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2014 NHL Playoff Picks – First Round

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Something of an annual tradition around here: picks for each round of the NHL playoffs.

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston over (WC) Detroit in six

I’m still not quite used to Detroit being in the Eastern conference, so it’s a little weird to see them playing Boston in the first round. It’s actually the first time since 1957 they’ve played at all; back then, Boston won in five before getting trounced by Montreal in the final. And yes, the Leafs weren’t in the playoffs that year either. Funny how things change. Anyway: this year, I expect Boston to hold off the Red Wings. With Tukka Rask, they’ve got arguably the best goalie in the conference and Jerome Iginla’s had his best season in years.

(3) Montreal over (2) Tampa Bay in seven

This could be a close one. In four meetings this season, Montreal’s won just one but lost in overtime once and in a shootout twice. They’ve been outscored eight to five, their last meeting was the only one decided in regulation. I’m pulling for Montreal this postseason and I think they’re coming into the playoffs on a nice streak, winning eight of their last 11 games – although I should note Tampa’s won their last four. I expect a close series regardless, so I’m going with who I’d like to see move on.

(1) Pittsburgh over (WC) Columbus in four

I haven’t caught too many Pens games this year, but the game they played against Philadelphia last weekend was one of the best I saw this season. Sure, they lost, but they looked great. Columbus? I haven’t caught them once, but I feel confident writing them off: they’ve lost all five games against the Pens this year and were outscored seven to 16. Nobody dismantled them as thoroughly this year.

(4) Philadelphia over (3) New York Rangers in six

Again, could be a close one. They’ve split their four meetings this year, including two in March. I’m going to give the edge to Philly based on my limited exposure to them: I enjoyed the way they came back against the Penguins last weekend in particular. Either way, this will be a fun series. I bet NBC gets the best ratings of any series with this, too.

Western Conference

(1) Colorado over (WC) Minnesota in five

Remember when the Avalanche were a doormat? It doesn’t feel like that long ago. But then again, it doesn’t seem like that long ago when they were winning Cups with Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Maybe I’m getting old.  Coming into game one, the Avalanche look a little banged up – they’ve got four people listed as questionable – which might tip the scales a little. But I don’t think too much of that either. They’ve beat Minnesota four times this year and their lone loss came in a shootout. And Semyon Varlamov’s been nothing short of fantastic this year, too: a .927 save percentage, 2.41 GAA and 41 wins, if you’re into that sort of thing. This one could be over in a hurry.

 (3) Chicago over (2) St. Louis in six

There’s a part of me that doesn’t trust the Blues. They collapsed in the playoffs last year, blowing a two-game lead to the Kings and the year before lost in four straight, also to LA. I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t ever feel confident taking them in the postseason. But that’s just a gut feeling, so here’s some numbers: this season, the Blackhawks beat the Blues twice. Twice more, they took them to a shootout. They’ve outshot them four times, too. I’m sensing a trend here: usually the team who can regularly outshoot the other will win. That’s not a gut feeling, that’s called being a Leaf fan.

(1) Anaheim over (WC) Dallas in five

This is the first time since 2008 the Stars have been to the postseason, I believe, and with 91 points they’re also the worst. But somehow, they’ve managed a winning record against the Ducks: two wins, including a blowout 6-3 victory back in November. But they’re still the worst team in the playoffs and it’d be a big upset to upend the Ducks, who’ve won more than anyone in the West. I’ll hedge a little: the Stars will take a game, but probably not much more than that.

(3) Los Angeles over (2) San Jose in seven

There’s an ad on American TV where two people meet in a bar through some sports dating app and each is a fan of the above teams. In real life, I can’t imagine anyone resorting to online dating really gives a shit about who the other cheers for (I’d be happy they actually like hockey, myself) but maybe I’m a weirdo. After all, I didn’t know this was even a rivalry, really. And it’s a curious one: the Sharks have a better overall record, but the Kings have played them hard this season. In five meetings, the Sharks won just once in regulation, a 2-1 win in early April (they also won a shootout in November). And the one game where the Sharks outshot LA was a 1-0 Kings win. Confusing, eh? Last year, the series went seven games, the final two decided by a goal apiece. I’m willing to bet something similar happens this year and again, I like the Kings.

