Week Seven Picks

October 17th, 2019 No comments

I don’t know.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain about 9-5. Picking straight up, I mean. My 9-5 record picking against the spread in week six feels pretty good (as it can when you have no actual money at risk — gambling is losing, kids). But 9-5 straight up? That’s not gonna cut it.

Through the first six weeks of the season, I stand at 60-31-1 (.658) straight up, 46-45-1 (.505) with the points.

And now that I’ve bellyached about 9-5, I’m probably heading for something like 4-10 in week seven.

[Sigh.]

Here’s what not to expect

Kansas City (-3) at Denver
Ugh. Taking the road team on a Thursday night is always problematic. But taking the Chiefs to drop a third straight game against a Broncos team that probably shouldn’t be in a position to try to win a third straight is problematic, too. I’m going to say Kansas City by a point, which at least makes it really hard for me to get this one wrong across the board.

Arizona (+3) at NY Giants
I suspect there’s going to be a lot of folks picking the underdog here. I won’t be one of those. We know that neither of these teams can beat a good opponent. I’m not sure the Cardinals can handle even a mediocre one. New Jersey by four.

Houston (+1) at Indianapolis
The Texans are the better team in this match. The Texans are going to win the AFC South title. But the Texans aren’t better than the Colts by all that significant a margin. And Houston is on the road for the second straight week and coming off a hard-fought victory in Kansas City while Indianapolis has had two weeks to rest up following their big win in KC. I think this one just lines up right for Indy. Colts by a field goal.

Miami (+17) at Buffalo
Every time I think I’ve got a handle on just how bad the Dolphins are, I find out they’re worse still. Bills by 20.

Minnesota (-1) at Detroit
Two things I think I’m done with: thinking the Lions will win games just because they should win them; thinking the Vikings will lose games just because they should lose them. Minnesota by six.

Oakland (+5.5) at Green Bay
Sooner or later, the balls are going to stop bouncing Green Bay’s way, and then things are going to get ugly. But not this weekend. Packers by a touchdown.

Jacksonville (-4) at Cincinnati
The Jaguars appear to have started thinking about next year. I have no idea what the Bengals are thinking about, and I suspect neither do they. Jaguars by nine.

LA Rams (-3) at Atlanta
Will Jalen Ramsey make his Rams debut this weekend? Do you think it matters? (Well, OK, maybe it matters a little bit. But not much.) Los Angeles by six.

San Francisco (-9.5) at Washington
The Racists sort of beat the Dolphins last week. So that’s, you know, sort of nice for them. Niners by 21.

LA Chargers (+2) at Tennessee
I’m not sure the Titans are bad enough to lose to the Chargers. Tennessee by a point.

New Orleans (+3) at Chicago
The Bears defense should be able to bring this one in. Chicago by four.

Baltimore (+3.5) at Seattle
The Ravens really excel at beating the snot out of bad teams. The Seahawks excel at slugging it out and finding ways to win against any team the schedule puts across the line of scrimmage from them. Seattle by two.

Philadelphia (+3) at Dallas
Which slightly better than average team will take the lead in the NFC East race? If they can manage to hold on to the ball, it should be the one playing at home. Cowboys by three.

New England (-9.5) at NY Jets
The predictive stats may not tell as definitive a story as usual given that the Jets have Sam Darnold back. But let’s have a look just the same: Passer rating differential, Patriots +30; scoring differential, Patriots +17.9; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +8. How much of that does Darnold change? I’m not sure. Some. But let’s say instead of the Jets team passer rating, we looked at Darnold’s. And since the 2019 sample size is rather small, let’s split the difference between his 2019 passer rating and his career passing rating. That alone gives us to Patriots +27. Not much of a help, I’m afraid. He should affect scoring. And he might affect some aspects of defensive performance (like, if he can keep the offense on the field). But it’s not going to help that much. Shall we assume that might pull the differential down to Patriots +14? And even if you halve the takeaway-giveaway (which would be a crazy thing to do), you still land at Patriots +4. None of that screams Jets victory. And neither does the fact that the Patriots will be playing on 10 days rest. So, yeah, let’s be conservative and say Patriots by 13.

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Week Six Picks

October 10th, 2019 Comments off

Now, that’s more like it.

I got my ass kicked in week five. It wasn’t so bad picking straight up. I finished the week 9-6, which no one could argue is a successful outcome, regardless of whether it’s on the right side of .500. Against the spread? Brutal. 5-10. That’s just embarrassing.

That awful week picking with the points gets me below .500 for the season, too. I currently stand at 37-40-1 (.481). I’m still OK straight up, 51-26-1 (.660), but I’m sure I’ll find my way into the tank with the “easy” picks soon enough.

