Sunday, January 5, 2014

Divisional Round Picks

Wildcard recap:

3-1 straight up
2-1-1 against the spread
1-3 over/unders


170-88-1 straight up (65.9%)
135-114-2 against the spread (54.2%)
78-69-4 over/unders (53.0%)

Technically, I should be 3-1 ATS, having picked the Niners to win by 3 (which they did), but since they were a 3-point favorite, it goes in the tie column. I did nail two of the final spreads (Colts by 1, Niners by 3), so that counts for something.  Nobody saw the Chargers beating Cincy by 17, because nobody saw Cincy only scoring 10 points, after they routinely scored 30+ at home.  Andy Dalton chose a terrible time to play one of his worst games. San Diego is the darkhorse nobody wants to play.  As for Indy/KC, that was the game of the weekend, far more entertaining than any college football game played this season (maybe ever), and catapulted Andrew Luck into the echelon of today's elite QBs, maybe even into third place behind Peyton and Brees.  I honestly don't know who has the better QB in the upcoming Colts/Pats game.  

Also, I was very impressed by Alex Smith and Nick Foles in losing efforts.  (And Rodgers of course).  Of the eight QBs who played this weekend, Andy Dalton was the only one who didn't look markedly better than Matthew Stafford looks on a regular basis. (Speaking of the Lions, after a week of scary-bad-coach-rumors, it sounds like Ken Whisenhunt will be the guy.  It's no Dungy, but I'll take it!)   Now, of the 8 remaining QBs, the worst ones are Kaepernick and Newton.  That's a pretty dang impressive cast.  

Regarding the Draft, we now have declared confirmation that Bridgewater, Manziel and Clowney are going pro (although everybody already knew they were), as well as UCF's Blake Bortles and USC's Marqise Lee.  We also know that UCLA's QB Hundley is staying in school, which takes one potential first-rounder out of the mix for 2014. With the Lions picking 10th, Marqise Lee is definitely in contention, along with top receivers Mike Evans (A&M) and Sammy Watkins (Clemson). A wide receiver makes a ton of sense for Detroit, especially given that there's no elite prospects in the secondary and there's plenty of depth at receiver.  Being free from Jim Schwartz's terrible drafting hubris is a wonderful thing. 

On to the Divisional Round picks: 

Saints (12-5) @ Seahawks (13-3)
Predicted Line:  SEA by 6

Actual Line:  SEA by 7.5

I see this as a low-scoring affair, with the Seattle defense coming up with numerous big stops and Russell Wilson playing smart, efficient, and making very few mistakes.  Drew Brees can't do it all by himself.  Seahawks 20-13. 
(Under 48) 

Colts (12-5) @ Patriots (12-4)
Predicted Line:  NE by 5.5

Actual Line:  NE by 7.5

Two elite quarterbacks, two shaky run games, two offenses missing their best weapon (Wayne, Gronk).  Both teams have injuries all over the place, but the Pats have the overall better roster, particularly on defense.  The combo of Talib, Arrington, and McCourtey should effectively be able to eliminate T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener from Luck's disposal, and if the Colts are forced to run, I don't like their chances.  Basically, for the Colts to have a chance, Andrew Luck needs to put on another amazing performance, using guys named Griff, LaVon, and Da'Rick. 

The Pats' offense is banged-up and inconsistent, but the Edelman/Amendola/Vereen trio excels in route-running and quickness, which should allow the Patriots to move the ball on the Colts ineffective secondary, who were just torched by Alex Smith.  Indy's best corner, Vontae Davis, is slowed down with a hip injury. 

I love Andrew Luck, always have, always will. I think he's the future of the NFL, and will win multiple Super Bowl rings.  However, in Foxboro, against Belichick's superior brain, with Tom Brady leading the opposing offense, I don't think the Colts stand a chance.  Patriots 27-17. 
(Under 53) 

49ers (13-4) @ Panthers (12-4)
Predicted Line:  SF by 2.5

Actual Line:  SF by 3

All the money is on San Fran as a road favorite, in what figures to be a low-scoring, defense-dominated battle in the trenches.  Both teams have elite middle linebackers, mobile quarterbacks, and lackluster offensive weapons. Both teams are well-coached, disciplined, and protect the football. Carolina's turnover differential was +11; San Fran's was +12.  Excluding Seattle, those were the best marks in the NFC.  (Detroit?  -12) 

Both defenses can get after the passer (Carolina led the NFL with 60 sacks), and both defenses can stuff the run (San Fran, at 3.7 YPC, is 3rd in the NFL), so it makes sense why the total point over/under is set at a minuscule 42. 

A few reasons to take San Fran:  superior coach, superior punter (makes a difference in a game like this), superior running back, superior quarterback (I think?), more playoff-tested. 

A few reasons to take Carolina:  homefield advantage, elite front-seven on defense, Riverboat Ron. 

Ultimately, it just comes down to this being Cam Newton's first playoff game.  I don't know if he has the maturity to outlast the disciplined Niners.  Kaepernick is 3-1 in the playoffs, and only one of those wins came at home. Niners 26-24. 
(Over 42) 

Chargers (10-7) @ Broncos (13-3)
Predicted Line:  DEN by 10.5 

Actual Line:  DEN by 9.5

San Diego's surge-into-the-playoffs-and-beat-Cincinnati routine was exciting, but this is simply Denver's year. Broncos 38-17. 
(Over 54.5) 

*Interesting fact:  only one active NFL running back ranks in the top 25 in career rushing yards.  It's not Adrian Peterson.  See if you can guess; I'll post the answer in the next batch of picks.  Try not to cheat.  Leave a comment or something.  That is, if anyone is reading this.... 

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