Saturday, January 16, 2010

10 comments My NFL Playoffs Pre-Conference Championship Picks

I called last weeks NFL Playoffs picks the "Divisional Round picks" even though it wasn't actually the divisional round because I don't consider a round of playoffs of 4 games that each contain a NFL Division winner to be really a "wild card" round. So I am calling this week's picks the "Pre-Conference Championship" picks since it really doesn't make sense and I have already made my divisional round picks last week. Just like last week I will be going up against J.S., KBilly, and Bill Simmons. A very formidable group of opponents.

Again, just like last week I will make my prediction against the spread Bill Simmons has provided and give 5 things about the game I think are interesting or want to discuss. This week's games were 3 times harder for me to pick for whatever reason.

Arizona Cardinals v. New Orleans Saints

1. Is there going to be defense played in this game at all? I have thought this year that the Saints defense was a little overrated simply because the offense was good enough to get the team out to a lead and other teams were forced to throw the ball on the Saints. So the Saints run defense looked better than it really was. Of course the Cardinals don't really seem to care about running the ball as much as other teams, so this may be a good matchup for the Saints in that regard. The Cardinals are a team that can put up points in a hurry, as we saw last week, but so can the Saints. I don't think this game will be quite the shoot-out everyone is expecting it to be...or at least as big of a shoot-out as the Cardinals-Packers game from Sunday.

2. This is the first of a couple times I am going to talk about something I really don't want to talk about (since I don't know how pertinent it is), but feel like I have to. The Saints haven't won since December 13th. Granted, they sat their starters for one of those games, but this fact still stands. Have they been saving up special plays for the playoffs knowing they were going to win the division and would probably get a 1st round bye? I don't think so, but they looked very normal over the past month. I don't think the Saints are going to be affected too much by the layoff and the offense is going to put up some points no matter how long the layoff is. I feel like I had to acknowledge the Saints struggles in the context of this game.

3. I am more concerned with the Saints defense than any other part of this game. The Packers didn't have a terrible defense and the Cardinals carved it up, even without Anquan Boldin, and that game was played outside. This week's game is on turf and the Cardinals receivers are of high quality so it's not like the Saints have a huge advantage there. I don't know if the Saints are going to have the pass rush necessary to get to Kurt Warner. The Packers tried to sit back and throw a bunch of men in coverage and that didn't work (since they always forgot to cover the middle of the field), what plan does Gregg Williams have to stop the Cardinals offensive train? I loved Early Doucet at LSU and if he is starting to finally "get it" this year then I don't know how a team would cover a 4 wide receiver set of him, Fitzgerald, Breaston, and Boldin (when he gets back from being injured). I personally believe a great way to beat the Saints is to run the ball on them, I don't think they can stop the run, so Beanie Wells is going to be very important to the outcome of this game. Defensively I can see real problems in the Saints future, because I felt like for portions of the game last week the Cardinals were able to run the ball effectively. That's not a good omen for the Saints.

4. Last week I counted out the Cardinals. I didn't think they could run the ball and I was proven wrong last week, when they ran the ball effectively. This is a matchup between two teams who I think don't have as strong of defenses as they are ranked. Both have safeties I like in Adrian Wilson and Darren Sharper and both teams have a large part of the secondary which seems like a question mark to me. It's a hard game for me to pick. Arizona is a great road team at 6-2 and New Orleans is 6-2 at home this year, so the only advantage for New Orleans will be the incredibly loud crowd drunkenly cheering for them...which should be a big advantage.

5. The Saints have come up big this year in games at the beginning of the year. The game against the Patriots was a Super Bowl of sorts for them, but I am a little concerned they burnt themselves out after the game. They seemed to lack some explosiveness in the games that followed. New Orleans has scared me over the past couple of weeks when it seems like they peaked too early. My gut says that New Orleans peaked too early and the Cardinals are playing good (offensive) football. The Cardinals provide concerns for me as well. They had a +50 point differential this year while the Saints had a +168 point differential. The Cardinals played a 1st place schedule while the Saints played a 4th place schedule. It's entirely possible the Cardinals are a better team right now but I think the Saints are going to take full advantage of playing in the Superdome and Drew Brees won't be rusty after the layoff and three straight games with losses. New Orleans wins...barely.

Saints 31-28 over the Cardinals

Baltimore Ravens v. Indianapolis Colts

1. Let's get this out of the way, the Colts had a chance to go perfect, but sat their starters the last 2 games of the season. I think they should have gone for it, but they didn't. Will this in any way have an effect on the game? Probably not. No matter what, this team is going to be ready to play Saturday night. Is Joe Flacco injured? Can Jared Gaither and Michael Oher keep Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis away from Flacco and avoid putting any type of pressure on him? More importantly in my mind, did the Patriots-Ravens game last week say more about the strength of the Ravens team or some of the weaknesses of the Patriots team? I don't know for certain the answer to this, but I can guess. I think that game showed more about the Patriots weaknesses than the Ravens strengths.

