Week Four Picks

September 29th, 2016 No comments

I’m feeling OK with my 8-8 finish straight up in week three. And OK-ish about my 7-9 finish against the spread, too. Does either result actually point to an OK week? Not even close. But here’s the context: The favorites went 7-9 last week straight up. (Favorites were 4-11 against the spread. Just 15 games there because Baltimore-Jacksonville went off even.) And six of the favored teams that ended up losing outright were at home.

I’m not sure that counts as getting upset week out of the way. This early in the season, it’s more likely that many of us — fans, experts and oddsmakers alike — had overestimated a bunch of teams and underestimated a bunch more. So I’m still expecting a real upside-down week to hit somewhere around the middle of the season.

Just the same, I’m inclined to look at 8-8/7-9 in week three and figure things could have turned out a whole lot worse.

With that finish, I head into week four with my picks record for the season at 30-18 (.625) straight up, 24-24 (.500) against the spread. And that, of course, means it’s a fairly safe bet that I’m headed for disaster in week four. Fortunately for me byes start this week, which leaves me only 15 games to figure wrong.

Here’s what not to expect.

Miami (+7) at Cincinnati
Each of these teams is a win north of 0-3 by the narrowest margin imaginable. The Bengals got their sole victory back in week one when they managed to edge the Jets, another team with a talent for self-destruction. Then, last week, the Dolphins needed nearly half of an overtime period and an absolutely horrific day from Browns kicker Cody Parkey to stumble into their first win. That was in Miami. Against Cleveland, a team that had been outscored 54-30 in its first two games (both losses) and that was starting a rookie third-string quarterback. I expect each of these teams to do its damnedest to lose this game. But on a short week, I have to believe the visitors have the best chance of finding the losing formula. Cincinnati by a field goal.

Indianapolis (-2.5) vs. Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium, London
Sorry, England. Colts by four.

Cleveland (+8.5) at Washington
Sorry, America. Washington by a point.

Buffalo (+5.5) at New England
Sorry, Buffalo. Maybe your next coach and quarterback will be up to their respective jobs. (Though you may feel like you’ve heard that before.) Patriots by 14.

Seattle (-1) at NY Jets
The Seahawks ought to be able to win this game, regardless of the condition of Russell Wilson’s knee. Seattle’s defense has been plenty stout through the team’s first three games (though it seems worth noting that the Seahawks haven’t exactly faced the league’s stiffest competition — and that their only other road game ended in an embarrassing loss). And it’s not like the Jets bring a powerful offense to the field. Hell, the Jets may not even bring a functional offense to the field. Seems like Seattle’s D ought to be able to keep New Jersey off the board and clear a path to victory in a low-scoring game. But I’m not so sure. The Jets D did a pretty good job of getting to the quarterback in the team’s only other home game so far this young season. If they can do that again, they’ll give their offense extra chances to wear down the Hawks. And traveling from west coast to east coast to play a one o’clock game is never easy (just ask the Cardinals). The Jets also have to feel like they’ve got their backs against the wall following last weekend’s fiasco in Kansas City. I’ve got a feeling New Jersey finds a way to win this one. Probably with a final score that looks something like 13-12.

Carolina (-3) at Atlanta
I have no idea what to make of the NFC South right now. What I do know is that the Panthers should be a better team than the Falcons. And, although the teams’ records don’t reflect it, I feel pretty confident that the Panthers actually are a better team than the Falcons. If the team is going to succeed over the long term, Carolina’s going to need to do a much better job of protecting Cam Newton than they did last weekend. But against a defense like Atlanta’s, which has shown no ability to get to the quarterback thus far this season, that shouldn’t be a huge challenge. I like the Panthers to come out on top by a touchdown.

Detroit (-3) at Chicago
Say what you want about Brian Hoyer‘s performance Sunday night in Dallas. But I’ll tell you this much: In his seven quarters of service this season, Jay Cutler dropped back to pass 54 times and took eight sacks for a league-worst sack percentage of 14.8; Hoyer, over five quarters, has dropped back 61 times, many of them against defenses protecting three-score leads, and has taken zero sacks (for a league best sack percentage of 0.0). I’m not saying that makes Hoyer a better quarterback than Cutler, but it certainly suggest to me that Hoyer is a smarter quarterback than Cutler. And that, I think, makes Hoyer ther better choice for the Bears at the moment. It’s uncertain who’ll start behind center for Chicago this week, but even assuming it’s Hoyer, I don’t expect him to lead the Bears to a win. I do, however, think Hoyer gives Chicago a chance to keep it close. And then, you know, anything can happen, particularly in a divisional matchup. Lions by a point.

Tennessee (+5.5) at Houston
Pat Kirwan likes to talk about a long-term trend of teams that have been shut out winning big the next time they take the field. There’s a competing trend at play here, too, though. It’s the one where overrated teams tend to struggle for a game or two after being exposed by the Patriots. I suspect the Texans will find a middle ground. The Titans will move the ball effectively on the ground and give the home team a good scare, but the Texans will find a way to come out just ahead. Houston by a field goal.

Oakland (+3.5) at Baltimore
It’s tempting to say that this game comes down to whether the unbalanced Raiders find a defense or the unbalanced Ravens find an offense. But I don’t think that’s where this one turns. In this battle between teams that have looked slightly better than average thus far this season, I favor the one that’s shown an ability to hold onto the ball. That’s the Raiders. Oakland by two.

Denver (-3) at Tampa Bay
Three? Three? Are you kidding? I don’t care where they’re playing, Denver wins this one by something closer to 23.

Dallas (-3) at San Francisco
Neither am I sure that three points is anywhere close to adequate in this game, though the difference might not be quite as pronounced as in Broncos-Bucs. Let’s say Dallas by 10.

New Orleans (+3.5) at San Diego
If the Saints fall to 0-4, they’re sunk. I’m pretty sure they’re sunk. Chargers by four.

