This time of year it has become a tradition for me and some others to make our NFL Playoffs picks against Bill Simmons. This year it is just me making the picks. So I am going to be making playoffs picks for the fourth consecutive year. The way it works is Bill posts his Friday column with his pick and the spread for each game, Peter King posts his picks on Thursday, and I keep score on how well Bill, Peter and the rest of the participants are doing. This year I am the only participant because I completely forgot to ask anyone else to join me. So I will be making my picks against Bill Simmons, Peter King (though he doesn't use the spread, just outright picks the game, so I will pretend he is using the spread), and anyone else who wants to join. I am going to keep a tally on the right side of the blog on each participants' record. If anyone wants to participate, put your picks in the comments by 3pm on Saturday and I will add your name to the super-competitive tally on the right side of the blog. I don't know how many people will care to participate but I'm going to try to keep it to the first 5-7 people who put their picks in the comments along with Peter and Bill so we have about 8-10 participants...if even that many want to participate. So if 7 people want to make their picks along with me against Bill Simmons and Peter King, put those picks in the comments. The 8th person (if there even is one), sorry, 10 people is just right and 11 is WAY too many. I love arbitrary number cut-offs.
Also, when it comes time for the Super Bowl, the tiebreaker (and I assume there will be a tie if we end up with 10 people picking will be the number of points scored in the Super Bowl).
Here are Peter's picks.
Here are Bill's picks. (Bill posts his Friday column at 4:55pm EST every week. Think about us East Coasters! No one ever does!)
Here are the lines I will be using.
Cincinnati at Houston (-4.5)
Minnesota at Green Bay (-7.5)
Indianapolis at Baltimore (-7.0)
Seattle (-3.0) at Washington
Cincinnati at Houston (-4.5)
(I usually like to make five points or concerns about each game instead of writing a paragraph. I'm weird that way.)
1. I have been going back and forth all week about whether I can trust the Texans or not. They have been struggling recently. Those who have read my "...Our Pets' Heads" Monday post all year know I don't really think the Bengals are that good of a team either. I'm not sure I can trust them to win a playoff game. The Bengals have won seven of their last eight games while the Texans have lost three of their last four games. I still don't know which team I trust more. I have a feeling my pick is going to be more of a cop-out than an actual confident pick about who wins this game. The Bengals are 6-2 on the road this year, which is obviously better than their home record of 4-4.
2. The Texans have to run the ball to win this game. The Bengals are holding opposing teams to 107.2 rushing yards per game. So for me, my pick in this game relies solely on whether I believe the Bengals can stop the Texans from running the football. Take away the run, then you take away Matt Schaub's ability to pass off bootleg play-action. Arian Foster is one of the best running backs in the NFL, so taking away his ability to run the football isn't going to be easy. Throw in the fact I don't completely trust the Bengals to be able to run the ball or protect Andy Dalton and I see this game in some ways being an exact duplicate of last year's Wild Card game between these two teams when Dalton was running from the Texans pass rush all day. But...
3. I can't forget this is Matt Schaub's first playoff game and he hasn't exactly been stellar in nationally televised games this year. I don't subscribe much to the theory players need experience in the playoffs before they can win a playoff game, but Schaub has a history of not playing well when it matters and I can't help but feel like Dalton has some sort of advantage in terms of mental preparation for this game. Dalton got the shit beat out of him last year in Houston by the Texans defense and I see him playing better this year. Obviously he can't block for himself, but I think the Bengals' offensive line is going to take it on themselves to keep Dalton cleaner in this game. If the Texans are able to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage then I see another 31-10 Texans win, but I don't think that will happen.
4. The Bengals still don't have a consistent group of receivers that can take pressure off of A.J. Green. Jermaine Gresham is going to be vitally important in this game. His ability to control the middle of the field will allow Green to have favorable matchups on the outside. The Texans are very much in the same boat. Their second best receiver in terms of yards was also a tight end. Shutting down (which is easier said than done) the opposing team's best receiver, along with which team stops the run game better could be the difference. Again, this is hard for me because I am not in love with either of these teams.
5. The Texans are at home, which usually is a big advantage, but the Bengals were 6-2 on the road. I'm having to choose between the Bengals winning a road game or the Texans stopping their losing play. Every one of the Texans losses came to a team that made the playoffs, which shows you they didn't lose to cupcake teams, but also shows us how they will play when faced against a playoff team. I completely don't trust the Bengals to win a road playoff game, but I also really like their defense. I think the defensive line and the offensive line are the difference this year. The Bengals will stop the Texans from running the ball and Andy Dalton will hit A.J. Green with a deep pass that becomes the difference in this game. I am taking the Bengals to pull the semi-upset in Houston.
Cincinnati (+4.5) over Houston 23-20.
Minnesota at Green Bay (-7.5)
1. I am a Christian Ponder hater. I don't dislike him personally, but I am not going to be choosing him on the road to beat Green Bay, even if Green Bay has lost their last two playoff games at home. So I hate to ruin the drama, but I believe based on the Packers being at home and my belief Ponder won't be able to duplicate his performance last week that Green Bay wins this game. I would leave it at that, but this is only point #1 and I have four more points/concerns to ramble about. Ponder may be a really good quarterback at some point, but I'm not taking him on the road in a playoff game, especially when Minnesota is 3-5 on the road this year.
