@ZackMooreNFL Sunday Divisional Playoff Picks

I had another great day picking games yesterday and I’ve been on a roll in the playoffs with a 5-1 record now with my only loss being my Steelers pick. To reiterate something I wrote yesterday morning, approach games you’re betting like you’re a coach for both teams and think about how you would approach the game if you were the coaches. The first thing I look at is how each team was ranked rushing and passing, offensively and defensively. I look at some trends and match-ups, I look at past games between the teams and similar teams.

I’ve also been KILLING it on daily fantasy leagues using this strategy as well. The best part about the playoffs is that you’ve only got a couple of games to focus on, unlike the regular season when you get distracted by all of the clutter of a dozen different games.

Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers (-6); (o/u 53)

I just love the Packers this year. That’s how I need to start this article because I’m a huge believer in the way they’ve played at home and in the cold as a passing offense. With Eddie Lacy, they have the run game to balance out one of the top passing attacks in the NFL. The trifecta of Rodgers, Nelson and Cobb might be the best QB/WR combo in the NFL AND they pair it with an elite running back in Eddie Lacy. I think that those four create such an issue for defenses that they make themselves almost indefensible.

What’s really interesting about this match-up is that the Packers are undefeated at home this season and the Cowboys are undefeated on the road. Another interesting statistic regarding this match-up is that the Cowboys are the second best rushing offense in the NFL and the Packers have given up only 86.4 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry over the last eight weeks of the season. That would make them the fifth best team against the run over the course of the entire season, but they gave up 153.5 per over the first eight. The key was their moving Clay Matthews to inside linebacker, which boosted their rush defense.

While Matt Stafford came back home for a playoff match-up in Dallas last week, Tony Romo will be heading home this weekend as he played at a high school about 150 miles south of Lambeau, so he grew up in this cold weather and played at Eastern Illinois. Part of the reason why the Cowboys were so good on the road is that Romo had a league-best 121.8 quarterback rating with 20 TDs and only two picks. Dez Bryant has 20 catches and two touchdowns in two career games against the Packers with 153 yards receiving in last year’s game.

This year, the Packers have a good passing defense, giving up the 10th least yards in the NFL through the air at 226 per game. They’ve got two of the better cornerbacks in the NFL with Tramon Williams and Sam Shields along with Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the safety spots, so they’ve got the guys to slow down the Cowboys passing attack. That’s a huge deal considering how good their running defense has been since Matthews moved to the inside linebacker spot. During that time, they’ve gone 7-1 with their only loss being that strange dud against the Bills and they’ve scored 33 points a game against 20 a week by their opponents.

The Cowboys did prove they could beat a good team last week without Murray having a huge game, but I think the Packers passing attack is much sharper than the Lions. While Rodgers only threw for 124 yards more than Stafford, but Rodgers had 7 less interceptions and completed 5.3% more of his passes. The Packers also have the 11th best rushing attack in the NFL compared to the Lions who were 28th, which adds a dimension that the Lions just don’t have offensively yet almost beat the Cowboys at home.

Ross Tucker said on his podcast this week, “these games are all about match-ups,” and I think that this is a great match-up for the Packers. Although the Lions defense is the best in the league, the Packers get the added benefit of being at home and they’ve been playing great defense the second half of the year.

For these reasons and more, I’m riding the Packers. I think the final score will be around 31-17 in favor of the home team.

MY PICK: Packers -6


Indianapolis Colts vs Denver Broncos (-7.5); (o/u 53.5)

It was awesome to see the Broncos go out and address their needs last offseason after the beat down they received from the Seahawks in the Meadowlands. After a year of historic offense, the Broncos went out and got DeMarcus Ware for the pass rush, Aqib Talib as a cover corner and TJ Ward to shore up the back end of that defense. On top of that, they got Von Miller back healthy along with another year of experience for many of the young, talented players on their defense.

This year, the third best defense in the NFL resides in Denver and that defense is the second best rush defense as well. They’re the ninth best passing D in the NFL, but they’ve got one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL with Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib on the corners and TJ Ward and young, up and comer Rahim Moore.

I think that Hakeem Nicks could be a sneaky x-factor for the Colts to stay in this game, along with Boom Herron again, as pass-catching backs have done pretty well against the Broncos. Herron is a good daily league play again as guys like Vereen, Bernard, Latavis Murray, and Brandon Oliver have all had multiple receptions for around 40-60 yards in their games, so he’ll get you at least 10 points tomorrow right there. The Colts can’t stay in this game without Herron because they’d have nothing to confuse the defense with. Herron will have to have another game with at least 50 rushing and 75 in the short passing game with some YAC. Without him, the Broncos wouldn’t have to respect the run at all and it would only make their strong pass defense even better.

