Week Twelve Picks

November 20th, 2014 No comments

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
YepA 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.

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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Week Eleven Picks

November 13th, 2014 Comments off

And there goes my run of luck. Finished week 10 with an 8-5 record straight up, 9-4 against the spread (which actually isn’t half bad). For the season, I’m 98-49 straight up, 71-74-2 against the spread. Things can only get worse. Here’s what not to expect in week eleven.

Buffalo (+5.5) at Miami
When you’ve got the better team (even if it isn’t by much) playing at home on a short week … well, that’s about all you need to know. Except that it’s never a great idea to give more than a field goal in a fairly evenly matched divisional game. I like Miami to win, but not by more than three.

Houston (+3) at Cleveland
I don’t want to point out that this game features two former Tom Brady backups as its starting quarterbacks. But I’m doing it anyhow because I think if I don’t, it could look like I’m the only football fan in America who doesn’t know it. But the thing is, this game isn’t really about Ryan Mallett vs. Brian Hoyer. Or at least I don’t think it is. I have this notion that it’s about a Texans squad that’s trying to figure out how to map a path forward (by which I mean they’re preparing for next season) visiting a Browns squad that knows where it’s trying to go (hell, it’s halfway there), and that appears, for a change, to have a clear vision for how to get there. This is probably a tighter matchup than it ought to be under those circumstances. But it’s also the kind of game the Browns have to win if they’re going to stay in the four-way race for the AFC North title. That should keep Cleveland focused. Home field will do the rest. Browns by four.

Minnesota (+3) at Chicago
I don’t have any kind of stake in this game, but I’m kind of rooting for the Vikings, mostly in the spirit of Flounder scattering 10,000 marbles across the parade route. I just think it could be fun to watch the resulting chaos. Not sure I’m going to realize my perverse pleasure, though. It’s just hard to imagine the Bears failing to bounce back and grab a largely meaningless win here. But let’s figure the difference is a single point.

Seattle (+1.5) at Kansas City
I could come up with plenty of reasons for picking either of these 6-3 teams. In the end, though, I think this comes down to which defense can more effectively stop the opposing offense’s running game. And I think that D is Seattle’s. So I’m taking the Seahawks. By three.

Atlanta (+1.5) at Carolina
I started trying to figure out which of these teams is worse. Turns out it’s both of them. So just give my the home team by a field goal. Is that OK?

Cincinnati (+7) at New Orleans
Who dat? Who dey? Tippi Tippi Dayday. There’s no way the Saints lose a second straight home game, right? I mean, right? Except, you know what? I think there kinda is. Bengals by three.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Washington
There might be three teams in the NFL right now that  I think could conceivably lose to the Racists. And here comes one of ’em. Washington by 10.

Denver (-9.5) at St. Louis
Yes, I’m sure starting Shaun Hill will make all the difference in the world for the Rams. Like, where St. Louis was probably going to lose by 17 with Austin Davis taking snaps, now they’ll probably only lose by like … what? Let’s say, I don’t know, 17?

San Francisco (-4) at NY Giants
I’m not sure that an overtime victory over the floundering Saints qualifies the 49ers as a great team, or a postseason-bound team, or whatever it may be. But neither do I have any reason to believe that it requires a great (or whatever) team to notch a victory over the foundering Giants. San Francisco by a touchdown.

Oakland (+10) at San Diego
The Chargers have lost three in a row and are desperate to get off the schneid. The Raiders have lost 16 in a row (nine this season, seven last) and are football’s embodiment of despair. San Diego by 37.

Detroit (+2) at Arizona
This isn’t about Drew Stanton. Really, it isn’t. The Cardinals were OK with Stanton starting behind center earlier in the season. I’m sure they’ll be OK now. For the rest of the regular season, anyhow. After that, mmmmmm, maybe not so much. This is about whether the Lions can hold onto the ball against a Cardinals D that leads the league in interceptions. And while Matthew Stafford isn’t the most pick-prone quarterback in the NFL, he throws the ball away often enough for me to feel fairly confident he’ll commit a costly error in Glendale. Cardinals by a field goal.

Philadelphia (+5.5) at Green Bay
The over/under on punts in this game is one, and I’m betting the under. OK, I totally made that up, but you get the point. Not much defense being played in this one. Except by the one or two Green Bay defensive backs who’ll haul in interceptions of passes Mark Sanchez plants right in their chests. Otherwise, everyone scores on every possession. And, as a result, turnovers decide the outcome. Packers by a touchdown.

