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Divisional Round…

Not a banner Wild Card week, though I will say if Seattle fails on their last two-point conversion, then the Blowhard picks that score exactly…and covers.  Although if Sebastian Janikowski is available, they probably kick the point there…though we still cover.

I know, who cares?

In any event, seems like we have a pretty good slate coming up this weekend.  Looking at the point spreads, however, it appears that Vegas doesn’t seem to think so.  And we know Vegas has a pretty good idea on what they are doing.

Another interesting note:  When is the last time the New England Patriots had the lowest spread among the teams participating in a playoff weekend?  Is this accurate?  Perhaps.  But again…that’s why they play the games.

Indianapolis at Kansas City (-5.5)

There are a lot of people out there that think the Colts are going to win this game.  All of a sudden Indy is the “best team in the AFC”?  Huh?!  The Colts are on a nice run, no question.  But let’s not get carried away, please.  I’ll point back to their schedule and mention once again that it wasn’t exactly a Murderer’s Row they played down the stretch.  Sorry to beat a dead horse here.  Not to mention the fact that they should have walloped the Texans last week.  Yeah, I guess they kind of did beat them pretty good.  But they probably should have won more like 42-7 instead of the 21-7 they did win by in the end…especially the way they started.

The Chiefs went 3-3 down the stretch, coach Andy Reid’s postseason struggles are well-documented, their defense stinks and will yet again be without Eric Berry, not to mention Kareem Hunt thankfully ain’t walking through that door.  But KC is at home and had a week off.  Indy has that stud Darius Leonard on defense, but how good really is that D?  They shut down Houston?  Yippee!!  I’m not buying into the hype.  Though of course, I will be rooting for Indy, cuz if the Colts and Patriots win, the AFC Championship will once again go through Foxborough.  Just not seeing it though.

Kansas City 38, Indianapolis 27.

Dallas at Los Angeles Rams (-7.5) 

Like the Chiefs, the Rams sputtered a bit at the end, going 2-2 to end the season.  And like the Colts, we feel like the Cowboys are getting waaaaaaay too much love out there.  Kind of feel the same way about this game as I do Chiefs/Colts.  This version of the Rams doesn’t necessarily have any kind of (good) playoff track record.  But they’ve had a week off, are at home and probably are in a better situation health-wise…especially with Todd Gurley supposedly ready to go full speed.  Looks like most of the injured Cowboys will suit up, but we will see how much some of them can give.  A big game from Ezekiel Elliott would keep the potent Rams offense off the field and go a long way to giving the ‘Boys a chance.  Not out of the question.  But that being said, the Rams can score quickly…and often, so a big game from Zeke may not really matter.  That’s pretty much the way I’m leaning.

Los Angeles Rams 31, Dallas 20.  

Los Angeles Chargers at New England (-4.5)

Tough road for the Chargers this postseason.  Finishing tied for the best record in the AFC, but losing the AFC West division tiebreaker to the Chiefs, dropping them to the #5 seed.  Then they have to travel cross country to Baltimore in Round 1.  Then once again traveling cross country to New England for Round 2.  LA won in the Wild Card round, can they win in the Divisional Round?  Absolutely!  Are we picking them?  You’ll see.

The Chargers took a 23-3 lead last week in Baltimore with about 9 minutes left in the game when they then inexplicably let the Ravens back in the game.  To the point where Baltimore had the ball close to midfield with less than a minute left.  With at least a little bit of a chance to go ahead as the clock approached zero.  The Ravens ran for less than 100 yards in the game after going the last half of the season seemingly averaging double that.  Lamar Jackson was HISTORICALLY BAD.  Seemed like a good opportunity for John Harbaugh to (reluctantly) go back to playoff-tested Joe Flacco and he declined.  Sure, the Chargers got conservative.  But this was a second AFC Wild Card game that should have never been in doubt after the way it started.

We’ve been through it all year, that the Patriots are not the juggernaut this year that they have been for years.  But take the repeated cross country travel above.  The Patriots being at home, and being undefeated this year.  (Yes, I know the Chargers are 8-1 on the road.  Impressive, no doubt.  But this is Gillette, in January, in the playoffs.  Different animal).  Weather?  Perhaps.  A warm weather team coming into the cold.  Could have some effect.

