Against the Spread: 2010 NFL Picks: Round 2

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- It's déjà vu all over again as I make my NFL picks against the spread for the divisional round of the playoffs, as the NFL's elite eight play in four games we've already seen this season.

With a sweep in the wild card round thanks to picks of Seattle, Baltimore, New York and Green Bay, my overall column record is now 46-42 with one tie. My success rate is 51.7%, shy of the magical 53% threshold. A bettor typically needs to win 53% of his or her bets in order to profit, based on the idea that you have to wager 110 units in order to win 100 units.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

Including this weekend's divisional round games, I have seven more chances to improve my overall record for the season. In order to succeed, I'll need to navigate these games as effectively as Marshawn Lynch ran through the defense of the New Orleans Saints last weekend. Of course, picking 11 straight games correctly against the spread in the postseason is quite a feat, one made more difficult by this weekend's incredible slate of games.

As division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers are quite familiar with the Baltimore Ravens, much like the New York Jets know their weekend opponent the New England Patriots pretty darn well. Beyond the two division games per season, all four teams played each other during the 2010-11 NFL season.

And in the NFC, the divisional round will see a second meeting this season between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, as well as the Seattle Seahawks and the Chicago Bears.

As far as playoff games are concerned, it doesn't get much more exciting than this weekend's divisional games.

"What's fascinating is that these four games we'll see this weekend have been played six times already this season," says Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site His Prediction Machine is a quantitative way to break down NFL games as it simulates each contest 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread.

Bessire says that he doesn't expect the same outcome in each game this time around in all four matchups and urges bettors not to disregard what occurred in the regular season by getting swept up in rematch talk.

"By accounting for strength of schedule, we're better prepared for the playoffs," he says. "When you get to the playoffs, every team should be playing an opponent that is better than their average schedule. That's why you see differences in expectations for teams once they get to this point. The competition is different than it was in the regular season. For example, while Seattle won last week, there's no reason to believe they're a vastly different team."

With that, it's onto my picks for all four games of divisional weekend. Once again, these are for entertainment purposes only. And as always, I've enlisted the help of's Paul Bessire.

I've also collected commentary on each game from CEO Mickey Richardson. His analysis focuses on the spread movement by his oddsmakers and a look at where the public and professional money is moving on each game. These are necessary tools for bettors on the hunt for inefficiencies and value based on betting trends.

Read on for the first game preview, the Saturday game with the Baltimore Ravens traveling to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3)

The Ravens went on the road in Week 4 and beat the Steelers by 3 points. The Steelers went on the road in Week 13 and beat the Ravens by 3 points. So, that means the Ravens will go on the road and beat the Steelers by 3 points, right?

I leaned toward picking against Baltimore last week before realizing that the Ravens could stop the Chiefs running game. Despite the talent on the Ravens defense in Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, Baltimore is ranked 21st out of 32 NFL teams in passing yards allowed. The Ravens now have to travel for a second straight week, this time against old division foes the Steelers. While the Steelers will probably have difficulty running the ball against the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing defense, the Ravens could have trouble defending against Ben Roethlisberger's arm.

Baltimore isn't an offensive juggernaut, either. The Ravens put up big points against the Chiefs last week, but that was largely a product of timely interceptions in Kansas City territory. And the Ravens haven't played inspired football on the road, with three of the team's four losses coming away to the Patriots, Bengals and Falcons. The Ravens beat the Steelers in the regular season in Pittsburgh, but I don't know that I'm confident enough in Joe Flacco and Ray Rice to bet they can win again, especially in the playoffs.

That said, I'm not particularly confident in Pittsburgh's ability to win at home. Three of the Steelers' four losses came at home to the Patriots, Jets and Ravens. It's no coincidence all three of those teams are still in the hunt for an AFC Championship trophy. Pittsburgh's defense is stout against the run, ranking first in the NFL overall. However, the Steelers defense allows 214 passing yards per game, ranking only 12th overall. The Steelers offense isn't anything to write home about either, ranking 14th and 11th in passing yards and rushing yards, respectively. On the positive side, the Steelers have a turnover differential of +17, ranking second overall in the NFL and vastly outpacing the +7 turnover margin of the Ravens.

