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. As a forewarning, I semi-mailed-in the preview section this week because of all the writing I’ve been doing, but Bob’s game analysis is predictably great so you need to make sure you read that at the very least.
Last week, the New Orleans Saints (+8.5) made a valiant last-minute drive to cover the spread in a 23-15 loss to Seattle. The New England Patriots (-7.5) smoked the Colts 43-22 behind four rushing touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount. Yes, I just did that. The San Francisco 49ers (+3) took out Carolina on the road, 23-10. Finally, the San Diego Chargers (+9.5) put it together in the fourth quarter and were able to cover the spread, losing 24-17 at Denver. All four cities with multiple-word names covered last week. How exciting.
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.
Before we get into this week’s games and spreads, let’s take a brief look at those standings. We had a few extra guest commenters last week, so we’ll include them as well. The standings are ranked according to the number of wins.
1. Bob [5-2-1]
2. Creed Tucker [4-3-1]
3. Matt [3-4-1]
4. Harry [3-4-1]
5. Bobby [2-2]
6. Arnim “My Name Is Arnim” Whisler [2-2]
7. Peter Silberman [1-2]
8. Michael Weller [1-3]
Again, if you want to be a part of the standings, just pick the games for this week! For the first time in years, I truly think the best four teams made the final four in the NFL. As always, the spreads come from Bovada.lv.
12-4 New England Patriots @ 13-3 Denver Broncos (-4.5)
Sunday, January 19th, 2:00 PM CST
After a relatively pain-free win over the Colts last week, the Patriots come into Denver boasting a suddenly-potent rushing attack led by the aforementioned Blount. The Patriots also just took the mantle of the top-ranked offense by DVOA from the Broncos (and Philadelphia) this week, so you can rest-assured that Denver will play hard to take that title back (they won’t). Denver’s defense has actually been better than I thought this year, ranking ninth in weighted DVOA after last week against the powerful Chargers offense. Denver’s surprising defense aside, you can probably expect this one to be relatively high-scoring, as these two legendary quarterbacks go against each other for the 80th time in the postseason.
12-4 San Francisco 49ers @ 13-3 Seattle Seahawks (-3)
Sunday, January 19th, 5:30 PM CST
Both of these games are gonna be so good, man. Before the season, nearly everybody would’ve predicted these two teams to be the last ones standing in the NFC, and here they are. The 49ers dominated the Panthers in the second half last week after a couple of tough early possessions on defense. The Seahawks seemed to struggle a little bit with the Saints last week, but were still able to pull out the win. Russell Wilson has been off the past few weeks, as he was unable to reach 100 passing yards until the fourth quarter against New Orleans. Unlike the previous game, this one is likely to be much more defensive, with two of the best units in the league on that side of the ball matching up. Seriously, I am so excited for these games. We get two of the best quarterbacks ever facing off for what could be their last playoff meeting, and then we get (what I believe) the best two defenses in the league running through brick walls and killing people in the second game.
Hey, guys. Thanks for checking us out again this week. If you have been following us this season, you will notice that last week was (I believe) my fourth undefeated week of the season, which (I believe) is more than Matt and Harry combined. (If someone wants to figure that out, that would be pretty nice.) Matt will make some weird argument about how you should support him, and Harry will brag about how he went 3-1 picking against what he thought, which means he actually went 1-3 (either way, still inferior to my picks). I honestly couldn’t care less who you “support” here at DCIAPC, but if you want to acquire dollar bills, it is pretty clear whom you should follow.