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2013 NBA Playoff Picks, Round One

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Every year I like to make wild and baseless predictions on the NBA playoffs. Usually they’re on Twitter or something, but I wanted to write a few words on each series this time.

Eastern Conference

1. Heat vs 8. Bucks

Probably not a series that’ll last more than five games. It’s cool how the Bucks snuck into the playoffs while being six games under .500 while out west, while two .500 teams were left out of the playoffs. I expect this one to be over in a hurry. Heat in four.

2. Knicks vs. 7. Celtics

Is Boston/New York a NBA rivalry? I don’t think so, but ESPN and some other places are really hammering at it so who knows, maybe a bunch of people will whip themselves into a petulant frenzy over this series. Again, this is another one that could be over quick: Boston is an aging team that’ll rely a lot on Kevin Garnett and they’re missing Rondo, easily their best player. But New York is also banged up (they’ve got five probables for game one), missing Amare Stoudemire and will be relying hard on Carmelo Anthony. If Boston can keep him under control (and I can see that happening), Boston might be able to squeak this out. Still, I think this is the Knicks series to lose. Knicks in six.

3. Pacers vs 6. Hawks

The Pacers are a tough, defensively minded team that plays an agressive, physical style of basketball. They had the closest thing to a full-on brawl I saw this season and don’t look now, but Roy Hibbert is quickly becoming one of the better young centers in the NBA. And Paul George is a beast, too. Meanwhile, I’m not big on Atlanta: Josh Smith is a gunner (last year in the playoffs he was taking something like 18 shots a game) and Al Horford is another good young center (I’m looking forward to seeing him and Hibbert go at each other, actually) but I like the Pacers a lot in this series. My gut tells me it’ll be ugly, but compelling. Pacers in five.

4. Nets vs 5. Bulls

Two fun-to-watch teams who match up well. First, their SRS are right around each other and second, their defences/offensive ratings make for an interesting match: Chicago’s offence is 23rd in the league, Brooklyn’s defence is 17th; Brooklyn’s offence is eighth, Chicago’s defence is sixth. I do think Chicago has it’s flaws (they’re missing Derrick Rose for sure and maybe Joakim Noah) but they have bright spots, like Carlos Boozer (who I wrote about in January) and Jimmy Butler. The Nets, meanwhile, are great inside (Brook Lopez) and out (Deron Williams) and might make quick work of Chicago. On paper, this could be a close series but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nets tore things up early and often. Nets in five.

Western Conference

1.Thunder vs 8. Rockets

Are the Thunder the best team in the NBA? Well, no, that’s Miami, but they’re a close second. In most years, Kevin Durant’s 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game (not to mention nearly 19 Win Shares) would be enough for serious MVP consideration. It’s only because Miami has been so damn good that he isn’t. I do like some of the subplots to this series – James Harden takes on his old team, will Jeremy Lin explode in the postseason, etc – but let’s be real here: the question is only how many games it’ll take the Thunder to win four and they’ll do it quickly. Thunder in five.

2.Spurs vs 7. Lakers

One the fun end-of-year stories was seeing the Lakers go on a late tear and make the playoffs. It’s too bad it was derailed when Kobe Bryant went down last weekend. True, they still have Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. But San Antonio has Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan. Without Bryant, this one will be over in a hurry. Spurs in four.

3.Nuggets vs 6. Warriors

This’ll probably be the most fun series of the first round: the Nuggets are a blast to watch, score like it’s nobody’s business and have one of the most enjoyable players in the NBA, JaVale McGee. Golden State scores a bunch, too (seventh in the NBA for points-per-game) and Stephen Curry is jacking up 18 shots per game (I expect this will only go up, too). This series will be worth staying up late for and I expect at least one wild shootout. But who will win? I’m going with what I want to see and that’s more McGee. Nuggets in seven.

