• Blitz Picks 2015: Wild Card Playoffs


    RG:After a whirlwind final week to a regular season that still had some interesting scenarios change the playoff match-ups, the focus is now back on the specific teams, the specific playoffs and the great storytelling that we have each week of the playoffs. As usual, the best questions surround quarterbacks. In my opinion, it's actually good that the Broncos got the bye because it allows us to discuss some really fun things about Kirk Cousins, A.J. McCarron and Brian Hoyer instead of talking about Peyton Manning's tenth playoff one-and-done.

    IT COMES IN THREES

    1) Is Kansas City or Pittsburgh more likely to advance to the Divisional round?
    RG: I think it is Kansas City. I have done my usual complete statistical capsules of each game. If you have ever heard my podcast in the past, I take many stats from Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, NFL.com and some of my own basic formulas (QB Rating difference, yards per play difference, 20+ yard plays allowed, etc,..) and make conclusions about them. The process has usually been good when games go normally, but is quite poor at getting the weird games correct. If a team doesn't turn the ball over in the regular season and then does it five times during their Wild Card game, then I always miss that pick. It's not an exact science, but it does give me an idea of where teams will probably attack and where the advantages should be.

    Anyway, despite the likelihood that the Steelers won't have to face Andy Dalton, the Bengals are still well positioned in many categories. I think the probable loss or total ineffectiveness of DeAngelo Williams for this game is most damning for Pittsburgh. They will be less able to hold a lead if the passing game is successful against a tough Bengals pass defense. Vontaze Burfict is going to be a key piece in the game for Cincinnati. His recent ability to help in the passing game better than he ever has will be a huge part of the game. Almost everything I am looking at seems to point to a close game that we are used to seeing from two AFC North teams.

    Obviously, the play of McCarron is the key for the Bengals. They will have a tough time trying to instill life into their stagnant running game (20th in 1st downs per rush, 20th in yards per rush) against the sixth-best defense in yards per rush. The Bengals lack of a consistently powerful running game is one of the great mysteries of the league this season. However, the little bit that we have on McCarron is that he might be able to be successful against the Pittsburgh pass defense. A healthy Tyler Eifert is huge for them as I feel it opens the whole offense for them. I was a bit surprised that he played in week 17, but the reps there without another injury should make sure he is on top of his game Saturday night. The Bengals are 4th in yards per pass this season, trailing only Seattle, Arizona and these Steelers.

    The Kansas City-Houston game looks to be a slugfest on Saturday, something that the Chiefs and Texans both have some recent experience with. I look at their capsule and I see two incredibly similar teams. They are both in the bottom of the league in offense, but Houston's offense just is much worse overall. Obviously, their numbers are skewed due to the fact that 4 guys started at quarterback and because 5 guys took snaps. During their 7-2 run, the Texans have just nine turnovers. The Chiefs have seven in their last ten games and are 2nd in turnover difference. The Chiefs are 31st in the league in even attempting passes downfield (Vikings are last, at just 60 such attempts). Despite the loss of Charles, the Chiefs have still had an efficient running game. They are 3rd in yards per rush and 1st in first downs per rush. They haven't needed to throw deep because they are efficient on the ground and are not giving up unnecessary chunks of field position.

    I think their game comes down to one thing-- who is more likely to commit a turnover. I think that team is the Texans. Since the question is about who is more likely, I think I put the chances of Houston losing the turnover battle-- and the game -- at about 65% while I put the Pittsburgh win percentage at something barely above 50% simply because Dalton isn't playing.

    BW: I’m assuming that this will surprise exactly no one, but I’m going to have to disagree with you here, my friend. You hit on a lot of great points, and have done some fantastic research, so I don’t need to go too deep here.

