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Wildcard Weekend NFL Picks & Betting Trends

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Bodog Nation - 4 And Out!

Bodog Nation Articles

Jan 4th, 2008

By Mike Halford and Jason Brough
Bodog Nation Contributing Writers

Each week, we break down four trends to help bettors make more informed NFL betting picks. The following are for the wildcard playoff weekend:

First Down
The Jaguars should run all over the Heinz Field mystique.
- MH

Seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers as three-point underdogs in a playoff home game is truly a sight to behold. After all, Mike Tomlin's charges went 7-1 at Heinz Field this year and are widely regarded as having the best home fan support in the NFL.

That one loss, however, came at the hands of their wildcard opponent this weekend - the Jacksonville Jaguars. Back in Week 15, the Jags rolled into Pittsburgh and handled the Steelers to the tune of 29-22, led by 216 combined rushing yards from Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. It was a remarkable feat considering Pittsburgh - who finished third against the run in the regular season, holding opponents to 89.9 rushing yards per game - never gets sliced and diced in front of their home fans like that.

But things have changed. Aside from missing starting RB Willie Parker (broken leg), the Steelers have been absolutely decimated on the defensive side of the football.

Pro Bowl DE Aaron Smith is out with a torn biceps injury. Backup cornerback Bryant McFadden reinjured his ankle in a Week 17 loss to the Ravens. All-world safety Troy Polamalu has been hobbled all year with a knee injury, Deshea Townsend is limited with an injured foot and linebacker Clint Kriewaldt has been placed on IR. These injuries have lessened the Heinz Field mystique, especially when a power running team like Jacksonville comes to town.

The last team to travel to Pittsburgh for a playoff game after beating the Steelers on the road during the regular season is the 2001 Baltimore Ravens, who were 13-10 winners at Heinz Field during the regular campaign and dropped a 27-10 decision at Heinz Field in an AFC Divisional Playoff.

Should the Jaguars do the business that the 2001 Ravens couldn't, they'll move into elite company and be a serious threat to either New England or Indianapolis the following week.

Second Down
The Collins magic might run out for Washington this weekend.
- MH

With all due respect to Todd Collins - the 13-year veteran has been magnificent in relief of Jason Campbell - he's on shaky ground heading into Seattle this weekend.

Yes, Collins' numbers suggest otherwise. Leaving out the Giants game, played in crosswinds that gusted to 50 mph, Collins has completed 59 of 80 passes (73.8 percent) for 722 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer ratings in the last three games have been 144.6, 124.8 and 104.8. But there are mitigating factors in the Pacific Northwest that suggest such efficiency won't come as easily this weekend.

First, the ballyhooed Qwest Field 12th man will be in full force. The raucous Seahawk crowd keeps a running count of how many false start penalties they've "caused" and seems to believe it can actually fire up the defense.

The 12th man might be right.

In eight home games during the regular season, the Seahawks produced 29 of their 45 sacks and 23 of their 34 turnovers. Seattle lost just one game at home this year and held opponents to single digit scoring four times (six points against Tampa in Week 1; six points against St. Louis in Week 7; a shutout of San Francisco in Week 10 and six points against Baltimore in Week 16).

People will talk about the decline of Shaun Alexander and how the Seahawks will struggle with his ineffectiveness running the football, but fear not. During the 2006 playoff game vs. Washington (won by Seattle 20-10), Alexander was knocked out with a concussion and finished with nine yards. Matt Hasselbeck then went out and hit six different receivers for 215 yards and a TD to seal the deal.

Free NFL Playoff Picks Against the Spread
Bodog Nation Staff Selections

  Brijbassi Brough Halford Richards Strother
WSH at
SEA -3.5
WSH SEA SEA SEA WSH
JAX at
PIT +3
JAX PIT JAX PIT PIT
NYG at
TB -3
NYG NYG NYG TB TB
TEN at
SD -9.5
SD TEN SD TEN SD

Third Down
All eyes will be on Brandon Jacobs in Tampa Bay.
- MH

In a game heavy on defense and light on offensive stars, the one guy who'll draw the most attention is No. 27 for the New York Giants.

At 6 feet 4 inches and 264 pounds, Brandon Jacobs not only is one of the biggest running backs in the NFL, he's comparable in size to some of Tampa Bay's defensive linemen, which means he should be seeing his fair share of carries on Sunday afternoon.

The key for Jacobs and the Giants is to keep Eli Manning out of long and unmanageable third-down situations. The Buccaneers' defense ranked No. 1 against the pass during the regular season and had a plus-15 turnover ratio, fourth best in the league. And their 270-point yield was third lowest behind Indianapolis (262) and Pittsburgh (269).

But the real key is the Tampa Two defense. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin plays two safeties deep to prevent long plays - the same long plays he tries to goad teams into making on third down. This is why stopping Jacobs on first and second will be so crucial. The Buccaneers want to force Manning into making passing decisions given his woeful playoff past.

Jacobs has been good-yet-erratic while dealing with injuries for most of 2007. If he can put it together for one solid week, the Giants should cover the three points and move on to play another day.

Fourth Down
The Bodog Nation golden playoff rule: Stay away from QBs making their postseason debuts.
- MH

The last two postseasons have followed this mantra to a "T." In January of 2006, Tampa Bay's Chris Simms, New York's Eli Manning and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer all lost in their playoff debuts.

Last season, it was Dallas' Tony Romo and San Diego's Philip Rivers.

This year? Unfortunately, it looks like it'll be Vince Young.

Already hobbled with a nagging hamstring injury, Young will be hard-pressed to muster much offense against the Chargers' stout run defense and steadily improving secondary. Antonio Cromartie - who picked off Young during San Diego's 23-17 overtime win against Tennessee in Week 14 - set a franchise record with 10 interceptions on the year. The rest of the usual San Diego suspects - Shaun Phillips, Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo - will be in charge of containing Young, collapsing pockets when he goes back to throw and extending them should VY try to make a play with his feet.

San Diego's last playoff victory came in 1994. Since LaDainian Tomlinson joined the Chargers in 2001 they are 0-2 in playoffs, with a 20-17 loss to the New York Jets in 2004, and a 24-21 loss to New England last season. LDT will be looking to avenge what many are calling the lone black mark on an otherwise fantastic career. Take the Chargers plus the points and start salivating about a rematch with the Colts next weekend.

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