Los Angeles (+8) at Arizona
Once again, the Cardinals make the most of a matchup with a weak opponent to work out their frustrations from a loss to an AFC East team. Arizona by 17.

Kansas City (+5.5) at Pittsburgh
I still haven’t quite got my head around what happened to the Steelers last weekend. I can’t imagine Pittsburgh drops a second straight, particularly given that they’re home for this one. But neither do I think the Chiefs are likely to go down without a serious fight. Steelers by three.

NY Giants (+4.5) at Minnesota
Let’s set everything else aside and just look at this. Through three games (so not an ideal sample size, but not nothing), the Giants rank 30th in the league in turnover differential, -6 (one takeaway, seven giveaways); the Vikings rank first, +8 (nine takes, one give). That’s some bad news for the visitors right there. Minnesota by a touchdown.

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Week Three Picks

September 22nd, 2016 No comments

Well, I’m consistent if nothing else. Another week, another 11-5 finish straight up. I did improve slightly against the spread in week two, but was hardly a meaningful improvement. I landed at 9-7, exactly one game better than my week one performance. So here I sit (broken hearted? maybe not so much), 22-10 (.688) straight up, 17-15 (.531) against the spread. And who knows? Maybe in a few weeks I’ll look at those results and wonder how I managed to do so well.

Here’s what not to expect in week three.

Houston (-1) at New England
The Patriots have already accomplished everything they really needed to accomplish during Tom Brady‘s suspension. Arguably more. With the greatest quarterback of all time spending the first quarter of the season in his living room, it would have been ridiculous for the team or its fans to expect anything better than a 2-2 start. With the best tight end in football sitting out with a hamstring injury, the defensive front missing key players (including the leader of the unit), and the backup quarterback leaving with an injury less than halfway through game two, even a 2-2 open should have been out of reach. But 2-2 is the worst New England can do before Brady’s return. And 3-1 seems like a solid bet. But 4-0 doesn’t, mainly because you simply can’t expect the Patriots to come up with a win this week. You just can’t. Not with rookie third string quarterback Jacoby Brissett making his first NFL start on just four days rest and preparation. Not with Gronk still uncertain to play. Not with the well balanced Houston Texans bringing what has so far been one of the best pass defenses in the league into Foxborough. There has to be a tipping point for every team — even if it’s just a temporary tipping point — and you have to believe the Patriots have hit it. That’s simply the pragmatic point of view on this game. And yet, I remain mindful of what I wrote a week ago: “There’s no value in picking against New England. No matter whom the Patriots are playing. No matter where they’re playing. No matter what the circumstances. As long as Bill Belichick is on the sideline, the Pats more often than not are going to find a way to win.” I can’t imagine what that way might be this week. But if anyone can devise a path to victory under these circumstances, it’s Belichick. So I’m closing my eyes, holding my breath, crossing everything I can comfortably cross and taking New England. I’ll be truly awestruck if the Patriots win by more than a point.

Denver (+3) at Cincinnati
I’m not sure I understand the line on this game. I mean, I know the Bengals are at home. And I know we haven’t yet seen whether Trevor Siemian can be effective in a hostile stadium. But we know the Broncos defense can perform on the road. It appears that Denver has a balanced offense. And it appears that Cincinnati does not — and that the Bengals’ inability to move the ball on the ground thus far this season poses a particular problem given that they face a defense that doesn’t let you move the ball through the air. Young Mr. Siemian may find a way to cause me to regret it, but I’m going to take my chances with the visitors here. Broncos by a touchdown.

Oakland (+1.5) at Tennessee
The Raiders can’t seem to stop opponents from scoring. Maybe it will help to face a team that stops itself. Oakland by six.

Arizona (-4) at Buffalo
I’m sure getting three extra days to prepare and a new offensive play caller will make all the difference for Buffalo in this game. I expect to see an absolute magic show as the Bills transform from a struggling 0-2 team to a hopeless 0-3 team before our very eyes. Arizona by 10.

Baltimore (even) at Jacksonville
I don’t think the first two weeks of the season have told us anything useful about either of these teams. I’m not sure this game will get the job done either. All I can say is that if I’d seen any indication whatsoever that the Ravens were capable of running the football, I’d take them to win this one. Jaguars by a field goal.

Cleveland (+9.5) at Miami
One difference (and, yes, it’s one of very, very many) between Cleveland and New England is that the Browns weren’t able to win behind either the first or second quarterback on their depth chart. It’s possible that Cody Kessler has some special mojo, but considering that Cleveland quarterbacks have been sacked once every 10 dropbacks so far this season, I’m not sure he’s going to get much chance to put it to use. Dolphins by 14.

Washington (+4.5) at NY Giants
The Racists are just not a good team. Giants by six.

Detroit (+7.5) at Green Bay
If the Packers are going to have any kind of sustained success this season, they’re going to have to do a much better job of protecting Aaron Rodgers. But that shouldn’t be much of a worry this week. Green Bay by a field goal.

Minnesota (+7) at Carolina
I know everyone thinks losing Adrian Peterson to injury is a huge deal for the Vikings. I’m not so sure I agree.


Not having any kind of a run game to begin with might be a somewhat bigger deal. But maybe that’s just me. Panthers by ten.

San Francisco (+9.5) at Seattle
You have to believe the Seahawks are going to right the ship at some point, right? Or maybe not. But you’ve still got to like them to overcome the 49ers at home. Seattle by a touchdown.

Los Angeles (+5) at Tampa Bay
I know they beat the Seahawks last week and everything, but the Rams still look like a pretty bad football team to me. Hard to see them traveling across the country and beating a solidly mediocre squad like the Buccaneers. Tampa by three.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Philadelphia
One of these teams is for real. The other one is the Eagles. Pittsburgh by nine.

NY Jets (+3) at Kansas City
Here’s another game featuring two teams I don’t quite know what to make of. I know the Chiefs are at home, though, so I guess I’ll take them. Kansas City by a field goal.

