Friday, January 6, 2012

9 comments Bottom-of-the-Barrel's Pickoffapalooza 2012: Wild Card

Welcome to the third iteration of Bottom-of-the-Barrel's Playoff Pick 'Em. This year we invite Chris (from Facebook Group "The Season Ticket") and Jon and Sean (from superb new sports and pop culture website Nowhere Plans) to join Ben and myself in our annual lapping of the self important Bill Simmons. First, the games, so we don't have to run through the lines for each matchup.


I won't lie to you, this is going to be a long fucking post. There's five of us writing about four games each, but if you can't find some aspect of these games in this post, that aspect basically doesn't exist. This is as in-depth and comprehensive analysis (hopefully) of these games you are going to find, from a variety of perspectives. Let's get stuck in.


HOUSTON (-3.0)

Poll the coaches across the NFL landscape and you probably won’t find many to publicly admit that luck plays any factor in the game tape, attention-to-detail oriented league. The Bengals were certainly a benefactor of the elusive intangible on Sunday, making the playoffs despite losing to the Ravens to end the season. Losses by the Broncos, Jets and Raiders made them a playoff team for the third time in six seasons.

On the other hand, the Houston Texans probably aren’t feeling all that lucky heading into the Playoffs as first time participants and first time AFC South champs. Losers of three straight heading into Saturday’s matchup against the Bengals, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak held rookie starter TJ Yates out of the remainder of the game after a first quarter hit resulted in a bruised shoulder. Arian Foster was also rested this week. After losing Mario Williams, Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart to season long, or season ending injuries, who could blame him?

These two teams met in Week 14, and Yates played one of his better games, if not his best, in leading the Texans to a 20-19 comeback win on the road. Scoring drives of 83 and 80 yards in the fourth quarter gave Texans fans hope that all would not be lost with a rookie at the helm of what was the most balanced team in the NFL at that time.

The win against the Bengals was the last game the Texans won.

In this playoff rematch you can bet that Kubiak will be doing everything in his power to not have to rely on similar heroics from Yates. Houston will rely on the 2nd best running attack and arguably the best offensive line in pro football. Arian Foster totaled over 1800 yards from scrimmage and was aided and abetted by Ben Tate who was 53 yards shy of a thousand yard season. In their Week 14 meeting the Texans rushed for 144 yards against a fairly stingy Bengals run defense.

Can the Bengals run defense, which finished the season as the 10th best effectively limit the damage done by Foster and Tate? The same Bengals that just gave up 191 yards and 2 touchdowns to Ray Rice?

As for Cincinnati, they are a pretty balanced ballclub and have a team that tends to travel pretty well, as evidence by their 5-3 record on the road this season. I would normally expect to see Andy Dalton throw the ball downfield to fellow rookie AJ Green quite a bit, but opportunities may be limited by nagging injuries to Green. To replace some of this lost production, second year TE Jermaine Gresham should play a bigger role in the offense. I expect Cedric Benson to receive a healthy dose of carries considering the fairly successful day (21 rushes, 91 yards) he had in their first meeting.

I know that the running game will be the focal point for both teams in this matchup, but I think that the outcome will be decided on which team can handle the pass rush best, and keep their rookie QB in position to have success. While I do think that the Bengals can handle an active Texans pass rush, and even put continued pressure on Yates, I think that Houston will ultimately wear down the Bengals. The Texans haven’t score more than 22 points since their bye week, so I don’t expect the game to be high scoring, but I do think the Texans cover the spread.


With their season finale loss to the Matt Flynn led Green Bay Packers the Lions drew the short straw in the Wild Card matchups, having to hit the road for the Big Easy to take on the hottest team in football. In that loss to the Packers, the Lions defense surrendered 480 passing yards and 6 touchdowns. Hardly a confidence builder when your next opponent just steamrolled through a single season passing mark that was set before more than half the Lions roster was born.

