Archive for January, 2008

Conference Championship Picks

January 18th, 2008 Comments off

Not much to offer by way of an intro this week. I’ll just say what I have to say about the games and leave it at that. Here’s what not to expect.

San Diego (+14) at New England
I don’t even know what to say about this game. Because the thing of it is, San Diego isn’t beating New England. I don’t care who starts and who doesn’t for San Diego’s offense. I don’t care if the Chargers defense has picked off 946 passes in the past three weeks. And I extra don’t care if the Chargers are or aren’t the same team the Pats manhandled half a lifetime ago. What do I care about? I care about the fact that you can’t cover Randy Moss and Wes Welker without exposing yourself to Donte’ Stallworth, Lawrence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Ben Watson, and Jabar Gaffney. (And if it sorta starts your head spinning just to see all those names one after another, think about what it feels like to be Norv Turner and Clarence Shelmon right now.) I care about the fact that, unlike the Colts, the Patriots are not missing a key component of their defensive front. I care about the fact that the Pats O line matches up better with the Chargers’ defensive front than San Diego’s O line matches up with New England’s defensive front. And I care about the fact that the Chargers, successful as they’ve been over their last eight games, have not exhibited an ability to do the one thing you absolutely must do if you’re hoping to beat the Patriots: play mistake-free football for 60 minutes. I don’t think they’re suddenly gonna figure out how to do that in their second consecutive road game against an elite opponent. So I’m looking for a Patriots win by a score of 38-23.

NY Giants (+7) at Green Bay
I could tell you that last week finally brought me around to believing in the Giants. But I’d be lying. Well, not entirely. Hey, the Giants have to be for real or they wouldn’t be playing this week. (It’s just too easy to call the Cowboys a choke team and walk away.) That said, I don’t think the Giants can play with the Packers over the entirety of what promises to be a very hard-fought game. On average, Green Bay scores more points and allows fewer than the Giants, which is meaningful. More meaningful, to my mind, is giveaway/takeaway differential (yes, here I go again). Green Bay finished the regular season at +4 and remains at +3 even after Ryan Grant‘s two fumble start last week. New York went -9 in the regular season. The Giants come into this game -5 overall, which is to say they’ve had four takeaways in the playoffs to date. That’s gotta be encouraging to Giants fans, but I’m more interested in long-term trends than short-term, so I expect things to even out this week. And one of the reasons for that is one of the larger reasons I expect to see Green Bay come out ahead: It’s the difference between Eli Manning and Brett Favre. That’s the key difference between these two teams. And it’ll be the key factor in determining the outcome of this game. Green Bay wins, 27-23.

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Divisional Round Picks

January 11th, 2008 Comments off

Here’s the deal. The way I see it, there’s about a 70 percent chance all four home teams win this weekend (because that’s what happens in the divisional round), a 25 percent chance that one of the road squads pulls off an upset, a five percent chance that two road teams come out on top, and no chance whatsoever that three or four of the home teams fall. So I’m playing the odds, picking the home teams to win straight up across the board and to cover fairly big spreads in two games. It’s not rocket science. Hell, it’s not even a model volcano full of vinegar and baking soda. Here’s what not to expect.

Seattle (+7.5) at Green Bay
The answer is no, I still don’t believe in the Seahawks. (Which probably means they’re gonna run away with this game.) But maybe I should. Particularly in this game. Seattle’s defense, statistically speaking, was just about equal to Green Bay’s through the regular season. And the Seahawks’ D came up huge last weekend, accounting for as many points as the O in the home win over Washington. The Seahawks had trouble on offense and special teams, though, and that could spell trouble in a road game against a very tough opponent (one that’s had a week to rest up). I think this game, like Seattle’s last, comes down to turnovers. If Seattle can continue the trend that saw them finish the season +10 in giveaway/takeaway differential, and if they can do it by forcing Brett Favre to throw picks while their own offense plays perfect football, I think they have a real chance to pull off the upset. Thing is, since I still don’t believe the Seahawks are for real, I have a hard time believing they can accomplish both of those goals. So I’m looking for the Packers to win it, but I’m expecting the game to go down to the wire. And I don’t see the difference being more than three or four.

