Patriots, Colts, Panthers, and Seahawks - explanations later...Obviously, I got the Seahawks right, and the Patriots wrong.
Yesterday afternoon, I was very undecided on the Patriots/Broncos game - as I said to a friend, it was the most undecided I'd been for a game in a while. But I'll come back to that soon: First, the other games...
Washington @ Seattle:
This was easy. The Redskins are a good team with a great defense. The Seahawks are a very good team with a very good offense and very good defense. The Redskins' biggest problem is their almost non-existent offense. Sure - Clinton Portis is a good running back, but he's not a "guaranteed" 80+ yard rusher every game. Santana Moss will catch a couple long passes in a game, but only once in a while, and only against teams stupid enough to let him get behind them - and there aren't enough other receiving threats to to open up Moss. The Seahawks are better than that. The Redskins totalled 120 yards of offense when beating the Bucs last week; the Seahawks could (and did) follow the same style, and ended up holding the Skins to 140 yards through 3 quarters.Carolina @ Chicago:
Rex Grossman, who has started a total of 9 career games, is not enough of an improvement to say that the Bears suddenly have an offense. The Panthers are 7-2 on the road, and are not intimidated by playing on the road. The teams have the best two defenses in the league, and it will be somewhat low-scoring; but the Panthers have enough offense to score a couple of times on the Bears, while the Bears will struggle mightily to do the same. And while the Bears did sack Delhomme 8 times in shutting the Panthers down 13-3 2 months ago, the Panthers have improved since then, and likely learned a lot from that game. I think the Panthers have enough offense to get a couple of touchdowns - and that's enough against the Bears. Pick: Panthers.Pittsburgh @ Indianapolis:
Q: What's the weakest part of the Steelers' defense?New England @ Denver:
A: Their cornerbacks.
Q: And what's the strongest feature of the Colts' offense?
A: Yeah, the Colts are winning today.
The Steelers are a good team with a good defense - but as shown even in their win last week, they can be scored off of, and more than a couple of times. The Colts are likely going to score more than 30 points today (31, I think, but guessing game scores is really foolish in general), and there's no way the Steelers can keep up. The Colts' defense is good enough to stop the Steelers a few times, and the dome noise will wreak havoc with the Steelers much as the crowd noise did early last week in Cincinatti - then hush when Peyton Manning steps up to the line of scrimmage. A very good Bengals analyst noted last week that the crowd noise was a difference, not because the Steelers were getting called for false starts and the like; but rather, because the O-line has to react when they see the snap, and not a half-second earlier when they hear a snap count. That half-second difference allows the opponents' line to get that push the Steelers' O-line normally gets - and that's huge. Pick: Colts.
Well, I blew this one. I was heavily weighted to the Broncos for a number of [correct] reasons, but then switched for a couple of bad ones. Broncos' advantages: They'd beaten the Patriots once; they'd been consistent on defense, but more importantly offense, all year; and best of all, they were playing at home. Invesco is one of the hardest places to play - there's the air factor, but what's tougher is the noise factor: The Broncos fans are LOUD. The Patriots' weaknesses include inconsistent play most of the season, and Tom Brady [Mr. 10-0 in the playoffs] playing in a hostile stadium for just the second time in the playoffs.Ah, well. Guess I'm not going 11-0 this year, either.
But I got too caught up on other points: During the Broncos' 28-20 win in the season, the Patriots had no rushing game with Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk both out. The Broncos' defensive line includes 4 ex-Cleveland Browns; the Browns last year were 11th or so vs. the pass, but last against the run - and with good reason. Those linemen are all good pass rushers, but (aside from Courtney Brown on end) were weak at stopping the run. I thought the Patriots would run a few draws and traps with Dillon to open up the field. Meanwhile, it seemed like both teams would be running the ball a lot, creating long drives to keep their defenses rested and the other defense on their heels.
Here was my next mistake: Despite Jake Plummer's excellent season, I still recall his tendency last year to throw interceptions inside the other team's 20-yard line. I assumed Belichik would try and force him to make mental errors in those situations, have him force a few throws, and pick the ball off. Instead, it was Tom Brady who threw the pick in the end zone, and despite Ben Watson's incredible hustle play to get back and knock the ball out of Champ Bailey's hands at the New England 1 (after a 100-yard return), the refs ruled it went out of bounds at the 1 not in the end zone, and the Broncos punched it in and took a commanding lead the next play.
Technorati tags: NFL, Picks, Divisional, Playoffs.