The list of accolades and records set by this Saints team and specifically on the offensive side of the ball speak to their excellence. Ending the season on an eight game winning streak, the Saints posted 40+ in four of those eight victories. Their 13 wins this season also tied the club mark, and for the first time in team history, New Orleans can boast of an undefeated home record. Their average margin of victory was 23. League highs in passing yards (334) and scoring per game (34.2) mean that you would have an easier time stopping Terrell Owens from fading into obscurity without football than you would have stopping this Drew Brees led offense from torching your defense. And just to add extra fuel to the fire, those numbers were (492.62) and (41.1) at home.

Ndamakong Suh, nor Pro Bowl caliber safety Louis Delmas in uniform when Brees threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 14 meeting in which New Orleans led 24-7 at the half.

The biggest question in this matchup for me is, can the Detroit front seven put enough pressure on Brees? The Lions defense certainly isn’t playing its best ball right now, but I do think this front seven has the potential to make life difficult for the Saints offense. What makes this particular offense so difficult to keep in check is if your blitz becomes effective, the Saints have a myriad of screen options to make defenses pay. The Saints are also sending three of members of an offensive line that allowed a league best of 1 sack on every 27 passes to the Pro Bowl.

Matthew Stafford, who is my choice for NFL Comeback Player of the Year, threw for over 5000 yards this season with 41 touchdowns. While Calvin Johnson bullied defensive backs for close to 1700 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Hardly the work of a pedestrian offense.

I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about defense in this matchup because, well…..

"I think that the best defenses allow one less point than their offense scores," Schwartz said. "I think we need to take more of a chess approach. Nobody cares in chess how many pawns you give up or if you sacrifice your queen. They care about if you win the game, whether you get checkmate or not. And I think that's the only thing that’s important, not stats."

Even the Lions coach realizes that defense will be a non mothafuckin’ factor!

I like the Lions, a lot I might add. As a fan of a Colts franchise now in complete disarray, I hold out a microscopic ray of hope that we’ll remodel or rebuild our team as somewhat of a mirror image of this youthfully talented ball club. On Saturday though, I just don’t see the Lions realizing their destiny of eventual deep playoff runs by beating the Saints in the Super Dome.

ATLANTA (+3.0)
GIANTS 23-21

This wildcard matchup holds the least amount of intrigue for me. There will be no battle of rookie quarterbacks, or any talk of miracle inducing quarterbacks, or a fascination with quarterbacks who just moonwalked through one of the sports most hallowed records. Just two steady, fairly consistent, above average quarterbacks. Both just boring enough in their play that you wouldn’t be at all surprised if you found them sporting argyles under their NFL mandated socks.

You know, and I bet that is just the way that both Eli Manning and Matt Ryan would prefer they, as well as their respective teams be viewed. Flying in under the radar, both the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants come into this matchup with victories in three of their last four games. The Giants becoming the first NFC East division crown winner with less than 10 wins. Many pundits put their pre-season bets down on the Falcons as the NFC favorite for Indianapolis after adding some nice pieces to last year’s 13 win squad.

Both Ryan and Manning tossed 29 touchdowns this season, a similar number of interceptions (12/16), and post comparable completion percentages of 61%.

Widening the lens a bit in comparison of the offenses, the Giants have the higher rated passing attack, while the Falcons boast a vastly better running game. If healthy, Ahmad Bradshaw can be effective in keeping the Atlanta offense honest enough that Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have solid performances. Key for an Atlanta defense ranked 20th against the pass will be to limit explosive completions of 20 yards or more through the air, of which Manning threw a league high thirty five.

The Falcons game plan will obviously include a healthy dose of Michael Turner, who finished third in the NFL with 1340 rushing yards. Success in this facet opens the prospects for Roddy White and Julio Jones to get upfield. The key will be how well the Falcons neutralize the Giants pass rush. The return of Osi Umenyiora last week, along with the dominant play of Jean Paul Pierre figures to be a factor in the outcome of this closely contested matchup. The deciding factor in my opinion. I think the Giants front seven causes just enough havoc to hand the show over to Eli Manning in the deciding quarter, where he’s been lights out. His 15 fourth quarter touchdowns and 110.0 passer rating led the league and will ultimately be the one outstanding factor in a matchup of two seemingly boring, underrated contenders.


The Broncos are a text book case for the proponents of playoff reseeding.

