This week, Harry (@Harry_Kroll), Bob (@_BobHayes_), and I (@msilich2) have been finishing up our college football picks on Twitter, predicting each major game left in the season. Since DCIAPC is the most successful feature our site has had, we decided to continue picking games in the NFL playoffs. We’ll predict each and every playoff game (against the spread, as always, because those who pick games straight up should be decapitated) [not really] and tally up our records at the end of each week. You can get involved with this too, by simply writing your picks in the comment section of this article. If making a WordPress account is just too physically taxing for you, feel free to tweet your picks at us or message us on Facebook. Please note that Harry will not hesitate to make fun of you if your picks suck. We’ll include all fan-made picks in their own standings column and the winner will get absolutely no prize or reward. If that’s not incredible motivation to get involved, I don’t know what is. Let’s get to this week’s games, with the lines brought to you by Bovada.
11-5 Kansas City Chiefs @ 11-5 Indianapolis Colts (-2)
Saturday, January 4th, 3:35 PM CST
This match-up has the smallest line of any game during Wild Card weekend, which indicates it might be a nail-biter. The Chiefs and Colts already played in week 16, a game the Colts won on the road 23-7. KC scored a touchdown on the first drive of the game but they were shut out the rest of the way as Indy’s defense stepped up and eliminated the Kansas City passing game. Many expect this game to be closer than the last, due to a couple coaching-related factors. It’s rumored that Andy Reid chose not to reveal a lot of his game-plan for beating the Colts in the last meeting between these two teams because of the likelihood that they’d face off again in these very playoffs. Kansas City was also unable to improve their playoff standing last week against the Chargers, and were thus able to bench/rest nearly every single starter on both sides of the ball. This should help Kansas City’s chances of competing more closely with the Colts this time, but Andrew Luck and company have proven themselves to be worthy foes.
11-5 New Orleans Saints @ 10-6 Philadelphia Eagles (-3)
Saturday, January 4th, 7:10 PM CST
The Saints were considered to be one of the three best teams in the league for most of the first half of the season, before losing to some questionable teams (Rams, Jets) and some good teams (Patriots, Panthers, Seattle) later in the year. The hype surrounding the Saints as a Super Bowl contender has quieted, while the hype around the Eagles is now completely in full swing. The Philadelphia offense has dazzled audiences for most of the year under first year head coach Chip Kelly. Their most stunning moment of triumph came in week 16 as they annihilated the Chicago Bears by an embarrassing final score of 54-11. The Eagles defense has also been better than expected this year, with DT Gerald McCoy leading the charge for a side that is top ten against the run. This game could very well be a high-scoring affair, as it pits the #2 passing offense (Saints) against the #32 passing defense, as well as the #1 run offense (Eagles) against the #19 run defense.
9-7 San Diego Chargers @ 11-5 Cincinnati Bengals (-7)
Sunday, January 5th, 12:05 PM CST
The San Diego Chargers just barely snuck into the final wild card slot on the last day of the season, sealing their fate with a 27-24 win over the Chiefs’ backups in overtime. The Chargers boast the league’s fourth best passing offense by volume (270.5 yards per game) in what has been a huge bounce-back year for much-maligned quarterback Phillip Rivers. On the other hand, the Cincinnati defense has been one of the best in the league this year. Relevant to this game, the Bengals are one of just three teams in the NFL (Pats, Saints) that are undefeated (8-0) at home this year, with Cincy winning their home games by an average of just under 18 points a game. These teams played once previously this year, with the Bengals winning 17-10 on the road behind 164 yards rushing from the Law Firm (BenJarvus Green-Ellis) and rookie Giovani Bernard.