Ultimately, I believe it will be a close game.  LA sacked a mobile Lamar Jackson seven times last week.  So how many times can they get an immobile Tom Brady?  Yeah, Brady will be more prepared than Lamar to combat that pass rush so he won’t get sacked nearly as much.  BUT, he sure as hell will probably be pressured just as much.  If Julian Edelman doesn’t have butterfingers, perhaps the real Gronk shows up and maybe someone like Phillip Dorsett has a career game so the Pats can put some points on the board and make that pressure irrelevant.  More than likely though, the Patriots try to run the ball…and maybe even too much.  I suppose that would cut down on the sacks anyway.

Here’s what I’m thinking…it wouldn’t be surprising if it came down to the Chargers kicker, Michael Badgley.  It’s been no secret that LA has had their share of issues with their kicking game in recent years.  They think Badgley has been a pretty good solution.  He’s been good.  But remember that Sunday Night game against the Steelers about a month ago?  Didn’t he miss a 39 yarder with no time left?  Then a Steelers penalty gave him another chance.  Then a missed 34 yarder followed.  Then…another Steeler penalty.  He did hit the 29 yarder to win it…but that’s quite a route.

What is he going to do if it comes down to a kick like that?  In Gillette?  In the playoffs?

My guess?  Two words:  Billy Cundiff.

New England 23, Los Angeles Chargers 21.  

Philadelphia at New Orleans (-8.5)

I’m extremely hesitant to pick against Nick Foles these days.  Isn’t everyone?  Yeah, yeah, yeah, if Cody Parkey could hit a kick, we wouldn’t even be talking about Foles this week.  But he’s here and we need to talk about it.  Even though Foles threw a couple of bad picks last week, he also brought them down for the go-ahead score with less than a minute left in regulation.

So does this “Saint Nick” magic mean that the Eagles have a chance this week in New Orleans?  Well, sure.  But even though the Eagles have won 6 of their last 7 and seem to be on a similar run like last year which led to a Super Bowl, I believe this is where it comes to an end.  You know what game was right before the 6 of 7 run?  A 48-7 loss to these same Saints in the same place where they will play on Sunday.  Of course, the Eagles are not the same team now as they were at that point in the year.  But New Orleans was 13-3 this season…13-2 if you don’t count the last game of the year in which they mailed things in.  In a recurring theme, they are at home and have had a week off.  Drew Brees should be a little refreshed.  The game won’t be as ugly as the mid-season one.  But I suppose there is a chance it could be.

New Orleans 34, Philadelphia 17.  

Week (against the spread):  1-3

Week (straight up):  2-2

Season (against the spread):  143-117

Season (straight up):  165-95

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Wild Card Round…

Sweet week for the Blowhard last week as the NFL wrapped up its regular season.  But we will save the comparisons to last years picks until we are all said and done, however.  We will also save any analysis of the New England Patriot/New York Jets “barnburner” as well.  Because, quite frankly, the J-E-T-S were pathetic per usual this year and no one cares to even revisit that blowout win as good as it may have made some people feel.

We will also not waste any time figuring who the Patriots may play next week.  Cross that bridge when we get to it.  Instead, let’s focus on this weeks’ slate, which looks like to be a good one:

Indianapolis at Houston (-1.5)

Third battle of the year between these divisional foes.  Pair of close ones were the first two, both teams winning on the road each by a margin of three points.  Indy has been red hot, winning 9 out of its last 10, including basically a playoff game in the last NFL regular season game of the year against the Tennessee Titans.

But let us not forget the Texans started 0-3, so they went 11-2 the rest of the way.  Their only 2 losses in that span was a three-pointer to the Colts and a two-pointer to the Eagles at Philadelphia the second last week of the season.  Not too shabby.

Houston looks to be in at least a slightly better position health-wise, especially with the Blowhard seeing Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton hobbling around on the field against the Titans.  Lamar Miller returned last week and DeAndre Hopkins is a beast.  Andrew Luck is on some kind of roll along with his team, but Deshaun Watson has been no chump himself.  We also think (know?) that the Texans have the better defense.

Could (should?) be another exciting game to open the weekend, but this time the home team wins.

Houston 31, Indianapolis 27.

Seattle at Dallas (-2.5) 

I’m honestly not sure I can take either of these teams seriously.  The ‘Boys have won 7 of their last 8.  But their last three games include getting whitewashed by the Colts, barely beating Tampa Bay, then also barely beating the New York Giants with several of their starters playing the entire game, despite it meaning absolutely nothing to them.  Ok, Ezekial Elliott did not play, but still.