In all my years of watching professional football I can’t recall a team coming into the playoffs looking any worse than this Denver Broncos team. I know that last year’s 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team entered with a worse record, but that team proved its mettle with an upset of the Saints on a now famous jaunt by Marshawn Lynch.

This Denver team isn’t simply limping into the playoffs though, the Tebow led Broncos are being carried in on a gurney.

Facing them will be a 12 win Pittsburgh Steelers team coming out the AFC North as a wild card. Make no mistake that this division was the toughest in football, with three of the top seven defenses in the NFL. While defense is a trademark of 6 time Super Bowl winning franchise, what may be unfamiliar to long-time fans is the passing propensity of a Pittsburgh offense with two thousand yard receivers, and a running game that is clearly not the first option any longer.

Despite the emergence of wideouts Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown who may in fact resurrect memories of John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, this pass happy Pittsburgh offense will go only as far as Big Ben’s weathered body can take them.

The Broncos only proven commodity this season, its number one ranked run offense will be ardently opposed by the Pittsburgh’s number one overall ranked defense. So, there goes any advantage that Denver might have had. Combine that push with the Broncos anemic passing game and you have the makings of several entries for the ESPN Not Top Plays list.

The only chance that the Broncos may have of keeping the game close won’t come from their offense, but instead may come from the ailing Pittsburgh offense ability to move the ball themselves. Big Ben continues to nurse a high ankle sprain, and hasn’t looked good in recent appearances. His 68.4 passer rating since the injury proves this point. Roethlisberger has thrown 4 interceptions and just one touchdown during that stretch. Another concern is that Roethlisberger still continues to take too many hits behind a vulnerable offense line. His lack of mobility may result in errant or forced throws downfield or in the middle of the Broncos defense. Making things potentially worse is the torn ACL suffered by Rashard Mendenall in the season ending contest against the beleaguered Browns. Mendenhall rushed for 938 yards this season but certainly will not be available during the playoffs. This leaves the Steelers thin at the running back position although I don’t think much will be missed in terms of production with Isaac Redman as the fill-in.

Three of the last six Super Bowl champions punched their tickets into the playoffs as a wild card entry. Playing well going into the post season is an immeasurable confidence builder, and the Steelers have won 6 of their last 7, giving up more than 10 points only twice in that span. They cover.

Jimmy (J.S.)

HOUSTON (-3.0)

The theme of this week has really been the "aren't Houston terrible?" bandwagon. And I'm here to inject some sanity into this discussion - they ain't. They have two elite units, their offensive line and their linebackers, both are top three in my view. They were second in QB rating against, thanks mainly to 44 sacks - most coming without Mario Williams. They were second in rushing (only to Denver's wacky offense) and eighth in YPC, despite using less deception than probably any top team in the league. And who is going to cover Andre Johnson? Certainly not Leon Hall (out for the season) or Jonathan Joseph (Houston's best defensive player now) but Nate Clements and Pacman Jones - good luck with that. With Carlos Dunlap coming off injury, can he be relied on to rush the passer? Who else can? Robert Geathers has 3 sacks all year. How are Cincinnati going to keep the ball out of Johnson's hands? Cincinnati's injury issues seem much more consequential than Houston's (guard Bobbie Williams, one of the league's best, is also out). And Johnson might be the least of their problems - this assumes they can stop the ground game or beat Joseph and the Houston pass rush.

While Houston has lost three straight, against mediocre opposition to close the season, you know what they did before that? Guarenteed a playoff spot. In Cincinnati. And if any team was going to take it easy it was these guys, injury riddled and trying simply to keep their best guys ready for the playoffs. By the way, while you'll hear about Houston's recent crimes, what about the Bengals? They lost five of their last eight, and their three victories were against St. Louis, Arizona and Cleveland, by a combined 17 points. This line suggests these two teams are identical quantities, with the home field being the only point of difference. Cincinnati hasn't beat anyone of note this year, and yeah, T.J. Yates vs Andy Dalton? QB ratings this year are 80.7 and 80.4...Yates is higher. The Texans are a much, much better football team than the Bengals; people have been underrating Houston all year.


