NFL Wild Card Round Picks
This week’s intro brought to you by Ryan, since I couldn’t think of anything to write:
This has been going through my head since this weekend’s playoff match-ups materialized. Every time I look at them and think that they are boring, uninteresting games, I remember how few of them there are left and what I would give for this slate in mid-July. I then embody my fifth grade science teacher and make myself say the opening sentences in my head until I’ve learned my lesson and am properly appreciative.
(Saying it in my head is a lot less arduous, though, than the sentences he would make us write. I’m not quite sure how I remember this 25 years later but one of them was “Talking in the classroom wastes my time and other students’ time.” His sentences were cruel and unusual punishment; they would go more than one line so you couldn’t do that thing where you write the same word all the way down the page instead of writing the sentences in conventional fashion. On other teachers’ sentences, the straight-down method was dominant.)
After this weekend, there’s only seven NFL games left. Then, the deep dark offseason. While this year won’t be shrouded in the looming possibility of a Lockout (no football? noooooooooooooooooooooooooo), we will still invariably force ourselves to watch things that pale in comparison to football. Like, this year we get the Summer Olympics and I’m probably going to watch swimming. Ugh. Can you even imagine what the ratings for some of these events would be if they had to go head-to-head with an NFL Sunday? And don’t even get me started on baseball. It’s looking increasingly likely that the Cubs are going to get their affairs turned around which is awful news for me and my desire to get into Wrigley for 5 bucks in the 3rd inning on a nice day.
So, yeah, I’m obviously going to watch every minute of this playoff weekend (although I might miss the first quarter of Bengals-Texans due to circumstances beyond my control), potentially even convincing myself that it will be glorious. I can’t bear the thought of football going away forever until September.
Still don’t have our records reconciled. I promise to figure this out before next week’s picks.
Cincinnati @ Houston (-3)
Ryan: While it wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be–the NFC West dramatically beat expectations down the stretch–the Bengals still had a pretty easy schedule. I would have pointed out that they also got to play the AFC South but then I remembered that the Texans got to play everyone in the AFC South (besides themselves of course) twice.
To some degree, I think that the Texans have been playing possum for the past few weeks because they really haven’t had anything to play for. While it’s a precarious situation when a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs before starts messing with the on/off switch, these players knew they had nothing to play for and acted accordingly. It’s human nature and I have a hard time believing I would behave in a different way in their collective shoes.
When these teams met Week 14, Owen Daniels carved up the Bengals secondary (7 catches for 100 yards) and the Texans ended up taking the game 20-19. I think that the Texans are a little bit better than we think and that the Bengals, who looked terrible in a must-win game against the Ravens last week, are a little worse than we think. We see a steady dose of Arian Foster and Ben Tate and the Texans cover.
Asif: Are we allowed to have a playoff Derp Bowl? I’m going to say no, but the fact that there’s a slight chance that we might see Jake Delhomme in this game makes me hesitate a little. Easily the least compelling match-up of the weekend.
One of the least talked about storylines of this season has been the Bengals stunning franchise turn towards competence. My friend Alex and I chatted a little about this during the week, but Mike Brown may actually deserve Executive of the Year honors for the job he did in drafting AJ Green and Andy Dalton and bilking the Raiders in the Carson Palmer deal. Of course, it’ll take more than a couple of nice deals for Bengals fans to forgive Brown for years of hamstringing the franchise with his cheapness. That said, the Bengals may be competitive for a long time now. They’ve got a solid young talent base and the new salary floor and rookie wage scale should mitigate Brown’s penny pinching somewhat. At the same time, Marvin Lewis has quietly become one of the most competent coaches in the NFL. Who saw that coming?
I get the feeling that the Bengals want this more than Houston, who seem just happy to be in the playoffs. Cincinnati covers.
Detroit @ New Orleans (-10.5)
Ryan: This game is going to be different from the last time around because the Lions are in a different place as a football team. When New Orleans beat Detroit 31-17 in Week 13 (my memory hadn’t processed it as being nearly that close…weird), the Lions had lost four of six and were reeling from the NDonkey Kong Suh suspension. They came out and fought the next three weeks, beating the Vikings, Raiders, and Chargers before losing to the Packers’ back-ups.
As I said last week, the Saints very well may have been the best team in football over the second half of the season. Their last eight games–all wins–they outscored their opponents 287-150, outgaining them by an average of nearly 100 (99.25 to be exact) yards per game. Their offense is methodical. Their defense, not quite so much.
Matthew Stafford’s brilliant season (5,038 yards, 41 TDs, 16 INTs) has been a little bit overshadowed because Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady, who are already entrenched as household names, also had outstanding seasons. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s the most yards and TD passes by a QB who didn’t make the Pro Bowl by a substantial margin. Stafford kept this team together and, under his leadership, the Lions rebounded when things looked bleak. New Orleans probably takes the game but Detroit doesn’t go quietly. Lions cover.
Asif: The Saints are invincible in the dome. While the Lions are certainly capable of putting up points themselves, their pass defense got exposed by the Packers last week. Saints cover.
Atlanta @ NY Giants (-3)
Ryan: The We Believe in Ourselves Theory is in full swing! Kindly disregard the Giants’ 23-10 loss to the Redskins in Week 15 and roll with it!
The Falcons are good enough to beat up on bad teams but struggled this year against playoff-caliber opponents. They had five games against playoff teams (Packers, Lions, Saints, Texans, Saints) and went 1-4 in them.
While the Giants have been bi-polar this season, the Falcons have been steady and consistent. The variance on this game depends entirely on which Giants team shows up and, gun to my head, I think it’s going to be the good version. Giants cover.
Asif: The NFC match-ups this week are miles better than the AFC games. This is the best one of the week, featuring two teams with explosive passing offenses and flaws in every other facet of the game. What tips it for me is the Giants’ suddenly reinvigorated pass rush. Gotta go with my guys, Giants cover.
Pittsburgh (-8.5) @ Denver
Ryan: If it wasn’t enough of a gift for the Broncos to back into the playoffs on the 3rd tiebreaker over the Raiders and Chargers, they get the Steelers–a vastly superior opponent when healthy–when they’re riddled with injuries. Rashard Mendenhall, who I’m convinced is league average or slightly worse but is nonetheless the starting back, is out for the season with a torn ACL. Ryan Clark can’t play in Denver because of a blood disorder. Maurkice Pouncey and Ben Roethlisberger are banged up. I’m pretty sure that Roethlisberger (new nickname: Mr. Potatohead) is held together by paper clips and rubber bands at this point but somehow hasn’t broken.
The Broncos’ putridity the past three weeks as Tim Tebow has thrown for 343 yards (total! Matt Flynn may have done that in a half last week!) notwithstanding, I still feel like their running game and pass rush (with an immobile Roethlisberger) are enough to keep the game close. Maybe even close enough to steal with some Tebow Magic. I think the Steelers win but the Broncos cover.
Asif: It’s over for Tim Tebow. Defenses have figured out that if you play man coverage and make sure that your defensive ends don’t over-pursue, Tebow can’t do anything. In college, Tebow was perfectly capable of trucking linebackers for runs up the middle. In the pros, the guys at the second level are much bigger and stronger and he needs to get to the edge to be an effective runner. The Steelers bring a pretty complicated blitz scheme and tackle well, and there’s no evidence that Tebow is capable of beating a team like that at this point. Pittsburgh covers.