Mythical Picks for the wild-card round of the playoffs two weekends ago were unimpressive to say the least. Mythical Picks last weekend in the divisional round of the playoffs were significantly better. Here is the recap:
I liked the Niners +4 against the Saints. I said the Niners had a legitimate shot to win outright – - and they won outright. Yummy!
I liked the Broncos/Pats Over 50. The game went Over. Yummy!
I liked the Broncos + 14 against the Pats. Not even close. Yuck!
I liked the Texans +8 against the Ravens. The Ravens won by only 7. Yummy!
I liked the Giants/Packers Over 51.5. It took a late TD to put the game Over but they pay off – - mythically of course – - on late covers too. Yummy!
That record of 4-1 last weekend brings the season total for Mythical Picks to 147-129-13.
I have mentioned several times that real wagers should be made only when you think that the line on a game is off by about a TD. Surely, that precludes actual wagers on lots of games and particularly, it tends to make playoff games in the divisional round and later less attractive. Nonetheless, lots of folks will sidle on up to the betting windows on games such as last week’s or this week’s games. So long as those folks are not betting over their heads – - often with the idea that a big score late in the season can “get me even for the year” – - there is not much harm here because there just are not that many games involved.
Of course, no one should look at last week’s Mythical Picks and assume that this week’s picks might be similarly successful. To add to that, it would take an Olympic-sized measure of boneheadedness for anyone to use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on either of the playoff games this weekend. In fact, anyone even contemplating such a thing must take after his ancestors – - who obviously never got their act together very well when they arrived in the New World on the Juneflower.
First, a note having nothing to do with playoff teams… LaDanian Tomlinson is normally one of the guys who tends to “take the high road” when discussing team matters. This week, he said that the Jets’ locker room was more “troubled” than any locker room he had ever been part of. Think about that for a moment. The team did not have players like Albert Haynesworth, T.O. or Randy Moss there; yet, this was sufficiently “troubled” that Tomlinson made his feelings public. He specifically said that Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes had a “rocky relationship”.
And Rex Ryan’s response to the turmoil is to call for “team unity”. Well, good luck with that…
Going into last week’s playoff game, Alex Smith had played 16 games at QB for the Niners this season and had only thrown 5 INTs. Given all the negativity that has surrounded Smith for his entire NFL career, that is an impressive statistic and one that has not gotten the attention it deserves. And for the record, he did not throw an interception in last week’s game against the Saints… Also, for the record, Alex Smith led two drives late in the game to score touchdowns that won the game for the Niners. This season – - and last weekend’s playoff game – - does not make Alex Smith into an elite QB, but the days of referring to him as a “draft bust” should be over.
In the final 4 minutes of the Saints/Niners game, the teams combined to score 4 TDs. What happened? Did both teams forget to have 11 men out on the field playing defense?
Actually, what happened to the Saints’ defense on the final drive is that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams rolled the dice and lost. Leading by a field goal and with the Niners on their own 15 yardline with a tad less than 2 minutes to play, Williams decided to play man coverage defense to bring pressure on Alex Smith. What he did was the antithesis of the “prevent defense” – - and I am not a proponent of the “prevent defense”. However, in the coverages Williams called, the Saints only had one DB covering Vernon Davis and the safeties did not think it necessary to help out on Davis. That got the Niners a huge play to get into Saints’ territory and in field goal position prior to Davis beating single coverage a second time to score the winning TD. Williams rolled the dice; they came up snake eyes.
The Niners’ defense simply turned off the Saints’ running attack; 14 carries produced only 37 yards all day long. That is why Drew Brees threw the ball 63 times. I do not think the Saints came into the game thinking that the Niners could not cover in the secondary; I think they threw that often because they simply could not run the ball.
I have read some comments on various Internet sites that are derogatory with regard to the Niners. People point to the fact that they play in a weak division and derive from that fact that the Niners’ record is padded with wins over soft teams. I do not dispute that the NFC West is a mediocre division at best. However, the Niners have beaten the Giants, the Lions, the Saints and the Steelers this year. All of those teams are or were in the playoffs; all of those teams are “pretty good”.
The Pats/Broncos game demonstrated one thing rather clearly. The option offense that the Broncos used very successfully this year is not ideally effective when the task is to come back from a multi-score deficit. The Pats’ defense played to stop that option attack on just about every snap and produced 14 “negative plays” for the Broncos’ offense in the game. Rarely, are there that many “negative plays” in a game, but for those folks who derive joy whenever Tim Tebow is on a losing team, do not point the finger at him until well after you have pointed the finger at the OL for the Broncos.
Actually, the Pats/Broncos game was decided in the final 5 minutes of the first half. At that point, the Broncos trailed by 21-7 but had to punt the ball to the Pats. For them to overcome a 2 TD margin would have been difficult, but the Broncos needed to “stop the bleeding” and go to halftime with a manageable problem. Instead, the Pats scored quickly, stopped the Broncos one more time and then scored quickly again. That turned a Pats’ 21-7 lead into an insurmountable 35-7 lead as the teams went to the locker room.
