Saturday, January 07, 2006

Wildcard Weakened ... er, Weekend

During the regular season, I went a whopping 172-84 in picking games straight-up. That's a hair over the magic two-thirds line that separates the experts (me) from the poseurs (not me). Keep that in mind when you use the following playoff predictions as your basis for wagering on the first-round games. Two out of three of these will be right, so the teams I pick will ... lead for 160 of the 240 minutes in the four games?

Washington at Tampa Bay: Since my wife and I stopped subscribing to The Washington Post, I haven't been as plugged in to the D.C. sports zeitgeist as in years past. I try to listen to John Riggins when he's on WTEM, and that's about it, but from what I can tell, the Redskins fan base is doing its best to keep this whole playoffs thing in perspective. One postseason berth in a dozen years will do that to you. I don't get The Tampa Tribune, either, and Lee Roy Selmon isn't taking my calls, so I couldn't tell you what the mood is in Florida. When these two teams met in Week 10, the game was decided by a disputed two-point conversion in the final minute. Immediately after the game, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that Mike Alstott had gotten into the end zone. Now the winds appear to have shifted, and that same wisdom says Alstott didn't get in. In any event, Redskins fans are still pissed, Bucs fans are still defensive, and Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms still struggles in "big games." As much as it pains me, I'll go with Washington. At least one road team has to win this week, and it isn't going to be the warm-weather teams playing in the Northeast. Pick: Redskins.

Jacksonville at New England: Oh, my aching head. For those who are unaware, both the Jaguars and Patriots have gone to the Me-So-Disrespected Card to psych themselves up for this game. Frankly, if there were a way for both teams to lose, I'd be rooting for it. On successive days, I saw Tom Brady declare at a press conference that no one is giving the Patriots the respect they deserve, then Bill Belichick say at a press conference that his team doesn't care what people think of them. A word of advice to the kids out there: If you want to be taken seriously when you say you don't care what other people think, try not to appear so obsessed with what other people think. It's especially grating because I've been saying for weeks that Brady should be a lock for MVP for getting his team through the season on will and arm strength. Now he comes out with this garbage. I don't doubt for a second that the Crybaby Gambit will, in fact, get the Patriots motivated, but in the end it's a loser's tactic. Brady's words can't diminish his accomplishments, but they do diminish him as a person. As for the Jaguars, you knock that sh!t off, too. You haven't beaten anybody of note since October, so of course people are skeptical. Pick: Patriots

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati: Know what's really liberating about no longer having to put my picks up against those of 30 other sites week after week? I can go with the gut and not second-guess. I'm going with Cincinnati here because I want them to win. Oh, and because I think they might win. One and a half out of three ain't bad. Pick: Bengals.

Carolina at New York Giants: Carolina benefited from a schedule packed with NFC North and AFC East rollovers, plus two late games against a Falcons team that was falling apart at just the right time. They picked up 11 wins against a healthy assortment of powderpuffs sprinkled with contenders, but now they have to go into Giants Stadium. People there yell mean things and probably make cracks about NASCAR and bare feet when Southern teams visit. Personal stuff. I don't see it turning out well for Carolina. I know New York is fresh out of linebackers and perilously low on defensive backs. I know Eli Manning cries himself to sleep at night. But the Panthers are down to one offensive weapon, Steve Smith, and everyone knows it. Pick: Giants.

And in case you're wondering: Yes, I do know that Down and Distance's exclusive POW-R-'ANKINGS disagree with all these picks but Washington-Tampa. Shhhh.

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