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By: timbersfan , 5:55 AM GMT on January 11, 2014
• CLICK HERE for Part 1.
(Home teams in caps.)
Saints (+7.5) over SEAHAWKS
Key Player: I remember Russell Wilson shredding New Orleans's defense in Week 13 when stud safety Kenny Vaccaro was still playing.12 I also remember him taking his undefeated home winning streak into Week 16 … and Arizona throttling him. Wilson's numbers: 108 passing yards, one TD, one pick, 4 sacks, 11-for-27, 10 points produced, 24 moments when Seattle fans mumbled to themselves, "Shit, are we sure this offense is good enough?" Bad day? Something more? Did Wilson lose his "invincible at home" mystique?
X Factor: Get ready for either "25 plays with Percy Harvin!" or "three plays with Percy Harvin followed by a shot of Percy walking off the field accompanied by two trainers!" Imagine if Seattle hadn't traded its first-rounder for Harvin, kept the pick and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson.
"Nobody Believes In Us" Edge: The Saints are riding the whole "Nobody thinks we can win a Super Bowl without playing in the Superdome" thing, but what about this email from Seattle fan Jebidiah?
I don't really think you understand the Seahawks. This is a team that truly plays with a chip on its shoulder, a team built with players who were drafted late or not at all. Look at that roster — it's loaded with players that nobody believed in. Sherman and Baldwin are both 5th round picks. Wilson had a punter picked ahead of him. Buffalo gave up on Lynch. They are hearing all of this noise about how #1 seeds aren't a lock any more. This team takes its bulletin-board material very seriously.
And its Adderall supply. Sorry, I had to.
Possible Tragic Figure: Rob Ryan. There's a version of this game in which I can totally see Ryan agonizing on the sideline and looking more confused than Michael Bay giving a three-hour Samsung presentation.
Generic Talking Head Point That You'll Definitely Hear: "Guys, everyone is talking about Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III … when are we gonna start talkin' about Russell Wilson???? NOBODY HAS HAD MORE SUCCESS THIS EARLY IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE!"
Possible Omen That Can't Be Discounted: According to our friends at Field Gulls, Wilson's three biggest home games all featured a frightening weather subplot. Seattle won those three by a combined score of 105-23. The forecast for Saturday afternoon? A 100 percent chance of rain! That's a worst-case scenario for Saints fans. (Thinking.) You're right, this is actually the worst-case scenario.
Relevant Email (from Chris in Seattle): "Peyton Manning threw 46 passes of 25+ yards. Drew Brees threw 41. Russell Wilson threw 36. The Seahawks' WR's can make big plays ... this weekend vs. the Saints, you'll see it." If you say so.
Applicable Playoff Gambling Manifesto 5.0 Theories: "Beware Of The Nobody Believes In Us Team" … "Don't Take A Dome Team In Bad Weather" … "Beware Of The Blatantly Obvious 2-Team Teaser on the Same Day" … "Don't Pick The Underdog Unless You Genuinely Think It Has A Chance To Win."13 Edge to the Saints: 3-1.
This Game As a WWE Entrance Song: Randy Orton's "Voices." In other words, I know I shouldn't go against Seattle at home … but I hear voices in my head, they talk to me, they understand, they talk to me.
Why You Eventually Regretted Taking the Saints: Because the Saints barely got by a Philly team that gave up 48 points and 382 passing yards to Matt Cassel in Week 15, then 358 passing yards to Kyle Orton in Week 17. Because Seattle killed them last time, and you should have known better. Because Percy Harvin will make one big play. Because we're destined for Seattle vs. San Francisco III: The Thrilla in Qwestilla. Because nobody throws on the Seahawks — they finished with one of the best pass defenses of the decade.14 Because you never want to go against the 12th Man AND crappy weather. Because you forgot how frightening Russell Wilson is, how he'll turn four sacks into first downs every game. Because Brees missed a few throws (and short-armed a couple others) in cold weather in Philly last weekend, so why wouldn't it happen again?
Why You Eventually Regretted Taking the Seahawks: You forgot that everyone on the planet is teasing the Hawks and Pats on Saturday. You forgot that we've had a second-round upset every year since 2005. You totally discounted the "Nobody Believes In Us" factor. You forgot that it's really hard to defeat a good team twice in six weeks. You forgot that New Orleans is still in Eff You Mode from Bountygate. You forgot that these aren't the stereotypical Saints — they can play defense, run the ball and shorten games now, which is exactly how you win in Seattle (particularly in the driving rain). You didn't pay enough attention when Arizona ripped through the 12th Man, ran the ball down Seattle's throats, slowed the game down and ground out a Week 16 win even though Carson Palmer got picked four times. You thought Arizona caught Seattle napping that day. You didn't take any larger meaning from that game. You made a mistake.
