Thursday, January 6, 2011

6 comments Wild Card Weekend Picks

As we did last year, J.S., Dylan (well he didn't participate last year) and I are going to break down each weekend's NFL playoff games and then make our picks against the spread. Naturally, because we are competitive sons of bitches we will be keeping score on the right side of the blog. We will have one long post with each of our predictions in this post.

These are the spreads we are using to make our picks:

New Orleans (-10.5) vs. Seattle
Indianapolis (-2.5) vs. New York
Baltimore (-3) vs. Kansas City
Philadelphia (-2.5) over Green Bay

My picks are first. As you may recall from last year, I don't breakdown each game like normal people do. I talk about five things that I believe will affect the game and then provide my prediction.

Bengoodfella

New Orleans Saints v. Seattle Seahawks

1. The first thing that I believe will affect this game the most is the fact the Seahawks seem pretty overmatched. It's not an illusion because they are overmatched. The Seahawks lost earlier this year 34-19 and that was with Matt Hasselbeck bombing for 366 yards. I am not sure either Hasselbeck or Whitehurst will do that. Speaking of this issue, who the hell is starting this game for the Seahawks? Why hasn't the media gotten to the bottom of this? Why is this only a whisper of a discussion? Why do I get the feeling if it wasn't Seattle this would lead SportsCenter or at least be spoken about in the first 10 minutes of the show? On paper the Seahawks can't run the ball and they are below average throwing the ball. On defense they are below average in defending the run and the pass. So the first thing about this game is that it seems like it will be lopsided, at least on paper. Of course, there's a reason the games are played.

2. The Saints are a good team but they can be beat by a team that is willing to run the ball on them and doesn't let Drew Brees score quickly. Of course, I think I said the same thing last year and see how that worked out? I still find it to be true though. The Saints were 16th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, and though they were good against the pass, I think the offense's ability tends to mask any difficulties the Saints may have defending the run. Unfortunately, the Seahawks are 31st in the NFL in rushing the ball. The Seahawks did run the ball well against the Rams and Lynch/Forsett can be capable, so it is possible Seattle could run the ball. Of course if Whitehurst is playing quarterback the Saints are going to put 8 men in the box and dare him to throw the ball, which would presumably make running the ball harder.

3. What scares me the most about this game is the Saints are 3rd in passing yards per game and the Seahawks are 27th in passing yards allowed per game. They gave up 382 yards to Brees in the last game. The Seahawks absolutely can not get in a 10-0 hole against the Saints. If this happens, they will not win this game. The Saints are 28th in the NFL in rushing. Granted, Reggie Bush was injured for a portion of the year. The Saints run the ball effectively partly because they throw the ball so well. The Saints don't want to run the ball though, they want to throw it. If I am the Seahawks, I give Brees a chance to hand it off 25 times in this game and make sure when he passes the ball the receivers are either (a) covered or (b) tackled quickly. Earl Thomas has played well this year but I can imagine the Saints will try to pick on him since he is a rookie.

4. Seattle has to run the ball well against the Saints defense. Keep Brees off the field and get an early lead. That's so important. They can do this by running the ball on the Saints. Make the Saints defend the run and then with Whitehurst/Hasselbeck take some shots down the field. John Carlson will be of great importance. Establish him early on play-action and if the Saints aren't defending the run well then maybe it will open up things for the passing game. Realistically, the Seahawks just aren't a very good team. They will have to rely on Brees to make mistakes and the Saints defense to make some mistakes as well. If the Saints have any semblance of an offense they should be able to win the game.

5. The Seahawks can win this game. I know they are 7-9. They are playing in Seattle, which is always a tough place to play and they have absolutely nothing to lose. This is a game where Pete Carroll's laidback attitude will be a real benefit to his team. They won't be nervous because he won't be nervous and they may play better because of this. Having said that, though they can win the game (really ANYTHING can happen, so that's not saying much), they won't. I think the Saints are going to be able to throw the ball and as long as the Saints don't fall in love with the run and let Drew Brees work his magic they will win the game. The Saints are getting stronger as the playoffs approach and I'm not sure that momentum will be stopped this week.

New Orleans (-10.5) over Seattle 31-14.

New York Jets v. Indianapolis Colts

1. Yes, it is a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game. Everyone get excited! (No one gets too excited) My preseason prediction that the Jets won't be able to run the ball too well looked like shit. The Jets were 4th in the NFL in rushing the ball. Mark Sanchez even made strides this year and instead of being mediocre he was sort of average. In my mind, the Jets are a dangerous team. They have a good offensive line, good receivers, and a good running game. Combine that with an excellent defense and I think we have the makings of a road win. The Jets are a team that likes to run the ball and the Colts are a team that has struggled to run the ball. Much like the Seahawks against the Saints, the Jets have to keep Peyton Manning off the field and not give him a short field and they have the ability to do that.

