Friday, January 6, 2012

the wild card predictions

What a difference a year makes. A year ago, I was sitting at my laptop on a Friday night, typing up my wildcard round predictions while enjoying a beer or three.

Oh. Wait.

But – but! – last year the two teams I root for, were about to take the field. The Jets were headed to Indy, the Chiefs were set to host the Ravens, things were looking great.

This year? No Chiefs. No Jets. And somehow the tebows are hosting a playoff game. Excuse me while I bash my head against the wall. Repeatedly.

Here then are my Wild Card Round predictions …

* at Texans (-3) 27, Bengals 14. I forget where I read this earlier this week, but it made me laugh out loud because it’s so damned true (and funny) – the Texans should have Sam Wyche and Jerry Glanville as the honorary coin toss participants, since the Bengals and Oilers used to stage such great playoff games (and regular season showdowns) in the late 80s / early 90s. For what its worth, I’m taking the Texans to cover and win outright for three reasons:

1. I’ve attended a meaningless regular season game in that stadium … and it’s loud in there. I mean, LOUD. The Bengals have absolutely no idea what they’re in for. I fully expect the Texans to come out, feed off the crowd, muster at least a field goal early, then rattle Andy Dalton into a back breaking and game-changing turnover, I’m envisioning a Pick Six, that all but ends the game before the second quarter begins. Because …

2. If the Texans can get up two scores early, get up 10-0 or 14-3, something like that, what do you think they’ll do? Pound Arian Foster. Who, despite the Texans having a shaky rookie QB under center, has been utterly unstoppable – his yards per carry have gone UP nearly half a yard per carry since Matt Schaub was lost for the season. Unreal. When the defense knows what’s coming, and they can’t stop it? That’s something special to watch. But finally …

3. Because I know one Texans fan, and only one Texans fan, and by God, she deserves to see her team win in the playoffs. So I’m rooting for (and betting on) Houston because of Ashley. You’re welcome?

* at Saints 38, Lions (+10 ½) 35. The Lions absolutely can win this game. If you toss out the insane penalties from their matchup a month ago against the Saints, they thoroughly outplayed New Orleans. And truth be told, if this game was in the noon Sunday slot, I might pick the outright upset.

But that crowd? With all day to “medicate” for a national prime time game? Uuh, it ain’t happening Lions fans. I think they’ll keep it close, because the Detroit offense is that prolific, and while he’s nowhere near the coordinator he was ten years ago, Gunther Cunningham always has his guys ready to play when the playoffs arrive. Gun will have something up his sleeve to at least keep it interesting. At the end of the day though, I see the Saints surviving. Much like when they hosted Philly on a Saturday night in the divisional round in 2006 – a closer than expected contest that comes down to a last second field goal. I envision something similar this time.

* Falcons (+3) 34, at Giants 20. This ridiculous notion that Matt Ryan has to win this game to be considered an “elite quarterback” is absolutely ridiculous. The guy has been a starter in this league for four years now. His teams have won 11, 9, 14, and 11 games, and have made the playoffs three times. His prior two playoff defeats were to the eventual NFC champion.

I mean, look it, nobody wants to see the Chiefs succeed in the postseason more than me … but for God’s sake, this idea that you HAVE to win in the playoffs to be an elite quarterback drives me bat shit crazy. You know who was an elite quarterback in this league from the moment he arrived … and didn’t win a playoff game until his SIXTH year in the league? It’s ok, you can Google search it, I can wait.

(cue “jeopardy” music …)

Time. The answer is … “alleged all time great” Peyton Manning. Here’s Manning’s career postseason in his first five years in the league:

1999: L 13-16 vs Titans. Stats: 19/42, 227 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT, 62.3 rating.
2000: L 17-23 at Dolphins (OT). Stats: 17/32, 194 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT, 82.0 rating.
2002: L 0-41 at Jets. Stats: 14/31, 137 yds, 0 TD, 2 INT, 31.2 rating.

(source: pro-football-reference.com).

Through five years in the league, Manning was 0-3 in the playoffs, with a QB rating in the mid-50s. Even more damning Chiefs fans, he lost 41-0 to Herm Edwards! How does that happen, if Herm is even 2/1000ths of awful as a coach as so many of you think he is!

Matt Ryan is absolutely an elite quarterback in this league, and just like Manning did in 2003 when he broke through with two epic performances and two victories in January, Matt Ryan is about to break through with at least one of each. I HATE the idea that in order to be “elite”, you have to win in January. To take it back to “alleged all time great” Peyton Manning one more time, care to guess what his career record in the playoffs is?

