So last week, I threw out some NFL playoff predictions at the end of a baseball post, just because I like to throw out predictions.
Now here I go again, only without the baseball post. (But you can still check out this week's minor-league column from the past, below.)
I'd better be right; I'm off to Arizona tonight, so this page won't be updated until Wednesday, at the earliest, and these picks will be up there until we're just three days away from the conference championship games.
Last week I was 2-2 picking winners outright and 3-1 calling the games against the spread (which I didn't include, so I suppose I should this time around). For comparison, Bill Simmons went 2-2 under both criteria.
We'll be watching Jets-Steelers from Scottsdale, and though I count the teams as my two favorites in the NFL, I think only one has a legitimate shot at reaching (and winning) the Super Bowl. And since I'll be with Pittsburghers, I'd rather save my sports arguments for the upcoming Notre Dame-Pitt basketball matchups. Anyway, earlier today I heard one caller to a New York sports talk station base his argument on one thing. "There's one X-factor you can't overlook," he said, "he's a rookie quarterback." That argument (which he failed to back up with anything noteworthy) would mean more going against, say, a defending conference champion, or Super Bowl champion, or maybe the league's top defense against the pass. The Jets are none of the above, and their secondary is the weaker link (by far) of their defensive unit. I think the Jets can keep it close, and the team that gets a 10-0 lead will have the easier road to next weekend, but I see this as more of a see-saw game; a 7-0, then 7-3, then 7-6, then 10-6, then 13-10 type of game. You get the idea. So, in the end, it's the Jets who have to make the game-winning drive (or it's the Steelers running out the clock), and in both cases, I like the Steelers (-8 1/2), 20-13.
To be honest, I've been reading and listening to too much about this weekend's games to try to claim all these observations as my own. As such, much of what I'm saying here is made up of the points I agreed with most, or those that futher clarify my own initial analyses. For the Rams-Falcons matchup, I caught on to one significant aspect just today: the Atlanta defensive line against the St. Louis offensive line. Back in September, when I drafted my fantasy football team, I wavered on my quarterback pick. Four of my top five were gone, and I was deciding between Trent Green and Marc Bulger. Bulger was rated one spot higher on the draft board I'd made, but I felt more comfortable with Green because of the questionable o-line in St. Louis. Clearly, both offenses are going to get their points in this one, which leads me to believe that the efforts of Atlanta's defense are what will lift the Falcons (-7), 34-28.
With last week's upset in Green Bay, the Vikings are now 3-20 in their last 23 games outdoors. I don't know what that means, if anything, but it does lead me to think that they won't get two in a row. For one thing, it doesn't account for temperature, so it's not like it means 3-20 in their last 23 games outside with the temperature below 40. One of those losses was at Arizona to end the 2003 season when they needed a win. I don't know how far I'd go with the Eagles, but I do feel comfortable this week. Something horrendous for Philly could happen with so many of their key players not having played any meaningful minutes in about a month, but they were clearly the class of the NFC this season, and the gap was the result of more than just other teams' apparent lack of talent. It's time to get the groove back for the Eagles (-8 1/2), 27-17.
Something tells me to pick the Patriots against the Colts just because so many people are giving the upper hand to Indianapolis. I do like their chances against a patchwork New England secondary and virtually no chance of rain or snow or pushing and shoving against the Colts' receivers on Sunday in Massachusetts. I've always liked Peyton Manning, from the moment he decided to stick around at Tennessee for his senior year, and a win on Sunday would put to rest any arguments that he can't win a big game. I see two distinct outcomes for this game. On one hand, the Patriots devise brilliant defensive schemes to completely throw Manning's offense out of whack and get turnovers, and New England wins easily. On the other, Peyton picks apart the Patriots for some early scores, allowing Edgerrin James to get some significant yards and a touchdown or two, redeeming himself for his two Week One fumbles on the goal line. But I also see the Patriots keeping it close in this scenario, though the Colts win the tight one. I'm going with option two, Colts (+1 1/2) 31-28.
Labels: football, NFL, predictions