12-4 San Francisco 49ers @ 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers (+3)
Sunday, January 5th, 3:40 PM CST
There seems to be a pseudo-rivalry developing between these teams. This will be the fourth meeting between the two in the last two seasons, with the 49ers winning each of the first three. Though the W-L record of their competitions leads one to believe San Francisco has been quite a bit better, all three of the games were close most of the way before the 49ers pulled wins out in the fourth quarter. All of the match-ups have been chippy and, given the high quality of both organizations, they’ve been some of the most entertaining games to watch in recent years. The Packers enter the playoffs coming off a division-clinching win over the Bears last week, and they finally have Aaron Rodgers back after breaking his collarbone on November 4th. The 49ers have been one of the most consistent teams in the league this year, beating all the bad teams on their schedule and losing only to some of the most formidable playoff contenders in the league. Despite the regression of QB Colin Kaepernick after his red-hot 2013 playoffs, the 49ers still boast one of the league’s best rushing attacks and their defense is as strong as ever. The Niners beat Green Bay 34-28 at home this year, but both teams have changed since that early-season affair.
KC vs IND The Chiefs are soooooo good this year, right? Look at how they’ve dominated every game week in and week out! Wait, they’re 1-5 against playoff teams, with the one win coming against an Eagles team in September that was far worse than the current team? The Chiefs’ reaching the playoffs makes it two consecutive years that the worst team the previous year has made the playoffs. For Indianapolis last year, Andrew Luck’s replacing Curtis Painter coupled with a number of narrow victories against weak opponents allowed the Colts to reach the playoffs. This year, Alex Smith and Andy Reid represent clear upgrades at the two biggest positions of a football franchise, yet look at who their wins have come against. The best explanation for these teams’ year-to-year improvements in wins may very well be the schedule they played after being the worst team in the league the previous year. That said, I don’t know how well I trust the Chiefs given their terrible record against playoff teams. However, the Colts have been one of the most unpredicatable teams since Reggie Wayne’s injury. Yet, if you take a look at their losses this season, they were all relatively respectable (even that St. Louis team has looked great some weeks). The belief that Reid was holding back in these two teams’ first meetings does not hold much significance for me. Robert Mathis’s destroying them had little to do with that. What worries me on the other side is that the Colts’ scores in that game came off of two unsustainable big run plays, which I see as even less likely to happen with a relatively healthier Chiefs front seven. The most overlooked storyline within this game? The demise of the Kansas City defense. As pointed out by NFL Films’ Greg Cosell, the Chiefs have regressed to the worst defense in the NFL during the second half of the season, resorting to simple coverage schemes that will be picked apart by Andrew Luck. That regression, the essentially 0-4 record vs. playoff teams, and the many injuries scare me away from my original pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. This should be a very interesting game. Indianapolis -2
NO vs PHI Both of these teams have been extremely weird this year. With Philadelphia, I can point to either of their last two games as evidence for why they’re a phenomenal team or a mediocre team. They also post the highest DVOA variance of any team in the NFL. Meanwhile, armchair sports fans seem to know nothing about New Orleans other than that they are two different teams depending upon whether they’re playing in the Superdome or outside. Look at who they have played on the road– they are all tough games besides the six-point loss to the Jets in the game of their season. Their combined record? How about 52-24? That’s an average of a 10- or 11-win team on the road each week. That slate would be very difficult for any NFL team. Plus, New Orleans has won playoff games on the road in tough weather during the Brees/Payton era before. The real difference between this year’s team and last year’s is they place 10th in adjusted defensive DVOA while maintaining a 5th-place adjusted offensive DVOA. Philadelphia? Second offensively… and 23rd on the other side of the ball. And oh yeah, does Philadelphia have an impressive win all year besides their trouncing of the Bears’ horrible defense? New Orleans has both the stronger and more consistent team, and I like them to win in Philadelphia despite their shaky road stretch. New Orleans +3
