Saturday, January 4, 2014

NFL Picks: Wild Card Round and Playoff Preview

While it won't quite be a repeat of last year's Divisional Playoffs, Colin Kaepernick and the Niners will win this week's game over the Packers. Photo from
We have reached the playoffs! Finally! It's time for all the non-football fans in your life to be completely shocked that the NFL has now taken over both Saturday and Sunday. It's time for you to randomly and nonsensically adopt a team for the next month, going through the ups and downs that come with being a devoted fan of theirs, and you can't explain why your mind selected that team.

First, we should take a quick look back at my preseason predictions. I got 7 out of the 12 playoff teams correct, but, I'd like to credit myself for the Panthers as well. I know you may not believe me, but, the day before I posted that article, I had the Panthers at 11-5 winning the NFC South. But, my ex boyfriend Josh Freeman sent me a long, drunken text about why I should trust him again, and how he's sorry for the mistakes he's made in the past.

So, he went out and got benched before Week 4, and released the week after. Thanks a lot Josh. He talked me out of supporting the Panthers. But that's my fault for listening to him, so I'll accept that, and know to never put my faith in Josh Freeman. Ever again.

(Smash cut to him in a Jets uniform and me begging that they start him over Geno Smith)

Anyway, I wasn't surprised by the Panthers suddenly rising to the top of the NFC. I was surprised by the Texans and Falcons completely falling apart, which, frankly, surprised everyone. Where I made one of my bigger mistakes, was on the Chargers. A lot of people thought they'd be fine, maybe even a little worse, but of course, I went to the extreme, pegging them as the 29th best team in the NFL. And now, of course, they are playing in the playoffs. My bad.

Coming off a much improved season in terms of my weekly picks, in which I ended the year at 132-119-5, I'm feeling good about making a run much like my 9-2 playoff outing last year. Some of this week's games are kind of hard to predict, but don't worry, I'm here. I will also have my revised predictions for the rest of the postseason.

UPSET ALERT next to games in which I think the underdog will win outright, not just cover. Home team in CAPS. 

Chiefs (+1.5) over COLTS. I'm totally going against the grain here, especially after what we saw the Colts do in Kansas City a mere two weeks ago. But I'm sticking with the Chiefs, largely because I refuse the trust the 2013 Colts. They've been really inconsistent all year, being able to pull off great wins in San Francisco, dominating the Niners, and over Seattle and Denver in Indy. At the same time, they've struggled in both games against the Titans, and were blown out at home by the Rams, and looked completely hapless against the Cardinals in Arizona.

When it comes time for the playoffs, I'm much more comfortable picking games based solely off talent level. And what I see with the Colts are a bunch of average to below average defensive players who are capable of playing out of their minds on occasion thanks to Chuck Pagano. But they were also capable of giving up at least 33 points four times this year. Knowing that, I'm going to predict that a rested Jamaal Charles will run wild today.

The Chiefs should be getting back star pass rusher Justin Houston. They also could get back Tamba Hali, who is listed as questionable. Kansas City's defense is among the best in the league when those two are available and putting pressure on the quarterback. With the Colts offensive line struggling, this news does not bode well for Andrew Luck. He should be under pressure for most of the game, and he'll be forced to rely on the running backs and short, dump off passes. The Chiefs are decent against the run, so I don't know how effective that will be.

It's very possible that the Colts can win, because the Chiefs tend to allow big plays, so T.Y. Hilton and Donald Brown would be the keys to victory. While that certainly can happen, I don't have any faith in their defense, so I'll stick with the Chiefs.


Chiefs 31, Colts 20. 

EAGLES (-2.5) over Saints. I'm sure that all week, you've just been hearing about the Saints not being as good on the road as at home. While that has looked quite true this season, I think the Eagles would win this game even if it were played in the Superdome.

