There’s only 1 thing to say about WagerBop’s fail of a New Orleans vs Minnesota pick in the Wild Card Round.
I didn’t learn my own lesson.
It’s a real bad idea to rate NFL quarterbacks in terms of “great,” “good,” “bad,” “terrible” and so on. Those words make for nice tabloid headlines and soundbites from TV. They are not in any way, shape, or form applicable to NFL quarterbacks in any analytical sense.
Think of NFL rosters in PlayStation terms. Programmers design college, pro, and novelty games so that best players always look super-athletic relative to the competition. But when a quality MAC starter might be a “90” rating on a college football video game but a “65” on an NFL simulation, it helps to create a deceptive myth of a thin NFL talent pool.
The average FBS player wouldn’t lose size and speed when joining an NFL club – he simply might not be big and fast enough to stick around. His rating was always a 77 – and The Shield is filled with 90s and 95s.
Now press the pause button on noise from ESPN’s yakkers, who say that the signal-callers in the league all stink. Here’s a quick reality check: Starting QBs of the NFL are among the top 50 QBs out of approximately a million people who try to play quarterback on the playground, the Pop Warner prairie, the High School gridiron, an NCAA field, or a Men’s or Women’s minor league at some point in their lives.
NFL passers can all pick flies off of fence posts with 15-yard slant routes, and lines between their successes or failures are very small. They’re not “good” and “bad” players, they’re all A-#1 professionals who can win under the right circumstances.
Last weekend, as Drew Brees faltered in the Red Zone and a riotous Superdome crowd failed to buoy the New Orleans defense, the circumstances were there for Kirk Cousins and his underrated supporting cast to out-fox the Saints and prevail in 5 quarters of pigskin.
More’s the pity – I didn’t quite see it coming despite understanding the principle at work. Cousins got all the dicey headlines while Brees racked-up pregame accolades as usual, but scoreboards do not read the newspapers.
I don’t want to make the handicapper’s mistake of ranking QBs whose raw gifts are so comparable as the 4 remaining in the NFC playoffs. We’ve already seen quarterback idol-worship wreck Las Vegas once in the postseason, perhaps 2 or 3 times if you count events in New England and Philadelphia.
But it might just be that in Week 19, the field generals with the biggest problems to worry about may be the least well-equipped to handle them.
Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers
There is no circumstance in which “weak defense” and a Vikings win will cling in conjunction in San Francisco. Minnesota’s defense brought a whole new postseason scheme to the table, and the defensive line executed the game plan almost to perfection. Mike Zimmer opted to use 4 defensive ends on passing downs with Shamar Stephen and Ifeadi Odenigbo lining up outside, which put powerful speed-rushing ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen inside. New Orleans’ interior offensive line was no match, and Hunter’s strip-sack of Drew Brees in the 4th quarter created a huge momentum swing.
Dan Bailey had another fine outing in a year in which the PK has missed 2 field goals in over 30 attempts. If it comes down to a field goal, Bailey is literally money as Las Vegas is concerned.
By all accounts the 49er defense is money too, and San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould is on a hot streak at the right time. The current narrative is that San Fran’s defense may be vulnerable at the wrong time – the 49ers are suddenly giving-up touchdowns (instead of FGs or goose-eggs) on opposing drives. San Francisco could get a big boost with the return of defensive end Dee Ford, as some of the other guys along the defensive line are waning in his absence.
That puts pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo and a San Fran offense which isn’t necessarily battle-tested against a souped-up scheme in the playoffs. Kyle Shanahan knows how to stay out of national headlines and keep the lineup calm and focused, but the Vikings have to have everybody on edge as a strong underdog, already apparent given a tightening point spread. If the L.A. Rams, a similar offense with a less-trendy QB, had another game to adjust to New England’s “Jet” defense in the Super Bowl, would they have won the re-match? Maybe, maybe not, but I wouldn’t give Sean McVay’s club (-7) against a dangerous visitor.
New England’s loss to an oft-nondescript Tennessee Titan franchise shows the importance of gauging a unit’s trajectory instead of its overall season performance. The Patriots were already running out of steam as of December. San Francisco’s vaunted defense has some steam left, but I’m concerned about the offense too – the backfield-by-committee motif is starting to wear thin – and yet I also think the Over is a good idea in a game with 2 of the most grooved-in PKs in the game.
