2015 NFL – Divisional Round Predictions

Like the Cubs, Colin’s lifelong dream of an 11-0 playoff run will have to “wait until next year.” Yep, that dream ended on the frozen FieldTurf in Minneapolis on a sunny, but artic Sunday afternoon! Despite that, I still have a lot of play for, most notable a career best 9-2 record is still on the table.

What went wrong last week? Well, sadly, I had the Vikings written down all week but at the last minute I flip-flopped to the Seahawks because, “Given the weather and the Seahawks defense, I would hate to have the Vikings and watch the Seahawks go up 14-0 early in the 2nd quarter.”

I never gave much thought to the scenario of “2014 NFC title game Russell Wilson shows up.” Russ was garbage for the entire Vikings game, with the exception of that “bad snap, sure to be a drive killer, Russell is in trouble, Lockett is wide open, Lockett might score . . .” broken, fluke play. Somehow that, AP’s killer fumble and a missed 27 yard field goal was good enough for the win but certainly nowhere near the cover.

What really sucks is I feel like I called the game right, in terms of the Vikings, as I knew they would attempt, and fail, to run AP. They would play defense, hoping to get the game to the 4th within a score, where they could take the reins off of Bridgewater and play football. I nailed the analysis, I just failed to execute.

But let’s say the Seahawks blocked that 27 yarder and returned it for one of the worst beats in the history of sport investing, the Redskins were waiting to ambush the dream. That was my #epcifail last week. But call me crazy but I think that if Desean Jackson extends the ball over the goal-line the Redskins win that game. Indulge me for a minute, but let’s assume D-Jax does what every other NFL player would do in that situation, extend the ball across the goal-line – that makes it 9-0, add the touchdown to Reed early in the 2nd quarter (and don’t miss the extra point) and that makes it 16-0. I think that game is over. The Packers looked lifeless, Rodgers was in full “2015 happy feet” mode. McCarthy was staring at the play sheet like it was a menu, praying that Eddie Lacy didn’t eat every last piece of bacon in the place, so he could add fried swine to his triple mushroom burger. Even the defense looked to the Tim Green mentality of “if we lose, we also win. . .” In other words, the Packers would have packed it in.

Instead, the D-Jax play was so egregiously offensive and dis-respectful top Packers that it woke them from their coma and the rest is history.

Now that is a quite a stretch to rationalize that loss. A better effort would be to kick myself for recognizing the flawed Texans with their inflated public perception based on defeating three worthless division opponents, but failing to recognize the exact same inflated public perception, for the exact same reasons, on the Redskins. It is called consistency, Colin, look it up!

Anyway on to the divisional round, where I dug up the following nuggets (since 2002):

  • The four home teams have swept their opponents twice but that has not happened since 2004, with the other time in 2002.
  • Home teams are 12-4 straight up in the last four years, more about this later.
  • Interestingly, the playoff rule of “pick the winner” doesn’t seem to apply in the divisional round as the home team 34-18 straight up, but are just 21-31 against the spread. I did not look it up, but I would guess you would have a hard time finding any 52 game stretch in an NFL regular season where you see a 13 game difference between SU and ATS.
  • There has not been a season where the home teams went 4-0 and just one year where home teams went 1-3.
  • Teams coming off a wildcard round road win are 16-8 ATS in divisional round

Given those facts, I would expect one road team to win outright, with the other three losing but at least one covers the spread in defeat.

Here is my playoff rules column.

Kansas City @ New England (-5, 43)

Look at the Patriots last six games – 2-4, with the wins over the Texans and Titans. Based on that, the media is right, this Pats team is vulnerable. Not so fast, this rough patch coincided with multiple key injuries and while losses to the Eagles, Jets and Dolphins do not reflect well on the Pats, you have to keep in mind a couple of things – 1. The Pats were in full control of the division, therefore, were never in a “must-win” situation; and 2. Two of the losses were in overtime, one was the Eagles game where the Eagles scored three TDs on defense/special teams and the other was week 17 loss to the Dolphins where the Pats essentially waved the white flag, simply trying to survive the game without additionally injuries. The main point here is that the way the Pats finished is only relevant in that it likely motivates them to prove the “haters” wrong. A good comparison would be to think about the backlash the Alabama program received after the Ole Miss loss this season – Saban’s done, Bama is done, blah, blah, blah. How did that end up for them? Exactly!