Philadelphia's balanced offensive attack makes them a tough matchup for anyone, especially against a Saints team that has struggled stopping the run, and will be without star safety Kenny Vaccaro, which is a major blow to their pass defense. The Eagles thrive on getting big plays, and without Vaccaro, not only will Desean Jackson and Riley Cooper have a much easier time getting open if they happen to beat the corner off the line is man coverage, Vaccaro won't be there in pursuit when Lesean McCoy breaks through tot he second level of the defense. That's a huge loss, and that will allow the Eagles to score a lot of points this week.

Now, the question is, can the Saints keep up? It sounds silly to doubt a Sean Payton/Drew Brees offensive combination, but there's a good reason to this week. First of all, they will be without Pierre Thomas, who has seemingly taken over Darren Sproles' role as a slot running back, catching all sorts of swing passes and screens. Of course, they still do have Sproles to regain that position, but that leaves them with only him and Mark Ingram available at running back. Having all three guys has been a key component of the Saints offense because they each play a role.

Then, take into account that the Eagles defense has been playing a lot better recently. Now, obviously, I wouldn't trust the auspicious combination of Cary Williams and Patrick Chung to cover a wide receiver the size of Earl Boykins and the speed of Bengie Molina, but the team in general has had a good run. A lot of that stems from the amount of pressure they can get on the quarterback, thanks to Trent Cole and Connor Barwin. If they can do that this week, even against Drew Brees, who notoriously avoids sacks thanks to his ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly, the Eagles will be in a good position to win.

This game is going to be a shootout. Where Philly has the advantage, is that their defense is a tiny bit better, and they have more playmakers that can break long gains.

Eagles 41, Saints 38. 

BENGALS (-6.5) over Chargers. This game is pretty easy for me to call. I've been a Bengals supporter all year, and I think that they have one of the best rosters in the league, even with their two best defensive players, Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, out for the year. The important piece is Andy Dalton. Against this really bad San Diego defense, he won't be asked to do too much. And when he is called upon, he should be able to get it done. Cincinnati should score a lot of points here.

On the other side of the ball, the Bengals defense is fifth in the league against both the pass and the run. They are overall one of the best in the league. San Diego's success rides largely on being able to score many points, which they can't really do this week.

Bengals 34, Chargers 21.

49ers (-2.5) over PACKERS. It's going to be ridiculously cold in Green Bay, but I don't really know how that will affect the game. From what I've heard, it makes it harder to throw the ball, because quarterbacks have to worry about their fingers freezing in between plays. This only favors the Niners because they run the ball so well. But then again, you can never know with Jim Harbaugh. When these two teams squared off last January, Colin Kaepernick shredded the Packers with the read option. In Week 1, Colin Kaepernick shredded the Packers by throwing the ball all over the place. Whatever direction they choose to go in, it will be successful, especially since San Fran has Michael Crabtree back, and playing well.

Aaron Rodgers didn't look great last week, but he'll regain some of the timing that he used to have with guys like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Much like the Bengals, the 49ers are towards the top of the league in defending both the pass and the run. That means that those Green Bay receivers will not be able to make as many important big plays as they need to, and neither will Eddie Lacy.  Overall, it looks to be a frustrating day for the Packers, who will probably come close, but fall to a team that looks like it was built to beat Green Bay.

49ers 24, Packers 20. 

Divisional Playoffs
SEAHAWKS over 49ers. 
PANTHERS over Eagles. 
BRONCOS over Chiefs.
Bengals over PATRIOTS. 

Conference Championships
Bengals over BRONCOS. 
SEAHAWKS over Panthers. 

Super Bowl
Seahawks over Bengals. Why change my preseason pick when neither team has given me a reason to lose faith in them. Obviously, I have the Bengals as this year's hot team that will make a run, and that stems from the fact that I believe that, while inconsistent, when right, Andy Dalton can in fact take this team to the Super Bowl. Or at least, not mess anything up. As for Seattle, it's pretty self-explanatory: they are really, really good.

Last Week: 9-7
Season: 132-119-5

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