Week Fourteen Picks

December 8th, 2016 No comments

Here’s something. I actually managed to finish above .500 (if only just) picking against the spread in week thirteen. That feels all right. I suppose. I mean, the way this season’s gone so far, I’ll take it.

I had an OK week picking straight up, too. Came in at 11-4 there, which brings me to 121-69-2 (.635) for the season. And with my 8-7 finish against the spread, I’m now 86-103-3 (.456) overall.

Of course, one kind of good week probably means I’m due for an offsetting pretty bad week. Let’s plunge in. Here’s what not to expect in week fourteen.

Oakland (+3) at Kansas City
The Raiders might be the better team here. Or they might not be. And either way, it might not matter. Oakland looks (slightly) better on paper. And Kansas City continues to look to me like a team waiting for an opportunity to collapse. But it would be foolish to ignore the fact that the Chiefs thumped the Raiders in Oakland back in week six. Thumped as in took a lead in the second quarter and never relinquished it. Thumped as in shut out the home team in the second half. Thumped as in won by more than two scores. You take that and add in the difficulty of traveling on a short week and a forecast that calls for brutal cold at kickoff, and I think you get to a Chiefs sweep of the season series. I don’t foresee another thumping, though. Kansas City by a point.

Denver (+1) at Tennessee
I know the Broncos of 2016 aren’t the Broncos of 2015. But they still have to be good enough to take a critical game against the Titans, don’t they? I mean, don’t they? Maybe they don’t. But I’m still saying Denver by a field goal.

San Diego (+1.5) at Carolina
Neither of these teams is going anywhere. But I suspect the Chargers are prepared to fight their way through the last quarter of the season even if the effort only gets them to a .500 record and the middle of the draft order. And the Panthers on Sunday night looked to me like a team ready to move on to the offseason. (Not because they got beat by the Seahawks, mind you. That can happen to any team. It just didn’t look to me like the Panthers were full participants in that game.) San Diego by four.

Houston (+6) at Indianapolis
The Texans have lost three in a row, mostly to good teams. The Colts have won one in a row, beating a mostly bad team. Indy’s probably still the better pick at home, but I’m not giving six. Colts by half the spread.

Cincinnati (-5.5) at Cleveland
Robert Griffin III is ready to play again. So that’s a rare bit of good news for the Browns, I suppose. I hear the over/under on how long the Browns will be able to keep him (relatively) healthy and on the field halftime. I’m tempted to bet the under. Bengals by a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (-1.5) at Buffalo
The Bills’ strong run game should be enough to propel them to a close win at home. Should be. But won’t. Steelers by two.

Arizona (+1) at Miami
It’s tempting to think the Dolphins were somehow exposed in last weekend’s blowout loss at Baltimore. But I’m not sure that’s the case. I think the Dolphins are who we thought they were; a team that beats fair to bad opponents and loses to good ones. The Cardinals fall into the fair category (I think). In Miami, that should translate to a Dolphins win. I suspect the difference will be more than a field goal but less than a touchdown. For fun, let’s put it at five.

Chicago (+8) at Detroit
You can’t really hope to sneak up on a team you beat just two months earlier, which is to say the Bears don’t have any realistic path to victory here. Lions by nine.

Minnesota (-3.5) at Jacksonville
The Vikings may be fading, but they’re still close to the top of the leader board in takeaways, with 22, which is tied for fourth most in the league. The Jaguars don’t have anywhere to fade to. And they’re tied for most giveaways in the league, 25. Minnesota by three turnovers and 14 points.

Washington (-1) at Philadelphia
The Racists are the better team. But not by enough to win in Philly. Eagles by a field goal.

NY Jets (+2.5) at San Francisco
The Jets have given up on this season. I think we can all agree on that. I mean, right? 49ers by a point.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Tampa Bay
The first of two meetings between these teams over the course of three weeks goes to the home team. Buccaneers by six.

Seattle (-3) at Green Bay
I don’t think the Packers have really turned anything around over the past couple of weeks. I think we’ll see the evidence of that in this game. Seahawks by four.

Atlanta (-6) at Los Angeles
Well, I’m not picking the Rams, I can tell you that. Falcons by 13.

Dallas (-3) at NY Giants
The Giants can’t lose this game and win the NFC East. But the Giants aren’t winning and NFC East anyhow. And they can lose those game and still land in the postseason as the NFC five or six seed. Which, I guess, will be a nice thing for Giants fans to keep in mind as the game clock ticks down to zero. Cowboys by a touchdown.

Baltimore (+7) at New England
Seven seems like a lot, doesn’t it? It certainly does to me. Here, let’s look at the big three predictive stats. Scoring differential, Patriots +2.7. That’s not much. Passer rating differential, Patriots. +11.7. That fairly meaningful. Takeaway-giveaway differential, dead even at +5 per team. What’s interesting to me about that last thing is that the team’s have taken significantly different paths to get there. The Patriots have 13 takeaways (seven interceptions, six fumble recoveries), against just eight giveaways (one pick, seven fumbles). The Ravens have logged 22 takeaways (14 INTs, eight fumble recoveries) and committed 17 giveaways (11 picks, six fumbles). One kind of gets the feeling that the outcome of this game may come down to which team’s turnover game prevails. That should bode well for the team that protects the ball better, especially with that team playing at home. But I’ll offer this qualifying thought: It may not favor a team that has Fumblina Wilkinson returning kicks. We’ll see how that plays out. In the meantime, Patriots by three.

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Week Thirteen Picks

December 1st, 2016 No comments

You might think it would be easy to make your peace with being awful picking against the spread if you were someone who never actually wagered any money on football. Seriously, why should I care? Point spreads are for gamblers. Gambling is for fools. And while I’m certainly a fool, I’m not a fool of that particular variety. So I make the picks, and if I get them wrong, I should be able to laugh it off and walk away.

Not so much.

