Friday, January 04, 2008

Wild card picks

While I don't feel like relaying the results of carnage that were my picks last week, suffice to say I did not finish the week -- and thus the season -- over .500. But, for the year, I was still able to out-pick famous Internet journalist Bill Simmons, who offers up an elaborate excuse for his season of handicapping woe here. I offer no such explanation, other than I choked when the pressure was on.

Speaking of Simmons, about a month ago he had a pretty well-circulated column discussing how, after a pretty sweet upper-echelon, quality NFL quarterbacks are few and far between. Which is something I had also noticed after a regular season of watching football.

A large part of this paucity of QB talent has to do with teams being under increased pressure to play early -- and stick with -- high draft choice quarterbacks. The reason for this is, right off the bat, QBs receive (increasingly) higher salaries and more hype than other positional players. Making it difficult to justify sitting Mr. Second-Pick-Overall-Bonus-Baby on the bench.

Not that having a mediocre quarterback has been a fatal flaw this season. In fact we have four teams playing this week -- Washington, New York, Tennessee and San Diego -- who were able to advance to the playoffs despite starting the season with a young high-draft-pick QB who has not and did not perform up to his "potential." Each of these teams would have been better off with about half the backups in the NFL, a few of the starters in the CFL, or even the odd strong-armed grocery-bagger at the helm.

Perhaps the most fortunate of these teams has been the Redskins, who lost starting QB Jason Campbell in week 14, only to see Todd Collins -- who hadn't started a NFL game in 10 years -- lead the 'Skins to the four straight wins required for a playoff birth and a winning season. The Titans also got a lucky break last week when franchise QB Vince Young pulled up lame with his team trailing Indianapolis in a game the Titans needed to make the playoffs. Ancient backup Kerry Collins came in and led the Tennessee to three straight scoring drives and the victory.

So if you are a fan of the Chargers or Giants, there is no shame in that surge of adrenaline you get whenever Philip Rivers or Eli Manning gets up slowly after a hit. Here are the picks:

Washington at Seattle (-3)
The most emotional game of the week, as the Skins put it on the line for Sean Taylor, and the Hawks rally around the memory of Shaun Alexander. Many football insiders have pegged the Seahawks as this year's most "enigmatic" team. This goes double for me, as I have yet to see them play. But they are at home, and it will probably be raining or something. Seahawks win and cover 24-20

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh (+3)
It's not like there aren't any good young quarterbacks out there, and this game features two of the best. Save last season's motorcycle-wreck induced lost year, Ben Roethlisberger comes close to matching Manning and Brady for both statistical productivity and post-season success. While Jags' signal caller David Garrard has come out of nowhere to post a 18-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio, and has led his team to a surprising 11 wins. As for the game, Pittsburgh has been playing unmitigatingly bad football lately, and Jacksonville has been on a roll. The trend holds and the Jags win and cover 28-23.

Tennessee at San Diego (-9.5)
The good news for the Chargers is this year they are without the baggage of Marty Schottenheimer's past playoff failures. The bad news is Norv Turner's baggage knows no time of the season. If the Chargers lose, Ladainian Tomlinson probably ends up either retiring so he can tour Europe with Barry Sanders, or shooting up an In-N-Out Burger. Luckily the Titans just aren't very good, and the Bolts romp and cover 38-13.

New York at Tampa Bay (-3)
Eli aside, the Giants have a very, very good offense. Their running game hasn't missed a beat without shinny happy person Tiki Barber, Plaxico Burress may be the third best receiver in the NFL when he decides to try, and mammoth rookie tight end Kevin Boss seems to combine the injured Jeremy Shockey's uncanny ability to get open with the more rudimentary TE skill of actually being able to catch a football. As for the Bucs, I have no idea how they won nine games this year and don't have enough time on a late Friday afternoon to try and figure this out. Giants breeze and cover 27-10.

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