Pudge’s Picks – Divisional Playoffs 2014

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Manning vs. Luck III

Last week, I was saddened by the loss of the Arizona Cardinals to the Carolina Panthers. That was the only game in which I didn’t get either the spread or straight pick right. I finished 3-1 last week against the spread, but 2-2 picking games straight.

I won’t deny that I picked with my heart instead of my head when it came to the Cardinals-Panthers matchup. I’ve learned my lesson, although there’s one game this week that because of a rooting interest based off a pre-season prediction, I’m going to pick one team. But at least this week, it’s a lot more plausible that said team wins given that they are favored as opposed to the Cardinals, who were a major underdog a week ago.

As a reminder, I finished the regular season 129-127 when picking against the spread and 166-89-1 in picking straight winners.

* All lines are from ESPN.com

Baltimore Ravens (11-6) at New England Patriots (12-4)
Saturday, January 10 at 4:35 pm ET on NBC

*Line: Patriots (-7.0)

The Ravens always play the Patriots close, including in Foxborough. Under quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens are 2-3 against the Patriots on the road with none of their losses coming by more than six points. So there’s a high probability that the Ravens at least cover the spread.

But they certainly can win the game as well. The key will be creating consistent pressure on Tom Brady, which can lead to turnovers. Patriots left tackle Nate Solder has had a down year by his usual standards. And guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell have been up and down as well. That gears up for potentially big game for Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata this week to wreak that havoc. And when Elvis Dumervil is your “third wheel,” things aren’t gearing up for a great day for Brady.

I think the Patriots defense will match up fairly well against the Ravens offense with Darrelle Revis being able to contain Steve Smith this week. If the Patriots don’t give up the deep ball to Torrey Smith or big runs to Justin Forsett, then the Ravens should have trouble scoring. That’s where the aforementioned Patriots turnovers come into play for the Ravens, if they want to win.

It would not shock me if the Ravens pulled off the upset once more, but because the Patriots were my pre-season Super Bowl pick, I’m going to ride or die with them this week.

Spread Pick: Ravens
Straight Pick: Patriots

Carolina Panthers (8-8-1) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Saturday, January 10 at 8:15 pm ET on FOX

*Line: Seahawks (-10.5)

The injury to Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is a devastating blow. He was a big cog in their ability to slow down running back Marshawn Lynch, which is the key to stopping the Seahawks. Given that center Max Unger is going to be back this week, the matchup now swings heavily in the favor of Seattle.

These two teams will employ similar strategies: relying on the run game, playing good defense and making a couple of difference-making big plays in the passing game. That’s how the Seahawks are so effective, and they are much more suited to play that style and win this week. But I don’t expect this to be the blowout that the Vegas line projects.

Spread Pick: Panthers
Straight Pick: Seahawks

Dallas Cowbooys (13-4) at Green Bay Packers (12-4)
Sunday, January 11 at 1:05 pm ET on FOX

*Line: Packers (-6.0)

The calf injury to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a potentially crippling blow to the Packers. A key aspect of Rodgers’ game is his ability to move around and create a couple of big plays, and with his injury that ability is limited. That means that if the Cowboys can get pressure, they could really do damage to the Packers offense. Cowboys defensive ends Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey will have to step up against tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga.

But even with a hobbled Rodgers, it’s tough to see the Cowboys defense really matching up well against the Packers on the road. The Cowboys defense hasn’t travelled particularly well in recent weeks against lesser offenses like the Giants, Eagles and Bears, so it makes sense that they won’t do so again versus a much better unit than the Packers.

But again, the Rodgers injury is a potential game-changer. Normally, I would expect a blowout. But with that injury, I do think the Cowboys have a decent chance of keeping it close.

Spread Pick: Cowboys
Straight Pick: Packers

Indianapolis Colts (12-5) at Denver Broncos (12-4)
Sunday, January 11 at 4:40 pm ET on CBS

*Line: Broncos (-7.0)

The Colts have played the Broncos particularly well in their two games against them since the games have featured Andrew Luck on one side and Peyton Manning on the other. In their 2013 home win, the Colts defense really got after Manning and created a bunch of turnovers to give them an edge.

In their matchup to start off the 2014 the Colts didn’t have such luck (no pun intended), getting behind early in the game. They did manage a second-half comeback that made the Broncos sweat a bit at the end though.

It’s much more likely that this week’s game mirrors their most recent matchup. But you can never really count out the Colts because of the presence of Luck. He’s proven that he’s adept in comebacks, and not the sort that Matt Ryan has had over the years, where the Falcons lose a lead in the third quarter only to regain it before the end of regulation. Most of Luck’s comebacks are after the Colts are down two or more scores in the second or third quarter. The key for the Broncos to stopping that will be edge-rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware pinning their ears back and wreaking havoc against a weak Colts offensive line.

I suspect the Broncos will take an early lead, potentially from a few beneficial Colts turnovers, but there’s a high probability of a Colts backdoor cover. But I also think there’s a decent chance that the Colts win. Manning hasn’t played particularly well down the stretch this season and if that repeats then the Broncos may not get the early lead they need to try and coast this game. If this gets into a dogfight, things potentially favor the Colts because they may in fact have the better quarterback as things stand today.

Spread Pick: Colts
Straight Pick: Broncos

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com