Archive for January, 2010

Conference Championship Picks

January 22nd, 2010 Comments off

I’ll tip my hand right now. I’m looking for the conference one seeds to meet in the Super Bowl for the first time in sixteen years. Also, I’m an idiot. So you can pretty much bet that’s not gonna happen. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Jets (+8) at Indianapolis
OK, so here’s the thing: I want — on some level, I really, really want — to scoff at the very notion that the Jets can win this game. I want to laugh at the very suggestion that this game can play out like Super Bowl III revisited. I want to point out that Weeb Ewbank is not walking through that door. Randy Beverly is not walking through that door. And the only door Joe Namath is walking through is the door to the press box. And, you know, that’s all true. But I can’t stop thinking about how much Darrelle Revis reminds me of Ty Law, and of the way Law was always Peyton Manning‘s worst nightmare. (Remember Law’s three picks of Manning in the 2003 AFC Championship?) And, you know, it’s not like Revis isn’t gonna get his opportunities; Manning is going to throw to Reggie Wayne in this game. It’s all a matter of whether Revis can make the right reads at the right moments, and I know that he’s got some advice from Ty on how to do that. That all makes me think, well, hell, maybe the Jets really do have a chance. And, man, wouldn’t it be somehow perfect to see the Colts fall to a team they let into the playoffs? But, you know, just like the 2009 Jets, who backed into the playoffs with a regular season record of 9-7, aren’t the 1968 Jets, who went 11-3 and won the AFL Eastern Division title, neither are they the 2003 Patriots, a team that had won 13 straight games by the time the Colts got to Foxborough (which also brings up the point that the Pats hosted that championship game). Revis is a phenomenal football player, but his team, while red hot, doesn’t have anything like the offense that Pats team did. It’s one thing for a defense to give you opportunities, quite another to be able to take advantage of them. And it’s hard for me to see the Jets doing quite enough with their opportunities to keep up with the Colts, who will put up points even if Manning delivers a ball or two into Revis’ hands. I think it’s the Jets weaknesses on offense that ultimately make the difference in this game. I see a low-scoring affair in which the Colts may trail late, but will ultimately come out on top. I’m thinking Indy wins by a score of something along the lines of 20-16.

Minnesota (+3.5) at New Orleans
Drew Brees isn’t winning this game. Come Monday morning, it may look very much as if he did, but that won’t be the real story of what happens here. Because if the Saints come out ahead, it’s going to be for one of two reasons. Either it’s gonna happen in the trenches — with New Orleans’ stellar offensive line holding off Minnesota’s amazing pass rush (and giving Brees the time he needs to find open receivers) — or it’s gonna happen on the other side of the ball, with Brett Favre reverting to form and finding a way to make the one or two crucial mistakes that add up to a losses in big games. And actually, I’m not sure it won’t be a little bit of both. The Vikings D linemen are going to find a way to get to Brees at least some of the time. The big question is, how much of the time? Because if it’s only a matter of sacking him once or twice and flushing him out of the pocket on a handful of plays, that’s not gonna be enough. There’s only so much you can ask of any secondary; if the Vikings aren’t chasing Brees around throughout most of the game, he’s going to put up points. And if Favre is put in a position where he feels like it’s on him to win the game, he’s gonna do just the opposite. Gregg Williams’ defense is solvable. Despite recent performance as the New Orleans D has grown healthier, I still believe the unit remains a potentially fatal weakness. The thing about solving Williams’ D, though (and this has always been the case — in Buffalo, in Washington, in Jacksonville, and New Orleans) is that it requires a patient quarterback. Favre has a bad habit of being just the opposite, particularly when he thinks he needs to pull out the heroics. Go gunslinger on this D, which logged the third highest pick total in the league during the regular season, and you stand a good chance of throwing a good bit more than the ball away. And that’s exactly what I expect to see Favre do, particularly if his team’s trailing by 10 or more as the second half wears on. I think we’ll see a game that’s competitive for three quarters, possibly a bit longer, but that ends with the Saints up by no less than 13 points.

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Divisional Round Picks

January 15th, 2010 Comments off

Yeah, OK, I stunk up the joint in the wild card round. But let’s be honest, so did you. So did everyone. Plus, I’m always warning you that the only thing you can count on me to be is wrong. So, you know, here’s more of that.

