NFL Picks: Robert Griffin-Russell Wilson Provide Unlikely Marquee Matchup For Wild-Card Weekend
BOSTON (CBS) — The big news this week in the NFL came Wednesday, when Ray Lewis announced he’ll be retiring at the end of the season, ending a long and brilliant career.
Just how long was that career?
In 17 years, he’s tackled the man with the ball more than 1,500 times, he’s sacked the quarterback more than 40 times, he’s recorded 31 interceptions and forced 19 fumbles, he’s missed significant playing time in just three seasons, and he’s inflicted pain on innumerable individuals, many of whom have come and gone, their careers existing fully within the timeline of Lewis’ own career.
But if those figures don’t tell the story enough, here is a list of events and goings-on from 1996, the year Lewis was drafted 26th overall as the second ever pick by the Baltimore Ravens:
- Motorola introduced the “StarTAC” phone, at the time a revolutionary new product that featured a flip phone design.
- The Menendez brothers were found guilty of killing their parents.
- Mel Gibson was on stage at the Oscars to accept the Best Picture Award for “Braveheart.” It looked like this.
- The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, was arrested, looking nothing at all like his police sketch.
- TWA Flight 800 crashed and killed all 230 people on board.
- Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole in the presidential election, winning 379 electoral votes to Dole’s 159.
- This happened. Then this happened.
- Tupac Shakur was killed in Las Vegas.
- A championship-starved baseball team called the New York Yankees won the World Series for the first time since the ’70s. Rookie Derek Jeter batted .361 in the postseason.
- Apple Computers, laid off thousands of employees before hiring Steve Jobs, who had been away from the company for more than a decade, as a consultant.
It’s a different world now, and the fact that Lewis was able to last so long while playing middle linebacker in the most violent professional sports league in the country is a testament to how incredible his career has been.
But will Sunday’s game against Indianapolis be his final moment on an NFL field? Let’s dive into the picks to find out.
(Home teams in caps; Thursday lines)
HOUSTON (-4.5) over Cincinnati
I have wildly low hopes for the Texans this postseason, but even they can beat the Bengals.
The Bengals have lost games to the Browns, Dolphins and Cowboys, and they’ve proven to be a team that can generally beat the bad teams and lose to the good teams.
The Texans, for all their warts, can still beat Cincy. The wild card here, though, is the head-coaching matchup of titans Marvin Lewis and Gary Kubiak. I’m not sure exactly what, but something silly is going to happen. Mark my words.
Minnesota (+7.5) over GREEN BAY
The aura and mystique of Lambeau Field in January is enough to cause a 10.5-point swing? That seems a bit much.
I expect the Packers will be able to win, but I don’t anticipate it to be a cakewalk. For one, the Vikings did win last week when there was a bye week at stake for Green Bay. It’s not as if the Packers were going through the motions with no reason to play. And Green Bay is still the team that ranked 26th in the NFL in yards allowed per carry (4.54). Adrian Peterson showed last week just how easy it can be to find holes in the Green Bay defense, picking up 199 yards on 34 carries (5.85 YPC), despite the fact that everyone in the world knew the ball was going to Peterson every play when it was possible so he could chase he single-season record. Containing Peterson should be a very troubling concern for everyone in Green Bay this week.
However, there are such things in this world as “equalizing factors.” Enter Christian Ponder.
We can talk all day about Adrian Peterson, but it’s still a quarterback’s league, and it’s going to be difficult for Christian Ponder to win a game on the road in Lambeau. He had a 74.0 passer rating on the road this season, and the Vikings went not-so-coincidentally went 3-5 in those games. In their trip to Green Bay in early December, the Vikings lost and Ponder went 12-for-25 for a whopping 119 yards, one touchdown and two picks for a 41.9 passer rating.
But if Ponder can just limit his mistakes and simply focus on handing the ball to No. 28, the Vikings should be able to keep it close enough.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “I think Arizona can squeak out a 14-point loss, which might be the nicest thing I’ve said about the Cardinals in at least two months.”
Note: This is the only RQFLWP I’ll include this week, and it’s only because in my three years of doing these picks, I consider that prediction to be my crowning achievement. It took an unlikely Brian Hoyer touchdown pass in the final two minutes of the game, but the Cardinals were indeed able to just eke out a 14-point loss. It really helped me feel good about myself heading into the postseason, and I just thought you should know.
BALTIMORE (-6.5) over Indianapolis
I have to admit that rooting for the Colts last week was a little weird. I spent the better part of a decade believing the quarterback was not a human being but instead just one giant goober, all while cultivating hatred for the horseshoe, so I had a bit of an identity crisis as I hooted and hollered from my couch as some guy I’ve never heard of broke free to return a kickoff for a touchdown.
It was clear that I was feeling the emotion of Chuck Pagano’s return, and while I’d like to believe that inspiration can keep the good feelings going, the Colts are facing a reality check in Baltimore this weekend.
They’re going to be on the road, it’s going to be cold, and the Ravens have inspiration of their own with Ray Lewis’ retirement announcement. As fun as the Colts’ story has been this year, and as remarkable as the turnaround from 2-14 to 11-5 was, the Colts are still far from a great team.
And when they lose? They really know how to lose. Those five losses have been by an average of 20 points, including a 35-point whooping at the Patriots and a 26-point loss at the Jets. It may seem like a tough cover for the Ravens, but if they can get ahead and build a lead, things can really spiral out of control for the Colts.
WASHINGTON (+3) over Seattle
Had you told me in August, or even September or October for that matter, that the premiere matchup of wild-card weekend would feature the Seattle Seahawks visiting the Washington Redskins, I would have punched you right in the face. And I don’t even punch faces.
Yet, that’s why the NFL is great, and that’s why we keep watching — rookie quarterbacks can take over a 5-11 or 7-9 team and turn them into playoff squads and fringe Super Bowl contenders in a very short period of time.
As for this game, it should be a good one. I like the Redskins for a few reasons. For one, they’re on an incredible 7-0 streak against the spread since their bye week, and two, I’ve been blown away watching Robert Griffin all year. I’d feel like a fool for watching that all season, only to bet against him come playoff time. (Full disclosure: You could make all the same arguments for Seattle and Russell Wilson. There are no statistics that support either team here. Just let me make my argument, OK?)
Seattle’s biggest strength, its pass defense, will be tempered by the Washington offense, which is run-first, run-second, and maybe run-third. Seattle let Adrian Peterson run for 182 yards earlier this season, and they haven’t faced a two-headed rushing monster like Albert Morris and Robert Griffin.
And in a game where the big story is a running game vs. a running game, you can’t go wrong with taking the points.
Last week: 11-5
Regular season: 124-125-7