I made a pretty decent show of it picking straight up in week 12. Finished 12-4, which gets me to 110-65-2 (.627) on the season. That should feel good, I suppose. But all I can focus on is the fact that I went 6-10 against the spread. And that lands me at a dismal 78-96-3 (.449) for the season. I don’t like any of it. Not one little bit.

I don’t expect to get any better, either. Still, somehow, I persist. Because I’m that variety of fool.

Here’s what not to expect as we hit the three-quarter mark of the 2016 season.

Dallas (-3.5) at Minnesota
The Vikings pass defense is sufficiently tough that one has to imagine they’ll be able to slow the Cowboys down a bit. If it weren’t for fact that both teams are playing on a full week’s rest (that is, if Dallas was traveling on a short week), that might be enough to make this a tossup. But I don’t think Minnesota can control the Dallas ground game. And that, I expect, will make all the difference. I think Dallas keeps the Minnesota offense off the field, controls the tempo of the game, and comes out on top by six.

Denver (-5) at Jacksonville
Denver needs a win. Jacksonville needs an actual pro football team. (Or maybe it doesn’t need a football team at all. I don’t know. Don’t really care.) It doesn’t matter much where this game is being played, the Broncos win it by at least double the spread.

Kansas City (+3.5) at Atlanta
Maybe if the Chiefs hadn’t just played a bruising, 75-minute game at Denver … . But, you know, even then Kansas City would be playing its second straight road game against a strong opponent. And they’d probably need to come out ahead by at least two turnovers to be able to pull off the upset, which isn’t likely against the Falcons. So I’m going to say Atlanta by a field goal.

Houston (+6.5) at Green Bay
This may be the Packers’ best remaining opportunity to string two wins together. (No, I don’t think Green Bay can run the table.) It certainly looks like a great opportunity for the Texans to keep the AFC South race tight by extending their losing streak to three games. Green Bay by four.

Philadelphia (-1) at Cincinnati
Neither of these teams is very good. The Eagles are probably a bit less not good than the Bengals. But location may equalize that. I like the underdogs at home here. Cincinnati by a point.

Detroit (+5.5) at New Orleans
The over/under on this game is 53.5. That’s 7.7 points more than the average total scoring in NFL games this season. One of these teams has a D that probably can’t contain the other team’s highly productive offense. The other team has virtually no defense at all. So, yeah, I’m gonna say bet the over. Also, Saints by three.

San Francisco (+1.5) at Chicago
If you’re going to be one of the top prospects in the 2017 NFL draft, it might be a good idea to watch this game. Otherwise, if you’re unfortunate enough to live in a media market where this is your only choice, for god’s sake find something better to do with your time. Go chop down a tree and drag it into your living room. Make a giant baking soda volcano in your bathtub. Watch one of those overlong, pointless Gilmore Girls episodes. Anything. It’s entirely possible these two teams stumble into some previously undiscovered way for both of them to lose. If not, I don’t know, 49ers by a point. (Because that’s where the damned dart stuck, OK? That’s why.)

Los Angeles (+13.5) at New England
If you follow me on social media, you may have seen my rundown of the (somewhat limited) history of the Belichick-Brady era Patriots vs. teams coached by Jeff Fisher. It’s not terribly helpful in terms of predicting the outcome of this game, but I thought it was kind of interesting just the same. Here’s what I’m thinking in regard to Sunday afternoon. Bill Belichick’s got two games worth of film to study on the Rams rookie quarterback. That ought to be sufficient. And, hell, it’s not like opposing coaches having less film to review has proven particularly helpful to young Mr. Goff. So that would seem to put the home team in a fairly comfortable position. And here are your big three predictive stats: scoring differential, Patriots +7.4; passer rating differential, Patriots +18.1; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +7. I think it’s likely to be a long afternoon in Foxborough for the Rams. New England by 17.

Miami (+3.5) at Baltimore
The winner of this game stays in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs. The loser not so much. (And neither gets out of the wild card round, anyhow.) I suspect the Ravens defense will be just a bit too much for the Dolphins to overcome. Baltimore by three.

Buffalo (+3) at Oakland
There’s just no way a one-dimensional team like the Bills keeps ups with the Raiders in Oakland. It’s really that simple. Oakland by nine.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at San Diego
If you can beat the Chiefs in Kansas City one week, and you can beat the Seahawks anywhere the next, you ought to be able to follow it up by beating the Chargers in San Diego. I think. At the very least, you can usually count on the Chargers to beat themselves. Bucs by four.

Washington (+2.5) at Arizona
The second of three straight road games losses for the Racists. Cardinals by one.

NY Giants (+6) at Pittsburgh
I think these teams are fairly evenly matched. But I also think the Steelers need a win here a whole lot more than the Giants, who can drop their next two and still finish 11-5 and grab the NFC five seed, which is about their most realistic seeding anyhow (they’re not overtaking the Cowboys). I suspect the need factor, home field, and probably a key takeaway, add up to Steelers win. But not by six. Let’s go with three.

Carolina (+6.5) at Seattle
The last time these two teams met … well, the Panthers were a lot better and the Seahawks were a lot more banged up; and the game was played in Charlotte; and Seattle still very nearly battled back from at 31-point halftime deficit. So I guess what I’m saying is, no, I don’t much like Carolina’s chances here. Seahawks by a touchdown.

Indianapolis (-1) at NY Jets
Last I checked, the Colts still hadn’t figured out how to play run defense. Jets by six.

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Week Twelve Picks

November 23rd, 2016 Comments off

Well, I guess I’ve got something to be thankful for.

Straight up, anyhow, I had a decent go of it in week 11. Finished 11-3, which ain’t so bad. And, sure, I went 6-7-1 against the spread. But what can you do? Baby steps.

I now sit at 98-61-2 (.615) straight up, 72-86-3 (.457) against the spread.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Here’s what not to expect on the football field.

