Week Twelve Picks

November 25th, 2015 No comments

You know what I’m not thankful for? Stupidity. Specifically, my own. Which is about all I have to blame for my week 11 finish. Yeah, it wasn’t an easy week to pick. But, really, 7-7 straight up, 6-7-1 against the spread? Ugh. And the thing is, this stuff is supposed to get easier as the season wears and the stats and trends begin to point to results more and more reliably.

Maybe it’ll turn around this week and I can start to improve on my disappointing season. I’m now 96-64 (.600) straight up, 71-85-4 (.456) against the spread. That’s pretty sad all around.

Sadder still for me is the likelihood that my picking will continue to trend in the wrong direction.

Here’s what not to expect in week twelve.

Philadelphia (even) at Detroit
No one knows who’ll be starting at quarterback for the Eagles in this game. And no one cares. Lions by six.

Carolina (-1) at Dallas
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but with Tony Romo back on the field the Cowboys have officially become a factor in the NFC postseason race again. Or, you know, they’re a factor as long as they’re playing powerhouse opponents like the Dolphins. Will they continue to be a factor when an actual NFL team rolls into Dallas? Probably not. But they had a moment there. And no one can take that away from them. Panthers by 10.

Chicago (+9) at Green Bay
Beating the Bears is a lot simpler if you’re a team with a really strong running game. But it’s not like it’s horribly complicated otherwise. Which is good news for Green Bay. Packers by 14.

New Orleans (+3) at Houston
My preseason pick of the Texans to win the AFC South title isn’t looking so stupid now that Houston has won three straight and, um, got back to .500, now, is it? OK, sure. But the Saints still don’t have a defense. So let’s make it four in a row. Houston by a touchdown.

Minnesota (+2) at Atlanta
The Falcons should be thankful for the fact that they’re hosting this game. Because they’d totally lose if it were in Minnesota. Atlanta by a field goal.

St. Louis (+9) at Cincinnati
I’m not sure the Bengals’ two-game skid is a huge deal. But that might be because it’s struck me as mostly a correction for a team that had been overachieving for most of the season. Either way, it ends Sunday when the Bengals get a visit from a team that has legitimately fallen apart over the past three weeks. Cincinnati by 13.

Tampa Bay (+3) at Indianapolis
Have the Colts figured out a way to stop the run? No? OK, then. Buccaneers by four.

NY Giants (-2.5) at Washington
If the Giants could run the ball, this one would be a breeze. But they can’t. So it’ll be a grind. New Jersey by a point.

Oakland (-2) at Tennessee
Neither of these teams has a defense. But one of them can at least be thankful for its offense. That’s the visiting squad. Oakland by four.

Buffalo (+5.5) at Kansas City
Traveling to Kansas City to face the red hot Chiefs on a short week probably wouldn’t have worked out well for the Bills even if they hadn’t just been roughed up in a loss at New England. Adding the usual post-Patriots hangover to the mix probably won’t help. Chiefs by nine.

Miami (+3.5) at NY Jets
The Jets aren’t all that hard to figure. They’re a solidly mediocre team. And they perform as such. They consistently lose to good teams. They split with other mediocre teams. And they beat bad teams. The Dolphins are a bad team. Jets by six.

San Diego (+4) at Jacksonville
Oh, boy, are these two teams awful. I supposed I’ll go with awful home team over awful road team. But probably only by three.

Arizona (-10.5) at San Francisco
Let’s figure that with the game being played in San Francisco, and with Colin Kaepernick not available to throw TD passes to Arizona’s defensive backs, the Cardinals only win by 20 this time around.

Pittsburgh (+4) at Seattle
This is one of the toughest picks of the week. The teams are fairly evenly matched, though the visitor is probably ever so slightly stronger than the home team. Both are playing for spots in the postseason. And neither team is hot enough, or cold enough, to make you feel like there’s a safe bet here. I suspect home field will get the job done for Seattle, though I certainly don’t think it makes sense to give four points. Seahawks by two.

New England (-3) at Denver
If, like me, you’re inclined to think there’s no way the Patriots get through the regular season undefeated, you’ve got to look at this game as a likely loss. The Patriots limp into Denver with a depleted offense to face one of the best Ds in football. And while they bring their own increasingly impressive defense with them to take on an inexperienced quarterback, the Patriots do so while traveling on a short week. This is not the stuff that confidence is made of. Still, New England is the better team in this tilt. And for that reason, I can’t bring myself to pick against them. Patriots by a field goal.


Baltimore (+2.5) at Cleveland
Man, I sure wish there were a football game on Monday night. I don’t even know what to do with these organizations. Since the Ravens don’t have a quarterback and the Browns sort of do even if it’s only by accident, let’s say Cleveland by three.

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Week Eleven Picks

November 19th, 2015 No comments

My excuse, and I think it’s a good one, is that week 10 was upset week. The favorites finished 3-11 straight up. So how was I supposed to operate under those conditions? Exactly. In that context, I think my record of 5-9 straight up and 6-8 against the spread looks pretty good. Or, you know, maybe less awful. Doesn’t it?

I came away from that disaster 89-57 (.610) straight up, 65-78-3 (.455) against the spread.

But wait. I think things may be about to get worse. Because here’s the deal. I’ve got a job. Like, one that pays me money. This blog does not. (Shocking, right?) Plus it’s a job I like. And a job that keeps me busy. Thus, normally I do my picks writing in the evenings. But not this week. Because this week, I’ve had an obligation every evening. So this week, the time I’ve had for writing has come between 4 and 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Now, I’m always up at this time, but I wouldn’t say my brain is fully operational. So take that into account as you consider whatever nonsense I put forth below.

Here’s really, really, really what not to expect.

Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville
It’s hard to imagine a more fascinating way to spend a Thursday night than watching part one of the struggle to determine which is the worst team in the NFL’s worst division. Since these two teams don’t have a complete run offense between them, I’ve got to figure this one goes to the squad that’s least awful in the passing game. Taking both sides of the ball into account, that’s Tennessee. So let’s say Titans by a point.

Washington (+7) at Carolina
When a 9-0 team with one of the NFL’s best run offenses hosts a 4-5 team with one of the league’s worst run Ds, I figure I can limit the amount of time I spend thinking about matchups. Right? Panthers by 10.

Oakland (-2) at Detroit
I know the Lions are coming off a big, emotional win at Green Bay. And maybe it would be wise to expect that to carry Detroit in a game against a visiting team that doesn’t bring much to the field by way of a defense. But I still look at the Lions and see a team that can’t hold on to the ball. I think that becomes more of a problem than usual when you’re trying to keep up with an offense that can pile on the points. The home team will keep it fairly tight, but the visiting Raiders come out ahead by six.

Dallas (even) at Miami
The Cowpies get Tony Romo back. So I guess that’s exciting. I mean, to the extent anyone can get excited about a 2-7 team that has much bigger problems than quarterback play. Dolphins by a field goal.

Indianapolis (+6) at Atlanta
The win over the ghost of Peyton Manning and the Broncos right before the bye week will certainly be remembered as a high point in this season for the Colts. It may also end up being remembered as the last time during the 2015 season when the Colts and their fans had anything they could truly feel good about. Falcons by nine.

St. Louis (+2) at Baltimore
You know, I’m just not sure Case Keenum is going to save the Rams. But I suspect the St. Louis defense might make Keenum look good by carrying the team in this game. Rams by a field goal.

NY Jets (-2) at Houston
Four weeks ago, the Texans defense allowed five touchdowns in the first half of blowout loss on the road in Miami. They haven’t allowed a single TD in the 10 quarters of football they’ve played since. And on Monday night in Cincinnati, they made the previously undefeated Bengals look pedestrian. If Brian Hoyer were playing, I’d hitch my wagon to that and pick the Texans. But he isn’t. And I just don’t believe the Texans will be able to muster much offense behind T.J. Yates. I like the Jets to win a very low scoring game by a single point.

