NFL Week 14: The Playoff Edition

Hey, non-playoff teams that was to you. Get the eff out of the Playoff Edition. This one is for the big boys only.

When it comes to the playoffs, there are a few things you have to take into consideration. The first is that what happened in the regular season does not matter anymore. How many times have we seen a superior regular season team fall on its face in the playoffs to the team that just gets hot at the right time? Disregard regular season records in the playoffs. That means that if you make the playoffs, you have a shot at winning it all, even if you only won 9 games. You are going to call me crazy for saying this, but that even applies to the NFC West. You don’t think the Bears could go to St. Louis, lose concentration and lose that game? Throw out the regular season records.

Second rule is that seeding does matter, sometimes. Perfect example this year would be the Falcons. Do I trust them away from home? Not really. But if they have home-field throughout, it is going to be damn hard for me to pick against them while still playing in the Georgia Dome. Same with the Chiefs. You can put the Saints in there too. Do I like their chances heading to Philadelphia for a playoff game? Not a chance given the current status of the running backs. On the other side of it, I do not trust or distrust the Jets any more at home than I do away, so their seeding really could not matter less.

The third rule is the most important, and naturally the hardest to really define or figure out. Some teams just get hot at the right time (Jets last year). Some teams play one great game and completely flop (Dallas last year). Some teams are the best team in the NFL all year and lose because the opposing coach calls an onside kick, and NOT A SINGLE COMMENTATOR remembers that Hank Baskett COMPLETELY muffed that catch. Me? Bitter? Not a chance.

Anyway, the point is you should trust your gut feelings on teams, but not to the point of ignoring tendencies. Whether a team CAN run the ball si very different from if it WILL or HAS run the ball. Ask the Cardinals during their Super Bowl run. Will a team whose defense has struggled most of the year come alive (Colts in their Super Bowl run)? There are no definitive answers to these questions, but you cannot make the simplest assumption in the playoffs. You have to start over every week on your assumptions. Pierre Garcon was an unstoppable force against the Jets. He dropped a big third down pass in the Super Bowl that ended up being pivotal and killing the momentum. Each week is a one-week season, not a string of four weeks.

However, none of that really matters until we have our playoff teams. Speaking of that…

The Locks

No chance these teams are missing the playoffs. Seeding is in question for some, but they are in. We will discuss their playoff prospects later.

Patriots- They will win the AFC East. They will probably grab the #1 seed. They are Super Bowl favorites. Don’t worry, people. Everyone’s least favorite franchise isn’t winning it. We will talk about that more momentarily.

If you felt sick looking at this picture, Merry Christmas! If not, enjoy the Pats game.

 

Steelers- Winning the AFC North. Probably the #2 seed. One for the non-thumb-on-the-other-hand?

Falcons- I think they will drop the game against the Saints, but that remains to be seen, and there is a chance the Saints lose another game so I still have them at the #1 seed.

Jets- They might limp in, but they will be in. That’s all that matters for the Jets.

Ravens- Conversely, I think the Ravens will roar into the playoffs. Their fate, however, is very much up in the air.

Saints- In, though not nearly as comfortably as they were hoping coming in. 2 games against the Panthers doesn’t hurt when trying to build confidence and rest players.

The Probables

I am putting the Chiefs here even though I expect them to lose to the Chargers and think they are a candidate to blow their division lead. I have them losing to the Chargers this week, winning their final two games (including one over Oakland), which are at home where they don’t lose, and their season coming down to that Rams game. If you cannot beat the Rams, you do not deserve to make the playoffs. They are not bad and are good at home, but that is a team that another playoff team should be able to beat. I think they do it though it will be close.

The Jaguars go here too. Quick, name me three Jaguars players you know you can trust week in and week out. MoJo is the only guy I trust without a doubt. I inherently do not trust Garrard, and I don’t trust anyone on their defense. Mike Thomas I guess? They just win, albeit unconvincingly. The only problem with that is “what happens when they just don’t win?” Well, that’s when a tail slide happens. They have zero room for error here. This is a big game against Oakland this weekend because after that they get the Colts on long rest, and that will give them only a half-game lead. I still think they can do it, but they are in desperate need of a win this week.

Bears fans, can we make up? Just kidding, you are above average at best.

 

Even though I would be terrified of the Cowboys this week as an Eagles fan, I think they are probably going to make it. They do not have an easy run in, but if they end up killing the Cowboys, then maybe they do as they get them in the last week too. They might need the tiebreaker to make it, but I think they will win the NFC East. Unless Andy Reid has something to say about it…

Hi, I’d like one serving of humble pie. Thanks. Oh, can I get that with a side of Mrs. Doubtfire/Mike Martz?

