After losing both Saturday games, I won both on Sunday, including my best bet, the Packers. Maybe I should have taken Seattle as the obvious sharp home dog play, but you could have said the same thing about the Chiefs, and obviously that was dead wrong. The bottom line, I really don't care much about the sharp/square angle in the playoffs, and again I've simply picked the teams I think are better or getting enough points to make the difference.
Ravens +3 at Steelers
It's not much of a challenge to imagine how this game will go. In fact, it's hard to see it as anything but a close, hard-fought, low-scoring physical game. If it turns out to be something else - regardless of who wins - that might be as surprising as the Seahawks beating the Saints last week. In any event, I don't see how you can refuse the points in a game like this with an O/U of 37. Personally, I think the Ravens are the slightly better team as Pittsburgh was blown out at home by the Patriots, and Baltimore's four losses were in Atlanta (barely), at New England (barely, thanks to some questionable calls), to the Steelers (barely due to a late sack fumble) and at Cincinnati by five points in Week 2. Back Baltimore who wins outright.
Ravens 17 - 16
Packers +2.5 at Falcons
Scott Pianowski and Mike Salfino summed this one up pretty well in the Breakfast Table - Green Bay's the better team, Atlanta's at home and has the better coach (and all that implies). The sharps seem to be all over Atlanta, but like last week, I really don't care. Green Bay's defense is too good, and Aaron Rodgers is still miles ahead of Vanilla Ice and his 6.5 YPA. Back Green Bay and hope Mike McCarthy doesn't **** it up.
Packers 23 - 19
Seahawks +10 at Bears
Seattle's a great story if you're moved by the triumph of mediocrity, but that game was at home, and the Saints still scored 36 points. Who knew Gregg Williams' defense that held up so well in Atlanta a couple weeks ago would play so terribly? Who knew safety Malcolm Jenkins should have been the league MVP, if you go by how the team would have fared without him? In any event, the Bears defense in Chicago will be another degree of difficulty for the Seahawks, and the Bears' offensive line is simply not the same unit Seattle decimated in Week 6. I don't expect this game to be close. Back the Bears.
Bears 34 - 10
Jets +9 at Patriots
This is the only game on the slate that gave me real trouble. I can't decide whether the Patriots are truly in a different class than the rest of the league. They certainly played like it in the second half with blowout wins at Chicago, at Pittsburgh and against the Jets. But you look at the personnel on both sides of the ball, and it seems like they're getting it done by outsmarting opponents, making the right play calls and reads. Unlike the 1986 Giants or 1985 Bears who fielded overwhelming defenses with playmaking Hall of Famers that were nearly impossible to scheme against, or the 1984 Niners with arguably the best quarterback, receiver and offensive coach in the history of the game (as well as the best secondary in the league), the Pats have only the greatest coach, the greatest quarterback and mostly a bunch of useful role players. But looking at the names is usually a mistake. An elite team is greater than the sum of its parts, and individual greatness is a lot easier to recognize after the fact. Tom Brady in 2001, a total nobody, is perhaps the best example of that. Maybe the Pats players don't strike us as good because only Bill Belichick understands what makes them good, and we'll be on board with Deion Branch being an elite possession receiver in the right system (like Wes Welker) if Branch hangs around 2-3 more years. Two Welkers, two tight ends that are much better than we realize, versatile running backs, everyone on the same page, everyone trustworthy and reliable. Maybe there's a level of cohesion here that's beyond our ability to appreciate properly.
On the other hand, the Jets have two legitimate deep threat receivers, a brutalizing power running game (though Damien Woody is out), the best cover corner in the world and a solid run defense. Their weaknesses are twofold: (1) They have trouble getting pressure without blitzing, and you can't blitz Brady; (2) Their quarterback is erratic and a little banged up.
You have to think Rex Ryan will do what he did last week against Peyton Manning - drop a lot players into coverage, concede the run and drill receivers who catch short throws. It could work, but Belichick is not Jim Caldwell, and you can be sure the Pats are adjusting to what they saw from the Jets last week. Moreover, unlike the Colts who had only three options (Reggie Wayne was eliminated entirely by Darrelle Revis, leaving them with just Blair White, Jacob Tamme and Pierre Garcon), the Patriots will present Tom Brady with more targets who are better integrated into their system. Finally, while the Jets second half in Indy was impressive, that Colts team struggled all year and was actually life and death with the Titans at home in a must-win game the week before.
The bottom line - I'm taking the Pats off the bye week to pull away at home.
Patriots 27 - 17
We were 2-2 in the Wild Card round and 126-125-5 on the season. We were 131-122 last year against the spread. From 1999-2009 we've gone 1439-1262 (53.3%, not including ties)