I say Nicks will need to be an x-factor because Talib did a decent job against Aqib Talib last year when he was in New England. Against Talib, Hilton only had 3 catches for 57 yards last January as he had a 46-yard reception against zone-coverage in the fourth quarter. This year, Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib both covered Hilton and he only caught two of eight targets for 15 yards.

With Moncrief not having stepped up into a bigger role since Reggie Wayne has been banged up, I think that Nicks will have his biggest day for Indianapolis as he also has a ton of playoff experience from his time with the Giants. While the Broncos do have two Pro Bowl cornerbacks, Andrew Luck will have to throw somewhere

Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen could also be big targets for Andrew Luck as the Broncos are 29th in fantasy football against tight ends. Last time Talib matched up against Hilton, Fleener was the second leading receiver with 74 yards and LaVon Brazill was third with 73 yards on two catches and two touchdowns. I just have a guy feeling that Nicks could have a big catching day for those of you playing daily leagues and who might need a low-cost WR for tomorrow.

However, after all that talk about the Colts, I just don’t see how they win this game. I know that these are two of the best offenses in the NFL, but along with the great defense I just talked about, the Broncos are much too balanced on the offensive side for this average Colts defense to hang with them.

I like Emmanuel Sanders to have a big game tomorrow as Vontae Davis will be covering Demaryius Thomas, who only has eight catches for 120 yards in two games against Davis. In their last match-up, Thomas had three dropped balls and only 38 yards on four catches, but none of his catches came when Davis was covering him. When quarterbacks throw Davis’ way, they have an incredibly low 38.8 passer rating and he has not given up a touchdown all season.

What’s incredible about the quality of the cornerbacks in this game is that Chris Harris is the only corner in the league graded higher than Davis through Pro Football Focus’ rankings and Aqib Talib had four interceptions.

Considering that Julius Thomas is also, still, on his way beck from that ankle injury, I really like Sanders to be Manning’s main target in the passing game. When these teams met in September, which is a lifetime ago in football, Julius was the leading receiver for Manning with 7 catches for 104 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Sanders was second with 6 catches for 77. I expect those numbers to be flipped as Manning is now more comfortable with Sanders and Julius is banged up.

There are three main differences between this match-up and the one in September that had the Broncos win by 7 in my opinion. The first is that Ahmad Bradshaw is out of this one and he had 10 touches for 89 yards, but I think he can be replaced (but not quite replicated), by Boom Herron. The second main difference is that the Broncos now have a balanced offense, with a top rushing attack led by CJ Anderson AND they’ll have Ronnie Hillman back in the lineup and ready to spell Anderson, which should add another dimension to this offense that we haven’t quite seen yet.

Lastly, Reggie Wayne is limited and he had 9 catches for 98 yards in the first match-up between these two teams, but I do think that Hakeem Nicks is prepared to step up for the Colts with Moncrief adding some production himself.

On that note, I wanted to add a final thought I have Nicks in daily fantasy leagues for the Sunday games only: considering that Andrew Luck will probably throw the ball 50-55 times, that means that after you give Hilton 10 targets, 12 to the tight end position, and even 10 more to Boom Herron there are still 18-23 targets to go between Nicks, Wayne and Moncrief. Wayne only had 2 last week, so if that holds up considering his injuries, that means 16-21 to go between  Nicks and Moncrief. In five career playoff games, Hakeem Nicks is averaging 6 catches and 100 yards with four touchdowns. His worst playoff game was last week against the Bengals with 3 catches for 59, but with the amount of times the Colts will throw the ball and Moncrief’s inconsistency, I can’t say enough about Nicks as a low-cost, high-value, potential difference maker in daily leagues tomorrow.

Hakeem Nicks is only 26 years old and was one of the best receivers in the league three years ago when he was only 23 years old. I think that today’s huge playoff match-up will cause him to step up and give us a hundred yard effort.

I see this being a high scoring affair, so I don’t disagree with the over, but I’m keeping it simple and sticking with the Broncos -7.5. Peyton Manning just has too much talent around him and the defense will be too good. The Colts are a great running back and a couple improvements on defense away from winning with Luck, hopefully they go out and get those this offseason. This is just a bad match-up for the Colts. The team with no running game facing one of the best, so they’ll have to pass 50 times against a defense with multiple Pro Bowlers in the secondary. I think this game ends up with a Broncos victory somewhere around 35-21.

I’m also not against taking the over here, as the over has gone in eight of the last nine match-ups between these teams.

MY PICK: Broncos -7.5



Thanks for stopping by and have an All-American NFL Sunday!