Each week, Jason Logan breaks down some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule. Here are four of the biggest betting mismatches for the NFL Wild Card Weekend:
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (+1, 46)
Chiefs’ lack of pass rush vs. Colts’ healthy offensive line
Kansas City’s defense was one of the most feared pass rushes in the NFL, totaling 47 sacks in the regular season – third most in the AFC for an average of three sacks per game. However, over the last three games, the Chiefs pass rush is missing some teeth, registering a total of only four QB kills. Kansas City managed to get to Andrew Luck only once in its 23-7 loss to the Colts at home in Week 16.
Indianapolis has struggled to keep Luck clean this year but is getting bodies back on the offensive line and is as healthy up front as it's been all season. The Colts have watched their QB get sacked just three times in the past three games. That’s allowed Luck to complete 67.27 percent of his passes and connect for four TDs with zero INTs in that span. Indianapolis is picking up the tempo under this renewed protection, running 70.3 plays per game in that three game stretch, compared to its season average of 63.9 plays per game.
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5, 53.5)
Saints’ TE Jimmy Graham vs. Eagles’ poor pass defense
The Saints’ struggles on the road are well documented. New Orleans musters just over 17 points per road game compared to 34 points at home and finished a dismal 1-7 ATS away from the Big Easy. New Orleans takes on an offense as explosive as its own Saturday and could look to shorten its strikes and chew up the clock, beating up an Eagles defense that allows 289.8 yards passing per game –worst in the NFL.
In order to do so, the Saints will need a hefty dose of All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, who led the league with 16 touchdown catches and averaged more than 14 yards per reception. According to Yahoo!Sports, Philadelphia has been beaten bad by tight ends in its last two games. Chicago TE Martellus Bennett reeled in five balls for 85 yards in Week 16 and Dallas TE Jason Witten caught 12 passes for 135 yards in the season finale. Graham had 72 yards on eight receptions and a TD in a 28-12 win over the Eagles last November.
San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals (-7, 45.5)
Chargers' up-tempo attack vs. Bengals’ turf surface
It’s crazy to think, with all the artificial surfaces around the NFL, that the Chargers will be playing their first game of the season on turf in Cincinnati this weekend. San Diego hasn’t touched a plastic blade of grass all year – including the preseason – with all 10 road games taking place on the real deal. Now, the Bolts hit the fast track at Paul Brown Stadium where the forecast is warming up as gametime inches closer.
San Diego first-year head coach Mike McCoy has preached speed, speed and speed all season, turning up the intensity on both sides of the ball. The Bolts run an average of 66.2 plays per game and have upped that pace in the last three, posting 68.3 plays per outing in that span. The Bengals don’t care for that kind of track meet, allowing opponents to run an average of 58.7 plays over their last three games, and now must slow down a speedy San Diego team getting a boost from the non-slip surface in Cincy.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (+2.5, 45.5)
Niners’ poor pass defense vs. Packers’ resurgence under Rodgers
The 49ers appear to be the hottest team heading into the postseason with six straight wins. However, last year’s NFC champs have a major chink in the armor heading into the Wild Card Weekend. San Francisco, which ranked ninth versus the pass (222.8 yards per game), has been watching opponents go over the top the past two games, allowing a total of 740 passing yards against the Falcons and Cardinals. On top of that, standout CB Carlos Rogers is hobbled by hamstring injury, leaving Eric Wright to shoulder the load in the secondary.
The return of Aaron Rodgers instantly boosts Green Bay back into the Super Bowl conversation. The Packers found balance behind RB Eddie Lacy when Rodgers was sidelined with a broken collarbone and now have a potent two-pronged attack with No. 12 back under center. Rodgers threw for 318 yards in the win-and-in showdown with the Bears and reconnected with deep threat Randall Cobb for the go-ahead score. Cobb’s return also gives the Cheese Heads depth in the passing and special teams gameplan.