Green Bay (even) at Minnesota
A month ago, you could make the argument that Green Bay had the best team in the NFL. And even after they suffered back-to-back road losses to the Broncos and Panthers, it seemed reasonable to assume the Packers would turn it around and assert their usual position as one of the NFC’s elite teams. Following last week’s collapse at home against the Lions, however, it’s become hard to envision the Packers as a serious wild card contender. Maybe this is where that changes. Maybe this is where Green Bay seizes control of the NFC North and begins a push to the Super Bowl. Or maybe it’s where the Vikings, with their powerful run offense and stout pass D, send a definitive message that the old order of the division has changed. Minnesota by three.

Tampa Bay (+5.5) at Philadelphia
You know, on one hand I look at a matchup between two insanely up-and-down teams and figure Philadelphia is on schedule for a win and Tampa Bay is on schedule for a loss — and that should be the story. On the other hand, Mark Sanchez. Buccaneers by a point.

Denver (+1) at Chicago
Weird to say, but this game would be easier to pick if Fadin’ Manning were starting for Denver. In that case, I’d feel I could confidently take Chicago. With Brock Osweiler under center for the Broncos, on the other hand, I’m not so sure. Because if the Denver D could carry the team to seven victories with Manning disintegrating in front of our eyes, shouldn’t the key for Osweiler be simply not to throw an interception every fifth time he drops back? With all due respect to a Chicago team that I’m supposed to be excited about because they’ve won two straight, I think Osweiler gets his career as a starter going with a win. Broncos by four.

Cincinnati (+4) at Arizona
Carson Palmer’s revenge? Nah. Just the better team winning. Cardinals by six.

Kansas City (-3) at San Diego
The Chiefs have looked good in winning their last three games, but I’ll still be shocked if it turns out they can consistently beat good teams. Of course, this week Kansas City only needs to beat a bad team. I know they can handle that. Chiefs by eight.

San Francisco (+12.5) at Seattle
The Seahawks may be going nowhere fast, but when they arrive they’ll find the 49ers have been there for weeks. Seattle by 20.

Buffalo (+7) at New England
Even after that incredible comeback victory in New Jersey on Sunday, I still don’t believe the Patriots have any real hope of running the table. That’s not because of injuries. It’s just because I know some week some opponent is going to come up big. But not this week. Not this opponent. Passer rating differential: Patriots +5.8. Scoring differential: Patriots +6.2. Turnover differential: Patriots +1. New England by 10.


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Week Ten Picks

November 12th, 2015 Comments off

This happens every year. Typing the words “week ten picks” just now, I thought, “Week ten? How the hell did it get to be week ten?” I think one of the best things about football season is that it doesn’t plod along the way other major pro sports seasons do. But, you know, that’s also the worst thing about football season. Soon enough, I’ll be counting down to the start of the 2016 season and trying to figure out how it got to be mid-February so quickly.

And that, friends, may be my one accurate prediction of the week.

My week nine results were mixed. I finished 8-5 straight up, which is disappointing, and 8-5 against the spread, which, when you don’t actually gamble, feels pretty good. That gets me to 84-48 (.636) and 59-70-3 (.458) for the season.

And that leaves us only with what not to expect in, yup, week ten.

Buffalo (+2.5) at NY Jets
The first of two games during the latter half of the season in which the Jets and Bills get in each others way in the AFC wild card race. I expect I’ll be picking the home team in both. I know for certain that I’m taking New Jersey to come away with a narrow victory this time around. (See how I totally ignored the whole Rex Ryan homecoming/revenge business there? Doh!) Jets by a field goal.

Detroit (+11.5) at Green Bay
Even good Lions teams haven’t been able to find a way to win in Green Bay. A bad Lions team coming in to face a frustrated Packers squad? If there’s a recipe for a blowout, that’s pretty much it. Packers by no less than three touchdowns (at least one of them defensive).

Dallas (-1) at Tampa Bay
First things first: In consideration of the axiom about judging persons by the company they keep, I will be referring to the Dallas team as the Cowpies until such time as they part ways with football’s biggest lump of solid waste, Greg Hardy. As for the game, the Buccaneers are at least marginally better than the Cowpies. And they’re at home. So what is there to do but pick Tampa. The Bucs win it by four.

Carolina (-5.5) at Tennessee
I don’t mean to reduce the differences between the 8-0 Panthers and the 4-5 Saints to a single factor. It’s not that simple. But for the sake of discussing whether the 2-6 Titans have it in them to upset Carolina this week much as they upset New Orleans a week ago, let’s pretend it is that simple. Here’s that single factor: The Panthers, unlike the Saints, have a defense. A good one. If you feel a need to go deeper on this game, by all means pick it apart. But that’s pretty much all I need. Carolina by a touchdown.

Chicago (+7.5) at St. Louis
I keep hearing about how the Bears offense came to life on Monday night. This, apparently, from folks who don’t know how bad the Chargers defense has been this season. Putting up 22 points against the Chargers isn’t a success; it’s a failure. Seriously. San Diego has faced eight other opponents this season. Know how many of them scored fewer points than the Bears? None. Meanwhile, the Rams have given up more than 21 points in a game just three times this season. They haven’t allowed a touchdown in St. Louis since September. And on the other side of the ball, this game will find a Chicago D that allows 4.6 yards per carry trying to stop Todd Gurley. I think I’ve got a pretty good guess about how that’s likely to turn out. Rams by seven.

New Orleans (-1) at Washington
Neither of these teams is worth a damn. But I suspect the Saints have enough offense to squeak by the Racists and get back to .500. Not that it will ultimately do them much good. New Orleans by four.

Miami (+6.5) at Philadelphia
So that initial “surge” for the Dolphins under Dan Campbell turned out to be a bit of a mirage, huh?

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Who’da thunk it? Well, you know, I’m sure a third straight road game will solve that problem. It usually does. Eagles by nine.

Cleveland (+4.5) at Pittsburgh
Here’s a little secret (I may have shared this one before): When your opponent is the Cleveland Browns, it doesn’t really matter who you’ve got playing quarterback. All that matters is whether you can run the ball. I think the Steelers might be OK. Pittsburgh by seven.

Jacksonville (+5.5) at Baltimore
There’s a pretty solid chance this game will feature more turnovers than punts. The Ravens come out ahead by one turnover and three points.

Minnesota (+3) at Oakland
The Vikings are coming off a fairly impressive road win over the Rams. The Raiders are coming off a very tough road loss at Pittsburgh. I think this game turns the equation around. The Raiders offense takes command and Oakland wins it by six.

Kansas City (+6.5) at Denver
The Broncos log the first of two wins that will get their fans feeling good again just before the team’s season unravels down the stretch. The Broncos won a wild game by seven when they visited Kansas City in week two. I don’t think this one will be as dramatic. Or as close. Denver by 10.

New England (-7) at NY Giants
If the Patriots lose this game, it won’t be because the Giants are in their heads. Or because New Jersey “has their number.” Or because Tom Coughlin isn’t afraid of big, bad Bill Belichick like all the other professional football coaches are (according to media and fan fantasy). The Giants aren’t winning this game with a great pass rush that they don’t have. Neither are they likely winning it with circus catches against a Patriots defense that is one of the best in the league. If the Giants win, if the Patriots lose, the determining factor will be turnovers. That’s it. The Giants live by the takeaway. New Jersey leads the NFL in takeaways, 21, and is tied with Carolina and Arizona for most interceptions, 13. They’re at the top of the list in turnover differential with a +12. And if they end up at +2 in this game, they probably come away with a win. But that’s not going to be easy. Because the Patriots, who are tied with the Jets for second in turnover differential at +7, also are the team with the fewest giveaways on the season, having surrendered just two interceptions and three lost fumbles. So we’ll see. Oh, and by the way: Scoring differential, Patriots +7.1; passer rating differential, Patriots +12.0. I’m riding with those numbers. And looking for this one: New England by 17.


