Friday, January 22, 2010

2 comments NFL Championship Weekend Picks

Last week was a complete disaster for me in making my picks. I am now again tied with Bill Simmons for the year and have a losing record in the playoffs. I had a bad feeling about some of my picks immediately as I saw the Saints start running over the Cardinals. I thought to myself "this is definitely not my week to pick games correctly," because I had picked three dome teams to either lose or not cover the spread and I could see the dome teams were going to cover just based simply on how the Saints were doing. I still felt good about my Chargers pick until they laid down completely against the Jets.

I was asked by one certain person why I picked against teams that went 13-3, 14-2 and 12-4 and I told her a team's record in the playoffs were misleading and it was often about momentum and those three teams definitely were going to struggle, if they didn't outright lose. That didn't happen. It turns out, I went 0-4 last weekend and I am an ass because I clearly didn't know what the hell I was talking about. So I come into this Championship weekend with a losing record, wounded pride and a very shaky sense of who is going to win each game this weekend. This is why I am not a good gambler, one bad week shakes me a little bit and causes me to question whether I am going to have another bad week.

Well, I am not going to. After much research and thought I am going to go 2-0 this weekend and then pick the Super Bowl correctly and end the playoffs with a winning record. I am currently tied for second in the Bottom of the Barrel Playoff Challenge and I vow that I will at least stay in second. As always, I am not as egotistical as Bill Simmons and have playoff rules, I just have five things I think for each game that affected my ultimate pick. With no further ado (other than my super long paragraphs), here we go:

New York v. Indianapolis

Colts (-8) over Jets

1. My first order of business is to say that the Week 16 game between these two teams will probably have no impact on how this AFC Championship Game plays out. (Can you believe the Jets were a .500 team going into that game? And now they are in the AFC Championship Game?) Jim Caldwell pulled his starters with a 5 point lead in the 3rd quarter. So based on that you could say the Colts are the superior team to the Jets since they were winning when their starters were pulled and had been undefeated until this very game. Do we really believe the Colts were showing their "A" game offense though? I tend to believe the Colts weren't exactly giving the Jets their best effort and just trying to get out of the game healthy. I do believe the Jets were desperately trying to make the playoffs and didn't know if the Colts would pull their starters or they most likely played their hardest. Since I am not a mind reader (I bet Gregg Easterbrook knows EXACTLY what each team was thinking) and can't tell how hard each team was trying, we'll just say both teams tried hard and the Colts were winning when they pulled their starters...this still tells me very little that helps me with this week's game.

2. We know the Jets formula. Run the ball on offense so the team can get in short down and distances on third down or avoid third down altogether. On defense they are going to blitz and throw different looks at the offense in an effort to confuse the quarterback and offensive line for the opposing team. They are not concerned with leaving their corners in man coverage because they have faith in Sheppard and Revis, as well they should. The Jets have a great defense and they are doing it without their monster defensive tackle, Kris Jenkins, which makes their appearance in the AFC Championship Game all that much more impressive to me. More importantly, the Jets really think they can stop any team and that gives them an advantage in that they aren't going to be afraid to blitz Peyton Manning. I believe the Jets are going to try to get Peyton to get rid of the ball quickly and jam the Colts receivers at the line to throw the offense's timing off.

The biggest question I have in this game is whether I trust Mark Sanchez or not? Hell no, I do not trust him. Not only is he only at this point a game manager as a quarterback, he's the worst game manager possible, a ROOKIE game manager. I have heard the hyperbole all week about how Sanchez has earned the Jets trust and all that crap, but when I look at him I see a guy who threw 20 interceptions this year and was seriously considered as possibly getting pulled for Kellen Clemens at one point this season. I don't trust Mark Sanchez to make plays when the Jets need him to. Honestly, at this point in the playoffs he hasn't had to make too many plays. The Jets success has covered up some of his struggles this year. In fact, check out this comparison between him and JaMarcus Russell.

3. Everyone knows what the Colts are going to do on offense. They will run the ball just enough to sell the play-action fake and then try to create matchups against the defense they want on the field to give their receivers the best possible opportunity to get open. If the Colts run the offense right, it's pretty unstoppable since they have a master running it in Peyton Manning and two receivers in Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne who are always on the same page as Manning. The biggest problem with the Colts offense comes when a defense disrupts the timing of the offense and makes Manning go through his progressions more than he cares to. Manning is still dangerous whenever he has the football, but the Colts offense isn't built to have the quarterback holding the ball in the pocket going through reads waiting for a receiver to get open.

