Who Dat 12th Man? Danny California’s 2014 NFL Divisional Round Playoff Predictions and Analysis

Last week’s Wild Card Playoff round was just as crazy and interesting to watch as promised. The first game between Indy and KC was a wild one, with (as I predicted, at least, the comeback part) the Colts coming roaring back from a 28 point deficit to humiliate a Chiefs team that put a hurting on Indianapolis (even without Jamaal Charles) in the first half. Andrew Luck is starting to cement himself as the most elite quarterback of his draft class, and perhaps is destined to be the NFL’s best someday soon. Following that game, New Orleans went into frigid Philadelphia and behind journeyman kicker Shayne Graham’s leg, the Saints found a few rounds of birdshot left and shot down the Eagles and their playoff hopes in the final seconds. On Sunday. we saw Andy Dalton post his best postseason QB rating yet out of three total games (at a 67.0 rating, yikes) and the Bengals get destroyed by San Diego despite the flurries and the fact that Philip Rivers is still under center. And finally, in what seems to be proof that cold weather isn’t as much as a factor as I thought, San Francisco went into the negative wind chill temps of Lambeau Field and pulled out a close win over Green Bay.

This weekend promises more balmy temperatures (even in Foxboro, Massachusetts) compared to last week, and also throws the teams with first round byes into play, making things a little bit more interesting.

Saturday, January 11th Games

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks, 4:35 PM EST

According to popular consensus, most people though that the Saints would win last week. With Drew Brees at the helm and a better tested coaching staff and roster, New Orleans held the slight advantage over Philadelphia. Typically, Saints football is thought to be Brees throwing for four scores and the defense doing just enough to ensure that the don’t get outscored. Last Saturday though, perhaps everyone not nicknamed “The Wolfman” was surprised as Brees threw two pretty bad picks, and the defense and running game stepped up and came through to produce a win for the Saints. New Orleans also exorcised the demons of playing on the road in the playoffs, going into frigid Philly and shutting down rushing champion Lesean McCoy. It seemed though, that the Eagles lost the game more than the Saints won it, as some key mistakes and overt conservativity of Nick Foles doomed the Philly offense. If the Saints are going to advance to the NFC Championship game, they will have to keep their turnovers down (3 against the Eagles was almost too many), and have an aerial attack that was missing when these two teams met earlier this season in a Seattle blowout.

The Seahawks have been one of, if not the favorite to win the NFC since the start of the season. With a healthy Percy Harvin alongside weapons Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch leading the way on offense, Seattle plays punishing defense on the other side of the ball which paves the way to victory. By giving up the second fewest PPG on the season built on giving up the fewest offensive yards, Seattle’s defense is the reason this team wins, and is even capable of scoring by themselves by leading the league in INTs with 28, and forcing the fourth most fumbles with 15. Add in an offense that scores the second most points in the NFL per game and has the third most rushing yards on average, the ‘Hawks control the clock, make minimal mistakes on offense, and force mistakes on defense. There really isn’t a better all-around team in the league. Combine that with CenturyLink field and the “12th Man” that the crowd dubs themselves as, and it’s hard not to pick them to go all the way. And yet, in this divisional round, I am doing the unheard of and picking New Orleans. The Saints have already been embarrassed in Seattle, they know what it’s like and will deal better a second time around. They’ve gotten the road victory monkey off their back and their defense is coming together well as a unit. Last week they shut down McCoy to the point where he was completely irrelevant, which I believe they can replicate against Lynch. And, I think Drew Brees is due. To have him go on the road and throw three touchdowns is exactly what is needed for the team from the Big Easy, with Shayne Graham delivering again to send the Saints to the championship game. 27-24 New Orleans

Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots, 8:15 PM EST

Anybody who watched last week’s Wild Card game involving the Colts had to be astonished. I haven’t talked to anyone yet who turned it off at halftime thinking it was over, but I’m sure those piteous people exist somewhere. Andrew Luck led a seriously insane comeback against the playoff greenhorn Chiefs, and helped solidify his name as the best up and coming quarterback in the league. Unfortunately for Indy, their defense was exposed and they lost a few players to injuries which never helps in a playoff run. But, they still have the explosive TY Hilton and talented Luck to put up points on the scoreboard in a hurry. The Colts are riding momentum right now having now won four straight, and for a streaky team like theirs this is nothing but good news. The only serious problem shown on Saturday was the running game. Trent Richardson is turning out to be totally useless with Donald Brown completely taking over the ground attack. Although when a team is down by 28 they shouldn’t really be running the ball, it’s still a little concerning that Richardson is such a bust. Indianapolis also signed ex-Patriots receiver Deion Branch to plug the gap filled by Darrius “Todd Pinkston” Hayward-Bey. Whether this helps or not is yet to be seen, but it would be nice to see Branch burn his former team once or twice at the ripe age of 34.