This is one of those spreads that looks less and less insane the more you think about it. New Orleans really are this good. The Saints are averaging north of 42 points a game at home and no one has got within eleven points in Louisiana since September. I actually like Detroit, who recovered from a mid season swoon, but if they have one of their patented terrible halves (down 20-0 to Minny, surrendered 21 of final 27 to Minny, down 24-7 to Carolina, down 37-6 to Chicago, down 27-3 to Dallas etc) in this quote Charlie Dale; where you're going you're not coming back from.

But there are two more nuanced reasons to like New Orleans to cover this humongous spread. I don't mind Detroit's defense, as bad as it can look, Delmas, Houston, Durant, Tulloch etc. they are all solid, van den Bosch too. But obviously Ndamakong Suh makes it go. He has been spotty at times this year, particulary after returning from the stomping incident. I don't think he has a prayer against Nicks and Evans, who, despite the hoopla around Suh, are simply much better players at this stage of their careers. In terms of defensive strength vs offensive strength, it's a terrible matchup for the Lions. No one protects the interior of the pocket better than the Saints. My second issue is that no one threw more than Detroit this year (666 times...make of that what you will) and only Tampa ran it less (356). Thankfully, Detroit are playing a Gregg Williams defense, reknowned for it's discipline and hatred of blitzing. So again, worst possible matchup basically. I think Detroit will function offensively - it's a great offensive team - but the task is just too hard to be genuinely competitive against possibly the best #3 seed ever.

GIANTS (-3.0)
GIANTS 27-23

Of all my picks on the board this week, this is the one I find least supported by the evidence. I was initially under the impression that the Giants pass rush would be overwhelming an allegedly poor Atlanta offensive line (a reputation that gets bandied about a bit). The numbers don't support this; Atlanta conceded an incredibly low 26 sacks this year, and while their YPC is just 4.0, I mark this down more to the carries over the years wearing on Michael Turner more than the offensive line. Maybe I rely on reputations too much, but Todd McClure, Justin Blalock and especially Tyson Clabo have always seemed like good offensive linemen to me. I also don't mind Atlanta's secondary. I'm a bit of a Thomas de Coud fan (he's disciplined and plays a very good zone coverage) and their corners are both basically good, if undersized. Put together with a versatile offense and a very clever QB in Ryan, Atlanta are a genuine challenge.

But they don't have the playoff pedigree, 0-2 with this Ryan/Turner/White group and were embarrassing last year at home - even to Green Bay. Then there is their road woes. They scraped past Seattle by two this year, lost by three scores to the Bears and lost to the woeful Bucs. They were down 23-7 to Carolina and lost by nearly 30 points to the Saints. The Giants, on the other hand, have one of the very best QB's in the game at the moment, and probably the hottest receiver. In what were essentially two elimination games against teams of similar talent to Atlanta in Dallas and the Jets, the Giants won by a combined 32 points. They beat the Pats, lost by just three against the Packers and were just ten yards away from the Niners in San Francisco. This is a tough out, battle hardened recently and have an enormously dangerous weapon in Manning, especially in the fourth quarter (where he just threw for more TDs in a season than anyone ever). Atlanta's famous lack of a pass rush will allow the Giants to have Eli throw 40 times or more in this game safely, and I expect him to. I have been waiting for a performance from the Falcons all year - they have not shown they are any better than "pretty good" and are not the same team away from Georgia. Give me the Giants.

DENVER (+8.5)

Have we learnt nothing from last year? Huge road favourites are never a good proposition in the playoffs. Particulary when those home dogs have a big time home field advantage (Seattle, Denver) and are despised by the rest of the sports world (7-9, Tebow). Seattle didn't even have the talismanic figure of Tebow to Rocky around, so this game has very large red flags for me, in fact, this is the one upset I'd be least surprised to see in the first round - seriously. And I say that as a card carrying Tebow hater.

