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Monday, January 22 2018

NFL Predictions 2013: Divisional Round

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Well, I guess for a change I can’t complain much. I was 3-1 straight up in the opening round and also managed to go 3-1 against the spread. Of course, I stumbled at 2-2 on the over/under so that’s a bummer. My was first regret was not taking at least the points with the Chargers because, as I pointed out, they played so many good teams yet still managed a winning record to make the tournament. My other regret is not going over in the Colts/Chiefs, which of course now seems totally obvious, but the game was indoors and the pass rush not getting to Andrew Luck should have led me to bump their points way higher than the 22 I called for. Plus, the Chiefs had nothing to lose and were going to pull out all the stops as they did by throwing deep, as Michael Irvin hilariously insisted prior to kickoff that they would not do because they hadn’t done it all season.

 

 

New Orleans (12-5) @ Seattle (13-3): This is the first of three rematches this week, and the other matchup occurred in the 2012 regular season so there will be some familiarity in all of the games. There is definitely plenty of motivation for the visiting Saints, who shook off a lifetime 0-5 road playoff record last week to win at Philly. Their last trip here just over a month ago resulted in a 34-7 blowout for a MNF audience to see. Their last playoff game here, as defending Super Bowl champions, saw them fall to a 7-9 team that no one believed had any shot at winning.

 

Motivation is one thing, execution is quite another. I do like that Sean Payton has his team focused, tweaking their mind by painting the Seahawk logo on their practice field. However, this is still a tall task. Drew Brees is taking on secondary that is stacked with All-Pro talent. They have proven they can cover all of his targets and put him under duress. He finished with 147 yards on 38 attempts for a paltry 3.9-yard average. That’s not even very good for rushing, much less passing. He was only sacked once and didn’t throw an interception although he did lose a fumble.

 

Ultimately, Seattle won the game by building a 17-0 first quarter lead as a result of that fumble which was returned for a touchdown. New Orleans never got any sort of running attack going and had no chance offensively to mount a comeback. Russell Wilson played a crisp game completing 73% of his 30 throws for 310 yards and 3 touchdowns while scrambling for another 47 yards. They didn’t even need their backfield, and it’s a good thing because Marshawn Lynch was contained (16 rushes for 45 yards).

 

There isn’t too much different in the rematch other than the stakes of course. I always feel as if the smarter team has an edge in these situations because they learn more from the first meeting. Sean Payton qualifies. I’m not looking for the Seahawks to jump out to a big lead early this time either. The running games should be more effective on both sides actually, and even without Pierre Thomas I truly believe this. Plus, Lynch is going to bust at least one 20-plus yard run here, breaking tackles to up his yardage total.

 

As I’ve pointed out several times, New Orleans is very limited in their scoring potential on the road. Last week was just a point shy of their highest effort of the year scoring 27 in New England. Their scoring average is just 18.7. Seattle gives up 13.8 at home and the two teams who scored the most (Tampa Bay 24, Minnesota 20) are losing opponents who didn’t have their full focus. I don’t see the visitors cracking 20 here unless they get a big play on offense or score on defense. The only time this year the Seahawks failed to score 20 was their only home loss, 17-10 to Arizona in week 16. They went over 20 five times on the road as well.

 

It’s not like the Saints are bad on defense and can’t win a low scoring game though. Twelve of their opponents have failed to score more than 20 points on them, and four of those efforts came on the road. We might be in for the kind of game where one big late drive from Brees can turn in the upset. Again, I really don’t see the home team overwhelming them out of the gate again and that’s where the first meeting works against them in a big way. The Saints know the deal. They have heard the noise, felt the turf and seen everything they can throw at them. I still like the Saints to win, but it’s going to be close and a really great game. Perhaps Brees drives for a touchdown late and can’t convert on the two-pointer: Seattle 21, New Orleans 19 (NO +10/under 46.5)

 

Indianapolis (12-5) @ New England (12-4): This should be fun. All indications are a pretty high scoring game here although it’s always a guessing game. The last time these teams hooked up the Pats won 59-24 and made Andrew Luck look like a rookie. He’s only in year two, but he’s far from a rookie now. Last week in rallying his team from 38-10 down in a playoff team he pretty much confirmed himself as a veteran beyond his years of experience. Yes, the Chiefs lost several key players to injury or the comeback would not have happened, but the Colts still executed.

