Super Bowl XLIX Pick

January 29th, 2015 Comments off

Let me just get this out of the way quickly before I get to the big game. I was better against the spread than I was picking straight up once again on conference championship Sunday. That makes twice. In a season. And in a row. But, you know, small sample size and all that. I went 1-1 straight up (thanks to the Packers’ collapse), bringing me to 173-89 on the year. And I was 2-0 against the spread, which got me to (ugh) 123-135-4. Just one more chance to get everything wrong. So here we go. What not to expect in Super Bowl XLIX.

New England (-1) vs Seattle
The Patriots aren’t winning this game because they’re angry about Deflategate. They’re not winning this thing because they’re due. Or because Tom Brady and Bill Belichick need it to cement their legacies. (If you think for a second the opportunity to cement a legacy has any bearing on the outcome of a game like this, I advise you to revisit Super Bowl XLVIII.) Similarly, the Seahawks aren’t winning because they’re a “team of destiny,” the NFL‘s next great dynasty rising. Neither is Seattle winning because karma’s on the Seahawks’ side, or because the football gods are out to smite New England. That’s Super Bowl party conversation stuff. It has nothing to do with how a game is decided.

These teams have made it to this point because they are the best in their conferences. And they at least appear to be very evenly matched.

PatriotsSeahawksvsallopponents

So, as usual, the team that wins (this may come as a shock for the more media-saturated among you) will be the one that brings in the better game plan and executes better on the field. I know, right?

As I see it, there’s next to no margin for error in this game. Seriously, this looks to me like the kind of game that can turn on a single takeaway. That’s one bad decision. One nervous mistake. One unlucky bounce of the ball. Which way does that go? I don’t know. I don’t remember the last time I had so little ability even to guess. Because both of these teams excel at creating turnovers. And, for the most part, both excel at holding onto the ball. (Hope for what you will, Patriots fans, but I don’t envision the Seahawks committing multiple turnovers in a second straight game.) Let’s look at what the stats and trends say.

SB49turnoverdifferential

That at least would appear to favor New England. But only slightly.

Same goes for the other typical predictive stats. I’m not going to do charts for those, simply because the calculations are a bit more complicated. You can take my word for this or not. (Or go ahead and do the math yourself. It’s fun if you’re sort of a little bit crazy.)

Scoring Differential
Regular season: Patriots +0.5
Postseason: Patriots +6.0
All 18: Patriots +1.0

Passer Rating Differential
Regular season: Seahawks +0.6
Postseason: Patriots +10.5
All 18: Patriots +0.8

I normally feel pretty good about a team that comes out on top in two out of three of those categories. And what we see (for the most part, and certainly in the postseason and all 18 numbers, which are what matter most) are the Patriots coming out at least slightly ahead.

But, you know, this stuff only ever gets you so far in reality football. And it all still leaves one to try to reach some tough conclusions about what’s likely to happen on the field of play.

And that remains difficult, in no small part because both of these teams have stepped up when they’ve faced their toughest opposition.

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SeahawksOandDvsPSandAllopponents

But I’ve got to come up with something, because, well, I brought you hear on a promise. So here’s what I’m thinking.

Although what you’ve heard about, and what you’ll continue to hear about, is that this game is about the powerhouse New England offense vs. the stifling Seattle defense, I’m not sure that’s what it comes down to.

The Seahawks are going to find ways to make some big stops. And the Patriots are still going to find ways to put points on the board. I don’t think you’ll see the Patriots accomplish that with the types of offensive twists we’ve seen them pull out this season. The Seattle D is smart and unwavering. Those players aren’t likely to be thrown off by odd formations. And they’re not going to fall for trick plays. I think the Patriots succeed against Seattle’s conservative, physical style of defense with a conservative, physical style of offense. That is, they move the ball by throwing LeGarrette Blount at the Seahawks defensive front repeatedly, forcing Seattle to commit to stopping the run. And they use short, crossing routes to keep the ball moving through the air. (This, of course, unless it turns out Richard Sherman‘s injured wing is worse than expected, in which case I can’t see how Tom Brady doesn’t try to make something happen downfield.) Not exactly rocket science, I know. But I don’t think this is a rocket science kind of game. It’s about fundamentals. And while the Patriots aren’t going to employ fundamentals to put up the 45 they scored against the Colts in the AFC Championship, or even the 35 they dropped on the Ravens in the divisional round, I think that if they execute well, they can get into the high 20s.

And that’s where I think we get to the difference in this game, which is the Patriots defense against the Seahawks offense.

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SuperBowldefenses

I’ve never bought into the idea that defense wins championships. I mean, it does. But not in the way people think. It looks like defense wins championships, because we spend the whole regular season marveling at offensive fireworks only to have defense become a factor in the postseason when the level of competition evens out and the teams that are all about O (like, say, the Colts) run into teams that can get it done on both sides of the ball. So we conclude that defense is the key. But what really wins championships is balance. The truly great teams don’t win through just one aspect of the game. They win through two (sometimes three, but let’s not complicate this discussion with talk about special teams). They may not have the league’s top-ranked offense or top-ranked defense, but they’re usually in the top five in one area and top ten in both. They’re also balanced on both sides of the ball, running and passing, stopping the run and stopping the pass.

The Patriots are a balanced team. The Seahawks … I’m not so sure. And I think the Patriots have an opportunity to exploit Seattle’s lack of offensive balance.

It’s no secret that Seattle’s offense turns on Marshawn Lynch‘s running. In the passing game, the Seahawks lack big receiving weapons. They rely on Russell Wilson‘s elusiveness. Wilson can put up run yardage. But more important, he manages to scramble long enough for someone to get open downfield, then let’s fly with a rainbow. It’s been effective, but it’s not necessarily great strategy.

Still, the Patriots need to limit both Lynch and Wilson to keep the Seahawks offense in check. I believe they can do it. And I think this is where your twist comes in. I expect to see the Patriots roll out some elements of the 46 defense (the one employed by the Chicago Bears who stomped New England in Super Bowl XX). The Patriots have the personnel to employ 46 principles. In particular, I think they have the ability to shift their defensive line to the weak side and leave the strong side to their outside linebackers. And because they have cornerbacks who can play man coverage, New England can commit a putting a safety in the box to help limit the run and to free up a linebacker to spy Wilson. The 46 isn’t a great scheme against a team that can spread its receivers, but it is exactly the right defense when your goal is to take away the run and force a quarterback who likes long developing plays to make fast decisions.

That line shift creates blocking issues for even the best O linemen. Add the Patriots tendency to move switch around which defensive end lines up left and right, and I think we’re going to see Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones take turns abusing Seahawks right guard J.R. Sweezy. As a result, I think we’re going to see the sack issue that has plagued Wilson and the Seahawks this season take a toll. And maybe if Wilson gets chased around enough, he makes that bad decision I talked about earlier.

SuperBowlQBsvsplayoffteams

The Seahawks haven’t faced a balanced team in the postseason. And still, they needed all four quarters to beat (ahem) the Panthers, and a series of good bounces and an overtime to come back and beat the Packers. In reality, I don’t think the Seahawks have faced a balanced team since mid-October. And they haven’t beaten a balanced team since September. I think that catches up with them in this game. Seattle is good. Seattle can win this game. But I’m not sure Seattle is ready to win this game, which is to say I’m not sure they’re ready to take on a team that plays well on both offense and defense.

