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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

2015 NFL SEASON: DIVISIONAL ROUND




Me
WILD CARD
4-0
2-2



Here is an observation I saw after Wild Card Weekend.


Is The Ma’am correct with her observation about the divisional round matchups? Last week the four road teams – wild card teams – were favored over the home teams – division champions – and won their games.

And I picked the four wild card teams and I was correct.

I agree with Ms. Dunning’s observation on the caliber of quarterbacks that are playing in the divisional round. 6 of the 8 starting quarterbacks were drafted in the first round with four of them – Manning, Palmer, Smith, and Newton – were drafted first overall. Russel Wilson dropped to the third round in 2012 and has led the Seahawks to the playoffs every season since. Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft and he has had a fairly decent career: 4-2 in Super Bowls, 3-time Super Bowl MVP, 2-time league MVP.

Manning is likely a first ballot Hall of Famer when his career is done given his name is next to every significant passing statistic (yards, passing touchdowns, tied for regular season wins). While Ben Roethlisberger might not have the statistics and awards that Manning and Brady have, he is 2-1 in Super Bowls. The only Super Bowl he lost to was to the Packers in February 2011 quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers.

Three of the quarterbacks are not with the teams that originally drafted them. Peyton Manning was originally drafted by the Colts and played 13 seasons with them before sitting out the 2011 due to a neck injury and resuming his career with the Broncos in 2012. Alex Smith was labeled a bust in his stint with the 49ers but has revived his career in Kansas City leading them to two playoff appearances in three seasons. Carson Palmer was originally drafted by the Bengals, played for the Raiders briefly, and then re-emerged in Arizona.

Now about the eight teams remaining in the playoffs. I cannot remember when the NFL’s Elite Eight were as closely matched as they are. Winning the Super Bowl odds according to FiveThirtyEight are as follows:

TEAM
%
PER FIVETHIRTYEIGHT
Panthers
18
Cardinals
16
Chiefs
14
Broncos
14
Seahawks
13
Patriots
11
Steelers
8
Packers
7

Interesting that the defending champion Patriots have an 11% chance of winning the Super Bowl while their AFC divisional round opponent, the Chiefs, are tied for the highest AFC team with Denver. The combined odds of Pittsburgh and Green Bay (15) are greater than Kansas City, Denver, Seattle, or New England. Based on these odds, the top two NFC teams – Carolina and Arizona – should advance to the round while the AFC championship game, based on these odds, will be Denver and Kansas City.

That does not mean that these teams will definitely be playing into next Sunday. There was a bit of luck involved in why these teams advanced to the divisional round. The Steelers benefited from a late fumble by Jeremy Hill in the fourth quarter that put the Pittsburgh offense back on the field. A personal foul by linebacker Vontaze Burfict on receiver Antonio Brown followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put the Steelers in makeable field goal range to keep Pittsburgh’s season going.

Extreme cold weather conditions benefited the Vikings, but the Seahawks scored the only touchdown of the game. Minnesota drove to the Seattle 9 for what was essentially a chip shot field goal. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh shanked it wide left and the Seahawks quest for a third Super Bowl trip remains alive.

Now for the divisional round picks.

Chiefs at Patriots, 16 Jan 2016 CBS 2:30PM (MT)
The only point in last week’s playoff game between the Chiefs and Texans in Houston that was close was the coin toss. Kansas City returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and from then on the rout was on.

Houston tried a trick play that involved lining up linebacker JJ Watt in shotgun as part of a wildcat formation. That failed. On the next play, the regular quarterback returned and threw an interception. The score might have been 13-0 at that point, but to the Texans it probably felt like 42-0.

Remember me saying that the quarterback situation in Houston would doom the Texans? Bryan Hoyer threw for 4 interceptions, but he joins some interesting company. Roger Staubach and Dan Fouts are the only other quarterbacks to throw zero touchdown passes and 4 interceptions in a home playoff game and they are in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Another record of significance was realized in this game. The Chiefs had the third largest shutout win in NFL postseason history. The other times that happened was in the 1968 NFL championship game when the Colts defeated the Browns 34-0 who then went on to lose Super Bowl III to the Jets and the 1940 NFL championship game when the Bears blanked Washington 73-0.

The last time we saw the Patriots was two weeks ago in a 17-10 regular season finale loss at Miami that cost them homefield advantage in the playoffs. The Patriots are the 2-seed for the 5th time in the Brady-Belichick Era. Since 2000, the Patriots have advanced to the Super Bowl twice as the 2-seed.

