It's a passing league. There's no doubt about it. But lost in the record passing numbers, hits on defenseless receivers over the middle, and quarterback love, is the acknowledgement of how important solid running backs are to those high powered offenses. I'm not even talking about the studs like MJD, where Jacksonville completely fell apart after he was sidelined by injury. I'm talking about how last year's high powered offenses, like the Saints and the Packers, couldn't repeat their performances once their main running backs went down. Or how about seeing the difference that Joseph Addai makes to the Colts offense. Brady might have everybody's attention with that consecutive throws without an interception record, but a large part of what makes that offense so dominant is BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Did you know that The Lawfirm hasn't had a fumble all year? Or his whole NFL career for that matter? Or even during his two seasons at Ole Miss? How invaluable is that?!
As we enter the playoffs, the running game is even more important, and I think needs to be the focal point for analyzing this first round's slate of games.
NOS@SEA Line: NOS by 10, o/u 44
There is no doubt that the Saints are more talented than the Seahawks. But with the running back injuries, this game is far from a gimme for the Saints. If the Saints feel that they constantly have to throw the ball, it actually plays into Seattle's hands. The passing game in the NFL is filled with so many routes that require such precise timing and communication, one small miscommunication or misread can easily lead to a pick six. The biggest edge Seattle has in this game is the 12th man, and if the Saints rely on constantly throwing the ball, they open themselves up to more opportunities for turning the ball over. The Saints are still a deserved favorite, and I do see Seattle needing two turnovers and at least one big run back from Leon Washington to have a shot. But it certainly wouldn't surprise me if those things happened.
Pick: SEA+10 (you might be able to get 10.5 by game time), Under 44
NYJ@IND Line: IND by 2.5, o/u 44.5
The return of Joseph Addai means a lot to that Colts offense, and more so to this specific matchup. Rex Ryan has a horrible record against Peyton Manning. Something like 1-7, with the one win being the game where Indy pulled their starters halfway through. One of the reasons for this is that Ryan loves to blitz, and Manning handles the blitz probably better than any quarterback in the league. What Addai gives to Manning is the ability to have his full arsenal of plays to call at the line to keep the defense honest, as well as someone who actually knows what he's doing blocking in the spread offense. I expect it to be a close, back and forth game, in which case I'm always going to be taking Peyton Manning at home at night, especially when I don't even have to give 3 points.
Pick: IND-2.5 (you might want to lock this in before the weekend), Over 44.5
BAL@KC Line: BAL by 3, o/u 40.5
A tough game because of the intangibles involved. Just how good is Baltimore? I think they've played one of the toughest schedule all year, having played their own division, the AFC East, and the NFC South. However, they never really dominated any of their games, with many of their games decided by one possession and often coming down to the wire. That's dangerous against this Kansas City team that needs to stay in games so that they can continue to run the ball and set up the big play to Bowe. If this game does stay close, wouldn't you want the team that has a decided home field advantage and getting points? The best play might be to wait and see how the first half plays out.
Pick: KC+3 (I think the public is on BAL while the sharps are on KC), Under 40.5
GB@PHI Line: PHI by 2.5, o/u 46
Another very tough game, as I have both teams pretty even in general. To me, the line for this game is representative of each team's momentum going into the playoffs, The Packers are coming into this with their playoff-clinching win against the Bears, a close loss to the Patriots and a dominating win against the Giants. The Eagles, on the other hand, lost their last two, were pretty much out of it against the Giants, and barely beat the Cowboys. Add to that the wear and tear of Vick's first full season back, and the Eagles definitely look like they peaked too early. I expect a high scoring back and forth game, but unless the Eagles can get a timely turnover or two, I think the Packers have too much in their favor to be getting points. I think an interesting betting prop here is which coach will make more dumb decisions, Reid or McCarthy?
Pick: GB+2.5, o/u 46 (I expect the public to chase this up as gametime approaches)