Lou Pickney's Online Commentary
January 7, 2005
It's that wonderful time of the year: NFL Playoff Time. It's an exciting part of the year for pro football fans, for sure.
Seeing as how my picks last year were so off-base, it's time to atone for those errors and redeem myself with some smart selections this time around. Or something like that...
San Diego 34, NY Jets 24. The Chargers are the most improbable football story of the year this side of Ben Roethlisberger, with a lame duck QB (Drew Brees) and a rag-tag bunch of receivers combining with a patchwork offensive line to... win the AFC West. It's really hard for me to fathom how Marty Schottenheimer pulled it together. If he isn't the NFL Coach of the Year, something is drastically wrong. Moreover, the Jets, after losing in St. Louis last week, have to travel cross-country to face the Chargers. I like Pennington, and Curtis Martin lead the NFL in rushing this season, but San Diego will be too much for them.
Indianapolis 45, Denver 10. Let's see... Manning threw 49 TD passes in 15 games this season, setting an NFL record (one that Marino set in 16 games; yes Manning played for one series last week, but that game was an exhibition in practice since the Colts had nothing to play for). Denver has all-world CB Champ Bailey, but they only have one of him. Indy has THREE 1,000 yard, 10 TD receivers, not to mention Edgerrin James. Meanwhile, the Colts will keep Jake Plummer in the pocket, where he will implode when under the playoff pressure that he will face.
Pittsburgh 27, San Diego 21. The Chargers' defense versus the Steelers' running attack will be interesting. But in the cold of a Pittsburgh January game, I see the rookie Roethlisberger and the future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis leading the Steelers to victory. As for the defense... well more on the Steelers D later.
New England 37, Indianapolis 34. Ugh, yuck. I hate typing this. I hate it. HATE IT. But maybe this will make the Colts' management finally wake up and think, "Hmm, maybe we should draft a cornerback in the first round of the draft this year." That's only been overdue by, what, five years? The Colts will be forced to go into nickel coverages way too much, allowing Corey Dillon rushing lanes. Him replacing Antowain Stiff (or Smith) was a huge upgrade for the Pats that hasn't received the full run that it's deserved.
Pittsburgh 28, New England 17. In case you missed it, the Patriots secondary has been replaced by paper mache (and Troy Brown). I look for Pittsburgh to go change-of-pace and challenge New England deep early with Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. And seeing Joey Porter hunting down guys in the New England dink-and-dunk offense will be most fun.
Seattle 24, St. Louis 17. Somehow Mike Martz make it into the playoffs. That still has me kind of baffled. Then again, the NFC is such an inferior conference this year that TWO 8-8 teams made it in, and Seattle made it at 9-7 only because they shared a division with St. Louis, Arizona and San Francisco. So when you think about it, the teams had artificially inflated records thanks to their horrid competition. In this one, I see Seattle avenging its earlier home loss to the Rams with a strong dose of Shaun Alexander. But for the loser of this game, there's the consolation of being the front-runner in the Channing Crowder sweepstakes (since both teams very much need a middle linebacker).
Green Bay 27, Minnesota 24. Mike Tice's contract extension in Minnesota is laughable, but the way that Minnesota lucked into the playoffs was downright embarrassing. The Vikings should be punishing people (as Brook Gardiner might say), but instead... well, they've floundered. But they play Green Bay tight, and in this first-ever playoff game between the two teams I think it'll be close again, with Green Bay narrowly coming out on top. Maybe they'll even win it again on a last-second field goal (the Packers beat the Vikings TWICE this season on last-second FGs).
Philadelphia 36, Seattle 10. Forget Terrell Owens' injury... the Eagles will be out to show that they can win it without him. I expect Donovan McNabb to play like "QB Eagles" during a cheat week in Tecmo Super Bowl.
Atlanta 31, Green Bay 20. Brett Favre in a dome, Michael Vick getting to tear into that soft Packer defense... uh-oh. It might not be this close.
Atlanta 30, Philadelphia 17. I predict at least three Michael Vick "wow" plays in this one. And look for the Falcons' defense to surprise everyone with how tough they play on the road.
Super Bowl XXXIX
Pittsburgh 27, Atlanta 13. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense stymies Vick, Bettis finally gets a Super Bowl ring (to go with a TD from 3 yards out or less), and Joey Porter gets at least one bell-ringer of a hit on someone...