Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, 6-2 away) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5, 6-2 home) Line: Colts -3
Trying to quantify the impact of the loss of a major player can be difficult sometimes – read the great Bill Simmons’ “Ewing Theory” columns and it gets even worse – but in the case of Reggie Wayne, minimal effort is required. Just read this sentence out loud: “T.Y. Hilton is Andrew Luck’s reliable, go-to, move the chains guy”. I mean seriously, I’ve actually heard several announcers say this. Wow. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hilton’s potential – but when you start throwing in names like Griff Whalen (?), its clear this receiving corps is as raw as it gets. Honestly, Colts fans should be thanking their respective deities that the tragic injury to Reggie happened as early as it did, as Luck has gotten 10 full weeks with these kids – time he clearly needed to develop some sense of chemistry going into playoff time. They aren’t quite there yet, but my gut tells me that they’re very close, and this is not a team that I would be rushing to play in an elimination game. I have nothing but faith in Andrew Luck’s playoff time ability – I say this because faith is all I have to go off of, given the Colts’ unfortunate 1st round draw last year on the road against the eventual champion Ravens.
Let’s briefly go over the Chiefs’ season to this point, shall we? They started 9-0, but the two strongest wins came at home against one of the league’s worst defenses in Dallas (17-16) and against the pre-Foles Eagles in Andy Reid’s emotional return-to-Philly game. The other 7 wins, to drive the point home: Jaguars, Giants, Titans, Raiders, Texans, Browns (at home), Bills. Nothing to this point has shown me that they have a ceiling that extends beyond the 1st round of the playoffs. For icing on the cake, let me remind you of the 3 strongest wins the Colts have this year: at San Francisco (12-4), vs. Seattle (13-3), vs. Denver (13-3), the last two being the best of their respective conferences.
There’s been some talk about the Chiefs impressive recent PPG average, but lets not forget that they went 2-7 during this stretch to close out the year, with the only wins coming at Washington and Oakland. Stats be damned, this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Their offense has been getting it done well enough, but the fantasy juggernaut of a defense that feasted on weak teams early in the season has been dismal, allowing 27.7 points per game in its last 7.
Picking NFL winners is difficult, no doubt – but the beauty of picking playoff games is that they always have a way of simplifying things for me. I’m not saying the favorites always win, far from it – but I am saying that the answer to a question like “Andrew Luck or Alex Smith?” isn’t exactly a head-scratcher when the latter is playing on the road in an elimination game.
The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since 1993, with three of those losses coming against Indy. History repeats itself this Saturday.
The Pick: Colts -3
New Orleans Saints (11-5, 3-5 away) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6, 4-4 home) Line: Eagles -3
If there’s one storyline that is a microcosm of modern day ESPN sports coverage, its Chip Kelly’s foray into the NFL. Depending on which member of their crack brain trust is asked (and at what time during the season), he’s either one of the most brilliant offensive minds of all time, a miserable, fat, phony fluke, or the grand-daddy of them all: the creator of a “non-sustainable” offense (?!?). Its nothing more than nonsensical bullshit from people who are unhappy about the direction the NFL is heading. I keep hearing this phrase paired with an argument that the NFL’s defensive coordinators just need some time to “adapt” to his schemes, which will bring on his inevitable demise. So you’re telling me somebody that creates an offensive system that baffles professional defenses isn’t capable of adjusting as well? And what is this council of coordinators, what dark chamber do they meet in?
You’re tired about hearing how good the Saints are at home and how bad they are on the road. So am I, so I’m not going to bother with the baffling statistics. It must be mentioned though, I truly haven’t seen a more Jekyll and Hyde team before in my life. Did the bounty scandal place some sort of diabolical road game curse on Sean Payton? Is there a football Demigod that Payton and Jerry Jones sold their souls to in exchange for Super Bowl wins? Likely.
The Eagles’ on-and-off defensive woes give some cause for concern, but they are 3rd in the NFL in forced turnovers – a very important statistic for me in this game given the Saints’ issues on the road. This is the clincher for me, although I do see great push potential here. Take the money line.
The Pick: Eagles straight up