NFL Picks: Divisional Playoffs
Gamblor finally scored a big victory against Green Bay last week and had an incredible week overall, going 3-1 with a truly amazing weighted win percentage of 97.0%. Sadly, its profit of $487 was completely theoretical – as I mentioned last week, Gamblor isn’t designed to run during the playoffs. It’s just as well; I lost my voice cheering at the end of the Cardinals game – if I’d actually put down the $470 that Gamblor was angling for I probably would have had a heart attack – especially when Rackers missed that 34-yard field goal at the end of regulation. He didn’t even have the courtesy to at least hit the post!
(To watch this video, right-click and hit play)
I’m very excited about my feature this week because it’s inspired by one of the playoff games we’ll be watching. I’ve actually been saving this countdown all season in hopes that we’d see this matchup, and soon enough you’ll understand why I consider our number one entry in today’s feature to be the greatest athletic accomplishment in the history of organized sports.
The Top 5 Most Unusual On-Field Collisions in NFL History:
5. An overhead camera insufficiently supported by its cable system collided with the ground at Qwest Field. October 14, 2007. I can’t get enough of the overhead shots that these cameras deliver. It gives you a great look at the action of how the play is developing, and there’s a lot more perspective of just how broad the field truly is and how quickly the players are moving. I wish they used it on every play. But in a 2007 game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks, the camera’s cable system failed and it fell to the field. Luckily, it was during a timeout so no play was interrupted, and even more luckily, it didn’t hit any of the players – though it apparently came pretty close to tagging Seahawks receiver Bobby Engram. After a ten minute delay, the camera was lifted back up and parked over the Seahawks sideline and the players scampered every time it came close to passing overhead.
4. A football kicked by Ray Guy collides with the gondola at the Louisiana Superdome. January 26, 1976. When Cowboys Stadium opened this year, all anyone could talk about was the gigantic television screen above the field, and how every Cowboys home game would be interrupted a few times when punts bounced off of it. But as detestable as Jerry Jones can be, he can’t be shouldered with all of the blame. The league set the specification for the height of structures above the field at ninety feet, and he followed that to the letter. But it also shouldn’t have been a surprise that punters were able to hit it. After its inaugural season in 1975, the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans was host to the Pro Bowl. Since his Oakland Raiders had lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game (which featured the Immaculate Reception), John Madden was coaching for the AFC. His own star punter, Ray Guy, asked for permission to try to hit the gondola, which was about ninety feet above the field. The obsessively competitive Madden initially told his player “Hell no, this is a game,” but later relented, realizing that the Pro Bowl was nothing more than an exhibition and told Guy to “go for it.” To the delight of the crowd, Guy’s punt went up, up, up, and whacked the gondola. The rules then were the same as they are now – any put that hits a fixed object must be re-punted – and with his second chance Guy took a bit of height off his kick and sent it 60 yards downfield.
3. A snowball thrown by a criminally irresponsible fan collides with San Diego Chargers equipment manager Sid Brooks’ head. December 23, 1995. In the Giants’ regular season finale against the San Diego Chargers, a stadium populated by far too many classless fans took out their frustrations over their team’s disappointing 5-11 season. In a classic case of mob mentality that made Philadelphia fans look like mere vandals by comparison, the New York fans pitched snowballs and hunks of ice from the stands despite repeated warnings from the officials that the Giants were in danger of forfeiting the game. Eventually, one fan hit Chargers equipment manager (and decorated Korean war veteran) Sid Brooks in the head with a hunk of ice and knocked him unconscious. Video of this was around up until a few months ago but I can’t find it anymore, and I’m kind of glad – it’s sickening to watch. Brooks collapses much the same way that Pat White did two weeks ago. In response to the chaos, the Giants put out a full-page apology in the San Diego Union-Tribune, revoked the season tickets of 75 fans, and pressed charges against a number of fans, including an offer of $1000 to anyone who could identify one particular fan that was caught on camera hurling a snowball and became the poster child for the incident.