    The first point is that I think Houston is being undervalued. While the Chiefs are superior on offense when we compare the two teams statistically, thanks mainly to a running game that managed to be hugely successful despite the loss of Jamaal Charles, you hit on the biggest difference, which is that Houston had 7 games that were started by Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden. We’ve discussed my thoughts on the job Bill O’Brien has done with Brian Hoyer, who has been very good every time he’s stepped on the field. He’s thrown for multiple TDs in 7 games, and never threw more than 1 INT in a single game. While the Chiefs have won 10 in a row, the Texans are on a pretty good stretch of their own, having only lost at Buffalo and to New England since October. Both defenses are playing very well, are solid against the run, create turnovers, and get to the opposing QB. But much of what you’ve written tells me why the Chiefs won’t lose. Kansas City is loath to taking chances, and are led by the ultra risk-averse tandem of Andy Reid and Alex Smith. In playoff games, I’m looking for reasons that a team will win, and when it comes to two even teams, I’ll take the team playing at home that features the best player on either side of the ball in DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt, and will also do everything it can to put the ball into the hands of its best playmaker in Hopkins. Bill O’Brien may not yet be the coach that Andy Reid has been throughout his career, but Reid has had a habit of playing scared in playoff games, and I can’t see that happening with BOB. Plus, there is no way a QB with the middle name of Axel is backing down from anyone.

    For Pittsburgh, I think it all boils down to their defensive front. For as shaky as the secondary can be, it has improved as the season has gone on, thanks in large part to a front 7 that has wreaked absolute havoc in the 2nd half of the season. The Steelers finished 3rd in the league in both sacks and turnovers, and while this moment certainly won’t be too big for A.J. McCarron, I’m favoring the defense with a penchant for making game-changing plays against a very green starting QB. Yes, there is no doubt the loss of DeAngelo Williams will hurt, but that just means that the Steelers will be forced to rely on putting the ball in the hands of their best player. This is not a Ben Tate situation, as both Fitzgerald Toussant and Jordan Todman are much better prepared to take on the running and passing down duties than Ben Tate and Dri Archer were at this point last year. Expect to see more of Todman as the Steelers go with a lot of no-huddle on offense. And while Antonio Brown has been held in check by the Bengals this year, the Steelers will also mix in a ton of Heath Miller, who has 20 receptions in the 2 prior matchups, and it’s about time for Martavis Bryant to step up with a big play.

    The Bengals have a history of hitting the panic button too soon in big games under Marvin Lewis, and despite Cincinnati having the superior set of RBs, the Steelers held the Bengals to 78 and 64 yards rushing in their two meetings this year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them abandon the running game if it’s generally ineffective and they fall behind, which means it will come down to A.J. McCarron against that front 7. In that case, I’ll favor the team with a QB and Head Coach that have plenty of experience in actually winning playoff football games.

    2) Same question about the NFC North- Are the Vikings or Packers more likely to advance to the Divisional round?
    RG: This one is much easier. It's the Packers. Now, I don't believe in Green Bay and their ability to make a deep playoff run, but they have some positive things going for them. I'll detail more below, but the Seahawks-Vikings game is one of the most lopsided comparisons I have seen in the years I have been doing this for the playoffs. The one good thing the Vikings do is run the ball. Seattle can stop that, ranking third in the league in yards per rush allowed.

    The Seattle game has a good chance to finish exactly as it did a few weeks ago when the Vikings lost to them 38-7. Yes, Linval Joseph and the return of other defensive players will have a say in keeping the game closer. However, once Seattle gets ahead at all, they can just squeeze the Vikings offense into oblivion. The Seahawks weakness on defense is against tight ends. I am not sure if Kyle Rudolph is dynamic enough to beat them on his own. The wide receivers are not going to have good days. The actual stats for the Minnesota defense ended much more toward the middle of the pack in some key stats. Some of that is because of the late season injuries on defense, but that should not have pushed the Vikes down to 21st in yards per rush allowed and to 15th in yards per pass allowed. I'll get into some more detail below, but without weather shenanigans causing all sorts of issues for the Seahawks, the game seems lopsided on paper. That doesn't mean the Vikings can't win, but there is a clear favorite in that game.

    In Washington, Aaron Rodgers has to outplay Kirk Cousins and the Redskins pass defense. Despite the struggles for Green Bay, I find that scenario to much more likely.