This is why Manning's knowledge of the rush and where it is coming from is so important. He rarely holds the ball longer than he needs to and negates the defense's ability to take advantage of the fact he has the scrambling ability of a sloth with a broken leg. He makes a guy like Drew Bledsoe look like Steve Young when it comes to scrambling ability. So if Peyton Manning figures out where the blitzers are coming from and gets the offense line set up to block the right guys, all will be well in Indy, but if the Jets start getting pressure on Manning and he starts talking with his hands at his receivers about the routes they should run and yelling at his offensive line for not picking up a blitz, the Jets have already won the game.

4. The Colts defense doesn't get a lot of press, at least I don't think so, but it's not a bad unit. The Colts don't give up a ton of passing touchdowns, which is fortunate for the Jets because the Jets aren't going to try to throw a bunch of passing touchdowns. The Colts like to get upfield at the quarterback with Mathis and Freeney and I can see the Jets trying to slow down the Colts pass rush with screen passes and draw plays. Possibly this may make the Colts pass rushers think for half a second before they go at Sanchez and give him more time when he does throw the ball. The Jets offensive line is fantastic and I believe they can keep Sanchez clean if the running game is going fairly well.

If the Jets can't keep the running game going consistently then the Jets are going to really struggle because this will put Sanchez in third down-and-long situations where he has to throw the ball. This will not result in success for the Jets. Sanchez isn't completely incompetent and can covert a third-and-long when he needs to, but if he is put in this situation time and again by the Colts defense then interceptions and sacks will follow. Even in the game last week against the Chargers, the Jets offense was fairly anemic with 262 total yards. This isn't a good offense, but instead is an offense that wants to run the ball, not commit turnovers and then get the hell off the field so the defense can score some points by creating turnovers.

5. This game is going to come down to two factors. If the Jets can disrupt the Colts timing offensively and if the Colts can stop the Jets from running the ball to put the Jets in third-and-long situations. I don't know if the Colts are going to be able to stop the Jets from running the ball well. The Jets offensive line and running backs are too good for this to happen. The Colts are a lot like the Chargers in that they like to throw the ball and don't worry too much about running the ball other than to sell a play-action fake or two. I can see the Jets trying much of the same stuff they tried against the Chargers last week. I think the Jets know they can stop the run and will load up on pressuring Manning and trying to get the ball out of his hand quickly and either cause an incompletion or a short gain. I truly believe the Jets don't think the Colts can run the ball on them, which should be interesting, because I am still slightly convinced the Colts should be able to run the ball better than they have. The one part of the game I am most excited at the prospect of seeing is whether Peyton Manning will go at Darrelle Revis. I think he will almost have to, but Manning is also not stupid. He knows throwing the ball in Revis' direction can't end in a positive outcome, so I look to see the Manning throw in Revis' direction as little as possible.

Let's also be honest, the Jets have gotten fairly lucky in the playoffs thus far. The two teams they have played have missed 5 field goals so far. It wouldn't have made a difference in the Bengals game, but it made a HUGE difference in the Chargers game. Luck is part of the game of football obviously, but at some point the fact a team has gotten some positive breaks has to be acknowledged for the future. If Nate Kaeding is competent, the Chargers win that game. It didn't happen, so the Jets won. I think the Colts have a good enough defense to keep the Jets offense to their normal passing output and can shut down the running game enough to put points on the board early. If I am the Colts, my focus is to score points early and put pressure on Mark Sanchez to score points with the offense. The Jets game plan will go to shit if they find themselves down 14-0 in the 1st quarter because they will have to open up the offense more. I actually don't look for this to happen. I look for it to be a closer game, but I think the Colts are going to be able to score enough points and not make mental mistakes that cost the Chargers against the Jets.

Colts over Jets 24-17

Minnesota v. New Orleans

Saints (-3.5) over Vikings

1. This is Peter King's dream game. This is the game he has wanted to see in the NFC Championship Game since the beginning of the year. I am excited simply because it will be a good game, but I am also incredibly nervous about the ramifications of a Vikings win. I think the idea of Brett Favre playing in the Super Bowl would cause Peter to go all stalker-ish on the entire Favre family. He already follows Brett's daughter, Brittany, on Twitter. That's pretty stalker-ish in my mind. Both teams are dome teams and the Superdome is going to be really, really loud. New Orleans badly wants a Super Bowl appearance for their team and apparently the Saints have the most loyal fan base in the NFL since Hurricane Katrina. This is what I keep getting told by certain members of the media.

So the city of New Orleans is going to be ready and the Saints team will be ready. It's the two best teams in the NFC facing each other. My question is whether I really think the Saints crowd is going to play a factor in the outcome of the game? I don't know, but it is going to be hard for the Vikings offense to hear each other and with Favre's group of receivers inexperienced in playing road playoff games this could be a problem. Throw in the fact the Vikings are a mediocre road team at 4-4 and I think the homefield advantage could come into play for the Saints. The good news for the Vikings and Brett Favre is that the game isn't played outdoors in the cold, because we all know Favre has appeared to struggle in that setting in the past.