NE vs DEN As Bill Barnwell discussed on Grantland this week, we cannot really analyze this by looking at the tape from their Week 12 matchup. Much of the personnel, the weather conditions, and some overall fluky plays will not be factors in Sunday afternoon’s clash in Denver. The whole Brady-Manning XV will be marketed nonstop, but so much of these teams’ offensive identities has been derived from the running game. LeGarrette Blount, hardly making the roster at the beginning of the year, has become the biggest feature back in New England within the Belichick era. Grantland’s Robert Mays found that “there have been only five games in the Belichick era in which the Patriots ran the ball 40 or more times while throwing it 25 times or fewer, and two of those five examples have been New England’s last two games.” In orange, Knowshon Moreno gave Denver an excellent change-of-pace all year and in fact was the centerpiece of their offense many times during the year, including during these two teams’ first matchup. Both teams’ front sevens have been significantly debilitated this season, which will make the running game all the more important. Now, New England’s front seven appears weaker than Denver’s (it’s hard to rely solely on DVOA numbers now because the personnel is so different, but Denver’s run defense DVOA is ranked 9th compared to New England’s ranking of 27), and Manning and his receiving corps will space the defense more than Brady and his receivers, so Denver appears to have a clear edge on the ground. The injury to Chris Harris, Denver’s starting corner, could be a killer blow to the Broncos as they go up against a Brady-led offense, but I don’t see it as a significant factor in determining the outcome of the game. New England’s personnel, particularly on defense, has gotten so weak that it is difficult pick them against Peyton Manning – not to mention how badly Moreno gashed the far-healthier Pats the first time around. Add in the fact that the Pats will be travelling into the altitude and will be forced to make many defensive substitutions – a killer for a team without any depth to speak of. Finally – not this this means anything at all, but just in case – the temperature will be in the mid-50s, so no Manning-can’t-play-below-an-arbitrarily-selected-temperature argument can hold much water heading into this game. There has been a ton of action on New England, dropping the line around two points since it initially opened. This could be a game for the ages that goes down to the wire, but I’m happy taking anything less than a touchdown here. Denver -4.5
SF vs SEA It’s hard for me to explain my reasoning on this one. These Pacific rivals split their two matchups this year, with Seattle winning 29-3 at home in Week 2 before falling 19-17 in San Francisco in Week 14. My general reasoning here is that although the Seattle defense is amazing no matter how you look at it, I think San Francisco has the more complete team. The 49ers have proven time and time again that their offense can beat you so many ways – with a power run game, read options, and airing it out – while Seattle has not shown much with the ball. The passing offense looked extremely weak against New Orleans on Saturday, and it’s difficult for me trust Wilson and a bunch of receiving scrubs against the scary 49ers defense (only 13th in defensive DVOA but dramatically better since Aldon Smith’s return a few weeks ago). I do find it quite possible that the Legion of PEDs gets inside the head of the sneakily erratic-prone Kaepernick, while Seattle is able to dictate the tempo with a stable set of handoffs to Lynch mixed in with some play-action passes, but San Francisco just feels good to me. Honestly, which of these teams looked more impressive last week? It’s obviously just one game and against different opponents, but it was not even close last week. Now, how exceptional would it be if the Niners are able to reach the Super Bowl after consecutive wins in Green Bay, Carolina, and Seattle? I can’t wait for this one. San Francisco +3
One more quick side-note: My preseason Super Bowl pick was San Francisco over Denver. My current Super Bowl pick is San Francisco over Denver. Four great teams are left, so anything can happen, but it’s funny that this is still in play (as is Matt’s preseason pick). Should be a fun three weeks. #AnyoneButSeattle
Last Week: 4-0
Thankfully, Bob went 4-0 this week so he didn’t have to construct a long-winded paragraph explanation for why his incorrect picks were really correct. Now, on to more important things, like me picks. Being the favorite of the overwhelming majority of our readers (If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m not serious), it’s tough to have to live up to the expectations set for me each week. These playoffs have been a relatively small sample size, but I still feel as though I might be letting my fans down. I do apologize for that. On the bright side, I think I did a pretty decent job of predicting the teams that would be in the playoffs back in September, via my Twitter account:
Not too bad. From September: RT @msilich2 Playoffs: GB/DAL/SF/ATL [SEA/CHI] NE/DEN/BAL/HOU [CIN/IND] Broncos over Seattle
— Matt Silich (@msilich2) January 16, 2014
My only major misses were Atlanta and Houston, and I was actually more down on those two teams than most people coming into this year (if you don’t believe me, I don’t have any proof but my reasoning was as follows: I didn’t totally believe in the Falcons defense or the Texans coaching staff, both of which were pretty bad this year). I didn’t anticipate the success of the Saints/Panthers/Colts, though I did have the Colts grabbing a wild card spot. Thanks for reading this dumb intro, now here are my picks which you probably don’t care about:
NE vs DEN As usual, I’ll be keeping my pick explanations relatively short this week because I write the intros for these posts. I’ve also written like 3,000+ words over the last day and a half if you include my work over at The Champaign Room (shameless self-promotion achievement unlocked), so I’m a bit fatigued right now. As for this game, I picked Denver back in September and I’m still leaning towards them winning this game. The major thing that worries me here: injuries. I believe that Denver is going to be really hampered without Chris Harris, and you may have seen a little bit of that effect when they struggled to close out San Diego on defense. [Bob: Good thing the Patriots are healthy! When you said the main thing that worries you is injuries, I could have sworn you were going to talk about New England.] [Matt: Am I allowed to do this? I hope so. I’d just like to add that I meant to write a quick thing about how the Patriots have done well to mask some of their injuries with adequate backup play, but I’m not sure the Broncos will be able to in this case. Okay back to…me.] That’s my main worry for this game and I trust Belichick and the Patriots to exploit a weakness like that more than any other team in the league. All that being said, I still believe the Broncos will be able to put up enough points on the Patriots to pull out a victory and advance to the Super Bowl, mostly because I said so in the preseason. Prop bet: Peyton Manning OVER 2.5 touchdown passes. New England +4.5 (Denver 38, New England 34)