The Green Bay Packers turned the ball over 4 times and dropped 8 passes in their loss to the Giants last weekend. The Packers might have lost to the Rams or the Colts had they played like that…
Please note that Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees – - both excellent quarterbacks to be sure – - will be home for this weekend watching games from their couches while “lesser QBs” such as Joe Flacco and Alex Smith will play on. Here is the message:
It takes more than just a really good QB to win football games.
More than likely that message will be lost in the paeans of praise and adulation that will shower on the next QB to be on the winning side in a big game. Oh well…
I do not mean to imply for a moment that Eli Manning was the sole reason the Giants prevailed last week; he was not. Nevertheless, it is time to recognize that Eli Manning is a damned good QB and that he may have suffered some unfair levels of criticism in the past because:
1. He plays in NYC where every success and every failure is magnified – - and – -
2. His older brother is also pretty damned good.
The Ravens/Texans game was interesting to watch because it was close. However, that game was not exactly filled with transcendent quarterback play or breathtaking offensive plays. Nonetheless, I doubt that anyone was confident that the game had been decided much before the final whistle blew.
Joe Flacco is a Baltimore version of the underappreciated QB. [Aside: It might be interesting to listen in on the conversation Flacco and Alex Smith might have over a dinner by themselves or while they were watching a Rodney Dangerfield routine…] Flacco has never threatened to break an NFL record for passing yardage – - for a game or for a season. And when he has an off day – - as all QBs do – - he can stink out the joint. Having said all that, Joe Flacco has merely taken the Ravens into the playoffs in each and every season he has been with the team and he has taken the Ravens to the AFC Championship twice – - counting this weekend’s game. That is not bad for any young QB; he is only 27 by the way. It is particularly good for a guy who did not beat out Tyler Palko for the starting QB job at Pitt and had to transfer to Delaware to get playing time.
I said he is underappreciated and let me present the salient portion of an e-mail I got from a friend who is a football fan but not a Joe Flacco fan:
“…[Flacco] comes up small when it matters. For his career his QB Rating is 86.0 but for his career in the playoffs his QB Rating is only 66.1.”
I have not bothered to check those numbers because my friend is not one to make up stats on the fly and because I refuse to use the QB Rating as a single meaningful measure of QB performance. Remember using the QB rating on a career basis, you might conclude that Chad Pennington (QB Rating = 90.1) was significantly better than John Elway (QB Rating = 79.9). If you drew that conclusion, you would be in error.
However, I will point out that whenever Joe Flacco and the Ravens face a team in the playoffs, they are facing a team that is pretty good. During the season, the Ravens will play good teams – - and a few not very good teams. So, that might explain some of difference in the Flacco QB Rating numbers…
There was a screen graphic put up during the Ravens/Texans game that remains very confusing to me. Normally, CBS and the other networks are very careful to do fact checking on their screen graphics and their statistical reporting; that carefulness is what makes this confusing. During the game, here is the screen graphic I saw – - and wrote down on a notepad:
“TJ Yates is the only QB drafted in the 5th round or later to win a playoff game.”
Just off the top of my head, I can come up with Tom Brady (6th round), Mark Rypien (6th round, I think) and John Unitas (not drafted at all) as QBs who won playoff games. There have to be others… Therefore, either I completely misread what was on the screen or somebody at CBS really goofed.
How many of you are rooting for a rematch of the “Harbaugh Bowl” from Thanksgiving night?
For those who are, I wonder if you will still feel the same way a week from next Tuesday when you have heard reports on that “angle” for the six thousandth time…
(Sun 3 PM EST) Baltimore at New England – 7 (50.5): The stats say that the Pats gain 104 more yards per game passing than the Ravens do. That is a BIG disparity. The stats also say that the Ravens allow 98 fewer yards per game through the air than the Pats do. That too is a BIG disparity. While it is easy to focus on those numbers, I think a key to this game is how well the Pats can contain the Ravens’ running game because the long-range weather forecast calls for “wintery mix changing to snow”. The Ravens’ defense will have to find a way to contain either Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez – - or both. The Pats passing attack is not a vertical game; those tight ends are critical to how the Pats succeed in moving the ball. Ed Reed’s hip/leg/ankle took a beating last week and he came off the field at the end of that game in less than playing condition. The Ravens have to have Reed on the field at something near his best condition to win this game. One other thing to note is that all of the Ravens’ losses this year have come on the road. I do not like either of the lines posted for this game; even if I were in Las Vegas this weekend, I would not bet this game. For mythical purposes only, I’ll take the Pats and lay the points.
(Sun 6:30 PM EST) Giants at SF – 2.5 (41.5): The Giants have the “worst” rushing offense in the NFL. That stat is skewed because early in the year, the Giants did not run the ball well at all; but the Giants found their running game sometime in mid-December. They had better keep it in “high efficiency mode” because the Niners boast the NFL’s top-ranked run defense – - and it has been that way all season long. Both QBs here should be under pressure from defensive lines that generate pressure without necessarily having to rely on blitzes. Alex Smith can use his legs better than Eli Manning can to gain yards; Eli Manning is better at maneuvering in the pocket to create time enough to get the ball to receivers. I think the Giants are on a roll here and I think this will be a low-scoring game. Therefore, I will take the Giants plus the points here. While I think the Giants are perfectly capable of winning this game, the money line odds on them are not attractive so I will stick to a wager with the spread.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………