Before we get to my picks for the Divisional Round, I feel compelled to toss in a personal anecdote that is somewhat relevant to the topic that I’ll be covering today. On Tuesday night while I was playing pick-up basketball I took full-speed shoulder to the temple that dimmed my lights for a few seconds. I wouldn’t say I was completely knocked out or anything too serious, but the time period between me getting hit in the head and me hitting the ground is a tremendously brief portion of my life that I don’t really have the ability to recall.
I bring this incident up for three reasons:
First, this column was supposed to go up on Friday, not Saturday. I hate having pieces go up later than I initially intended them to, especially ones where I’m picking games, but I didn’t really have the mental capability to get this up any sooner. Things were foggy up through mid-day Friday. So with that said, I apologize for the tardiness and the length of the column, which as you’ll notice is noticeably shorter than I’d normally like it to be.
Second, Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown isn’t playing this Sunday, and that makes total sense. If Antonio Brown did play Sunday afternoon then the NFL Concussion Protocol would be a complete farce. I’m sure Brown will want to play and I can’t blame him. If I were in his situation I know I’d want to give it a go, but I took a hit to the head that wasn’t nearly as hard, nor was it delivered by a human being nearly as large as Vontaze Burfict is. I also wasn’t knocked unconscious for an extended period of time. It’s been three and a half days and I still don’t totally feel right. My head still hurts, my eyes are more sensitive to light than normal, and my neck and back both ache. I’m sure I don’t have more than a mild concussion. If Antonio Brown would have played this Sunday then I would never, ever, ever take the NFL Concussion Protocol seriously, and that’s a big problem.
Third, if I don’t go 4-0 this week to extend my postseason record to 8-0 for the second straight year then I’m blaming my concussion-like symptoms and nobody can tell me any differently.
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
The last time these two teams played Kansas City beat New England so badly, and so convincingly, that Pats fans were actually turning on the great Tom Brady after the game. They called for Jimmy Garappolo. There was legitimate panic amongst Pats fans because of how one-sided that game was. And 15 months later the narrative heading into the game isn’t all that different. Yes, it’s the Playoffs and this game is at Gillette Stadium, not Arrowhead, but neither team has undergone a makeover of any sort since the last time they played
Kansas City still has the right recipe for upsetting the Patriots. They are capable of playing mistake free football, they run the ball with a weird core of effective running backs and control the clock, and the most important point, they can get pressure on Tom Brady, limit Rob Gronkowski‘s touches and disrupt the efficient Patriots offense. That’s the key to this game. Tom Brady was sacked 38 times this year. That was the third highest total of his entire career. The Chiefs could conceivably get pressure on Brady without sending a ton of extra rushers, and if they can the Chiefs stand a really good chance of upsetting New England.
On the flip side, New England has a recipe of their own that is pretty tasty. We could be just hours away from watching one of those Patriots performances that make you feel the same way you do when you’re watching the San Antonio Spurs pick apart an undermatched defense with offense that resembles high-functioning machinery. If Gronk, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are all near 100% then any and all offensive line issues the Patriots are mute points.
The Pick: Patriots 27, Chiefs 20
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
I’m bunching these two games together because I get the sneaking suspicion that one of these two road teams are winning. Carolina only a 1.5 point favorite over the Seahawks, a truly bewildering line considering the Panthers went 15 and fucking 1 this season AND beat Seattle IN Seattle earlier in the year. I don’t understand this at all, yet I’m compelled to pick the Seahawks, even after they got gifted a Wild Card win six days ago. My head hurts.
On the other hand, Green Bay is a seven point underdog in Arizona, and that line actually does make sense, and it scares the hell out of me. I can’t explain it. The Cards walloped the Packers just a few weeks ago and there was no indication that the Pack were even in the same league as Arizona. All I’m going on here is three good quarters of football that the Packers played against a fraudulent Washington Redskins team and the fear of Aaron Rodgers hurting my feelings for the 100th time in my life.
Really, what’s screwing me up here is figuring out my answer to the question, “Are the Panthers and Cardinals ready to take the next step?” Carolina has lost in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs the last two seasons (both times to NFC West opponents) and Arizona got bounced in Round 1 last year, mainly because they grabbed some dude named Ryan Lindley out of the crowd before their Wild Card Round game to play Quarterback. Meanwhile, Seattle has won the NFC the last two years and the Packers were three fluky plays away from playing in the Super Bowl last year. Whether it’s reasonable or not, it’s difficult to pick against the proven NFC contenders.
The Pick: Seattle 19, Carolina 17
The Pick: Arizona 31, Green Bay 24
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
The biggest monkey wrench thrown into this postseason so far has been everything that resulted from the final quarter of the Steelers/Bengals game last week. Ben Roethlisberger‘s right shoulder is temporarily ruined and Antonio Brown is most likely sitting in a dark room that feels like it’s spinning and shaking. The Steelers went from the most realistic dark horse Super Bowl sleeper to a banged up shell of itself that is down two Running Backs and the best Wide Receiver in football. And they’re on the road against one of the best defensive teams in the NFL.
The second biggest monkey wrench: Gary Kubiak opting to go with Peyton Manning in the 2nd Half of their Week 17 season finale, and making the call to stick with Manning for the postseason. Manning was abysmal during the regular season, throwing nearly twice as many interceptions (17) as touchdowns (9) and posting the worst passer rating in the NFL. There is definitely a scenario where Peyton Manning gift wraps this game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and don’t think it’s not scaring the hell out of Broncos fans.
Ultimately, I can’t just ignore the possibility that Ben Roethlisberger won’t be able to throw the ball more than fifteen yards down the field. Then again, that’s a possibility for Manning too. Even if my head felt normal I wouldn’t know what to do with this one.
The Pick: Denver 17, Pittsburgh 14