NFL Wildcard Wrap-Up

We had to settle for a push on our 3-unit bet on the Colts, leaving the Lazy Lines still in the red for the year. The Wildcard Round verified some of our season-long preferences, though. Our Chip Kelly ATM closed down before we could make one more bet against him, and we neglected to profit one last time from our anti-Andy Dalton bias. Time to find some new misperceptions to bet against.

Here’s our view of what occurred this past weekend.

Colts 45, Chiefs 44
Earlier this season we mistimed our leap onto the Colts’ bandwagon during one of the team’s few losses and failed to jump aboard again until this weekend. Although we weren’t as impressed with the Colts’ defensive improvement in the past 3 weeks as many others were, we held huge respect for the coaching staff and QB. Although the defense let us down, Pagano and Luck did not.

On the other sideline, Andy Reid’s late-season (and late-life) conversion to high-risk offense nearly paid huge dividends, much to our dismay. Reid’s aggressive playcalling on offense almost offset the complete collapse of the KC defense in the past 6 weeks. That collapse was a key component of our decision to bet 3 units on the Colts, who were favored by just a point.

Looking ahead, the good news for the Colts is that they face another smoke-and-mirrors defensive unit in New England next week. The bad news is that their underperforming defense faces an experienced, well-coached, multidimensional, mistake-free, and explosive Patriots offense. Our initial thoughts are that things won’t turn out as well for the Colts.

Chargers 27, Bengals 10
The Chargers played the most impressive game of the weekend, controlling the tempo, matching and then exceeding the physicality of the hard-hitting Bengals, and capitalizing on every miscue of their opponent. The offense has quietly emerged as an elite unit. Philip Rivers’ playcalling and execution were superb, and Chargers RB Danny Woodhead runs like a shorter, tougher Shawn Alexander. Also, the Chargers lost their starting center early in the game, and the offense didn’t miss a beat.

As if by magic, the Chargers found themselves with a real defense. Although Andy Dalton’s QB antics can make an average defense look superb, standout plays by the Chargers linebackers occurred all over the field, against the run and the pass. Mike McCoy, the man who turned Jake Delhomme into a Super Bowl QB, has earned his berth among the league’s top head coaches with his work this season. This wouldn’t be the first time the strongest team rolls through the playoffs as an underdog all the way. More on that later in the week.

49ers 23, Packers 20
Some say the last game of the weekend was the best one. We disagree.

The Packers’ chances of winning rested on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers. He failed to deliver the stellar performance needed. Meanwhile, the 49ers’ star-studded offense, bolstered by an offensive line that’s allegedly the best in the NFL, figured to trounce an injury-riddled Packers defense. It did not.

Given the circumstances (Green Bay’s defensive injuries and porous offensive line), the winners failed to impress us on either side of the ball. In the passing game, SF QB Colin Kaepernick once again wasn’t much more than a cap pistol, firing real bullets only occasionally. Yes, his rushing yards were impressive and are sure to fill the highlight shows all week. But the point tally against a defense missing its biggest playmaker (LB Clay Matthews) and several other starters borders on impotent: 2 TDs and 3 FGs. A few late scrambles to edge out a team with a talent-depleted and tiring defense doesn’t qualify as a great QB performance. And although the SF defense held Rodgers to just 2 TD drives, it gave up over 100 yards rushing and failed to produce a turnover.

Looking ahead to next week, we’re wondering what happens to the 49ers if the much more talented (and healthy) Carolina defense shuts down WR Michael Crabtree or keeps Kaepernick in the pocket? Do the 49ers score even 14 on offense?

Saints 26, Eagles 24
We’re not proud of it: this is the game we talked ourselves out of. All season long, we’ve ridiculed and railed against the waves of Chip Kelly adulation. The reason: when Kelly promised to wear down opposing defenses by setting NFL records for the number of offensive plays the Eagles ran per game, we understood the flipside. Kelly was promising (unknowingly apparently) to also wear out his own defense.

We saw the Saints as the team with the better coach and QB (and that’s not meant as a knock on the very talented Nick Foles). Several factors worried us, though. In the recent past, dome teams are 3-22 in playoff games outside in temps of 35 degrees or lower. Philly’s strength is its running game (averaging 5+ yards per play), while the Saints’ defensive weakness is stopping the run (allowing 4.5+ yards per play). And if blizzard or post-blizzard conditions limited Brees, the Eagles’ chances of sneaking past the Saints improved. So we backed off. Ugh!

This no-play is particularly painful for us because the result perfectly illustrates the problem with Chip Kelly’s philosophy. Look at the box score. Brees threw 2 INTs, and the weak Philly defense forced the Saints to settle for FGs 3 times. That sounds like a winning formula for the Eagles. How did they get outscored? Again, the box score holds the answer.

Here is the time of possession for the Eagles’ offensive drives: (1st half) 2:23, 1:24, 5:29, 1:16, 2:24; (2nd half) 1:18, 1:22, 3:22, 2:59, 3:10. The Saints had 4 offensive drives in the second half that lasted more than 3 and a half minutes. The Eagles had only one such drive the entire game. Which defense was the Philly offense tiring out?

Our analysis of Chip Kelly’s offense matters not a whit now, but it sheds some light on how weak a performance the Saints offense turned in. The Saints defense stuffed the run, holding the Eagles to 3 yards per running play. This forced the Eagles defense to do repeated wind sprints from the playing field to the bench to the playing field again. The weather cooperated with the Saints too. Yet the Saints barely pulled out a victory. Things could get very ugly for them in Seattle next week.

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