Let me be the first to say that we are getting the playoff matchups we’ve all wanted all along.
We have three great teams, and the Patriots, in the last round of the playoffs. It doesn’t get any better if you’re a fan of football.
Let’s dig in with some analysis of the games.
I’m 3-4-1 picking playoff games. All lines are from the Las Vegas Hilton, via Vegas Insider, and are accurate as of Friday morning.
The Denver Broncos are 5.5-point favourites at home against New England (3 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
I love the Patriots. I don’t understand why everyone else hates them. I root for the Eagles, but the Patriots are the team I watch the second-most since their games are on TV all the time. I’m a bit of a front runner, so I find myself irrationally pulling for the Pats, even if I don’t consider myself a “fan” of the Patriots.
I’m still upset they lost the Super Bowl to the Giants to go 18-1. ESPN personality Tony Kornheiser always says that you want to see excellence rewarded in sports, and I agree with that. I wanted to see a team go undefeated. I wanted to witness history. It would have been neat. Instead, the Pats lost and the rest of the season was basically tossed out.
The Patriots exemplify everything we should like in sports. They have a handsome, but not arrogant quarterback. They have a genius coach, who is lovably gruff and terse. Sure he’s a jerk to the media, but so what? Do people really like the media? Could you imagine having to deal with all the bozo questions the media asks? Gag. The Patriots win, and they win with castoff players. This isn’t the New York Yankees buying a great team. This is a coach building a great team.
So why are the Pats public enemy number one? Because of Spygate? Bleh. Who cares.
Of all the teams left in the playoffs, the Patriots are the most flawed, the least complete. They’ve lost so many key players on offence and defence that it’s amazing they’re in this game, and a lot of people are picking them to win.
That’s why I joked that they’re the only team left that’s not great. This team is a testament to Bill Belichick’s unparalleled coaching ability.
There is no coach that has done it as well for as long as Belichick. The league has evolved so much through the years, and yet he’s still churning out wins. It’s stunning that other coaches haven’t figured him out.
You could give all the credit to Tom Brady. Brady is great. But this year? Without Rob Gronkowski, Brady has been decidedly meh as a passer.
At the end of October, ProFootballTalk wrote: “Just about any way you slice it, Brady is having his worst season. In his previous 11 seasons as the Patriots’ starter, Brady never had a completion rate lower than 60 per cent and never had a passer rating lower than 85. This year Brady’s completion rate is 55.4 per cent and his passer rating is 75.3.”
Brady improved, but then he regressed according to Bill Barnwell at Grantland: “After the Gronk injury, he posted one heavy-volume game against the Dolphins followed by three mediocre performances, in which he has completed less than 55 per cent of his passes and averaged just 164 passing yards per contest.” (He lost that Dolphins game.)
This isn’t all his fault. Brady has no one to throw the ball to. His receivers are not elite at all. As a result, the Patriots ran the ball like crazy last week.
The weird thing about Patriots taking the ball out of Brady’s hands is that it might be the best thing for the team. Even if he had a great group of receivers.
You see, I have this theory on Brady: He’s a complete and utter mad man who is so competitive that he gets wound too tight in big games now. He gets nervous, makes bad decisions, and misses throws he normally makes.
He’s a lot like Tiger Woods. Both are transcendent talents who were clutch early in their careers. As time has progressed they’ve kept the aura of invincibility, but the reality of the situation is that in the biggest moments they turn into normal athletes who get nervous. They’re ageing and they know there are only so many chances left in their careers, so they press.
By leaning on the run, Brady doesn’t have to press. He doesn’t have the pressure of using his transcendent talents to win the game. This takes some pressure off, and allows him to play a little bit more freely.
But, in this game he’s playing against Peyton Manning, who I think is a better quarterback by a slim margin. The Broncos game against the Chargers ended up being close last minute, but really Manning was in control the whole way. He ran the ball when he needed to run the ball. And when he had to win the game with a few completions, he did that.
I see these teams being fairly even. Both have weak defenses, so that’s a draw. The Patriots have a better coach, so that’s a point for them. But, the Broncos are at home with a better offence, so that gives them the edge.
I like the Broncos to win, but the points make me nervous. Can they really win by six points? Four of the last five games between Brady and Manning have been decided by 5 or less.
I’m picturing the Broncos winning 31-28. So, gulp, I’ll take the points.
The pick: Patriots +5.5
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
The Seattle Seahawks are 3.5-point favourites at home against San Francisco (6:30 p.m. Sunday, FOX)
I love Jim Harbaugh. (I love lots of stuff, it seems.)
I love his superstitions, I love his emotion on the field, and above all, I love his coaching talent. The 49ers were left for dead, and he instantly turned them around.
But as much as I love Harbaugh, I get annoyed by the 49ers. Early in the season I picked them, and they would lose. Then suddenly they started winning. They haven’t lost in two months now.
When I watch the 49ers, I’m always convinced they’re going to lose. I watched almost every minute of their game against the Panthers last week and for the life of me I can’t explain to you how they won the game. There’s nothing flashy or dynamic about the team. Colin Kaepernick has his moments of brilliance. When he takes off running, it’s always breathtaking. Likewise, though, when he throws, you hold your breath a little. He has a big wind up and it’s always a little surprising to see him complete a pass.
The 49ers defence is good, but not awe-inspiring.
The Seahawks defence, on the other hand, is awe-inspiring. They talk trash, they hit hard and they just look unhinged out there. Russell Wilson, the Seahawks QB, isn’t playing particularly well, and I expect him to struggle against the 49ers.
But, the Seahawks defence, and their homefield advantage should be enough to win.
For our purposes, however, picking a winner isn’t enough. We have a 3.5 point spread to deal with. I think the Seahawks win 24-20.
The pick: Seahawks -3.5
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.