This weekend sees the start of the NFL playoffs, as we have reached the point where there are just eleven games left to play in the 2014 season. Before getting onto my predictions for each of those games, here’s a quick rundown of the main action from Week 17:
- Baltimore labored to victory over the Browns, but their eventual success was enough to earn them the 6th seed in the AFC, as the Chargers were beaten by the Chiefs. The win for the Ravens meant that both Kansas City and Houston were eliminated, despite having victories in their final contests of the season.
Seattle clinched the number 1 seed in the NFC, despite struggling in the first half of their game with the Rams. Green Bay earned the other bye in the conference, as Aaron Rodgers overcame a leg injury to lead the Packers to yet another home victory over the Lions.
- Carolina won in Atlanta to claim the NFC South with an unimpressive record of 7-8-1. However, they get to host the flailing Cardinals in the opening round of the playoffs, so a sub-500 team could once again win a postseason game, just like the Seahawks did in 2010.
- Tampa Bay rallied from a 20-7 fourth-quarter lead over the Saints to lose 23-20 and guarantee for themselves the first pick in the this year’s draft. It was a particularly impressive defeat as it required New Orleans to: a) score 9 points inside the final 2 minutes; and b) not tank themselves so as to avoid having to face quarterback – and likely number 1 pick – Marcus Mariota twice a season for the next decade.
- I ended the regular season with a 7-9 week picking against the spread, to bring my final total to 133-123.
Wild Card Weekend Predictions
Home teams in bold
Panthers -4.5 over Cardinals
Although Carolina ended the season with a losing record, compared with Arizona’s 11-5 mark, the two teams have been on opposite trajectories over the last month. The Cardinals will be forced to start Ryan Lindley in this playoff game and, despite the strength of their defense, I do not think they will be able to score enough points to beat the Panthers.
Ravens +3.5 over Steelers
In week 9, Pittsburgh beat the Ravens by 20 points and Ben Roethlisberger threw for six touchdown passes. However, the weather in western Pennsylvania calls for snow and ice on Saturday night, plus the Steelers will be without their star running back, Le’Veon Bell, due to injury. Also, Joe Flacco has a proven track record on the road in playoff games and I think that Baltimore will pull off an upset.
Colts -6 over Bengals
Not only is AJ Green a doubt for this game with a concussion, but to pick Cincinnati, you would have to believe that Andy Dalton can win in the postseason, on the road no less. I will take Indianapolis and Andrew Luck over the Bengals, especially since they beat them 27-0 earlier in the season.
Lions +8 over Cowboys
My upset special for the opening weekend: I think that not only will Detroit cover in this game, but they will win outright and progress to face Seattle in the divisional round. Maybe it is just that, as a Packers fan, I would rather face the Cardinals or Panthers next week than the Cowboys, but I think that the Lions’ defense will cause issues for Dallas. Add to that the fact that most people were tipping the Cowboys to be one of the worst teams in football before the season began, so everything is gravy from here-on out; Tony Romo’s ability to capitulate, despite his strong showing in December; and the fact that DeMarco Murray has already carried the ball 392 times in 2014, I think Detroit has a great shot this Sunday. Of course, it will mean that Matt Stafford will have to beat a winning team on the road for the first team in his career (0-16 to this point).