New England (+3) at Indianapolis
I keep hearing about how these teams are evenly matched. And that appears to be the case. Certainly it is if you look at points scored and points allowed. The Colts put up a point a game more than the Patriots; and the Colts allow a point and a half a game more than the Patriots. It all comes out looking pretty even. And even when you start to pull things apart a bit, you still mostly land at even. The Patriots are maybe a bit more balanced than the Colts on offense, but not by enough that it’s worth looking at closely. (You could start to draw a line between New England’s first four and last five games if you wanted, but then you’d have to get into the fact that Indianapolis also started slow. Might reveal something, but you’d have to sort through an awful mess to find it.) The Colts offense relies more on the pass than the Patriots offense does, which maybe means the fact that the Patriots have the stronger pass D (New England comes out +5.3 in passer rating differential) is a big advantage. But that leaves out the fact that Indy’s more than capable of running the ball, and New England hasn’t been great at stopping the run. So where’s the point of differentiation? Well, maybe it comes from the fact that a Colts pass D that doesn’t hold up so well in the middle of the field has to figure out how to deal with the best tight end in football. That could be something. Or not. Indy’s a good team, and well coached. They may have solved that matchup issue. What I don’t think the Colts can solve, because I’m not sure it’s solvable, is their quarterback’s penchant for throwing picks. Andrew Luck comes into this game with nine interceptions on the season. That’s tied for sixth most in the NFL (though it’s also just one behind second). The Patriots D has 10 picks so far this season, which is tied for seventh most in the league. Those aren’t a great combination of factors for the Colts, particularly given that the Patriots offense tends to score enough to force opponents to the air. And that, rather than the tight end factor, is where I’m going to hang my hat. I think this game comes down to turnovers (as games between relatively evenly matched teams) and I think New England wins that battle and the game. Patriots by a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (-6) at Tennessee
I think the Steelers are just way too uneven a team to be considered a real playoff contender. This week. Which means that by this time next week, I’ll have them figured as the most dangerous team in the NFL. Pittsburgh by 14.

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Week Ten Picks

November 6th, 2014 Comments off

Week nine was easy. Relatively easy, anyhow. I mean, it must have been. I went 11-2 straight up, 8-5 against the spread. Not bad. On the season, that gets me to 90-44, and 62-70-2. Week ten should be easy, too. It sure looks easy, anyhow. But I’ve got this weird feeling that it isn’t. I don’t know why — could be that there are a lot of big spreads; could be that there are a lot of big spreads that actually seem reasonable — but I’ve got this sense that we’re going to see at least three or four completely crazy results. Then again, my gut has a habit of being wrong, so probably not. I’m certainly not predicting anything specific (unless you count taking Miami to win at Detroit, which is probably crazier than I think). Here’s what not to expect — maybe by a lot.

Cleveland (+6) at Cincinnati
Six is excessive. These teams could not conceivably be more evenly matched. And while I don’t think either of them is going much of anywhere in the tough battle for the AFC North — I think Cincinnati potentially lands as a wild card team by virtue of their season sweep over Baltimore, but I don’t see them playing past January 4 — they’re both very much alive right now, which means they both have a reason beyond their traditional rivalry to play their best football this week. To my mind, when you have division rivals playing a meaningful game on a short week, you don’t get a lopsided victory. You get a tight game that shakes out in one of two ways: either it goes to the winner of the turnover battle or it goes to the home team. The Browns do a slightly better job than the Bengals of holding onto the ball, but not by enough that I’m willing to project that it makes the difference here. So I’m taking the home team. But I’m not giving six. In fact, I’d be reluctant to give more than a point, maybe two.

Dallas (-6.5) vs Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium, London
Count me among those who are baffled by the Cowboys’ decision to fly Tony Romo with his ailing back to England to play in this game. I mean, I know Dallas has had a rough couple of weeks, but their losses have come against a division rival (in the game in which Romo suffered his injury) and against the Cardinals, the best team in the NFC. Can the Cowboys really be worried about their ability to beat the Jaguars without Romo? The same Jaguars who score the fewest points per game (15.7) of any team in the NFL, give up the third most (27.9), and turn the ball over more often than any team other than the Eagles (19 turnovers on the season for a giveaway/takeaway differential of -9)? Seems to me that with a pair of divisional games on the other side of the bye and three out of their last six games against teams currently leading their divisions (including the complete season series with Philadelphia, which is kind of critical), Dallas has bigger fish to fry. But that’s just me. And none of it, of course, has a ton to do with this game, which the Dallas defense will control and the Cowboys will win handily regardless of who starts at quarterback. Dallas by 10.

Miami (+3) at Detroit
There are two ways to look at the pair of surprising victories the Dolphins have managed this season on their way to 5-3. (There are probably more than two, but I’m focusing on two. You can write about the other ones on your blog if you like.) One is to focus on the fact that both the week one win over New England and the week nine blowout of San Diego took place in Miami, where the Dolphins also came within a play or two of upending Green Bay in week six. The other would be to consider that the Dolphins appear to have a fairly stout pass defense, which positions them nicely to take on teams like the Patriots, Chargers, Packers and, um, Lions. And while Detroit isn’t exactly lacking on defense either, I think this week Miami takes its surprising show on the road. Dolphins by a field goal.

Kansas City (-2) at Buffalo
Kansas City is certainly the more balanced team in this match, the outcome of which may ultimately determine which of these two teams plays past December 28. And Kansas City is probably the better team, as well. But Buffalo is the home team. Buffalo’s also a team that does an impressive job of wresting the ball from opponents. The Chiefs don’t commit many turnovers, but I think they cough one up here, and it makes the difference in the game. Bills by four.

San Francisco (+5) at New Orleans
The Saints are beatable on the road. But not at home. New Orleans by two touchdowns.

Tennessee (+9.5) at Baltimore
Something tells me the Ravens may be looking to make a statement and maybe exorcise a few demons. Baltimore by 20.

