Can a division-winner with an ordinary record win NFL playoff games?
It depends. The Arizona Cardinals’ lone Super Bowl run of the modern era (or any era) occurred after the Big Red blundered, backed-into the playoffs, and had to play in the Wild Card Round despite winning the NFC West. Football’s annals at all levels are filled with strong underdogs who were overlooked because of the conference, division, league, neighborhood, or circumstances they came out of.
But the “underdog” NFC East division winner in Sunday’s late-afternoon Wild Card kickoff isn’t really meant to be an underdog.
At least not the way Las Vegas intended it.
Sunday’s host Philadelphia Eagles opened as slight favorites to beat the Seattle Seahawks and advance in the National Football Conference playoffs. However, roaring action on Seattle’s point spread and moneyline markets have sent the betting lines moving far afield of where they began.
Is the public’s faith in Pete Carroll’s club misplaced? To find the best wager, it might be wise to avoid the question altogether.
Who: Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
When: Sunday, December 5th, 4:40 PM EST
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
Lines: SEA (-2.5) at PHI (+2.5) / O/U Total: (46)
Carroll’s game-management skills are, in a word, flawed, at least when it comes to the final moments of the 4th quarter. That’s merely 1 reason why the Seattle Seahawks have been forced to travel to Philadelphia on Sunday as a Wild Card bid.
But is the popular narrative of Carroll as a goal-line gag artist leading gamblers astray at all? When the skipper allowed a delay-of-game penalty to back Russell Wilson’s offense away from the end zone in an NFC West title scrum with San Francisco, fans recalled the Seahawks’ infamous Super Bowl XLIX loss to the Patriots in which Carroll ignored an obvious run-option that would have given his team a late lead, instead calling for a pass that sealed Seattle’s ugly fate on an interception.
Seattle’s head coach doesn’t have a problem with the goal-line per se. He’s got issues managing timeouts. In San Francisco, the Seahawks came up with the improvised (or accidental) tactic of trading a delay-of-game for an artificial timeout when the offense was winded. Carroll and his immediate assistants could have called for Wilson to spike or snap a play at any time, but the HC probably felt that running plays were taboo anyway. With 17 seconds left, a tackle by the 49ers on the field-of-play could all but end the contest and lose the division. If the Seahawks were bound to pass until the clock ran out, and the powerful San Francisco defense knew that, then passing from the 6-yard-line would present advantages in opening-up space for WRs, not to mention to bonus of a “timeout.”
All sound logic. But the entire scenario occurred because Carroll was careless with his timeouts. Seattle had used them all up already. It fits a pattern for the skipper going all the way back to USC vs Texas in the Rose Bowl, when the Trojans needed only a single timeout to preserve a chance after a Reggie Bush scamper across midfield, following Vince Young’s iconic dash for a go-ahead Longhorn TD. On the gridiron after the game, Carroll hemmed and hawed about burning his final precious timeout, which – like Seattle’s much-debated T/O in Week 16 of 2019 – was a decision made as the clock was stopped.
We can expect a tight game or at least a choppy one in Philly. The narrative around the Eagles right now is that Carson Wentz is an unproven commodity in the playoffs, but Philadelphia hasn’t been a bad club late in the season and Wentz has the skill-set to flourish in the postseason with a supporting cast playing up to par. However, both teams are a mess of injuries, with Rashaad Penny having gone down for the year just as he got rolling in Seattle and Philly dealing with wounds to star TE Zach Ertz and running back Miles Sanders. Attrition in the 2-deep depth chart plus a severe injury for DeSean Jackson and a lesser knee injury to Nelson Agholor puts pressure on the remaining playmakers around Wentz. Meanwhile, Wilson is considered a wily veteran who can vault a battle-tested club over the hump on the road, even though his team fails the Wild Card sleeper checklist with dozens of injuries piling up on IR and weekly doubtful/questionables.
As in the other NFC Wild Card contest, the potential QB’s duel has the betting public captivated. Odds have “flipped” for the pair of teams at Lincoln Financial Field as Seattle opened as an underdog but is now a (-2.5) point-spread favorite at Bovada. Many gamblers will wager on Sunday’s late kickoff ATS and on the moneyline, but I’ve got another market in mind with a better % chance of paying off than any of the above.
Seattle’s game plan is always to score the number of points necessary to win while keeping Wilson healthy for the long haul. Sunday’s visitors have made their living in close games because the club is uninterested in style points or practice-reps. Seattle could easily win Sunday’s game without any 2-minute-drill heroics. But if Carroll’s gut instinct is to kneel down and live to fight again (with no timeouts left, of course) at the :45 mark of the 1st half, he’ll do it even if analytics are telling him to try for points. If Seattle is losing by a TD with too-little time remaining, we can’t be sure Philadelphia won’t make a stop or just help the time run out before Seattle can score.
The Seahawks aren’t scared of the goal-line. But they’re not as likely to fire bombs at it if leading by a TD in the 4th quarter. Add in the fact that wind may be a factor on an otherwise temperate weekend in the northeast, and you’ve got a playoff game in which 2 quarterbacks may be called to hand-off and throw short often.
Take the Under (46) for a winner in Philly.