Sunday, January 24, 2010

NFL Conference Finals '10

The big day is here, the day where we find out which two teams will advance to play for the title. (Can I say play for the Super Bowl? There's so many lawsuits if you use that term without the NFL's permission, I'm not sure if I can even utter it out of my mouth without paying royalties.) On to my bad predictions!

New York Jets @ Indianapolis (-7.5)

Now where the heck have I seen this matchup before? It seems so familiar to me...oh yeah, now I remember! Week 16. Colts are 14-0, on the verge of a perfect regular season. Jets are fighting for their playoff lives. But the Colts have everything clinched. 1st round bye, home field throughout the playoffs--Indy has everything wrapped up already. Rumor is, they're going to yank their starters out of the game about halfway through so as to protect them from a freak injury, because we all know that starters can't get hurt during the 1st half of games. Middle of the 3rd quarter, Colts have just rallied to take a 15-10 lead on the Jets...and here comes something named Curtis Painter to play QB for the Colts as Peyton Manning looks on helplessly. Final score: Jets 29, Colts 15. Goodbye perfect season. Big middle finger to the fans who not only root for the Colts, but specifically the ones who paid good money to see this farce. Ironically, the Colts threw a game to the Jets in order to theoretically give themselves a better chance to get to the Super Bowl and win. And today, who stands between the Colts and the Super Bowl? It's the Jets. The same team the Colts could have killed if they played to win the game (hello?) in Week 16, because a loss would have knocked the Jets out of playoff contention. All karma points toward picking the underdog Jets to stick it to the Colts and beat their starters today instead of their junior varsity. I can't pick that. My thoughts on the Colts last week applies tenfold today--Manning and everyone else on that team have to feel like the Super Bowl is the only acceptable outcome to this season after pissing away a chance at perfection, and even more so today because to lose to the team that wouldn't have been in the playoffs at all had they beaten them would be a monumental boner. I'll call the game like this: The Colts had to rally to take a lead in a defensive struggle in Week 16. But to put the Jets behind means to make them rely more on QB Mark Sanchez through the air than RBs Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene on the ground. Therefore, if the Colts would have kept playing in Week 16, and not let Curtis Painter and the other scrubs in the game to turn the ball over and give up great field position, then the Jets would have had to come back using their passing game. Yes, the 31st-ranked passing game in the league. Don't know in what quarter, but I say Colts get a lead today and never give it up.

My Pick: Indianapolis 24-10

Minnesota @ New Orleans (-3.5)

In the main event of the evening, two heavyweight offenses slug it out in the Bayou for the NFC title. In one corner, an offense in the Saints that seems capable of looking as good as any offense in the league when it's clicking. I talked last week about how awesome the Saints looked against New England earlier this season, but I couldn't pick them over Arizona because they hadn't looked that good since then. Well, last week they looked that good and then some. The bye week clearly did them good. In the other corner, an offense that seems to constantly be at odds with itself, but it didn't matter last week because the Vikings defense terrorized the Dallas Cowboys and didn't allow QB Tony Romo any time to operate. I was afraid of that happening when I picked Dallas, and sure enough, the front four of Minnesota dominated the Cowboys offensive line all day long. They're certainly capable of doing that today to New Orleans, too. But I think about the perfect storm of happenings that have to occur in order for the Vikings to get the job done today: Brett Favre's wild passes have to find Sidney Rice or any of his other WRs in perfect stride while the defensive backs aren't even looking for the ball (honestly, the Cowboys secondary looked like they had no interest in picking up the football in the air, and once it was caught, they had no interest in stopping the receiver from running away), Favre and coach Brad Childress have to co-exist knowing that they have widely differing viewpoints on how the offense should be run, the playmakers on the Vikings secondary that were playing at a high level at the beginning of the season have to get it going against one of the top offenses in the league, AND they have to do it in the Superdome, one of the toughest places for a visitor to play, even though the Vikes sported only a 4-4 road record this season. That's too many obstacles for me. Saints QB Drew Brees wasn't even called on last week to have a great game because the defense and RB Reggie Bush were so effective. So I can see Brees having a tremendous evening in the town that has adopted him in the last few years as maybe the best player in franchise history. And don't forget Favre's tendency to gag in big moments and start heaving up multiple interceptions in desperation. Ask the Jets how that felt towards the end of last year. I'm picking Saints vs. Colts in a very entertaining Super Bowl matchup.

My Pick: New Orleans 38-34

Saturday, January 16, 2010

NFL Conference Semis '10

A perfect 0-4 last weekend. Nice. Hey, I warned you to print my picks and bet against them if you want to make some money. You degenerate gamblers out there missed a beautiful four-team parlay betting against my dumb ass. So here's your opportunity to make some cash this weekend. On to my horrible picks!

