It’s the first weekend of the NFL playoffs and it’s also apparently a free money giveaway by the oddsmakers. Normally, we would never condone betting on the NFL because the games are universally impossible to predict and this season has been especially wacky in terms of gambling possibilities. Underdogs have been winning left and right and ridiculous covers have made this a good year for the leg-breakers. This week features three huge (for the NFL) spreads and an underdog that could win outright. Like we said, don’t gamble on the NFL unless you’re really sure of yourself. We’re pretty confident this weekend, but don’t blame us when it all goes to hell. We only want the feeling of being right to wash over us, mostly because we don’t have any money…but that’s beside the point.
Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) at Indianapolis Colts (12-4) (-7)
There aren’t very many 12-4 teams that look as vulnerable as the Colts. Their run defense has been the story all year because of how horrible it is, but their pass D isn’t great either. It’s just that no one throws on them because they don’t have to. If Indy were playing the Jets, a team with a questionable running game, the seven points they’re giving wouldn’t seem so outrageous. But Indy against a running team at home in the RCA Dome? The Chiefs should at least cover this game, even if they have to attach a car battery to Larry Johnson to keep him going.
Which reminds us, it’s not that Johnson set the NFL record for carries (because everyone expected the Chiefs to rely on him this year), the problem is the beating he took all season. LJ is not like LaDainian Tomlinson who is quick enough to avoid a lot of hard hits. He’ll be fine in the playoff game, but what about next season and the season after that? Power running backs are like boxers. They can perform at a high level for a long time, but eventually, “it” just disappears. The same thing happened to Eddie George. At a certain point, he just couldn’t run like he used to. One has to question the wisdom of potentially sacrificing a team’s star player and its long-term success for a 9-7 season and the last playoff spot in a loaded conference. Still, in this game on Saturday, the Chiefs have cover written all over them.
Dallas Cowboys (9-7) at Seattle Seahawks (9-7) (-3)
The Cowboys are the underdogs that should definitely win outright. They’ve looked shaky the last few weeks and the hacks on television and the radio are doing what they do best: blaming Terrell Owens. He drops the ball. He’s a bad teammate. Parcells is going to leave because of him. It goes on and on. No one seems to want to talk about how the Cowboys played well above their talent level for most of this season and have simply come back down to earth. Did anyone really thing Tony Romo would play as well as he was for an entire season? You have to love a guy getting elected to the Pro Bowl essentially for seven games of outstanding play. It also says a lot about the NFC’s quarterbacks this season, but that’s an entire other column.
Anyway, why could the Cowboys win this game? Because Seattle is the worst division winner in a long time. Their offense hasn’t been on track in about 15 weeks and their defense has been porous at best this season. They’re the only team in the playoffs to be outscored this season. In fact, there are four teams (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Denver) that didn’t make the playoffs that weren’t outscored this season. It’s also no coincidence that they’re all AFC teams either. Admittedly, the Cowboys are limping into this game. They lost a game they should have won easily last week which is why they’re on the road this week. Seattle is weak and it only takes one week for a team to right the ship for at least one win. Or at least a cover. What’s that? No, we’re not suddenly nervous about this pick at all. What are you talking about?
New York Jets (10-6) at New England Patriots (12-4) (-8.5)
Correct us if we’re wrong, but didn’t the Pats and Jets split the season series? How does that justify giving the Jets 8.5 points? This spread is ridiculous. It’s the second-craziest spread involving the Patriots since their first Super Bowl win when they were 10-17 point dogs to the Rams, depending on who you asked. Also, it’s not like the Patriots are a juggernaut on offense or defense, they’re a solid but unspectacular team. They’re at home, which means they’re still a favorite, but this is the playoffs.
The Jets have been doing what they do all season. No one is sure exactly what that thing is, but they’ve been doing it well enough to go 10-6. There’s absolutely no reason to believe they’ll get blown out in this game, even if they are heavily scented with the “just happy to be here” cologne. In a way, Jets fans are the poor-man’s Charger fans this year. They can’t really believe their team did this well and aren’t really sure how to react. Should they get their hopes up for a win over the Pats? Or should they just enjoy that they’re the most unlikely playoff team in a long time and hope they can improve and do even better next season? If we were in their shoes, the only disappointment that could happen is if they didn’t cover this insane spread.
New York Giants (8-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) (-7)
With respect to the Cowboys, the Giants are by far the most interesting story of the playoffs (other than the Chargers’ awesomeness!). Will they gather their pride and win a game or two to salvage their awful season? Or do they hate Tom Coughlin so much that they simply will not win for him under any circumstances, especially circumstances that could save his job? There’s also the Tiki Barber retiring and Eli Manning potentially looking horrible again in the playoffs sub-plots. We hope they’ll melt down in an “Eli throws three INT’s, throws his helmet at Jeremy Shockey, who -of course- proceeds to drop it and then Coughlin blames the team’s ‘poor execution’ for the whole thing” kind of way.
The Eagles are also interesting because of their general confusion about making the playoffs this year without Donovan McNabb. We’re secretly hoping that the Eagles do well enough to convince themselves that Jeff Garcia is a better fit for them, only to deal McNabb and see him make the Pro Bowl five more times and never make the playoffs again under Garcia. But even Matt Millen isn’t that stupid. Um, even the Raiders aren’t that stupid. The Browns and Bucs maybe? Nevermind. The point is that Philly would kill Donovan McNabb, Mike Schmidt, and Rocky Balboa for a title in any of the major sports. That’s not to say the Eagles can win the big one this year, but this is about as good as it gets for Philly these days. We say the Eagles cover, but if you’re doing a three-game teaser, this isn’t the game for you.
Happy new year everyone. We’re just gonna sit back and enjoy the fact that the league’s best team, the 14-2 (!) San Diego Chargers don’t have to play until next week. After that, we may not sleep again until they lose or win it all.