The Seahawks last three games include losing to the 49ers, then beating the “mighty” Kansas City Chiefs.  Then closing out the season by barely beating a wretched Arizona Cardinal team.

So who wins?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Seattle is not the same dominant defensive team as they have been over the last decade or so.  The Cowboys appear to have some young studs on D so they may have a little bit of an edge there, for whatever that is worth.

My best guess is that we see a lot of running plays and kind of a boring tilt, to be honest.  But I am also guessing that at least it will be another close one.  So this alone should be worth the watch.  Dallas is 7-1 at home.  That may be the deciding factor for me, believe it or not.

Dallas 24, Seattle 20.  

Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore (-2.5)

The Chargers won 5 of their last 6 to close out the regular season.  The one loss?  At home two weeks ago…to the Baltimore Ravens!  Coming a mere 10 days after LA’s thrilling win against the Chiefs in Kansas City that gave them a shot at the division win…and #1 seed.  KInd of a letdown, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t have a problem with Philip Rivers.  I used to hate the guy, but now I am just kind of indifferent toward him.  He’s a good player.  But one thing I can say is that I have never really trusted the guy in the postseason.  Or the Chargers in general actually.  San Diego or Los Angeles.

The Chargers seem to be a little more banged up than the Ravens.  But you know what I have found funny?  People have been getting overly excited about the possibility of Hunter Henry returning this week.  First off, the guy has missed all season after blowing out his knee in May.  May?  And all of a sudden in early January he is going to make a significant difference?  How many plays is he going to get in?  Against arguably the best defense in the league?  Please stop it.

The Ravens are 6-1 since Lamar Jackson took over at QB.  And the one loss was a game they kind of choked away at Kansas City.  Sure, Jackson can’t really throw worth a lick at this point in his career.  But can Joe Flacco throw a lick at THIS point in HIS career?  Ok, that may be kind of harsh towards Flacco.  But Joey is about as average as you can get as a QB.  He did the Ravens a favor by getting hurt and getting Jackson in the flow.  John Harbaugh probably thinks so.  He was getting fired 6 weeks ago and now he appears to be back in good graces with the team and the fans.

The Ravens won by 12 in LA two weeks ago.  I’m thinking this may be about right this time around too.

Baltimore 27, Los Angeles Chargers 17.  

Philadelphia at Chicago (-6.5)

The Bears won 9 of their last 10 to finish 12-4.  Their defense gave up the fewest points in the NFL, 4 less than the Ravens.  Therefore, their defense has gotten some accolades and perhaps deservedly so.

Their offense actually scored the ninth most points and they were only a handful of points out of the top five.  Really?  Wait, their defense may have had some part of that point total, but I am not going to go too far into those numbers.  Regardless, the team scored more points that I would have thought they would have.

Especially considering who they have.  Mitchell Trubisky seems to have gained a lot of fans this year.  I am not sure why.  Well, admittedly, I have not watched a ton of Bear football.  But the amount I have seen, I can’t say I have been thoroughly impressed with ol’ Mitch.  Running game?  Jordan Howard has been pedestrian, at best.  Tarik Cohen is explosive, but how many touches can you give a guy of his stature?  Their receivers are nondescript.

I don’t see it.  I haven’t seen the infatuation all year.  Look at the 9-1 finish too.  Not exactly a Murderers Row.  A nice Sunday Night win against the Los Angeles Rams for sure.  But maybe the warm weather Rams didn’t enjoy playing a mid-December night game in Chicago.  Hmmmm…

In the meantime, an underachieving Eagle team finished strong under the guidance of last year’s playoff hero Nick Foles.  Deja vu anyone?  Hate to say it, but it is entirely possible.  I may even have to put some money on it.  Does anyone else in the NFC scare you?  None of this weekend’s combatants do, I can tell you that much.  The Los Angeles Rams?  Kind of coming back to earth down the stretch and how healthy is Todd Gurley?  The New Orleans Saints?  Drew Brees has looked human recently.

I’m guessing this is where the Bears get exposed.  Saint Nick!!

Philadelphia 27, Chicago 20.  

