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Monday, January 3, 2011

Wild Card NFL Predictions: January 9, 2011

As of now the public and the pros are unanimously going with BAL, but I like KC and the points in this one.  I'll be waiting until later in the week to get a better line than +2.5.  The GB/PHI game is also a toss up, but PHI is favored due to home field advantage so I would rather take GB in a teaser than either team in a standard play. 

Baltimore Ravens vs Kansas City Chiefs
This is a matchup that has me scratching my head.  Not because I'm not sure which side I like, but because everybody in the world seems to like BAL to win this game pretty easily.  Am I missing something?  Does BAL have the same dominating defense of years past?  Is Joe Flacco suddenly an elite QB?  Is Ray Rice running like he did last year?   I think this will be a very close game, and KC could win it outright.  People must have forgotten how much home field advantage can mean come playoff time.  Arrowhead stadium is one of the loudest in the league when their team is competitive and there is nothing in my system that suggests they won't be on Sunday. 

If you are one of those people that is so high on BAL, show me where they have a big edge in this game.  KC have the 31st ranked red zone defense, but BAL only rank 22nd in red zone offense.  Almost every other meaningful category comes out even.  Neither team owns a large advantage running or passing the ball.  Both average about the same amount of completed plays per game, points from long drives, turnover differential, penalties per game, and third down offense/defense.  I am guessing the public is persuaded by what they've seen recently.  KC played their starters against OAK but got dominated on the scoreboard.  That isn't how they wanted to enter the post-season, but let's not forget that the game meant very little for KC.  Half of them probably didn't even want to be on the field.  Coming into this game only 9 of the 22 KC starters have playoff experience compared with 19 of 22 on the BAL side, but this lack of experience will be much more noticeable on the road than it will be at home.  I'm a little surprised that KC has been given the clear underdog status, but I'm more than happy to add them in a teaser.  Prediction: Tease KC +9.

Green Bay Packers vs Philadelphia Eagles
In what has to be the most compelling matchup of the weekend is the GB/PHI game.  Much like week one, I'm not entirely sure which team will come out on top because both have the capability to go a long, long way this post-season.   On the surface many people will like GB+3 given PHI's recent struggles, but there are clear advantages for both teams.  

For GB, it starts with Aaron Rodgers for obvious reasons.  He has manufactured points and wins all year long without much of a running game to speak of.  PHI's pass rush has generated sacks and pressures all year, but they don't get to the QB as often as they'd like.  To live and die with the blitz you need good cover corners and safeties that play responsibly.  Unfortuantely for PHI, they only have half of the equation.  Samuel is an elite ball-hawk, but on the other side they don't know who to play as a compliment.  Patterson has struggled a lot in December and was recently benched in favor of nickel corner Hansen.  Neither one is going to scare Rodgers and both will be on the field against a lot of three and four receiver sets.  Mikell is ok at safety, but PHI lost rookie standout Nate Allen.  Coleman has replaced him, but he bites on too many plays and peeks into the back field too often.  PHI also rank dead last in red zone defense and 18th on third down.  GB have been in the top 10 in both categories all season long.  

Therefore the major question in this game is will Vick and company put up enough points to keep up with Rodgers?  It seems like a funny question to ask of the second highest scoring offense in the league, but there are very good reasons to wonder how PHI's offense will do in this game.  To start with, Vick has not been making as many good decisions with the ball as his hype would indicate.  As the pressure revved up down the stretch he started turning the ball over more, running after 1-2 progressions, and not staying in the pocket.  Part of this has to do with bad protection from the offensive line.  McGlynn has filled in adequately at center this season, but he has been responsible for far too many communication problems with adjustments and blitz pickups.  None of this is good news considering what stands on the other side of them this Sunday.  Mathews and his pals are likely to cause a lot of havoc in the backfield and if PHI don't get a first half lead coach Reid will likely go pass-happy to try and get it back.  They would be wise to give the ball to McCoy as many times as possible, but that might be asking too much.  When the pressure is on Reid and Vick digress and rely on their instincts.  

The last glaring problem for PHI is that they rank 30th in the league in penalties per game.  Therefore if things don't go as scripted for them the wheels on this Vick ride could come spinning off rather quickly.  Having home field will help a lot and PHI usually do well in the playoffs, but they might be facing their toughest test on Sunday.  In fact, I might even go as far to say that the winner of this game will be playing in the Super Bowl, but for now I'm content to take GB in a teaser.  Prediction: Tease GB +9. 
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