Arizona (+3) at Seattle
I don’t think either of these teams has beat an elite opponent yet this season.

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That said, I also don’t think the Cardinals are facing an elite opponent this week. Home field helps the Seahawks, but I still like Arizona by a point.

Houston (+10.5) at Cincinnati
Yeah, this should be ugly. Bengals by 16.

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Week Nine Picks

November 5th, 2015 Comments off

I think I need to stop guessing at when the Bengals’ inevitable collapse will come. I’m still as sure as anyone that it’s gonna happen. But it’s starting to seem like maybe not until January. And in the meantime, I’m doing myself no favors picking against Cincinnati simply because I think they shouldn’t be playing as well as they are.

That said, picking Cincy to beat Pittsburgh is about the only thing I’d fix from week eight. With the other three straight-up picks I got wrong, I can at least say take comfort in the fact that they were based on rational (if errant) analysis rather than pure gut. And in the end, 10-4 straight up feels pretty good. Can’t really say the same for my 6-7-1 week picking against the spread. But so it goes. As usual, it only underscores the greater wisdom of my refusal to gamble on football.

On the season, I’m now 76-43 (.639) straight up, 51-65-3 (.411) against the spread.

Let’s see how I can mess things up in week nine. Here’s what not to expect.

Cleveland (+11) at Cincinnati
I suspect it will be everything the Browns can do to keep Johnny Manziel sober past 8:30 on a Thursday night. Bengals by halftime. Uh, I mean Bengals by … oh, let’s go with 17.

Oakland (+4.5) at Pittsburgh
Derek Carr and the Oakland offense are for real. But the Oakland D is still a work in progress. And even without Le’Veon Bell, I suspect the Steelers will be able to manage enough offense to finish just ahead of the visitors. Pittsburgh by a field goal.

Jacksonville (+6) at NY Jets
For a team that needs desperately to get off the schneid, there’s really nothing better than a visit from the Jaguars. But since the Jets apparently will be starting a quarterback with half the usual number of functional hands, I’m only willing to give half the spread. New Jersey by three.

St. Louis (+2.5) at Minnesota
This game comes down to which team does a better job of taking away it’s opponent’s run game. And I think that’s likely to be the Rams. St. Louis wins a tough, defensive battle by a point.

Miami (+3) at Buffalo
The Dolphins aren’t losing this game because of a hangover from their Thursday night beatdown at the hands of the Patriots. They’re losing it because they’re a worse team than the Bills. And because they can’t stop the run. Buffalo by six.

Tennessee (+8) at New Orleans
Um, I think it’s safe to say that the Titans and Saints are headed in very different directions. Don’t you? New Orleans by 14.

Washington (+14) at New England
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Racists get DeSean Jackson back. That’s nice and all, but it’s hardly going to solve all of Washington’s problems. Certainly one player doesn’t fix the enormous imbalance between these two teams. Scoring differential: New England, +9.7. Passer rating differential: New England, +21.8 (this is a huge number). Turnover differential: New England, +9.

And, you know:



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I guess what I’m trying to say is, Patriots by 24.

Green Bay (-2.5) at Carolina
Having watched, on successive evenings in week eight, the Packers put up very little fight in a crushing loss to a Broncos team that I still consider suspect, and the Panthers narrowly escape in overtime after blowing a 17-point fourth quarter lead to a Colts squad that hasn’t been able to get out of its own way all season, I find myself at almost a complete loss to assess this matchup. In the end, I think a second straight road game paired with an inability to stop the run dooms Green Bay to a second straight loss. But I’m not exactly going to be floored if it turns out I got it wrong. Carolina by four.

Atlanta (-7) at San Francisco
If the 49ers think Blaine Gabbert is the answer, I’m guessing the question must have been, “Could we possibly start a quarterback who could make Colin Kaepernick look good by comparison?” The Falcons may be frauds, but fake contenders still beat authentic garbage. Atlanta by 10.

NY Giants (-2.5) at Tampa Bay
I suspect it’s going to take the Giants a few weeks to recover completely from last week’s loss in the epic battle of New Orleans. (They fired Eli’s cannon, and the Saints kept a-comin’.) Playing a second straight road game isn’t going to speed up that process any, either. Accordingly, I think maybe New Jersey only wins this game by a point or two.

Denver (-4.5) at Indianapolis
In which even the reanimated corpse of their former quarterback proves to be more than the Colts can handle. Broncos by nine.

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Philadelphia (-2.5) at Dallas
The only real difference between these two teams is that … well, it’s that the Cowboys are in worse shape than the Eagles, isn’t it? Philly by six.

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Chicago (+4) at San Diego
Many teams in the NFL choose to field defenses. Neither the Bears nor the Chargers are among them. San Diego by three.

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Week Eight Picks

October 29th, 2015 Comments off

Well, I guess I’m pointed in the right direction. Or something. I mean, 9-5 is better than 7-7, right? So I did a better job picking straight up in week seven than I did in week six. And 8-7 against the spread is certainly a vast improvement over 3-10-1. I’ll take it. (What choice do I have?) But I’m not impressed with that finish straight up. Or with my numbers on the season: 66-39 (.629) straight up, 45-58-2 (.438) against the spread.

Maybe with all of the undefeated teams in action this week, things will become clearer for me. Or, you know, I could make some ridiculous picks and head back to a .500 finish — or worse.

Here’s what not to expect.

Miami (+8) at New England
Folks, can we maybe settle down a little with the “Dan Campbell has really turned the Dolphins around” bit? I mean, come on, already. Campbell has coached Miami for all of two games. Two. That’s also the length of Campbell’s total experience as a head coach, or, you know, anything more advanced than a position coach. (But, hell, he spent four full years coaching tight ends, the position he used to play, so he’s got all of that diverse experience to draw on.) And he’s coached the team to wins over two of the weakest teams from the single weakest division in the NFL. Sure, those wins over the Titans and Texans were decisive. But decisive is not necessarily the same as impressive. And I’m going to have to ask you to forgive me when I tell you that I’m not quite ready to buy what the Miami hype machine is selling. Or that as of right now, I wouldn’t pick the Dolphins to beat the foundering Colts, let alone the streaking Patriots. Just wouldn’t. And this is only part of the reason for that.


OK, yeah, Brady’s obviously a big part of the reason. The Jets couldn’t slow him down on Sunday, and they rolled into Foxborough with a better pass defense than the Dolphins, a much more experienced coach than the Dolphins, and a full week of preparation behind them. That result might not be the most hopeful sign for Miami. But there’s also the fact that while Campbell may have got the Dolphins players to buy in to whatever his message may be in a way that Joe Philbin couldn’t pull off, and/or may have found a way to get more out of Fins players by asking less of them, it’s not like he reinvented the team. The players who have gone 2-0 since Campbell took over are the same guys who started the season 1-3. And I suspect the team will settle back to being something closer to what it was under Philbin before too terribly long. At the very least, I expect them to come to rest somewhere between what they were in the early part of the season and what they’ve appeared to be over the last two weeks. And when I look at the Dolphins on the whole as they stack up to the Patriots, I don’t see any strong indicators of an ability to pull off a win in Foxborough. (Yes, it’s true, anything is always possible, particularly in a divisional game. Any given Thursday and all that. But omnipresent qualifiers don’t count in this conversation.) I see a visiting squad that falls short of the home team in each of the three most significant predictive stats: Scoring differential (New England +6.4), passer rating differential (New England +9.3) and turnover differential (+7). That doesn’t point to a third straight win for the Dolphins; it points to a seventh straight win for the Patriots. And I don’t expect it to be nearly so close as the Jets game. Patriots by 14.

