For the Win - Week 19
Updated 1/14 by Jeff Pasquino, Exclusive for Footballguys.com
Oh, how I love the playoffs - where a single bad beat can crush your week - or at least leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. I still did OK for the week (2-2, 3-3 Best Bets) but to lose the final game after such a huge comeback by the Packers, only to have them not only lose but to lose by 6 in overtime when I had them at +3.5 - well yeah, that stings. And that my friends is why you bet with your head, not over it. Too many bad bounces can ruin your day, weekend, or even week. Just don't go there.
So what do we do now? Well, here's the thing - the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs is here, and that is arguably the toughest week to pick games. All four road teams are coming off of a win and each of the home teams is both coming off of a bye and also has the better records - that's how they get to be a #1 or #2 seed of course. All that put together makes trending or momentum picks very tough to call. So with all that said, I'm going to try and do it anyway. So let's dive in to the final full weekend of the NFL postseason:
Note that the lines and Over/Unders are taken from VegasInsider.com.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-7) vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS
After three games kicked off a lackluster Wild Card Weekend with three blowouts, we were treated to the best game of the weekend that was a game for the ages. Green Bay and Arizona went punch for punch and it took overtime to wrap up the highest scoring game in NFL playoff history. So where do the Cardinals go from here? A short week has been talked about (first game this week, last game this past Sunday) but I don't think a matter of 24 hours is a major impact, especially when they only need to fly a few hours from Arizona to Louisiana. The questions in this game lie mostly with the home team, as the Saints are the coldest first seed that we've ever seen as they have stumbled their way into this postseason. The Saints have a potent offense with Drew Brees leading the passing attack with multiple targets at wideout, tight end and even out of the backfield as New Orleans had 13 different players found the end zone on offense this past season, but the biggest fantasy star this season for New Orleans - at least early in the year - was the defense. The Saints had 39 turnovers, 35 sacks and seven touchdowns in 2009, but nearly all of that production happened in their first eight games. The Saints are getting healthy and Darren Sharper and Will Smith are returning to the lineup just in time to face Arizona. The Cardinals were a great team on the road this season (6-2) but the Saints and the Superdome will be a very hostile place to visit. The biggest problem for Arizona is on defense - they could not stop Green Bay last week through the air, but the hidden concern should be that Ryan Grant was tearing up the defense on the ground, a former strength for Arizona this season. New Orleans should be able to move the ball in all phases of the game and getting 34+ points should be a no-brainer for the Saints. I expect Kurt Warner to struggle a little more than he did last week and that will be just enough for New Orleans to win by two scores.
Latest Lines: New Orleans -7, Over / Under 56.5 points.
Prediction: New Orleans 37, Arizona 27.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (+7) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Depending on who you ask, this rivalry goes all the way back to the Mayflower. No, Pilgrim - I'm not talking about Plymouth Rock or even using a bad John Wayne impersonation here - I am referring to the trucks that uprooted a franchise on a snowy morning over 25 years ago when the Colts left Baltimore, never to return again for a home game. A generation has past but many still remember and they will never forget, which is part of the reason that Baltimore was favored in Week 11 when the 9-0 Colts visited M&T Bank Stadium and the 5-4 Ravens were favored to bump them off. As I recall, this was my Stone Cold Lock of the Year as I could not understand how Indianapolis could possibly lose, and the Ravens nearly made me a Stone Cold loser as they played an outstanding game on both sides of the ball, nearly giving the Colts their first loss of the year. Joe Flacco was poised and both Ray Rice and Derrick Mason topped 100 yards each as the Ravens' defense kept Baltimore in the game but it was the defense of the Colts that made the difference. Baltimore was force to kick five field goals and could not find the end zone all afternoon and made a costly turnover late in the contest to end the upset bid. That was nearly two months ago, and the Ravens are a stronger offensive team with both Ray Rice and Willis McGahee rushing the ball well and the Colts have taken the last three weeks off as they bailed on their bid for a perfect season. All of this adds up to a good chance of an upset here, but I won't quite go that far as I still believe that Peyton Manning will find a way to win as he has 14 times this season. I expect Baltimore to follow a similar game plan and run the ball as much as they can and then blitz Manning on defense to try and create turnovers and short fields. This game will be a battle from start to finish and a great display of defense and old style football by the Ravens, giving them at least a 50-50 chance to pull this one out.
