Buehler’s Week 18 NFL Picks
I know what you’re thinking: “Glad the Niners got a first-round bye so Buehler can’t ooze bias through her NFL picks.” … I hear ya. And you’re right. So while the Niners have a week off to consider a multitude of ways to sufficiently throttle the unlucky team that sojourns to The Stick, I’ll leave the remaining oozing bias for next week and stick with the 4 games happening this weekend.
Bengals at Texans
These two teams find themselves in the exact same place as they did last year for Wildcard weekend. Well, sort of. The Texans have their starting quarterback, who wasn’t available last year, and the Bengals have an improved defense that is often forgotten in casual conversation. Last year, then rookie, Andy Dalton was called upon to throw 42 times, was picked on 3 of those passes and the Bengals were bounced by a better Texans team.
But, would you believe now second-year man, Dalton, has more postseason experience than Matt Schaub? Or that only 1 team throws more passes of 40+ yards than Cinci? Meanwhile, the Texans give up more big plays than any other playoff team. How about the running game? Texans have a big time runner in Arian Foster, who was the key to last year’s playoff win, but while they’re 4th in the league in attempts per game, they are 13th in the league in terms of 1st down percentage. So they run a lot, but it’s not moving the chains. For contrast, the Redskins and Pats are #1 and #2 in attempts, respectively, and #2 and #1 in 1st down percentage respectively.
The other key ingredient for each team is their defensive line. The Bengals are #3 in the league in sacks, the Texans are close behind at #5. However, if the Bengals can slow JJ Watt, who has collected 20.5 sacks on the season, the next most prolific quarterback threat is Antonio Smith with 7 sacks. Meanwhile, the Bengals have shared responsibilities between Geno Atkins (12.5 sacks) and Michael Johnson (11.5) and some supporting cast with Wallace Gilberry (6.5) and Carlos Dunlap (6). The Bengals have more weapons to get at the passer and we know the Texans are a one-trick pony. If Cinci can slow Foster down and force Schaub to throw the ball more than he’s comfortable, the Bengals defense will do it’s part to snag Marvin Lewis’s first playoff win. And if the Bengals can corral any semblance of a running game more than what they accomplished last year, you’ll be watching the Bengals move on to Denver in the divisional round. Bengals win 24-21.
Vikings at Packers
This is the easiest game of the weekend to pick. Vikings at home barely beat the Packers who had little to play for. The Packers at home, despite a flawed defense, despite Peterson’s heroics are just too much for the Vikings. Packers win 35-20.
Colts at Ravens
I worked for the Colts last season. I was at every home game as they went 0-2, 0-4, 0-8, 0-11, 0-13… I was also there when they logged the second and final win of the season. Week 17 against the Houston Texans. I watched as Dan Orlovsky found Reggie Wayne in the end zone with 23 seconds left on the clock. The team had nothing to fight for, but they found more than enough fire to knock the division leader in the teeth and send them into the post season with a loss that many considered meaningless, but it demonstrated a will to win in the Colts that has perpetuated the most improbable of regular seasons in NFL history. The Colts are the second team to ever go from 2 wins to 11 wins in one season. They saw THAT dramatic of a turnaround with a rookie general manager, rookie head coach, rookie interim head coach, rookie quarterback, rookie running back…etc… Most think it’s remarkable they made the playoffs (something predicted in this space before week 9), but what’s really remarkable is they aren’t overly impressed with their own success. THEY expected it.
Meanwhile the Ravens are getting Ray Lewis back and while he is the emotional leader and while you suppose his presence alone will improve the defense, he can’t help Joe Flacco. He can’t help Anquan Boldin catch the ball. Lewis isn’t the guy that’s going to get Torrey Smith open. The Ravens do not do well when under pressure. And the Colts don’t realize they are under any. The Horseshoe will continue to SHOCK the unknowing football world, but those who understand what makes a great team tick won’t be shocked at all. Colts win 24-21.
Seahawks at Redskins
Perhaps the only team in the NFL scorching the postseason scene more than Seattle is the Redskins. And as usual, the quarterbacks are getting the bulk of attention in this match up. But as unusual as these two players are, that does make a lot of sense. Last year’s Bengals/Texans matchup was the first time in NFL history two rookies went at it in the playoffs, and this year it’s happening again, except intentionally. I could jot another 500 words on the impressive seasons of RG3 and Russell Wilson, but while the quarterbacks are leading the conversation in most media outlets, I’m looking at this game as Marshawn Lynch versus Alfred Morris.
Marshawn Lynch was beaten in head-to-head rushing only 3 times this season, Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush were the backs to rush for more yards in those matchups. The Seahawks lost 2 of those games. No team in the NFL runs the ball more than Washington and the Seattle run defense is mediocre, giving up 4.5 yards a carry. The Seahawks have won 5 straight, the Skins have won 7 in a row. The Hawks took a trip through the NFC West, beat the Bills and Bears. Not a daunting task when you consider the aging Bears defense, Niners emotional trip from New England to Seattle and the Cards', Bills' and Rams' inconsistencies. The Skins beat the Giants, Cowboys (twice), Eagles (twice), Browns and Ravens in their winning streak. They beat the same team twice, twice. That’s no fluke. They beat Eli and Flacco. They faced down a good pass rush in the Browns. They embarrassed Tony Romo in week 17. I know everyone thinks RG3 at 80% isn’t good enough to beat the Seattle pass rush and I’m telling you he won’t have to be because Alfred Morris is feeling just fine. I was born and raised in Seattle. Watched them carefully in 2005 as the franchise took it’s first-ever trip to the Super Bowl and I have still NEVER seen or heard THIS much love for the Seahawks. Ever. But when it comes to the game Sunday, it won’t matter how hot the Hawks were in the regular season. Skins win 28-14.
Wildcard weekend is wild, and these games are sure to keep us on our seats! Can’t wait!!