In the end, I like the Patriots to put up 27 points. And I think the most the Seahawks manage is 23. If the Patriots come out ahead in the turnover battle, maybe it’s more like 17. But you can’t plan for turnovers. So I’ll say Patriots, 27-23.

(Now go check out this segment from 93.9 The River in which I talk Patriots, Tom Brady and Super Bowl XLIX with Monte Belmonte.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Conference Championship Picks

January 16th, 2015 Comments off

I backed the wrong  road dog in the divisional round. That’s my excuse. It’s also true. Thought Dallas would find a way to get it done in Green Bay. And, you know, they almost did (some would argue it was more than almost, though I’m not one of them). And I never for a second contemplated the remote possibility that Peyton Manning had diminished to the extent that he wouldn’t be able to overcome the Colts defense in Denver. But he had. So it goes. I came in at 2-2 straight up, 3-1 against the spread, which gets me to 3-5 and 4-4 respectively in the postseason, 172-88 and 121-135-4 overall. I need to pull even this weekend, so you’d think I’d pick conservatively. But what fun would that be? Here’s what not to expect.

Postseason0svsplayoffteamspostdiv

Green Bay (+7.5) at Seattle
I’m still not sold on the Seahawks. I know simply saying that makes me look like an idiot to easily 50 percent of the football-watching world. And I know I’ll look like even more of an idiot if the Seahawks win this thing 43-8 and embark for Glendale as 10-point favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champions. (Yes, I know the prospective lines are -3 over the Patriots and -7 over the Colts. I’m just making a point, here, OK?) But that’s where my head’s at. And the truth is I probably am an idiot. I can live with that. The thing about the Seahawks is that they still, to my mind, haven’t beaten a complete opponent since week three. In the meantime, they dropped a home game to the Cowboys and found ways to lose on the road to the Rams (division rivals are always tough outs) and the Chiefs, who were still a contender at the time, but wouldn’t be for long. Then, starting in week 12, Seattle went on a tear, beating up on the injury-depleted Cardinals and dysfunctional 49ers a couple times each, scoring a nice road win against the faltering Eagles, and closing with a home win over the Rams. All of that made the Seattle stat line looked good, but I’m not sure it should have inspired the level of awe currently being accorded to the defending champs.

PostseasonDsvplayoffteamspostDiv

And if I’m not impressed with the fact that the Seahawks beat a weak Carolina team in the divisional round last weekend, I’m even less impressed by the way they beat the Panthers. The Seahawks D struggled to stop the run and allowed Carolina, a team that had no business even being in the playoffs, to hang around into the fourth quarter. Seattle’s offensive numbers in that game look impressive, but they lose some luster if you know how atrociously the Panthers D had performed in games against top competition during the regular season. I’m not asking Seattle to apologize for a win any more than I’d ask that of any team. But I’m still going to view the Seahawks as vulnerable to strong competition until I see evidence to the contrary. That may come this week. If Aaron Rodgers‘ mobility is limited by his ongoing calf issues, and he becomes an easy target for the Seattle pass rush, it’s going to be a long afternoon for the Packers. But if Rodgers can move around OK, enough that the Seahawks can’t tee off, I think the Green Bay offense has the weapons, between the QB and his receivers and Eddie Lacy, to put up some points in spite of the Seattle D and force the Seahawks offense to try to match them. And I’m not convinced Seattle has the offensive firepower to get that done. I’ll also say this: The Seahawks live by the turnover. They lean on turnovers for defensive stops. And, as we saw last week, they use turnovers to produce and set up points. And the Packers, by and large, don’t give the ball away. Green Bay committed a league-low 13 giveaways during the season. I think Seattle is going to have to figure out a way to produce at least one, possibly two, takeaways. If they can do that, the Seahawks probably win easily. If they can’t, this game belongs to the last team to hold the ball. My gut says that’s Green Bay. Let’s say 24-20.

PostseasonQBsvplayoffteamspostdiv

Indianapolis (+6.5) at New England
I’m going to start by saying this: If you think the Colts can’t beat the Patriots in this game because they haven’t beaten the Patriots in any of their last three meetings, you’re thinking about it the wrong way. Indianapolis got to this game. Indianapolis can win this game. Thinking the Colts can’t win is like thinking the Patriots couldn’t beat the Ravens last week because they’d struggled against Baltimore in recent postseason matches. It made sense (more sense than I realized) to think Baltimore would be a tough matchup for New England, but as it turns out, every meeting between two teams is its own thing. The teams that survive to this round of the playoffs are in it for a reason. They find ways to win, sometimes when they’re not expected to. Wanted to put that out there before I said this, which also looks backward, but in a different way: In each of the past two years, I spent the week before the Conference Championship game looking for reasons to believe the Patriots could/would win. Both times, I had to stretch a bit. There were reasons to like the Pats’ chances, but they weren’t particularly strong. This year, I’ve spent the same week looking for reasons to think the Colts can or will win. I haven’t come up with much. Other than Andrew Luck, I mean. If Luck has a career day, the Colts have a solid chance. If he doesn’t … well, more on that in a bit.

PatriotsColts2014opponents

This is all a way of noting that New England is in a much different position heading into this weekend this year than they have been in the recent past, possibly their best position entering the AFC Championship since 2007. So how does that play out on the field? Well, by way of another glance at the recent past, I’ll tell you that I don’t think anyone’s rushing for four TDs this time around. I mean, I know LeGarrette Blount had his turn when the Patriots hosted the Colts in the divisional round last year. And then this year, Jonas Gray got to do it when the Patriots traveled to Indianapolis back in week 11. So it’s only fair that Shane Vereen should get to be the guy this time around, right? And hell, it’s not like the Colts have figured out how to defend the run. Not in any real way, anyhow. Not unless they don’t have to worry about their opponents’ passing game. 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. What I think happens is that Pagano commits resources to stopping the run, knowing that creates vulnerabilities against Tom Brady and the Patriots passing game, and tries to coach his DBs and edge rushers into playing the game of their lives to keep from getting burned. I also think he favors LaRon Landry over Sergio Brown at free safety (which has been his practice for a while now, anyhow) because Landry is better suited to helping with run defense. And that should present Rob Gronkowski with some very favorable matchups. I think that when Gronk releases rather than run blocks, the Colts are going to have a problem on their hands. As they will with the matchups between the Patriots’ receivers and the Colts’ questionable DBs. And the matchup between Brady and a Colts defensive front that likes to bring pressure from the outside rather than up the middle.

PatriotsOandDvsPSandAllopponents

So how, then, does Pagano’s team get to that win that I’m not willing to rule out? Well, they need to do it on offense. As noted, they need their quarterback have the kind of exceptional game he’s capable of. They also need to use the run to control the ball and keep the New England offense off the field. And they need to avoid the turnovers that have been a problem for them all season — and that might have proved their undoing last week had the Broncos not been imploding. If the Colts can manage all of those things, they have a good chance. Two out of three, they don’t lose too bad. If they only get one out of three, it’s probably a bloodbath. Me, I suspect that on a cold, rainy, windy night in Foxborough — in a season in which the Patriots feature their best defense in a decade — you can probably count on the Colts to pull of one out of three. So I’m expecting a bloodbath. Not in the first half, because the Patriots don’t take control of games in the first half, but by the time all is said and done. Patriots, 45-20.

