Coming off a 4-0 weekend, I feel pretty good about my NFL knowledge...although I'm sure it will all come tumbling down this weekend. If you recall from my previous playoffs predictions, I predicted that Indy will win in Baltimore and the remaining home teams will win this weekend. The current playoff format started in 1990, and since that time, home teams in the divisional round are 51-13, (i.e. they win 79.6% of the time)...so I'm not exactly going out on a limb here.
Here's some more analysis that outlines why I think this will happen.
New England at San Diego:
A few stats here would lead you to think that the Patriots have a decent chance at winning in San Diego:
- Tom Brady is 11-1 as a starter in the playoffs
- Philip Rivers (the SD QB) has never played in a playoff game
- Marty Schottenheimer (the SD head coach) is 5-12 in the postseason and has not coached a playoff victory in 13 years.
The Patriots seemed to handle the Jets reasonably well last week, but their lack of a big play maker at wide receiver showed and they relied on their defense. It will be tough for them to come away from San Diego as the winner.
Pick: The San Diego Chargers
Indianapolis at Baltimore:
Last weekend, Payton Manning didn't exactly look brilliant playing against Kansas City. He threw a bunch of interceptions and couldn't seem to get things done in the red zone so they ended up settling for a bunch of field goals. In the regular season that never seemed to happen. However, their defense played really well shutting down the Kansas City running attack. KC didn't even get a first down until the last few minutes of the third quarter! Indy extended their home record to a perfect 9-0 this season with that win. However, now they are travelling to Baltimore, and Indy is 2-7 in outdoor playoff games.
I've said that Baltimore has been overrated for most of the season. I don't think that Steve 'Air' McNair is a quarterback that can be relied on to manage a game for a full 60 minutes. He has moments when he looks great - and then he throws a completely uncatchable ball that is quite often intercepted.
This meeting will be a matchup of the great Indy offense against the great Baltimore defense. I think one of the reasons for the resurgence of Ray Lewis and the Baltimore defense has been the play of their rookie defensive lineman Ngata. He's been able to absorb a couple of OL blockers making room for the fast Baltimore linebackers to make plays in the backfield. This is the key to any 3-4 defensive scheme and it has worked well so far. However, as most rookies do, Ngata is probably reaching the 'rookie wall' where he isn't used to the extended NFL season. I don't think he'll be able to maintain that level of play this weekend.
Pick: Indianapolis Colts.
Seattle at Chicago:
Seattle looked pretty bad last week and is lucky to still be in the playoffs. They can thank the mistakes of the Dallas Cowboys for that. Seattle has injuries at defensive back hand has a guy they signed off the street in the last week of the season (Hunter, I think) playing as their third defensive back. Dallas didn't really try to take advantage of this by going to 4 or 5 wide receiver sets very often which can be blamed directly on Bill Parcells.
Chicago had a great season, the only down side being that their quarterback, Rex Grossman, had a few stinker games (QB ratings of 0 and 1.3!!!) where he turned the all over a number of times and didn't look like he knew which team he was throwing the ball to. Arizona should have beat them on Monday Night Football (one of the few games of theirs I actually watched). However, their defense and special teams have been outstanding all year long.
If Rex Grossman doesn't turn the ball over more than 2 or 3 times, and their defense plays at leas their 'B+ game', then Chicago shouldn't have much trouble beating the Seahawks.
Pick: Chicago Bears
Philadelphia at New Orleans:
Philly looked like they just did enough to beat the Giants last weekend. They weren't able to take control and 'win early' and let the Giants hang around too long. However, they were able to win the field position battle in the third quarter and eventually came away with the win.
However, this week they won't have their loud fans booing the Saints. Instead they'll be listening to the cheers of fans who haven't had much go their way in the last couple of years with the exception of this Saints team. Drew Brees and Reggie Bush have lifted the spirits of the entire city. Coming off shoulder surgery in the off season, Drew Brees has been, arguably, the best quarterback in the entire league. Sean Payton, the Saints' rookie coach, was voted coach of the year.
I've picked New Orleans to win it all this year despite them never winning a playoff game past the wild-card round in their history.
Pick: New Orleans Saints
The pick I'm most confident about is the Chicago pick - Seattle doesn't stand a chance. The pick I'm least comfortable about is the San Diego pick - New England and Tom Brady are always dangerous in the playoffs.