The Lineman’s NFL playoff picks — Saints march on
Well, the Lineman sneaks into the playoffs with a solid but unspectacular finish to the regular season. OK, so we were not the New England Patriots of predictions but neither were we the Seattle Seahawks.
But this is the start of the real season, when things really count. Super Bowl here we come.
Regular Season Record: 53-49
Last week: 4-2. Pick of the Week: 9-8
PICK OF THE WEEK:
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Seattle Seahawks (7-9) (Line Saints minus-10.5): Picking this one was the Big Easy. The defending Super Bowl champs roll into Seattle to face the first ever NFL team with a losing record to qualify for the post-season.
Qwest Field can be a hostile place for visitors and the Seahawks received a bit of good news on Thursday learning that banged up QB Matt Hasselbeck is fit enough to get the start.
The Saints also head to the Pacific Northwest with injury issues, particularly on offense with running backs Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas both on injury reserve.
But Drew Brees is good to go. The Saints QB, who enjoyed another superb season tossing for nearly 300 yards per game, will attack a spotty Seahawk secondary that is among the league’s worst surrendering an average of 249.6 ypg through the air.
New Orleans pounded the Seahawks 34-19 in the regular season but wobbled into the playoffs losing two of their last three games.
Saints have never won a post-season game away from the Superdome. Seahawks have won last four playoff games at Qwest Field.
But these are the numbers that really matter.
Saints rank sixth in total offense (372.5 ypg), Seahawks 28th (297.8 ypg)
An under-rated Saints defense ranks fourth in total defense (306.3), Seahawks rank 27th (368.6 ypg).
Saints march on.
Take the Saints and give up the 10.5.
New York Jets (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (10-6) (Line Colts minus-2.5): Picking the Saints was a no-brainer but this one had me flip-flopping like a beached mackerel.
A rematch of last season’s AFC championship won by the Colts, this game should be the best of the wild card weekend.
The Jets stumble into the playoffs losing three of their last five while the surging Colts steam into the post-season on a four game winning streak.
As always, the Colts hopes rest on QB Peyton Manning, who will be at the controls of the NFL’s top ranked passing game (288.1 ypg).
Injuries forced Manning to work with a supporting cast of receivers much of the season but the Colts quarterback still tossed for a career best 4,700 yards.
Manning and company will work against the NFL’s third ranked defense and a stingy secondary anchored by cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
New York quarterback Mark Sanchez has seen his play drop off because of a sore shoulder but the Jets own the NFL’s fourth ranked rushing offense (148.4 ypg) and will likely test an Indy defense that has had trouble containing the run.
The Colts rank 25th in run defense but have limited their last four opponents to less than 80 ypg.
New York is 6-2 on the road but Manning is 5-1 against Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who says this one is personal.
The Jets have talked a good game this season but now it is put up or shut up time.
Sorry Rex, nothing personal but talk is cheap. Peyton is still the man.
Jets grounded in Indy.
Take the Colts and give up the 2.5.
Baltimore Ravens (12-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) (Line Ravens minus-3.5): The Chiefs are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and taking on the battled tested Ravens, who claim a wild card spot for a third straight year.
The Ravens know the drill having notched opening round road wins in Miami and New England the last two seasons and will not be intimidated by at trip to Arrowhead, where the Chiefs posted a 7-1 record this season limiting visitors to an average of 14.8 ppg.
Baltimore’s defense might not be as imposing as it once was and has been particularly vulnerable against the pass but Chiefs offense revolves around the league’s top running game and Jamaal Charles, who ranks second among the NFL rushers with 1,467 yards.
When Chiefs QB Matt Cassel does go to the air he will be looking for wide out Dwayne Bowe, who led all receivers with 15 touchdown catches.
But Cassel will have to be wary of Ravens super safety Ed Reed led the league with eight interceptions.
Chiefs have lost six straight playoff games since 1993. Make that seven.
Take the Ravens and give up the 3.5.
Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) (Line Packers plus +2.5): Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is healthy but so is the Eagles’ Michael Vick, who was pounded mercilessly by the Vikings in Week 16.
Vick, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and other key members of the Eagles sat out last week’s regular season finale against Dallas and should be well rested and ready to face a Packers team that seems to be finding its mojo at just the right time.
The MVP buzz around Vick has quieted but the Eagles’ second ranked offense is capable of making plenty of noise.
Job number one for the Packers defense will be containing Vick.
The Packers D has been one of the NFL’s best down the home stretch holding opponents to seven points or less in five of their last nine games and have few weaknesses Vick can exploit.
Pro Bowl sack machine Clay Matthews will be locked in on Vick while Packers rank second in interceptions with 24.
Philadelphia’s pass defense is suspect and will be tested by Rodgers and a fleet of speedy pass catchers led by Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.
Under coach Andy Reid the Eagles are 4-1 in wild card games, including 3-0 at home while the Packers have not won a playoff game away from Lambeau Field since 1997.
Packers go wild. Take Green Bay and the 2.5.
PHOTO: New Orleans Saints Drew Brees passes over the middle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during third quarter of their NFL football game in New Orleans, Louisiana January 2, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner