After finishing the regular season at an even 40-40-3 ATS (50%), our very own James Scully has survived to tell the tale. He breaks down his favorite 2019 NFL Wild Card Free Picks below with playoff lives on the line! Enjoy.
Indianapolis Colts +1.5 vs Houston Texans
(Saturday 4:35 p.m. ET)
Divisional rivals split meetings during regular season, each prevailing by three points on the road, and another close game can be expected.
Both team play solid defense and feature excellent quarterbacks. And star wide receivers T.Y. Hilton (Colts) and DeAndre Hopkins (Texans) were key for each team’s head-to-head success during the regular season: Hopkins had 10 receptions for 169 yards in Houston’s win, Hilton caught nine passes for 199 yards in Indy’s victory. Slowing down Hilton and Hopkins will be a major focus for defensive coordinators Romeo Crennel and Matt Eberflus considering each player had only four catches in their respective losses.
Houston won the AFC North for the third time in four years, rebounding from a 4-12 season that resulted from DeShaun Watson going down with an ACL in Week 6, and Texans 3-1 SU/ATS in previous wild-card games. They enter on a 4-1 ATS run at home.
Indianapolis didn’t enter the year with high expectations and appeared dead in the water after opening 1-5. But Colts finished on a tear, winning nine of the last 10 games, and they’ve fared well at Houston during the regular season (5-0-1 ATS last six). However, Colts 1-4 ATS in the last five playoff road games.
Winning twice at Houston in 27 days won’t be easy.
Texans rank seventh in defensive efficiency. They allow only 82.7 rushing yards (third-best) and 19.8 points (fourth-best) per game, with an outstanding defensive line and linebacker corps. The secondary has been a weakness, giving up 260 passing yards per game (28th), and Houston must find a way to apply more pressure upon Andrew Luck, who had plenty of time to throw winning the second match-up after being sacked four times during the Week 4 loss.
In the Week 14 meeting, Indianapolis kept Houston’s run game in check, sacked Watson five times and constantly had their opponent behind the chains in long third-down situations. Houston still managed to cut the deficit to 24-21 in the fourth quarter and I’m expecting a better showing this time.
Texans strung together eight straight victories prior to the Week 14 game, the final two a pair of highly-emotional wins that immediately followed the passing of instrumental figures, losing team founder Bob McNair before the Tennessee game in late November and the Texans’ #1 fan, President George H.W. Bush, before the Cleveland game a week later. Houston responded by winning both games convincingly but couldn’t bring the same energy a week later versus Indianapolis.
RB Lamar Miller expected back at full-strength after being limited by an ankle in recent weeks and the return of WE Keke Coutee would be another boost. And Hopkins continues to make a case for being the best wide out in the league, recording 12 catches for 147 yards last week to finish the year with 115 receptions for 1,572 yards and 11 TDs.
Indianapolis will bring it offensively and I like how the run game and defense really improved in the second-half of the season. RB Marlon Mack had big games in late-season wins over Dallas and Tennessee, and Indy has the NFL’s eighth-best run defense and ranks 10th-best in overall defensive efficiency.
Houston does have an intangibles edge. Texans boast the second-best turnover differential (+13) and don’t commit many penalties, averaging 5.4 penalties per game at home (fifth-best in NFL). Indianapolis commits 8.2 penalties per game on the road (third-worst) and exits a pair of sloppy efforts the last two weeks.
Indianapolis looked like they could beat anybody when throttling Dallas 23-0 at home on December 16 but have tailed off in the last two games, both must-win affairs to make the postseason.
Colts nearly lost to an off-form Giants (exiting shut-out loss) at home in Week 16, securing their first lead with 55 seconds remaining, and could’ve blown out an injury-ravaged Tennessee that didn’t show up last week. Instead, Indy led Tennessee only 24-17 early in fourth quarter due to self-inflicted mistakes, committing a league-leading 12 penalties. Colts had two turnovers last week and the uneven play leads me to question whether they’ve already peaked.
