Saturday, January 07, 2012

NFL 2011: Playoffs -- Wild Card Round

Congratulations, Richard.

Yes, RKB won our little three-man pick'em competition here. Let's look at the final regular season results:

Week 17 

RKB: 13-3 = 13 points 
MJWS: 11-5 (plus upset) = 13 points
The Kid: 12-4 = 12 points 

Regular Season -- Final 

RKB: 177-79 (10 upsets right, 3 locks wrong) = 191 points
MJWS: 175-81 (9 upsets right, 4 locks wrong) = 185 points
The Kid: 162-94 (7 upsets right, 5 locks wrong) = 166 points

You know what? We all did really well. Even The Kid, who got off to a slow start but kept pace with us the rest of the way. And along the way I thought we offered some excellent analysis. Personally, I think we're at least good enough for ESPN's NFL Countdown. (No, I don't take that as a self-compliment.)

But let's move on. (Richard's ego has already swelled too much.) It's the playoffs! And we're going to keep this competition going through the Super Bowl, though now we're going to be picking against the spread -- with a new per-game points 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.

Here are this weekend's games, with the lines we're using:


Cincinnati at Houston (-4)
Detroit at New Orleans (-10.5)


Atlanta at N.Y. Giants (-3.5)
Pittsburgh (-8) at Denver

And our picks:

Stickings' Pickings

Picks: Houston, Detroit, N.Y. Giants, Denver.

I'm a little worried about going with T.J. Yates, but Houston has enough talent everywhere else to win fairly easily against an inexperienced Bengals team (with a bright future, just not a bright today). Look for Foster and Tate and whoever else is running the ball for the Texans to have big games, as well as for the Texans to put enough pressure on Dalton to throw him off his game. Unless Yates has a complete meltdown, in which case we'd get Delhomme (who has extensive playoff experience), I just don't see how Cincy even keeps this close.

There's no way I'd be picking against high-flying Brees & Co. in a pick'em, but 10.5 points is just too much in what should be a shootout. Even if the Saints go up big, the Lions could make it close in garbage time, at least coming within a TD.

I'll add some commentary on Sunday's games tomorrow. Suffice it to say that I'm way down on my beloved Steelers.

Update: Alright, it's Sunday, about 2:52 pm. The Giants are up 7-2 with the ball inside the Falcons' 5.

I took the Giants in this one mainly because of their outstanding d-line, particularly Pierre-Paul. My concern, from a Giants perspective, was the secondary. If the Falcons' o-line could do even a decent job protecting Ryan, Atlanta could get the ball down the field to White, Jones, and Gonzalez, opening up the running game for Turner as well. But credit that secondary. White has only two catches for eight yards so far, and Atlanta's often high-flying passing game has been largely shut down. Of course, if the Falcons had been able to convert that fourth-and-short in Giants territory in the first half -- and it looked like they did, it was just a bad spot -- things might be different now. 10-2 Giants. Manning was finally able to throw the ball downfield on that last drive. I suspect this game will open up now, and on the current drive Ryan is moving the ball well.

Now... Steelers-Broncos. Grantland's Barnwell made a good case the other day for a Broncos win. With the spread as big as it is, I'm definitely taking Denver. The Steelers have hardly been a dominant team this year, and this one could be another anxiety-producing affair. Certainly Pittsburgh has the talent on D to shut down Tebow, but the Steelers are vulnerable to running QBs and he may do just enough to keep the Broncos in the game, particularly with injuries to the Steelers. Notably, safety Ryan Clark, the team's leading tackler, will be out due to a serious illness that threatens his health playing at high altitudes, and the two OLBs, Harrison and Woodley, continue to nurse lingering problems.

My bigger concerns are on the other side of the ball. Big Ben clearly isn't healthy. His ankle sprain has basically made him immobile, and he can't even step into this throws. And with the Broncos throwing Miller and Dumervil at him, he could be under pressure all day, unable ever to get in rhythm and spread the field with his great receivers. Add to this the fact that Mendenhall is out and that the early-season injury problems to the o-line have returned and it's a recipe for disaster for the Steelers at Mile High. All it might take is one late-game play by Tebow, or one long kick from Prater. Yeah, I'm going with Denver and taking the points, but I think Denver might win this outright.

I'm already sick to my stomach.

Barry's Tea Leaves

Picks: Cincinnati, Detroit, N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati over Houston: I'll pick the Bengals to win this one. The solid Cincy D is going to give Houston stand-in QB T.J. Yates fits. Come on. The kid has done well enough at times, but this is the playoffs. Bengals QB Andy Dalton has also done well in his rookie effort -- 20 TDs with 13 interceptions. He should hold up fine. In a low-scoring game. Houston by 4? Don't think so.

Detroit over New Orleans: I think New Orleans will win this game, but not by 10.5. Very high-scoring game, maybe a repeat of the Lions-Packers game. Could see both teams score 40 or more points, but the margin of victory for the Saints will be closer to 7.  Also look for Darren Sproles to have a big game. While Detroit is looking for Brees to throw the ball downfield to Graham and Colston, look for Brees to be dumping it off to Sproles for good yardage. Definitely a back-and-forth day with no huge leads at any time.

Giants over Falcons (and beating the 3.5-point spread): The Giants are peaking at the right time. They've got a respectable running game back with Bradshaw in the lineup. I love the way Eli is throwing the ball and the D is getting healthy at the right time. Sure, I'm worried about the Giants secondary so I don't think this will be a low-scoring game. I'm just expecting the New York pass rush to make it hard for Ryan to tee up for those shots down the field. That'll be the key. If the Giants' pass rush shows up, game over. If not, it'll be a long day for New York.

Pittsburgh over Denver (beating the 8-point spread): I know Steelers' RB Mendenhall is gone for the duration and Big Ben is not at his best, but I can't see Tebow having much of a game against the Steelers. And this is where playoff experience is going to matter for Pitt. Without getting fancy, it'll come down to a mature and proud franchise showing the kneeling boy how it's down. Last point is that defences are figuring Tebow out. You have to make him throw from the pocket, which he can't do. If you don't think the Steelers get this, you are wrong. Look for some terrible Tebow passing numbers for this game, like 5-10 for 57 yards.

Comfortable Kid

Picks: Houston, Detroit, N.Y. Giants, Denver.

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