4.Clippers vs. 5. Memphis

Remember when the Clippers were lob city and everyone loved to watch their sweet jams? And then Blake Griffin started becoming a little unbearable and the team started flopping often and everyone I know turned on them. They’re still a good team on both ends of the floor and Chris Paul is a dark horse for the MVP (one could make a case for him over Durant) but they’re awfully hard to cheer for. Memphis, though, is a legitimately fun team: Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are fun to watch and Ed Davis was my favorite Raptor (and I hope he tears shit up in the postseason). And for what it’s worth, they have the best defensive numbers in the NBA. I think they have a great shot at this one: if they can contain Paul, the Clippers are a lot less dangerous. Grizzlies in six.

What went wrong – NHL playoff picks and first round recaps (Eastern Conference)

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With the second round of the NHL playoffs kicking off tonight, this seems like a pretty good time to make my picks for the second round.

But before I do, I’m going to take minute or two and go over my first round picks and why I was right or wrong, at least for the Eastern Conference (I’ll have my Western recap and picks up in the next little while).

What I predicted: Washington over Montreal

What actually happened: Montreal won in seven

Well, if I can be so bold, this was a massive upset. Going by point differential, the second biggest upset in playoffs ever. It’s certainly the biggest upset since Edmonton beat the Red Wings in 2006.

So, what happened? I took the Capitals because I bought into their hype. I still would, if the series were being played again starting tomorrow. By almost every stretch I can think of, the Capitals were the better team:

  • The Capitals had 54 wins and 121 points on the season; Montreal had 39 wins and 88 points.
  • The Capitals scored 318 goals to Montreal’s 217. Their goal differential was 85, Montreal’s was -6.
  • Washington’s SRS – a measure of strength and quality of wins –  was 0.90, Montreal’s was -0.14.
  • The Capitals had three players with 30 goals or more and four with 70+ points. Montreal didn’t have a single player who scored 30 goals and nobody with more then 70 points.

It wasn’t really hard to say to think that the Capitals were the better team. So, again, what happened?

Goaltending happened, especially for Montreal.

In the regular season, the Habs GAA was 2.57 and their Save percentage was .919. In the first round – against one of the best scoring teams in the NHL, no less – their GAA was 2.78, but their save percentage jumped to .931.

Jaroslav Halak made nearly 220 saves in the first round, far more then the number of shots both goalies for the Caps faced. He was more then impressive, he was stunning.

There was no better example of this then game six, when the Habs needed a win on home ice to force a game seven. He turned away over 50 shots in a 4-1 victory, stunning the Capitals. In a must-win game, Alexander Ovechkin was stopped eight times, Alexander Semin seven times, Joe Corvo ten times.

And remember, home ice was not friendly to the Habs in the playoffs. Games three and four, both played in Montreal, were blowout losses, 5-1 and 6-3, respectively.

Of course, it wasn’t just Halak who won the series. Washington did their part, too. Both goals in game seven for Montreal came off of bad defensive breaks for the Capitals. The first, a Montreal power play goal, came on a Marc-Andre Bergeron one-timer right after the puck was passed through Washington’s defenders – in a space right through three players.

The second was even weirder, coming from a long Montreal dump into the Capitals end and took a weird bounce from two players and ended up right on Domonic Moore’s stick, who scored stick-side and made it a 2-0 game. Again, this came off a defensive lapse on Washington – with three people in their own end, nobody was keeping a body on Moore; when the puck landed on his stick, he had a clear path to the net. It wasn’t Washington floating, but was something they should have avoided.

Those two goals were a microcosm of what went wrong for the Caps, especially in the later games: they spent so much time putting pressure on the offensive end, they were easily caught unguarded on breaks to the net on when shorthanded. It was an ugly, frustrating way for it to end for the President Trophy winners and it was one I certainly didn’t see coming.

What I predicted: New Jersey over Philadelphia

What happened: Philly won in five games

Another upset, although not one quite as staggering. The Devils had won 48 games, had 101 points and a SRS of 0.31; the Flyers only got into the playoffs on the last day of the season (thanks to a NY loss) and had 41 wins, 88 points and a SRS of 0.08, making them decidedly average.

So what happened this time? The first instinct is to say something along the lines of, “Oh Marty Brodeur is too old” or that he played too many minutes. Maybe if I were a lazier writer, I’d say the Flyers wanted it more or some other old warhorse cliche.

But honestly? I think was a fairly evenly matched series.

