Super Bowl XLVIII: Unprecedented Dominance

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Seattle was ruthless in their 43-8 Super Bowl beatdown.

Everything pointed to a close game. Everybody expected a close game. The top offense against the top defense. This had the potential to be one of the best Super Bowls ever. Spectators of what would become the highest-viewed US event in history got their drinks ready, placed down the chips and dip, found their seat in the room, settled in and……..Seattle was up 2-0. From literally the first play of the game from scrimmage to the last, Super Bowl XLVIII was all about one team: Seattle. Seattle. Seattle. As the clock ticked down to 0:00, viewers everywhere–assuming they watched the second half–all wondered the same thing.

What the heck just happened?

A choke job by Peyton? Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. He wasn’t the same locked-in Manning we saw against San Diego, New England, or the entire season. He seemed rattled and made some ill-advised throws. However, he still put up some impressive numbers (34/49, 280 yards, TD, 2 INTs) and even set a Super Bowl completion record. One of those picks was one of those ill-advised throws I mentioned, but the other was a result of immense pressure on Manning’s arm, causing the ball the pop up in the air. So a choke job? That seems a little extreme for a guy who was hitting his receivers most of the game.

Malcolm Smith's interception return was the epitome of Seattle's dominance.

Malcolm Smith’s interception return was the epitome of Seattle’s dominance.

From what I saw, Denver actually played their familiar game: mixing runs and short passes in space to wear down the defense. This worked great just a couple weeks before against New England, specifically on a 15-play, 94 yard drive that ate up seven minutes of play. Moreno for 11 yards, again for one yard, Welker for 14, Green for six, Ball for 12, etc. Denver looked to be implementing this plan again early and as hard as it is to believe in hindsight, it was working for a couple drives. Down 15 and needing to score, the Broncos gained 0-7 yards on eight straight plays and started to gain their first momentum of the one-sided first half. A couple more throws, one for nine yards and then another for 16, put the Broncos in Seattle territory. The Broncos top ranked offense was finding small holes in Seattle’s stingy D. What makes Seattle so good, however, is their ability to feed off of positive momentum as was evident at all their home games this season and as the game went on. A penalty set Denver back 10 yards, Seattle made a couple of stops, and all of a sudden Denver was facing a 3rd and 13. Seattle was hungry and they were ready. They knew Peyton needed to be stopped now more than ever and here was their chance. Four guys were enough to pressure Manning, hit his arm on the throw, and allow Malcolm Smith the run back the easiest interception of his life. At that moment the game turned around for good. Instead of 15-7 it was 22-0 and Seattle had every last drop of momentum on their side.

While that was a defining play of the big game, it was all too clear that the Seahawks were zeroed in from the very start. They swarmed to the ball at every opportunity and made brutal, effective tackles. I can’t count how many times I winced at Seattle defenders punishing countless Denver ballcarriers. Out of the four giveaways that Denver had, the Seahawks were primarily responsible for three of them. Even with less than five minutes left, Seattle was attacking the ball and caused the fourth turnover of the night.

Percy Harvin returned from injury just in time, putting on a show in New Jersey.

Percy Harvin returned from injury just in time, putting on a show in New Jersey.

Seattle’s offense was the same way. They were playing fast, fun, and loose. Percy Harvin ran like he hadn’t had a chance to run the entire season, which he hadn’t! The speedster you saw in the #11 jersey was out for nearly every play of the season and reminded everyone that he is a lethal part of Seattle’s offensive arsenal, in case you forgot. He ended up leading both teams in rushing yards on just two runs! Russell Wilson was just being Russell Wilson, distributing the ball to Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin (each for 60+ yards) and protecting the ball like he had all season (nine INTs all season). Even Marshawn Lynch, with just 39 yards, pounded the ball in the end zone when they needed him to.

In a rematch, would we see such dominance again? My gut says no, though I was dead wrong on that part just a couple of days ago. The point is, on the night of February 2nd, at MetLife Stadium, when the lights went on, it was all Seattle start to finish. Some will point to Denver shrinking under the pressure but I simply don’t see it that way. I saw Seattle get bigger. They owned the moment and outplayed their opponent in every phase of the game.

