It is time to close the book on the 2016 NFL season. One of the oddest years in recent history has resulted in a relatively inconsistent set of outcomes. The only exceptions came from the one area most dangerous to the industry of sports prognostication – ‘obvious’ teams.
Countless times, we mentioned how this season produced the ‘easy’ outcome. It is, ultimately, “The Season of Chalk.” Favorites win big. Popular teams cover. Upsets are virtually nonexistent. See the ‘better’ team, pick the ‘better’ team, enjoy success.
Unfortunately, this trend did not reset at the transition to the postseason. Through ten playoff games, favorites are a ridiculous 8-2 against the spread. They are also 8-2 straight up. Only two games have been decided by fewer than 13 points. Favorites aren’t just winning. They are winning easily.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the two teams who have consistently outperformed the spreads assigned to them are the last two standing.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2016 Season: 52-67-3 (Last Week: 1-0)
(2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2016 Season: 122-136-8 (Last Week: 1-1)
(2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4)
New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons
If any doubt existed regarding the two teams most worthy of vying for a championship, it was removed in the Conference Championships. Hours after the Atlanta Falcons dismantled the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots were putting the finishing touches on a 19-point victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both of these blowout wins were successful encores of the Divisional Round, in which the Falcons and Patriots, again, won convincingly – by 16 and 18 points, respectively.
Following the path of each franchise throughout the latter portion of the season, it is reasonable to have expected this collision course. Atlanta stumbled only once since its Week 11 bye, and it was in the form of a one-point loss to the Chiefs via one of the most ridiculous conclusions to a game imaginable. The Falcons scored a go-ahead touchdown with fewer than five minutes remaining in regulation that gave them a one-point lead. In an attempt to extend the lead, they tried a two-point conversion. It was intercepted and returned for what was essentially a two-point touchdown for Kansas City. Atlanta’s last eight games – including the postseason – were otherwise unblemished.
The New England Patriots, once again, tore through the regular season en route to the franchise’s eighth consecutive postseason appearance. It was also the 14th consecutive season with double digit wins and 16th consecutive campaign with a winning record. Quite frankly, New England’s presence in the Super Bowl is as expected an outcome as anything else in the world of sports.
Then again, 2016 started with arguably the most vulnerable Patriots team we have seen since Matt Cassel replaced an injured Tom Brady in 2008 – a season in which New England still won 11 games.
With their superstar quarterback suspended for the first four games of the season, the Patriots would begin the year with slightly lowered expectations. Could they compete for a division title without Tom Brady for a quarter of the season? Definitely. Would it be easy? Probably not.