Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Divisional Playoff picks

After being a dropped Tony Romo hold away from a perfect 4-0 week in the Wild Card round, I'm back for more punishment this week

Indianpolis at Baltimore -- One thing is for sure: The Ravens will have much more variety in their offense than Kansas City displayed last week, when the Chiefs made the Colts defense look like the 1985 Bears. Kansas City was so predictable in running on first and second down that Indianapolis could sell out and stop the run. Brian Billick is a far more creative offensive mind than Herman Edwards, and he'll do things to mix it up on Indy's defense. Peyton Manning struggled last week against the Chiefs, and he faces a far better defense this week. Think about this: Ray Lewis may now be the third-best linebacker on his own team, behind All-Pro Adalius Thomas and the emerging Bart Scott. Manning rarely has two bad games in a row, but a Baltimore defensive touchdown makes the difference here. Ravens 27, Colts 20

Philadelphia at New Orleans -- Who could have imagined when the season started the Saints hosting a second-round playoff game? Who could have imagined seven weeks ago the Eagles playing a second-round playoff game? These are two great stories and two teams that most football fans can't help rooting for. I can't get past the thought of New Orleans coming out tight. The Saints haven't played a meaningful game in three weeks, and this is one place where the boisterous home crowd might actually work against its team and make them a bit too eager. At the beginning of the week, I thought cornerback Lito Sheppard's injury might be the death knell for the Eagles, but if Philadelphia can run the ball like it did late in the year, they'll keep the Saints offense off the field enough to mitigate Sheppard's absence. Eagles 26, Saints 23

Seattle at Chicago -- What a passion play the Bears season has become. Will Rex Grossman get it done? Can the Chicago defense overcome the losses of Tommie Harris and Mike Brown? In all honesty, those things shouldn't matter in this game. The Bears are much better than the Seahawks, who pulled a rabbit's foot out of their pockets last week. Grossman, with a good group of offensive weapons, can pick apart a depleted Seattle secondary, and the Bears have enough talent on defense to exploit a Seahawks offensive line that has also been injury-prone this year. The weather will be cold, the Bears running game will be solid, and the fans can sleep well -- for one week, at least. Bears 27, Seahawks 10

New England at San Diego -- This could very well be the best matchup of the entire playoffs. Everyone wants to focus on the coaches here, with Bill Belichick's record of postseason success and Marty Schottenheimer's history of postseason heartbreak. But let's face it: calling this a matchup of coaches doesn't do justice to the teams they bring in. What we have here is a game between the Patriots, led by the NFL's best quarterback, and the Chargers, led by the league's best running back. Tom Brady has lifted an average offense into one of the league's best, and LaDainian Tomlinson took a team with a first-year quarterback and produced a 14-2 season. Both had a lot of help from their defense along the way. Belichick has made a lot of young quarterbacks look silly in the postseason, and it's likely he'll show Philip Rivers a few things the Chargers signal-caller has never seen. But the only chance of having success that way is by New England stopping Tomlinson. Here they're missing a key component in Rodney Harrison. The safety's injury takes a big bite out of the Patriots' run defense and makes tight end Antonio Gates that much more dangerous. Marty-Ball, which is designed to limit quarterback mistakes by using runs and short passes, might be just the right formula this time. Chargers 28, Patriots 24


Anonymous Capital One Witness said...

OK, after your props from last week, now I can’t shut myself up. I agree on Baltimore vs. Indianapolis, and by about that same score. Baltimore’s defense is just too good, the enduring irony of Brian Billick’s tenure as Baltimore’s coach: The essentially self-proclaimed offensive genius’s team wins with defense. Don’t get me wrong, I personally think Billick is as good an offensive mind as there is in the game – I had the chance to talk with him a few times back in the late ’97 and early ’98 seasons, and I learned A LOT (and, despite his current bad reputation regarding interactions with reporters, I found him consistently accessible and easy to talk to). The man can flat out coach. He gets as much out of the offensive personnel he’s had there as anyone possibly could’ve. But for whatever reason, this team’s drafts consistently hit on the defensive side, and they are right there again.