2. It's a small sample size, I realize that, but Peyton Manning is 0-3 in the playoffs after having a bye week and he is 7-5 when the Colts don't have a bye. This number probably means nothing since teams change every year in the NFL and the Colts team of this year is different from past Colts teams. I don't even know what to think about this statistic. Another thing that bothers me about the Colts is that they don't run the ball well. Shouldn't they run the ball well with Joseph Addai and Donald Brown...or at least better than they currently do? Is the Colts offensive line that bad at run blocking? I feel like they should run the ball more effectively and I think this could have an adverse effect on their chances to make the Super Bowl, even though it didn't hurt the Steelers and Cardinals last year.

3. I didn't think the Ravens were going to beat the Patriots last week because I thought the Patriots would manage to shut down Ray Rice and cause the supporting cast of the Ravens to pick up the slack. That did not happen. I expect much of the defensive game plan to feature a similar plan this game I thought the Patriots would have against the Ravens. The Colts are going to try and get pressure on Flacco from their front four, though I believe they may attempt to blitz more than they usually do in an attempt to get Flacco to make a mistake. Defensively for the Ravens I have no idea what they need to do to stop Peyton Manning. I don't think I am the only one who is at a loss on how to do this. Multiple looks at the line of scrimmage in an effort to not tip off what they are trying to do and probably putting a corner (meanwhile the Colts are going to try to match up a linebacker against Clark) on Dallas Clark are two things the Ravens could be looking to do.

4. This game is another rematch for the Ravens. Just like last week when they avenged a loss to the Patriots by defeating the Patriots, the Ravens have a chance to avenge the 17-15 loss in Indianapolis from earlier in the year. The Ravens played the Colts tough in that game but they were also at home. Including the game against the Patriots last week, the Ravens are 4-5 on the road this year. Every loss, except for the one to Pittsburgh, came against a playoff team. In the game earlier in the year, Baltimore committed two turnovers while the Colts committed 3 turnovers, including two Manning interceptions. The Colts are known for the "bend-don't-break" defense that keeps team out of the end zone and the Ravens were kept out of the end zone in the game earlier in the year. The Ravens showed they could handle Peyton Manning in that game, which is going to give them confidence coming into this playoff game.

5. This is another tough pick for me. Manning has traditionally not done well after a bye week and the Ravens are playing very well right now. Unfortunately, I feel like the game last week against the Patriots showed more about the Patriots than the Ravens. Still, I think this is a good Ravens team. History says the Colts are going to come out and get beat by the Ravens, because of Manning's bye week record and the fact #6 seeds have done well over the last couple of NFL Playoffs. That seems like a pretty silly reason to pick that the Ravens are going to beat the Colts. I want to predict the upset, but I don't think it's going to happen. The Ravens are not strong enough in the passing game to beat the Colts and Manning will not throw 2 interceptions this time. Consider the 0-3 streak broken.

Colts 28-24 over the Ravens.

Dallas Cowboys v. Minnesota Vikings

1. It's Romo! It's Favre! It's two of my least favorite quarterbacks in the NFL! I have had positive feelings towards Romo for some reason this year, which scares me since it goes against my historical general distaste for the Cowboys. I am looking forward to this game because I think the Cowboys are going to give the Vikings some trouble at the point of attack. I don't care what the statistics say, the Vikings defense doesn't defend the runs as well as some believe they do. The run defense for the Vikings isn't as good as advertised and the loss of E.J. Henderson should not be the reason for this. I feel like many analysts are blaming the Vikings recent defense struggles on losing Henderson. That's why you have backups, in case of injuries and every team faces injuries. Meanwhile the Cowboys beat up on Philadelphia this year, beat New Orleans, but otherwise didn't beat a single playoff team this year. I feel like this has to be said. Are the Cowboys a team that can beat the Eagles and a fading Saints team or a strong overall team? Beating the Eagles two weeks in a row doesn't automatically make them Super Bowl favorites or the "hot team" in my book.

2. I love the Cowboys defense and it's not just because they have "name" players out there. The defense is fast and tough and the front 7 of the Cowboys can stop the run and rush the passer. There is nothing for me to hate there. The Vikings are going to establish the run, they have to, because Brett Favre can't win this game with his arm no matter how many times someone may try to tell you he can. He needs the running game to work to be successful. An interesting fact is that while the Vikings have "the best running back in the NFL" in Adrian Peterson and have been ahead in a lot of games in the 4th quarter this year, they are only 13th in the NFL in rushing. Basically I am saying I don't believe the Vikings aren't as good of a rushing team as I think a lot of people like to believe. The Cowboys are 8th in the NFL in rushing with their three headed attack of Tashard Choice, Marion Barber, and Felix Jones. I prefer the Cowboys rushing attack to the Vikings rushing tandem.

