Atlanta Falcons (11-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) Line: Falcons by 2.5. Total: 40.5. Walt's Projected Line: Falcons -3.
Saturday, Jan. 13, 4:35 ET
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The Game. Edge: Falcons.
WEEK 18 RECAP: This past week was good, as I was 3-1 (+$160) in the wild-card round. Unfortunately, it did not end well, with the Panthers getting a back-door touchdown to cover in my only loss.
I'll be posting these NFL Picks all day Tuesday. Follow me at @walterfootball for updates.
My overrated-underrated feature will continue in this spot, and I'm going to emphasize injuries (particularly those on the offensive line)...
Underrated NFL Teams:
Chicago Bears: The Bears dropped four in a row prior to beating the Bengals, but they were without Danny Trevathan or top safety Adrian Amos for all four of contests. Trevathan is not only the heart and soul of Chicago's defense, but he also happens to be the brains of the operation. Amos, meanwhile, has been playing on a Pro Bowl level. The Bears frequently blow coverages with Trevathan being out of the lineup, so it's no surprise that their defense has been much better with him back on the field. They lost to the Lions and Vikings recently, but they outgained Detroit and averaged more yards per play. As for the Vikings loss, well, just chalk that up to Minnesota's dominance.
Detroit Lions: The Lions seldom had anything close to a complete roster this season. In their most crucial game of the year, they were missing three starting offensive linemen. Detroit will be better in 2018 with improved injury luck.
San Francisco 49ers: It's amazing what a competent signal-caller can do. The 49ers have had bad (Brian Hoyer) and abysmal (C.J. Beathard) quarterbacking this year, but Jimmy Garoppolo has been great against the Bears, Texans, Titans and Jaguars. With Garoppolo, the 49ers are so much better than 6-10. They have a solid running back, two talented tackles, and several impressive play-makers in the front seven. They still have some glaring holes at receiver, center and cornerback, but had Garoppolo started all year, I get the sense that the 49ers would be 11-5 or better right now.
Overrated NFL Teams:
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons were two kicks on national TV away from being 8-8. They also beat Dallas when the Cowboys lost Sean Lee and already didn't have Tyron Smith or Ezekiel Elliott. Even the win over the Rams was misleading; Los Angeles made so many mistakes, and the Falcons couldn't really do anything offensively until Michael Brockers got hurt.
Jacksonville Jaguars: No one should be surprised that the Jaguars lost to the Titans, and that San Francisco demolished Jacksonville. The Jaguars prevailed over the Seahawks because Seattle lost both of its star linebackers. They beat the Chargers because Los Angeles made so many mistakes. Jacksonville had just one legitimate scoring drive in that contest. The Jaguars have otherwise beaten lots of bad teams, except when they lost to the Cardinals and nearly went down to the Browns, holding just a 10-7 lead in the middle of the fourth quarter. They remind me of the Giants from 2016. They should've lost in the playoffs like New York did, but the Bills blew it.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are definitely not the same without Ryan Shazier, as they couldn't stop Alex Collins runs and Joe Flacco passes without him. The freaking Ravens scored 38 points against them! They could've beaten the Patriots, but now Antonio Brown is also out.
PHILADELPHIA OFFENSE: Despite Atlanta's upset win, the Eagles would be considerable favorites in this game if Carson Wentz weren't injured. Instead, it's Nick Foles set to make the playoff start for the team previously regarded to be the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Now, the Eagles aren't even favored in their initial playoff game!
And that's for good reason. Foles has gotten progressively worse with each game. He completed a clutch play to beat the Rams, and then he threw four touchdowns against the Giants, albeit with a poor YPA figure (it was equal to Wentz's worst performance of the season.) The Oakland game was much worse, and by the time he battled the Cowboys in Week 17, he could barely complete a forward pass. And the thing is, Foles hasn't played a full game against a strong defense yet. That will change here, as the Falcons were able to limit the Rams' scoring attack this past weekend. Their secondary is awesome, and they should be able to put the clamps on Philadelphia's receivers. Zach Ertz will be difficult to stop, but he's just one player.