Of course, the Patriots are used to these January battles with the Colts, this time without Peyton Manning at the helm of the opposition. That means that Tom Brady and Emperor Belicheat will have an evil game plan that is tried and true, and this time around should result in Brady receiving high fives from his teammates. The thing I don’t like about New England is that they’re rather untested during the regular season. Sure, they beat Denver and New Orleans, but most of the other games they played were really soft. The AFC East is a partial joke, as the Bills are a bad team, the Jets are a bad unpredictable team, and the Dolphins are an above-average mediocre team. Still, the Patriots managed going only 4-2 in their own division, losing their other two games to playoff teams Cincinnati and Carolina. The Patriots are also banged up on offense, missing all of their good pass catchers (Gronk), as Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman will need to come up big for Tom Brady. Stevan Ridley has also shown some promise on the ground, basically splitting carries with LeGarrette Blount, who between the two of them average 4.75 YPC. New England’s defense is underrated too , as their run defense is the only thing that is a problem, which against the Colts isn’t a real problem at all. If Andy Reid’s Alex Smith can throw for four TD’s against Indy, just imagine what Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can do. I don’t want the Patriots to win, but the combination of a good ground attack, solid pass defense, the home crowd in Foxboro,. and the intangibles that are the Brady and Belichick combo should pull it out against the young Luck(y) upstarts. 38-27 New England

Sunday, January 12th Games

San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers, 1:05 PM EST

The Niners managed to pull it out last week against Green Bay, I’ll give them that much. The only problem is, they played such a close game against the weakest division champion outside of Philadelphia. Colin Kaepernick overcame his mistakes by using his legs to torch the Packers defense, who you would have thought would have learned by now to keep a man spy on the QB. Michael Crabtree also came up huge for San Fran, grabbing 125 yards worth of passes, completely overshadowing Number One receiver Anquan Boldin in the Green Bay game. They also played good downfield coverage, not allowing receivers to run loose in the secondary and letting Aaron Rodgers beat them. This should be a low-scoring, grind-it-out defensive game, just like the 10-9 Carolina victory that these two teams played back in Week 10.

Of course, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that the Panthers would be here after starting the season 0-2. Looking back on their season though, it is almost amazing how nobody could have seen how good this Panthers team was. Their only bad loss was to a Buffalo Bills team on the road by one point. Their other losses were in New Orleans where everybody loses, and against the Seahawks and the Cardinals. They weren’t really gifted with an easy schedule either, as they had to play the West (Seattle, San Fran, and Arizona all had 11 or more wins), the Saints twice, and the Patriots and Dolphins. Going 4-3 in those games is a testament to the talent of Carolina, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve given up the least points per game of any team, along with only an average of surrendering 80 yards a game on the ground. Although not a high-caliber offense, being able to grind out yards on the ground and having a multi-talented quarterback in Cam Newton give this Panthers squad enough to work with in terms of reaching pay dirt. All the Panthers have to do is shut down Kaepernick’s running game, and they’ll win this game. 17-12 Carolina

San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos, 4:40 PM EST

Well, the Chargers sure proved me wrong last week. I don’t know if it was more of the Bengals channeling the Bungles of old, or San Diego actually putting a charge into something, but that was one game that I got sorely wrong. They’re playing good football, Philip Rivers isn’t making mistakes, and the running game dominated last week. Except, again, you were playing the Bengals who turned the ball over in embarrassing fashion. Don’t expect that from Peyton Manning and the best offense in NFL history this week. Although the Chargers have played Denver pretty well this year, I don’t see this game being very close. It’s Manning time, and he’s going to reign. The good news is, since San Diego beat the Broncos once this year already, all those bothersome people who say “it’s so hard to beat the same team three times in the same year” can keep their traps shut. But come on, this is the Denver Broncos, and this is Peyton Manning, who will have Wes Welker back in addition to every single other offensive weapon this team has. Denver cruises. 38-24 Denver

The Wild, Wild Wests : Your Guide to the Correct Predictions and Analysis of the 2014 NFL WildCard Playoff Weekend

