Saturday, January 10th
(6) Baltimore Ravens @ (1) New England Patriots -7.5
4:35 PM, NBC, Foxborough, MA
It’s starting again. Peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and meatballs, Anita Baker’s music and Saturday morning grocery shopping, Joe Flacco and road playoff games.
Since 2010, Steady Joe is 5-1 in road playoff games with an average passer rating of 101.4. For the playoffs both road and home, Joe currently has a streak of 5 games with a passer rating above 100.
The passing game is humming for the Ravens, but the running game is sputtering to start. Justin Forsett was a fantasy workhorse in reality during the regular season, but his production started to trickle off towards the end of the season. He finished the regular season with just 1 of the Ravens’ final 5 games having over 100 yards rushing—he was held beneath 50 in 3 of those games.
The sliding production numbers carried into the playoffs where Forsett’s 16 carries last week against the Steelers resulted in just 36 yards.
Flacco is certainly the keystone, but Forsett definitely needs to be a reliable supporting piece if the Ravens want to advance.
Often times it’s basketball where a single player can make a huge impact on a team’s success. The NFL reserves such discrepancy in quality of a team nearly every time for the quarterback position. However, the Patriots are changed entirely by the presence of a tight end: Rob Gronkowski.
All it took was 4 forearm surgeries, 2 back surgeries, and a knee surgery, but with plates, screws, bolts, and an arm brace that may or may not transform into a miniature bazooka, he’s as good as new.
The result on the field is undeniable. Will Brinson of CBS Sports found that from the years 2012-2014 Tom Brady is completing 6.2% more of his passes, 44 more yards per game, and .8 more yards per attempt with Gronk than without.
Add to the Gronk production the way that New England turns random people from off of the street into all star running backs and the Patriots look to have an offense cranking unlike any they’ve had in the past few seasons.
Here’s where things get tasty:
The Ravens simply don’t give a bleep about heading to New England to play football games, especially when one and done. Tom Brady, on the other hand, does.
Brady has a career playoff home record of 12-3. Against the Ravens at home in the playoffs Brady is 1-2, and the stats in those games are somewhat alarming for their fans. Brady has 3 TDs, 7 INTs, and an average passer rating of 56.3 in those 3 games. Maryland blue crabs seem to travel well to the land of clam chowder. I need to eat something.
Winner ATS: Baltimore
(4) Carolina Panthers @ (1) Seattle Seahawks -11
8:15 PM, FOX, Seattle, WA
78. That number sounds like a great opening drive to a game, pounding the ball down the opponents’ throats and putting an emphatic 7 points on the board that feel more like 21. It also sounds like an unobtainable single-season home run total that if reached would throw the baseball world into a chaotic whirlwind no different than the reaction if scientists confirmed an apocalyptic event with a precise countdown clock.
Both of these situations are not the particular 78 mentioned. No. This 78 was the total yardage put up by the Arizona Cardinals against the Carolina Panthers in the wild card weekend of the 2015 NFL playoffs.
Not a single person outside of Ryan Lindley should be concerned about what the Cardinals’ offensive output means for the Cardinals in the future. However, the Panthers should be concerned about what that output means for their own future.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 4, 2015
Despite 78 yards and a difference of nearly an entire quarter’s worth of time of possession, the Panthers didn’t exactly dominate. 5-for-17 on 3rd and 4th down combined; 8 penalties for 80 yards; 3 turnovers, which included a muffed punt that will get you crucified on a team like the Patriots; and surrendering 16 points on those lowly 78 yards are all numbers that simply will not fly going into CenturyLink Field where the fans seem to cheer doubly loud in that they do so for both the Seahawks and themselves and the whole 12th man thing through some narcissistic channeling of self importance. There, I said it.
Sure, as I said last week, the Panthers look competent and dangerous during their now 6-game winning streak. I still see it all as NFL fool’s gold. There was a lot of playing the results after the Panther’s win last week where analysts said, “Throw out the records and the stats of the regular season.” Uh, take it easy, hombre.