2. A penalty flag thrown by referee Jeff Triplette collides with Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Orlando Brown’s eyeball. December 19, 1999. It was a freak accident that was completely avoidable, and there really was no excuse for this incident to have occurred – and no excuse for Orlando Brown’s behavior after it did. Prior to this incident, most penalty flags were weighted with metal BB’s so the flag would fly in a straight trajectory. Apparently it didn’t occur to the NFL that hurling hard metal objects (instead of something equally functional but soft, such as sand) might eventually cause a serious injury – and it was a lesson that ruined Orlando Brown’s career and cost the league $25 million in a lawsuit settlement. Referee Jeff Triplette had tossed the penalty flag in Brown’s direction, and in a case of bad luck it slipped between the bars of his facemask and struck him in the eye. After Triplette apologized and the Browns medical staff had attempted to tend to the player, Brown stormed back onto the field and threw Triplette to the ground. Brown blamed his violent response on having watched his own father lose his sight to glaucoma in 1993, but the league suspended him immediately only to lift the suspension when Brown’s injury failed to heal. He sat out for three seasons before attempting a comeback, and eventually filed a $200 million lawsuit against the league.
1. A whiskey bottle thrown by a Minnesota Vikings fan collides with the skull of referee Armen Terzian . December 28, 1975. Imagine you’ve watched your team put together the best record in the conference at 12-2, and along the way your quarterback has won the MVP award. You’ve scored tickets near the end zone for the divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. Sure, it’s late December at Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota, which is pretty much the coldest place on planet Earth at that time of year, but it’s the playoffs, baby! And to fortify yourself you’ve brought along a bottle of Corby’s whiskey. It’s a ferocious game, and your beloved Vikings put together a magnificent seventy yard drive – probably the best drive in NFL playoff history as far as you’re concerned – to take a 14-10 lead with just five minutes left in the game. A few plays later and those pissant Cowboys are backed up to their own fifteen yard line with under two minutes left. On fourth and sixteen the referees give the Cowboys another breath of life with a completely bullshit ruling of a force-out – there’s no way he would have come down in bounds – but it’s not a big deal. They’ve got fifty yards to go with just twenty-four seconds left. Staubach’s getting old, and he could never throw it all that far to begin with. Not like your man Fran.
After the snap, you see Staubach pump fake to the left and feel a momentary surge of disappointment – Percy Howard looks open but Terry Brown was watching Staubach’s eyes – he might have picked it off. Instead Staubach turns and hurls it down the right sideline. Terrible looking pass – he throws it off his back foot and with incredible clarity of vision despite having finished the whiskey celebrating the Vikings touchdown you can see that Staubach’s goddamned eyes are closed when he lets go of it. Should be cake for Nate Wright to knock it down – he’s got Drew Pearson wrapped up tight. But..wait..WHAT THE FUCK! Pearson pushed off! He put his hands right into Wright’s back! How can the referee not see this? Wright’s going down, and you can’t even see what happens next because you’re so furious that everything has gone red. Of course it’s a fucking touchdown, and that bovine sack of zebra assholes just stood there and watched it happen like he just finished sucking off an oil derrick and doesn’t have enough energy to pull the flag out of his back pocket. He practically fucking smiled when he put his arms up to signal the touchdown. Oh, NOW the fucking flag comes out, as Alan Page argues with that goddamned crook. Fuck! Fucking bullshit!
And suddenly everything becomes crystal clear. You barely notice that you’re wearing thick winter gloves, or that your muscles are stiff from being in an outdoor stadium for four hours during the coldest part of the year. That Terzian fuck is more than fifty feet away and you’ve got twelve ounces of whiskey pumping through your veins, but when you cock your arm you’re so focused it’s as though he’s standing almost close enough to touch. Your pour every bit of angst, rage, frustration, and fury into that whiskey bottle in your hand. Not just about the game but about every aspect of your shitty existence where you can’t seem to catch a goddamned break if your goddamned life depended on it. This was going to be the year. This was going to be the year the Vikings finally brought home the trophy after getting shafted the last two years in a row, and that piece of shit referee out there fucked it all up.