Houston thrives in close games (six wins by a TD or less) and will find a way to advance to the second round. Given the small point spread, I’m going with the Texans to cover!
2019 NFL Wild Card Free Picks – Bet Houston -1.5 over Indianapolis!
Seattle Seahawks +2 vs Dallas Cowboys
(Saturday 8:15 p.m. ET)
Second meeting between teams this season and home-field advantage could prove important.
Seattle won an ugly defensive affair at home in Week 3, taking advantage of three Dallas turnovers to prove best by a 24-13 margin despite being outgained 303-295 in total yards. Neither quarterback was efficient (Dallas had 137 passing yards) as both teams leaned heavily on star running backs Ezekiel Elliott (127 yards rushing) and Chris Carson (102).
Cowboys struggled to convert third-downs (3-for-13 vs Seattle) before acquiring Amari Cooper in late October. The All-Pro wide receiver has made a huge difference for the offense and Dallas now ranks 10th in third-down conversions (41.4%).
Dallas had nothing to play for last week at the Giants and Elliott and other starters sat out the game. But Dak Prescott played throughout, tossing a 32-yard fourth-down TD pass with about a minute remaining and adding a two-point conversion to win 36-35. He threw for 368 yards with four TDs and no interceptions, one of his best performances ever. Cynics may shrug off the performance as meaningless but considering Dallas was shut out 23-0 and Prescott really struggled in their previous road game (at Indy), Week 17 served as a huge boost for the Dallas offense heading into the postseason in my estimation.
I remember when a 10-5 Giants team had nothing to play for in the final game of the 2007 season but went toe-to-toe with the unbeaten Patriots, losing 38-35. Center Shaun O’Hara went down with a torn MCL in the first half and critics pounced upon Tom Coughlin for risking injury to his starters. But that meaningless performance catapulted the Giants to a Super Bowl title.
Seattle still has a significant edge with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw for 35 TDs and seven interceptions, but the passing game has struggled this season by averaging only 193 yards per game (27th), one yard less than Jacksonville (ugh). Seahawks rely on the ground game, with Carson anchoring the #1-ranked rush offense (160 yards per game), and Hawks won six of the final seven contests to secure a wildcard berth.
Dallas ranks ninth in defensive efficiency. They’re strong against the run (fifth-best) and allow only 20.2 points per game (sixth-best). And Cowboys love the friendly confines of AT&T Stadium, winning seven-of-eight games and posting a 5-2-1 ATS home record this season. The defense was especially impressive, holding New Orleans to only 10 points and every opponent but Tennessee to 23 or less (Titans scored 28).
Both teams vulnerable away. Seattle only 4-4 SU on the road this year (4-3-1 ATS), dropping an important game late in the season at San Francisco, and the defense has surrendered points of late to the putrid offenses of Arizona and San Francisco (50 combined). It’s easy to respect LB Bobby Wagner (138 tackles) and DE Frank Clark (14 sacks) and Seattle ranks first in the NFL with a +15 turnover differential, but Dallas arguably rates a big edge on the defensive side of the ball with LBs Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith emerging as a force in the second-half of the season and Bryon Jones a shut-down cornerback.
Playoff trends are a wash, with Seattle 1-5 ATS in last six games and Dallas 3-8 ATS in last 11.
The ground game will prove to be the difference. Dallas can load the box and will be tough to run upon. And considering Seattle has given up 463 rushing yards in the last three away games (154.3 yards per), the Cowboys’ offensive line should open run lanes for Elliott, who led the NFL with 1,434 rushing yards.
Seattle will struggle to score points and Dallas will edge away in the second half to a comfortable victory, I’m laying the points with the Cowboys!
2019 NFL Wild Card Free Picks – Bet Dallas -2 over Seattle!
James Scully is a professional handicapper who hails from the great state of Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesScully.