Handicapping a full NFL season is as much about forcing yourself to forget as much as it is about what you study to remember from one week to the next.
Let me explain.
At the beginning of the year, the Indianapolis Colts looked like a team that was going to throw the ball all over the field as Andrew Luck engineering a big-play offence. That couldn’t be further from reality now.
The 49ers had pundits pounding the alarm buttons after getting blown out in two of their first three games of the season. Since then all they’ve done is win 11 of their next 13, allowing more than 20 points just twice.
The Saints looked like they were going to claim the NFC South title easily earlier this season, but stumbled down the stretch when they had to play away from the Superdome.
The Chargers have reinvented themselves a couple of times already this year – beginning as a pass-first attack with Philip Rivers leading the charge and ending the year as a run-happy squad paced by Ryan Mathews.
So, what does this all mean? It’s a reminder that as soon as you think you have a team figured out, you only have to wait until it’s next game to be proven wrong. That’s how fast things change in the NFL now. Each week teams face different tests with different game plans and different lineups. They are not what they were in Week 1 or in Week 17.
They’re just what they are now: Wild Card teams in the NFL playoffs looking to extend their season with a single victory.
See Sports Interaction’s updated NFL Wild Card Weekend odds.
As much as the Chiefs get dumped on for their ultra-conservative offence, you can’t argue with an 11-5 record. They allowed fewer than 20 points per game and have one of the league’s most dangerous offensive threats in Jamaal Charles. Still, this Colts team is coming together down the stretch and finding its identity as a tough, grinding team that will take advantage of mistakes and take care of the ball. They have allowed just 20 total points over the last three weeks.
Pick: Under 46
It seems like every year there’s a team that gets hot at the end of the season and makes a deep run into the playoffs. That team could easily be the Philadelphia Eagles this time around. This team was a mess earlier this year with Mike Vick at quarterback as the club tried to implement Chip Kelly’s attack. But now with Nick Foles moving the chains and taking care of the football, Kelly’s offence is on a roll. Philly’s defence may not get the recognition, but it has been excellent too. The Eagles have allowed more than 21 points just once in their last 12 games.
Pick: Philadelphia Eagles -2.5
The Bengals are a perfect 8-0 at home and you can see the weight in that home-field advantage in this line. It’s too much weight, if you ask me. San Diego’s attack has some balance with Ryan Mathews carrying the rock and as much as we love to dump on Philip Rivers, he’s doing his job. The Bengals might get by the Chargers, but this line will drop before kickoff.
Pick: San Diego Chargers +7
Some bettors will see the Packers as a team to ride when they head home to face the 49ers after last week’s dramatic win over the Bears. I’m not one of them. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t sharp in his return to the lineup in the regular-season finale and he will be forced to make big plays when the running game sputters. San Francisco’s defence takes centre stage here on the road.
Pick: San Francisco 49ers