The 2015 National Football League playoffs began with a bang yesterday. Despite the fact that there was one snooze fest of a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans (and, if I had made a choice, would have gone for the favored Chiefs team), the nightcap between the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers was just what everyone loves about playoff football. A hard-hitting and aggressive contest between two teams that just didn’t like each other (and, for the sake of honesty, I have to say I’d have taken the home-dog Bengals there, with the Steelers without RB DeAngelo Williams), the final two minutes of the contest will go down in the annals of NFL history as to what NOT to do when it comes to playoff time. So how can Sunday’s action top what occurred on Saturday?
When it comes to these “one and done” playoff games – where one team wins and moves on and the other is “done” for the playoffs – you’ve always got to look at the home team and their edges for the game. Normally in the playoffs, the squad with the better record host these games to give them the perceived “home field advantage” and, as such, an extra two or three points when the line is set on the game (you know, if you can actually bet on something like that where you are). In the case of both of today’s home teams, that perceived advantage isn’t helping them much.
As an added bonus for those that have been following my prognostications for the season, we’ve come to the final game of the college football season. On Monday night, the College Football Playoff National Championship Game (couldn’t come up with something with a little more pizazz, NCAA?) will take place between the #1 Clemson Tigers and the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide. We’ll take a quick look at that (for entertainment pleasure, of course) as the college guys we’ll be watching next year on Sundays decide their ultimate champion.
(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)
Seattle Seahawks vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (+4); UNDER 39.5
This sounded like it was going to be a great matchup when it was set under the playoff format, then Old Man Winter raised his ugly head. The Vikings no longer play in the Metrodome (they are playing at the University of Minnesota’s stadium until a new, publicly-funded domed stadium can be built in downtown Minneapolis for them), but they have acclimated themselves well to playing outdoors football in the North. The question will be can either team play in the conditions that are expected on Sunday.
The HIGH temperature on Sunday is expected to be -1 degree, with winds gusting up to 20 MPH making the wind chill dip even deeper on the dial (I’m no meteorologist, but those conditions produce around a -22-degree wind chill, if my calculations are correct). It doesn’t lend itself well for any type of passing game, which has developed into a strength for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, but sets up for a “ground and pound” game from both sides. The Vikings hold the edge there with the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, and the Seahawks cannot counter him as Marshawn Lynch is out for the game.
Taking the Vikings here may sound crazy – especially considering that the Seahawks thumped the Horned Norsemen 38-7 only a month ago – but these are now two totally different teams. Back then, it was the Vikings who were bitten by the injury bug; now it is the Seahawks. They may not win outright, but I see the Vikings keeping this closer than the spread. With the running games being prominently featured, don’t expect a massive amount of scoring, either.
Green Bay Packers (PICK ‘EM) vs. Washington Redskins; UNDER 46
After leading their division for much of the season, the loss in the final game of the year to the Vikings by the Packers has sent them on the road for essentially the entirety of their playoff run (the only way the Pack can have a home game is if Seattle makes it to the NFC Championship Game with the Packers). They did get a bit of a reprieve for that loss, however, as they get to face Washington on the road rather than face the Seahawks at home. If there’s a better choice in the playoffs, it hasn’t made itself apparent yet.
In contrast with the conditions the fans in Minnesota will be subjected to, the Washington area will be positively balmy at 55 degrees. This doesn’t serve well for the ‘Skins, who will have to watch as Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, whose offense has slowly gotten healthier around him, wields his magic. This isn’t to say that QB Kirk Cousins, who has done an admirable job leading a team that wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in another division, doesn’t have his weapons, he just doesn’t have as many as Rodgers does. Add into the fact that the Packers defense is looking to feast (ranked 15th, compared to the 28th ranked Redskins) and I’ve got to go with the Pack and the UNDER in the game (there’s a reason we are going under here; 9 of the top 10 rushing attacks are in these playoffs and rushing games make for lower scoring contests).
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. CLEMSON TIGERS (+7); UNDER 50.5
After playing since the halls of higher education opened up this fall, these two teams – Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide and Dabo Swinney’s Tigers – have emerged from a complicated computer program, a meeting between the supposed brightest minds in the collegiate football world and a four team playoff system to enter the field tomorrow with the chance to take home college football’s second-ever National Championship game. From the time that the two teams were determined – with Alabama rolling the Michigan State Spartans 38-0 and Clemson popping Oklahoma in the mouth 37-17 – Alabama has been the favorite of the books, with the line not budging an inch off that mark. Only the O/U has come down (three points) in the last week.
The way that the Tide decimated Sparty, that line isn’t out of line (no pun intended), but this is something that Swinney and the Tigers have thrived on all season. They have gotten little to no respect from anyone on their march towards the championship. First they were supposed to lose to such football powerhouses as Notre Dame and Florida State; they defeated them. Oklahoma was actually favored over the Tigers in the Orange Bowl, but the Tigers silenced the critics. The final step would be a defeat of Saban and his Tide and it isn’t out of the question. At the least, Clemson will cover the spread and the score will go UNDER.
Last Week: 2-4
Not a great way to wrap up the regular season. But that is a foregone situation now, it is time to go about getting some great scores in the postseason!