Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wild Card Weekend Picks: These Don't Really Matter

Thank You, Bill Murray
The final numbers are in, and the NFL's ratings for the year are down an ominous 10%. It used to be 15%, but the last month has been better, and the value of bandwagon fan bases with national followings (i.e., New England, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Green Bay) all in the hunt can't be overstated. Other than the flush year that LA, SF and Chicago served up, the league couldn't really ask for more from its playoff field.

And yet, I can't help but feel a big old meh coming, especially when three of the eight teams are going to start bad back up QBs. People like to talk about how wonderful the NFL playoffs are, and how every regular season game matters because only 12 of 32 teams get to play extra games, but the reality is that some divisions stink, schedules are strongly unequal, and the Patriots only have to win, like, one hard game a year to go to the Super Bowl. Ratings are off 10%? Why not more?

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Oakland at HOUSTON (-3.5)

Some part of me wants to take the Raiders here, because a full week of practice for rookie QB Connor Cook, a challenge effort from the Raiders' best in conference offensive line, and the utter vapidness of Texans QB Brock Osweiler are all compelling factors. But in the final analysis, the Raider season ended when QB Derek Carr got hurt, and the Texans' defense will give their pop-gun offense good field position all day and a stress-free environment to work in. We should all find opportunities in life to be so abundant.

Texans 24, Raiders 13

DETROIT (+8) at Seattle

The far better game is at night, where the Lions go to the Pacific Northwest to fight the team that has been the best in the NFC for years, but look to be at the end of the run. Seattle's defense has been special, especially in the secondary, but two out of four starters are out due to injury, and the Lions' offensive game has been surprisingly multi-faceted in the last month. QB Matthew Stafford is good against a blitz, the Seattle OL has been a bargain bin of what the hell, and I think this all winds up in a close game. That the home team will likely win, but cover? Not so much.

Seahawks 24, Lions 20

Miami at PITTSBURGH (-10)

One of only two AFC teams with an actual shot to prevent the Patriots from getting to the Super Bowl Yet Again, the Steelers enter the post-season with health for QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, and RB LeVeon Bell. That gives them a puncher's chance of winning in a shootout, but they first have to take care of business against the snakebit Marine Mammals, who are using QB2 Matt Moore and RB Jay Ajayi, who has been the NFL's best in the second half of the year. The only problem is that RBs don't win games by themselves, and the Steeler defense has picked it up recently. Lay the points, because the Steelers will have this one wrapped up by the end of the third quarter.

Steelers 31, Dolphins 13

NY Giants at GREEN BAY (-4.5)

The most intriguing game of the weekend ends things late on Sunday, with the Giants going to the Never Frozen Again Tundra to face the run the table Pack. The Giants have more than a chance here, because the Pack is absolutely decimated in the secondary and the Giants have (a) a reasonable defense, and (b) one of the league's best WRs in the temperamental Odell Beckham Jr. But the Giant offense is too one dimensional, Beckham far too prone to freakout and pouting, and QB Aaron Rodgers is just playing at another level right now. Also, the Pack is starting to find enough of a running game. It will be back and forth, but there's a reason why QB Eli Manning is mostly a guy with two sell to Satan runs, and a much larger career of turtling up on pressure and turning it over.

Packers 31, Giants 24

Last week: 9-7

Season to date: 115-138-5

Career: 874-885-54

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