Arizona (+7) at New Orleans
If the Cardinals could put up 51 on the Packers, a team that had an actual defense, what do you think they can do to a one-dimension squad like the Saints? I’m thinking whichever team has the ball last wins. And since they’re at home, I’m gonna figure that’s the Saints. New Orleans, 62-56.

Baltimore (+6.5) at Indianapolis
No I don’t believe that Ravens can do to the Colts this weekend what they did to the Patriots in the wild card round. Because, let’s face it, New England not only limped into the playoffs but played uncharacteristically poorly. So, sure, the Ravens could end up facing a team having a shockingly bad outing two weeks running (particularly given that the Colts have to be rusty, having taken the last two weeks of the regular season off), but it’s hard to imagine any team having that kind of luck in the post-season. That said, I don’t find the idea of the Ravens pulling off an upset here entirely inconceivable. As noted, it’s been a while since the Colts were involved in a game that meant anything, while the Ravens come into this one fully fired up and working with a good bit of momentum. And, you know, it’s not exactly as if the Colts ate the Ravens back in week 11. In fact, were it not for one very bad decision by Joe Flacco. the Ravens would have taken at least a one-point lead into the final seconds of that game. If the Ravens can take Flacco (and his hip injury, which is clearly worse than anyone in Baltimore is letting on) out of that equation, and keep Peyton Manning of the field at the same time, but focusing on their powerful running attack, they’ll have a chance to win this game. I don’t think it’ll be enough, ultimately. The Colts offense just doesn’t need that much time to score points. And if the Ravens get behind and have to rely on the pass, they’re cooked. I expect to see the Colts pull off a win late. I’ll take Indy straight up, but I’ll look for Baltimore to keep the margin to somewhere between two and four points yet again.

Dallas (+3) at Minnesota
We all know Dallas is winning this game, right? I mean, as insufferable as we may find Cowboys fans (and, trust me, you haven’t seen them at their most annoying in some several years, but I think you’re about to). Or as much as some folks might like to see Old Man Favre get one more shot at a championship before he spends the next six months contemplating riding off into the sunset only to decide he’s got another season left in him after all. It’s just happening that way. This game is gonna be lost by a quarterback. And my money says it’s the one who’s most convinced it’s up to him to win it. I don’t think Tony Romo‘s that guy anymore. Or at least I don’t think he’s that guy this weekend. Next weekend? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. Dallas by 11 (the four they’re ahead with a minute to play plus the seven that come from the pick-six Brett throws out of desperation on third and six from the Minnesota 46 with 30 second remaining).

NY Jets (+7) at San Diego
Have you heard? The Jets are going to the Super Bowl? That’s right. They beat the Bengals, a team that peaked way too early, two weeks in a row. So that’s how you know they’re the best team in the AFC. Except for the other three that are still in the playoffs. Unfortunately for New Jersey. The Chargers, who are actually going to the Super Bowl, win this one by 10, anyhow, probably more.

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Wild Card Picks

January 8th, 2010 Comments off

I’m gonna be wrong on at least one and possibly all four of these games. Straight up, I mean. (Against How do I know? Because at least one and sometimes three road teams usually win on wild card weekend. I’m picking one. And for all I know, I’m destined to be wrong about that one, which would set me up to finish somewhere between 3-1 and 0-4. So, yeah, my expectations are high. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Jets (+2.5) at Cincinnati
Having backed into the playoffs, the Jets travel to Cincinnati for what looks on paper like a week seventeen rematch, but in reality is the first honest-to-Vince football game New Jersey will have played since week fifteen, when they lost at home to Atlanta. So what happens when the Jets face the real Bengals? Well, it’s a safe bet that neither team’s gonna have a ton of success running the ball in a game featuring two of the league’s better run Ds. That means someone’s gonna have to achieve some kind of yardage through the air. That’s not an easy task against these Ds either, but I’ll take my chances with Carson Palmer before I put my faith in Mark Sanchez, particularly given that Sanchez threw 20 picks this season to Palmer’s 13. I’m looking for a close Bengals win in a low-scoring game. Let’s go with Cincinnati, 13-9.