Minnesota (+2.5) at Detroit
You could probably set the over/under on total run plays in this game somewhere around 40. Which is to say that it may be Christmas before the damned thing’s over. The Lions come out ahead by a point.

Washington (+7) at Dallas
The Racists couldn’t handle the Cowboys in Washington back at a point in the season when Dak Prescott was just getting his pro football legs under him. Kind of hard to imagine, in that context, that Washington has much hope of making this game competitive. Dallas by 13.

Pittsburgh (-9) at Indianapolis
The Colts wouldn’t have won this game even with Andrew Luck. They’re certainly not winning it without him. Steelers by 10.

San Diego (+1.5) at Houston
I think the Chargers are, in many ways, the better team in this match. Except for that thing where they keep finding creative ways to lose. I think the story of San Diego’s season continues here. Chargers lead for most of the game, but the Texans end up on top by a field goal.

Tennessee (-5) at Chicago
Every time you think this season couldn’t possibly get any worse for the Bears, it does. Tennessee by nine.

Jacksonville (+7.5) at Buffalo
It’s not the reason to pick Buffalo in this game — because there is no the reason; it’s all of the reasons — but this really stands out, so I’ll note it: takeaway-giveaway differential, Bills +23. These teams are 10 games into the season. It really doesn’t get a whole lot uglier than that. Buffalo by a gazillion. Or 17 anyhow.

Cincinnati (+4.5) at Baltimore
The Ravens are a one-dimensional team whose season will be over soon enough. The Bengals now are officially a no-dimensional team whose season is over already. Ravens by a touchdown.

Arizona (+4) at Atlanta
I like the Falcons offense’s chances of overcoming the Cardinals defense better than the Arizona offense’s chances of exploiting the weak Atlanta D. But not by a lot. Falcons by a field goal.

San Francisco (+8) at Miami
One of these teams really isn’t that good. But the other one really is that bad. Dolphins by seven.

Los Angeles (+7) at New Orleans
Years from now this will be remembered as a game no one remembers at all. Saints by 12.

NY Giants (-7) at Cleveland
This game could easily feature more total turnovers (by both teams) than points scored by the home team. Giants by 14.

Seattle (-5.5) at Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers may indeed be better than I’ve tended to think. But they’re not on the same level as the Seahawks. Seattle by seven.

Carolina (+3.5) at Oakland
What will work out to be a season-ending two-week West Coast swing for the Panthers starts with a what will likely be the less humiliating loss. Raiders by 10.

New England (-8) at NY Jets
There come these moments, not in every season, but certainly once in every three or four, when the sports media and Patriots fans decide that there’s something seriously amiss with New England. Often, the story goes that Bill Belichick the GM has hamstrung Bill Belichick the head coach. (Belichick’s failure as a GM is most often attributed either to cheapness or to an inability to assess talent accurately.) Sometimes the story is that Belichick has outsmarted himself, come to believe his own press, decided that his schemes, his genius, are so great that his team can win with any group of players. The players hate their coach. Belichick has lost the locker room. That kind of thing. Once, not so long ago, the story was that Tom Brady was in a steep decline. And that one will come back around at some point, but probably not this season. This season, it’s Belichick for sure. He traded Chandler Jones in the offseason. He traded Jamie Collins in the middle of the season. He demoted Jabaal Sheard to a role player, then a healthy scratch, for reasons he arrogantly refuses to reveal. He’s taken so many pieces away from his defense that they’re now giving up 18 points a game, which we know is a problem because only 29 teams in the entire league have allowed a higher average. I love these moments. I love them for the long term because they provide a nice bit of conflict (artificial, but not my artifice) that I can tap into when the comes time to build a narrative about the season. And I love them in the short term because they’re invariably followed by a series of games that make those who have been spinning tales of doom look like fools. And here, one suspects, we go again. Divisional games are always tough. Playing on the road for a second straight week is always tough. And it appears the Patriots run defense is going to have to overcome the absence of Alan Branch, which is going to make stopping Matt Forte any easier. Still and all, the reality is that the Jets are one of the league’s worst teams. Even in New Jersey, they shouldn’t pose much of an obstacle. Let’s look at the big three predictive stats: scoring differential, Patriots, +7.8; passer rating differential, Patriots +23.3; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +13. Those numbers point to a bloodbath. (They also potentially point to the Patriots finally getting a few takeaways, maybe even their first defensive touchdown of the season.) New England by three touchdowns.

Kansas City (+3.5) at Denver
Last week’s home loss to Tampa Bay established that the Chiefs are frauds. This week’s road loss at Denver will punctuate that point by ending any thought that Kansas City can contend for the division title. Broncos by four.

Green Bay (+3.5) at Philadelphia
A week ago, I was one of those people who had been left wondering what exactly was wrong with the Packers. Today, I don’t much care. I just know that they’re bad, and that’s more than enough. The Eagles aren’t good, mind you, but they’re good enough for this game. Philadelphia by six.

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Week Eleven Picks

November 17th, 2016 Comments off

Dear god, I just keep getting worse.

I wrapped up week ten with records of 8-6 straight up, 6-8 against the spread. Ugh. I guess it could have been a lot worse considering that the favorites went 6-6 straight up, 3-9 against the spread (with two games going off even). But still. Ugh.

I head into week eleven at 87-58-2 (.599) straight up, 66-79-2 (.449) against the spread. Are you impressed by those numbers? Because I’m not.

So, you know, here’s what you really, really shouldn’t expect this week.

New Orleans (+3.5) at Carolina
I don’t know. I guess in a short week I have to take the hideously unbalanced team that’s playing at home over the hideously unbalanced team playing on the road. Right? Carolina by three.

Tennessee (+3) at Indianapolis
If I were smart, I’d take the squad that already took game one of the season series on the road to close it out with a win at home. And that’s how you know I’m not smart. I just think the better team’s got to win one out of two. Titans by four.

