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Keefe To The City: NFL Wild-Card Week Picks

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(credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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I wanted to do my own “Shiva Blast” after the Giants finished off the Cowboys and clinched a playoff berth on Sunday night. But since I don’t have anything as catchy as “Shivakamini Somakandarkram,” I just went with a “Woooooooooooo!” and a combination of a Joba Chamberlain 360-fist pump mixed with a Francisco Cervelli “Mariano just closed out the game” standing fist pump mixed with Artem Anisimov’s “sniper” celebration. Some people would call it a “seizure.” I call it “the Giants making the playoffs for the first time in three years.”

This Giants season wasn’t easy. Actually, it was insanely difficult. To think that 17 weeks ago when the Giants lost to Rex Grossman and the Redskins (a children’s book title, perhaps?) I assumed the season was over. The Giants were too banged up to recover from a preseason that took down their defense, and the opening week loss verified it. But then the Giants bounced back with six wins in their next seven games (their lone loss to Charvaris Whiteson). Then they entered The Gauntlet and beat Tom Brady, only to lose to Alex Smith and Vince Young before getting blown out by Drew Brees and daggered by Aaron Rodgers.

This season had everything Giants fans have come to expect from their team, and why I constantly refer to Matt Damon’s character Mike McDermott’s explanation of No-Limit ‘Hold Em in Rounders as the perfect description of what Giants fans endure.

“There’s no other game in which fortunes can change so much from hand to hand. A brilliant player can get a strong hand cracked, go on tilt … and lose his mind along with every single chip in front of him … Some people, pros even, won’t play No-Limit. They can’t handle the swings.”

2011 was a 17-week roller-coaster ride filled with lots of highs, plenty of lows, daggers for and against, questionable playcalling and a lot of heartache. If every cigarette supposedly takes 11 minutes off a person’s life, then the 2011 Giants season was enough to force people to stock up on bottled waters and canned foods and batteries in anticipation of the end of the world. But the season ended gloriously with the Giants directly eliminating the Cowboys and Jets and indirectly eliminating the Eagles. So, despite an inconsistent and lackluster 9-7 season and the Giants becoming the first team to ever win the NFC East with only nine wins, I can still send my Jets friends emails with “J! E! T! S!” as the subject and “JETS! JETS! JETS!” as the body until at least Sunday. And aside from having your teams win championships, isn’t that what sports are all about?

The Giants are playing with house money from here on out and I believe Tom Coughlin is too. Some people believe he has to win a playoff game to return next season (he is under contract for next season), but I think he cemented his return when he disarmed the second-half collapse bomb with one second left on the timer by clinching a playoff berth with three wins in the final four games.

Does “playing with house money,” mean I won’t be upset if the Giants lose on Sunday at home to the Falcons? Of course not. I will be the first one to tell Kevin Gilbride to “Get the eff out!” Ari Gold style or ask why Aaron Ross isn’t playing in an arena league or wonder if Deon Grant is the Creed Bratton of the Giants. It just means I got my wish. That wish was when I told Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News in our season preview the following.

I will take any playoff berth in any possible way. Give me the No. 6 seed and a path to the Super Bowl built around road games. I don’t care. I just want to watch the playoffs with the Giants in it, and I’m not sure if I can emotionally and physically take another collapse that forces the “Should Tom Coughlin be fired?” discussion for weeks after the season.

So, I really can’t complain no matter what happens on Sunday. But if things start to go south, I will definitely be complaining.

As for my picks, let’s say we just forget about this season the way I forgot about the 2004 and the 2008 MLB seasons. OK? OK, good.

My regular season picks were a disaster, but you don’t need me to tell you that if you read my picks for 17 weeks (or if you scrolled to the bottom of this page to see my record). So, I’m not going to tell you that because I’m not Mike Tannenbaum who told Mike Francesa on Wednesday that he “will be the first one to tell you that the Jets didn’t get the job done.” Gee, thanks, Mr. T! I’m glad you will be the first to tell Jets fans what they watched happened. Until you told Francesa that, all Jets fans probably thought their team had a playoff game this weekend. So, thanks for the heads-up!

Luckily, we have four weeks of playoff football and 11 games for me to salvage the season and finish strong and gain some confidence for the 2012 season. (Eagles fans know what I’m talking about.) If everything goes according to plan, I will be using this space next week to pick a Giants-Packers game. And if nothing goes according to plan, I will be dreading the Broncos or Bengals acting as a red carpet for the Patriots to the AFC Championship.

Wild-Card Week … let’s go!

