The 2011 NFL Picks
The Playoffs ~ Overview


We know what time it is… the NFL playoffs. And after taking the season off to get settled in and focused on other projects, I’m returning in time to chase that ever-elusive perfect postseason run.

This year I’m going to tackle it alone. Too much still going on to make arrangements with everyone and get the work done. But next year… I’m looking for a full slate of participants depending on everyone’s schedule, and that includes the return of Molly and Gus to the weekly selections.

For now, we’ve got two articles to get things started. This one will allow me to give you some thoughts about every team in the playoffs. The other one will give you my choices without the spread from beginning to end, as well as the week one selections against the spread.

I’m not going deep into each team here. Fact is, the coverage has picked up. But I still think there are some special things to consider for all of the clubs participating in the race to Indianapolis. (Yes. Indianapolis. The Super Bowl this year is in Indianapolis.)


New England – The Patriots could win it all… and the Patriots could lose their first playoff game.

So it goes.

The problem is that they are so darn unpredictable.

On one side of the argument, you have the most explosive offense in the AFC… and nothing else is even close. They present coverage problems that any other team would dream of just being able to offer a portion of... Brady… Gronkowski… Hernandez… Welker. And now signs of a running game? Yikes.

But… there is a dark side.

Sure, the defense has tightened up in the second half of recent games. Powerhouses like Denver, Buffalo and Miami all sprinted out to early leads over New England, and all did so recently ion late season contests.

Brady hasn’t looked as sharp in early portions of games as you would hope. Some say it takes time to read what he is being challenged with by a defense… others whisper about an injury that takes time to warm up and stretch out.

Then you have all five AFC clubs bringing some form of an aggressive defense that is much better than New England has faced most of the year. (I’m not going deeply into it… but New England has not faced many good times this season.)

The class of the AFC? Sure they are. But if they don’t improve defensive play and score more than 24 in every game, class could be dismissed quickly.

The trick is… almost all of this is out there. No surprises from New England. We know they’ve lost their last three playoff games (Super Bowl against the Giants, and then opening round games against the Ravens and Jets). We know the last four playoff losses (add in one against the Colts where they sprinted out to that 21-3 lead) were borderline stunning defeats. And we know that the defense is very likely to give up just over 20 points.

Baltimore – Here’s my problem with Baltimore… Ray Rice.

Now hold on… I think Rice is awesome. His run against New England two postseasons ago set the tone for that entire dismantling of the Patriots. I am not saying Ray Rice is the problem.

Instead… 2011 season… and Baltimore’s problems.

They went 4-4 on the road. And in those games, they seemed to forget they had Rice on their team.

In the four road losses, Rice never got more than 20 touches. In fact, he averaged only 9 carries a game in the road losses.

In the four road wins… even including a blowout of St. Louis where he only carried the ball 9 times… Rice averaged 20 carries per game.

Do you see that? Road wins… carries alone… Rice averages 20 per game. Road losses… carries and receptions… Rice didn’t get a total of 20 in a single game. (He averaged less than 16 touches per game in the losses.)

So… yeah… the Ravens seem to forget about Ray Rice at times, and when they do, they lose.

Houston – You know how every so often you wonder about a team and whether or not just being happy to make the playoffs is casting a cloud over their chances? Ok… get this…

First… The Texans… with a shot at the top seed in the AFC, though facing injuries including a ridiculous run on quarterbacks… lost to Carolina, lost at Indianapolis, and lost to Tennessee.

Second… Jake Delhomme. I kid you not. This is where he is, and there is a chance he will be the one handling Houston and their chances in the playoffs. And even if he isn’t the quarterback, for the Texans… hold on… next thought…

Third… Take out the 22 they scored against Tennessee, and the fact that they went for a two-point conversion to win the game. (It was a great move, but after decided to attempt it they looked just awful on that conversion, taking a wonderful moment and turning it into a joke.) Want to tell me the last time the high-powered offensive unit of Houston scored more than 20-points in a game? Yup… that’s right… November 13th against Tampa Bay. Long enough ago that Matt Schaub was playing… and, as you may know, Tampa has been letting every team score 30 on them this season.