    BW: Rich, the beauty of this article is that I don’t feel that either one of us has ever fallen into the trap of taking a contrarian stance merely for the sake of the article. That always runs so hollow, and I know that I respect you enough that when you say something that I completely agree with, there’s no reason to manufacture a debate. And that is exactly what is making this week so beautiful, because once again, I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    Green Bay played their best football prior to their bye. From the start of November, they are an incorrectly called facemask/longest-game-winning-hail-mary-in-the-history-of-the-NFL away from being 3-7. Their all-world QB in that 10-game stretch has a QB rating under 82 and a YPA of 5.97. The only QB in the league with at least 10 starts to have a lower rating is Nick Foles, and among all QBs with at least 6 starts, the only one with a lower YPA is Ryan Mallett. The Redskins defense is not very good, but neither is the Packer offense, and there is absolutely nothing that suggests that they’ll suddenly break out of their funk this week. They couldn’t even wake up against a bad Bears defense on Brett Favre Night.

    Meanwhile, the Redskins are playing their best football right now, and their offensive rise can be directly attributed to the return to health of Desean Jackson and Jordan Reed. Starting in November, through their final 9 games, Kirk Cousins has a QB rating of 118 and a YPA of 8.8. Meanwhile, Green Bay CB Sam Shields still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol, and doesn’t look likely to play this weekend.

    Neither team is very good defensively, but I’d still give a slight edge to Washington. On offense, there is no comparison, as the Redskins have spent the last half of the year performing as one of the league’s best while Green Bay has spent that same stretch as one of the league’s worst. Yet Green Bay is favored. Maybe if we remove the decal from the Packer helmet the public will finally start to see the truth. The biggest mismatch of the weekend is taking place in the Nation’s Capital. C’mon, admit you like that!

    As for the Vikings, I’m not going to sit here and say that I expect them to win, because I don’t. But I don’t see this as nearly the mismatch that you see. In the first matchup with Seattle, the Vikings played most of the game without 3 of their best defenders. Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith each left that game early, while Linval Joseph never even suited up. The weather is also playing into the hands of the Vikings, because while it looks like we’re not going to be getting a white out, the potential for sub-zero temperatures and breezy conditions (can it qualify as a breeze when it’s that cold?) will impact the offenses and keep this game closer to the vest. Plus, there’s a historical trend that has rematch games hitting under the total 55% of the time. Just last week, in a week filled with rematches, 11 of 16 contests finished under the projected total. This game feels like a Marshawn Lynch vs. Adrian Peterson special as both teams are likely to play relatively close to the vest. Lynch is probable to return, but is this really the weather to make your return from a sports hernia in? I do think the Seahawks find a way to survive, but beyond the statistics, there are many underlying factors that show that the Vikings will not only compete, but will have a decent shot at pulling this game out.

    3) Last year, the Broncos and John Fox parted ways following Denver's loss to New England in the AFC Championship game. Is there a coach this year that is potentially in danger of suffering a similar fate?
    RG: It's hard to find a candidate. When I think of the power teams this season, I continue to see favorable positions for guys like Rivera (up-and-comer), Arians (already respected), Darth Hoodie (never leaving) and Seattle (Super Bowl participant two years running).

    It couldn't be Denver for two years in a row simply because of the situation at quarterback and the fact that Elway specifically brought in Kubiak. The Steelers and Bengals don't change coaches. Andy Reid got a lot out of team that still has some holes. Bill O'Brien isn't going anywhere after the job he did this season, taking the mantle away from the Colts in the AFC South. Gruden's 'Skins weren't supposed to be here.

    Basically, that leaves Green Bay. They also don't make rash changes, either. Also, I don't know if McCarthy could possibly be held responsible for DeVante Adams getting hurt and then dropping everything in sight. Maybe he could be blamed for letting Eddie Lacy become a buffet maven. Still, he can't be blamed too much for the team needing to get an older James Jones for the offense. He can be blamed for having some part in the stagnant offense this season, but I don't think that is enough to remove a guy from a perennial NFC power. I think Green Bay is the only candidate and they are a fringe one; at best.

    BW: Sometimes we get stuck into thinking that if something happened last year, it’s likely to repeat itself again the following year. I’ll admit that this question was my idea, but it’s not because I actually think that there’s a playoff coach out there who’s going to get fired this year. But the Fox firing was relatively shocking, especially coming off an AFC Championship appearance which followed a Super Bowl appearance, so with surprise firings by definition coming out of nowhere, I do think it’s worth exploring the options.

    Of the 3 potential candidates, the one that I eliminate right away is Mike Tomlin. While there are rumors of periodic discord between he and Art Rooney, and there are many Steeler fans who have become, in some ways rightfully, frustrated and annoyed, specifically with regard to the Steelers’ penchant over the years to lose way too many games to sub-.500 football teams. But there’s something to be said for a guy who can lose his star QB, yet find a way to beat the fully healthy Arizona Cardinals with a 3rd string QB. If not for an idiot kicker, the Steelers would have been 3-1 this year with Michael Vick and Landry Jones under center. That’s more than can be said for many other coaches in the league. The Dallas QB situation shouldn’t have been quite that bad, and they’re in a much worse division, yet look at their struggles without Romo. Few coaches are perfect, so when a coach can keep his team’s head in the game, even without their star, and even when the replacements can’t get your other star the ball, replacing him feels like a mistake. Plus, he signed an extension last year that runs for 3 more seasons, and there’s no way they’re paying the $18 million to let him walk.

    It is so rare for a coach to be with the same organization for a full decade or more, so any sign of discord should give a little pause. Prior to the start of last season, Marvin Lewis was given a 1-year extension through 2015. After what’s now been 13 seasons with the franchise, the fact that he was only extended through this season shows the heightened urgency felt in Cincinnati. Last year, the Bengals again bowed out of the playoffs in disappointing fashion, and no other coach in the history of the league has been given 13 seasons to win his first playoff game. This year has been the best of the Marvin Lewis era for Cincinnati, but the Bengals are now faced with another trip to the Wild Card round with a backup QB leading the charge. Even with McCarron at the helm, and especially with OC Hue Jackson receiving so much interest on the open circuit, if the Bengals face another home playoff loss and 1st round exit, this time to a hated rival, I think it’s at least possible that they consider not renewing Marvin Lewis’ contract, with Hue Jackson as the most obvious choice to replace him.

    And yet, I’m not even certain that Lewis should be considered the most likely of the unlikely to go. Has anyone else noticed the daggers that Aaron Rodgers has been sending Mike McCarthy’s way this year? During McCarthy’s decade-long tenure in Green Bay, the Packers have been consistently good, which is the biggest reason why McCarthy would almost certainly survive even a bad playoff loss in Washington this weekend. But when is good simply not good enough? I mean, McCarthy’s biggest fortune is that for 8 of his 10 years in Green Bay, Rodgers has been his QB, with Brett Favre as the QB during his first 2 seasons. Especially in the now 5 years since what could now be conceivably perceived as a relatively fluky Super Bowl win as a Wild Card, the Packers have mostly dominated a generally ok-but-not-great NFC North, but have had a shaky 2-4 playoff record.

    The offense has struggled mightily this year to replace Jordy Nelson. I’m sorry, Nelson is a really good player and all, but the Packer offense has been a shell of itself since early October, and I can’t pin all of that on Nelson and certainly not on Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy has arguably the most dynamic player in the game in Rodgers, yet for years has run an ultra-conservative offense focused on ball-control and eliminating turnovers. Granted, that system has also opened things up in the past for Nelson in particular, but while conservative can work very well in the regular season, especially in today’s NFL, high risk usually equals high reward. When you play too conservatively, or build a roster too conservatively, while you usually avoid losing to the dregs of the league, once you hit the playoffs and play the best of the best, usually it’s the conservative team that eventually loses to the team unafraid to try and reach their ceiling. It’s clear that as long as McCarthy has Rodgers, the Packers will continue to be a very good team. However, are there any signs that they’re going to take the necessary steps to get better under McCarthy’s leadership, or have they hit a stale, stagnant stage of playoff purgatory that puts them one step behind higher ceiling teams like Seattle, Arizona, and Carolina? In Green Bay, there is one goal—a Super Bowl. I have to wonder at what point the conservative-by-nature Ted Thompson finally takes on a risk of his own and tries to find a coach that may do a better job of finding a way to reach that ceiling.

    FANTASY MINUTE

    RG:Fantasy minute will return for the 2016 regular season. May your late round picks be similar to Allen Robinson. May your keepers stay healthy.

    BW: Hey, I had to grab Allen Robinson in round 4 last year. And he will be my keeper next year. I wish he was a late round pick.

    Oh, and you're so going down in that playoff league. You too, Kocsan. I see you hiding back there. Three games for the Texans is happening, people. Viva La Brian Hoyer!!!