Arizona @ New Orleans (-7)

It was Week 12 this season on a Monday night when the New Orleans Saints dismantled the New England Pats 38-17 in one of the most complete football games I've ever seen by one team. The Saints looked like the greatest team of all time in that game. They threw, they ran, they defended, they could seemingly do no wrong. Here's what they've done since then: Week 13, went to overtime with the putrid Redskins, winning 33-30; Week 14, could only beat the Falcons by 3 in a game where the Falcons were missing their starting QB and RB; Week 15, fell to Dallas at home on a Saturday night; Week 16, fell at home in OT to the Buccaneers, one of the worst teams in the league; Week 17, resting star QB Drew Brees, got blown out by the Panthers. This is called whatever the opposite of momentum is. I'm afraid to pick the Cardinals, however, because the Saints are still the biggest socioeconomic happening in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area. Big games at the Superdome since then have taken on this feeling of something much more than just a football game. They've seemed like celebrations of the spirit of New Orleans, what with the U2 pre-game concerts and the announcers hyping it up and the fans taking their fandom to another level. But I'm going to have to go with my instinct and say that the Saints haven't played good football in so long that I'm not confident at all in their ability to flip the switch and get it done this afternoon. The Saints defense has to hold Arizona somewhat in check in order to have a chance, and I don't see it happening because they don't have a great pass rush to disrupt the phenomenal Kurt Warner from throwing wherever he wants, and the secondary may be talented, but it's also old. A hidden x-factor may be Cards RB Beanie Wells, who is getting better and better in his rookie campaign. Give me the Cards in a wild aerial battle.

My Pick: Arizona 40-30

Baltimore @ Indianapolis (-6.5)

Indy is a big blind spot for me because of my admiration for the QB, Peyton Manning. I've had a chance to pick two Colts playoff games on my blog since I started posting my predictions, and both times I took the Colts, and both times they shit the bed. (This isn't counting my correct prediction of the Colts to beat Da Bears in the Super Bowl, because Stevie Wonder could have seen that one coming.) But I will take the Colts once again, because it's just too hard for me to overlook the most poised quarterback I've ever watched play the game. I started talking about Manning for MVP halfway through the season, and I didn't think it was close. What other QB would have led that group of wide receivers to 14-0? I know Reggie Wayne is as good as it gets, but who the bloody hell is Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon? I love Jay Cutler, the Bears QB, but he had better receivers than that on his team and couldn't do anything with them. And if you took Greg Olsen off the Bears and put him at tight end with Peyton Manning throwing to him, he'd be All-Pro. Instead, it's Dallas Clark making every catch thrown his way, because it's put in a perfect spot for him to catch it. The fact is, no one, and I mean no one, commands his offense the way Manning commands his. He's been in the system so long that he is the system, and anyone that comes on his team had better configure their skill sets to work in his system, or else they will not see the football come their way. Judging by last week's slaughtering of the Patriots, the Ravens still have what it takes to bust a QB in the mouf and screw up his game plan and make a mess out of the situation. But Peyton and the Colts have a unique motivational factor--throwing away those last two games of the regular season after finding a way to win every game prior to that. You could tell that Peyton and the rest of his teammates were very unhappy when they were yanked in the 3rd quarter of the Jets game in Week 16 so that Curtis Painter could come in and show the most ineffective leadership this side of the Republican Party. But this playoff run, starting tonight, was why the move was made--so Peyton and the rest of the team could be fresh and ready to make their big run towards the Super Bowl, the only thing that matters according to the Colts upper management. They can't come out and throw up in the very first playoff game after all that, can they? Well, they can, but I'll pick them not to.

My Pick: Indianapolis 24-16

Dallas @ Minnesota (-

The smallest spread this weekend, this is the gamblers' favorite for an upset of the better team, and I will reluctantly go along with the wiseguys on this one. I just hate the feel of the momentum going into the playoffs for the Vikings, even more than what I feel about the Saints. Bickering between the coach and QB, throwing a game away in Chicago on purpose to prove a point about whose style worked better (and the game mattered, too, because if the Vikings win that game, they would have finished the season with the same record as the Saints, and through tie-breaking measures would have gained home-field advantage throughout the playoffs)...and the coup-de-grace is that same coach, Brad Childress, thought to be on the hot seat before Brett Favre descended from on high and gave the Vikings the great season they had, deciding that the team was sick of him and he was sick of the team, so they had the entire bye week off so that they could spend time away from each other. Ladies and gentlemen, that don't sound like a team ready to unite and make a long playoff run. Not even a little bit. Now, to pick the Vikings to lose means that I now have to jump on the Cowboys bandwagon. Someone pass me the Alka-Seltzer. But hey, I can't deny that the Cowboys at the moment look like the picture of a unified team performing at its peak. Ironically, it started with the aforementioned upset win at New Orleans a month ago, and the 'Boys haven't stopped since, shutting out the Redskins and Eagles back-to-back to end the regular season, then repeating the domination of Philly last weekend. The pass rush is storming the gates, led by all-world LB DeMarcus Ware, and that allows the linebackers and secondary behind them to play great football because the opposing offense doesn't have time to execute the game plan. Meanwhile, QB Tony Romo may not look like a Hall-of-Famer, but he's not making mistakes, and he's got a devastating running game to rely on when the Cowboys take a lead, with Marion Barber's heavy, punishing style softening the defense up for Felix Jones to come in and sprint away from the pack. The Dallas Cowboys are ignoring the fact that the hapless Wade Phillips is their coach and Romo is their QB, and they are playing to their considerable abilities. The Vikings are arguing whether it's better for the 40-year-old QB to throw it up every play or for the young, talented RB Adrian Peterson to get more touches. And the Vikings' best CB, Antoine Winfield, was banged up and beaten badly on many plays the last few games of the season? Looks like the Cowboys are definitely the play here.