Philadelphia (+4) at Dallas
After last weekend’s fiasco, I’m officially off the Eagles bandwagon. Which is how you know Philly’s winning this one. (Or, anyway, it’s how I know. Because whenever I believe in the Eagles, they suck and whenever I lose faith in them, they turn unstoppable again.) It’s not that I don’t think the Eagles can win this game. Of course they can. Get into the damned backfield and pressure the league’s most overrated quarterback and you’ve got a chance to win, no matter how hot the Cowboys may have been over the last month of the regular season. The trouble is, I’ve seen no evidence of late that the Eagles pass rush can pressure anyone. That killed them last week. And while I expect this game to be closer (because Donovan McNabb is not gonna have that bad an outing two weeks in a row), I think it ultimately kills them again. Dallas wins this one by three.

Baltimore (+2.5) at New England
Does New England’s fate in this game really depend on Julian Edelman? Somehow I don’t think so. I mean, we’re almost certain to learn a few things about Edelman here. And if the Ravens’ defensive game plan is to roll coverage to Randy Moss all afternoon, Edelman’s at least gonna have a chance to have an impact. And there’s next to no reason to think he can’t rise to the occasion. Look, the kid caught eight balls for 98 yards in his first-ever NFL start (and his first start anywhere as a receiver) back in week two. Last weekend, coming in after Wes Welker went down, he logged 10 catches for 103 yards. And in between he had a chance to actually adapt to the position and study behind Welker. So it’s not unreasonable to think Edelman can be a factor for the Patriots, not only in this game, but going forward (if the Pats get a chance to go forward) in the playoffs and again in the 2010 regular season. But we all know that the guy who ultimately has to be the real factor right now is the same guy who’s been in that role since 2001. The Pats have got their running game into shape over the last month. And their defense is better than advertised. So if Brady can do his thing and spread the ball around to all of his receivers, his tight ends, and Kevin Faulk, the Patriots should be able to hold off the uneven Ravens and win a trip to, ulp, San Diego. New England, 23-16.

Green Bay (+1) at Arizona
Last weekend, when Arizona had something to play for and Green Bay didn’t, the results looked like this. I don’t see any reason to expect things to go too terribly differently when both teams have something on the line. Green Bay wins this one by no less than 10.

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Week Seventeen Picks

January 1st, 2010 Comments off

The smart money this weekend stays in your pocket. I mean, that’s pretty much the case always, but it’s particularly true in a week of football that involves so many unknowables. Which teams are gonna play to win? Which opponents will be able to take advantage of the post-season-bound squads that don’t show up? What happens when you play at four and your last chance to make the playoffs is erased in a one o’clock game somewhere else? And even when you get to games like Philadelphia-Dallas, all you can say with confidence is that it’s gonna be a slugfest; there’s no saying for sure who’s gonna be left standing at the bell. So, you know, if you have to bet, take a look at a game like that and stick with the over-under. Otherwise, hold on to your dough for next weekend, when things get truly interesting again. Here’s what not to expect.

San Francisco (-7) at St. Louis
Ah, yes, it’s the who cares bowl. San Francisco by a touchdown.

Indianapolis (+7) at Buffalo
You know what you are if you pay money to sit in the 20-degree chill to watch the Bills scrimmage with Indy’s backups? OK, I was gonna go with “diehard,” but, yeah, sure, that too. If the Jets could “beat” the Colts by two touchdowns in a game in which the Indy starters at least thought they were playing for something meaningful while they were on the field, I’ve gotta think the Bills can win by 10 at home with nothing whatsoever on the line.

Chicago (-3) at Detroit
The thing about noting that if the Bears team that beat the Vikings on Monday night shows up, they should be able to handle the Lions with relative ease is that it brings up the point that if the Bears team from Monday night had shown up consistently through the season, they’d probably be resting starters in preparation for the playoffs this week. Still, Chicago wins by six for the second straight week (this time finishing in regulation).

NY Giants (+8.5) at Minnesota
The Vikings are playing not just for the two seed but for the chance to get back on track with the playoffs looming. The Giants, who got a humiliating early start to their off-season last weekend, should make it pretty easy. Minnesota by 10.