San Diego (+3) at Indianapolis
One gets the feeling it’s going to be a long, difficult season for the Colts. Uneven though they may be, the Chargers win this one by four.

Chicago (+7) at Dallas
There’s nothing impressive about the Cowboys. But there’s nothing that isn’t downright awful about the Bears. Dallas by 13.

Atlanta (+3) at New Orleans
There’s an outside chance someone on one of these teams will make a defensive play at some point during this game. That players’ team wins. New Orleans by a point.

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Week Two Picks

September 18th, 2016 Comments off

Hey, so far, so not entirely terrible. Adding Thursday night’s result into the mix, I’m now at 12-5 straight up, 9-8 against the spread so far this season. As usual, one would hardly be wise to go around wagering actual money based on anything I have to say. But one would hardly be wise to gamble under any circumstances. So I’m calling the whole thing a win. Sort of. Let’s see how short-lived this relatively good feeling proves.

Here’s what not to expect in the rest of the week two games.

Tennessee (+5.5) at Detroit
This looks to me like the kind of game where the punters might end up wondering why they bothered to suit up. The Lions won one of those by four points last week. I’ll look for them to do the same here.

Kansas City (+2.5) at Houston
Whichever team figures out how to mount a ground offense comes out on top. I’m gonna guess it’s the home team. Texans by a field goal.

Miami (+6.5) at New England
I learned a valuable lesson last Sunday night. Sadly for me, it was a lesson I’d already learned years ago and simply found a way to forget. It’s this: There’s no value in picking against New England. No matter whom the Patriots are playing. No matter where they’re playing. No matter what the circumstances. As long as Bill Belichick is on the sideline, the Pats more often than not are going to find a way to win. That formula presents itself at a fairly simple level this week, with New England hosting a Miami squad that’s playing its second straight road game and coming off what has to be a demoralizing late-game collapse in Seattle. Games against division rivals have a way of being more competitive than they ought, but I think the Patriots defense (the pass rush in particular) takes control of this one and New England comes away with win by a margin of six.

Baltimore (-6.5) at Cleveland
Don’t pay attention to those who claim Cleveland’s season is already over. The Browns have to play 15 more games just like everybody else. It’s just that their next 15 games are going to much, much worse than most other teams’. Ravens by a touchdown.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
Somebody, somewhere can probably provide some great, prescient insight into how this game is going to play out. Me, I’ve got what most everybody else has. Don’t look for much in the running game. Expect a high score. And look for the home team to come out on top. Pittsburgh by three.

Dallas (+3) at Washington
Neither of these teams got this season off to an impressive start. But the Cowboys at least hung tight against a Giants squad that I believe is better than most observers realize. I’ll take Dallas to win this one straight up. Let’s say it’s by a point.

New Orleans (+5) at NY Giants
I don’t anticipate quite the shootout I’ve seen and heard predicted elsewhere. But I do expect both teams to get into the high twenties. Giants by a field goal.

San Francisco (+13.5) at Carolina
The Panthers, who come into this game on 10 days rest, are not the Rams. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more to say. Carolina by 17.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at Arizona
One could make an argument that no team should be taken by surprise by the Patriots at this point in NFL history. But it happens just the same. Taken by surprise by the Buccaneers? Not so much. The Bucs appear to have a pretty good team. We’ll get an idea of just how good by whether — and perhaps for how long — they’re able to stay competitive against a very good Cardinals teams that needs a win to right the ship. It may be close right down to the final minutes, but in the end, even if it’s by way of a late touchdown that extends the margin, I think Arizona comes out on top by about nine.

Seattle (-6.5) at Los Angeles
I’ll admit I went to be fairly early Monday night, but I was still up later than the Rams. One suspects this first season back in L.A. is going to be longer than anyone realized. Seahawks by 10.

Indianapolis (+6) at Denver
The Broncos appear to be a balanced team. The Colts are not. Denver by a touchdown.

Atlanta (+4.5) at Oakland
I don’t think there’s anything the Falcons can do to slow down the Raiders offense. Oakland by 14.

Jacksonville (+3) at San Diego
One of these teams has to win. Let’s go with the hosts. Chargers win it straight up. It’s a push with the points.

Green Bay (-2) at Minnesota
Both of these teams will be facing much stiffer opposition than they faced in week one. But I suspect the Vikings are facing a slightly tougher bump. Packers by a point.

Philadelphia (+3) at Chicago
Another gem of a Monday night matchup. Ugh. Bears by six.

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Week Two Thursday Night Pick

September 15th, 2016 Comments off

I’m not going to get to all of this week’s games before the big AFC East showdown on Thursday night. So let’s start with that one and I’ll get to the rest later.

I got off to about as good a start as I could have hoped for with my week one picks. Finished 11-5 straight up, 8-8 against the spread. I’ll take it. And let’s see how much worse I do once I start thinking I know something.

NY Jets (-1) at Buffalo
You wouldn’t think the Bills could fare any worse against the Jets than they did against the Ravens. But I’m not sure. I certainly don’t expect Buffalo to have much more success running the ball this week than they did last. And that leaves Tyrod Taylor, who was sacked once for every 11 times he dropped back last week, to try to overcome a pass rush that put Andy Dalton on his back seven times on 37 drop-backs (18.9 percent) last week. None of that figures to help the Bills. I suspect the advantage of hosting a division rival on a short week is the only thing that keeps Buffalo in this game. In a low-scoring game, New Jersey comes out on top by a field goal.

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Week One Picks

September 11th, 2016 Comments off

Hey, look at that, I’m off to a split start: 0-1 straight up, 1-0 against the spread. So far this randomly guessing approach is producing results that are similar to the pretending I know and them randomly guessing approach. What a revelation.

Here’s what not to expect over the rest of week one.

Tampa Bay (+2.5) at Atlanta
Common sense tells me to take the home team in this matchup. My belief that that Buccaneers are rising and the Falcons falling tells me the opposite. And since I have nothing on the line but pride — and since I have no pride left to lose — Tampa Bay by three.