SD vs CIN I honestly think San Diego is underrated heading into the playoffs. They’re coming into the playoffs strong and have managed nine wins against an incredibly tough schedule. Philip Rivers has had a fantastic turnaround despite early injuries to his two top receivers. Wait, San Diego has THE WORST DEFENSE IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE based on adjusted DVOA, are going up against a team that is 8-0 with an offense that will not stop scoring at home, and lost to Cincinnati by 7 in San Diego less than a month ago? Cincinnati -7
SF vs GB Seeing my Packers lose to San Francisco not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven… (Love you LeBron ;)) but three times in the last two seasons has been brutal. Anyone still talking about Kaepernick and the read option versus the Packers defense probably has not watched the 49ers play this year and definitely did not watch the week one matchup between these two teams. The key in that matchup was Kaepernick carving up the Packers’ secondary that I can’t watch anymore. However, since that game, the passing attack has regressed immensely (but the return of Crabtree scares me), as has Frank Gore’s play. Dom Capers will have to blitz all day if he wants to slow down the 49ers’ offense– the offensive line has had some nagging injury issues, and Kaepernick is the 3rd least accurate QB under pressure in the entire league. The issue that may arise with that, however, is if the 49ers do whip out the option, discipline is key, and the weak secondary could be even more exposed without linebacker help. The absence of Clay Matthews is also killer. On the other side of the ball, Carlos Rogers’s either absence or unhealthiness will allow the Packers to exploit the slot, which will be huge with Randall Cobb’s reportedly being healthy enough to play much more than last week. Lacy’s ankle is said to be healthier than last week, but that is still a worry, as well as the Packers’ horrible offensive line (although that is nothing new). A few quick myths that people are throwing around too much: 1) The 49ers’ defense has not been as strong as in recent seasons (13th in DVOA). 2) The kickoff temperature is projected to be below zero. Both teams need to play in that weather. It’s unreasonable to assume that that is a significant advantage for the Packers. How often has this team played in weather that cold? Plus, the Packers have traditionally relied much more on the pass than the 49ers have. I’m taking San Francisco here mostly because they are 3-0 against Green Bay in the last two seasons, and I also really can’t trust the Packers defense, particularly without Clay Matthews, who has been a key in each of their three matchups. San Francisco -3
Since I just wrote nearly 1,000 words previewing each of these games in the introduction (and then directly followed that up with a 300 word introduction over at The Champaign Room [Shameless Self-Promotion Achievement Unlocked]), I’m going to keep my picks much shorter than Bob’s. Apologies.
KC vs IND
Though probably not quite as good as their record indicates, Kansas City is still a solid team with a defense that should be able to handle a Colts offense deficient of skill players. It is my belief that Jamaal Charles had the third best season this year among running backs (behind Lesean McCoy and Matt Forte, respectively) and he could have a very big day against the inconsistent, below-average run D in Indy. Better on both sides of the ball, I’ve got Kansas City taking this one on the road. Kansas City +2 (Kansas City 23, Indianapolis 17)
NO vs PHI
I’ve gone back and forth a couple of times on this game over the past couple days. Though I believe the Saints are a better team than Philadelphia, I have a weird feeling the Eagles will pull this one out at home. There’s been a lot of talk about the Saints being a bad team on the road. That’s been somewhat true this year, depending on what statistics you trust, but I’m picking Philly in this game because I believe in Chip Kelly’s ability to put together an effective offensive game-plan. In Bill Barnwell’s excellent preview article over on Grantland, he finally convinced me the Eagles would win with a simple stat. Philadelphia ran the read-option 304 times at 5.7 yards per carry this year, and the Saints only saw the read-option on defense 36 times, allowing 5.6 ypc. If the Eagles can run as effectively as those numbers indicate, they should be able to control the pace of the game and score fairly easily. Though perhaps somewhat ill-advised, I’m betting on first year head coach Chip Kelly. Philadelphia -3 (Philadelphia 28, New Orleans 24)
