NFL Picks - Super Bowl LIV

San Francisco vs. Kansas City
It’s every football fan’s favorite time of the year, Super Bowl Sunday. Unless your team isn't playing, which is the majority of football fans. I especially feel trepidation whenever the Super Bowl approaches, because it means football will soon be gone for over half a calendar year. That’s why I prefer Week 9, when we're right in the thick of things. Gleefully floating down a river with only football visible on either horizon. But now we’re quickly being thrust forward by the roiling churn of said river, approaching its precipice, seconds away from plummeting down a waterfall into a seven month long struggle to stay afloat in a sporting landscape in which we won't have 10 hours of appointment viewing every Sunday. Before entering into this frightening reality together we have one more game to watch, and surprisingly it involves the 49ers and Chiefs.
Surprising for different reasons though. For San Francisco, while their franchise is steeped in Super Bowl tradition, their very recent history has not been so successful. In fact, their 12 total wins over the three seasons preceding this one are the second fewest for a Super Bowl participant in the history of the game. The only team to have fewer? The 1981 San Francisco 49ers (10 total wins) who would go on to win Super Bowl XVI and begin their run as the team of the decade. Does that mean that we could be on the cusp of another dynastic run from the Niners? Probably not. It's likely just a coincidence, but a fascinating one, right? Hopefully you said yes, because hunting down that stat was by far the most research I've done all season.
Kansas City has been a perennial playoff team since hiring Andy Reid as head coach, so it's no great shock to see them here. However, the Chiefs franchise has not been to the Super Bowl in 50 years, so just seeing their name in this spot is an odd sensation. Odd but exciting. Something new that you never knew you always wanted. Something that has awakened a dormant nook of your soul. You're alive again, and you know you'll never be able to return to the crushing monotony of your old reality. Your spouse and children might miss you initially but they'll get over it eventually. Whoops! Got carried away there for a second. Let's move on.        
So who wins? The 49ers, who ran their way past two NFC North teams to get here? Or the Chiefs, who threw over a couple of AFC South squads to touch down in Miami? Before I decide, I should probably check in with the best NFL analyst Primm, Nevada has to offer. Here's Cris Collinsworth's take:
Stay safe CriColl. Much has been made about the Chiefs' 50 year Super Bowl drought, but I've not heard much discussion about the fact that San Francisco hasn't won it all since Super Bowl XXIX. That's 25 years to you and me. So when it come to these ignominious anniversaries, one is silver and the other gold. Ironically enough, in this case the gold doesn't belong to the 49ers. That's gotta be a bad omen, and omens are the driving force in most of my predictions. Speaking of omens, the reigning champions in the other three major sports: the Blues, Raptors, and Nats, all won their first titles in franchise history. 50 years isn't forever, but it's close enough. 

Chiefs 30-27 


NFL Picks - Conference Championships


Tennessee @ Kansas City
Going into these teams’ first meeting in Week 10 the Titans were 4-5 and in danger of being all but eliminated from playoff contention. Tennessee managed to storm back in the fourth quarter of that game and win in thrilling fashion. Since then these teams have combined to go 13-2 and now they meet with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. They have very different plans on how to make it to Miami too. The Titans want to travel by ground, while the Chiefs are hoping to get there through the air. But let’s take a closer look at those strategies and really break them down. According to the Apple maps app, it takes about 13 hours to drive from Nashville to Miami, so it wouldn’t be an unreasonable trek. And with the bye week before the Super Bowl the Titans could certainly afford to break the trip up into two days. That doesn’t seem too bad. On the other hand, a flight from Kansas City to Miami only takes about 3 hours, so it seems like the Chiefs have the wiser plan. Though, some quick research shows round trip ticket prices in the $400 range, and you’d have to buy one for everybody on the team, not to mention the coaches and probably the owner. All of a sudden those costs really add up. And sure, gas ain’t cheap, but the Titans could split the fill-up costs 53 ways, meaning they’d get down to south Florida for less than $10/person. In the classic tortoise/hare mold, it seems like Tennessee might know what they’re doing here. I can comfortably conclude that they have the better strategy for getting to Miami. In terms of who I actually think will qualify for the Super Bowl though, I’ll take KC. They showed last week that no lead is safe against them. Sure, the Texans didn’t have Derrick Henry to grind the clock out, so this game isn’t likely to play out the same way, but the idea of Ryan Tannehill starting in a Super Bowl is not something I’m ready to come to grips with mentally. Therefore, I cannot use this space to predict that it will happen.

