Time Out for Sports Talk: New Year, Second Season
Todd: January is all about the NFL playoffs, which I’ll get to in a moment. But first, congratulations and condolences as we begin 2016.
Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 career home runs, battled numerous injuries during most of his 22-year career and was one of the few players never suspected of taking PEDs during an era when seemingly everyone was. He not only belongs in the Hall of Fame, but may well be one of the last players for a while that gets in without question (although I’d love to know the three writers who actually left him off their ballots). I remember a game Mike and I attended at Fenway back in 1994 when ‘Junior’ not only played right field for the first time in his MLB career, but he also hit a home run off Tony Fossas that I believe still hasn’t landed.
Around that same time over two decades ago, Mike and I visited a local sports hangout where Dave Henderson was signing photos of that memorable home run he hit in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS. He should have had a much larger place in Red Sox history after also going deep to lead off the tenth inning in Game 6 in that year’s World Series. Had the Sox reversed their curse 18 years before they finally did, I have no doubt Henderson would have a statue outside Fenway Park. It was sad to hear he died of a heart attack over the holidays at the all-too-young age of 57. RIP, Hendu.
While I’m concerned about the overall health of the Patriots heading into the NFL’s Second Season, that discussion can wait till next week, because it’s time to predict the upcoming Wild Card Playoff games. But first, I need to pat myself on the back for breaking my head-to-head deadlock with Mike to win our regular season showdown. I went 3-for-3 in Week 17 while Mike went 0-fer, clinching my third consecutive crown since we began this incarnation of our blog in 2013. I’ll see if I can keep my mojo going in the ‘tournament’, which I think will feature some surprises.
The Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) are the hottest team no one is talking about, winners of 10 straight and becoming just the second team in league history to make the playoffs after a 1-5 start. Most remarkable is that the Chiefs have done this largely without star running back Jamaal Charles. But the Chiefs have also lost eight straight playoff games, with their last win coming on January 16, 1994 in Houston against the then-Oilers, when QB Joe Montana won the final playoff game of his career. Returning to Houston to play the Texans (9-7) feels like the perfect karma to end KC’s drought. Old friend and Houston coach Bill O’Brien has done an admirable job this season, but I think their season ends bookended by losses to Andy Reid’s club. Chiefs 24, Texans 13.
Only two teams have gone longer without a playoff win than the Chiefs, and we are all too familiar with one of them. The Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) are trying to avoid five consecutive one-and-done postseasons and have lost seven straight playoff games, with their last win coming 25 years ago this week (1/6/91), also against the Houston Oilers and led by QB Boomer Esiason. The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) faced the Bengals in the playoffs, it was also as a sixth seed on Wild Card weekend ten years ago and they went on to win the Super Bowl. All I’ve heard this week is how the Steelers can’t lose and Marvin Lewis and the Bengals can’t win. But now RB Deangelo Williams is out and QB Ben Roethlisberger has not only thrown at least one interception in each of his last four games, but in two games this year against the Bengals he’s thrown 4 INT and only one touchdown. Even with QB Andy Dalton likely to sit out for Cincinnati, this is my upset special of the postseason. Bengals 23, Steelers 20.
Turning to Sunday’s games, the Seattle Seahawks (10-6) are the other seemingly can’t-lose sixth seed in this year’s playoffs, in part due to a 6-1 regular season finish that included a 38-7 road trouncing of the Minnesota Vikings (11-5) on December 6th. On that day Seattle’s defense limited the Vikings to just 125 yards of offense and QB Russell Wilson was nearly perfect as part of a seven-game stretch where he’s thrown just one interception and 24 TD passes. But five weeks later, Minnesota’s defense is significantly healthier and the temperatures are expected to be significantly colder (1 degree high temp with wind chills below zero). This could be the last outdoor home game for the Vikings with their new dome opening next season. Do I smell another upset? Is someone from the league offices checking the PSI in those footballs? Vikings 17, Seahawks 16.
Finally, the Green Bay Packers (10-6) travel to D.C. to take on the Washington Redskins (9-7), the only game this weekend featuring two teams that did not play each other this season. The Pack looked nearly unbeatable before their Week 7 bye, but their offense has very erratic since the break, with losses in six of their last ten games. Conversely, Washington QB Kirk Cousins was recently given a contract extension and he responded by leading his team to four straight wins (12 TD, 1 INT) and the NFC East title. Fans in our nation’s capital have been waiting for a reason to go Hog wild, as Washington’s last playoff win was ten years ago this week (1/7/06) and their last home playoff win was back on January 8, 2000. Hail to the Redskins! Washington 24, Green Bay 21.
Mike: I'm going to lick my wounds for a bit here since I lost the season-long picks competition. Actually, Todd has done such a good job laying out the playoff games for this week, I'll just make my picks and see if I can do better than I did last week.
I've gotta go with the Chiefs in the first game. I think Houston is in the playoffs with a home game simply because they won a weak division, and Kansas City should have no problem getting the win here. Chiefs win 24-17.
Now onto the Saturday prime-time game, and the one I think will be the best of the weekend. The Steelers and the Bengals simply don't like each other, as is evidenced by their pregame fight earlier this season. I know that Todd is calling for the Bengals to upset the Steelers, but I don't see it happening, Especially since you consider a home team winning an "upset." Nope, I think Pittsburgh is much better than their No. 6 seed will indicate and they will move on to Denver with a 28-21 win.
Now on to the game I wouldn't go to if you paid me. Vikings vs. Seattle. It's not that I don't have anything against these two teams, I have something against sitting outside in sub-zero temperatures when I could be warm at home. Once again, I'm going with the road team here. I think Seattle's experience will win out, and the Seahawks escape the freezer with a 20-13 win.
And the last game of the weekend is another road win for me. I have no faith in Washington (another home team because of a win in a atrocious division) to have any chance against Green Bay, no matter how much they struggle, Packers win 27-10.