Saturday NFL Picks

Posted: 01/09/2015 by levcohen in Football

Round two of the playoffs always has the highest point spreads, because it’s the week that the four best teams come back after a week off and get a home game. This week is no different, with one double-digit spread and no game with the home team favored by less than 5.5. The safest prediction is probably that there will be two games in which the favorite wins and covers, one in which the underdog covers in a losing effort, and one upset. But this week has some sneaky potential to be a really crazy week. I’ll get into the upset potential for Sunday’s games when I predict them, but there could well be some injury or weather-related weirdness this week. That’s why I’m much more excited for this week than I was for last week, even with the higher point spreads. Oh, and we also don’t have to watch Ryan Lindley or Andy Dalton again. Let’s get into tomorrow’s games, including one that I wish weren’t a primetime game.

Baltimore Ravens (11-6, 8-8-1) at New England Patriots (12-4, 9-7):
Spread: Patriots favored by 7
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: I like the Ravens against the spread in this one. In fact, it was the easiest game for me to pick against the spread. But I don’t like the Ravens for the same reasons that they’ve become a trendy upset pick. I don’t put any stock into the fact that Baltimore has played well against New England in the playoffs, and I don’t expect Joe “Montana” Flacco to carry the Ravens to a victory in a shootout.

There is one way to blow out this Ravens team. You aren’t going to beat them on special teams (they have the best ST left), you aren’t going to beat them in the trenches, and you aren’t going to beat them by forcing a bunch of turnovers (they turned it over just 20 times in the regular season). But you can destroy them by picking up that ferocious pass rush and tearing the secondary apart down the field. When Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Co. get going, as they did last week in Pittsburgh, the defense looks impenetrable. But while they are terrific when they get pressure on the quarterback, they have a below-average secondary that can be exposed when they have to be in coverage for more than a couple of seconds.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, their biggest offensive problem in the Tom Brady era has always been throwing the ball deep down the field. They are just middle of the pack in throws of 20+ yards. And while Brady is fantastic in making quick reads against the blitz, he’s not as good at throwing while under pressure. So if the Ravens can hit him without sending more than four guys, they’ll have a great chance at stopping New England’s fantastic passing game, which relies so heavily on Rob Gronkowski. While the Ravens have had trouble stopping tight ends throughout the season, they did play extremely well against star tight end Jimmy Graham, holding him below 50 yards. They put safety Will Hill on Graham in that game, and the plan worked to perfection. Gronk is even more dominant than Graham, especially this year, and he’s bound to make some plays down the field. The goal should just be to limit his production, because the Patriots don’t really have the dominant receivers to torch the Ravens, even in single coverage.

The gameplan for the Patriots should be to throw to Gronk, take a few shots with Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, and get the medium-range passing game (10-15 yard throws) going. They will likely limit their running plays and screens, for good reason: Baltimore’s run defense and front seven is much better than New England’s offensive line. And unless Brady or Gronk gets hurt, I think the gameplan will be pretty successful. The Patriots won’t be dominant offensively, but they’ll score some points.

If the Ravens want to win, they need to get a good game from Justin Forsett. Forsett, one of 2014’s most surprising running backs, has slowed down recently, running for more than three yards per carry just once in the last four games. He ran just 16 times for 40 yards against the Steelers, and another game like that will almost surely eliminate Baltimore. I think Flacco will have an efficient game, but he’s not going to shred the Patriots’ above-average pass defense.

Another important factor that needs to be accounted for is the weather. Both of these teams are used to bad weather, but the home team probably loses some of its homefield advantage when the fans are too cold to make a lot of noise. I think this game will be close throughout, with the Patriots’ pass offense providing the difference. Patriots win 25-20.
Ravens cover

Carolina Panthers (8-8-1, 9-8) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4, 9-6-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 10.5
Over/under: 39.5
My prediction: This has blowout written all over it. Aside from the fact that it’s a double-digit spread, Cam Newton just didn’t look good last week against the Cardinals. The Panthers won fairly comfortably, but they won mostly because of Arizona’s lackluster performance. Carolina will need Newton and everyone else to be nearly perfect tomorrow, because Seattle simply has matchup advantages almost across the board.

How many points can the Panthers score tomorrow? 10? 14 if they’re lucky? I honestly don’t think they’ll score more than 14, because their offense has looked bad and because the Seahawks have allowed 39 total points in the last six games.

That lack of scoring will put enormous pressure on a Carolina defense that has performed well in recent times against Seattle (three close, low scoring wins in the last three meetings between these teams) and over the last month. Carolina has allowed 59 points in the last five games, pretty good by most standards but not compared to Seattle’s tremendous recent stretch. They’ve done well against the Seahawks’ mainly because they have neutralized the read-option, and I think they can probably take Russell Wilson’s running away again. When you have the tremendous linebackers (Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis had tremendous games last week) that the Panthers do, it’s a lot easier to stop the quarterback runs, which is why I think the Panthers will have some defensive success.

In the end, though, they are going to have to elevate their play a ton if they want to stay in this game. I think they’ll make some defensive stops, but not enough. Ironically, their offense might look a bit like the Lindley-led offense looked against the Panthers last week. The difference is Seattle won’t make the mistakes that Carolina made on offense or special teams. I see a blowout. Seahawks win 26-7.
Seahawks cover


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