Chiefs 28-20


Green Bay @ San Francisco 
Look, I could try to put on a happy face and break down this game for you. Or tell you about these teams’ recent history in conference title games like the Packers’ blowout loss to the Falcons in January 2017, or their classic collapse against the Seahawks two years earlier. And then there was the 49ers also-classic defeat against the Seahawks the year before that. I could even post links to the highlights from those games, and I will do that, here they are. But what will that really prove? So rather than have me bitterly wax nostalgic, I enlisted the help of a man who has already called his last game of the season, but is always focused on pro football (at least according to the name of his company). Take it away Cris:
Yikes, for your sake Cris I'll take the home team too. And if it doesn't work out I'll met you in Primm. I've always wanted to ride that tram

49ers 27-17


NFL Picks - Divisional Round


Minnesota @ San Francisco 
Did you know that including playoff games the all-time record in this match-up is 23-23-1? Who will gain the edge in this not very storied rivalry? The NFL has decided that it’s of such importance that whoever comes out on top will be rewarded with a trip to the NFC championship game. It’s a peculiar decision, but the league has spoken. Someone who will be speaking during this game on Saturday is NBC’s Cris Collinsworth; so let’s hear what he thinks about it.
Interesting. Maybe the right move is to have Face/Off playing simultaneously on a second screen during this game. Could actually be good advice just for everyday life really.

49ers 27-22

Tennessee @ Baltimore 
The Titans should be honored with a parade. I don’t care if they don’t end up winning the Super Bowl, they should still get the parade. For beating the Patriots these men are national heroes and should be treated as such. In case you missed it, Tennessee dethroned New England by giving the ball to Derrick Henry and ... nope that’s it. No “and” necessary. In fact, Ryan Tannehill only completed 8 passes for 72 yards in that Wild Card win. Vince Lombardi really was accurate when, in 1966, he said, “Running the football is the key to postseason success. And the best way to do that is to get a really big guy to do the running. I’m talking like 6’3” 250 lbs. Sure that’s bigger than any player currently in the league, but man oh man, wouldn’t that be something, seeing a guy that size be all fast and stuff? Anyway, I’ll have the tuna on rye, with extra mayo. Really lather it on there. Mayonnaise is good for you, it makes you strong! And I should know, I’m around strong men all day, I am Vince Lombardi after all.” Apparently that quote took place while he was at lunch. I suppose I could have edited it down to just the pertinent material, but I think this really gives you some insight into his fascinating mind. Now the Titans ground game runs into the Ravens, whose offense ran for 60 more yards per game than the next highest team during the regular season. This begs the question: just how many passes will be thrown on Saturday night? I’m gonna go with 6. It will be a battle fought on the ground, just the way ol’ Lombardi would’ve liked it. And that includes the extra mayo. 

Ravens 24-16


Houston @ Kansas City
This is the only game in the Divisional round that is a rematch from the regular season. In that initial game, the Texans surprised the Chiefs in KC (I mean with the way they played, not like they showed up unannounced and the Chiefs were in their bathrobes and not ready for company) and won 31-24. In the process they racked up 472 yards of offense and an astonishing 35 first downs. That’s only four short of the record for a single game! Needless to say (but I guess I’ll go ahead and do just that) the Chiefs will have to figure out a better way to get off the field this time around. And no, I don’t recommend just leaving the field after third down regardless of whether or not they’ve actually made a stop. First of all, that might be a penalty, but if not it would likely just lead to the Texans scoring touchdowns against a literal cover zero defense. Based on recent performance though, it appears KC’s D might be able to exit the field the legitimate way. In their six game win streak that closed out the regular season the Chiefs only gave up and average of 11.5 points per game. Now, the offenses they were facing weren’t as good as the Texans’, but any improvement over their first meeting may be enough to allow Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ more celebrated unit to get past the visitors this time. 

Chiefs 34-23

Seattle @ Green Bay
These teams ended the regular season at 11-5 and 13-3, respectively. But according to the Pythagorean formula for calculating what a team’s record should have been based on their point differential, we’re actually dealing with an 8-8 Seahawks team and a 10-6 Packers group. How did these bums even get into the playoffs?!? To a certain extent, both of these teams have been considered paper tigers by many in the media. But guess what baby, paper is what makes this world go round! I’m talking ‘bout money! And these squads got the most. Well ok, not according to Forbes, who ranks them both near the middle of the pack. And sure, the NFL has a hard salary cap, so no one team gets to spend more than another on their players ... Look forget the money thing, alright?!? The point I was trying to make is that it doesn’t matter how they got here, just that they’re here. And next week one of them will be playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl. So stick to triangles Pythagoras, and leave football to the jocks baby! As for who actually gets the win here, let’s move away from math and into geography. The four teams left in the NFC playoffs are all from the North and the West divisions. Maybe it’s just me, but it would make the most sense if a team from the Northwest was the one who prevailed, right? Please?