Week (against the spread):  13-3

Week (straight up):  12-4

Season (against the spread):  142-114

Season (straight up):  163-93

Typical Patriots?

Not quite yet, I’m afraid.  What we mean here is, “typical” where the New England Patriots start off a little slow in September (by their standards), such as 2-2 and then steamroll to at least another AFC Championship game by going something like 11-2 (including playoffs) after that.

A lot of fans want to point to that.  Hell, I want to too.  But I’m not there yet.  We’ve spoken before about how “this year feels different”, from several angles.  The sometimes (often?) public snippiness between coach and stars.  The overall talent, or lack thereof.  The different way both the team and its two biggest studs went about their offseason this past summer.  And all that.

The win against Miami was nice.  But there’s a significant possibility that the Dolphins aren’t really very good, despite leaving the game with a still good 3-1 record and first place standing.  The ‘Phins apparently are missing some decent players and on top of that, they lost a couple more during the game.  That’s what I’m hearing anyway.  I have no idea if these injured players are any good, truth be told.

I do know Ryan Tannehill is a certified bum.  That’s not going to help a football club in any way, shape or form.  But who are they going to turn to there, Brock Osweiler?  Ummmm…nope.  Ask Jay Cutler to unretire again?  Ugh.  Miami is actually carrying 4 QB’s, so I suppose there are two more options already on the roster.  I don’t know, there are people who like Tannehill though, so maybe…nevermind…I don’t think we really need to dive all that deep into the Dolphin quarterback situation.  My apologies.

The Patriot defense sure played better, despite the average, at best, opponent.  That has to be encouraging, no matter who the opponent was.  But then again, maybe it’s because the Dolphins forgot that Kenyan Drake ran for a ton of yards down the stretch last year, then gave him only three carries against the Pats.  Drake didn’t do anything with those three carries in the game, but I’m thinking that may not have been enough to get him started.  Especially early in the game before it got out of hand.  I mean, did Adam Gase and his staff watch the Patriot run defense the first 3 weeks?

The Patriot offense looked better of course too.  But still doesn’t appear to be a finely tuned machine.  I mean, has anyone seen the Patriot de facto #1 receiver thus far, Chris Hogan?  Thank God Josh Gordon looked useful in limited action (though the question will linger, how long can he keep his nose clean?  (Pun completely intended).  Julian Edelman comes back Thursday.  But let’s see what he looks like.  Missing all of last year with injury and now he can’t take any juice anymore.  Is the quickness still there?  We will see.  Can’t hurt though.

To the Blowhard, the jury is still out.  Speaking of the Pats…

Indianapolis at New England (-10.5)

…glad to see the Colts come to town.  Looks like Indy has their share of injuries too, including one to receiver T.Y. Hilton.  Huge break for the Pats if Hilton can’t go.  And even Adam Vinatieri is tending to a groin injury.  Can’t have kickers getting hurt, though it seems like a few of them around the league have missed time this year already.  In any event, to top it all off, there are a lot of questions about Andrew Luck’s arm recently.  I suppose that will tend to happen when the coach yanks Luck for Jacoby Brissett to throw a Hail Mary at the end of the game a couple of weeks ago.  Maybe the arm is ok, maybe it’s not.  But it sure took a while to figure out when he was going to play this year over the past offseason.  Where there is smoke there is fire, as they say.

So yeah, Gronk is nursing an ankle issue too and hasn’t looked all that great when he has been on the field this year to boot.  Several reporters have said that the injury is “not serious”.  But…you have to worry about Gronk’s health no matter what.  Plus, we have to worry if Gronk’s Dad will allow him to play with even a slight injury.  I’m not too concerned about it though…yet.  I suppose I should be, seeing that the alternative is more Dwayne Allen.

Here’s hoping the team continues to improve on both sides of the ball and doesn’t overlook this game to the next one…a Sunday Nighter against the smokin’ hot Kansas City Chiefs.  I’m thinking as long as the Patriots show up, this one should be easy enough.  But again…nothing is guaranteed with this group this season.

And…what if the Colts are fired up about the “Josh McDaniels Experience”?  Well, that may be an issue more for the front office after Josh left them at the altar.  I suppose Frank Reich may just ruin that mojo by being overly aggressive…

New England 34, Indianapolis 17.

Week (against the spread):  8-7

Week (straight up):  10-5

Season (against the spread):  30-33

Season (straight up):  37-26

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