Meanwhile, the Falcons figure to win in the trenches. The Eagles have a terrific right side of the offensive line, but the blind-side spot is horrible. Jason Peters' absence has been felt ever since Wentz got hurt, as Foles' inability to scramble has exposed Halapoulivaati Vaitai. When Wentz was on the field, Vaitai was "doing an OK job," according to Philly fans. That narrative has completely changed with Foles, and I fully expect Adrian Clayborn to hound Foles all evening. I also expect the Falcons to play the run well; they did a great job on Todd Gurley, and they'll be able to play closer to the line of scrimmage going against Foles instead of Jared Goff.
ATLANTA OFFENSE: It'll be up to Philadelphia's defense to give the team a chance. And given how the Eagles' stop unit has performed for most of the year, I'd say it's a realistic possibility that the team can pull the upset.
Like the Eagles, the Falcons have a strong offensive line that has a liability that could be exposed in this matchup. For Philadelphia, it's the left tackle. For Atlanta, it's the guard play. The Eagles happen to have one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL in Fletcher Cox, who should be able to generate some serious pressure in the interior. The Rams have one as well in Aaron Donald, and it's why Matt Ryan saw lots of inside pressure; Donald was able to put heat on Ryan on half of his drop-backs. Donald also helped shut down the run, so it seems as though Philadelphia will be able to limit Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, at least as rushers.
The problem with all of this is Ryan. He's the difference-maker. He was the MVP last year, and despite some natural regression this season, he's still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. The Eagles will do a good job of keeping him from lighting up the scoreboard, but he'll have enough successful drives to be able to lead his team to victory. This is what occurred in Los Angeles, and it's likely to happen in Philadelphia. It would help if the weather would limit him, and it's been sub-20 degrees here in the City of Brotherly Love the past month - I've barely left the house - but it's supposed to warm up for Saturday. It'll be between 40 and 45 degrees by kickoff, which is just fine for Atlanta's aerial attack.
RECAP: Sometimes, overcomplicating NFL handicapping can be dangerous, and I've certainly been guilty of that in recent years. It can often be beneficial to go with the common-sense approach, and common sense here says that Ryan should be able to beat Foles by more than three points, even in a game that takes place in Philadelphia.
I get the case for the Eagles. I really do. They're going to be playing with passion, looking to prove that they shouldn't be home dogs against the Falcons. But the problem is that they should be. Quarterback play is more important than ever because of the new CBA, as lesser players have trouble improving because of limitations in practice. Foles is a bad quarterback. He's a below-average backup, and he's been so brutal in recent games that fans, including my dad, want Nate Sudfeld to start instead! Foles, since leaving Philadelphia following the 2014 season, is 4-11 against the spread as a starter. If he barely beat the Raiders at home, how is he going to defeat a far-superior Atlanta squad?
I think this game will be close for a while, but I could see the Falcons pulling away late and winning by 7-10 points. I like them for three units.
THURSDAY THOUGHTS: I'm surprised this spread hasn't risen past -3. Perhaps it will eventually, but while the sharps have taken Atlanta at -2.5, they haven't touched -3 yet. There are no real injuries to report. The weather, meanwhile, looks like it'll be aboit 30 with 15-mph winds, so not too bad for the dome team.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The sharps bet the Falcons -2.5 earlier in the week, but some other pros have been wagering on the Eagles at +3. This spread is now -2.5 in most books, so the Falcons look more appealing. The wind might be a factor - it's howling outside, and my fiancee just asked, "Is that the wind?" - so I'm going to switch my total selection to the under. Otherwise, everything remains the same; I'm betting three units against Nick Foles, who has yet to play a full game against a good defense this year.
The Psychology. Edge: Eagles.
No one believes the Eagles have a chance despite being the No. 1 seed.
The Vegas. Edge: Eagles.
Public action on the Falcons.
Tennessee Titans (10-7) at New England Patriots (13-3) Line: Patriots by 13.5. Total: 48. Walt's Projected Line: Patriots -16.