The Pick: New Orleans 20, Seattle 16
Niners (-1) over PANTHERS
Key Player: Hey, Cam Newton, here are Carolina's point totals against 2013 teams that won 10 or more games and had a top-12 DVOA defense: 7 points (Seattle), 6 points (Arizona), 10 points (San Francisco), 13 points (New Orleans), 17 points (New Orleans). How many tackles are you asking for from Luke Kuechly in this game to keep you in it? 30? 35? Or do you plan on carrying the load a little?
X Factor: You're telling me that Carolina's offense (see above) is outscoring the Niners in a playoff game when Newton's third-down security blanket, Steve Smith, has a sprained knee that's getting worse (not better)? That's it, we're zooming through this section. I know my pick.
"Nobody Believes In Us" Edge: Yeah, I know … the Panthers are home dogs. And they have an EXCELLENT defense. Really, really good. But can you really play the "Nobody Believes In Us" card when you already beat the team you're playing (on the road, no less)?
Possible Tragic Figure: Riverboat Ron Rivera … after such a thrilling transformation this season, couldn't you see him taking it too far on Sunday and being too reckless? Something like an ill-fated fourth-and-5 from his own 40 or something? Wait, don't go for it here, Riverboat Ron … NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Generic Talking Head Point That You'll Definitely Hear: "Guys, I'll tell ya who Luke Kuechly reminds me of … he's a young Ray Lewis! That's who Luke Kuechly is! You just don't see linebackers cover this much ground this consistently in the National Football League! I'll tell you what, fellas — HE COULD'VE PLAYED IN MY DAY, I'LL TELL YOU THAT MUCH! [Lots of forced laughter.]"
Possible Omen That Can't Be Discounted: Remember when we said good-bye to Candlestick Park for a solid week, highlighted by an emotional Chris Berman showing the footage of himself right after "The Catch" for the 977th and final time? Well, if New Orleans defeats Seattle (as predicted earlier), then a Niners victory would mean San Francisco reopens Candlestick for one more Niners game! It's so ridiculous that it almost has to happen. Candlestick Park is such a hellhole that, literally, we can't get rid of it.
Relevant Email: Ben in Portland writes, "Don't you think San Francisco is turning into the biggest 'Everybody Believes In Us' team? They barely get by that not-particularly-good Packers team, but now they are favored to win IN Carolina and half the Talking Heads are proclaiming them the most dangerous team left. Am I missing something here? How do you not feel insulted if you're Carolina right now?" Noted.
Theories in Play: Just "Beware Of The Home Dog" and "Beware Of The 'Everybody Believes In Us'" team. Edge: Carolina, 2-0.
This Game As a WWE Entrance Song: I'm dedicating the Miz's "I Came to Play" to the Niners, who seem to be peaking at the right time with Michael Crabtree back and Aldon Smith looking like Aldon Smith again (and not a TMZ Sports staple). They're certainly the most talented all-around football team left … right? By the way, The Miz's ascension from Real World to the WWE heavyweight title should be a 30 for 30. When will we ever see anything remotely approaching that again? Did you see the first episode of the new Real World Ex-plosion season? That show has become such a debauched train wreck, we'll never see another Real World cast member hold a job, much less the WWE championship belt.
Why You Eventually Regretted Taking the Niners: Because it looked too easy. All of it. And gambling is never, ever, EVER easy.
Why You Eventually Regretted Taking the Panthers: Because the previous paragraph is basically your only case for Carolina other than its defense single-handedly winning the game. Because the Panthers offense won't be able to produce 20 points unless they're allowed to use cheat codes. Because San Francisco's zero-degree victory in Lambeau over an on-his-game Rodgers was pretty damned impressive. Because it would be far-fetched for Carolina to beat San Francisco twice in six weeks. Because the Niners have been the best football team of the last three years (as a whole), and they're not going down because they couldn't slow down Brandon LaFell, Greg Olsen and a hobbled Steve Smith. Because I trust Kaepernick more than I trust Newton. Because we're destined for either "Niners-Seahawks III" or "Say Good-bye to Candlestick Again!" Because I believe in the Niners. Let's hope I didn't spray them with too much Billy Zima stink.