In the regular season, the Devils lost four games to the Flyers, three of them by just a goal. They only won once, a 4-1 victory in December. Same for the Flyers – only once did they beat the Devils by two or more goals.

So really, for two teams so far removed in the standings, you couldn’t have asked for a closer regular season series. It was a trend that repeated itself in the postseason. Two games were decided by a goal, and another was pretty close – two late goals by the Devils, including an empty netter, shoved it in their favor.

Still, in the final two games, the Devils were stymied by the Flyers and only scored once, losing 4-1 and 3-0. For a team that eight times in the first three games, it represents at least a dropoff and at worse, a major collapse. How much of this actually lies with their goaltending?

Well, it certainly played a big role: Brodeur’s GAA exploded from 2.24 in the regular season to 3.01 in the first round. His save percentage fell from .916 to .881. In both cases, they’re the worst in his career as a starting goaltender. But if Brodeur played such a role in the collapse, why did backup Yann Denis not play a single second in net?

I’d argue it was the Devils scoring that played as big a role in the collapse.

While the Devils were not a high-scoring team – with just 222 goals scored this season, they’re below the league average – in the last two games, they had a hell of a time scoring.

In the regular season, Zach Parise scored 38 goals for the Devils. Travis Zajac scored 25 in 82 games. Combined, they scored just two goals in the first round. Indeed, the only Devil who scored with regularity was Ilya Kovalchuk, who had been brought on board in February. In five games, he scored two goals – one of only two Devils to score more then once. Only six players for New Jersey had two or more points.

For contrast, the Flyers had six players with two or more goals.

Credit has to be given to Flyers goalie Brian Boucher. One of the three goalies that got regular starts with the Flyers, he shined in the postseason. His GAA went from 2.76 to 1.59 in the first round; his save percentage went from .899 to .940. He even posted a shutout in the first round, something he only did once in the regular season. I certainly didn’t see him playing this well.

What I said: Boston over Buffalo

What happened: Boston won in six games

Here’s one I got right. At the start of the playoffs, I thought the Bruins were an underrated team and I didn’t like Buffalo a whole lot. Sure the Sabres had won their division, but head to head with Boston?

They had won four of their six meetings, one in overtime and another in a shootout. In a vaccum, that makes them the better team.

What I didn’t see was just how intense their matches would be. The Bruins racked up over 100 penalty minutes, with Chara alone getting 25. The Sabres had 112, with winger Patrick Kaleta getting 22. For contrast, the Devils had 88 penalty minutes, the Sharks 44. This was a rough series.

Plus, it was a close one, too: all but one of the games were close affairs and one – game four – went into a second overtime. That was a pretty good game.

For one thing, goaltending for both sides – Ryan Miller for Buffalo, Tuukka Rask for the Bruins – stayed about the same in the series.

Scoring was weird, too. Boston had their scoring more spread around – six players had four or more points, to Buffalo’s two – but the Sabres had the only blowout win in the series, a 4-1 victory in game five.

Thusly, back to game four, the second OT. I think it was that too many men penalty, the one where the Bruins scored on the ensuing power play, that really tipped this series. Before it, it was anybody’s series; Boston led 2-1, but all three games were close. The next game was a big win for the Sabres, but they lost another close one in game six. This is where a cliche comes in handy since I’m not sure why Boston won without resorting to one like “they wanted it more.” Three of their wins were by a goal; the one where they won by two was punctuated by an empty net goal.

The one thing I’ll take away from this series is that they could pull out big wins when they had to, just like the Canadiens did against Washington.

What I said: Pittsburgh over Ottawa

What happened: Pittsburgh won in six

My prediction here may have been a bit biased, since I can’t stand the Senators and I kind of have a soft spot for Crosby. But I also liked the offensive presence of

Still, it was another good, close series. Two went to overtime, including a three-OT game, and a couple other that were close.

But it was the one that wasn’t close that defined the series for me. Game four, a 7-4 win for the Penguins on the road. In a wild second period, there were eight goals scored. After 40 minutes, it was a 6-3 lead for the Penguins and I felt they were clearly in control of the series. Why?

Be exploding like that in a must-win road game, they showed that they can be maybe the best pure scoring team in the Eastern Conference. It was an outburst of offense that no other team, including two teams that finished higher then them in the standings, were able to accomplish. The Penguins may not be the best defensive team in the playoffs, but they can sure score like nobody else.