But what of the material concerns? Pittsburgh's offense. The Steelers have scored 13, 3, 14, 13, 17, 10 and 7 this year. My theory is that because of their poor offensive line, and without real ball catching threats at tight end and running back (I'm not at all concerned with Redman over Mendenhall for what it's worth), Pittsburgh relies almost solely on Brown, Wallace and the big play. There are worse things with Roethlisberger back there, but it leaves their offense prone to meltdowns like against Palko's Chiefs. He's also clearly a long way from 100%. Those 17 and under offensive displays, sometimes the defenses were great (Baltimore, San Francisco) sometimes only OK (Kansas City, Jacksonville, Cleveland). I think Denver is closer to the Baltimore end than the Cleveland end. After a horrific start, Denver's defense has tightened up considerably. If we give them the Minny game as a mulligan, and the Pats as being one of the triforce of invincible offenses this year, Denver's defense has conceded 69 points in the other six games with less than 300 yards. That would rank first and fourth respectively. The big issue in this game is can Denver limit the turnovers to one or two at the most? Pittsburgh had less takeaways (15) than anyone in the NFL this year, and when Denver holds onto the ball, they unfalteringly keep it close. Can I see Matt Prater booming a couple of 56 yarders in the thin air? Or a Dumervil sack fumble leading to an 8 yard drive for a TD? Sure I can, and I find it harder to believe Pittsburgh can put three touchdowns (with an injured Ben Roethlisberger) on the Broncos in Colorado - they couldn't on Kansas City, Jacksonville or Cleveland.


HOUSTON (-3.0)

The Texans are the better team and that's a fact, but Cincy's defense is plenty game. Although this is likely the game the American viewing public cares about least (and with good reason), fans of solid defense will like this game. I expect plenty of turnovers and a close Texans victory.

DETROIT (+10.5)

These two teams played on Dec. 4, a 31-17 Saints victory where the Lions repeatedly took stupid penalties that ultimately cost them the game. Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford could combine for well over 800 yards passing in what should be a primetime slugfest. The Lions will be hard-luck losers, I think; the Saints are red-hot right now, and they'll cruise to the win and a date with the 49ers.

GIANTS (-3.0)
GIANTS 27-20

I'm not wild about Atlanta in the great outdoors, let alone in northern New Jersey in early January. The Giants could make it easier on themselves if they could establish the run, a feat that has proven very difficult this season. But even in the absence of that (which is something they should be used to), the Giants have the edge in Eli Manning and I expect to see them next week in Green Bay.

DENVER (+8.5)

This won't be a defensive clinic so much as an offensive power outage. Tim Tebow has been patently horrendous, so my prediction of six points actually feels generous against a solid Pittsburgh defense. Not that the Steelers will do much with the football either: The Broncos are no slouches defensively either, and Ben Roethlisberger's limited mobility renders him a sitting duck. Expect the Steelers to eke out a stinker.



This game is probably the closest of the four this weekend, in my opinion. And honestly it has nothing to do with the fact that these two teams met a month ago and played a 20-19 contest. Saturday's game will likely be different because both teams were dealing with injuries to major pieces (most notably Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap). It'll be interesting to see which side's returning personnel has a bigger impact. I also don't expect there to be as many turnovers (six) as there were in their meeting earlier this season. Both of these teams rely heavily on their defense to keep them in games and I expect this to be close. I'm picking Cincinnati for the upset but I've already changed my mind twice just while writing this.


I know this has the potential to be a shootout, and while I think it will be a fairly high scoring game, I don't see Detroit keeping up. It's not that they can't, or that New Orleans defense is beastly, it's just that I think Detroit will probably start to get frustrated on both sides of the ball. This will result not only in stupid penalties, but in turnovers as well. I don't think anyone is playing as well as New Orleans is, and considering the fact that these two teams just played in the Superdome a month ago and the Saints won by two touchdowns, I think the Saints repeat history and cover again.

GIANTS (-3.0)
GIANTS 31-17

There's no way I'm picking Matt Ryan, outdoors in the New Jersey cold. With that said, the only thing that the Falcons have going for them is that they are remarkably consistent at being good but not great. The Giants are much more erratic. There's definitely a chance that the Giants don't play their best football this weekend and let Atlanta best them. I have a feeling that New York knows what is at stake. Generally when they don't show up for games it's against awful teams who they take too lightly and show up ill-prepared. I don't think Atlanta has the offense (on the road) to keep up with New York. If you look at their performance away from the Georgia Dome this year, it's been less than impressive, to say the least. The only time they put up points in away games was when they were playing sub-average teams.