    RG: I'm in a playoff league? When did that happen? If I finish in last, surely it's because my dog did it for me while I medicated myself after realizing that Jay Cutler is going to running yet another new offense unless Dowell Loggins becomes the guy. If I do well, then I totally remember everything.

    THE PICKS

    Saturday, January 9, 2016

    Kansas City at Houston, 4:35 EST- BW:While many appear to be viewing this matchup as the black sheep game of the weekend, I feel like it may be the most difficult game to predict (RG: I agree.), and I am imploring you to not sleep on the winner next week, whether they travel to Foxborough or Denver.

    Both teams lost their all-pro starting RB early in the season (Charles/Foster), Kansas City has done a much better job than Houston in maintaining their effectiveness on the ground, averaging 4.7 yards per carry with a league leading 19 TDs. Meanwhile, the Texans finished near the bottom of the league in both categories at 3.7 and 7. The good people at Football Outsiders back up this advantage, as the Chiefs rank #1 by a healthy margin in rush offense. Also, while the Texans are pretty good at protecting the football and have a +5 TO margin, the Chiefs rank 2nd in the league with a +14, forcing 29 TOs on the season. All of that makes the Chiefs a very patient football team that is content to allow the other team to make the crucial mistake. Only the Rams ran fewer than the 992 offensive plays the Chiefs ran this year.

    Houston's best chance may come with their pass rush. The Texans have 45 sacks on the season, which ranks just behind the Chiefs as the 5th best total in the league. However, Kansas City has allowed 46 sacks on the season, 7th most in the league, which is an even more alarming number considering the relatively few offensive plays the team ran. J.J. Watt sees you Alex Smith.

    I like both defenses, which leads me to believe this will be a closely contested slugfest. The Chiefs have a more diverse offense, and while Jeremy Maclin has done a very good job in his first season in KC, the Chiefs are not a team that relies on one weapon. However, in a close game, I look for the superstars to take over. When Kansas City has the ball, the best player on the field will be J.J. Watt. When Houston has the ball, DeAndre Hopkins is the best player on the field, and he very well may be the difference, as despite their defensive success, if the Chiefs have one weakness, it's in stopping the opposing team's #1 WR. Notably, they've struggled against Sammy Watkins, Antonio Brown (with Landry Jones at QB), Stefon Diggs, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Marquess Wilson, and Hopkins. Look for Brian Hoyer to feed Hopkins about 12-15 targets. In a game like this, one big play may very well be the difference. PICK: (KC 4-3)

    Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 8:15 EST- BW:It feels like the common perception is that Pittsburgh will enter this game with a large advantage at QB, and Cincinnati has an advantage pretty much everywhere else. I just don't think it's as cut and dried as that.

    The Pittsburgh defense is certainly prone to give up the big play, and the Bengals have plenty of weapons to take advantage of that. A.J. Green in particular has made a living lighting up the Steelers. However, while the Pittsburgh secondary is shaky at best, the front 7 is the most dynamic it's been since their run to a Super Bowl in 2008. 1st year DC Keith Butler has brought the thunder back to a defense that finished 3rd in sacks with 48, and tied for 3rd in turnovers with 30. Nothing can hide a secondary's flaws better than a disruptive front 7, and while A.J. McCarron is about as battle-tested as can be expected from a young backup QB with 3 career starts to his credit, he's facing a pretty tough assignment this week.

    For Cincinnati, even though they're likely to struggle with the run, they absolutely cannot give up on it if they expect to win. In last year's Wild Card loss to the Colts, after a successful first half running the football, the Bengals called Jeremy Hill's number exactly 4 times in the 2nd half, including just once in their final 5 possessions. The defense struggled in the 2nd half, but the offense did no favors with 4 or fewer plays on each of their first 5 second half possessions for a TOTAL of 20 yards. Sticking with the run should help Cincinnati control the clock, and will open up the play-action game for McCarron to get the ball in the hands A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, the two biggest threats against the Pittsburgh defense.

