To recap, I went 138-114-4 (54.7%) this regular season. These playoffs are going to be weird for a variety of reasons:
1) Seeding. Because of the wacky rules the road team is the better team in 3 of the 4 Wildcard matchups. That's going to mean Home Dogs in 3 games, and it's always difficult to choose between the home team and the better team.
2) Overtime. Remember, effective in the 2011 playoffs are the new overtime rules. Simple version: the team that receives the kickoff can't win with a field goal. If they score 7, they win. If they score 3, the other team gets a chance to score 7 and win, or score 3 and force sudden death. Here's to hoping OT happens, so we can see baffled coaches try to figure it out.
3) Seattle. The worst playoff team in NFL history is hosting a game. So weird. How large can they make this spread? Can Seattle possibly, conceivably, dare-I-say win this game?
Let's get to the Wildcard picks:
Saints (11-5) @ Seahawks (7-9)
Predicted Line: NO by 8.5
Actual Line: NO by 10.5
I'm willing to say this is the only time in NFL history that a home team has been double-digit underdogs. But it's also the only time a 7-9 team has made the playoffs, or the first time a team with an impossibly bad point differential of NEGATIVE 97 has gotten in. The rules are stupid. It's undeniable. As John McCain might say, "The system is broken."
But I'm not willing to say Seattle should have missed the playoffs, or that 10-6 Tampa should be in instead. If you win your division, you belong in the playoffs. If they change that, you'd have 10-6 Seattle tied with 10-6 Tampa and Tampa getting in on a tiebreaker and that would be just as bad. You can't fix the fact that a 7-9 team snuck in, you just have to wait for the NFC West to improve. Sam Bradford will help; St. Louis should win at least 9 next year. But what the NFL can do, and should do, and in fact MUST do, is change the way homefield advantage happens. Give it to the team with a better record, plain and simple.
The Saints playing AT Seattle is a travesty. Homefield is a really, really, really big deal. Seattle does NOT deserve homefield advantage against a team that won 4 more games than they did against a much tougher schedule. Enough said.
For this game, I'm actually going against 82% of America and taking the Seahawks. Not to win outright, but to cover the 10.5 points. I doubt they'll get blown out in a home playoff game. I could be wrong. But something tells me they'll make it interesting, or at least watchable.
A few reasons why:
1) New Orleans is struggling to run the ball, and Seattle is pretty good against the run lately since Colin Cole returned from injury. Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas are now on IR, which means Julius Jones and Reggie Bush should get 10+ carries each. Neither will do anything. Obviously Brees can move the chains by himself, but a running game would help New Orleans if this is a blowout.
2) Marques Colston is questionable with a knee injury. He says he'll play, but I don't think he'll be near 100%. Brees will certainly spread the ball to Meachem and Moore without missing a beat, but it doesn't help to be without your best receiver.
3) Seattle has a pretty strong home-field advantage. At least they used to, back when Seattle was good. They used to be like Atlanta - the team that could always win at home, but was shaky on the road. Since 2006, Seattle is 4-0 in playoff home games (with wins by 21, 1, 10, and 20) and 0-3 in road playoff games. I think the fans will be excited to have a meaningful game for the first time in 3 years.
4) The Saints don't usually blow out crappy teams. Sean Peyton is 3-9 lifetime against-the-spread as a double-digit favorite. Part of that is because they struggle to run the ball.
For those reasons, and just because I like to be different, I'm taking Seattle +10.5.
Final score: Saints 28, Seahawks 20.
Jets (11-5) @ Colts (10-6)
Predicted Line: IND by 3
Actual Line: IND by 2.5
What a screwy line. My thought is Vegas is going to avoid even-number spreads in the playoffs so there are no ties. But I'm surprised they didn't lean upwards to IND by 3.5.
I'm conflicted, because I can't stand the Jets and definitely want them to lose, but I don't really like Peyton Manning all that much either. I like watching him lose in the playoffs. It's just fun.
But I refuse to cheer for Rex Ryan, who is trying to steal headlines yet again by calling this game "personal." What, because the Colts knocked you out of the playoffs last year? Welcome to life buddy. Shut your mouth and get ready to coach. Stop trying to monopolize headlines and get your overrated defense ready to face an elite quarterback.
There's a reason Rex has never beat Peyton as a coach or a coordinator, unless you count those week 17 rest-the-starter games. It's simply: Ryan is a blitzing fiend, and Peyton is probably the best quarterback ever against the blitz.
So something's gotta give. Either Ryan sends 4 and hopes to create pressure, or the Jets blitz like mad and the Colts beat them. If Ryan can put his ego and his tendencies aside, the Jets will get this win.
Why? Because it's actually pretty easy to put pressure on the Colts with only 4 pass-rushers. The offensive line is hurt and playing very poorly. Without Collie and Clark, Manning has struggled against zone defenses all season. He can't find his middle-of-the-field receiver, and forces bad throws to Wayne and Garcon, who both have problems with drops. It's been a sloppy offense all season, and they've lacked any semblance of a consistent running game. Addai is finally healthy, but that means next to nothing.