Bessire's Take: "At PIT -3, we like the pick enough to play. Yet in many books the line is PIT -3.5, which we don't like nearly as much. In fact, PIT -3.5 checks in as a 'no pick' for us, which means, 'stay away and enjoy the game.' The 21-17 average score that we are predicting is almost exactly in line with the lines, so this may be a game that is truly for 'entertainment purposes only.' As evidenced by their in-season outcomes this year and in recent seasons, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are eerily similar teams. Pittsburgh is a little bit better across the board and is also playing at home." Take: " opened the Steelers a 3.5 point favorite and the sharp money seemed to like Ravens, pushing the spread down a half a point to 3. It is doubtful the spread will move off of 3. However, the public should offset the books and show a slight lean towards Pittsburgh by kickoff."

The Pick: Steelers -3. I love the Steelers at -3; I hate the Steelers at -3.5. Of course, while everyone is expecting a close, low-scoring game, something in my gut says we might see a shootout. If that's the case, I love the Steelers to win by at least a field goal.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-2.5)

In Week 12, the Packers traveled to Atlanta and lost to the Falcons 20-17 after a combination of fluke plays and bad luck. A key fumble and a botched call by a referee turned a game that could have easily gone the Packers' way.

From the team's regular season performance before and after that Week 12 game, we know the Packers have a stellar defense. The significant weakness is in the team's rushing attack, which averaged only 100 yards per game in the regular season. Yet James Starks somehow found a way to run for 123 yards last weekend against the Eagles. Starks may not find success this weekend against a Falcons defense that ranks 10th overall in rushing yards allowed. Aaron Rodgers, though, should be able to pick apart a Falcons defense that is 22nd overall in passing yards allowed. The Packers offense averages 257.8 passing yards per game, good for fifth overall in the league.

That's not to say the Falcons are a bad team, because they're not. But as the top seed in the NFC, the overall rankings based on passing and rushing yards on offense don't stand out. One key metric that does stand out for the Falcons is turnover differential. At +14, the Falcons have a narrow edge over the Packers, as Green Bay has a turnover margin of +10. My concern in picking the Falcons and laying the points stems from how good teams have held close in games against Atlanta. The Falcons were able to blow out teams like the Panthers, Cardinals, and Seahawks, but Atlanta struggled against stronger teams. The Falcons lost to the Steelers and Saints by six and three points, respectively, while they were victorious over the Ravens, Packers and Buccaneers in games decided by fewer than 5 points.

Bessire's Take: "Green Bay has every major matchup advantage. The Falcons are disciplined and play much better at home than on the road. The Packers are still the better team. Of course, it shouldn't surprise those who followed our picks in Week 12, when we also liked Green Bay to go into Atlanta and win straight-up as 2.5-point underdogs, but ultimately lost 20-17 on a last-second field goal. Looking back on that game, it's hard to say that the Packers shouldn't have won. The lone turnover was a Green Bay fumble on the 1-yard line. Tony Gonzalez clearly dropped a pass on fourth down that was ruled a catch and extended the next crucial drive. And the Packers outgained Atlanta by almost two full yards-per-play. But Green Bay routinely struggled in forced running situations while the Falcons made the timely plays that they needed to. In the long run, the better team beats the timely/lucky team far more often than not. It should be noted that Atlanta has the third highest third-down conversion rate in the NFL and is in the top ten in completion percentage, which speaks to the Falcons ability to sustain drives. However, their defense is in the bottom ten in both of those categories." Take: "The early money quickly pushed the Falcons from a 1.5 point favorite to 2.5. The sharps and the public seem to have little faith in the Packers, who had to battle just to get into the playoffs. predicts the money will continue to flow onto Atlanta and will force the odds makers to -3 to even out the books."

The Pick: Packers +2.5. I realize the difficulty in notching two consecutive road wins in the playoffs, especially when the second game is against the top seed in the NFC. But the Packers are probably the best NFC team right now. I expect them to not only cover but win this game outright. I like the Falcons as a rooting interest, but I'm not sure Atlanta can fire on all cylinders the way the Packers can.

Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears (-10)

I received a few emails from readers lambasting me for picking the Seahawks +10 in Seattle's first round game against the Saints. I'm sure glad it was a winning pick.

But then again, if value is what you're hunting for, the Seahawks were the best value pick. The team was at home playing on Qwest Field, which is one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. I think the playoff experience of Matt Hasselbeck was discounted too much, and he showed doubters that he can still play at a high level. We also can't forget Marshawn Lynch's amazing touchdown run to secure the underdog win.

Bettors searching again for value might be tempted to take Seattle because of last week's performance as well as the Seahawks' 23-20 win in Chicago in Week 6. It should be noted that the Seahawks won in Week 6 after a bye week. Oh, and the fact that the Seahawks rank among the worst in terms of passing and rushing yards on offense as well as passing and rushing yards on defense. Seattle also has a turnover margin of -9, compared to a +4 for the Bears.

