The 2011 NFL Picks
The Playoffs ~ Week Three

Funny thing… picking New York against the spread basically salvaged week two.

I ended up splitting the picks all the way through again… but this time it wasn’t as simple as getting everything right or wrong for a game. Baltimore didn’t cover. Needed an extra pick, and got it from the Giants.

That said… the Saints are out… and I am guaranteed a losing record in the beginning-to-end selections as a result.

Three things we need to consider or note before we get to this week’s games.

First – New England is the last great offense standing.

That should be scary for any Patriots fan to hear. The last three playoff losses… New York (Giants), Baltimore and New York (Jets) all featured a showing from the offense that was well below expectations.

And that should be great for Patriots fans to hear. Because if Brady and the New England offense play well, the path to a title at least looks to be less frightening than expected.

Time will tell on this (and honestly, I’m still apprehensive and nervous).

Second – I have never watched a two-hour display of football even remotely close to what was shown on Saturday night. The last five minutes of the Saints-49ers and the first half of Broncos-Patriots was simply unreal. I know this statement involves the demolition of Denver… but frankly, that first half was filled with precision and exceptional play on the part of New England’s offense. Plus, it featured some unexpectedly good play from the New England defense. And the back-and-forth between New Orleans and San Francisco? Unreal… just incredible.

Third – Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin no longer need to justify their abilities. I felt that was true after watching how they played the Patriots in the regular season and Super Bowl a few years ago. I know some people thought the offense was lucky in the Super Bowl and the defense did all the work. I believe it has been confirmed now.

Baltimore at New England (7½) – Turnovers.

Before you start to ask me questions about New England’s defense, or head back into the past and bring up the sloppy play of New England’s offense in recent weeks or playoff efforts (not last week… but before that)… I want you to consider turnovers.

Because New Orleans and Green Bay were tossing the ball all over their respective fields of play last weekend… routinely to the benefit of San Francisco and New York. The Packers just looked awful. The Saints almost won.

The Ravens… well, the Ravens might not have won the game against the Texans without the benefit of turnovers and field position.

So… here we go… turnovers. The great unpredictable.

See… I’m going to repeat the same philosophies that I have all along in these playoffs.

Number one – Tom Brady needs to begin the game playing well. No falling behind by multiple scores early. Points in the first quarter… and especially the lead… are good signs for New England.

Number two – The Ravens have been inconsistent on the road this year, and those inconsistencies can be directly found in their ability to utilize Ray Rice. Blah-blah-blah playing from behind or good defensive schemes or whatever… when he touches the ball 25 times, they win.

The reality… to me… is very simple in this game. If New England doesn’t turn the ball over, they should win. And regardless of who wins, the score isn’t likely to be close. If the Ravens win… it’s because Ray Rice showed up and Tom Brady was held in check for most of the afternoon.

Just a couple of notes on Joe Flacco. In the playoffs, he’s never been defeated in the Wild Card round, and has been to the Conference Championship before. But… his record also shows his play has weakened each round, and is always below his regular season numbers. (So… his play is best during the regular season… weaker in opening week playoff games… weaker still in second week playoff games… and weakest in the one other AFC title game.) His big career stats… 60.8% completion percentage… 80 touchdowns and 46 interceptions… 86 quarterback rating… turn to this: 53.1% (56.7% week one, 53.5% week two, 43.3 AFC title), 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, 66.2 quarterback rating. Anyone recall how he did last week? 51.9% completion, 2 touchdowns with no interceptions and a 97.1 rating. But… he threw for a whopping 176 yards, and I do believe that his rating is incredibly misleading. It’s a result of no turnovers and not exceptional play.

I do not believe the Patriots have to stop Joe Flacco. They need to stop Ray Rice.

Against the spread: New England
Without spread: New England
The beginning to end selection (have Baltimore at New England): New England

New York (Giants) at San Francisco (2½) – Wow.

See… there’s a strange thing about the Giants that I probably should have considered more last week. And that is: (1) Tom Coughlin is a great coach, (2) Eli Manning is one of the best quarterbacks playing today, even if you don’t want to place him on Mount Quarterbackmore with Brees, Rodgers and Brady (oh yeah, and his brother), and (3) most of this Giants team remembers pulling together for the Super Bowl run that knocked off the undefeated.

So everyone should be paying attention to the Giants. Because they are a team… much like the Patriots… that is healthier now than they have been all season. They believe in their ability to play well. And when you add playing very good football when it matters with strong confidence, that can be very tough to beat. (There are several players from the Green Bay roster you can call to ask about that. Go ahead… call them… they’re home right now and not doing much, such they made their plans for mid-February.)

And yet the 49ers are for real. That defense is a punishing, crushing defense that I believe may be the best remaining in the playoffs (and I don’t think it’s all that close). Plus, watching Alex Smith rise to the late game challenges last week was just amazing. (I am thrilled for Smith. Way too long to get into, but I never really felt he was given a shot until this season.)

Rather than try and separate the teams… here’s why I’ll pick San Francisco.

First, they got an extra day off to recover and refocus.

Second, the Giants had to travel for the Green Bay game, play the late Sunday contest, travel home, and then head across the country for this game.

And third, while I do prefer Eli, his confidence, and his passing game over Alex, I think Frank Gore and the San Francisco running game is better suited for changing the pace of this game and actually making a significant impact.

This should be a great game.

Against the spread: San Francisco
Without spread: San Francisco
The beginning to end selection (have New Orleans at Green Bay): New Orleans

Records to date:

With spread – 4-4 (2-2 in week two)
Without spread – 4-4 (2-2 in week two)
Beginning to end – 4-4 (2-2 in week two)

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