Jonathan Stewart ran for over 100 yards for just the 3rd time this season, which contributed to 12 of the Panthers’ 25 first downs. Cam Newton completed 56.2% of his passes, just over 2 percent less than his season average. And as a whole, the Panthers had an average starting field position of their own 37.7-yard line on their 14 drives and produced points on only 5 of them.
ESPN stats and information came out with a stat that said Newton completed just 47.8% of his passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage and was off target on 35% of such throws. Both of these were below the season average from NFL quarterbacks. In addition, to come away with an 11 point victory against a team whose quarterback had a QBR of 6.1 and whose backs rushed for just 27 yards (78, people) just doesn’t feel like the type of performance that will be needed going against the number 1 defense in the league.
Basketball and football are related in that there are teams, brown leather balls, clocks, and locker rooms. The Detroit Pistons recently waived Josh Smith in an attempt to shake a spiraling team ready to enter the ping-pong ball sweepstakes. Since the trade, the Pistons have gone 6-0 and are absolutely eviscerating opponents by averages around 20 points. That streak includes the defending champion Spurs and the championship hopeful Mavericks last night.
Is it really possible that getting rid of one guy can affect the entire landscape of a sports team’s culture? Apparently, the answer is yes because there’s more than one case across more than one sport. The Seattle Seahawks looked to have no hangover after winning the Super Bowl last season by trouncing the Green Bay Packers at home to kick off the 2014-15 season. It turns out that the Seahawks were still drunk and didn’t have that hangover quite kick in yet.
The Seahawks subsequently went 2-3 with news reports that there were rifts within the locker room and rumors that players felt Russell Wilson was not black enough. Yeah.
News then surfaced that the Seahawks were looking to expand Percy Harvin’s role in the offense. Either that was a masterful ruse by Pete Carroll to keep his locker room in check without ticking anyone off or he’s one cold-blooded mother dude who meant exactly what he said and trading Harvin was the plan.
Either way, the Seahawks, much like the Pistons’ success, went 9-1 in the remainder of their schedule while simultaneously revamping their defensive strategies and climbing back into the discussion of Super Bowl contenders and favorites while sitting atop the NFC.
Seattle closed the regular season with a 6-game winning steak against 3 divisional opponents and the explosive Philadelphia offense. In 5 of those 6 games, the Seahawks held opponents to at or under 7 points, while the 6th game lead to just 14 points out of the Eagles who averaged 29.6 points per game. The only thing looking to stop the Seahawks going into the playoffs was injury, which they might have to work around.
The Seahawks will be without defensive tackle Jordan Hill for the rest of the season who soaked up QBs for 5.5 sacks in the Seahawks’ last 6 games. Meanwhile, the Panthers lost defensive tackle Star Lotulelei to a broken foot.
Regardless, the Panthers will have to run the ball if they hope to get a win in Seattle. The Panthers ran the ball for 114 yards in the week 8 match up between these teams in the regular season. The problem for the Panthers was a dismal 2-for-10 3rd down efficiency. Otherwise, the Panthers possessed the ball for over half of the game and limited the rushing of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson.
In the end, the Carolina defense was historically good last week based mostly upon situational circumstances. Show me that defense again against the Seahawks in Seattle and you can then color me impressed.
Winner ATS: Seattle
Sunday, January 11th
(3) Dallas Cowboys @ (2) Green Bay Packers -6.5
1:05 PM, FOX, Green Bay, WI
It’s tough to say what was more interesting, the way the Cowboys didn’t crumble and deflate in a round of the playoffs or the at times melodramatic theatrics of the owner’s box where owner Jerry Jones and New Jersey governor Chris Christie shared laughs, nervous sweat, and one of the more uncomfortable looking “hugs” I’ve ever seen two people who were supposedly old cronies share.