9-10. “Alleged all time great” Peyton Manning is a LOSER in the postseason. Does that mean he’s not “elite”, that he’s not a “winner”? HELL NO! Why do you think I facetiously refer to him as “alleged all time great”? Because too many people judge football greatness solely on January. It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

The Falcons will win this game because the best quarterback on the field, is in their huddle. I don’t care that Eli Manning has won a Super Bowl. I don’t care that the Giants are at home. The best QB on the field is in their huddle. And win or lose on Sunday, don’t you dare try to tell anyone (especially me) that the Falcons QB isn’t an elite quarterback in this league. Four winning seasons, three playoff berths, in 64 regular games under center. Matt Ryan can play for my team anytime. Just like Peyton Manning, despite his losing postseason career.

And finally … and my God, does this one pain me … but man, do I feel so strongly about this …

* at broncos (+8 ½) 34, Steelers 10.

Here’s another fun-filled trivia question for you*. Since the 1970 merger, only TWICE in NFL history has a team hosted, in the wild card round, a team that posted four (or more) wins than it did in the regular season. (AKA “superior wildcard team hits the road to face inferior division champion”.) Can you name the two games … and more specifically, can you identify who won each game?

(Hint: both games have occurred within the last four years.)

And … time.

(*: I'm not the self-appointed "King of Useless Trivia" for nothing.  And yes, I am fully aware Wednesday was "National Trivia Day".  Why the hell do you think I went to Hooters after bowling?)

On January 3, 2009 (hey, what a great day!!!), the San Diego “Super” Chargers, AFC West champions at 8-8, hosted the 12-4 Indianapolis Colts … and won 23-20 in overtime as a 9 ½ point underdog.

And last year, on January 8, the Seattle Seahawks, NFC West champions at 7-9, hosted the 13-3 New Orleans Saints as 10 ½ point underdogs … and nearly dropped 50 on the defending Super Bowl champions in blowing them out of Qwest Field behind the game of Marshawn Lynch’s life.

So, all you folks who think denver has no chance, uuh, want a re-do on that thinking?

This … is my Wayne Allyn Root Memorial Game of the Year. When EVERYONE expects something to go one way … bet contrarian.

I have yet to read a single prediction for this game that doesn’t end one of two ways, either a Steelers rout, or a broncos close victory. To which I reply, why CAN’T the broncos win this one in a blowout?

Look it, if timmy tebow quarterbacked ANY other team than this one, I’d absolutely love the guy. The kid is humble. The kid shrugs off criticism, and just does his thing. The kid is a winner. He leaves every damned ounce of energy he has on the football field, no regrets, no half-assing it.

Most importantly, he’s genuine. As someone who refuses to step foot in Church for a reason*, that matters to me. If there were more timmy tebow’s in the religious-sphere, I might take my mom up on her standing weekly offer to attend Mass.

(*: I promise, I’m not invoking religion into this column, other than to say this. I heard a quote one time, and just Google searched it to see that it’s widely attributed to some dude named Brennan Manning, that is THE best defense of my view on religion I’ve ever heard, and it is this. “The single biggest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus Christ with their lips but deny him with their lifestyle. It is the one thing an unbelieving world finds completely and totally unbelievable”. Amen sir. Amen. And that, in a nutshell, is why you won’t see my ass in a pew anytime soon.)

As for the game itself … again, twice in the last four years, we’ve seen this exact scenario unfold, albeit slightly different in that both San Diego and Seattle won “win and you’re in” de-facto playoff games against divisional rivals to enter the playoffs (SD over denver in 2008; Seattle over St. Louis last year.) The donkeys enter having lost three straight.

And you know what? So have the Texans. And I like them to win on Saturday to open the postseason. So why can’t denver win this game?

Pittsburgh is beat up. No Pouncey. No Ryan Clark due to (justifiable, and kudos to the coaching staff for holding him out) legitimate medical reasons. Ben is playing hurt. Why can’t an above-average denver pass rush rattle Ben early, force a quick turnover or two? Why can’t eddie royal take one to the house? And why can’t the most epic winner (arguably) in college football history finally win a snoozer at the pro level? There’s nothing written in tablets of stone from Mount Sinai that says timmy tebow has to win every game in the fourth quarter, or lose it in the first. Sometimes, your team shows up, and wins a laugher, despite what everyone thinks. (Even the Chiefs managed this, at oakland in week 7).

Why can’t the broncos win this one comfortably? I think they will. And I don’t know what disgusts me more: the fact that I believe they will win … the fact that means they post yet another playoff victory since the Chiefs last had one …

Or the fact that like a certain loyal reader of this site, I’ll be cheering for her team on Sunday as loudly and passionately as she does. OK, not as loudly, and definitely not as passionately, but you get the point. And now if you’ll excuse me, I REALLY need to bash my head repeatedly against a concrete object at the realization that I’m cheering for denver to win in less than 48 hours …

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