 

Meanwhile, everyone is starting to doubt Tom Brady. I can see some of the criticism. He’s 7-7 in the playoffs after the 10-0 start that most sane people attribute to “Spygate”. Fine, but he’s been in a season and a half of playoff games. I’ll take that experience over someone who is now 1-1 when the rubber meets the road. The issue for Brady is that his defense is banged up and gives up too many points. There has been way too much pressure on him most of this season to score a lot. Six weeks in a row they gave up 24-plus points and they went 4-2 in those games. Overall, in games they allowed 23-plus they were 6-3 and I fully expect them to be allowing that many points here, so their chances for a victory are pretty good considering the home games in this scenario they went 3-0.

 

Indy had been playing very well on defense in three games leading up to the playoffs allowing 3, 7 and 10 points and particularly at home having allowed 14, 3 and 10 points in their last three games in the dome. Then all hell broke loose and Alex Smith starting dropping bombs down the field. The troubling part about the effort is that it didn’t come out of nowhere. They lost at Cincinnati 42-28 late in the year, lost to St. Louis (38-8) and Arizona (40-11) in November and in October had games allowing 33 (fine, it was Denver) and 28 (okay, that one was Seattle). The only good news is that they beat the Broncos and Seahawks in those early season games, but including last week they have given up 33-plus points five times, and 27-plus seven times.

 

It’s fair to expect New England to be north of 28 and probably into the thirties. It’s also fair to expect Indianapolis having an opportunity to keep up with Luck at the controls. Six times they have scored 30-plus this year and only twice have they been held below 20. If it comes down to converting field goals, Adam Vinatieri can do that on this field I’m pretty sure. This should be a wildly entertaining, wide-open game. I know Bill Belichick will do his best to take away T.Y. Hilton, but it’s going to be hard because he moves around so much and I’m confident in Luck’s ability to go through his progressions. New England is going to pound the rock here with their seemingly unlimited supply of backs. I actually think their scoring comes that way as opposed to a lot of Brady passing. We might see some long possessions draining clock that keep the scoring down if he goes that route. We’ll see how it breaks down, but it should be exciting: New England 31, Indianapolis 23 (NE -7/over 51)

San Francisco (13-4) @ Carolina (12-4): It’s rematch Sunday in the divisional round, and let’s hope this one is a little more entertaining than the first time around. Coming off a bye week, the 49ers were 6-2 at midseason feeling good until they hosted the Panthers. Then their offense played like they were stuck in the mud, totaling 151 yards and never scoring a touchdown in a 10-9 loss. Their defense played well enough to win, allowing just 250 total yards, but the game was won on the only scoring play of the second half, a 53-yard field goal by Graham Gano. In fairness, it was sealed on an interception by Drayton Florence.

 

I don’t expect a similar game here at all. Colin Kaepernick was hamstrung on offense without Michael Crabtree, and lost Vernon Davis to a concussion. Carolina’s defense was able to shrink the field and really flex their muscles. On the other side, Steve Smith was targeted 11 times in the passing game and given his health status it looks like Cam Newton will need to look elsewhere with those throws. It’s going to make it easier for San Francisco to crowd the box and contain the backfield that combined for 93 yards on 23 carries the first time.

 

Last week San Francisco beat a pretty good Packers team with Aaron Rodgers, one that probably goes 11-5 or even 12-4 had he remained healthy all season. It was a tough game in bitter cold so their fatigue has to play a factor here as they again travel across the country and this time for an early start. They actually travelled east quite well this season. In all they are 7-2 on the road now, losing in Seattle and in a dome at New Orleans. They also won five times by 14-plus points and that’s not easy to do in the NFL. Carolina is very good at home having run the table after losing their opener to Seattle. Five of those wins were by double digits.

 

There is the matter of Newton’s lack of playoff experience. I’m not terribly troubled by it. He played in the BCS title game in college, won a key primetime game against New England and beat New Orleans with a division title on the line. He has an unbelievable defense working for him and needs only to not screw it up. When allowing no more than 20 points, the team is 12-1. Their losses saw them give up 24, 22 and 31 points. The first two were early in the season on the road before they hit their stride. No one has scored more than 20 against them at home this season, and offensively they have scored 27-plus here five times.

 

San Francisco allowed more than 20 twice on the road, and lost both games, but they have also scored 27-plus on the road five times. This is going to be a close game. I think the first team to 20 has a pretty good chance to win. Turnovers are going to play a huge factor, especially if a team scores on defense because points are at such a premium. I don’t really trust either offense truly. The 49ers at least have a few passing options and a reliable lead rusher. The Panthers are hoping their running backs make big plays and a cast of unheralded receivers can squeeze in some catches to move the sticks. I want to go home team here, but I can’t. It’s all in front of San Francisco. They have the experience and the better coach. Riverboat Ron runs out of luck here, but his team is probably the better one over the next few years: San Francisco 20, Carolina 16 (SF +1/under 41.5)

 

San Diego (10-7) @ Denver (13-3): This is the rubber match and after more than a hundred regular season meetings these AFC West foes finally hook up in the playoffs. Philip Rivers had such a great rivalry going with Jay Cutler before he was sent off to Chicago, but he is quickly becoming a pain in Peyton Manning’s side. We have already seen twice how this game goes. The teams are close, and the way the Chargers play defense they can keep the game below 30 and have a chance to win. They failed the first time at home losing 28-20, but won the rematch 27-20. It was two of the three lowest outputs all season for the Broncos who scored 31-plus points 13 times this season.

 

Home field is always huge, as is the bye week, and in this case oddly enough Denver hasn’t been home in a month when they lost to San Diego. They closed on the road, winning blowouts in Houston and Oakland allowing a total of 27 points as Manning put the finishing touches on his passing records. It was their two best efforts in scoring defense, but now they are without pass rusher Von Miller. It’s a tough blow to absorb. The Chargers are starting to roll on defense. Their hiccup came in the regular season finale against Kansas City’s backups, having to rally for a 27-24 OT win to clinch the second wild card. Over their final six games, including last week’s 27-10 win in Cincinnati, it was the only time they allowed more than 20 points.

 

For me, familiarity leads to more scoring this time around. Denver knows the ways San Diego has slowed them down the first two meetings. They also have Wes Welker ready to roll on an offense loaded with rested weapons. The Chargers are supremely confident, no doubt, and playing with house money so to speak. They don’t necessarily have the guys on offense to score quickly if it becomes that type of a game. Ryan Mathews possibly being out hurts their running game and limits their ability to keep Manning on the sideline for long stretches. The playoff atmosphere heightens the home field advantage. Last time they had just a few days to prepare, and this time it’s two weeks although in fairness they have known for just a week who their opponent would be.

 

I look for Manning to take in everyone talking about his 9-11 playoff record, and last year’s exit as a top seed, then turn in an assassin type effort here. He has so many people to throw the ball to and Knowshon Moreno is having the best season of his career out of the backfield. It’s a dream offense. Maybe these guys aren’t Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Edgerrin James but they are young (other than Welker) and hungry. I don’t see this team being stopped in the AFC playoffs because there isn’t a defense that can take them down. In the NFC it would be a different story, but that’s irrelevant: Denver 31, San Diego 21 (DEN -8/under 55)

 

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