Jacksonville (+6.5) at Detroit
One of these teams may accidentally mount a ground attack this week. And that team will be the Lions. Detroit by eight.

Tampa Bay (+7.5) at Kansas City
If the Chiefs are going to be taken seriously, they’re going to need to prove that they can put away aggressively mediocre teams like the Buccaneers. I think they’ll do just that. Kansas City by 10.

Chicago (+7.5) at NY Giants
The Giants aren’t a great team. But the Bears will make them look like one. New Jersey by 13.

Arizona (even) at Minnesota
I don’t think I can confidently pick either of these teams to win. So I’ll take the Vikings to find a way to lose. Again. Arizona by a point.

Buffalo (+2.5) at Cincinnati
I was going to say that neither of these teams is going anywhere, but that’s not really true. The Bills are going home to Buffalo. That should be a treat. But at least they’ll be going there with a win. Buffalo by a field goal.

Baltimore (+7) at Dallas
One suspects the Cowboys may have a tough time getting their running game going against the Baltimore defense. If that’s the case, it’ll be interesting to see how the Dallas offense responds. As long as they can put up 17-20 points, which I expect they will, it should be enough. Given that, you know, Baltimore doesn’t really have an offense. Cowboys by four.

Pittsburgh (-8) at Cleveland
How do you snap a four-game losing streak? Play a team that’s rocking an 11-game losing streak. It’s a pretty solid formula. Steelers by two touchdowns.

Miami (-1.5) at Los Angeles
Well, I suppose Jared Goff was going to have to start running for his life at some point. It’s tough to scheme against a QB without film to study, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dolphins gave up a few big passes early. But they’ll catch up by the second half. Miami by six.

New England (-13) at San Francisco
Assuming Tom Brady finishes his career with the Patriots (not that I’m arguing this is necessarily a safe assumption), this will be the only game he ever plays in his home town against the team he grew up rooting for. That might not mean a whole lot. It might matter more that the Patriots have to be angry at themselves over last weekend’s lackluster loss and looking for a chance to right the ship. And it certainly matters a lot that the 49ers are a hopelessly weak team. Oh, and look at the big three predictive stats: scoring differential, Patriots +9.6; passer rating differential, Patriots +23.0 (that’s completely insane); takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +1. Gronk or no Gronk, New England wins this one by 20-ish.

Philadelphia (+6.5) at Seattle
I don’t think for a second that the Eagles offense is going to be able to overcome the Seahawks D. Seattle wins 19-13.

Green Bay (+2.5) at Washington
I don’t have an ounce of faith in either of these teams. Racists are at home, so I’ll go with them. Washington by a point.

Houston (+5.5) vs. Oakland at Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
I hope the people of Mexico City enjoy offense. Because that’s likely to be all they get in this game. Oakland wins a high-scoring game by a touchdown.

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Week Ten Picks

November 10th, 2016 Comments off

It feels like I’d have to be pretty damned tone deaf to lead off with bashing myself over my performance picking football games in the immediate wake of the American electorate’s miserable failure picking a president. So I’ll just present the W-L numbers straight up. (There’s no electoral college to invert the results here, either, so I’ve got to live with the raw data.)

In week nine, I went 8-5 picking straight up, 6-6-1 against the spread. For the season, that gets me to 79-52-2 (.602) straight up, 60-71-2 (.451) against the spread.

Moving on to week 10, here’s what not to expect.

Cleveland (+10) at Baltimore
If you can beat a team by five points in their building, you ought to be able to beat them by 10 in your own, right? Let’s add a few for the traveling on a short week disadvantage and call it Ravens by 13.

Houston (-1.5) at Jacksonville
There are only two teams in the NFL that have worse giveaway-takeaway differentials than the Texans’ -7. One of them is the Jaguars, who sit at the bottom of the barrel at -12. This is not the stuff good fooball games are made of. These teams that are not nearly so different as you might imagine if all you know is that Houston is leading the AFC South at 5-3 while Jacksonville is in the tank at 2-6. If you’re forced to watch, you should expect to see a sloppy game that ends with one squad or the other falling backward into victory. I guess I’ll take the visitors, since their ineptitude has proven less damaging to this point in the season. Texans by one.

Kansas City (+3) at Carolina
The Chiefs defense leads the league in interceptions with 12. Cam Newton‘s rocking an unimpressive interception percentage of 2.5. Kansas City wins this game by four.

Denver (+1.5) at New Orleans
This makes the second straight week in which the Broncos are on the road facing one of the league’s most productive quarterbacks and one of the league’s highest scoring offenses. They wilted last week. I expect much of the same again, though the Saints D should allow the Broncos at least to keep it a bit more competitive. New Orleans by a field goal.

Los Angeles (+1.5) at NY Jets
Even the Jets aren’t bad enough to lose a home game to the Rams. Probably. I think. New Jersey by three.

Atlanta (even) at Philadelphia
Each of these teams are about as unbalanced  as they come. The Falcons are all offense. The Eagles are all D. That should probably even out as they go head-to-head. But here’s something else to consider: Unbalanced Atlanta has, by and large, overcome better opposition in its six wins than unbalanced Philadelphia has in its four. I think the difference shows in this game. Falcons by six.

Minnesota (+3) at Washington
I can’t jump off the Vikings bandwagon. That’s mostly because I was never on it to begin with. But I still think Minnesota gets off the schneid this week. Vikings by two.

Green Bay (-2.5) at Tennessee
I don’t have any better idea than anyone else of what’s really wrong with the Packers. I know it doesn’t appear to be their run defense. Except, you know, when they face teams with a strong ground game. Titans by a point.

Chicago (even) at Tampa Bay
Check out this expert analysis: It’s a near certainty that one of these teams is just bad enough to lose to the other. You can’t get it that good anywhere else, folks. Home team by three.

