Friday, January 15, 2016

National Football League: Previewing "The Best Week in Playoff Football"

As the NFL playoffs reach "week 2" so to speak we've hit the point where the chaff have been removed and only the wheat remains. The idea behind this being the best week of the playoffs is that you get 4 competitive games between the best 8 teams in football. The teams that are pretenders, who either backed into the playoffs (Bengals) or who got in by winning a weak division (Texans, Washington) lost in the Wild Card round leaving only the teams that should have been there in the first place. This doesn't mean that every team who lost in the first round is terrible (See: Minnesota) only that the best teams received the bye and those remaining actually won their way here.

Ideally, this is supposed to provide us with the matchups of the season. In reality, that's not always the case. (All odds as posted at the Westgate Superbook effective Friday (01/15/2016) 5:15 AM)

Kansas City @ New England (-4.5) (O/U 42)

At one point I thought I saw this line at -7 Patriots but the health concerns surrounding Rob Gronkowski have brought some money back the Chiefs way.  When analyzing this game, the tendency is to spend a lot of time talking about Alex Smith vs. Tom "No coffee" Brady. But a better metric is Kansas City's stout defense vs. the chameleon offense of Bill Belicheck. Unless something funny happens, Smith and Brady won't be on the field at the same time.  Without a healthy Gronkowski the Patriot offense is pedestrian. Although they will benefit from having Danny Amendola and Julian Edleman back on the field. The bigger question is whether or not the Chief's pass rush will be able to get to Brady before he gets rid of the ball.  I think they will, with enough frequency to keep the game close, but not to win the game.

Prediction:  Kansas City 17  New England 20

Green Bay @ Arizona (-7) (O/U 49.5)

In the matter of Aaron Rodgers vs. the Cardinal defense I believe the defendant is going to dominate here.  And Carson Palmer and company are going to have too much talent for Green Bay to handle. In all honesty, I don't see this game as being especially close.  That said, if Green Bay is going to win they're going to have to turn the ball over and stop the Cardinal's rushing attack.  Palmer is not a quarterback who does well when he's uncomfortable in the pocket (few do) and he's much better throwing the ball while stationary than when on the move.  Rodgers, on the other hand, does well when improvising and on the move unless he tries to force it into impossible windows when turnovers become a problem.  My feeling is that the Packers are in over their heads here.

Prediction: Green Bay 13  Arizona 38

Seattle @ Carolina (-1) (O/U 44)

In what I think will be one of the better, more physical games of the weekend we get to see the "team that no one in the NFC wants to face in the playoffs" versus the team that had the best regular season. The trendy pick for analysts is the Seahawks. The reasoning for that is three-fold: 1. There is not a lot of trust in Cam Newton. 2. It's hard to beat a team twice in one year.  3. Seattle is viewed as "having been there before" and it's widely viewed that they are among the best teams in football despite their record.  As good as the Seahawks defense is however, the Panthers have had a better year. This is a game where I'm going to run counter to the experts due, in part, to my belief that Cam Newton really is that good, and the Panthers defense, led by Norman and Kuechley is the best overall unit in the league this year.

Prediction: Seattle 14  Carolina 24

Pittsburgh @ Denver (Off the board)

Injuries and uncertainty have led Vegas big sports books to take this game down, although you still can find some offshore lines laying Denver at -7. The problem is that Pittsburgh doesn't know whether their biggest offensive weapons can be effective, or even play.  Ben Rothlisberger has a sprained AC joint and torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder. All Pro wide-out Antonio Brown is not going to be in the game, and it's unclear whether or not DeAngelo Williams will be effective. With Denver the health of Peyton Manning is seemingly always an open question, although they do appear to be relatively healthy elsewhere. In games like this I look to the defenses for guidance, and Denver's defense is much better than the Steeler's defense. Pittsburgh, a dirty team who got a pass for their malfeasance last week due to the Burfict Storm, will try to knock Peyton out of the game early so expect at least a couple of roughing the passer penalties.  The biggest problem here is that we don't know whether or not Big Ben will be able to throw the ball well. I think he won't.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 10 Denver 27

These results are fairly chalky I know but I think they would set up the matches we were all hoping for in the Division Championship games:

NFC Championship:  Arizona @ Carolina
AFC Championship:  New England @ Denver

I don't know about you but I feel that to be a pretty solid Championship line-up.

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