Detroit (+5) vs. Kansas City at Wembley Stadium, London
If the Chiefs had a running back, they’d win this game with relative ease. But they don’t, so they’ll probably have to slog it out. Kansas City still comes out on top, but maybe only by a field goal.

Minnesota (-1) at Chicago
It’s hard to imagine Adrian Peterson not having a huge day against the Bears’ awful run D. You know, assuming he can lay off the shrimp. Vikings by 10.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Atlanta
Did I get the location of this game wrong? Because otherwise I can’t begin to understand how the Falcons are giving just a touchdown. There’s one thing the Bucs do relatively well (well, one thing other than blow giant leads to bad teams): run the ball. And this week Doug Martin gets to try carry the ball, and his team, against one of the better run defenses in the league. I think that might prove problematic. Falcons by 13.

NY Giants (+3) at New Orleans
Yeah, the whole picking against my instincts on Giants games thing went down in the flames in its first test flight. (Stupid Giants, winning a game I thought they ought to win.) And to top it off, the Saints are now playing as if maybe they still have some life left in them (though it could just be that the Colts are even worse than I’d thought), which means maybe New Orleans could actually win this game. Or maybe they can’t. One way or the other, even if I thought it was a good idea to keep picking the opposite of the result I expect in Giants games, I wouldn’t know where to go with this since I have no idea what to expect. So now what am I gonna do? I suspect this game will come down to one of two things: 1) whether the Giants can get to Drew Brees, or 2) whether the Saints can protect the ball. And that, too, lands me all of nowhere, because I can’t even pretend to be able to predict which team is more likely to do which thing (there’s no evidence that either is likely). And that just brings me back to the default position of taking the home team straight up and looking for a push with the points. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Stupid Giants. Stupid Saints.

San Francisco (+8.5) at St. Louis
The Rams are getting better. The Niners are getting worse. Another big outing for Todd Gurley. And another win for St. Louis. Rams by 10.

Arizona (-5) at Cleveland
Here’s what I wrote in advance of last week’s matchup between the Browns and a team from the NFC West: “You know that thing where the Browns defense can’t stop the run? That’s gonna be a problem here.” Pretty much figure all I need to do this week is shift the linked copy in that last sentence from Todd Gurley’s stats to Chris Johnson’s. Hell, I might end up cutting and pasting that prediction a lot over the last half of this season. I think this game might turn out a hair uglier than the last for the Browns. Cardinals by 20.

Cincinnati (even) at Pittsburgh
A Bengals win here would pretty much close out the race for the AFC North title. And you’ve got to think the Bengals should come away with a win, especially if you assume that Ben Roethlisberger’s mobility will be limited. But this is also exactly the kind of game the Bengals typically find a way to lose. And I don’t think these tigers will ever really change those stripes. Steelers by three.

San Diego (+3) at Baltimore
Man, I don’t know which of these teams is worse. Oh, who am I kidding? Yes, I do. It’s the Chargers. Baltimore by six.

Tennessee (+3.5) at Houston
Man, I don’t know which of these teams is worse. Oh, who am I kidding? Yes, I do. It’s the Texans. And to make things even less interesting, Houston’s coming apart at the seams. But the Texans are at home. So maybe they’ll lose by just a point.

NY Jets (-2) at Oakland
You know how sometimes things seem to be going really well for a team but then they encounter the Patriots and it takes them a couple of weeks to recover? That. (And also, the Raiders are coming into their own. But don’t tell anyone I said so.) Oakland by four.

Seattle (-6) at Dallas
I’m not sure I buy into the notion that the Seahawks need a win here to prove (to whom?) that they really have got their season back on track. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m not sure a win over the Cowboys really proves anything or because I’m not sure the Seahawks are ever truly going to get this season back on track. What I am sure of is that Seattle’s a better team right now than Dallas, and not by a small margin. Seahawks by 10.

Green Bay (-3) at Denver
To my mind, there’s really only one big question surrounding this exciting prime time battle of 6-0 teams: When it’s over, will there finally be an acknowledgment of just how good the Packers defense is, or will everyone attribute the outcome solely to Peyton Manning’s ongoing collapse? For what it’s worth, my money is on option B. Better narrative, I suppose. Packers by nine.

Indianapolis (+7) at Carolina
The Colts eventually will “rebound” to take the AFC South title with a record of 8-8 or 7-9 (before losing to the Jets or Steelers in the wild card round — raise the banner!). But first they’ve got to sink to 3-7. The next mile marker in that dismal journey is a 10-point loss on Monday night.

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Week Seven Picks

October 22nd, 2015 Comments off

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this football game picking thing.

Week six was brutal. For me, I mean. I finished 7-7 straight up, which is awful, but nothing compared to my 3-10-1 against the spread. That brilliant effort brings my season totals to 57-34 (.626) straight up and a dismal 37-52-2 (.452) against the spread. That feels not very good.

Speaking of not very good, have you seen this week’s slate of games? Not much to get excited about here. But I’ll see if I can spice it up by picking more than half of them wrong. Sound’s fun, right?

Here’s what not to expect.

Seattle (-6.5) at San Francisco
The NFL’s most sacked quarterback, Russell Wilson, gets a reprieve as his O line takes on a San Francisco pass rush that has managed just nine sacks through six games. And the Seahawks keep their dwindling postseason hopes alive while bringing their division rivals’ season to an early end. Seattle by a field goal.

Buffalo (-4.5) vs.  Jacksonville, Wembley Stadium, London
There are some not very good NFL teams that I’d actually take to beat the hobbled Bills this week. They’re the teams that, records aside, at least have one or two things they do well. The Jaguars are not one of those teams. Buffalo by four.

Cleveland (+6) at St. Louis
You know that thing where the Browns defense can’t stop the run? That’s gonna be a problem here. Rams by six. (Also, bet the under. These two teams aren’t getting anywhere near 42.)

Pittsburgh (-2) at Kansas City
In other news, the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs are still dead. Steelers by three.

Houston (+4.5) at Miami
It’s going to take more than a win over the Jaguars to make me believe in the Texans. Then again, it’s going to take more than a win over the Titans to make me believe in the Dolphins. Smart money goes with the home team. But my gut tells me the changes the Texans have made over the last couple of weeks are more sound than the changes made by the Dolphins. So I’m going with Houston in a close contest. The difference may be as little as a single point.

NY Jets (+9) at New England
The Jets are probably the second best team in the AFC East. But I don’t think they’re a close second. Certainly not as close as their record suggests. And I’ll give you that New Jersey appears to have a stout defense. That’s neither new nor shocking. But how stout that D may be is still, to my mind, very much in question. Here are some numbers to consider.


And, OK, so maybe you look at that and figure, “Yeah, those combined numbers don’t look so great, but I bet there are a couple of bums dragging down the field.” Not so much. The reality is that the Jets have yet to face a QB who’s having anything better than an average season. In fact, overall, the numbers posted through week six by the two QBs who took snaps for the Browns when they faced the Jets in New Jersey back in week one are the top end of the mix. That’s right, Josh McCown (passer rating, 94.6) and Johnny Manziel (99.7) are pulling up the stats of the other four. In order of best to worst passer rating, those four are, Ryan Tannehill (80.1), Sam Bradford (80.0), Kirk Cousins, (77.4), and Andrew Luck, (75.0). All of which is to say that the Jets pass defense hasn’t been tested in the way it’s likely to be tested by, you know, this guy.


