Saturday, January 16, 2010

NFL picks divisional playoff round

By Rick Morris

In addition to posting my weekly picks, I will post those from other members of The FDH Lounge Dignitaries' Football Challenge Contest. In the regular season, we each posted our three strongest plays. Here are the standings to this point, including all games from the wildcard round:

RICK MORRIS: 27-28 overall, 3-1 last week (also 9-8 on my 1,000-Star, Gold-Plated Lock of the Millennium for each week of the regular season)
DAVE ADAMS: 26-29 overall, 1-3 last week
STEVE CIRVELLO: 26-29 overall, 2-2 last week
RYAN ISLEY: 23-31-1 overall, 2-2 last week
SEAN TRENCH: 21-32-2 overall, 1-3 last week

We will each pick every playoff game. Each of our picks will be listed, in addition to the FDH "consensus" pick based on who has the most votes in each game (the FDH consensus picks were 1-3 last week):

Arizona +7 at New Orleans
RICK: Arizona
DAVE: Arizona
STEVE: New Orleans
RYAN: New Orleans
SEAN: Arizona
FDH CONSENSUS: Arizona, 4-1

Baltimore +6 ½ at Indianapolis
RICK: Indianapolis
DAVE: Indianapolis
STEVE: Baltimore
RYAN: Indianapolis
SEAN: Indianapolis
FDH CONSENSUS: Indianapolis, 4-1

Dallas +2 ½ at Minnesota
RICK: Dallas
DAVE: Dallas
STEVE: Minnesota
RYAN: Minnesota
SEAN: Dallas
FDH CONSENSUS: Dallas, 3-2

NY Jets +7 at San Diego
RICK: San Diego
DAVE: San Diego
(The FDH New York Bureau) STEVE: NY Jets
RYAN: San Diego
SEAN: San Diego
FDH CONSENSUS: San Diego, 4-1

Additionally, here are my extended thoughts on each game and my predictions for subsequent rounds:

It would have seemed impossible in September when the Cardinals were refusing to commit to Beanie Wells, but they actually have a better-established run game than New Orleans – due to the Saints having their own late-season commitment issues regarding establishing the run. Additionally, the matchup is not favorable for the Saints D, a unit predicated on big turnovers and one that struggles (as most teams do, in all fairness) against a balanced offense capable of establishing their will with either the run or the pass. Both passing games are similar in terms of having unbelievable quarterbacks capable of dishing the ball to multiple weapons. However, Arizona’s postseason experience is superior because their roster was immersed not merely in last week’s game but last year’s Super Bowl run; the Saints have had some turnover since their run to Championship Sunday in the ’06 season. And New Orleans will have to deal with an aggressive 3-4 defense for the first time since the shocker against Dallas when some pundits began to question whether that scheme had exposed their offense. These factors should negate a mighty home-field advantage in a tasty shootout game. Cardinals 41, Saints 38.

There are reasons not to like the Colts tonight that go beyond their willful surrender of full-throated momentum going into the playoffs. Minus all-world safety Bob Sanders, they certainly are vulnerable to Baltimore’s multi-headed hydra ground game. And their secondary is banged-up overall at the moment – but the Ravens are not exactly the team to exploit those maladies and that is where the Colts’ difficulties start to get put into perspective, because Baltimore also has a secondary that is not 100%. Look for Peyton Manning to make them pay the price by spreading it around. Hank Goldberg rightly notes how much teams with a decided rushing advantage prosper in playoff games like this. However, with the overall explosiveness of the Colts at home on the fast turf, it’s hard to see Baltimore being able to do more than stay relatively close unless “centerfielder” Ed Reed can make some game-changing interceptions. Colts 24, Ravens 16.

Sunday’s early game marks a renewal of a classic 1970s playoff rivalry, plus it rips the scab off of the bitterness in the Twin Cities, where they saw their beloved North Stars NHL franchise relocate to Dallas in the early ‘90s. Befitting the status as the only game this weekend where two of our pundits disagreed with the consensus and the one with the closest Vegas line, this contest stands as the one that most people would view as the most up for grabs. There is a really sweet “ultimate strength vs. ultimate strength” battle in the clash of the multi-back Dallas rushing attack against the Minnesota defensive line anchored by the Purple Williams People Eaters. Conversely, the Dallas front seven is also a good match for the incomparable Adrian Peterson, who has tailed off over the second half of the season. Either quarterback is capable of winning this game with spectacular plays or giving it away with bonehead interceptions. Can the raucous home crowd make up for Dallas’ complete advantage in terms of momentum? Perhaps they can, but they cannot make up for the loss of MLB EJ Henderson and the increased potential for Tony Romo to work the underneath areas with Jason Witten. In a game that appears so close on paper that a single hair could decide it either way, that might well be enough. Cowboys 27, Vikings 23.

Like the Ravens, the Jets face a team that is unstoppable at times, but vulnerable to being outgained on the ground. Even if they weren’t though, they would have no choice but to try to establish the Jones/Greene combo like they did last week in Cincinnati, because QB Mark Sanchez is not yet ready to have the training wheels removed in terms of playcalling. San Diego will spend large stretches going eight-in-the-box to try to force Sanchez to pass a great deal, as he did ironically right up the road at USC. The Jets know that they can’t come from behind to win a game like this and that it could easily snowball like some of the wildcard contests last week if that happens. On the other side of the ball, even with a fierce run defense and a secondary anchored by Darrelle Revis – perhaps the best in the game right now – New York will have a tough time contending with the raw size of the Charger passing game (at QB/WR1/WR2/TE). One team is just happy to be here and one team won’t be satisfied with anything less than a Super Bowl title. On Sunday night, it will be quite apparent which was which. Chargers 31, Jets 13.

Chargers 34, Colts 24
Cowboys 34, Cardinals 27

Cowboys 30, Chargers 23

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