Saturday, Jan. 6, 8:15 ET
Comment on this game
The Game. Edge: Patriots.
VEGAS UPDATE: I'll be posting how the Vegas sportsbooks have done the previous week in this spot.
The highest-bet sides were 42-38-4 heading into Week 18. There were none in this past weekend, but that's not the case in Week 19.
Here are this week's most-bet sides:
None of these are surprising, as the Patriots and Steelers are elite teams battling weak opponents. The Falcons, meanwhile, get the Carson Wentz-less Eagles following an impressive victory.
HATE MAIL: I didn't receive much hate mail following Week 18. In fact, here's all I found:
Nothing from Ross Avila either. That's because he blocked me. Ross, who told me Falcons +6 was going to be a "big loss," got frustrated and once again began making fun of women who weren't around to defend themselves. Ross was a coward, so I had to expose him:
I don't know what Ross is going to do with his life now that he's blocked me. Posting on my wall was the most important thing for him - he even claimed to work at Google to impress me! - so now his existence won't have any meaning. How sad.
NEW ENGLAND OFFENSE: I don't know if I believe this crazy story coming out of New England. Perhaps inspired by Donald Trump, Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady leaked some fake news over to ESPN, prompting an eager journalist at the capsizing network to run with some unbelievable story. There might be a bit of truth to it, but I find it hard to believe that the Patriots are going to allow their great dynasty to crumble over some petty differences.
With that in mind, I expect the Patriots to be sharp in this game, and if that's the case, they shouldn't have any trouble scoring on the Titans. Tennessee's defensive forte is stopping the run, so that might explain why Kareem Hunt was given just 11 carries, though limiting his work was still a mistake. What the Titans don't do well, however, is defend the pass, as they have some serious liabilities in the back seven.
Brady will certainly exploit them. One liability is safety John Cyprien, who has taken a major step backward this season. Another is cornerback Tye Smith. Brady will be able to hit some deep throws because of these pedestrian defensive backs. Meanwhile, Rob Gronkowski will have a huge performance. We saw what Travis Kelce was able to accomplish in less than a half of action. Unless Gronkowski suffers a similar fate, he'll dominate this matchup.
TENNESSEE OFFENSE: Marcus Mariota struggled in the first half of the Kansas City game, but picked up his play as the evening progressed. He was able to make some clutch throws at the end of the game to lead his team to victory. It was a nice moment for the young quarterback, but before anyone gets too excited about this, we all need to remember that he did this against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Chiefs had the last-ranked run defense in DVOA, and their secondary, outside of Marcus Peters, is utterly atrocious.
You can't say anything like this about New England's stop unit. The Patriots have a pair of excellent cornerbacks and solid safety play. They were weaker against the run to close out the season, but only because Alan Branch missed time. It's unclear if Branch will return to the field this Saturday evening, but it sounds like he has a chance to suit up for the first time since Week 14. The monstrous run-stuffer practiced last week, which is a good sign for his availability.
With Branch on the field, Derrick Henry won't have as much success as he did late in last week's victory. This will make things more difficult for Mariota, who will be playing his first full game against the Patriots (he got hurt early in his only start against them back in his rookie year.) I'm sure Belichick will cook up a great game plan to confuse Mariota, and it won't help that New England's talented secondary will take away his receivers.
RECAP: If you think this spread is too high, consider this: In the past 15 years, there have been three favorites of 13-plus in the playoffs. They are 3-0 straight up, 2-1 against the spread, winning by an average score of 29-14. All three of these favorites, by the way, were the Patriots! Their sole spread loss was to a talented Charger team comprised of Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson, back during the 2007 season.
These Titans are not those Chargers. I'd say they're closer to the other two teams the Patriots were able to beat up on: the 2011 Broncos and 2016 Texans. Sure, Mariota is better than Tim Tebow and Brock Osweiler, but his supporting and coaching certainly are not up to par compared to those other squads. Mike Mularkey is atrocious, so I'm confident in saying that this is one of the greatest coaching mismatches in NFL postseason history.
