Opening Lines: Wild Card Edition

The first partial season of Opening Lines resulted in a respectable 22-17-1 record against the spread. Not only is that above .500, but it’s good enough to beat the juice (unless you bet illegally and your bookie is robbing you blind, in which case you need to find a better bookie). To put that overwhelming achievement in perspective, if you bet $10 per game with a 10 percent take, you would have pocketed a cool $33 on the year by following my exact picks all year. Don’t spend it all in one place, kiddos.

Since the Patriots will be enjoying a week off, this week’s edition of Opening Lines will take a closer look at this week’s Wild Card games. Sports betting usually grows in popularity when the playoffs roll around (I suspect this process is driven by Bills fans who desperately want to share the thrill of rooting for a winning team with fans of teams that are actually good enough to make the playoffs). However, the spike in popularity around playoff betting typically plays right into bookmakers’ hands. The profit-making doormats are long gone (well, besides the Seahawks), and there is often very little separating the teams on the field. The games are often tougher to pick, and profits for sharp bettors are squeezed. Those who are placing wagers this week do so at their own risk.

Colts (-2.5) vs. Jets

It surprised me that the Colts weren’t favored by about 4.5 in this one. I know they’ve had more injuries than a lockerroom full of Laurence Maroneys this season, but they’re also coming in with plenty of momentum after winning their last four games. Manning is finding his groove again with 9 TDs and just 2 picks in those games. Meanwhile, the Jets have lost three of five, including an embarrassment against the Pats in front of a national audience, an embarrassing performance against the Dolphins and an embarrassing foot fetish video involving the head coach (that loss of self-respect doesn’t technically count against the team in the standings, but I’m hoping that they figure something out to address that issue in the new collective bargaining agreement). The Jets have played six teams with a winning record this season and won just two. Their quarterback is playing hurt. Their running game has been M.I.A. Their pass defense has been shredded by any elite quarterback they’ve faced. Explain to me again how the Jets are better on a neutral field? Yeah, I don’t get it either. Much to Rex Ryan’s chagrin, I smell a Jets de-feet on the horizon.

Ravens (-3) at Chiefs

The Ravens looked bad last week against Cincinnati, but that is good news for bettors who planned on backing them. While I have tremendous respect for what the Chiefs accomplished this year, I don’t think they measure up to Baltimore. The Ravens have just three losses in their last 14 games, all by less than a TD and all against teams that have a first-round bye (two of those were road games). The Chiefs benefitted from a cake schedule this year. That comes to a halt this week. The Ravens have too many weapons on both sides of the ball to lose this one.

Packers (+2.5) at Eagles

The Vikings may have exposed a glaring weakness for the Eagles with their constant corner blitzes. You can bet that the Packers were paying attention. Green Bay’s defense has played extremely well over the past four weeks, allowing a TD or less in two of those games. This defense stands a decent chance to at least contain Vick. The Eagles have also struggled in pass coverage, allowing opposing QBs to post a combined 99+ QB rating over the past six weeks despite facing a backup quarterback and two third-stringers in that span. And Andy Reid looks like a walrus. I don’t have a joke for that yet, but I’m working on it.

Saints (-10.5) at Seahawks

I thought this game would open around -7 due to the fact that the Saints will have to travel three-quarters of the way across the country on a short week. But even at 10.5, I’m still taking the Saints. This line speaks volumes about how bad the Seahawks suck. By now, everyone knows that the Seahawks are the first team with a losing record to make the playoffs. But did you know that each one of their nine losses came by at least two touchdowns?  That is staggering. I won’t get too deeply into the stats and personnel in this analysis because trying to find a way that Seattle makes this game competitive is like arguing with Rex Ryan about whether feet are, in fact, sexy. It’s pretty much a pointless exercise.