I still don’t know why they don’t call this round the Conference Semifinals, but I guess that is a dumb thing to care about. After last weekend’s results, I am just picking winners this week, since I can’t seem to come anywhere near where the final scores actually end up.
Seriously, look at this:
Colts v Texans – Prediction: Colts 19 Texans 16; Actual: Colts 21 Texans 7
Seahawks v Cowboys – P: Cowboys 21 Seahawks 13; A: Cowboys 24 Seahawks 22
Chargers v Ravens – P: Chargers 27 Ravens 14; A: Chargers 23 Ravens 17
Eagles v Bears – P: Bears 23 Eagles 7; A: Eagles 16 Bears 15
Still, going 3-1 on picks is pretty impressive, so maybe I’ll just stick to picking the winner and nothing else. That said, all the games last week went under, so if you’re a gambling type, maybe keep that in mind before you place your bets this weekend.
This Weekend’s Games
#6 Indianapolis Colts (11-6) at #1 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
4:35pm EST, NBC; Line: Kansas City (-5), O/U 56.5
The AFC features the two games expected to be “closer” – Chiefs and Patriots are favored by a combined 9 points, while the NFC favorites are favored by 15 points combined – and I don’t disagree. Both of the top seeds in the AFC have flaws.
The Chiefs have scored a lot of points this season; they lead the league in scoring with 565 points this season (35.3 per game), yet still lost four games. It’s probably because their defense surrendered 421 points (26.3 per game) the most of any remaining playoff team (and only better than eight teams overall). Still, the were barely out of the top half of the league in defensive DVOA, and sometimes having your MVP-candidate quarterback throw for 50 touchdowns is enough to win enough games.
The Colts raced out to a lead against the Texans last week, and their improved defense held on to the end for the upset victory. Andrew Luck finally looks like the player he was before he hurt his shoulder, and the offensive line has been rebuilt to give him plenty of time to throw the ball. Still, can the Colts really go into Kansas City – where it may be snowing and cold for most of the game – and continue to overcome the long odds against them?
Despite the presence of Andy Reid on the Chiefs sideline, I think the Chiefs will prevail, and the final result will be right around their scoring averages on the season… so take the over.
Prediction: Chiefs win (and cover), as well as hitting the over.
#4 Dallas Cowboys (11-6) at #2 Los Angeles Rams (13-3)
8:15pm EST, FOX; Line: Rams (-7), O/U 49.5
Another fresh matchup on the season (only the Eagles and Saints met this season), and the second largest spread for the weekend. But the Rams have struggled down the stretch a bit, and their very expensive and highly-touted defense never really rounded into shape on the season either, seemingly since that shootout win against the Chiefs in Week 11. They entered the bye after that victory at 10-1, and went a respectible 3-2 to close out the season, losing two games to playoff teams (Bears and Eagles).
The Cowboys, on the other hand, have lost once in the past nine weeks, a Week 15 loss to the Colts that was pretty ugly (though with the Colts still in the playoffs, maybe not as bad as it looked at the time). In those eight wins, including last week’s two-point victory over the Seahawks, they won by a total of 37 points, with the largest margin coming in a 31-23 victory over Washington. Their defense is also better than their vaunted (and more expensive) Rams counterparts, at least according to weighted DVOA, but their offense is just kind of plain, with Jason Garrett unwilling (or Dak Prescott unable) to open up the offense.
The Rams are still young, but they are in the playoffs for the second season in a row, which should mean something for their young quarterback. Can they re-find their offensive groove with a potential game against the Saints in New Orleans looming? I think so.
Prediction: Rams win (and cover), though take the under in this one.
#5 Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) at #2 New England Patriots (11-5)
1:05pm EST, CBS, Line: Patriots (-4), O/U 47.5
This one is a little tough for me to be impartial on. I predicted another Super Bowl for the Patriots before the season, but that was before Rob Gronkowski fell off a cliff and the previously ageless Tom Brady really looked 41 at times during the season. Nevertheless, it’s hard to discount the “infrastructure” of the Patriots, even in seemingly down years, and whether Bill Belichick and crew were taking it easy knowing that they would easily win the AFC East yet again.
Still, they finished one game behind this week’s opponent during the regular season, and finished with less than 12 victories for the first time since 2009, the last season that they didn’t have a first round bye. In the meantime, they’ve made it to seven consecutive conference championships, as well as four Super Bowls (2-2) since that 2009 season, so they are definitely a different team when the playoffs start.
The Chargers don’t have a long and distinguished history in the playoffs; this is only their third playoff appearance in the last 10 seasons, and sixth in the Philip Rivers era with the Chargers. Rivers has lost in two playoff games against the Patriots, including one where he played with a torn ACL. But the team went toe-to-toe with the Chiefs all season, and probably has the more talented roster from top-to-bottom.
Still… it’s the Patriots. At home. In January. It’s going to be cold for this one, and I think it will be a slow game until both teams get warmed up, yet the home team should prevail.
Prediction: Patriots win (but don’t cover), and take the under.
#6 Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) at #1 New Orleans Saints (13-3)
4:40pm EST, FOX, Line: Saints (-8), O/U 51.5
The Eagles are hoping that their magical run can continue, though the Saints are just too good. The Saints scored the third-most points in the league this season (504, 31.5 per game), and Drew Brees would probably be easily winning the MVP if not for Mahomes’ season in KC. In his age-39 season, Brees threw for nearly 4,000 yards (3,992) and 32 touchdowns, completing an astounding 74.4% of his passes, which broke his previous record high of 72% set last year. He sat out the meaningless Week 17 game against the Panthers too, otherwise he would’ve added to those figures.
For the defending Super Bowl champions, another miracle win by Nick Foles might force them into a tough decision during the offseason with their quarterbacks. In five regular season games started this season in relief of an injured Carson Wentz (Weeks 1 & 2, and 15-17), Foles went 4-1, leading them to the playoffs when it seemed like a lost cause as recently as the Wentz injury. He then did just enough against the Bears last weekend to pull out the victory (though they were aided by the “double doink”).
But I like the Saints, especially at home in the dome. The NFC title will come through New Orleans.
Prediction: Saints win (and cover) and take the over.
I know that I picked the favorites, especially after the favorites only won once last week, so I’ll probably be disappointed with the results of one game. But that’s why they actually play the games instead of relying on lines and stats and all that.
Until next time…