With that in mind, I like the Patriots quite a bit. I think this spread's too low - I made it -16.5 - and I believe New England will be out to prove itself in the wake of the ESPN story, regardless of whether it's fake news or not.
This is a three-unit play. The only concern I have is a late, back-door cover, but I think the Patriots have a very good chance of winning by at least three scores.
THURSDAY THOUGHTS: This spread dropped to -13 and then went back up to -13.5. It's still -13 at BetUS. Both teams are fairly healthy, with Alan Branch practicing all week.
SATURDAY NOTES: This spread has risen to -13.5. The public is betting the Patriots, but the sharps aren't touching the Titans. At least not yet. If that doesn't change, this spread could hit -14 (it's already +14 -115 at Bovada).
FINAL THOUGHTS: There are more -14s showing up, including Bovada and Westgate (both +14 -110.) There are -13.5s as well (BetUS). There's no or very little sharp action on the underdog, which is understandable, given the disparity between these teams. The Titans have barely beaten the likes of the Colts and Browns all year, as they were lucky to avoid tough opponents for the most part. The best team they played was Pittsburgh, which was a blowout. The Patriots are better than the Steelers, so they should win easily. The only question is if there's a back-door touchdown.
The Psychology. Edge: None.
No edge found.
The Vegas. Edge: Titans.
Tons of action on the Patriots, predictably.
Percentage of money on New England: 68% (75,000 bets)
The Trends. Edge: Patriots.
Patriots are 37-16 ATS in December & January home games since 2000.
Tom Brady is 220-68 as a starter (163-112 ATS).
Tom Brady is 24-9 in the playoffs (16-17 ATS).
Tom Brady is 33-34 ATS as a home favorite of -9 or more (22-27 ATS since November 2007).
Prop/Teaser/Parlay Picks A list of some of my favorite team/player prop picks this week (Offense & defensive ROY picks to be counted
whenver winners are announced.) Picks carried over on a week-to-week basis will be in black.
Note: For legality purposes, this Web site does not promote or advocate gambling. This is solely for entertainment purposes only.
Last Week's NFL Picks Against The Spread (Week 21, 2017): 0-1 (-$330)
Last Week's 2-3 Unit NFL Picks (Week 21, 2017): 0-1 (-$330)
Last Week's 4-5 Unit NFL Picks (Week 21, 2017): 0-0 ($0)
Last Week Over-Under (Week 21, 2017): 1-0 ($0)
Last Week's Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks (Week 21 and seasonal, 2017): -$720
2017 NFL Picks of the Month: 4-2, 66.7% (+$1,040)
2017 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 137-140-8, 49.5% (-$3,790) 2017 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 32-40-3, 43.8% (-$2,395) 2017 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 20-22-1, 47.6% (-$1,595) 2017 Season Over-Under: 136-139-2, 49.5% (+$640) 2017 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: -$510
1999 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 27-41-3 (39.7%) 2000 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 128-123-8 (51.0%) 2001 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 127-122-7 (51.0%) 2002 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 123-136-7 (47.5%) 2003 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 146-126-8 (53.7%) 2004 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 157-123-8 (56.1%) 2005 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 156-126-11 (55.3%) 2006 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 151-135-9 (52.8%) 2007 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 162-135-10, 54.5% (+$2,550) 2008 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 148-140-7, 51.4% (+$2,620) 2009 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 151-124-9, 54.9% (+$3,370) 2010 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 144-131-8, 52.4% (+$6,080) 2011 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 137-133-12, 50.7% (-$1,925) 2012 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 130-145-8, 47.3% (-$5,760) 2013 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 144-131-8, 52.4% (+$5,580) 2014 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 143-133-7, 51.8% (-$1,885) 2015 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 134-138-12, 49.3% (-$2,360) 2016 Season NFL Picks Against The Spread: 148-127-10, 53.8% (+$1,055)
