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Wild Card Picks

January 3rd, 2014

Let’s dispense with the introductory nonsense and get straight to what not to expect, shall we?

Kansas City (+1) at Indianapolis
If you want to hang your assessment of this game on the results of these teams’ week 16 meeting in Kansas City, that’s fine. There’s certainly plenty of that going around. But here’s something you should know: That was a strange game. The Chiefs turned the ball over four times in that game. A pick and three lost fumbles. The Chiefs, who finished the regular season with the league’s second best takeaway-giveaway differential, +18. The Chiefs, who lost 10 fumbles all season. Alex Smith, who threw a grand total of seven interceptions over 15 starts for the league’s third best interception percentage, 1.4. You simply can’t look at an anomalous result like that and conclude it’s likely to recur. Then there’s the fact that the Colts got unusually strong results from the running game with Donald Brown racking up 79 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. That’s great, except that most of that production, 51 yards and the TD, came on a single blown play. Still counts, of course, just like the turnovers. But you can’t expect a team to be able to replicate that kind of result. In a rematch of a game in which one team’s performance was out of character, I look for both teams to revert to form. And if I’m to expect that here, it means expecting the Chiefs to run the ball down the Colts’ throats. It also means expecting the Kansas City defense to make the Indy offense one dimensional by hemming in the run and forcing Andrew Luck to try to win it through the air. Given that the Chiefs’ DBs know how to get after the ball, I think that produces a turnover differential that runs toward the opposite of what we saw in week 16. And a result that runs in the other direction as well, though not by so wide a margin. Kansas City by six.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Philadelphia
If the Saints are going to win this game, Drew Brees is going to have to play virtually flawless football. The Eagles D is susceptible to the pass, but it’s not as if Chip Kelly doesn’t know that. It’s also not like Kelly doesn’t know that you can run the ball against New Orleans all night. So one expects that the Eagles will look to control the ball and the clock. The Eagles also will do everything they can to take Jimmy Graham out of the game and force Brees to work to other targets. Brees is more than capable of doing that, the question is, can he do it and still manage to work efficiently enough to outpace Philly’s offensive output while working with limited time of possession? If he can, the Saints have a chance. If he stumbles, they don’t. I’m not sure Brees can get it done on the road and in the elements. I expect New Orleans to put up a fight, but I also expect the Saints to come up short. Philadelphia by four.

San Diego (+7) at Cincinnati
I can come up with only one reason to believe that the Chargers might win this game: The fact that there’s virtually no reason to believe the Chargers can win this game. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that the gimme game of wild card weekend often ends up being anything but a gimme. But you can’t pick based on that kind of thinking. You pick based on what the teams bring to the field. And what I see here is a team that went into week 17 with a legit shot to snag the conference two seed and a first round bye hosting a team that barely qualified for the tournament in week 17 with an absurdly hard-fought win over Kansas City’s backups and a good bit of help from the directionless Dolphins. The Chargers really don’t belong in the playoffs. And they won’t last. Cincinnati by 10.

San Francisco (-2.5) at Green Bay
It’s all well and good to talk about harsh Green Bay weather (a predicted game time temperature of -5 with a wind chill factor of -51) favoring the Green Bay squad, but I’m not so sure it doesn’t work the other way around. The forecast conditions are going to make it very difficult to throw the ball, and there’s simply no way the Packers can succeed if Aaron Rodgers can’t sling it around effectively. Of course, I’m not sure the Packers could win anyhow, what with their almost total lack of anything remotely resembling a defense. I think the Niners cut the freezing fans a break and give them an excuse to head for warmer places (like, say, their beds) at halftime. San Francisco by 20.

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