Keep in mind, too, while the narrative about how different Todd Bowles is from Rex Ryan is largely accurate, one place it falls flat is the assertion (assumption, really) that Bowles is less inclined than Ryan to dial up blitzes. He isn’t. While the Jets D hasn’t been piling up sacks, it has made regular use of extra pass rushers to put pressure on opposing QBs. And though things may be different this week given the injury issues plaguing the Patriots offensive line, blitzing Brady typically hasn’t amounted to good strategy. (Yes, you need to disrupt Brady. But the teams that have done that successfully in the past have been teams that were able to bring pressure up the middle with three or four pass rushers.) I don’t have any data that suggests the Jets can’t succeed against a Brady-led offense. But there’s nothing I’ve seen that suggests strongly that they can succeed. And there’s lots of evidence to suggest that Brady and the Patriots offense are going to be tough to stop.

So what about the New England D vs. the Jets offense? Certainly it’s no secret that the key matchup there is a Patriots run D that has an awful lot to prove against Chris Ivory, one of the best running backs in the league — if not the best, and certainly the most bruising. (Nothing against Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s having a nice enough season, and who has had some success throwing the ball in his previous seven meetings with the Patriots, his 1-6 record in those games notwithstanding. But Fitz is not powering the Jets to a win here. It’s Ivory or bust for New Jersey.) New England is going to have to find a way to slow Ivory down early and hope that they can put enough points on the board to force New Jersey to move away from the run game late. What you can’t have if you’re the Patriots is Ivory running the ball up the gut all afternoon. And this, I think is where recent addition Akiem Hicks has to start earning his keep for the Patriots. Hicks has the strength and straight-ahead speed to help New England’s defensive front get after Ivory, disrupt his running lanes and force him outside. (Not that I expect Hicks to do this by himself. He’s got pretty good company in the Pats front four. But this is the piece I think he needs to add to the puzzle.) If that works out, and the Patriots can force the game into Fitz’s hands, they should be able to take advantage and win fairly handily. Otherwise, it’s a tight one that could easily turn on the bounce of the ball.

I like New England to come out ahead in either case. And I certainly think the Patriots have the firepower to cover the nine-point spread at home. But I’m not counting on that happening in a divisional match with a tough opponent. So I’ll go with the Patriots by four.

Minnesota (-2.5) at Detroit
I’m not sure very much has changed since these teams met in week two. But to the extent that change has occurred, none of it would seem to favor the Lions. Let’s figure home field offsets that, though, and go with the same result: Vikings by 10.

Atlanta (-4) at Tennessee
I don’t know about you, but I kinda like Davonta Freeman‘s chances against a Titans run D that allows 130 yards a game and 4.7 a carry. But, you know, that’s just a hunch. Falcons by two TDs.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at Washington
Ugh. Why would I — how could I — conceivably care? Home team by three.

New Orleans (+4.5) at Indianapolis
Even Chuck Pagano‘s Colts can’t find a way to lose this one, right? Well, I mean, I guess they could, but they probably won’t. Not at home against a team that’s every bit as disappointing and one-dimensional as they are. Probably. But you never know. Indy by a field goal.

Oakland (+4) at San Diego
With a pair of offenses that can move the ball and a pair of Ds that can’t stop much of anything, I’d set the over/under on punts in this game at one. I think Latavius Murray is the difference here. Raiders come out of a high-scoring affair with a three-point victory.

Dallas (+3.5) at NY Giants
It’s reached the point where I think the only sensible thing for me to do is pick against the Giants when I think they’re likely to win and pick the Giants when I think they’re likely to lose. And the Giants absolutely should win this game. So, yeah, Cowboys by four.

Philadelphia (+3) at Carolina
I’m still trying to figure out how a team can play as poorly as the Eagles did on Monday night and come away with a 20-point victory. I’m not trying real hard, mind you. But I’m trying. And I can tell you this much: It’s not likely to happen again. Certainly not against the Panthers. Carolina by seven.

Baltimore (+7.5) at Arizona
It’s hard to get a win playing a second straight road game, especially for a team that couldn’t get a win playing it’s first straight road game. The Ravens are done. Cardinals by 10.

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Week Six Picks

October 15th, 2015 Comments off

You know what, I’m not inclined to apologize for my four misses (straight up) last week. Sure, I put my faith in Jacksonville and got properly bit in the ass. I’ll cop to that. And maybe I should have recognized the developing tragedy that is the San Diego Chargers. But no way could I have seen the home losses by Kansas City and Baltimore coming. That’s my story, anyhow.

In the end, I’ll take my 10-4 finish straight up. I’ll even live with my 7-7 against the spread, mainly because it’s the first non-losing ATS finish I’ve managed all season (and may well be the last). On the season, I’m 50-27 (.649) straight up, 34-42-1 (.448) against the spread.

And now comes a week when, once again, I feel like at least one of the six remaining undefeated teams has to take a loss, but I can’t figure out which it will be. (And, yes, I’m tempted to let that influence my pick on the Carolina-Seattle game. But I’m not going to.) It’s also a week in which the road teams are giving points, sometimes a lot of points, in six out of fourteen games. That’s a recipe for upside-down week. But I’m not picking that either.

So here we go with what is destined to be a giant mess. Or … what not to expect:

Atlanta (-3.5) at New Orleans
I just don’t have much to say about this game. The 5-0 Falcons may not be as good as the 5-0 Packers. But they’re a hell of a lot better, in pretty much every aspect of the game, than the 1-4 Saints. There isn’t much more than that to it. Even in New Orleans, the Falcons should come out ahead by at least a touchdown.

Denver (-4) at Cleveland
If the Browns could somehow just hold on to the ball, they might have a shot at giving the fans in Cleveland the thrill of seeing a big upset. But available evidence suggests Cleveland will commit at least one big turnover. That should be enough to give Denver yet another defensive victory. Broncos by a field goal.

Cincinnati (-3.5) at Buffalo
I keep waiting for Andy Dalton to turn back into Andy Dalton. And maybe sooner or later, I’ll have to accept that it isn’t going to happen. But, come on. Really? This just doesn’t happen.

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If I’m right, maybe this is the week when Dalton’s descent back to earth gets under way. The Bills certainly have the defense to get the job done. But even if Buffalo is able to make Dalton look more Dalton-esque, I don’t think it matters. Because even led by the real Andy Dalton, the Bengals likely would be just good enough to overcome the limping Bills. Cincy by three.

Kansas City (+3.5) at Minnesota
In no way am I sold on the Vikings. I promise to let you know the minute that changes. And still … the only reason you can’t say the Chiefs’ season ended when their offense went down for the season is that it had already ended a week or two earlier. Minnesota by 10.

Houston (pick ’em) at Jacksonville
Because I’m one of those folks who believes in Brian Hoyer, I’d very much like to take the Texans to win this game. And because I’m someone who expected Houston to be a contender this season, I’d very much like to believe the Texans at least have enough firepower to overcome the Jaguars. But because I believe the Texans problems go way beyond quarterback play — and a little bit because the game is being played in Jacksonville — I can’t bring myself to pick it that way. Jags by a pair.

Chicago (+3) at Detroit
There’s still no way for both teams to lose a football game, right? Bears by a point (but only because I’m rounding up from half a point).

Washington (+6) at NY Jets
If you feel compelled to gamble on this game (for Jupiter only knows what reason), forget the line and just bet the under. Jets. By a turnover. And four points.

Arizona (-3) at Pittsburgh
If Mike Vick can step up and play roughly twice as well here as he did in Monday night’s win over the Chargers in San Diego, the Steelers might be able to keep this one to within a touchdown or so. Another possibility is that Vick throws three picks and the Cardinals roll. I think that second one makes more sense. Arizona by 14.

Miami (+2.5) at Tennessee
Let’s see if the Titans can finish a game for a change. That could make this dog almost interesting. The Dolphins’ (completely untested) new coach and new outlook notwithstanding, I’m taking the Titans. Let’s call the difference a field goal.

Carolina (+7) at Seattle
Maybe the Seahawks, Super Bowl hangover be damned, should be a better team than the Panthers. But so far this season, they haven’t been. And, yeah, I get that the Seahawks, who are always a better team at home than they are on the road, have been winning their games in Seattle. But, really, they haven’t played much of anyone there. And, me, I’m gonna go with what I’ve got rather than what I think I should have. Panthers by four.