 

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Divisional Round Picks

January 9th, 2015 Comments off

Ugh. That’s about all I can say about my performance picking the wildcard games. After finishing the regular season on a high note, and coming in at a respectable 170-86 (.664) straight up, and a not-so-respectable but entirely predictable 118-134-4 (.469) against the spread, I took a beating in the first week of the playoffs: 1-3 (.250) straight up and ATS. Ugh. So what happened? I thought too little of Carolina. I thought too much of Pittsburgh. And the coin landed wrong side up on Cincinnati-Indianapolis. So why bother picking this week’s games. I don’t know, really. Because I’m in this deep. That’s part of it. And, you know, given that I rode effectively the same winning percentages through the regular season, you’ve gotta figure I’m in for a correction. That would mean a perfect week straight up, and at least a 2-2, maybe 3-1 finish against the spread. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. Or, you know, I guess I could conceivably go 0-4, 0-4 this week. We’ll see. Here’s what not to expect.

Baltimore (+7) at New England
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but apparently Joe Flacco is a different quarterback in the postseason. He goes from being mostly solid and respectable to completely unbeatable. It’s true. I mean, that’s what I’ve read anyhow. And it’s certainly true that Flacco’s Ravens have won five straight playoff games, including a Super Bowl, and that Flacco looked really good against the Steelers last week. You can’t take any of that away from them. Neither, however, should you leave out that the latest game of the Ravens’ postseason win streak is separated from the other four by a 2013 season in which Baltimore finished 8-8 and missed the tournament. Or that the current iteration of the Ravens doesn’t bear much resemblance to the one that snagged the Lombardi Trophy two years ago. But maybe that doesn’t matter, because the other thing I keep hearing about with this game is that the Ravens have the Patriots number in the playoffs. They’ve won two out of three games against New England in Foxborough during the tenures of Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh. The numbers there are not in dispute. One of those wins was the 2012 AFC Championship, the game that sent Baltimore to Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco had a good day in that game, too. For the other Ravens playoffs win in New England, you have to go back to the Wild Card round of 2009. Flacco wasn’t a Factor that day (he went 4 of 10 for 34 yards — and, yes, he played the whole game). The Ravens were carried by a crushing defense and a running back whose name isn’t suitable for print (not because he beat the Patriots in 2009; because he beat his fiancée in 2014). They don’t have either of those things to lean on in this game. The loss came in the AFC Championship of 2011. Flacco was pretty good in that game, too. In fact, what I keep hearing is that the Ravens should have won that game. Lost it because of a well defended pass in the end zone (it wasn’t a drop; not by any definition; watch the tape) and a missed attempt to tie the score with a field goal in the closing seconds. Neither of those things was Flacco’s fault, of course. But, you know, I’m not big on talk about how a team “could have” or “should have” won a game. They didn’t. That was the Ravens last loss in the playoffs, by the way. But it wasn’t their last loss to the Patriots. That came in December 2013, when the Patriots went into Baltimore and beat the living bejesus out of the Ravens. No one’s been talking about that this week. And fair enough; it has little to no bearing on this meeting between these two teams. Just like the 2009 Wild Card game, the 2011 AFC Championship and the 2012 AFC Championship. But shhhhhhhhhhhh. Here’s what does have some bearing on this game. The 2014 Patriots are a balanced team. The 2014 Ravens are not. The Patriots are better overall on both sides of the ball and they’ve achieved more this season against tougher opposition.

PatriotsRavens2014opponents

The Ravens run the ball a bit better than the Patriots. And Baltimore has a great defensive front. And while I think the idea that Flacco becomes a great quarterback for five weeks as soon as the ball drops on New Years Eve, it’s also true that he’s not exactly a mouse footman. He’s solid in the regular season, sometimes great, sometimes not so great, rarely awful. And taken as a whole, his postseason career also has been solid. What the Ravens don’t have is much of a defensive secondary. That will prove to be a problem as long as the Patriots offensive line can protect Tom Brady (or, you know, assuming Brady still has a quicker release than Ben Roethlisberger and won’t be standing there expecting he can get the ball to his receivers while pass rushers bounce off of him). Neither have they shown much ability this season to deal with tight ends, something that, um, may present a bit of a problem for them on Saturday. It will also be interesting to see how the Ravens running game fares given that Darrelle Revis‘s ability to take away Baltimore’s first receiving option by himself provides the Patriots with the option of moving a safety up into the box on first down. So here’s what it comes down to. Sure, the Ravens might pull into Foxborough and beat the Patriots again. The Ravens are a damned good team; they can beat any of the eight teams still alive in the playoffs if things go the right way. But it’s not going to be easy, no matter what you might have heard about Flacco’s postseason mojo or the Ravens’ New England magic. And I don’t think it’s likely. I think it’s close through halftime (I won’t be at all surprised if the Ravens have a slight lead a the half), but New England takes control in the third quarter. It should, and probably will, be a better game than this implies, but I’m looking for the Patriots to put the other bookend on the Ravens’ postseason win streak, coming out on top by 10.

Carolina (+11) at Seattle
I’m not sold on the idea that the Seattle Seahawks have become some kind of unstoppable force just in time for the playoffs. The defending champions look like a great team. They may actually be a great team. But I’d like to see them beat a respectable opponent — something they haven’t accomplished since week three (nobody believes me when I say this, but it’s true; see for yourself) — before I buy into the idea that they’re destined to repeat as champs. That said, it remains the case that the Carolina Panthers don’t really belong in the playoffs. Look at this.

PostseasonDsvplayoffteams

And don’t know what you focus on, but here’s what grabs me: Five yards per carry. Five. That tells me Beast Mode is gonna be in feast mode. And that’s about all I need to know. Seahawks by 20.

Dallas (+5.5) at Green Bay
I don’t want to pick this game. Really, I don’t. Not without knowing whether Aaron Rodgers is going to be playing on two legs or one, anyhow. Because here’s the deal: Yeah, the Packers don’t lose at home (except that sometimes in the playoffs they do), but the Cowboys have been great on the road this season. And, yeah, the Green Bay defense has been better against the run down the stretch than they were early in the season, but they’ve struggled throughout against good teams with strong ground games. But I think ultimately the way you keep DeMarco Murray from eating you alive is not with your defense (at least not if you’re the Packers) but with your offense. You pile up the points and force the Cowboys to go away from the run in order to keep up. Doing that also put you in a position to take advantage of the critical mistake Tony Romo is destined to make at some point in this postseason. And that strategy should be one Green Bay can execute, even in the face of a very good Dallas D, as long as Rodgers is up to the task. But that’s the question. It’s hard to move on a bad calf. And the more you do it, the harder it gets. So my guess is, the Cowboys, though pass rush is not the strength of their D, are going to look for ways to force Rodgers out of the pocket and see what happens as the game wears on. If Rodgers holds up, the Packers come out ahead by at least a field goal. If he doesn’t, it could be a tough day for the fans at Lambeau. I’m not at all confident in this, but given that the injury has been reported as a tear as well as a strain, I’m going to assume his mobility is going to be a problem. I’m holding my breath and taking Dallas to win it by something like four.

Indianapolis (+7) at Denver
This is a weird thing to say, but the way you beat the Denver Broncos in 2014 is that you take away the run and force Peyton Manning to throw the ball. The Colts simply don’t have the ability to do that. And even if they find a way, it will leave them vulnerable enough that Manning, even in the thick of duck season, will be able to pick their secondary apart. I see exactly one way the Colts can win this game and it’s that Andrew Luck has a near-perfect day. That, plus a few good bounces, could do the job. But you can’t count on either of those things happening. Not with Luck’s iffy track record against top competition. And not when the ball is bouncing on someone else’s field. Which is to say, not in this game. Denver by six.