It really is amazing what a difference a year can make. A year ago, my Washington Redskins had just come off the NFC East division title and were set to host their first playoff game against the upstart Seattle Seahawks. Everything was going well, RG3 was firing on all cylinders as the ‘Skins put up a 14 point lead that quickly started to fade as Griffin III got injured and was kept in the game by Shanny, which basically took away RG3’s playmaking ability. A healthy Robert Griffin would’ve had Pete Carroll selling used cars out of his back yard, but we all know the ending to this story. Washington proceeded to go 3-13 this year, forfeiting their Number 2 overall draft pick to St. Louis from the trade up to grab Griffin, and Mike Shanahan got canned because of disagreements with Darth Daniel Snyder.

Just as one year can make a difference to my favorite team, so can it affect the overall playoff scheme in the NFL. So if you need to make some quick cash, read the factual predictions and analysis that I have below, and prepare to become a rich man.

Saturday, January 4th Games

Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts 4:35 PM EST

Remember when people were talking about KC running the table and being undefeated? Obviously that hasn’t been realistic since Priest Holmes was their star player, but Andy Reid has certainly turned this team around. In a division where three out of the four teams made the playoffs, Kansas City’s 11-5 record can be rather deceiving. They haven’t really beaten anybody very good, and other than blowing out horrible teams like Jacksonville, NYG, and the Redskins, they’ve lost to every playoff team except for a game against Philadelphia. There are some great things about this team, with Reid doing an amazing job turning the keys of the offense over to an electric player in Jamaal Charles, and creating a terrific defense that can take advantage of the offense controlling the clock. But, Alex Smith is still their quarterback, and he fails to make plays when he needs to, lacking good receivers to help him out. I like what this KC team has built so far, however they’re not battle tested enough to survive in the world of the playoffs.

Indianapolis on the other hand is perhaps the most battle tested team in the league. They’re very streaky, and despite the loss of veteran offensive leader Reggie Wayne, have come together to see the emergence of TY Hilton and a team with a defense that is built to bend but not break.  They’ve beaten both number one teams in each league, and wrecked the Chiefs during the regular season at Arrowhead. They also beat the 49ers, but got shellacked by the underrated Arizona Cardinals and the terrible St Louis Rams. The Colts have built a reputation on starting slow but coming back, led by Andrew Luck who has cut his interceptions in half from last year. I don’t think they’re going to come out guns blazing, even though they are on a three game win streak. Two of those wins came against the awful teams in Houston and Jacksonville, and the other was against KC who turned the ball over four times to gift wrap the victory to Indy. I expect them to be down 14-3 or so at the half, but to come back and force Alex Smith into a bad play or two and coast to victory. 27-17 Indianapolis

New Orleans Saints @ Philadelphia Eagles 8:10 PM EST

I love the Saints and cannot stand the Eagles and their obnoxious fans. As I’ve said before, living in the great state of Pennsylvania is torture if you’re not a fan of either of their football teams. Steelers fans are like the village idiot, whereas Eagles fans are like the village drunk. You simply can’t win either way. Although the Saints are playing away from the friendly confines of the Louisiana Superdome, I really think this team is vastly underrated. People say “oh, well the Saints are playing on the road so they’re definitely going to lose this game.” Yes, all their losses have come on the road this season. But look who they were playing. They barely lost in a game that they should have won to New England, they lost to the best team in the NFC in the most hostile atmosphere (whose crowd noise registers on the Richter Scale) in Seattle, and they lost to division champion Carolina. Granted, they also lost to the most inconsistent and unpredictable team in the NFL in the New York Jets, as well as the St Louis Rams (who, it may be noted, embarrassed the Colts as well), but they also beat a healthy Chicago Bears team on the road. Don’t forget that this team has the best statistical quarterback of our current generation in Drew Brees, and a much improved defense under Rob “the Wolfman” Ryan.

