The NFL playoffs are back and I couldn’t be more excited. Well, maybe I’d be more excited if the games looked a little better on paper. We all knew the game involving the NFC South winner would be pretty brutal, but we’re not exactly salivating over the other three games. Before we dive into the match-ups, let’s take a look at the landscape.
The AFC road goes through New England. The Patriots have been a force in recent weeks with their only loss of value coming at Green Bay. (Last week’s loss to Buffalo doesn’t count because New England pulled the starters that they actually played.) They’ve beaten three of the five teams in the AFC side of the playoffs and they didn’t play the other two teams. Things are different than last year because Rob Gronkowski is back in the fold and everyone has to come to Gillette Stadium. The best chance any team would have is to win a shootout, similar to what the Packers did, but there’s really only one possibility for that and that’s with Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh, not Denver, has the best offense to challenge New England. It obviously takes a big hit if Le’Veon Bell doesn’t play, but their passing offense is enough to beat Baltimore and then they’ll see where things go from there. Defense isn’t their strong suit, but maybe they can get into a last team with the ball wins scenario. Denver just hasn’t looked the same since losing to St. Louis in Week 11. They’ve become very run-focused, but the key is that Peyton Manning lacks something that he had earlier in the year. Maybe Denver realized they’d need to start running the ball after that loss to the Rams because they’d inevitably have to play in the cold weather of Foxboro. We’ll see if that pans out.
The other three teams are all very flawed. Indianapolis is 2-4 this year against teams in the playoffs because they’re defense just doesn’t stack up and their offense is one dimensional. The fact that they keep giving Trent Richardson carries is an embarrassment. Cincinnati has Andy Dalton quarterbacking their squad and that’s all we need to assume they won’t make the big game. Baltimore’s got no one left in their secondary, so their run defense and pass rush can only take them so far. They’re running game has also slowed down in recent weeks and they won’t have a chance to get out of the first round if tackle Eugene Monroe doesn’t play.
On the NFC side, Seattle is laughing at everyone now that they have home field advantage. Their defense got everyone back on the field a few weeks ago and their performances have shown that they’re back in business. It sure helps to face the likes of Kaepernick, Sanchez, Lindley, and Hill to look good, but we all know the defense is always a notch better at home. It also helps their case that no other team in the NFC has a good defense except the Lions and Arizona. (We’ll get back to them in a minute.) Seattle’s offense isn’t that good by any means, but they can do enough when not facing tough defenses. It’ll be surprising if they don’t make it back to the Super Bowl.
Their best challenge might come from Dallas for a few reasons. For starters, the allure of playing in CenturyLink Field won’t intimidate them because they already won in Seattle earlier in the season. They don’t have the defense to keep Seattle down, but they have the offense to make Seattle’s defense human. Dallas’ offensive line can handle Seattle’s defensive front while Demarco Murray bursts through holes. Dez Bryant is the type of talent that can beat Richard Sherman with speed and strength. The problem for Dallas is getting there since they likely will face two reasonably tough tests beforehand. One would come from Green Bay, who’s similar to Dallas with their offensive prowess. They looked very mediocre, however, when facing Seattle in Week 1. It’s possible their offense has improved since then, but their home/road splits on offense give cause for concern.
The other three teams are all very flawed. (Where have we heard this before? Hint: The AFC) Detroit has a strong defense on paper, but they gave up 30 points to Green Bay last week and 34 to New England in Week 12. Their offense has great names on paper, but has never seemed to perform at full speed this year. Carolina’s coming into the playoffs with a sub.500 record, so they’re not being taken seriously. This is probably for good reason since their recent stretch of wins has come over three inept NFC South teams and Cleveland. Finally Arizona was looking great until Carson Palmer injured his ACL. Now they have to put their faith in Ryan Lindley or Drew Stanton. Best of luck with that.
New England got a better chance of losing than Seattle given how tough it is to win in the state of Washington, but no one would be surprised if both #1 seeds make the Super Bowl. That doesn’t happen too often, but it did happen last year. It’s probably the Super Bowl fans without rooting interests are looking for.
CAROLINA -6.5 over Arizona
You want to bet on Ryan Lindley in a road playoff game? Be my guest. There’s really not much to add other than Arizona has scored fewer points per game without Carson Palmer than any team averaged all season. The hardest part is choosing Carolina to score enough points against this defense. Arizona only lost by three points on the road to San Francisco last week, but there was less motivation involved. If I don’t think Arizona can win, I won’t pick them to cover less than a touchdown.
Kyle’s pick: Arizona
PITTSBURGH -3 over Baltimore
Both teams are missing a key piece from the offensive side of the ball. Everyone knows Pittsburgh is missing Le’Veon Bell, but the loss of Eugene Monroe for Baltimore is a bigger deal. Baltimore hasn’t been able to do anything well offensively over the last two weeks when Monroe’s been out and that was against two average defenses. Pittsburgh’s defense isn’t any good, but their passing game will put up points against Baltimore’s secondary. Baltimore needs offense to keep up and the loss on Monroe will prevent that.
Kyle’s pick: Pittsburgh (game will likely be a push)
Cincinnati +3.5 over INDIANAPOLIS
You might think I’m crazy going against the Colts at home if the Bengals are missing A.J. Green and maybe I am, but I think Jeremy Hill is going to run for 200 yards in this one. That means Cincinnati will be able to control the clock, keeping Andrew Luck off the field for as long as possible. I’m slightly scared after watching Pittsburgh carve up Cincinnati in a similarly shaped contest last week, but Indianapolis doesn’t scare me with the way their offense has been playing recently. It’s also a much more one-dimensional offense than Pittsburgh’s, so I’m taking my shot.
Kyle’s pick: Cincy
Detroit +7 over DALLAS
The best game of the weekend is the last one we get to enjoy. It has the teams with the two best collective records of any game this weekend, but the spread would indicate it’s the most lopsided. I disagree despite the fact that Matthew Stafford is 0-17 on the road against a team with a winning record. (Wow, that’s a terribly alarming stat!) Detroit good rushing defense should be able to somewhat contain Demarco Murray now that Ndamukong Suh had his suspension overturned via appeal. Stafford isn’t as effective in road games, but at least Dallas has the indoor stadium that should benefit him. Dallas’ defense is also not of the highest quality, so at least the pieces are there for Detroit to keep things within distance.
Kyle’s pick: Detroit outright
Last Week: 10-6