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Wild Card Picks

January 3rd, 2015 Comments off

Here’s where things get messed up. Or, you know, more messed up. Picking straight up worked out OK for me in the regular season. With an 11-5 finish in week 17, I came in at 170-86 (.664) for the year. That ain’t so bad. Against the spread, on the other hand … . I went 9-7 in the final weekend of the season, which is about as good as I’ve even done. That lifted my season record to a truly laughable 118-134-4 (.469). So I should expect to go maybe 3-1 straight up, 1-3 or 2-2 against the spread in the wild card games, right? Except I won’t. Wild card weekend is always brutal for me. Because there are always upsets. Sometimes three of them. But I can never tell where they’re coming from. So here we go. Here’s what really, really not to expect this weekend.

Arizona (+6.5) at Carolina
This game shouldn’t be as tough to pick as it is. Carolina has no business in the postseason. Not only did the Panthers “win” the awful NFC South with a losing record (7-8-1), but they haven’t logged a victory over a respectable opponent since they topped the Lions back in week two. Carolina’s four-game win streak to end the season came via a game each against the rest of their deplorable division plus a game against a Cleveland Browns squad that had packed it in for the year. Prior to that “strong finish” the Panthers were 3-8-1 and had been winless since week five. So there are your NFC South champs. If the visiting Cardinals weren’t one injury away from having to line up Curly Joe Derita behind center, it would make picking this game incredibly easy. But the fact is, Arizona’s third-sting quarterback Ryan Lindley hasn’t exactly been lighting it up. And one has to wonder how far a defense, however good, and a running back who was on the practice squad a month ago can possibly carry a team. It’s fun to think the Cardinals can keep finding ways to make it work, but the reality is the kind of injury-plagued season Arizona has experienced inevitably and invariably catches up with a team. The question isn’t whether the Cardinals will bow out of the tournament, but when. I suppose when it comes down to it, I have to give the Cardinals another week. I need to pick a winner in this match, and my gut says you take the team that’s got it done with tough play and great coaching over the team that’s fallen ass backward into the least impressive slot in the playoffs. Makes sense, right? Arizona by a field goal.

Baltimore (+3) at Pittsburgh
The Steelers are going to need to get Le’Veon Bell back on the field at some point if they’re going to have any chance of advancing deep into the playoffs, but I think they’ll be OK without him this week. Not sure why, but I’ve got this weird hunch Pittsburgh can beat Baltimore through the air. I expect to see a high-scoring affair with a number of lead changes, but I also expect to see the Steelers come out on top. By at least four.

 

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Cincinnati (+3.5) at Indianapolis
I’ve been trying all week, without much success, to figure out which of these two teams I think less of. Both teams are paper tigers that have spent their seasons feasting on week opponents while stumbling when faced with stout opposition. The Colts went 2-3 in regular season games against playoff opponents, surrendering 27.6 points a game with a defensive passer rating of 98.3. The Bengals went 3-4-1 against playoff teams in the regular season, giving up 30.5 points a game. They were better than Indy against the pass, but horrifically bad against the run, allowing 130.8 yards per game and 10 rushing TDs in their eight games against contenders. And neither Andrew Luck nor Andy Dalton performed well enough consistently enough in the tough games to make me believe either can carry a team to a conference championship, let alone a Super Bowl. Honestly, I’m not sure either of them would have beat Baltimore or Pittsburgh this week. But they didn’t get the Ravens or Steelers; they got each other. And since it’s the playoffs, one of these teams literally has to win. I think that team is Cincinnati. I think the Bengals have enough of a pass D to slow down the Colts’ air attack and an offense that’s balanced enough to keep the Indianapolis defense on its heels. Unlike these teams’ regular season meeting, back in week seven, I think this one will be close throughout. And unlike that earlier match, I think this one goes to the visitor. Bengals by a point.

Detroit (+6.5) at Dallas
You can spend a lot of time, and many people have, talking about what this game — this postseason, really — means for Tony Romo. And fair enough, I suppose. If Romo is ever going to be anything more than a regular season stats machine who chokes in the playoffs, he’s, you know, going to need to have some success in the playoffs. But I don’t think this game is about Tony Romo any more than I think this Cowboys season has been about Tony Romo. This game, for Dallas, is about DeMarco Murray. For Detroit, it’s about whether the league’s best run D can hold strong against Murray. If the Lions can do that, if they can make the Cowboys offense one dimensional, they’ll give themselves a shot at an upset. But not enough of a shot, I think. I suspect Detroit will make this one tough on Dallas, but will come up just short. Cowboys by three.

 

 

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Week Seventeen Picks

December 27th, 2014 Comments off

Wow. What happened to the 2014 season? Seems like I just finished counting down to the opener. And now I’m down to my last chance to embarrass myself before the playoffs. Here’s the deal so far: After my hopelessly uneven finish in week sixteen — 9-7 straight up, 6-9-1 against the spread — my season records stand at at 159-81 (.663) straight up and 109-127-4 (.462) against the spread. Let’s see how badly I can mess things up in just a single week, shall we? Here’s what not to expect.

Jacksonville (+9.5) at Houston
The Texans are never going to get all the help they need to land the final spot in the AFC playoffs. But they’ll certainly do their part. And Houston is simply a far better team than Jacksonville. Texans by ten.

Indianapolis (-7) at Tennessee
The Colts aren’t going much of anywhere in the postseason. They might yet win their wild card round game, particularly if they get the Bengals, but that should just about do it. But the Titans aren’t the Bengals. Indy by nine.

Cleveland (+13.5) at Baltimore
The Ravens are shooting for the AFC six seed. The Browns are preparing for 2015 (not well, mind you; they’re still the Browns). Baltimore by 17.

Buffalo (+5) at New England
I don’t know. The Patriots have nothing to play for, and every reason to focus mainly on not getting anyone hurt. That should translate to a loss. But the Bills are in enough of a state of disarray that maybe the Patriots backups will be able to beat them. I just really have no idea what to expect. I’ll go with New England, but only by a field goal (followed by two weeks of Boston sports radio talk about how the inability of the second string to put this game away spells trouble for the Patriots in the postseason).

NY Jets (+6) at Miami
Something tells me the Jets spent everything they had left last week. Dolphins by a touchdown.

Chicago (+6) at Minnesota
Neither of these teams is going anywhere in 2014. But the Vikings at least are pointed in the right direction for 2015. That’s gotta be good for something, right? Minnesota by a field goal.

San Diego (pick ‘em) at Kansas City
I’m not sure Alex Smith’s absence from this game punches the Chargers’ ticket to the postseason. The Chiefs losing Smith simply doesn’t change the fundamental dynamic of the matchup, which is this: San Diego’s offense isn’t equipped to overcome the Kansas City defense; and San Diego’s defense isn’t structured to limit Kansas City’s run-focused ball control offense. If the Chargers are going to win, they’re going to need to come out ahead in the turnover battle by +2, and I simply don’t see that happening. Chiefs by a field goal.

Philadelphia (+2.5) at NY Giants
Yeah, um, Giants, I guess. Because why not? One of these teams has to win. Or not lose. Whatever. Let’s say by four.

Dallas (-4.5) at Washington
The Cowboys are the NFC three seed no matter how this game turns out (because they’re just not getting the silly help they would need to move up). But they should still beat the living bejesus out of the Racists, even if it’s just to flex their muscles some as they head into the postseason. Dallas by 14.