Minnesota (-2.5) at Tennessee
The Vikings defense needs to play up to the level of its reputation at least long enough for the Minnesota offense to get its legs under it. This seems like a good place to start. In a low-scoring game, Minnesota comes out ahead by a point.

Cleveland (+3.5) at Philadelphia
Neither of these teams is very good. And both may already have given up on the season. But at least one of them has a quarterback who has both something to prove and decent chance to start proving it. Cleveland by a field goal.

Cincinnati (-2.5) at NY Jets
The consensus seems to be that the Bengals are a considerably better football team than the Jets, and that only home field is keeping New Jersey in this one. I’m not sure that’s true. I’ll take the favorites, I suppose, but I think it comes down to the final seconds. Cincinnati by four.

Oakland (+1.5) at New Orleans
The Raiders are the more complete team in this match. I think they outlast the Saints in a high-scoring game. Oakland by six.

San Diego (+6.5) at Kansas City
Kansas City’s a tough place to start a season for Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Chiefs by 10.

Buffalo (+3) at Baltimore
I don’t think either of these teams is going much of anywhere this season. But the Ravens should at least be good enough to handle a middling visitor like the Bills fairly handily. Baltimore by a touchdown.

Chicago (+6) at Houston
The Bears have a long way to go before they’ll be competitive in road games against good opponents. Houston by nine.

Green Bay (-5.5) at Jacksonville
Even those who have bought into the hype about the Jaguars rebound don’t think Jacksonville has the juice to compete with Green Bay. Packers by 14.

Miami (+10.5) at Seattle
I’m not sure there’s a whole lot that needs to be said about this matchup. Seahawks by 21.

NY Giants (even) at Dallas
In which the Giants begin the work of dominating a weak division. Eli Manning has a big day and New Jersey opens with an eight-point win.

Detroit (+3) at Indianapolis
Shrug. Home team by six.

New England (+7) at Arizona
If the Patriots ever had a real chance in this game, it went away on July 14. And if they had an outside chance, it probably disappeared when the team traveled to Arizona without Rob Gronkowski. But in reality, this game was likely going to end in a Cardinals victory no matter who New England put on the field. At full strength, these are two of the best teams in the league. And, sure, there’s still some possibility that what appears to be a very impressive Patriots defense finds a way to take advantage of Carson Palmer and carry New England to a victory. (If that happens, by the way, Patriots fans should go ahead and book their hotel rooms in Houston for the first weekend in February.) But when two good teams meet in week one, you take the home team unless there’s a very good reason not to. Cardinals by four.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Washington
The Steelers put on a show in prime time, announcing that they’re back. The Racists … well, in a way, I guess they’re back, too. Pittsburgh by 17.

Los Angeles (-2.5) at San Francisco
In a nationally televised game that will be watched by no one outside of California, the middle-of-the-road team overcomes the bad team. What an exciting way to wrap up week one. Rams by four.

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Opening Night Pick

September 8th, 2016 Comments off

I’m just going with this one for the nonce. Maybe I’ll get the rest up before kickoff tonight. Probably not.

Carolina (-3) at Denver
If your defense is good enough to carry you to victory over a good team at a neutral site in spite of horrific quarterback play to end one season, it ought to be good enough to carry you to a victory over that same team on your own field in spite of an inexperienced quarterback to begin the next. I mean, that’s sound reasoning, isn’t it? Carolina by a point.

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2016 NFL Season Predictions

September 8th, 2016 Comments off

I shouldn’t be doing this. It’s late (the Wednesday evening before the start of the season as I write). My anger with the NFL over its treatment of Tom Brady has (once again) eroded my ability (and willingness) to pay as much attention as I had until the 2015 off-season to goings-on around the league. And even setting that aside, making predictions in September about what will happen in football games to be played in December, January and February is always the very definition of pointlessness.

But here I go again just the same. Now I’ll have something to go to in five months when I’m looking for evidence of my own utter idiocy.

As in prior years, I’m not going to try to predict final win-loss records. Instead, I’ll offer range of how many games I think each team is likely to win. And then it’s on to predicting postseason seedings and outcomes. Because that’s always a good idea.

Less text than usual this time. Because it’s all bullshit anyhow.

AFC East

New England Patriots, 11-14
Patriots fans are convinced that the team is going to run the table once Tom Brady returns from his unjust, unwarranted suspension in week five. It’s a nice enough thought. But I’m inclined to think they drop one somewhere along the way. And if they don’t, they may well end up in position to take week 17 off. The Pats appear to have assembled a bruising defense. And their O, which should sing once Brady’s back on the field, ought to be able to operate well enough with Jimmy Garoppolo behind center. The opener at Arizona looks like a loss to me. Beyond that, I think it’s just a matter of how many of the next three games New England can win. I expect them to take at least two. But even if they drop all four, I think the team will be OK. (The fans, not so much. And don’t even get me started on the Boston sports media.)

New York Jets, 9-11
The Jets are a well coached team with a lot of the right pieces. As long as they can keep Ryan Fitzpatrick upright, I expect the Jets to pose a threat to the Patriots throughout much of the season, only to fall away in December. And even then, they may well catch a wild card berth.

Miami Dolphins, 5-8
Once again, it’s all about Ryan Tannehill in Miami. And once again, we see that a quarterback can only take a team so far.

Buffalo Bills, 5-7
I don’t see that the Bills used the offseason to solve the problems that dogged them in 2015. And in the NFL, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-13
Conventional wisdom says that the Steelers success this season will depend on he maturation of their defense. I kind of think that’s about fans expecting Pittsburgh to be Pittsburgh, and I’m not so sure it holds up. I think we might see a team that’s carried by a high-scoring offense through most or all of the season. If the D comes together — especially if they do it down the stretch — all the better.

Cincinnati Bengals, 9-11
Will this be the year the Bengals finally win a game in the postseason? Probably not. But they may well get to lose another one.