Miami (+4) at San Diego
Fresh off three straight wins in Miami (to round out a four-game home stand) the Dolphins get back to losing on the road. Chargers by a touchdown.

San Francisco (+13.5) at Arizona
Let’s see if I have anything interesting to say about this game. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Nope. I’m empty. Cardinals by 17.

Dallas (+2.5) at Pittsburgh
I have absolutely no doubt that once Ben Roethlisberger is back to full health, the Steelers will be a dangerous team again. But the most recent evidence I have suggests that Roethlisberger isn’t quite there. Dallas by a field goal.

Seattle (+7.5) at New England
The Seahawks, who have managed one win over a good opponent all season (a week six nail-biter at home over Atlanta), travel across the country on six days rest to face the best team in the NFL. And, oh, yeah, the Patriots are coming off their bye. I’m not sure any of that bodes particularly well for Seattle. Neither do the big three predictive stats: Scoring differential, Patriots +3.6; passer rating differential, Patriots +9.8; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +1. I’m not comfortable with the idea of giving more than a touchdown to a team with a defense as strong as the Seahawks’, though, so let’s say New England by six.

Cincinnati (+2.5) at NY Giants
The home team is the better team. I don’t think much more needs to be said. Giants by four.

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Week Nine Picks

November 3rd, 2016 Comments off

Yeah, OK, I’m just not getting any better at this. I don’t have any excuses to offer. I’m just, you know, not making the grade.

Week eight wasn’t a complete disaster for me picking straight up. I came in at 8-4-1 (enough with the ties, already). That probably wouldn’t be good enough to have kept me in the running in your office pool. But I’m not in your office pool, am I? (The other point of good news for me there is that I don’t have to listen to Jeff from accounts receivable talk about his fantasy team. Ever.) That gets me to 71-47-2 (.600) on the season.

Picking against the spread in week eight, I got more evidence that an old college professor (I mean, he wasn’t old; not then, anyhow; he’d be old now, because I’m old and I was a student back then) was probably talking mostly to me when he said, repeatedly, “Gambling is losing.” But here again, my cheapness compensates for my stupidity, as no actual bets were placed to make me truly regret my 6-7 finish. And that brings me to a very impressive record of 54-65-1 (.454) for the season.

Let’s have a look at what not to expect in week nine, shall we?

Atlanta (-4) at Tampa Bay
Predicted kickoff to punt ratio in this game: 12/2. The scoreboard operator gets a workout and Atlanta comes out ahead by six.

Jacksonville (+7.5) at Kansas City
I’m not sure these teams belong in the same league, let alone the same stadium. A defensive touchdown transforms a strong Kansas City victory into a blowout. Chiefs by 23.

Detroit (+6) at Minnesota
Six is a lot to give in a divisional game. Two weeks ago, that might not have seemed like a huge factor to me. The Lions can’t stop the pass. And Detroit hasn’t won a road game since week one. But then the Vikings went and fell apart a little bit. So now here I am, thinking six points is a lot to give in a divisional game. Don’t get me wrong; the Vikings are winning this game. I just think maybe four points makes more sense than six.

Philadelphia (+2.5) at NY Giants
The Giants ought to win this game. They’re coming off a bye. They’re hosting a division rival that’s playing its second straight game on the road, the first of which was a tough loss in OT to another division foe. And if they’re going to stay alive in the wild card race (Dallas is winning the NFC East title), the Giants need to win games like this. Those factors should be enough for New Jersey to get the job done. But, you know, I just don’t see it. Until I see evidence to the contrary, I have to view the Giants as an incomplete team. Can’t run the ball. Can’t hold on to the ball. Can’t score. That combination’s a problem. Eagles by a field goal.

Dallas (-7) at Cleveland
I feel fairly confident predicting that this game will not go into extra innings. (Neither is either team likely to be up 3-1 at any point.) Dallas by 10.

NY Jets (+3.5) at Miami
The Dolphins may yet turn out to be the second best team in the AFC East. Not a close second, mind you. But second. Miami by three.

Pittsburgh (even) at Baltimore
The Ravens have yet to beat a good team this season. I don’t see that changing here, regardless of whether Ben Roethlisberger plays. Pittsburgh by four.

New Orleans (-3.5) at San Francisco
The over/under on this game is set at 52.5. I suspect that may be a tad low. Saints 38, 49ers 27.

Carolina (-3) at Los Angeles
I hope the Rams defense is nice to Cam Newton so he doesn’t have to tell the commissioner on them. Or maybe everyone could just play football. Panthers by six.

Indianapolis (+7.5) at Green Bay
Hey, Super Bowl preview right here. Oh, wait. You say the Colts are … what? Terrible? Barely capable of getting by bad teams? The Packers, on the other hand, have proven quite good at getting by bad teams. I’ll go with solidly mediocre (and possibly still capable of more) at home over solidly in the mix for a top 10 draft pick. Packers by nine.

Tennessee (+5) at San Diego
The Chargers aren’t great at anything. In fact, they aren’t even good at many things. But they do pretty OK with stopping the run. San Diego by a touchdown.

Denver (even) at Oakland
The Raiders are legitimately pretty damned good for a change. Or at least they’re pretty damned good on offense. But good enough to overcome the Broncos D? Not so much. And Oakland’s weak enough on the other side of the ball that you can expect Denver to put up some points. Oakland keeps it close, but Denver comes out with a win. By a field goal.

Buffalo (-7) at Seattle
As uneven a season as it’s been for them, the Seahawks have managed to overcome the Dolphins and Jets. One is inclined to anticipate they’ll achieve similar results as they round out their series against the three lesser AFC East teams. (Next week’s opponent may present rather more of a challenge.) Seahawks by six.

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Week Eight Picks

October 27th, 2016 Comments off

If I had half a brain, I’d quit now before things get any uglier.

But I don’t.

