Last year I put this little man in my Conference Championship column to represent my sadness over the fact that we only had three football games left on the schedule. After that, it’s seven months of pretending to like college & professional basketball, baseball and the Olympics. Yuck.
But this year the sad man represents a couple more things I’m feeling. One is the helplessness I feel as I realize we’re only two weeks away from Deflategate and the NFL’s ongoing appeal to force its way back into our lives. I hate to say it, but either the NFL will come out with some new headlines around Deflategate, or they’ll invent an entirely new off-the-field scandal to make sure they’re staying at the top of the sports headlines.
And finally, the hanging-his-head man is appropriate because that’s how I feel at the end of this week after refreshing the Bovada football page 20 times a day and never once seeing either of the lines for these upcoming games move off of a 3.5-point spread. I told myself early in the week that if either New England or Carolina goes down to a 3-point favorite, I’m betting the farm on them. But the lines stand firm.
And while you might be expecting one blowout and one close game this weekend because that’s what happened last year, it turns out the Conference Championship games are usually pretty tight. In the past 20 Conference Championship games, the margin of victory has been 10 points or less 16 times. There have only been two true blowouts since 2005: last year’s Patriots 45-7 win over the Colts and the Bears over the Saints 39-14 in the 2006 playoffs.
Even though it might be difficult to imagine a team led by a certain big-foreheaded quarterback to keep it close against the defending Champs this weekend, you can probably count on it. Let’s dive into the picks.
New England (-3.5) at Denver
The Pick: New England
The Score: New England 27, Denver 22
- First of all, I hope CBS budgeted for industrial strength cleaning supplies and an army of cleaning people to slop up the record-breaking amount of semen that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are going to spray all over the broadcast booth in Denver. Screw getting the Guinness World Record people to a stadium to measure noise, we need them at Mile High on Sunday to measure semen output. How many orgasms can two men have in three hours just from watching another man do his job? Tune into CBS on Sunday at 3 Eastern to find out!
- In the eight games that Peyton Manning started and completed this year, the Denver offense averaged 19.4 points per game and less than two touchdowns in each contest.
- Brandon McManus kicked a shitload of field goals for this team, it turns out.
- The New England defense has given up an average of 18 points per game this season.
- I’ve felt strongly all along that the Patriots are scoring 27 or 28 points, and I can’t ignore the fact that Manning’s offense only reached that total once this year.
- The Patriots finally looked healthy last week and put up 27 points against a good defense while having to knock some of the rust off (Brady and Edelman took some time to get on the same page).
- The New England offense is now healthy and has a game under its belt.
- The Broncos may be able to run a little bit on the Patriots, but I can’t imagine Bill Belichick lets them run wild. Everyone knows if you stop their running backs, Denver isn’t cracking 20 points.
- Basically, if you’re picking Denver, you’re saying, “I think the Broncos are going to play their absolute best game of the year.” It’s not impossible for that to happen, but it’s a much safer play to take the Patriots and know exactly the type of performance you’re getting.
- I will say, however, that the Denver defense is legit. This team went 12-4 and earned the #1 seed with an offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league. Something dragged them to that top spot, and it wasn’t Gary Kubiak’s coaching or Brock Osweiler’s half-season cameo.
- The reason I can’t pick the Patriots to win by more than a handful of points is because of the Broncos’ awesome defense and the fact that this is a road game. If this game was in New England, we would have to plan for a blowout.
Arizona at Carolina (-3.5)
The Pick: Carolina
The Score: Carolina 31, Arizona 24
- Each team playing this weekend has won a single playoff game so far, but Carolina has to get the nod as the most impressive. They’re the only one who soundly dismantled a powerhouse team to get to this point. We weren’t wrong to think Seattle was one of the best teams in the league. I’d still put them right up at the top even after last week. And the Panthers went out and crushed them (until they took a nap in the 2nd half).
- As I was typing this section, I had to take a break to check on a thought I had. I was pretty sure no underdog has won their game outright during the playoffs so far, and it turns out I was right. I suppose if you got Green Bay over Washington when the Packers were +1 that counts, but in my picks I had the Packers as a 1-point favorite. So yeah, the underdogs are 0-8 straight up in this postseason. WHICH SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF ME SINCE I’M TAKING BOTH FAVORITES THIS WEEKEND!
- This is going to sound similar to my Patriots/Broncos logic, but I can’t take Arizona because I feel like they’d have to play their best game of the year while the Panthers simply have to play their typical, solid game. It’s less likely that the Cardinals have the game they need in order to win than the Panthers playing the game they need to play.
- The Honey Badger being out scares me (huge in run-stopping support and possibly would have been able to slow down Greg Olsen). The Cardinals’ atrocious special teams scares me. Arizona’s struggles on offense against a mediocre Packers defense last week scares me. And Carson Palmer having no track record of performing well in huge games scares me.
- If all of Bruce Arians’ super aggressive playcalling pays off + the Cardinals don’t royally screw up anything special teams related + Cam Newton plays his worst game of the year, then I think Arizona has a chance. But I can’t bet on all of that happening.
And if you just can’t pull the trigger on betting these games because the line on each is so perfectly set, here are some props for you to consider.
Patriots vs Broncos – Longest Made Field Goal of the Game
The Pick: over 46.5 yards (-115)
- Because it’s in Denver in a game featuring two of the best kickers in football where the two offenses are going up against good defenses. This seems really easy.
Patriots vs Broncos – Will both teams make a 33-yard or longer field goal
The Pick: Yes (+120)
- And they’re paying me an extra 20 cents on the dollar for this steal? Sign me up.
Tom Brady’s Longest Completion
The Pick: Under 41.5 yards (-115)
- You don’t beat this Denver defense by throwing it long, and the Patriots don’t do that anyway.
Julian Edelman Total Receptions
The Pick: over 7 (-110)
- I didn’t initially like this because they increased his total by one from last week’s game. But here are my Edelman stats: He has had seven or more receptions in 25 of his last 44 games dating back to the 2013 season. He has had more than seven receptions in five straight playoff games now. And he has exceeded that mark the last three times he’s faced Denver.
Will Peyton Manning throw an interception
The Pick: Yes (-250)
- I don’t mind paying the juice on this certainty.
Will Peyton Manning throw more than 1.5 interceptions
The Pick: Yes (+225)
Ooh, I like this one so much better. Let’s go with this instead.
Carson Palmer’s Total Pass Attempts
The Pick: over 37.5 (-115)
How many times did the opposing quarterback attempt at least 38 passes against the Carolina defense this year? In 13 out of 17 games, that’s how many.
Enjoy the Conference Championship games!