The 2012 NFL season is in the books and while Sportsmasher did not accomplish his goal of getting over 60% of his picks against the spread correct, he did have a solid season, and came out with his head above water by nailing 53% of his picks. Both Sportsmasher (26-24) and RexRated (26-23-2) finished the season over (.500) in their “Best Bets” picks, but proved that handpicking these picks were just as difficult as the rest of the schedule. With all of that said, both men enter the 2012 NFL Playoff bracket with high hopes and lofty expectations. Let’s get to the picks:
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans (-4.5) The Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NFL, winning seven of their last eight games, that one loss coming by just one point against the Dallas Cowboys. The Houston Texans (12-4) at one point looked to have home field advantage locked up throughout the playoffs, but they have limped into the playoffs, losing three of their last four games. Texans star running back Arian Foster, who at one point this season looked like an MVP Candidate (1424 rushing yards, 15 TDs), had a heart scare, and has not looked the same since. In the Texans three recent losses, Foster has totaled just (96, 15, 46) yards, and when he is not running on all cylinders the Texans are a different team. Houston’s defense, led by my pick for defensive player of the year defensive end J.J. Watt, will make things very difficult on the Bengals offense when they have the ball. However, if the Bengals can stop Arian Foster and the Texans ground game, I think they leave Houston as winners. The Bengals finished third in the NFL in sacks this season (51) and are extremely tough up front, highlighted by defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who is one of the best defenders in the NFL. The Bengals also finished the season ranked seventh in passing defense, so Texans quarterback Matt Schaub will be under pressure all game, and will not be able to simply fling the ball to Andre Johnson when he is in trouble. I expect a tight game, and while the Bengals will struggle to move the ball, superstar wide receiver A.J. Green will come up with a few big plays. I take the points.
The Pick: Bengals (+4.5) FINAL SCORE: Bengals 20 Texans 17
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers (-9) A rematch of the regular season finale when the Vikings (10-6) beat the Packers (11-5) 37-34 in an “win and in” scenario to secure a playoff berth. In a previous meeting the Packers beat the Vikings 23-14, so the season series is tied up at a game apiece. The Vikings chances against the Packers are based entirely on the performance of amazing running back Adrian Peterson who ran for 2,097 yards (9 short of the All-Time record) and 12 touchdowns this season. If the Vikings cannot get Peterson going, this game is over, as they finished the season ranked 31st in passing offense. Green Bay had the 17th ranked rushing defense in the NFL this season, so Peterson should find some success, as he did in their previous two meetings (201 yards, 199 yards). I think that the Packers defense (who are getting some injured players back, including future Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson) will slow down Peterson enough that they will force Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder to throw in the cold and windy conditions of Lambeau Field, which is a bad sign for the Minnesota. When Green Bay has the ball, Aaron Rodgers and his receivers will move the football and put up points, and Minnesota cannot let the Packers get out to an early lead. If Minnesota blinks and Green Bay is up 14-0 in the second quarter, they will have to abandon the run, and this one will be over. The spread is big, but in Green Bay, I think the Packers offense gets going and they cover.
The Pick: Packers (-9) FINAL SCORE: Packers 31 Vikings 16
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens (-6.5) I was ready to pick the Colts (11-5) in this game, with the return of head coach Chuck Pagano from a serious illness, Indianapolis had ChuckStrong momentum on their side. Then something happened that swung the momentum in the other direction, legendary Baltimore Ravens (10-6) linebacker Ray Lewis announced that that he was retiring after this season, which means there is a good chance this is his final home game. When Ray Lewis (who is returning from a triceps injury, but will start) is announced, the entire stadium will erupt, and they will keep that momentum going throughout the game. I love Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and think he is going to be a star in the NFL for the next 15 years, however, the Colts are not ready for the big stage just yet. Their defense was quietly awful this season, ranking 21st against the pass and a pathetic 29th against the run, so I expect a huge game from Ravens star running back Ray Rice. The Ravens are also a much better team at home, losing just twice at on their own turf this season, while the Colts were much worst on the road (4-4). I think that, in Ray Lewis’ final home game, the Ravens pound the ball with Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco connects on a few deep balls. Baltimore wins easily.
The Pick: Ravens (-6.5) FINAL SCORE: Ravens 34 Colts 20
Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins (+3) The reason that the Redskins (10-6) are underdogs at home against the Seattle Seahawks (11-5) is the fact that Washington’s rookie phenom quarterback Robert Griffin III has an injury to his knee, and will be wearing a brace for support, which will limit his effectiveness in the running game. If the Redskins are going to make a run deep into the postseason, they will have to rely heavily on rookie tailback Alfred Morris, to keep the pressure off of RGII. This will be a problem against Seattle’s athletic defense, which ranks 10th against the run, and I could see Morris struggling to gain yardage and the shoulder the same load that he did against Dallas last weekend (200 yards, 3 TDs). The Seahawks will attempt to pound the ball with tailback Marshawn Lynch, and if they can find success, fellow rookie sensation quarterback Russell Wilson will have an easy time using play action passing against the Redskins 30th ranked passing defense. If Robert Griffin III was healthy, I would pick this game differently, but his mobility is limited and Seattle’s athletic pass rushers will be bearing down on him on every drop back. Seattle is a much better home team than they are on the road (3-5), however I think that they will be able to take advantage of RGIII’s knee injury and win in Washington.
The Pick: Seahawks (-3) FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 24 Redskins 20
Week 1: (9-7)
Week 2: (7-8-1)
Week 3: (10-5-1)
Week 4: (8-7)
Week 5: (5-9)
Week 6: (6-7-1)
Week 7: (6-7)
Week 8: (5-9)
Week 9: (8-6)
Week 10: (5-9)
Week 11: (9-5)
Week 12: (10-5-1)
Week 13: (5-11)
Week 14: (9-6-1)
Week 15: (8-8)
Week 16: (11-4-1)
Week 17: (8-8)
2012 Season: (129-121-6)
Sportsmasher’s Best Bets: 26-24
RexRated’s Best Bets: 26-23-2