2. The Jets do a lot of talking. They haven't always backed up all of that talk. The Jets can back up this talk though on defense. The most interesting thing I want to see in this game is whether the Colts try to run on the Jets. It is tough enough to run on the Jets as it is, but are the Colts going to make an effort to run the football so Manning doesn't get in third and long situations or will they run just enough to sell play-action fakes and hope Manning comes through in the passing game? Or will Indianapolis use the passing game as their running game? I think the Jets are going to feel free to blitz heavy and try to hit Manning a lot in the hopes of knocking him down and throwing his timing off. I'm not sure if the Jets think any receivers other than Reggie Wayne are a threat to them and will realize the biggest threat to their defense is Peyton Manning feeling comfortable in the pocket. The Colts offensive line is the most important unit in this game due to this.

3. Manning is out of weapons. Yes, he still has Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, but there are no receivers the Jets are going to fear other than Wayne. Injuries have caused this Colts offense to lack timing and cohesion, which are the two most important parts of the Colts offense. I don't want to underestimate Peyton Manning, because that has burned me in the past, but I just don't think he has the weapons to beat the Jets. The Colts probably can run the ball if they really want to, so I hope they do try to do that, but in the passing game I feel like the Jets are going to be able to disrupt Manning's timing enough to get a few interceptions and sack him a couple of times.

4. The Colts have an average defense. This is an area of concern for me in this game. I know the Colts have a similar defense that took them to make (and almost win) the Super Bowl last year, but this is a stronger Jets team compared to last year's team too. They have more weapons in the passing game and I don't believe the Colts are going to be able to stop the run effectively enough to win this game. The Colts could try to stop the run by focusing a safety closer to the line of scrimmage, daring Sanchez to beat them, but I think he could beat them this year. The Colts have always seemed to put together a great team no matter how many injuries they have, so this year may be no different. As I said, when I count them out, I look stupid. I'm prepared to look stupid again if necessary.

5. The Colts have been on a roll lately. They have won four games in a row. Unfortunately, they have beaten Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tennessee (twice). Two of those teams are 8-8 and the other team is 6-10. The Colts are good enough to beat those teams, but I don't know if they are good enough to beat a good 11-5 Jets team that has beaten the Steelers on the road already this year. The Jets are 6-2 on the road in fact. The Colts are 6-2 at home this year though. This should be a good game. I believe what will make the difference is the Jets running game and the Colts offensive injuries will finally catch up to them. Manning is a great quarterback, but bad things happen when the timing with his receivers is off and I think the Jets have the ability to throw off that timing.

New York Jets (+2.5) over the Indianapolis Colts 24-14.

Baltimore Ravens v. Kansas City Chiefs

1. I have a sneaking suspicion a lot of people aren't giving the Chiefs too much of a chance to win this game. I think that's a mistake. The Chiefs weakness, throwing the ball, works well with the Ravens weakness of defending the pass. The Ravens are 5th in defending the run, but I saw a terrible Carolina team gash them in the running game with their 3rd string running back, so I believe a team that is willing to run against the Ravens will be able to do so. So if anyone isn't giving the Chiefs a chance in this game, it is a mistake. The Chiefs can run the ball and I question whether Baltimore can consistently stop the run effectively.

2. The Baltimore offense isn't quite as strong as I thought it was going to be coming into this year. It may just be my perception. Doesn't it feel like an offense with Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, Todd Heap, and Derrick Mason should be better than 20th in passing and 14th in rushing? I think so. I was critical of Todd Haley's hiring by the Chiefs because I thought he was a guy who had only run an offense for a short period of time and was too headstrong to be an effective coach. Two years into his tenure, I was wrong. Baltimore is a very good team and if this offense clicks like it did against New England last year in the playoffs then they will beat the Chiefs.

3. Offensively, the Chiefs have struggled to throw the ball this year. Dwayne Bowe had a great year and scored most of the touchdowns through the air for the Chiefs. The Ravens will have to key on him to prevent him from killing them. The Ravens have had trouble defending the pass this year, so this concerns me a bit for them. Obviously, it will be important for the Ravens to stop the Chiefs from running the ball, which is easier said than done. Though the Chiefs have run the ball well this year, I do think they are going to try and throw the ball early in the game to test the Ravens secondary and hopefully open up some running lanes for Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles. It may not make sense to throw early with such an effective running game, but the Chiefs need to prove to the Ravens they will throw the ball.

4. The Ravens defense is different with Ed Reed back there and all indications are that he will play on Sunday. The Ravens are going to come out trying to prove they are the better team because the Chiefs went 10-6 this year and got a home playoff game while the Ravens went 12-4 and have to go on the road to play the Chiefs. God knows this will motivate them to play well because they will feel like they deserved a home playoff game since they see themselves as the better team. Whether this feeling of being slighted will transfer to the football field I am not sure, but I think the Ravens defense is going to come out ready to stuff the run and force Matt Cassel into throwing the ball. No matter how much Cassel has improved, it is tough on any quarterback when he has to throw in and third-and-long.

