Saturday, January 12, 2008

NFL Blogging: Second Round Playoff Picks

Once more, I find myself scrambling to put these up before the games are played. Even though I've been contemplating them for a while now. Oh well, it worked last week as I went four for four. Believe me, I'm as surprised as anyone. Changing how I do things would obviously upset the delicate karmic balance that led to this unexpected result. So, now, it's not lack of planning, it's superstition.

Doing well last weekend, though, only increases the pressure to do well this weekend. Because lst wekeend was the easy one. The separation between the bottom teams in each conference and those in the middle being larger than the difference between the good teams and the merely adequate ones. That difference being that a second rung team can go into a favorite and steal a game with a break here and there.

Being entirely correct last weekend also set today and tomorrow's slates with a wealth of good games. Today, we have Holmgren and Hasslebeck making another return trip to Green Bay to face Farve and his daycare center of a team in the blistering cold. I'm sure we all remember what happened last time.

Tomorrow there's the rubber match in this season's tense Dallas/New York series. And even the Chargers at the Colts is a rematch of an early season meeting between two teams who'd love to knock off the Patriots. But, of course, it's all prelude to tonight's game between Jacksonville and those same Patriots.

There are some glaringly obvious picks this week, true, but there are also some close calls. Close because the teams involved are so evenly matched and the games promise to be exciting. I dread to watch since the commercials will no doubt be filled with political ad after political ad for the upcoming Republican primary. And, yet, I fear to turn away. So, let's get to it.

  • Seattle over GREEN BAY

I'm calling for the upset here. It's a bit of a stretch I know but while the home favorites win a lot of the time in these divisional playoffs, I think there's got to be at least one upset. Especially this year. One of the four teams who seem likely to win has to lose and while a lot of people think that's Dallas, I'm halfway convinced it's Green Bay. There are two reasons, basically. The first is Brett Farve. He's rejuvenated his career this year. To the point where he's thinking about coming back for another. And he's done it by becoming, well, Trent Dilfer. By making the smart plays, by not costing his team the game, by playing within himself and all those other non-glorified things that are the hallmark of a mediocre quarterback doing his best to let the team win the game for him. Since Farve is ever so slightly more talented than your average caretaker quarterback, it's worked wonders. But towards the end of the season, I thought I detected an ever so subtle shift back to his default gunslinger mode. And while, yes, he can make a lot of throws that others can't make he also makes a lot of that no one can make. And while his skills are still good they've noticeably diminished over the years to the point where the gunslinger is shooting himself in the foot as often as he's quickdrawing from the holster. Trying to force a rocketball to his recievers, Farve is good for at least a few drive killers if not out and out turnovers during the course of the game. Farve is better off playing the way that got him to this point. But with all the hype, with all the publicity, with all the attention, can Farve resist the urge to go out there and once more show everyone what he can do? I don't know. What I do know is that Seattle has a great defense. They played a soft schedule but they played it well. Last week they nearly got swept away by the tide of emotion around Washington's 21st man. And, it wasn't publicized at the time, but I'm fairly certain they knew about Gibbs's pending retirement, too. That's a potent combination and it was their defense that held them in that game. If Farve has a bad game then Seattle can capitolize. The second reason is that Green Bay is young. Youngest team in the league. While the Seahawks have calmly and quietly been on a multiple season playoff streak over the past few years. Not going to stack up against Indy or New England, but who is? The focus on Hassleback's overtime boast seems to be about hubris. But, to me, it shows that Seattle has been in the playoffs before. They've been in tough games before. And, sometimes, you have to lose those sort of games before you can win them. The stat I'm looking for here is picks. If Seattle's secondary grabs a couple, especially early, then look out.[1]