Pittsburgh (-5) at NY Jets
It’s hard to imagine Ben Roethlisberger throwing six touchdown passes in a third straight game. It’s impossible to imagine the Steelers needing him to throw half that many. Pittsburgh slows down a bit (not that New Jersey will have anything to do with that) and wins it by a mere 17.

Atlanta (-1.5) at Tampa Bay
A whole lot has changed since these teams last met back in week three. But the Buccaneers are still the Buccaneers. Falcons by no less than a touchdown.

Denver (-11.5) at Oakland
Gee, I wonder how this thing is gonna turn out. I’m typically not comfortable with big spreads in division games, but let’s be serious. Broncos by 35.

St. Louis (+7) at Arizona
The Cardinals have taken control of the NFC West for a variety of reasons. One of them is that unlike the Seahawks and 49ers, the Cardinals don’t give away games. Watch and learn. Cardinals by 14.

NY Giants (+9) at Seattle
Contrary to popular belief, the Giants struggles are not the fault of Eli Manning. Eli has played pretty well under difficult circumstances this season. Unfortunately for New Jersey, the real sources of the team’s struggles — which include injuries, lack of depth, and in some areas plain old lack of talent — aren’t things that can be fixed within a season. Seahawks by 10.

Chicago (+7.5) at Green Bay
I have no reason to believe this meeting in Green Bay will be any less ugly than the one in Chicago six weeks ago, and many reasons to wonder if it might get even uglier. For score predicting purposes, I’ll go with an even degree of ugliness, which is to say Packers by 21.

Carolina (+6) at Philadelphia
Mark Sanchez isn’t magically going to become a player who doesn’t commit a ton of turnovers. But the Eagles have a weird ability to mask that kind of problem. At least in the short term. At least when facing middling opposition. Philadelphia by a touchdown.

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Week Nine Picks

October 30th, 2014 Comments off

I can live with my week eight results. Well, on the straight up picks, anyhow. I came in at 10-5 on the week, which puts me at 79-42 for the season. That ain’t terrible. Against the spread, well, once again I got concrete evidence of why gambling is a terrible idea. I went 7-8 for the week, which brings me to 54-65-2 on the season. Ugh. But, you know, things could always be worse. And I’m sure they soon will be. Here’s what not to expect in week nine.

New Orleans (-3) at Carolina
This is the state of the NFC South: It’s week nine and two teams with losing records are squaring off for control of the division, with 2-6 Atlanta looming not far behind. If the Saints can hold on to the ball, they should be able to win this game handily. But I’m not convinced they can do that. I’m taking Carolina to win a tight contest, if only by a point.

San Diego (+1.5) at Miami
The Dolphins defense is among the best in the league at causing and recovering fumbles. The Chargers offense is one of just two that has yet to lose a fumble this season (though they’ve pulled it off in part by having the ball bounce their way on those occasions when it has popped out). One of those trends has to give. I’m going to go with the home team finding a way to snatch one. But, once again, I’m not looking for the win to come by more than a point. Miami, 24-23.

Jacksonville (+11) at Cincinnati
You know, one of these days the Jaguars are bound to surprise some team. And if you ask me …  nah, I’m just kidding. Bengals by 21.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at Cleveland
I simply can’t come up with anything that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the Buccaneers have a chance to so much as compete in this game. Browns by 10.

Washington (pick ’em) at Minnesota
The Racists have actually managed to string together a pair of wins, which is fairly astounding. I just can’t see them stretching it to three, regardless of who gets the start behind center. Vikings by a field goal.

Philadelphia (-2) at Houston
Last week, I predicted that the Eagles turnover troubles were due to get bit in the ass by their turnover troubles. And I was right. I don’t see Philly solving the problem this week. But I also don’t see the the Texans as a team that can make the most of the opportunities the Eagles invariably present to their opponents. So I like Philadelphia. Let’s say they win by three.

NY Jets (+9.5) at Kansas City
I don’t know if Geno Smith is going to turn out to be a better quarterback than Michael Vick when all is said and done (though I strongly doubt it), but I do feel fairly confident that Vick is the better choice right now. I mean, well, Vick’s the better choice for the time being if you assume the Jets’ goal is not to lose so bad. I guess that’s an understandable goal. Right? So let’s figure that with Smith behind center, the Jets could have expected to lose this one by 14. Maybe with Vick at QB, they cut the margin down to as little as seven. So, you know, sure. I’ll go with that. Chiefs by a touchdown.

Arizona (+3) at Dallas
If the Cardinals were favored in this game, as they should be, it might actually matter whether Tony Romo were going to start. Because it might potentially influence the Cowboy’s ability to keep it close. But Dallas isn’t winning this game with or without Romo. Why? Because the Cowboys don’t win behind Romo; they win behind DeMarco Murray. And while I expect Murray will be more successful than most, no one runs the ball well against the Arizona D. That’s the difference here. Cardinals by six.

St. Louis (+10) at San Francisco
Big spreads in divisional games are trouble. And the 49ers just aren’t that good. So, yeah, San Francisco by four.

Denver (-3) at New England
The only thing that bugs me about the weather forecast for Sunday — cold and windy — is that I’m certain we’ll hear after the game about how the Patriots lucked out by getting conditions that made it tough for football god Peyton Manning to pull off his football god routine. As if that were some kind of legitimate excuse. Patriots by a touchdown.

