Friday, January 02, 2009

The Pick

In Philadelphia Eagles’ terms, the time we’ve been away from the NFL play-offs has felt like forever: two entire seasons since the brave Jeff Garcia bruted this offense into the show. And I must admit I’ve forgotten the wrenching nature of play-off week: drifting in a haze until the next kick-off, the same bad sweaty dreams night after night where I am the RT in the Metrodome consistently getting beaten off the edge.

That being said, I am pretty confident giving the Vikings +3. The line isn’t crazy unfair- it implies the Eagles by a touchdown at a neutral site. That seems about right. And the Vikes are at home- that helps.

I just can’t help thinking this is a sort of a bad spot for Minnesota. The Eagles’ front seven has been unblockable in the passing game for about two months now. The entire defense is healthy- guys moving in and out of there right now, contributing. That is a huge intangible.

Consequently, I can see the Vikes falling into kind of trap here. Minnesota could have what passes for a good day on offense in this spot- Adrian Peterson rushes a little north of 110 yards, Tarvaris Jackson throws for something respectable, one TD, one pick- and still score only 17-ish points. Maybe a good example would be this home play-off game of recent vintage- where the Eagles ran it for 151 yards, Garcia played a nice game, and they only scored two TDs?

I can’t see how Minnesota manufactures three or more scores against a defense that no one can block two plays in a row, run against in the red zone, or ever gives up a giant pass play. This approach of 25 passes and 125 yards rushing almost sentences the Vikings to play a game in the teens, low 20s. To get to 24 or more points, Minnesota would have to take some chances- but instead I imagine they’ll be content to play ball control and safe throws.

And that approach just doesn’t add up to enough points to win in this spot. The Eagles quietly set a franchise scoring record this year. Now, I know that is deceptive- because there have been times when the Eagles have been absolutely horrid on offense. But that tends to be the result of one of two symptoms- either Westbrook is hurt/ineffective (Cincinnati) or the defense provides some high level base of competence (Baltimore).

Assuming Westbrook is healthy and not used up- he didn’t play that much versus Dallas- neither condition exists here.

If the Eagles play well, they can score four or more times versus Minnesota’s 17-ish. And frankly, that is just it- the Vikings playing well and still losing by more than a score. They need help- and the Eagles, for all their faults, tend to roll out that B+ effort every week. Without penalties and turnovers, the Vikes just don’t have enough firepower to hang with and Eagles outfit with a productive Westbrook.

I had been on a good roll picking the Eagles in the play-offs ATS: eight of the last eleven correct- but I've missed the last two: Saints and Giants. Here, I am confident too: Eagles -3 over Minnesota.

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