The Bears are going to make it. It is going to get interesting with that closing schedule (vs NE, @Min, @NYJ, @GB) but I think they are going to hold on, and possibly make some noise early in the playoffs. The defense is outstanding and Cutler has been good enough to make it work, and for that I gladly eat my humble pie. Maybe some Chicagoans would rather the pie had distinctly more sinister things in it, but that is up to them. This week is a bad matchup for them as they take away the deep and make you execute down the field, and that is EXACTLY what the Patriots do, but they are fine overall. I was banking on an Urlahcer injury and a banged up defense coming into the season and it did not happen. As a result, I think the Bears are in, though not by much.

On The Bubble

Colts- They beat Tennessee convincingly and dispelled any notions of Peyton Manning’s demise. They will beat the Jaguars next week, but still need some help. They do have to travel to Oakland, which could be tricky, but they are finishing 10-6. It just depends on if Jacksonville can take care of Oakland, Washington, and Houston. None of those are shoe-ins for the Jaguars so this bubble is pretty solid as far as bubbles go.

Packers/Giants- Both 8-4, both not quite as good as they should be, and they play each other Week 16. However, that game alone will not decide their fate as the Giants still have a game against the Eagles and the Packers have one against the Bears. Very firm bubbles, and both could get in, but that is far from assured. I hope the Packers get in because I think they are distinctly better, but I would love to see the Giants in the playoffs with Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks healthy.

Rams/Seahawks- The Rams are better. The Seahawks have the easier schedule. Oh, and they play Week 17 in Seattle. This one is going to be a fight to the death, with the reward being a significantly higher draft pick and the potential to be the impetus for a potential rules change. 8-8 would be a good finish for either.

Raiders- The Raiders control their destiny, but it is one hell of a tricky destiny. They just beat San Diego, and follow it up at Jacksonville, vs Indy and at KC? Yikes. If they win out and grab the division, no one can say they did not earn it. However, I would be lying if I was to say I expect them to win one of those, with the Denver game being a toss-up given the revenge factor. I don’t like their chances.

Chargers- They REALLY shot themselves in the foot last week, and probably ruined Philip Rivers’ MVP candidacy. They need to beat the Chiefs this week, then need someone else to beat the Chiefs. BUT it cannot be the Raiders if they get on a roll. I have a sneaking suspicion that AJ Smith is going to blow it all up. Norv will be gone, and there will be changes across the board (save Ron Rivera). Josh McDaniels to be their offensive coordinator? Probably a good move for the team, but if McDaniels gets an offer to be head coach, that is out. It is not out of the question that they could make the playoffs, but even if they do, I cannot see them doing too much.

The Playoff Picture

So where does that leave us? Nowhere, really. I can project a few things here and there but it is wide open.

Some teams are contenders but are going to appear to quit in the playoffs. Yeah, I went there.

 

Projection 1

————-(1A) NE vs lowest remaining A seed
( 3A) KC vs (6A) NYJ
————-(2A) Pit vs highest remaining A seed
(4A) Jax vs (5A) Bal

————-(1N) Atl vs lowest remaining N seed
(3N)  Phi vs (6N) GB
————(2N) Chi vs highest remaining N seed
(4N) StL/Sea vs (5) NO

A few comments about this projection. It changes by leaps and bounds depending on who plays who, so a pick of a team is inherently situational rather than absolute. I have KC over NYJ,  Baltimore over Jacksonville, Green Bay over Philadelphia, and New Orleans over St. Louis. After that, I have NE over Baltimore, Pittsburgh over KC, Atlanta over Green Bay, and Chicago over New Orleans in the upset (it will be unanimously picked for the Saints). NE over Pit, and Atlanta over Chicago. Pats win it all in this scenario.

Projection 2

————-(1A) NE vs lowest remaining A seed
( 3A) KC vs (6A) NYJ
————-(2A) Pit vs highest remaining A seed
(4A) Ind vs (5A) Bal

————-(1N) Atl vs lowest remaining N seed
(3N)  Chi vs (6N) NYG
————(2N) Phi vs highest remaining N seed
(4N) StL/Sea vs (5) NO

With this one, we threw Indy into the mix and subbed the Packers for Giants, and it changes things a bit. Still have KC over NYJ (just a great matchup for the Chiefs and they get them at home, in case you were wondering why), Indy over Baltimore, Giants over Bears, and Saints over NFC West. Colts over Pats (suck it Brady, you aren’t nearly as clutch as people say), Pittsburgh over KC, Atlanta over New York, and Eagles over NO in the cold. Steelers over Colts, Atlanta over Philly (though you could persuade me otherwise), and Steelers over Falcons in the Super Bowl.

