NFL Division Picks: Will Justice Be Served?

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Well, this was Shakespeare’s reaction to last weekend’s Wild Card Playoff Games:

Woe to thee, Brian Hoyer, ye shat in thy bed,

What did’st thou dream in thy foolish bald head?

That thee, the leader of a great team, did rise?

Alas, thy err’s led to embarrassment and demise…

For shame, thou’st played a child torn to an’ fro,

Flinging passes like shite from an ope’ window…

Man, I was really, really wrong about the Texans and Brian Hoyer. Not that I thought he was great or anything, but up to last week’s incredible fail he hadn’t thrown more than one interception in any game all season—he’d been a game manager, and against the Chiefs, playing another game manager. Well, as we all know now, he single-handedly gifted victory to Kansas City, throwing four interceptions and fumbling twice. God that was awful to watch. Say buh-bye to ever being a starting quarterback in the NFL ever again, Brian. Buh-bye.

So I was way off on that one. As for the rest of my picks, I feel pretty good. Sure, Pittsburgh didn’t cover, winning by two and not three, but could anyone have predicted the way that game played out? Might’ve been the most entertaining—and at the same time, horrifying—NFL game I’ve watched in a long time.

Horrifying because the wrong team won, and that mostly due to terrible, awful, no good officiating.
Look, Burfict deserved the flag he got for head hunting Antonio Brown, but it never should have gotten to that point. The Steelers got away with playing dirty all game, two times in particular when they should’ve been flagged, but inexplicably weren’t. The first was when Tyler Eifert took a hit coming across the middle as a defenseless receiver. But far, far worse was late in the game when Ryan Shazier speared and nearly killed Giovanni Bernard, who, knocked out, dropped the ball, allowing the Steelers to recover. The fact that play wasn’t flagged is absolutely criminal (he wasn’t even fined after the fact), and it speaks to a larger theme this year: NFL officiating has been a complete disaster. The NFL’s already admitted that multiple games were won and lost because of mistakes, and because of that non-call, Pittsburgh moves on in the playoffs and the Bengals go home, their last playoff win in 1293.

So even though I wanted Pittsburgh to win and cover, I came away from that game with a sick feeling. I can’t stand it when the worse team wins, and Saturday night, the Steelers weren’t as good as the Bengals. It was the same way Sunday with the Seahawks. They didn’t deserve to win. But they move on due to a fluky, stupid missed field goal, and I don’t know how anyone can feel good about that… although I’m sure the team and their fans feel just fine about it.

The only solace I take from these bastardizations of justice is that they often work themselves out. Michigan State’s a great example. Remember that miracle at Michigan—the one they didn’t deserve to win, but did because the punter fumbled and then basically pitched the ball to an MSU defender running full speed down the sideline toward the end zone to score a game winning touchdown? Well look what happened: they were absolutely embarrassed by Alabama—didn’t even belong in the same stadium. So in the end, justice was served.

Will it be the served this weekend? Onto the PICKS!

KANSAS CITY (-5.5) at New England

First off, I want to apologize to Alex Smith. I’ve razzed him quite a bit over the year—you know, the usual—game manager, proficient, average, limited, dickless. OK, I didn’t go that far, but you get the idea. Well, turns out he’s pretty good. No, he doesn’t have a rocket arm like Cam Newton or the cavalier guts to sling it around like Aaron Rodgers, but he’s smart, efficient, and effective, throwing 20 touchdowns in the regular season to only seven interceptions.

So while I can’t say as I’m super stoked or ultra confident taking the Chiefs to cover or win on Saturday, I hope my praise of Smith holds true.

Because I AM picking KC, which by definition, means going against THE New England Patriots: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at home, on a week’s rest. Fucking scary, cause as we all know, this game could be a Pats blowout and then I’ll have to write a Shakespearean Sonnet for Kansas City…

But I don’t think things play out that way. The Chiefs are built almost perfectly NOT to get blown out, and they’re entirely capable of winning this game.

Kansas City has a great defense, including a fantastic pass rush and blanket coverage in the secondary. And Alex Smith isn’t a turnover prone quarterback, nor is he likely to go out and compile a bunch of three and outs; Kansas City’s ability to run the ball and Smith’s ability to escape the pass rush and scramble make it difficult for opposing defenses to shut them down on multiple series. Does that mean the Chiefs are going to score a bunch of touchdowns? Probably not, but it means it’s unlikely they’ll put goose-eggs on the scoreboard either. Indeed, over the course of their 11 game winning streak (including last week’s win against Houston), Kansas City has averaged 28 points per.

So if those trends hold, New England may well win the game, but likely not by the six or more to cover. No, I think this game plays out pretty close: New England has trouble moving the ball because they’re a one dimensional passing team which plays itself right into the strengths of the Kansas City defense. The Chiefs have trouble moving the ball because it’s a playoff game, they’re on the road, and though both their running and passing attacks are proficient, neither is a world beater. And so the game proceeds at a slow pace: a field goal here, a touchdown there, a lot of punting, another field goal, a quarter in which neither team scores, and in the end a score something like 23-20.

