By: Shawn Davis
Since I’ve been stinking up the internet all year with my analysis and putting out NFL columns whenever time has permitted I wanted to make sure that I delivered for those who like to read (or mock) my work. Moving has been an amazing time drain but I know I’m going to be watching the playoffs…so an in-depth amalgamation of words is warranted – although I am not too sure if those aforementioned “words” will be good.
This is the time of year where a bad game gets you a booked vacation and extra television time among the buffet of analysts on the 3,285 studio programs dedicated to NFL coverage. We have our twelve final teams and I’m pretty sure that someone will win the worst Super Bowl in history – yep I’m calling it that – in a continuation of the Northeast blizzard that hit New York/New Jersey this weekend. I’m confident that the eventual Super Bowl champion is among us. (That’s award winning prognosticating right there!)
Last year I made no secret that I was openly rooting for the Denver Broncos, not because I’m a fan of the team per se but for the fact that Peyton Manning is one of my favorite players in history. In order for all his video game numbers to be put in their proper perspective he has to win the title…this season. The Broncos should be defending Super Bowl champions but we know what happened. His playoff record has been picked of all nits and there is no way to view his postseason ledger of 9-11 as a success. Fair or not, win or lose, this postseason will be dominated on what he’s able to do.
In order for his team to win it all he’s going to have to perform with an A+ grade every week just to give his sorry defense a chance to give up more points. If he has a B game, he gets raked over the coals for another early playoff exit. Make no mistake if they aren’t scoring 35 or more they will be watching the Lombardi trophy being hoisted by the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers or San Francisco 49ers. How many more chances will he have if his team falls? I cannot answer that but he will be home when a new champion is crowned, the Broncos – as a full unit, especially defensively – do not supply him with enough support.
Final thought: I do NOT want the playoff field expanded to 14 teams, for the NFL that’s too many. There are only 16 games per team so an expansion of the postseason field will surely have teams qualify with 7-9 records which will drive the talking heads crazy; 12 teams is fine with me. Secondly, the playoffs should be seeded by record and spots in the dance should be handed out reflecting that. Division winners should be granted a playoff berth but not automatic home playoff games if there’s a wild card with a better record (having the 49ers play on the road when they have FOUR more wins than the Packers is senseless). This is one of those NFL tradition-trumps-innovation mantras that bore me, yawn. Configure the entire playoff field by record or at least by division to shake things up for a new era of football. What’s the downside?
Kansas City @ Indianapolis
Look at what we have here: a team resurgent and making their second consecutive playoff berth under their new franchise quarterback and another team showing how good they can be when they have health on their side (having Andy Reid is a plus as well).
As the regular season was developing we got to view the Colts as a squad that consistently slept in first halves…only to storm back and either win or lose. The slow starts now seem to be corrected heading into the knockout round. Over the last three weeks they put away the Houston Texans (25-3), Kansas City Chiefs (23-7), and Jacksonville Jaguars (30-10) while showing consistent play from the opening whistle.
What can we say about the deterioration of the Chiefs defense? What are we to make of that? Over the last eight weeks, they’ve fielded the worst unit on that side of the ball. (Even more putrid than the unit that takes the field for the Denver Broncos.) Two weeks ago the Colts held the ball for just under 40 minutes and ran over 70 plays against them. The defense is no longer sustaining them because their pass rush isn’t as effective as it once was. Injuries to Tamba Hali and Justin Houston have turned their best strength into a glaring weakness. A poor pass rush taxes the secondary by keeping them in coverage far longer than they’re able to cope with and they are not coping well. After allowing 12.3 points per game in their first nine games they have been hemorrhaging ever since by giving up 27.7 points over the last seven contests.
I would be most wary of that statistic heading into the weekend.
Ever since Reggie Wayne went down defenses have been keying on T.Y. Hilton and making all the other receivers behind him step up to roles they haven’t been accustomed to carrying. They are managing to get by because their quarterback is adept at spraying the ball among his tight ends and running backs. Andrew Luck is legit and the key topic that has been overlooked with the level he’s been playing at is that the Colts are still a rebuilding team. You read that right; they are not the team they’re going to be in the next 2-3 seasons. They are also my dark horse candidate to make the Super Bowl. Remember I said “make” and not “win.”
A few defenders better be assigned to Jamaal Charles at all times or he will single-handedly flip this game the other way.
Pick: Colts over Chiefs, 28-20.
New Orleans @ Philadelphia
I sooooooooooooooooooo was riding high with the Saints until they laid down during the game in St. Louis and got beat 27-16. They followed that with a 17-13 loss in Carolina when the defense couldn’t hold the lead as Cam Newton marched down the field to clinch the second seed. Those two losses put them on the road in this postseason – directly into the Northeast cold – and away from the mystical powers in their dome where they are just a completely different (and frightening) team to contend with.
There is going to be a game where Nick Foles will commit a turnover or three – 27 TDS versus TWO interceptions in the regular season – but I don’t think this will be the game.
Adrian Peterson is the best, pure, runner in the NFL and I’m sure that sentiment is echoed by a great many. Saying that, I’ve always favored a back that serves as a dual threat which is why my favorite back (along with Barry Sanders) is Marshall Faulk. LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles both remind me of him in the way they can wreck a defensive scheme. McCoy gets about 130 all-purpose yards in this one to keep the Saints on their heels.
Pick: Eagles over Saints, 38-31.
San Diego @ Cincinnati
So the Chargers have earned the nobody-wants-to-play-them title over the last four weeks…hmm. I give them credit for going to Colorado and punching the Broncos in the face (a loss they needed) but I won’t for the gift the referees left for them last week versus the Chiefs junior varsity squad.
It seems everyone wants to pile on Andy Dalton and count him out. I won’t, at least not this week.
Pick: Bengals over Chargers, 30-17.
San Francisco @ Green Bay
Trying to pick this game makes me want to hit my head against the wall or maybe the pest control chemicals are finally getting to me. This looks to be the marquee matchup this weekend and deservedly so.
I don’t have any idea who to select as a winner.
Aaron Rodgers has the ability to carve the 49ers defense to pieces. Colin Kaepernick can cause an insane amount of trouble as well and he’s proven himself against the Packers the last two times he’s opposed them. The 49ers commit to playing great defense each week which is the one facet of football that always seems to travel well. A timing based offense can be less effective in the elements but the defensive side of a team’s game plan is usually going to remain intact, provided that defense is a good unit to begin with. There’s no secret that the 49ers have the edge there.
The quarterback edge goes to the Packers and I think the coaching comparison is either a tie (or a slight advantage to the home team as Mike McCarthy has coached, and won a championship).
I see Eddie Lacy and Frank Gore both having solid games and I think both quarterbacks will protect the ball to make sure they’re not putting their team at a disadvantage. Analysis is not going to help me make this choice so I’ll go with how I feel. It’s either a gut feeling or gas taking over.
Pick: 49ers over Packers, 31-24.