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 (-2.5)
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