We’re going to go more in depth with our pick ’em in the playoff rounds, breaking down each game and giving a score for each pick in addition to the pick against the spread.
N.Y. Jets at Cincinnati (Bengals favored by 3) – It’s hard to take the Bengals seriously here after the Jets whipped them 37-0 last week. But that game was in the Meadowlands, and it’s at least possible that the Bengals were actually picking their opponents by opting for the Jets instead of the more offensively potent Texans. While the Bengals couldn’t stop the Jets’ running game last week, they have the ability to put 8 in the box this week and force Mark Sanchez to beat them. If that happens, my money’s more on Sanchez throwing a crucial pick to Leon Hall or Johnathan Joseph than on him beating those corners repeatedly. The Bengals will probably need that pick to beat the Jets, because Cincinnati’s offense will struggle again to do much against the Jets’ No. 1 D. Having Cedric Benson will help, but either Chad Ochocinco will have to beat Darrelle Revis, or Laveranues Coles or Andre Caldwell will need to break loose for a big play. This should be a tight, low-scoring game, but the take here is that the Bengals get a big play (most likely on a pick) to get the playoff win. Of course, if one of the Jets goes low on Carson Palmer, all bets are off, but for now we’ll say Cincinnati 20, N.Y. Jets 16.
Philadelphia at Dallas (Cowboys favored by 4) – In rematch No. 2, the Eagles try to overcome the Cowboys after losing 24-0 in Jerry’s World last week. Maybe the Cowboys have figured out a way to stop DeSean Jackson – they’ve done better than any other team this year – and if that’s the case Dallas has a big edge. But Philly has more dynamic targets than Dallas with Jackson, Brent Celek, and Jeremy Maclin. But the Eagles don’t have much a running game, and that could prove a problem if Jackson can’t break free. Dallas will be a little more pedestrian on offense, but with a running game that’s working well now and Jason Witten, plus Miles Austin for the big play, Dallas should be able to move the ball. The Cowboys did a good job against the Eagles’ blitz schemes last week, and if they can do that again they’ll be in good shape. All the history says pick the Eagles – Philly has won six straight playoff openers, and Dallas hasn’t won in the postseason since ’96 – and the talent levels of the teams are equivalent. But we get the sense that the matchup factors will lead to Dallas 27, Philadelphia 20.
Baltimore at New England (Patriots favored by 3.5) – In the one new matchup we get to see this weekend, the Patriots take on a Ravens team that’s better than its 9-7 record. Baltimore shot itself in the foot in several games this year, but the overall talent level was good enough to overcome that and still make the playoffs. Now that the Ravens are in the playoffs, they’re a threat. The Ravens have a solid running game with Ray Rice behind a stud offensive line, and Joe Flacco has shown a propensity of getting the ball downfield even though his receivers don’t always have the stickiest hands. They should find some pretty good sledding against a Patriots defense that doesn’t have the sting that it has in the past. But the Pats should also find some good plays in their passing game, because Baltimore’s biggest weakness is at cornerback. The gut feeling here is that New England will need a huge game from Randy Moss to win – something like 150 yards and two scores – and that they’ll get it to the tune of New England 31, Baltimore 26.
Green Bay at Arizona (Cardinals favored by 1) – I don’t want to rule out the Cardinals, who still have as much upside as any team in the league. Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald know what it means to show up and carry their team in the playoffs, and talents like Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson should be even better this year now that they have some postseason experience. But with injuries to Anquan Boldin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looming this week, my sense is that the Cards will give up a touchdown too many to Green Bay’s prolific passing game. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been in the playoffs before, but he’s had a phenomenal year, and if he doesn’t choke he should be set to put up big numbers this week. And Green Bay’s solid defense, while it won’t shut out the Cards, should do a better job than many teams of holding them down. Both of these teams are dangerous, but we’re smelling a mild upset – Green Bay 34, Arizona 28.
Last week – 8-6 college, 1-4 pro
Season – 62-82-3 college, 54-59-2 pro, 116-141-5 overall
(and by the way, we’re taking Texas +4 against Alabama in our final college pick of the year)