It’s taken 17 weeks to get here, but the 2014 NFL Playoffs are finally upon us. Twelve teams will now attempt to beat the crap out of each other and survive a war of attrition as they attempt to claim the Lombardi Trophy for their own. Or whatever those voiceover guys usually say. I’m just excited for two days days of mother truckin’ football! As with every postseason, I’ll be picking games against the point spreads*, which are set by the almighty Vegas. I have to say, I had a helluva time trying to pick these games. 0-4 would not surprise me.
*If you don’t know how lines work, it’s sorta simple. The line is a number. For example, let’s say a team is favored to win by 2.5 points. If you’re taking the favorite, it means you think the point spread between the two teams will be more than 2.5 points. If you take the underdog, it means you think the point spread will be less than 2.5 points in favor of the ‘dog (doesn’t mean the ‘dog has to win, but they could).
There. Now you’re a gambling expert. Let’s move right on to The Opening Drive!
(11-5) Kansas City Chiefs at
(11-5) Indianapolis Colts
4:35 PM ET, NBC
We saw a preview of this game in week sixteen as the Chiefs still had slim hopes to win the AFC West division title. The Colts, on the road. whalloped them 23-7. To avoid a repeat of that result in Indianapolis, the Chief defense will have to regain the form they had early in the season when they were terrorizing quarterbacks every week. Without Justin Houston and Tamba Hali putting pressure on Andrew Luck, the Colts’ group of mostly no-name targets could run amok like they have the past couple weeks. Luck’s been extraordinary down the stretch, having grown more accustomed to playing without Reggie Wayne.
For the Chiefs’ offense, the formula will be the same as it has been throughout the season. Let Alex Smith “manage” the game and get the ball into the hands of MVP candidate (behind Peyton) Jamaal Charles, who can create a huge play whenever he receives touches in space. After that if Smith can get a few downfield throws to Dwayne Bowe and keep the Colt defense honest, he can give his Chiefs a playoff win. He’ll do that without first overall pick Eric Fisher, who will miss the start at right tackle because of a groin injury. Fisher’s missed time already this season, so the Chiefs should be prepared to miss him. Though I’m not sure it will get any easier against defensive end Robert Mathis, who has forced eight fumbles to go along with his 19.5 sacks, the most in the NFL. Smith is the x-factor in this contest. If he plays extremely well and doesn’t make mistakes, the Chiefs should win. If he tries to whip it around too much and starts turning it over once or twice, his team will fail.
The Odds: The Colts are 1.5 point home favorites.
The Prediction: Didn’t we just see this game a couple weeks ago? I’ll take the Colts at home, because I will not ever bet my reputation on Alex Smith. Ever. (I thought about it for two seconds though.)
(11-5) New Orleans Saints at
(10-6) Philadelphia Eagles
8:10 PM ET, NBC
We all know the story by now. The Saints have underperformed on the road in 2013. While it’s true, that’s not the trend. Sean Payton’s team has a phenomenal road record over the past few seasons, so I’m not willing to say that’s the sole reason they’d lose in the playoffs, where they have so much experience. Because apparently “playoff football” is SO MUCH DIFFERENT THAN NORMAL FOOTBALL OH MY GOD I CAN’T POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND IT IT’S SO SUPER INTENSE AND STUFF DEAR GOD SAVE THESE NAIVE YOUNG MEN FROM THE SHEER DESTRUCTIVE FORCE OF PLAYOFF FOOTBALL.
I’m sorry, can you tell I don’t put a lot of stock in that crap? These Saints had no real “playoff experience” when they won their first Super Bowl, they just prepared and executed better than the other teams they faced. They can advance past this weekend if they can figure out how to rattle Nick Foles and disrupt the fast-paced Eagle offense. Lucky for Rob Ryan, he has pass rusher Cameron Jordan, who has blossomed in Ryan’s 3-4 scheme. Foles will be under the big lights for the first time in his career, so we do have to see how he plays under pressure. The Eagles didn’t exactly blow the doors off Dallas in the season finale.
