January 3, 2014

The end of one season and the start of next

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

There’s no denying that there are two seasons in NFL football: The regular season, with higher scores and offence all the rage, and the post-season with defences ready to lock down opponents and tighter contests.

You can argue that a lot of that is due to two things: The colder weather and the fact that there’s no more creampuffs on the schedule. It’s a lot harder to score 40 against the Seahawks on a cold Seattle night in January than it is against the Jags in sunny Jacksonville.

But before we dive into wild-card weekend, let’s have a look back at some of our pre-season picks.

I’m not sure whether to consider getting 7/12 on playoff teams right as a good thing or bad, as well as getting 5/8 division winners.

But here’s where it hurt:

AFC championship: Houston over New England.

NFC championship: San Francisco over Atlanta.

So, half of the teams we picked for the conference finals are picking in the top five of the draft and the team I picked to lose the Super Bowl was actually the worst team in the league this season. Great!

Maybe it’s not so fun to look back at what picks from the beginning of the season, after all, that Houston pick will go down as one of my all-time worst calls.

As always, the lines are from good ol’ Las Vegas.

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts

The NFL playoff are all about getting hot at the right time and it’s hard to argue that the Colts aren’t among the AFC’s hottest teams.

After starting out great, Indy stumbled after losing Reggie Wayne for the season. But recently it has found it’s groove, winning its final three games by a combined score of 78-20 – including a 23-7 win at Kansas City just two weeks.

The Chiefs are on the opposite side of the ledger in terms of momentum. after starting out 9-0, they finished 2-5, losing all five games against teams that made the playoffs. They also rested their starters last week, which can actually do more harm than good when it comes to mental preparedness for the playoffs.

Really, I can’t see a reason why there would be a reverse course in the momentum department – if you believe the concept exists – and I can’t see anything other than a repeat of this team’s matchup from Week 16.

PICK: Colts -2.5

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia

A week after criticizing NBC for getting it wrong with picking its prime-time game, they’ve picked out the most interesting playoff matchup of wild-card weekend. And, for the third week in a row, it features the Eagles.

It’s easy to say that this game will come down to defence – which favours the Saints’ fourth-ranked unit – it’s all about the outdoors in this one. Philly started the season 0-4 at home, but then reeled off a four-game winning streak to close the season. It’s also crucial to point out that New Orleans is 3-5 on the road and averaged a stunning 16 less points per game than in their dome.

It’s going to be a chilly one too on Saturday, with temperatures below freezing – something a late start does not help. That favours the team with the better running game, tilting this contest in favour of LeSean McCoy and Co.

PICK: Eagles -2.5

San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals

In a stunning bit of irony, one of three teams to go undefeated at home could be blacked out for not selling enough tickets to a PLAYOFF game. That’s just sad days for Cincinnati.

The Bengals have created a nice home-field advantage and are surprisingly capable of offence. This is a team that has put up at least 41 points in four of its last five home games. And this is a team that’s also ranked fifth on defence against the pass and the run.

The Chargers are a fun team to watch, no one can deny, but barely sneaked into the playoffs and you could argue that they shouldn’t even be in. If not for a blown call on a missed field and fortunate whistle in overtime against a second-string Chiefs team, San Diego would be watching Pittsburgh play this game.

Granted, I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the Chargers somehow made it to the AFC title game, but I also wouldn’t bet on it.

PICK: Bengals -6.5

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers

In case you didn’t hear, Aaron Rodgers is back and leading the Packers. And Randall Cobb is too. That sort of boost would usually be enough to grab the Packers as a home dog, but I really can’t see it happening for Green Bay.

They’re facing a superior team with an excellent defence that can suffocate your running and passing attacks. And really, the Pack kind of got lucky that the Bears decided to let Cobb go uncovered on the crucial play of last week’s game. Like, completely uncovered. Mind-bloggling.

The Niners have looked better on offence by the week too since Michael Crabtree returned from the IR. He was a key for San Fran to make the Super Bowl last year and he will be again in any run for the Niners.

There are two big keys to this game that shouldn’t be discounted though: Clay Matthews’ absence and the weather. Matthews will sit again with a thumb injury and that will greatly hurt the Packers’ ability to pressure Colin Kaepernick.

With temperatures forecast to be below freezing, this isn’t a game with the optimum conditions for a team that likes to air it out like Green Bay. The Pack have been running the ball better this season with Eddie Lacy leading the charge, but you can’t forget that San Fran has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.

PICK: 49ers -3

Last week: 7-9
This season: 119-125-9 (3 games with NLs)
2012 playoffs: 8-3
2012 season: 132-116-8
2011 season: 131-120-2
2010 season: 138-110-5

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