Saturday, January 11, 2014

7 comments NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Picks

After last week's uneven performance from Peter King (who didn't make his picks against the spread, but still didn't have a good week) and Bill Simmons maybe I should be the one writing a column about Gambling Manifestos and creating rules about the right and wrong way to gamble. I'm kidding obviously. I don't have such a massive ego that I would believe I could write the definitive book on gambling. Bill Simmons has re-written his Gambling Manifesto so many times that it's impossible to follow all of the rules he sets out. But this doesn't stop his massive ego from re-writing his Gambling Manifesto whenever he needs the new "rules" to reach the conclusion he wants them to reach. I pretty much ignore Bill anytime he discusses gambling.

So this week's slate of games appear to have gambling lines that are much further apart than last week's lines. Hopefully this means the games will still be close. Here are the lines being used for this week:

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (-7.5)

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (-7.0)

San Francisco 49ers (-1.0) at Carolina Panthers

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (-9.5)

So it appears we have one road favorite this week and three home teams favored by more than a touchdown.

Here are Peter's picks.

Here are Bill's picks.

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

Once again this week I'm in a bind. I made preseason predictions that had the Saints and 49ers meet in the NFC Championship Game. So do I focus on what has happened during this season and go with who I think will win each game or do I go with my preseason pick since I have already made it clear that's who I think will be in the NFC Championship Game? I certainly can't feel good about my preseason picks or tell someone I chose the NFC Championship Game correctly this year if I pick against the Saints or the 49ers this week. That's a very Gregg Easterbrook thing to do. So many difficult, life-changing decisions to make...

It nearly goes without saying, but the Seahawks are fantastic on defense. Just great. They shut down and frustrated the Saints the first time these two teams played. The Saints had 188 total yards on defense, which is unheard of in the Sean Payton era. There's no way the Seahawks hold the Saints down to that few yards in this weekend's playoff game. I am almost tempted just to throw that previous game out the window because I'm not sure we can learn anything from it regarding the Saints and how they may play this weekend. I don't like the Saints, but Sean Payton will have the offense and defense ready to play. Payton annoys me, but he's a great head coach.

I stated last week the Eagles' fast paced offense ran the risk of giving Drew Brees and the Saints offense too many possessions to score points and I thought the Eagles would give Brees one possession too many. The Saints ran 68 plays and had the ball for almost 35 minutes of the game. I wasn't necessarily correct, but the speed with which the Eagles try to play is somewhat the opposite with the Seahawks. Seattle wants to run the football and make big plays with Russell Wilson's legs and arm. The Saints are 19th in the NFL in rushing defense so they are obviously going to have to figure out a way to prevent Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks from running the football down their throat and keep Russell Wilson in passing situations. I'm not sure there has been an NFL team completely capable of pulling this off all year, so the Saints have quite a fight ahead of them.

The big goal for the Seahawks offense is to run the ball well and stay out of obvious passing downs. This seems obvious and I don't mean to indicate the Seahawks can't throw the football, because they can, but while the Seahawks receivers have been productive this year, they just aren't built as an offense to convert long third downs and throw the ball around the field in order to score points. That's where the the Seahawks incredibly stout defense comes in handy. The Seahawks defense ensures the offense doesn't have to come from behind or be in situations where passing the ball is an absolute necessity. The Seahawks are #1 in the NFL in passing defense and they are going against the NFL's #2 passing offense. Something has to give, just like it "gave" in the first matchup between these two teams. I don't think Seattle is going to be able to control the Saints passing attack like they did in the first matchup, but if there is a team built to control the Saints from passing the football well then it is a team with a strong front four or a team with a strong secondary that won't allow Drew Brees to have an open man. Seattle was 8th in the NFL in sacks and 1st in interceptions so they have both a strong front four and a strong secondary.

Sean Payton is going to pull out some well-designed plays in the hopes this allows the Saints to jump ahead of the Seahawks early in the game. That's no secret. He wants to quiet the Seahawks crowd a little bit and force Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense to feel pressure to throw the football more than they run the football. If the Saints win the coin toss, rest assured they are taking the football. The Saints don't always make a concerted effort to run the football, so I don't know if they will try to run the ball a lot against the Seahawks. Seattle has a tendency to control both lines of scrimmage and the Saints are going to have to do something other than sling the ball all over the field though. They have to at least pretend to be dedicated to running the football with the three-headed monster of Thomas, Robinson and Ingram.

