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Wild Card Picks

January 5th, 2007

Chances are two of my wild card round picks will be wrong. How do I know this? Well, it’s been a bitch of a year, and things aren’t looking any clearer to me now than they were in early September. Still, I’m determined to keep picking. So here’s what not to expect:

Kansas City (+7) at Indianapolis
OK, so we all know that the Colts can’t stop the run, right? We all know Indy has allowed an astonishing 173 rushing yards per game, 5.3 yards per carry, and 20 rushing touchdowns, which makes their run D officially the worst in the league. We also all know that Kansas City’s rushing offense, powered by Larry Johnson, has managed 134 yards per game, 4.2 per carry and 17 TDs. And that clearly does not bode well for the Colts. But are we also all aware that the only time the Colts have faced a Herm Edwards-coached team in the playoffs (a 2002-03 wild card round matchup between the 9-7 New York Jets and the 10-6 Colts), Indy was humiliated 41-0 (and Peyton Manning went 14 for 31 with two picks)? Or that Ty Law has intercepted Manning three times in the post season? Of course, none of that should be construed as meaning the Chiefs have this game in the bag. It’s gonna be very hard for Kansas City’s below-average pass defense to shut down Indy’s extremely potent passing offense, unless Law (or Patrick Surtain, Sammy Knight or Greg Wesley — or some combination of the four) manages another three picks. That’s hardly a given. The Chiefs have only managed 14 interceptions all season. And while I sort of suspect the uncertainty surrounding who’ll start at QB for Kansas City ultimately favors the Chiefs (it’s hard to prepare to face two quarterbacks), there’s simply no way to state with certainty that it does. So I guess where I’m going here is I kind of expect the Chiefs to manage the upset, but I won’t be shocked if it turns out I’m wrong. The only thing I ultimately feel confident in predicting is that if either team establishes a lead of 10 points or more any time after the middle of the second quarter, the game is over.

Dallas (+3) at Seattle
Seems like maybe Matt McBriar and Ryan Plackemeier could take the day off. It’s hard to imagine either team in this tilt needing to call on its punter, given that neither defense would appear to have any hope of slowing down, let alone stopping, the other team’s offense. Over the last four weeks of the season, during which time the team went 1-3, the Cowboys defense gave up an average of 33 points per game. That’s half again their season average. And those final numbers include 39 points allowed to the lowly Detroit Lions (a team that managed less than half that in an average game this season) in a rather meaningful game last weekend. The Seahawks, also 1-3 in the last quarter of the season (this despite the fact that both their starting quarterback and starting running back were back on the field after missing time due to injury), haven’t allowed nearly so many points as the Cowboys (largely hewing to within a few points of its season average of about 20 per game), but their secondary has been notably weak. They lost their last real starting DB in last week’s meaningless game at Tampa Bay. And that has the Hawks hoping that a trio of guys they picked up off the street this week can help them stop a Dallas offense that’s been good for about 361 yards (240 of them in the air) and 27 points per game this season. The only proven way to stop the Dallas passing attack is with interceptions, and even the Seahawks’ starting DBs didn’t manage too many of those this season (their 12 is tied for seventh least in the league). So what’s it all mean? I dunno. But here are my guesses: 1) Bet the over (it’s 46.5 as I write). 2) If you can find a prop bet on number of punts and you can put your money on fewer than six, you should be golden. 3) Expect whichever team has the ball last to win. I’m gonna say that’ll be Dallas, but I’ve got no real reason to believe it. It’s just a hunch, which is as good as you’re gonna get with this game. (Oh, by the way, whoever comes out on top is toast in the divisional round.)

NY Jets (+9) at New England
This is a tough one, not because it’s so close, but because it isn’t and it feels like it should be. Look, on one hand, anyone who tells you the Jets can’t win this game is an utter fool. The Jets can win. To begin with, they’ve already beat the Patriots in Foxborough once this season. So it’s clearly something they’re capable of. Plus, there’s no element of surprise in this one. The teams know each other. And the coaches obviously know each other. And there’s no question but that this Jets team has made a season-long habit of winning games they had no business winning. And you’ve gotta respect that. Nonetheless, it remains a fact that the Patriots are more than jut the home team, and more than simply one of the best post-season squads in NFL history. The Pats are also statistically superior to the Jets in every single aspect of the game. Every one. And not by just a little bit. New England has averaged 336 yards of total offense (123 on the ground, 213 in the air) and 24 points a game, while New York has managed only 306 yards (109 and 197) and 20 points. On defense, the Pats have allowed only 294 yards (94, 200) and less than 15 points a game, while the Jets have given up 332 yards (a huge 130 of them on the ground) and though they’ve only given up 18 points on average, that’s still 20 percent more than the Pats. The Patriots also have performed better on special teams. And in giveaway/takeaway ratio, a key stat to look at in assessing any game that’s likely to be hard fought, the Pats are +5 while the Jets come in at -3. So what is one supposed to do other than anticipate a Patriots victory? I mean, in the end, you’ve gotta figure that when the better team is playing at home, they’re more likely than not gonna find a way to win. By nine? Maybe, though I wouldn’t bet on. Games between division rivals are rarely so one-sided, even when they’re statistically as one-sided as this one.

NY Giants (+6.5) at Philadelphia
Look, I like the Giants. Really. I always have and I always will (though I’ve liked ’em more in the past and I’ll like ’em more again after Crybaby and King Douchebag are out of the picture). But I’m not gonna lie. I’m not only expecting the Eagles to take this game; I’m rooting for Philadelphia. There are a few reasons for that. First, as I’ve stated before, I’m a fan of Jeff Garcia. I like seeing him do well, especially at a time when Asshole Owens is faltering in Dallas. Second, I think the Eagles have a shot at advancing to the Super Bowl. The Giants don’t. Even if they get out of this weekend, the Giants aren’t beating Chicago or New Orleans. And I’d rather see Garcia get a chance to go all the way to Miami than the Giants get a chance to lose on the road next weekend. Third, and most important, I’m convinced that what’s best for the Giants over the long term is for Tom Coughlin to be gone. I’m certain he will be if the Giants drop this game, but if New York manages to advance, Coughlin’s probably gonna get another season. So I want the Giants to lose here so they have a better chance of winning next season. All that said, what I want or don’t want has nothing to do with anything. Here’s what does matter: The Eagles are the hottest team in football. They come into this game on a five-week winning streak that pushed them from third place in the division to the NFC East championship. The Giants enter the post-season limping, having lost six of their last eight games. Philly has the second most potent offense in the league. New York is ranked 14. Philly has an average defense. New York’s out downright bad. And, of course, the Eagles are at home. I’m taking Philly, giving the points and hoping the Giants are able to talk (or buy) Bill Cowher out of retirement.

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