3. How is Tony Romo going to do after his first big playoff win? I hate to bring this up, but he has a tendency to seem to lose focus at times and will that be the case this year? Can Wade Phillips double his playoff win total in a matter of one week? I have a feeling Brett Favre is either going to throw 4 interceptions or 4 touchdowns. I don't know if there will be any in-between. If the Cowboys don't get a pass rush on him, the 4 touchdowns could be much more likely. The Vikings are going to try and stop the Cowboys from running the ball successfully and hope that Romo is rushed into mistakes when he throws the ball. I think this is a different Tony Romo now that he doesn't have to worry about spreading the ball out to certain players (ummm...Terrell Owens).

4. Now that I have sufficiently rambled, what's this game going to come down to? I think both game plans are going to be similar. Dallas defensively is going to blitz Favre from different angles so that he throws a few interceptions (because he will if given the opportunity) and figure how to stop Peterson so Favre is forced to try and make a play. Offensively they are going to run the ball on the Vikings and then move Romo out of the pocket in hopes of getting him away from the Vikings rush to have him make plays down field to his receivers. Offensively for the Vikings, I can see them coming out early and trying to throw deep to one of their receivers. Favre still throws a great deep ball and he is absolutely fearless when it comes to taking chances early in a game. I say a lot of negative things about Brett Favre personally but he is absolutely unafraid of failing during a football game. Against the Eagles, the Cowboys didn't have to worry too much about them running the ball and could tee off on the passing game to an extent. They can't do that with the Vikings. The Viking are going to try and open up lanes for Adrian Peterson to run the ball and will want to stretch the field early to keep the Dallas safeties back more. On defense, the Vikings need to pay attention to Jason Witten. This is a game I could see him being very successful against the Vikings and they will need to be sure they keep him under control in the middle of the field.

5. This is actually an easy game for me, which scares me because it shouldn't be this easy. I think the Cowboys are going to be able to stop the Vikings from running the ball and they will run the ball well enough to slow down the Vikings pass rush some. I don't like to bet against Favre or in favor of Romo in big games, but I think the Cowboys will be able to get a handle on Adrian Peterson. That should help the game progress very well in the fashion they want it to. I have felt good about this Cowboys team since the beginning of this year and this week is no different. I think this is a Dallas team that is going to give the Vikings offensive line fits and will be able to keep the Vikings passing game under control. Of course if Adrian Peterson starts getting big gains, all bets are off...but I think Dallas will win the game.

Cowboys 24-17 over the Vikings.

New York Jets v. San Diego Chargers

1. I took a Mark Sanchez last week in Cincinnati because I believed in the Jets ability to run the ball and play good defense to where Sanchez wouldn't have to do too much to win the game on his own. On paper this game looks similar. The Jets look like they should be able to run the ball on the Chargers and stop the Chargers passing game since the running game has been bad all year long. So it looks like Sanchez will just have to manage the game. But, I think this game is different in some ways. I don't believe I can take a rookie quarterback on the road against a team that has as good of a passing game as the Chargers. I just can't do it. At some point Sanchez is going to have to throw the ball more than he did against the Bengals over the past couple of weeks. I feel like even though the numbers won't back me up (that they can do it successfully), the Chargers are going to try and stop the run and make Mark Sanchez beat them...which he can't do. He was a below average quarterback this year.

2. I don't think the Chargers defense is good enough to win games on their own, fortunately they are not going to have to. Philip Rivers has become a great throwing quarterback this year, even if he does seem like an asshole. The Chargers have beaten 3 playoff teams this year and haven't lost a game since October 19th. The talk about a team having momentum seems like gibberish to me, but I can't help but wonder how the Chargers are going to do with having a bye week this past week. Will it throw them off a little bit? Probably not, I think the offense is going to be as good as ever. It's the Chargers defense that scares me a bit because if they can't stop the Jets from running the ball then the Jets have a great chance to win this game by controlling the clock...and I think the Jets are going to be able to run the ball.

3. Can the Chargers run the ball or can't they? I have this weird feeling the Chargers can run the ball if they choose to do so, they just haven't done it as well or as much this year because they are throwing the ball so well. The Chargers remind me of the Colts on offense a little bit. Both teams seem like they should have better run games than they currently have, I almost feel like they are sandbagging a bit. Of course that's not true and is kind of stupid. What team would sandbag during the regular season? (The most absurd thing I have heard over the past week is that the Patriots intentionally didn't try hard against the Ravens to avoid being in the 8 teams who can't sign free agents from other teams if there is no CBA...what team would lose in the playoffs for this reason? Is it realistic to think this?) I feel good about the Chargers passing game, and just taking Vincent Jackson out of the equation and assuming he and Darrelle Revis play to a draw still leaves Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd for the Jets to have to cover. That seems like a tough task for the Jets defense.