I'm completely torn. I can't see the Seahawks losing a playoff game at home and no matter how many times Sean Payton paints the Seahawks logo or pipes in music it's not the same thing as playing the Seahawks in Seattle and having to deal with the game day atmosphere. I can see the Saints winning this game and I essentially predicted they would earlier in the year. The one thing I do feel is this won't be an 8 point game. When it comes down to it, the Seahawks are at home and I don't feel the Saints are going to be able to stop the Seahawks from running the football, but it's not going to be a blowout like last time. You will hear nothing from me about my preseason picks being right if I'm wrong and the Saints win this game. I relinquish the right to be correct, but the Saints aren't at home playing the Giants so I have to go against my preseason pick.

Seattle Seahawks over the New Orleans Saints (+7.5) 27-24

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Patriots fans probably already knew this, but the Patriots are undefeated at home this year. I read a lot about the Seahawks and the Saints having such large homefield advantages, but I thought the Patriots had lost at home this year and they have not. This interested me. This game is obviously being billed as Tom Brady versus Andrew Luck. The fashionable quarterback icon versus the mangy bearded quarterback. The future Hall of Famer versus another future Hall of Famer. They will have a big say in who wins this game, but for me this game comes down to which defense is able to stop the opposing quarterback more than it comes down to which quarterback is able to score the most against the other team. It's a different perspective that's sort of six of one, half dozen of another I guess. I tend to be more defense-oriented.

The Colts and the Patriots are near the bottom of the league in rushing defense. The Colts are 26th in the NFL and the Patriots are 30th in the NFL. The Patriots have a good excuse for their ranking considering Vince Wilfork has gotten injured along with Jerod Mayo. The only excuse I can find for the Colts is they had to play Kansas City, San Francisco, and Seattle this season. In fact, the Colts played six playoff teams this season and went 4-2 against these teams, including wins at San Francisco and Kansas City. Of course the Colts were also blown out on the road against the Cardinals, Rams, and lost at Cincinnati too. So they reflect the young nature of the team in that they are very (Joe Morgan alert!) inconsistent when it comes to playing on the road. So I expect the Colts to win this game 42-10 or lose the game 42-10. Neither outcome would shock me.

Teams that aren't named the "Baltimore Ravens" have had trouble coming into Foxboro and beating the Patriots and I don't expect that to end. It's going to be a tough place to play on Sunday and though Andrew Luck is good at staying poised, I think this environment is going to be difficult for him to play in. The Colts have suffered some injuries to their offense and I think this is the game where it comes back to bite them when going against such a good group of cornerbacks. The Patriots are only 18th in the NFL in pass defense, but they have the ability to use Aqib Talib to shadow T.Y. Hilton and take their chances with the Colts other receivers. Despite having spent a first round pick to acquire Trent Richardson, the Colts don't have much of a running game. They were smart to give Donald Brown 11 carries to Trent Richardson's 1 carry last week and this trend has to continue if they want to beat the Patriots.

The Patriots (despite Brady saying he didn't see Luck's comeback) will notice on film the Colts defense gave up 44 points to the Kansas City Chiefs, who aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut. Brady is going to rely on the short, quick passes that Alex Smith also relied on and the Patriots offense is a completely different beast with Shane Vereen healthy. In fact, the Patriots have a sort of demented three-headed running back monster with Vereen, Ridley, and Blount (I call them "demented because I'm never sure which running back will get more carries) so I look for them to also run the ball on the Colts defense who held up fairly well against Knile Davis last week, but still gave up some good gains to him. The Colts on defense have to avoid giving up the big play to Brady, but also need to prevent Brady from killing them underneath with Amendola and Edelman. It's a tough task.

I don't want to count the Colts out, but this is a pretty easy game for me to pick. The Colts needed a few miracles and a Chiefs collapse to win last week. You never know what you will get from the Colts on the road either, so I don't feel comfortable picking them to win. The Colts will score some points since the Patriots are so beaten up at the linebacker position, but even without Rob Gronkowski I don't see Tom Brady losing at home. The Colts defense simply isn't going to be good enough to stop what the Patriots will do on offense and the Patriots good cornerbacks are going to make life sufficiently hard on Andrew Luck.

