NFL post season.
When the Seattle Seahawks were stopped an inch shy of the goal line against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday night on the final play, postseason ramifications followed.
The Eagles now host the Seahawks as a 1.5-point underdog according to DraftKings, and the 49ers received a bye and home-field edge throughout the playoffs. Because of the inch, the New Orleans Saints must host the Minnesota Vikings, albeit as 7.5-point favorites, on Sunday, rather than obtain the bye. This even affected postseason fantasy drafts, where Saints quarterback Drew Brees and running back Alvin Kamara became the top picks.
The AFC contains its share of drama, too. The New England Patriots are hosting a first-round playoff game in the Bill Belichick era. Go figure. They were beaten at home by the now 5-11 Miami Dolphins last week, squandering their first-round bye. They will host the Tennessee Titans Saturday night, in the rain, as 5-point picks.
And the Buffalo Bills visit the Houston Texans Saturday as three-point underdogs.
Let’s look at the games.
NFL playoff Week 1 lines and over-unders
Courtesy of DraftKings
Houston -3 vs Buffalo, 44
New England -5, Tennessee, 45
New Orleans -7.5, vs Minnesota 50
Seattle -1.5 AT Eagles, 45
Buffalo went 6-1-1 against the spread on the road this year and will look to play a close-to-the-vest, mistake-free game against the Texans. The Bills’ best offensive weapon is quarterback Josh Allen, who appears in his first playoff game. He is an excellent running quarterback with a good arm for the deep ball. What about his nerves? That’s an intangible in this game.
If the Bills play their game, the under 44 wager might be a good one.
The Texans are a strange team. They can explode, beating teams like New England at home, but they are one of the worst at applying defensive pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Deshaun Watson is an offensive strength, as is wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But Hopkins needs a healthy Will Fuller in the other wide receive slot to take pressure off of him. Fuller’s health is iffy. This is an intangible.
Which side of the New England dynasty argument do you like? The defending Super Bowl champions were legitimately outplayed by the Dolphins last week. Their vaunted defense gave up 320 passing yards to Ryan Fitzpatrick. This cost them the bye.
New England supporters believe Belichick will find magic in the game plan and prevail in the playoff game.
Detractors see Derrick Henry, the league’s best rusher, finding gaping holes to run through. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is 7-3 as the Titans’ starter and has a deep threat in A.J. Brown. It will be raining Saturday in New England. Will that make this an ugly game?
New Orleans has averaged 40 points a game in its last four outings. Brees has a healthy Kamara, the league’s best receiver in Michael Thomas and, very subtly, a solid tight end in Jared Cook. When New Orleans sputtered in the post-season last year, it did not get production from this position. Cook opens up the rest of the offense and is a key player.
Minnesota is a good 10-6 team, 4-4 on the road and playing indoors, making this an “away home game”. The wild card is quarterback Kirk Cousins often throwing one real bad pass nearly every game to change the flow. And this offense sputtered against Green Bay two weeks ago, at home, in a big game.
That brings us to the Eagles, wrapping up the wild-card weekend as the late-afternoon game Sunday.
Matt Stetz, the C.0.O of Rush Street Interactive, which operates PlaySugarHouse and BetRivers facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana, has tracked league-wide betting patterns all year for Between The Lines. He says that Seattle received a prominent edge in the moneyline, roughly, and spread tickets, roughly 2-1 in both areas, against the Eagles.
New England and Tennessee are tracking nearly 50-50 on the spread. Houston received about twice as many spread tickets as Buffalo when the line was -2.5 and it since slid up to 3. New Orleans has about three times the betting support of Minnesota.
Inside this region, fans point to momentum, via the emergence of Boston Scott and a re-energized defense. They point to four straight wins and a putaway surge against the New York Giants last week. They bank on the Eagles not committing five turnovers, as they did in a 17-9 setback Nov. 24 to the Seahawks. And they figure that the banged-up Seattle backfield, minus three starters, will allow the defense to bottle up Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
Outside the region, analysts believe the Eagles, at 9-7, don’t deserve the privilege of hosting the 11-5 Seahawks. They figure Wilson can’t be sacked six times, as he was in the first game. They think Marshawn Lynch, who was re-signed last week and played effectively in the San Francisco loss, will be able to do even more this week.
They also can’t fathom Seattle, which came within an inch of defeating the NFC top seed last week, losing in Philadelphia. In this viewpoint, the class of the league is New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle, with Green Bay right there.
Seattle was a better team than the Eagles all year. But will they be better for one afternoon? Can the Eagles step up against an elite team?
Time to find out.
Good luck with your picks.
This week’s picks
Selections, against the spread, excerpted from Beat the Degenerates, which I co-host with Brian Cahill and Scott Cronick, director of entertainment publications for The Press of Atlantic City. The show is 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays on Newstalk 1400-AM, WONDRadio.com and 92.5-FM. Catch the next one 5 p.m. Jan 8.
Bontempo and Ky Carlin, WOND Correspondent: Philadelphia
Cronick and Tom Sullivan, general manager of McCullough’s Emeral Links: New England
Dave Weinberg, Eagles beat writer: Seattle
Da Kipster, aka Pickett Russell, general manager of Tennessee Ave. Beer Hall: New Orleans
Last week’s picks
Winners: Cronick with Dallas, Cahill with Miami, Carlin and Kipster with Eagles
Losers: Bontempo and Sullivan with Seattle, Weinberg with Giants