Obviously Philly must also try to contain Drew Brees’ favorite target, tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham’s had a down year because of injuries, but he’s a dangerous red zone threat and is a match-up nightmare for the Eagle linebackers and a pass defense that ranks dead last in the NFL. (Yeah. 32nd, baby.) The Saint offense will be slowed by the cold temps in Philly, but they’ll get their points.
The Odds: The Eagles are 2.5 point home favorites.
The Prediction: I hate picking this game. Truly. I’ll take the Saints to keep it closer than 2.5, because Drew Brees.
(9-7) San Diego Chargers at
(11-5) Cincinnati Bengals
1:05 PM ET, CBS
Andy Dalton has a turrible playoff record up until this point, with four interceptions and no touchdowns in his two postseason outings. (So two games isn’t a tremendous sample size, but still. It’s what we got.) This time the Bengals are at home for their playoff tilt, where they have been a perfect 8-0 this year. They own the league’s fifth best run and pass defenses in terms of yardage, so there aren’t any glaring deficiencies for Mike Zimmer’s unit. Terrence Newman may not make it back into the secondary after missing the past three games with a MCL sprain, but it shouldn’t expose them against the Charger receiving corps too badly. To win, Dalton can’t give away points with silly turnovers. A.J. Green will be on the field despite his nagging injury, but Giovani Bernard will be the key cog in the Bengal offense. It’s time to unleash the speedy running back.
San Diego’s offense hasn’t been given enough attention this season, but their passing attack is ranked fourth in the NFL, and their running game is a respectable 13th. Rivers has been dynamite, with 32 TD’s and almost 4500 yards passing. Receiver Keenan Allen could easily be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Ryan Mathews has been surprisingly durable and dependable, especially now that Danny “Every Short White Guy Loves Me Because I Prove Short White Guys Can Play Football” Woodhead is spelling him on frequent occasions. And they still have Antonio Gates, even though he’s old and stuff. The Chargers are immensely talented on offense. But their defense is another story. Aside from safety Eric Weddle, I’m not crazy about anyone. (I said it.) They will be passed upon.
The Odds: The Bengals are 7 point home favorites.
The Prediction: This is the only game I feel pretty confident about. I’m taking the Bengals and those seven points.
Of course, that means they’ll probably be back-door covered with some late BS touchdown. ( Sorry Bengals Fan Bryan. This is why betting on football is for sick people.)
(12-4) San Francisco 49ers at
(8-7-1) Green Bay Packers
4:40 PM ET, FOX
If you haven’t heard by now, it’s going to be fucking cold in Wisconsin on Sunday. And I’m not talking 25 degree cold, either. That’s pansy weather compared to what’ll be going on at game time. The high on Sunday? Four degrees. The low? -23. BALLS. And we haven’t even talked about wind chill yet. The frigid cold and wind could prove a dangerous combination on Sunday, as there are frostbite warnings if you leave your skin exposed for too long. (The stadium is offering fans free coffee, hot chocolate, and hand warmers, but still, why would anyone WANT to go to this game?)
As far as the gameplay goes, the Niners are clearly the better team. Colin Kaepernick has torched the Packers in his two games against them, but this can and should be all about Frank Gore and the running game. The winds will affect Colin’s accuracy, so I’m not expecting a bonanza of points. I am expecting the Niners to put on the best “ground and pound” pants while dealing with the cold. Once or twice Kaep will go deep to Vernon Davis, and if those plays are successful (catch & run/pass interference) the game could shift dramatically.
Green Bay is befuddling to me. Here’s why: they’re the cold weather team, but they’re not really built for it. Eddie Lacy is dogged by ankle injuries, but the Packers aren’t quite a bruising team, built to dominate in the elements. The Niners 3-4 defense could keep Lacy under wraps and force Rodgers to throw more than he’d like, so soon back from his broken collarbone. San Fran’s secondary may be their weakness, but their pass rush makes up for it.
The Odds: The Niners are three point road favorites.
The Prediction: I think I successfully talked myself into taking the 49ers on the road, despite the freezing-ass weather. They’re just too talented a team to not advance.
And I’m out. This is me for the next two days.
Don’t expect to be able to reach me. Mkay? TIME FOR PLAYOFFS.
I’ll be back Sunday night with The Final Drive, recapping all the nifty Wild Card action.