The Chiefs may have brought out the lumber against the Texans, but this is a totally different opponent.

While the Patriots have several injured players, the Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is listed as questionable due to a high ankle sprain suffered last week. If he is unable to play, that could hinder the Chiefs offense. Maclin caught 87 passes for 1,088 yards, and 8 touchdowns.

Andy Reid has coached against the Belichick-led Patriots 5 times in his career. His record is 1-4 with his only win coming last season in a 41-14 blowout win in Week 4 on Monday Night Football. The last time Reid coached in a post-season matchup against the Patriots was in Super Bowl XXXIX. I expect the second matchup will be like the last one.

Patriots 24, Chiefs 17


Packers at Cardinals, 16 Jan 2016 NBC 6PM (MT)
Let’s look at the highlights when the last time the Cardinals and Packers played.


The Packers started slow against Washington, but eventually picked up the pace. Green Bay’s first four possessions in that game: punt, safety, punt, punt. On those first four possessions, three were three-and-outs and were for a grand total of 13 plays for 7 yards. The next five possessions were: touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown resulting in 32 points.

Do I see a repeat of the Week 16 matchup where the Cardinals sacked Rodgers 8 times before forcing him out of the game? Probably not. However, the Packers offense could match the high ranked Cardinals offense score for score, but they also have to face a top defense. The game will be much closer than when they last matched up, but not that close.

Cardinals 34, Packers 20


Seahawks at Panthers, 17 Jan 2016 FOX 11AM (MT)
A 1-6 matchup, this is no brainer. I pick the- hold on a second, it’s Seattle at Carolina.

In Week 6, Carolina snapped a 5-game losing streak to Seattle to keep their quest for perfection going. Carolina was perfect until their Week 16 matchup in Atlanta. Still, 15-1 is nothing to be ashamed about. Carolina clinched the NFC 1-seed by virtue of the Seahawks beating the Cardinals in Phoenix two weeks ago.

The last three times these teams met in Charlotte these have been low scoring defensive minded affairs with the Seahawks coming out on top each time. I expect this to be such a game. Carolina is 6th in points allowed but Seattle is 1st in points allowed. Carolina allowed 88 rush yards per game in the regular season, but Seattle allowed a league low 81 rush yards per game and also was 2nd allowing 210 passing yards per game.

And expect both teams to run the ball too. Carolina was second in rush yards per game with 142 while Seattle was in third with 141.

The things that Carolina has in their favor is they scored the most points (500) and had the best takeaway difference (+20) over the regular season. Those, especially turnovers, make the difference in the playoffs.

Panthers 20, Seahawks 16


Steelers at Broncos, 17 Jan 2016 CBS 2:30PM (MT)
The Steelers may have advanced and continued the Bengals post-season woes, but the victory came with a heavy price. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a shoulder ailment while wide receiver Antonio Brown has been ruled out due to a concussion.

At the start of the playoffs, I had Denver and Pittsburgh meeting in the divisional round with the Steelers advancing to the AFC Championship Game on the assumption of the team being at full strength. Now I am starting to doubt that prediction given the injury situation.

When these two teams met in Pittsburgh in December, Denver jumped out to a 27-13 halftime lead. The Broncos failed to score in the second half as Antonio Brown scored two of the Steelers’ three second-half touchdowns including the go-ahead score with 3:24 to play in the game.

Brown is that playmaker the Steelers have as he torched the Broncos secondary for 189 yards on 16 catches out of 18 targets and the previously mentioned two touchdowns. Can the Steelers offense function without Brown and a quarterback who is limited by his shoulder injury?

Then there is this: Denver has the #1 ranked offense by total yards and passing yards. Denver is fourth in points allowed per game; the only teams that are better than Denver in this category are Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Seattle. Kansas City and Seattle are playing this weekend.

The only wild card in all this is Peyton Manning.

Manning came off the bench two weeks ago to replace Brock Osweiler who was ineffective against in the Broncos win over San Diego two weeks ago. Manning will start against the Steelers, but if he starts to struggle like Osweiler did against the Chargers – or worse like Manning did at home against the Chiefs in November – don’t be surprised if Kubiak makes an in-game quarterback change.

And of course, Peyton Manning’s well documented playoff losses.

Okay, time to make a pick…

Broncos 17, Steelers 13

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