Oakland (+15) at Seattle
What could I possibly say about this game that you don’t know just by looking at the teams and the location? Seahawks by 10,000 points.

Baltimore (pick ’em) at Pittsburgh
Man, is this AFC North race fun to watch. I expect to be on the edge of my couch from start to finish Sunday night. And I really have no idea how it’s going to turn out. But my gut says the home team evens up the season series, scoring the winning points on its final possession. Steelers, 23-21.

Indianapolis (-3) at NY Giants
I’m sure the Colts are looking to take out their frustration on someone, but I think the well-rested Giants make that a tougher task than it might otherwise be. I think this one is close into the fourth quarter, but in the end, the Colts come out ahead by something like a touchdown.

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Week Eight Picks

October 23rd, 2014 Comments off

OK, so I knew I was coming back to earth at some point. And, all-in-all, week seven wasn’t that bad. I went an almost respectable 9-6 straight up, if a pitiful 5-10 against the spread. For the season, that makes me 69-37 straight up, 47-57-2 against the spread. Let’s see how much worse things can get. Here’s what not to expect.

San Diego (+9) at Denver
I kind of feel like the best way to beat the Chargers isn’t through the air but on the ground. And I’m not sure the Broncos are the team best suited to pull that off. So if the game were in San Diego, I’d take the Chargers. But it isn’t. So I’m taking the Broncos. But I’m sure as hell not giving nine points. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the margin ended up being just one.

Detroit (-3.5) vs. Atlanta at Wembley Stadium, London
Poor, poor Matt Ryan. He takes about half a dozen sacks in this game. And the Lions come out on top by a touchdown.

Minnesota (+2.5) at Tampa Bay
Teddy Bridgewater has finally found an end to his sack woes. It’s called the Tampa Bay pass rush and it couldn’t find an opposing quarterback with a map and a magnifying glass. Let’s see if that doesn’t also help cut down on Bridgewater’s picks. I’ve got a hunch it does. Vikings by a field goal.

Chicago (+6) at New England
Turmoil shmurmoil. I don’t much care what’s going on in Chicago’s locker room. The Bears have been losing games because they can’t stop the pass and they can’t hold on to the ball. Those things aren’t getting solved in this game. Patriots by 10.

St. Louis (+7) at Kansas City
Forget about letdown games. The Rams surely won’t be able to maintain the momentum of their upset victory over the Seahawks last week. But that’s not why they’re losing this game. The Rams are losing this game because the Chiefs are a better team. The Chiefs D can stop the Rams O. Doesn’t work the other way around. It’s really that simple. Kansas City by 13.

Seattle (-5) at Carolina
The Seahawks aren’t losing three in a row. Or at the very least, they’re not losing their third straight to a team without a defense. Seattle by a touchdown.

Buffalo (+3) at NY Jets
Watch as Percy Harvin is celebrated as the savior of Jets football after New Jersey pulls of a win an a game they would have won with or without him. This is going to be great. Jets by six.

Miami (-6) at Jacksonville
And the muddle in the middle of the AFC East becomes even more muddled, though no less middling. Dolphins by a touchdown.

Houston (-2) at Tennessee
In which the Texans beat up on their division rivals and pull back to .500. Houston by four.

Baltimore (pick ‘em) at Cincinnati
The Ravens complete the comeback they started to mount in the second half of their week one loss to the Bengals. Baltimore by three.

Philadelphia (+2.5) at Arizona
The Eagles turnover troubles finally catch up with them. Arizona by three.

Indianapolis (-3) at Pittsburgh
Bet the over. Indianapolis, 38-31.

Oakland (+7) at Cleveland
Well, this should buy Brian Hoyer some peace of mind. Browns by two touchdowns.

Green Bay (+1.5) at New Orleans
Don’t talk to me about where this game is being played. Give me one concrete reason for believing the Saints can compete with the Packers, let alone beat them. You can’t, right? Because there isn’t one. Green Bay by nine.

Washington (+9.5) at Dallas
I’m not sold on the Cowboys. Not yet. But I’m certain their good enough to clobber an awful Racists squad. Dallas by seventeen (and half of America in bed by halftime).

