Escapism: My Playoff Football Picks
I’m an avid sports enthusiast. As in sitting on the couch, watching. Baseball is my first spiritual love in terms of sports, but football, especially playoff football, is just so much fun, I can’t stand it.
I’m no NFL expert, but if I were a betting man, I would have finished the season in the black betting against the line. Barely. I know this because the Fox Sports website has this very cool contest-thing in which each week, you place theoretical wagers against the line and then weight them based on which bets you think will do best. It’s challenging, but I finished 89th out 2,000 participants, in the 97th percentile. Clearly, not good enough to make a living out of picking NFL games, but passable enough to discuss things with some level of understanding over a few beers. Ok, over a whole lot of beers.
And I did blog about the demise of both the New England and Pittsburgh franchises last month and that turned out to be fairly accurate.
So with my mediocre credentials firmly established, here are some observations on this past weekend of Wild Card playoffs and my hilarious predictions for next weekend’s divisional action. “Hilarious,” because, trust me, I’ve followed the experts on Fox, ESPN and CBS all season, and I know they’re full of crap, so there’s no telling what I’m full of.
In this town in which I currently reside for the next three weeks or so, the Giants were supposed to be the darlings of New York. They, of course, turned out to be a joke. Meantime, the Jets, who seemed to be floundering most of the season, fixed everything with two convincing wins to close out the year against teams who were mostly resting their starters. But a win is a win, including the one against Indianapolis that ended the Colt’s undefeated string. The Jets are a dangerous team. In the playoffs, any team with an excellent running game and a tough defense is going to do well. The wild card is rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Against Cincinnati Saturday, he showed a lot of poise. If he stays within himself, keeps the passing to the play-action variety, which he can do quite well with their great rushing attack, and avoids stupid mistakes (which he had his fair share of in weeks 4-15), Gang Green might surprise.
Tony Romo and the boys have stepped it up right at the perfect time of the year. It was hard to believe the Pokes hadn’t actually won a playoff game for 13 years. But that was some demolition of the inconsistent and very young Eagles. The Cowboy offense moved confidently and the defense reaped havoc. The only thing that worries me about the Cowboys is that all the experts are saying they’re the best team of the eight left in the playoffs. Being a consensus favorite is like getting your mug on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And I couldn’t help but notice that experts like Terry Bradshaw who are saying Dallas is the best team in football right now, would also not commit to picking them for the Super Bowl- so even guys who get paid to analyze this stuff are nervously uncertain.
Here’s my I-told-you-so. On December 7th I wrote that you could stick a fork in the Patriots. They had just been man-handled by the New Orleans Saints and it was just a couple of weeks after Bill Belichick had made that bizarre play-call against the Colts when he went for it on a 4th and 3 from their own 27-yeard line without 2 minutes to play, didn’t make it and then watched as Peyton Manning eviscerated them. The Ravens now have an offense to go along with their smash-mouth defense. Ray Rice is an awesome running back and Joe Flacco is a decent QB. Their complete demolition of the Patriots might have been a surprise, but that they won was not. Last time the Pats lost a playoff game at home, Jimmy Carter was still President. What a great run they had.
What a game! The highest scoring playoff contest in NFL history. The 38 year-old Kurt Warner and Aaron Rogers trading TD after TD all game long only to have a forced fumble and defensive touchdown end it in Sudden Death overtime. I can only imagine what it must have been like for those poor Packer fans watching incredulously as Michael Adams popped the ball loose from Rogers’ grasp and Karlos Dansby trucked 17 yards into the end zone to give the Cardinals a remarkably insane 51-45 victory. This game is why the NFL is so much fun to watch.
The Big Picks for Next Weekend
Cardinals at Saints
Cardinals. What happened to the Saints? They just didn’t close well at all. They have a potentially devastating offense and very opportunistic defense that created lots of turnovers though most of the year. But these are not the same Saints that crushed New England earlier in the season. They just seemed to flat run out of steam. And Kurt Warner proved the value of a grizzled (as opposed to lightly baked) veteran in the playoffs. He’s one of the best QB’s in playoff history (let’s not forget his incredible stint running the Rams offense of a decade ago). He leads Arizona to a close victory in the Louisiana Superdome.
Cowboys at Vikings
Cowboys. Minnesota, like the Saints, showed their weaknesses toward the end of the season. They consistently lost this year when they faced aggressive, blitzing defenses. The Pokes will get to Bret Favre. Throughout his career, he’s always been the type to throw four touchdown passes one week and four interceptions the next. This was the only season in which, for the first 12 games, he was nearly perfect. He will not be anywhere near perfect against the Dallas defense, even in the Metrodome. Cowboys win convincingly.
Jets at Chargers
Chargers, but I think this will be close. The Jets could upset with their ball-control offense and aggressive defense. But Phil Rivers and Norv Turner’s Chargers are really playing good football. They’ve closed out strongly, they’re at home and they are a completely solid team. In fact, when the experts say the Cowboys are the best team left in the playoffs, I wonder what they’re smoking, because San Diego is really, really tough. Chargers offense overcomes the Jets defense.
Ravens at Colts
Colts. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clarke are just too much, even for the Raven’s defense. Manning is having the best year of his already spectacular career and the Colts will not lose this game at home. I don’t think it’ll even be close.
Back at you next Monday with the next round of picks but I think it’s going to go like this. The Cowboys beat the Cardinals in the NFC title game, the Chargers, who have beat the Colts in the past and seem to have their number, upset Indianapolis. The Chargers beat the Cowboys and show everybody who really is the best team in football.
And now my butt is right out there on a limb, in public, making foolish predictions for all to see. Ah, the joy of having your own web-blog.