Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
We went 2-2 in the divisional round of the playoffs, missing badly on the Colts-Ravens and Seahawks-Bears, but calling the exact score on the Eagles-Saints and nearly doing the same on Patriots-Chargers. What does it mean that we were so right on two, and so wrong on two? Probably nothing. It's just the way it shook out. Incidentally, all the underdogs covered.
CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES
Saints +2 at Bears
We took the Bears last week as a contrarian play - most of the action was on Seattle and for good reason - it was too obvious, and we felt that big line was a setup by the book of sorts. Of course, that was overthinking it, as the Bears really aren't anything special, and even a mediocre Seattle squad was able to play them to a regulation draw at home. This week, it's the same thing, only the opponent is better, and the line is smaller. But if Seattle was essentially 50/50 against Chicago, shouldn't the Saints, a far better team, be a better bet than that? Probably. It's just worth keeping in mind that every week's different, and football's not transitive, i.e., just because A beats B, and B beats C doesn't mean A can or will beat C. So that the Saints were far better than the Seahawks all year doesn't necesarily mean that they'll do far better than the Seahawks against the Bears, i.e., win the game. It's just different, and the players match up differently, and the game will be played under different weather conditions among other things.
That said, the Saints are far better offensively, both running and throwing the ball, and Chicago's defense looks like an average unit of late, giving up yards and points to the Bucs, Lions, Packers and Seahawks the last several weeks. Moreover, as Cris Collinsworth pointed out on "Inside the NFL," the Saints had no problem against the Giants in terrible windy conditions at the Meadowlands in part because they can run the ball so well. In short, the contrarian in both of us has a Bears feeling - everyone's all over the Saints, and it seems so obvious they're the better team at this point, but winning on the road in the playoffs is never easy, especially in a cold weather venue, and with this small line that's essentially what the Saints would have to do. Still, sometimes you just have to go with the team you think is better, even if you suspect you're being a sucker. Back New Orleans.
Saints 27 - 24
Patriots +3 at Colts
We don't much like the Colts and Peyton Manning, and we'd enjoy seeing them lose yet again to Bill Belichick's and Tom Brady's Patriots, but we get the sense that's not going to happen for a couple reasons. First, the playoffs have shaken out perfectly for Indy - at the start, they weren't the favorite - not only were they underdogs in Baltimore, but the Chargers were also considered a better bet in the AFC. By winning two games, including one in which they were underdogs, they've already exceeded their initial postseason expectations. That should take some of the pressure off. Secondly, they still have home field advantage because the Pats knocked off the Chargers. In other words, they have the best of both worlds - the lack of pressure associated with being the prohibitive favorite and also the home field advantage. In the past, they had to choose one or the other, but this year, they finally have both.
From New England's perspective, this strikes us as letdown game. Consider that they vanquished their bitter rival, the Jets, in Round 1, then they slew Goliath on the road in Round 2, and now all they have to do is beat the team they knock out every year. Sure, it's the AFC title game, and they know how good Manning is, but the familiarity has an anticlimactic feel to it. They got their opponents out of order, while the Colts were able to build one step at a time to the ultimate showdown with their greatest nemesis. And the game's in Indy, to boot.
Now Belichick is undoubtedly going to come up with a great game plan, and Tom Brady isn't going to get rattled. And the Colts defense isn't as good as they've played the last couple games. Still, the way this game is set up, we think it plays into Indy's hands. They'll be ready, and they'll get the bounces, as Manning finally gets to the Super Bowl. Back the Colts.
Colts 27 - 17
We were 2-2 in the divisional playoff games to put us at 3-5 in the postseason. We went 139-108-9 on the regular season. From 1999-2005, we were 918-790 - not including ties - (53.7 percent).
Article first appeared 1/17/07