Culture of Hoops

Sonny’s NFL Picks: Wild Card Edition

Image courtesy of Parker Anderson/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Parker Anderson/Flickr.

Well friends, we’ve made our way through the seventeen weeks of the regular season and now the NFL playoffs are upon us. It’s the time when all of the half-assed football fans come out of hibernation and start “caring,” and when the real, hardcore fans are totally in their element. I fall into that second category of fans, but even as a lifelong NFL junkie I have to make a confession … I’m not all that excited for any of these Wild Card games.

I’ve sat down a few times and tried to put together a column on these Wild Card Round games and each time nothing good came out of it. I found myself asking questions like Would I be more into these games if Buffalo or Kansas City took one of those AFC Wild Card spots (Yes), Would I be more into these games if Atlanta beat Carolina in Week 17 (Yes), Would I be more into these games if Arizona weren’t playing with a third string quarterback (Yes), and Will I be really into the Divisional Round games if all of the favorites win tomorrow (Yes; though the thought of the seven-win Panthers or just-about-quarterback-less Cardinals going into Seattle doesn’t exactly scream “Must-Watch NFL Action!”)

I don’t want to be too much of a bummer. After all, in one month we’ll be deprived of NFL action for another eight after that, so we might as well enjoy what is put in front of us, right? So even though there isn’t much to like about these games or the Super Bowl chances of any of the teams involved with the exception of one—don’t worry, I’ll get to that momentarily—I did in fact compile a list of things I like about each team and each matchup as a means of getting myself jacked up for the games and as a way to figure out who will ultimately win.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers

What I like about Arizona: The thought of Arizona playing a Super Bowl in their home stadium … Ryan Lindley starting at quarterback for a Playoff game (sure, I knocked this earlier, but the for one of the all-time bad quarterback postseason performances is in play, and that outweighs the fact that Ryan Lindley should never, ever be starting in a Playoff game—by the way, wouldn’t we have a ton more confidence in Arizona if Tim Tebow were the starting quarterback during their postseason run?) … The Cardinals defense flipping the game by forcing a few turnovers and scoring at least one defensive touchdown … A guy named Kerwynn Williams starting at Running Back—like with Lindley, this is for unintentional comedy purposes only … The edge that Bruce Arians has over Ron Rivera … The fact that Arizona did win four more games this season than Carolina

What I like about Carolina: Cam Newton having a field day against a Cardinals defense that has struggled against mobile quarterbacks … A good college defense going up against Ryan Lindley, let alone the Panthers D … The prospect of Carolina being able to run the ball effectively on Arizona’s defense … Any Panthers lead by more than seven points almost ensures a Carolina win … The Panthers probably give Seattle or Green Bay a tougher game in Round Two … A big game for Greg Olsen … Carolina winning their last four games to get into the Playoffs by a margin of 111-43

The Pick: Carolina 20, Arizona 10 (Too much Ryan Lindley, not enough Tim Tebow)

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

What I like about Baltimore: Baltimore’s defense, especially considering the Steelers are without Le’Veon Bell … The possibility that Joe Flacco might turn into 2013 Playoffs Joe Flacco and destroy everybody … Steve Smith bringing a ton of big play potential to the table … Justin Forsett is primed and ready for a “Well, it looks like the Ravens definitely didn’t need Ray Rice” Game … John Harbaugh with the edge over Mike Tomlin … John Harbaugh on the road in the playoffs (he has seven road wins in the postseason) … Jacoby Jones returning kickoffs and punts … Justin Tucker kicking late in games …

What I like about Pittsburgh: Antonio Brown, any time he gets his hands on the ball … Ben Roethlisberger in the Playoffs against Baltimore (2-0 against the Ravens in the postseason in his career) … Roethlisberger’s stealth MVP candidacy—he’s not going to win, nor should he (heck, he might not even be the Most Valuable Player on the Steelers team), but under the radar Big Ben was awesome all season long … Martavis Bryant making at least one big play to flip the game

The Pick: Baltimore 31, Pittsburgh 30 (I was originally leaning towards the Steelers but Le’Veon Bell’s injury could make a huge difference)

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts

What I like about Cincinnati: Their defense is one of two in the league to have more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed … Jeremy Hill making their Bengals offense soooooo much more dangerous … Jeremy Hill’s Rookie of the Year candidacy (I gave the award to Odell Beckham Jr. last week, but I’m taking back my pick and giving it to Hill—from Week 8 on Hill has had 182 carries, 954 yards, and 6 touchdowns) … Any trick play where Mohammed Sanu throws the ball … Andy Dalton quite possibly shaking off his big-game demons in Week 16 when Cincinnati defeated Denver to clinch a postseason berth … Cincinnati has been tested the past few weeks while Indy has been feasting on cupcakes since the Week before Thanksgiving … Indy had Ahmad Bradshaw in their first meeting with Cincy, and that isn’t the case this time around

What I like about Indianapolis: Andrew Luck isn’t going to commit a ton of turnovers if he isn’t facing a hellish pass rush, and Cincinnati had the fewest sacks in the league this season … The Colts shut the Bengals out in Indianapolis earlier this season … Andrew Luck’s having a quite profound edge over Andy Dalton … The fact that even if Indy gets down early, they aren’t even remotely out of the game … Indy’s at-times suspect defense could dodge a bullet if A.J. Green doesn’t play on Sunday … T.Y. Hilton is always due for one big play

The Pick: Indianapolis 31, Cincinnati 21 (I picked Indianapolis to make the Super Bowl, so even if it’s only for one more week I’m picking them to move on)

Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys

What I like about Detroit: Ndamukong Suh is playing, and if anybody in the league is going to break Tony Romo’s back for good it’s Suh … If there is a defense that can give Dallas’ run heavy attack trouble, it’s probably Detroit’s … If there is a defense that can get to Tony Romo without bringing extra pass rushers, it’s probably Detroit’s … Calvin Johnson could turn back into Megatron as quickly as you can say “Jim Caldwell has only one facial expression” (In case you forgot, Johnson had 329 receiving yards in a game against Dallas last year; 329, that wasn’t a misprint) … Golden Tate could make Dallas pay if they double-team Johnson

What I like about Dallas: Tony Romo as the league’s MVP … Romo, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant being Dallas’ new Big Three … The prospect of the Cowboys playing on the road after this road (In case you forgot, Dallas was a perfect 8-0 away from home this year) … Matt Stafford is bound to make a few dumb throws … If it’s a close game, I definitely trust Romo over Stafford … If NFL referees fixed games, then Dallas is definitely getting by this week because a Cowboys/Packers playoff game would be a ratings bonanza … If Dallas’ defense plays how they have all year –we’ll call that unit “league average” –then Dallas should be fine

The Pick: Dallas 34, Detroit 24 (The Lions defense worries me, but Dallas’ balance on offense is exactly what you’d imagine a team poised to make a deep playoff run would be armed with)

Last Week: 12-4

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