Baltimore Ravens, 6-10
We should be in the up part of the up-down cycle for the Ravens (and their quarterback) this year. And maybe there’s something to that. But facing a tough schedule and playing in a tough division with a geriatric roster isn’t usually a very good formula for up. We’ll see.

Cleveland Browns, 3-5
It’s possible (because anything’s possible) that this latest rebuilding project is the one that will finally pay off for the Browns. But not this year.

AFC South

Houston Texans, 8-11
I’m not one of those folks who expect the Texans to be a great football team this season. (Which is your surest sign that they will be.) I’m not even confident that they’ll be much better than good. But that might still win them a second straight AFC South title. Or not.

Indianapolis Colts, 7-11
I think it’s the same, simple formula for the Colts: Keep Andrew Luck on his feet and you win the division. Expose him to constant punishment via shoddy O line play and you start your offseason January 2.

Tennessee Titans, 6-10
I think the Titans could be a much better team than anyone expects. I like their quarterback. I think their plan to emphasize the run will allow Mariota to continue to grow into the role. And I suspect their D may be better than advertised, especially if a ball-control offense allows them to play rested and defend leads. Of course, I’m usually wrong about these things.

Jacksonville Jaguars, 4-8
It’s easy and popular to blame the problems the Jaguars have faced in recent seasons on the defense. And if it’s also accurate, this team should be poised to make a huge leap this season. But I’ve got this weird notion that the Jags’ failure to protect Blake Bortles has been significant factor. And I don’t see where they’ve fixed that.

AFC West

Oakland Raiders, 9-12
That’s right. I’m looking for the Raiders not only to be relevant for the first time in 14 years, but to actually win a division title. Why? Maybe because they’ve built a talented team. And, you know, maybe because I’m a dolt.

Kansas City Chiefs, 9-12
Or maybe it’ll be the Chiefs’ year. They looked pretty OK at the end of last season, right? And they appear to have got a bit better in the offseason. Or they have on offense, anyhow.

Denver Broncos, 7-9
The Broncos’ defense was good enough to win them a Super Bowl last year in spite of shoddy quarterback play. And they kept enough of that unit around that they should be able to carry Trevor Siemian and the offense. Right?  I’ll believe it when I see it.

San Diego Chargers, 5-8
The biggest thing the Chargers needed to do in the offseason was figure out how to keep Philip Rivers on his feet. They didn’t.

NFC East

New York Giants, 9-11
The Giants probably won’t be a truly great football team this season. But I suspect they’ll be a very good football team. And that’s all it should take in the NFC East.

Washington Racists, 6-9
The defending division champs got away with being the best team in a bad division a year ago. That kind of luck almost never repeats itself.

Philadelphia Eagles, 5-8
Say what you want. This is a rebuilding year.

Dallas Cowboys, 4-6
We’ve all seen this movie before. We know how it ends. Tony Romo‘s career is effectively over. And the Cowboys aren’t built to win without him.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers, 11-14
It’s all about Aaron Rodgers. It always is for Green Bay. And that’s not a bad thing.

Minnesota Vikings, 8-10
Ask yourself how quickly you think the Vikings can get Sam Bradford up to speed. Answer that and you’ll know how far the team can go.

Chicago Bears, 5-7
It’s just hard to believe the Bears can get much done given how little they have to work with.

Detroit Lions, 4-6
The Lions are just plain old headed in the wrong direction.

NFC South

Carolina Panthers, 13-14
Barring a Super Bowl hangover of epic proportions, it’s hard to imagine the Panthers falling far below their level of regular season success of a year ago.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 7-9
The Buccaneers are on the ascent. The question isn’t whether they’ll be better than they were last year. It’s by how much?

New Orleans Saints, 6-9
The Saints don’t have enough offense to overcome their shortcomings on D.

Atlanta Falcons, 5-8
Neither do the Falcons.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals, 12-15
It’s the Cardinals and the Seahawks this year — not just in the NFC West, but in the conference as a whole (arguably in the NFL, though don’t look for me to make that argument) — and everyone knows it. Barring a disastrous injury for one team, one is going to take the one seed and the other is going to settle in as an insanely dangerous five (cue the calls for reseeding in the playoffs). Which will be which? I don’t know. I’m defaulting to last year’s division winner mostly because I know everyone else is doing the opposite.

Seattle Seahawks, 12-15
See above. (But keep an eye on the Seattle O line and their ability to keep Russell Wilson healthy.)

Los Angeles Rams, 5-8
The Rams have the misfortune of trying to find their way in a division dominated by two of the best teams in football.

San Francisco 49ers, 3-5
The 49ers have the misfortune of trying to rebuild in that same division.


OK, now it’s time to get truly stupid.

1. New England
2. Pittsburgh
3. Oakland
4. Houston
5. Kansas City
6. Cincinnati

1. Arizona
2. Carolina
3. Green Bay
4. NY Giants
5. Seattle
6. Minnesota

Wild Card Playoffs

Oakland defeats Cincinnati
Kansas City defeats Houston

Green Bay defeats Minnesota
Seattle defeats NY Giants

Divisional Playoffs

Pittsburgh defeats Oakland
New England defeats Kansas City

Seattle defeats Arizona
Green Bay defeats Carolina

Conference Championships

New England defeats Pittsburgh

Seattle defeats Green Bay

Super Bowl LI
New England defeats Seattle

There you go. Wrong from top to bottom, no doubt.

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Super Bowl 50 Pick

February 4th, 2016 Comments off

Here’s the most important thing I’m going to tell you: Don’t listen to anything I have to say.

Or at the very least, don’t risk actual money based on my predictions. Because if there’s one thing I’ve been good at all season long, and now through the playoffs, it’s making terrible picks against the spread.

I went 0-2 against the spread in the Conference Championship round, which makes me 2-7-1 picking against the spread this postseason. That’s pretty damned awful.

Straight up? Better. I went 1-1 in the last round, which puts me at 8-2 overall in the playoffs.

