Tuesday, January 7, 2014

¡Que diablos! – Clown Without Pity’s 2014 Divisional Round Predictions

Okay, okay, so I’m a week late to the dance, a week late in making explicit predictions for this year’s annual wackiness we call the NFL Playoffs. Though I have no way of proving it with a dated blog post (the interweb equivalent of a USPS Delivery Confirmation), last week I went 2-2 with my picks; in the AFC, I picked the Colts but god knows, like everyone, I couldn’t have imagined that it would shake out the way it did. (In the Urban dictionary entry for “cray cray,” they should list the Chiefs vs. Colts 2014 Wild Card showdown as an example.) I also thought the Bengals would finally win without Norman “Boomer” Esiason as their quarterback; boy was I fucking wrong. (Never picking you again in the playoffs, Andy Dalton!) In the NFC I picked the Niners and Eagles to advance, pero basta con last week, which was so last week! Let me put on my thinking glasses and rub my temples in a prognosticating fashion.



Here’s what I predict:

New Orleans at Seattle
Back on December 2nd, the Saints played the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field with a faint hope of knocking Seattle off their course to the #1 seed in the NFC. It didn’t turn out so well for them: a 34-7 thrashing that convinced just about everyone—including me—that the Hawks were simply invincible at home until they lost to a Cardinal team that turned the ball over four times.

So Seattle’s pass defense is pretty fucking good, and the Saints offense struggled a bit against an inferior Eagles defense last week. The good news for Saints fans is that they ran the ball hard last week without their top back, Pierre Thomas, and their defensive line was more fierce than most anticipated. That was part of their Super-Bowl-winning recipe a few years back. I think this one will be closer than their matchup in December; might be a squeaker, but I think Seattle—despite their offensive struggles the past few weeks (Russell Wilson’s been sacked 44 times this season; not a comforting statistic if you’re a Hawks fan)—will prevail. And their fans will probably create seismic activity because they’re the 12th man any team would want.

Indianapolis at New England
Last week, the one game I was most unsure about was the Chiefs vs. Colts game; this week, I feel most confident about the outcome of this game and the Niners vs. Panthers showdown. I’m picking the Patriots. Simple reasoning: Belichick and Brady will have their team ready, and the Kansas City fucking Chiefs put up 44 points in Indianapolis without Jamaal Charles after the sixth play of the game. The Colts and Bolts (Who would The Dolts be in this league?) have been the most schizo teams this season, and who knows if that Colts defense will show up this week, but I doubt they will. And either way, Brady would patiently pick them apart, Gronk or no Gronk.

San Diego at Denver
Besides the Niner game, this is the one I’m most excited about this coming weekend. Back on December the 12th, the Chargers upset the Broncos in Denver with a decisive 27-20 victory. Nearly a month later, after the referees blew that Week 17 non-call on Ryan Succop’s missed field goal at the end of regulation that almost assuredly kept the Steelers out of the playoffs—my preseason pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl (hahahaha!)—here we are, with these two AFC West teams squaring off again in a win-or-go-fishing game. Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

Given their improbable road to the playoffs, and after watching their performance in Cincinnati last week, I have convinced myself that the Chargers are this year’s Baltimore Ravens. Philip Rivers has always been a fierce competitor, a fratty guy you hate when he talks smack and backs it up against your team but a dude you’d love to have on your team (I’m speaking for myself there; is it obvious I’m a long suffering Oakland Raider fan?) With a 69.5% completion percentage despite losing top wideout Danario Alexander before the season even started, I think Rivers is, without a doubt, having his most impressive season ever. While the national media loves to talk about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady’s chase for another ring, the ringless 32-year-old Rivers has been lost in the hype over those two Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterbacks. But he wants The Precious, too, right? And I’ll tell you this: Rivers can match those guys on any given Sunday, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he outduels them over the course of these playoffs.

With the exception of Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer, really good to excellent quarterback play is precedent in winning a Super Bowl in the increasingly pass-happy NFL, along with a good defense. Along with the Niners, the Chargers are the hottest teams right now, and it’s no coincidence that they’ve won six in a row with Melvin Ingram returning from injury. Right now, I’d rather take the Chargers defense over a lukewarm to weak Broncos defense without Von Miller. I’m taking the Chargers—and call me loco, but I think they’re going to the Super Bowl. (This coming from the guy who predicted that the Texans and Redskins would win their respective divisions and that the Panthers would finish 5-11.)

San Francisco at Carolina
Oh man, this is going to be a slugfest! A war of attrition. A gridiron version of the Thrilla in Manila. Or, to be more apt: Undertaker vs. Undertaker!!

These teams are so similar: young mobile quarterbacks who can throw darts all over the field; strong running games; stout-as-grout defenses, and punishing interior lines. Of course, this game is being played in Carolina instead of San Pancho for two reasons: 1) the zebras bullshit roughing call on Ahmad Brooks devastating clothesline sack against Drew Brees in Week 11, and 2) because the Panthers pummeled the Niners in Candlestick to a tune of 10-9 back in early November. Observe:

I think the Niners will avenge their loss to the Panthers. My logic:

• Over the past three years, Jim Harbaugh has consistently demonstrated how well he prepares his team. Sure, his staff can and have been outcoached, but usually not. On the other hand, this is Cam Newton and Riverboat Ron’s first trip to the playoffs. The Niners know how to handle these games. This is all new for the 12-4 Panthers, and I think at some point in the game it will become apparent. Slight to significant advantage: Niners
• Vengeance can be a peerless motivator, and
• Three words: Michael Crabtree’s back

How wrong will I be with my predictions? We’ll find out in a few days!

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