2. The Saints are going to try and throw all sorts of crazy shit at the Vikings. It's going to be a lot of man-in-motion and misdirection type passing plays and Drew Brees is going to be accurate when he throws the ball. These are two mainstays of the Saints offense. The Saints are going to try to get out to a big lead early on the Vikings. I know this sounds obvious, but the Saints are actually capable of doing that and did it to the Patriots earlier this year and the Cardinals last week...they can put up points pretty much when they want to, or at least it feels like it. They want to get out to an early lead and put a little pressure on the Vikings to score. A lot of the same type stuff they did to the Patriots and Cardinals I look for in this game as well. The Saints are going to bring their best plays out in the 1st half in an attempt to confuse the Vikings and get some early scores. Whether they will have success or not remains to be seen. The Saints want to bury teams early because this gives them a chance to run some of the screen passes and run the ball more effectively because the other team is worried about the Saints passing game.

I think a lot of the Saints success in running the ball is because they have had leads in games and were able to run the ball well at the end of the game. I don't believe the "Reggie Bush has finally figured it all out" hype that is currently being seen throughout the Internet. I think he is a great football player, but I don't believe one game out of his career is reflective of the fact he has just NOW learned to run the ball with power and how to properly rush the ball in the NFL. Bush is a great weapon the Saints have on their roster, but the Saints are going to be trying to get Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell carries when it comes time to get the tough yards. That being said, Reggie Bush is Percy Harvin on steroids (possibly literally...have you seen Reggie Bush's arms and chest?). The Saints can and will get the ball to him in space and watch him get big gains. The Saints have a lot of offensive weapons (I always forget Jeremy Shockey in on this team as well, of course sometimes I think he does also) and they are going to try to get these weapons the ball in their hands early in the game.

3. The Vikings on offense are going to try and establish the run against the Saints, which I think can be done against the Saints run defense assuming the Vikings aren't down a bunch of points. Then, like last week, they will try to go deep to a receiver in an attempt to stretch the field. I don't know if Adrian Peterson is among the Top 2 running backs in the NFL, but I do know that the Saints are going to need to make an effort to stop him or he will be able to get major gains. In the red zone the Vikings love to use Peterson as a decoy (and to just have him run the ball in the end zone since he has 18 rushing TD's) and get the ball to Visanthe Shiancoe, as seen by his 11 TD receptions on the year. Few quarterbacks have perfected play action like Favre has. He sells it well. If the Vikings are able to go deep they will certainly go to Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian, both of which are good deep threats for Favre. I am going to be interested to see how the Saints secondary does against Favre this week, because other than Darren Sharper my always speculative mind still has questions about whether Porter, Gay, and Greer are good cornerbacks. (Speaking of this, why isn't Malcolm Jenkins playing more? Is he not that good? I completely had forgotten he played for the Saints)

On offense the Vikings are going to be looking for enough balance to where Favre doesn't have to sling the ball around against a Saints pass rush that doesn't have to worry about the run. What this means is the best way to beat the Vikings is to stop Peterson and then hope that Favre is forced to take a few chances to score a touchdown. Though Favre definitely has the ability to come back from a deficit, he is also a risk taker and the Saints want to put the Vikings offense in a position to make Favre take some chances. I don't know if they can do that. I think the Vikings could very well have success at moving the ball against the Saints and if the Saints insist on giving Favre and the Viking offense a short field, like the Cowboys did, this could be a long day for the Saints.

4. The Saints offensive line is what I see as a weakness for this team against the Vikings. This isn't necessarily a knock against the Saints offensive line but more a reflection that I think the Vikings have a superior defensive line to the Vikings offensive line. I think the Vikings defensive line is going to be able to get some pressure on Brees and could throw the Saints off of what they want to do offensively. The one way to beat any quarterback is to get constant pressure in his face that forces him to make decisions quicker than he wants to. Though Brees is adept at avoiding the rush in the pocket, if he doesn't have time to throw he isn't going to be successful. The Saints offensive line really needs to protect Brees as much as possible and prevent another 6 sack and 19 knockdown performance like the Vikings had against the Cowboys last week. I still believe the Vikings can have the ball run effectively against them if the opposing team sticks to it, but there aren't many better teams when it comes to rushing the passer. I can't even really recall a time this year, other than the Cowboys game which I couldn't watch due to not having NFL Network, when Brees has been pressured. So while that is a credit to the Saints offensive line, the Vikings prevent a much different challenge with Allen, Williams, Williams, and Edwards rushing the passer. Brees is going to face pressure in the pocket during this game at some point from the Vikings defense.

