Divisional Weekend PicksPosted: January 9, 2015
We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.
Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.
[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.]
NEW ENGLAND (-7) vs. Baltimore
New England: 12-4, 1st AFC East, #11 total offense, #4 scoring offense, #13 total defense, #8 scoring defense
Baltimore: 11-6, 3rd AFC North, #12 total offense, #8 scoring offense, #8 total defense, #6 scoring defense
Derek: Folks who cover the NFL for a living would have us believe this will be a close game because the Ravens have given the Patriots fits in the playoffs in previous years. Never mind that New England won 41-7 in Baltimore in their last meeting, which was in Week 16 of last season. These same folks would also have us believe that Flacco is going to be awesome, because he has been awesome in previous playoff games. The Ravens have emerged as a popular pick not just to cover, but win outright.
I’m not buying it. Yes, the Patriots have struggled with the Ravens at times, and Flacco somehow becomes competent in the postseason. Point taken. But the Patriots are in a great spot here, and I think the Ravens are being overrated because they beat the Steelers last week.
The Patriots have been the beneficiaries of a first round bye each of the past five seasons, including this one. In 2010: New York 28, New England 21. In 2011: New England 45, Denver 10. In 2012: New England 41, Houston 28. 2013: New England 43, Indianapolis 22. So that’s one seven point loss to the Jets, and three blowout victories. Bill Belichick has been preparing for two weeks, the Pats are rested, and they have a good track record in this spot. Also, Rob Gronkowski is playing. He wasn’t available in the 2012 AFC Championship, which Baltimore won handily.
Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be surprised if the Ravens win this game. They have a great pass rush that can get to Brady. But their secondary is still abysmal, and Flacco looked good last week going against a secondary that was almost as bad as his own. The Ravens still looked like crap for pretty much the entire second half of the season. I’m thinking of them as that team, not the one that managed to beat Pittsburgh last week with Le’Veon Bell’s absence hurting a whole lot more than I thought it would. I like the Patriots.
Will: I’m with you. Playoff Flacco may be greater than Regular Flacco, but there are a bunch of other people involved in this football game. Gronk is often the most impactful player on the field, and the Patriots can sic Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner on Torrey and Steve Smith. New England has a solid defense on paper. Flacco could go off if the Pats don’t molest him a little bit.
Look, I’m not going to break things down too much. I never know what the hell is going to happen in the playoffs, especially when I think I do. These are both good teams. I like the Patriots to win. The only question is if the Ravens can keep it within a touchdown. I think they will. Ravens cover.
SEATTLE (-11) vs. Carolina
Seattle: 12-4, 1st NFC West, #9 total offense, #10 scoring offense, #1 total defense, #1 scoring defense
Carolina: 8-8-1, 1st NFC South, #16 total offense, #19 scoring offense, #10 total defense, #21 scoring defense
Derek: After dismantling Arizona in Week 16, the Seahawks are now 13-1 in primetime games since Pete Carroll took over. The one loss was a 2012 road Thursday game against San Francisco. The Seahawks are also 3-0 in home playoff games during that time, and 7-0 overall in the last decade.
Wouldn’t you know it, this is a primetime playoff game in Seattle. Both teams are on a hot streak — the Panthers haven’t lost since Week 13, and the Seahawks haven’t lost since Week 11. I’m trying my best not to sound too overconfident so it doesn’t get thrown back in my face by the football gods and/or karma police, but a lot will have to go the Panthers’ way to keep this game close.
The narrative that the Panthers always play the Seahawks close has been prevalent this week, as the last three meetings have been very close games. This is used as a reason that the Panthers will be in this game until the end as well, but I actually think those three games are evidence to the contrary. Not only were all of those games in Carolina, but they were 1 pm ET (10 am PT) start times. The Seahawks are typically at their worst when they have cross-country trips to play games that begin at 10 am PT. The Seahawks were 1-2 in such games this year. The only win was in Carolina. They were 12-28 in such games between 2003 and 2010 and, by my count, 21-34 (.382) overall in them. The Seahawks are 110-82 (.573) overall in the same time period.
My point is, there is a clear drop-off for the Seahawks in those situations, and the Panthers had three straight years playing the Seahawks in the situation in which they are most vulnerable, but couldn’t win one. If they couldn’t win in three tries in Seattle’s nightmare situation, how are they supposed to win in Seattle’s dream situation?
I’m clearly biased, and I realize anything can happen and all of that. I’m not going to make any guarantees. I’ll just say that I’ll be surprised if the Seahawks don’t cover, and if they lose outright it will be the worst Seahawks loss of my lifetime outside of Super Bowl XL. Seahawks.
Will: I’m trying to think of how high they would have to make this line for me to take Carolina. The answer is “a number bigger than 11.” No need to overthink this one. Seahawks roll.
GREEN BAY (-5.5) vs. Dallas
Green Bay: 12-4, 1st NFC North, #6 total offense, #1 scoring offense, #15 total defense, T-#13 scoring defense
Dallas: 13-4, 1st NFC East, #7 total offense, #5 scoring offense, #19 total defense, #15 scoring defense
Derek: Pretty cool that we have a team undefeated on the road is traveling to play a team that’s undefeated at home in the playoffs. It’ll be fun to watch. Not fun picking a winner, though.
One of the more baffling statistics I’ve come across recently: Aaron Rodgers is 1-3 at home in the playoffs, and his one win was against a Vikings team that started Joe Webb at quarterback. That’s insane.
This spread is weird, too. Only one game has had a 5.5 spread since we started picking games back in Week 8. That was when Washington hosted … Dallas, in Week 17. Dallas won 44-17.
I’m torn. At gunpoint I’d say I think the Packers win, but I don’t feel good about it. As such, I’m taking the points.
Will: Fine game. Love this game. Terrific game. I am rarely very interested in football games in which I do not have a pronounced rooting interest, but this one has enough theater to keep me invested.
Everything about it feels like a game that will be decided on the final drive. Either Romo or Rodgers will get all of the blame/credit for losing/winning the game, which will certainly underrate the performance of the other 40 guys involved.
I’m looking forward to watching this, and I think it will be close. Thus, I take the Cowboys.
DENVER (-7) vs. Indianapolis
Denver: 12-4, 1st AFC West, #4 total offense, #2 scoring offense, #3 total defense, T-#16 scoring defense
Indianapolis: 12-5, 1st AFC South, #3 total offense, #6 scoring offense, #11 total defense, #19 scoring defense
Derek: Another tough call. Peyton Manning’s performance at the end of the season was alarming, but the Colts’ track record against good teams is even more alarming. They lost by an average of 15 points to the Patriots, Steelers, and Broncos, though the loss to the Broncos in Week 1 was only by seven points. That doesn’t even count the 42-7 beating the Cowboys gave them in Week 16.
I might come back and edit this pick before Sunday, but for now, I’m reluctantly taking the Broncos and getting out of here before my head explodes.
Will: The Colts are still trotting out Boom Herron and Trent Richardson, right? So they can’t run the ball at all, right? So the Broncos can focus 99% of their defensive energies on stopping Andrew Luck, right? That simplifies things for them, right?
As in the Pats-Ravens game, I am confident in the winner: Denver, in this case. Luck, however, has a knack for garbage time points. I like the Colts to cover.