The Pick: San Francisco 19, Carolina 13
PATRIOTS (-7) over Colts
Key Player: Either Luck will be trying to pull off a shocking upset or a backdoor cover, but you know he'll be involved in the final two minutes. The Patriots played 11 games that were decided by seven points or fewer; the Colts are 12-5 but trailed in nine of those fourth quarters and came from behind to beat Tennessee in two others. You saw it last week: The 2013 Colts fall behind, then Andrew the Giant starts cleaning house like it's a Battle Royal. I'm frightened.
X Factor: Look, I don't know what's going on with LeGarrette Blount lately. Either he went gluten-free, threw away all the vapes in his house, stopped eating five pounds of candy per day, got hypnotized into thinking he's 2004 Corey Dillon, started doing hot yoga and Pilates, hired Angel Heredia and Anthony Bosch as his personal trainers, got motivated with Belichick's version of Elmo's "6 Minutes" speech from Vision Quest … I mean, who the hell knows? I just hope it doesn't stop. He's plowing over everyone right now. In general, it's Tom Brady's best running back situation since Dillon and Kevin Faulk in 2004 — Blount as a battering ram, Stevan "I Swear, I Won't Fumble Again!" Ridley as a shifty change-of-pace guy, and Shane Vereen as Brady's best third-down back ever (sorry, Faulk and Danny Woodhead, it's true). In general, the Patriots quietly finished second in offensive DVOA and averaged 33.1 points during the last eight games. Now they're playing a defense that almost gave up 50 points last weekend to Alex Smith, Knile Davis, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Dexter McCluster and Anthony Fasano?
"Nobody Believes In Us" Edge: The Colts … but not by nearly as much as you'd think. They're getting only seven on the road after miraculously outlasting a Chiefs team that was down to its third-string running back, Justin Houston's backup, Brandon Flowers's backup and Eric Fisher's backup by the end of that game? Seems fishy.
Possible Tragic Figure: You can't say Trent 3.0 (a.k.a. Trent Richardson), since Chuck Pagano isn't letting him anywhere near this game after last week's fumble. So let's go with former Patriots busts Darius Butler and Sergio Brown, both of whom might be starting in Indy's banged-up secondary this week. Wait, I shouldn't talk about this; I don't want the line to move.
Generic Talking Head Point You'll Definitely Hear: "Here's what Bill Belichick does, guys — he sees the one thing you love to do, and he TAKES IT AWAY FROM YOU. You're not gonna advance in the National Football League playoffs against Bill Belichick doing just one thing, guys. Andrew Luck loves throwing to T.Y. Hilton? Guess what, Andrew — BILL BELICHICK IS TAKING T.Y. HILTON AWAY FROM YOU! That's how Bill Belichick made his mark on the National Football League!"
Possible Omen That Can't Be Discounted: As Chicago reader Adam Roberts writes, "Don't think for a second it doesn't not matter that Dan Dierdorf is calling this Pats game. I'm not so sure it isn't a curse on the Pats, that shouldn't not be considered if not for your lack of acknowledgement that this isn't a big deal seeing he's not calling another game after this one."
I'm not so sure Adam isn't 100 percent right, and that CBS doesn't not want a Luck-Manning AFC title game and wasn't not trying to put the stink on the Pats here. I couldn't find the exact numbers, but Dierdorf was involved in approximately 92.75789 percent of the excruciating Brady/Belichick-era losses, including one of the most devastating Patriots games ever. Like every other Pats fan, I hear his voice and just think of Dierdorf babbling, This does not look good … this does NOT look good … I think Tom Brady hurt his knee … THIS DOES NOT LOOK GOOD. Let's see the replay for the 935th time … THIS DOES NOT LOOK GOOD. Now he's saying his farewell with a Pats playoff game? As my farewell, here's something I wrote in 2008 — my impression of Dierdorf if he were a veterinarian giving an update to a distraught family whose dog was hit by a car.
Dr. Dierdorf: "Guys, this is bad. This is really bad. He's in a coma."
Wife: "Oh no!"
Dr. Dierdorf: "He is not waking up. He is NOT waking up."
Husband: "When will we know more?"
Dr. Dierdorf: "In case you missed it earlier, your dog was struck by a car and he's in a coma."
(The couple is sobbing. Two seconds of silence pass.)
