The Afternoon Before: Momentum, not rest, clearly seems the key

I’ve transitioned “The Afternoon After” to “The Afternoon Before” – makes more sense at this stage. Here’s my look at this weekend’s games.

Revis Island is the place to be right now

You’d think teams would have begun learning from the recent trend in the NFL, which is that teams that play at a high level entering the playoffs continue to do so once January begins.

And yet, once again, lesser teams that finish the season strong appear poised to get the drop on teams that haven’t played meaningful football in a month. I mean, I’m no coach or anything, but how many times do we have to see it?

The most glaring example of this came two years ago with the Giants’ Super Bowl run, which started in the last game of the regular season. With no advantage in the standings to be gained, the Giants kept the pedal to the metal against the undefeated Patriots, losing narrowly at Giants Stadium.

In the process, they showed the football world that they could hang with Belichick’s brigade and developed the confidence in themselves required to make a run. They won three road games, a feat in itself. In the first round, they beat a Tampa Bay team that had mailed in their final game of the season, looking far fresher and hungrier.

The following year, the Giants mailed in the end of the season and then got smoked by Philadelphia. Different year, different modus operandi, different result.

This year, the Jets are drawing parallels to that ‘07-08 Giants team. They were taken lightly after finishing the season with victories over two teams that had already folded up their tents for the regular season, but needing to secure those victories meant that they had to continue playing at a high level against teams that no longer were.

Best case scenarioWas there any question the Jets were going to beat the ice cold Bengals this past week? Who was playing at a higher level coming in? Unless the Bengals had an overwhelming talent advantage, which they obviously didn’t, this was no contest.

Suddenly, Rex Ryan’s talk about the Jets winning the Super Bowl at 50-1 odds isn’t just the ranting of a blowhard. Actually, that’s not true, it still is, but you can’t count them out regardless. They’re the No. 1 ranked team both defensively and in running offense, which is still a solid blueprint for victory in the playoffs, regardless of the pundits who claim the only way to win anymore is throwing the ball all over the place.

What other teams won last week? Dallas, who was red-hot coming in. Baltimore, who had been playing at an extremely high level. And Arizona, the one anomaly in the group, who won its rematch against Green Bay in a crazy shootout with little defense being played.

Could it be that the potential injuries are outweighed by the advantage of pushing all the way to the end of the season?

So yes, the Jets have a chance to win this week against a Chargers team that has won 11 in a row, but hasn’t played in two weeks. And yes, Baltimore has a chance to push around a Colts team that folded its tent three weeks ago. The horrific Metrodome is a tough place to play, but if anyone can thrive there, it’s a Cowboys team that’s just getting it done right now. And the Saints haven’t had to try to win a shootout in quite some time. The Cardinals did it last week.

It’s tough to pick against home teams coming off a bye in the playoffs. But is a home-field advantage enough to counterbalance coming into the game having your intensity level been at 0 for quite some time? Based on recent results, it’s hard to argue that it is.

Last week’s results: 3-1. I missed on Green Bay over Arizona. The other three, I rode the hot team. Not to toot my own horn here, but I missed the Jets score by a combined total of one point. I missed Dallas-Philly by 6. So obviously, I’m going to go 0-4 this week.

This week’s picks:

Cardinals at Saints (-7) – The Saints had been playing with fire every single week until they finished the year with three straight losses. They haven’t won a game in over a month. I’m wondering if they remember how. Meanwhile, the Cardinals can be great or horrible depending on the week. They were great last week, so logic dictates they’ll be lousy this week. But I don’t think Kurt Warner goes out like that. Let’s try an upset, and if they fall short, maybe they at least cover? … Cardinals 35, Saints 27

Entering the upper echelon Ravens at Colts (-6.5) – The Ravens took it to the Patriots despite a beat-up Joe Flacco. Granted, the Pats were pretty beaten themselves. But the Colts went out with a whimper those final two games. Did you know they’re 0-3 after first-round byes? Let’s go with the big running game and defense that I think still works in the playoffs. – Ravens 23, Colts 19

Cowboys at Vikings (-2.5) – Cowboys have outscored opponents 99-31 in past four games, all wins, and I love that Felix Jones has come into his own at exactly the right time. The Vikes came back after a rough stretch by shellacking the Giants, who were pretty much finished at that point anyway. I’ll stick with the hot team again … on the road. Obviously, I’m going to miss some of these, but they all seem to make sense. – Cowboys 34, Vikings 23

Jets at Chargers (-7.5) – I know this is the premise of this whole article, but I think the Jets’ ride ends here. The Chargers are just too good, and the fact that it’s not in cold weather plays against what the Jets do well. That said, they’re in a lot better shape than they had been just a couple weeks ago and do have a chance if they create some big turnovers. But I like Rivers’ fire to help San Diego pick up where they left off. – Chargers 31, Jets 21

Esoteric

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