Friday, January 11, 2013

The NFL Divisional Round Picks

One of these days I'm going to learn to listen to myself when I say things like "Andy Dalton has established himself just above the Ryan Fitzpatrick/Sam Bradford tier." If someone you trusted told you that and convinced you that Dalton wasn't going to be any better against Houston, you'd go the other way with your money right? Or how about this one . . . "Then there are the multiple random factors in Seattle's favor. RG, III has a bum wheel." Stop right there. That's all we needed to know right? Because if RG, III can't run, he's not RG, III anymore . . . he's just Robert Griffin's grandson. So why in the hell did I pick the Redskins to win the game? It's like I'm reading my own analysis and thinking, "this guy's an idiot" (which may or may not be true but I shouldn't be the one thinking that).

"What is the deal with this golf guy
and his terrible football picks?"
My approach to these games reminds me of the Seinfeld scene (that's a shocker) when Jerry Takes the Car Rental Counter Lady to Task on the difference between "taking" a reservation and "holding" a reservation. Anybody can can point-out the fact that Andy Dalton is a middling quarterback or that RG, III has a bad knee. It's what you do with that information that matters. Last week I ignored it and it cost me.*

Let's see if this week I can go beyond just "stating" the deciding factors in each game and actually "use" the deciding factors to make my picks because really, "using" the deciding factors is the important part.

Denver by 10 over Baltimore

I love the fact that everyone is using the game against the Broncos from week 15 as a measuring stick for this one because the team in purple that day looked nothing like what the Broncos are going to see this Saturday. Let's ignore the fact that it was the first game after Cam Cameron was fired and just focus on the players the Ravens were missing that day: Ray Lewis (runs the defense), Bernard Pollard (makes receivers' arms shorter), Dannell Ellerbe (best all-purpose linebacker), Ed Dickson (best blocking tight end) and Marshall Yanda (frightens grizzly bears). Of that group, I would argue that Pollard's absence was the most critical against the Broncos because, as the Colts receivers proved last week, it's a lot harder to catch a football when you're standing in the middle of a rodeo with your back to the bull.

Probably better to look
away with Bernard Pollard
roaming the secondary.
I really want to pick the Ravens to win this game straight-up and I believe they have about a 30% shot but 30% ain't 51%. I do, however, see them keeping it tight by pressuring Manning and getting a few big plays from Ray Rice who is chomping at the bit to redeem himself after his two fumbles last week made that game a lot closer than it needed to be. But in the end, you just can't bet on the Ravens against Peyton Manning because he has their number (sigh).

Key Factors: The Broncos have Peyton Manning and the Ravens don't but the Ravens' defense is healthy. So the Broncos win, but not by much.

Broncos - 20 . . . Ravens - 16

San Francisco by 2.5 over Green Bay

There have been several stretches this season when the 49ers looked like the best team in football, but then they would go and lose a 16-13 game to the Rams or get blown-out by the Seahawks. That may be even more true about the Packers who had three explainable losses (49ers, at Giants and at Colts during the peak of the Chuckstrong movement) and one loss they didn't deserve to a team that was better than we thought (at Seattle). They deservedly had the #2 seed wrapped-up and then they up and lost to the Vikings on the last day of the season by allowing Christian Ponder to have the game of his life. So in a match-up of two teams that both have the upside potential to win the Super Bowl and the downside potential to lose this game by two touchdowns, who do you take?

I'm going with the Packers for two reasons: (1) Aaron Rodgers has proven that he can win a playoff game anywhere anytime and we don't know that to be true of Colin Kaepernick yet. But maybe more importantly than that, (2) Frank Gore has only averaged about 68 yards per game over the last nine which would indicate that the 49ers are going all in with Kaepernick who, at this point, appears to be a pair of pocket 10's which makes that a risky proposition.

Key Factors: The Packers have the best quarterback in the NFC plus their wide receivers and defense are finally somewhat healthy while the 49ers are still a year away from having pocket kings.