5. I was on the fence about this game all week. I think the Chiefs are going to be a tough out having a home playoff game and I also don't hate this matchup for the Chiefs as much as other people probably do. I think they will be able to run the ball and on defense I trust they will be able to prevent the Ravens from racking up points on them. The Chiefs did not beat a playoff team this year, so I have to take this into account with my pick. They had what turned out to be a pretty easy schedule, so I think the 10-6 record is a bit of a mirage. They aren't a 10-6 team. Still, I think they will give the Ravens a tough game, but the Ravens offense is going to do just enough to win the game and the defense is going to force the Chiefs offense into tough third down situations. It will be tight, but the Ravens will win.

Baltimore Ravens (-3) over the Kansas City Chiefs 20-19.

Green Bay Packers v. Philadelphia Eagles

1. I'm really excited for this rematch of the game in Week 1 of this NFL season. Week 1 is when Mike Vick came off the bench after a Kevin Kolb injury and almost led the Eagles back from a deficit to beat the Packers. It was an exciting game and I look forward to this game being the same way. This is a huge game for Mike Vick. He had a great regular season, but if he plays really well against the Packers and in the rest of the playoffs then he will either force the Eagles to sign him after this offseason or get a nice big contract on the open market. Not that he wouldn't get a big contract in free agency anyway, but a playoff run certainly wouldn't hurt.

2. I know the Eagles are successful without doing this but I think they should run the ball with LeSean McCoy even more than they do. I realize he gets touches in the passing game, but he has had 10, 12, 16, 10, and 13 carries in the last five games he played in. I would like to see him get 20 touches per game in the running game. I think this would help out the passing game as well as take some pressure off Vick, which isn't a bad thing. It sounds stupid to have a successful team like the Eagles change a philosophy in the playoffs, but I think this could be a key to them getting to the Super Bowl. Relying too much on Vick's legs and the big play isn't a formula that I believe will get the Eagles to the Super Bowl.

3. The Eagles were 15th in the NFL in rushing and passing defense this past year. That's a down year for their defense, and they have had injuries, but against a team that is as strong offensively (at least in the passing game) as the Packers this is an area of concern. Will the defense be good enough to stop the Packers from scoring 30+ points? They certainly looked good enough against the Cowboys and Vikings over the last two weeks. The Packers are a strong offensive team and the Eagles secondary is going to have to make sure they don't blow coverages, which can be hard against the Packers passing game. The biggest key for the Eagles in my opinion is to find a way to get at Aaron Rodgers early in the game and sack him. I still don't trust this Packers offensive line and when they go 4-wide, can the Eagles blitz the Packers and force Rodgers into making mistakes in the passing game? I think they can do this as long as they get to Rodgers.

4. Defensively, it is almost impossible to prepare for a player like Mike Vick. It just can't be done. The Packers were 5th in the NFL against the pass and 18th against the rush, this is just more reason why I think the Eagles should try to run the ball more than normal. I believe the Packers secondary can prevent the big play, but in preventing the big play will they be able to also keep an eye on Vick to make sure he doesn't run all over the field? I don't know, it seems like the Packers couldn't do it in the first game against the Eagles. Of course they couldn't gameplan against Vick either at that point, but I don't know of a way to gameplan against him other than to contain him in the pocket.

5. The key to this game for me is how well the Packers' linebackers play. Can they contain Vick and prevent McCoy from catching passes on the underneath routes? It's a tough assignment for them and Philadelphia is a tough place to play. If the front seven can contain Vick and turn him into a pocket passer, I really like the Packers chances. If the Eagles are able to get at Aaron Rodgers, run the ball with McCoy and force the Packers on defense to pay a lot of attention to Vick then I see the Eagles prevailing. This was a tough pick because the Packers were my pick out of the NFC to win the Super Bowl. I can see where the Eagles win this game, but I am sticking with my Super Bowl pick because I think Aaron Rodgers is going to be able to throw the ball effectively enough to win.

Green Bay Packers (+2.5) over Philadelphia Eagles 31-28.

Dylan

BGF has already adequately summed up the main issues of each game. As not to further bore you, I'll try to make some different points.

And since you were all so very curious, my current season record (against the spread, of course):

Last Week: 9-7
Overall: 133-127-6

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks

The first thing I will do is answer the well-pointed out dilemma of the Seattle QB situation that BGF could not answer. Pete Carroll has proven to be a mastermind of cover-ups. Or at least good enough at covering up until he has to run away. So I'm inclined to think that this is more Pete Carroll's doing than the media's lack of doing.

