Prepare For a Wild Wild Card Weekend

After a roller coaster of a season, we’ve reached the part of the year which makes 99% of would-be prognosticators hang their heads in shame: looking back on pre-season NFL predictions. I’ve discovered that if I had just repeated my 2009 pre-season NFL predictions as my 2010 pre-season NFL predictions, I would have gotten eight of the twelve playoff teams correct, including five of the division winners.

Instead, I went and made new predictions at the beginning of this season and got seven of the twelve playoff teams correct, only two of which were the correct division winners (Indianapolis and Kansas City). Of the teams that received a first round bye, New England was the only one I even had making the playoffs, and I had them as a wild card team behind the Jets. I could still technically get my Super Bowl prediction right (Green Bay over Indianapolis), but it doesn’t look promising. What an embarrassment. Good thing I don’t have to stick with the picks I made in August, because it’s going to be difficult for Dallas to make it to the NFC Championship game.

Every year, I have lofty aspirations of going 11-0 against the spread in the playoffs. If memory serves correctly, I’ve never even made it through Wild Card weekend unscathed. Last season, I lost the first game of the playoffs, even though I had Bengals (-3) over Jets pegged as my lock of the weekend. Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot since last January, and I’m ready to start this year off with four winners.

Saturday 4:30 ET: Seattle (+10.5) vs. New Orleans

In 4 of the past 5 seasons, there has been at least one division winner generally perceived as un-deserving of a home game against a superior team that ended up winning that game. In 2006, a 12-4 Jacksonville team went into 10-6 New England and got slaughtered. In 2007, Dallas went into Seattle and Romo’s career as a holder for field goals abruptly ended. In 2009, Saturday proved to be quite a shocker as 9-7 Arizona and 8-8 San Diego held serve at home against 11-5 Atlanta and 12-4 Indianapolis, respectively. And last year, the Cardinals did it again with a somewhat surprising home win over Green Bay. Statistically, none of these games made any sense, and comparatively, this potential upset makes less sense than any of them, but I’m confidently filing this pick under “crazy shit always happens on wild card weekend.”

Score: NO 24-21.

Saturday 8:00 ET: Indianapolis (-2.5) vs. New York

I’m going to throw a lot of stats at you, but here’s the point: the key to the Jets’ success is getting pressure on the quarterback and keeping pressure off of Sanchez.

1) In the four games this season in which they’ve allowed 21+ points (2-2 record), the Jets have averaged just two sacks per game and allowed 2.5 passing TDs per game.

2) Peyton Manning was only sacked once every 43 passing attempts, best among starting QBs, and only trailed Tom Brady in terms of passing TDs this season.

3) Prior to Week 17’s game against Brian Brohm and Levi Brown, the not-as-good-as-advertised Jets pass defense had been allowing three pass TDs for every ball it intercepted.

4) Since starting the season on fire, Mark Sanchez has had a TD/INT ratio of 8/13; and those numbers would be significantly worse if he hadn’t had the luxury of facing the Texans in Week 11.

5) Among the 31 starting quarterbacks who qualified, Mark Sanchez had the 27th best passer rating. Even I don’t know how to calculate passer rating, but when you’re sandwiched between guys like Chad Henne, Matt Hasselbeck, Derek Anderson, and Jimmy Clausen, it can’t be a good thing.

6) The Jets allowed 13.4 points per game at home, but allowed 24.6 points per game on the road.

I could go on, but the moral of the story is that the Jets defense has been over-rated since the day it signed Antonio Cromartie, it has been over-matched on the road, it struggles against QBs who don’t take sacks, and it doesn’t have a quarterback competent enough to make up for its shortcomings. Also, you never bet against Peyton Manning

Score: IND 31-17.

