Thursday, January 2, 2014

NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks: Saturday's Games

Also Eagle Fan's Fault
Kansas City at INDIANAPOLIS (-2.5)

The case for Kansas City: Best defense in the AFC. Quality depth as shown in the near-win last week in San Diego, playing backups. Perhaps the best STs unit in the playoffs, with multiple quality returners capable of making a game-breaking play. The AFC's best RB in Jamal Charles, and the best pass rush. Experienced head coach in Andy Reid who rarely loses in the first round. Not prone to turnover popcorn, even in road games. QB Alex Smith makes a surprising number of plays with his legs.

The case against Kansas City: Severe lack of quality wins. Staggered down the stretch. No evidence of comeback ability for more than a one possession game. Downfield plays lacking, with Smith never really gelling with WR Dwayne Bowe or Donnie Avery. Give up a startling number of yards for a quality defense. Bowe's coming back from a concussion, and LB Tamba Hali is questionable from a knee; Hali in particular is a big loss. OT Eric Fisher might be rusty coming off of injury, and he's critical. Reid still has clock management problems.

The case for Indianapolis: Hot down the stretch, with three straight wins, including a 23-7 road win in Kansas City that was their best win of the second half of the season. QB Andrew Luck is capable of winning in a number of ways. RB Donald Brown has given them a credible running game down the stretch, rather than the force-feed fail of Trent Richardson. Defense has 11 sacks and 8 turnovers in the winning streak; if that trend continues, this is a legitimately dangerous team, even beyond round one. WR T.Y. Hilton is hot again, because the secondary WRs have responded to no huddle offense and stopped major press coverages. Have some extreme quality wins (San Francisco, Seattle, Denver), though these all came early in the year. Home dome is a big deal.

The case against Indianapolis: Rank even worse than the Chiefs, and are particularly susceptible against the run, which isn't a green light when you are going against Charles. Have been physically manhandled at times this year, with multiple blowouts (38 against St. Louis, 40 against Arizona, 42 against Cincy) that show a defense that can quit on games. If they don't get turnovers, they struggle, because the defense just doesn't get off the field otherwise.

The pick: Indy to win and cover. Kansas City is 1-5 against teams with a winning record, and 10-0 against losers. They've pounded tomato cans to get here, and Luck at home, with a defense that might have figured some things out in the last few weeks, is no tomato can.

Prediction: Colts 27, Chiefs 20

NEW ORLEANS (+3) at Philadelphia

The case for New Orleans: The second most passing yards in the NFL, against one of the league's worst passing defenses, just has bingo-time potential for QB Drew Brees. Defense is statistically sound and gets after the QB, which is a high matchup problem for the home team. HC Sean Payton is innovative and has a ring, as does Brees. At the start of December, looked like no worse than the second-best team in the NFL, and at 11-5 in a vastly more difficult division than the Eagles, could easily be considered a playoff favorite. Special teams have been solid, with the exception of field goal kicking. Running backs are varied and productive. Can win different kinds of games, and are vastly more experienced in playoff football. TE Jimmy Graham is the best in the league at his position, by a wide margin.

The case against New Orleans: Severe struggles on the road, including beatdown losses at Carolina, St. Louis and Seattle in the last five weeks. Brees is statistically average on the road. Defense may be paper tigerish, in that their best efforts have been against offenses in their home dome and down on their luck, injury-wise. In particular, they struggle against the run, which is really not what you want in a game against LeSean McCoy. Brees has been turnover-prone on the road. Field goal kicking is not a good weakness to have in what should be a close game. Brees is 0-4 in road playoff games. RB Pierre Thomas, the Saints' best all-around back, is questionable with chest issues.

The case for Philadelphia: Hottest team in the conference, with wins in 6 of their last 7 games. Haven't faced the Saints before, which is a win with an offense that is this idiosyncratic. Run-dominant offense should work well in a cold outdoor night game, and the forecast calls for a game in the teens with wind. Outstanding punting from Donnie Jones masks ordinary special teams, and the defense has been good at provoking turnovers and denying touchdowns after mistakes, and in the red zone. Have gotten the better of officiating for most of the year, and have four straight wins at home, which used to be a problem. Fan base is pretty much over the moon after the Dallas win, and should be more positive than the usual worried Philly crowd. QB Nick Foles has been outstanding at managing the game while still getting big chunk plays. Team is as healthy as any team in the NFL.

The case against Philadelphia: Brees and these wideouts are a nightmare, and that doesn't even get to Graham. As explosive as the offense is, has severe problems recovering from penalties and negative plays, and is prone to very damaging three and outs with speed. Have not started hot in many games, and has also had real problems holding leads. Strong possibility that they will be happy enough with the win over Dallas; will need to play a vastly better game to beat the Saints. As good as this year has been, more than a little whiff of smoke and mirrors, due to fortunate officiating, turnovers, and coaches that were unprepared for the Blur Offense. Payton and the Saints are a major step up in class, and would be the best team they beat by a fairly significant margin. Their one injury, S Earl Wolffe, is a killer, in that S Patrick Chung has been a sieve, and will wind up going against Graham or WR Marques Colston in Oh No Moments. Remember, this team gave up 52 points to Peyton Manning, and 358 yards to Kyle Freaking Orton. Brees could go for 500 here if the pass rush doesn't show up in a big way.

The pick: New Orleans to win as a road dog. My heart says Philly, and my head says the Saints. Cold usually doesn't kill the passing game as much as wind does, and it's rare in this part of the world that it's very windy at night. I think my laundry loses with honor, in a way that has the fan base positively salivating for 2014. And, alas, for a significantly revamped secondary.

Prediction: Saints 31, Eagles 30

Last week: 9-7

Season to date: 114-125-9

Career: 482-497-38

1 comment:

snd_dsgnr said...

Colts 20
Chiefs 16

Eagles 27
Saints 17

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