How the darts landed
Hit all our picks straight up last week except our gamble on Carolina winning. Correctly had San Diego-with-points but that was about it against the spread. (Seattles win was a push.) Rolling big dice this week with both road dogs winning outright for an unexpected Patriots-Niners Super Bowl. Anybody else with me on that? Nah, I didn't think so. By the way, this weeks usual Friday NFL column previewing Championship Weekend will instead appear online Saturday and in Sundays newspaper.
|Final regular season||153-102-1||.600||110-132-14||.457|
PATRIOTS (No. 2 seed, 13-4) at BRONCOS (No. 1, 14-3)
Line: DEN by 5 1/2.
Cotes pick: NE 31-27.
TV: 3 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
The 15th and perhaps last edition of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning of course is the broad framework for Sundays early game, the duel of Canton-bound arms in some ways seeming even bigger than the game, than Patriots-Broncos. The result is for the AFCs Lamar Hunt Trophy and a spot in the Super Bowl, but based on the preamble, youd think it was mostly about the two QBs and their legacies. Clearly, Bradys 10-4 edge head-to-head and more pedigreed postseason résumé puts the far greater pressure here on Manning to win at home and not end his historic season sourly. So does the teams wild regular-season meeting, won by the Pats 34-31 in overtime. Youll recall Denver led 24-0 before collapsing under Bradys assault, and that Manning (150 yards) had his worst game of the season. Weather should not be a big factor in the rematch; cold but no rain. Besides, a team from outside Boston is supposed to have chattering teeth in Denver? I like New England in what would be a big upset, and I do so with utmost respect for Manning and Denvers home record. Picking against Peyton at home feels like betting against tomorrows sunrise, but the gut feeling here is pretty strong. Saturday-game winners in the previous round are 7-1 since 2010 in this round, a trend favoring New England. Manning is 6-11 all-time against Bill Belichick teams. John Fox is 1-6 against the Pats. NE finally has a running game and has three very good cornerbacks. And heres something else that might seem small but isnt: Denver is missing injured CB Chris Harris, and the Broncs opposing passer skyrockets when Harris isnt on the field. Thatll clear a path for Brady to victimize 34-year-old replacement Quentin Jammer and to continue his mastery of Manning.
49ERS (No. 5 seed, 14-4) at SEAHAWKS (No. 1, 14-3)
Line: SEA by 3 1/2.
Cotes pick: SF 20-17.
TV: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox.
These teams first postseason meeting is a brutally delicious matchup between two coaches who dont like each other in a bitter division rivalry whose fulcrum will be punishing defense. I get that Seattles 12th Man fans are supposed to make the venue the difference here. Earthquakes, decibels, yada yada yada. I know that Seattle is 16-1 at home the past two seasons and has won six consecutive home games in the postseason. And I know acutely that San Fran has lost its past two trips to SEA by a combined 71-16 score. OK. Deep breath. Now repeat after me: The most likely effect of those past two games in Seattle is to make the 49ers angry and assert themselves to not be embarrassed again. (Yes. Yes I AM picking another upset!) Give me the hotter-than-Hades Niners to win the NFCs George Halas Trophy and get back to the Super Bowl. San Fran has won eight games in a row and is playing its best right now. The Niners defense is as good as Seattles or imperceptibly shy of it, and SFs offense is hitting on more cylinders coming in than Seattles. If Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch are a running-game push, Colin Kaepernick vs. Russell Wilson is not. At least not lately. Give me The Tattooed One. Wilson has been pretty ordinary the past five games, a stretch during which Seattles offense has averaged a Dolphinesque 20 points and 265 yards per game. Six consecutive NFC Championship Games have been decided by seven points or fewer, three in overtime. This one should continue that streak, maybe right down to the OT. Due respect to Seattles ear-busting crowd, but its San Fran bringing the hotter all-round team capable of jamming the mute button on all of those sonic decibels.