NFL Wild Card Picks - Late Games

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Late Games

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Sunday, January 5

1:05 pm Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (-7 1/2, 49 1/2) - Of the four games this weekend, this one appears to be the most obvious. The Vikings beat teams they were supposed to, but didn't seem to have enough horsepower to compete at the highest level of the game against the best teams. And, make no doubt, New Orleans is one of the league's best on both sides of the ball.

The vital statistics are as follows:
Record: Saints: 13-3; Vikings: 10-6
Offense: Saints, #3, 28.6 ppg; Vikings, #8, 25.4
Defense: Points Allowed: Vikings #5, 18.5; Saints, #13, 21.3

Those numbers, though rather close, fail to tell the whole story. The Saints won the NFC South in a landslide, with a 13-3 record and five of those victories were with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. While Bridgewater is a solid player, he's no Drew Brees, who holds multiple all-time NFL passing records, including most career touchdowns, 547. Neither is Kirk Cousins, Minnesota's signal-caller of Brees' stature.

The Vikings limped into the playoffs with three losses in their final five games. Due to the gapping inequality in the NFC, Minnesota had a near lock on a playoff spot as early as week 11, when they came in at 9-3. They were never threatened for a wild card spot, but failed to capture their division when they fell at Seattle, 37-30, in week 13, then Green Bay, 23-10, and Chicago, 21-19, in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Of the 16 games played by the Vikings, only eight were against teams with .500 or better records, and they lost six of those. New Orleans met seven squads that finished .500 or better, winning five of those games. Two of their losses, to the Rams and San Francisco, were when Brees was injured (week two, vs. Rams, 27-9) and in a wild shootout in New Orleans, to the 49ers, 48-46. They decimated their division, going 5-1, whereas the Vikings were just 2-4 against Chicago, Green Bay, and Detroit, beating only the Lions, twice.

The Saints visited Minnesota in week eight of the 2018 season and came away a 30-20 victor. Something similar should unfold on Sunday. Minnesota's offense has been decimated by injuries and that's not going to help matters much. New Orleans has just about all important players healthy, and they have the additional motivation of having been robbed by the officials in last year's conference championship. They are going to make certain that scenario doesn't present itself again, which means they don't want to be trailing or in a close game that can be decided by a bad call.

The Saints are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl and should dust the Superdome astroturf with what's left of the Vikings.

Coin Flip: Minnesota

Prediction: Saints 34 Vikings 17

4:40 pm Seattle Seahawks (-1 1/2, 45 1/2) at Philadelphia Eagles - While Seattle had a firm grip on a playoff spot after just about week 11, when they took their bye week with an 8-2 record, the Eagles had to earn their way into the playoffs by winning their division down the stretch.

After the Seahawks took that week off, they rode into Philadelphia with a three-game winning streak and ripped the Eagles 17-9. Philly played good defense, but the offense was without any punch and that's still going to be an issue when these two face off Sunday afternoon.

To say that the Eagles struggled offensively would be an understatement. Philadelphia, over the course of seven midseason games in which they went 2-5, averaged just 18 points per game and that included a 31-13 win at Buffalo and a 37-31 loss at Miami. Taking out those two games, their scoring average dropped to just 14.2.

Also, as the Eagles had to win their final four games to get to 9-7 and take the NFC East by a game over the 8-8 Cowboys, they only had to defeat teams from their own division, including the 4-12 Giants twice and the Redskins once. Their 17-9 win over Dallas, in Philly, was their ticket to the playoffs. They're not ideally a team built to go to the Super Bowl, though stranger things have happened. Philly is 12th in points, averaging 24.1 per game, and #15 in points allowed, giving up 22.1 per game.

The Seahawks are 8th in scoring, at 25.3, and 22nd on defense, allowing 24.9 points per game.

It has to be mentioned that while the Eagles barely managed to slip by in the NFC East against a bunch of underperforming teams, the Seahawks come out of the strongest division in the league. the combined 38 wins for the NFC West were the most in the NFL. The AFC East and NFC North were tied for second with 34 total wins. Philly's NFC east was a distant trailer, with only 24 wins between the four teams, the league's least.

Giving the Seahawks a pass on statistics a given, they also have one other big advantage. They're 7-1 on the road this season, facing the Eagles, who are just 5-3 at home. Sure, the Eagles come into the fray on a four-game winning streak, and Seattle lost three of its last four. However, they are 10-2 prior to that and were never really threatened for a playoff spot. Some health issues played a part in their late-season demise, but after a tough, 26-21, loss to the 49ers, the top seed in the conference, they're battle tested.

Coin Flip: Seattle

Prediction: Seahawks 23 Eagles 13

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