New England Patriots (-7.0) over the Indianapolis Colts 34-20

San Francisco 49ers at the Carolina Panthers

Let's see how this list looks. A first round bye, a run-based offense, and an NFC West opponent. Is this 2009 again? If so, where is Jake Delhomme to throw five interceptions? Boy, that brings back shitty memories. The difference is I attended that game, and though I could have attended this one and the Panthers are 2-0 this season when I attend, I decided it was too difficult to make it down for a 1pm playoff game. Maybe my absence will turn the playoff fortunes around. These two teams have played already this year and it was (here's a shocker) a defensive battle that the Panthers won 10-9. The difference in that game and this playoff game is while that game was played in San Francisco, the 49ers lost Vernon Davis during the game to an injury and didn't have Michael Crabtree available. No big deal, it's just Kaepernick didn't have his two best receivers. How could that negatively affect him?

Stop me if you have heard this one before, but these two teams are very similar. On offense, they run the ball well and don't pass the ball as well. Both have mobile quarterbacks. Both defenses are good against the pass and the run. The 49ers are ranked 7th against the pass and 4th against the run, while the Panthers are ranked 6th against the pass (how? I demand an answer because the secondary is horrible...horrible I tell you!) and 2nd against the run. This may not be a very exciting game, but whichever team is able to control the line of scrimmage is going to win this game. Can the 49ers stop the Panthers exceptional defensive line from getting pressure on Kaepernick and can the 49ers take advantage of the leaky, no-good right side of the Panthers offensive line? The right side of the Panthers offensive line has a converted DT at RG (and yes, he converted this year...nothing to see here) and Byron Bell who is better known for being a revolving door at RT where any rusher with skill can get past him.

The 49ers are going to try and stop the Panthers pass rush by max-protecting more than they normally would do. Keep seven guys in the backfield to protect against the pass rush and give Kaepernick time to find his guys. The Panthers secondary can be beaten and give up 66.6% completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. Compare that to the 49ers giving up a 59% completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. The moral? Give your quarterback time and you can pick apart the secondary and take what the Panthers secondary gives you. The 49ers may have a hard time running the football against Carolina though, and that changes what Kaepernick is able to do. Much like the Seahawks the 49ers prefer to run the football and get their passing opportunities off the threat of running the football. Carolina has to contain Kaepernick and keep him in the pocket. He didn't always look accurate last week throwing the football in Green Bay (which granted, could be because of the weather) and the defense has to keep containment on Kaepernick. In the first matchup the Panthers didn't blitz very often and only ran four man fronts most of the game. Like I said, I expect the 49ers to counter that by protecting Kaepernick with an extra blocker back to give Kaepernick more time when passing.

Neither team is especially efficient at throwing the football. The 49ers do have the advantage in the passing game though, because Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree are a step above Greg Olsen and Steve Smith. Plus, the Panthers don't have an Anquan Boldin on the other side of Steve Smith. Cam Newton has been inaccurate over recent weeks and thrown the ball high on quite a few occasions. If he doesn't work that out by Saturday then there could be a replay of the 2009 Divisional playoff game against the Cardinals. Newton doesn't have great receivers and he can't afford to miss open receivers.

Ron Rivera is 0-3 coming off a bye week and this past week was essentially a bye for Carolina. The 49ers ran the ball fairly well in the first matchup and everything went wrong for them on offense that could go wrong. They had injuries and couldn't get anything going through the air. I expect that to change in this game. Cam Newton has to be accurate and not allow the 49ers defense to pressure him into overthrowing the football or making bad decisions. Newton and the offense were not very good over the last two games and I think some of this will carry over to this game. Bottom line is the 49ers have a great defense and all of their offensive weapons back. The Panthers have a great defense with an obvious hole in the secondary and they have passing threat options in Steve Smith, Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn. The 49ers are the better team.

