Saturday, January 10, 2015

NFL Picks: Divisional Round

Photo courtesy of Grantland
I got three games right when picking straight up last week, but the Panthers covered, and the Cowboys didn't, meaning that I went 1-3 in my picks. Once again, a prime example of why this simply isn't my year.

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

Ravens (+7) over PATRIOTS. This and the first game on Sunday are the most intriguing games this weekend. The Pats have been great all year, but everyone knows how to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots now: put constant pressure on him without blitzing. Every team may know that, but it's hard to actually find a team to execute that strategy.

Enter: Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs.

Coming off of opposite edges they're been a terror, combining for 29 sacks. Haloti Ngata was really good last week in his return from a suspension. It will be hard for Brady to make throws when he's on his back for most of the game.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens are a balanced team when Flacco is playing well, because they utilize the speed of Justin Forsett on the ground, but can also throw it deep to the Smiths. They're not collectively great, but they're not a pushover. And that may just be enough this week.


If at any point Tom Brady gets any time to throw, he's going to massacre this Ravens secondary. I know that a great pass rush will mitigate the damage done by a bad secondary, but Baltimore will have to be incredible this week for Brady not to take advantage of guys like Anthony Levine on quicker throws. It's possible that they turn Brady into a pulp...but I'm not going to rely on that.

Patriots 28, Ravens 24. 

Panthers (+11.5) over SEAHAWKS. This line is ridiculous. I never judge how a game will finish based on how previous games have turned out between the two sides, but it's very important to note that these two teams played in Week 8 in Carolina, and the Seahawks squeaked out a 13-9 victory. In the opening week of the 2013 season, the same thing happened, as Seattle won 12-7 on the road. And in Week 5 of the 2012 campaign, the Seahawks won Carolina.

Noticing a trend?

1. I guess the NFL loves putting these teams in Carolina, and wishes it were there now.

2. These teams matchup very well with one another. Keep in mind that in 2012 the Seahawks were clearly the best team in the NFL by the time the playoffs came around, while the Panthers were only 7-9.

In each game, Seattle was able to move the ball much better than the final score indicated, totaling 310, 370, and 310 yards of total offense in '12, '13, and '14 respectively. The keys have been forcing the rare Seahawks turnover; 3, 1, and 2 in each game.

Another key has been slowing down Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson on the ground, only allowing the Seahawks to average 3.2 yards per carry overall. That average was actually 2.7 before this season's game, when Seattle had 26 rushes for 119 yards. That's the result of Greg Hardy not playing, and while he won't be on the field on Sunday, Carolina has adjusted to his absence and has improved their run defense since.

Both of these teams are very physical, and that leads to very few points. The Panthers are a far less talented version of the team that they had in 2013, which could have rolled through Seattle and knocked off the eventual champs, but they can still gave the 12th Man a nice scare this evening before the Seahawks pull away.

Seahawks 19, Panthers 10. 

Cowboys (+5.5) over PACKERS. Ball control is the name of the game here on both sides. Establishing the run will be the goal out of the game for either team, and whoever can slow down the pace and gain chunks of yards on the ground will be the winner in what should be a high scoring game. Both offenses can strike quickly, and both teams realize that sometimes, the best defense is a good offense.

And if we're talking about chewing clock and scoring points at the same time, what team is better at that than the Cowboys? Shielded by the best offensive line in the league, DeMarco Murray has ran wild this season, as have his two backups, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle. No matter what team they're playing against, excluding the one game when Fletcher Cox being was superhero, Dallas will have the advantage up front, and keep their running backs going all game long. When they line up to throw, Tony Romo not only has long play threats in Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant, but also a major underneath safety net in Jason Witten, as well as the tailbacks out of the backfield.

I'm not ignoring the Packers here, but I think that the Cowboys are better than Green Bay at what will win today's game. The Cowboys have a better line and a better running back. Expect a lot of six to seven minute scoring drive. And with that, comes a Dallas win.


Cowboys 30, Packers 27. 

Colts (+7) over BRONCOS. Yes, I am taking four underdogs this week. And this was the hardest one for me by far. There are many, many reasons why the Broncos should blow out the Colts, the main one being that Denver is simply better at just about everything, except for arguably one position: quarterback.

My love for Peyton Manning is well-documented. From the time I've started this blog, I've been pegging him as the best quarterback of all time, and I stand by that. At the same time, it's hard to avoid that something seems very off about him this season. He hasn't been his usual dominant self. While some of that is due to Denver adopting a run first approach to offense, meaning Manning is getting less opportunities to carve up defenses like a juicy steak, whenever I watch them I don't always see G.O.A.T. Manning, especially over the last few weeks. There's a chance that he goes out tomorrow and does classic Peyton Manning things and my fears are gone, but I don't know if that'll happen.

On the other side, Andrew Luck is inconsistent, but awesome when he's right. He sometimes plays like the best in the league, and it's hard to bet against him, even when I expect the rest of his team to let him down for the most part.

In the end, C.J. Anderson will consistently break off 5 yard gains on the ground against Indy's bad rush defense, and any sort of sign that Luck is taking too many risks will result in a pick against this defensive backfield. But even if he's their downfall, Luck will keep his team afloat.

Broncos 27, Colts 21. 

Last Week: 1-3

Playoffs: 1-3

Season: 117-135-4

Overall: 118-138-4

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