Happy New Year to all! What a fun weekend of football it was despite the fact that my Monday bowl game predictions went a whopping 0-5 straight up (but fortunately we won’t discuss those in this column)! Let’s hope that’s not an omen for things to come regarding my picks in 2018.
Before I predict both the NFL playoffs, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on the coaching departure of Bruce Arians from the Cardinals.
Having gone 49-30-1 in the regular season as Cardinals coach, considering at times he was working with significantly inferior QB play, is very impressive. Arians’ one playoff win in three tries was a thriller against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in early 2016 though Arizona couldn’t get past the Panthers the following week in the NFC Championship Game.
To me, it was fairly obvious that BA didn’t show his usual passion for the game on the sidelines this season and he admitted as such upon retiring on Monday.
If I were the Cardinals I’d stick to a fairly successful formula from their last two hires (Ken Whisenhunt and Arians)…a successful coordinator becoming a first-time head coach (not counting Arians’ 2012 interim work with the Colts during Chuck Pagano’s cancer-related absence).
Current offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and defensive coordinator James Betcher fit that criteria but I’m aim higher if I was Cards GM Steve Keim.
In a division with offensive-minded head coaches Kyle Shanahan (49ers) and Sean McVay (Rams), I’d lean a defensive-minded head coach considering Arizona already has solid talent on that side of the ball. I would give a long look to Lions DC Teryl Austin, a former Cardinals assistant who has led an aggressive Detroit defense since 2014.
And as for former #1 overall pick and eventual Cardinals QB, Carson Palmer retiring on Tuesday, all I can say is no surprise. It wasn’t worth the physical risk for him to continue playing especially since Bruce Arians is no longer around in Arizona.
On to the playoff picks…but first a recap of my regular season record which wasn’t too shabby:
Last Week: 10-6 Straight Up (SU), 10-6 Against the Spread (ATS)
Overall: 171-85 SU (66.8%), 141-114-1 ATS (55.3%)
Wild Card Round
KANSAS CITY 27, Tennessee 19 (ATS: Chiefs -7.5)
How the Titans survived a late-season meltdown to make the playoffs is beyond me. Good for coach Mike Mularkey, who was a loss to Jacksonville in Week 17 from being on the firing line. With that said, I just don’t see a Chiefs team, looking as well-oiled on offense as they were during their 5-0 start, losing at home to this Titans squad. Look for a big game from QB Alex Smith and pass catchers Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
LOS ANGELES RAMS 31, Atlanta 24 (ATS: Rams -6.5)
The Rams are full of postseason newbies but they’re fired up, fairly well-rested (at least the key players are due to not playing in Week 17), and playing a Falcons team that greatly underachieved in 2017. To me the difference for both teams this season, in Los Angeles’ rise and Atlanta’s fall was playcalling. First-year head coach Sean McVay instilled a creativity in a previously vanilla offense that made the Rams among the most explosive teams in the league. Meanwhile first year Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian lacked the creativity of his predecessor, current 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. While I don’t think they’ll go further in the playoffs, this is a stepping stone season to bigger goals for LA’s NFC team.
JACKSONVILLE 23, Buffalo 10 (ATS: Jaguars -8.5)
The Jags are hungry to host their first playoff game this century (1999 was the last time they had a home playoff game). Meanwhile the Bills are just ecstatic to be playing in mid-January for the first time since the last millenium (1999). With Bills star RB LeSean McCoy a true gametime decision with an ankle injury suffered in Week 17, I just can’t see how this game remains close throughout. Jacksonville rolls and faces a return trip to Pittsburgh up next.
NEW ORLEANS 31, Carolina 27 (ATS: Panthers +6.5)
I really like the Saints this postseason as you’ll see below. But I also believe in the old adage that beating a team three times in the same season is damn near impossible. So what gives? In what will easily be the most entertaining and most competitive game of the weekend, the Saints score late to end the 2017-18 prematurely for Cam Newton and company. If you’re playing fantasy playoff football, strive to have players in this potential shootout.
NEW ENGLAND 27, Kansas City 17
Tom Brady and company exact revenge on a Chiefs team who smoked them in Foxboro in Week 1.
PITTSBURGH 23, Jacksonville 20
The Jaguars beat the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh in Week 5 and I wanted to pick them once again. But I’m assuming Pittsburgh star WR Antonio Brown will be healthy for this matchup to help his team avenge their first home loss of 2017.
New Orleans 27, PHILADELPHIA 24
No Carson Wentz, no chance for the Eagles. Nick Foles had a great 2013-14 season and lost his only career playoff game, at home to the Saints. History repeats itself in 2018.
MINNESOTA 30, LA Rams 16
The Rams played the Vikings close for three quarters in Minnesota earlier this season. Not this time. Minnesota advances one step closer to hosting the Super Bowl on their home field.
Conference Championship Games
NEW ENGLAND 31, Pittsburgh 20
In what I will predict is Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s final game before retirement, Pittsburgh falls yet again to their arch nemesis of this decade, New England.
New Orleans 27, MINNESOTA 24
In Week 1 of the 2017 season, the Vikings impressively beat the Saints at home on Monday Night Football. Payback will be fun this time for New Orleans. The quartet of Drew Brees-Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara-Michael Thomas will be too much for the Vikings to keep in check for four quarters. Minnesota fails to become the first team to play on their home field in a Super Bowl.
New England 34, NEW ORLEANS 27
In what should be a classic matchup of two of the all-time great QBs, Tom Brady outduels Drew Brees to win his record 6th Super Bowl ring. If this matchup actually happens, NFL fans will get the entertaining and competitive game throughout that they deserve.
Best Bets Standings
NFL Week 17: 1-4
Regular Season: 46-37-2
Titans / Chiefs Over 44.5 Total Points
Panthers +6.5 vs. Saints
Bills / Jaguars Under 39.5 Total Points
Falcons / Rams Over 48.5 Total Points
Panthers / Saints Over 48 Total Points