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NFL Picks – Wild Card Weekend

The Chargers reached the playoffs with help from a handful of teams, poor officiating, and dumb luck. Can they parlay their good fortune into playoff glory?  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

If you’re one of the five people that’ve read my blog consistently over recent years, you know I fare well in the postseason. Over the last three years, I’ve managed a 22-11 record. Am I bragging? No, this is me warning you I’m due for a catastrophic playoff run. Consider yourself warned.

Last Week:  14 – 2 – 0
Season:     169 – 86 – 1

Saturday, January 4 (4:35PM ET)

(5) Chiefs at (4) Colts
Right about now is when I wished I paid a little more attention to the Colts over the final three weeks of the season. I wrote off the Colts after the Bengals dismantled them. Then Indianapolis beat the Chiefs in Kansas City and quite convincingly, too. I thought picking against Indy would be my easiest selection of the day. Instead, I’m grasping at straws trying to figure out if what I saw in Kansas City on December 22 was a fluke or simply the better team beating the lesser.

The Colts have a few things working for them that make believe they could win Saturday. Andrew Luck is obviously capable of beating anyone with a great game. Even without a reliable ground game and great receivers, Luck had another solid season. Indianapolis also boasts the NFL’s sack leader. That combined with the noise of the dome crowd and a tentative Alex Smith could cause big problems for the Chiefs and result in huge plays for the Colts.

However, I love the way the Chiefs are built. They remind me of Andy Reid’s early Philadelphia years when he relied on a stout defense and Brian Westbrook to carry the offense. Kansas City doesn’t need a career performance from Smith. It hasn’t relied on its offense to win games all season. Defenses travel in the playoffs. Reid’s won his fair share of playoff games away from home thanks to great defenses. One or two big plays from Jamaal Charles, a turnover free performance from the offense, and another stellar outing from the KC defense will get the job done. CHIEFS If I were Charles Barkley; Chiefs +2.5

Saturday, January 4 (8:10PM ET)

(6) Saints at (3) Eagles
I don’t live in the Philadelphia area any longer but I still get reports about the local radio waves and such. Apparently Eagle fans believe the NFC Championship is well within reach because the “Seattle, Carolina and San Francisco offenses don’t scare Eagle fans.” And I thought Philadelphia was a smart sports town. Let me clue you in on something here: The aforementioned offenses were not built to scare opponents. The defenses were. And I’m plenty scared of those defenses. This is the playoffs; where elite offenses go to die until the warm and comfy confines of the Super Bowl bring them back to life.

Also, did Eagle fans watch Sunday night? The Eagles were outplayed by one of the worst teams in the NFL over the season’s final month. KYLE ORTON was under center. Tony Romo doesn’t go belly up in the red zone like Orton did. What’s worse, Chip Kelly lost his marbles again for the second time in three weeks. So yeah, I’m not overly confident like the rest of Eagles nation.

Here’s the thing: the 2013 Eagles season is already a success. Everything is house money right now. I can handle another Wild Card exit… BUT only if it comes from losing to a better team and not because of coaching stupidity. Translation: If Drew Brees and the Saints drop 40 on the Eagles inconsistent defense, I can live with that. If Nick Foles struggles in his 1st playoff game, I can live with that. If Chip Kelly doesn’t consistently run the football and again runs four plays inside the ten without giving a single touch to LeSean McCoy, I’ll blow a gasket.

Time to stick to the basics, Chip. Ride the horses that got you here. Nick Foles was the NFL’s leader in QB rating, so you should probably avoid bringing in your 5th string wide receiver to throw the football inside the red zone. Ok? Also, Shady McCoy led the NFL in rushing. Feed him ‘til he can’t walk. And when he can’t walk, feed it to Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. I don’t need a win Sunday, I just need an intelligent game plan that doesn’t come from a 13 year-old with ADD.

