I’m waving the white flag. As if I had a choice.
Through eight games of the postseason, MDS is a perfect 8-0. With three games to go and yours truly three games behind him, the fact that we agree on both conference championship games means there’s no way I can catch him.
Sure, I could have changed both picks once I saw he had selected the same ones I had. But then I would have had to suspend myself for the first four weeks of the 2016 season. And then I would have had to sue myself to get reinstated.
Patriots at Broncos
MDS’s take: The Broncos have been winning all year with their defense, but the Patriots’ offense looks well-suited to beating the Broncos, with Tom Brady throwing short, quick passes to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Brady throws the ball so quickly that the Broncos’ pass rush won’t have a lot of time to get to him, and that gives the Patriots an edge. New England will surely score a lot more than the 16 points the Steelers managed in Denver on Sunday. So the question is, Can the Broncos’ offense keep up? I have my doubts. Bill Belichick will dare Peyton Manning to try to go deep against the Patriots’ defense, and Manning just doesn’t have the zip and accuracy on his deep balls that he once did. The Patriots’ defense will frustrate Manning into a rough game, and the Patriots will win.
MDS’s pick: Patriots 27, Broncos 17.
Florio’s take: Tom Brady has won only 25 percent of his career starts in Denver, beating Danny Kanell and Tim Tebow and losing to the likes of Brian Griese and Kyle Orton. Last time, the Pats fell in overtime after losing Rob Gronkowski late and not having Julian Edelman at all. This time, Brady has both — and star Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has a shoulder injury that left him playing with one arm against the Steelers. The one arm that matters most will be the right arm of Brady, who continues his post-#DeflateGate quest to spoil the NFL’s golden Super Bowl party by grabbing something silver from Roger Goodell — and perhaps then telling him to stick this in his trophy case.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 27, Broncos 23.
Cardinals at Panthers
MDS’s take: Two Cardinals injuries are going to make this game tough on Arizona: Without Tyrann Mathieu, I see the Cardinals having a tough time covering Panthers tight end Greg Olsen. And without Chris Johnson, I see the Cardinals having a tough time getting big plays on the ground. Because of those injuries, I’m picking the Panthers to win a close, low-scoring game. Look for Olsen to be Carolina’s leading receiver, and for the Panthers’ defense to hold the Cardinals’ offense mostly in check. The Cardinals are the best team the Panthers have faced, but the Panthers will manage a hard-fought win.
MDS’s pick: Panthers 17, Cardinals 14.
Florio’s take: The Panthers have the best nucleus of talent of any team in the NFL, by far. From Cam Newton to Greg Olsen to Luke Kuechly to Kawann Short to Josh Norman, no one else has four players who are that good at what they do. It’s the rest of the team that could be a problem against the Cardinals, especially since Norman can only cover one of Arizona’s excellent receivers, consisting of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, and speedster J.J. Nelson. Maybe Kuechly could cover Fitzgerald in the slot (not for many snaps, but for a few). Even then, Norman can’t handle the rest by himself, which means that Cortland Finnegan (who got a right place/right time interception against the Seahawks) will have to contribute, in some way. Or maybe Finnegan won’t matter. Maybe the Panthers are good enough (and their home field will be bad enough) to allow them to beat a team that lost by 30 in Week 17 to the team the Panthers were beating by 31 at halftime. Fitzgerald played against the Packers like a man who won’t be denied a championship, but he’ll have no control over what Cam Newton and company do when they are on the field.
Florio’s pick: Panthers 30, Cardinals 27.