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Monday, January 3, 2011

Wild Card NFL Predictions: January 8, 2011

Right now you can get IND at -2.5, but I like them up to -3.   NO should be favored big in their game for obvious reasons, but the current line is inflated so I'll be laying off that game.  I'll have full write-ups for both games soon.

New York Jets vs Indianapolis Colts: IND -2.5
This game is the one clear-cut matchup where I like a side.  This is not a good situation for NY to be in because their defense is not playing as well as they did last year.  Peyton eventually figured out what Ryan was trying to do and put the game away in the second half.  The other bad news for NY is that IND has finally discovered a running game and have played much better against it over the last few weeks.  IND is on a four game winning streak, but has anybody noticed?   I picked them to win the Super Bowl at the start of the season, and I know that nobody wants to play them at this time of year.

Statistically, NY have the edge on the ground, but as I mentioned it might not be as much of a factor as it would have earlier in the year.  LT is clearly not the same runner that he was in the first half of the year and Greene hasn't proven that he can reliably carry the ball without fumbling yet.  If NY want to win this game they will need to do so on the arm of Mark Sanchez.  How many people are confident he can do that?  Ok so the talent might be there, but is the consistency?  I do not see NY having a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter which means that Sanchez is going to have to make plays in a do-or-die situation in a hostile environment.  I'm not sure about you, but that thought doesn't inspire confidence from me. 

This doesn't mean I think IND will roll over them.  Outside of Freeney and Mathis, IND haven't been able to get to the QB as much as previous seasons.  They also don't have as good of a turnover ratio as they normally do.  However, IND have the advantage in almost every other key category.   This NY defense has looked abysmal many times this year and even in the big games.  This unit walked into Chicago a couple weeks ago in need of a win and they allow Cutler to put up four touchdowns in the air.   Despite the injuries this year, Peyton has managed to keep his offense near the top in red zone/third down offense, points per game from long drives, and completed plays per game.  IND is also a very disciplined team.  They rank 5th in the league in penalties per game and these small details become very important come playoff time.  NY is 24th in the NFL with penalties, are horrible in the red zone, and average on third down.   Championship teams are rarely this bad in these categories.   We are once again hearing a lot of big talk from Ryan about winning this game and going all the way, but too bad for him and their fans we've heard it all last year.  Prediction: Bank IND -2.5.

New Orleans Saints vs Seattle Seahawks
Yes ladies and gentlemen, a nine-loss team is hosting a playoff game.  We'll leave that debate to the pundits, but the relevant stat for us is how SEA lost those games.  In every single one of them they lost by double-digit points.  Many people will look at this matchup and assume the same will happen as the defending Super Bowl champs come to town.  However, let's take a closer look so I can state why I won't be adding this game to my weekly card.
First of all, no one knows what to expect from the Seahawks.  Any so-called expert that says they do is lying.  STL was clearly the better team this year, but they found out that the 12th Man of SEA is a serious factor.  I'm not going to say SEA win this game because it's clear they are outmatched on paper, but they can definitely be disruptive enough to make it interesting for a while.  The longer SEA is within a score, the louder this stadium will become.  

No one knows yet who will start at QB for SEA, but I'm not sure it will make any difference.  If Hasselbeck was that much of an upgrade over Whitehurst, this game wouldn't be on the board yet.  Instead Vegas released their odds for this game at the same time as the rest.  At the time I'm writing this, 69% of the public are still laying the 10.5 points and riding the favorite.  If it dropped below 10 I'd consider it, but to hope for an 11 point win from the road team in the playoffs is asking a lot - even if it is the lowly Seahawks.  Once again, the only clear advantage SEA will have will be on special teams, but will good field position be good enough to cover?  Possibly.  A good return or stop on a kickoff or punt return invigorates the crowd.  Heck if Washington returns one for a score we might have a ball game.   

Unfortunately for SEA fans, hoping for a special teams bonanza is wishful thinking given who the opponent is.  Brees has thrown more picks than usual this year, but he will have more than enough opportunities to build up a nice lead this week.  Their offensive line does a good job and with Bush back in the fold they are able to scheme pre-snap at full capacity.  Defensively they should be able to create a couple turnovers and blitz at will.  The SEA running game is a threat to nobody so look for Gregg Williams to dial up some exotic looks for the QB.  

Both teams have pretty even stats in their red zone offenses/defenses, but a significant mismatch will be on third down.  It's not a coincidence that most of the playoff teams rank high in these areas, but SEA are in the bottom third on both sides of the ball.  Staying on and getting off the field will be a large storyline on Saturday.   This stat also helps explain why NO have twice as many points per game from long drives than SEA this year.   They also average 10 more completed plays per game - critical to dictating play and winning the time of possession.   I really like NO to win this game along with the rest of the world, but giving up 10.5 points is way too much.  Prediction: Skip it.
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