AFC/NFC Championship PicksPosted: January 16, 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.]
SEATTLE (-7.5) vs. Green Bay
Seattle: 13-4, 1st NFC West, #9 total offense, #10 scoring offense, #1 total defense, #1 scoring defense
Green Bay: 13-4, 1st NFC North, #6 total offense, #1 scoring offense, #15 total defense, T-#13 scoring defense
Derek: This line is high, and it scares me. I saw it as -7 in some places, which was bad enough. Now we have to contend with that dumb half point. Let’s take a look at a few key points to see if I can talk myself out of taking the Seahawks.
First, let’s look at records against the spread. The Packers are 9-7-1 overall, 3-5 on the road, 0-3 as an underdog, and 0-3 as a road underdog. The Seahawks are 10-6-1 overall, 6-2-1 at home, 9-6-1 as a favorite, and 6-2-1 as a home favorite.
This supports what I alluded to earlier this week about the Packers not being the same outside of Lambeau. They were 4-4 on the road. Of their four road losses (36-16 at Seattle, 19-7 at Detroit, 44-23 at New Orleans, 21-13 at Buffalo) two were blowouts, and all four would have covered this Sunday’s 7.5 point spread. The road wins weren’t exactly impressive, either. They beat Chicago 38-17, Miami 27-24, Minnesota 24-21, and Tampa Bay 20-3. The best record of the bunch was the 8-8 Dolphins, and the Packers were fortunate to win that one.
The Seahawks’ home-field advantage is well-documented, so I won’t rehash all of that here. The point is, a team that’s shaky on the road is visiting a team that thrives at home, and said home team got an extra day of rest.
Second, there’s Aaron Rodgers. As I also mentioned earlier this week, Rodgers looked human in his two games vs Seattle since Pete Carroll was hired, and he was healthy in those games. He’s certainly not completely ineffective playing with his calf injury, but he’s not the same guy. If the Packers get behind and the Seahawks’ defensive line gets to abandon run-stopping responsibilities, things could get ugly. Say what you will about the Fail Mary game (in my case, this) but the Seahawks sacked Rodgers eight times in that game. Take that, T.J. Lang! Turns out the officials were, at worst, the second least competent unit on the field that evening.
Eddie Lacy is the wild card for the Packers’ offense. While the Seahawks have a good run defense, they also have a history of allowing running backs to go off on them. Last year, the likes of Zac Stacy and Mike James had huge games. This year, it was DeMarco Murray and Jamaal Charles. Despite Lacy struggling in the first game, he definitely has a chance to go over 100 yards. It will be worrisome if he does. I wish Brandon Mebane was playing.
Finally, If you can spare about eight minutes to watch Kam Chancellor end people, I would recommend doing so.
Poor Vernon Davis. I think he has PTSD.
Well, as you might have guessed, I’m picking the Seahawks. Let’s hope we don’t have a third straight week of the officials being the biggest story of an NFC playoff game.
Will: I turned eight minutes of watching Kam Chancellor ending people into sixteen, and then into thirty-two. He’s wonderful. His hitting is especially impressive in today’s NFL. He manages to be an old-school intimidator without being a head hunter. He only committed two penalties this year: one illegal contact, and one running into the kicker. He has a few personal fouls and unnecessary roughness fouls on his resumé, but he has done well to clean up his game in an era when tackling requires a strike zone.
Ah, yes, the game. You bring up bushels of good points vis-à-vis the Packers on the road, but I just can’t believe that the NFC title game will be decided by more than a touchdown. Perhaps I’m thinking this with Aaron Rodgers’ reputation in mind more than Aaron Rodgers’ current self. I’m comfortable with that; he’s on the shortlist of the quarterbacking greats, and that oughta be worth something in the playoffs.
I’m hoping for a great game. I’m hoping for a close game. I think we’ll get both. Packers to cover.
NEW ENGLAND (-6.5) vs. Indianapolis
New England: 13-4, 1st AFC East, #11 total offense, #4 scoring offense, #13 total defense, #8 scoring defense
Indianapolis: 13-5, 1st AFC South, #3 total offense, #6 scoring offense, #11 total defense, #19 scoring defense
Derek: The Colts have covered three straight games, and the Patriots have failed to cover three straight games. Still, I think the line is a little low. I kept re-checking the lines to make sure I didn’t confuse them, since Seattle -6.5 and New England -7.5 makes more sense to me.
As you may have heard, the Patriots have owned Andrew Luck’s Colts teams. They won 59-24 in 2012, 43-22 in last year’s Divisional round, and 42-20 earlier this season. That should probably be taken into account.
I think the Colts are a little overrated. Everything has broken their way since the playoffs started. They got to face the crippled Bengals in the opening round, followed by The Artist Formerly Known as Peyton Manning and the surprisingly lethargic-looking Broncos in the second round. They beat both of those teams soundly, but it looks like they probably should have. I’m aware I picked the Broncos last week, but I was expecting Manning to look somewhat functional. Had I known his performance was going to be the worst of any playoff quarterback not named Ryan Lindley or Andy Dalton, I imagine I would have gone the other way. Tom Brady probably won’t be so ineffective. Then again, when things are going your way, things are going your way. Brady could get Kimo von Oelhoffen-ed.
As various NFL talking heads would say, BILL BELICHICK FINDS THE THING YOU DO BEST AND TAKES IT AWAY. THAT’S WHAT HE DOES. And they’re not wrong. If the Patriots manage to contain Luck, then the load would fall on Dan Herron, potential alien Zurlon Tipton, or (snicker) Trent Richardson. Doesn’t exactly strike fear into your heart, does it?
On the other hand, the Patriots’ offense can move the ball in several ways. Jonas Gray famously steamrolled the Colts earlier this year, and that was before LeGarrette Blount signed with the Patriots. If the Colts load up to stop the run, then that opens them up to being a victim of a vicious Gronking.
Yes, it’s possible Andrew Luck could have an otherworldly game and continue to throw the Colts on his back. He also might throw five interceptions. We’ve seen close to both ends of the spectrum in his three games against the Patriots, but the outcome has always been the same: a Patriots blowout.
My irrational fear of hot wild card teams is hanging over my head, but there isn’t enough spread value with the Colts. Were the line 7.5 or higher, I could potentially be persuaded. But since the Pats are favored by less than a touchdown against a team I think is a bit overrated, I’ll be backing New England.
Will: First, full disclosure: I had never heard of Zurlon Tipton—at least not in a way that made me remember him—and I thought you were making a Futurama reference. Of all the people who play running back better than poor Trent Richardson, Zurlon Tipton has the best name.
As hesitant as I was to pick the Seahawks to cover their big line, I am all kinds of confident that the Patriots will cover theirs. The Colts’ defense looked strong last week, but that may have been due to Peyton Manning fossilizing mid-game more than Chuck Pagano’s defensive schemes. New England’s offense faltered a little bit down the stretch of the regular season, but they scored 30-plus eight times. They’ve got Brady and Gronk. Some anonymous running back will go for 75 yards and a touchdown. I just don’t see how Indy can stop them.
The only way the Colts win is if Luck goes nuts like LeBron in Game 5 against the Pistons. He might do it, and more than a small part of me wants him to. It’s fun to watch the future become the present. I just don’t think this is the time for it. I like the Patriots to win big.