San Francisco 49ers (-1.0) over Carolina Panthers 24-10

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

Uh-oh, it's time to test Gregg Easterbrook's "Peyton Paradox" once again. If Peyton Manning loses this game then it is empirical evidence that Peyton Manning can't win a postseason game. The Chargers have played the Broncos close all season, beating them once in Denver and losing to them by 8 points in San Diego. What's interesting in terms of defensive and offensive rankings the Broncos and Chargers are fairly close to each other so they match up well. The Broncos are 1st in the NFL in passing yards, the Chargers are 4th. The Broncos are 15th in rushing yards and the Chargers are 13th. The Broncos are 27th in the NFL in passing defense and the Chargers are 29th. The Broncos are 8th in rushing defense while the Chargers are 12th. Of course the Chargers give up 4.6 yards per carry on the ground while the Broncos give up 3.9 yards per carry. So the Broncos are probably going to give the Chargers a healthy dose of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball if they are smart, while the Chargers had a similar strategy in both games to pound the Broncos defense with Ryan Mathews and Ronnie Brown. The Chargers ran the ball 79 times in the two games these teams played this year while having 49 passing attempts. The Broncos are the opposite in that they ran the ball 33 times and and had 77 passing attempts in the previous two games.

This, along with the fact the Chargers tried to run the ball a lot in the first half against the Bengals, tells me that yet again the Chargers are going to try to control the clock and keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands. In both games this year the Chargers have possessed the football for 38 minutes. Manning can't score if he doesn't have the ball. So while I don't think the Chargers will be conservative and they are a very good passing team, I can see them trying another ball control offense that prevents Manning from slinging the ball around the field. On the flip side, the Broncos are going to need to stop the Chargers from trying to control the clock and force Rivers to throw on first down or put Rivers in negative situations where the Broncos pass rush can pin his ears back and rush Rivers. The Bengals failed to do this last week and the Broncos haven't really succeeded in the first two games these two teams played either.

The Broncos on offense are going to play at a faster pace and try to throw the football in rhythm when they aren't running the football from their fancy new pistol offense. The Broncos are a timing based offense so the Chargers are going to have to find a way to throw Manning off his timing and force him into going towards his third or fourth read. It's a hell of a lot easier for me to type those words than it is to actually do this. The Chargers secondary has to get their hands on the Broncos receivers and force them off their timing or to slightly alter their routes. Of course, the Chargers are the 29th ranked passing defense for a reason and it's not only because they played Denver twice.

There's talk that Mike McCoy has inside knowledge on what Peyton Manning wants to do and how he reacts when he sees certain defenses. I'm sure that plays some part in the outcome of this game, but the Chargers are going to have to put pressure on Manning while not leaving his receivers open and alter their defense prior to the snap so Manning isn't completely sure what he's looking at. Maybe Chuck Pagano can take time away from preparing for the Patriots to give some tips to his brother John Pagano on how to do this. It's tempting to pick the Chargers in this game since they have already beaten the Broncos once this year in Denver, plus Manning has the whole "losing record in the playoffs" history that I feel like I should factor in. I think the Broncos can be beaten by a team able to control the clock, force Manning into some interceptions, and then put pressure on the Broncos defense to make stops. I don't know if the Chargers are the team to do that. I have history of Manning after a bye week going into the playoffs going against me, but I think the Broncos are going to commit to running the ball more this time and the Broncos defense will not let the Chargers get out to a halftime lead like the Chargers had in the last matchup. Still, I think this will be a great game. I'm betting on Peyton Manning. Curse me.

Denver Broncos over San Diego Chargers (+9.5) 34-28


Matthew Cleary said...

Good write up.
I'm picking Saints to win outright.
Patriots to cover.
49ers to cover. And Chargers to win outright.
Two huge money line upsets. If I parlay it I'll be rich.

Bengoodfella said...

Saints have to rally to win outright at this point. You would be rich if you picked both of those and it worked out.

Frank said...

wow. 4-0 ain't bad. :)

Bengoodfella said...

New Orleans lost by 8, so I only went 3-1 this weekend. I got shit on my end for picking against the Panthers. I'm going to brag for a second, I almost got the score correct. Just one of those things I saw coming.

Bengoodfella said...

Now that I've bragged, I won't get another game correct over the next three games and will look like a stupid asshole.

Matthew Cleary said...

Exact score is impressive. Saints were +7.5 in my book so for me you went 4 for 4.

Bengoodfella said...

Matthew, I go with Bill Simmons' line so I only ended up with 3-1. I should really talk about my record picking bowl games this year. I was in the 21% percentile. All I had to do was pick a bowl winner correctly in a Yahoo league. Can't be that hard, but apparently I can't do it.