After a 3-1 Wild Card Weekend I wanted to open this post with a picture of Rocky holding the title. Then I remembered that the opening weekend of the NFL Playoffs is really just child's play. This round frequently features blow outs as the teams can find themselves in some what of a mismatch due to seeding. We were treated with a well played road upset (Ravens over Steelers; picked it), a proper blow out (Colts over Bengals; picked it), and that Dallas/Detroit game (Lions covered; picked it) of which plenty has been written. Finally, there was that slop fest in Carolina (Panthers won by just enough; miss). I hesitate to say that neither team deserved to be in the playoffs, because these gentlemen work very hard and both teams were there, but if you watched that game I'd love to hear why you thought it was a match-up of 2 playoff worthy teams.
So on to the Divisional Round! By far my favorite weekend of the NFL calender. There is Saturday football (#SuperBowlSaturday)!!! The games are almost always competitive as the field has been narrowed to the top 4 in each conference. And back when this weekend fell at the same time as the MLK weekend it was a nonstop party at my house, but we all have to grow up some time.
With the 4 highest seeds having rested and the 4 lowest remaining coming of games, its always a little hard to get a full handle on the Divisional Round. Does home field matter (Vegas sure seems to think so)? Is it better to rest or to play & stay sharp? There's numbers to back up everything, but I only have one number handy. Its the number that tells me that last week's NFL Picks Wild Card Weekend 2014 was my highest viewed post on the blog to date (Football on a baseball blog... I know right?!?).
So here we go:
(All playoff lines are taken from ESPN.com and are a mode of accumulated lines.)
Saturday, January 10th
Baltimore at New England (-7)
This game being scheduled at 4:30 on Saturday must be a make-up for the Arizona/Carolina game in this time slot last week. That the only reason I can figure as to why the NFL would take one of the weekends' marquee match-ups and put it at a time when many of us are still scrambling to finish household projects so that our SO's aren't quite as pissed that we will be spending the next 28 hours drinking and screaming at the television. Its probably as simple as the NFL computer scheduler had the AFC 1 vs. 4/5/6 game scheduled in that slot since early 2014. I don't know. It doesn't really matter.
What matters is who I am picking and why.
Remember at like week 5 when everyone was wondering if the the Patriot dynasty was really over and if the Bills could possibly win the AFC East? Since then New England has gone on to do New England things and once again find themselves in the top seed of the AFC. They were so comfortable at the end of the season that the Pats were able to throw away their last game against those very same barbarians at the gate, Buffalo Bills.
However, this "Patriot Way" has not always translated into playoff success. Bill Belichick has made a living feasting on the regular season and then taking his chances in the playoffs. This worked a lot better when everyone kept foolishly believing the Pats were a fluke. They have not seen the same kind of playoff success in recent years. Part of its health, part of it is knowing what it takes to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots.
That plan was laid out ever so effectively by the New York Giants in their 2 most recent Super Bowl victories (I hate giving the Giants props). If you can get pressure on Tom Brady with only 4 down lineman and drop 7 into coverage, you too can beat the Patriots. Now, there is slightly more to it, but if you win in the trenches and leave 7 guys to cover 5 its doable. Baltimore has shown they are capable of doing this.
The only wild card in all of this is man-child Rob Gronkowski. For these playoffs he is as healthy as he is ever going to be and will create all sorts of havoc and mismatches for the post Ray Lewis Ravens. He's also a twisted knee away from being carted off the field at any given moment.
I like the Pats to win this game, but the Ravens won't go quietly. They outplayed the Steelers on the road and have no fear of the Patriots or Foxborough. This game will be close though.
Pick: Baltimore (+7)
Carolina at Seattle (-10.5)
I really don't want to crap on the Cardinals. I think Bruce Arians should be the NFL coach of the year, and for 2/3 of this season the Cardinals were one of the best teams in football. Its just real tough to win with a QB you had already cut once this season.
Yet, the Panthers let that game stay close. If not for 2 red zone turnovers by a 3rd string QB, not only would the Cards have covered, they may well have won that game. Let me say this another way: Arizona had less than 100 yards in a playoff game on the road, and still had a very real shot to win. Sorry Cam, I got nothing but love for ya, but the Panthers are not a good football team in 2014.
You know who is a good football team in 2014? The Seattle Seahawks. They overcame the early season hiccups associated with long playoff runs the season before and the distractions that come with winning the Super Bowl to rip off 6 straight wins to finish the season. In the process they went from playoff bubble team to the number 1 seed in the NFC. They have a strong in conference record and are damn near unbeatable at home.
The numbers just don't add up here. 10 & 1/2 is a huge spread for a playoff game against a team that was 6.5 point favorites the week before, but Seattle might win by 20+. Sorry Tommy K.
Pick: Seattle (-10.5)
Sunday, January 11th
Dallas at Green Bay (-6)
There were questions about the Packers at the start of the season. Then Aaron Rodgers got all Aaron Rodgery on us and the Pack were back at the top. However, while Rodgers was getting pumped up with Hans & Frans (egh, even I feel like a hack making that joke...) the Bills stole a victory from Green Bay in Buffalo without scoring an offensive TD. On top of that, the loss cost the Packers the number 1 seed.
Dallas however, is playing like a team of destiny. Something I openly questioned last week. They did survive the somehow difficult task of a home playoff game and are now on the road for the rest of their season (however long it lasts) where they were an improbable 8-0 on the season. Try to figure that one out. The "House That Jerry Built" is somehow harder for the Cowboys to win at than the cramped, characterless visitor locker rooms throughout the NFL. Its like the Cowboys collectively enjoyed getting away from home so much that the idea of playing in places like Philly, NYC (New Jersey) & Washington somehow seemed appealing.
After what I am now calling "The Debacle in Dallas" I'm not convinced that the refs are on the Cowboys side (I still need more evidence), but I am convinced that fate is on their side. Outside of crackpot conspiracies of which the new pass interference interpretations have spawned many of this season, fate is the only way to explain the Cowboys run of success (hows that for a flip-flop?). Couple that with questions I have about the Packers (which are purely in my head) and Dallas's love of getting away from their families I see only one logical conclusion.
Pick: Dallas (+6)
Indianapolis at Denver (-7)
If this game was in Indy, the story line would be Manning vs. the Colts. But its not, so the story is Manning vs. Luck. Now, that's a pretty appealing story line if you're not concerned with the remaining players on both teams. That's were this game will be decided.
In terms of a game changing QBs, Luck may be well on his way to passing Manning and may have done so already. I'm not honestly sure that 2014 Peyton could have carried these Colts this far. Although, the AFC South was so bad this year I suppose it would have been possible. Fortunately for Peyton, the 2014 Broncos are not the 2014 Colts. They are a much better team from a somewhat better (if inconsistent) division. Its really not even fair that Andrew Luck has to work as hard as he does to carry to Colts wherever they go.
The Broncos D has toughened up from last year and will have no problems smacking the Colts around. 2014 Peyton Manning is definitely up to the task of guiding this Broncos team through a home win over the
1 dimensional 1 player Colts team. There's not that much more to say.
Pick: Denver (-7)
There it is. 3-1 last week. I'm either on a destiny like roll paralleled only by the family hating Dallas Cowboys, or I'll come crashing back down to Earth & back to my slightly above .500 average. Don't like my picks, there's a comment board below. Let's hear why.