Saturday, January 9, 2010

11 comments My Divisional Round Picks

Since I have done such a great job in the past of picking an NFL team's record and was beaten by Bill Simmons (by one point game after a tremendous comeback on my part and I was in the 82% percentile for the ESPN Pick 'Em, so I feel good about this regardless) and whipped by Peter King in both Pick 'Ems this year...I figured I would go ahead and show everyone my weak grasp of NFL playoff football as well. To add to the misery, I figured I would put myself against someone who can publicly humiliate me, J.S....we will also be going against the spread Bill Simmons uses and against his picks as well. I get a rematch on Simmons and J.S. gets to prove he is smarter than both of us.

Actually it was J.S. idea to do this, so maybe I never actually decided to do this and it was his decision to publicly humiliate me. We will be using the line for the game that appears in J.S. post each week to tally our scores. Let's start my breakdown of this weekend's games now and I will post 5 things about the game the game that I think and then my prediction for the game...I may not use as many fancy statistics and other silly facts to justify my opinion as the other guys use, but I feel like I will be more (less) accurate overall.

New York Jets v. Cincinnati Bengals

1. I don't believe the Bengals are going to play nearly as poorly as they did against the Jets on Sunday night. This is an obvious statement. I firmly believe the Bengals went into the game this past week with a vanilla game plan in an attempt to win the game and then got run over at the beginning of the game and backed off even more. Though Carson Palmer hasn't been as good as we expected this year, (21:13 TD:INT ratio and 83.6 quarterback rating), he will be ready to play this game since it is his first playoff game since being whacked in the knee "Sopranos" style by the Steelers a few years ago.

2. I don't believe the Jets are going to play nearly as well as they did against the Bengals. They had their backs against the wall in that game and had to win to make the playoffs, hence they stepped it up and made sure they won the game. The Jets were trying hard to win the game, at home, against a team that probably gave up after a while. Will it give the Jets confidence? Sure, but it has no bearing in my mind in this game...other than the fact the Bengals had better game plan for Brad Smith this time.

3. It's hard to predict this game in the favor of the Jets. I would be backing a rookie quarterback on the road after coming off a game when his team beat the crap out of the very team his team is playing in the 1st round of the playoffs. Sanchez is coming off a pretty mediocre year (12:20 TD:INT ratio and a ghastly 63.0 quarterback rating) and is just as bad on the road as he is at home. So it's not like he needs to be at home to play well, his general mediocrity shows on up no matter where he plays. What causes me to lean towards the Jets winning is that they don't HAVE to rely on Sanchez to win the game because they have a good running game, so his job is going to be to manage the game, not win the game. The Jets can win the game with this game plan. The Jets are going to try to run the ball, we all know that, so I look for the Jets to try throw coming out of the gate to back the Bengals out of the box...then run the ball to win the game. Of course if the Jets fall behind, that's all out the window and we are seeing Mark Sanchez taking snaps out of the shotgun while Jets fans are shotgunning beers at home.

4. It's also hard for me to predict this game in favor of the Bengals. The Jets run the ball well and play good defense and I happen to be partial to teams that do both of these things well. Revis is going to be on Chad Johnson all day and given Revis' history he will be successful in covering Johnson. He has done a great job of shutting elite receivers out this year and I don't expect that to change. That means the Jets aren't going to have to dedicate a safety to covering Johnson and can put 8 men in the box if necessary to stop the running game and not worry about the rest of the Bengals receivers, since other than Coles there isn't that much there. I do have to mention Bears fans are probably really not excited to see the two running backs on their Super Bowl team in the playoffs against each other NOT playing for the Chicago Bears.

5. Neither team really has a dominant passing game in my mind and the Jets are possibly a below average offensive team. The Jets are 5-3 this year on the road and the Bengals are 6-2 at home, so there isn't a distinct advantage there. Both teams stop the run and both teams want to run the ball. The difference that I see, outside of which team stops the run better, is going to come down to turnovers and whether a 2nd receiver can step up for the Bengals. I think as mediocre as the Jets passing game can be, there are options available for them in the form of Dustin Keller and Braylon Edwards that could potentially make the difference. I don't know if I see that difference maker for the Bengals. For me, betting on Sanchez to win a playoff road game is like betting Charles Rogers can stay sober, but I am dumb enough to do it. This will be a close game but I like the Jets because Sanchez will commit no turnovers and I think the Bengals can be shut down defensively by the Jets.

Jets 24-20 over the Bengals.

