Picking Them This Weekend
Well, I went 2-2 with my picks this weekend. Could have gone 3-1 with that Packers/Cardinals game (sorry Doc...that was a horrible way to lose. I imagined the worst at your household when I saw that last play).
What we know about the "resting the starters in week 17" deal is that it is far worse for bye week teams to do it because they essentially have two weeks off. So, it was not surprising to see the Cardinals pull that game off this weekend. Still, I was rooting for their demise because it would have worked well with the theory. No matter the result, though, no one game proves anything.
What we do know now is that the Cardinals, with a playoff win under their belt, probably sidestep a good portion of what "resting the starters" means for most teams. After this game, the Cards have officially played their starters, and now they play a Saints team that took two weeks off. I pick the Cardinals to absolutely roll in this weekend's Divisional. If that holds true, I think they lose to whoever comes out of the other Divisional, because:
Both the Vikings and Cowboys played their starters in the final week, so I must stick with my guns on this no matter who comes out of the Saints/Cardinals game. That said, I pick the Cowboys to win their matchup with the Vikings. The Cowboys have a more complete team than the Vikings, and are playing extremely well right now. They probably feel they can beat just about anybody after handing the Saints their first loss, and it should continue here.
In the AFC, we have a really difficult set of games here. No doubt both the Colts and the Chargers will be highly favored in their games this weekend, because the lowly 5 & 6 seeds lucky to be here made it past the Wild Card weekend.
I'm saying it right now: the Ravens will beat the Colts. This is a rematch of a week 11 game that the Colts were lucky to win, and at the time the Colts were actually playing, and not quitting games like at the end of the season. Plus, it looks like the Ravens decided to back off on the penalties or things that could lead to penalties this weekend against a Patriots team that historically gets lots of calls. That led to the Ravens' demise in many close games this year, and I think they're a much better team than a 6th seed would lead most to believe.
The Ravens defense is not as scary as in years past, but they are still the 3rd-ranked defense in the league, and if they cut down their mistakes, this should be a game they win by 7-10 points.
Now we come to the Jets/Chargers. The Chargers will be the biggest favorite this weekend, bar none. I would like everyone to consider this, though: the Jets have the number one ranked defense in the league, allow the least points and touchdowns, and have been playing for their lives for the past three weeks. Yeah, teams laid down for them, but they kept that Colts game close while the Colts were still playing for real, and the Bengals would have gotten beat anyway.
Meanwhile, the Chargers went through the final games of the season playing the Titans in what amounted to a scrimmage (the Chargers' backups ended up in that game), then playing the starters very little in that final game against the Redskins, and now have had a bye week.
I'm saying that these two teams are a lot closer than you think they are. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, in fact, the Jets expected win-loss differential is roughly 11-5, while the Chargers also are closer to an 11-5 team. You have to think about what the Jets had to go through with a rookie QB and they had some rough patches, and we saw the emergence of Shonn Greene in the last game as their top RB. Their offense just put up 24 points on a better defense, the Bengals. Plus, you have a team that didn't expect to be here and are coming off a solid win.
I'm saying it, and may be the only one outside of New York with the balls to say it: The Jets are going to beat the San Diego Chargers. If you believe also a team can be "overconfident" or if you get into the Bill Simmons' wacky set of reasons like "nobody believed in us," then you must believe that a team like the Jets can sneak up on the Chargers.
If my predictions are true, you would have Jets-Ravens in the AFC Championship, and lots of people snoring and CBS executives jumping off a bridge. At least they'd get a New York team, I guess.
You know, if I'm completely wrong, I'm still having fun looking at these playoffs in a different way. If I end up right about all this, all the better.