By Neil Keefe
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Last Sunday feels like it was three years ago. And this Saturday feels like it’s four years from now. That’s how you know it’s the NFL playoffs.
The five days between playoff games for the first two rounds feel like forever. And there’s only so much hype and so many predictions and guarantees you can read about to fill the void left by five days without football. Thankfully for the 2011 playoffs we have the New York Jets.
Even though the Jets won’t play a game that counts for another 33 weeks, Rex Ryan’s team of mixed personalities is the talk of the town after yet another Super Bowl “guarantee” ended up being exactly what Chris Farley described it as when he made his first sale in Tommy Boy. And despite the New York Football Giants (the Kings of the City) playing in the divisional round this weekend against the defending champions (the Kings of the NFL), the focal point in New York has been on the Jets’ collapse and the aftermath from it.
In the last week we have found out that the Jets’ captain quit on the team, that it will be hard for anyone to believe anything Mike Tannenbaum says again and most recently that anonymous players on the Jets don’t want Mark Sanchez to be the starting quarterback in 2012. It’s too bad that those who like the Jets and those who like the Red Sox are from cities that hate each because they have so much in common and could be the best of friends. How much does the Jets’ January feel like the Red Sox’ September? A lot. And how much do I love every minute of it? A lot.
But let’s not forget that there is actual football to still be played. There’s real games where teams wear jerseys and play for championships, and don’t just send out press releases late at night to fire their offensive coordinator. And even though it’s fun to watch Jerry Jones try to come up with an apology he hasn’t used before for his Cowboys’ performance or to watch Rex Ryan and Mr. T (Hey, Mr. T is one smart S.O.B. for signing Santonio Holmes!) fumble for the right words to try and make any sort of a positive out of an 8-8 season, the focus should be around teams with games left on their schedule.
As for my picks, I was one win away from opening the playoffs with a perfect record in the wild-card week, but I put my faith in Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals. How did I let myself do this? I have a feeling I will be asking myself the same question next week when you find out who I picked in the 49ers-Saints game.
Divisional round … let’s go!
(Home team in caps)
SAN FRANCISCO +3.5 over New Orleans
The Saints are two very different teams. You have the New Orleans Saints and you have the Road Saints. The New Orleans Saints are undefeated in the regular season and the playoffs at 9-0 with an average of 41.6 points for and 19.0 points against. The Road Saints are 5-3 with an average of 27.3 points for and 24.5 points against (and losses to Tampa Bay and St. Louis).
This game is the trickiest of them all because most people are thinking about the matchup of Alex Smith vs. Drew Brees, which is about as equal of a matchup as Boone Logan vs. Josh Hamilton. Alex Smith might be the worst quarterback remaining in the field (a field that includes Joe Flacco and T.J. Yates) while Drew Brees might be the best quarterback remaining in the field (depending on who you ask and if the person you’re asking is from Green Bay or New England).
But the Road Saints in San Francisco where the field is slow and outdoors changes everything.
Denver +13.5 over NEW ENGLAND
If you have had the luxury of listening to Boston sports radio or reading anything to come out of Boston this week, then you have been able to feel the confidence oozing from Back Bay to Beacon Hill. New England sports fan believe there’s absolutely no chance that they will lose to the Broncos on Saturday night. No chance at all.
I remember one year ago this weekend when Patriots fans laughed at facing the Jets in the divisional round. My friend, Mike Hurley from NESN.com (I guess he’s a “friend”), wrote, “The Jets don’t have a chance.” I’m just glad things like this don’t disappear on the Internet.
There was also this time two years ago when the Patriots hosted the Ravens in the wild-card round and were expected to win. Then Tom Brady threw three picks (OK, there were some tip jobs) and lost a fumble and the Ravens scored 20 points off turnovers and sent Tom Brady home.
Patriots fans currently have “fake” confidence. I know what it feels like. I had it during the ALDS in 2005, 2006 and 2007, when the Yankees bowed out of the postseason after five games once and four games twice. I didn’t regain my confidence in the Yankees until they advanced to the ALCS in 2009, and prior to that it seemed like their most recent championship was the one in 1978 rather than the one in 2000.
And if the Patriots lose on Saturday night, their last three playoff losses will all have come in their first game of the postseason, at home and against Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. I’m not really sure how you sleep after that. It’s like losing an elimination game to Jeremy Bonderman or Paul Byrd. But trust me, eventually you get over it.
The Patriots have a chance to lose on Saturday. The same way they had a chance to lose to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII and the Ravens in the 2009 playoffs and the Jets (even though no one gave them a chance to lose).
The Last Night of the Patriots Dynasty started with Champ Bailey intercepting Tom Brady in the end zone in Denver on Jan. 14, 2006. Exactly six years later, the Patriots and Broncos meet again. If we’re lucky, Tim Tebow will be playing in the AFC Championship Game a week from Sunday and Tom Brady will be talking about the latest version of “the worst loss of his career.”
BALTIMORE -7.5 over Houston
This game is the only game in which I don’t think the underdog has a chance to win even though most would say it’s probably the best chance for an underdog to win. But I should know better than to say that a team doesn’t have a chance to win.
This game is all about running offenses and running defenses because Joe Flacco and T.J. Yates won’t be allowed to ruin the game the way you wouldn’t let you five-year-old mow the lawn. Sure, you might let them ride on the sit-down mower with you and pretend like they are steering and controlling the machine, but in reality you’re doing all the work to avoid a disaster.
I was going to take the Ravens even before I remembered that the Texans lost in Baltimore in Week 6 by 15 points (29-14), and that was with Matt Schaub! Now they return to Baltimore with T.J. Yates. Doesn’t 7.5 points feel like not enough?
New York Giants +7.5 over GREEN BAY
I don’t like the hype around the Giants right now. I don’t like it one bit. It’s growing with each day leading up to Sunday, and everyone I have talked with in the city feels confident about the Giants. And it doesn’t help that Jason Pierre-Paul is saying things like, “We’re going to win. One hundred percent we’re going to win … because we’re the best.”
I’m aware that the Giants are healthy for the first time, riding a three-game winning streak and getting hot and peaking at the right moment just like they did in the 2007 playoffs. I’m also aware that in a “Hey, We Can Get Our Backs Off From Up Against The Wall” game, the Giants were embarrassed at home by the Redskins. And that was just four weeks ago.
I don’t expect the Giants to win on Sunday (more on this tomorrow on WFAN.com with some help from Friday Night Lights). I want them to, but I don’t know if they can or will. I know that the Giants are the last team the Packers wanted to face in their first postseason, but I don’t know if it will matter. I just wanted the Giants to have a chance to get to this game; to extend the season as long as possible and to finally realize their potential and play to their ability; to get back to Green Bay like the third Sunday of January in 2008 and once again shock the world. So far they have given us most of that these last three weeks. Now, about the “shock the world” part…
Last Week: 3-1
Regular Season: 118-129-12
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