Do I like Minnesota on the moneyline at (+250)? Yes…but as a 1-unit bet and not an official ante-up recommendation.
Pick: Vikings ATS and/or Over (44)
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
In spite of Lambeau Field being primed to be the “frozen tundra” once again, handicappers are evenly split on which way any funny bounces of the ball will go. Green Bay opened as a (-3.5) favorite and the spread has ticked slightly in the Pack’s direction by Thursday morning at (-4), with little moneyline or O/U movement to speak of. Maybe the reason handicappers are still skeptical of the Pack is that there’s a reluctance to admit another coach could take the club to a higher ceiling than Mike McCarthy could at this stage. That’s all the more prescient as an angle now that Jerry Jones has hired the storied skipper in Big D.
But there’s no question that the paradigm has changed, and 13-3 W/L records tend to speak for themselves. Aaron Rodgers is still magnificent against healthy pass rushes when outcomes are on the line, and although I’m fond of McCarthy’s “fustest with the mostest” Civil War style of offense, there’s a time when a less frenetic snap-to-whistle tempo can actually come in handy – like against a wounded underdog at home with an offensive backfield on fire. Matt LaFleur has transformed the Packers into a run-first team just as Aaron Jones emerges as a star NFL running back. That’s pretty good timing.
Green Bay’s defense has turned-in a number of phenomenal performances, buoyed by the offseason arrivals of ZaDarius Smith and Preston Smith patrolling mid-range passes and tackling runners in the backfield. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has schemed well for each team down the stretch, and the Green Bay defense has only allowed just 12.2 points-per-game during its current winning streak. However, Preston Smith is dealing with an ankle injury and may be a limited athlete throughout the remainder of the playoffs.
Seattle’s defense should be able to limit a more-methodical offense, even with LaFleur’s modern-day John Robinson tactics of stalemating the teams at the LOS and letting Jones attack the stationary defense like a prizefighter. Pete Carroll could choose to commit more players in the box on certain downs to try to slow Jones and keep Rodgers behind the chains, as despite the lack of a consistent pass rush the secondary is among the best units in the NFL. But the defensive line seems to lack big-play ability and is often groping at potential tackles-for-loss. Seattle has accumulated just 27 sacks on the season.
Meanwhile, the offensive staff under Carroll has done a nifty job keeping QB Russell Wilson healthy for the final stretch run. But the Seahawks are simply racked with injuries otherwise. There are injuries affecting most of the 2-deep along the front lines on offense and defense. Safeties, cornerbacks, wide receivers, and tailbacks Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny are sitting out with severe wounds. In fact, you can argue that only a key injury for the Philadelphia Eagles allowed the Seahawks to prevail in the Wild Card Round. Jadeveon Clowney knocked Philly QB Carson Wentz out with a vicious take-down early in the contest, and Josh McCown did not appear fully prepared to step into the marquee role.
Unlike the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers this weekend – and Green Bay with veteran Mason Crosby for that matter – the Seahawks also do not have a rock-solid kicking game to turn to for points when a lack of numbers impacts long drives. Signing former Vikings kickers came to an end in 2019 as Seattle landed the top kicker in 2018 in Jason Myers, who had posted 129 points for the Jets. But Myers is just 23-of-28 for Seattle, missing 4 extra points along the way. Rookie safety Ugo Amadi is a daredevil on special teams who may need to force a fumble or draw a costly Packer foul on Sunday to help the visitors have a chance.
You can point to a couple of potential match-up advantages for Seattle, like the fact that Green Bay allowed a different dual-threat QB – Mitch Trubisky of the Chicago Bears – to rack-up nearly 400 combined yards in a mid-December scrum. But the Pack won that game to go 2-0 against a bitter rival, and has fared well against other QBs comparable-in-style to Wilson, with wins over the Cowboys and Chiefs on the team’s mantle already.
Seattle may be getting a lot of “reputation” wagers as the weaker of 2 NFC underdogs, and the Over/Under might be down at (42) or so if people were betting with heads and not cheering hearts. Take the Packers (-4) and the low side of the O/U. Exact-outcome prop bets like “Green Bay 24, Seattle 10” also make sense as a pennies-to-jackpot action opportunity for what should be a deliberate and predictable Divisional Round game in the bitter cold of Wisconsin.
Pick: Under (42) or Packers ATS
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.