Monday, January 17, 2005

NFL Divisional Playoff Round

Well, the Wild Card round was apparently just a lot of sound and fury. All of the top seeds advanced in the second round, no time with a bye lost. Despite the predictability of having all the top-seeds advance, people were probably surprised about three things that happened this weekend.

1. How badly the Colts played against the Patsies. Bill Belichick has a habit of derailing potent offenses. (See Bills in Super Bowl XXV, Flutie in 98 and Colts last few years). Why wouldn't they he be able to do it this time? Many picked the Colts to upset the Patriots considering how their offense was even better this year and the Patriots had so many injuries in the secondary, but we have seen this before. Belichick always has a new wrinkle, the personnel doesn't matter. Nevertheless, it surprised me how badly the Colts played. I had expected that if the Colts lost, they still would be able to score a couple more TDs, apparently not... In the conference championship, the game ended up being 24-14 in favor of the Patriots. I wonder whether the difference this time is New England's addition of Corey Dillon who allowed them to grind out the clock on a number of time-consuming drives.

I had to listen to the game on the radio as I was driving back home from NJ, so I missed this, wish I hadn't...

And thus, the pondering of Peyton's legacy began. It even spilled over to the CBS postgame show, where Boomer Esiason's blindside line -- 'He is this generation's Dan Marino' -- caused Marino to fix Boomer with a Pittsburgh Mob stare that ensures Boomer best come with bodyguards for the pregame show from Heinz Field next Sunday. Boomer's bomb at Marino set the stage for some tense postgame analysis. When Marino went to the 'How many playoff games did you win?' retort, I couldn't decide if Marino's 8-10 record, which includes a Super Bowl loss but is more dense with victories, trumps Boomer's 3-2, which also includes a Super Bowl loss.

2. The Jets keeping it close against Pittsburgh. Many thought the Jets got into the playoffs via the backdoor. They started out 5-0 and ended up going 5-6 the rest of the way. If it wasn't for a Bills choke job in their final game against Pittsburgh, the Jets would have been stuck at home. Then they beat the Chargers, which they got too little credit for. Everyone assumed it was just another Marty choke job, when it wasn't. The Jets were just a quality football team that was losing a number of close ones, they finally got it together against the Chargers. This week, though, they should have won another one. They blew two opportunities to win the game before OT and they made Big Ben look like just another rookie. Unfortunately for them, they will have to wait till next year.

3. The St. Louis Rams were completely blown out by the Falcons, when most thought it would be somewhat close and a few had picked them to upset. There goes my dream of an 8-8 team in a Super Bowl since this was coupled with a Vikings lost on Sunday.

Leading up to this week, Tuesday Morning Quarterback (Gregg Easterbrook), had pointed out the exceedingly high winning percentage that teams with a bye have in divisional playoff games.

These points against gambling made, are you still looking for a sure thing? Try the home teams in the NFL divisional round this weekend. Home teams in the NFL divisional round are the surest sure thing in sports. Since the current playoff formation was adopted in 1990, home teams in the divisionals are 45-11, an .803 winning figure. The home teams have just finished a bye week and relaxing in hot tubs as their opponents are out in the cold while being pounded. Usually the reason the home teams had byes in the first place is that they are better than the wild-card round teams. Home teams dominate the NFL divisionals, so check-mark them in your office pool. You don't even need to know which team is playing! Just go for the home team in the divisional round. A week later at the championship round, the home advantage dissipates. Since 1990, home teams in conference championships are 16-12, a .571 winning figure. That is nearly identical to the rate at which home teams win all games: During the 2004 regular season, home teams went 145-111, a .566 winning figure. At the championship round, nobody's had the previous week off and the Super Bowl is just one "W" away. Players leave everything on the field at championship contests. So at the next step the home team won't necessarily be the favorite.

His prediction proved right.

Going into the playoffs I had originally picked a Colts/Falcons Super Bowl. I thought picking the top seeds was too easy and I just felt that these were the most explosive teams and therefore had a good shot of making noise. Obviously, this matchup is no longer possible. So I am revising...

AFC Championship: Patriots 23, Steelers 10
NFC Championship: Falcons 24, Eagles 20

I cannot think of the last time that both home teams lost in the championship games in one year. I believe in Super Bowl 27 in the 92 Season, the Bills beat the Dolphins in Miami and the Cowboys beat the 49ers in San Francisco, but I cannot remember any time after that...

So it doesn't happen often, but I don't buy Philly without TO and I don't buy the Steelers with or without Big Ben. I am hoping for a Steelers-Falcons SB, but I am afraid the hated-Patriots will be on their way to another trophy after all.

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