As a football fan, I hated to see it go down this way. Like everyone else, I was pumped up for a show and was let down. Nobody said the unpredictability of the NFL is always a good thing. Nevertheless, it was a great season full of excitement from the very beginning. I’ll try to cover that excitement in some future posts where I review the 2013-14 NFL season. For now, congratulations to Seattle on a fantastic season and dominant Super Bowl win that nobody saw coming.

Denver's hopes of capping off an incredible season were crushed by a better team.

Denver’s hopes of capping off an incredible season were crushed by a better team.

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Conference Championship Quick Picks (2013-2014)

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AFC Championship: New England Patriots (12-4) at Denver Broncos (13-3)

January 19, 2013 CBS 3:00pm

Pick: Broncos

In the first game of day, we’ll be treated to yet another matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Enjoy this one because we don’t know how many more times we’ll see the two best QBs of our generation on the same field in the playoffs. Their regular season meeting was an absolute classic, with Brady erasing a 24-0 deficit en route to a 34-31 comeback win in OT. Despite jumping out to that early lead, Manning had his worst game of the regular season against these Patriots. It was only the second time all season Peyton was held to under 60% (52.8) completion and the only time he was held to under 200 yards (150). New England made it readily clear that they know how to stop Manning and if they can keep him at bay on Saturday, they will walk away winners once more. However, a couple things are different this time around that may tip the scales in Denver’s favor. Perhaps the biggest difference is the fact that they don’t have to play in Foxborough this time around–where New England is 8-0–and instead play in front of their home fans where they’ve only lost once. In as tightly contested a game as this, you better believe home-field advantage will be a factor. Another big change is going to be the absence of Rob Gronkowski, who shredded Denver for 90 yards on seven receptions and a TD. That’s one big guy Denver doesn’t have to account for anymore. I can find multiple reasons why both teams can win, but Denver will have the slight edge and will capitalize.

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NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Seattle Seahawks (13-3)

January 19, 2013 FOX 6:30pm

Pick: Seahawks

On the other side of the league, we’ll have the two young guns Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick face off. Two veterans in one game, two up-and-comers in another. You really can’t make this stuff up. Could we ask for anything better? Anyways, for as much attention as these two QBs will get, this game will come down to defense. These bitter rivals boast two of the best defenses in the NFL and will swarm to the ball every chance they get. San Francisco is red-hot right now. Winners of eight straight, the Niners held Aaron Rodgers’ offense to 20 points and Cam Newton’s to 10. However, in both games the SF defense allowed 90+ rushing yards, an aspect of the game that Seattle thrives on. The Seahawks torched New Orleans on the ground for 174 yards and if San Fran allows anywhere close to that number, they are in for a long day. Don’t take it from me, just take a look at the numbers: in Seattle’s 29-3 win in Week 2 over SF, Seattle rushed for 172 yards. In the Week 14 rematch, Seattle only rushed for 86 and lost. It’s pretty simple for San Francisco: stop the run. With the crowd at record volume at CenturyLink Field, Seattle should be able to move the ball just enough to squeak out a close defensive win.

Sunday Divisional Playoff Quick Picks (2013-2014)

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NFC Divisional: San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)

January 12, 2013 FOX 1:05pm

Pick: 49ers

You won’t have to wait long on Sunday to see the best matchup of the weekend. At home, with the 2-seed, and a victory over San Francisco already under their belt, Carolina is the underdog by 1 point. Two of the best defenses in football are putting the over/under at 41.5, the lowest of the four divisional games. As the home dog, you better believe Carolina will play with a chip on their shoulder. They boast quality wins over New Orleans, San Francisco, and New England, not to mention the countless other teams they have crushed. So why do I like the Niners? Jim Harbaugh has his troops locked in. The defense has only allowed an average of 16.2 points a game in their past seven games (all wins) and Colin Kaepernick has only thrown two picks (one of them against Seattle’s defense). In Kap’s first nine games this season, he had four 0 passing TD games. He’s thrown a TD pass, and often more than one, in every game since. In five of the seven games he finished with a passer rating over 100. Get the picture? Kaepernick is on a roll and even when he doesn’t have a great game, like last week at Green Bay, the Niners can win. It’ll be a battle for the ages, but watch Kaepernick have a solid game against a defense that harassed him earlier in the season.

