With the exception of last season I have been quite good at predicting the Super Bowl, but I’m lousy at predicting much of anything else in football (and I don’t really try). I can almost always see both sides of the argument with regard to playoff matchups, and this week is no exception. All 4 road teams are favored this week, and I think that’s proper, but even those games that people seem confident about, I think, could go either way. Let’s take a look.
Atlanta at Arizona
The Smart Pick: Atlanta
Why it’s smart: The Falcons play in a very tough NFC South, won more games than the Cardinals, and have a more balanced offense than the Cardinals with Michael Turner in the running game, and Matt Ryan and Roddy White on the passing game. The Cardinals can’t run the ball to save their lives as Tim Hightower looks to be a huge bust and isn’t even better than the ancient Edgerrin James.
What could go wrong: Atlanta, for all of their advantages, isn’t very good at pass defense. While a stout defense would likely make the Cardinals one-dimensional and pound Kurt Warner into submission, it’s likely that the Cardinals will be able to put up points against the Falcons, and when the Cards put up points, they can win. According to DVOA, Atlanta ranks 18th against the pass. In week 14 the Falcons lost a to a very similar pass-first Saints team , and in an earlier win against the Saints, they saw Drew Brees throw for 422 yards. This is not necessarily a good matchup for Atlanta, who would probably fair better against a more balanced offensive attack. While Matt Ryan has been brilliant this year, he is still a rookie, while Kurt Warner has as much playoff experience as anyone. If this turns into a shootout, don’t be surprised if the Cards come away victorious.
Philly at Minnesota
The Smart Pick: Philly
Why it’s smart: The Vikings have a terrible QB. Say what you will about Donovan McNabb, but the guy has won a bunch of playoff games in his career, especially early playoff games. The Eagle defense has been monstrously efficient lately, and should be able to take advantage of the one-dimensional Viking offense. Pat Williams will be a game-time decision, and if he’s not effective the Eagles new-found reliance on Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter should be effective. There may be as many Eagle fans as Viking fans. The Eagles played in a much tougher AFC East, whereas the Vikings won more-or-less by default. The Vikings have a shitty coach.
What could go wrong: Adrian Peterson could go nuts and win the game single-handedly. The Eagles had a bunch of trouble earlier this season when they went pass-heavy. If the Williams wall is intact, they may have to go pass heavy. I keep hearing about how the Eagles have momentum after killing the Cowboys, but this team also got destroyed by the Redskins the game before that. How is one game “momentum?” The Eagles completely implode on a regular basis. If the Vikings get ahead, Taylor and Peterson will make it hard to come back. If the Eagles suffer an early turnover, watch out. Andy Reid is also a lousy in-game coach.
Baltimore at Miami
The Smart Pick: Baltimore
Why it’s smart: The Baltimore defense is second only to the Steelers in shutting people down. Baltimore’s offense has also been shockingly good lately. Baltimore and Miami finished with the exact same record, but Baltimore outscored their opponents by 141 points while the Dolphins only outscored their opponents by 28, indicating that they have severely overachieved. Chad Pennington doesn’t get a lot of zip on his passes and it is difficult to see how the Miami offense will score any points, especially since Ronnie Brown has basically disappeared. The Miami offense prominently features someone named Devon Besse.
What could go wrong: Joe Flacco isn’t actually very good, and threw nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. By advanced stats he’s right in that Kyle Orton range. LeRon McClain, Ray Rice, and Willis McGahee, have been OK, but can be shut down. If they get shut down, Miami, and not Baltimore, may be able to create some defensive points. Especially when you consider that the Miami offense was the league’s best at NOT turning the ball over. Chad Pennington has been far better than Joe Flacco, and while noodle-armed, he’s very smart and is unlikely to screw up. In short, Baltimore is far more likely to shoot itself in the foot.
Indianapolis at San Diego
The Smart Pick: Indianapolis
Why it’s smart: Indy has won 9 games in a row. San Diego limped into the playoffs at 8-8 by beating a Bronco team with a terrible defense and Tatum Bell (and Rudi Johnson’s luggage) at RB. Peyton Manning is the league MVP. The offense, while not as explosive as in year’s past, is very good. Ladanian Tomlinson probably only looked “rejuvenated” because he was playing the Broncos. San Diego has a lousy defense. Indy already beat San Diego this year. Tomlinson and Gates are both dinged.
What could go wrong: One of the reasons that Indy has a 9 game winning streak is that they played the Jags, Lions, Bengals, Browns, and a resting Tennessee team down the stretch. Indy won the first meeting between these two on a 51-yard FG by Viniateri as time expired, which is not exactly confidence-inspiring. San Diego actually had a slightly better offense on the year, and actually outscored their opponents by more than did Indy. Even with a struggling Tomlinson the Chargers still run the ball better than Indy. Joseph Addai has been very bad. The Colts have historically struggled against the Chargers.
So, there you go. Enjoy the weekend!
51 minutes ago