Saturday, January 10, 2009

NFL Conference Semis '09

Looking back at last year's 2nd round of playoffs, my eyes popped out at those huge lines. It's hard to believe that the favorites were that heavily favored. There's only one game with a spread as big as the smallest from last year, and I love the underdog in that game. On to my picks in much less detail:

Baltimore @ Tennessee (-3)

This was the hardest game for me to pick because these two teams are so similar. They have to feel like they're playing against each other. Both rely on the short passing game, hope their QBs don't throw the ball to the other team, run the ball hard with an attitude, and man up on defense. The Ravens were #4 rushing the ball this season. The Titans, #3. The Ravens, #3 stopping the run, the Titans #6. They were #28 and 27 respectively throwing the rock. This will be hard to watch if you're looking for pretty plays and lots of points. Tennessee beat the Ravens by a field goal earlier this season, and it smells like another 3-point game. I'll take the Ravens to cover because they are as hot as any team right now, but the Titans can pull out the win, perhaps by forcing Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco into the one critical mistake that costs them the game.

My Pick: Tennessee 15-13

Arizona @ Carolina (-10)

Now this game I'm looking forward to. Arizona really impressed me last week, even they though they beat a clearly not-ready-for-prime-time Atlanta squad. The Cardinals featured an attempt at running the football with Edgerrin James, which they had not done all year. They hit the home runs through the air when they needed to. And the athletes on defense finally played up to their abilities. When DLs Darnell Dockett and Bertrand Berry, LBs Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby and DBs Adrian Wilson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie show up and play as a unit, the Cards are quite formidable. The Panthers know all about them. Make fun of the Cards getting roasted when they traveled to the East Coast to play this season, but they led in Carolina in Week 8 before falling 27-23, a far cry from the poundings they took in New York and New England. Edge is running pissed, like he wants to show the world he's not done yet. And Carolina has a thoroughly pedestrian defense, just like the Falcons last week. Cards WR Anquan Boldin will take the field but may not play very long with an injured hamstring. No problem. The 3rd WR is a man named Steve Breaston, and he's the only 3rd WR this season to go over 1,000 yards. I think the Cards have too much firepower for the Panthers to overcome.

My Pick: Arizona 34-21

Philadelphia @ New York Giants (-4)

And now on to my blind spot, the Eagles. Not that I'm a great handicapper, but I never seem to get it right on Donovan McNabb and the Eagles. When I believe in them, they choke, and when I doubt them, they pull through. I'm going to doubt them this week even though they seem to be getting a lot of love in the national media. The Giants defense is almost as mean and nasty as the Ravens, and they had a week of rest. Yes, the Eagles went to Giants Stadium and won this season. But I can't go against that athletic defensive line of Justin Tuck and his group of maulers. They haven't been able to touch McNabb in the most recent battles against Philly, but I think they know that if they want to win this game, they're going to have to get to him. Giants QB Eli Manning will have to prove his worth, going through the playoffs this year without WR Plaxico "I Think I Just Shot Myself" Burress jumping up and catching big passes. But Eli's got a bruising running game to rely on, with Brandon Jacobs, perhaps the hardest man in football to tackle, leading the way. I'll hate on the Eagles one more time, but I certainly don't feel great about the pick.

My Pick: Giants 23-17

San Diego @ Pittsburgh (-6)

Ah, the gamblers' special. In Week 11, the Steelers picked up a loose ball on a lateral pass and ran it in for a TD on the last play of the game, which would have given them an 18-10 victory, covering the 4.5-point spread that week. For some unknown reason, the replay officials decided not only to challenge the ball being an illegal forward pass, which didn't make sense because the game was over either way so it's not like if the call is overturned the Chargers can win, but they did in fact overturn the call even though clearly the ball was not a forward pass. The call meant that the ball was dead at the spot of the "illegal" pass, keeping the final score at 11-10. All I can say is, I'm glad I no longer gamble because that might have sent me into oncoming traffic. It's only fitting that the Steelers cover this time to make up for the previous game. No analysis, no reasoning, just the universe setting itself right. Oh, and because the Steelers are destined to go to Tennessee for the AFC title game and avenge the Titans disrespecting the Terrible Towel after beating Pitt in Week 16.

My Pick: Pittsburgh 18-10

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