Friday, January 3, 2014

The FGR NFL Wild Card Picks

Only one out of the last eight Super Bowls has featured two teams that did not play in the wild card round (Super Bowl XLIV between the Saints and the Colts) so it is highly likely that at least one team playing this weekend will make it all the way to East Rutherford, New Jersey on February 2nd.* And I'll tell you another thing. Six of the last eight Super Bowl champions came out of the wild card round so we may be watching a team begin its march to destiny.** Let's make that our angle and evaluate the potential for each of these teams to make their way to Jersey as we work our way through the picks.

For the sake of discussion, we're going to operate under the premise that there is a 65% chance that one of the two bye week teams from the AFC will make it to the Super Bowl and a 40% chance that one of the two bye week teams from the NFC will make it. Why the imbalance? Two reasons: (1) I have little or no faith in the ability of the four AFC teams playing this weekend to win three consecutive games against quality opponents, especially when two of the five best quarterbacks of all-time are in their way and (2) the opposite is true in the NFC where the Packers, 49ers and Eagles all have most of the ingredients necessary to get there. Factor in the relative inexperience of Cam Newton and Russell Wilson and you have all kinds of upset potential on the NFC horizon. That leaves a total of 35% worth of Super Bowl hope to be divided among the AFC teams playing this weekend and 60% for the NFC teams. Let's see how it shakes-out.    

At Indianapolis by 2.5 over Kansas City: The Pick - Colts

The Colts just smushed the Chiefs two weeks ago at Arrowhead when the Chiefs still had a shot at winning the division. That means the Chiefs were 1-5 against playoff teams this year with their only win coming against the yet to find themselves Eagles back in September. Alex Smith was 29th in the league in yards per attempt and that dink and dunk crap usually doesn't cut-it in the playoffs when Jamal Charles isn't turning screen passes into 60 yard touchdowns against the likes of the Raiders. It's been a nice run for the Chiefs but they're still a year or two away.

"Sexy Cowgirl" may
be the FGR's new
favorite search.
Meanwhile, all the Colts did was prove that they're capable of beating anyone with wins over Seattle, San Francisco and Denver. Despite my intense dislike for Jim Irsay, I have to acknowledge that, with Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano, he has probably positioned the Colts to win at least one Super Bowl over the next ten years. That makes them a threat every time. Don't forget that they played the Ravens tough in round one last year so this is not their first rodeo. Get it . . . Colts . . . Rodeo . . . Man that's awful . . . Damn these golf/football crossover months, damn them all to hell . . . I'm so freakin' tired of writing and Googling things like "hot golf boobs." (Well, maybe not the Googling).

Colts' Super Bowl chances: 18%
Chiefs' Super Bowl chances: 6%

At Philadelphia by 2.5 over New Orleans: The Pick - Eagles

This looks like another easy one on paper as the Saints, who went 3-5 on the road and got creamed in their one foul weather game at Seattle, have to travel to Philly where the Saturday night forecast calls for temps to drop into the 20's. This is where you would normally turn to your running game. Unfortunately for the Saints, they were the league's 7th worst team in yards per carry (3.8) and only had 10 rushing touchdowns.*** (Note to Sean Payton: If you're going to field a track team, you really need to win the division and get at least one home playoff game).

Who led the league in yards per carry at 5.1? Hey look at that, it's the Philadelphia Eagles. They were also 4th in the league in total carries so it's not as if they'll have to adjust their approach for the playoffs. The Eagles have also won seven of their last eight and they have a quarterback who does not turn the ball over . . . ever. Nick Foles had 27 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. I mean Eli Manning just threw two picks in the time it took me to write that sentence (HEYOOOOO). I also think the Eagles have a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl path that would take them down to Carolina for the next round and then back home against the 49ers or Packers for the conference championship game. That just doesn't seem that daunting.

Eagles' Super Bowl chances: 16.9%
Saints' Super Bowl chances: 0.1% (Not happening with three road games)    

At Cincinnati by 6.5 over San Diego: The Pick - Chargers

A road team will win this weekend and everyone thinks it's going to be San Francisco so I'm taking A Whale's Vagina . . . er, San Diego. I can't really make a strong case for why other than the fact that Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton are choking dogs but we'll get to the Bengals in a minute. The Chargers only lost by more than 8 points once this season (albeit that was against the Raiders) so even if you don't like them to win, you have to like the 6.5. I like them because they're playing on the road with a rookie coach and absolutely no expectations against a team of players that has been answering questions all week about why they can't win a playoff game. Sounds like a perfect environment for a cocky prick like Phillip Rivers to thrive.

"Look at that asshole on the
jumbotron. Oh wait, that's me."
I'm just not ready to accept the Bengals as a threat despite the fact that they won five of their last six games including a relatively impressive one against the Colts in Week 14. I just can't get over the fact that, in maybe their biggest game of the year against the Steelers in Week 15, they produced a total clunker. And I put no stock in last week's win over the Ravens because that was not a good football team they beat and Andy Dalton was still doing Andy Dalton things by throwing two picks in the first quarter. Oh yeah, let's not forget that these are the Bengals we're talking about. That alone costs them two to three points in every game.

Bengals' Super Bowl chances: 9%
Chargers' Super Bowl chances: 2%

San Francisco by 3 at Green Bay: The Pick - Packers

You could certainly make the case that the 49ers, who are on a six game winning streak, could be the best team in the league right now. Those six wins included two against high quality opponents (Seattle and Arizona) and the streak would actually be thirteen in a row if not for a one point loss against Carolina and a three point loss at New Orleans. If they survive this round, they would be my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. I just think this is a coin-flip game so I'm taking the points.

Forget the Packers' 8-7-1 record because it's so skewed by Aaron Rodgers' injury. With Rodgers under center they were 6-2 and without him they were 2-5-1. They finished 4th in the league in yards per carry with 4.7 after finishing 22nd in that category in 2012 and 26th in 2011. Maybe Rodgers' injury forced them to learn how to run the ball or maybe it was as simple as the addition of Eddie Lacy but the bottom line is that they learned how to run the ball and they racked-up 160 yards in the division clinching game against the Bears. Now they just need to find enough defense to stop someone but we'll conveniently gloss over that glaring deficiency for now because it screws-up my Packers dark horse theory.

49ers' Super Bowl chances: 22%
Packers' Super Bowl chances: 21%

Last Week's Record: 9-6-1 . . . Final Regular Season Record: 136-114-4

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Endnotes

* Can you imagine any other circumstances where going to East Rutherford, New Jersey on February 2nd would be a good thing?

Screw Jersey. Let's stick
with the cowgirl theme.
Person A: "What are you up to this weekend?"

Person B: "I'm heading-up to New Jersey."

Person A: "Oh . . . I'm very sorry to hear that."

Person B: "Thank you. Your sympathy is appreciated."

See what I mean.

** Then again, all of this could mean that we're just due for a pair of #1 seeds to actually do what they're supposed to do and defend their home turf a couple of times against lesser teams. And yes, I'm looking at you Peyton Manning.

*** You know who was last in yards per carry at 3.1? Your defending champion Baltimore Ravens. I get "uneasy lies the crown" and all that but 3.1 yards per carry from Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce? Yowza.