The Bears, on the other hand, are coming off a bye week after securing the second seed in the NFC. Chicago is not suffering from the same offensive line problems they dealt with earlier in the season, but I still don't know that I can trust Jay Cutler, who threw as many interceptions (6) as touchdowns in the last four regular season games. Also on the downside, the Bears were able to beat only two opponents (the Vikings and the Dolphins) in the regular season by 10 or more points.

Bessire's Take: "Specifically related to the first time these two teams met in Chicago in Week 6, the Seahawks won a close game by terrorizing the Bears offensive line with six sacks and ten quarterback hits. The Bears were also 0-12 on third down. Those numbers just aren't sustainable for any teams, let alone these two. Since then, the Bears are 7-3, the offensive line has definitely improved, Jay Cutler missed time, but got healthy and they have converted more than 35% of their third-downs. Meanwhile, during those weeks, Seattle is 5-7, with wins over Arizona, St. Louis, Carolina and New Orleans and has been out-scored by 93 points, with all seven losses by at least 15 points. Everything this week is going in Chicago's favor. And don't expect Marshawn Lynch to be bouncing off Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs." Take: "It's a miracle the Seahawks even made it to the playoffs and now they are in round two with the Bears. Most people believe the Bears will win outright. However, have placed them as a 10-point favorite and the wiseguys see value in taking the 10 points. Shoppers will see an occasional -9.5 but this game should close -10."

The Pick: Seahawks +10. While I don't trust the Seahawks to win, especially on the road, I also don't trust the Bears to blow out their opponent. I simply can't believe that Mike Martz, Jay Cutler, and Matt Forte can score enough points to secure a 10+ point victory over the momentum-riding Seahawks.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

New York Jets at New England Patriots (-8.5)

I wanted to think of a clever, witty foot joke, but it seems as though Wes Welker has beaten me to the punch. Or kick.

There hasn't been more sports-related vitriol in the Boston and New York media since the Red Sox came back from an 0-3 hole against the Yankees in 2004, and I couldn't be happier. Sports is way more fun when you have trash talk between two rivals.

The Jets have a lot to prove with how vocal they've been, especially considering the 45-3 beating the team suffered in Week 13. And New York has the kryptonite that could weaken a super New England team, and that is in the Jets' running game. The Jets rank fourth overall in rushing yards, with an average of 148.3 rushing yards per game. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, though, is a big question mark. The Patriots defense is ranked 30th (yes, you read that correctly) in passing yards allowed,

While the Jets defense is great, the Patriots' defense looks weak, as the numbers suggest they give up too many yards. The Patriots allowed an average of 9.4 points per game over the final five games of the regular season while averaging 36.8 points on offense. The Jets, meanwhile, could scrape together only 17 points on the road against an inferior Colts team. New England has an astounding turnover margin of +28, which is the best in the league. Much of that is owed to the fact that Tom Brady has only four interceptions this season. It should scare Patriots fans that two of those interceptions came in Week 2 against the Jets, although the argument can be made that the Patriots are a better team now after dealing wide receiver Randy Moss away.

Bessire's Take: "The Patriots are the better team. That's not up for debate. But can the Jets keep this game close enough to cover an 8.5-point line? Our answer is yes -- at least more often than not. While the Patriots are clearly an efficient team, especially on offense, they are not quite as good as their record and point differentials would suggest. New England has played the ninth toughest NFL schedule to date and ranks third in passing efficiency and eighth in rushing -- both great, but not as dominant as many would expect. The true concerns with this team are on defense and with turnovers. While the very young New England defense clearly improved over the course of the season, the team is still very beatable. The Jets are definitely balanced, and while Rex Ryan may not be the picture of patience, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has displayed that characteristic well, particularly in the playoffs the last two seasons." Take: "Once again we are looking at another classic public side, New England, versus the pro side, NY Jets. opened the Pats -9 and the pros pushed it down to -8.5. It should be noted the majority of the money is on the Jets but the headcount is higher on the Pats. The public should overcome the sharp money and push the spread up to -9.5 by kickoff."

The Pick: Patriots -8.5. The Jets rank so high on defense and with the rushing attack that the game could be a close one. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the point total in this game goes under. The Patriots are a beatable team, as the Packers nearly proved a few weeks ago with a stand-in quarterback. However, the Jets simply can't put up enough points on this team. This won't be a repeat of the 45-3 game, but it should be a lopsided Patriots victory. That said, I sure hope I don't end up putting my foot in my mouth.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

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