New Orleans (-4) at Tampa Bay
The Bucs secure the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. It will be interesting to see how they squander it. Saints by six.

St. Louis (+12.5) at Seattle
Well, sure, I think we’d all love to see the Cardinals get another chance by way of a Seahawks loss to the visiting Rams. That’s pretty enough to think about, I suppose. But it’s not exactly in tune with reality. Seattle by 17.

Arizona (+6.5) at San Francisco
I don’t care who Arizona’s starting quarterback is or where this game is being played, the Cardinals are just a better team than the 49ers. Arizona by a point.

Oakland (+14) at Denver
Watch the media fall in love with Peyton Manning all over again. For two weeks. Denver by 10.

Carolina (+3.5) at Atlanta
What a rare treat it will be next week to watch a seven-win team hosting a postseason game. The Falcons are at home, so let’s figure they carry the day. Atlanta by three.

Detroit (+7.5) at Green Bay
Things have changed considerably for the Packers since their week three loss in Detroit. Considerably. Green Bay sews up the division and the conference two seed with a six-point victory.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
The Bengals inability to stop the run translates to an inability to hold onto the NFC North title. Steelers by seven.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 18th, 2014 Comments off

I should probably stop and remind myself that the whole reason for point spreads is to make sure at least half of the people making picks get it wrong. If I could do that, I could probably live with an 8-8 finish against the spread, which is what I got in week fifteen. That’s not awful, particularly when you leave real money out of the mix. And my 12-4 record straight up was nothing to sneeze at. So I should probably feel good. And I do, about the fact that I’m 150-74 (.670) straight up on the season. But, man, would it be nice to go into the last two weeks with at least a shot of coming out even in my picks against the spread. At 103-118-3 (.466), though, that’s clearly not in the cards. Oh, well. Here’s what not to expect in week sixteen.

Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville
The tradition of outstanding Thursday night football continues as the 2-12 Titans take on the 2-12 Jaguars in a classic battle for the basement. Beyond that, you know, I’m just not sure what to say about this game. These teams have given up 104 sacks between them. How’s that? Interesting enough for you? Yeah, me neither. Obviously, one has to suspect the team with the quarterback who spends the least time in this game on his back is the team that comes out on top. But which one that will be, I have no idea. So I’ll just go along with the oddsmakers and figure the home team comes out on top by the default three.

Philadelphia (-7.5) at Washington
The Eagles had a chance to sew up the NFC East last week and they squandered it. But if Philadelphia wins out and Dallas drops one of its last two games, the Eagles still come away with the division title (by way of a tie with the Cowboys, a head-to-head split and a better division record). And the reality is that Philadelphia would have to be about six degrees beyond officially eliminated for Washington to have even a hint of a chance in this game. Eagles by 20.

San Diego (+1.5) at San Francisco
It’s a pretty safe bet the league and CBS didn’t view this as a likely battle of also-rans when they plugged it into a prime time slot. But that’s what they got. The 49ers are officially out of postseason contention. The Chargers need more help than they have a real chance of getting. And, honestly, even if San Diego had a real incentive to find a way to win, I’d be hard pressed to take a team quarterbacked by a guy who throws as many interceptions as Philip Rivers to beat a team that picks off as many balls as San Francisco. Niners by four.

Minnesota (+6.5) at Miami
On one hand, I’m inclined to wonder if the pasting they took in Foxborough might send the Dolphins into a tailspin over the final two weeks of the season. On the other, I have trouble getting my head around just what the Vikings are as a team. And I can’t take a mystery squad to win on the road based solely on a hunch about their opponents. So I’ll look for Miami to win it, but I’m not giving six and a half. Four, tops.

Green Bay (-10.5) at Tampa Bay
It’s this simple: All the Packers need to do to put their off day in Buffalo behind them and position themselves for a chance to take the NFC North title — not to mention, most likely, the conference two seed and its attendant first-round bye — when they host Detroit next weekend is secure a win over the Buccaneers. And all the Bucs need to do to hold onto the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft is lose their last two games. Given those circumstances, do you think there’s any chance this is still a game at halftime? I don’t. Packers by double the spread, easy.

Detroit (-7) at Chicago
The Lions don’t need to win this game to maintain a shot at the division title. Win or lose here, the NFC North comes down to next week’s game in Green Bay. (That is, unless the Packers find a way to lose to the Buccaneers. But, um, see above.) Detroit does need a win, however, to keep alive its hopes of holding onto the two seed, or even stealing the one. And, you know, the Bears have thrown in the towel. So there’s that. Lions by thirteen.

Atlanta (+6) at New Orleans
Here’s another game that probably looked like a potentially critical division matchup back when the schedule was being put together. Not so much now that the, ahem, 6-8 Saints are, ahem, fairly solidly, ahem, in control of the division. But I don’t see anything that tells me New Orleans wins this game by more than a field goal. So there you have it: Saints by three.

New England (-10) at NY Jets
Division rivalry business aside, it’s very hard to see any way this game isn’t an outright bloodbath. I’ll say two things: First, the Jets pass defense is the worst in the league. By a lot. Second, the takeaway/giveaway differential between these teams is a +22 in the Patriots favor (New England, +11; New Jersey, -11). There’s more. Plenty more. But I don’t really feel a need to go any deeper. Do you? New England by 28.

Kansas City (+3) at Pittsburgh
This is the end of the road for the Chiefs. Kansas City can’t stop the run. And Pittsburgh is well positioned to make them pay for that problem all afternoon. Steelers by at least a touchdown.

Cleveland (+4) at Carolina
Nice call on the Johnny Football thing, coach. The Panthers keep their ridiculous (and fake) postseason hopes alive with a seven-point victory.

Baltimore (-5.5) at Houston
The Ravens don’t have much hope of overtaking the Steelers for the AFC North title (I’m aware that the Bengals are in that spot now, but they’re not staying there — see below), but they do have a shot at overtaking Cincinnati for the five seed. And I don’t think they even need to win this game to make that happen. Which is good news for the Ravens, because they’re not winning this game. (Yes. You’re right. It’s utterly absurd to pick a team without a quarterback to win a football game. But I’m doing it anyhow.) Texans by a field goal.

NY Giants (+5) at St. Louis
Fumble! Recovered by the Rams. St. Louis by six.

Buffalo (-6) at Oakland
If you can beat the Packers one week, you’d damned well better be able to beat the Raiders the next. Bills by 10.

Indianapolis (+3) at Dallas
Statistically speaking, these teams are nearly identical — except that the Cowboys have a running game. Thing is, though, the Dallas running game has a broken hand. Got that? The whole running game got a broken hand. And I don’t care how good he is, a running back with a broken hand is a critical turnover waiting to happen. That’s what I think decides the contest. Colts edge out a win by a point.

Seattle (-8) at Arizona
You know, I really want to believe the Cardinals can win this game. Really. And that’s me being a Seahawks hater. I’m not. Neither am I some kind of bandwagon Cardinals fan. It’s just that the emotional part of me wants very badly to believe that a well coached, well constructed team like Arizona can endure injury after ruinous injury and still find a way to succeed. The detached realist in me, on the other hand, sees very clearly the handwriting on the wall. I think the Cardinals defense digs deep at home and finds a way to keep this much closer than eight, but I’ve still got the Seahawks coming out ahead. Let’s figure by three.