Personally, I think the Colts’ inability to get the Super Bowl is disproportionately blamed on Manning. Saying that a quarterback, and a quarterback alone, is the guy who either gets a team to a Super Bowl or doesn’t, and it’s all on him, is a shallow and silly analysis (I realize you’ve never said that, Dave, but I’m hearing it all over the place again this week in regard to this game). Brett Favre in his prime was as good a quarterback as I’ve ever seen play in person, probably the best in my lifetime, and without Reggie White (and possibly Keith Jackson in ’96) on his team, he probably never gets to a Super Bowl, either. Fran Tarkenton is quite possibly the second-best quarterback of my lifetime (maybe the best), and without him, the Vikings teams of his era don’t even sniff a Super Bowl. So it’s his fault he pretty much carried them to the Super Bowl, but they weren’t good enough to win one? And Jim Kelly is a loser, too? Puh-leeze.

Peyton Manning is a great quarterback, and he’ll play just fine this weekend. I just don’t expect it will be good enough. His team is just not complete enough. Baltimore has drafted defensive players who turned out way better than Indy’s defensive players. That’s the way it goes. But I don’t cry for Peyton, he makes great money and has a great life anyway.

Here’s the game where we will disagree, Dave. I’ll take Nawlins, and I’ll pick them to look good doing it. They are going to come out strong, not tense. Nerves, when they show up, usually show up more on the offensive side, and there’s actually a lot of experience at key positions for the Saints’ offense – Brees, McAllister, Horn (he’s supposed to play, right?) come to mind. As has been the case all season, the Saints will force the Eagles to account for Reggie Bush, but they won’t have to rely on Bush to win the game for them. (In retrospect, was there a better team for Bush to go to? I don’t think so, not after the Saints got Brees.) And unlike you, I think Lito Sheppard’s absence is going to be a difference-maker in this game, on the road, with an unbelievably excited playoff crowd, and Brees quarterbacking the opposition. I was ready to pick the Eagles to get to the Super Bowl going into last weekend. But without Sheppard, I can’t. And here, finally, is a game where the matchups suggest that the Eagles will really miss McNabb. (I respect what Garcia has done this year, but the arm strength he displayed in last week’s game against the Giants reminded me why he’s not a starter in this league, and though he moves reasonably well, he doesn’t move like McNabb does.) I’ll take the Saints in a game where the outcome is never particularly in doubt. Great job this year, Eagles, under the circumstances, but here’s where it ends.

Yep, the Bears should win, for the reasons you cited, but I expect the Seahawks to actually play a lot better this week and keep it reasonably close. That wouldn’t be the case if in fact Harris and Brown were healthy. But they’re not, and the mere fact that the Seahawks have Hasselbeck and Holmgren going for them, and the Bears have Grossman and Lovie Smith (one of the more overrated head coaches in the league, IMHO – not saying he’s a bad coach, but what has this team actually accomplished yet under him?), respectively, keeps this one close. Bears by 3 or 4.

I guess I have the least to add about game # 4, which might be, in fact, one of the best playoff games anyone’s seen in a long, long time. It sure is tempting to say the Patriots will find a way to win because they have a great, playoff-tested quarterback and a great, defensive-genius coach, and the Chargers are going into the playoffs with a first-year starter at QB. But Tomlinson is too good. And maybe Merriman, too (though I absolutely don’t like the apparent pharmaceutical help he gets, but in this league, somehow he still gets to play). Two years ago, I expected the Steelers to beat the Patriots at home in the playoffs with a first-year starter at quarterback. This year, I’m going against the Patriots again for many of the same reasons, and this year I’ll be right. Dave, I’ll take the Chargers by about the same margin but in a game with a little less scoring: Say, 23-20. I actually think the Ravens have a better chance to win in San Diego than do the Patriots.

All in all, these are some great matchups this weekend. Bring it on! -- J.P.

10:22 AM  

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