DENVER (+8.5)

I know that we have seen a banged-up Pittsburgh team do damage in the postseason but this is a wholly different level of injured. Big Ben is playing on one leg, center Maurkice Pouncey is doubtful with his own high-ankle sprain, running back Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL a few weeks ago, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu will play but they are far from 100% healthy, you get the point. This is a dream match-up for a team as beat up as the Steelers. They will not have to play their best to beat the Broncos. They will have to take Team Tebow seriously though, especially in Denver. As much as I'll be rooting for Denver and hope that they can move the ball against the Steelers defense that has held five of their last six opponents to less than ten points. Although it's a less impressive feat when you hear who they kept from scoring much: Kansas City, Cincinnati (I'll give them this one), Cleveland (twice) and St. Louis. Combine this with the fact that Denver scored three points against the Chiefs last week, and I wouldn't be surprised if they throw up a goose-egg on the scoreboard on Sunday. I can't predict that though.


Houston (-3.0)
Houston 28-10

If someone told me in September T.J. Yikes would be starting in a playoff game AND I would predicting he'd cover the spread, well I would immediately have myself drug tested. Normally I have a problem betting on a rookie quarterback in the playoffs (Andy Dalton). I don't seem to have as big of a problem when the opposing quarterback is also a rookie and his team has losses to power houses such as Carolina and Indianapolis with him under center. So while I would rather bet on Andy Dalton over T.J. Yates (I can't believe I am betting T.J. Yikes may cover the spread), I can't get past the best team Cincinnati beat all year was Tennessee and they backed into the playoffs. I know, I know, "the playoffs are a new season" and it doesn't matter what a team during the season as long as they make the playoffs...blah, blah, blah. It's not like the Texans ran the gauntlet by being in the AFC South, but I think Houston is the better team right now. I respect how good Andy Dalton and the Bengals have been this year. They have a very bright future, at least until Mike Brown starts alienating the players again. For the Texans, Wade Phillips is back calling the defensive plays, which makes me think the Texans defense will be on top of its game.

Even if the Texans are starting T.J. Yates, I think the emotion of playing their first playoff game at home and being able to rely on Arian Foster and Ben Tate on the ground (along with that Andre Johnson guy) will help the Texans win their first playoff game in their first ever appearance. I feel like both of these teams backed into the playoffs and aren't playing at their peak. I believe the Texans will lean on the running game and pass the ball well enough to beat the Bengals. Contrary to my predicted score, I think this will be a fairly close game for most of the way.

New Orleans (-10.5)
New Orleans 35-20

I've watched the Saints a lot this year. I have to say, the past couple of weeks I have seen an offense that looks damn near unstoppable. Of course no offense is unstoppable, but the Saints have so many weapons and such an efficient director of the offense in Brees it sure seems that way. As much as it sounds like hyperbole to say this, the Saints offense and personnel are built for the Superdome and they haven't lost at home yet this year. This is an excellent team hitting its stride at the right time. The Lions also have a prolific offense, but their complete lack of a running game scares me. I know last year the Packers lack of a running game scared many people as well, but the Lions' rushing leader in a single game since Week 12 has 49 yards in a game. They don't seem to be doing it by committee either because since Week 12 the Lions have rushed for 85 rushing yards per game and that number is skewed by the 136 yards they gained against the Packers in their first meeting. My point is if the Lions are going to beat the Saints they are going to have to outscore them in the air because they can't run the ball and keep the ball out of Brees' hands. I don't know if that is a formula for success.