Denver (-3.5) at Cincinnati
The Bengals are the second fakest division leaders in the NFL after the Saints. That’s all I have to say. Denver by six.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 11th, 2014 Comments off

I don’t mean to startle anyone, but my results in week fourteen were brutally uneven. Crazy, right? I finished 12-4 straight up, which is pretty good, and 6-9-1 against the spread, which is damned awful. On the season, I’m now 138-70 (.663) straight up, 95-110-3 (.463) against the spread. This is where I repeat my line about how glad I am that I don’t gamble. And then it’s straight on to all the stuff that won’t come to pass in week fifteen, also known as what not to expect.

Arizona (+4.5) at St. Louis
I know St. Louis has logged a pair of impressive outings these last two weeks. And I know everyone’s waiting for Arizona to fall apart. But the Cardinals aren’t the Raiders or the Racists. And the Rams aren’t the Seahawks. So I’m banking on Arizona getting to 11 wins and clinching a playoff spot before surrendering the NFC West crown to Seattle next week. Cardinals by a field goal.

Oakland (+10) at Kansas City
Last time these two teams met — a whole three weeks ago — the Chiefs were 7-3 and hot on the heels of the Broncos in the AFC West race. Kansas City’s fortunes could hardly have changed any more dramatically than they have as a result of the three-game skid that started with their tough loss in Oakland.  The losing streak has pretty much wiped out the Chiefs’ chances of reaching the postseason. KC hasn’t been eliminated numerically, but the Chiefs need more help than they’re likely to get. Still, they’re not bad enough to suffer a season sweep at the hands of an ultimately inferior division rival. Kansas City wins this one decisively. Probably by a pair of touchdowns.

Jacksonville (+13.5) at Baltimore
See, because the kind of things the Chiefs would need in order to get into the tournament include the Jaguars going into Baltimore and beating the Ravens. And in football, just like in everything else, there are things that can happen and things that simply can’t. Baltimore by 20.

Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Atlanta
I suspect that what’s going to happen in the end is that the Saints are going to carry the NFC South at an almost respectable 8-8. Until that comes to pass, however, every loss by one of the two 5-8 NFC South “leaders” increases the potential for a 7-9 (or, hell, 5-11) team to host a 12-4 or 11-5 team in the first round of the playoffs. Here comes one of those losses. The Falcons may be able to keep it close against the unimpressive Steelers pass D, but in the end I think Pittsburgh takes control by running the ball down Atlanta’s throats. Steelers by a point.

Houston (+6.5) at Indianapolis
You know what? As crazy as it may be even to consider the possibility of the Colts missing an opportunity to clinch the AFC South — not to mention damaging their chances of snatching the conference two seed from the Patriots or Broncos — particularly against a team they beat in Houston back in October, I smell an upset coming here. Texans win the turnover battle this time around and exact a bit of revenge against their division foes. Houston by a field goal.

Cincinnati (pick ‘em) at Cleveland
It should be fun to watch everyone get worked up about the greatness of Johnny Manziel after the Cleveland defense manhandles Cincinnati (once again) to complete the season sweep. Browns by a touchdown.

Miami (-7.5) at New England
The Dolphins are probably a slightly better team now than they were in week one when they outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half and sacked Tom Brady four times en route to a 33-20 victory. The problem for Miami, though, is that New England now is a much better team than it was then. Brady hasn’t taken more than two sacks in any game since the opener. And the Patriots, over a just-concluded brutal stretch of schedule that saw them face the Broncos, Colts, Lions, Packers and Chargers, allowed a total of 30 second half points, including just three touchdowns, while scoring 71, with nine TDs. (Also, 24 of those second half points allowed, and all three TDs, were in the first two of those games. In their last home game, against Detroit, and the two-game road swing to Green Bay and San Diego, New England gave up just six total second half points.) Add a rather significant difference in weather conditions and a revived New England ground game that Miami has little chance of stopping and I think you have a formula for a rout. Patriots wrap up their sixth straight AFC East title, winning by three touchdowns.

Tampa Bay (+4.5) at Carolina
Even without Cam Newton in the lineup, the Panthers should be able to dispatch the Buccaneers. But even with Netwon, Carolina wouldn’t have won this game by more than a field goal. Panthers by three.

Washington (+6.5) at NY Giants
It’s hardly a compliment to say that a team is at least somewhat better than the Racists. But there you have it. Giants by a touchdown.

Green Bay (-5) at Buffalo
The Packers may not be quite the force away from Lambeau Field that they are at home. And Green Bay may be traveling on a short week. But, um, come on, now. Green Bay by no less than a touchdown.

Minnesota (+8) at Detroit
The Vikings have certainly improved since the last time these teams met. That’s nice and all. But what does it mean? Maybe Minnesota puts up 10 points this time. And, you know, maybe Detroit doesn’t miss a pair of field goals. So if the Lions took the last one by 14 and my math has the Vikings closing the gap by a net of one point, that gets us to Detroit by 13. Exciting.

NY Jets (-1.5) at Tennessee
This should be riveting. Jets by a field goal.

Denver (-4) at San Diego
The Chargers ought to be able to pull off the upset here, what with duck season having arrived in Denver and all. If they were a serious postseason contender, the Chargers would pull off the upset here. But they aren’t. The Chargers have been frauds all season and frauds they remain. They’re not taking this one, and they’re probably not making the playoffs. Though I suspect San Diego will make it look like a game for about three quarters, in the end, Denver comes out ahead by three.

San Francisco (+9.5) at Seattle
When the home team is surging and the road team is falling apart, it gets pretty easy to make a call. Seahawks by 16.

Dallas (+3.5) at Philadelphia
The Cowboys couldn’t get it done against the Eagles at home on Thanksgiving. I don’t see any reason to think they can turn things around in Philadelphia 17 days later. The Eagles effectively, though not literally, wrap up the NFC East title with a six-point win.

New Orleans (-3) at Chicago
Three pieces of good news for the Saints: They’re on the road, where they occasionally win a game. Even at 5-8, they have the inside track to the NFC South “championship.” And, best of all, the Bears have an atrocious pass defense. New Orleans by a touchdown.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 4th, 2014 Comments off

I gonna blame it on Thanksgiving. And the nor’easter that hit the day before. Because, yeah, it can’t just be me. There has to be some external cause of my poor picking in week thirteen. I finished 8-8 straight up, 6-10 against the spread. Yeesh. For the season, that puts me at 126-66 (.656, which isn’t awful) straight up, 89-101-2 (.468, which is pretty awful) against the spread. Let’s see how much farther I can fall this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Dallas (-3.5) at Chicago
Heading into their Thanksgiving matchup with the Eagles, the Cowboys must have looked at their December schedule, realized they only had two certain losses on the way, and decided to get an early start on their annual late-season fade. Dallas may yet find a way to lose this game — like they did when they went into Chicago in week 14 of last season — but I can’t see what it might be. Even so, I wouldn’t give more than three. Cowboys by a field goal.

Baltimore (+2.5) at Miami
The Ravens are getting two and a half? From the Dolphins? The same Dolphins who barely escaped the one-dimensional Jets on Monday night? Yeah, that totally makes sense. Baltimore by a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Cincinnati
With Cleveland headed for a loss to Indianapolis and a sweep of the season series with Baltimore already in the bag, Cincinnati has a chance to effectively (though not numerically) sew up the the AFC North title here. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Bengals wilt, but given the uncertainty about Ben Roethlisberger’s wrist, I’m not going to bet on it. Cincinnati by six.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at Cleveland
While I certainly agree that sticking with Brian Hoyer gives the Browns their best chance to win this game, I’m not sure the Browns “best chance” is actually that great of a chance. I do think the Browns defense can limit Andrew Luck‘s production, so I don’t expect a blowout. But I still think the Colts come out on top. Let’s say by a field goal.

