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Old 01-03-2014, 03:02 PM
Jizay Jizay is offline
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Default NFL 2013 Wildcard weekend - picks and writeups

It's unusual for me to have opinions about all 4 wildcard games, but one side jumped out at me in each game. There is a narrative surrounding each of these games that is misleading and blown out of proportion. I will take the other side of that narrative. All prices are 5dimes reduced juice.

KC ML -103 at Indianapolis

The narrative: Kansas City is an over-rated team that played an easy schedule early and has come down to earth as they have faced quality opponents.

Of course a team will be more successful against bad opponents. But a vastly overlooked reason why the Chiefs were not impressive in the season's second half was that they were missing their all-pro left tackle and all-pro outside linebacker and sack leader. They're getting both back and I think that will make a big difference. Meanwhile, taking an objective, data-driven look at all games and considering opponent adjustments, it is actually the Colts who seem surprisingly over-rated. Check the Colts' DVOA for example, which places them as the worst playoff team in the AFC. I must say, when I've watched the Colts this year, I've had that impression. With a quality running game and what I expect to be a solid defense moving forward, the Chiefs are built for playoff football and will win in Indy.

NO +2.5 +103 at Philadelphia

The narrative: New Orleans is a bad road team and can't win a playoff game in a cold weather stadium.

I must start by saying that I am the most worried about this pick. Philly has had a better season overall and historically, dome teams really do struggle in outdoor, cold weather playoff games. Admittedly, I am using more gut in this pick than the others.

However, I am most worried about this pick because Kenny Vaccaro is done with a broken ankle, not because New Orleans is playing on the road. I believe as much as possible in looking at a team's entire résumé, and when you start looking at splits and trends you lose some reliability. New Orleans did not have a particularly good season on the road, but a lot of that could come down to fluke. The Saints do not have a recent history of being a particularly bad road team, even though many of the same players and coaches in the same system have been there in the last few years. Drew Brees and the Saints were actually better on the road than at home in the 2011 season, so what has changed? My guess is nothing, and games at New England and Carolina show that the Saints can play tough outdoors against better opponents than the Eagles. Given a larger sample size, I believe that the Saints' home/road splits would even out some, though most teams are a little worse on the road.

While too much focus has been placed on the Saints' road woes, very little has been said about the Eagles' inexperienced QB and head coach who have never seen an NFL playoff game. This game is a tough call because both secondaries have some serious matchup troubles. So what do I think is the deciding factor? The Eagles, and Foles in particular, struggle to deal with the pass rush, and the Saints are an excellent pass rushing team. If the Eagles can't do a better job of scheming for pass protection, that may be the difference.

Cincinnati ML -265 vs. San Diego

The narrative: San Diego is a dangerous team capable of beating anybody; a dark horse pick for the Super Bowl.

San Diego is and has been a basically average NFL team for quite some time. I suspect they are being over-valued because of a very high profile win over the Broncos in prime time. That fantastic performance is, sadly, an outlier. Their whole body of work is inconsistent and unimpressive. Particularly troublesome is the Chargers' defense, perhaps the worst in the league. It is more than a bit ironic that so many are talking about the soft Saints having to play on the road in cold weather with the Chargers traveling to Cincinnati in the same week! The Bengals and Chargers have met in each of the last two seasons and both times, the Bengals manhandled them up front on both sides of the ball. That is basically exactly what you'd expect and I don't see what can change about that.

What does worry me is the potential for the Chargers' excellent skill position players to play out of their minds and turn this into a shootout, where Andy Dalton's propensity for making mistakes could be a killer. Cincy's secondary has been banged up, but Terence Newman apparently practiced today, so that's a good sign. More likely, Cincy will control the line of scrimmage and not have to put Dalton in bad situations.

Why the ML? Just a hunch - Cincy has kept their last 2 meetings with San Diego closer on the scoreboard than the game really was, and I'm worried about a backdoor. But honestly, the -6.5 is probably a good play, too.

SF -2.5 -110 at Green Bay

The narrative: It's difficult to go into Lambeau and win a playoff game, and will be more so because of the extreme cold at game time.

Simply put, the Packers are the worst team in the playoffs and it's not even close. The discussion is only interesting because Rodgers and Randall Cobb are back, so people expect the Packers to be the title contender they have been in recent years. I just think it's too much to expect the Packers to flip the switch and play great so soon after their offensive stars return. Meanwhile, something that won't change is the Packers' atrocious run defense. They have been getting gashed by far more pedestrian rushing offenses than San Francisco's. They're going to have to make some major adjustments to stop the Niners, who have been the team that has killed them with superior offensive game planning in their last two meetings. I don't see it.

Can San Fran handle the extreme conditions, with temperatures forecast to be below 0 F before halftime? Who knows - even the Packers aren't used to temperatures like this. I think weather is generally an over-rated angle, but if anything, such extreme conditions seem most likely to hurt the passing game. San Fran stops the run very well, Green Bay doesn't. In short, ignore the geographic location of these teams. If harsh weather favors anyone, it will be the Niners.
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Old 01-04-2014, 01:51 PM
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Backslider Backslider is offline
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I think SF and KC are better teams than GB and Indy. I will probably take them, but Indy did put a beat-down on KC in KC. I'm not sure if they have a secret against them or what.

I might take Andy Luck on draftday, though. It is the only guaranteed good weather, and if they are, in fact, losing then hopefully he will put it up a lot. Seems a better gamble than Alex Smythe.
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