Philadelphia Eagles v. Dallas Cowboys

1. I have already tipped my hand a little bit and stated the Cowboys would win a playoff game, so it would be pretty dumb for me to back off now. Much like the Bengals-Jets game, this game is another rematch from Week 17. If the Eagles have some super duper neat plays featuring Mike Vick, now would be a good time to feature them. The Eagles absolutely laid down in Week 17, will they be looking for vengeance this week or is a good showing in December a sign this Cowboys team can be different in the 1st round of the playoffs? More importantly, even if the Cowboys lose how many phone calls will the Charlotte sports radio show have mentioning at least the Cowboys won a playoff game while the Panthers didn't even make the playoffs?

2. Dallas won both matchups this this relevant? Tony Romo didn't take any Vegas or Mexican vacations this week, is this relevant? The Eagles don't even pretend they want to run the ball, so it almost feels pointless to talk about their running game. Is it low hanging fruit to make fun of the Andy Reid-Wade Phillips coaching showdown? Will they be competing to see which one can manage the clock worse than the other? More importantly, this game may come down to whether Andy Reid tries to run 23 straight passing plays while Wade Phillips stands comatose-looking on the opposite sidelines. I say that's important because this will amuse me and I don't have a preference between these two teams. Cowboys and Eagles fans are probably not amused at the thought of this.

3. The Cowboys defense has pitched two straight shut-outs and have recently beaten a full strength New Orleans Saints team at home, so it's no fluke. The Eagles also have a good defense but I feel like they peaked a little bit in the beginning of this year. They have given up 31, 20, 24, 7, 38, 13, 27, 24 points over the last 8 weeks and played 6 teams that didn't make the playoffs in that span. I don't feel like they have as good of a defense as I want to believe they do. In that time the Cowboys defense has given up 17, 6, 7, 31, 20, 17, 0, 0 points against only 4 teams that didn't make the playoffs.

4. Both teams are 11-5 this year and have identical records in conference, at home and on the road. The Eagles played 4 games against teams that made the playoffs this year, they went 0-4 (not counting Dallas they went 0-2) against those teams. The Cowboys played 5 games against teams in the playoffs and went 3-2 against these teams (and not counting Philadelphia they went 1-2). It's a home game for the Cowboys as well, so the Cowboys will have the Dallas fan support behind them. In my mind, all signs are pointing towards Dallas winning this game. The only thing stopping me is that the Eagles offense LOOKS so powerful and potent on paper and has actually been powerful and potent at times during this season. The fact the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996 and Tony Romo has lost both of his home playoff games also makes me want to bet against the Cowboys, but that's not great reasoning.

5. These teams know each other pretty well so I would find it hard to believe either team can throw something at the other team they haven't seen...unless the Eagles plan on trying some crazy shit with Mike Vick (Speaking of which, when Vick runs the Wildcat, would it be wrong to call it the "Bulldog" or "Ron Mexico-Cat?" Probably not, but it sounds awkward) and Donovan McNabb on the field at the same time. The Cowboys are the "hotter" team and they want to win a playoff game since they didn't in the last decade. The Eagles are embarrassed and are a much better team than they showed last Sunday. Doesn't that mean they will show up for this game? Can the Cowboys really beat them 3 times this year? I don't have a theory behind it, but I like teams that are hot going into the playoffs and are playing with confidence. That's the Cowboys for me. They have a home game against an opponent they have beaten twice this year, this is a game they HAVE to win. I think they will.

Cowboys 34-27 over the Eagles.

Baltimore Ravens v. New England Patriots

1. I'm going to get this out of the way early. Yes, the Patriots don't have Wes Welker for Sunday, but no, I don't think it this is going to negatively affect them as much as other might believe it will affect them. Bill Belichick won a Super Bowl with Troy Brown, who is a wide receiver, as a cornerback. I shall not doubt his ability to work Julian Edelman into the Wes Welker role. Will Edelman do a good impression of Welker? It probably won't be an exact impression but Brady is still throwing the ball and the Patriots are still going to find a way to get the slot guy open. Brady and the Patriots have always been fine with spreading the ball around to various receivers, so not having Welker to depend on shouldn't throw them off too much.

