Sunday, January 15, 2012

NFL 2011: Playoffs -- Divisional Round

You'll have to forgive me if I'm not quite as interested in the NFL as I was before the Steelers went out last week in Denver. I'll so a post-mortem on the Steelers' season later. I still don't want to think about it too much.

As you may know, if you've been following our picks this year, Richard narrowly won the regular season. He was 177-79, I was 175-81, and The Kid was 162-94. With our scoring system that included weekly locks and upsets, he beat me 191 to 185, with The Kid back at 166.

But that was all pick'em. Now, in the playoffs, we're using the spread and a new scoring system:

-- Wild Card round: 2 points per game;
-- Divisional round: 3 points per game;
-- Conference Finals: 4 points per game; and
-- Super Bowl: 5 points.
And here's how we did last week: 

MJWS: 3-1 = 6 points
The Kid: 3-1 = 6 points
RKB: 1-3 = 2 points

We all got the Giants over the Falcons, but even there I'd note that Richard can't think rationally about his beloved G-Men. The game The Kid and I got wrong was Lions-Saints. We both thought the 10.5-point spread was a bit too high and that the Lions might keep it close in a shootout, at least with some garbage-time fireworks. Needless to say, we underestimated the awfulness of the Lions D, and as good as we thought Brees & Co. was, they were even better.

We're already halfway through the divisional round, but here are the games and our picks:


New Orleans (-3.5) at San Francisco
Denver at New England (-13.5)


Houston at Baltimore (-7.5)
N.Y. Giants at Green Bay (-7.5)

And our picks:

Stickings' Pickings 

Picks: New Orleans, Denver, Houston, N.Y. Giants.

In standard pick'em, I'm taking all four favourites, but three of the lines are awfully high. But who knows? I went 0-2 yesterday.

I really though the Saints would beat the 49ers, but I've been down on San Fran all year and obviously haven't given them the respect they deserve -- even after they beat the Steelers in Week 15 (though a Steelers team with tons of injuries, including to Big Ben). They have an outstanding D and their offence is just good enough to keep them in every game they play. I've always been higher on Alex Smith than most, and he proved yesterday that he's a solid QB who can do it with his legs as well as with his decent arm. And he's got big-time weapons in Gore, Davis (who atoned for a disappointing season with a huge game yesterday (7 for 180 and 2 TDs), and Crabtree (who scored a TD yesterday and has emerged as a #1 receiver). But, seriously, what can you say about that Saints' D? Terrible. There's so much talent on the other side of the ball, despite all the turnovers yesterday, but the D couldn't stop the Niners when it really mattered, on that last scoring drive that ended with a Smith-to-David TD. Sure, this happens to a lot of teams, including Pittsburgh (notably in the home loss to Baltimore, where a win, in retrospect, would have given the Steelers the division title and the #1 overall seed in the AFC), but the Saints' weaknesses are glaring. New Orleans seemed to have all the momentum coming into the playoffs, and I think a lot of people were expecting (and salivating over the thought of) a Saints-Packers NFC championship game, but, well, full credit to the Niners for proving they're not (entirely) a fluke.

I was going back and forth on the late game yesterday but ended up taking the Tebowners and the points. Could the Pats win by two TDs? Of course. Were they going to? Maybe, but that's a lot of points to lay against a team with a good pass rush and an offence that -- let's be generous -- has been opportunistic and somehow able to overcome an astonishing lack of talent, starting at the QB position. Well, you know what happened. New England crushed Denver. (It takes a lot for me to root for the Pats. Tebow is a lot.) There's really nothing else to say. Brady and the Pats' passing game is awesome, and the Pats' D, while pretty bad all year, somehow manages to do just enough when it matters (though the Broncos didn't play nearly as well as they did against the Steelers -- where were all those dropped passes last week? where was Tebow looking completely flummoxed?). Needless to say, the Ravens will put up a much better fight next week.

Speaking of which, I'm taking the Ravens today. I'm not happy about giving the Texans (with a great running game, a great pass rush, some great LBs, and a very good secondary) so many points, but... wait. No. The game's about to start and I'm flipping to the Texans. I expect Baltimore to win, but, again, 7.5 points is a lot. There's no doubt the Ravens could make life miserable for T.J. Yates today, but they've been a weird team this year, beating some good teams and losing to some awful ones (e.g., Jags), and with the Texans strong at so many positions, I'll take the points. Thank you.

Another tough one later today. I'm taking the Packers to win, but I think the Giants will keep it close, much like their Week 13 battle, a 38-35 win for Green Bay. The question will be whether the Giants' excellent D-line can put enough pressure on Rodgers to knock him off his game. If they can do that, there's no doubt New York can win outright. As much as I may not want to admit it, Eli has emerged this year as a solid Top 10 QB, a notch below the elite (in a tier with Roethlisberger, Romo, and Ryan) but capable of putting up huge numbers and with those winning intangibles that you want in your QB -- what can I say, he's a winner, and he's a fantastic late-game, comeback performer). And if Bradshaw and Jacobs are running well, watch out. I still can't pick against Rodgers given all the talent he has in the passing game, and the Packers have a D that can force turnovers, but this one should be close.


Watching the Texans-Ravens game... Seriously? What the hell was Jacoby Jones thinking? The Texans are looking good, the Ravens are struggling on offence early on, and you try to grab that bouncing ball with a Ravens player in your face? What a stupid, stupid move. Just the sort of thing that could turn this game in a hurry. Yup, TD Ravens. 7-3. You can't make mistakes like that in the playoffs, or ever, especially against teams like the Ravens, who make you pay.

Barry's Tea Leaves

Picks: New Orleans, Denver, Houston, N.Y. Giants.

New Orleans over San Francisco: Though I would love to see my Giants make it to the Super Bowl this year, my guess is that it's going to be the Saints for the NFC. Brees is so hot right now that I just don't see the Niners stopping him. I also wouldn't be surprised for Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles to have solid games on the ground, which will only make Brees more dangerous. In the end, the Niners just aren't going to be able to keep up offensively, so I expect a high-scoring game with New Orleans running away with it in the end. 

Denver over New England (with the points): Look, I have no doubt Brady will find a way to win this game, but 13.5 points is too much of a margin. Tebow will no doubt make this one interesting. As a sidebar, I saw a program on the NFL Network this week about the six QBs drafted ahead of Brady when he came into the league. The bottom line was that few of them could stand the bright lights of the big stage the way Brady could, though, on paper, they all looked better than Brady. I'm not saying I'm a true believer in Tebow, but the kid can turn it on when the whole world is watching, and I expect to see that this weekend. Like I said, New England wins, but the Broncos and Tebow will keep it close. 

Baltimore over the Texans: This will be a very close game, which I'll call for the Ravens, though I am not sure why. Let's just say that Ray Rice plus home field gives it to the Ravens. 

New York over Green Bay: There was a time when this would have been a sentimental pick just because I'm a Giants fan, but no longer. I really think they can take this game. The Giant's D is healthy and creating havoc for QBs, which I think they'll do for Rodgers. And Eli is playing some of the best football of his life. If the Giants can continue to run, as they have recently, which will help keep Rodgers off the field, that could be the difference. Whatever happens today, the Giants have salvaged a season that looked like a stinker a while ago. I'm proud of them. And then, after the Giants win this, they'll lose to the Saints. Oh, well.

Comfortable Kid

Picks: New Orleans, Denver, Baltimore, Green Bay.

(His only comment to me was the Saints "big-time" over the Niners. Yes, he too was wrong.)

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