Latest Lines: Baltimore Ravens +7, Over / Under 44.5 points.
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts 20, Baltimore Ravens 17.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (-2.5) vs. DALLAS COWBOYS
Dallas completely dominated the Eagles for the second week in a row, making them a consensus underdog "sexy pick" for this coming week. Felix Jones was explosive out of the backfield for the Cowboys against Philadelphia and Miles Austin continued his breakout season. Dallas is a very hot team and Tony Romo has tossed that monkey off of his back for good, but Brett Favre has been there for what seems hundreds of times - just not in Minnesota. Dallas' defense has pitched two shutouts prior to the minimal 14 points allowed last week to the Eagles, but the Vikings are at least a step above Philadelphia on both sides of the ball. Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor will pose the best rushing challenge that the Cowboys have seen all season and Brett Favre will test that secondary with Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian. The X-factor could certainly be Vishante Shiancoe at tight end. Both teams are explosive but I like the Vikings on defense with the Williams Wall back together and Minnesota's special teams are outstanding in all phases of the game. Felix Jones and Patrick Crayton can answer Percy Harvin's return skills, but the Vikings have a better kicker and I think that will be the difference in a great game. When I looked at this contest before I checked the spread I first thought that Minnesota would be a six or seven point favorite, so when I saw the line at -2.5 I just loved the value, so that's how I've been leaning since Sunday and I don't see any reason to change off of that stance.
Latest Lines: Minnesota -2.5, Over / Under 45 points.
Prediction: Minnesota 31, Dallas 27.
NEW YORK JETS (+8) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
The New York Jets are rolling, but so are the San Diego Chargers. Which hot team is about to get stopped? That's the big question here as the Jets are working their formula of running the ball very well and playing solid defense. New York did not ask Mark Sanchez to do too much as a passer last week but he still had very good numbers (and would have had even more if Braylon Edwards could catch). The Chargers come into this game after both a bye and taking Week 17 mostly off, playing the likes of Mike Tolbert and Billy Volek on offense - soon to be solid answers to Charger trivia questions in the not too distant future. San Diego is the only team in the NFL to score at least 20 points every week this season and now they face the top defense in the league. Cornerback Darrell Revis will be lining up on Vincent Jackson while S Kerry Rhodes will take on Antonio Gates, meaning that Philip Rivers will have to trust his aim or target Malcom Floyd to get big passing yardage against New York. The Jets will run the ball at least 35 times and keep Sanchez under 20 attempts if they can help it, but I think that the Chargers are a better team than Cincinnati. Then again, not many teams are playing as well as the Chargers. If they can shake off the rust and come out fast, San Diego should win by 10 or more - but I am leaning towards a little bit of a slow start and the Jets will keep it close for the first half, something like 13-10 after two quarters. Odds are that the Jets cannot pull this one off, but the point spread is a big one and I like the Jets to have a fighting chance here. Take the points and, if you can, the money line for New York (+300 when it opened, dropping to 250-280 now) as most any playoff team with a good ground game and a solid defense should win one out of every three tries, making that a good gamble.
Latest Lines: New York Jets +8 (and falling), Over / Under 42 points.
Prediction: San Diego Chargers 23, New York Jets 17.
This section will be different this year, as I will give not only the "Best
Bets" but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 "Star" scale. The
more stars, the more I like that side of the game.
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-7)
- BALTIMORE RAVENS (+7)
- MINNESOTA VIKINGS (-2.5)
- NEW YORK JETS (+8)
** TWO STAR GAMES **
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
PICK OF THE WEEK: Minnesota Vikings
- OVERALL: 2-2 (50.0%)
- BEST BETS (STARS): 3-3 (50.0%)
- PICK OF WEEK: 0-1 (0%)
- OVERALL: 129-122-5 (51.4%)
- BEST BETS (STARS): 111-97-5 (53.3%)
- PICK OF WEEK: 10-7 (58.8%)
- OVERALL: 2-2 (50.0%)
- BEST BETS (STARS): 3-3 (50.0%)
- PICK OF WEEK: 0-1 (0%)