2. How will the Patriots handle Ray Rice? Rice is the Raven's leading rusher and second leading receiver. Consider that Belichick has a history of letting certain guys get yards against him and trying to shut down the rest of the supporting cast (Thurman Thomas, Marshall Faulk, Gary Clark), it's pretty easy to figure out that Belichick is going to try to stop Rice offensively but will absolutely make sure Ray Rice gets no help. (Cliche alert!) Belichick doesn't care about yardage given up, he cares about whether his team wins or not. The Patriots will not win if the Ravens can get Derrick Mason and Todd Heap the ball with frequency, but I think the Patriots can win if they contain Rice and shut down the rest of the Ravens receivers and runners.

3. Baltimore still has a good defense and Joe Flacco has developed as a quarterback this year. He is still a game manager of sorts and isn't going to be put in situations where he has to win the game. There is nothing wrong with this. The Ravens want to run the ball and keep the ball out of Tom Brady's hands. There is nothing wrong with this either and I believe the Ravens will be able to run the ball on the Patriots to an extent. I say to an extent because as I said up top, I think the Patriots are going to focus on taking Mason and Heap out of the game. In the previous meeting the Ravens lost 27-21 and Flacco threw the ball 47 times. If he throws 47 times in this game the Ravens are going to lose...or the Ravens are really running up the score on the Patriots. They have to run the ball effectively to win. I think the Ravens can do that, but I also think the Patriots are going to try to tempt the Ravens into running the ball with Rice only 11 times like they did last game by showing fronts that will stop the run in hopes the Ravens try to pass the ball instead of running against the front.

4. The Ravens defense hasn't been quite as strong this year, but fortunately they are playing a team in the Patriots whose defense has taken some hits as well this year. Most of the hits the Patriots defense has taken is mostly through playing younger players, while the Ravens' secondary has been a source of some consternation this year because the Ravens haven't gotten as good of a pass rush this year as they usually seem to get and Ed Reed has been banged up. The Ravens have to worry mostly about making sure Randy Moss doesn't kill them deep and they are able to prevent the Patriot slot receiver from getting yards after the catch. Honestly, I don't know if the Patriots really care about running the ball, many of the short passes they throw are pretty much runs. Fred Taylor led the Patriots with 25 yards rushing in the last game they played. It's hard to diagnose the commitment the Patriots have to the run since it is going to be a 3-headed attack and the leading rusher (Maroney) is a guy it feels like the team has given up on.

5. This is a tough pick, especially since these are two teams that we didn't get to see play each other last week...of course they did play earlier this year. I want to believe the Patriots are going to struggle without Welker, and they might, but the Patriots are masters of adjusting to their circumstances. You can bet the Patriots are going to try and loosen up the Ravens defense with early throws to Moss in the hopes they can get more of the underneath routes open. Offensively the Ravens are going to try and control the game by running the ball and then want to take some shots in the passing game when they get the chance. As I said previously, the Ravens ran the ball against the Patriots previously fairly well, though not often, and they still lost. Welker only had 6 catches for 48 yards in that game, so it's not like the Patriots counted on his production last time these two teams played. I have this as the closest game of the weekend and I think the Patriots pull it out in the fourth quarter.

Patriots 21-20 over the Ravens.

Green Bay Packers v. Arizona Cardinals

1. Last week the Packers beat the Cardinals 33-7. The Cardinals were reportedly a little upset the Packers continued to throw the ball and keep the starters in for the entire game. Getting upset is wonderful and wanting to beat the Packers' ass is even better, but it doesn't count much in regards to actually playing football. The bottom line is that the Packers are 7-1 over the last 8 games and they only lost that one game on a last second play against the Steelers. Other than that game, the Packers have lost 4 games this year and 3 of them were to teams in the playoffs. Of course, they had a pretty easy schedule in playing Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Cleveland. They went 3-1 against those teams, so given the easier schedule it makes me wonder if the Packers are a good team or not. Maybe they are an average team that just had an easier schedule. The Cardinals played Detroit and St. Louis (twice) and other than the Vikings they don't have an impressive win outside of Houston, so conceivably I could ask the same question of them.

2. The Cardinals have lost games this year when they play teams that have strong defensive fronts who don't have to (or don't want to) blitz Warner to be successful. That partially explains losses to Indianapolis, Carolina, and Tennessee. If a team can get to Warner without blitzing too many guys, then Warner is going to have to throw through more traffic to his receivers. I don't have faith in the offensive line of the Cardinals either, I think the Packers are going to have success getting to Warner. On defense the Cardinals are going to try and pressure Rodgers and try to sack him as much as he was sacked early in the year. I bet the Cardinals will bring some blitzes early to test the Packers' offensive line. The Packers offensive line has really played better since the beginning of the year and Rodgers has done a better job of feeling the pressure, but it's going to be different in the playoffs and the Cardinals did hold some stuff back defensively last week. I think in some ways these teams are pretty similar to each other offensively in that they will want to spread the opposing defense some and throw the ball to multiple receivers.