Now, with the above, I am sure you are expecting my prediction to be a Pats blowout. Not so fast, my friends. No so fast because the Chiefs are no joke, in fact, the brilliant analytic minds at Football Outsiders give the Chiefs a 52% chance of advancing this weekend. That’s a 52% chance of winning this game outright. And if the Chiefs win outright, they cover this spread 100% of the time!

My biggest problem with backing the Chiefs this week is that I feel their distinct advantage will be neutralized by the Pats getting their Smurf WRs back. With Amendola and Edelman back, Brady will have effective, quick release, short throws in his arsenal. That likely mitigates most of the Chiefs big advantage – their DLine v. the Pats OLine.

Of course, a short, controlled passing game, even if effective, will shorten the game. Thus, Colin’s best play in this game in under 43. And if we have a tight, low scoring game, it’s always best to take the points.

I will admit that there is going to be a point in this game where the Pats will run a trick play – the result of that play will determine not only the cover, but likely the outright winner. I am putting a lot of faith in Andy Reid and DC Bob Sutton; faith that they will be prepared and that the Chiefs will execute based on that preparation. I mean come on, if I know a trick play is coming, guys whose million dollar jobs are dependent on knowing a trick play is coming, have to know, right? Right!

New England 20 Kansas City 17

Green Bay @ Arizona (-7.5, 49.5)

Have you heard, the word, about the . . . Pack? That’s right the Pack is back. Oh, the media! They’re so bored that they have to attempt to invent story lines. The “Pack is back” is one hilarious attempt! How about these media quotes from the past week, “Now that the Packers are scoring points again . . .” and “Aaron Rodgers looks like that A-Rod of old . . .” Look at what one game against mediocre (yes, I know I picked the Skins) competition will do for public perception. First off, A-Rod did look like the A-Rod of old, if by old you mean the last 9 weeks of the 2015 NFL season. Let’s look at those A-Rodian 1st quarter numbers – 1-7 for 11 yards. And how about this MVP type number for the game – 5.83 YPA. That number was good enough for second place in this game, only roughly 40% off the number Kirk Cousins posted in the same game. No, my friends, the Pack is certainly not back.

If A-Rod repeats his “I got my mojo back” performance from wildcard weekend, the Cardinals will win this game by 31. I will admit, though, that Rodgers has perfected the “5-yard penalty offense.” The Packers might really have something here, with Rodgers being so adept at drawing teams offside and getting a snap off after sniffing out the lazy, lard-ass defensive linemen who cannot get off the field, its five yards here and five yards there. We could also call this offense the “death by paper cut” offense or “five free yards at a time” offense. Whatever term you come up with, it is pathetic to see a former great offense lowering themselves to such pathetic gimmicks.

I will admit my initial lean was Green Bay +7.5. But that was solely based on value; three weeks ago the line was Arizona by 4/4.5, meaning the opening number offered 3 points of value. But the more I thought about it, the more I figured the public perception would over-react to the Packers wildcard weekend win, meaning that 7.5 would look juicy to not only the clueless Packers fans but the casual, recreational sports investor as well. The value might still be there, but no way am I playing the Packers in this game, especially considering the Cardinals will be in the Packers backfield the entire game. Rodgers will look like he is the last man standing in a dodge ball game, facing five opponents surrounding him from every side, locked and loaded with a ball. Happy feet much!

Arizona 37 Green Bay 20

Seattle @ Carolina (-2, 44)

I am going to puke if I hear one more “expert” claim that the fluke, luckbox win last week will, “propel the Seahawks” back to the Super Bowl. Let’s look are some facts, starting with the fact that the Seahawks have needed acts of God in two of their last three playoff games to survive. You could make it three of their last three, had they not crapped themselves on the goal-line in the Super Bowl. But the reality is this team has been on the right side of – an onside kick fumbled away by the opposition, a hail-mary two point conversion, a broken play that should have been a 20 yard loss but somehow turned into a 45 yard gain, a fortuitous fumble and a missed 27 yard field goal. The odds of all those things happening for one team have to be close to PowerBall lottery odds (~50-1 against on each).