    Ben Roethlisberger's 328 passing yards per game this season are the 3rd best mark in NFL history. However, Big Ben also has just 5 TDs to 9 INTs on the road this year. The Bengals managed to hold Antonio Brown to just 134 yards combined in their two games against Pittsburgh, which is pretty remarkable considering Brown averaged 133.25 yards receiving this season with Roethlisberger under center. In total, while Pittsburgh finished tied with Arizona for the league lead with 6.3 yards per play (a figure that was even higher with Roethlisberger in the lineup), the Bengals managed to hold the Steelers' offense to 5.3 and 5.1 yards per play in their two meetings. Ben's efficiency is probably the biggest key to this game, especially since he may be forced to throw 50 times with DeAngelo Williams likely to sit out. Heath Miller had 10 receptions in each meeting with Cincinnati this year, and I expect that he'll have another big game as the Bengals continue to prevent the Steelers from connecting on one (or more) of their patented vertical plays. PICK: (PIT 4-3)

    Sunday, January 10, 2016

    Seattle at Minnesota, 1:05, EST- RG:It seems to me that the only two things that favor Minnesota in this game are the weather and Adrian Peterson. The high temperature for the game should be somewhere around 0 with a wind chill about ten degrees below that. Though it seems unlikely with the forecast, Brian and I may get our wish if any precipitation is able to muster itself up on Sunday. It is also possible that Peterson just has one of those games where he goes off. Without those two things, I would not give Minnesota much of a chance at all unless the Seahawks somehow turn the ball over five times or other weird things happen.

    First and foremost, Russell Wilson is riding a streak of 25 touchdowns and 2 interceptions thrown. He is number one in the NFL QB rating and PFF’s QB rating. He might have been the best quarterback in the league that no one talked about because of Cam Newton’s 15-1 campaign. His stats are better than Newton’s. It’s hard for me to fathom that much in this world right now will get him off his game. The narrative about them being the most dangerous Wild Card team does not seem unfounded. Even though I made fun about it happening, Seattle really might have been the best late-season team.

    My thoughts (From regular season columns) that Seattle is a paper champion may only have the support of some crazy Minneapolis weather and Jeff Fisher’s perpetual run to 7-9 or 8-8. However, Seattle can’t stop tight ends and there is no correlation between playoff runs and December success (According to Football Outsiders). Also, Seattle’s problems with the Rams comes down to the fact that they can pressure with four, allowing for more players available in coverage and/or to spy Wilson.

    Minnesota seems to be good enough with their pass rush that it is possible they disrupt the offense some. They were 7th in sacks and ranked 7th in PFF’s pass rush ratings. Still, the defense was just 14th in DVOA and 13th in yards allowed. In this field, the Vikings defense rates are below average. Simply put, as stated above, if Lynch is less than 100% and the Minnesota front four is getting pressure without the aid of blitzes, then the Vikings become a much better opponent.

    Meanwhile, the Seahawks are #1 team in DVOA for the fourth straight season. In 19 ranked categories of stats from my capsules, they rank in the league's top five in 17 of them. Those seventeen stats are: OYPG, offensive yards per rush, offensive yards per pass, defensive yards per game, defensive yards per rush, defensive yards per pass, overall DVOA, offensive DVOA, defensive DVOA, special teams DVOA, QB rating, defensive QB rating, offensive third down percentage, turnover differential, first downs per rush and time of possession. They still are a juggernaut.

    I think the Vikings need a specific set of things to happen while the Seahawks can manage victory with some hiccups. The Vikings need weather to wreak havoc, maybe a missed extra point or two (Seattle did miss 4), a big game from Adrian Peterson along with some sacks and turnovers. Minnesota might have been better off losing last weekend in order to face Green Bay in Lambeau again as this match-up might be their toughest hill to climb when looking at the other Wild Card teams. PICK: (SEA 6-1)

    Green Bay at Washington, 4:05 EST- RG:This is exactly the type of match-up that becomes more fun for me to research than others. We have a team that isn’t supposed to be there against a team that is normally in the NFC Playoffs that seemed to have a down year. It seems easy to get behind Washington since everyone has floated out the stat that Kirk Cousins has 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions since he exclaimed, “You like that?”

    It’s easy to look at how each team has played recently and think that the Washington Redskins have the advantage in this game. The stats tell a different story about the key to the game. It doesn’t really come down to Kirk Cousins playing well. The key will be whether or not Aaron Rodgers and the offense can take advantage of what looks to be a favorable situation. Before the Nelson injury, this very idea seemed like a ludicrous thing to ever discuss. The answer surely would have been, “of course.”

