Real and spectacular wildcard picks
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 08, 2010
The Cold, Hard Football Facts real and spectacular picks waddled lamely over the finish line this year, like a drunk, web-footed Troll-duck singing "My Wild Irish Rose" and dreaming of Teri Hatcher as the neighbors throw empty whiskey bottles at him out the windows.
We posted a 12-4 mark straight up in Week 17 and a 9-7 mark against the spread.
We end the year with 13 winning weeks in 17 opportunities ATS, with one .500 performance. That's a pretty good run. But our three down weeks were truly horrific and tempered what truly could have been a year as spectacular as Ms. Hatcher's rounded bosom had we done a bit better with those three sets of picks.
For the year, we went 173-82 (.678) straight up and 144-111 (.565) ATS. Not bad for a web-footed troll. Here's our year-end, week-by-week performance ATS:
Week 1 – 10-6
Week 17 – 9-7
Now on to the wildcard round! You can also see our take on the entire playoff picture this week on SI.com, provided by Chef Troll Kerry J. Byrne. We envision a Packers-Chargers meeting in Miami.
As always, the lines we use for our games come from CBS Sports.com. For a detailed break down of each and every playoff team, click here. To see how each team sizes up in our Quality Stats, click here.
N.Y. Jets at Cincinnati (-2.5)
Easily the singular defensive struggle of the 2009 postseason – at least in terms of how the Quality Stats shake out: two generally ineffective offenses (easily the two lowest-scoring units in the 2009 postseason) up against two of the stiffest defenses in the league.
New York, as noted this week, leads the league in virtually every meaningful defensive category, and in some that are not so meaningful. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is good on defense, but does not field the type of shut-down crew that the Jets have trotted out all year.
As we noted in our analysis this week of each playoff team, the Jets represent a very tough out, especially for a team like the Bengals.
Cincy heads to the playoffs with a very anemic offense: 20th in Passing Yards Per Attempt. And now that must put that crew up against a team that surrendered just 5.4 yards per pass attempt this year and that ranks an easy No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating (58.8).
That match-up spells a long afternoon for Carson Palmer and Co. The only thing that can save them, really, is a bad three-pick outing by Mark Sanchez. But New York's rookie QB has limited the mistakes in five of his last six games and it's led, not to coincidentally, to Jets victories in five of those last six games (he threw three picks in the 10-7 loss to Atlanta three weeks ago).
That will be the story of the postseason for the Jets: if Sanchez can pull a Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson and simply avoid the critical mistake (a contribution neither of those champion QBs is given enough credit for), this Gang Green could make some noise in the playoffs. It starts with Jets fans breaking out the party favors after this effort.
N.Y. Jets 17, Cincinnati 13
Philadelphia at Dallas (-3.5)
Dallas has a reputation as a high-flying offense, but among the wildcard contenders, the Ravens, Patriots, Packers, Cardinals and, yes, the Eagles too, all scored more points than the Cowboys this year – in some cases a lot more points.
The Cowboys have not scored more than 24 points in a game in more than two months, and that effort came in a 38-17 home victory over the Seahawks, arguably the worst road team in football this year.
However, the Cowboys did dominate the Eagles last week in Dallas, and beat them 20-16 in Philly earlier this season. They're also fresh off the first back-to-back shutouts in franchise history – no small feat considering that defensive mastermind Tom Landry led the franchise for three decades, right through the heart of the Dead Ball Era.
Those trends clearly say that the Cowboys are the better team. But as you know, no pair of games between the same teams ever go the same way twice. And no team in the long history of the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry has ever beat the other three times in the same season.
(A little history from this famous clash of long-time rivals: Dallas owns a 57-44 advantage in a rivalry that began in 1960; the Cowboys won two of the previous three postseason meetings between the two teams, with the lone Philly win coming in the 1980 NFC championship game, probably the franchise's biggest victory since 1960. The Cowboys beat the Eagles in the 1992 and 1995 posteasons, and went on to win the Super Bowl both years)
We're going to bank on Philly recovering from its lethargy of last week by virtue of its superior Defensive Hogs (No. 2 overall, No. 2 on third downs, No. 3 in forcing Negative Pass Plays) and by using its big-play game breakers on offense (DeSean Jackson) and defense (Asante Samuel, the all-time posteason pick-six leader with four) to finally turn the tide.
The Curse of Flutie continues for Wade Philips, who's the winningest coach in history never to enjoy a single playoff victory.
Philadelphia 26, Dallas 23
Baltimore at New England (-3.5)
These two teams battled down to the wire in Week 4. The Patriots squeaked out a 27-21 victory, but might have lost had Mark Clayton not dropped a fourth-down pass late in the game and deep in New England territory.
The postseason rematch looks to be just as tight.
The Ravens, as we noted this week, are the Jerry Mitchell of the playoff contenders. They don't look like much with their 9-7 record. But they come to the battle with some statistical brass knuckles: the best across-the-board ranking in our Quality Stats of any AFC contender. Yup, they even rank higher than the Colts and Chargers.
But that tells us there's a problem with this team: they don't know how to close games, as evidenced by the proliferation of close losses to Quality Teams throughout the year. Baltimore went just 2-7 vs. Quality Teams this year and were outscored by an average of 3.5 PPG.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have had plenty of their own problems closing out victories this year, as evidenced by the 21 fourth-quarter points they surrendered to the Texans last week and, most notably, the 21 fourth-quarter points they surrendered to the Colts back in their classic Week 10 showdown (a 35-34 defeat). It was a loss that changed the entire complexion of the NFL season.
We'd like the Ravens to roll at home. But heading into Foxboro, against the most successful postseason quarterback in the game today, is a different story: Tom Brady's won nearly as many playoff games since 2001 (14) as the legendary Bears organization has in its entire history since 1920 (16). (Baltimore, for its part, has enjoyed seven postseason victories since moving from Cleveland in 1996, including four straight in its Super Bowl champion season of 2000.)
Plus, home cooking has been incredibly nutritious for New England. Brady's Patriots have never lost a home playoff game (8-0), while the organization has won 11 straight since the only home playoff defeat in its history (1978 vs. Houston). Brady's Patriots have not lost a home game, period, since 2006. That's a string of 22 straight home victories, among the most in history, and that's a tough streak to pick against in a game that pits two fairly even opponents.
New England 24, Baltimore 21
Green Bay at Arizona (-2.5)
The Cardinals are the home team, a division champ and the favorites.
But the data, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, tell us that this is a statistical bloodbath. The Packers, most notably, are No. 1 in our Defensive Hog Index and, as noted a few weeks ago, we look at them as a dark horse candidate to win it all.
In fact, we picked them this week on the SportsIllustrated.com prediction panel to win the whole steaming bratwurst. (The SI gang gives the Pack a lot of love, with six of nine so-called "experts" anticipating a Green Bay Super Bowl appearance.)
There is a huge problem for the Pack, of course: their statistical dominance has not translated into dominance on the scoreboard, as evidenced by the team's nice-but-not-scary 11-5 record.
In this case, though, it's literally impossible to find one area in which the Cardinals have looked like the better team this year: Green Bay top them in every single statistical indicator on the board, except for Bendability.
That's what we like to call a preponderance of evidence in the court of pigskin jurisprudence.
Green Bay 28, Arizona 23
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