You throw the whiskey bottle. You put everything you’ve got into it. And your aim is true. It flies straighter than any pitch Nolan Ryan has ever thrown. It sails more accurately than any pass than Tarkenton threw in his entire career. It’s the best throw that anyone has ever made. Ever.
The bottle hit Terzian in the head, opened up a gash on his forehead, and knocked him unconscious. An alternate official finished the game in his place. The Cowboys won the game, 17-14, and lost the Superbowl three weeks later. The pass from Staubach to Pearson is where the football expression “Hail Mary” comes from. Vikings fans have never forgotten this.
And now, on to the picks…
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Gamblor’s Pick: Arizona (+7)
Bet Amount: $42.29
|WHY I AGREE: Only three teams were able to beat the New Orleans Saints this year, and two of them
did it after the Saints had stopped caring about winning. But a number of teams (Miami, St. Louis, Washington, and Atlanta) were able to at least keep things reasonably close. For the most part, the Saints were only at risk of losing when they let an opponent jump out to an early lead. When they lost to Dallas in Week 15, it was because the Cowboys put together touchdown drives on their first two possessions and held onto their lead for the remainder of the game.
After watching the Arizona defense fail to stop Aaron Rodgers a single time during the second half of their supremely entertaining win against the Packers, it’s hard to believe that they have much chance of stopping Drew Brees and his arsenal of offensive weapons for long. But as it happened, they were able to stop Green Bay for long enough to build enough of a cushion to survive the eventual comeback. Will they be able to accomplish this against New Orleans? It all depends on how quickly the Saints’ offense heats back up. It’s a common saying that it takes a quarter to come back up to speed for each week they’ve taken off. Which means New Orleans won’t show up until the fourth quarter.
Even if you don’t consider the two throwaway games in Week 15 and 16, New Orleans has only been 2-6 against the spread recently. As such, they are very much like the New England Patriots of 2007, who limped through the playoffs without covering the spread a single time. It’s hard not to root for New Orleans, and once they do get their engine running smoothly again they’ll probably put up 35 points in a row, but at that point it won’t be enough to cover the spread. They’ll be lucky if it’s enough to win.
Gamblor’s Pick: Indianapolis (-6.5)
Bet Amount: $6.65
|WHY I AGREE: An important thing to remember about the Colts’ season is that nobody actually beat
them. And there were only four times that they legitimately failed to cover the spread. But the first such time, in their first game of the season, was after a lackidasiacal preseason where Manning only played in two of the four games, throwing a total of just 29 passes.
Some folks who opinion I respect think the layoff has been too much for the Colts, and that there’s a good chance they’ll lose this game. I don’t. But I do think they’ll be rusty, just like they were against Jacksonville in Week 1. This Colts team passed up their chance at an undefeated season in order to rest up for the playoffs. They’ve had three weeks to study film on the Ravens – and they’ve already seen them once this season. Manning is smart enough to make the most of this opportunity, and he’ll *know* exactly how to beat the Ravens when he faces them. The question is whether or not his offense will have sufficient rhythm to pull it off.
When the Colts beat the Ravens in Baltimore by the score of 17-15 in Week 11, it was just a week after their very memorable win over the Patriots and two weeks removed from a tough divisional game against the Houston Texans. It was an ugly game for both teams. Manning threw a pair of interceptions and all of Baltimore’s points came from field goals. The last time Indianapolis hosted a game between these two teams was in Week 6 of 2008. That game had a lot more in common with what we’ll see on Saturday. The Colts were still fresh from a Week 4 bye, and were very anxious to redeem themselves after a miracle win at Houston. The Ravens, on the other hand, were still battered from losing a pair of tough games to Pittsburgh and Tennessee. The Colts proceeded to intercept Flacco three times in a casual 31-3 victory.
