Friday, January 15, 2010

NFL 2009 Playoffs: Divisional Round Picks

I write this while still in the 3rd stage of grief (Anger & Bargaining .....and more anger).

Arizona Cardinals (+7) at New Orleans Saints

Both these teams did not have good finishes to their regular season. But the Cardinals came out last week and exploded on offense to beat the Packers (sigh!). The Saints will want to come out of the gate this weekend at home and take advantage of the porous Cards defense. This is expected to be a high scoring game with the over/under on total score being 57. But don't be surprised if both teams go ultra-conservative after a couple of early turn overs on both sides.

The Cardinals may not have Boldin again this week, but that should not be a problem if last week was any indication. They will hope Warner is at least a shell of the player he was last week, when he executed their offense like a man possessed. The Cards also probably surprised themselves with how effective their running game with Beanie Wells was too. But they would have to be worried about how their defense was man-handled by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers almost letting the Packs come back after having a 21 point lead over them in the 3rd quarter.

Drew Brees must be drooling after watching film of the Cards-Packers game. (He would have had a hard time trying to pick which team he would want to play as both defenses sucked in that game). After a week of rest, I fully expect the Saints offense to come marching in and exploding from the get-go. The Saints defense too is healthier than it was the last week of the regular season. They play their best when the Saints have the lead and the odds are that they would.

My Pick:
Against the spread: Saints (+7)
Outright Win: Saints

Baltimore Ravens (+6) at Indianapolis Colts

The Ravens just trampled over the already battered Patriots last week. It was a similar start to how the Cards jumped to a 2+ TD lead in a few minuted. Only difference, the Patriots did not have the heart of the young Packer team to test the Ravens by getting close and making the now shaky Flacco throw more (Flacco threw for a meager 34 yards that entire game). But to be fair to the Ravens, they did not need him to throw a lot, having a big lead all through and also with the Pats D unable to stop the run. But their match up with the Colts is going to be way different. Peyton and the Colts offense are not going to turn the ball over like the Patriots did (which was not expected either). If the Colts manage to score a few points early, which they are more than capable of doing, Ravens will be forced to place the ball in the hands of Joe Flacco to try keep up with Peyton. Good luck with that when you have Mathis and Freeney on the Colts D line rested and raring to go. The onus will be on the Ravens Defense to try keep the Colts offense in check. They held the Colts to 17 points in Week 9 of the regular season this year, but to do that twice in a year will be a tall order even for a vaunted Ravens D led by ray Lewis.

The Colts have been taking a lot of flake for their "mailing it in", the last 2 weeks of the regular season. They not only angered Indy fans depriving them of the opportunity for a "perfect" season, but they also killed the chances of other teams by letting the Jets win their Week 16 game that we now remember as the "Curtis Painter Bowl". Coach Caldwell and Peyton now have to go all the way and win the Super Bowl to justify throwing away those last 2 games. The Colts offense has always been hampered against the Ravens, but they are undefeated to the Ravens in the 9 head-to-head games they have had. Adding to the intrigue factor, the fact that Indy was originally the Baltimore Colts and they suddenly fled Baltimore one night and moved to Indy. Baltimore fans will take this game personally because of this.

I really think the winner of this game will be my pick to win it all this year.

My Pick:
Against the spread: Colts (+6)
Outright Win: Colts

Dallas Cowboys (+2.5) at Minnesota Vikings

The Cowboys are arguably the hottest team in the playoffs right now. But how long can Wade Philips and Tony Romo go like this without facing their usual playoff goof-ups. Luckily for them, this week they have a bunch of similar characters on the opposite side of the field. The 39 year old Favre, the flaky impatient Brad Childress and the all of a sudden fumble-prone Adrian Peterson. This is one of the games where you wouldn't be surprised if anything happened..... and I mean anything.

The game plan for the boys should be simple. Get their 3 headed running attack of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Rashard Choice out there and pound the ball. Romo will be called only to make 3rd down conversions or to mix in a play action pass for a big play. Meanwhile, the Dallas Defensive front four will be expected to bring pressure on Favre try forcing him into mistakes. As long as the 'boys do not turn over the ball, they would like their chances of controlling the pace of the game. They would hope it does not come down to a clutch moment for Shaun Suishum.

The Vikings want to believe that they are back to their early regular season for after thumping the Giants in Week 17. They clearly seem to be destined to go as far as Favre's arm takes them. Adrian Peterson seems to be an after thought in their game-plan where they have been successful. The games they tried to make Peterson carry the load (against Cardinals, Panthers and the first half of the Bears games), they were stuck and obviously did not do too well. Their identity as an offense is Favre at the moment. Favre has a forgettable history against the Cowboys in his playoff career. But all those losses were in the early/mid 90s, against some really good 'boys teams. If anything this run by Favre in Minn has thought us, it is that you cannot count the old man out....ever. The Vikings are stout on defense when it comes to protecting the run, but this is going to be a challenge with the Dallas using more draw plays than any team. Also the Vikings better have a plan to stop the Dallas passing game with weapons like Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Roy Williams (don't laugh!). If there is a glaring weakness in the Vikings D, it is their secondary.

My Pick:
Against the spread: Cowboys (+2.5)
Outright Win: Cowboys

New York Jets (+7) at San Diego Chargers

The Jets could not have hoped for a better match up in the playoffs statistically. The Chargers are poor at running and stopping the run. The Jets are league leaders in rushing. The Chargers cannot run for their lives and have an explosive passing game, while the Jets have Revis island and the No.1 defense. On paper, this seems to be a perfect recipe for a Jets win. How awesome would it be if the Jets beat the Chargers and also beat the Colts next week, beating 2 teams (Colts and Bengals) that gave them a free pass to make the playoffs in the last 2 weeks of the regular season?

The Jets, with their casual throwback swagger, will as usual try to run down the throat of the Charger's defense with Shonne Green and Thomas Jones, while the Chargers will ride the passing skills of their QB Philip Rivers. While Revis might be able to shut down the Chargers No.1 receiver, Vincent Jackson, Rivers still has big receivers in the form of Anthony Gonzales and Malcolm Floyd. I think this game will go down to the wire, with the Jets winning the battle of time of possession, but the clutch play of Rivers will get the Chargers through for the win.

My Pick:
Against the spread: Jets (+7)
Outright Win: Chargers

Record (without spread)
Last Week: 1-3
Regular season Record: 178-76

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