So, you know, maybe that means I’ve got an 80 percent chance of getting this last pick right. Or maybe it means I’ve got a 100 percent chance of experiencing the last bit of a stats correction that’s still possible at this point.

That’s picking straight up, of course. Against the spread it’s a guaranteed disaster. So if you’re going to bet (you shouldn’t bet; it’s a stupid way to throw your money away), bet the other way. Seriously.

Here, for the last time until September, is what not to expect.

Carolina (-5.5) vs. Denver
I’ll start out by stating again something I’ve expressed here and elsewhere a trillion times before: The bit of conventional wisdom about defense winning championships is wrong. Defense doesn’t win championships. Balance wins championships. We think defense wins championships mainly because throughout the regular season the focus of both fans and the media tends to be on the teams with flashy offenses. Those teams are fun. And they win a lot in regular season play, because they mostly come up against teams with bad, middling or pretty good Ds. The teams with the big, bruising Ds meanwhile, win consistently but unspectacularly. Or they do as long as they also have offenses that are at least pretty good. Because a strong D asked to carry a bad O eventually wears down. Then you get into the postseason, and the teams with great Ds and pretty good offenses start eliminating the teams with great offenses and OK-ish Ds and it looks for all the world like defense is carrying the day. Until you get to the end. Usually. And then what happens is that the team best suited to play well on both sides of the ball comes out on top. And when you have a team that extends offensive/defensive balance to run/pass balance on both sides of the ball, that squad is even better positioned to win, often to win decisively. (But there again, because that team plays well on D, which we’re not used to talking about, we end up hearing about how defense wins championships. It’s an inescapable cycle.)

The Carolina Panthers are an incredibly well balanced football team. It’s why they come into this game 17-1. The Panthers had the NFL’s most productive offense during the regular season, scoring 31.3 points per game. In the postseason, although Carolina squared off against the league’s stingiest defense (Seattle, 17.3 points per game) and seventh stingiest defense (Arizona, 19.6 points per game), the Panthers were able to put up 31 and 49 points, stretching their overall scoring average to 32.2 points per game. And, yeah, they did that playing at home, but the Panthers put up big points in road games all season long. There’s nothing on their schedule that suggests they may struggle to score simply because they’re playing on a neutral field. The Panthers move the ball well through the air and better on the ground. They come into this game with an overall offensive passer rating of 100.4. And their run game produced 142.6 yards per game (4.3 yards per carry) and 19 touchdowns during the regular season, which they stretched to 143.2 (still 4.3) and 24 in the playoffs. The Panthers also protect the ball incredibly well. Meanwhile on D, although the Broncos have got most of the attention these past two weeks, the Panthers may actually be the better unit. Carolina gave up just 19.3 points per game during the season, sixth fewest in the NFL. They’ve maintained that average through the postseason. Across all 18 games, they’ve compiled a defensive passer rating of just 72.8, and have allowed just 86.2 yards per game (4.0 yards per carry) on the ground. The Panthers led the league in takeaways during the season with 39, which also gave them a league best takeaway-giveaway differential of +20, which they have extended to +28 in the playoffs.

The Denver Broncos, on the other hand, are not a well balanced team. Denver unquestionably has a powerhouse D, and it’s that unit that carried the Broncos through the regular season and the playoffs alike. The Broncos allowed just 18.5 points per game during the regular season, an average they were able to reduce slightly, to 18.3, in the postseason despite facing two of the NFL’s most productive regular season offenses in Pittsburgh (26.4) and New England (29.1). And, yes, we all know that the Steelers were up against some pretty serious injury issues by the time they got to Denver, but that doesn’t change the fact that the impressive Broncos D has not let up in the postseason. And the Broncos have been better than the Panthers against the run. They allowed just 83.6 yards per game (3.3 yards per carry) during the regular season, and reduced their overall average during the playoffs to 81.4 yards per game (still 3.3 per carry). The Broncos are slightly weaker than the Panthers against the pass, however, with a defensive passer rating of 77.7 through 18 games. The difference comes largely from the fact that the Broncos pick off the ball with much less frequency than the Panthers. But on offense, the emotional perspective of fans and professional observers who want to believe that Peyton Manning has one last big game in him notwithstanding, the Broncos are completely outclassed in this game. They’ve put up just 22.1 points per game through all 18. They bring in a passer rating of 76.9, a number that makes it astonishing to think that they’ve come this far. And while they run the ball better than they throw it, at 107.0 yards per game and 4.1 per carry, no one’s accusing the Broncos of tearing up the turf. Most problematic for the Broncos is their tendency to give the ball away. Denver finished the regular season with the third most giveaways in the league, 31. The Broncos were the only team to qualify for postseason play with a negative giveaway-takeaway differential, -4. They’ve improved to -2 overall during the playoffs, but two decent games doesn’t constitute a turnaround.

Before we get to a pick, let’s take a moment to look at the holy trinity of predictive stats, shall we? Scoring differential, Panthers +4.6 (not huge). Passer rating differential, Panthers +14.2 (pretty huge). Turnover differential, Panthers +30 (ginormous).

So here’s the deal. Denver’s defense is probably good enough to make a few things happen, maybe even good enough to win the game if the offense doesn’t completely fall apart. But to get to a Denver win, everything needs to go the Broncos’ way. Everything. You can’t count on that. Ever. You certainly can’t count on it when you’re lined up against a team that was probably the best in football from September through January. I just can’t envision the Denver D being able to clamp down on Cam Newton and the Panthers offense for an entire game. Can’t. But I can see the Carolina D positioning itself to victimize the one-dimensional Denver offense. So I’m going with Carolina. And while I won’t be surprised if it’s still a game at halftime, and maybe even at the end of the third quarter, I will be surprised if the Panthers don’t come out ahead by at least a touchdown, and possibly a good bit more.

