NFL Picks - 1/6/2013

Last Updated: 1/9/2013 12:10 PM ET

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For each Sunday during the NFL season, Paul Bessire thoroughly breaks down the top three ATS plays. See Predictalator Picks for these games.

Paul's Pick: Baltimore -6.5 vs. Indianapolis (Covers 57.1%)

The most valuable overall game features the most likely straight-up winner - the only Wild Card Round game where we expect the home team to cover. As has been noted consistently throughout the season, the Indianapolis Colts faced the league's easiest schedule throughout this impressive run from first overall pick to 11 win season. Not only was it the easiest schedule of the year, the gap between Indianapolis and the next easiest schedule (Cincinnati) is the greatest I have seen in nine years of doing this professionally. Give the Colts credit for getting here, but they have struggled when overmatched and they are overmatched in this game against the Baltimore Ravens. As friends of PM Chad Millman and Bill Simmons discuss in their recent NFL Playoff podcast, if this game were scheduled for Week 1 of this season, even with all of the same players starting that are currently expected in this game, this line would be double-digits. That's still right about where it should be. Emotional wagering (the public backing Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano) is all that is keeping this line from a touchdown or more. 

The Indianapolis Colts are 11-5 straight-up and 10-6 against-the-spread on the season. On the road, the team is just 4-4 SU and ATS. As a touchdown or greater underdogs on the season, Indianapolis is just 1-3 SU and ATS, with all three losses coming on the road and by an average margin of 43.0-20.7. The Colts finish the year ranked 22nd in our NFL Power Rankings - behind teams like the Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Worse yet, Indianapolis does not rank as average or greater (1-16) in any of our strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency metrics. This includes a last place ranking in run defense, which cannot be good news facing a well-rested Ray Rice (whose Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda also got to take it easy last week to prep for this game). Maybe the most damning statistic related to the Colts is that, despite playing the easiest relative schedule in a decade, the only two teams that were out-gained by more yards-per-play than Indianapolis were Kansas City and Arizona. The Colts gave up almost a full yard more per-play than they gained on the season. 

Baltimore has legitimately struggled with defensive injuries during an up-and-down season that saw the Ravens win the AFC North with a 10-6 record, yet finish just 6-9-1 against-the-spread versus the 18th toughest NFL schedule. While the close to the season, which saw Baltimore lose three of its last four games, is not inspiring, the Ravens never once faced a team that had been eliminated from NFL Playoff contention and still took advantage of weaker opponents when possible. As six point or greater favorites on the year, Baltimore went 3-1 and won all three of those games by at least 13 points (average score of 40.7-16.3 in those wins).

While we have erred on the side of caution and do not expect much positive bonus from getting back LB Ray Lewis for this game, it is important to note that Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Anquan Boldin and Bernard Pollard should all be as fresh as they have been in a long time after getting Week 17 off and that just LB Jameel McClain and CB Lardarius Webb remain as the defensive starters who will miss this game (seven other defensive starters have missed at least one game on the season). 

According to 50,000 games played of Indianapolis @ Baltimore by the Predictalator, the Ravens win 71.8% of the time and by an average score of 30.8-21.7. As 6.5 point favorites that win by almost ten points, Baltimore covers the spread 57.1% of the time, which warrants a $50 play from a normal $50 player. The OVER (46.5) in this game covers 59.5% of the time as a recommended $75 play for a $50 player.

Paul's Pick: Seattle -2.5 vs. Washington (Covers 54.5%)

As Dave Tuley noted in this week's (great, as usual) Vegas Beat column, Seattle opened as just one point favorites in most early sportsbooks (we saw PK in at least one spot as well), yet the Seahawks have climbed to -2.5 in some spots and -3 in others (admittedly more now when I am writing the analysis late Wednesday afternoon). The Seahawks are not just the better team, they are by far the more complete team. In a matchup of two rookie quarterbacks making their first ever NFL Playoff starts, the team with the better team around said quarterback is likely to win. Undoubtedly at this point in the year, that is Seattle.