Ok, the counter to that point would be the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl on a play with heavy odds against what happened, happening. But let’s remember the Seahawks scored 14 points in the first half by virtue of a few broken plays and a couple amazing catches. They might not have been in position to win that game without those plays. Furthermore, those plays mask the fact that Seahawks have been garbage in the first half in three straight three playoff games, leaving the Super Bowl as the outlier.

Enough on the 1st half offensive challenges of the Seahawks, let’s move on to the other media creation this week. After listening to five hours of sports talk radio in the past day, the prevailing feeling in the media is that it is somehow worse for a team to get a bye, that there is too much pressure on these home teams with a bye and that is breaks the momentum for these successful teams. Those sentiments certainly do not reconcile with the 12-4 SU record by home teams over the last four years. For grins, let’s look at those four home losers:

2014 – Broncos (-8.5) lost to the Colts. Not sure home pressure played a part in this game, this is more the beginning of the realization that Peyton Manning was close to being done.

2013 – Panthers (+1.5) lost to the 49ers. Again not pressure, the 49ers were clearly a better team than the Panthers and a point reflected by the spread in the game.

2012 – Broncos (-9) lose to the Ravens. Here is a pressure induced loss and the exact recipe for the upset win by a road team. The Ravens took an early lead with a pick-6, the Broncos could never separate from them and it ultimately led to a loss. Of course, the Ravens needed the following: a miracle 70 yard TD in the last minute to tie the game, a poor decision by John Fox to take a knee with two timeouts and 35 seconds left in the game and a second overtime to seal the deal. But sure the longer this game was close, the more pressure Denver felt and ultimately they caved.

2011 – Packers (-7.5) lose to the Giants. Uh oh, here we have a 15-1 team losing at home. I am sure as this game played out, pressure did mount but realistically this was just not the Packers day.

In summary, those four games yield possibly two games where the pressure of having a bye and being the heavy favorite might have played a part in the loss. Still, I simply am not buying the pressure gets to these team with byes.

What I will buy is that pressure plays a part when there are a few early plays that go against the home, favored teams. Let’s say Seattle gets an early defensive/special team touchdown or takes an early two possession lead, then the pressure certainly can get to the Panthers. Then maybe Ted Ginn drops yet another touchdown, I can see the life draining from the crowd and the pressure mounting on Cam. In that case I tear up my ticket and call it bad luck!

However, I firmly believe we will see a half or three quarters from Russell Wilson similar to the 2014 NFC title game or last week against the Vikings. That should give the Panthers plenty of time to settle into this game.

Carolina 23 Seattle 17

Pittsburgh @ Denver (-7.5, 39.5)

I will use the following parable to describe this game:

Picking the winner in this game is like the person who goes mining for gold. When the person arrives at the location to look for the precious metal, they find a man claiming to have found all the gold. That’s bad news for the person, but the good news is the man is willing to sell the gold he has found. And he is selling the gold at a bargain price. The only problem is the gold is half buried in the ground, but, upon inspection, the exposed half is certainly gold, and with the price being right, the person makes the purchase. The seller quickly and discreetly pry’s the gold from the ground, wraps in cloth, bags and hands to the buyer, who heads on his merry way.

However, when the person gets home and unwraps the gold they find they have purchased a gold painted turd. The top half certainly looks like pure gold, but the bottom half is definitely a turd!

Later the disciples of Colin Wynner asked him to explain the parable, which he did:

The man selling the gold is like the media, telling you outlandish stories like the Steelers have no chance because Big Ben cannot throw the ball more than 10 yards and the rest from his benching has actually re-built Peyton Manning’s noodle arm.

The person who buys the gold is like the public, looking at only half of the situation, specifically the Steelers missing weapons. They are failing to look at the other side of the gold, the turd side, where you have Peyton Manning and an anemic Broncos offense.

The moral of the parable – don’t get stuck with a painted gold turd!

Denver 20 Pittsburgh 16

Now, my sons, go in peace, and make money off all National Football League games!

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