Saturday, January 23, 2010

NFL: Final Four Picks

Due to popular demand from a breathless public, I'm issuing my picks for the playoff games this weekend--because there just isn't enough about them available on TV and in print. (Seriously, I didn't think it was possible to talk so much about the same four teams every day for a week, but hey, that's why I'm not on ESPN.)

Indianapolis Colts v. New York Jets: On offense, the Jets run and the Colts pass. The Jets defense can cover and also blitz, and so, to a lesser extent, can the Colts. If the Jets control the tempo by running effectively, and their defense smothers Payton Manning, they win. But if they fall behind, they have a harder time catching up by scoring points quickly. If the game is close, Manning is better at manufacturing points, and except in a real blowout, the Colts can never be counted out until the game is over. I expect Manning to do a lot of short passes, to try to counter the Jets ability to dominate the clock. But Manning can also get points on the board. If the Colts can't stop the run, they're pretty close to cooked. If the Jets can't stop the pass, they are cooked.

So when you're looking at this by considering various scenarios, the Colts have to be the favorites--they have more ways to win. Also on average, this looks to be a close game. Still, this game could be a blowout either way, depending on whose specific game plan works, plus the breaks of the game. Both teams are capable of having a great game, and both are capable of having a bad game. How's that for temporizing? So I have to pick the Colts, but a Jets victory would not surprise me.

New Orleans Saints v. Minneapolis Vikings: A pair of well-matched teams, with high powered offenses and defenses that can be stifling, but can also be breached. I expected to be picking MN because of their defense and the wily ways of Brett Favre. But then I saw New Orleans last week, and if they play like that, no one can beat them. I haven't seen a more balanced offense since the 70s Steelers, and their defense was pretty impressive.

Both of these offenses can be so efficient that they're scary. Still, I don't think this is going to be as high-scoring as the Arizona-San Diego game. This one is less likely to be a blowout either way than the AFC final. So... with the Saints at home, a possible key injury to the MN offense, I have to give the edge to New Orleans. But again, a Vikings victory wouldn't surprise me.

But if that's not definite enough for you, here's this: the winner of the Saints-Viking game beats the winner of the Colts-Jets game in the Super Bowl.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

NFL: Now There Are Four

I'm three for four this weekend on playoff games, including the Dallas meltdown I predicted would happen. But how about those Jets? That was the big surprise--San Diego was a frequent favorite to get to the Bowl, especially on the basis of momentum. But for San Diego (and Dallas) the momentum stopped cold on Sunday, and partly for the same reasons: the other team's defense getting to the Qback, turnovers, an unaccountably erratic kicker, and a certain loss of composure. I expected that from Dallas, but not San Diego.

I have to laugh at all the Dallas hype--and that's another commonality. I think both Dallas and San Diego believed their hype. Minnesota showed some character. So did the Jets, though they got some breaks and hung on. Minnesota just kept coming, taking every opportunity.

Saturday's story was the return of the winning moxie for New Orleans and Indianapolis, both undefeated until late in the season, both throttled back towards the end and lost several games. But they were vindicated about rest--both very energetic and, contrary to expectations, sharp. Especially New Orleans. That was the most fun to watch of any of the playoff games I've seen this year. I watched Reggie Bush at USC (all their games are broadcast here) so it was fun watching him do similarly flashy running (contrary to what the announcers were saying, he ran over people at USC too.)

So now that I'm on a roll, what are my picks for next week? I don't know if I will make any, certainly not now. I know the sportswriters have to be salivating for a Minnesota-New York Bowl: the wily 40 year old veteran Qback vs the rookie Qback half his age. And it could happen. Right now I'd have to give MN an edge for defense vs. New Orleans, but the Saints get a big home field advantage. New Orleans can be dominant, but Minnesota can be wily and if the game is close you can't ever count them out. So right now I'd say that one is even.

The Colts have the early edge v. the Jets, but the Colts have won so many games by getting breaks late that their luck has to run out some time. (They won by 17 over the Ravens, but the Ravens aren't that impressive.) How much pressure can the Jets get on Manning? Which team makes the fewer mistakes? I don't think anyone can confidently make the Jets the favorite. But you can't count them out.

Nobody expected three not very close games this weekend (New Orleans was a blowout, and though MN won by a big margin, it wasn't really over until the 4th quarter.) But I'm sure the conventional wisdom will be for a high scoring MN/N.O game and a low scoring Indy/Jets. We'll see.