NFL Survivor Pool Picks - Divisional Round
by Matt Severance - 01/08/2009
Hopefully you read this column last week and advanced in your NFL Playoff Survivor Pool, as I hit on my lock of the weekend (Baltimore) and my other two leans (Arizona and Philadelphia). Yes, the Colts bit me, but that probably was just because of the flip of a coin in overtime and the NFL's stupid, stupid overtime rules - but that's for another column.
So while none of the four home teams were favored last week, two of them won. I expect three of the four home clubs to do the same in the divisional round. On to the picks:
I'll start with my top choice this weekend, and that's the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the biggest reason is health. Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson has a torn groin and may well not play. Even if he does, you have to think Darren Sproles again carries the load, and he was tremendous against Indy. But that Pittsburgh run defense is just a shade (yeah, that's sarcasm) better than the Colts' version. San Diego has been in a win-or-done mentality since Week 13 and it's nearly impossible for a team to maintain that high level of intensity for so long. With Ben Roethlisberger reportedly 100 percent, this should be a fairly easy win for Pittsburgh.
If you aren't a fan of the Steelers-Chargers matchup, the Panthers should handle the Cardinals on Saturday night. I do think the line (currently Carolina -10) is too high and that Arizona will cover, but the Cards might be without receiver Anquan Boldin, which is a big loss. With the week off, Carolina is healthy, and the Panthers saw this attack in Week 8, so that should be a benefit. (I believe it's of more of a benefit to Carolina than Arizona, because the Cards are more into misdirection and trying to confuse the defense with quick or deep throws, while the Panthers will just run it at you.) Remember, though, that Arizona probably should have won that Week 8 game. So I wouldn't recommend giving the points, if you are wondering.
My third-favorite game of the weekend is the Eagles and Giants. Philly definitely is a threat, as evidenced by its Week 14, 20-14, win in the Meadowlands. But once again, injuries favor the team that had the bye week. Eagles running back Brian Westbrook probably won't practice much at all this week, but, of course, he will play. But the Vikings had success against him last week other than a fourth-quarter screen pass. For the G-Men, Brandon Jacobs is healthy again after that time off, and he is the key to that offense. New York should win.
Lastly, I would stay away from the Baltimore-Tennessee game, but if you are in a bracket, that's not an option. Like the first three choices, this also is a rematch game, won 13-10 by the Titans in Week 5. Expect more of the same here, but the Ravens are incredibly dangerous. Ed Reed might be the best player in these playoffs right now, and that Baltimore defense was outstanding against Miami. That short week won't help the Ravens, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if they pulled the upset here. In fact, let's just say they do.
Good luck in the divisional round, and stay with Doc's for previews of all the weekend action.