The Seattle Seahawks are 11-5 straight-up and 10-5-1 against-the-spread versus the fifth most difficult NFL schedule from 2012. While it is obvious to note that Seattle struggled on the road - given that they went 8-0 at home - the Seahawks had the ball with a chance to take the lead on a final possession with two minutes or fewer left in every single road loss. They did not lose a game by more than a touchdown on the year. Obviously, to cover Seattle has to win this game, which the Seahawks proved they could also do on the road with two outright upsets as underdogs away from home and a 50-17 win in Toronto in their final road game of the year. In general, not dissimilar to Washington, Seattle is playing its best football at the end of the year with seven wins (and six covers) in the last eight games. 

Washington is 10-6 SU and 11-5 ATS against the 15th ranked NFL schedule. Washington has won seven straight games, but only one of those came over a playoff team (Washington's lone other win over a playoff team came in Week 6 at home over Minnesota). In our end of season NFL Power Rankings, the Seahawks finished third overall - entering the playoffs as the most likely team from Wild Card Round to win the Super Bowl. Seattle has out-gained its opponents by 0.71 yards-per-play which is the third best number in the league and more than twice what Washington has been able to do. The Redskins do have a great offense (the main reason this game goes OVER), which finished the year fourth overall, first in passing and fifth in rushing in our strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency metrics. However, the defense, which ranks 31st and is below average against the run and the pass, is an area of concern. Washington gives up the sixth most yards-per-play in the league and has the weakest pass rush of any playoff team. If Washington cannot get to Seattle's rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks get to the Redskins' rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III - as is expected in this projection - Seattle should net the victory. Wilson has the better overall team around him and is simply more likely to be standing (victorious and with a clean jersey) at the end of the game.

In 50,000 games played of Seahawks @ Redskins, Seattle wins in Washington 60.3% of the time and by an average margin of 27.1-22.7. As 2.5 point favorites, Seattle covers the spread 54.5% of the time, which justifies a $22 play from a normal $50 player (it is a playable $10 play with 53.3% confidence at Seattle -3). The OVER (46) has more value with 55.9% confidence and a recommended $37 wager from a normal $50 player. 

NFL Playoff Preview
The Predictalator uses current rosters and strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player stats to play, one play at a time, the NFL Playoffs bracket 50,000 times before it's actually played. For this analysis, we are tracking how likely a team is to make it to any level of the NFL Playoffs. The playoffs are played all the way through individually, with the team that wins each game in that instance advancing. The percentages in the table below represent the team's likelihood of advancing to that round.

After spending much of the last six weeks as our most likely Super Bowl winner, the Denver Broncos supplanted the Houston Texans in Week 17 to claim the top seed in the AFC and home field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. The Broncos are our favorites to win the Super Bowl, making the Super Bowl 50.4% of the time and bringing home the title 28.6% of the time (making Denver 57% and three point favorite on average over its NFC opponent in the Super Bowl). In the AFC Playoff race, the Week 17 shake-up at the top leads to a bracket that is ultimately true to form in seeding. Denver is followed by the AFC's second seed in the New England Patriots, which has the third best chance to with the Super Bowl overall (15.4%) and would be underdogs (by just 1.8 points) to San Francisco from the NFC. Denver and New England meet in the AFC Championship game over half (50.7%) of the time. Houston, the AFC's third seed and its third best team at this point, is a distant third in AFC Championship winning (9.3%) and Super Bowl winning (4.2%) odds. After the top three AFC Seeds, the Baltimore Ravens (2.3%), Indianapolis Colts (0.3%) and Cincinnati Bengals (1.3%), combine for just 3.9% of all Super Bowl wins. The Colts, who have never been ranked higher than #20 in our NFL Power Rankings, have just a 1.1% chance of riding "Chuckstrong" magic through the AFC playoffs to make the Super Bowl (likely having to face Baltimore, Denver and New England on the road just to get to New Orleans). The Broncos win the Super Bowl more than New England, Houston, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Indianapolis (and Minnesota and Washington) combined. As it stands now, Denver and New England represent the AFC in the Super Bowl exactly 80% of the time. In general, the AFC is 52.1% likely to win the Super Bowl, but only the Broncos and Patriots would be favored to win over the average expected NFC Super Bowl participant.