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AFC Divisional: San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Denver Broncos (13-3)

January 12, 2013 CBS 4:40pm

Pick: Broncos

San Diego is the biggest underdog of all four games this weekend, but don’t count them out. They’ve already proved they can handle the Broncos at home after a 27-20 victory in Week 15. Just five weeks before, however, Denver topped San Diego on the road 28-20. In both games, San Diego held the ball for over 38 minutes, forced one turnover, and passed for under 200 yards. So what gave San Diego the edge in Week 15? It may have had something to do with the Chargers’ success in the running game on both sides of the ball. In their victory, San Diego held Denver to just 18 rushing yards the entire game, compared to 84 in their defeat. Likewise, San Diego torched Denver on the ground for 177 yards in Week 15 and 131 in Week 10. While Peyton Manning will grab the headlines before and after the game, it will likely be the success of these two ground attacks that determines our winner. As you can see, Denver doesn’t have to out-run San Diego to win, but they do have to put the ball on the ground enough to take some of the pressure off Manning. If San Diego can keep Denver’s running backs at bay while applying pressure to Manning, they can pull off a shocker. I still have to go with the Broncos. Denver has so many offensive weapons that it will be too hard for San Diego to keep up. In one game Eric Decker caught four TD passes, in another Demaryius Thomas caught three, and both Wes Welker and Julius Thomas have had multiple 1+ TD games. Beating Denver once is something, but beating them twice in a row is something else entirely. Peyton Manning won’t let it happen.

Saturday Divisional Playoff Quick Picks (2013-2014)

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NFC Divisional: New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Seattle Seahawks (13-3)

January 11, 2013 FOX 4:35pm

Pick: Seahawks

It’s tough not to think back to Week 13 when Seattle rolled New Orleans 34-7. Seattle looked like the much better team then and they are still the better team now. If the Saints want to advance, it will have to come from the arm of Drew Brees (as always). Brees was held to a season-low 147 yards in that Week 13 matchup, though he managed to avoid throwing any picks. Even if Brees plays a great game, he’ll need an average run defense to contain the best running game in the NFL (allowed 127 rushing yards against Seattle). Even then, they still need to contain the mobile QB Russell Wilson, who threw for 310 yards against the Saints. Can the Saints win? Of course they can, Seattle is vulnerable like everybody else. Having said that, I have to go with the team that owns the best defense (leads NFL in takeaways), the best running game, and the best home field advantage in the league. It may not be the blowout we saw in Week 13, but Seattle has more than enough talent to advance to the NFC Championship.

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AFC Divisional: Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at New England Patriots (12-4)

January 11, 2013 CBS 8:15pm

Pick: Patriots

Picking against the Colts makes me feel uneasy, especially after watching them storm back against KC. Indianapolis is on a mission. Luckily for New England, they own the best coach in the NFL, Bill Belichick, and one of the best QBs, Tom Brady. These two guys are the main reason why I’m picking New England. They’ve been here before and they know how to handle the big time. Crippled by injuries from the very start, namely the WR corp, New England still found a way to win 12 games and only needs one more to advance to the conference championship. Even when New England lost, it was only by an average of 4.5 points. The bottomline is that New England is really tough to beat. Even without Gronk, Brady will do what he does best to win, spreading the ball around to keep the defense on their toes. I’m taking New England in a late 4th-quarter victory.

TD Awards: 2013

These are the third annual TD Awards! If you’re not familiar, the TD Awards (TD being my initials) are awards I give out to teams in the NFL for various categories. However, unlike most award ceremonies, not all of these awards are positive. While I love to look at the best of the best in the NFL, I cannot ignore teams and players that fail to perform. One important note to point out is that these awards only take the regular season into account. I know some playoff games have already been played, but those results will not factor in the decision-making at all. Awards will go out to eight teams, two divisions, one conference, and one player in categories such as “Best Team,” “Worst Defense,” and “Best Division.” To see previous years’ winners, you can go to the TD Awards tab on the left or just click here.

