NFL Underdogs: Divisional Round Weekend pointspread picks and predictions

Jan 10, 2019 |

“We’ve seen this movie before…”

That was the reaction from most after Nick Foles once again stepped under center for the Philadelphia Eagles late in the season, sparked a surge, and stole a huge playoff Wild Card win in Chicago last Sunday. It’s very similar to last year’s formula, which found Foles standing in a sea of confetti holding the Lombardi Trophy when it was all said and done.

You know what other type of movie we’ve seen before? Those crazy body-swapping movies. Films like “Freaky Friday” (1976 or 2003 with Lindsay Lohan), 2002’s Rob Schneider vehicle “The Hot Chick”, or 2011’s “The Change-Up”. 

One person magically swaps bodies with another person – often their complete opposite – after some traumatic occurrence, like a big fight or peeing in a magic fountain or beating the living snot out of your opponent 48-7 in Week 11.

That’s right: the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints swapped… football bodies… during that one-sided smackdown by the Saints in the Big Easy back in mid-November. Perhaps it was some of that famed Louisiana Voodoo, like in “The Princess and The Frog” that conjured up the old switchero.

 

Ever since then, Philadelphia has looked like a true defending champion – not how it looked in the opening 11 weeks of football – with six wins in its last seven games (5-2 ATS), and that lone loss coming in overtime against Dallas in a contest that the Eagles really should’ve won. 

While Foles is again playing well for a “backup”, the true hero of this movie is the Philly defense. That may not set the box office on fire but it sure as hell covers the spread, especially with the Eagles getting eight points against that team with whom they switched bodies.

New Orleans got the short end of the stick in the body swap, picking up where the 4-6 Eagles left off. After blasting the rival Falcons in Week 12, the Saints slowly watched its offensive prowess stripped away as opposing defenses figured out the best way to counter their high-powered attack. Dallas, Carolina and Tampa Bay (for a half at least) were able to get Drew Brees on his heels with strong interior pass rushes, disrupting the rhythm of this once-mighty offense. 

Yes, those three games came on the road, but they very much laid the blueprint for how to slow down the Saints and were part of a 1-4 ATS skid to end the season. Brees has passed for only three touchdowns in his last four games, with as many interceptions as TDs. That’s saying something considering he had 29 TD passes and only two INTs before the Week 13 loss at Dallas. And you want to hear something creepy? From Week 1 to Week 11, Philadelphia averaged 20.5 points per game. From Week 12 to Week 17 (post-body swap), the Saints averaged 21 points an outing. Dear gawd, someone ring "Unsolved Mysteries".

Despite earning the top seed in the NFC, New Orleans is not playing at a very high level and that comes at the wrong time against the wrong team. I’m confident the Saints will somehow get their bodies back when the final whistle blows Sunday night, but not before the Eagles keep this closer than the oddsmakers expect.

Pick: Philadelphia +8

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Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (-7.5, 50)

When looking back at the 2018 L.A. Rams, bettors may want to designate two variations of this team: the pre-Kansas City Shootout Rams and the post-Kansas City Shootout Rams. Since that memorable Week 11 Monday nighter, which the Rams won, Los Angeles hasn’t been quite right.

The Rams are 3-2 SU and ATS in that span, with “marquee” wins and covers versus the Lions, Cardinals and Niners, but took two on the chin from the Eagles and Bears – two elite defenses who also wore down the Rams with steady rushing attacks which allowed them to control the football and keep L.A. and all its offensive weapons off the field.

In fact, look at the Rams’ three losses on the year and they all came against teams with solid stop units (at the time) who could also ground and pound, winning the time of possession battle. Los Angeles gave up 33:41 to the New Orleans (141 yards rushing), 36:49 to Chicago (194 yards rushing), and 31:36 to Philadelphia (111 yards rushing). The Rams face a similar foe capable of both shutting them down on both sides of the ball.

 

Dallas is a TOP beast. It owned the football for 34:50 in the Wild Card win over Seattle and throws the NFL’s rushing leader at a defense that gives up an NFL-worst 5.1 yards per carry. Ezekiel Elliot is coming off a 26-run, 137-yard effort on the ground (adding another 32 yards through the air) and picks up 4.8 yards per attempt on the season. New Flash: not possessing the football makes it very difficult to cover big spreads like this, even with L.A. playing better in the Coliseum. 

If the Cowboys are going to have a shot of knocking off the No. 2 seed on the road – or at least staying within the +7.5 – they must limit Los Angeles’ touches and get them off the field on third downs. The Rams have one of the best third-down conversion rates in the league, but Dallas’ defense has been exceptional at pulling the power cord on drives in recent games. The Cowboys can't afford to get into a shootout Saturday night.

Pick: Dallas +7.5

Last week: 2-0 ATS
Season: 33-19-1 ATS

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