    Anyone that has watched the Packers this season has been able to note how bad the current crop of receivers have been in dropping passes and getting separation. Eddie Lacy has been ineffective far too often and they have been forced to continue playing Starks despite his five fumbles in order to give Rodgers any support in the running game.

    So, that brings us to this favorable situation. The Washington football team really has been all about the rise of Kirk Cousins and his ability to protect the ball better than he did before the YLT (You Like That) game. Despite having Matt Jones and Alfred Morris, they only average 3.7 yards per carry, good for 28th in the league. Their defense is worse. They are 30th in yards allowed and 26th in yards allowed per pass. They are 30th against the run in the same category. Washington is only 14th in sacks (38). They are 22nd in opponent quarterback rating. Almost every team in the top ten in those stats is in these playoffs.

    Can Aaron Rodgers take advantage of this? It’s hard to think that he can’t. Still, we have only seen glimpses of the "normal" Aaron Rodgers throughout the season. Kirk Cousins is probably right behind Russell Wilson when discussing "hot" quarterbacks. The stats will be replayed over and over before Sunday afternoon, but there is no doubting that tons of reps and healthy statuses for DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed make the Washington offense something to be feared.

    Despite that, the Redskins defense is still the same one that gave up over 400 yards passing to Kellen Moore last weekend. Football is a funny game. I have no doubt that Cousins will be fine and I can see how the Packers lay another egg, but I still can't quit on Aaron Rodgers. However, if the Redskins protect Cousins (27 sacks allowed-4th best) and the Green Bay receivers still can't get open, the Washington quarterback won't have to wonder if anyone likes him or what he did when walking through the tunnel as a victorious man. PICK: (WASH 5-2)

    LAST WEEK: 11-5
    SEASON: 159-97 (62%)
    UNANIMOUS: 44-17 (72%)
    WRITER'S VETO: Finishes 3-9 with 5 abstains. We won't be doing this for the playoff games.

    Comments 63 Comments
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Viva La Brian Hoyer!!!
      Um, you know 'la' is the feminine definite article in French, right? You just called Hoyer a girl.

      BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL!!
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      Um, you know 'la' is the feminine definite article in French, right? You just called Hoyer a girl.

      BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL!!
      'Viva' is Spanish, though. 'La' is the feminine definite article, still, so...
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      A couple of obvious streaks for Saturday that we didn't mention.

      The Bengals playoff winless streak is pretty well known, but the Chiefs have lost 8 in a row.

      Brian Hoyer is clearly a girl if he can't beat that kind of thing.

      HEADLINES! Rogue internet site trolls unite!
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      fyi, Marvin Lewis is under contract for 2016.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Ummmm...

      I can be really smart until it comes to invoking a foreign language. I once thought I aced a Spanish test. Problem was, I answered all of the questions in German.

      I wish I was kidding. I'm exaggerating a bit, but that story is true.

      And if Brian Hoyer loses this weekend, yes he's a girl.

      Isn't the last QB to lead KC to a playoff win Joe Montana? I haven't looked that up (probably should have), but that sounds right to me. That's 22 years ago.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Bengals1181 View Post
      fyi, Marvin Lewis is under contract for 2016.
      Still an easy buyout if they so choose.

      And that's something I didn't find anywhere. I saw his extension through 2015, but never saw anything about his status for 2016, though it makes sense since we'd have probably heard more about it if his contract was set to expire.

      I believe McCarthy's contract probably runs through 2018, though again, Google was terrible about nailing down an exact date.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      In case you haven't figured it out, while I get the feeling that we will not be seeing the NFC Super Bowl representative this weekend, I do think we'll be seeing the AFC rep. And while I'm clearly picking the Steelers, even if they lose, I think the AFC rep is playing on Saturday.
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Brian Williams View Post
      Still an easy buyout if they so choose.

      And that's something I didn't find anywhere. I saw his extension through 2015, but never saw anything about his status for 2016, though it makes sense since we'd have probably heard more about it if his contract was set to expire.

      I believe McCarthy's contract probably runs through 2018, though again, Google was terrible about nailing down an exact date.

      he signed an extension for 2016 back in April.

      http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap300...ract-extension



      not sure what he's making as far as being buyout friendly. I know its north of $3M/yr, but don't know what specifically. Still, its not Mike Brown's MO.