Philadelphia isn’t exactly a pushover this year though. They’re probably the most volatile team in the playoffs, capable of losing hysterically or creating an utter blowout. Nick Foles it seems is the answer to the Eagles’ quarterback search, and with one of the most talented running backs (and rushing champion) Lesean McCoy, their offense is very potent even without mentioning playmaker Desean Jackson. However, like Kansas City, their record is a bit deceiving. They played in the worst divison in the NFL, and yet failed to have any convincing victories against any of those horrible teams, even losing to the Giants and the Cowboys once each. For being gifted three turnovers by Kyle Orton and the Dallas Cowboys last week, they still almost found a way to lose the game. The defense is a leaky siv, and it seems like their team almost quits in the second half letting teams back into games with ease. They also have only beat one team that is currently in the playoffs (the Green Bay Packers), and that was when Green Bay didn’t have Aaron Rodgers. The Eagles have several things going for them, such as the weather and the Saints on the road, but barring a massive offensive output, I don’t seem them winning this game. 24-20 New Orleans

Sunday, January 5th Games

San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1:05 PM EST

The Chargers in my mind simply don’t belong here. Yes, they’ve played in the second best division in football, but if Philip Rivers wasn’t having a career year this team would be under .500. San Diego has quietly been able to beat playoff teams in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and the Chiefs backups, but they have also lost games to the dreadful ‘Skins, Texans, Raiders, and Titans. Keenan Allen has had a breakout season, and it seems that Ryan Mathews might finally be restoring decency to the running game of the Chargers. Danny Woodhead has also been a key acquisition, fitting nicely into the utility playmaker role by catching the second most passes on the team and rushing for over 400 yards in a backup role. This team is all about offense, with a defense focused on bending as much as possible and trying to desperately not get outscored by the opponent. Even though their D is middle of the pack where PPG (points per game)  is concerned, they rank fourth to last when it comes to YAPG (yards allowed per game). It’s all about the offense in Sea World, where if the Rivers doesn’t dry up, the team has a chance to win.

Cincinnati is a bit of a question mark in these playoffs. They have beaten Indy, San Diego, Miami, New England, and Green Bay, but they’re playoff untested. Remember how they got blown out by TJ Yates and the Texans last year? This team is virtually unchanged, sporting a better defense but benefitting majorly from a division that has gotten considerably weaker. Andy Dalton is progressing and maturing, but still is missing a soul. AJ Green has turned into a monster of a wide receiver, capable of torching any cornerback for a huge gain. Giovani Bernard still has the run of the year, but the split carries role he gets with “The Law Firm”, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is hindering his talent. The trouble with this team is that if Dalton does nothing, this team will lose. Without a threatening running game, Dalton has to put points on the board by himself, and have a good game for the Bengals to win. Which, with the Chargers defense and undefeated Bengals record at home, shouldn’t really be much of an issue. 34-20 Cincy

San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers, 4:40 PM EST

The Niners are 12-4. And they’re a five seed. The Packers have won eight games, and they’re a number four seed. It really sucks to be San Francisco, because they’re going to lose this game even though they’re such a good team, and only because they play in the same division as the Seattle Seahawks. Why? There’s only one thing you need to look at. The weather. In Green Bay on Sunday, the high is going to be 1. One degree Fahrenheit. With a low of -19 at night. The record low in San Francisco for January 5th is 39 degrees, a whole 38 degrees warmer than the highest predicted temperature on Sunday. The furthest North San Fran has had to play this year was against Seattle, in September. There’s no way this tropical team is going to be ready to play in the utterly bitter cold that is at Lambeau Field, where Aaron Rodgers and the Packer faithful will thrive and create a hostile environment for Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the 49er team. 35-10 Green Bay

NFL Week 9 Picks

Last Week: 3-2 Overall: 20-20

Almost halfway through the season and right at .500. Have some work to do to make some money!

New York Jets plus 6.5 v New Orleans Saints: Bad Geno means good Geno comes next. New Orleans struggles offensively on the road especially on the ground. I think the Jets pull the upset 20-19.

Tennessee minus 3 at St. Louis: Yes the Rams defense kept the game close against Seattle but they’re not in primetime, they’re on a short week, and Tennessee is coming off of a bye. Kellen Clemens is so so bad. Titans win 27-13.

Washington minus 1 v. San Diego: What choice does Washington have but to win home games? They have been so bad this season but this is the time of year where San Diego starts to deteriorate so what better time to do so against a desperate team on the road on the east coast with a 1:00 start time. Skins win 31-24.

Seattle minus 15.5 v Tampa Bay. Look for the defense to make plays for Seattle. The offensive was so anemic last week that I think Lynch will get the ball a lot in a simplified approach. Rookie quarterbacks and winless teams don’t fair well in the Pacific Northwest so why would this week be any different? Seattle ugly 31-14.

Indianapolis minus 2 at Houston: Houston is the home team with awful fans for a primetime game that pits them against Andrew Luck. Those fans will turn on the Keenum led Texans early and Luck will execute a victory. Colts 28-17.