NFC Wild Card – Can Seattle Dump Dallas?

Preview and pick for Saturday’s NFC Wild Card game

It was a strong season for us with our underdog point spread prognosis picks. An 8-1 ATS push towards the playoffs to close the month of December and 21-7 ATS run over the second half of the season led us to a 35-19 ATS (64.8%) season. That included 26 outright underdog winners on our underdog picks and plays. Yet I’m approaching the playoffs with caution and would advise to bet less and not more when wagering at the leading online sportsbooks and your favorite legal U.S. sportsbook. The match-ups are stronger, the lines tighter and anything can and will happen in the playoffs. Just ask the Saints following last season’s Minnesota Miracle.

The road underdogs in the AFC are both fighting a point of attack battle as the Colts and Chargers have the weaker running game and run defense in their match-ups against the Texans and Ravens. However, the Colts and Chargers do have the superior quarterbacks and passers that can also make the right reads. The Seahawks however are the road ‘Dog with the stronger running game and quarterback.

NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Weekend Betting Guide and Market Moves

In last week’s analysis and winner on the Browns (+6) in their 26-24 loss at Baltimore, I noted the Ravens strong rushing game edge and how the Browns would have to overcome that along with the proven ATS history of teams that have a sizable rushing advantage. Yet our feel for the game and point spread winner played out despite the Ravens dominating the point of attack and out-rushing the Browns 296-50 with 47 rushing attempts to just 14 for the Browns. Neither team had balance, and the Browns nearly rallied for the win behind the passing of QB Baker Mayfield despite his 3 interceptions.

The point is that there are many statistical parameters to evaluate when breaking down a ball game, but playoff football comes down to making key plays and minimizing mistakes. That clearly includes at the quarterback position, and in this week’s playoffs with three games lined at less than a field goal, the quarterback edges go to Luck (Colts), Rivers (Chargers) and Wilson (Seahawks).

Both Dallas (10-6) and Seattle (10-6) reached the playoffs this season after each won 9 games last year but failed to make the playoffs.

The 2018 NFL season is officially the most penalized in league history with 3,447 penalties called. Many of those penalties were related to new rules and protecting the quarterback. There were many questionable calls which of course can impact a game, scoring and ATS results. Scoring was up to more than 46 points per game this season and games averaged 5.36 touchdowns per contest. Recall the record Super Bowl slugfest last season and also the questionable and poor officiating throughout the playoffs. Keep that in mind as you watch, wager and try to win in the competitive playoff contests.

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019

Seattle at Dallas:  Line Cowboys -2, Total 43

The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 24-13 in Week 3 at Seattle. The stats were nearly even within 10 yards of each other with both teams near 300 yards. Seattle won the game despite playing without WR Doug Baldwin, who missed the first three games with a knee injury. But the Cowboys held the rushing edge that day 166-113 with Ezekiel Elliott running for 127 yards. Three Cowboys turnovers were the difference in defeat, as QB Dak Prescott had 2 interceptions and Dallas only had the ball for 27 minutes. The Seahawks pounded their running game with 39 rushes, and controlled the ball, clock and chains against the Cowboys. Dallas was No. 3 in the league this season in time of possession with 31.5 minutes per game.

Here’s a key playoff ATS stat that does not include the Super Bowl:

Since 2001, play on a playoff team that averages more yards per pass attempt than their opponent – 98-65 ATS. This 60% ATS angle improves to 58-25 ATS (71%) if the line is 6 or less (competitive contest).

This is just a simple parameter and utilizes one statistical category, but does show the power of passing and quarterbacks making plays in the playoffs.

It applies to the four teams in the opening wild card round of the playoffs – Houston and Seattle on Saturday and Chicago and the LA Chargers on Sunday.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson averaged 8.1 yards per pass this season to rank top-10 in the league, and he had a career-best QB Rating of 110.9. Wilson also had 35 touchdown passes and just 7 interceptions and the Seahawks only had 11 total turnovers; fewest in the league. Wilson’s yards per pass attempt to leading WR Tyler Lockett is 10.95; best in the league since 2015 for a QB/WR combination. Dak Prescott averaged 7.1 yards per pass and passed the ball 526 times; 99 more passes than Wilson. Prescott was also sacked 56 times this season; second most in the league. If you watched the Cowboys enough this season, you know Prescott was not as efficient throwing the ball down the field, but he was much more effective once the Cowboys added WR Amari Cooper via trade. Cooper flourished in Dallas averaging more than 80 receiving yards per game and eight targets per game. The Seahawks cornerbacks are sub-par, and with RB Elliott also having a career-high 381 touches and 2,001 total yards from scrimmage, the Cowboys offense should have some success if Prescott can deliver the ball accurately and effectively.

The Cowboys defense is better than the Seahawks, especially against the run which will be a key in this playoff contest. The Cowboys allowed 5.4 yards per play to 5.9 for the Seahawks, and against the run Dallas was top-5 in the league allowing 94 rushing yards per game to Seattle’s above average run defense that allowd 113 rushing yard per game.

But Seattle is balance with the league’s No. 1 rushing attack averaging 160 rushing yard per game (Dallas 122). The Seahawks also run the ball 45% of their offensive plays which is a league-high. Wilson balances the offense with his passing and playmaking, and since these two teams met in September, the Seahawks have rushed for consistent yardage, and only twice below their 160 yards per game average.

182, 210, 168, 214, 168, 173, 273, 154, 176, 155, 190, 171 – Seahawks rushing yards.

The Seahawks are also No. 2 in the league in scoring since Week 10 averaging 30 points per game.

While I don’t project either of these teams to make a surprising playoff run or win in the next round, we’ll take an 8-iron approach with Seattle and their stronger balanced offense, quarterback and coaching edge against Dallas. A slightly stronger 6-iron playing OVER the total.

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Author: FairwayJay

FairwayJay is a leading national sports analyst and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful handicappers and professionals. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay