Friday, January 13, 2006

Divisional Playoff Picks

If last week proved one thing, it’s that I’m horribly average at picking NFL games. A 2-2 weekend left me even in the bank, and realizing that despite what Bill Simmons says, there is no formula for playoff success, especially in the first round.

But then I got to thinking more, and have decided that 2-2 is certainly below average. Anyone with a modicum of NFL knowledge should be able to pull off a .500 gambling record. I would think somewhere around 60 percent is average, and you’d have to crack the 75 barrier to be considered “good.” Over the course of my NFL gambling history (which dates back to 2002), I’ve usually broke relatively even. Sucks for me.

I can participate in some more self-deprecation, or I can start my picks. I don’t know many of you personally, but I’m sure I can guess what the obvious choice is. Home team in caps, and I won’t predict the score.

INDIANAPOLIS (-9) over Pittsburgh
I four paragraphs of narrative on this game, and just deleted them all. Why? Because I had originally picked Pittsburgh. I was defying Bill Simmons’s Playoff Manifesto (which didn’t work all that well in the Wild Card Round) and picking a road team to cover, rather than thinking they can win outright.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t blindly follow Simmons’s advice, or anyone else’s for that matter. But the more I thought about it, the more I read about it, and the more how I saw the “experts” were picking, the more I’m leaning towards laying the points.

The reasoning is simple. There is only one Troy Polamalu in the Steelers secondary. If there were two or three guys like him, Manning might have found himself in quite a pickle. But Troy can’t blitz, step up into a robber, and cover the deep ball all in the same play. The rest of the Steelers secondary more than likely won’t be able to handle the trio of Colts receivers. The only way the team stands a shot is if they completely shut down Edge James with six in the box, which is highly unlikely.

My final factor in picking the Colts stems from a hot rumor that began Monday morning. Supposedly, Chad Johnson got into a skirmish with wide receivers coach Hue Jackson and took a swing at Marvin Lewis (Pro Football Talk is updating as they hear new information). Basically, the premise is that the Bengals blundered the second half as a direct result of the incident. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it seems logical.

If that helps explain ‘Burghs scoring in the second half, I’m willing to bet they won’t be able to keep it up against a team that isn’t amid locker room controversy. It’s shaky information, of course, but it’s not like this is the only factor I’m considering. It merely solidifies the needle on the Colts side.

SEATTLE (-9) over Washington
I can’t thank Washington’s defense enough for last week’s win in Tampa Bay. Or maybe I should be thanking the Buc’s crappy offense for forking the ball up. In either case, I thought taking Washington was a safe pick, and I was right.

This week, I think Seattle is an equally safe pick. Washington’s D won them the game last week, essentially scoring both touchdowns and stopping the Bucs on offense (which may or may not have caused them to break a sweat). But replace Chris Simms with Matt Hasselbeck and Carnell Williams with Shaun Alexander, and it’s a completely different game. I doubt they’ll turn the ball over three times.

I’d go into more detail, but it’s wholly unnecessary. If anyone thinks Washington is going to win, or even cover, please leave your reasoning in the comments section.

New England (+3) over DENVER
I can just see this one playing out much like Denver’s game with Indy in last year’s playoffs. Plummer has been good, even great at times this season, but we all know his kryptonite is the playoffs. I trust that Belichick will have a solid game plan here of containing the flats to help negate Jake and Tatum Bell, which leaves the middle the only problem. The Pats have a solution to that, though, and his name is Teddy Bruschi.

On the other side of the ball, the teams match up well. The Broncos have a solid linebacker core, with Al Wilson, D.J. Williams and Ian Gold, allowing them to rush Brady and keep a guy on Ben Graham, who is a serious threat anywhere on the field. Deion Branch should be blanketed by Champ Bailey all game, but that leaves David Givens, Tim Dwight (turning into a viable Brady target), Bethel Johnson, and Andre Davis covered by lesser corners, though rookie Domonique Foxworth is settling in nicely.

I don’t know why I’m going into such detail here, since I explained last week that I’m betting on the Pats until they lose.

CHICAGO (-3) over Carolina
This is my brain-buster of the week. I want to pick da Bears, but I really can’t think of adequate justification. Sure, their defense was stellar this year, the No. 2 team in the league – and the No. 1 team remaining. Problem is, Carolina was No. 3, No. 2 remaining. So it boils down to offensive capabilities, and Chicago’s numbers are skewed there because they had Kyle “Uh Oh” Orton tossing the ball most of the season.

I could break down all the match-ups, but I don’t think it will do any good. Logic would point to Carolina, since they have a more potent offense than Chicago. Last week, I went against all logic and picked the Giants over the Panthers. Well, I’m going to predict that I was a week early with that kind of pick.

1) Carolina seems the logical choice
2) The three “experts” in the Star Ledger all picked Carolina.
3) Carolina is a road underdog for the second straight week

So I’m picking Chicago. And if Carolina foils me again this week, I’ll certainly take them over Seattle in the NFC Championship (and of course, Seattle will probably stomp them, thus proving me the biggest idiot ever).

Quick Update
I can't believe I forgot that the Panthers, a warm weather team, are playing in Chicago. Then again, it's going to be 41 degrees in Chicago on Sunday, which is probably around the temperature in New York last Sunday. But it's still a factor, and I'm glad it works in my favor.