Thursday, January 20, 2011

NFL -- Conference Championship Picks

The NFL never ceases to amaze. It is far and away the hardest sport to predict anything in, as the league gets it the most "right" in my opinion of all the major sports in the world today as far as their focus on parity. The good teams get the worst draft picks every year, the worst teams get the easiest schedule the next year every year, the divisions play each other in packs to promote similar schedules among competing teams, and there are even little things like the minimum age requirement that help prevent the weakest teams from making huge mistakes in the draft by bringing in some 16-year-old whiz kid who never pans out. All this makes for hands down the most entertaining sport to watch in the world today -- despite being on the decline as the popularity of fantasy football is definitely off from its peak, and with the new Commissioner routinely taking actions and making changes that seem deliberately intended to whittle away his sport's prominence today -- but from a bettor's perspective, the league can be a real nightmare. I heard everyone and their mother last week was taking the Under on the Pittsburgh - Baltimore game last weekend, reasoning that there was no way this game would play out to more than 37.5 points, and what happens? It's 28 points by the half, and by early in the third quarter we are well over 40 points scored by two teams that pretty much always play to great defensive struggles. Similarly, who in America wasn't positive that the Cheatriots were going to cream the Jets on Sunday night? No offense, but only a monkey or a Jets fan was predicting a Jets victory in that game, and lo and behold, the Jets don't just win the game, but they basically stick it to the Cheatriots and never really even let them get close after the Cheats kicked an early field goal to take their only lead of the day. It's just so hard to predict anything in this league, even at this point down to the end of the season with only good, solid, balanced teams left playing, and that is most definitely part of what makes the NFL so awesome, but it can wreak havoc on anybody looking to make some money betting on these games.

Which is all a round-about way of excusing myself for going 1-3 in last week's Divisional round games, a week after a ho-hum 2-2 showing in the Wildcard round. I of course bombed out on the Cheatriots like the rest of thinking America, and I also put too much stock in Atlanta -- they of the 14-2 regular season record, and the 20-1 lifetime record at home for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan -- as the Packers completely crushed the Falcons on the road just a month after the Pack lost 7-3 on the road to the Detroit Lions in a crucial, must-win game. I did manage to pick the Bears beating down on the lowly Seahawks correctly, but my big disappointment of the weekend had to be my call on the Ravens-Steelers game. I mean, how many fucking times do I have to tell myself to never ever ever bet against the Pittsburgh Steelers? I blogged this at least twice last year, at least once the year before that, and at least once or twice this year as well: Never ever ever bet against the Pittsburgh Steelers. And yet time and time again, I go ahead and pick teams to cover against the Steelers, when it is so fucking obvious that either Roger Gooddell is fucking some hot piece of ass who is a bigtime Steeler fan, or Steelers owner Dan Rooney has pictures of Gooddell or the head of NFL officiating doing some seriously unholy stuff. As I sat and watched the Ravens run back a kick in the fourth quarter last week that would basically have iced the win for Baltimore, I knew just what was coming. There were no obvious fouls visible during the live runback, but when that late flag came out, of course I wasn't surprised, not in the least. Sure, on the replay it was a legal block, a total housing of the guy actually that landed the Steeler special teamsman on his ass but it wasn't even close to a hold under the rules of the NFL. But what does that matter, when the Steelers are involved in a close game? Holding on the return team, take back the touchdown that had just buried the Steelers and ruined their incredible comeback (and the Ravens' shocking third-quarter collapse), and fast forward five more minutes and the Steelers are going to the umpteenth AFC Championship game under the tutelage of one Big Ben Roethlisberger. You just Never ever ever bet against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So with all that in mind, my picks for this weekend's game are really short and sweet:

1. In the early game on Sunday, it's the Packers at the Bears, with the 6-seeded Pack favored by 4 points over 2nd-seeded Chicago. So let me see, I've got the better team, playing at home, far and away the best defense this ferocious Packers' offense has faced thus far in the playoffs, and I'm getting more than a field goal to boot? It's great how much the lemmings suffer from this same affliction every week, every year in the NFL. See a team blow someone out in one week, and the line for the next week's game suddenly swells. Guys, the Falcons had the 17th-ranked team defense in the NFL on the year, and while I give the Packers nothing but credit for the beating they administered in Atlanta last Saturday night, this Bears squad isn't going to give up no 45 points to Aaron Rodgers et al. In games decided by a touchdown or more, the Packers went 8-0 in the 2010-2011 regular season. Meanwhile, in games decided by four points or less this season, the Packers finished the regular season at 2-5. With the Bears defense being what it is, and with the Packers' running game still not something I can believe in despite the emergence of rookie James Starks here in the post-season thus far, I'm expecting more of a close game than a blowout at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon. The Pack could easily beat this Bears team -- everyone knows that Jay Cutler is just one sack or one bad pick away of self-destruction at any time here -- but again you're offering me the better team, the better defense, playing at home, and an inflated four points to boot all because their opponents blew out the NFC's best last week in Atlanta? The value here is not close. Take the Bears and take the points.

2. After that phantom holding call against the Ravens on the kick runback in the fourth quarter, I took out a knife and etched deeply into my arm the mantra, so that I never forget it again: Never ever ever bet against the Pittsburgh Steelers. And then I lit a torch and cauterized myself to effect immediate scabbing. Now all I have to do is take one look down at the underside of my arm to know what to do with the Steelers - Jets game on Sunday night: Take the Steelers and lay the 4 points against the Jets. For the record it does not feel to me like the Steelers are 4 points better than the Jets right now, even on their home field. But the referees will find a way. (Looks down at arm.) Never ever ever bet against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Best of luck if your team is still in it, or if you're playing the lottery betting either of the games this weekend.

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Blogger l.e.s.ter said...

And what do the NFC championship teams have in common? They both lost to the Redskins.

11:18 PM  

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