If this were the regular season, I'd be screaming trap game and taking the 10.5 points New Orleans is currently giving. New Orleans, of late, has hit its stride. Everyone has quietly begun to file away Brees' 22 regular season picks under the statistical anomaly category and trust in the Saints again. Two weeks ago, I would proclaim to the masses from my high horse that they should watch their step. The Saints may be flying high now, but the parity of the NFL often brings great teams back to their senses.

But it's the playoffs. The equation completely changes. As BGF noted, the Seahawks have the ultimate nothing-t0-lose mentality (as does the NFC West Division winner every year, it seems). However, too often in the playoffs a massive underdog takes the "don't lose" approach as opposed to the "play to win." Keep the game close, hope for the best at the end. Any logical Seattle fan knows that this strategy is in fact pointless. As much as the Seahawks would love to run the ball, it's not as if their 31st ranked rush offense instills fear in anyone. I can, however, think of one positive to say about Seattle's running game: I'd prefer to hand Marshawn Lynch the keys to my offense more than the keys to my car, it's not saying much.

So it's not a trap game and Seattle cannot burn the clock to limit possessions for Drew Brees. It seems that they have very few options to win. Considering that they're 7-9, they may as well go for broke. Instead of focusing on the Saints' finding their way as of late, remember back to the first 12 games of the season when Drew Brees engaged Eli Manning in an epic battle for the Brett Favre award (INTs in a season). What was happening to the Saints? Brees was getting pressured. He was forcing throws. He was trying to make plays where plays were not to be had. If we look at the recent history of great QBs losing in the playoffs, there is one common denominator: pressure. The New York Giants upset the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl by giving Brady no time to chuck 50 yard bombs to Moss. The Chargers have the Colts number every year because they pressure Manning right in his face play after play. Even the Jets dominated Manning in the first half of last year's AFC Championship game by using pressure. Not until the Colts moved to max protection every play did Manning blow open the game. Had Dwight Lowery not been torched one-on-one, the Jets would have had a chance.

Yet other teams seem to ignore this time tested formula and are afraid to blitz. Yes, the blitz leaves the defense vulnerable. But would you rather give Brady, Brees and Manning 4-7 seconds in the pocket to slice you limb from limb? The only way Seattle wins this one is if they go Rex Ryan and blatantly rush six guys on every play (change up and disguise the blitz, obviously).

But unfortunately for Seattle fans, everything I just mentioned is about as likely to happen as Cam Newton's father proclaiming his guilt and giving back the money.

The pick: New Orleans Saints (-10.5) over Seattle Seahawks, 41-17

New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts

Rex Ryan's proclamation that this game was personal was not so outlandish. To pretend that this game is business as usual, as Peyton Manning did, was the outlandish statement. For those of you, like myself, whose glory days revolve around pick up games of any sport (basketball, for myself), defeating an opponent who continually crushes you is of the utmost satisfaction and importance. Only a few weeks ago, I played pickup basketball for nearly three hours, in which time I only played 4 games. Why? Because one team won 11 games in a row. While my teammates and I picked up a few meaningless wins on another court as we waited to face the prime time team, nothing was as satisfying as our 11-9 win in the final game of the pickup session. By the time that game rolled around, I was fed up with their best player continually burning us with strong drives to the basket. So what did we do? We played dirty. We knocked him down every time he entered the paint. We literally jammed the paint so much that the other team had no choice but to beat us with long (but wide open) jump shots.

The win felt great. It is this satisfaction and strategy that I foresee for the Jets. Peyton Manning is 5-0 against Rex (I'm not counting the Curtis Painter fiasco). Rex, as is his mantra, will pressure Manning. For those of you who are religious Sunday Night Football watchers, remember back to the Chargers vs. Colts game earlier this year. As the Chargers demolished Manning, Chris Collinsworth showed a freeze frame of Peyton Manning wincing BEFORE CONTACT. In fact, contact was pretty far away. This, in fact, is the problem with the Colts. Peyton knows he will get hit. And unlike the previous 10 years, there's nothing he can do to stop it. His weapons are not good enough to allow him to get rid of the ball in his normally ultra-quick fashion. Jam the receivers, pressure Manning in his face and the Jets will come out victorious.

But there's one more factor which I believe will tip the game in the Jets' favor. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Mark Sanchez loves the road. It's the only time he does not have to endure the wrath of the New York faithful. Some QBs relish the boos or support. Sanchez is not one of them. Boos on the road are meaningless and unoriginal. Every away player gets booed. Just as the satisfaction of beating Peyton will drive Rex Ryan, so will Sanchez's ability to quiet the Indy crowd. The Jets, despite being slight underdogs in the spread (2.5), are expected to lose. A Jets victory over Peyton Manning is an upset. But I see it happening.