Even in the face of a week seven finish of 8-6-1 straight up, 6-9 against the spread, I feel somehow compelled to soldier on. Because, you know, records of 63-43-1 (.593) straight up and 48-58-1 (.453) against the spread clearly are something one needs to build on.

Sigh.

Here’s what not to expect in week eight.

Jacksonville (+3.5) at Tennessee
The Titans defense goes into this game with six interceptions on the season. How much you want to bet they improve that total by 50 percent here? Tennessee by a touchdown.

Washington (+3) vs Cincinnati at Twickenham Stadium, London
Statistically speaking, these teams are virtually identical. (It’s a bit more nuanced than that, but it pretty much all comes out even.) Until you get to takeaway/giveaway differential, where the Bengals have a +5 advantage (Bengals +3, Racists -2). And since there’s no real home team in this game, I’ll hitch my wagon to that minor point of differentiation. Bengals by four.

Detroit (+2.5) at Houston
If the Lions had a ground game, they’d win this one easily. They don’t. So it’ll be a hard-fought victory. Detroit by two.

Seattle (-3) at New Orleans
The Seahawks offense hasn’t exactly been lighting it up. But the Saints D is about as sure a cure for that condition as you’ll find. And you can’t compensate for an awful D by putting up a ton of points in a game against Seattle. Seahawks by nine.

Arizona (+3) at Carolina
There’s no question but that the Cardinals are the better team in this match. And still … the Panthers are at home following a bye while the Cardinals are traveling across the country on the heels of a demoralizing slog of a five-quarter struggle for nothing. So I think I’ll look for the Panthers to win a close one. Carolina by a point.

New England (-6.5) at Buffalo
Revenge, blah, blah, blah. The Patriots don’t need a win here to avenge their only loss of the season, a game in which they barely participated. Tom Brady doesn’t need to pad his incredible stats here as part of some grand scheme to teach the league a lesson. Team and quarterback alike need a win here because the outcome of this game determines whether the Patriots organization can start designing its AFC East Champion T-shirts and caps while the coaches and players focus on capturing the one seed, or the Pats have to travel through the rest of the season with the Bills sitting just off their rear bumper. Regardless of motivation, I expect New England’s in for a tougher fight than many in Patriots Nation are counting on. The predictive stats (calculated based on four Pats games played without Brady), go like this: Scoring differential, Patriots +0.9; passer rating differential, Patriots +8.4; takeaway/giveaway differential, Bills +5. In Foxborough, that would point to a close Patriots win. In Buffalo, it points to a toss up. And still, with the Bills banged up, and Brady back in the mix, I expect New England to come out on top. It’ll be a game until very near the end, but it will end with the Patriots ahead by seven.

NY Jets (-3.5) at Cleveland
The Browns have to win a game at some point, right? Eh, maybe not. But what do I have to lose? I’m gonna be rooting for Cleveland anyhow. Browns by a field goal.

Oakland (+1) at Tampa Bay
No defense will be played in this game. Oakland by four.

Kansas City (-2.5) at Indianapolis
This would be a blowout in Missouri. But it’s not being played in Missouri. Chiefs by six.

San Diego (+5.5) at Denver
The Chargers managed to overcome a struggling Broncos squad in San Diego two weeks ago. I suspect Denver’s struggles are over, at least for the nonce. The Broncos turn the tables and even up the season series with an eight-point win.

Green Bay (+3) at Atlanta
Another game in which I don’t expect to see much by way of defense. When all the scoring is done, I think we’ll find the home team on top by four.

Philadelphia (+4.5) at Dallas
By the time the Eagles get to host a rematch in week 17, the Cowboys will have sewn up the NFC East. This game, however, should be a battle to the very end. Dallas by three.

Minnesota (-5.5) at Chicago
In which Jay Cutler resumes getting sacked all over the field. Well, maybe not all over the field. Just the Bears side of it. Vikings by 17.

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Week Seven Picks

October 20th, 2016 Comments off

It just keeps getting worse.

Actually, scratch that. The problem’s nothing to do with any it. The truth is, I keep getting worse.

I had my most miserable showing yet in week six, finishing the week a sorry 8-7 straight up, and a much sorrier still 6-8-1 against the spread. I’m not sure what to say other than ugh. For the season, that brings me to 55-37 (.598) straight up and, ulp, 42-49-1 (.462) against the spread.

And yet, I will continue to roll this same rock up this same hill ad infinitum. You can’t fix stupid.

So let’s waste no more time getting my drive for failure underway for the slate of games ahead.

Here’s what not to expect.

Chicago (+7.5) at Green Bay
I don’t believe for a second that Aaron Rodgers‘ ongoing struggles indicate that he’s in an irreversible decline. But neither do I believe Rodgers is likely to have an opportunity to address whatever issues are dogging him while quarterbacking a team with no real running game. None of what’s wrong with Rodgers or the rest of the offense should pose a real problem as the Packers host the Bears on a short week. But I’m sure as hell not giving a touchdown plus. Green Bay by four.

NY Giants (-3) vs Los Angeles at Twickenham Stadium, London
The Giants probably shouldn’t expect to win a lot of games in which they end up a -3 in giveaway/takeaway. I mean, obviously, it can happen. But it’s not something you want to let yourself feel too sure about. New Jersey by a point.

Minnesota (-2.5) at Philadelphia
And then, of course, there are the teams that know how to hold on to the ball. These two squads have three giveaways between them. On the season. That’s one lost fumble each, plus a pick for the Eagles. I’ve got a feeling the Eagles stop their two-game skid in this homecoming game. Philadelphia by a field goal.

New Orleans (+6.5) at Kansas City
I don’t like the idea of picking New Orleans on the road, but I just don’t know that Kansas City has the juice to win a shootout. Saints by two.

Washington (+1) at Detroit
I’m still not ready to buy into the Racists. But this week, against an opponent with no ground game, I’m on board. Washington by three.