I repeat myself every single year, but I just don't know how good the Saints defense truly is. They are ranked 24th in the NFL in total defense, but that doesn't matter as much if the Saints can put up video game numbers on the scoreboard whenever they want. In my opinion, the way to beat the Saints is to keep the ball out of Brees' hands and have a defense that can eliminate big plays from the Saints offense. The Lions have an offense that can keep up with the Saints, but I don't know if their defense can stop them from making big plays. The Lions have a strong front four and as great as Drew Brees can be, getting pressure on him (like any other quarterback) is the key to beating the Saints. All year we have heard how great Brees is, but he is great because his offensive line has given him time to be great. This needs to continue against the Lions. I can see a scenario where the Lions win this game. The Lions front four is able to get pressure on Brees, move him off his spot, and allow the Lions to drop 6-7 men into coverage. I'm not hedging, I'm saying the Lions could cover the spread or beat the Saints because they have a talented, strong front four that can do this. There is a nagging part of me that says to pick the Lions to win this game because they can win. But...I am betting the Saints offensive line continues to protect Brees well and mayhem will ensue for the Lions defense.

Atlanta (+3.0)
Atlanta 24-17

I am in a bit of a predicament. I chose my NFC and AFC Championship games as being NE-Pitt and NO-Atl at the beginning of the season. It becomes a predicament because I try not to waffle on making picks. If I chose a team at the beginning of the year, I tend to stick with that team. For some reason, I struggle knowing I chose Atlanta to make the Super Bowl in the beginning of the year, while knowing I could end up picking against them in the playoffs. That's the problem with preseason predictions. What you think you know at the beginning of the season may not be what you know at the end of the season. That being said, I do think Atlanta will win this game against the Giants. I also haven't changed my mind on the Falcons and still really like them. The Giants defense hasn't been great against the pass this year and I think the Falcons are going to be able to exploit the Giants secondary with Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio "Gregg Easterbrook thinks I'm a diva" Jones. The Giants also haven't stopped the run exceptionally well this year and this is a strength of the Falcons as well, at least I believe it is.

On the other hand, the Giants can really throw the ball, and quite frankly they have played playoff games the last two weeks while the Falcons have beaten up on bad teams for the past month and a half. Eli Manning has been great this year and if Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers ceased to exist, Manning would get an MVP vote from me. I see a lot of "Packers 2010 playoffs" in the Giants. I say this because they haven't run the ball well, but I still think they can run the ball effectively, they have a passing offense that can quickly score points and they have a defense that can get a good pass rush from their front seven at times. Still, there's that secondary of the Giants. I have a hard time getting past that, even against non-elite passing team like Atlanta. I feel like the Falcons are going to be able to exploit the defensive weaknesses of the Giants and then Tom Coughlin will get fired a few days after the game is over.

DEN (+8.5)
Pittsburgh 20-17

I'm incredibly intrigued by which way this game goes. Tebow hasn't looked comfortable passing the ball (even more so than earlier in the year when he would only pass the ball well for 2-3 minutes in a game and that was enough to win the game) and the Steelers have a very good defense with a very good defensive coordinator. That being said, I think John Fox is an excellent coach and he had had success in the playoffs in the past. He's a great situational coach and I have no doubt his defensive game plan will give the banged-up Steelers offense fits. The Steelers are going to want big plays and Fox will want to take that away from the Steelers. I also can't help but wonder if Elway's "pull the trigger" comment about Tebow was an effort to get Tebow to throw the ball into tighter coverage and show off his deficiencies so he can draft another QB in the upcoming draft and not get murdered by a mob of angry Broncos fans. I'm jaded that way, but we do know Elway isn't the biggest Tebow fan.

The Steelers are really banged-up and their most crucial offensive player, Ben Roethlisberger, is injured and this will affect his mobility. That's one of Roethlisberger's greatest strengths and he will need mobility to deal with the Broncos defense. In my mind, the way to beat the Broncos is to score points early and force the Broncos offense out of its comfort zone. That isn't easy against as a Broncos defense that has been great lately. The Broncos comfort zone is running the ball, which works really well when the game is close, but not so much when the opposing team has a medium-sized lead. On defense, the Steelers have to stay at home in the running lanes and not allow Tebow to break containment. I can see the Broncos having a somewhat backwards game plan. I think they will ensure the Steelers aren't able to get a big play and take their chances on Isaac Redman beating them on the ground. This is either going to be a close game or an absolute blowout. We won't see any 21-10 scores. It will either be a 35-7 or 10-7 game. The Steelers haven't lost to a non-playoff team all year and I don't think they start this week. I've come to the point I don't underestimate Tim Tebow, but I tend to believe Dick LeBeau and the veteran Steelers defense will have a game plan that forces him to throw the football more often than he wants. If the Steelers were healthier I would easily pick them to win and cover the spread.