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Week Seven Picks

October 16th, 2014 Comments off

Yet another decent finish for me in week six. I went 12-3 straight up, 8-7 against the spread. For the season, that makes me 60-31 and 42-47-2. I like the straight up numbers better, obviously. But since I don’t put real money on these game, I’ll survive being sub-.500 against the spread. All that said, I have to be in line to take a beating this week. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Jets (+9.5) at New England
If you go by Thursday night blowout standard, you kind of have to give the points in this one. Right? Because, seriously, the Jets may be better than we realize. The Jets may be due for a win. And the Jets do have a habit of playing the Patriots tough (particularly in their first meeting of a given season). But the Jets aren’t a team that’s going to end up on the right side of many blowouts. Being one-dimensional on both sides of the ball and committing turnovers at a rate of nearly two per game doesn’t position you to blow out opponents. In fact, what it positions you for is a season in which a 1-5 start turns out to be the least of your worries. But I wasn’t sure it made sense to expect a blowout every Thursday night even before Colts-Texans a week ago. And even if I were inclined to gamble (which I’m not), I hope I’d be smarter than to risk my money on an inherently unsustainable trend. Does that mean I expect this game not to be a blowout? Hardly. Assuming the weather doesn’t get in the way, a 38-10 result wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Two fundamental reasons for that. First, the Jets offense is … well, the thing about the Jets is that they don’t really seem to have an offense. They score 16 points a game, which is less than all but the winless Raiders and Jaguars. Their pass offense is the least productive in the league. And their rushing offense, while better, is middle of the pack. With that kind of output, a team needs its defense to keep it in games. Thing is, for all of the Jets’ reputed ability to get to the quarterback (a relatively simple reputation to achieve when you blitz all the time, even if it doesn’t amount to much more than a shell game), their defensive passer rating is 109.2, third worst in the league. A high sack total (the Jets have 19 sacks on the season, which ties them with, ahem, the Bills for second in the league) paired with a crazy high defensive passer rating points to a unit that’s gambling — and gambling is a desperate tactic that mostly results in losing. Worse still for New Jersey is that the guy on the other side of the line is Tom Brady, who has a knack for turning any weakness on the part of your pass D into a major problem. I don’t think the Jets can slow down the Patriots offense — at least not for very long. And that means the Jets are going to find themselves at some point in a situation where they have to rely on Geno Smith to make things happen against a New England pass D that’s considerably better than many realize (84.3 defensive passer rating, ninth in the league; 15 sacks, tied for seventh; seven interceptions, tied for fifth … ). That pits a guy whose picks total, seven, is tied for second worst in the league against a defense that’s tied for fifth most with, oddly enough, seven. Not hard to predict how that turns out, is it? And that, not Thursday night magic, is what leads to a blowout. I like the Jets to come out fired up and keep things close into the second quarter. After that, though, it gets ugly. And the Patriots come out on top by no less than 17.

Cincinnati (+3) at Indianapolis
Forget Andrew Luck (I mean, not all together, just for the moment); this game’s about Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. It’s also about a six-point Colts victory.

Tennessee (+5.5) at Washington
The Racists are probably a slightly better team than the Titans, but not by enough. Not for me, anyhow. Until they figure out how to hold on to the ball, I’m picking against Washington every week. Kirk Cousins throws a pair of picks and Tennessee comes out ahead by a field goal.

Miami (+3.5) at Chicago
For a second straight week, the Dolphins are good enough to pose a threat to an NFC North opponent, but not quite good enough to pull off the upset. Bears by a field goal.

Cleveland (-5) at Jacksonville
Yes, I believe something real is happening in Cleveland. Yes, I believe the Browns have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, and maybe even an AFC North title. But, no, I don’t believe that matters much this week. Because with the Buccaneers on a bye, the title of best team in the NFL slides to whoever is playing the Jaguars. Browns by 20.

Seattle (-7) at St. Louis
I don’t think it would be wise to predict a two-game slide for the defending champs even if they were playing a good team. And they’re not. Seahawks by two touchdowns.

Carolina (+7) at Green Bay
I keep wondering if any team is going to step up and play like they want to win the NFC South. It’s not going to be the Panthers. Not this week anyhow. In a shootout, the Packers come out ahead by six.

Atlanta (+7) at Baltimore
I keep wondering if any team is going to step up and play like they want to win the NFC South. It’s not going to be the Falcons. Not this week anyhow. Both of these teams have plenty of offense. Only one of them has a defense. That’s the difference. Ravens by 10.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Detroit
I keep wondering if any team is going to step up and play like they want to win the NFC South. It might yet end up being the Saints. But not this week. The Lions win the turnover battle to the tune of +3 and the game to the tune of a touchdown.

Minnesota (+5.5) at Buffalo
Teddy Bridgewater took eight sacks and three three picks last week against the Lions. The good news for Bridgewater and the Vikings, I suppose, is that nothing that happens this week could possibly be as bad as that. I mean, right? Right? Bills by 13.

Kansas City (+4) at San Diego
The Chargers appear to be on the road to Glendale. They may not get there, but it won’t be for taking their foot off the gas. Not in the first of a pair of critical divisional games, anyhow. Chargers by six.

NY Giants (+6.5) at Dallas
The Giants are winning this game. I guarantee it. Why? Because there’s absolutely no reason to expect that the Giants can win, or that the Cowboys should lose. And that’s how it goes with both of these teams. Not that you can hang your hat on that kind of nonsense, of course. So I’ll predict what I think should happen rather than what my gut tells me will happen. And what should happen is a Dallas victory, probably by something like four.

Arizona (-3.5) at Oakland
Are the Raiders getting better under Tony Sparano? Who knows? I mean, it’s not like they were likely to get any worse. Cardinals by at least a touchdown.

San Francisco (+6.5) at Denver
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but Peyton Manning is closing in on a big career moment. Manning, the career leader among active players, needs to throw just four more interceptions to tie his boss, John Elway, for fourteenth most all time. Not sure he’ll get there in this game, though. Broncos by a field goal.

Houston (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
Make it two straight losses for the Steelers. Texans pound out a win, 17-13.