Best Team of 2013

The first award for the 2013 regular season also happens to be the most prestigious. It goes to the overall best team in the NFL after 17 weeks. In the playoffs, who knows? The past two winners for Best Team (2011: Packers, 2012: Broncos) did not make it to their respective conference championships, nevermind the Super Bowl. This year there were two teams that stood out and arguments could be made for either team, but one key stat gave the winning team the edge.

pfiobtreaq7j0pzvadktsc6jvWinner: Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks edged out the Denver Broncos for the NFL’s best team. Both teams went 13-3 (7-1 home, 6-2 road), won their conferences, and now hold the 1-seeds in the playoffs. However, each team is pretty different from the other. Seattle boasts an incredible defense, holding opposing QBs to just 172 yards a game (best in NFL) and running backs to just over 100 yards (7th in NFL). With a fantastic mobile QB in Russell Wilson and a physical running back in Marshawn Lynch, they own one of the best rushing attacks and will pound it down other teams’ throats to win. Russell Wilson may not throw for a ton of yards (29th in NFL), but he knows how to make smart plays with the ball, moving around in the pocket and throwing few interceptions. Wilson has a great cast around him, but he is a vital part of Seattle’s success. In contrast, Peyton Manning is the heart and soul of the Denver Broncos. He led the NFL in nearly every major QB category and I don’t mean just this season. He broke the NFL records for most TD passes and passing yards in a single season. He has a good defense to back him up, but not nearly the caliber that Seattle puts on the field. While Seattle is stingy and wins by allowing few points, Denver does the opposite and will put as many on the board as it takes to win (e.g. Denver beat Dallas 51-48). So with strengths in different places, how can I tell who’s better? It sure is close, but Seattle holds a major edge in turnover differential. Not only does Seattle have the most takeaways in the NFL (39) but they have the 4th-fewest giveaways (19), giving them a +20 differential. Denver gives and takes the exact same amount (26), balancing their differential at 0. Creating and capitalizing off turnovers can be the difference in close playoff games and Seattle is the best in the NFL in that department. With this edge, Seattle rightfully deserves the TD Award for Best Team.

Runner-Up: Denver Broncos

Honorable Mentions: Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots

Worst Team

For every great team in the NFL, there’s a bad one. And in some cases, just plain terrible. A lot of teams did their best to win this award by getting crushed week after week, throwing interceptions, blowing late leads, etc. but one team outdid (or outdidn’t) them all.

HoustonTexansLogoWinner: Houston Texans

The Houston Texans started off the season 2-0, about as well as anyone expected. They then dropped their next 14. Two sentences don’t do justice to how bad Houston looked at times, but their 2-14 record is what they deserve. Some may say, “Hey cut them some slack, they lost in a lot of close games.” This is true, many of their games were decided by a touchdown or less. After 14 losses, however, I’ve run out of slack. Their two wins were also decided by a touchdown or less, so what am I supposed to do? Houston did not know how to win games this season, plain and simple. Even against the lowly Jaguars, who many expected to own the top pick in the 2014 draft, the Texans failed to win (twice). On the bright side, Houston will have that top pick and hopefully can find their way out of embarrassment.

Runner-Up: Washington Redskins

Honorable Mentions: Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Surprise Team

This award is my personal favorite because it epitomizes what the NFL is all about; you never really know what will happen year to year. Teams with under four wins making the playoffs the following year is becoming more and more common. Just last year, for example, the Minnesota Vikings made it to the playoffs after winning just three games the year before. Two teams in particular had major rebounds in 2013.

KC%20ChiefsWinner: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs, winners of just two games in 2012, did more than just make it to the playoffs in 2013. KC won their first nine games of the season, led the AFC in takeaways, held opponents to less than 20 points a game, and owned one of the NFL’s best running backs. With new coach Andy Reid and new QB Alex Smith, improvements were expected, but an 11-win season was optimistic by anybody’s estimation. Kansas City shocked the NFL with their success and showed us first-hand that any team has a chance in any given year. Carolina followed closely behind in second, winning their division–when only Atlanta and New Orleans were expected to contend–and representing the 2nd-seed in the NFC.

Runner-Up: Carolina Panthers

Honorable Mention: Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest Disappointment 

While some teams will shatter expectations, others will crack under the pressure. This award is obviously the opposite of Biggest Surprise and goes to the team that did the least with the most. They show us that all the projections for division winners, playoff clinchers, and Super Bowl contenders mean nothing until games are actually won. Underachievers, flops, duds, etc. However you want to put it, this is not an award you want your team to win.

HoustonTexansLogoWinner: Houston Texans

Houston already won our award for worst team and deserve this one just as much. At best, the Texans were expected to contend for the Super Bowl. Coming off a 12-win, division-winning season, with a solid QB, star RB, and top-10 defense, Houston looked ready to make a serious run. At the very least, they were expected to clinch a playoff spot. In a weak AFC, where nine wins was enough to make it, many (including myself) didn’t even entertain the thought that Houston could miss out. Well, if only it turned out that bad and nothing worse. Houston not only missed the playoffs, but lost every single game after September 15. No fall was farther than the Texans’ this season.