Projection 3

————-(1A) NE vs lowest remaining A seed
( 3A) KC vs (6A) Bal
————-(2A) Pit vs highest remaining A seed
(4A) Ind vs (5A) NYJ

————-(1N) Atl vs lowest remaining N seed
(3N)  GB vs (6N) Chi
————(2N) NYG vs highest remaining N seed
(4N) StL/Sea vs (5) NO

Just to give it a different look, I took Philly out, as their playoff spot is far from assured and went from there. Also switched the Ravens and Jets seedings. Otherwise it is very similar to 2.  KC over Baltimore (yup, I believe in their home-field that much), Jets over Colts, GB over Chicago, and NO over NFC West (again. Just a bad matchup for the NFC West). Jets over Patriots (yes, in Foxborough), Pittsburgh over KC, New Orleans over Atlanta (don’t ask why they lost to them in Projection 1, just trying to mix it up), and GB over NYG. Jets over Steelers, and Packers over Saints. Jets over Packers in the Super Bowl.

Wait a minute…

What is the point of all this, you ask? If you run enough projections, you can tell what you really think about each team. I love the Falcons at home against almost anyone, and the only exception I would make for them in the NFC would be division-rival New Orleans. It is way too early to do so, but at this point, I have tentatively penciled in any Falcons home game against the non-Saints as a win. Same for the Pats. I trust them at home against most teams except their division rival (despite the 45-3 thrashing) and the Colts (who might secretly have the Pats number in late games). I like KC to win a home playoff game over the Jets or Ravens too, but lose on the road, which is clearly an indication of my thoughts on them. I would suggest you do this on your own too and start figuring out which teams are Stoppers for others (like KC at home is a stopper for Baltimore or the Jets, or other teams that just match up poorly with others) and which teams quietly have all you need to win it all without being flashy or well-liked.

All that info you get helps you compile a little profile of each team and what issues it could have. You could call it a dossier if you were trying to show off or be a douche in general. Let’s go with profile.

Patriots

Do your own profile of a team. Feel free to give it whatever security clearance you want. Dick Cheney did.

 

Strength: Offense overall, precise offense, great at home, opportunistic defense

Teams that would struggle against that strength: teams with aggressive defenses, road teams in general, bad tackling teams, teams without a strong offense to keep up.

Jaguars (strong match), Jets (weak match), Ravens (medium match), Colts (weak match)

Weaknesses: Strong running games, low-turnover offenses, Peyton Manning

Teams that could exploit that weakness: Chiefs, Steelers, Colts

If I would do that for every team, two things would happen. The first is that I would off myself for wasting so much time on a process that is so full of twists and turns to begin with. The second thing is that the post would never get finished or posted. With all that in mind, I will end it here and just throw my picks at the bottom of the page against the spread. Confidence level 5.

JACKSONVILLE -3.5 vs Oakland (though this is the type of game Jax would lose, west coast team on the east coast spells trouble for the Raiders)

Cincinnati +8.5 vs PITTSBURGH (Trap game + Bengals ability to cover)

New England -3 vs CHICAGO (bad matchup for Chicago)

BUFFALO (PK) vs Cleveland (who cares)

New York Giants -3 vs MINNESOTA (Eli vs Minny scares me, but I still like the Giants just barely)

Green Bay -6.5 vs DETROIT (Not going to bother explaining my obvious logic here)

Atlanta -7.5 vs CAROLINA (Or here)

WASHINGTON +1 vs Tampa Bay (Aqib Talib on IR and an offensive lineman too. TB’s season ended last week)

ST. LOUIS +9 vs New Orleans (NO hasn’t been blowing anyone out lately, and the Rams are good at home)

Seattle +5 vs ALEX SMITH (yup, the 49ers believe in Alex Smith)

NEW YORK JETS -5.5 vs Miami (Lots of people going the other way here. I go with Miami in cold weather vs a mad team)

Denver -4 vs JOHN SKELTON (Not even someone named Studesville can convince me otherwise. On the scale of “does he sound like a successful coach, he gets a 3 out of 10)

SAN DIEGO -9.5 vs Brodie Croyle (Brodie Croyle is like White Castle when sober. It sound like a bad idea at the time, and it turns out worse that you originally thought)

DALLAS +3.5 vs Philadelphia (Yet another tricky game this week)

Baltimore -3 vs HOUSTON (Can Houston stop anyone? In case you have been living on another planet, the answer is “only Rusty Smith”)

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