Cleveland (+10) at Cincinnati
I wonder if anyone in Cleveland even cares that this game is being played. Bengals by a touchdown.

Buffalo (-3) at Miami
The Bills rush for 166 yards yards a game. The Dolphins allow 147 rushing yards per game. This game may be on the books by 2:30. Buffalo by 21.

Oakland (+1) at Jacksonville
Since neither team has a defense, I’m taking the one with the better offense. That’s the Raiders. Oakland by six.

Indianapolis (+2.5) at Tennessee
Good news for Andrew Luck: Given the state of the Colts run D, he’s unlikely to spend enough time on the field this week to take his customary four sacks. So that’s something. I think. Titans by four.

Baltimore (+1) at NY Jets
The Ravens close their two-week residency in the Meadowlands with a decisive victory over the weaker of the New Jersey teams. Baltimore by 10.

San Diego (+6.5) at Atlanta
Welcome to the air show. Falcons by five.

Tampa Bay (-2) at San Francisco
I don’t know which of these teams is less interested in winning football games. So I’m going with the favorite. Tampa by a field goal.

New England (-7) at Pittsburgh
Here’s are your big three predictive stats, all based on results achieved by the Patriots playing four of six games without Tom Brady and the Steelers playing all but one series of six games with Ben Roethlisberger: Scoring differential, Patriots +2.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +8.8; takeaway/giveaway differential, Patriots +6. And, you know, it’s Brady and Landry Jones under center for their respective teams this weekend. New England by 13

Seattle (+1.5) at Arizona
The Seahawks’ home win against the Falcons last week is the only victory either of these teams has managed over a strong opponent this season. That’s nice for Seattle. But I have no reason to believe it travels. Cardinals by three.

Houston (+7.5) at Denver
The last time Brock Osweiler played a football game in Denver, he was the better choice over a broken down Peyton Manning. That wasn’t such a great accomplishment, as Osweiler’s performance with the Texans this season has made abundantly clear. The Texans are a very different 4-2 than the Broncos. That’ll show in this game. Denver by seven.

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Week Six Picks

October 13th, 2016 Comments off

Well, at least my season started on a positive note. And I’ll always have that, for whatever little it’s worth.

As for right now, I’m mired in mediocrity. I finished week five 9-5 straight up, 7-7 against the spread. Nothing to weep over (especially for someone who doesn’t actually gamble), but not exactly bragging material. So, here I stand, 47-30 (.610) straight up, 36-41 (.468) against the spread.

Let’s see if I can’t figure out a way to do even worse this week.

Here’s what not to expect.

Denver (-7) at San Diego
I don’t think the Chargers are likely to lose by way of a late-game collapse this week. And that would be a nice change of pace, one supposes, except for the likelihood that San Diego will lose in a much more conventional manner. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to give a touchdown to the home team in a division matchup on a short week, though. So let’s go with Denver by six.

Cincinnati (+9) at New England
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but, um, Tom Brady‘s back. Got his season off to a nice little start last weekend, too. And that’s not such great news for the Bengals’ D, which has not fared well in games against strong opponents so far this season. Here’s what the big three predictive stats say: Scoring differential, Patriots +5.8; passer rating differential, Patriots, +10.3; takeaway/giveaway differential, Patriots +2. (And let’s not forget that New England’s stats are calculated based on four out of five games played without Brady.) Add in that the Bengals are on the road for a second straight week, and consider that the Bengals are no better at stopping the run (4.4 yards per carry) than they are at stopping the pass, and I think you get a fairly comfortable win for the Patriots. New England by two touchdowns.

Baltimore (+3) at NY Giants
The Ravens open their two-week residency in the Meadowlands with a close loss to the better of the New Jersey teams. Giants by a point.

Carolina (-3) at New Orleans
The Panthers expect to have Cam Newton back on the field for this game. That should get the job done. Panthers by four.

Pittsburgh (-7.5) at Miami
The Steelers will be ahead two scores before the home fans have had a chance to catch up with the Dolphins’ shifting roster. Pittsburgh by 17.

Jacksonville (+2.5) at Chicago
That’s right. Brian Hoyer. Bears by a field goal.

San Francisco (+8) at Buffalo
I want Colin Kaepernick to succeed because I admire the political stance he’s taken. Trouble is, this is a football game, not a debate. And the truth about Kaepernick is that he’s just not that good at football. The other difficult truth facing the 49ers is that it doesn’t matter who you start at quarterback (or any offensive position) when your biggest problem is the complete inability of your D to stop the opposing team’s run game. I have hunch that might pose a bit of a problem for San Francisco here. Bills by 10.

Los Angeles (+3.5) at Detroit
When neither team has a defense, you go with the one that has an actual offense. Especially if that team is at home. Lions by six.

Cleveland (+7) at Tennessee
If the Browns can get through an entire game with the same guy taking snaps, that’ll be a kind of victory in itself. Titans by nine.

Philadelphia (-2) at Washington
I know it’s the Eagles’ second straight road game (and the first didn’t go so well) and that it’s a division match. But I just have a hard time seeing Philadelphia dropping this one, particularly given Washington’s ineffectiveness against the run. Eagles by a field goal.

Kansas City (+1) at Oakland
Maybe Kansas City will come back from its early bye week having sprouted a run defense. But, you know, probably not. Oakland by four.

Atlanta (+6.5) at Seattle
Back-to-back road games are tough no matter what. Traveling to face Denver’s D one week and Seattle’s the next is just plain murder. And with the Seahawks coming off their bye, to boot. Kinda makes you wonder what the Falcons did to offend the schedule makers. Atlanta was able to overcome the first part of the challenge (thanks in part to the fact that Denver was starting a rookie QB who clearly isn’t quite NFL ready). I have a hard time believing they’ll be able to repeat that performance. But neither am I inclined to think Atlanta gets routed. Seahawks by three.