Houston (-5) at Jacksonville
There’s a possibility that what we saw last week wasn’t simply a meltdown by the Giants, but also an indication that the Jaguars are starting to round into form. Of course, it’s an outside possibility. And the Texans still have a chance, however slim, at qualifying for the postseason. So I’m gonna hold off getting excited about Jacksonville for a little while longer. Houston by a touchdown.

NY Giants (pick ‘em) at Tennessee
There’s also a possibility that what we saw last week wasn’t anything more than the Giants transitioning from a team struggling through a season with a roster depleted by departures and injuries to a team in utter disarray. And that makes this game tough to pick. The Giants ought to have it in them to beat the Titans, but you don’t win many football games when you can’t keep your locker room focused. I’m reluctantly taking the home team, which I guess feels slightly better than reluctantly taking the visitors. But only slightly. Titans by a point.

Carolina (+9.5) at New Orleans
The Saints can both end a three-game home losing streak and, with the Falcons headed for a big loss Monday night in Green Bay, take control of the NFC South by beating up on a Panthers squad that appears to be more interested in preparing for 2015 than finishing 2014 with more than three games in the win column. That’s a deal even the hot-and-cold Saints can’t pass up. New Orleans by 13.

Tampa Bay (+9.5) at Detroit
The Lions aren’t out of the NFC North race yet. Win this one, next week’s home game against the Vikings, and their week 16 road game against the Bears, and the Lions can go into the final week of the season with a chance to surprise the Packers in Green Bay (which would complete a sweep in the season series) and take the division. That last part isn’t going to happen, but, if nothing else, I like Detroit’s chances to make that final game count. And I certainly like the Lions’ chances to get December off to a strong start with a win over the awful Buccaneers. I’m not taking a team that scores fewer than 20 points a game to win by nine and a half over any team on any field. But I don’t think a seven-point Lions win is too much to expect.

St. Louis (-2.5) at Washington
It doesn’t matter who you start at quarterback if you can’t keep him upright. Rams by four.

NY Jets (+6) at Minnesota
The Vikings don’t have much of a run defense. So I’ll look for New Jersey to hold Minnesota’s margin of victory to a field goal.

Buffalo (+9.5) at Denver
The Bills have a tough final quarter of the season ahead. After this game, they go home to host the Packers. Then they get a little break with a trip to Oakland before they head to Foxborough to round out the season. To me, that looks a lot like 7-5 and a shot at the playoffs turning into 8-8 and wait till next year. Denver by two touchdowns.

Kansas City (+1) at Arizona
I don’t know how to pick this game. Both teams are fading fast, but one of them has to win. If it weren’t for Andre Ellington’s injury, I’d feel pretty good about the Cardinals, figuring their ability to stop the run combined with the Chiefs’ vulnerability to the run would end up making the difference. But Ellington’s hurt, and I don’t know that Arizona can do much damage through the air. I guess that all means that I’m not expecting much offense from either team. Maybe that means this thing turns on a big defensive play. If that’s the case, you’ve got to like the Cardinals. And that’s where I’m going. I suppose. Arizona by a point.

San Francisco (-8.5) at Oakland
Sometimes home field isn’t really home field. Niners by ten.

Seattle (+1) at Philadelphia
With Arizona dropping off, this game has the potential to decide which of these teams gets a first-round bye in January. The winner also has a shot at snagging the NFC one seed. Neither of those things is a small prize. Of course, none of that gets anyone any closer to figuring out how this game is likely to turn out. Really, almost nothing does. It should be a hell of a game. In the end, I guess I like Marshawn Lynch‘s chances of breaking through the Philadelphia run D better than LeSean McCoy‘s odds of running successfully against Seattle. And I definitely don’t like Mark Sanchez‘s prospects of throwing successfully against the Seattle secondary. So I guess I’ll take the Seahawks to win it outright.

New England (-3.5) at San Diego
You can talk about Tom Brady being angry about the Patriots loss to Green Bay if you like. You can talk about New England rarely losing two straight. But I don’t think Brady or any of his teammates really need to tap into their feelings about one game to find motivation to win another. It’s December. This is a divisional matchup with another team making a push for the postseason. What’s it matter what happened last week? What matters this week is that the Patriots are playing for the AFC one seed. What matters more is that the Chargers defense has trouble pressuring the passer, which is to say that San Diego doesn’t have the tools to slow down the New England offense. Neither do the Chargers have the offensive weapons to prevail in a shootout with the Patriots. So, yeah, I like New England. And I don’t think it’s nearly so close as three and a half. Patriots by 14.

Atlanta (+12) at Green Bay
And the NFC South title goes to New Orleans. Green Bay by 20.

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Week Thirteen Picks

November 27th, 2014 Comments off

What am I thankful for? Well, lots. But for the purposes of this silly blog, let’s stick to the subject of picking football games. I’m grateful for having had yet another decent showing straight up in week twelve. I finished 11-4 on the week, which makes me 118-58 (.670) for the season. I’m also grateful for the wisdom not to gamble on football (or anything). Against the spread last week, I was sub-.500 yet again, 7-8, which gets me to 83-91-2 (.477) for the season. And now I’m grateful that we’re back to full, 16-game slates through the next five weeks. Here’s what not to expect in week thirteen.

Chicago (+7) at Detroit
I’m sure the Lions are thankful for the fact that after taking a pair of beatings at Arizona and New England — over the course of which Detroit scored a total of zero touchdowns — they get to return home to host the hapless Bears. Chicago’s defense may actually make it look like Detroit has an offense. Lions by nine.

Philadelphia (+3) at Dallas
With first place in the NFC East on the line, you can bet the Cowboys are thankful for the Eagles’ glaring deficiency at quarterback. Sanchez throws his customary two picks and the Cowboys capitalize, if just barely, to win by a point.

Seattle (+1) at San Francisco
The 49ers should be thankful to the schedule makers for giving them a chance to host the first of two games between these two wild card contenders over the course of 17 days. Because home field on the short week is what makes the difference here. San Francisco by a field goal.

Washington (+9.5) at Indianapolis
I’m thankful for the opportunity to watch racist douche Daniel Snyder‘s team crash and burn. Again. Colts by two touchdowns.

Tennessee (+6.5) at Houston
Considering their difficulties at quarterback, the Texans no doubt have to be thankful for the Titans’ complete lack of anything resembling a run defense. Houston by 10.

Cleveland (+2.5) at Buffalo
After a “home” game played on the road, the Bills must be thankful to be back in Buffalo, where they’ll get the win they need to keep their fantasy of snagging a wild card spot alive, even if it’s only for a week. Bills by a field goal.

San Diego (+5.5) at Baltimore
The Chargers should probably be thankful for having got the opportunity to win a pair of easy home games over the past two weeks. They put a little break between the midseason three-game skid that ended San Diego’s playoff hopes and the five-game losing streak that will bring their 2014 to a close. Ravens by a touchdown.

NY Giants (-2.5) at Jacksonville
The Giants have spent the last week feeling thankful for having drafted Odell Beckham. They’ll spend the next week feeling thankful for having, you know, actually won a game. New Jersey by 13.