Jacksonville (+13) at New England
Look, a lot of the stuff you’ve heard and read about the Jaguars this week is true. They’re a good team, with a good run defense and a better rushing offense. They play tough. They find ways to win games (though not necessarily against elite opponents). They’re fun to watch and easy to root for because they’ve typically been underrated. But you know what the Jaguars aren’t? They aren’t a team that can rush the passer. And they know it. So they tend to do two things: sit back in zones or blitz heavy. I watched them send seven guys on a fourth and 12 last week against Pittsburgh — and get burned for a touchdown. I wondered why on earth a team would blitz seven on fourth and long. And then I realized that the Jags truly felt that was their best option. When your worst option is sometimes your best option, you’re in trouble. Particularly when you’re facing the Patriots. If you’re Jacksonville, what do you do to stop the league’s best pass offense? Do you play zone D, knowing you can only cover so much and that Tom Brady, who you’re giving all day to find a targets, is bound to pick you apart? Or do you send everything you’ve got on play after play, knowing Brady, with his quick release, is going to find receivers operating under coverage and kill you that way? There’s no good option. Of course, what you hope to do is keep New England’s offense off the field. Sounds reasonable on paper. Until you realize that something else the Jaguars aren’t is two dimensional on offense. Sure, David Garrard can throw the ball. But to whom? The Jags are lacking at the wide receiver position. So much so, in fact, that the Pats can afford to bring Rodney Harrison up to the line to help out on run D whenever they want without much risk of giving up a big reception. Yeah, the Jags will manage one or two good gains on play-action, but it won’t be enough to make a difference. And, when they fall behind and have to rely on the pass, the Jaguars are toast. Because the Patriots do rush the passer well — well enough, in fact that they finished the season with 47 sacks, more than any team except the Giants. Garrard, playing in his second playoff game (his first against a team that isn’t too banged up to beat him), is going to find himself in over his head fairly early on. He’s going to make some mistakes. And those mistakes are gonna be the end of his team. Pats win 45-10.

San Diego (+8) at Indianapolis
This is a game. The Chargers are charged up. They beat the Colts in the regular season. They want a shot at New England. They want a shot at the Super Bowl. They’re going to pour everything they’ve got into this game. And in the end, that’ll almost get them a win. But not quite. Because much as the Chargers match up well against the Colts in the running game, the difference there can’t make up for the huge difference between the two teams in the passing game. Indy throws the ball way better than San Diego. And Indy defends the pass way better than San Diego. At some point, the game comes down to Philip Rivers, who’s gonna need to have the outing of his career if his team’s gonna advance. And that’s just not happening against a well-rested Colts team playing on their turf. Indianapolis by a touchdown.

NY Giants (+7.5) at Dallas
There’s this fantasy that the Giants and their terrific pass rush are gonna be able to shut down Tony Romo and steal a win. I’m not living in that particular dreamworld. The Giants brought everything they had against the Patriots in week 17 and still failed to pull off the upset despite the fact that New England was resting the half of its offensive line. So how am I supposed to believe that the Giants, with the injuries they sustained in that New England game, are now gonna turn around and top a team that beat them twice in the regular season? Playing on the road for the second consecutive week, too boot. They’re not. And I don’t care whether Terrell Owens is on the field or on the couch at the Redenbacher estate (wherever the hell that might be). Cowboys by 10.

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Wild Card Picks

January 3rd, 2008 Comments off

My guess is that I’m gonna go 1-3 this weekend straight up. I had a very good go of it in week 17, so I’m due to take a beating. Plus, the Wild Card round is always impossible to pick. There are just too many … well, wild cards in the stinking deck. So here’s what not to expect.