Runner-Up: Atlanta Falcons

Honorable Mention: Washington Redskins

Best Offense

These next few awards are pretty simple; we take a look at the best and worst offenses and defenses of the NFL. While having the best offense isn’t everything, it sure helped the team that won become one of the best teams in the NFL. The race for Best Offense was no contest this year.

Denver-Broncos-LogoWinner: Denver Broncos

This should be a no-brainer to everyone. With playmakers all over the field, Denver scorched defenses with their passing attack and kept the opposition honest with a solid run game. Denver picked up 7317 offensive yards this season, 641 more than the next team. Their passing game collected 5444 yards (best in NFL), backed up by their running game with 1873 yards (8th in AFC). My favorite stat out of everything, however, is their staggering 37.9 points per game. That’s an average. When Denver is scoring 40+ points on most days, it’s no wonder why they are Super Bowl favorites.

Runner-Up: Philadelphia Eagles

Honorable Mentions: New England Patriots

Worst Offense

Nothing is worse than watching a slow offense. You’ve seen them. I’m talking about the ones that go three-and-out drive after drive, turn the ball over constantly, settle for field goals, etc. It gets really hard to watch and one team in particular was unbearable.

jacksonville_jaguars_logo_detailWinner: Jacksonville Jaguars

While some aspects of Jacksonville’s offense weren’t the worst in the NFL, they were still collectively the worst of the worst. Even with a new logo and new uniforms, the Jags couldn’t find a solution to their offensive woes. They picked up 4701 yards (31st in NFL) and rushed for 1260 (31st). To their credit, their passing offense was better than 11 other teams’ and didn’t giveaway the ball that much (27 turnovers, one more than Denver). However, like with Denver, the most telling stat is the ability to put points on the board. In that department, Jacksonville ranked dead last with just 15.4 points a game.

Runner-Up: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Honorable Mentions: New York Giants

Best Defense

A good defense can take major pressure off the offense. Knowing that the other team will have trouble scoring, an offensive coordinator doesn’t have to take as many risks and can spend his time wearing down the other team. Just like in Best Offense, this award was an easy pick.

pfiobtreaq7j0pzvadktsc6jvWinner: Seattle Seahawks

Seattle’s physical defense made it easy on me this year. The Seahawks allowed the least total yards in the NFL (4378), the least passing yards (2752), and least points per game (14.4). To top that all off, they forced the most turnovers in the NFL (39). They’ve held powerful offenses like Carolina, San Francisco, and New Orleans to seven points or less. I can’t wait to see how this defense performs in the playoffs.

Runner-Up: Carolina Panthers

Honorable Mentions: San Francisco 49ers

Worst Defense

Handing out the award for Worst Defense was a little tougher than the rest. I found that a lot of defenses suffered in different ways. Some couldn’t force a turnover to save their lives, some allowed touchdown after touchdown, and others simply allowed large chunks of yardage.

New_Minnesota_Vikings_LogoWinner: Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota was the only team in the NFL to allow 30 points per game and that was ultimately the deciding factor when picking the league’s worst defense. They also ranked 31st in passing yards allowed, an aspect of defense that is becoming more and more important as QBs throw for more yards year after year. Lastly, they only managed to force 20 turnovers, which ranks 15th in the NFC. They may not have a terrible running D, but the other stats are enough to convince me that Minnesota was the worst at getting offenses off the field.

Runner-Up: Jacksonville Jaguars

Honorable Mention: Atlanta Falcons

Best Division

There was only one division that sent three teams to the playoffs, but there was another that yielded three 10+ win teams. These two divisions stood out in 2013, but for me there was a clear winner.

nfc-west-300x300 Winner: NFC West

The NFC West won Best Division last year and followed it up with an even better showing in 2013. Seattle won the division at 13-3 and already holds the award for Best Team. The second place finisher, San Francisco, was not far behind at 12-4. The Arizona Cardinals, 10-6, were as good a third team as we’ve seen. And in last place, St. Louis finished at 7-9, better than any other last place team and earning quality wins over Indy and New Orleans. This was an all-around fantastic division and each of the four teams proved to be difficult opponents throughout the season. The runner-up was the AFC West, who sent three teams to the postseason. While that’s impressive, the overall strength of the NFC West cannot be matched.