The best NFC team with respect to its likelihood to win the Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers, wins it all 20.6% of the time. Despite having home field advantage in the NFC Championship game if it gets there, the Atlanta Falcons are half as likely to make the Super Bowl as the 49ers. Atlanta is the fifth most likely overall Super Bowl champion at 6.5%. A 49ers @ Falcons NFC Championship game is just 29.1% likely to happen at this point. The 49ers are actually followed in Super Bowl likelihood by a fellow NFC West team. Though they would not likely get any playoff games at home (the best home field advantage in the NFL), the Seattle Seahawks, at 11.1% likely to win the Super Bowl, have the best chance of any team playing this weekend to win the Super Bowl. According to our numbers, the Seahawks, Texans and Packers are the three of the five best teams in the playoffs, so the projections could look different if those teams can avoid upsets this week. It should be noted as well that San Francisco and Seattle are the only NFC teams currently favored over the average AFC playoff team. Green Bay, which is the healthiest it has been in more than two months, still has a tough path to the Super Bowl that includes its third matchup with the Minnesota Vikings this weekend, potentially followed by back-to-back road games. Green Bay is only 1-3 on the season against NFC Playoff teams. The NFC North may have two teams in the postseason, but the division is only 16.3% likely to be represented in the Super Bowl. The Washington Redskins, the lone home underdog in Wild Card week, have an offense that can make the game competitive against anyone, yet would almost assuredly be underdogs in all four games en route to a Super Bowl championship. The Redskins vs. Seahawks game is certainly one to watch, though, as the winner of that game heads to the Super Bowl 27% of the time (the highest figure of any matchup this week). 

Interesting Super Bowl matchups and their relative likelihood include: Most Likely - Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers occurs 19.4% (last year's most likely Super Bowl was just 13% likely at this time); Top Seeds - Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons occurs 9.2%; All-Harbaugh - Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers occurs 2.4%; Biggest Projected Margin (13.4 points) - San Francisco 49ers  vs. Indianapolis Colts occurs 212 times out of 50,000; All Rookie Quarterbacks - Washington Redskins or Seattle Seahawks vs. Indianapolis Colts occurs 151 times out of 50,000 simulations; Least Likely - Indianapolis Colts vs. Minnesota Vikings occurs 25 of 50,000 times. Also, while Indianapolis is listed as winning the Super Bowl 0.3%, the Colts - the Colts, who are the only double-digit underdogs in any possible Super Bowl, actually take home the title exactly 149 times out of 50,000, but would not be greater than 30% likely to win over any NFC team.

NFL Playoff Odds (based on 2012-13 NFL Playoffs played 50,000 times)

Team Conference Championship Super Bowl Super Bowl Win
Denver Broncos 77.5% 50.4% 28.6%
San Francisco 49ers 61.9% 38.5% 20.6%
New England Patriots 65.4% 29.6% 15.4%
Seattle Seahawks 35.4% 19.8% 11.1%
Atlanta Falcons 47.0% 18.3% 6.5%
Green Bay Packers 23.4% 11.7% 5.2%
Houston Texans 24.2% 9.3% 4.2%
Washington Redskins 17.4% 7.1% 2.8%
Baltimore Ravens 18.3% 6.2% 2.3%
Minnesota Vikings 15.0% 4.5% 1.7%
Cincinnati Bengals 9.3% 3.4% 1.3%
Indianapolis Colts 5.3% 1.1% 0.3%

NFL Picks Pages:

January 5: Predictalator Picks  Paul's Analysis
January 6: Predictalator Picks  Paul's Analysis
Play Analyzer - View Updated Picks on Current Consensus Lines
Customize the Predictalator - Play the Games with Any Lines
Buy Picks [AddThis]