      IMO the only way Marvin Lewis isn't HC of the Bengals next year is if Hue Jackson is, with Marvin taking some kind of front office position.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      An item we neglected to mention, but that puts a significant cramp into my Texans prediction is that LT Duane Brown has been placed on IR.
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Brian Williams View Post
      In case you haven't figured it out, while I get the feeling that we will not be seeing the NFC Super Bowl representative this weekend, I do think we'll be seeing the AFC rep. And while I'm clearly picking the Steelers, even if they lose, I think the AFC rep is playing on Saturday.
      The Steelers are the only team that can compete with the Patriots to get to the Superbowl. If the Steelers lose, then it would take a meltdown by the Patriots to not make it to the Superbowl.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by hobbes27 View Post
      The Steelers are the only team that can compete with the Patriots to get to the Superbowl. If the Steelers lose, then it would take a meltdown by the Patriots to not make it to the Superbowl.
      Quite probably. But the Patriots have lost 4 of 6, aren't playing well, and Julian Edelman is not the answer to all of their problems. The OL is a mess, and high ankle sprains don't heal overnight. The top 5 sacking teams in the league are all in the AFC, and only 1 of those teams is the Patriots. Pittsburgh, KC, and Houston are 3, 4, 5.

      Of course it's not likely, but I'd give KC and Houston a 37-42% chance at beating the Patriots next weekend, and if the Bengals beat Pittsburgh to get over the hump, and are the next team to face NE, that game may very well be close to 50/50. Especially if a healthy Dalton is back.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Brian Williams View Post
      Isn't the last QB to lead KC to a playoff win Joe Montana? I haven't looked that up (probably should have), but that sounds right to me. That's 22 years ago.
      That would be correct.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Saturday, January 9, 2016

      Kansas City at Houston, 4:35 EST-
      Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 8:15 EST-

      Sunday, January 10, 2016

      Seattle at Minnesota, 1:05, EST-
      Green Bay at Washington, 4:05 EST
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      I just read Fitzgerald Touissant (RB Michigan) will be the Steelers' starter Saturday night. This gives me trepidation about my PIT pick.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      I'm pretty sure the four longest playoff win droughts are Cincinnati (1990 season), Detroit (1991), Kansas City (1993), Cleveland (1994), and Buffalo (1995). Is the next longest Oakland (2002)?
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt Kocsan View Post
      I'm pretty sure the four longest playoff win droughts are Cincinnati (1990 season), Detroit (1991), Kansas City (1993), Cleveland (1994), and Buffalo (1995). Is the next longest Oakland (2002)?
      No. Close, though.

      The rest of the list of teams with no playoff wins in the last decade:

      Miami (2000)
      Oakland (2002)
      Tampa Bay (2002 -- SB XXXVII)
      Tennessee (2003)
      St. Louis (2004)
      Washington (2005)

      Full List here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...ctory_droughts
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      I forgot about Miami and Tampa Bay! It's kind of easy to forget how bad the Dolphins have been--apart from that '08 division title when Brady was out for the season, is Miami's last playoff appearance that 62-7 drubbing by Jacksonville?--I knew Tennessee was in that range, though.

      By the way, seven teams in the AFC--or, you know, one team shy of half the conference--haven't won a playoff game since my freshman year of college (or 2003). To get to that number of teams with a playoff win drought, you have to go to 2009. I don't know what that means, exactly, but it's a pretty stark difference.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      (I looked it up, and the 62-7 loss for the Dolphins in Jimmy Johnson's last game was the 1999 season. In 2000, the Fins lost in the divisional round, 27-0. In 2001, they were between 20-3 by Baltimore and in 2008, 27-9. In their last four playoff eliminations, then, Miami has lost by a combined score of 136-19. Jesus.)
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      I just read Fitzgerald Touissant (RB Michigan) will be the Steelers' starter Saturday night. This gives me trepidation about my PIT pick.
      He may get 10 touches. Expect a lot of Jordan Todman to go with a lot of no-huddle.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Marshawn Lynch has been downgraded to 'out'. I was hoping to see him on fresh legs (even coming off injury). That guy is always great in the playoffs.