3. The Cardinals have been run on this year to the tune of 113 yards per game and the Packers, contrary to the semi-popular belief, can run the ball well with Ryan Grant. If the Packers try to run the ball, I see them having success there. Obviously the Packers aren't going to try and pound the ball because they want to show off Rodgers and the prolific offense they run. What I mean is that Rodgers will get a chance to throw the ball and the Packers won't rely on the running game. On defense, I think the Cardinals will actually want the Packers to run the ball because that means the passing game won't be in rhythm. Same thing with the Packers on defense, they will want the Cardinals to run the ball. In this bizarro playoff game (since teams usually don't want to give up on the run), this game may be decided with which team doesn't give up on the pass first and is able to get some rhythm in the passing game enough to open up lanes to run the ball.

4. I think the Packers win last week at Arizona is going to help them this week in regards to their confidence. The Cardinals are only 4-4 at home this year while the Packers are 5-3 on the road. The Packers have to be confident coming into this game. I see the Cardinals much like I see the Colts. Much of the passing game is relying on timing and rhythm between the quarterback and the receivers. The Packers have Charles Woodson to cut the field in half and choose between him covering either Boldin or Fitzgerald. I do know the Packers look like a strong team to me, while the Cardinals are a team that can prevent the Packers receivers from running wild because they have a strong secondary and showed in the Vikings game earlier this year they can pressure a team with a (supposedly) good offensive line, much less the maligned Packers offensive line.

5. The Cardinals are seen by some as an "underdog" sort of team in these playoffs because they are sort of still under the radar and have a prolific offense and a steady defense. I don't see it that way. I think with their combination of being able to run the ball, throw the ball and play good defense it is going to be hard to beat the Packers. Woodson is going to be able to cover one of the Cardinals receivers and that will allow the Packers to focus on getting pressure on Warner and hurrying him into bad throws. The Cardinals have a pretty good defense in the secondary and I think they are not going to be as bad as they showed on Sunday, but I still am not sure if they will be able to stop the run well enough to key on Jennings, Driver and company in the passing game. The Cardinals are sort of the "it" team in the playoffs and I am just not seeing it this year. Last year they got out to big leads in their playoff games and never gave the lead up. This year I don't see them getting off to a big lead and the Packers defense is going to make the difference in the game by forcing Warner to hold the ball longer than he wants to.

Green Bay 30-17 over the Cardinals.

I hope everyone enjoys the games. Scroll down to read J.S. take on this week's games along with his prediction.


KBilly said...

Since we are partner sites (we link to each other), we should have a NFL Playoff picks contest.

Here's my picks:

J.S. said...

Sounds good - everyone against spread. So to summerise:

KBilly; Cinci -2.5, Philly +4.0, Ravens +3.0, Pack pk

Ben: NYJ +2.5, Cowboys -4.0, Ravens +3.0, Pack pk

J.S.: NYJ +2.5, Cowboys -3.0, New England -3.0, Cards pk

Bill: Cinci -2.5, Philly +4.0, New England -3.0, Pack pk

Everyone has different sets so this should be fun.

J.S. said...

Mine is Cowboys -4.0 not -3.0

KBilly said...

I actually get my lines here:

We should get the ball rolling on a NCAA pool between our sites and readers...

KBilly said...

GB/Az line moved to Pack -1...On the road in the playoffs. Looks like the Cheeseheads are hitting Vegas hard.

J.S. said...

Yeah but we're using the same lines as Simmons so everyone is on the same standard.

Bengoodfella said...

Great, I added KBilly to our sidebar Pick 'Em. It seems like we have a good little competition going. Now if only all of my picks will end up being right.

Fred Trigger said...

If Cincy's kicker doesnt miss two chipshot field goals, he basically predicted the outcome of the game.

Martin said...

wait, wait, Ben did you end up beating Simmons or not?

Bengoodfella said...

I lost to Simmons by ONE GAME! Of course if I beat him by two in the playoffs then I am going to go ahead and say I beat him overall. I don't count just regular season, even if ESPN won't let me make my picks for the Pick 'Em we still post our picks so it counts in my world.

KBilly said...

You should add Mad Dog's 0-4 weekend record to your tally. That should keep me out of the basement...