Jacksonville (+2.5) at Cleveland
This would be an easy game to pick if the Browns defense had the slightest ability to stop the run or the Browns offense the slightest ability to hold on to the damned ball. Jacksonville is playing its second consecutive road game. And one would imagine the Jags spirits are broken after the crushing defeat in Foxborough that ended their playoff hopes. The Browns, meanwhile, are riding a three-game winning streak. This game probably means something to Cleveland whereas it can’t possibly mean a damned thing to Jacksonville. So, yeah, if the Browns didn’t stink outright, I’d take them without reservation. I’m still taking them, to win and cover, but I’m doing it with serious reservations. Just so I’m on the record with that.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Miami
OK LaMarr. If that’s what you need to think, that’s fine. Me, I have a hard time believing anyone in the NFL is afraid of the big, bad squad that in recent memory has found ways to lose to such juggernauts as Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland. But that’s just me. I’m sure, though, that the Steelers will manage to end their season on a bit of an up note with a win over the foundering Dolphins. So that’ll be a nice thing for LaMarr and his teammates to reflect on as the off-season begins. Pittsburgh wins and covers.

New Orleans (+7) at Carolina
Conventional wisdom says the Saints, with nothing to play for, will rest starters and take a loss. I’m not so sure. I think if I were Sean Payton I’d have serious misgivings about taking my formerly red hot team into the post-season on a three-game losing streak. Especially when beating the Panthers could only require me to get three quarters out of my starting offense (and, let’s be honest, the starting D could use a full game to tune up). I think Payton, who can rest his whole damned team next weekend, plays to win. And I think it pays off. New Orleans by three.

New England (+7.5) at Houston
The mere fact that Bill Belichick won’t say he’s not planning to rest starters makes me feel pretty certain he’s planning to rest starters. I’m sure we’ll see everyone who’s healthy enough to play spend some time on the field, but I’d be shocked to see guys who are dealing with ongoing injuries put in a full game. So I’ll take the Texans, who’ll be trying to keep their playoff hopes alive, to win it straight up, though I’ll hedge a bit by looking for the Pats to keep it closer than seven and half.

Atlanta (-1.5) at Tampa Bay
Yes, I know the Bucs beat the Saints, but is anyone outside of Tampa looking at that as anything other than a colossal fluke? I know I’m not. Falcons by a touchdown.

Philadelphia (+3) at Dallas
You know what? Go ahead and set aside the crazy variety of seeding possibilities because all that really matters is that this is the NFC East title game. That’s it. These two teams are going to beat the living bejesus out of each other not for a week off or a home game, but because they’re division rivals and the team that wins is the cock of the walk (puts its pants on just like all the other football teams: one leg at a time; except once its pants are on it wins division titles). So then the question is, do you like the suddenly hot home team or the increasingly impressive division-leading visitor? I’m not sure what the right answer is. But I do know these two things: The Eagles are better than the Cowboys in virtually every aspect of the game; and I’ve been calling Philly the most dangerous team in the NFC for a few weeks and it’s probably in my best interest (in the absence of significant indications to the contrary) that I put my money where my mouth has been. So I’ll take the Eagles to win this thing outright.

Washington (+3.5) at San Diego
I’m actually fairly confident that San Diego’s backups can beat Washington’s starters. How sad is that? Chargers by three.

Green Bay (+3) at Arizona
Look, I don’t think, I know that the Packers are the better team in this match. And if these two teams end up meeting in the same stadium a week from now, or two weeks from now, I will take the Packers with confidence. Here, though, in this game, what I see is an Arizona team playing at home with a shot at the two seed if it wins and a good chance of landing at four if it loses and a Green Bay team that’s gonna be the five or six seed no matter what happens and that has a lot of reasons to hold back on showing the Cards everything it’s got. I like Arizona in that scenario. By a point.

Kansas City (+13) at Denver
The Broncos need help to make the post-season, and I’m not sure they’re gonna get it. But I’m fairly confident they’ll at least do their part this time out. Denver by 10.

Baltimore (-10) at Oakland
The Ravens’ situation is simple: Win and they’re in the playoffs (as the five or six seed, depending on what happens with the Jets and Bengals Sunday night); lose and their season ends. That should be more than enough motivation to get them by the horrendous Raiders. Baltimore by 13.

Tennessee (-4) at Seattle
In the end, the 2009 Titans were mostly about wasted potential. They’ll set the stage for high expectations in 2010 with a big win in the season finale. Tennessee by 14.

Cincinnati (+10) at NY Jets
Marvin Lewis says his team is gonna go all-out to win this largely meaningless game. I’ll believe it when I see it. Like the oddsmakers, I’m looking for the Bengals to give the Jets a free pass to the post-season. New Jersey closes Giants Stadium with a 10-point victory. (And the idiot Jets fans start talking Super Bowl again. Hooray!)

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