Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
We looked like geniuses on Saturday, correctly picking the Green Bay blowout win, and missing the exact score of the Pats-Jags game by just one point. But then Sunday came around, and our best bet, the Colts, lost outright, and our Cowboys pick (thankfully) fell through also. All things considered it was a good weekend because best case was 3-1 (with Dallas losing outright), and we went 2-2.
This week, the lines are both just about right, and that made it hard to pick. I like the resilience that both the Giants and Chargers showed last week in difficult circumstances - New York coming back after Dallas' clock eating drive in the second quarter, and San Diego winning despite missing most of its key offensive skill players. But it's going to be hard to maintain that level of focus against the other bye-week teams that won't be rusty from a two-week layoff. It calls to mind the Jets being in that position in '83 after the strike, beating the 7-2 Bengals in Round 1, then winning against top-seeded 8-1 Oakland in Round 2. But then they had to go to Miami and face the No. 2 seed, and lost on a muddy track. I also remember Tom Coughlin's Jaguars (with a young, dynamic Mark Brunell), shocking top-seed Denver in the divisional round, but losing to an inferior Patriots team in the AFC title game. Of course, once in a while, the upstart will break through, like Pittsburgh in 2005, or the Ravens in 2000, but the Jets and Jaguars come to mind more strongly for some reason when I think of this year's underdogs.
In the end, we're pretty sure at least one favorite will cover, and possibly two. Put differently, we'd expect only one underdog to cover at most, and as such, we think the smart play is the two favorites.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Chargers +14 at Patriots
San Diego played a shockingly good game in Indianapolis last week, so much so that it makes us wonder whether there was something wrong with the Colts. The Chargers defense got pressure on Peyton Manning all day, their offensive line protected Philip Rivers and Rivers himself played very well against one of the league's top pass defenses, despite a gimpy and largely ineffective Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson missing the second half. Rivers should be okay to play this week, though he'll likely be even less mobile than usual, Tomlinson should play, though the Michael Turner/Darren Sproles combo is almost as good, and Gates will try to play in a hobbled state.
The Patriots won by taking what the Jaguars gave them last week, dinking and dunking down the field when Jacksonville doubled Randy Moss. While the Jaguars limited the big plays, they died a slow and painful death instead.
The Chargers are better suited to play that style of defense with their fierce pass-rushing linebackers and better cover corners. It probably won't be enough though unless Rivers replicates last week's performance again in New England. Not that New England's pass defense is as good as Indy's, but the game will be played outdoors rather than in the dome, and unlike the Colts, the Patriots rarely show up flat in the playoffs. Back New England.
Patriots 30 - 13
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Giants +7 at Packers
The key to the Giants wins the last two games has been their solid pass defense and Eli Manning's sound decision making. They've accomplished the former while missing key members of their secondary, and the latter with a quarterback for whom a two-game good-play streak (three if you count the Pats' game in Week 17), has people talking about him as if he's a changed man. Can the Giants keep it up in sub-zero temperatures against the Packers? Maybe. But Green Bay's 8-1 at home this year including last week's win, they outscored Seattle 42-6 after giving up 14 points early, Brett Favre thrives in cold temperatures and the Packers don't have a lot of weaknesses on either side of the ball. So we're betting against it (and once again, I hope we're wrong). Take the Packers.
Packers 23 - 14
We went 2-2 against the spread on the divisional games last week, to put us at 5-3 for the playoffs. We were 127-120-9 on the regular season. We were 139-108-9 last season. From 1999-2006, we were 1057-898 - not including ties - (54.1 percent).
Article first appeared 1/17/08