For the Jets, it should also be an offensively-challenged performance. Indy, who is thought to be terrible against the run, has held their past three opponents (Jones-Drew, McFadden, Chris Johnson) to an average of about 56 yards and 3.8 YPC. Whatever they're doing, it's working right now. And the Jets have surprisingly sucked at running the ball, especially lately. Tomlinson is so washed up and for some reason no one will admit it.
It's going to be a lot of pressure on Sanchez to convert third downs, and fortunately for him the Colts' defense is generous in that respect. They allow a 39% third-down conversion rate, one of the worst marks in the AFC. But Sanchez isn't exactly a proven stud yet. I don't have much confidence in him at all.
So what's the pick? Will Ryan blitz Manning and pay the price? Or will he play it smart, and dare the Colts to run? I hate to say it, but I think he'll play it smart. As loud and obnoxious and annoying as he is, you can't deny his will to win, and he might put aside his years of blitzing experience and go with what he knows will work. Against the zone, Manning will struggle.
So I am taking the Jets, who haven't beat a playoff-caliber team since week 2, on the road, against the first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, even though I hate them.
That way, if I miss the pick, at least the Jets are out.
Final Score: Jets 25, Colts 24.
Ravens (12-4) @ Chiefs (10-6)
Predicted Line: BAL by 3.5
Actual Line: BAL by 3
So much for my no-even-numbered-spreads theory. Whatever.
This game clearly should be played in Baltimore. Forcing a 12-4 team to play on the road in the playoffs is just insane. Kansas City isn't as vile and undeserving as the Seahawks, but they're close. They only played one team all season who made the playoffs, and that was a 19-9 loss to Indy. (I didn't count Seattle). They went a combined 6-4 against the horrid AFC and NFC Wests, and also beat Buffalo and Cleveland. They have nothing to be proud of. They would be sitting at home if San Diego didn't stupidly start the season 2-5.
I hate picking against Home Dogs, especially ones that have won 7 of their last 8 home games. But like I just said, Kansas City hasn't played anybody. Baltimore is an all-around elite team with just tons and tons of talent. They are well-coached, well-quarerbacked, and they have Ray Lewis. Plus I picked them to win the Super Bowl. So I'm taking the Ravens.
One last reason why: KC is a running team all the way. They led the NFL in rushing yards and attempts. Jamaal Charles had over 1,400 yards. But Baltimore was a top five rushing defense. They were also a top five rushing defense in 2009. And 2008. And 2007. And 2006. In other words, every year since they drafted Haloti Ngata. As much as I love Suh with all my heart, I can't call him the best DT in the league. Not yet. Ngata (ironically pronounced NADA) is just a complete beast. If the Chiefs can't run, they definitely can't win.
Final Score: Ravens 31, Chiefs 7.
Packers (10-6) @ Eagles (10-6)
Predicted Line: PHI by 3
Actual Like: PHI by 2.5
Geez, trying to guess these lines feels like trying to tackle a squirrel.
This game is going to be awesome. Both of these teams are Super Bowl contenders and have elite quarterbacks with elite weapons. Both teams have meh defenses, although the Packers' defense is much better. This game should just be all-around awesome.
The key to stopping Michael Vick, as the Giants and Vikings have showed us, is speed and athleticism. As Golic says, get an athletic equivalent to chase him around IN THE BACKFIELD. The Giants did that with Antrelle Rolle. The Vikings did it with Winfield. For the Packers, they have the perfect guy in Clay Matthews.
Philly's offensive line is not very good, and they lost a starting guard week 17. Vick should see plenty of pressure, and might be forced into mistakes. Charles Woodson can cover DeSean Jackson, although he might give up a big play due to the large speed advantage. Green Bay isn't tremendous against the run, but Philly doesn't really run the ball all that much. At least not with the running backs.
Typically, the only way to beat Philly is to outscore them. You know they'll put up 30 or more points. Well, for one thing I think Green Bay can outscore them. But for another, I think Green Bay just might have a defense that can shut Vick down.
Last time Green Bay was in the playoffs, you might remember they scored 45 points ... and lost. Well this time they aren't playing the worthless Cardinals defense, but they are playing a 13th ranked defense which is hugely overrated. Philly can't stop the run (remember Jahvid Best), which doesn't really matter since Green Bay can't run. But Philly also stinks against the pass, especially in zone. Rodgers should have plenty of time to throw, and should have no trouble at all figuring out the coverages. Free safety Nate Allen will miss this game, as will LB Stewart Bradley.
I think this game will be a classic, and Rodgers will outduel Vick for his first postseason win.
Final score: Packers 38, Eagles 34.
And that's all I got. stay tuned for whatever else.