NFL Wild-Card Weekend Picks

While this past Monday served as Black Monday for many head coaches around the league, it held a different meaning for New York Football Giants fans like myself. This past Monday was a reminder that the Giants won’t be playing this weekend (even if didn’t matter if they were playing for the last five weekends) and they won’t be playing again until next September. If you were to get pregnant or get someone pregnant today, there’s a chance your baby would be born (a little premature) by the time the Giants play their next real game. The Monday following Week 17 has now meant nothing for the Giants in four of the last five seasons.

The only news to come from the Giants since their season ended with a win over the Redskins (a game that was played in such miserable weather conditions that any fan who attended the game needs to seriously reevaluate their life and priorities and think about doing something constructive on Sundays rather than watching a 6-9 team face a 3-12 team in a monsoon) is that Eli Manning will likely get an extension despite his historically bad season. (If only all jobs could be handled this way.) For the Giants and their fans, January will once again be a depressing month with no non-monetary-related rooting interest in the playoffs. The only positive to come out of the worst Giants season in a decade is the reported retirement of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Aside from that, there’s no point in looking back at the disastrous season that started 0-6, but could have been saved in Week 12 against the Cowboys.

The holidays are over and it’s January, which begins the two-month winter gauntlet (though this year is a little less gauntlet-ish thanks to Winter Olympics hockey) before spring training and March Madness carry us into Opening Day. And what better way to kick January off than with a New York City blizzard that’s supposed to start on Thursday night? How about a high temperature on Friday of 17 degrees and a low of 4 degrees? Yes, it’s officially winter and that means the NFL postseason is here and so are the NFL Playoff Picks.

INDIANAPOLIS -2 over Kansas City
Let me start this by saying that the first thing I did when the lines came out for Wild-Card Weekend was to see what a parlay with the four underdogs (Chiefs, Saints, Chargers and Packers) is worth and it’s 29-to-1 odds. Unfortunately, I’m only a believer in one of the four underdogs this weekend.

The Chiefs have had an odd calendar year, considering they finished 2-14 in 2012, which was good enough for worst in the NFL and landed them the No. 1 pick. Then they hired Andy Reid, traded for Alex Smith, started the season 9-0 and finished the season 11-5. When it comes to looking at the 2013 Chiefs, they were essentially two teams: the Pre-Bye Chiefs and Post-Bye Chiefs.

The Pre-Bye Chiefs were 9-0 and never allowed more than 17 points in game and allowed a total of 111 points (an average of 12.3 per game). The Post-Bye Chiefs were 2-5, only beating the Redskins and Raiders, and allowed 194 points (an average of 27.7 per game). The Chiefs’ pre-bye success was presumably built by their defense, but in reality, it was built by their schedule that included home games against the Cowboys, Giants, Raiders, Texans and Browns and road games against the Jaguars, Michael Vick Eagles, Titans and Bills. The Chiefs went 1-5 against playoff teams this season and their only win came in Week 3 against the Michael Vick Eagles in a game in which the Eagles had five turnovers.

When these two teams meet on Saturday, it will only have been 13 days since the Colts ran the Chiefs out of Arrowhead with a 23-7 win thanks to four Chiefs turnovers. But it’s not only because of this recent result or how shaky the Post-Bye Chiefs have been that I’m taking the Colts here. It’s also because of how Andy Reid chose to play Week 17 against the Chargers.

Sure, the JV Chiefs nearly beat the This-Game-Means-Everything Chargers in San Diego, but Reid did that game, the game of football as a whole, the playoff picture and his own team a disservice by playing the “B” team and not trying to do everything he could to win the game and eliminate the Chargers. The Chiefs earned the right to play (or not play) their Week 17 game however they chose, but history tells us that using Week 17 as a bye week and taking your foot off the gas entering January usually backfires.

New Orleans +2.5 over PHILADELPHIA
Here is what I said about the Saints in my Week 16 Picks:

If this game were at the Superdome, I would be all about the Saints like always. But on the road, I’m going against them … like always.

Here is what I said about the Saints in my Week 15 Picks:

Inside the Superdome, the Saints are the best team in the NFL. Outside the Superdome, the Saints are one of the 10 worst teams in the league and maybe even worse than that.

Here is what I said about the Saints in my Week 14 Picks:

The Saints’ last home loss with Sean Payton as head coach came in Week 17 in 2010 when they had nothing to play for. Including the playoffs, the Saints have won their last 15 home games since that loss and here are their margins of victory going back from Week 4 in 2013 to Week 2 in 2011 with Payton as head coach: 21, 24, 6, 17, 28, 29, 14, 25, 11, 55, 7, 17, 18, 32 and 3.

Here is what I said about the Saints in my Week 13 Picks:

It’s the battle for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs with the current 1-seed playing the current 2-seed. If this game were in the Superdome, there’s no doubt the Saints would win. It’s actually a guarantee they would win. But like always, when you take the Saints out of the Superdome they aren’t the Saints.

