Friday, January 14, 2011

NFL -- Divisional Round Picks

So in a suite of four tough games with four tough lines last weekend, I went a ho-hum 2-2, winning with my picks of the underdog Packers and Jets on the road, but incorrectly taking the points with the Chiefs at home, who got blown out by the Ravens, and missing as well my pick on the Saints who not only did not win by 11 points, but who got blown out defensively and lost the game outright to the worst playoff team in NFL post-season history.

Which leads us to this weekend's game, the Divisional Round of the 2010-2011 NFL playoffs. Just like last week, I will suspend my regular-season rules and go out of my way to make a prediction on all four of the games, which I will cover now in chronological order of when they will be played. As with my picks all season, I will provide my picks against the Vegas spread as posted on Yahoo! Sports as of this morning, along with a brief commentary on my thoughts on why I am picking the game the way that I am.

First, we have the Ravens visiting the Steelers in the early-late game (4:30pm ET) on Saturday afternoon, in a repeat of what is basically the most defensive-oriented, tough-nosed, smashmouth matchup of any two teams of the season each time it is played these days, and the Vegas oddsmakers are just throwing up their hands here, awarding a 3-point line to the home-team Steelers in line with their usual 3 points awarded in every game for home-field advantage. The Ravens took the Steelers in the first matchup in Pittsburgh, a game before Ben Roethlisberger returned from his early season suspension related his (second) sexual assault allegations. The Ravens played the Steelers really tough in their second matchup in Baltimore closer to the middle of the regular season this year, but then an amazing defensive effort by Troy Polamalu to sack Ravens qb Joe Flacco and cause a fumble led the Steelers to a victory in the final minutes to even the season series at one win apiece. This one really is too close to call, as the Steelers have won six straight matchups with the Ravens with Ben Roth at the helm, and with them sitting on homefield advantage here, but yet this is easily the best Ravens squad of the past few years, in particular on offense with the emergence of Ray Rice on the ground and the addition of Anquan Boldin to the receiving corps to help move the ball. When it's so close like this, I have no choice but to just go with the numbers -- five of the last seven meetings between these teams have been decided by 3 points or less, and when I'm getting three points to go with the Ravens -- who already won outright by a field goal in Pittsburgh earlier this year -- I think the value lies barely on the Baltimore side of the equation here. So I will take the Ravens and the points and really look forward to watching this game on Saturday.

The late game on Saturday night features the 10-6 Packers visiting the 14-2 Falcons in a matchup of the NFC's 6 seed vs. the 1 seed, and yet for some reason I cannot entirely understand, this game has the smallest line of any of the weekend's matchups at just 2.5 points in favor of Atlanta. I wrote about this a bit earlier this week already, but apparently I am the only NFL fan outside in the country that does not think the Packers are all that. My objective look at this team says that they have a solid offense and a solid defense no doubt, but for whatever reason when you put them together, the team has had trouble making a great showing on the scoreboard as a result. Much like this year's San Diego Chargers, who finished the 2010 regular season ranked #1 in both total offense and total defense but who ended up 9-7 and not even in the post-season, the Packers clearly have a great quarterback and clearly have a very solid defensive line that I enjoy watching, but their coach is a monkey and does not inspire me much after I watched this team drop a crucial game to the Detroit Lions of all teams in Week 15 on the road, nor was I particularly inspired watching the Packers' play last week in Philadelphia, in a game that felt like a blowout but had to rely on a couple of truly freak occurrences to prevent them from losing in the final minutes nonetheless. If I knew GB rookie James Starks was going to go off for 125 yards like he did against the Eagles' porous sieve of a defense, I would definitely be tempted to go with the Packers and the points here. But instead, I see an Atlanta team that more or less does not lose games at home, with worse team stats numbers but with I think a quarterback who has proven he has what it takes to come back and win a tough game in the fourth quarter if needed. I do not expect Atlanta to blow out here by any means, but I do think they will win by a little bit more than the 2.5 points Vegas is giving to the Packers. So in this one I will go against basically everyone else on the earth today and take the favorites to win by more than a field goal.

Sunday's early matchup is the most unlikely pairing of the Divisional Round games, as 7-9 Seattle visits the NFC's #2 seeded Bears who finished the year at 11-5. Seattle is not a good team overall on either side of the ball, and one thing I can assure you is that the tenacious Bears' defense will not allow Matt Hasselbeck to float up after bomb after bomb after bomb about 80 yards straight up in the air and yet still manage to leave a receiver wide open downfield about 45 seconds later when the ball comes back down, unlike the Saints last week who looked like a bunch of midgets little people trying to defend the pass in utterly embarrassing themselves against the Seahawks' 28th-ranked offense last week. And although I like most people am just waiting to see Jay Cutler get flustered by somebody and punched out of the playoffs like we all know is coming, Seattle, the league's 27th ranked defense and 19th-ranked against the pass, is not likely to be the ones to achieve that ever-achievable feat. As much as I hate having to give double-digits to any team in the playoffs, unlike last week when Seattle was playing at home, I'm going to take the Bears and lay the 10 points Vegas is requiring here. It will make me have to hold my breath for a while here, but I expect by the end of the game that Chicago will find a way to win this one by a couple of scores and move on to where they belong, the NFC Championship game next Sunday.

And lastly is perhaps the most hotly-anticipated matchup of the weekend on Sunday late afternoon, the 11-5 Jets at the 14-2 Cheatriots in a rematch of Week 12 which saw the Cheats drop a 45-3 smackdown on Rex Ryan's squad that, if you watched the game, truly was not even that close. This time around, I fully do not expect the Jets to get destroyed that badly, and in fact I look for the Jets to put up a decent fight for at least the first part of this game, unlike the last time the teams met at Gillette Stadium. However, as much as I would like to take the 9 points -- a ridiculous line I think to be laid on a Jets team with a solid defense and a lot to prove this weekend -- for me the key here is Ryan Sanchez, who if you've watched these last several games has pretty much been goddam atrocious lately, even in the Jets' recent wins. The quarterback disparity here is about as wide as you're ever going to find in an NFL post-season game, and Sanchise is easily the worst quarterback of all those playing in the playoffs in 2011, and he'll be playing in very hostile territory, in the freezing fucking cold that he hates, and in the place where he threw what, 85 interceptions the last time around? Although as I said I do think this line is too big, even at 9 points I think I will take the Cheatriots and assume they will find a way to take this one by a couple of scores by the time the whistle blows on the season.

So it's Ravens +3, Falcons -2.5, Bears -10 and Cheatriots -10 for me this weekend, three favorites here in the Divisional Round just a week after I took three underdogs in the Wildcard Round. Hopefully we'll see some better results with these picks than last week's 2-2 performance. Best of luck to all those whose teams are playing in these games, and to those who are betting what are I think all very tough lines again this weekend as well.

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Blogger VinNay said...

So who are you coolering this week?

2:23 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

The Bills.

3:35 AM  

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