Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rambling Gambler: Pick Six Divisional Playoffs

Ramblings and Gambling
By Erik Laurinovics, for The Football ERA
Well good thing I put up that disclaimer in last week's post! Started the playoffs with a bang, going 1-3 in the Wild Card week. Even more disappointing is that none of these really had much of a chance of covering late in the game, save the Eagles (albeit a small one). While I'm sure some of you out there took Seattle and the points, I don't think too many people had the Seahawks winning that game. Turns out that Malcom Jenkins is very important to that secondary, as Roman Harper spent the entire game making an anti-highlight reel. It was a huge upset, but I'm going to try my luck and take another swing at the Seahawks this week.
Anyway, not quite as much to go over with only four games this past week, but judging from the games, we are in store for one exciting postseason; and the games are only going to get better. On to the recap.

Wildcard Recap


New Orleans -10.5 over SEATTLE: The latest, greatest upset of the year? I hope the Bears do the world a favor and obliterate the Seahawks... I don't know about you, but I can't take anymore of this "Pete Carroll cheerleader" stuff. It's everywhere!
INDIANAPOLIS -3 over NY Jets: Indy couldn't get enough offense going to hold on and cover. Revis completely took away Reggie Wayne (1 catch) and the Colts were crippled. Bizarre call by Caldwell with that timeout.
PHILADELHPIA -2.5 over Green Bay: This was a classic example of one team "losing the game." Green Bay definitely earned the win, but they weren't playing their best ball either. Philadelphia simply had more critical mistakes.


Baltimore -3 over KANSAS CITY: I was surprised at the halftime score, but the final score came out looking right. I'm a little concerned about the Ravens making it out of this week because the Baltimore offense looked stoppable, but the defense played great.

2010-11 Playoff Record: 1-3-0

Divisional Round Picks

CHICAGO -10 over Seattle

You knew this was coming. Like a moth to a flame, I return to bet it all against the Seahawks. Fine, the Seahawks beat the Saints and Matt Hasselbeck looked more like Drew Brees than Drew Brees did. How did they do it? I have no clue. That's what worries me. You can look at the game and see why they won that game, but it doesn't make any sense whatsoever when put in context with the rest of their season. The Seahawks have won two consecutive games twice this entire season (week 6-7, week 17-wildcard) and they've yet to win three in a row. That's not to say they can't beat the Bears, but this isn't a 3 point spread. Seattle is a double-digit underdog again for the same reasons they were last week, and this time there won't be a home crowd to support them.
The Bears come into the game rested and Cutler has to be licking his chops after watching Brees throw for 404 yards last week. Seattle may have won their week 6 meeting in Chicago 23-20, but the Bears improved substantially after that meeting. The Bears lost 3 of their first 7 games (playing Seattle in week 6), but went on to win 7 of their last 9, with week 17 being a meaningless affair and a loss.
In the end, it took the game of Matt Hasselbeck's career to topple the Saints, and I really doubt he's going to follow the game of his career with another game of his career. Chicago's D should eat Seattle up and as the Saints made evident last week, it's not hard to move the ball against Seattle.

NEW ENGLAND -9 over New York Jets

Yep, I'm taking both big favorites this week. Why? Well, I realize big favorites this year have a questionable track record, but I can't take the Seahawks on the road and the Jets just gave me the reason I needed to pick this game. The reason? Starting right tackle Damien Woody is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a torn Achilles' tendon. Woody was easily the best run blocker on the o-line and his loss is a fairly substantial blow to a team that lives on the run. This will make it even easier for the Pats to load up against the run and force Sanchez and the Jets 22nd ranked passing offense to beat them. Sanchez was a ho-hum 18/31, 189 yards, 1 INT against the Colts and the Jets barely squeaked out the win on the ground. If there is any coach out there that knows how to exploit a weakness, it's Bill Belichick, and I wouldn't be surprised if he can capitalize on the injury and really stifle the Jets run game. Moreover, when these teams played in week 13, the Jets vaunted pass defense surrendered 326 yards and 4 TDs to Tom Brady, and the Pats won 45-3. This time, the Patriots have had two weeks to prepare (and doesn't Belichick have some sort of ridiculous record coming off a bye? I couldn't find that out to confirm, but I believe he does) and one of the best offensive lines in football is down one of its best blockers. It might not be 45-3 this time, but I think the Patriots will take care of the Jets fairly easily, again.

PITTSBURGH -3 over Baltimore

I'm really looking forward to watching this game and think this is the game of the week. Every game between these two is a good one and I believe I heard them say on ESPN that the past four have been within 3 points. This very well may be a field goal game so I plan on betting the money line, but I like the Steelers giving the points. They're coming off a bye and a dominant performance against the Browns. The offense is wonderfully balanced this year with Mendenhall establishing himself as a powerful runner and Mike Wallace gives the team a big play threat on every pass. That threat keeps defenses honest and creates a bit more running room. The statistics back this up as the Steelers are ranked 14th passing and 11th rushing. The key stat for me in this matchup though is big plays. Specifically, passing plays over 20 yards. Ben Roethlisberger is 6th in the NFL with 52 passes over 20 yards. The Ravens defense has allowed 52 plays over 20 yards, the 10th most in the league. Conversely, Pittsburgh has allowed the fewest, giving up only 35 passes over 20 yards. In a game that will surely be defined by defense, turnovers and big plays will both be deciding factors. Pittsburgh has demonstrated the ability to contain offenses and prevent big plays all season, whereas Baltimore has given up more than their fair share. This will be a battle, but I don't think Baltimore has enough might on either offense or defense to pull this one out. I look for this to be a tight, low-scoring first half (1st half under?) and then the Steelers to break it open with some big plays in the second half.

Green Bay +2.5 over ATLANTA

This is the toughest game of the week for me and I'm really trusting my gut on this one. The emergence of James Starks (much to my chagrin after predicting him to breakout in a regular season game some weeks ago) really completes the Green Bay offense, if he can consistently produce. I don't think last week was a flash-in-the-pan performance, so I'm going to pick the Pack on the upset. The Packers with a run game are very much like Pittsburgh, offensively speaking. Greg Jennings can stretch the field and keep the defense honest, opening up the running lanes. We saw this demonstrated last week against Philly. Starks ran for 123 yards, Rodgers threw for 180 yards and 3 TDs. Another important stat is the fact that Rodgers was sacked only twice; not bad considering the Packers gave up 38 sacks over the regular season. Keeping Rodgers upright has been paramount to Green Bay's success, and people often forget that a successful run game will keep heat off the quarterback. Atlanta finished 20th in the league this year in sacks, and only got to Rodgers once in their week 12 matchup. He finished that game with 344 yards passing. In all actuality, Green Bay won most of the statistical battles in the week 12 game. The only two categories they were substantially worse in happened to be important though, as the Packers went 2/4 in the red zone (Atlanta went 2/2) and committed 8 penalties to Atlanta's 4. Aside from that, the Packers played a good game, showed they can contend with the Falcons, and if they play with a bit more discipline and efficiency this time, they can beat them. In the end, getting another dimension on offense will put them on top, and though this one will probably be another nail-biter, I look for Green Bay to hang on and win.

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