4. What kind of game plan is Rex Ryan going to devise to throw Philip Rivers off his game, other than to have Jay Cutler stand on the sidelines yelling at Rivers? He has a tough defense and it is the #1 defense in football, so why do I believe they will struggle a little bit against the Chargers? I believe this because the Jets haven't won a game in the 2nd half of the season against a quality offensive team. I don't count the Colts because they pulled their starters. They lost to Jacksonville, New England and Atlanta. They beat Carolina, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis (at half strength), and Cincinnati (twice). They lost to teams that have decent offenses and beat the teams that don't have great offenses. It's not that the Jets can't handle the Chargers offense, I believe the Jets #1 defensive ranking is deserved, just a little misleading. Rex Ryan is going to most likely try as hard as possible to send blitzers from everywhere in an attempt to rattle Philip Rivers or force him to get rid of the ball short so he can't completely use his receiver's height to his advantage and control the ball offensively with the running game.

5. There is no misleading the fact the Jets can run the ball and I think that could be the key to keeping them in this football game. I am huge sucker for teams that can run the ball and play good defense, so I am tempted to choose Mark Sanchez and the Jets. I want to choose them pretty badly. I can't back Mark Sanchez on the road against a Chargers defense that may be a little pissed off it is being sort of underestimated. Say what you will about Norv Turner, but he can coordinate an offense and I think he is going to have a game plan that will be able to negate the Jets blitzes and keep Rivers' jersey clean. The Bengals weren't able to keep the Jets in 3rd-down-and short situations but I think the Chargers are going to be able to do that. The Jets are going to run the ball, and they may do it successfully, but the Chargers can score better than the Bengals and Sanchez is going to have to play mistake free and complete some passes at some point in this game. I don't see him doing that.

Chargers 34-20 over the Jets.


Bengoodfella said...

In summary we have:

J.S.: Cardinals +7, Colts -6, Jets +7, Cowboys +2.5

Simmons: Saints -7, Colts -6, Cowboys +2.5, Jets +7

KBilly: Cardinals +7, Ravens +6.5, Cowboys +3, Chargers +7

Bengoodfella: Cardinals +7, Ravens +6, Cowboys +2.5, Chargers -7

I am pretty sure I got that right. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think we have all our picks for this weekend now.

Dylan Murphy said...

Even though on paper it seems the Cowboys can win this game easily, I'm almost afraid of the media giving too much confidence to the Cowboys. In essence, we've put the the Vikings int he underdog role, which can only help them, and the Cowboys as the favorite, even if the line says otherwise.

Bengoodfella said...

Dylan, I am afraid of that as well. I have full faith in the Vikings to win that game and now that they are the underdogs I am nervous about my pick.

Everyone thinks the Cowboys are the favorite and I can see them losing the game since they are being hyped up like they are.

J.S. said...

We should all be using the same line - Bill's. So KBilly's lines need to be Cards +7, Ravens +6, Cowboys +2.5 and Chargers -7

Bengoodfella said...

J.S., that sounds good.

Also, when I said New Orleans can't stop the run, that first play was exactly what I meant.

Anonymous said...

Joe Flacco really isn't that good, it seems. I suspect it's mostly injury + soph slump as teams figure him out. We're really gonna see how things shake out next year for the Ravens, won't we?


p.s. Bush, where did that come from? Weren't you afraid of getting hit in traffic?

Bengoodfella said...

Shah, the Ravens have no ability to come back in this game. It's a lost cause. I don't know where the game by Bush came from.

I will tell you, I hate my picks right now. They all suck. I want to change my picks for tomorrow immediately, but I am stuck with the damn things.

KBilly said...

Hey, I want to have a post dedicated to Mike's and Dog's Super Bowl trivia games for the week after next.

If we all post the answers to the trivia Qs we know, maybe one of us can win a free trip.

I'll try and set up the post for easy reference. Breaking down categories, like MVPs, SB locations, Winning/losing coaches, those audio clips and whatever other categories there are.

I'll start with what I expect to be relevant.

I'll try and recruit people to help with answers. Try and get as many people as possible to listen and contribute answers.

Martin said...

Well, that Jets field goal defense is just amazing this post season! 5 misses already!

Bengoodfella said...

Nate Kaeding is terrible. He should have his Pro Bowl selection immediately taken away.

Ironically, if Kaeding makes two of those kicks he may not have been able to play in the Pro Bowl because the Chargers are still alive for the Super Bowl.