Friday, January 13, 2017

NFL Picks, Divisional Round

Apologies for not having the efficiency stats for this post, I ran into some computer trouble. Home teams in CAPS.

Seattle at ATLANTA (-4.5)

This game is a double-rematch. It's a rematch of the week 6 matchup between these two teams (Seattle won 26-24 in Seattle), and it's a rematch of the 2012 Divisional Round matchup (in Atlanta), where Atlanta blew a 20 point halftime lead, fell behind 28-27 with about 30 seconds left, and drove down the field for a game winning field goal. Incidentally, that remains Matt Ryan's only career playoff win.

There are plenty of juicy matchup questions for this game. Seattle's suddenly leaky pass defense since Earl Thomas broke his leg against the best passing offense in the league. Atlanta's top-shelf running game against the best rushing defense in the league. Seattle's, ahem, questionable offensive line against Vic Beasley and a lot of question marks. Seattle's resurgent rushing attack against an even leakier rush defense than the Lions. But I don't want to talk about that.

I want to talk about Seattle's history. They have played 3 road divisional playoff games under Pete Carroll. They didn't score a first-half point in any of them. They trailed 21-0 (at Chicago in 2010), 20-0 (at Atlanta, 2012), and 31-0 (at Carolina, last year). Pete Carroll loves, loves to say that "It's not how you start, it's how you finish," and "You can't win the game in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd quarter." And he's right. But you can lose the game in those quarters.

Will Seattle get shut out in the first half again? I don't think so (I certainly hope not). But can they start at a speed other than molasses-slow in a road playoff game? I wish I felt better about that one.

That's what will decide this game. If Seattle can start well in this game, I like their chances to stifle the Atlanta running game and make the Falcons one-dimensional. The Falcons will get their points, but Seattle should get theirs too. I just can't shake the vision that they'll wait too late and go down too far to get enough of them.

The pick: Falcons 34, Seahawks 27 (ATLANTA -4.5)

Houston at NEW ENGLAND (-16)

Look, you know the situation here. The Patriots are probably the best team in the league. If this truly is the year of no great teams, the Patriots are the closest thing we have. The Texans are...they are...they are..not good. Well, that's not entirely fair. They do have a great defense, even without JJ Watt. But the offense? Yeah. It's bad. Rudimentary, even. Of course, the Patriots were the best defense in the league by points allowed. And their offense is just a few steps above rudimentary.

Once again, this game is a rematch from the regular season. This time the game was in week 3, and New England won 27-0. Not that surprising right? Well, remember that Tom Brady didn't play. Jacoby Brissett did. And he suffered a thumb injury that a) kept him from doing anything in a 16-0 home loss to the Bills the following week, and b) put him on IR a week after that.

So is it that simple? Houston couldn't score a point or slow down the New England offense under Brissett, so they have no chance in hell of staying anywhere near the Patriots this time? Pretty much, yeah.

The only chance they have is to recreate the Denver playoff game from last season. Peyton Manning didn't do much in that game, but he got the Broncos some early points. And that defense just took over the game. Could the Texans do the same behind JaDeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus? No. That Denver defense was on another level. And they were at home. Houston isn't that good, on either side of the ball.

The pick: Patriots 34, Texans 9 (NEW ENGLAND -16)

Pittsburgh at KANSAS CITY (-1.5)

Again, we have a rematch here. Pittsburgh crushed the Chiefs 43-14 way back in week 4. That game was in Pittsburgh, and it was just a colossal pooper of a game from the Chiefs. Kansas City turned the ball over twice in their first three drives, and were down 22-0 after 1 quarter. Two turnovers is usually about 3 games' worth for this offense.

The Steelers have an explosive offense, led by LeVeon Bell. This is the first time the Steelers have had Bell available in the playoffs in a few years. The Chiefs, despite all of the talent defensively, have been middling against the run, plus inside linebacker Derrick Johnson is on IR, which doesn't help.

But the Steelers offense does have a problem: Ben Roethlisberger. Specifically, Road Ben. Home Ben has a 113.1 passer rating, with 51 TD/13 INT over the last 3 seasons. Road Ben? An 83.7 rating with 19 TD/19 INT. It's a massive difference. And now he's going into Arrowhead, a little gimpy (from his ankle injury against Miami), a little shorthanded at receiver (though he still has pone of the best int he league in Antonio Brown). Can they pull the upset? Only if Home Ben makes a road appearance. I don't see it happening.

The pick: Chiefs 27, Steelers 20 (KANSAS CITY -1.5)

Green Bay at DALLAS (-4.5)

Once again, what looks like the piece de resistance of the weekend. The hottest quarterback in the league against the best team in the NFC. It's hard to go against Aaron Rodgers right now. Even without the hail mary last week, Rodgers looks beyond on point.

So, can Dallas' offensive prowess cool off the Packers' offense? Let's back up for a second. Can the Packers keep their hot streak going...without their best wide receiver? Jordy Nelson broke two ribs last week, he's out. Last year, without Nelson, the Packers were a shell of themselves for most of the season. Granted, Nelson was out for most of Green Bay's offensive explosion against a top defense last week too, though.

Let's go back to Dallas' offense. It is formidable, and it can keep Rodgers on the sideline for long stretches of this game. It is also led by a couple of (very effective) rookies, and rookies don't tend to have great playoff success. But, if two were to buck the trend, they'd be surrounded by a terrific supporting cast. A top-tier offensive line, a top-tier receiver, and a good-enough defense. Sound like the Cowboys? You bet.

Is it enough to win a Super Bowl? I have my doubts. Is it enough to win their first playoff game? I say yes.

The pick: Cowboys 29, Packers 27 (Green Bay +4.5)

Last week: 1-3 

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