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Week Six Picks

October 9th, 2014 Comments off

I’m due for a down week. I think. I mean, it’s not like I crushed it in week five, but I did a whole lot better than I had in week four. So history suggests … . I went 10-5 straight up, 8-7 against the spread last week. On the season, I’m 48-28 straight up and 34-40-2 against the spread so far this season. Let’s see what I can do to pull the rug out from under myself. Here’s what not to expect.

Indianapolis (-3) at Houston
In which the Colts officially put their slow start in the rearview by taking control of the AFC South. I’m hopeful we won’t see yet another complete mess of a Thursday night game. Seems like Houston should be able to slow the game down enough to keep the Indy offense from completely running away with it. But the Colts are going to get the ball and when they do, they’re going to find ways to score. Indianapolis should have things under control by late in the third quarter. Colts by nine.

Denver (-9.5) at NY Jets
You think the Jets defense’s inability to stop the pass might be a problem in this game? What about the Jets’ anemic offense? Yeah, so do I. Denver by 20.

Pittsburgh (+2) at Cleveland
The Browns aren’t a great football team. But they’re a good one. They know how to win. And, most important, they take great care of the ball. That should be enough. Browns by a field goal.

Jacksonville (+5.5) at Tennessee
The Titans have to be smarting — and preparing to play a full 60 minutes this week. I mean, right? Tennessee by three interceptions, but still somehow only six points.

Chicago (+3) at Atlanta
Both of these perplexing teams come into this game riding a two-game losing streak. Each has at least one loss this season that should have been a win. It’s possible one of them wakes up as the season moves on but for the moment, both appear to have settled into mediocrity. So which one to you pick? Well, the Falcons are back at home after a pair of tough road games while the Bears are on the road for a second straight week. So I’m going to hang my hat on that. Atlanta by four.

Green Bay (-3.5) at Miami
The Dolphins haven’t beaten a good team since week one, which is to say they haven’t beaten a good team playing good football yet this season. I don’t see any reason to expect a reversal of that trend this week. Packers by a touchdown.

Detroit (-1.5) at Minnesota
The Vikings allowed just six points to the Rams in week one. Since then, they’ve given up an average of 30 points a game. And still, I recommend betting the under. The Lions come out ahead by a single point in a painfully low scoring affair.

Carolina (+7) at Cincinnati
Cincinnati does to Carolina what New England did to Cincinnati. Bengals by 17.

New England (-3) at Buffalo
It’ll be interesting to see how New England approaches this game offensively. The Bills are pretty stout against the run, but with the offensive line still not fully stabilized, the Patriots can’t afford to rely solely on Tom Brady‘s arm. I suspect we’ll see the Patriots lean heavily on Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright for a second straight week, forcing the Bills linebackers into coverage, which in turn will open up running lanes. (It will also have the bonus effect of exposing loudmouth ex-Pat Brandon Spikes for the one-dimensional fraud he has always been.) Whatever the game plan, assuming they don’t kill themselves with penalties, the Patriots should be able to come out of this game with a second straight win. Let’s say by a touchdown.

Baltimore (-3) at Tampa Bay
I don’t see Baltimore giving away a game to Tampa Bay like Pittsburgh did. Neither do I see the Ravens allowing the Buccaneers to give them the kind of scare the Bucs gave the Saints. I think the Ravens ruin the Bucs’ homecoming by making them look like the last place team they are. Baltimore by 14.

San Diego (-7) at Oakland
Burying a football is a nice symbolic gesture and all. Doesn’t quite compare, though, with burying a divisional opponent, which is what the Chargers are about to do. San Diego by 20.

Dallas (+8) at Seattle
This week, for a change, I actually don’t think Tony Romo will find a way to lose a game for the Cowboys. Mostly because I don’t think he’ll have to. Dallas is completely outclassed. Seattle by two touchdowns.

Washington (+3.5) at Arizona
The Racists are not the Broncos. Arizona by seven.

NY Giants (+2.5) at Philadelphia
Part of me truly believes that this is where the Eagles’ endless flirtation with disaster catches up with them. But another part of me just isn’t sold on the Giants. If New Jersey can pull of a road upset here then I’ll believe. Until that happens, I’m taking the home team to win by the default three.

San Francisco (-3.5) at St. Louis
If the Rams could hold on to the ball, they might be able to present a challenge to the 49ers. But they can’t. San Francisco by 10.

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Week Five Picks

October 2nd, 2014 Comments off

I continue to run hot and cold picking straight up, cold and really, really cold against the spread. Big shock there. In week four, I was cold and colder, which I’m attributing to the fact that in thirteen games, six underdogs came out on top straight up. That includes outright wins by a pair of teams that were getting six or more points. So, you know, there’s my excuse of the week. I finished 7-6 straight up, 5-8 against the spread. That brings me to 38-23 straight up and 26-33-2 against the spread so far this season. Let’s see if I can get any colder this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Minnesota (+8.5) at Green Bay
I don’t think it matters much whether Minnesota’s starting quarterback is the rookie who’s barely practiced during a short week or the former starter who had fallen to third on the depth chart before injuries started to take their toll. The Vikings don’t have anything resembling the defense it would take to go into Green Bay and slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers O. If the Vikings were playing at home and had a good option at QB, I might take them to win a shootout. Playing on the road without one, I think Minnesota loses by at least 10.