And after winning game four, the Penguins took a big 3-1 series lead. Ottawa had to fight tooth and nail to win game five. In game six, they were playing with an amazing amount of will – they were hitting hard and often, throwing themselves into hard checks along the boards. They wanted that win and were pushing themselves as hard as any team I’ve seen. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t have it in them; a game seven between the two teams would have been electric.

 Anyway, that’s enough recap. Here’s my Eastern Conference picks:

– I like the Bruins over the Flyers. The Bruins have solid goaltending in Rask and while their season series is 2-2, the Bruins have won the last two meetings. It’ll be a rough, series, though.

– I like Pittsburgh over Montreal, but with reservations. As shown against the Capitals, the Canadiens are on a roll and can shut down high scoring teams. But the Penguins have won three of the four games between the two this season. Given that, and how the Penguins have had a few days to rest after their series, I like them.

Official North of the 400 NBA Playoff picks, first round

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Eastern Conference

No. 1 Cleveland vs. No. 8 Detroit
Obviously Cleveland in this series. I think Detroit’s too old and too banged up to even pose much of a threat, really. Cavs in five.

No. 2 Boston vs. No. 7 Chicago
You know what, now that Garnett’s maybe out for the whole postseason, I feel like the Bulls can pull off a huge upset. I like the way they’ve been playing lately, there’s some good matchups and if they can steal an early win in Boston they’ll have a great chance at winning this series. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Bulls in seven.

No. 3 Orlando vs. No. 6 Philadelphia
I don’t know if I’m sold on Orlando going too deep, but I think they’ll get past Philly without a lot of problems. Orlando in five.

No. 4 Atlanta vs. No. 5 Miami
I’m taking Miami since I really like the way Wade’s played this season and I haven’t really seen Atlanta play much. Miami in six.

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Utah
I think the Jazz are starting to self-destruct and the Lakers will walk all over them. I don’t even think it’ll even have a close game. Lakers in 4.

No. 2 Denver vs. No. 7 New Orleans
I really like this matchup. More then anything, I like the Billups/CP3 matchup. It’s a great point against a George Karl-coached point, so I think it’ll be neat. I like what little I’ve seen of the Nuggets, so I’m going to take them to win in six.

No. 3 San Antonio vs. No. 6 Dallas
I also really like this too. Normally I’d like the Spurs, but with Manu out and Duncan hurt, this could go either way. And since the Spurs are relying on Roger Mason Jr. to make big shots, I’ll take the Mavs in seven.

No. 4 Portland vs. No. 5 Houston
Another cool series, too. I really like Houston this year (mostly because I want them to win without T-Mac) but Portland is fun to watch and I like Brandon Roy a lot. I think Portland’s inexperience will be a factor, though, so I like Houston in six.

Written by M.

April 18, 2009 at 1:07 am

Third annual NHL Playoff picks – Eastern Conference

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It’s time for the second season to begin, so here’s some playoff picks for the NHL.

Boston over Montreal

Bob Gainey got the Habs under control late this season, when it looked like they had peaked early. Still, they’re a team that was a sleeper pick by some (myself included) to win the Cup in October; now they barely made the playoffs. Goalie Carey Price will have to be strong in net and a few Habs – Kovalev and Kostitsyn in particular – will have to play a lot better then they have throughout the season.

Boston, on the other hand, just missed winning the Presidents trophy, albeit in a weak division – the only other team from it are the Habs – but have looked great. Tim Thomas has stood out as one of the best goalies in the NHL and looks able to carry his team. And these Bruins faced a much better-playing Habs last year in the playoffs and took them to seven games. I expect this year, they won’t even have to go that far. I like the Bruins in five.

Washington over New York

Yes, the Rangers look good. Even Avery. And Lundqvist looks good. But the Rangers haven’t endeared themselves to me, not yet. I don’t think they’re deep enough, I don’t know if they have enough experience and as a whole they look like a team in transition between leaders – in other words, they miss Jagr.

