Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pick 'Em? Oh, Why Not?

Predictions are onerous. However, a blog that doesn't contain something resembling regular posting is even more onerous, so here we go.

Last season, three of the four NFL divisional playoff games were won by the visiting team over the home club that had had the bye week during the wild card round. This is the exact opposite of what happens most seasons, and has led to a heightening of the customary boost in support for the wild-card winners based on the ever popular "the last thing I saw will happen again" school of football analysis.

This effect is even more pronounced because two of the wild-card winners playing this weekend, today in fact, did indeed beat home teams in last year's divisional round -- the Cardinals and Ravens. While I am very fond of Arizona on aesthetic grounds, being an admirer of Kurt Warner and who can't love a team that lucks out in a 51-45 win, their chances of victory today seem remote. The Ravens on the other hand....

The Cardinals thrashed the Panthers last year because Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions. It is difficult to imagine Drew Brees doing the same. Considering their game last Sunday, if the Cards aren't at least a little fatigued by the fourth quarter, their strength and conditioning coach should be on the cover of next week's "Sports Illustrated."

The Ravens are at Indianapolis, playing the most enigmatic of clubs, the Colts. I mean, really, has there ever in NFL history been a team that has been as consistently excellent over a long period as the Colts while at the same time consistently looking so vulnerable and weak? Even their one Super Bowl victory was a model of inefficiency against a foe that had forgotten to bring a quarterback to the game.

The Colts have and always have had a systemic weakness. They are small on defense. Tony Dungy's framework of speed up front and many guys in zone coverage has left them susceptible to getting pushed around by teams which line up their overfed no-necks and blow off the line intent on violent collisions which will allow their runners to have mismatched violent collisions with Indy's willowy linebackers and DBs.

Does that sound like any club to you, those who were in attendance at Gillette Stadium last Sunday? The Ravens kicked the hell out of New England with that very same game plan. It's the only game plan they have. It's their identity. We're all pretty good at our identity.

In football, the slugger beats the boxer approximately 999 times out of 1000. So I'm picking Baltimore, right? Not exactly. I think the Ravens should win, but I'm damned if I'll say they will win.

It's simple. Peyton Manning is that 1000th boxer. I'm afraid of him. And if you're a Patriots fan, and you're honest, you'll admit you always are, too.

No shame in it. If he scares Bill Belichick, Manning ought to terrify mere bettors.


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