Chicago (+2.5) at Carolina
Big day for Matt Forte. Chicago by six.

Cleveland (+2) at Tennessee
One of these teams is going to take advantage of the others lackluster defense. Smart money says it’s the one that can produce some offense and that doesn’t turn the ball over (zero giveaways on the season by the Browns). Cleveland by four.

St. Louis (+7) at Philadelphia
You know all that stuff I’ve been saying about how the habit of allowing opponents to build leads early was bound to bite the Eagles in the ass eventually? I take it all back. Apparently, for Philadelphia the opposite of allowing opponents to build leads early isn’t controlling a game; it’s allowing opponents to take the lead late. That’s worse. So I guess this week, I’ll look for the Rams to get out to a 10-0 lead only to end up losing 31-10.

Atlanta (+4) at NY Giants
The Falcons are on the road for the second straight week. And they’re playing a team that, as it turns out, isn’t actually bad. Giants by a field goal.

Tampa Bay (+10) at New Orleans
I think we all know the Buccaneers aren’t nearly as good as the Steelers made them look last week. And, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I haven’t quite come around to believing that the Saints are as bad as the Cowboys made them look on Sunday night. New Orleans by 13.

Houston (+6) at Dallas
The smart pick here is the home team. I guess. But something tells me the Texans keep it close and Tony Romo finds a way to lose in the fourth quarter. Houston by a point.

Buffalo (+7) at Detroit
The Bills are sinking. And playing a second straight on the road. Lions by four.

Baltimore (+3.5) at Indianapolis
If this game were being played in Baltimore, I’d take the Ravens, who would be favored, to win and the Colts to barely cover. But it isn’t. So I’ll go exactly the other way. Colts by a field goal.

Pittsburgh (-6.5) at Jacksonville
Poor Jaguars. They couldn’t beat the Steelers if the Steelers weren’t angry. And the Steelers are angry. Pittsburgh by … I don’t know a lot. More than six and a half, that’s for sure.

Arizona (+7) at Denver
This is a better matchup than the line makes it appear, and I won’t be surprised at all if the Cardinals find a way to make life difficult on Peyton Manning and give the Broncos a scare. What Arizona won’t give Denver, however, is a loss. Broncos by four.

Kansas City (+6) at San Francisco
Andy Reid’s current team isn’t going to make the kinds of stupid mistakes in San Francisco that his former team made last weekend. That’s the difference. Kansas City pulls off the upset with a three-point win.

NY Jets (+6.5) at San Diego
The Chargers have been playing like a team on its way to the postseason. The Jets have been playing like a team on its way to a coaching change. San Diego by 17.

Cincinnati (-1) at New England
The Bengals may or may not be the best team in the AFC. They’re certainly a team that has been playing flawless football thus far in 2014. The Patriots may yet emerge as the best team in the AFC East. But what they’ve been to date is a team playing the most heavily flawed football New England fans have seen in roughly 20 years. That doesn’t add up to great odds for the home team in week five. Bengals by a touchdown.

Seattle (-7) at Washington
A second straight Monday night blowout. How exciting. Seahawks by 21 minimum.

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Week Four Picks

September 25th, 2014 Comments off

My pendulum season continued in week three, this time swinging in my direction. I finished 11-5 straight up, 9-7 against the spread. That brings me to 31-17 straight up and 21-25-2 against the spread so far this season. And here we go back the other way. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Giants (+3.5) at Washington
The Racists are at home. And unlike the Giants, they seem to be able to hold onto the ball at least some of the time. So, sure, sign me up. Washington by six.

Oakland (+3.5) vs Miami at Wembley Stadium, London
In Oakland, the Raiders would win this game. In Miami, not following a trip to New England, the Raiders still might win this game. In London, and playing on the road for the second straight week, the Raiders don’t win this game. Which is to say they lose it. Not that the Dolphins win, mind you. The Raiders, who should win, lose. Miami by a field goal.

Green Bay (-1.5) at Chicago
Am I really thinking that the Bears win a shootout with the Packers? Can it be possible that I’ve found myself living in a world where that’s a distinct possibility? Because, you know, that’s just way too weird. But true. Chicago by four. Late.

Buffalo (+3) at Houston
I don’t think these teams could be more evenly matched. So I’m going with the home team, by exactly the margin the oddsmakers suggest.

Tennessee (+7.5) at Indianapolis
I’m starting to think I was terribly, terribly wrong about the Titans being a better team than anyone thought. And even though the Colts are probably a slightly worse team than everyone thought, it’s not by enough that I expect them to lose to a division opponent that doesn’t seem to have an offense. Indy by 14.

Carolina (+3.5) at Baltimore
Steve Smith may be right about the blood and guts thing. But I sort of suspect they’ll be his. All the same, Baltimore wins by a good, solid 10 points.

Detroit (-1.5) at NY Jets
Week three’s visiting NFC team beat the Jets. Week four’s is going to torch them. Lions by 15.

Tampa Bay (+7.5) at Pittsburgh
And in a shocking development, the Buccaneers are absolutely dreadful. Steelers by 14.

