Saturday, January 11, 2014

NFL Picks, Divisional Round

When a team has a thrilling win in the wild card round, you have to be careful to determine whether a) they just won their Super Bowl, or b) they've steadied their footing for a sustained playoff run. If the team has just won their Super Bowl, (see Seattle in 2010 or Denver/TEBOW!!! in 2011), there won't be much left the next week, and the favorite will wipe the floor with the emotionally spent team. But if not, well, it certainly helps explain why over half of #1 seeds have lost their first playoff game since 2007. The trick is, how to decide which is which. 

Saturday, 4:30 PM
New Orleans at SEATTLE (-8)
Now that New Orleans officially can win on the road, is the sky the limit? Well, let's not get too carried away, they were the better team (11-5) than the Eagles (10-6) all season long. You can't say the same thing about them versus the Seahawks. For one thing, Seattle (13-3) had the better record. For another, Seattle thumped the Saints 34-7 in week 13 (also coming off of a bye).

Will Seattle completely shut down the Saints again? Probably not, but it's not like the Saints game was a big anomaly. Seattle shut down pretty much everyone (giving up 14.4 points per game) this season. The reason for Saints optimism is the fact that Seattle's offense looked off ever since that first Saints game. The Seahawks won the first matchup because of their defense. But it was a laugher because the offense performed well enough to pull away )it was 17-0 after 1 quarter). Can the current version of the Seahawks offense do the same?

It won't be a laugher, but the offense will do enough. 

The pick: Seattle wins 27-16 (Seahawks cover)

Saturday, 8:00 PM
Indianapolis at NEW ENGLAND (-7)
Indianapolis just staged the second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history (28 points), so they are, in fact, playing with house money. I'm not too worried about the "happy to be here" factor, Andrew Luck and head coach Chuck Pagano have proven their abilities to stay focused these last 2 seasons.

The worry is this: the Colts have one offensive weapon: TY Hilton. Frankly, how the Chiefs allowed him to torch them like that when there aren't any other real options for Luck to use, was baffling. If there's one thing that Bill Belichick does, it's take away a team's first option. If Hilton has more than 70 yards receiving on Saturday night, I'll be very surprised.

So is it that simple? Well, no. Frankly, both defenses in this game aren't any good. And when you combine bad defenses with great quarterbacks, points get scored. Even when it doesn't make sense, great QBs find a way to put up points. You can look at Andrew Luck's brief career, or you can look at Tom Brady's career pre-2007. 

The pick: New England wins 34-30 (Colts cover)

Sunday, 1:00 PM
San Francisco (-1) at CAROLINA
Fact #1: Carolina beat the 49ers 10-9 back in week 10.
Fact #2: Carolina's defense completely shut down the 49ers offense in that game (151 yards on 52 plays)
Fact #3: Carolina is 11-1 in their last 12 games.
Fact #4: Home underdogs are 23-12-1 since 1990.
Fact #4: San Francisco is 7-0 in their last 7 games (including the Wild Card win).
Fact #5: Since week 10, the 49ers have gotten WR Michael Crabtree back, TE Vernon Davis has gotten healthy, OLB Aldon Smith has regained his mojo, and Carolina has seen WR Steve Smith hobbled by a knee injury.
Fact #6: These are two superb defense and two flawed offenses.

All of that is complicated, let's simplify.

Fact #7: San Francisco is one of the two best teams in the NFL this season. Carolina isn't the other one.

The pick: San Francisco wins 13-9 (49ers cover)

Sunday, 4:30 PM
San Diego at DENVER (-9.5)
It's overly simplistic to say that this game is a referendum on Peyton Manning: playoff quarterback (9-11). It's also overly simplistic to say that this game is a referendum on Peyton Manning: playoff quarterback, if he loses another game his team is favored in. That one's still unfair, but it's the perception.

The good news: Peyton has Welker back, so the offense shouldn't go through any prolonged slumps like in the second game of 2013 (Chargers won).

The bad news: Here was Manning's line from the first meeting (Broncos won): 25/36, 330 yards, 4 TDs/0 INTs.

Denver won by 8 points. Manning was terrific, and they still couldn't shake the Chargers. 

The pick: Denver wins, 34-31 (Chargers cover)

Here are my almost 3-year-old son's picks:

Enjoy the Weekend!

Last week: 1-2-1 (.375)
Miles (my almost-3-year-old son) last week: 2-1-1 (.625)

2012 Postseason: 6-4-1
2011 Postseason: 6-5

2013 season: 115-134-7 (.463)
2013 Midweek Picks: 7-9-1

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