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Friday, January 13, 2006

NFL Playoffs 2006

Denver thinks it can handle anybody at home where it is 8-0 this season. But like George Washington, the Broncos can't tell a lie. They would much rather play Cincinnati here Saturday in the playoffs than defending champ New England.

It doesn't matter which team Denver wanted, because the Patriots are the team the Broncos will get at Invesco Field in the nightcap of a playoff doubleheader. Seattle, the top-seeded team in the NFC, makes its playoff debut at home in Saturday’s first game against Washington.
Oddsmakers clearly think the Patriots will be a tougher opponent for the Broncos than they were on Oct. 16. Denver was in control most of that game before hanging on for a 28-20 win. The Broncos capitalized on a porous Patriots secondary, as quarterback Jake Plummer completed a 72-yard pass to Rod Smith and another for 55 yards to Ashley Lelie in that Week 6 home game.

Veteran linebacker Teddy Bruschi didn't play in the first meeting. The Patriots were also without star defensive tackle Richard Seymour. Corey Dillon and Kevin Falk, their two top running backs, also missed the game.

All have returned, although Bruschi missed New England's 28-3 playoff win against Jacksonville because of a leg injury. Bruschi’s status for Saturday is questionable.

New England quarterback Tom Brady is well on his way to being the best postseason quarterback in history. Brady has piloted the Pats to 10 straight playoff victories and three Super Bowl titles. He has won two MVP awards in the biggest game of all. The Patriots are also 21-1 with Brady at quarterback when they play games in freezing weather. Saturday's long term forecast calls for a cold evening.

Jake Plummer, Denver's field leader, is 1-3 in the postseason. However, he has never had a home playoff game or come off such a splendid regular season. Plummer had a 134.4 passer rating in the Oct. 16 meeting to 79.9 for Brady.

The Patriots have cashed 18 of their last 25 on the road and are 24-8 ATS avenging a same-season setback.

Denver cashed 11 of 15 this season, getting the green at a 5-2-1 clip at home. The Broncos are 9-1 ATS when playing with at least two weeks of rest.

Since the NFL expanded its postseason format in 1990, 30 NFC teams have received first-round byes. All but three, San Francisco in 1995, Chicago in 2001 and St. Louis in 2003, have opened its playoff schedules with victories in the conference semifinals.

Then again, Seattle may not want to depend on history to get it through against the Redskins. The Seahawks haven’t won a playoff game in more than 21 years, having lost their last six since a 13-7 win over the Los Angeles Raiders in 1984.

Seattle is also mired in a six-year streak in which it has lost every time after a bye week.
Washington knows it can beat the Seahawks. The Skins recorded a 20-17 overtime win in early October before Seattle ripped off an 11-game winning streak to secure home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

The Redskins also beat the Seahawks 14-3 during the 2002 campaign in the last game between the two teams in Seattle. In fact, the Seahawks are 0-4 against Washington under coach Mike Holmgren.

The Redskins enter Saturday's divisional playoff test as the hottest team in the league, having won six in a row. Washington needed each of their five wins to close the regular season just to make the playoffs.

Seattle has the NFL MVP and rushing champion in Shaun Alexander, who scored a league-record 28 touchdowns. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck led the conference with a 98.2 passer rating while taking his game and the offense to another level of efficiency.

Washington quarterback Mark Brunell exposed and exploited what became a season-long problem for the Seahawks in the first meeting - getting off the field on third down. Brunell was 12-of-15 for 156 yards on third downs, including 3-of-3 for 61 yards on the overtime drive to the game-winning field goal.

Seattle's pass coverage should be as good as it has been in five weeks with the return of cornerbacks Andre Dyson, Kelly Herndon and Marcus Trufant.

Wide receivers Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram both played with injuries in that October loss to the Redskins.

The Seahawks will need everyone at their disposal to match-up against Washington's defense. The line backing trio of LaVar Arrington, Lemar Marshall and Marcus Washington combined for 32 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in last Saturday's win over Tampa Bay and provide the bite to the Skins attack defense.

Washington will be without defensive end Renaldo Wynn, who broke his right forearm against the Bucs. However, former Seahawk Shawn Springs says he will play after sitting out last week to rest a strained groin.

Seattle has come up short in 36 of its last 55 when favored by 3 1/2 to 9 1/2 points. The Redskins have cashed at a 40-21 clip as underdogs under the same parameters. Washington has also 'covered' its last six versus teams from the NFC-West.

The Seahawks, 8-0 at home this year, have cashed six of eight. Seattle slipped 'under' in its last five home outings, though it has topped the total in 14 of 17 when the number was between 35 1/2 and 42.

Most offshore books opened Seattle as nine-point favorites over Washington, with the total set at 42. Denver hit the board as three-point favorites over New England, with the total posted at 44.

Buy your picks at Who2beton or at Don Best