They Ravens haven’t been an underdog of more than 4 points this season, and there’s really no good reason for them to be getting so many points now, according to Gamblor. It’s true that the Ravens have kept a lot of games close this season. They certainly were in total control of the Patriots last week. But what else have they done when facing quality teams this season? The only playoff-bound team they beat during the regular season was San Diego. By contrast, they’ve been beaten by New England, Cincinnati (twice), Minnesota, Indianapolis, and Green Bay. Baltimore simply isn’t good enough to dominate like they did last week on a regular basis.
Manning’s been too sharp this season for me to believe that he won’t win this game – and although it will take a little while for the Colts offense to heat up, once it does they won’t have any trouble running away with this one.
Gamblor’s Pick: Dallas (+2.5)
Bet Amount: $4.63
|WHY I AGREE: Although Dallas is one of the most obnoxiously public teams in the NFL, they were
very stealthy in achieving their 11-5 record this season. They’ve been on a roll since Week 15, when their victory over the previously undefeated Saints shattered their December curse and inspired their defense to serve up the first pair of consecutive shutouts in team history. But they’re going to need every bit of that momentum (and perhaps more) if they’re going to beat the Minnesota Vikings.
These teams don’t play each other very often. The last time they played against each other was in 2007 (in Dallas, a 27-14 victory for the Cowboys) and the last time the Cowboys made the trip to Minneapolis was in Week 1 of 2004 (a 35-17 win for the Vikings). Since the coaches, quarterbacks, and most of the key players are all different, there’s really nothing much to be learned from that contest.
Minnesota’s only true misstep this season was losing at Carolina in Week 15. They’re undefeated at home, and the three other games they lost were to Pittsburgh (where they were in position to at least send the game into overtime before an interception was taken back 82 yards), Arizona (where the Cardinals played flawless defense), and Chicago (where Jay Cutler played the best game of his season). But the cracks have begun to appear in the most important place – the offensive line. With no holes to run through, Adrian Petersen has been spinning his wheels lately, and Farve has had a lot less time to look for targets downfield. Against Dallas’ potent pass rush, this does not bode well.
The Cowboys will be able to run the ball well against the Vikings. By limiting the pressure on Romo to perform, Wade Phillips has enabled his quarterback to loosen up and deliver his best play. It’s going to be very tough to beat the Vikings – especially in the dome. And the spread reflects this. I wish the Cowboys were getting that extra half point, but even so, I think they’re the better play here.
|NEW YORK JETS
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Gamblor’s Pick: New York Jets (+7.5)
Bet Amount: $10.88
|WHY I AGREE: I feel sorry for the Jets here. The Chargers’ offense isn’t complicated. Phil Rivers
floats the ball downfield and one of his gargantuan receivers reaches up and catches it. Even though it’s been blatantly obvious what they’re going to do, nobody’s been able to stop them from doing it.
San Diego’s running game is useless at this point, and that won’t change against the Jets. Tomlinson hasn’t had a single hundred-yard game this season, and Sproles rarely gets to carry the ball. Which means that the Chargers will be relying on Rivers, Jackson, Gates, and Floyd to deliver points. Which they will. But the Jets do have a worthwhile running game, and they’ll be able to control the clock very well. Even though he’ll be facing a hostile crowd, Sanchez will be thrilled to be back in Southern California. I doubt he’ll be too rattled here. Without turnovers to work with, the Chargers will get frustrated, won’t get their rhythm back very quickly, and probably won’t be able to build much of a lead, especially in the first half.
If that’s the case, it’s anyone’s game. Phil Rivers is adept at leading his team to comeback victories, and I think he’ll be capable of that here, too. But this game should remain close enough that the spread will factor in.
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