TJR: NFL Picks Wild Card Weekend (Plus Super Bowl Prediction)
Playoffs? Yes Jim Mora Sr., we're talking about playoffs. It's that time of year as the NFL season has just 12 teams left to crown the Super Bowl champion on February 2nd.
Before I talk about this week's games, it's important to make a Super Bowl prediction before any playoff games are played. Prior to the season, my Super Bowl pick was Denver over Atlanta. Stop laughing! Atlanta was one of the favorites in the NFC and I didn't expect them to win just four games. Who did? Not many, I'm sure. At least that Denver part is possible.
I'm going with the Seahawks over Broncos for the Super Bowl. They were the favorites at the start of the year (if you look at betting odds like I do) and they're the favorites now. I think a team like San Fran could beat Seattle, but I like the Seahawks defense too much to go against them. I want Peyton Manning to get another ring. I'm a huge fan of his. I just think that defense is going to let them down. Ultimately, defense wins championships. I know that picking the top seeds to matchup is the easy thing to do, but I really feel like they're the best teams.
Last week straight up: 15-1. Season: 168-87-1 (.659)
I had my best week of the season in the last week of the season. That's how it goes a lot of the time because often times it takes that long to figure out this crazy league! I'm happy with my record too. Last year I went 176-79-1 (69%), which was probably my best ever.
All game times are in the Eastern time zone.
Kansas City (11-5) at Indianapolis (11-5) 4:35 pm (SAT on NBC)
They met two weeks ago with the Colts dominating on their way to a 23-7 win. I was watching it and wondered why the Chiefs didn't give Jamaal Charles the ball more. Charles had a big game with 106 yards on 13 carries, which included a 31 yard TD run, but shouldn't he have run the ball even more? I think the Chiefs will learn from that mistake and run Charles a lot especially because the Colts are 26th against the run. The other key factor in that game is turnovers since the Chiefs committed four while the Colts turned it over zero times.
The previous meeting is important and so is momentum. The Colts are coming into this game at home with three straight wins that I would consider to be dominant victories. Meanwhile, the Chiefs ended the year 2-5 after their 9-0 start (they played backups in week 17), so you have to wonder what team is going to show up. The thing is, I really like that they rested their starters last week. I think it will allow the Chiefs to be more focused this time around and I believe in coach Andy Reid making the right adjustments in their rematch.
I like the way the Colts have played in the last month with Andrew Luck doing a good job of spreading the ball around, but I think the Chiefs are the better team. I think their defense will present problems in terms of the pass rush and quality play in the secondary. I also think the Chiefs offense will lean heavily on Jamaal Charles not only because they learned from not giving him the ball enough the last time they played, but also because he's rested after a week off. There's a reason this spread is just 2 points for the Colts. They're evenly matched teams. It should be a fun game. Chiefs 23-20
New Orleans (11-5) at Philadelphia (10-6) 8:10 pm (SAT on NBC)
It's the 3 vs. 6 matchup with the Eagles having one less win and are favored by 2.5 points. This is the hardest game to pick this weekend. I think they're evenly matched in a lot of ways. Obviously the big story is that the Saints have never won a road playoff game in their history and their 3-5 road record this season (8-0 at home) suggests that they still have those road issues. The funny thing about the Eagles is they're not a dominant home team since they're only 4-4 at Lincoln Financial Field this year.
These teams are similar in a lot of ways with the Eagles putting up 28 PPG and the Saints at 26 PPG. The big stat that jumps out at me is that the Saints are 2nd passing yards while the Eagles defense ranks dead last in passing yards while they give up 290 yards per game. That's a really high number especially when you're set to face off with the great Drew Brees. Where the Eagles have the big advantage is in the running game since they are #1 in rushing yards per game led by superstar RB LeSean McCoy. If the Eagles can establish the running game early and stick with it they can definitely win this game. If the Eagles get down, can Nick Foles bring them back? It's tough to know that when it's his first playoff game.