The pick: New York Jets (+2.5) over Indianapolis Colts, 20-17

Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Unrelated to the game, but a point I want to make nonetheless:

Todd Haley's hiring in Kansas City was purely on impulse. The Cardinals made a miraculous run to the Super Bowl. Had they been eliminated in the first round, I find it hard to believe that he would be an NFL head coach. Granted, their decision has worked out. But the Arizona offense was clearly the result of Warner, not Haley. I just hate the annual, "let's sign every Super Bowl player and hire every Super Bowl coach" routine that sweeps the NFL year in and year out.

I have 3 reasons for picking the Chiefs:

1)Last week Oakland exposed to the world what all Chiefs fans hoped would remain buried: take away the Chiefs ability to run the ball and this team is no better than 4-12. Matt Cassel and Dwyane Bowe may have played well this season, but both players' numbers are cut in half if Jamaal Charles is held in check. (Most of his yards last week came after the game was well in hand.) Unfortunately, Baltimore is 5th in the league at defending the run. But as BGF noted, any team that consistently sticks to the running game can have success against the Ravens, and Kansas City is exactly the type of team that will do this.

2) Despite the Chiefs 0-3 record at home in the playoffs since '92, I completely buy into the Chiefs home-field advantage. Unlike, say the Colts' fans, Kansas City's faithful are not used to being in the playoffs, let alone at home. Had this game been in Baltimore, I would have picked the Ravens faster than Travis Henry could rear a child. But Kansas City fans will combine so much alcohol with so much pent up frustration that they will not tolerate a loss.

3) BGF beat me to it once again when he pointed out that the Ravens on paper did not match their statistics. These teams, by far, are the most baffling to predict. Because of this on paper talent, they have the ability to pound a team 49-0. On the flip side, they have the ability to pull a Philip Rivers and never get over the hump.

The pick: Kansas City Chiefs (+3) over Baltimore Ravens, 31-17

Green Bay Packers vs. Philadelphia Eagles

We have all swept it under the rug and continued to ignore it, but there's one elephant in the room which no one seems to be talking about:
teams have figured out how to stop Vick. The Giants, Vikings and Cowboys all blitzed Vick consistently and from every conceivable angle. While in past weeks he was able to run through or around these athletically inferior rushers, defenders are now staying disciplined and forcing him to scramble right or remain in the pocket. As much as we have touted Vick for his ability to find himself as a passer, this sounds oddly familiar to the Vick in Atlanta. Take away his scrambling ability and we're looking at a below average QB.

Luckily for Vick, the rest of his teammates actually have talent as opposed to the garbage that surrounded him five years ago. Instead of having to scramble aimlessly and wear himself out, he has LeSean McCoy to dump the ball off to. Instead of watching Brian Finneran and Michael Jenkins inexplicably drop passes like Terrell Owens has done his entire career, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are there to help.

Let's assume that the Packers manage to keep Vick in the pocket. Let's assume that the Eagles' offense is held in check (even the teams that "stopped" Vick have still given up plenty of points). Everyone blindly assumes Aaron Rodgers will continue his throw-it-to-whoever-I-want ways and dominate the Eagles secondary. But if there's anything the Eagle D is good for, it's pressure. Aaron Rodgers is playing with two concussions. If I'm the Eagles defensive coordinator, I'm knocking down Rodgers (even illegally) as much as possible, hoping to knock him out of the game. If I'm an Eagles fan, I'm throwing bottles aimed at Rodgers' head (okay, that might be a little over the top).

I'm not the first to expect a lot of points in this game. But the Eagles have one factor which seems to help one team in the playoffs each year: they're not supposed to be here. Every year surprise teams reach the playoffs. With everyone already awaiting their first round exit, often these same teams pick up a surprise win and force us bloggers to reevaluate our stance. Michael Vick is not supposed to be here. The Packers, meanwhile, were a popular Super Bowl pick. People expect them to go far. No longer is Aaron Rodgers making the playoffs a satisfactory outcome. In fact, this reminds me a little of Peyton Manning. Once he proved his elite status, we wanted more. Each mounting loss in the playoffs perpetuated his lack of clutchness until he finally won the Super Bowl. The Philadelphia home-field advantage combined with the pressure to win will be too much for the Packers. The Eagles were a team with no solid QB and no Brian Westrbook. Now they're 11-5 and the #3 seed. They'll ride that semi-underdog status.

Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5) over Green Bay Packers, 34-27

J.S.