San Diego (+10.5) at Green Bay
If you can’t hold off Mighty Mike Vick and the Steelers on your own field, you’re sure as hell not beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on theirs. Indeed, you’re not even giving Green Bay a game. Packers by 21.

Baltimore (-2.5) at San Francisco
As much fun as it is to pick on the Lions, the truth is that the 49ers are very clearly the worst team in the NFL. That should show as they face a bad-but-not-that-bad Ravens squad — and lose by something on the order of nine points.

New England (-8.5) at Indianapolis
Before we get to the game, let’s take a look at how the 2015 Patriots have measured up against the Super Bowl XLIX championship team over the first quarter of the season.


That seems to be going OK.

I’m not gonna do the whole DeflateGate revenge thing here. It’s been written about everywhere. I have nothing to add to the conversation. Except … oh, wait, I’ve got another stat shot. A Tom Brady/DeflateGate related one. And then I’ll move on.


OK, now, I’ve been thinking about how I went wrong in looking ahead to last year’s AFC Championship game. I asserted there was no way the Colts were going to give up crazy yardage and a bunch of TDs to the Patriots on the ground, even though that was the established pattern in games between the two teams and even though the Colts had shown no ability to stop the run. I wrote: But it can’t happen. It just can’t. Because Chuck Pagano can’t let it. Really. It’s that simple. Pagano may find a way to win this game. Or Pagano may not find a way to win this game. Maybe he doesn’t even figure out a way to keep it close. But the one thing he absolutely can’t do is suffer yet another blowout loss in which the Patriots run the ball down the Colts’ throats. Because if that happens, Colts fans and the media are going to start asking questions like, “How did you not see this coming?” and “How could you not game plan for this?” So he has to game plan for it. He has to pull out all the stops to make sure the Patriots end up with far fewer than 200 yards and a handful of scores on the ground. And that, I think, is going to contribute to the Colts’ undoing.

I went on to speculate that the Colts would devote so much effort to stopping the run that they wouldn’t be able to maintain a decent pass D and Brady would carve them up. And I wrapped things up by predicting a 45-20 Patriots blowout. Works out I gave the Colts too much credit. Yes, Brady carved up the Indy pass D. But it wasn’t because the Colts were caught up taking away the run. It was because the Colts simply didn’t have a defensive solution for anything the Patriots brought to the field.

It’s hard to see where much of anything has changed over the last nine months. Except, you know, that the Patriots have got better while the Colts have got worse. That can’t bode well for Indianapolis, can it?

Look, anything can happen. I’m sure the Colts feel every bit as much as the Patriots do that they have something to prove in this game. Pagano certainly needs to prove something. So maybe Indy digs deep and finds away to turn the dynamic that has developed between these two teams upside down. It’s at least conceivable. But I don’t see a single stat, a single trend, a single meaningful indicator (except maybe home field advantage) that suggests I should expect such a thing. So I’m looking for another blowout win by New England. Will the difference be 20? 30? 42? I don’t know. But I’ve got a solid feeling it’ll be considerably more than eight and a half.

NY Giants (+4) at Philadelphia
If the only factor in this game were which was the better team, this one would be easy to figure. The Giants are the better team. Maybe they shouldn’t be. But they are. What’s uncertain, though, is whether New Jersey is better by enough to overcome the injuries plaguing the team. I don’t have an easy answer for that. So this is totally a guess on my part. But I’m taking the better squad to win. Giants by a field goal.

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Week Five Picks

October 8th, 2015 Comments off

This is why I don’t gamble. Or, really, this is one of the reasons I don’t gamble.

I finished week four a solid 12-3 picking straight up. Against the spread, I was a dismal 6-9. For the season, I’m now 40-23 (.635) straight up, 27-35-1 (.437) against the spread. And having bet exactly zero dollars, I can feel good about my improving record picking them straight and laugh off my complete failure as a handicapper. And also continue to buy groceries, which is kind of nice.

Just 14 games this week, roughly half of which look like outright gimmes to me. But that comes with a minor hedge. You have to figure at least one of the six remaining undefeated teams is going to take its first loss this week, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out which. I know it won’t be the Panthers, who have the week off. The Packers and Falcons both are heavy favorites at home. The Patriots are heavy favorites on the road. The Broncos, also on the road, are solidly favored. And the Bengals, while favored only by a field goal, are hosting a Seahawks squad that’s traveling across the country and that, more important, has looked shaky this season, including in a narrow Monday night victory at home over the rather unimpressive Detroit Lions. So you tell me: Where’s the upset coming? Because even though I sort of know it’s on the way, I just can’t seem to spot it.

On to the picks. Or, what not to expect.

Indianapolis (-1) at Houston
Here it is at last. The opportunity the red-hot Texans have been waiting for to wrest control of the AFC South from the sinking Colts. And I have little doubt that … um, hold on a minute, would you? … Oh, I see. … Heh. … OK. So it turns out Houston somehow is even more of a mess than Indianapolis. Guess I’ll take the Colts, then. By a field goal. (Which should get Colts fans and the Indianapolis media fired up about the team and talking Super Bowl — I wonder who’ll be first to proclaim that Indy’s “gone 3-0 following their 0-2 start” — just in time for next Sunday night’s visit from the hated Patriots.)

Jacksonville (+3) at Tampa Bay
These are some pretty awful teams. But I suspect the Jaguars are slightly less awful than the Buccaneers. And I expect T.J. Yeldon to have a big day against a highly suspect Tampa Bay run defense. Jaguars by six.

Buffalo (-3) at Tennessee
I’m really tempted to take the home team in the upset here. These teams are fairly evenly matched. I suspect both will spend the season hovering around the point of mediocrity. And by one standard, the smart play in an evenly matched game is to take the home team. But by another, it’s to take the team most likely to benefit from turnovers. I’ve got a hunch this plays out by the latter rule. So I’m taking Buffalo straight up, though I think the margin is likely to be a single point.

Cleveland (+6.5) at Baltimore
Venue is all you really need to know about this game. Because no matter where it’s played, this match ends in a narrow victory by the home team. Baltimore. By a field goal.

Washington (+7.5) at Atlanta
It’s hard to run the ball against the Racists defense. But, man, you can throw it all day long. Falcons by two touchdowns.

Chicago (+9.5) at Kansas City
Neither of these teams has an offense you’d describe as efficient. Or a defense you’d describe as effective. But the Bears have experienced considerably more difficulty than the Chiefs in finding the end zone. And while each D has surrendered a league worst 31.3 points per game so far this season, Bears opponents have needed to exert far less effort than Chiefs opponents to achieve their elevated scores. So, sure, I’ll take the Chiefs. But no way am I giving more than a touchdown.

New Orleans (+5) at Philadelphia
The disappointment bowl. I’d say the loser gets to start planning for 2016, but that’s not accurate. The Saints are done win or lose. And the NFC East is such a complete mess that the 1-3 Eagles conceivably could drop this game and get right back in the mix with a win over the Giants next week. But the Eagles aren’t losing this game. (Then again, they probably aren’t beating the Giants next week. So there’s that.) Philly by four.

St. Louis (+9.5) at Green Bay
I think the Rams defense is going to find a way to make this a game. Not a game St. Louis wins, mind you. But more of a game than anyone expects. Packers by six.