My Pick: Dallas 36-24

New York Jets @ San Diego (-7)

I must have yelled four or five times at my TV during the Bengals-Jets game last Saturday, "God, neither of these teams deserve to be in the playoffs!" Then Jim Mora called and said that if I excitedly yelled "Playoffs!?!" one more time, I would have to pay him royalties. But I digress. For those of you that watched that abomination of a game without digging your eyeballs out, congrats, and you can testify to the homeliness of Jets football: Run on 1st and 2nd down regardless of field position, keep your overrated rookie QB from having to throw as much as you can, and rely on your Pro Bowl cornerback to keep the other team's star receiver on Revis Island away from the footballs flying five yards over his head. And even with all that, the Jets should have lost because their TE Dustin Keller shouldn't ever be that wide open, and the "star" WR Braylon Edwards should be able to catch wide-open passes in the end zone, and against a real playoff team, dropping TDs loses games. Well, San Diego is a real playoff team, having won their last eleven games in a row, and Philip Rivers shouldn't miss his receivers by five yards, not only because he's better than Bengals QB Carson Palmer, but because his receivers are all about nine feet tall. Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Legedu Naanee, and the great TE Antonio Gates--seriously, Rivers is flinging it to a bunch of Jolly Green Giants. That said, I can't go with the Chargers to cover a touchdown. For some reason, I see the Jets hanging in there. I think they're playing with that attitude you see some teams adopt, that "no one believes in us, so screw everyone" attitude, and that's always dangerous. Even with that, I see the Chargers and that big-time passing game putting the Chargers in the 20s or 30s, and the Jets having to play catch-up, which means more throwing for rookie QB Mark Sanchez and less running for the #1 rush offense in the league. Should mean disaster, yes? Maybe not. Sanchez did hit his receivers when asked to throw last week (as I mentioned, Edwards dropped a sure TD). The Chargers can allow some passing yards if they get in a shootout. And in the most random factor I've ever pulled out, Sanchez is playing on the West Coast, where he enjoyed great success in college at USC, so perhaps he will relive some of his glory days. I'm pretty much taking the Jets to cover because they look like the least likely playoff team playing this weekend, which means no one thinks they have a shot, which sometimes emboldens that team to play at a level they wouldn't think possible, just to prove loudmouths who know nothing (like me) wrong.

My Pick: San Diego 26-20

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Wild Card Weekend '10

Happy happy joy joy! Playoff football is here, and I am no longer working weekends so I get to watch the games live in their entirety instead of at 2A on tape after praying that I could get home from work without accidentally hearing guys talk about the games and spoil the results for me. (This happened. One Sunday a year or so ago I was walking down the street after work hoping to get home to see a Bears game that I taped, and some drunk strangers walked past me yelling about that awesome Bears win. I silently weeped.) And now, without further ado, here are my picks for the weekend. Print and bet against me if you want to make some cash:

New York Jets @ Cincinnati (-2.5)

I have to refer to ESPN writer Bill Simmons, who summed up the Jets brilliantly in his most recent column: "...everyone likes the 'red-hot' Jets to upset the Bengals this weekend, conveniently forgetting that they dropped six of seven games midseason before beating the Panthers to end the Delhomme era (Jake went out in style with four picks), winning consecutive road games over the 6-10 Bills and 2-14 Bucs, then mustering seven points at home against the Falcons in Week 15. From there, they whupped the Colts' second string and the Bengals' second string to sneak into the playoffs. Suddenly they're an enticing underdog pick. Huh???? They can win a road playoff game with a rookie QB who finished with 12 touchdown passes and 23 turnovers?" My thoughts exactly. Look, the Bengals don't exactly inspire confidence either--would it surprise anyone if Chad Johnson Ochocinco killed himself falling out of a pickup truck while filming a Chris Henry biopic?--but the Jets were one of four or five teams trying to make the AFC playoffs in the last week of the season, and none of them are any good. It's been said that the Bengals lost to the Jets last week knowing that the Jets would have to come play them in Cincy, and they would rather see Mark Sanchez and his 23 turnovers than the Houston Texans with the best wide receiver in the game, Andre Johnson. Perhaps. I saw a lot of dropped balls by the Bengals, so I don't think they were trying to lose necessarily, but they had a really bad game on the road in a hostile environment with their 1,000-yard RB, the great Cedric Benson, inactive. There are a lot of factors swung in the Bengals' favor today, so I'll take them to barely cover in the ugliest game of the weekend.