I thought I'd kick this off by addressing the elephant in the room; the 7-9 Seahawks. In terms of the equity issue, I have no real problem with it. Let me also clarify a related point - I think the NFC is terrible, way worse than the AFC. Atlanta is ok I guess, but when you take out Minnesota and Dallas from the equation, not exactly a lot of quality contenders left in the field, someone had to win those games. Everyone goes on about Green Bay, but they couldn't even win their division, and Chicago lost to Seattle and Washington in back to back home games this year. They got here by beating Detroit and Minnesota (twice), Buffalo, Carolina and Dallas in the middle of their season opening 6 game losing streak. Even then they won 11 games and that buys you a first round bye in this conference. It's a wild card in the AFC. If you can't make the playoffs in the NFC, you don't deserve to be in the dance. The Giants? They only beat Washington, Minnesota and Jacksonville the last two months. They gave up 97 points their last three games. They led the league in giveaways with 41, five more than Minnesota, the next worst. AND they gave up a 21 point lead with 9 minutes to go in a game. Don't come crying to me about New York. The Bucs? Happy just to be nominated, though when four of your five losses are to Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, with the fifth in overtime, you have to feel kind of bad for them. But that's it, those were your choices. A secretly awful Giants team, and the Bucs who are equally playoff fodder. Seahawks were hardly robbing you of some scintillating NFC Wild Card contest.

Anyway, to the games, and my efforts to defend my title from last year!

NEW ORLEANS @ SEATTLE

Line: New Orleans -10.5

Pick: New Orleans 31, Seattle 24

This is perhaps the hardest playoff game to evaluate since I started following football. You have a home dog by more than 10 points, that's fucking insane. Here's what makes this difficult; if there is any truth to the "ultimately just 22 men on the field/you gotta believe/do you believe in miracles?/everyone is against us/you win the battle in your mind" thing, the Seahawks HAVE to be some kind of shout here right? Especially being at home, and not any home, the best home crowd in the NFL. I mean come on. This is just like a Whoopi Goldberg film or something. There's got to be something, I've made many posts knocking the obsession with the "story" in sports analysis, but there has to be something to intangibles. No team has less to lose, will have less pressure on them, and be looser than the Seahawks. I know, you know, the Universe knows the Saints are way, way, way better at playing football, but this is one game. I can't remember a time (not even the Giants/Pats Superbowl) when literally, literally no one believes in one team. Complacency also must be an issue, I don't care how much the Saints say otherwise, they are human beings and deep down that part of you that comes out when drunk, knows how much better they are than Seattle and how likely they are to win this on paper. This all concerns me.

I'm listening to Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders as I'm writing this, and Seattle apparently has great numbers against "big blitzes" (6 or more), with 9YPA against them. This goes down to Matt Hasselbeck and his experience, savvy and understading the hot read. New Orleans and Gregg Williams will call such plays. That's handy because every single other number obviously favours New Orleans. New Orleans love to throw, only Indy threw more than them this past year. Seattle was seventh worst defensively in terms of quarterback rating, in particular they don't create interceptions (only 12 on the year) which would normally be what you'd look at in terms of pulling an upset.

Generally the thought is you need to be able to rush and pass the football to knock New Orleans over. If they can key on the pass, they can bring pressure, they can create turnovers in the secondary (though generally not this year) and all that stuff. But the Seahawks can't run, not only this year (29th in YPA on the ground, 31st in total rushing yards), but haven't been able to for years (26th in 2009, 19th in 2008, 20th in 2007).

All I can say is this, Brees has been chucking the ball around somewhat carelessly this year (only Eli Manning threw more picks), if they can get a couple of turnovers, look after the ball themselves (only one turnover the past two games) and get, just a few decent runs (like they did against the Rams) early in the game to set up play action. New Orleans are down to like their fourth running back, Saints are 28th in defending punt returns and 24th in defending kickoff returns and the Seahawks have Washington, it will be cold, is a hell of a trip, dome team, who knows. I will say this, the Saints will want to put this away early; if Seattle lead after three quarters, the crowd will carry them the rest of the way. The crowd is going to be bonkers here. Moreso than if Seattle were 11-5. It's so much more fun, I think to cheer for your home team when you know they secretly aren't good enough, huge underdog, need your cheers, getting by on adrenaline and cliches alone. The Seattle crowd will go to another level even for them, this is such an awesome Rocky vs Drago moment for them. I fully expect to see this on the screens at halftime if Seattle are down. If I was a Seattle fan I'd bring signs with "THE RUSSIAN IS CUT" on them. The atmosphere should be electric. New Orleans better not get down in this game. Even considering the wildly more likely scenario of the Saints winning, I don't think the Hawks will embarrass themselves here, and losing by a couple of touchdowns would be a bit of an embarrassment.

NEW YORK @ INDIANAPOLIS

Line: Indianapolis -2.5

Pick: Indianapolis 24-13

Anyone who read my picks last year knows Im a sucker for picking Peyton Manning. He scares the hell out of me in a big game. It would be easy to say we've seen this movie before, but the loss of Dallas Clark is a huge one for Indianapolis. Manning is very good at covering up holes and finding different ways to solve problems, and I do not think the Jets have really come with anything new this year. Here's what you get when you google Peyton Manning against the blitz. Although this fact is more or less common knowledge. Nevetherless, they still are going to bring lots of pressure as Rex Ryan is one of the most stubborn coaches out there. He's not going to suddenly come out and play Cover 3, I think Manning knows how to handle this D. He did it in Baltimore, and he did it last year. I especially think that considering how this game in last season's playoffs went down. The Jets led that game 17-3 going into the two minute warning of the first half. The Colts had 312 yards from that point on. Their drives were touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, field goal, punt. They worked them out. Can the Jets bring something new?