CHRIS: HOU -3.0, NO -10.5, NYG -3.0, PIT -8.5
JIMMY: HOU -3.0, NO -10.5, NYG -3.0, DEN +8.5
SEAN: HOU -3.0, DET +10.5, ATL +3.0, DEN +8.5
JON: CIN +3.0, NO -10.5, NYG -3.0, DEN +8.5
BEN: HOU -3.0, NO -10.5, ATL +3.0, DEN +8.5
Bill Simmons: HOU -3.0, NO -10.5, NYG -3.0, DEN +8.5


J.S. said...

Wait, so I'm in agreement with Bill Simmons? ABORT, ABORT!!!

J.S. said...


rich said...

While I like the love the Giants were shown, I have serious doubts about them this game. People keep talking about how they "show up for big games," when they played the Jets (who imploded late in the season) and the Cowboys (also imploded).

Lets not forget that almost this exact team completely shit themselves last year when they were "win and in" twice and lost.

Offensively, I'm not too worried as Atlanta's secondary features on great player and a bunch of guys I'm not scared of. However, I'm worried that Kevin Gilbride is a terrible, terrible offensive coordinator and will do something incredibly stupid.

Defensively, the pass rush should be fine, but Fewell needs to blitz the crap out of Matty Ice. Between Jones and White, the Giants secondary is going to be in trouble, especially Jones.

Assuming the Giants put Webster on White, that leaves Ross/Prince on Julio Jones. I'd prefer Prince because he's a tad faster, but the Giants really struggle against receivers who can stretch the field.

Atlanta's running game is also a concern, but I'm much more worried about the big play that has killed the Giants repeatedly this season (see the final drive by GB... three plays in a row).

Basically, if the Giants blitz and get to Matty, I think they're okay, but I don't see them winning this week.

Murray said...

I think Denver pulls this out. Ben has one leg no Clarke. Banged up Oline. No Mendenhal

17-10 Tebows

Bengoodfella said...

J.S., I didn't even read what others or Simmons wrote. I just made sure the lines were the same and went from having said that, it seems you and Simmons are like brothers or something. Just remember, he was 4-11 last week at picking so I'm not sure what that says for you this week.

Rich, the good news about big plays is the Falcons have shown they aren't always great at stretching the field. I would guess they have gotten better at this with Julio "The Diva" Jones on the roster, but they still seemed to pick the Panthers apart short this year when they played.

I'm concerned a/b the Falcons going hurry up against the Giants and scoring points like that. The Falcons have a pretty efficient hurry up when they actually use it. I say "concerned" b/c I'm cheering for the Giants due to my father-in-law coming in town next week and I want to watch him get angry watching the Giants play a playoff game. It makes everyone uncomfortable, which amuses me.

Either way, I still believe the Giants can run the ball on the Falcons. Personally, if I am the Giants I take away the short pass and make the Falcons go deep (which I know you think wouldn't work) b/c the Falcons love to pass underneath and slowly pick apart a secondary. At least that's my take.

Murray, don't say that. I can't handle a Tebow playoff win. It does sound like a Pittsburgh loss since they have so many injuries, but I'm counting on the Steelers defense to come through and win the game.

Martin F. said...

Mike Smith might be the worst short yardage play caller in the history of the NFL.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin, I think you can "might be" out of that sentence. I'm not sure I can even defend him in TMQ this week. It was bad.

J.S. said...

I was talking with Chris on the phone about it, and it was 10-2, 4 minutes left in the third...what's wrong with field goals there? You can win the game with field goals there, Atlanta's defense had been excellent. Fourth and short I am normally fine with, but it definitely was the wrong call there - you may not get the touchdown anyway.

Bengoodfella said...

They could have gone for a FG there too. I just would have chosen a different fourth down option than a QB sneak. With Turner on the roster there are more options than just a dive.