Seattle (+3) at Cincinnati
I continue to believe that Andy Dalton is in for a significant statistical correction. Check it out:


And, sure,  it could be that Andy’s figured something out. Come into his own. Got better weapons around him. Something. Or maybe this is what he always could have done with better protection. (The fact that he’s tracking just eight sacks on the season has to mean something, right?) On the other hand, it could all relate to the fact that he’s yet to face an opponent with a better than middling pass defense. Just a thought. Of course, the Seahawks may not be in much of a position to change that. Seattle hasn’t got off to a great start against the pass. Notably, four games into a season in which they’ve faced Matthew Stafford, who can’t stop throwing picks this season, and Jimmy Clausen, who never could, the Seahawks have yet to log a single interception. (Maybe Seattle has mysteriously developed an institutional aversion to the very concept of interceptions.) Neither have the Seahawks had much success with sacks. They’ve recorded just six so far in 2015, which ties them for sixth fewest in the league. More telling, I think, is this: In each of the past two seasons, the Seahawks D allowed the fewest passing yards per game in the NFL, 172 in 2013, 186 in 2014. Seattle also finished the last two seasons ranked near top in defensive passer rating, 63.4 in 2013 (first), 80.4 in 2014 (fifth). But the 2015 Seahawks currently are tied for fifth in passing yards per game, 190, only by the grace of Mr. Clausen, who managed just nine completions for 63 yards when the Bears visited Seattle two weeks ago. In their other three games, Seattle has allowed an average of 238 yards through the air, which would qualify them for 15th in the league. And their defensive passer rating stands at 97.8 (21st). That number, too, arguably skews artificially downward as a result of the 61.6 posted by Jimmy C. So, yeah, I’m not anticipating that the Seahawks will be the team to bring Dalton’s numbers back to earth. The Bengals pass D, on the other hand, could make things seriously difficult on Russell Wilson, who’s been taking some very hard hits en route to his league-leading, record-threatening 18 sacks. The Cincy D has been averaging close to three sacks a game, tied for the sixth best pace in the NFL. The Bengals pass defense is hardly stifling — they give up 279 yards a game and have allowed opposing passers a collective rating of 94.9 — but it’s considerably better than the Lions pass D that put Wilson on his back six times and held him to a single TD pass in Seattle Monday night. I guess that’s all a long way of saying that while I still don’t really believe in the Bengals, I certainly believe they’re good enough to hold off the flawed Seahawks in Cincinnati. I’ll take the home team to win it by six.

Arizona (-3) at Detroit
I’m convinced the closeness of the Monday night game told us a lot more about the Seahawks than it did about the Lions. And I’m certain that the Cardinals, who can’t be happy about any aspect of their own performance in week four, will drive that point home by delivering a decisive win over the home team. Arizona by 17.

New England (-9) at Dallas
The Patriots are rested after their early bye week. Tom Brady is doing this:


And the better part of a Cowboys team that probably couldn’t have beat New England at full strength has been sidelined by an unending string of injuries. Also, while Brandon Weeden has put up the best numbers of his career since he stepped in for the injured Tony Romo in the Cowboys’ week two match with the Eagles, he’s done it against some of the league’s least effective pass rushes. (Plus, um, Weeden really didn’t have anywhere to go but up.) The Patriots should present some challenges Weeden and the Dallas offensive line haven’t seen to date. Not sure there’s much more I need to say. Patriots by 14.

Denver (-5.5) at Oakland
If this were about offense, I’d take the Raiders. Strange as it is to say, Oakland brings in a more balanced attack led by the better performing quarterback. But this isn’t about offense. It’s about defense. Denver’s D has been one of the best in the league, which is virtually the sole reason the Broncos are 4-0. Oakland’s D has been … eh, I’ll go with absentee. That becomes a bigger problem here than it’s been thus far this season. The Broncos may put up “only” 24, but that should be a good 11 more than they need to win.

San Francisco (+7) at NY Giants
The Giants may not be a great football team, but they’re better than they’re credited for being. And they have the potential to become increasingly dangerous as the season wears on. The 49ers are an unmitigated disaster. I’d give triple the spread.

Pittsburgh (+3) at San Diego
In which the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers suffer the second of five straight losses (maybe six). San Diego by a touchdown.

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Week Four Picks

October 1st, 2015 Comments off

Well, week three was decidedly less awful for me than weeks one and two. I actually managed to finish a semi-respectable 11-5 straight up and a very respectable 10-6 against the spread. That success boosted my season results to 28-20 (.583) straight up, 21-26-1 (.448) ATS. Maybe that means I’m finally starting to get a feel for what teams are really about. Stats and trends never start to make sense until after week four, but matchup issues become a bit easier to ID once teams have played a couple of games. Or maybe I just got lucky for a week and the only thing that’s gonna stop me from finishing week four 0-16 is the fact that, with byes beginning, there are only 15 games (OK, well, that and the abject awfulness of the Lions).

Here’s what not to expect.

Baltimore (-2.5) at Pittsburgh
The Ravens’ season ended just before the two-minute warning in week three. But they don’t know it yet. Pair that blissful ignorance with a visit to a quarterbackless opponent, and I think you get a narrow win. No way I’m giving two and a half, though. Baltimore by a point.

NY Jets (-1.5) vs Miami (Wembley Stadium, London)
The only arena on the planet in which the Dolphins could hope to compete with the Jets is the one they agreed to move this game away from. New Jersey by at least four.

Jacksonville (+9.5) at Indianapolis
The good news for the Jaguars, I suppose, is that the Colts aren’t in a position to hang 51 points on anyone. So it will at least look like Jacksonville has taken a step in the right direction. Maybe. At the very least, we’ll get to hear all next week about how the Colts have righted the ship. They won’t have. But it might be week six before that fact is made manifest on the field (and your television). Indy by 17.

Houston (+6.5) at Atlanta
Heading into the season, I thought Houston was ready to make the leap to competitiveness in the AFC South. I was wrong. I mean, the Texans may actually still win the division. But if they do, it won’t be because they got markedly better, but because the Colts got markedly worse. Turns out Houston doesn’t have a quarterback. That’s a problem. The Falcons, meanwhile, may be better than I expected. I thought they could compete in the NFC South, but probably nowhere else. That may yet prove true. But my guess at the moment is that the Falcons, at the very least, could easily win the AFC South. As it is, they appear to stand a solid chance of sweeping that division. Still, I suspect the Texans will make this game appear competitive even if it really isn’t. Atlanta by a field goal.

Carolina (-3) at Tampa Bay
Maybe playing at home keeps the Bucs in this one. Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think we’re looking at a very long afternoon for Tampa Bay. Carolina by 11.

NY Giants (+5.5) at Buffalo
In which Eli Manning throws his first interception of the 2015 season. And his second. Bills by a touchdown.

Oakland (-3) at Chicago
Before last Sunday, the Raiders hadn’t won a road game since November of 2013. That adds up to 11 straight road losses. In that light, it’s hard to imagine picking them to win a second straight away from home. Except that the Raiders are much better than anyone expected. And, you know, the Bears are a disaster. Oakland by six.

Philadelphia (-3) at Washington
Quick: Which is the worst team in the NFC East? Yeah, I don’t know either. But until I do, I’m not picking any of them to win back-to-back road games. Washington by a field goal.

Kansas City (+4) at Cincinnati
The beatdown the Chiefs experienced in Green Bay on Monday night was largely attributable to the fact that the Packers are a great football team. But one shouldn’t allow that to mask the fact that the Chiefs we’ve seen on the field this season may be capable of competing in most of their games, but ultimately don’t have what it takes to overcome tough opposition. The trend continues here. Bengals by six.

Cleveland (+7.5) at San Diego
Quarterback play may not mean very much in this game, since there’s likely to be little need for either offense to go to the air. But I’m still taking the team with the quarterback. Chargers by four.

Green Bay (-8.5) at San Francisco
The Niners aren’t going to beat many teams this season. They’re certainly not going to beat the good ones. And the Packers are one of the best. Green Bay by 14.