2. Now for the running back elephant in the room. Green Bay doesn't have one and the Vikings have a very, very good running back. IF the Vikings have a chance to win this game then it is completely because of Adrian Peterson. They have to control the football with Peterson against a middle-of-the-pack Packers rush defense. I wouldn't be surprised if the Packers put 11 men in the box to stop Peterson, which of course the Vikings know, so they will want to move the Packers away from the line of scrimmage to give Peterson room to run. Actually, the Vikings just may not give a shit and let Peterson run into a line of scrimmage stacked with Packers defenders. The Vikings are missing their best receiver and have a quarterback I would describe as "shaky, at best" so perhaps just riding or dying with Peterson is the best option.
3. As for the Packers, I don't trust their offensive line to protect Aaron Rodgers. I think I have said this on repeat for about four years now. The Packers offensive line has been bad in the last four games and the Vikings can bring a pretty good pass rush. I would really like to see Green Bay try to run the ball in order to slow down the pass rush some, but that probably plays right in the hands of what the Vikings want them to do. It's not like the Packers run the ball well anyway. The less the ball is in Aaron Rodgers' hands the better for the Vikings. Having Randall Cobb back is a big deal for the Packers, and while I think they were trying hard last week in Minnesota, I'm not entirely sure they played in Week 17 like they will in a Wild-Card playoff game. Minnesota played above their heads and Green Bay played below their heads (is that even a phrase?) last week.
4. Getting Charles Woodson back is big for the Packers as well. Green Bay has got to get a hold on Adrian Peterson, which seems nearly impossible to do. At the very least, don't let Peterson's production affect how they defend the pass. It sounds obvious to say that, but trying their best to shut down Peterson while making sure Ponder has difficulty in the passing game is how the Packers can win. The Packers have to understand that Peterson will get his yards, but don't let him take over the game (again, easier said than done) and the Packers front seven is going to have to get pressure on Ponder and plug running holes for Peterson to make it hard on him. Last week in Minnesota the Packers failed miserably at this. They allowed the Vikings to dominate the line of scrimmage on offense and that allowed Ponder to feel comfortable when throwing the ball.
5. I probably put too much faith in Aaron Rodgers and count out Christian Ponder too much. Whatever, it's my funeral and I do what I want. I think the Packers are going to be too strong in the passing game for the Vikings. The Packers are going to try to maintain a lead in the game so that the Vikings can't simply hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson and not feel pressure to score. Putting Ponder in a 14-0 hole would go a long way to changing the Vikings game plan around enough to force them to throw the ball more than they would like and reduce some of Peterson's effectiveness. Betting that Green Bay can protect Rodgers and the Packers defense can stop Peterson makes me feel confident. Of course I was also confident I was right when I picked Green Bay to beat the New York Giants last year in the playoffs.
Green Bay (-7.5) over Minnesota 31-17
Indianapolis at Baltimore (-7.0)
1. Again, my lack of respect for Joe Flacco makes this line feel like a gift. This is stupid of me. Flacco was one dropped pass away from taking the Ravens to the Super Bowl last year and why do I think a line of 7 points is too much in a home playoff game against a rookie quarterback? That line really isn't too high. So I'm trying to throw my opinion of Flacco and the line in this game out the window. See, I am fair. Flacco isn't nearly as bad as I seem to believe he is in my mind and the Ravens are a pretty good team, even if they have lost four of their last five games. The Colts haven't exactly been playing a murderer's row of teams over the last couple of months. They have victories over Buffalo, Detroit, Tennessee, Kansas City and Houston since their blowout loss to the Patriots in November. In fact, if there is a shitty team in the NFL, the Colts played them this year. Of the teams picking in the Top 10 of the draft, the Colts have played nine games against these teams. You can only play your schedule of course.
2. Looking solely at the numbers, the Colts don't appear to be a very good team. They are 7th in passing yards, 22nd in rushing yards, 21st in passing yard defense and 29th in rushing yard defense. Their pretty mediocre across the board. Of course they do have God on their side, which always helps when it comes time for a game-deciding field goal and the Colts need a cool breeze to blow the ball one way or another. The Ravens defense has taken some criticism this year and they definitely aren't up to their usual standard either, but they will get a big pick-me-up with the return of Ray Lewis for what will be his last playoff appearance before he retires. I don't really like either defense, but I feel like the Colts defense is only put together with scotch tape and a little bit of hope.
3. Part of the reason Andrew Luck has so many passing yards this season is because the Colts have no running game. So Luck has much of the burden on his shoulders to carry the offense because there isn't much of a running game to complement him. The Colts have done a fantastic job of giving Luck weapons in the passing game, even though Luck hasn't shown himself to be the most accurate quarterback in the NFL. The Ravens are going to have to generate a pass rush in order to disrupt Luck and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. As great as Luck has been, he still throws interceptions and makes bad passes. The Ravens defense has to get a pass rush and not allow Luck a chance to throw the ball in the pocket without someone in his face. Ray Lewis is back, but 37 year old Ray Lewis isn't the difference-maker that even 33 year old Ray Lewis was.