Sunday 1:00 ET: Kansas City (+3) vs. Baltimore

As a Chiefs fan, this is the match-up I was hoping for. Lest you think I’m full of shit and have only in the past few hours talked myself into this pick, here’s the twitter dialogue I had going on December 26th with the only other Chiefs fan I know in the world:

Alex: @kerrancejames for some strange reason, I have a really good feeling about us in the playoffs. Unlike ’03 when we got blasted

Me: @ppbbww I think our best path to the Super Bowl is as a 4 seed against BLT in 1st round and NE in the semis. We can’t run on PIT or NYJ.

Me: @ppbbww But we definitely have some 2007-08 Arizona Cardinals “why not us?!” potential going on. No one will be giving us any chance.

Alex: @kerrancejames if pit is w/o Troy I wouldn’t mind them, but I agree. #chiefswill

Me: @ppbbww there’s no way Troy won’t go in the playoffs, especially if they get a first round bye. I think they’re the best of the AFC 6. #gag

I only added that last tweet as foreshadowing for next week when I pick the Steelers over the Colts regardless of the line.

I like the Chiefs for four major reasons:

1) In games against teams in the top half of the league in rushing yards, the Ravens have allowed over 100 yards per game. Only one of those teams ranked in the top six in rushing (NYJ – 116 rush yards vs. BAL in Week 1), and the Chiefs had the top rushing offense in the NFL by a somewhat considerable margin.

2) Despite getting smoked by Oakland in Week 17, the Chiefs finished the regular season with a home record of 7-1 and an average score of 24 – 14.75. Despite getting to play @ Carolina, the Ravens finished the regular season with a road record of 5-3 and an average score of 21.1 – 17.25.

3) He’s had a great passer rating since starting out the season with a TD/INT ratio of 1/5, but if he’s been on your fantasy team or you live within 50 miles of Baltimore and have been forced to watch all their games, you’ve probably noticed that Flacco hasn’t been as good as his numbers and has taken a lot of sacks leading up to a game against the AFC’s sack leader, Tamba Hali.

4) ESPN will undoubtedly try to sell you on the fact that Cassel has never played in the playoffs and that Flacco has won three road playoff games in his brief career, but he certainly wasn’t responsible for any of those wins. In five career games in the playoffs (all on the road), Flacco’s numbers are 57 completions on 120 attempts (47.5%) for 660 yards, 1 TD, and 6 INT.

Ray Rice has had two amazing games this season and a whole slew of mediocre performances. If the front four can hold him in check, the Chiefs should be able to win a game that may very well have 70+ rush attempts and fewer than 40 pass attempts.

Score: KC 20-17.

Sunday 4:30 ET: Green Bay (+3) @ Philadelphia

After all the stats I’ve been throwing around, this one is just a gut call. I really think it should be a PK, so I’m taking the points. Just for good measure, I’ll add one stat that makes me lean towards Green Bay: Since Week 8, despite losing three games, the Packers have an average margin of victory of 13 points per game, and have held opponents to just 11.6 points per game. Of course, only one of those games was against a team that can score in bunches like the Eagles (New England), but I think the Packers pass D is good enough and opposing teams have been figuring out Michael Vick well enough that they’ll be able to stay in this game just long enough for Aaron Rodgers to do something horribly un-clutch, such as his OT sack/fumble last year in the playoffs.

Score: PHI 28-27.

Fantasy Suggestions

In case you’re doing a playoff scramble (Gridiron Playoff Challenge with ESPN), I’ll let you know who I see as the 5 best options at each position for Wild Card Weekend.

In order from best to “worst”

QB: P. Manning, D. Brees, M. Vick, A. Rodgers, M. Cassel

RB: P. Thomas, J. Charles, L. McCoy, L. Tomlinson, R. Rice

WR: G. Jennings, P. Garcon (Wayne on Revis Island), M. Colston, S. Holmes, D. Bowe

TE: J. Tamme, J. Graham, T. Moeaki, T. Heap, D. Keller

DEF: New Orleans, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Baltimore, Kansas City

 

Advertisements