The Saints defense is pretty solid up front as well. Having Sedrick Ellis available is going to help the Saints greatly and there aren't many pass rushers as good as Will Smith in the NFC. The Saints defense has benefited at times this year by the fact the offense has scored some points and there hasn't been much pressure on the defense to make stops in tight games. I think this defense can do that if forced to. Darren Sharper and Roman Harper are two great safeties and they are going to be acutely aware that Favre is going to test them deep early in this game. The pass Favre threw to Rice was a big blow against the Cowboys early and I see the Vikings trying something similar against this week. How well the Saints can stop Adrian Peterson and get pressure on Brett Favre is key to the game (it seems so obvious doesn't it?). Favre is much like Peyton Manning in that there isn't much he hasn't seen in his NFL career so baiting him into mistakes may be tough. I don't have as much faith in the Saints defense as I do the Vikings defense.

5. I was looking at the schedule each team played in an effort to see how they did against common opponents and found that the Vikings lost to the Cardinals and the Saints whipped the Cardinals...but the Vikings also whipped the Cowboys and the Saints lost at home to the Cowboys. It all gave me a headache. This was a tough game for me to predict. I see the Saints coming out and trying to score quickly against the Vikings defense, but the Vikings defense is a Cover Two designed to prevent big plays. Will the Saints be satisfied with taking what the Vikings defense is willing to give them? More importantly, will the Vikings have to blitz to get at Brees or will the defensive line abuse the Saints offensive line like they did the Cowboys offensive line? I look for the Saints to look to slow down the Vikings pass rush by running screens and forcing the Vikings linebackers to make plays in the open field against a guy like Reggie Bush by getting him open in space. The Saints are masters of misdirection and showing a look to the defense that causes the defense to look for the Saints to go one way and then doing something completely different offensively.

I have a harder time evaluating the Vikings offense and not just because I am not a huge fan of Brett Favre. They are a team that looks like it should be a running team with Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson, but it doesn't seem like they have run the ball well of late. They really don't look like a passing team to me either. I think the Saints are going to struggle a little bit with the speed of the Vikings offensive players like Rice and Harvin. They wouldn't be the only team that would struggle with these players. In the end, I think the Saints are going to come out ready to score some points and the Vikings are going to hold off the initial surge of the Saints. The Viking defense has struggled but it hasn't gotten blown out this year, so I don't expect that to start this week. I think the Saints may not blow out the Vikings early but they will be able to keep a tight end/running back in the backfield to help with the Vikings pass rush and still have success running the ball. I can see the Vikings winning this game with a defensive performance like last week against the Cowboys, but I can also see the Saints scoring 45 points. I think the game is going to end up being somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios and believe the Saints offensive line will step up and force the Vikings to bring extra guys to get pressure on Brees and that will allow the Saints more freedom for their receivers in the secondary.

Saints over Vikings 34-24


LDUTheCoach said...

The majority of people are taking the Colts to kill the Jets this
week but you have to consider how well New York matches up against
Indy. Indy has the worst running game in the league, and is ALL
Peyton. The Jets have the #1 pass-defence and if they can put the
clamps on Peyton early… it could very well be a Jets win. TheCoach
isn’t calling a J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS win but they will cover the
spread. I know Indy shut down Baltimore’s running game last week
but the Jets strive on being quick and elusive.. something Ray Rice

Minnesota and New Orleans is going to be such a good game. I was
hoping all season long these two would meet up in the NFC
Championship and honestly.. either team could team this game. The
Saints are -3.0 favourites and historically home team get given three
points for the home-field advantage… so basically this game is a
pick-em and there is ONE thing that I like about the Saints and its
that home-field advantage. Last week Warner and Romo combined for 7
sacks and 4 fumbles largely in part to not being able to communicate
with their offence. The SuperDome is NUTS and I don’t care how much
experience Favre has, the crowd can help a team and also hurt the
other so much.

Feel free to check out my picks with scores (and of course
cheerleader pictures) @

Best of luck to all this week,

The Casey said...

I think Peterson's down year had more to do with Brett Favre being convinced that the focus of the offense should be Brett Favre and whoever he's throwing the ball to than any lack on Peterson's part. He had roughly 70 fewer yards from scrimmage than last season on roughly 30 fewer touches. The biggest difference is that he had twice as many receptions this season as last season. What I heard when that flap about Childress trying to bench Favre and getting overruled was that Favre had been audibling away from runs to passes. So I think AP's still an elite runner; he's just not necessarily the focal point of the offense any more.