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