2002 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 41-49-2 (45.6%) 2003 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 52-51-2 (50.5%) 2004 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 65-44-3 (59.6%) 2005 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 77-61-1 (55.8%) 2006 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 65-61-4 (51.6%) 2007 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 83-59-5, 58.5% (+$4,110) 2008 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 44-57-3, 43.6% (-$3,510) 2009 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 49-35-3, 58.3% (+$2,260) 2010 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 51-38-4, 57.3% (+$3,180) 2011 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 44-51-3, 46.3% (-$2,715) 2012 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 45-50-2, 47.4% (-$2,130) 2013 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 38-42, 47.5% (-$2,890) 2015 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 47-44-1, 51.6% (-$820) 2016 Season 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 42-35-3, 54.5% (+$475)
2002 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 11-12 (47.8%) 2003 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 16-13-1 (55.2%) 2004 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 18-11 (62.1%) 2005 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 25-22-1 (53.2%) 2006 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 21-29-1 (42.0%) 2007 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 35-30-2, 53.8% (+$420) 2008 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 39-26-2, 60.0% (+$4,055) 2009 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 29-26, 52.7% (+$330) 2010 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 32-22, 59.3% (+$4,790) 2011 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 14-14, 50.0% (-$1,260) 2012 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 14-21, 40.0% (-$3,650) 2013 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 17-9-3, 65.4% (+$2,970) 2015 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 17-16-2, 51.5% (-$1,120) 2016 Season 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 21-22-5, 48.8% (-$1,465)
2001 Season Over-Under: 3-2 (60.0%) 2002 Season Over-Under: 121-91-3 (57.1%) 2003 Season Over-Under: 126-132-2 (48.8%) 2004 Season Over-Under: 139-124-4 (52.9%) 2005 Season Over-Under: 117-145-4 (44.7%) 2006 Season Over-Under: 129-132-5 (49.4%) 2007 Season Over-Under: 136-145-3, 48.4% (-$1,900) 2008 Season Over-Under: 137-125-6, 52.3% (+$860) 2009 Season Over-Under: 128-135-4, 48.7% (-$3,195) 2010 Season Over-Under: 128-135-5, 48.7% (-$5) 2011 Season Over-Under: 131-131-5, 50.0% (+$135) 2012 Season Over-Under: 125-121-5, 50.8% (+$30) 2013 Season Over-Under: 132-130-5, 50.4% (-$340) 2015 Season Over-Under: 143-119-5, 54.6% ($0) 2016 Season Over-Under: 123-141-1, 46.6% (+$95)
2007 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: +$1,035 2008 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: +$1,775 2009 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: +$865 2010 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: -$200 2011 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: +$590 2012 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: -$1,685 2013 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: +$2,245 2015 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: -$855 2016 Season Prop/ML/Teaser/Parlay Picks: -$275
2006 NFL Picks of the Month: 3-3 (50%) 2007 NFL Picks of the Month: 3-3, 50.0% (-$400) 2008 NFL Picks of the Month: 6-1, 85.7% (+$3,720) 2009 NFL Picks of the Month: 3-2, 60.0% (+$640) 2010 NFL Picks of the Month: 2-4, 33.3% (-$1,810) 2011 NFL Picks of the Month: 5-2, 71.4% (+$1,870) 2012 NFL Picks of the Month: 3-2, 60.0% (+$560) 2013 NFL Picks of the Month: 6-0, 100% (+$3,900) 2014 NFL Picks of the Month: 2-4, 33.3% (-$1,350) 2015 NFL Picks of the Month: 3-3, 50.0% (-$100) 2016 NFL Picks of the Month: 5-1, 83.3% (+$2,780)
Career NFL Picks Against The Spread: 2,574-2,383-151, 51.9% (+$5,125) Career 2-3 Unit NFL Picks: 817-743-41 (52.3%) Career 4-5 Unit NFL Picks: 349-314-19 (52.6%) Career Over-Under: 2,080-2,031-56 (50.5%) Career Second-Half NFL Picks: 22-15-1 (61.1%) Career NFL Picks of the Month: 39-24 (61.9%)
My Team-by-Team ATS Record This section shows how well I do when picking each team this year. The purpose is to see how well I read each team. Pushes are not
displayed. Winning/losing streak in parentheses.