Green Bay - 27 . . . San Francisco - 24

Atlanta by 2 over Seattle

RG, III: "It's just a flesh wound coach."
Mike Shanahan: "OK, you're the boss."
I've been trying to manufacture a reason to pick the Falcons. Not because I have any real faith in them or anything against Seattle but more because way too many people are on the Seahawk bandwagon. At some point the extra week off, home field advantage and the grueling travel schedule of the Seahawks have to come into play right? And what about the fact that the Redskins were still leading with fifteen minutes to go last week despite having Monty Python's Black Knight at quarterback for the 2nd and 3rd quarter?

I'm going with the road weariness catching-up with Seattle and Matt Ryan finally coming-up big when it counts. The Falcons have the weapons in Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez to challenge the nastiest secondary the NFL has seen since Ronnie Lott was losing fingers and terrorizing receivers back in the 80's.

Key Factors: The Seahawks are a different team on the road and . . . I'm sorry, I just can't shake this vision I have of a befuddled Matt Ryan after he throws his second of two first half interception as Richard Sherman trash talks his way off the field. We're headed for a rematch of the Seattle-Green Bay Monday night debacle which is as it should be.

Seattle - 24 . . . Atlanta - 20

New England by 9.5 over Houston

The Texans continue to prove that they are a fraud of a playoff team with whatever that performance was against the Bengals last week. Meanwhile, the Patriots just smacked them around a few weeks ago and they've had an extra week off to get ready for this game. That's all of the time I am willing to devote to an inevitable New England win so instead, let's have some fun and see if you can figure out what the following three things have in common (answer in the Endnotes):

1. The time a lacrosse defenseman who outweighed me by about a hundred pounds slammed into me while running full speed and snapped my left collarbone in half with the shaft of his stick;

2. The time when I was ten years old and we had to get rid of my dog because he kept mistaking the mailman's leg for a T-Bone steak (either that or he was trying to prevent the delivery of all my crappy report cards a la the pizza oven scene in Goodfellas);** and

"Don't be alarmed. That blood
is from like two days ago."
3. The time I watched Phil Simms attempt witty banter on Inside the NFL last night.***

Key Factors: The Patriots are a far better football team and, after the letterman jacket gimmick failed in the regular season, the Texans have no more tricks up their sleeve.

New England - 31 . . . Houston - 17

Endnotes

* Actually, it didn't really cost me anything as I don't bet using my picks and if you're using something called the Fantasy Golf Report as a gambling resource for football then, before it's too late, I would strongly recommend that you watch the finale of the second season of The Sopranos where the cyborg from Terminator 2 gambles away his sporting goods store and his son's college fund.

** His name was "Jay" and it probably wouldn't have been a problem if he wasn't the canine version of an NFL linebacker. In addition to terrorizing the mailman and pretty much any other unfamiliar life form that dared to enter his field of vision, he also deflated the two front tires of a Volkswagen Beetle . . . while it was moving. The driver would later tell my dad in disbelief that the steering wheel jerked out of his hand when Jay locked his jaw around the first tire. After he disabled the car by popping the first one, he casually walked around and bit the other one. It was the proudest day of my life.

"It doesn't feel pity or remorse or
fear and it absolutely will not stop,
ever . . . until your car is dead."
*** The answer is "three of the most painful experiences in my life." Inside the NFL has the unique distinction of being one of the best sports shows on television (when they are showing NFL Films miked-up highlights) and, at the same time, one of the worst (anytime they cut back to the studio which creates a "lunging for the remote" situation). For example, here was an exchange from last night between Simms and Michelle Beadle who's natural gifts in front of the camera only served to magnify the painful awkwardness of the regular hosts:

Beadle: (In explaining her crush on Adam Levin) "Everyone is allowed one crush . . . who's yours."

Simms: (After a phony dismissive old-man chuckle) . . . "I'm not going there."

Hilarity ensues (for everyone but the audience).