Yeah, that sounds about right. Patriots win, Chiefs cover: 23-20.

Green Bay at ARIZONA (-7.5)

The Cardinals are just a better team.

Yeah, I know. It’s Rodgers, and the Packers could very well come from behind for a back door cover, but the main reason I’m going with the Cards is that I don’t think the Packers can win on Saturday night, and unless they’re getting 10 or more, it’s really hard to pick a team that’s almost certainly going to lose.

Granted, more is being made of the Cardinals 30 point ass-whooping of Green Bay in week 16 than is warranted, but the fact remains this is a horrible match-up for the Packers.

Arizona boasts one of the league’s best defenses, top 10 in rushing, passing, and scoring (and they would’ve been top five in all three if it weren’t for that bad loss to Seattle in week 17—and let’s call that what it was: the Cardinals, not having a whole lot to play for, knowing they’d sewn up the division, just coming out flat against a good team with everything to prove). So in other words, the Cardinals are the opposite of Washington, a team that as I point out last week, just isn’t that good at playing defense.

Thus, the Packers’ offensive resurgence against the Deadskins isn’t as impressive as it might seem. More worrisome is the fact that they’ll be without wideout Davante Adams; Green Bay’s already had a difficult time getting receivers open for Rodgers to throw to—without Adams, the problem’s only exacerbated.

On the flip side, what makes anyone think Green Bay’s defense can stop Arizona? Again, the Seahawk game excepted, Arizona’s offense has been pretty damn near unstoppable. Palmer has any number of great receivers to throw to, including veteran star Larry Fitzgerald, and they can run the ball at will with David Johnson or Andre Ellington. Suffice it to say that during the regular season, Arizona had the no. 2 scoring offense—no. 1 in yards per game. Green Bay’s defense is mediocre at best.

This game is just a mismatch, and that’s not because Green Bay’s terrible, it’s because Arizona is quite possibly the best team in the league. So unless Carson Palmer pulls a Hoyer and just craps the bed, the Cardinals are going to win and win big.

33-24, Cards.

Seattle at CAROLINA (-3.5)

This is Seattle’s schedule the last four weeks, including this game: loss to a physical Rams team at home; away, blowing out Arizona; away in -3 degrees Minnesota, where they won on pure luck; and now, heading cross country to Carolina for a second consecutive 10am Pacific Time start.

That’s bad.

At the very least that’s a hell of a lot of travel, and some stiff competition. Otherwise this is a hell of a tough game to call. Look at the match-ups:

QB: Wilson vs. Newton (even)

RB: Lynch vs. Stewart (even)—normally we’d all say Lynch, but he hasn’t played for a long time, and who knows how well. It’s worth pointing out that Stewart has been banged up too, but he was the better player this year.

WR: Baldwin, Kearse, and Lockett vs. Ted Ginn Jr., Funchess, and Brown (advantage Seahawks)

TE: Luke Willson vs. Greg Olsen (advantage Panthers)

Pass Rush: 37 sacks for Seattle vs. 44 for Carolina (slight advantage Panthers?)

Total Defense: no. 1 scoring and no. 2 yards per game for Seattle vs. no. 6 scoring and no. 6 yards per game for Carolina (advantage Seahawks)

Total Offense: no. 4 scoring and no. 4 yards per game for Seattle vs. no. 1 scoring and no. 11 yards per game (slight advantage Seahawks?)

Take Aways: Seattle +6 vs. Carolina +20 (advantage Panthers)

I could go on, but as you can see it’s close. The biggest difference is that Carolina has home field advantage and has been home since December 27th when they played in Atlanta, which is basically just down the street. Make no mistake, that’s a distinct advantage for Carolina. And you’ve got to think Seattle’s at least a little bruised and battered after playing that frigid game last week against Minnesota, who plays a physical, bruising style of football.

Yes, Seattle is a good enough team that they could easily win this game. They certainly have the pedigree and the experience. But Carolina is a damn good football team, they’re hungry, and they have every advantage going in…

Oh, and the Seahawks shouldn’t be here–they have all that negative juju traveling east with them.

Panthers win and cover, 26-20.

Pittsburgh at DENVER (-7.5)

I’m not going to spend that much time on this one, because there just isn’t that much analysis to be done here: Pittsburgh has no business winning this game.

Roethlisberger’s shoulder is broken—even if he plays he’s not going to be able to throw the ball down the field more than 10 yards. Worse, it looks like Pittsburgh isn’t going to have DeAngelo Williams, and Antonio Brown is still going through concussion protocol.

So Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback, running back, and number one receiver either aren’t going to play, or aren’t going to be healthy if they do—and they’re playing one of the best defenses in the league. At home. A team that has plenty of weapons on offense and a quarterback, though clearly not as good as he used to be, named Peyton Manning.

That’s bad.

Now I suppose this could all be smoke and mirrors or Big Ben could pull of some huge fucking miracle, but neither of those things seems very likely.

So while I hate betting the over on a 7.5 point spread, this is about as safe a pick as there is in the playoffs.

Denver 27, Pittsburgh 10.

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About The Author: Jay Scott

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