I'm leaning towards the Saints. I realize that they've never won a road playoff game, but all good streaks must come to an end at some point. When they go on the road they're not as deadly as they are at home, but I think they're the better team in this matchup. I'm not sure if the Eagles LBs can deal with Jimmy Graham. If they key on Graham, can they slow down the WRs like Colston, Moore & Stills - all of whom are healthy and playing at a high level? I also don't think the Eagles passing attack has enough weapons. The Saints should need to make sure that Desean Jackson doesn't get deep on them and keep everything in front of them. If you prevent the Eagles from making the big plays you can slow them down.
I think this will be the closest game of the weekend. The cold will be a factor, but I think the Saints are the better team in this match and they will overcome that. It's not like a team that's 4-4 at home has much of an advantage anyway. That's one of the worst home records you'll ever see for a playoff team. I like the experience of Brees and company to find a way to get the win. Saints 24-20
San Diego (9-7) at Cincinnati (11-5) 1:05 pm (SUN on CBS)
I believe in the Bengals, especially at home where they went 8-0 on the season. The thing about their home wins is when you look at the scores they were mostly comfortable wins other than a few early in the year. When you have that comfort level at home, plus a balanced team that can put up points and stop teams when it counts, they're tough to deal with. In the case of the Chargers, they have the all important momentum with four straight wins in must win games. Their last loss was a 17-10 home game to the Bengals. I remember writing about that that game and thinking it would be a shootout in San Diego. Instead, both offenses played poorly. Now you have to wonder if we'll see a repeat of that or if both offenses will wake up.
I'm going with the Bengals to win this game. I think QB Andy Dalton has done a great job at home. He'll always look for AJ Green and the defense knows that, but Dalton has shown an ability to find his teammates too. Their balanced running attack helps as well. I don't know if the Chargers defense is good enough to consistently stop them. I realize the last time they played it was 17-10, but if you look at both teams they had huge scoring games after that one. They each figured out what works. Can Phil Rivers and the Chargers offense put up enough points to get the win? I don't think they will.
The spread is 7 points for the Bengals. I think they'll win and cover. Bengals 34-20
San Francisco (12-4) at Green Bay (8-7-1) 4:40 pm (SUN on FOX)
You don't see it too often where a 12 win team has to go on the road to face an 8 win team. That's just how it worked out. The big story in this game is likely going to involve the weather since there are reports that the weather could be at -5 (that's Fahrenheit) at game time. It's tough to function at the normal level when it's that cold. The ball won't travel as far on kicks or deep passes. Guys won't be able to run as fast as usual. The hits that players deliver will hurt more because of the cold. A lot of things change. Of course it's not a case where it really favors one team over another because they're playing in the same elements. The Packers might be more used to it because of where they play, but is their team more equipped for it personnel wise? I'm not sure about that.
I think the Niners are the better team. If you look at the record it will tell you that. Obviously the Packers record was hurt by the absence of Aaron Rodgers. They were 6-2 this season in games he started and finished. He's as valuable as any player in the league. I don't think they match up well with the Niners, though. Can they protect Rodgers from that aggressive Niners defense with a fierce pass rush and excellent players all around that defense? I like the Niners to win the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Niners defense is 4th against the run (could be a tough game for Eddie Lacy) and 7th against the pass, which will make it difficult in bad weather conditions.
The other thing I really like about the Niners is that their offense is gelling at the perfect time. Now that their best WR Michael Crabtree is back and in game shape, they look normal again. They have depth at RB led by Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin is very good on the opposite side of Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis is one of the best at his position too. All of that has led to improved play by QB Colin Kaepernick, who had a slow start to the year, but finished strong. I just don't think the Packers defense (24th vs pass, 25th vs run) is going to be able to stop them all day long. I doubt it will be a high scoring game, but I like the Niners to win and cover the three points. 49ers 20-13
I picked three road teams to win. I think home field advantage will be a bigger deal next week when the teams that earned the byes are at home. This week is more of a tossup to me.
That's all for me this week. Next week we're down to eight teams. Bring it on.