Playoffs First Round
by Tony Medley
I had pretty
much decided a while back not to make predictions this year. One reason
dominated: the officiating has been putrid since the old-time refs have
returned. The League has turned the game into a passing game for wimps.
It has removed entirely any possible defense of the pass. You cannot
mount a hard rush of the passer because if you hit him a moment after he
releases the ball, you get called for roughing. Defensive backs can't
defend because if there's any touching at all, regardless of who
initiates it, they get called for pass interference. If there's a
collision running the pass route, even if the potential receiver runs
into the D back, there's a holding call. There is, simply, no way to
defend the pass. The guys who played in the 50s must be turning over in
calls are particularly egregious. Any time there is a long pass, one
cringes, waiting for a penalty flag. I started making a list of the
Phantom calls, but gave up when it got too long after only one hour.
This isn't football anymore. It's become more like baseball and
basketball, where the officials control who wins the game. As a result,
it's almost impossible to analyze and pick a winner of any particular
game. I watch the games all year long and have a pretty good feel for
who can win and who can lose, which is why I picked 10 out of 11 winners
last year, the only loss being a last-second defeat of New Orleans by
San Francisco, and have only been wrong four times out of 33 games in
three years of writing this column, for a record of 29-4. But now, due
mainly to the officiating, every game is basically a coin toss. However
I do have feelings about how these playoffs should go if they were
playing real football, so here's how it looks to me.
Houston: Last summer I was
in Las Vegas and went to an oddsmaker with the idea of placing a bet on
Houston winning the Super Bowl. Since the odds were short, 8-1, I
thought it a bad bet and didn't place it. Had the odds been 15-1, I
would have placed it. So last summer my pick to win this game would have
been Houston without a thought. However, Houston has lost three of its
last four games, the last one being a very important game that they
needed to win to get a first-round bye, and they played horribly.
Quarterback Matt Schaub does not play well out of the shotgun. He's much
better taking a snap in the T formation. So if Houston gets behind and
Schaub has to play from a passing formation, Houston will be weaker.
When you look at this team it's got All-Star defensive linemen, a great
runner, a fine receiver, and a reasonably competent quarterback. But
they looked horrible in three of the last four games, so something's
wrong, probably an overrated offensive line. Conversely, Cincinnati has
won six of its last seven games and is one of the hottest teams in the
league. They have a pretty good offensive line and a very good defense.
I have always believed that you pick the hot team in the playoffs, not
the one that looks good on paper. That's why I was probably the only
person who not only picked the New York Giants to beat Green Bay last
year in Green Bay, but said I didn't even think it was going to be
close. However, history is against Cincinnati. Four times in the past
the same two teams have repeated in succeeding years facing each other
in the playoffs. All four times the team that won the first time also
won the second time. Last year Houston beat Cincinnati in the playoffs.
Even so I'm picking Cincinnati, although Cincinnati quarterback Andy
Dalton is still a question mark.
at Baltimore: Last year in
the first round of the playoffs Houston played Baltimore. Houston was
without both its starting and backup quarterbacks. I still thought
Houston was the better team, but picked Baltimore because of its
experience and the fact that it was playing its starting quarterback.
Houston played the better game and should have won, but didn't. This
year is even more difficult. Baltimore, old last year, is a year older,
but they come into the game healthy. Indianapolis has a fine
quarterback, an adequate defense, and a porous offensive line. Despite
his admirable good performance this year, Andrew Luck has thrown a lot
of interceptions, mainly because he doesn't have enough time to throw.
That's not going to get any better against Baltimore's defense. Like
Houston, Baltimore has been losing more than it's been winning lately,
and I'm not a fan of Baltimore's quarterback. Even so, I think Baltimore
has more talent and should win.
Green Bay: These teams
have met twice and Minnesota should have won twice. They lost the first
game because quarterback Christian Ponder threw two horrible Brett
Favre–type passes that completely turned the game around and allowed
Green Bay to win. One was with about a minute left in the first half
with Minnesota leading and driving for another touchdown. With the ball
inside Green Bay's 10 yard line, Ponder threw a pick six and Green Bay
trotted off the field with the lead instead of being behind by double
digits. At the start of the second half Ponder threw another horrible
interception, and Green Bay won the game easily. Last week Minnesota
beat Green Bay in a game that Green Bay was motivated to win because had
they won they would have had a bye this week. Despite this, Green Bay
could not win. All this points towards a Minnesota victory. However,
Green Bay gets defensive back Charles Woodson back and middle linebacker
Clay Matthews is back and playing himself back into shape. Green Bay's
defense is better than it has been and finally healthy. Despite Green
Bay's miserable offensive line and meager running game, they have
recently shown a runner who might be able to take some of the pressure
off of Aaron Rodgers, who is miraculously talented. If they defend
Adrian Peterson's runs and make Ponder beat them with his passes Green
Bay should win at home.
Seattle at Washington:
Seattle and Washington are two of the hottest teams in the league, both
led by rookie quarterbacks who run as well as they pass. This should be
a terrific game, but RGIII has an injured leg and that mitigates
Washington's offense. Right now Seattle is playing the best defense in
the league, their quarterback is hot and they've got a fine running
game. Seattle should win this game even though it's the visiting team
and it hasn't done well on the road.
That's it, but I'm not responsible
for the officials and any of their game-changing calls.
January 5, 2013