Here is what I said about the Saints in my Week 12 Picks:

It’s never a good idea to trust the Saints to cover outside of the Superdome.

I could keep going, but I think the pattern is pretty easy to pick up. The Superdome Saints were 8-0 this year with an average win of 34.0-15.6. The Outside-the-Superdome Saints were 3-5 with an average loss of 22.4-17.8.

Absolutely everything about this game says, “Don’t pick the Saints, Neil! Don’t pick the effing Saints, Neil!” in the same voice that Eli uses to yell his feelings to Matthew about sleeping with Danielle in The Girl Next Door. But guess what: I’m not listening to stats and logic and everything I have written about the Saints in 2013 and I’m not listening to Eli.

There are two teams I desperately don’t want to see win the Super Bowl: the Patriots and Eagles. And since I’m driving the anti-Eagles bandwagon, I’m going to let my fandom interfere with math and science and the Saints’ recent postseason history and pick solely against the Eagles because they’re the Eagles.

CINCINNATI -7 over San Diego
The worst game of Wild-Card Weekend features the team that has screwed with me more this year than any other team: Ladies and gentlemen, the Cincinnati Bengals! Like the Saints, the Bengals can be viewed as two teams: the Cincinnati Bengals and the Outside Cincinnati Bengals.

The Cincinnati Bengals went 8-0 this year with an average win of 31.9-16.8. The Outside Cincinnati Bengals went 3-5 with an average loss of 21.4-19.4. At home, the Bengals beat three playoff teams in the Packers, Patriots and Colts. On the road, they lost to the Bears, Browns, Dolphins, Ravens and Steelers and needed overtime to beat the Bills. (As you can tell, none of those teams are still playing.) But what the Outside Cincinnati Bengals did doesn’t matter this week and won’t come into play until next weekend when they will either travel to Denver or New England. And the Bengals will still be playing next weekend because they get to face the We-Are-Kind-Of-Hot-Entering-The-Playoffs-But-Also-Backed-Into-The-Playoffs Chargers.

Yes, the Chargers won four straight and five of six to finish the season, but they also needed Ryan Succop to miss a 41-yard field goal to beat the Chiefs’ JV team in a home game with their season on the line. If not for that missed field goal with four seconds left, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be in the playoffs, and the Chargers’ season would have ended at the hands of quarterback Chase Daniel, who entered the Week 17 game with eight career passing attempts. The Chargers lost 17-10 at home to the Bengals just five weeks ago in Week 13. And when you’re losing to the Outside Cincinnati Bengals, things aren’t going to be easier against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals’ last playoff win came during the 1990 season on Jan. 6, 1991. This Sunday, one day shy of 23 years, the drought will be over.

San Francisco -3 over GREEN BAY
The forecast calls for a high of 0 degrees and a low of -18 degrees on Sunday in Green Bay. Knowing that, I think Tom Coughlin might be content with the way the Giants’ season ended since they won’t be playing in Lambeau Field this January, which is probably for the best given his skin’s reaction to the Wisconsin winter in January 2008 and January 2012.

It’s been a while since the Aaron Rodgers Packers were home underdogs and when the two teams met let year in the divisional round in San Francisco, the 49ers were only 3-point favorites at home.

The Packers were 5-2 before Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone and during his absence they needed two one-point wins (Week 14 over Atlanta and Week 15 over Dallas) to be put in a winner-take-all Week 17 game in Chicago. And in that game last week, the Packers had a fourth-and-8 for their season on the Bears’ 48-yard line in the final minutes that resulted in a 48-yard touchdown pass from first-game-back Aaron Rodgers to first-game-back Randall Cobb. What I’m trying to say is the Packers hit an in the words of Ilya Bryzgalov “humongous big” parlay to reach the playoffs and possibly even more “humongous big” than the parlay they hit in 2010 to reach the playoffs (thanks in large part to the “Miracle at the Meadowlands”) before winning the Super Bowl. And thanks to the NFL’s imperfect playoff format, at 8-7-1, they get to host a 12-4 team.

The 49ers’ four losses this season all came against worthy opponents. They lost in Seattle, where every team not from Arizona loses. They lost to the Colts, who I called the weirdest team in the NFL since they knocked off not only the 49ers, but also the Seahawks and Broncos this season, while losing to the Dolphins, Chargers and Rams. Following their bye, they lost to a top-ranked Panthers defense by one point (10-9). And they lost 23-20 to the Saints in New Orleans, which included a very controversial penalty, and since you know my feelings on the Superdome Saints, any loss under seven points in New Orleans is basically a win for the road team.

Usually every team has at least one letdown game during the year (and in the case of the 2007 Patriots, it comes in the Super Bowl … yes, I had to) and for the 49ers, you would have to say it came in their 27-7 Week 3 loss to the Colts since their 29-3 Week 2 loss to the Seahawks happened in Seattle. But since Week 3, the 49ers have been as good and consistent as any team in the league.

Last week: 10-6-0
Regular Season: 114-132-9