Need I say more?

People want you to believe they overcame injuries late in the season. Sorry. This is not the same club.

(I honestly don’t know why more people aren’t looking for the Cincinnati upset in this game. I really don’t.)

Denver – Worst team in the playoffs. Quarterback has problems. Defense has been torched by some decent teams. It’s a recipe for disaster.

And yet… they have found a way to get into the fourth quarter of a few games with only a score or two needed to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. And folks… they have this amazing look in their eyes where they seem convinced that they can win every game if they can get to a last possession that only needs a field goal as a result. And I mean just that… convinced of victory, even when trailing, as long as it’s close.

Are you telling me that they couldn’t get to halftime against a wounded Pittsburgh team with a score of say 10-6? I think they could… in fact, I think they could get to halftime leading the game.

But this won’t be a long playoff visit for Denver. They cannot sustain it for multiple games. One surprise victory… maybe. A run? Not a chance.

Pittsburgh – Here’s the funny thing.

I think Pittsburgh is in for an amazingly rude awakening.

This week, a story came out about Roethlisberger getting hurt a bit against Cleveland. And as I finished the article, I had the distinct impression it was a smokescreen. A misdirection of sorts. Kind of like they were playing with Denver.

But the thing is… they are hurting. Their center is out… starting running back is out… defense is dipping into the depths because of one starter that won’t play because of Denver’s high altitude. This is all adding up.

Now no one… not a sole… is giving the Broncos a chance against the Steelers. And folks, much more often than not, when the conventional wisdom is unanimous in one direction, you should run… not walk, run… in the opposite direction.

This is a Pittsburgh team that… I know, 27 against St. Louis, yawn… hasn’t scored more than 14 points in four weeks. In fact, in the last six games, four times they were held to 14 or less. Heck... let’s make them healthy… in seven games this season they scored 17 or less. That’s half the year.

And on the road? 5-3… victories include Indianapolis, Arizona, Kansas City, Cleveland and Cincinnati… and only three times did they score more than 13 points.

I’ll say that separately and more clearly…

In 8 road games this season, only 3 times has Pittsburgh scored more than 13 points.

Don’t be surprised if they struggle. (And even if they get past Denver, there is no way they will win three road games in a row.)

Cincinnati – This is my playing-with-house-money team.

Led by youth that doesn’t know they are supposed to play like the Bungals and lose, I think they actually could scare a couple of teams. Trouble is that number six seed.

See, they get Houston first… which as noted in describing Houston, works in their favor. After that though, the number six seed can only go one place… and New England really isn’t the place for the Bengals to be thinking winning streak.

I like the energy… like Andy Dalton… really like A.J. Green.

I don’t like them to play well when the stage gets bigger than the first ever playoff game for the wounded Houston Texans.


Green Bay – Deservedly the favorite, and you don’t need me to tell you how talented they are. But you can throw against them… and the top threat in the NFC, New Orleans, can throw pretty much like no other team in history. Plus… the Giants, Falcons and Lions can all pass as well.

So this is no easy path for the Packers.

On top of that… guess what? Remember when the Patriots beat the Giants during the regular season four years ago? Then the Giants… not afraid of them… took the Super Bowl? Well, the Giants team has a regular season result from this year that leads me to believe they might not be scared of heading to Green Bay. (Which is an opening round possibility for the Packers.)

I think the defending champs stub their toes at some point, and don’t repeat. Just not sure where it happens. One thing is certain… there is a definite chance the AFC winner will be significantly less battered and bruised heading to the Super Bowl than the NFC winner will be.

San Francisco – I want to like the 49ers. They’ve responded to every challenge this year. Seriously…

Sure they play in a horrible division. Go beyond that. They managed to go 6-2 on the road, including wins over two playoff teams. (Detroit and Cincinnati.) At home… 7-1… they defeated Pittsburgh and New York (Giants).