My Pick: Cincinnati 16-12

Philadelphia @ Dallas (-4)

Ah, the Eagles, the team that I absolutely cannot predict to save my fucking life. Since I'll get it wrong anyway, let's make this quick: I had Philly going into Dallas and whipping them last week to win the NFC East and get a 1st-round bye. They completely gagged it up, meaning the Cowboys won the division, and the Eagles happened to draw the Cowboys in Big D again as a playoff opponent, the second of three rematches this weekend from Week 17 regular season games last Sunday. The same theories apply this week as to why I liked the Eagles last week: Cowboys coach Wade Phillips and QB Tony Romo have atrocious track records in big games, especially late in the season and the playoffs, the Cowboys passing game would appear to be relatively easy to handle once you realize that there's one NFL wide receiver on the whole damn team (Miles Austin), the Eagles defense is underrated and capable of dialing up big blitzes and creating turnovers, and it would seem that this is the best core of receivers that QB Donovan McNabb's ever had, and they should never be out of any game with Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, and TE Brent Celek running around. Give me the Birds in a Lone Star shootout.

My Pick: Philadelphia 41-37

Baltimore @ New England (-3.5)

Now I'm really going to get special on you: I'm going to use statistics to completely contradict myself. Pay attention. I like New England because Baltimore isn't young and talented enough on defense to overcome their rough, heavily-penalized style of football. The Ravens were tied for second this season in most penalties per game with 7.2. 7.2! I cannot take the Ravens to come into New England with their pop-gun passing offense and a highly motivated Patriots team playing their first playoff game since the David Tyree Bowl waiting for them, knowing that the Ravens are good for three or four silly penalties minimum in each half. The Ravens are so predictable on offense that even the Pats' subpar defense should be able to recognize: Run with Ray Rice, throw it up for 94-year-old WR Derrick Mason, occasionally try to hit 95-year-old TE Todd Heap on a seam route, lather, rinse, repeat. And Rice can be a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game as well. But the Patriots have the real weapons on offense in this game, with a (somewhat) healthy QB Tom Brady throwing to fellow Hall-Of-Famer Randy Moss. Moss seemed to be miffed earlier this season at the amount of balls being thrown to WR Wes Welker, who is much more willing to catch short passes over the middle for first downs than Moss. Mr. Moss no longer has to worry about Mr. Welker; he tore his knee up last week and won't be playing football anytime soon. This should result in a huge game for Moss against an exploitable Ravens secondary that at times this year looked old and decrepit. And don't be surprised if something named Julian Edelman makes a lot of those over-the-middle first down catches in place of Welker. He seemed to thrive in that role when replacing Welker earlier this season.

My Pick: New England 27-21

Green Bay @ Arizona (-1)

And now for the contradiction: Who led the league in penalties per game? That would be the Green Bay Packers at 7.4 (but hey, only 5.3 in their last three games!). And yet I will gladly take the Pack and all those penalties on the road. The matchup seemed like a slam dunk to me last week when I picked the Pack, and even though the Cardinals had nothing to play for and rolled over for Green Bay, I think Arizona is too old and beat up to turn on the juice and beat the Packers this week when it counts. This ain't quite the same Cards team from last year, when they shocked the world and got all the way to the Super Bowl. The parts are the same, but they're a year older, and some of them won't be playing anywhere near 100% this Sunday. Stud WR Anquan Boldin didn't practice all week and is a game-time decision. Top cover corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is banged up, and that's the wrong passing offense to be facing when your best cornerback is banged up. This seems too delicious. It's the 7th-ranked pass offense of the Pack against the 23rd-ranked pass defense of the Cardinals. And whatever comeback ability may remain in aging Cards QB Kurt Warner's arm should be curtailed by the much improved Green Bay defense, led by defensive MVP candidate Charles Woodson creating all sorts of chaos in the secondary. To top it off, Green Bay should be able to hold on to a lead late because RB Ryan Grant has lost his fucking mind lately. Yards per rush for Grant his last four games: 6.9, 4.6, 6.1, 4.6. That's Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma numbers, and he won't get much resistance from the Cardinals to keep that up.

My Pick: Green Bay 38-27