Can Chris Christie be impeached for this? — Neil Best (@sportswatch) January 5, 2015
The whole flag debacle has everyone that doesn’t have an allegiance to the blue star questioning the ethics of the refs, league, and television executives who are now salivating at the amount of cheddar they’ll be making off of these two franchises playing one another.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys escaped the one game that looked to be the toughest for them. The Lions had the best rush defense in the league this season, which looked to be a problem considering that DeMarco Murray is reason 1-A that the Cowboys made the playoffs this season.
While this game looks to be a difficult one nonetheless, the Cowboys will probably worry more about a potential match up against Seattle, who will stop their run, than the Wisconsin cold. Christie, remember to pack that sweater.
There’s little that actually matters for this game outside of the health of Aaron Rodgers’ calf. Without that calf the Packers are toast. Rodgers is one of the better mobile quarterbacks in the league because he still has the ability to throw better than most when on the run.
Rodgers said in an interview that he’ll be playing on Sunday, “just a matter of how.” I don’t really know what that means. Injections? Heating pads? Brace? Crutch? A special work out with Hans and Franz?
Should Rodgers start to limp, Eddie Lacy will need to earn every dollar of his contract. Lacy managed to put up 100 yards against the Lions, as the regular season came to a close, which through all sorts of transitive situations means he should be effective against Dallas.
The Cowboys are 8-0 on the road this season. The Packers are 8-0 at home this season. Romo has thrown 20 TDs and 2 INTs on the road this season. Rodgers has thrown 25 TDs and 0 INTs at home this season.
Defense, running game, or Rodgers’ calf?
Remove Rodgers and I think the Packers are an okay team. As long as he’s physically on the field, I like their chances to win. Covering’s another story.
Winner ATS: Dallas
(4) Indianapolis Colts @ (2) Denver Broncos -7
4:40 PM, CBS, Denver, CO
Andrew Luck looked like the golden god all of the quarterback experts are talking about in the Colts’ dominating victory over the Bengals. The problem with that situation was that he had time on top of time to do so.
It’s pretty easy to throw to receivers in the NFL given 5 seconds at a time. By that time, the receiver has broken away from the defender, and the rules prevent the defender from being useful beyond those first 2-3 seconds. The quarterback then effortlessly lobs the ball into the receiver’s hands while taking another puff from his massive cigar.
The Bengals presented 0 pass rush against the Colts, yet Luck was still checking down to his underneath option far more often than one would have expected given the amount of time Luck had to throw.
For that game, the running backs were put on the back burner after Dan “Boom” Herron exploded for 2 fumbles (losing only 1), while papa Luck took care of the whole family, despite multiple drops from his receivers.
The Colts have lived off of Luck’s lead-leading passing numbers. I think they’re going to need a much more balanced approach against the Broncos if they hope to advance.
The last 5 weeks of the regular season for Peyton Manning were less than stellar for reasons that were later revealed as injuries, or what I think: boredom.
Manning was said to be dealing with a thigh injury, which may or may not have contributed to how he only threw for over 300 yards once in the last 5 games of the regular season. Furthermore, Jeff Legwold of ESPN presented the numbers that Manning was completing just 39% of his passes in the red zone over the last 5 weeks of the season, which ranked him 3rd worst in the league.
Yeah, not great, but the Broncos will be facing the Colts who do not have a necessarily elite defense and a rather linear offensive attack.
In addition, the Broncos had linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety T.J. Ward on the practice field this week, which could mean an even more bolstered defensive approach for Sunday.
The Broncos have had their stuff together at home this season and had all of their losses come on the road. The Colts have done enough offensively in every game this season to make me think they can score enough points to keep anything close (except for when they got nearly muted against the Cowboys in a game that didn’t mean anything for the Colts). Their defense will need to get to Manning and make it at least somewhat difficult to throw to his receivers that at times this season could have been mannequins with baskets in their arms and Manning still would have completed 50% of his passes.
Winner ATS: Denver
Spreads courtesy of CBSSports.com