Washington at Seattle
The Redskins looked horrible on offense last week and come into this game an eight and a half point underdogs. Washington set an NFL record in last week’s game for the fewest total yards gained (120) in winning a playoff game. However, I think people tend to forget that the game was supposed to be a defensive battle with the number one and number nine defenses squaring off and two questionable quarterbacks. Once the Redskins built a two-touchdown lead on two Tampa Bay turnovers they went ultra conservative on offense to shorten the game. Washington had to survive a Buc’s comeback that came up just short on a questionable call in the end zone to get the victory. The victory was their sixth straight and that streak included three divisional wins.
Seattle comes into the game with a 13-3 record earning their spot as the number one seed in the NFC. So, why would I like the Redskins to keep this game close? It comes down to schedule. The Seahawks got to 13-3 by beating some pretty bad teams. While Washington faced eight 10-wins or more teams, the Seahawks faced only four in the regular season, the lowest of any team in the playoffs. Against their nine common opponents, Seattle won all nine games SU with a 6-3 ATS record with an average score of 31-15 with an edge in total yards 368-310. Washington was 8-1 SU and ATS against those same common opponents, won the regular season meeting between these teams, outscored their common opponents 25-16, and out gained those nine opponents 317-294. In that earlier meeting this year, Washington won the game 20-17 and total yards were almost identical. Statistically, I would make the Seahawks less than a field goad favorites on a neutral field, so I think making them 9-10 point favorites at kickoff is about a field goal too much.
In what is probably my most controversial call this week, I’ll take the Redskins to keep this game close.
New England at Denver
I wasn’t on the New England bandwagon last week, and I’m still not on it this week. The Broncos get the nod here despite NE Tom Brady now being 10-0 in playoff games.
I think the score in last week’s Jacksonville game is misleading. The Patriots only out gained the Jaguars by 15 total yards, but got the breaks and the big plays when needed. One play on defense when the Jaguars couldn’t bring down the Patriots’ TE and an interception return for a touchdown finished the Jaguars off. Had New England dominated that game statistically, I’d be more comfortable taking the field goal this week, but the Patriots led just 7-3 at halftime in that game and added just one more touchdown on a substantial drive to seal the game.
Denver has won 13 of their last 15 games and are only five total points from sweeping their last 15 games after an opening day lost to Miami. The Broncos were undefeated at home this season with five of those eight wins coming by more than a touchdown including a mid-October victory over the visiting Patriots. The Ponies led that game 28-6 at the start of the 4 th quarter and coasted home to win the game 28-20. DEN doesn’t make the kind of mistakes that lose playoff games as the Broncos have only 11 turnovers for the season. NE doesn’t force many turnovers (31 st in the NFL) so I don’t expect the Broncos to turn the ball over this week.
Denver should be rocking as it is the first home playoff game for the Broncos since John Elway played. I would predict that the Broncos with this game by a touchdown.
Pittsburgh at Indianapolis
This game opened IND -9 with a total of 48 and I think the side and total are about right. Indy won the earlier game this year 26-7, but I suspect that the Steelers will have learned something from that thrashing and come into this game with a chip on their shoulders. If the public pushes up the number on the Colts to -10 then I might get involved with the Steelers, but for right now the game is a pass.
Carolina at Chicago
When the players have come out and said that the first team to 13 points wins this game you know it’s going to be a defensive battle. Carolina shut out the Giants last week 23-0 earning the first road shut out in the NFL playoffs since the 1979 NFC Championship game. This was also the Panthers third road playoff win in the last four seasons.
Chicago has already proven a tough place for the Panthers to play. The Bears beat the visitors 13-3 earlier this season with Chicago’s defense dominating the Panthers offense. Chicago sacked QB Delhomme 8 times and limited Carolina’s rushing game to just 55 yards. However, the Bears defense hasn’t been the same since that game as seven of Chicago’s last nine opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards. While Chicago’s defense has faded a bit, CARs defense has gotten better and now each D comes into the game allowing 282 yards per game.
I always fade quarterbacks making their first start in the playoffs and this week is no different. Rex Grossman is as inexperienced as they come as QB Orton has actually started twice as many games for he Bears as Grossman. The Bears starting QB hasn’t actually played in a game for 3 weeks as he sat out the Vikings game to end the season.
As much as I like the Bears at home, I’ll take the more experienced team to make fewer mistakes and win this game. Carolina wins by a field goal.