Dallas (+4) at Green Bay
If you look just at the aggregate stats, it appears Dallas is playing better football than Green Bay right now. If you look at the level of competition each team has faced, I’m not sure that conclusion holds up. Packers by a field goal.

Indianapolis (+3) at Houston
I don’t know how to pick this game, because I’m just not sure which of these teams has a greater propensity for finding ways to lose. So I’ll take the home team. By a point.

NY Jets (+8) at Arizona
The Jets season officially comes to a very early end. Cardinals by 10.

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Week Five Picks

October 6th, 2016 Comments off

I had a bad feeling about week four. But I ignored it, because I pretty much always have a bad feeling about every week. And, really, what’s at risk?

The answer, I suppose, is my pride. As if I had any left. (Or maybe I never had any to begin with.) And, you know, maybe my ability to sell myself on the lie that I actually have any idea what I’m doing.

That’s all gone. At least for the nonce. I went 8-7 straight up in week four, which seems really bad until you look at my 5-10 finish against the spread. Now, that’s what you call awful. For the season, I’m now 38-25 (.603) straight up, 29-34 (.460) against the spread. Let’s see if I can’t make things even worse with this week’s picks, shall we?

Here’s what not to expect.

Arizona (-3.5) at San Francisco
One of these teams runs out of chances with a loss in this game. You’ve got to figure it won’t be the one that was expected to make a Super Bowl run at the start of the season. As long as Drew Stanton can avoid throwing a bunch of picks, I expect to see the Cardinals come away with a narrow victory. Arizona by a point.

Houston (+6.5) at Minnesota
The good news for the Texans is that even after they lose this game, they’ll still be in first place in the insanely weak AFC South. Vikings by nine.

Tennessee (+3.5) at Miami
Neither of these teams can hold on to the damned football. Then again, neither of them has demonstrated any ability to take the ball away from opponents either. One imagines something has to give here. But maybe not. Maybe it just comes down to Miami’s inability to stop Tennessee’s run game. Titans by a field goal.

New England (-10.5) at Cleveland
The fan narrative in New England has it that Tom Brady commences his “revenge tour” this weekend. And that may well happen. Brady surely is champing at the bit for the opportunity to take his Deflategate frustrations out on Patriots opponents. So things are likely to get ugly sooner than later. I’m not sure the revenge tour gets off to a smooth start, though. I expect Brady’s going to have some rust to shake off before he gets into a real groove. That may come in the second half here or it may take a game or two. (Or maybe I’m wrong and he gets going with the first offensive play in this game. If anyone can go from zero to 120 that quickly, it’s the Greatest Of All Time.) Here’s the thing, though. In terms of assessing this game, I’m not sure it matters all that much when the revenge tour officially commences. Because I don’t think this would have been much of a game with Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett starting behind center for New England. We’re a quarter of the way through the season, which is about the time you’ve got a significant enough sample for the predictive stats to start paining a picture. And here are the big three (all of them based on results the Patriots achieved with Garoppolo and then an injured Brissett at QB): Scoring differential, Patriots +7.7; passer rating differential, Patriots +15.1; takeaway/giveaway differential, Patriots +4. That’s not a formula for a Cleveland win. And, you know, I may be stupid, but I kind of like the Pats’ chances with a rusty Brady better than their chances with a wounded Garoppolo or Brissett. The Patriots start slow, worrying the crap out of their fans, but ultimately come out on top by 13.

NY Jets (+7) at Pittsburgh
Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s interception percentage, 6.5, is the highest in the NFL by a full two points. (Fitz also leads the league in total interceptions. He’s thrown 10.) Ben Roethlisberger‘s touchdown percentage, 7.6, is second highest in the NFL. (Roethlisberger also is tied with Matt Ryan for most total TD passes, with 11.) In a quarterback-driven league, that’s about all I need to know. Steelers by 10.

Washington (+4) at Baltimore
I have a hunch the Racists’ lack of a defense may hurt them in this game. But, you know, it’s just a hunch. Ravens by six.

Philadelphia (-3) at Detroit
As far as I can tell, there isn’t a single area of the game in which the Eagles don’t have the edge here. Philadelphia by … I don’t know, a lot. Let’s say 20 just because it’s a nice round number (except for the pointy part).

Chicago (+4.5) at Indianapolis
It’s hard to pick a team that’s as bad as the Colts and attempting to play through jet lag. But, well, they’re hosting the Bears. Indy by two.

Atlanta (+5.5) at Denver
The Falcons have done well for a team with no defense. Here’s what happens, though, when a team like that runs up against an opponent with an outstanding D. Broncos by at least a touchdown.

Buffalo (+2.5) at Los Angeles
Fresh off their Super Bowl championship big win over a team starting a rookie third string quarterback with an injured throwing hand, the Bills seem to be feeling pretty good about themselves. They should enjoy it while they can. Los Angeles by three.

San Diego (+3.5) at Oakland
The Raiders lack of a defense is going to present a problem in this game. But it won’t be quite enough to cost the home team a win. In a very high scoring game, Oakland comes out on top by a point, maybe two.

Cincinnati (-1) at Dallas
Thus far this season, the Bengals have looked like one of those teams that beats bad teams and loses to good ones. So what happens when they go up against an opponent that’s probably a bit better than average? I think it depends on where the game is played. And since this one’s being played on the slightly better than average team’s home field, I’m going with them. Dallas by four.

NY Giants (+7.5) at Green Bay
I don’t know what Giants fans are saying about it, but I can tell you this: If the Patriots had been scheduled to play road games in Minnesota and Green Bay over the course of six days (with the Packers coming off a bye, no less), fans in New England would be certain the NFL had conspired against the team. Doesn’t seem exactly fair to New Jersey, either, if you ask me. But you play the schedule they give you, I guess. Packers by 10.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Carolina
Man, is the NFC South not a good division. Panthers by four.

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