Well, my late-season surge to get to .500 did not end as well as I had hoped. In Week 17, I went 5-11 against the spread which is a pretty pathetic way to end the year. My final record picking spread games this year was 123-133. Five games below .500, after a previous year where I was like 146-110. I sported a 161-95 record picking winners straight up after finishing 11-5 in Week 17.
If you listened to this week’s podcast, I already gave some picks for this weekend’s playoff games. But I’m going to have to switch one of them after thinking on it for a few more days.
* All lines are taken from ESPN.com.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Saturday, January 4 at 4:35 pm ET on NBC
*Line: Colts (0.0)
The formula for beating the Chiefs isn’t that complicated. Get an early lead, and force them to marginalize their best weapon: Jamaal Charles, in favor of making them throw with Alex Smith. That’s exactly what the Colts did in their Week 16 win over the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Chiefs couldn’t convert third downs and turned the ball over a bunch also in that game. The Colts benefited from offensive tackle Branden Albert being out that game, but he’s expected to be back this week. So will outside linebacker Justin Houston, who’s absence has coincided with the lack of pressure from the formerly excellent Chiefs defense. But fellow pass rusher Tamba Hali might also be out, so Houston’s return may not be the huge boost the Chiefs need.
I want to believe in Andrew Luck and that the Colts have figured out their identity in the post-Reggie Wayne world. Griff Whalen and Da’Rick Rodgers have stepped up somewhat and they will need to play at high levels, along with Donald Brown and the Colts defense to get this first playoff win for Luck and Chuck Pagano. Tje Colts have consistently raised their game against tough opponents, while the Chiefs have not. The Colts are 4-2 against playoff teams this year, while the Chiefs are 1-5. That says it all.
Spread Pick: Colts
Straight Pick: Colts
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Saturday, January 4 at 8:10 pm ET on NBC
Line: Eagles (-2.5)
The Saints have been very bad on the road, to the point that it makes me overlook conventional wisdom. And that wisdom is that the Saints are simply a better overall team than the Eagles. Drew Brees and Sean Payton have NFL playoff experience, while Nick Foles and Chip Kelly do not. Generally speaking, I tend to go against quarterbacks playing in their first postseason game. But I don’t want to pick the Saints. I want to believe that LeSean McCoy is going to gash that defense, and the Saints will continue to have their same struggles on the road this week that they’ve had all year long. But it wouldn’t surprise me that this is the game where the Saints figure it out and eke out a win in Philadelphia.
Spread Pick: Eagles
Straight Pick: Eagles
San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
Sunday, January 5 at 1:05 pm ET on CBS
*Line: Bengals (-7.0)
Everything on paper says that Cincinnati should roll in this game. They are the better overall football team, and they are facing a Chargers defense that is weak and struggles against quality receivers. The Chargers are a one-dimensional team that has thrived on the strong play of Philip Rivers this year, and little else. The Bengals have a balanced team with a defense that is still performing at a very high level despite missing their two best players: Leon Hall and Geno Atkins.
But it’s the intangible reasons for why I’m picking San Diego. I do not like Andy Dalton in big games. In reality Cincinnati’s offense is basically A.J. Green with the occasional splash play from Gio Bernard and Marvin Jones. If you can contain Green, then you are in good situation. So my hope is that Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano has something worked out that will marginalize Green, to give Rivers and that offense a chance to pull the upset.
Spread Pick: Chargers
Straight Pick: Chargers
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
Sunday, January 5 at 4:40 pm ET on FOX
*Line: Packers (+2.5)
People will point out that the 49ers have beaten the Packers three times over the past two seasons in some memorable victories (who can forget last year’s playoff game?). But it’s not as if the 49ers have been absolutely destroying them despite 7,000 yards rushing by Colin Kaepernick in that game. Green Bay had an early lead in that game, and they also were able to take a late lead in the season opener this past year. But of course then Anquan Boldin showed up and they lost it at the end.
The 49ers are the better team, and thus I should pick them. They have the better defense, and if/when it comes to getting stops, they will be much more capable of doing so than the Packers. That is what doomed the Packers the last two times they’ve faced the 49ers, their inability to get stops in critical situations. And without Clay Matthews in the lineup, that flaw will be exasperated. And ultimately, I’m going to have to go with them based off that fact alone.
Spread Pick: 49ers
Straight Pick: 49ers