They lost to a solid playoff team, Baltimore, by 10 points. The other two losses came by 2-points and an overtime field goal. Yeah… they were this close to 15-1 on the year.

So don’t mistake the 49ers as some product of an easy schedule or other unusual circumstance. Ball control, good defense, and not making a critical mistake… simple recipe and effectively carried out.

One problem I have with them is that they are really good at stopping the run… and every other NFC team made the playoffs based on really good to simply amazing passing games.

Their path to the Super Bowl likely includes facing New Orleans to start, and then Green Bay on the road.

New Orleans – I love the Saints.

Now… last year Seattle caught them by surprise and wiped out their postseason before it even started. But this year seems different.

I think the Saints have a chip on their shoulders. Part of that includes that humiliating loss to the Seahawks. I think part of it comes from the press-happy following the Packers have received all season. And I think part of that is going 13-3 and yet having to play the opening week of the playoffs.

Great passing game and a very strong running game make this offense about as tough to stop as any other in the NFL. Perhaps New England and Green Bay can roll out as many threats and problems… I still wouldn’t want to face New Orleans or pick against them being the top.

Their defense is ok… middle of the road for giving up points. (Oh yeah… by the way… both the Patriots and Saints gave up about 21 points per game. Playoff teams that gave up more than that… Atlanta (22), Green Bay (22), Detroit (24), Denver (24), New York (25). Just worth noting while everyone talks about all the passing yards Green Bay and New England surrender. (And Green Bay and New England do give up a ton of passing yards.) The numbers can be spun in tons of directions.)

New York (Giants) – I would be afraid of the Giants if I had to play them… nor would I be a big believer in their chances if I was a fan.

When they lost to New England a few years ago, there was something in the air about it. Something special in how they went toe-to-toe with the Pats while nothing was on the line for them. And they turned it into a special run.

But this year, for the first time in many years, the Giants never ran off a long winning streak. (They had two 3-game streaks. Nothing longer. Tough schedule. I get it. But never a dominant run.) They looked inconsistent… fighting hard against Green Bay in a loss, and dominating New York and Dallas to end the year… getting pasted by Washington in the fourteenth game of the year (and swept by the Redskins for the season), and I have no clue what happened against Seattle.

And yet… remember the fun I had with Pittsburgh’s inability to score, especially on the road? Only three times all year did the Giants fail to score 20 or more. And, as shown by the late victories over New England and Dallas, Manning continues to be solid and unfazed late in games.

This is a club that has the ability to win the NFC. I don’t think they can… the likelihood of two road games against the grouping of Green Bay, New Orleans and San Francisco just really stacks the odds against them… but on any given day they can generate a great pass rush, and they have a quarterback that deserves credit for what he’s accomplished.

Atlanta – Man, I just don’t know.

Strike one is the road. The Falcons have shown an ability to play well at home in recent years. In the playoffs they will travel pretty much as long as they win.

Strike two is the opponents. I think the Giants are better than their record or performance have shown to date. And that starts things out for the Falcons. They want to face the Saints again, feeling they have something to prove there, and yet the seeding means they would have to beat New York and Green Bay… cold weather, outdoor road games… before seeing New Orleans in this postseason.

Strike three… did you see above that their defense gives up points? Not too bad. Middle of the postseason pack. But the other five NFC clubs are scoring machines… and that doesn’t help.

Detroit – Ok…

Calvin Johnson is about as close to unstoppable as we’ve seen in some time. I mean, come on, any time they get coverage for a big game they talk about how stopping Johnson means everything… and yet the Lions still get the ball to him.

And… on top of that… Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards. Four receivers were over 600 for the season. So it’s not just Johnson, and Stafford is good.

And… the defense has an attitude.

The troubles? Ok… only 5 times has the opponent failed to score more than 20 points. The Lions give up tons of points.

On top of that… would you believe they don’t have a running back? Not kidding. Not one person rushed for 400-yards or more this season.

While they did beat Denver, in every other game this season against a playoff team, the Lions lost.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at