Seahawks 23-20


NFL Picks - Wild Card Round


Buffalo @ Houston 
The Houston Texans have qualified for the playoffs 6 times in their franchise history. On each occasion they’ve done so by winning the AFC South, but they’ve never had a good enough record to earn a first round bye, meaning this is the sixth time they have hosted a first round playoff game. Every single time the NFL has opted to schedule their game in the early Saturday window. That means whenever the Texans have made the playoffs the Saturday afternoon wild card game has been played in Houston. Basically the NFL is saying they just aren’t very interested in the Texans. Or is it us saying that? Clearly the league is basing this on ratings potential; maybe we’re to blame. Also their opponents have been Cincinnati (x2), KC, Oakland, Indy, and now Buffalo, so that doesn’t exactly help. Sorry Bills, no disrespect, but you get it. Actually that’s been the vibe around the Bills all season. Everyone acknowledges that they’re winning games, but no one’s really prepared to take them seriously. Until now! That’s right, I’m going with Buffalo! I don’t care about Houston’s win two, lose one pattern that I’ve talked about for over a month and that will surely come back to bite me. Eff it! I’m picking the Bills anyway! Wait, when did you say their last playoff win was? Oh God, is there still time to take it back?!? What do my oh mean "No"? How is that possible? I haven't even hit publish yet ... Oh whoops, damn it!

Bills 23-20

Tennessee @ New England 
The fact that it is so jarring to see the Patriots playing in the wild card round is perhaps the best example of just how dominant they’ve been over the last two decades. That or the six Super Bowl wins and three other appearances. Ok yeah, maybe it’s more the latter, but the frequency of their first round byes is staggering. New England hasn’t played on the opening weekend of the playoffs since January of 2010. That’s ten years to you and me. So is this a sign that the Patriots are more vulnerable than they’ve been in a decade, or did they just get bored by the regular season? I’d say boredom, how else do you explain closing out with a home loss to the Dolphins? That’s a question many Patriots players and staff were likely asking themselves on their drive home Sunday, considering how to make sense of that embarrassment to their shamed families. Just imagine arriving home on 12/29 and telling your teary-eyed child “Christmas is over and daddy lost to the Dolphins.” It must have been difficult, especially because most young kids don’t understand the type of spark that Ryan Fitzpatrick can provide to an offense. Those little dum-dums are probably equally flummoxed by the impressive run that Ryan Tannehill has led the Titans on. But after Ry guy posted a 7-3 record as starter hopefully their parents are well aware of the threat he poses. I imagine New England will be ready though, Bill Belichick seems to do a fairly effective job of preparing for playoff games. 

Patriots 23-16


Minnesota @ New Orleans 
The Saints are the first 13-3 team to have to play on the opening weekend of the playoffs since 2011. The last such team? The New Orleans Saints. These guys can’t catch a break. That season the two teams receiving byes were Green Bay and San Francisco, and the NFC East was won by a 9-7 team. This begs the obvious question: are we living in some sort of glitchy repeat simulation of the 2011 season? Those playoffs ended with that aforementioned, mediocre NFC East team winning the Super Bowl over the Patriots, so good news Philly fans! As for the 2011 Saints, they won their first round game over a wild card from the NFC North. It’s all lining up! But aren’t these 2019 Vikings better than those 2011 Lions that lost in New Orleans? Uhhhh, yes? I don’t know! Maybe I’m too deep into this ‘19/‘11 corollary if I’m researching a Lions team from eight seasons ago (don’t worry, I didn’t actually do any research). If I ignore history and focus merely on the teams playing this Sunday I still side with the Saints based on their homefield advantage and the fact that they’ve averaged 40 points per game over the last month. That’s a hell of a total no matter what year you’re talking about. Though I suppose if we revisit this in 2027 that number may not be as impressive. With the rate these hot shots are whizzin’ that football around there’s no reason to think teams won’t be putting up 70+ every week. 

Saints 31-24

Seattle @ Philadelphia 
The Seahawks are sputtering into the playoffs, having lost three of their last four thanks to a struggling offense and a rash of injuries. The Eagles have overcome their own injuries to win four in a row and capture the NFC East crown. It should be noted that those four wins were all against teams from ... the NFC East, so take this hot streak with a grain of salt. But hey, a win is a win, and win in the playoffs is like some sort of jumbo win. So who gets the jumbo win this week and moves on to the Divisional round and an opportunity for a MEGA win? Before I make my pick why don’t we get some input from the man who will provide color commentary for the game, Cris Collinsworth:
Whoa, this guy's got some 'tude! I'll follow suit and make a fearless prediction of my own.

Seahawks 24-17