With that said, I think the Saints are feeling left out. No one believes in them right now. A month ago they were Super Bowl contenders. Now, they’re playoff has-beens. I don’t think they’ll go down that easy. Though, I’d love to be wrong. SAINTS If I were Charles Barkley; Saints +2.5

Sunday, January 5 (1:05PM ET)

(6) Chargers at (3) Bengals
Kudos to Philadelphia for being the only Wild Card team to sellout. I’m secretly happy about this. The NFL needs a kick to the groin from time to time. The 2013 season was one of the worst I can remember. Sure, there were no great teams, but the NFL never needed great teams. Parity was always its calling card. Sadly, the NFL has officially gone too far in it’s attempts to protect players, and by doing so, have given officials too much control of a game. They’re dictating the style of play and swinging outcomes. Fans don’t turn on their TVs to watch zebras ruin football. When was the last time you saw a decisive play and DIDN’T wait 5 seconds to celebrate because you needed to make sure a flag wasn’t thrown? It’s horrible. Any hit that makes the crowd ooh and ahh is flagged. You can’t even hit a quarterback these days without a permission slip. I’ve never liked the NFL less than I do right now. And while the inability of three playoff teams to sellout has more to do with HDTVs than with officiating, it’s always fun to see the NFL take one to the chin.

My apologies to Chargers and Bengals fans for shorting your coverage here, but this is the easiest game of the weekend. (At least in my opinion, which means the Chargers are probably a lock.) Cincinnati has been a dominant team at home, winning all eight home games in 2013. Would it be totally “Bengal” to go 8-0 at home and then lose at home in the postseason? Absolutely, but I, against my better judgment, have grown to trust this Bengals team. They’re not great, but they overcome. They’ve fought through minor injuries, significant injuries, and devastating injuries. Andy Dalton has thrown multiple interceptions in five games this year. Cincinati’s record in those games is 2-3, with two of those losses coming in overtime. I know that 2-3 isn’t a great record, but overcoming turnovers is a feature I like in my playoff teams. The Bengals still make dumb mistakes and find ways to make you wonder if they’re sober, but they’re as tough and resilient as any team in the league. Plus, they bailed on Katy Perry earlier in the year. What’s not to like? BENGALS If I were Charles Barkley; Bengals -7

Sunday, January 5 (4:40PM ET)

(5) 49ers at (4) Packers

September 9, 2012: 49ers 30  Packers 22
January 12, 2013:  Packers 31  49ers 45
September 8, 2013:  Packers 28  49ers 34
January 5, 2014:  49ers ?  Packers ?

I want to pick the 49ers. I really do. They’re built for and capable of another run at the Super Bowl. No, Colin Kaepernick hasn’t found his 2012 mojo and hasn’t come anywhere close to replicating his opening day performance (27/39, 412 YDS, 3 TD), but he doesn’t have to be great for San Francisco to win. I don’t think Lambeau scares the 49ers (or anyone for that matter), either. Like the Chiefs, the 49ers were built to travel in January and win.

And yet, I can’t help but think Aaron Rodgers somehow pulls out this game. I mean, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time can’t possibly lose to the same team four times in a 16 month stretch, right? I don’t have a researcher on staff, but I would imagine no quarterback on or near Rodgers’ level has ever lost to the same team so many times over such a short period of time.

Also, I’ve watched sports my entire life. Teams with great stories always seem to stick around longer than expected. That means either the Chargers or Packers – who both snuck in by the skin of their teeth – advance this weekend. It’s just the way this stuff plays out. Stories like Rodgers’ TD to Randall Cobb on 4th down don’t often die after one week.

Ok, so I’ve given you nothing but stupid reasons as to why I’m taking the Packers. Here are three somewhat legitimate reasons I can’t take San Francisco.

1. Green Bay can run the football too. Eddie Lacy has been the Packers’ savior. He’s added a dimension to the offense they haven’t had at any point throughout Rodgers’ tenure. The Packers are every bit as capable of pounding the ball down your throat as the 49ers. People who blindly give San Francisco the advantage in the ground game aren’t paying attention.

2. Rodgers vs. Kaepernick. Kaepernick has been missing open receivers and leaving plays on the field for three months. At times it has cost the 49ers, but for the most part they’ve overcome Kaepernick’s growing pains. That won’t be as easy in the postseason. Leave plays on the field and you end up leaving the field a loser. Just ask Aaron Rodgers about missing an open Greg Jennings in a Wild Card game four years ago in Arizona. You don’t survive missed opportunities in January.

3. Aaron Rodgers.  PACKERS If I were Charles Barkley; Packers +3

*****

Last Week: 8 – 8 – 0
Season:    128 – 119 – 8

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