The Caps are great though. They can score in bunches and look to improve from last year, when they left the postseason early. Ovechkin will force Lundqvist to play great; nobody on the Rangers will push Theodore that hard. With him, they won’t go deep, but I think they can outscore the Rangers in seven games, which is what I think this series will go to.

Carolina over New Jersey

Martin Brodeur has had a great season, setting records and winning games. He’s bound to be feeling better then he has in any postseason in recent memory, as he’s played less games this year then he has in over a decade. And he’s part of a good Devils team, too, that can score.

But Carolina is peaking, as they say, at the right time. Cam Ward is hot, maybe the hottest goalie in the East, and I think that makes the Canes – excuse the cliche – a dark horse to go deep. It will be tough for them and I’m still not sold on their offense, but if Ward keeps playing at this clip, they have a good shot at beating the Devils, maybe in as little as five games.

Pittsburgh over Philadelphia

The Flyers are solid – not great, not bad – and they know the Penguins; one could say a rivalry has formed between the two teams, especially after last season’s meeting between the two. They’re about the same as the Penguins, in record and statistically – but they’re not as deep. After a handful of heavies, they drop off pretty quickly. But I like their tandem of goalies.

I do like the Penguins, though, who are about as good as last year, if a little more shallow. But Crosby and Malkin are still the best 1-2 punch any team in the East has and Fleury’s won 35 games; no easy feat in a tight division that sent three teams to the playoffs, with none seeded lower then fifth. They’ll have a tough time, I imagine, but this is a winnable series for the Pens. I like them in six.

Early NFL Playoff Picks

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So, it’s week 16 now. The NFL is pretty much set, but not 100%. So, here are some pretty much blind (only a look at the standings and schedule) pick of the playoff teams.

AFC playoff teams – New England (East), Pittsburgh (North), Tennessee (South), Denver (West), Baltimore (Wild Card), Indianapolis (Wild Card)

After nearly losing a home game to the Bills, the Jets are looking shaky. And with a tough end to their schedule, a home game to the Dolphins, I don’t know if they can pull it out. It feels too much like their season will come down to that game. But the Patriots are looking better as the season goes on, and they have a tepid schedule – a home game against Arizona and an away game in Buffalo. I like their odds more then I like the Jets.

Denver’s lead over San Diego seems to be enough for me, especially after the Chargers nearly lost to Kansas City. Even if the Broncos somehow let them back into the race, they’ll meet on the last day of the season, and they beat the Chargers once already.

Given the AFC East’s tightness, I don’t think any team will have a good enough record to emerge for the Wild Card since Indianapolis already has 10 wins. That leaves Baltimore as the other Wild Card, but they have a tough schedule – Dallas and Jacksonville. It’ll either be them or the Jets, but think the Ravens defence will carry them to the playoffs.

Pittsburgh and Tennessee have already clinched.

NFC playoff teams – New York Giants (East), Chicago (North), Carolina (South), Arizona, (West), Dallas (Wild Card), Atlanta (Wild Card)

Why Chicago? Minnesota has won four in a row, but I still don’t trust them. They play Atlanta, who seem to still be coming on, and the Giants, who are looking great so far. However, the Bears have an easier schedule: Green Bay and Houston. I like them to win the North by a game.

Carolina has a two-game lead in the NFC South, and although they haven’t clinched, they would need to drop their next two (Giants and Saints) and have either Tampa Bay or Atlanta win their next two, just to force a tie break. So, I like their odds.

Dallas is coming on strong as the season progresses, but their locker room drama could scuttle their season. They have two tough games coming up (Baltimore and Philly). I expect they’ll win at least one of those and sneak into the playoffs with a 10-6 record, just beating out Minnesota.

Atlanta is a sentimental pick. I like Matt Ryan and they have an easy schedule: Minnesota and St. Louis. If they beat the Vikings, I like them to make the playoffs. If they lose that, though, they’re finished, and Minnesota might even win the NFC North, pushing the Bears to the other Wild Card (or even Tampa Bay, if they can stop their free fall).

I suppose that makes Atlanta / Minnesota the game to watch next week. The NFC playoff picture kind of hinges on it. Still, I’m taking the Falcons. Their offense is looking dynamic and they’ve just come off a gutty win over the Buccaneers.

Written by M.

December 16, 2008 at 8:47 pm