Dr. Dierdorf: "Witnesses said your dog flew about 20 feet. … Guys, he is NOT waking up. He's in a coma."
Wife: "Well … I guess we'll just wait here in the waiting room until we get another update."
Dr. Dierdorf: "And right now, here's that update — your dog was struck by a car and he's in a coma. HE IS NOT WAKING UP! NO SIGNS OF LIFE!"
Relevant Emails: Jeffrey in Chattanooga writes, "Andrew Luck is the anti-Romo. He can be both awful and unstoppable in the same game but actually pull a win out of his ass in the end." Pretty much. And L.A. reader Bryan Cullison wonders, "Does it make you nervous at all that your Pats will be facing a team this weekend that 1) has the league's lowest turnovers this season, 2) has the league's fewest penalties this season, 3) has a QB whose freakin' last name is "luck", 4) has a horseshoe on its helmet, 5) is now the darling of the playoffs after their miraculous comeback this last weekend, and 6) is the only team to be able to claim having beaten the Seahawks, 49ers, Broncos, AND Chiefs (twice) THIS SEASON?!?!?" Yes! It makes me super nervous. That's why I keep muttering the words "Sergio Brown and Darius Butler" to myself.
Possible Manifesto 5.0 Theories in Play: "Beware Of This Year's 'Nobody Believes In Us' Team"; "Beware Of The Blatantly Obvious 2-Team Teaser In The Same Day"; and "Beware Of The 'Shocking'" Round 2 Underdog Upset." Hopefully we won't end up adding these two rules: "Don't Bet Against Andrew The Giant" and "Don't Bet On The Pats During Dan Dierdorf's Last Game Ever." Edge to Colts: 3-0.
This Game As a WWE Entrance Song: The Wyatt Family's "Live in Fear." For obvious reasons. Hey, does it mean your 6-year-old son is a sociopath if he loves the Wyatts and wants his father to get him a fake beard and a flashlight? I'm asking for a friend.
Why You Eventually Regretted Taking the Patriots: Because the 2013 seasons of Indy and New England pretty much mandated that Luck would have the football in the final three minutes trailing by somewhere between three and 11 points. Because you realized in the first quarter that, if you had a friend mix up the names of five of New England's defensive starters with five porn stars — Sealver Siliga, James Deen, Dane Fletcher, Nacho Vidal, Mike Adriano, Logan Ryan, Erik Everhard, Jamie Collins, Evan Stone, Chris Jones15 — you couldn't have picked the five Patriots. Because "Luck vs. Manning" in Denver for the AFC title is the game that will make Jim Nantz spontaneously self-combust. Because you totally forgot that Adam Vinatieri was involved.
(Good Lord, Adam Vinatieri is involved??????)
Why You Eventually Regretted Taking the Colts: Because you overthought it. Indy won its Super Bowl last weekend — one of the greatest playoff comebacks ever in a game in which it secretly almost gave up 50-plus points and won because (a) there was an epic run of injuries for the other team, (b) a crucial goal-line fumble bounced off a lineman's helmet and right into their QB's hands, (c) Dwayne Bowe caught a season-saving pass six inches out of bounds, (d) Andy Reid was being Andy Reid and (e) Kansas City abjectly refused to double T.Y. Hilton when he's the only above-average Indy skill guy. Oh, and you went against Brady and Belichick at home against a shaky defense. Come on.
The Pick: Patriots 44, Colts 34
BRONCOS (-9.5) over Chargers
Key Player: Gee, I wonder if Peyton Manning will be motivated by the following story lines: "You're the greatest regular-season QB ever, but when the playoffs start, it's a different story" … "Phil Rivers beat you as a huge road underdog in the 2007 playoffs and he's ready to do it again" … "Do you realize you've blown three home games in Round 2 as a prohibitive home favorite?" … "You can't play in cold weather" … "San Diego won in Denver in Week 15 and could absolutely do it again" … "The Chargers might be a team of destiny!!!"
X Factor: The Philip Rivers Thing. What's the Philip Rivers Thing? Well, just when it looked like he was going full Delhomme on us, he hooked himself to the Juvenation Machine in 2013 with a new coach and new offense. Last summer, he brought his young son to the Vatican and got him BLESSED BY THE POPE. He has beaten Denver, Kansas City and Cincy on the road this season. He has given so many lively interviews that Jason Whitlock predicted he's eventually going to be the NFL's version of Barkley on TV. He's even wearing a lucky bolo tie given to him by a Chargers fan. There's just a lot going on with Phil Rivers right now. I mean, a lot. A whole lot. Lots and lots and lots.