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Conference Championship Picks

January 21st, 2016 Comments off

Well, picking straight up wasn’t a disaster for me in the divisional round. So I’ve got that going for me, even if I came out looking like an idiot with my picks against the spread. (The real reason I don’t gamble may turn out to be not that I’m too smart to bet but that I’m too stupid to bet successfully.)

I finished 3-1 straight up for the second week of the postseason, which gets my overall playoffs picking record to 7-1. That ain’t bad. Against the spread, I was 0-3-1 in the divisional round, which gets me to 2-5-1 overall. Ugh.

Maybe this is where it gets better. Probably this is where it gets worse.

What not to expect in the conference championships.

New England (-3) at Denver
This is what I wrote last week as I looked ahead to the Chiefs-Patriots divisional round game: “Whichever team comes out on top in this match is going to end up the AFC champion. … These are the two best teams remaining in the AFC playoffs — and I don’t think three and four are terribly close.” Then I watched the games. And at the end of the Broncos’ win over the Steelers Sunday evening, I felt even better about that statement than I did when I wrote it.

The Broncos have a great defense. And it’s served them incredibly well. Hell, the fact that the Broncos are hosting the AFC Championship is almost entirely attributable to the fact that their outstanding D has more than compensated for quarterback play that has ranged from depressingly bad with the guy who used to be Peyton Manning behind center to periodically adequate in games when Denver had Brock Osweiler taking the snaps. Almost entirely, I say. Because there’s one specific step in the Broncos’ path to the AFC one seed that needs to be considered: The week 12 victory over the Patriots, which ultimately determined the seeding order among teams that finished the regular season with identical 12-4 records.

I’m sure I don’t need to walk anyone through the details at this point, but just the same, let’s review the circumstances of that game. The Patriots were playing without Julian Edelman, who had been injured two weeks earlier. They were without Danny Amendola, who was hurt the previous week. They were still adjusting to playing without Dion Lewis, who’d been having a breakout season running the ball and, more important, catching passes out of the backfield, until he suffered a season-ending injury in week nine. And, as they’d done all season, the Patriots were forced to juggle the offensive line in response to an unending string of injuries. The Pats also faced some meaningful injury issues on defense, both before and during the game. And still, as the fourth quarter began, Tom Brady threw his third TD pass of the game, giving New England a 21-7 lead. And the Pats D held the Broncos without a yard on their next possession, forcing a punt that it appeared for a second would give New England possession at their own 35 and a chance to chew clock, add points and put the game away. Except that rookie receiver Chris Harper, who had been pressed into returning punts because of injuries, muffed the punt, giving Denver the ball at the New England 36 and new life in the game. And even then, even though the ensuing Patriots meltdown allowed the Broncos to surge to a 24-21 lead, New England was able to force overtime with a field goal at the end of regulation — and may have been in a position instead to put the winning TD on the board in those final seconds if not for the fact that Rob Gronkowski had been knocked out of the game during New England’s previous possession. It’s also hard not to wonder whether the Patriots might have been able to move the ball with the first possession of OT if they’d, you know, had anyone for Brady to throw to.

Denver won. And the Broncos are hosting the championship as a result. And it’s just as well for the NFL, I suppose, since home field advantage is about the only reason Denver has any hope in this rematch.

The simple realities of this game are this: The Patriots offense that put 24 points on the board vs. Denver’s D in week 12 now has a full complement of players, including Edelman, Amendola and Gronkowski. James White has become a meaningful pass-catching thread out of the backfield. The O line is more stable than it’s been all season. And that offense is balanced by a defense that is considerably healthier this time around and that has given up an average of 19.7 points per game through the regular season and one postseason game (1.3 points per game more than Denver’s vaunted D). And just as the Patriots offense faces a D that it has already shown an ability to overcome short-handed, the New England D faces an offense that is relying on a broken down quarterback who finished the season with a passer rating of 67.9, the worst of his career (and worse by far than all except his rookie season, when he was thrown to the wolves as the #1 overall draft pick by a bad Indianapolis team) and, more important, worst in the league and worst by far among the QBs participating in this weekend’s games.

You can talk all you want about the Patriots’ difficulties in Denver over the years. You can talk about Manning’s success in his last two conference championship matchups with New England. You can find all kinds of magical reasons to like the Broncos. But the meaningful facts all point in one direction.

On that subject, here’s how the holy trinity of predictive stats lines up (and keep in mind, Denver’s offensive passer rating is pulled up by the games started by Osweiler): Scoring differential, Patriots +2.7; passer rating differential, Patriots +9.6; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +11. (Denver, by the way, is the only team among the final four with a negative turnover differential, -3 through the divisional round.) That’s a formula for a decisive victory.

New England by 10.


Arizona (+3) at Carolina
It will shock you to know that I’m not going to go into nearly as much detail with this pick as I did with the AFC game. Please don’t take that to mean I’m overlooking this game. I’m not. I think this is going to a fantastic football game, likely a much better game than the AFC Championship. Because these are both phenomenal football teams, either of which I could envision taking home its first Lombardi Trophy in a couple of weeks.

The predictive stats say this is Carolina’s game. But only narrowly. Scoring differential, Panthers +0.5; passer rating differential, Panthers +2.6; takeaway-giveaway differential, Panthers +14. That last one’s pretty big, but it has to be considered in context. The Panthers picked off 24 balls during the regular season, most in the league, and another two against the Seahawks last week. But Carson Palmer this season hasn’t been given to throwing a lot of interceptions (though he did manage two against Green Bay in the divisional round). And most of those Panthers picks came against QBs who either aren’t terribly good or who were having bad seasons. That’s not to dismiss Carolina’s impressive turnover differential. It’s simply to say I’m not sure that one big area of statistical differentiation between these two teams can be taken to point to a likely blowout.

This is a close matchup. And those typically come down to home field and/or quarterback play. And since I suspect Cam Newton can likely accomplish more against the Arizona D than Palmer can against the Carolina D, I believe the Panthers have the edge in both areas. So I’m taking the Panthers straight up and looking for a push with the points.