Jacksonville (+13) at San Diego
Starting quarterback getting sacked all over the field? Why not throw in the rookie? That strategy usually works out well, right? Chargers by no less than three touchdowns.

Philadelphia (+4.5) at San Francisco
The 49ers backs are against the wall. The Eagles have flirted with a loss in every game of this season. I think the visitors’ second half heroics come up short here, though maybe just short. San Francisco by a point.

Atlanta (-3) at Minnesota
The Vikings offense may actually break out of single digits for the first time since week one. Not that it will make a difference. Falcons have more offensive firepower than the Vikings can hope to keep up with. Atlanta by nine.

New Orleans (-3) at Dallas
In New Orleans, the Saints win this one by 14. In Dallas, it’s probably more like six.

New England (-3.5) at Kansas City
I don’t care how banged up the Chiefs defense is, they’re going to have a chance to knock Tom Brady around if the Patriots don’t figure out how to shore up their offensive line — or commit to the run early to keep the Kansas City pass rush honest. If New England plays smart, this may be the game where they start to right the ship. If they keep going down the path they’ve been walking so far this season, their fall to 2-2 will likely lock in the tone for a frustrating season. I think they start to get it figured out. Patriots by a field goal.

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Week Three Picks

September 18th, 2014 Comments off

As predicted, my decent week one performance did little more than set up a major fall in week two. I finished the week 8-8 straight up, 5-11 against the spread. (Good thing I don’t risk real money on this stuff.) That makes me 20-12 straight up and 12-18-2 against the spread on the season. Let’s see how much worse it can get. Here’s what not to expect this week.

Tampa Bay (+6) at Atlanta
The Bucs got their season off to a great start by dropping a pair of games on their own field. They’re not following that by getting a win in someone else’s building. Unless something really strange happens, the Falcons win this one by at least a touchdown.

San Diego (+2.5) at Buffalo
The Chargers are almost certainly the better team in this matchup. But it’s a long trip from San Diego to Buffalo. Maybe not as long as it might be in December. But long just the same. Bills by a point.

Dallas (-1) at St. Louis
Ugh. Really? Cowboys, I guess. Let’s say by two (and hope that Dallas forces a safety and that there’s no other scoring, because a 2-0 final score is about the only thing that could possibly make this game even remotely interesting).

Washington (+6.5) at Philadelphia
The Eagles may actually show up in the first half this week. Just, you know, to keep the rest of the league guessing. Philadelphia by 10.

Houston (-2) at NY Giants
I expect to start hearing Giants fans talk about the “final nail in the Coughlin” any minute now. Thing is, this time they might be right. I don’t see the Giants turning it around this season. So I’m thinking new coach in 2015 followed by a new quarterback in 2016. The Texans aren’t a great football team, but they’ve been playing good football. The Giants have not. Houston by a field goal.

Minnesota (+10) at New Orleans
The Saints can’t add a loss in their home opener to the two road losses they suffered to start this season and hope to turn things around. They can’t. And they won’t. The Vikings simply don’t have the offensive firepower to keep pace. New Orleans by 14.

Tennessee (+7) at Cincinnati
I still think the Titans are a better team than they’re likely to get credit for being. But the Bengals are better still. On both sides of the ball, no less. That, plus home field, is a recipe for a blowout. Cincinnati by 17.

Baltimore (-1.5) at Cleveland
Show me a team that knows how to take care of the ball and I’ll show you a team that knows how to win football games. And in this match that team, somehow, is the Browns. Cleveland by a field goal.

Green Bay (+2.5) at Detroit
The Lions are slightly more balanced. And the Lions are at home. So, yeah, I’ll take the Lions. By four.

Indianapolis (-7) at Jacksonville
Seven? Are you kidding? I mean, yes, I know the Colts are 0-2 and that they’ve developed a really dangerous habit of falling apart late in games. But, um, the Jaguars, in two games, have given up 48 more points than they’ve scored. 48. That’s not just a league worst differential, it’s half again the Giants’ second-worst 32. That kind of thing doesn’t happen without a whole array of reasons. Indianapolis by 24.

Oakland (+14) at New England
The Raiders have given up 400 yards on the ground over two games. You think Tom Brady‘s going to be able to sell play action? (I mean, assuming he ever actually needs to throw the ball.) New England by 27.

San Francisco (-3) at Arizona
The Cardinals actually appear to have a chance to steal the NFC West. But not if they can’t beat division opponents on their own field. And, at least for this week, that should be enough. Arizona by three.

Denver (+5) at Seattle
No, I don’t think we’ll see 43-8 again. (Though, man, would that be fun.) 27-24 seems a more likely possibility. So let’s go with that. Seattle by a field goal.

Kansas City (+4) at Miami
The Dolphins look to me like a team that goes 7-1 at home, 2-6 on the road. This one’s in Miami. And it’s not the one they lose. Dolphins by 10.

Pittsburgh (+3.5) at Carolina
It’s a weird thing to say, but the Steelers don’t have enough defense to keep them in this game. Panthers by a touchdown.

Chicago (+2.5) at NY Jets
The Jets defense may be great against the run. Or it may just be that the Jets haven’t faced an opponent with a running game. The don’t this week, either. And once again it won’t matter. Chicago wins this one through the air. Bears by three.

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