BOSTON (CBS) — We’ve officially entered the postseason, and if recent history is any indication, it’s probably best that we don’t make any grand proclamations in advance of wild-card weekend.
How many of us gave the sixth-seeded Giants any chance to make any noise in the 2007 playoffs? The same can be said about the 9-7 Giants in 2011. Was anybody overly concerned with the fourth-seeded Ravens in 2012? Few thought the sixth-seeded 2010 Packers could go into Atlanta and win. Green Bay ended up winning by 27 en route to the Super Bowl.
So it’s pretty clear that even in just the last handful of years, things have not gone as we’ve expected them to.
Yet even knowing this, at the risk of looking like a dope … I’m not giving any of the lower seeds any chance at all to win the Super Bowl this year.
I laid it out in some detail with power rankings, but once you get past New England-Denver-Pittsburgh in the AFC and Seattle-Green Bay-Dallas in the NFC, you’re left with six teams that don’t stand a chance.
Quickly now: Carolina won the worst division in football, Arizona doesn’t have a quarterback, Detroit employs Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis and Baltimore can’t beat anyone that’s any good, and Cincinnati can’t win when the whole country is watching. These are all problems — ones that won’t disappear in a matter of a few weeks.
Despite the history of all of those low seeds surprising everyone, going on a run and winning a championship, not all years are created equal. And this year, with a 7-8-1 team hosting a playoff game and another team boasting a vacancy in the single most important position in all of team sports, should not bring any great surprises.
That being said, all of those low seeds are going to play each other this weekend, and chaos will likely ensue. Let’s get to the picks.
(Home team in caps; Wednesday lines)
CAROLINA (-6.5) over Arizona
As frightening as it may be to trust the Panthers to win by a touchdown, I’m nevertheless surprised to see the line this low.
How many times need I write it? The Cardinals don’t have a quarterback. They. Don’t. Have. A. Quarterback.
Ryan Lindley has thrown 264 passes in the NFL. Two of those have gone for touchdowns. Eleven have been intercepted.
It’s no coincidence that in the Drew Stanton/Ryan Lindley/Logan Thomas-but-only-for-a-minute era, the once-powerful defense has deteriorated. It’s tough to be great on defense when your offense puts up 12 points per game.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I’m overly impressed by the Panthers’ Week 17 performance. Call me crazy, but beating Atlanta just doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Still, it was a virtual playoff game, and the Panthers answered the bell. They can do it again this weekend.
PITTSBURGH (-3) over Baltimore
When you get a playoff matchup featuring divisional opponents, particularly when it involves a bruising division like the AFC North, you can kind of throw logic out the window. It’s just difficult to foresee what will come in the third meeting of the season between two teams full of players who really enjoy smashing their heads into each other.
I do imagine the line would be a bit larger if Le’Veon Bell hadn’t gotten Reggie Nelsoned last Sunday night, but I still can’t help but look at these two teams and see a distinct change at the midway point of the season. The Ravens started the year 5-3 before losing consecutive division games to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the latter coming to the tune of a 43-23 final score. The Ravens did finish the year 5-2 after that, but they suffered an unacceptable loss in Houston in Week 16 and then had to battle tooth-and-nail in Week 17 with Cleveland just to make the playoffs.
The Steelers were just the opposite. They started the season 3-3 before winning three straight games by a combined 44 points, capped off with that Bengals win. From that point forward, they won every big game they faced, losing only to the Jets (huh?) and the Saints (what?).
It’s been an impressive season for the Steelers, who have played their best when facing the best. They’re 5-1 against the playoff field. Baltimore, by contrast, is 2-4. In fact, the Ravens have just one victory this season that came against a team better than .500. That team was Pittsburgh. But a Ravens victory over the Steelers from early September shouldn’t mean much this time around.
Cincinnati (+3.5) over INDIANAPOLIS
You know how in the NBA more than half of the league makes the playoffs? And because of that, the seventh and eighth seeds can typically be pretty lousy, and they really don’t belong in the playoffs? And you know how in the NFL only 37.5 percent of the league’s teams makes the playoffs, so the teams that do make the postseason are typically pretty darn good?
Well,that didn’t happen this year. The Colts slipped through the cracks. They’re the 38-44 Milwaukee Bucks sneaking into the playoffs, only to get swept by the Miami Heat.
That might be a little unfair, considering they won this very matchup in early October, and they did so with a 27-0 score.
That beatdown can’t be forgotten, but what also can’t be forgotten is that the Colts faced three real tests since that afternoon. And they failed them all. Miserably.
The Colts went to Pittsburgh. They gave up 51 points. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns against them.
The Colts hosted the Patriots. They let a complete unknown rush for 201 yards and four touchdowns. They lost by 22 points.
They went to Dallas in Week 16. They lost 42-7.
The Colts got worse as the season went on, untested in the second-worst division in football.
The Bengals, on the other hand, emerge from inarguably the strongest division in the NFL. Though their results have been a bit mixed as well, they’ve faced a tougher road, and they’re an improved team since that mid-October trip to Indianapolis.
Do I have my fears of picking Marvelous Marvin Lewis and Dandy Andy Dalton to win a playoff game, when no other teams are playing and the entire country is focused solely on their game? You bet I do. I do a lot. But even if they blow this one, the 3.5-point cushion helps make the decision easier to stomach.
DALLAS (-7) over Detroit
All those things I wrote comparing the Colts to the Milwaukee Bucks? I could just copy and paste all of that to describe the Lions.
Here is a complete list of all of the teams the Lions beat this year while building their 11-5 record:
New York Giants
Green Bay Packers
New York Jets
Minnesota Vikings (twice)
New Orleans Saints
Chicago Bears (twice)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Those teams are a combined 57-87. Only the Packers have a winning record, and that win came in Week 3, before Green Bay became Green Bay.
The Cowboys may not have exactly faced a constant stream of first-place opponents this year, but their plus-115 point differential shows that they were head and shoulders better than most of their opponents. (The Lions were just plus-39.)
Much like I have my fears of the Lewis-Dalton combo for Cincy, I don’t intend on sleeping easily on Saturday night knowing I’ve picked Tony Romo to cover a big spread in the playoffs. January hasn’t exactly been historically kind to Romo, and the fact that he’s one hit away from being broken in two by the most fearsome pass rush in the league makes this far from a sure bet.
Yet I’ve seen enough from the Lions to know that when the going gets tough, they simply check out.
Oh … which reminds me. You want to pick Jim Caldwell to win on the road in the playoffs?
Ha. Good one. Thanks for the reminder. I take back what I said earlier — I’ll definitely be sleeping easy now.
Last week: 6-10
Regular season: 129-122-5
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