Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans
NRG Stadium, 4:30 p.m. EST Jan. 7, 2017.
The NFL Playoffs get underway Saturday with what is expected to be the worst matchup of wild-card weekend. The Raiders come into this game with a 12-4 record and are in the postseason for the first time since 2002, the year they lost Super Bowl XXXVII to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Raiders had the AFC West title in their grasps until a slip up in Week 17 allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to jump over them, steal the division and a first-round bye. The Raiders will be forced to start a rookie QB in this game, as Derek Carr is out for the season and his backup, Matt McGloin, suffered a shoulder injury in last week's loss. This means that Michigan State grad Connor Cook will be under center for this massive game for Raider Nation.
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And despite all of that, it's the Texans' QB situation that is the bigger mess. The Texans come into this game with a 9-7 record and are winners of the terrible AFC South. They are almost here by default considering Jacksonville is always terrible, Indianapolis was banged up and Tennessee is inconsistent. We all know about Brock Osweiler's massive $72 million contract this offseason and his subsequent poor performance and late-season benching. We also know that his replacement, Tom Savage, is out of action after suffering a concussion in last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans. This leaves Bill O'Brien no choice but to go back to Osweiler in this game, even with the fact that his job could potentially be on the line should they fail to win this game. It's a tough spot to be in as an NFL head coach, but this is why they get paid the big bucks.
Picking this game against the spread will be tough given the situations both teams find themselves in. However, there are some very enticing prop bets that I have circled as potential money-makers.
All odds can be found at SportsInteraction
Oakland Raiders Total Touchdowns
"Over" 1.5, -125
I think this game is going to be a little more high-scoring than most people expect it to be. With that said, I do believe the Raiders will score at least two touchdowns for a few different reasons.
The first reason is that they have a solid run game that will be able to keep them ahead of the chains and pick up some much-needed first downs. Latavius Murray is a solid running back who can get the tough yards inside or break a long run and take it to the house. He has found the end zone 12 times this year, which works out to an average of one per game since he only appeared in 12 games in the regular season due to injury. Another reason, (make that two reasons) why the Raiders will be able to score at least 14 points is the wide receiver combination of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Both receivers are coming off solid regular seasons and will be eager to step up and take the pressure off of rookie quarterback Cook. Crabtree seems to have rejuvenated his career in Oakland over the last two seasons after spending the prior six years in football purgatory with the 49ers. He will likely be matched up with Kareem Jackson, who is the weaker of the two Texans' cornerbacks. Johnathan Joseph is the other cornerback, and he will likely shadow Cooper.
And the final reason to expect the Raiders to find the end zone at least twice is because Cook won't be as terrible as people expect him to be. He came into last week's game against the Broncos' cold and still completed 14-of-21 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown. That's not a bad line, especially against one of the best defenses in the league. He has had a full week of first team reps, and I expect the kid out of MSU to come out and surprise some people.
Race to 10 Points
Oakland Raiders +150
If you couldn't already tell, I absolutely love Oakland in this game and expect a complete fall apart from an already-low-on-confidence Osweiler. If I am the Texan's offensive coordinator, I am running Lamar Miller early and often to take the pressure of his struggling quarterback. Because of that, I expect the Texans to do very little offensively for the first part of the football game. I expect the Raiders to be the hungrier team and the team with the most to prove. They will want to come out fast and win this game for their injured quarterback and prove they are not just a one-man team. The defensive unit for the Raiders is a solid unit that is only vulnerable to good passing attacks. Luckily for them, the Texans don't have such an attack, which leads me to like the Raiders chances even more. Rookie quarterback or not, I would rather trust Cook with my hard-earned money than Osweiler.
Longest Field Goal Scored
"Over" 43.5, -120
To me this one is a no-brainer and an automatic play. The conditions inside NRG stadium will be perfect, and we have two of the best kickers in the league squaring off with a lot on the line. Coaches will be inclined to put as many points on the board in this game as possible, even if that means trying a field goal from 50+ yards.
Sebastian Janikowski has made 29-of-35 field goal attempts, which is good enough for an 82.9 success rate. He has made eight kicks longer than 44 yards this year, and six of those came in outdoor stadiums with less-than-pristine conditions. His counterpart, Nick Novak, has made 35-of-41 field goal attempts, which is good for an 85.4 success rate. He has made six kicks of longer than 44 yards this year, and four of those came outdoors.
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