NFL Divisional Playoffs — Can We Keep It Real, Please?

14Jan12

NFL playoffs!  Just saying that out loud gets the blood flowing, doesn’t it?  I mean, is there a better time of the year for true sports fans than the NFL playoffs?  All of the fantasy football leagues have finished, so we can now go back to rooting for actual teams instead of individual players.  The office pools have been filled out with the majority of the people picking the same couple of teams to make it to the Super Bowl.  The squares pools are beginning to make their way around, bringing the same thrill as buying a lottery ticket (I’ve never won before, but this time it’s gonna happen, I can feel it!).  It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

Unfortunately, that bubble was bursted wide open for me over the past week as I was forced to listen to the experts, both on TV and radio, go on and on about the Divisional round of playoffs coming up this weekend.  Keep in mind, a lot of these experts picked the Bengals in the Wildcard round; because there was no way a third string quarterback was going to win a playoff game.  Some of them had even picked Detroit to beat New Orleans because the Saints have no defense.  But hey, they’re the experts right?  Who am I to question their logic?

Well after listening to it all over again this week, I’ve decided that enough is enough.  I am questioning their logic.  Let’s go game by game, shall we?  First we’ll look at the two games that did not have outrageous arguments thrown out (at least not too many of them).

Houston at Baltimore – Okay, so we heard the same stupid comments about the third string QB for Houston and there’s no way he could lead his team to victory over a powerhouse like Baltimore (like he did last week over the Bengals).  First of all, have these guys been watching the Texans play this year?  Granted, when Schaub was healthy and running the show, he put the ball in the air more often than Yates will be doing.  However, that is not what put them where they are this season.  Remember, Andre the Giant has been gone for nearly the entire season.  The ole’ one-two punch of Foster and Tate running the ball down the opponent’s throats each week is what made this team successful, not to mention a pretty solid defensive unit.  Those weapons are all still intact and Yates is doing a good job of staying within his own abilities and not trying to be a Matt Schaub.  Just ask the Bengal fans how that worked out last week.

Having said that, I can’t bring myself to pick Houston to go into Baltimore and beat a well rested #2 seed like the Ravens.  They have their own version of Foster and Tate wrapped into Ray Rice to go along with a number of weapons on both sides of the ball.  Plus they’ve been here before and know how to turn things up a notch in the playoffs.  I look for a brutally physical game that won’t be decided until the final five minutes, but I’m still picking the Ravens to make it to the Conference finals – 27-24.

New Orleans at San Francisco – There have been some good arguments for both teams all week, but there have also been some ridiculous ones made.  The most common argument made for the 49ers certain victory goes something like this…..”What do you need to beat the Saints? A solid defense, a good running game, good special teams and a good coach.  The 49ers are four for four so obviously they’re a shoe-in to win this game!”

It’s statements like these that make me wonder if these guys have been watching any games over the past five or six weeks.  Maybe they all got the same memo on what to say into the microphone.  Maybe it’s me!  I don’t know, but I simply cannot buy into that train of thought at all.

Let’s look at the final six weeks of the regular season.  The 49ers went 4-2 over that span, outscoring their opponents by an average of 21-10.  Impressive right?  Well, let’s look at their opponents over that span – Ravens (lost), Rams (won), Cardinals (lost), Steelers (won), Seahawks (won) and Rams again (won).  The Steelers were the only team with a winning record that they beat over that span and they still only averaged 21 points.  They only scored more than 20 points over the Rams during that period.  Does anyone really think that 21 points will be enough to keep up with the Saints?  Really?

Okay let’s look at the Saints over that same six week period.  They went 6-0 and won by an average score of 39-19.  Those included wins over the Falcons, Giants and Lions (all playoff teams).  Then they followed that up with a 45-28 victory over the high energy Lions again last week. 

Call me crazy, but I don’t think this game will be close.  I’m picking the Saints going away — 37-20.

N.Y. Giants at Green Bay – Okay, now is when the chatter this week started to get a little weird.  All of the talk seems to surround two components of the Giants, yet totally ignores the Packers.  The reason why the Giants will win this game (please remember, this is not me talking) is because their defense is incredible and Eli is moving their offense down the field at will.  (Again, please remember these are not my opinions!)

Okay, let’s look at the first point.  The Giants defense is incredible.  Uh-huh.  Okay let’s look at the past six weeks of the season.  They went 3-3 with an average score of 27-29.  That’s right, they allowed an average of 29 points per game, the worst of any of the eight remaining teams, yet only scored 27 per game.  During that stretch, their three victories were against the Cowboys (twice) and the Jets.  They lost to the mighty (sorry) Redskins, were destroyed at New Orleans and lost at home to the Packers.  Now they must travel to Green Bay for the rematch, but I guess that is irrelevant.

Second point – Eli is moving their offense down the field at will.  I guess nobody noticed in last week’s game against the Falcons that they punted the ball five times, three times in the first quarter, where they had only one first down and gave up a safety during their first four possessions.  They only had one sustained drive during the first half, entering the locker room with a 7-2 lead.  They managed a quick hit 72 yard TD pass in the 3rd quarter and had two solid drives in the 4th, resulting in a 27 yard TD pass to Manningham and a missed 32 yard field goal.

Does anyone believe that a performance like that will keep them within three touchdowns of Green Bay?  Really?  This is a Packer team that went 15-1 during the regular season.  Over the last six weeks of the season, they went 5-1 and averaged a 34-25 score, beating the Lions twice and these very same Giants on the road.  Now they go home to one of the craziest home crowds in the league and they’re supposed to be intimidated by this Giants team?  I’m not buying it for a second.  It might be close for the first twenty minutes or so, but I have no doubts that Manning will be throwing for 400 yards this game because he’ll desperately be trying to put up enough points to stay close.  I don’t believe it will work.  I’m taking the Packers in a game that won’t be as close as the score indicates — 44-30.

Denver at New England – I’ve saved this game for last because I always like to finish with humor.  Now, I can understand a die-hard Broncos fan really believing that this team is being divinely guided and Tim Tebow will be able to lead them all the way to the football promise land.  But when I started hearing the “experts” jump on board this train of thought, I knew that memo I spoke about earlier was definitely in circulation.  I mean really, this is football.  Can we keep the conversation on topic please?

Now I won’t go so far as to say that this Denver team is the worst team ever to make the playoffs.  If you remember, that statement was made a few years ago (by an expert) about the Arizona Cardinals, who came within seconds of winning the Super Bowl.  But I will say that I don’t believe this team will have enough miracles left to overcome the fact that they are playing at one of the hottest teams in the league at the time of the year that no one wants to be there.  Number one, this is a playoff team, and has been for most of the past decade.  Number two, have you ever been to Foxboro in January?  Yikes!  Number three, the Patriots are 6-0 over the past six weeks, winning by an average score of 37-23.  Meanwhile, over that same period, Denver has gone 3-3 with an average score of 17-24.  That’s right, 17 whole points per game.  They lost their last three games of the season, where they were outscored 88-40, including a 41-23 thumping in Denver by these very same Patriots.

Okay, so they pulled off a miraculous victory last week over a Pittsburgh team that was ready to suit up the water boy, due to the injuries that plagued the team.  And they had to go to overtime to do that.  I don’t see the need for overtime for this week’s game.  In fact, you may want to DVR this game, so you can watch it in fast motion later, just to avoid having to sit through three hours of agony.  This one’s gonna be ugly, with New England sitting their starters in the 4th quarter.  Patriots will win – 48-17.

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