Before we get to the games I wanted to touch on the Jets cannibalizing themselves. What theater! It’s amazing how one game can really change things. If the Jets had crept into the playoffs they’d still be the awful team that is pointing fingers left and right, but they could also still be playing this weekend. That’s why it was important for the Jets to tank completely. You want to maximize the ugliness, and in New York right now that means Mark Sanchez’s own teammates openly campaigning for Peyton Manning. Well, not openly, they’re doing it anonymously, but still the Sanchize has worn out his welcome.
Can you imagine Peyton Manning playing for the Jets? That would be convenient for Patriots fans, because then they could focus their hate of Manning and the Jets in one spot. Having both Mannings in New York would also be really convenient for Archie. By the way, isn’t it time to check in with Archie on this? What’s he thinking? I imagine Eli wouldn’t be too thrilled about sharing the NY spotlight, especially if he manages a win this weekend. You don’t want big bro swooping in while you’re having a career year. I thought it was amusing that as soon these unnamed Jets players started talking Peyton people were quick to dismiss it. There’s no way! Well, Peyton’s gotta go someplace, right? Where’s it gonna be?
For my own personal amusement, Peyton on the Jets would be spectacular. The Redskins would be equally amusing. After that I’d get a kick out of Dallas–just for sitting down Romo and then probably Philadelphia because then we could probably bring race into the discussion and it’d get real awkward. I’ve got to say, it’s going to be strange seeing Peyton in another uniform if it happens, especially if it’s the Niners, or Seahawks or another small-market/west coast team. I think the dream is that four or five years from now Peyton is backing up Eli somewhere. Or vice-versa.
Anyway, let’s get to the games.
New Orleans @ San Francisco. Line, New Orleans (-4), O/U: 47.
Your everyday smartass has been predicting the Niners to lose this game for about 3 months. We didn’t know it was going to be the Saints, but you had a feeling the Niners might be home dogs. And, when you are carrying the 2-seed around–that’s not exactly normal. For some reason people worry about the Saints. They don’t trust them. I assume last year had something to do with that, but they blew the doors off Detroit despite plenty of doubters. The main issue this week seems to be them leaving the cozy confines of the Dome. That Candlestick turf is notoriously poor. By the way, I think it’s a mild insult to the Niners that the turf is looked at as the biggest obstacle. If you wanted to be grandiose, I think you could attach “future of the NFL” implications on this game. If the Niners’ great defense is picked apart, we’re another step closer to offense ruling everything.
Who’s got to Step Up: The aforementioned Niners defense. This will be a good chance for everyone to get a close look at San Fran’s defensive unit. Instead of parroting something about Patrick Willis and then trailing off, people will actually get to watch them in action. Is Brees going to pick these guys apart, or is it going to be like the BCS title game where we walk away shaking our heads at how good the defense was? The Niners would appear to have only one way to win this game and that’s with a big defensive effort. No pressure, boys.
Houston @ Baltimore. Line, Baltimore (-7.5). O/U: 36.
The Texans are playing with house money at this point. They would never admit that. Just like they’d never admit that the ready-made excuses were in place if they had lost to the Bengals. And, if J.J. Watt hadn’t made that spectacular pick-6, they could have lost that game. When you’re down your QB and your best player on defense, no one is going to give you much of a shot. When you’re a team like Houston that hasn’t had any post-season success it just magnifies that belief. Everyone is waiting to pat the Texans on the back, say nice try, and get on with the tournament. The Ravens on the other hand should be feeling increased pressure. The dismissal of the Steelers made the road a bit easier (in theory), but it also cranked up the pressure. Are the Ravens now the favorites in the AFC? They’ve got to be if you are one of the people who discount New England’s defense. They could have the most balance in the AFC, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the best team. But, with this line, with this team coming into to play them–the game is absolutely must-win for Baltimore. No excuses.
Who’s Got to Step Up: Joe Flacco. So, Flacco is in the news whining about how he doesn’t get any love? Well, Joe, perhaps you noticed it was a historic year for QBs and you had absolutely no part in that. You were often terrible and at best efficient. You’re over-shadowed by your defense and Ray Rice. In fact, you don’t need to have a good game for the Ravens to win. That’s why you get no love.
Who’s Got to Step Up:
Joe Flacco. Andre Johnson. Even with Arian Foster coming off a monster game, you don’t expect the Texans to be able to run the ball too much. Johnson will have to be other-worldly.
New York Giants @ Green Bay. Line, Green Bay (-9). O/U: 52.5
Here’s another game people have been pointing to. No one wants the playoffs to be a forgone conclusion, so you have to drum up a team that could beat the Packers. The Giants have been the popular choice. A pass rush and the ability to score. That’s the equation. It’s what New York used, to a certain extent, in beating Atlanta last weekend. But, they’ll have to be just as good, if not better, to beat Green Bay. The scary thing about Green Bay is that we don’t know if they have another gear. We’re talking defending Super Bowl Champs here. They had no letdown. Can they be even more precise now that things really count? It’s hard to imagine the offense running any better, and even if New York plays a great game on defense they’re likely to surrender some points. The Packers defense is their lone question mark. It’s odd to see a team have one of the most talked about defensive players in the league on their team yet be considered vulnerable on that side of the ball. I thought the talk of NY being a bad matchup for the Packers was mostly just empty yammering, but the Giants played a monster game last week. What do they have left?
Who’s Got to Step Up: Eli Manning. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the raging Eli debate here on Monday. I don’t know that I followed it at all–but it was quite entertaining. I don’t even know how Eli became a topic of discussion. It was like going to the world’s best steak restaurant and arguing about the salad. It wasn’t a good game to debate Eli, but I think this one probably will be. Matched against Rodgers, in Green Bay, will be a real test. The Mannings have a history of less than stellar playoff games. Only Eli takes heat for it. He can give everyone a giant finger with a win on Sunday.
Denver @ New England. Line, New England (-13.5). O/U: 50.5
There’s no reason to think this game will be close. Look at the line. Look at New England rolling up the Broncos in the 2nd half–in Denver. Home teams in the 2nd round shouldn’t be underdogs, but they usually aren’t 2 TD favorites, either. This is a really odd year. Of course, you can’t look at this game logically, because it involves Tebow. Last week, there were certainly people who gave Denver a shot, but they didn’t see the Broncos hanging all those points. What could Denver do against a lesser defense? Is the key to stopping them really taking away the big pass play and not focusing on shutting down the run? The Broncos have people confused, the question is, are the Patriots? For New England, I think they’ve got to guard against over-confidence. They did already beat Denver. It has to be natural to discount them a bit and look ahead. Is that what has happened in New England’s recent home playoff losses? Who knows, but the Pats will probably want to be sharp from the start in this one instead of spotting the other team 2-3 TDs.
Who’s Got to Step Up: Tom Brady. Brady’s legacy is secure, but he’s lost some traction in the greatest QB of all-time debate. If you look at his recent numbers, they aren’t terrible, but they are far from great. And, it seems that if New England gets too pass happy by choice or necessity, it’s been bad news.
Brady’s Last 4 Playoff Games:
- 2008 AFC Champ vs. SD (W,21-12): 22/33, 209 yds, 2 TDS, 3 INT
- 2008 SB vs. NYG (L, 17-14): 29/48, 266 yds, 1 TD, o INT
- 2010 Div. Round vs. BAL (L, 33-14): 23/42, 154 yds, 2 TDS, 3 INT
- 2011 Div. Rounds vs. NYJ (L, 28-21): 29/45, 299 yds, 2 TDS, 1 INT
Over/Under Lock of the Week: Record, 8-5 (Last week: horrific loss)–NO/SF under 47.