I won the first game yesterday with that Carolina win against the, unsurprisingly, PATHETIC Cardinals offense, but I lost the later game as the Steelers just couldn’t get it done without Le’Veon Bell. I thought Big Ben could do it and I just didn’t think the Ravens had been playing well enough down the stretch, but I was wrong. So…on to the next one!
Playoff Record: 1-1
Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts (-3)/(o/u 49)
Cincinnati has looked fantastic down the stretch with that win against the Broncos on Monday Night in Week 16, while the Colts have floundered a little bit with a bad loss to Dallas 42-7 in Week 16.
There are two huge injuries of skill players that affect this game. First, the Colts haven’t been the same since Ahmad Bradshaw got hurt against the Patriots in Week 11 and the second one is AJ Green who will be out for the Bengals this week.
Bradshaw added a really exciting dimension to the Colts this season and in the games he played this year the Colts averaged 33.2 points per game versus the 24.6 they’ve averaged since he got hurt. Another issue with injuries the Colts have is that they’ve used 10 different starting offensive line combinations this season. While Trent Richardson has been a huge bust in the NFL, he’s playing behind an offensive line that needs someone with Bradshaw’s skill set rather than Richardson’s. Bradshaw had 425 rushing yards on 90 attempts (4.7 ypc) and 38 catches for 300 yards (7.9 ypr) with a total of 8 touchdowns.
Daniel Herron has stepped up a little bit and will hopefully continue that for the Colts heading into the playoffs against the team that drafted him in the 6th round in 2012. As he’s stepped into Bradshaw’s role against one of the worst teams in the NFL against running backs, Bradshaw had 10 carries for 52 yards, three catches for 36 yards and two total touchdowns.
On the other side, Andy Dalton has two touchdowns and three interceptions in the three games that AJ Green missed this season. The Bengals did look great in that win against the Broncos, but this AJ Green injury is a real game changer. On top of that, their third leading receiver, Jermaine Gresham is questionable with a back injury. Unlike the Colts with a guy like Boom Herron replacing Bradshaw, there’s no one on the Bengals who can replace Green, let alone Green and Gresham. Even if Gresham plays, he’s going to have a tough go of it with a back injury.
I’m going to make this pick quick because as poorly as the Colts played in the Dallas game and as much as I love the backfield of Hill/Bernard, I don’t see the Bengals beating them without AJ Green. The game being at home, where the Colts beat Cincy 27-0 back in October, is just more reason for me to pick Indy to win.
MY PICK: Colts -3
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys (-6.5)/(o/u 48)
What a match up! The NFL’s leading rusher against the best rush defense in the league! Smash mouth football that will get the old folks fired up!
An interesting stat, 6 of the top 8 rushers in the NFL made the playoffs with the other two, LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster, being on teams that went 10-6 and 9-7. I’ve reconsidered the article I wrote at the beginning of the year regarding the value of running backs and will be coming out with a response to that after a year of high-value running backs, with DeMarco Murray being at the top of that list of high-value backs.
I think that this game will come down to the passing game for both teams as the Lions are the 28th team in the NFL averaging only 89 yards per game and with the Lions rush defense being 1st in the NFL. It’s worth noting that the Lions rush defense hasn’t played too many great runners this year, but they did play Matt Forte and Eddie Lacy twice. They Matt Forte to 61 rushing yards and 12 catches for 92 yards in those games, but Eddie Lacy did have a 100-yard game in week 17. The way the Packers ran the ball down the field on that first drive against the Lions last week was very impressive and worth thinking about when you pick this game as the Cowboys rushing attack averages about 27 yards more per game. The Packers ran for 152-yards, which is the most against the Lions all year.
Other than Forte and Lacy, the best running backs that the Lions faced were a Mark Ingram who was in his first game back from a broken hand and ran for 16 yards and Andre Ellington ran for 42 yards on 19 carries. Eddie Lacy was the only back who reached the century mark, but I don’t think Murray has to do that for the Cowboys to win.
Like I said previously, I think this will come down to the Lions 12th ranked passing offense against the 16th ranked Cowboys. I predict big games for Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant as that’s to be expected from two of the best players in the NFL, especially considering the Johnson had 14 catches for 329 against the Cowboys in their game last year.
For what we’re talking about here, the Lions trying to cover 6.5 points, the two match-ups we should be most concerned about are DeMarco Murray against the Lions rush defense, which we’ve already talked about, and the Lions pass attack against the Cowboys 26th ranked pass defense that’s giving up 252 per game.
With Reggie Bush back and looking pretty explosive in Week 16 against the Bears having 98 total yards and I think that he and Golden Tate will have to be huge X-factors for the Lions to cover.
As much as the Lions have let people down in big games over the years, including the fact that they’re 1-10 in the playoffs in the Super Bowl era and in the midst of a seven game franchise losing streak that’s one shy of the record held by Kansas City, I think that they cover in this match-up because I think it favors them.
The Lions have the second best defense in the entire NFL and the best rush defense, which is what’s going to be needed to stop a runner like DeMarco Murray. On top of that, the Cowboys weakness on a good defense is their pass defense and the Lions have the weapons to go off on any given Sunday.
The Lions have the 28th ranked rushing offense in the league going up against the 8th best rush defense, but Joique Bell, Reggie Bush and Theo Riddick give them three unique backs who allow them to get the ball in space to make plays. They just have to run the ball well enough to keep Dallas’ defense honest and I think that Joe Lombardi is a good enough coach to come up with creative ways to keep the Cowboys off balanced.
Tomorrow will fall on the shoulders of two uber-talented quarterbacks who have always found unique ways to annoy fans over the years. I respect the hell out of both players, but Stafford has had turnover problems as Romo has had those tough fourth-quarter moments that cause for the social media explosions we all see.
I think tomorrow comes down to which quarterback performs better in a shootout much like the 34-30 game between these two in 2011 and the 31-30 game in 2013, both of which Matt Stafford guided the Lions to comebacks.
While the Cowboys will have the place rocking for their first playoff game since 2009, I think the Lions have what it takes to cover, if not win outright.
MY PICK: Lions +6.5