The quest for 11-0 begins again. It seems so easy doesn’t it … after weeks of looking at 16 games there are only 4, and it seems like we know all there is to know about them ….. and then we go 2-2 in the playoffs and are dead in the water in all the playoff confidence pools.
The only thing harder than picking NFL playoff games is picking college bowl games. Sounds like a bad idea to bet on a bunch of meaningless games starring 20 year old kids playing for coaches who may or may not give a shit at that point. It didn't stop us from trying. 24-15 right now against the number, with one more to go. Here’s what we learned this bowl season:
The Belk Bowl is Virginia’s BCS. UVa is 3-0 in Charlotte after pasting USC.
The MAC mactually sucks. 1-5 in bowls this year, and something like 2-14 last 3 years. It’s fun to watch the MAC regular season, since their offenses play on Tuesdays. Their defenses play some other day, but it’s definitely not Tuesday.
The PAC-12 may be worse than the MAC. 3-4 in the bowls. Zero offense in this once-proud conference. Wazzou put up 28 in the Alamo Bowl, highest scoring of all the PAC-12 teams. In today’s game that’s just not great.
Notre Dame is who we knew they were.
Ho-hum. Alabama vs Clemson for all the marbles.
We have one thing to say to those holding winning future tickets for a Clemson-Alabama rematch.
Bonus Pick: Alabama -6 (even)
HOUSTON (11-5) -1.5 vs. Indianapolis (10-6)
These teams play for the 3rd time this year. The road team won the first two games by 3 points each. All of the stats are really well balanced and this should be a really good game.
Andrew Luck’s comeback has been amazing. He was left for dead by the side of the road by the end of last year, so many questions about his ability to throw the ball more than 10 yards. You know, kind of like Tom Brady now.
Our keys to the game:
Indy getting starting center Ryan Kelly fully healthy after missing week 17. Good call to rest him
Houston D has great reputation but the numbers don't really back it up. They’re kind of middle of the pack in many defensive stats, but they’re at the back of the pack (#31) against #1 receivers.
Indy’s red zone TD rate is 68.8% (#5). Houston has allowed TDs 70.7% of the time (#29).
This game may come down to TY Hilton vs. DeAndre Hopkins. Expect monster games from both of them. Hopkins is otherworldly. Hilton has played 7 games in Houston. Average line: 6 catches / 133 yards / 1 TD.
It’s a coin flip game. Enjoy watching it. Houston goes to Patriots next week if they win. Colts go to Chiefs. The AFC playoffs are going to be great this year.
We’re taking the points because it’s going to be close.
DALLAS (10-6) -1.5 vs. Seattle (10-6)
Which is more annoying? Pete Carroll smacking his gum or Jason Garrett clapping. You decide.
Garrett is the most annoying clapper in the history of hands, but it’s too well known. Peak overexposure is when your mom says “The Dallas coach. Isn't he the guy that claps?” Coach Pete’s chewing is underratedly annoying.
Here’s another one for you to hate-watch.
As for the game ….. take the points. We’ve been waiting all year to fade the Cowboys in the playoffs. This isn't the time to lose your nerve. Dallas is 7-1 in the last 8 …. But haven't been playing well the last 3 weeks. They got shut out by Indy, then squeaked by the Bucs, and in one of the most questionable coaching decisions of the season, played almost all of the starters all of week 17 in a meaningless game. Thankfully nobody got hurt, and they needed to convert a 4th and 15 and a 2-pt conversation to squeak by the Giants. This is not a recipe for success.
Seattle finished on a 6-1 run of their own, and finished a little stronger with wins over Kansas City and Minnesota in there. They beat Arizona by 3 to get the #5 seed. Arizona played Seattle close both times this year, losing both by 3. Sports can be weird.
If Seattle can establish the run, watch out. Otherwise this game will also be close.
BALTIMORE (10-6) -2.5 vs. LA Chargers (12-4)
Since taking over as the starting QB, Lamar Jackson has led the Ravens to a 6-1 record to finish the season. The only loss came Week 14 in OT at Kansas City. Pretty impressive for a rookie that every quarterback needy team (looking at you NY Giants) passed on in the 1st round last April. During this impressive 7 game stretch, Jackson, a run-first QB, faced some of the worst run defenses in the league.
Week 17 – Cleveland, 28th in league allowing 135.2 yds/game
Week 16 – LA Chargers, 9th, 105.8 yds/game
Week 15 – Tampa Bay, 24th, 123.9 yds/game
Week 14 – Kansas City, 27th, 131.1 yds/game
Week 13 – Atlanta, 25th, 124.9 yds/game
Week 12 – Oakland, 30th, 140.6 yds/game
Week 11 – Cincinnati, 29th, 137.6 yds/game
Aside from the Chargers in week 16, every run defense Jackson faced was in the bottom third of the league. Yes, the Ravens did manage to beat the Chargers two weeks back, but Jackson rushed for only 39 yards. If not for 3 Chargers turnovers, this game might have had a different outcome.
But here we are, two weeks later and the Chargers and Ravens meet again. This time the game is in Baltimore and the Chargers drew the short straw and will play the 1 pm ET game on the east coast. For a long time, west coast team traveling east for a 1 pm start was a bet against situation. Not anymore and definitely not in the playoffs.
It’s great to see Lamar Jackson having so much early success and I’m sure he will have a wonderful career. But the playoffs are a whole different ball-game than regular season. Rookie quarterbacks historically struggle in their first playoff game and I expect this game to be no different. Melvin Gordon is expected to play which is a huge plus for the Chargers offense. If Rivers, who has a tendency to get too fired up, can stay cool and not make any costly mistakes, the Chargers should win. I think we’ll see a very low scoring game with the Chargers winning on the field 19-15.
LA Chargers +2.5
CHICAGO (12-4) -5.5 vs. Philadelphia (9-7)
I’m still trying to wrap my head around how the NFC East got two teams into the playoffs. Philadelphia needed to beat Washington last week and needed Chicago to beat Minnesota or the Vikings would get the 6th seed. So basically, Chicago had their choice of who to play in this Wild Card game. And they chose Nick Foles and the Eagles over Kirk Cousins and the Vikings? I’m not sure what the Bears were thinking. In a win or go home game, I’d much rather be facing Kirk “never won a big game” Cousins and the train wreck that the Vikings have turned into. Seriously, just watch the lamest (re: whitest) sideline argument between Cousins and Thielen.
But getting back to game at hand, Chicago is back in the playoffs for the first time in 8 years. The Bears were led by the #1 defense in the league allowing a league low 17.7 point per game. They also led the league with 27 INTs (6 more than anyone else) and 36 total takeaways. Philadelphia turned the ball over 23 times with a TO difference of -7. This is something to keep an eye on.
The Eagles are 3-0 since Nick Foles took over in Week 15 for an injured Caron Wentz. Last season, Foles took over for an injured Carson Wentz in Week 15 and went 6-1 (loss was 6-0 to Cowboys in meaningless week 17 game) winning the Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP. Again, what the hell were the Bears thinking?
Soldier Field is a tough place to play and the Bears will definitely have a home field advantage. It’s really hard to discount the momentum the Eagles will be bringing into this game though. As long as Philadelphia doesn’t turn the ball over, this should be a very close game. Smart decision by the NFL and the networks making this late Sunday game. This is the marquee match-up of the weekend. Eagles will do enough to cover at a minimum and maybe pull off the upset.