Washington (+3.5) at Seattle
Yeah, I know it’s the fashionable pick — and, yeah, I’m still highly suspicious of fashionable picks — but I’m taking Washington to pull off the upset here. Even setting aside their fake win in week 17, I simply can’t ignore what I watched the Redskins do in the latter part of the regular season (particularly in their consecutive road wins over solid football teams, the division rival Giants and the then-streaking Vikings). I also can’t help but continue to see Seattle as a paper tiger, a team that played a relatively weak schedule and still managed only 10 wins. Assuming Clinton Portis figures out how to hold on to the damned ball, the Redskins should be able to take this game, if only by a point or two.

Jacksonville (-1.5) at Pittsburgh
This is being sold as a tough game to pick. I’m not so sure. OK, yeah, no one’s ever beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh twice in a season. Great. That’s nice for Pittsburgh fans and all, but it’s a meaningless stat. Because it has nothing to do with the here and now. In the here and now, Pittsburgh is seriously beat up and not looking like a team that’s ready to make a meaningful run in the playoffs. Jacksonville, meanwhile, is fresh, hungry and out to make a statement. And, yeah, the Jags are gonna have some trouble in the passing game (if not here, then next week in New England) which will hurt them, but that’s not gonna be enough this week to offset the Steelers’ problems. I don’t think we’ll see quite the one-sided game we saw when Jacksonville last visited Heinz Field, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the final margin were very much the same. Jags by a touchdown.

NY Giants (+3) at Tampa Bay
This game, along with Jags-Steelers on Saturday night, will doubtlessly be viewed as a test of whether it’s better for playoffs-bound teams to rest starters or play to win in week 17. The Giants, as we all know, chose to play full-on. And while they were certainly impressive, they also ended up suffering some injuries that continue to be an issue headed into this game. The Bucs took the week off. They’re healthier than the Giants, but there’s a question as to whether they’ll have lost some intensity or acquired some rust. Me, I don’t think which team played last week and which team didn’t makes a damned bit of difference. But that’s mostly because I don’t think the Giants could win this game under any circumstances. The Giants are the only playoff team that finished the regular season ranked in the bottom half of the league in points allowed. New York gave up nearly 22 points a game, putting them 17th in NFL in that category. That’s five more points than Tampa Bay’s D allowed. And stopping opponents from scoring is a much better indication of whether your have the kind of D that can lift a team to a championship than stats regarding run and pass yards surrendered. (It’s notable, though, that in yards per game, Tampa Bay’s pass D ranks at the top of the league with 170.5.) Tampa simply matches up well against New York. The Bucs’ modified West Coast offense, executed by a savvy, veteran QB has the potential not simply to overcome the Giants’ vaunted pass rush, but to turn the Giants’ defensive strengths against them. And the Bucs’ D, in addition to being stingy, is keyed to taking away the ball. Tampa finished the regular season at the top of the NFC in giveaway/takeaway differential with a +15; the Giants wrapped up the season at -9. I expect the turnover trend to continue in this game. I think we’ll see Eli Manning throw two or three picks over the course of the afternoon (he’s always good for one or two, so I’m not looking for anything that far outside the usual), and I think that’ll be enough to end the Giants’ season and perhaps Tom Coughlin’s tenure as New York’s head coach. Bucs by six.

Tennessee (+8.5) at San Diego
Let’s be honest, here. The Titans really have no business being in the playoffs. Not only was the win that put them in a gift, it was a gift they did their best not to take. And, you know, even if they had earned the berth, the Titans wouldn’t have been able to do anything with it. They’ve got a choice between a quarterback who’s immobile because he’s hurt and a a quarterback who’s immobile because he’s immobile. And they’ve got no one left to catch passes regardless of who’s throwing them. So what will the Chargers do? Man up in the secondary, stack the box to stop the run on first down, and go after whoever’s playing under center for the Titans on passing downs. That adds up to a lot of trouble for Tennessee’s offense, which in turn means trouble for a Tennessee D that could spend 38 minutes on the field. And that spells doom for the Titans. This game’s over by halftime. San Diego by three touchdowns. (And in a week, the Colts will be wishing they’d played in week 17, because the Browns at least would have made San Diego break a sweat.)

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