"Nobody Believes In Us" Edge: After falling to 5-7 and looking deader than dead, San Diego's subsequent five-game winning streak included a variety of breaks ranging from small (Week 15's Denver game being a Thursday nighter and sneaking up on the Broncos), the medium (Miami's collapse and Baltimore's collapse, the Bernard/Dalton fumbles last Sunday, maybe even the Incognito/Martin scandal), the large (they don't make the playoffs unless Geno Smith plays well) and the extra-large (Ryan Succop missing a 41-yard field goal). Wait, I'm still not convinced. Is there video of Chargers coach Mike McCoy screaming, "It's us against the world and that's all we need!" after last week's win? Wait, there is?
Possible Tragic Figure: You mean other than Peyton Manning? Imagine if he lost THIS one and dropped to 9-12 in the playoffs … with nine of those losses coming when he was favored, including four Round 2 stunners as heavy home favorites.
Generic Talking Head Point That You'll Definitely Hear: "Guys, we can't say enough about what Wes Welker's return does for this Broncos offense — that's Peyton Manning's security blanket, that's his little binkie, guys! [Lots of forced laughter.] And lemme tell you what — Wes Welker allows Peyton Manning to use EVERY PART OF THE FIELD, guys. There's a reason he broke all these records this season!!!!"
Possible Omen That Can't Be Discounted: You've seen the stat a million times this week — our last four Super Bowl winners won Philly's home opener … and San Diego won Philly's home opener this season. (Thinking.) I don't know, I still don't think that's as threatening as Evil Manning, who might be the real-life Damien Thorn from The Omen.
Relevant Email: Tate in Greenwich writes, "Isn't a key rule of yours is 'never bet against God and puppies.' Guess what? Phil Rivers's SON WAS BLESSED BY THE POPE!!!! If that's not a recipe for a playoff run, I don't know what is." And if you want to dig a little deeper, this playoff road would lead them through AFC West rival Kansas City (Week 17), the team that kept the Fouts/Coryell gang from the Super Bowl (at Cincy), their most hated rival (at Denver), their AFC rival who kept them from potentially beating Rex Grossman in a Super Bowl (at New England), and potentially, the team that crushed them in their only Super Bowl (San Francisco). Now that's a run that seems preordained. It's almost like Phil Rivers had his son blessed by the Pope or something.
Theories in Play: "Beware Of The Nobody Believes In Us Team"; "Beware Of The 3-Team Teaser In Round 2 (If The Other Two Big Favorites Come Through)"; and "Don't Be A Hero, Just Try To Win Money" as the definites; "Beware Of Aging QBs In Cold Weather" (Just In Case The Weather Guys Are Wrong And It Ends Up Being Cold) and "Don't Bet Against God, Puppies, Gambling Theories From Pakistan And QBs Who Had Babies Blessed By The Pope" as the possibles. We'll see. Edge: San Diego, 20-1.
This Game As a WWE Entrance Song: I mentioned that Evil Manning is going against someone who just had a baby blessed by the Pope, right? Well …
Why You Eventually Regretted Taking the Broncos: You didn't pay enough attention to Manning's playoff legacy. You ignored how good San Diego's defense looked these past few weeks, and how secretly mediocre Denver's defense has looked without Von Miller. You didn't pay enough attention to that Week 15 game. You forgot how frightening Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead were. You didn't remember that San Diego can run the ball and use the Giants' Super Bowl XLII strategy of "Chew up clock, keep the other team's offense off the field." You went against the "Nobody Believes In Us" theory AND the "Don't Bet Against God, Puppies, Gambling Theories From Pakistan And QBs Who Had Babies Blessed By The Pope" theory, and you got burned by Peyton Manning on a big teaser yet again. You hate yourself right now. Go to your room.
Why You Eventually Regretted Taking the Chargers: So the Chargers beat Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton in a playoff game. Wow! Congratulations, fellas! What an impossible task! Now they're going into Denver and beating a fired-up juggernaut that just scored more than 600 points, and they're going to be doing that for the second time in four weeks? And that's happening because of the Pope and a general lack of belief in a team that, by the way, was 5-7 after 12 games????? Are you on drugs? No wonder you lost money all season.
The Pick: Denver 48, San Diego 28
Last Week: 1-1-2