Divisional Playoffs (Saturday)

Going 2-0 last Sunday makes me feel a little better. Obviously things could have gone differently for the Seahawks. But the Vikings also had the ball on the Minnesota 18 and chose to run three times, rather than take a shot in the end zone.

I’ve got other fish to fry, so there won’t be a lot of involved discussion.

Green Bay At Arizona

Arizona beat Green Bay 38-8 two days after Christmas, and there is no reason to expect the rematch to go much differently than it did last time. Last month’s result was exactly what should happen, since:

  • Arizona finished second in points scored and Green Bay finished 12th in points allowed
  • Green Bay’s offense ranked 15th and Arizona’s defense ranked seventh

On offense, even without Chris Johnson, Arizona ran all over Green Bay. David Johnson, Kenwynn Williams and Andre Ellington combined for 24 carries, 123 yards and a TD. Carson Palmer hit seven receivers, led by Johnson and Michael Floyd for 269 yards and two scores. The Cardinal defense intercepted Aaron Rodgers and sacked him 9 times, producing 2 fumbles– one of which was returned for a score.

Let the record reflect that Seattle stomped the bejeezus out of Minnesota in the regular season– and the Vikings nearly beat them. And, of course, Green Bay looked like they had no chance against Seattle going into last season’s NFC Championship– and then led for much of the way.

I can think of only two things that might result in an upset.

1. Turnovers. The only thing that has beaten the Cardinals this season has been themselves. Despite forcing 33 turnovers– second in the NFL– they’re only +9 on the season. Five times this season, they turned the ball over at least three times. In all three losses– 24-22 to the Rams, 25-13 to the Steelers and 36-6 to the Seahawks– Arizona turned the ball over three times and didn’t force any.

The other two games were the 39-32 win over Seattle (3 giveaways, 1 takeaway) and the 34-20 win over Cleveland (4 giveaways, 2 takeaways).

If Green Bay had a defense that could force opponents into mistakes, that could be the way. But they had only 22 takeaways (19th in the league), and only one game (against the Rams) where they forced more than two).

2. The Bengal Quarterback Factor. Carson Palmer was drafted by Marvin Lewis, so you know he doesn’t have a history of clutch playoff performances. You could maybe give him a mulligan for his first game (in 2005). On his first pass attempt– a 66-yard strike to Chris Henry– he got knocked out of the game and the Bengals lost to Pittsburgh with Jon Kitna at the controls. In his second game (2009), he got humiliated by the Jets: 19-36 for 146 yards; a TD, an INT and a fumble (which the Bengals recovered).

Last year, when the Panthers whipped the Cardinals, Palmer missed the game with an injury.

It’s not very much to go on, and you could say “But that was a long time ago and he’s grown veteran savvy and experience…” But the number of players who suddenly turn their performance in playoff games around is very small.

But then Arizona doesn’t need Palmer to do a lot. Last year they went into the playoffs with their top two running backs injured and third-stringer Ryan Lindley doing his Brian Hoyer impression at quarterback. Carolina only managed to win 27-16

Let’s guess Rodgers does a little better than last time, but not enough.

Prediction: Arizona 27, Green Bay 13

Kansas City At New England

Here we have a matchup of two teams basically running on fumes.

I realize the Chiefs have won their last 11 games, but I simply refuse to believe the team is that good. The last five wins in the regular season came against the Raiders twice, and then Cleveland, San Diego and Baltimore (picking second, third and then sixth in the draft).

Then, last week, Brian Hoyer incinerated his career as a starter by getting intercepted four times (none on balls well-thrown), sacked three times, fumbling twice (losing one) and looking like Brandon Weeden on LSD.

I know Hoyer isn’t as bad a player as he looked last week… he can’t be. But he looked so terrible that Houston will simply have to get someone else, or they’ll lose the team and their fans.

Kansas City got a kick return for a TD and then it was just a matter of Kansas City wearing down the Texans’ defense and hoping that the Chiefs’ offense didn’t turn the ball over.

It’s funny… when Alex Smith was in San Francisco, I kept saying “He isn’t as bad as people think.” And now that he’s in Kansas City, I keep saying “He’s not as good as people claim.” 128 of his 190 yards passing came on throws to TE Travis Kelce. And the Chiefs only gained 56 yards rushing in the first half– most of it coming on the final drive, when the Texan defense was already gassed.

But then I look at New England…

  • Their #1 and #2 backs (LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis) are out for the year. It’s going to be 32-year-old Steven Jackson (picked up with the hope he has a few games left) and undrafted free agent Branden Bolden.
  • Other than TE Rob Gronkowski, they got nothing impressive at receiver. Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. Both Edelman (broken foot) and Amendola (knee) would be out if this were the regular season, but because it’s the playoffs, they’re gonna try to play.
  • The offensive line has one tackle out and another trying to play hurt. Tom “Deflategate” Brady had his third-worst season in terms of sacks.

The defense is pretty healthy, but it hasn’t been much good lately. New England lost four of their last six games (beating only Tennessee and Houston), and it wasn’t entirely because they were coasting. Losing to Denver and the Jets in overtime, maybe I can see. But losing to Philly and Miami? No.

The Patriots scored 142 points over the last six games and allowed 133. The only reason the margin is positive is that Bill Belicheat ran up the score in the two wins (they scored 60 and allowed 22).

So who wins? I think Carolina or Arizona could whale on either club. But here’s how I reason this out:

  1. Belicheat tends to win playoff games he shouldn’t win; Chiefs coach Andy Reid tends to lose playoff games he should.
  2. If the Patriots can put a lid on Kelce and Jeremy Maclin– and they can usually shut down 1-2 weapons in any game– Kansas City doesn’t have any weapons. Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware aren’t a threat– maybe you hope WR Chris Conley or Albert Wilson can have a big game.
  3. Smith has been pretty good in the playoffs, but Brady is better.
  4. Kansas City had a lot of problems shutting down Gary Barnidge when they played Cleveland. Gronkowski is a lot better.
  5. The Patriots have had two weeks to heal.
  6. The game is in Foxboro.
  7. What with David Bowie and Alan Rickman dying, it’s been a crappy week and a New England win will top it off.

Prediction: New England 21, Kansas City 10


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