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 Indianapolis – The Colts are eight-point favorites against the upstart Jets, who continue to surprise some (at least me) with their playoff run. The Jets have made a habit of hanging around games and getting big plays at the end to win. While Mark Sanchez has provided some of those plays (with TD passes to Dustin Keller in both playoff games), fellow rookie Shonn Greene has been the bigger factor. Greene’s bruising yet speedy style could give the Colts trouble, because while the Colts D is fast it’s not especially big. However, the Colts were able to shut down Ray Rice and the Ravens running game last week, and that attack is probably a tick better than the Jets’ both at running back and on the offensive line. So that’s a positive sign for Indy on D. The question is whether Sanchez can make a few plays – he’ll need at least two, if not more – to keep the Jets even on the scoreboard with a high-powered Colts offense that will produce even against the mighty Jets D. Peyton Manning picks apart pressure better than anyone, which means that the Jets’ blitz-heavy scheme could end up being counter-productive. If Manning gets hit frequently or turns the ball over, the Jets have a shot. But the recent results, which tell us that Manning’s Colts beat Rex Ryan’s Ravens defense four straight times, indicate that Manning may not put a ton of points on the board but should be able to get the job done. A lot of experts have jumped on the Jets’ bandwagon, but that seems foolhardy. Instead, this game feels much like last year’s AFC championship game, in which the Ravens (featuring a Rex Ryan defense and a rookie quarterback) ran into a wall after recording two playoff wins. The bottom line is this – if you give me the choice between Manning and Sanchez in this big game, I’ll take Manning. I’ll even give the points and say Indianapolis 24, N.Y. Jets 14.
Minnesota at New Orleans – The Vikings were stunningly good last week, as their defensive line wreaked havoc like the Purple People Eaters of old. But it will be much harder for the Vikes to do that this week with the dome-noise factor against them instead of for them. The injury to Ray Edwards could be another complicating factor. And the bottom line is that without that pressure, the Vikings are in trouble. Minnesota definitely has advantages against Saints OLT Jermon Bushrod, who has been an admirable fill-in for Jammal Brown this year but isn’t an elite guy. But the Saints are strong inside on the offensive line, which could mitigate the impact of the Williams wall. And if Drew Brees gets even a moment of time, he can and will make the so-so Vikings secondary pay. The Saints’ breadth of targets is a real asset, because it will keep the Vikings from focusing on one guy to stop. And there are enough playmakers – Reggie Bush, Robert Meachem, Marques Colston, and Devery Henderson – that Minnesota’s secondary depth will be tested. So the Saints will score points. Here’s the rub – so will the Vikings. Brett Favre has been efficient all year, and like Brees he has a deep group of targets. The Saints shouldn’t be able to stop the passing attack, but they may be able to turn Favre over, which is likely their plan. Minnesota does have an advantage in the running game, although that hasn’t worked great over the past two months. There are ways for the Vikings to win – by running the ball and creating pressure – and if those things happen we’ll be wrong. But in the Superdome, we have a hunch that the pressure won’t be there for Minnesota, and we think it’s more likely for Favre to throw a big pick than it is for Peterson to run wild. That leads us to the Saints, and by more than the 4-point spread – New Orleans 31, Minnesota 26.
Last week – 1-3 pro
Season: 62-83-3 college, 56-65-2 pro, 117-145-5 overall