Cincinnati (-4) at Tampa Bay
The Bengals ought to be thankful for the fact that this week pits them against a truly terrible opponent. As a result, they get to hang on to their illusion of a half-game lead in the AFC North for another week. Cincinnati by six.

Oakland (+7) at St. Louis
The Raiders ought to be thankful that they won’t finish the season 0-16. That said, 1-15 remains a distinct possibility. Rams by a field goal.

New Orleans (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
I suppose the Saints could possibly feel thankful for the fact that they’re in division no one wants to win. Because that’s the kind of thing you want to have going for you. Steelers by seven.

Carolina (+3) at Minnesota
The Saints and Falcons should be thankful for the fact that the Panthers can’t actually take advantage of the opportunity they’ve been presented with. Vikings by four.

Arizona (-2.5) at Atlanta
One has to imagine the Cardinals are thankful for the opportunity to add a game to the win column at the expense of the NFC South leading Falcons three days after one of their rivals for the NFC West title will have handed a loss to the other. Cardinals by six.

New England (+3) at Green Bay
I suspect that by the time all is said and done, the Patriots will be more thankful than ever to have developed a Hydra-style ground attack. Because for all the talk of #12 vs. #12, New England’s best chance to win this very tough road game is to exploit the Packers’ weak run D to pile up points while keeping the Green Bay offense on the sideline. The reality is that we should expect the Packers to win this game on their field, but I’m picking the Patriots every week from now through next September (and quite likely beyond) until they give me a reason not to. New England by a field goal.

Denver (-1) at Kansas City
If the Chiefs are going to even up the season series and emerge from this game with a chance to capture the AFC West title (it’s ultimately not going to work out given these two team’s remaining schedules, but hope is hope), they’re going to have to come away thankful to Jamaal Charles for putting the team on his back. I think that’s what we see here. Charles has a big night and the Chiefs finally get a win over the Peyton Manning-led Broncos. Kansas City by three.

Miami (-5.5) at NY Jets
I suppose I ought to be thankful for the opportunity to make it an early night. Dolphins by 17. Game over by halftime.

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Week Twelve Picks

November 20th, 2014 Comments off

Can we just focus on my straight-up record last week? Please. Because, you know, there I wasn’t so bad. Not great. But not bad. I finished week eleven 9-5 straight up, which puts me at a very respectable 107-54 on the season. That’s .665. I can live with it. (Wish I’d picked the Texans and the Chiefs, but I can live with it.) Against the spread? Well, this is why I don’t place bets: 5-9 for a season record of 76-83-2. So yeah. Let’s see how wrong I can be this time out. Here’s what not to expect.

Kansas City (-7) at Oakland
Sooner or later, the Raiders have to win a game, right? I mean, like, eventually. Like, maybe next season. Chiefs by 10.

Cleveland (+3) at Atlanta
You don’t beat the Browns through the air. You beat them on the ground. And I don’t think the Falcons have the horses to make it happen. Cleveland by a touchdown.

Tennessee (+11) at Philadelphia
How do you keep Mark Sanchez from killing your postseason hopes? (I mean, other than, you know, not starting him.) Well, one short-term method would be to host the Titans, whose defense has allowed 143.5 rushing yards per game (second worst in the league), 4.4 yards per carry, and 11 rushing TDs this season. And you just let LeSean McCoy win the damned game for you. Should work for a week, anyhow. Eagles by nine.

Detroit (+7) at New England
It’s tempting — hell, from what I’ve seen and heard this week, it’s damned near irresistible — to focus on whether or to what extent New England’s high-powered offense can overcome Detroit’s stifling defense. I get it. But no matter how you break down the matchups, what you settle on is an expectation that the Patriots will score somewhat less than their average of 32.3 points per game and the Lions give up something more than their average of 15.6. So what about the battle between the Lions’ rather less than spectacular offense and the Patriots decreasingly underrated D? Is the big question there whether the Patriots secondary can handle Megatron? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think this comes down to the Detroit O line’s inability to protect Matthew Stafford and the corresponding success opposing defenses are having getting to the quarterback without committing extra personnel to the pass rush. The Patriots pose a significant problem for Stafford in that regard, because if they can get to you with three or four guys, they retain the ability to throw some confusing looks at you before the snap — and Stafford is a guy who you can count on to throw a pick or two under those conditions. I think that’s the difference in this game. And I think short fields and/or defensive scores are the reason the Patriots ultimately cover the seven-point spread. Patriots by 17.

Green Bay (-9.5) at Minnesota
Teddy Bridgewater throws three picks and the Packers win by three touchdowns.

Jacksonville (+14) at Indianapolis
Sometimes (and I’m not saying this is OK; I’m just acknowledging that it happens) after a guy gets beat up, he turns around and kicks his dog. Colts by 35.

Cincinnati (+2) at Houston
A second straight road game for Cincinnati. A second straight big outing for Alfred Blue. And yet another shakeup at the top of the AFC North standings. Houston by a field goal.

NY Jets (+4.5) at Buffalo
Assuming they actually manage to play this game at some point, I’ll take the Bills to win the turnover battle by +2 and the game by a corresponding pair of field goals.

Tampa Bay (+5.5) at Chicago
These teams are considerably more evenly matched than one might thing. They’re certainly more evenly matched than they ought to be. The decision goes to the home team. Chicago by three.

Arizona (+6.5) at Seattle
This game has nothing to do with the NFC West title. Sure, a loss would effectively end Seattle’s chances of taking the division. But the reality is that Seattle already has little to no chance of taking the division. This game has to do with Arizona’s bid to secure home field through the playoffs. It has to do with Seattle’s hopes of securing a wild card spot (and avoiding a Super Bowl hangover). And it has to do with a division rivalry. The Cardinals are the better team. And, more important, the Cardinals bring a run defense that’s stout enough to limit Marshawn Lynch, which at this point translates to limiting the Seahawks offense. I expect a hard-fought, low-scoring game, and I think the Cardinals come out on top by a point or two.

St. Louis (+5) at San Diego
I honestly don’t know what to make of either of these teams. The 6-4 Chargers have managed to beat exactly one good team so far this season. And that win came against the Seahawks (who, as it turns out, may not be all that good) way back in week two. The 4-6 Rams, on the other hand, have developed a weird habit of beating good teams, the latest manifestation of which was a decisive win over the Broncos last weekend. I guess since I’m not sure there’s an actual good team in this game, my best bet is to take the Chargers to win another game against a — not sure, let’s go with mediocre — opponent. But I’ll hedge and take the Rams to cover. San Diego by four.

Miami (+7) at Denver
The Dolphins D needs opponents to put the ball on the ground, something the Broncos simply don’t do. Denver by 10.

Washington (+9) at San Francisco
The 49ers are a middling team with a better than average chance of wrapping up their season December 28. But he Racists are in a full-on tailspin. San Francisco by 12.

Dallas (-3.5) at NY Giants
There’s no reason to anticipate the Giants can win this game. No reason, that is, except spite. If you want to make the smart pick, go with talent and momentum (which is to say, pick Dallas). If you’re like me and you’ve got nothing meaningful on the line, you can occasionally pick a team to win for ridiculous reasons. Like spite. Giants by a field goal.

Baltimore (+3.5) at New Orleans
There’s no way the Saints lose a third straight home game, right? I mean, right? Except, you know what? I think there kinda is. Ravens by a touchdown.

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