  • NEW ENGLAND over Jacksonville

Well, this is the marque match-up right here. Everything else is just about setting up the next potential victim. But, then, that's what happens when you have an undefeated team about to play their first game in the playoffs. Now, I know I've said that I expect New England won't be able to complete their magical ride, that they're going to trip somewhere along the point. And Jacksonville looks like a perfect opportunity. But, you know, the Patriots have been proving the doubters wrong all season and until they lose again there's no way I'm picking against them. That said, I still think they're more than likely to win this game. That the Jags have a stout running game and the Pats a subpar run defense has been discussed to death. Likewise, the pressure, the tension that mounts exponentially with each game for a team trying to stay perfect. For me, the x-factor is the weather. That they play outdoors in a cold weather state is a large part of the reason for Why The Patriots Will Lose (TM, patent pending). When you get the kind of atmosphere you had at, say, the Tuck Game, then what those sloppy, wintery conditions do is level the playing field. Making anything possible since it takes away more from the better team than the less skilled team loses. A few breaks, a few bounces, a few quirks of fate and probability and the madness begins as the Patriots go down in flames. But the weather, while not perfect, isn't going to be that bad this weekend. If it's anything like around here it's going to be chillier than it has been and more than a little muddy but the recent warm snap means it's going to be well above the freezing rain and driving snow that could derail the New England juggernaut. That's because the secret to the Pats success is the passing game. There's a reason that Brady and Moss set all those records and it's because they aired it out so much. If they have the conditions to put a lot of points on the board then it helps out their run defense because the other team has to play from behind and move away from steadily gashing their undersized line. And, I think, the yards their opponents pick up in garbage time or as they've dropped into deep coverage also make their run defense worse than it appears. Make no mistake, it's the chink in the Patriot's armor. But that just means it's merely adequate not amazingly exceptional. While they won't have the same track as they would in an indoor stadium, New England should still be able to thorw the ball. And that quick strike capability will mean they're never out of the game. This promises to be a great game, if you're into smashmouth football. As a three yards and a cloud of dust man, I am. What's going to happen probably won't be pretty but it should be good football. It'll either be a memorable epic or a grindingly boring game. Either way, I'm going to be watching.

  • DALLAS over New York

A lot of people have foreseen the upset here. And there's definitely good reason. This is the third time the teams have played with Dallas taking the first two. And that rubber match can often go towards the underdog with more than enough motivation to win. New York plays well on the road they looked decent if not great against a well-rested and well-readied Tampa Bay team last week. But, well, in this battle of untested playoff quarterback with shaky reputations I'm going to go with the guy at home instead of the guy on the road. So, it's Tony "Hey, where'd the ball go?" Romo over Eli "Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit!" Manning for me. Your mileage may vary but that's how I'm going to roll. There's nothing so much to suggest why one team or the other can't win or can't lose so much as I doubt the explanations offered for why the Giants could pull the upset. Because they mostly have to do with the imminent collapse of the Cowboys in one way or another. Whether it's Romo thinking about his personal chicken of the sea or the Dallas coaches eying the big payoffs on the other side of their contracts, I don't think the distraction is all that much of a factor. Nor do I think their recent offensive woes are anything much to go by. The 'Boys had their playoff spot locked up and not much to play for as the season wound down. There's the rust factor at play since they haven't played a meaningful game in a while but I'm not holding that against the Colts and I see no reason to hold it against the Cowboys, either. Tony Romo is a concern, especially after his meltdown last season but, again, on the other sideline is Manning the Younger. And the Giants are, ultimately, a very flawed team with some gaping holes to exploit, especially if your coaching staff's been sitting around during the bye week picking them apart. They're a streaky team, though, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them win this game. I just don't think it's likely.

  • INDIANAPOLIS over San Diego

As close as a mortal lock as it's going to get this weekend. The Chargers looked awful beating the Titans last week. And, I know, I know, a win is a win but what the Chargers needed to do was to storm out of the gates. To beat up on their lesser opponent and prove that their poor start to the season was an anomaly. That last year's early exit was a fluke. And they were hitting the ground running this season. That they were, in short, a legitimate contender. Instead, they barely handled a weak and roughed up Tennessee team. They weren't exactly in danger of losing that game. But they weren't exactly in danger of running away with it. Thomlinson was wretched, the less said about the coaching the better, and on and on down the list, there were big warning signs that this is a team primed for collapse. On the other hand the Colts are, well, the Colts. They've been excellent for years. Only the Patriots have stopped them from dominating the league. And, last I checked, they were still the defending champions. They've had a week off to get healthy and to prepare. And while that can work against you, as it did for Tampa last week, it can also work for you. And, frankly, Tony Dungy is a better coach than John Gruden. And the Colts are the sort of veteran, experienced team that knows what to do. Since, after all, they've only been doing it for years. This is the Wallace Rule in full effect. You want to unseat the champs, you have to walk into their building and unthrone them. You have to knock them the fuck out. Leave no doubt. I don't think the Chargers can do that.

[1] - Yes, I know, this is going up a few minutes after the game started. Seattle scored off an early pick (Well, really a coverage fumble) that was returned to the goalline and they're threatening again after another turnover at midfield. But, trust me, I actually wrote that on, like, Wednesday in between throwing up everything I've ever eaten. I just hadn't gotten around to polishing that thought up and posting it yet. And, yep, they've just scored to go up 14-0 as I'm about to press the submit button here. I am seriously scarred that I might have been right here.

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