4. Quite obviously the Ravens are going to key on stopping Ray Rice. He isn't the Ravens offense, but he is probably the most important part of the Ravens offense. Bernard Pierce has played well also when given an opportunity, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him get the ball 10 times in this game. As I stated before, the Colts defense seems to be put together with scotch tape, so the Colts need to generate a pass rush to hurry Joe Flacco into making bad passes. Not that Flacco would ever throw a bad pass of course. If Flacco wants a new contract then a good performance in this game would go a long way towards showing Ravens management he is worth the new contract. He has the weapons with Pitta, Rice, Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin and Flacco has shown he can play well enough to win when it comes time for the playoffs.
5. I have a hard time betting on a Jim Caldwell-led offense, but that's what I am going to be doing it seems. I have enjoyed the Colts' story this year, but think this Ravens team is going to be too strong for the Colts in this game. The Ravens are 6-2 at home this year, there will be a lot of morale boosting because Ray Lewis will be back, and I think despite the fact the Colts are on a hot streak the Ravens are going to be more motivated in this game. I see the Ravens having one of their random games where they are very dominant. I'm betting on Jim Caldwell and Joe Flacco versus betting on God, Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck. May God have mercy on my soul.
Baltimore (-7.0) over Indianapolis 30-20
Seattle (-3.0) at Washington
1. This is kind of a weird matchup. The Seahawks are 27th in the NFL in passing yards, while the Redskins are 30th in passing yard defense. The Seahawks are 3rd in rushing yards per game, while the Redskins are 1st in rushing yards per game. Both teams are starting rookie quarterbacks. It's a strength versus strength and weakness versus weakness kind of game. The Seahawks are just an average road team this year, going 3-5 away from home, while the Redskins are 5-3 at home this year. Really, who knows how each quarterback will perform in this game? Both Griffin and Wilson have been great so far this year. Both teams are going to have similar game plans. They want to get the opposing team in third-and-long in order to put the other team's quarterback in tough passing situations.
2. The Redskins secondary seems pretty leaky to me. They are 30th in the NFL in passing yards allowed and while the Seahawks don't have a great passing game they can certainly pass the football well enough to open lanes for the running game. Everything against the Seahawks starts with stopping the run first. If the Redskins are able to stop Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks running game then they will have more success stopping the pass. The Redskins are 5th in the NFL in rushing yards defense. It's tough for the Redskins to try and stop the Seahawks rushing attack, but it can be done. They just have to tackle Marshawn Lynch well after he has made first contact with a defender. Then there is the X-factor on offense, which is Russell Wilson and his ability to run with the football. The Redskins have to contain him as well. It seems quite a task for the Redskins defense.
3. The same thing goes for Washington though. Robert Griffin can run the ball very well, especially out of the option, and the Redskins had a lot of success last week against Dallas forcing the Cowboys defense ends to make a choice on whether to chase after Alfred Morris or Robert Griffin. The Redskins didn't need to throw the ball well against the Cowboys to win, but Griffin is going to need to be able to throw the ball against the more stout Seahawks defense. Pierre Garcon may be the Redskins best receiver, but much of the success with the Redskins passing game is predicated on running the ball well and disguising when Griffin is going to run the ball or hand it off to Alfred Morris. The Seahawks have big physical corners so I believe the Seahawks are going to have more success stopping Morris and Griffin from running the read-option. Frankly, the Redskins passing attack is only scary in context of whether the Redskins can run the ball effectively or not.
4. I don't know which team has more momentum. The Redskins have won seven straight games while the Seahawks have won five straight games. The Redskins played one playoff team during their win streak and the Seahawks played one playoff team during their win streak. Both teams are playing very well coming into the postseason. For me, this game's outcome will depend on which defense is able to stop the other team's offense and force Wilson and Griffin to pass the ball in third-and-long. I think Pete Carroll has a very loose feeling about his team and the Seahawks aren't going to come out and play nervous or tight. That's a big advantage, especially against a Redskins team loves to blitz and put pressure on the opposing offense.
5. I've heard that Russell Wilson has been beating the odds all season. I'm not even sure what that means outside of a discussion about Wilson's height (lack thereof). Wilson got sacked six times last week and the Redskins love to blitz. The Seahawks can't allow the Redskins to be successful in blitzing and getting to Wilson. In the end, I think I have to go with the team that has the stronger defense. The Seahawks have a very physical defense that isn't going to allow the Redskins to have as much success with the read-option as they are used to having. Dallas had good corners, but the Seahawks have a very tall, physical secondary who I think will have success coming up and assisting on the read-option. I think Robert Griffin will end up being the better quarterback in the NFL, but right now Russell Wilson has the better team around him. This is a difficult pick because Robert Griffin can change an entire game himself, but I'm betting the Seahawks are able to run the ball and Russell Wilson will have success against the Redskins secondary.
Seattle (3.0) over Washington 24-17