SD vs CIN
San Diego’s passing offense is the second best in the league according to footballoutsiders.com‘s DVOA rankings (which Bob and I love dearly) and they go up against the fourth-ranked (by DVOA) passing defense in Cincinnati. It’ll be exciting to see that match-up, but I think Cincinnati is going to put up too many points for the Chargers to keep up. Cincinnati -7 (Cincinnati 38, San Diego 27)
SF vs GB
I’m telling you right now, this pick is really stupid. San Francisco is a team to be feared in these playoffs, and Green Bay had a tough time beating a slightly-above-average Bears team last week. There’s seemingly no logical reason for me to pick the Packers, but I just don’t trust Colin Kaepernick this year. I expect Green Bay’s D to do a good enough job against the SF offense, allowing Aaron Rodgers to lead them to victory. Sometimes in the NFL, I feel it’s smart to just pick the better quarterback, and Rodgers is significantly better than Kaepernick. I can’t wait for Kaepernick to eclipse 500 total yards this weekend, obviously only because I said I didn’t think he had a good year. Green Bay +3 (Green Bay 27, San Francisco 24)
Wow, Bob really had an impressive amount to say about these games. If you’d like a detailed analysis of picks, go re-read his stuff because you won’t find it here. Expect my wins per word ratio to dominate this week. (Yes, I just stole Bob’s classic way of saying, “Sorry guys, I was too lazy to actually write this week, but I’m going to play it off like it’s part of a cocky, asshole-y plan.”) [Bob: Wow, too lazy to even make your own jokes?]
KC at IND I don’t really buy the whole thing in Matt’s write-up about Andy Reid saving most of his game plan in the 23-7 loss to Indianapolis earlier this season. At that point in time, KC was still alive for the division championship and there was no guarantee that they’d play the Colts in the playoffs. As Bob also mentioned, the Chiefs were 1-5 against playoff teams this year and—as everyone seems to forget—they’re just 16 games removed (okay, 20 if you include the preseason) from a 2-14 year. 2-14!! And you’re asking me to take as just a two point ‘dog on the road in the playoffs? Against a team that beat them 23-7 two weeks ago? No thanks. Colts -2
NO vs PHI Wait, Philly is only giving up 3 points in this game? New Orleans was 3-5 on the road this year, including losses to the Rams and Jets. Still not convinced this line is too low? Take a look at Drew Brees’s home-road splits this year. Yikes. Eagles -3
SD vs CIN I might hesitate on this one slightly if this line were 7.5, but I won’t even think twice about laying no more than a touchdown. The Bengals are going to have no trouble in this game and I’m confident that I’ll do no worse than a push if I lay the points and go with Cincy. Bengals -7
SF vs GB This is the toughest pick of the week for me and separating my fandom from logic is particularly difficult. When I first went about writing this paragraph, I had already picked the Packers and tried to state my case why I was doing so. As I quickly discovered, this was impossible for me to do. Here is the biggest reason that I’ve heard the Packers will win: The sub-zero temperatures will help the Packers’ maligned defense slow down the 49ers’ offense. Okay, sure it will. That said, the weather will have the same effect on the Pack’s offense that will need to win this game for them. Oh, but the Packers are more used it, you say. Aaron Rodgers has been playing in the cold forever, you say. This is an argument I hear all the time about every cold weather team in the NFL and my response is always the same: really? Are the cold weather teams composed of some beings from a different species that can better handle extremely cold temperatures? Looking specifically at this game, people who can’t think will say, “AARON RODGERS CAN AND WILL HANDLE THE COLD FAR BETTER THAN COLIN KAEPERNICK BECAUSE HE IS A COLD-WEATHER PLAYER!” Again, really? Aaron Rodgers is from Chico, California and played his college football in the comfortable climate of Berkeley, California. Kaepernick is from Turlock, California and played his college ball in slightly-chillier-though-still-not-too-bad Reno, Nevada. This is a battle of two California quarterbacks that played in relatively balmy conditions for most of their lives, and you’re telling me that the weather is going to have a far weaker effect on Rodgers because he’s played a handful of December and January games in Green Bay in his career? Ooooookay. I’m just going to go with the team that’s clearly better while dumb fans babble about the weather like someone who doesn’t know how to make small talk. 49ers -3