SF vs SEA This pick comes down to something pretty simple for me: the 49ers are just a better football team right now. As cliché as that sounds, Football Outsiders released their one-game DVOA statistics for the divisional round games and this idea bears out: The 49ers had a total opponent-adjusted DVOA of 42 percent against the Panthers while the Seahawks only managed a 28 adjusted percentage against the Saints, with most of that coming from somewhat luck-based special teams. If you’re wondering what that means, all you basically need to know is that a higher percentage is better and that 42 is significantly greater than 28 on the scale of DVOA. San Francisco’s offense and defense are both playing really well right now, and I expect that to continue in Seattle. Now, it may seem a little absurd to just go off statistics like that from one game, but is that really different than one of ESPN’s talking heads saying “I just think the Chargers are playing great football right now.” after watching San Diego destroy the Bengals on the road? This is just my statistically-based way of saying that I believe more in the 49ers right now. HOWEVA, my Super Bowl pick before this season was Denver over Seattle, and I want to stay true to that, even if it leads me astray. Thus, I’ll be picking Seattle to win, but San Francisco to cover in an exciting game. If San Fran wins, like I truly think they will, then I picked them anyway! It’s a win-win. I can really only lose if Seattle blows them out, but I’d still have picked at least one Super Bowl team correctly in the preseason, which is kinda fun. Prop bet: Colin Kaepernick OVER 37.5 rushing yards. San Francisco +3 (Seattle 21, San Francisco 20)
I really wish the spread on that second game were 3.5. Annoyingly, the Seahawks are a -120 pick right now at that spread, but they aren’t going to change it because it was previously at that number and there was heavy action on the Niners. Terrifyingly, both of my picks align with Skip Bayless this week. Lord help me. So in conclusion, I’m taking the away team and points in both championship match-ups, despite having strongly believed that the two home teams were the best in the NFL all year. This should end well.
Last week: 2-2
While Bob’s argument that those wanting to earn money on their picks should turn to him for picks is cute, apparently he hasn’t heard of the concept of a sample size. [Bob: It’s not like we picked five games a week every week all season in which I repeatedly went 5-0 while you went 0-5 or anything. I’m not at all saying that I’m the best at picking games, but at some point, you have to acknowledge a sample as significant. We picked 80 to 90 games. How can we judge these football teams with only a sample size of 17 or 18 games if you want to say an 80-to-90-game sample is insignificant?] (The New York Islanders made the playoffs in a 48-game hockey season last year. The Columbus Blue Jackets finished a single point out. Go ahead and check where those teams are this time around.) I’ll buy in if Bob dominates again next season, but this is far from over. As it turns out, picking against my instincts turned out to be a pretty good strategy last week. I went 3-1 and if I had done the same thing in the Wild Card round, I’d be 6-1-1 right now. (Yes, I realize I just made a sample size argument and then made a definitive statement that going against my gut is a good strategy after 8 games. I’m just desperate to find something that works right now.) So let’s stick with this strategy, shall we?
NE vs DEN I really like the Broncos at home in this one, if only so we can put to bed the whole “PEYTON MANNING SUCKS IN COLD WEATHER” meme [Bob: If you read my part, this game won’t even be played in cold weather at all.] Yes, Peyton Manning is not as good as he normally is when playing through inclement weather. But news flash: EVERY QUARTERBACK IN THE LEAGUE PLAYS BETTER WHEN THE WEATHER IS NICER. You can point to Peyton’s playoff record as further proof that when the going gets tough, he goes nowhere, but then you’d be an asinine excuse for a human being. (I’m sorry, this really gets me riled up.) Peyton is 10-11 in his playoff career. Does anyone else find it impressive that he’s played in 21 playoff games, or is that just me? Hmmmm how many active quarterbacks have played in more playoff games in their career than Peyton Manning—oh right, just one, Tom Brady. Furthermore, while Peyton is under .500 in his playoff career, here’s a partial list of active quarterbacks who are .500 or better in the playoffs: Matt Schaub, David Garrard, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. Would you rather have have those guys than Peyton Manning? Didn’t think so. Go Broncos. Patriots +4.5
SF vs SEA I’m pretty tired of hearing about both of these teams to be honest. In terms of what actually happens, all signs point to a comfortable victory for Seattle. Check out the last two times these two tangled at CenturyLink Field. Furthermore, another meme I’d like to see die is “WE HAVEN’T SEEN A SUPER BOWL BETWEEN TWO TOP SEEDS SINCE 1745! THE BRONCOS AND SEAHAWKS SHOULD BE SCARED”. Hey journalists that have obviously never taken a stats class: this has absolutely nothing with the potential outcome of both of these games. The Seahawks and Broncos will either win or lose and the most likely outcome of both games is that they win. The history you’re relying on means it’s unlikely for both top teams to win two games in a row and make the Super Bowl, which is fair because you need four outcomes to go that way. Now, there’s only two and the odds have changed. Much like a kicker’s chances of making a field goal within his “range,” a team’s chance of making the Super Bowl is not a binary figure; it increases each week the team stays alive. [Matt: Good argument, Harry. No, really! I mean it!] Well, looks like both of my picks turned into rants against stupid narratives. Sigh. I like Seattle to win by the way. 49ers +3
Last week: 3-1