Minnesota (+6.5) at Denver
I keep reading and hearing about how the Minnesota defense is going to give Peyton Manning the the Broncos O all they can handle. That may be true. The Denver offense hasn’t been particularly impressive so far this season. But I’m not sold on Minnesota’s unbalanced offense, either, particularly not when it has to go up against a D like Denver’s, which isn’t terribly susceptible to the run. I see the Vikings D spending an awful lot of time on the field, and wearing down. Maybe it’s a game into the fourth quarter, but I still see Denver coming out ahead by at least a touchdown.

St. Louis (+7) at Arizona
If the Cardinals offensive line can continue to protect Carson Palmer as well as it has over the team’s first three games, we’ll have to look at Arizona as the most dangerous team in the NFC. This game should present a good test. The Rams aren’t a great team by any stretch, but they know how to get to the passer. St. Louis is tied with New England for the league lead in sacks at 13. I expect the Rams to make things difficult on Palmer, and to make this Arizona’s most competitive game of the season in the process. I’m still expecting a Cards win, and I think they cover. But I’ll be surprised if the difference is greater than high single digits. Let’s just say nine.

Dallas (+4) at New Orleans
Kinda weird to think about what a dog this matchup is, right? And yet … . The Ain’ts finally get a win. The difference is a field goal.

Detroit (+9.5) at Seattle
The Lions are just completely terrible. Seahawks by 17.

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Week Three Picks

September 24th, 2015 Comments off

Well, I managed to fare even worse in week two than I did in week one. So this year’s off to a great start. I went 8-8 straight up, a deplorable 5-11 against the spread in my picks of 2015’s second set of games. That gets me to 17-15 straight up and 11-20-1 against the spread on the season. You’d think things could only get better. But you’d be wrong. They can absolutely get worse. Let’s explore how, shall we?

Here’s what not to expect.

Washington (+4) at NY Giants
The Giants can’t possibly find a creative way to lose yet another game, can they? Seriously. Can they? I’m not sure anything would surprise me at this point. But I’m not counting on it. That said, it appears the Racists may actually have a defense, so I’m certainly not giving four. Let’s say New Jersey by a field goal.

Pittsburgh (-1) at St. Louis
Going into the season, I had the Rams figured for about a .500 team. And when I see a team that way, I tend to assume that they’ll beat the teams they should beat and lose to the teams they should lose to. So far, it’s been just the opposite. And that might spell trouble for the Steelers. But I doubt it. I expect Pittsburgh to bring just enough on both sides of the ball to come away with a victory, though not by a margin one would call decisive. Steelers miss one of their now standard two-point tries and end up winning by six instead of seven (or eight).

San Diego (+2.5) at Minnesota
A second straight road game is never an easy thing, and the Chargers in recent years rarely have been a team that traveled well. But I still think San Diego ultimately has more upside than Minnesota. And I feel better about the Chargers offense than I do about the Vikings’ D. So I’m looking for a San Diego win here, if maybe just by a point or two.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at Houston
The good news for the Texans, I suppose, is that the Colts have also have lost their first two games — and looked considerably worse than Houston in doing so. And it’s hard to see the 1-1 Titans or Jaguars emerging as the new dominant team in the AFC South. So there’s still time to make a push for the division title. That won’t mean much, of course, if the Texans can’t handle the Bucs at home. But I think they’ll manage this task OK. Texans by four.

Philadelphia (+2.5) at NY Jets
It’s starting to seem like maybe, just maybe, there’s a slight possibility that Chip Kelly, in fact, is not a genius. Maybe. New Jersey by a touchdown.

New Orleans (+7.5) at Carolina
I don’t know if it’s all over for Drew Brees. But it’s pretty clearly all over for the 2015 Saints. Panthers by 10.

Jacksonville (+13.5) at New England
If the 2015 Patriots weren’t clearly out to embarrass as many opponents as possible, a date with the Jaguars, who have surged all the way to so-so, a week before an early bye might have been cause for concern. What we have instead is an opportunity for New England to hang seven touchdowns on an opponent — and perhaps all of them through the air (which would give Tom Brady a piece of yet another NFL record). Patriots by no less than double the spread.

Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering



Cincinnati (+2.5) at Baltimore
Andy Dalton sure is having a great season, isn’t he? That’s the conventional wisdom, anyhow. Through the Bengals’ first two games — a decisive 33-13 road win over the Raiders in week one followed be a somewhat sloppy (though not on Dalton’s part) 24-19 home victory over the Chargers — Dalton has completed 41 of 60 passes for five touchdowns while neither throwing an interception nor taking a sack. Dalton’s per game averages of 30 attempts and 20.5 completions are consistent with his career numbers, as are his 241.5 passing yards per game. But his TD percentage, 8.3, interception percentage, 0, and consequently his passer rating, 120.3, all are considerably better than what we’re used to seeing (in order, 4.8, 3.0, 86.1). It all points to a couple of possibilities. The one you’re hoping for if you’re a Bengals fan is that Dalton, in his fifth NFL season, has come into his own. If that’s true, he’d hardly be the first pretty good quarterback to ascend to another level at this point in his career. The other possibility, though, is that there’s a correction coming. Much as it did last season, when Dalton went the first two games of the season without throwing a pick or taking a sack — though while his 40 of 61 for 553 yards (226.5/game) from those games looks familiar, he threw just two TDs in that span, which kept his passer rating down to 105.4. I can’t see into Dalton’s head. But in watching his play I haven’t spotted anything that strikes me as convincing evidence that something has clicked. So for the moment at hand, I feel like the smart position is to anticipate a correction. Right now, Dalton’s in debt to his career interception and sack averages to the tune of two each. I don’t expect him to complete a regression toward the mean in a single game. But I do think that a visit to Baltimore — particularly with the Ravens going into their home opener desperate for a win, having dug an 0-2 hole with late-game collapses in Denver and Oakland — presents a nice opportunity for a bit of leveling for the Cincy QB. So I’m looking for the Bengals to have a rough afternoon and for the Ravens, whose troubles thus far have had more to do with Joe Flacco than with the defense, to assert their determination to remain a factor in the AFC North. Baltimore by four.

Oakland (+3.5) at Cleveland
The Raiders appear to have an offense. If they could grow a defense, they’d be dangerous. But I don’t see that happening in week three. Cleveland edges out a one-point victory.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at Tennessee
Yeah, I know the Titans have yet to beat a good team. But the Colts have yet to beat any team. And, you know, obscured by the excitement about Tennessee’s shiny new quarterback has been the fact that Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster both have been playing pretty good football. And guess what team still can’t stop the run? So, right. I’m taking the Titans. By three.

Atlanta (-2) at Dallas
Like everyone else, I’m totally confident that the Cowboys will be able to overcome the loss of their biggest offensive weapons and find ways to win. Totally, totally confident. Falcons by seven.

San Francisco (+6.5) at Arizona
The Cardinals are better than I thought they were going to be. I only had them pegged for 12 wins this season. More fool me. Arizona by 14.

Chicago (+14.5) at Seattle
I don’t know where the Seahawks are headed this season. But I know that this week they’re finally headed home after opening with a pair of tough road losses. And I feel pretty confident that they’re headed for a win. Especially since I’m pretty sure the Bears are headed nowhere. Seattle by 20.

Buffalo (+3) at Miami
It’s always great when you can see a pair of recent champions square off in the regular season, isn’t it? The Bills and Dolphins both won the Super Bowl in week one. And commenced their hangovers in week two. I suspect the Bills are slightly better positioned to bounce back, having suffered their loss at the hands of an actual good team. Buffalo by four.

Denver (-3) at Detroit
Toward the end of the Broncos’ last game, I wondered aloud whether any of their 2015 opponents wouldn’t self destruct. The answer, as it turns out, is yes. The Lions won’t get the opportunity to self destruct; the Broncos will take care of it for them. Denver by 10.

Kansas City (+6.5) at Green Bay
Where’s this game being played? Pretty much my only question. Packers by a dozen.

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