Culture of Hoops

Sonny’s NFL Picks: Conference Championship Weekend

Photo courtesy of Mike Morbeck/Flickr

Photo courtesy of Mike Morbeck/Flickr

Isn’t it ironic that just last week when I was making my Divisional Round picks I discussed pickling the beast that is the NFL Playoffs—a reference to The Sandlot—and now, here I am, actually in a pickle.

My pickle is quite different than the one Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez faced. I don’t have to hop over any fences or outrun any beastly dogs. All I have to do is continue to pick NFL Playoff games correctly. I’m 8-0 right now—it’s by far the best NFL picking streak of my life—and with two games this weekend that my cousin Paul Clark called “Two of the easiest picks in the playoffs all season” on our most recent podcast, I still feel conflicted. Here’s why:

These picks do look easy on paper. The Green Bay Packers got beat by 20 in the Seattle Seahawks’ season opener and Aaron Rodgers wasn’t dealing with a defective calf muscle in that game. Green Bay couldn’t run the ball and Rodgers didn’t even try to throw it to Richard Sherman’s side of the field. Seattle’s defense was lock-down and their offense did what they needed to do; run the ball effectively, play mistake free football, and connect on one big play just for good measure.

The story of the earlier meeting this season between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts will sound similar to the one I just told you about Green Bay and Seattle. New England’s defense made Indy one dimensional offensively, but the Colts weren’t bad on that side of the ball otherwise. Luck played reasonably well and Indy’s offensive line only allowed one sack. The Colts defense had absolutely no answer for Jonas Gray (37 carries, 201 yards, four touchdowns) who since has only 20 carries, but they did intercept two Tom Brady passes.

Sometimes all it boils down to is one team being better than the other team. Green Bay didn’t play their best game in Week 1 against Seattle, and even if they did this Sunday I’m not sure it’s better than Seattle on a good day. Same goes for Indy. They’ve obviously improved since that Week 11 meeting, but their best game probably isn’t good enough to beat New England on a day when the Patriots are close to their best at Gillette Stadium.

These picks should be pretty cut and dry, right? I shouldn’t be in a pickle, wouldn’t you agree? Well, you probably haven’t considered the other half of it.

With an 8-0 playoff record on the line and no bias or rooting interest coming into play, Seattle and New England would be picks that I could feel really good about. Seattle is on an historically great run—they’re outscoring their opponents 165-56 in their last seven games, and they’ve won each one by double digits—and they’ve won their last eight playoff games at Century Link Field. Aaron Rodgers is gimpy and Seattle’s defense is littered with guys who are like sharks who smell blood in the water.

New England’s situation is the same. Even though the Patriots had to sweat one out last week against the Baltimore Ravens, they’ve won 40 of their last 44 home games against AFC opponents. Brady and Belichick have been here before, and even though they’ve been on the losing end in their last two AFC Championship Game appearances, it’s easier to trust them in this game than it is Andrew Luck, as great as he already is.

Unfortunately, bias and rooting interest most definitely come into play this weekend and it’s tough to just put that aside. I’m only human, and humans are susceptible two things that will almost always trip them up when picking NFL games:

1: Hating certain teams to such a startling degree that they will actually be terrified to pick against them because if that team were to win they’d be twice as upset.

2: Sticking with a previously made pick even when common sense is screaming at you to abandon said pick.

You may all remember that I’m a Chicago Bears fan, and I’m of the persuasion that it’s been to err on the side of caution than to put myself in a position where I can lose both ways. By picking Seattle this Sunday, I’m sticking my neck out there to be VERY disappointed. Just picture it:

A jolly Sonny Giuliano sits down on his couch at 3 p.m. as he gets ready to find out not only who is going to the Super Bowl, but if his undefeated playoff streak can survive the weekend. He picked Seattle in the first game, a pick that surely should be a lock. All game long, he has to sweat it out as Seattle’s offense struggles to move the ball. It’s the 4th quarter now and Seattle leads 17-13. There are six minutes left. Green Bay forces a Seattle punt. Aaron Rodgers is at the helm.

SIDE BAR: You can see where this is going, right? Now do you understand why it’s terrifying to pick against Green Bay? Let me finish the story so you see what I’m talking about.

Methodically, Rodgers takes Green Bay down the field. We get to the two minute warning and Green Bay has just entered the red zone. It’s 3rd and 9. Rodgers, bad calf and all, steps up in the pocket and delivers a beautiful back shoulder ball to Jordy Nelson. Touchdown Packers, and now Sonny’s day is f****** ruined.

Come on, it write’s itself. It’s one thing to pick against your least favorite team in a big game. It’s a whole different animal when you’re picking against your least favorite team in a big game and that team’s quarterback is Aaron Rodgers. Needless to say, I’m conflicted.

For a totally different reason I’m conflicted in the New England/Indianapolis game. You guys probably don’t remember this, but way back in early September I went out on a limb and predicted a Seattle/Indianapolis Super Bowl. If you don’t believe me, you can check it out right by clicking right here.

Of course, there isn’t as much riding on this game. I prefer to root for Indianapolis over New England—sorry to all of my friends and family who are Patriots fans, but I have a soft spot for Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano—but it’s not like I hate the Patriots. Actually, the most intriguing Super Bowl matchup for me would be Seattle versus New England. So really, the only result I’d be upset with in this game would be one that I didn’t pick.

I just can’t help but feel like karmically it’s a bad move for me to all of the sudden abandon a pick I made five months ago. Doesn’t that make me a bad person? Is it weird that I feel like Benedict Arnold? Is it weird that now I want eggs benedict? Does anyone want to go to Denny’s?

Maybe picking against Indy doesn’t ensure that the Colts don’t make the Super Bowl, but maybe it does piss off the NFL and Karma Gods just enough that they conspire to make sure that I don’t end up going a perfect 11-0 during the playoffs. I’m not sure. I don’t know what to think any more.

What I keep coming back to is The Sandlot, and in particular the scene when Babe Ruth tells Benny that he needs to conquer the beast—cut to everyone who hasn’t seen The Sandlot staring at their computer screen totally baffled by what I’m talking about. Anyway, I keep thinking about six words that the Sultan of Swat said to Benny.


As I get ready to make my Conference Championship picks, I keep envisioning that famous quote and how if I were to complete the playoff sweep it would make me a legend. I can see it written. And it looks like it’s written in chalk.

The Picks
Seattle Seahawks 30, Green Bay Packers 17
New England Patriots 38, Indianapolis Colts 27

Last Week: 4-0
Overall: 150-97-1

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