Runner-Up: AFC West

Honorable Mention: AFC East

Worst Division

Determining the NFL’s worst division was actually more challenging than determining the best. Is a division as bad as its worst team? Or does its winner show us a better representation? I tried to weigh all the teams somewhat equally and picked a winner, though an argument could be made for the runner-up.

afc-south Winner: AFC South

In the division where four-win Jacksonville finished third, the AFC South isn’t doing itself any favors. The worst team in the NFL, Houston, owned the bottom and seven-win Tennessee managed to hold second after an up-and-down season. The winner was Indianapolis, who won 11-games but dropped games to Arizona, Miami, and St. Louis by a total of 63 points. While Indy is still a strong playoff team, the rest of the division suffered and gave opponents something to look forward to when facing the AFC South.

Runner-Up: NFC North

Honorable Mention: NFC East

Best Conference

In this brand new category, I crown a definitive winner for the NFL’s best conference. Of course, there are only two eligible nominees but the conference clash has always interested me nonetheless. Which conference is king?

NFC_PRM_20101Winner: NFC

The NFC won the head-to-head this year 34-30, though it was the strength of the conference’s playoff field that stood out to me. The NFC boasts three teams with 12 wins or more–compared to two from the AFC–and the first team to miss out on the postseason was 10-win Arizona, compared to 8-8 Pittsburgh. Green Bay sticks out like a sore thumb at 8-7-1 among the better NFC records but with Aaron Rodgers back, Green Bay is better than their record indicates. Overall, the NFC proved to be the superior conference with multiple Super Bowl contenders in Seattle, Carolina, San Francisco, and New Orleans.

MVP

The only player award I give out is for league MVP. There are tons of stars in the NFL today, but who’s the best of the best? Some years it’s a tough choice. Not this time.

Peyton's 2013 regular season showed us why he's one of the best QBs in history.

Peyton’s 2013 regular season showed us why he’s one of the best QBs in history.

Winner: Peyton Manning

If you don’t know why Peyton Manning should win MVP, you haven’t been watching him enough. He’s the leader of the best offense in football, earning the most passing yards and passing TDs in 2013. He’s been deadly accurate and has only thrown 10 interceptions out of 659 throws. Need more evidence? Well, all that is nothing compared to how some of his numbers rank in the NFL record books. With his 5,477 passing yards and 55 TDs in a single season, he is now the top QB of both categories. At 37, he gave Denver one of his best seasons of his long career and coming off four surgeries just a couple of years ago, it is truly unbelievable what he has been able to do. Peyton Manning is your NFL MVP by far.

Sunday Wildcard Playoff Quick Picks (2013-2014)

Saturday’s wild card games got the 2014 playoffs off to an incredible start. These are the NFL playoffs, so there’s not a whole lot of football left to watch. Don’t miss out on Sunday’s action.

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AFC Wild Card: San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

January 5, 2013 CBS 4:35pm

Pick: Bengals

Give San Diego credit. With their backs against the wall in Week 14 at 5-7, they rattled off four straight wins and squeaked into the playoffs. Philip Rivers is having one of the best seasons of his career. It’s really tough to go against a team on such a roll, but Cincinnati deserves even more respect, quite frankly. They’ve found a groove and won five of their last six. They love winning big and when they lose, it’s not by much. The lethal Andy Dalton-AJ Green combo is among the best QB-WR pairs in the NFL, if not the best. I love what San Diego is about and they are perfectly capable of winning, but I gotta take the Bengals. At home with better talent, Cincy will be able to advance.

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NFC Wild Card: San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)

January 5, 2013 FOX 4:40pm

Pick: 49ers

It’s not every year you see a team make the playoffs on an 8-7-1 record, but it was good enough for Green Bay to win their division and have home field advantage against the Niners. With Aaron Rodgers back, the Pack is a much different team than the one that lost five and tied one. However, Green Bay still has flaws that have been prevalent all season. Their defense ranks in the bottom quarter of the league in both rushing and passing yards allowed. They aren’t causing enough turnovers to make a difference and the pressure of the team’s success is placed on Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers, winners of six straight, know this and will use their top-10 defense to throw him off his game just enough to advance. With temperatures expected to be below zero and “feel” around -20F, even the hottest team will get a little chilly.