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Divisional Round Picks

January 14th, 2016 Comments off

You’d think the fact that I went 4-0 on wild card weekend (picking all the road teams) would have me feeling confident. Hell, even my 2-2 finish against the spread was pretty decent (I mean, you know, since I didn’t actually have any money on the games).

But it all means nothing. Or I should say that at best it means nothing. Because either the whole thing resets in the the much more difficult to pick divisional round — or I’m headed for a giant correction (read: 0-4).

Time will tell, I suppose.

Here’s what not to expect.

Kansas City (+5) at New England
You know what? I don’t know which team is winning this game. I just don’t. I’ve spent a lot of time this week looking at it, and I’ve yet to come up with anything approaching a strong opinion. What I will say with confidence is that unless they suffer a couple of meaningful injuries en route to a win, whichever team comes out on top in this match is going to end up the AFC champion. I don’t care if that means beating Pittsburgh at home or traveling to take on Denver. These are the two best teams remaining in the AFC playoffs — and I don’t think three and four are terribly close. But that’s just noise for the moment. And maybe a handy distraction from the confused rambling that follows.

I don’t want to focus on schedules. Or not much, anyhow. I’ve heard a lot around New England this week about how the Chiefs during their 11-game winning streak “didn’t really beat anybody.” I’m not sure I know what that means. The Chiefs beat the each of the last 11 teams that were set before them. That included three postseason qualifiers, the Pittsburgh Steelers (albeit with Landry Jones behind center), the Denver Broncos (who, yes, had some QB issues of their own in that game), and, of course, last week the Houston Texans. So that’s not really nobody. And here’s the other thing: It’s not like the Patriots spent 2015 battling it out against the best the NFL has to offer. In terms of quality of opposition, I think it’s really a wash between these two teams. The only other matter I’d note regarding schedule is that in games against postseason qualifiers, the Chiefs went 3-4 in the regular season, 4-4 including last week, while the Patriots are 3-1. Is that meaningful? I don’t think so.

So what about the big three predictive stats: scoring differential, passer rating differential, and takeaway/giveaway differential? Generally speaking, I like a team that comes out ahead in all three areas no matter where the game is played. But we don’t have one of those here. (Note: I’m looking at Kansas City’s cumulative numbers here — that is, factoring in the big win over Houston — an approach that benefits the Chiefs, but doesn’t really swing anything their way.) Scoring: Patriots +0.3. Passer rating: Chiefs +3.8. Turnover: Chiefs +11. That last one looks huge. And by “looks huge,” I mean it is huge. The Chiefs finished the regular season with a +14 (second best in the league), then added a +4 last week. The Patriots came out of the season with a +7. But here’s what makes considering that data kind of tricky: Kansas City logged the fourth most takeaways in the league during the regular season with 29. And of those 29 takeaways, 22 were interceptions. Then they intercepted Brian Hoyer four times a week ago. The Patriots, meanwhile, committed a league-low 14 giveaways during the season, including seven interceptions by Tom Brady, which is tied for the fewest in the NFL … with Alex Smith. (I’m going to note here for the record that Brady’s seven picks came on 624 attempts while Smith’s came on 470. An interception percentage of 1.1 is better than an interception percentage of 1.5, even if not by terribly much.) Nothing’s impossible, of course, but Brady isn’t likely to throw four picks in this game. And while it only took two to help the Chiefs record a blowout win against the Pats in Kansas City early last season, I think it’s fair to say this is a different New England team than the one we saw in that game. The more pressing point is that I’m not sure how to read the Chiefs’ big takeaway numbers in relation to this game. Can a team that appears to live by the takeaway succeed against New England? We’ll see. But I’m not going to predict that turnovers will prove the difference in this game.

This all brings us back to where we started. And it’s frustrating, isn’t it? So let’s end it. As much as I’d like to have found some definitive reason to pick this game one way or the other (no, New England’s return to health, particularly on offense isn’t it; not because it doesn’t matter — it does — but because Kansas City is good enough to overcome it under the right circumstances) I’m left to take the default position in a close match, which is to pick the home team (which also happens to be the team playing on two weeks rest — always nice — and the team not playing its second straight road game ). So that’s what I’m doing. Patriots by a field goal.

Oh, here. With the Patriots off, I didn’t get to post this last week.


Green Bay (+7) at Arizona
Remember last week when I couldn’t get my head around the fact that Washington was favored over Green Bay? Of course you don’t. I barely remember it myself. But I was. You can scroll down and see for yourself. It wasn’t because I think the Packers are awesome. It was because I knew the Racists were awful. I didn’t predict the decisive Packers victory we ended up getting, but I called a Green Bay win, and I wasn’t exactly shocked by the actual result. This week, I foresee a decisive victory, but not by Green Bay. This is hardly an original thought, but I just don’t see that anything of any substance has changed since these teams last met a scant three weeks ago. The Cardinals remain the stronger, more balanced team. And, no, I don’t see the Packers repeating the mistakes that turned that game into a rout. But where does that get Green Bay? Do they cut Arizona’s margin of victory in half? Let’s say they do. And let’s then round it down to the nearest typical football multiple. Cardinals by 14.

Seattle (+2.5) at Carolina
One expects this will be the most competitive game of the weekend, which means it probably won’t be. Still, as with the early game on Saturday, I’m having trouble finding any strong indicator of a likely outcome. And given the Seahawks’ weird habit of winning games they ought to lose, I can’t even feel safe just going with the home team. What I can come up with that feels substantive to me is this: Much as I like Cam Newton (and I like him a lot) I think the Seahawks are stronger at QB, the the most important position in the game. So I’m running with that. Seattle by two.

Pittsburgh (+7) at Denver
I’m just gonna get right to it. If they were healthy, the Steelers would win this game. But the Steelers are really, really not healthy. I don’t think the Broncos have enough offense to make this a blowout, even against the Steelers’ questionable D. But Denver has all the defense it needs to render offense a luxury. Denver, 13-3.

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