The big question here is is Mark Sanchez better? If he's not substantially better, I do not think the Jets can win. I guess he is, on the face of it, his QB rating is up to the lofty heights of 75.3, 27th in the league, despite being surrounded by good weapons and having a great offensive line. He's thrown all of two TD passes since Nov 21. That's not good enough, he's going to need at least two TD throws in this game for New York to win. Everyone goes on about the questionable Indy run defence, but ultimately you need to throw the ball to beat the Colts, full stop. It's why the three teams in the last three years that have had success against the Colts are New England, San Diego, New Orleans (seven of their last seventeen losses - including playoffs - going back to Week 1, 2007 have been to one of those three teams)

But surely they can just run. Well...can they? The Jets rank 8th in the league in yards per carry, quite a fall from fifth last year. Total rushing yards went from first to 4th. Adding into this mix, there has been a bit of noise about Indianapolis' run defense recently; they held Chris Johnson to four yards on his first 10 carries last week. In the last four weeks, Indianapolis had to defend 68 rushes from Johnson, McFadden and Jones-Drew. They gave up 241 yards at 3.5 a carry. Shonn Green is a walk in the park compared to those guys. So the run may be sort of there but nothing spectacular, the passing game is led by the 27th best quarterback in the league and into a pretty good and clever passing defense, and Manning has worked out the defense, which might not be as good as it was last year. They gave up 45 to New England and 38 to fucking Chicago. Chicago. Twenty four is on the low side for the Colts. The Jets are 2-3 in their last five and the Colts have won 4 straight. And to top it all off, New York has been held in single figures four times this year. I'm not impressed.

BALTIMORE @ KANSAS CITY

Line: Baltimore -3.0

Pick: Baltimore 19-10

Possibly the most intriguing question of these playoffs to me is whether or not the Ravens are actually good. Not like good, playoff good. I mean coming into the season they were a trendy Superbowl pick, and had talent oozing out of their pores. The offensive line looked just about the best run blocking unit out there, with Grubbs a particular standout. The receiving corps went from good to absurd with the addition of Houshmanzadeh early in the year. When Flacco goes to pass he can go to Housh, Boldin, Mason, Heap, Stallworth or perhaps the best receiving back in the NFL (3rd in receptions for his position this year, 1st last year). Flacco himself was an established above average QB, and Ray Rice was the best running back in the NFL. Put that together with a proven D and you had a jaw droppingly good team.

However Rice dissapointed (dropped from 6th to 10th in rushing yards with an "off a cliff" drop from 5.3 ypc to 4.0) and despite the surfeit of receiving threats, none could stretch the field. An oft criticised secondary had a bumpy ride all year long, finishing 20th in pass defense. But look, this team finished 12-4, with their last three losses to Pittsburgh, New England and Atlanta, by a combined 11 points (the New England game went to OT). Five different players have led in receiving in their last seven games, they are uncoverable, and they still possess the second best secondary player in the league, who miraculously led the league in interceptions despite missing six games. Sure, maybe Baltimore have no one to shut Bowe down, but Reed will offer help, and it's five star help. Bowe is not slicing and dicing the Ravens. While it seems Flacco has had a quiet year, he was actually 7th in the league in QB rating while throwing just ten picks. This is a good Baltimore team, who have done two things - proven they can win in the playoffs on the road (New England last year, Miami and Tennessee in 2008) and stop the run (5th this year, 5th last year, 3rd in 2008, you get the picture). Luckily, Kansas City is not exclusively relying on running the football and the homefield advantage.

Oh wait, yes, they absolutely are.

Kansas City are young, inexperienced in the playoffs, and didn't really play anyone good all year (and win anyway). I've never been a San Diego guy, outside of Rivers, there's no one of any real interest on either side of the ball I'm supposed to be scared of. Here are the teams Kansas City beat to get here; San Diego (in a freak game I might add, driving rain, opening night, were playing havoc with the Chargers awful kick coverage all night; they lost the return game, far more recently, 31-0), Cleveland, Buffalo, San Francisco, Arizona, Jacksonville, Seattle, Denver, St.Louis, Tennessee. Wow. Sign me up for some of that. They played two playoff teams all year (Indy and Seattle). This teams signature win was on September 13. Their last three losses, to Denver, San Diego and Oakland, were by a combined 72 points. Are they even that great at home? Last three starts in Missouri they lost by 21 to Oakland, beat Tennessee by 20 (fine) and knocked over the second worst team in football (by record anyway) by 10-6. How are you convinced by this team? They are playing the third best team in football probably, who are, outside of Indy, New England and Pittsburgh, the most experienced playoff team going around, against a team with four players (Chambers, Jones, Waters, Vrabel) with playoff experience. No thank you.