(Home team in caps)

Cincinnati -3 over HOUSTON
If you’re introducing someone to the NFL and the NFL playoffs for the first time this weekend, this isn’t the game you want to show them. Texans-Bengals? Playoffs? Is this real life?

According to Adam Schefter, Andy Dalton spent Wednesday night by the sink and the toilet, but he is expected to practice today. Do I really want to pick the team led by rookie quarterback that has spent the week leading up to the game hugging the toilet like Sack in Wedding Crashers?

So, do you take your chances with the team that has  a rookie quarterback that is good, but might not be at full strength for the game, or do you take your chances with the team that has a rookie quarterback who injured his shoulder in Week 17  and if he doesn’t start, his backup is … wait for it … wait for it … wait for it … keep waiting … Jake Delhomme! Yes, THE Jake Delhomme!

I’ll take my chances with the points.

NEW ORLEANS -10.5 over Detroit
If you think 10.5 points is too many for the playoffs, send me your address and I will send you the game tapes from the Saints’ home games this season. But in the meantime, here are the point totals for the Saints at the Superdome where they were undefeated: 30, 40, 62, 27, 49, 31, 45, and 45. (Wait, they only scored 27 points in a home a game? What a bunch of losers!) And here are their win differentials at home: 17, 7, 55, 11, 25, 14, 29, and 28. So, one time all season they didn’t cover a 10.5-point spread at home and that was in Week 3 against the then-undefeated Matt Schaub Texans.

I think that the Saints are the best team in football … when they play at home, which is obvious. The only way they don’t’ go to the Super Bowl is if they have to go to Lambeau Field during the postseason because the Saints are nowhere near the team on the road that they are in New Orleans.

(Also, if the Giants end up playing the Saints in the NFC Championship Game (BIG “if” here), they might as well not even make the trip.)

NEW YORK GIANTS -3 over Atlanta
It seems like aside from Falcons fans (I don’t really know any) and Falcons blogs (I checked out a few on Wednesday), no one is really picking the Falcons to win this game. This means the tri-state area should be on high alert for a Giants letdown on Sunday. I’m taking about a code red, emergency broadcast system alert, air-raid siren type of letdown. The last thing the Giants need is people believing in them and the element of hype on their side.

The Giants are fine when they are left alone and forgotten about. That’s why 2007 worked out the way it did. They were the 10-6 team as a No. 6 seed with road games in Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay on their path to the Super Bowl. No one gave them a chance any of those weeks and no one gave them a chance when they made it Arizona. (I will always remember Frank Caliendo being the only member of the FOX pregame show to pick the Giants to win Super Bowl XLII.)

Normally I would be hoping for the Giants to be a lower seed here and playing on the road, but they are playing a sub-par road team in Atlanta at MetLife and if they were any lower seeded, they would be playing on the road in either Atlanta and New Orleans and would be 100 percent be home on Monday for the offseason like the other team in the city.

But really, who did you think I was going to pick in this game?

DENVER +9 over Pittsburgh
For the first time I am getting off the Tim Tebow train. Well, I’m more like rolling out of it while it’s still moving like Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love., but I’m getting off of it. It’s not because of anything Tim Tebow did or didn’t do. It’s because of the Steelers in the playoffs. But I’m not about to take the Steelers to cover more than a touchdown since that hasn’t really worked out for me too well this year, and Ben Roethlisberger is going to be moving around the pocket like Chien-Ming Wang rounding third base in Houston in 2008.

Because the Giants weren’t in the playoffs last year, I had to resort to picking a team to root for, and instead it became “Who Should I Root Against?” in a column titled “My Super Bowl Dilemma.” That’s right, I wrote a whole column on which teams I didn’t want to win the Super Bowl. This year, I don’t have that problem since the Giants are still alive and the Eagles, Cowboys and Jets are on their fourth day of the offseason. But one team is still alive that I want eliminated as soon as possible. Any guess as to which team that might be? Here’s a hint: in 15 days it will be four year since they last won a playoff game.

I want the Patriots out of the playoffs, but I’m not wishing for them to lose because I’m not about to waste a wish on something that will probably happen without me wishing for it. The best way for this happen though is if the Texans and Steelers both win. That will send the Steelers to New England and the Texans to Baltimore. But if the Bengals win, they automatically go to New England and the Patriots will have their way with either Cincinnati or Denver.

So, because of all this, I will be a Steelers fan on Sunday (to win, but not cover, of course). And if the Bengals lose on Saturday and all we need is a Steelers win to make it so the Patriots have a legitimate opponent in the divisional round, I might go out and buy a Ben Roethlisberger shirt even if I get more dirty looks in the city than John Rocker did in 2000.

Last Week: 8-7-1
Regular Season: 118-129-12

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe

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