Wild Card picks
Two of the best football weekends of the year coming up, with two NFL games on Saturday, two games on Sunday, and only winning teams participating.
Washington (+3.5) at Seattle - 5-11. 4-12. 3-13. Those are the records of the worst three teams in the NFC. Each of which happens to reside in the NFC West. What's the point? The 10-6 Seattle Seahawks are a mirage. They were 3-3 in the NFC outside their division. They were 2-2 in interconference play. They are the epitome of mediocrity, playing in a division that's willing to reward them for it with a division title. (Yes, I'm a Patriots fan. Yes, the Patriots had Miami and the Jets in their division. All similarity ends there. Buffalo was two games better than the 2nd-place team in the NFC West, and the Patriots were, obviously, 10-0 outside their division.) The Redskins are unbeaten since Jason Campbell was replaced by Todd Collins, and one is forced to consider that Joe Gibbs won Super Bowls with Doug Williams and Mark Rypien, unspectacular but coachable pocket passers. Washington also comes into the playoffs as motivated and emotional as anyone in the game. That's not enough to beat New England or Indianapolis, but it might get them past the Cowboys or Packers, and should be more than sufficient to handle the overrated Seahawks.
Pick: Washington 31 - Seattle 21
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh (+2) - The Steelers are at home, and underdogs. Yes, the Jaguars finished with a better record than the Steelers. Yes, the Jaguars beat the Steelers at home a month ago. I'm going with Pittsburgh anyway. I wrote earlier this week about the "Patriots effect." When the Steelers lost to the Jaguars at Heinz last month, they were suffering from it. They had played in New England the week before, and came out flat, falling way behind Jacksonville before storming back to lose close and late. On paper, these are two evenly matched teams. Pittsburgh had a better point differential and pythagorean winning percentage, Jacksonville scored more points. I believe that the point spread on this game represents an overreaction to that one game.
Pick: Pittsburgh 27 - Jacksonville 24
NY Giants at Tampa Bay (-2.5) - There seemed to be joy in the Giants locker room following a loss on Saturday night, as they somehow achieved the never-before-seen feat of combining pyrrhic and moral victories in a loss. Ordinarily, you've got to, you know, win, to achieve the pyrrhic victory, but such was the magnitude of their moral victory that they actually think they won, so we'll give it to them anyway. They lost three starters during the game which did nothing, and they knew beforehand could do nothing, to move them towards their ultimate goal, post-season success. Now a huge portion of the punditocracy is jumping on the moral victory bandwagon. "Look at how well they played! They gained confidence! It was an important performance for Eli!" Hogwash. What it was was a loss in which they got physically beaten up in a meaningless game, while having weaknesses highlighted by the best game-planning team in the league. Remember the "Patriots effect?" It kicks in here with a vengeance.
Pick: Tampa Bay 24 - New York 13
Tennessee at San Diego (-9.5) - This would fall into the category of "saving the best for last," if this were going to be the best game of the weekend. Despite the fact that these two teams played into overtime just a few weeks ago, I'm thinking not. It is difficult to imagine the Titans team that squeaked past the 3rd-string Colts last weekend going out to San Diego and upsetting the Chargers, Norv Turner or no Norv Turner. This is the wild card game that has the best chance of getting out of hand, and if it does, it won't be the Titans on top. San Diego has not won a playoff game since the 1994 AFC Championship game. That last sentence is true today, but will not still be true on Monday.
Pick: San Diego 34 - Tennessee 16