GREEN BAY @ PHILADELPHIA

Line: Philadelphia -3.0

Pick: Philadelphia 34, Green Bay 28

I said earlier I think the NFC is shit, and I do. Chicago is a middling team, Atlanta is neat and organised but far from exciting. New Orleans seem clearly exhausted in getting here, Seattle are Seattle. This leaves us with Green Bay and Philly, and once again, tell me if you've heard this before, everyone is losing their shit about the Packers as a wildcard team before the playoffs. At least last year they had won seven of their last eight and were going into Arizona, which had only the quarterback experience aspect, special teams and home field going for them. This time, they are just against a better team.

Yes, the one team that scares the hell out of me in the NFC is Philadelphia. I am usually a Philadelphia hater, they throw too much, can never seem to stop the run, and are poorly coached. Basically, they play sloppy football and you know what? They still do. They are middle of the pack in stopping the run, still manage games poorly. But Vick changes everything. It's a Philly team that thrives on chaos. Suddenly, Philadelphia can run the football, 5.5 ypc, blowing Oakland out of the water at 4.9. McCoy runs for 5.2 yards a carry. Slightly better than Brandon Jackson's 3.7ypc. So let me get this straight. Green Bay, without Ryan Grant, with a concussed Aaron Rodgers, who still have a below average offensive line (gave up 38 sacks this year, Philly was in the top ten with 39, and Rodgers is one hit away from it being Matt Flynn o'clock), still mysteriously employing Mason Crosby, with no major additions to their team last year, playing a much better team, should get a different result than last year? Why?

Philadelphia give you something no team can remotely contest - speed. They are so fast. Green Bay are 8th worst in the league defending punts (their special teams remain shit) are missing Harris still, and Woodson is roundly agreed to be less effective than last year. How the fuck are they going to keep up with Vick, McCoy, Maclin and Jackson? After all, everyone goes on about Green Bay's receivers, as far as I'm concerned, Philadelphia's are much better (and they have a strong presence at TE). And don't tell me about the week one clash, it was a game started by the forgotten Kolb, and this team is just light years away from that. Ditto the last two games where Philly looked uninspired, they needed the rest, especially Vick. He's back this week. Too much speed, too many options. I don't feel the 3-4 will cope with the run well at all, they are designed to attack the pocket (their 47 sacks are second in the league) but that doesn't matter much against Vick. Yes I can see Matthews cleaning up Vick around the sides, fine, but there is too much rushing for them to deal with (they are 28th in the league against the run). Too many holes. Too much speed. Too special a team and if I was willing to bet against them against the Cardinals (with Ryan Grant), then I have to go against them against a vastly superior, and frankly, terrifying Philadelphia team.

6 comments:

J.S. said...

LOL, Ben, one of us it seems is going down in flames from the very start. I'm amazed we are in total disagreement. I think last year the most we disagreed in any week was 50%. This worries me.

As for the lines, these are provisional (taken from Pinnacle Sports - http://www.pinnaclesports.com/League/Football/NFL/1/Lines.aspx) and I guess we're up against Simmons again? So happy to ultimately go with whatever he posts as the line. Good luck lads!

Also just to remind everyone about how this went down last year (in case I do get fucking toasted, I want something on record as being right)

JS 6-5
Ben 4-7
Simmons 4-7

Bengoodfella said...

J.S., one of us is clearly screwed. I love it though. It's a good way to separate us from each other the first week! You did a good job last year. Last year was a terrible year for me in picking games. I feel much better about this year.

I think I am going to go 11-0! I will put Simmons picks up there as well.

J.S. said...

If I get the Norlans game wrong, it would be my fourth straight wrong pick on New Orelans. In games not involving them last year I went 6-2. So take the Saints this weekend everyone.

J.S. said...

By the way, I know this is eleventh hour, but do you and Dylan want to pick a "lock" worth two? If so, I will lock in my Baltimore pick, cannot BELIEVE you guys wanna be with the Chiefs there...so so so so so sure they are going to be owned...

Bengoodfella said...

J.S., I think we will forgo the lock pick. I don't want to make it sound like I am not confident in my KC-Bal pick. I feel like the Chiefs are going to give Baltimore a run for their money. Baltimore will win the game, I have no doubt about that, but I believe the Chiefs will be able to run the ball on them. I feel good about my pick.

So no lock, just a shitload of confidence that Matt Cassel can get the job done to cover the spread...but still lose.

J.S. said...

LOL, no problem...I'm really, really sure you're wrong. This is not a good Kansas City team...at least Seattle knows they are shit