Here’s what not to expect in week six

NY Giants (+17) at New England
If the Giants were bringing their offense with them to this game, it would probably be meaningful to cite the bit three predictive stats. And that would go like this: passer rating differential, Patriots +38.7; scoring differential, Patriots +14.9; takeaway/giveaway differential, Patriots +12. Then it might make sense to point out that the critically outmatched Giants are traveling on short rest. And then it would only follow to observe that all indicators point to a blowout. But the thing is, New Jersey isn’t bringing an offense into this game. That seems sort of problematic all by itself, doesn’t it? Patriots by three touchdowns (maybe they make the extra points; maybe they don’t).

Carolina (-2.5) vs. Tampa Bay at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London
The Panthers have been benefiting lately from much better quarterback play than they had when these teams met in Charlotte four weeks ago. Is that enough? Maybe just. Carolina by a point.

Cincinnati (+11.5) at Baltimore
The best you can say about the Ravens is that they’re uneven. But the best you can say about the Bengals is that their season will be officially over after just another 11 weeks. Baltimore by 13.

Seattle (-1.5) at Cleveland
Picking against the spread gets a lot easier when you have a favorite that’s consistently underestimated and an underdog that’s consistently overestimated. Seahawks by seven.

Houston (+4.5) at Kansas City
YepThese teams are virtually identical on paper. Or close enough to merit a look at the predictive stats, anyhow. Passer rating differential, Chiefs +6.9; scoring differential, Chiefs +1.4; takeaway/giveaway differential, even. That sure appears to point to a victory by the home team, though the uncertain condition of Patrick Mahomes’ ankle throws a bit of a wrench into the works. Let’s go with Kansas City by three.

New Orleans (+1) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars are pretty tough when the competition isn’t. Saints by six.

Philadelphia (+3) at Minnesota
If you can limit Dalvin Cook, you can beat the Vikings. I think the Eagles can limit Cook. Philadelphia by a field goal.

Washington (-3.5) at Miami
If the Crimson Tide are trying to persuade Tua Tagovailoa to stick around for his senior year, they should make him watch this game. Washington by virtue of some kind of accidental touchdown.

San Francisco (+3) at LA Rams
Someone needs to tell the Rams that you don’t get an automatic bid to return to the Super Bowl just because you think you should have won the last one. Or don’t. I don’t really care. Anyhow, it might already be too late. Niners by a touchdown.

Atlanta (-2.5) at Arizona
Everyone knows that neither of these teams has a defense. I’m also not convinced either has an offense. Maybe the Cardinals are developing one. But I don’t know. I’d like to see them beat a tough opponent before I get too excite. That’s not happening this week no matter what. And frankly, I don’t think they’re quite ready to beat the Falcons anyhow. Atlanta by a point.

Dallas (-7) at NY Jets
I keep trying to tell you the Cowboys aren’t all that good, and you keep refusing to listen. But “not all that good” only goes so far. And it stops quite a ways before you get to “might lose to the Jets.” Dallas by 10.

Tennessee (+2) at Denver
I want to put my faith in the Tennessee defense. But I can’t. Not in Denver. Not right now. Broncos by three.

Pittsburgh (+7) at LA Chargers
I don’t know where seven comes from. I mean, yeah, the Chargers are winning this game. (Do the Steelers even have a quarterback right now?) But I don’t know how you look at this Los Angeles team and conclude they should be giving a touchdown to anyone. Except maybe Miami. And they already played that game. Chargers by four.

Detroit (+4) at Green Bay
There isn’t nearly so much separating these teams as one might be tempted to imagine. But there’s at least enough to make home field matter. Packers by three.

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Week Five Picks

October 6th, 2019 Comments off

I sort of saw week four coming. That is, I knew I was scheduled to take a beating with my picks. I didn’t know it was going to happen by way of an early upset week. But that’s what we got.

It’s hard to perform well picking straight up in any week when more than half of the games are won outright by the underdogs. It’s harder still when seven of those dogs are playing on the road.

So I’ll take my 8-7 finish straight up and against the spread in that context. And hope for better moving forward.

Overall, if you don’t count the Thursday night game (which I got straight up and missed with the points thanks to an unsuccessful two-point try), I currently stand at 42-20-1 (.674) on my straight picks and 32-30-1 (.516) picking against the spread.

Let’s see how much worse I can get. Here’s what not to expect in week five.

Baltimore (-3.5) at Pittsburgh
I’m not sure anyone knows at this point where either of these teams is headed. For the moment, they look like a couple of fairly typical second- or third-tier teams. If I thought the Steelers could stop the Ravens’ ground game, I’d be sorely tempted to take Pittsburgh straight up. But I don’t. So I’m expecting the road team to win and the home team to make it a game. Ravens by a point

Chicago (-5.5) vs. Oakland at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London
Blah, blah, blah, Khalil Mack … . I mean, look, all that stuff everyone else has said or written about Mack making his former team look silly in this game probably turns out to be accurate. But that’s the case regardless of whether I repeat it. Chicago by 13.

Arizona (+3) at Cincinnati
One of these teams is going to turn out to be worse than the other. Probably. I think it works out to be the Bengals. Arizona by four.

Jacksonville (+3.5) at Carolina
My gut says the Jaguars win this game. My head counters with, “How?” And my gut shrugs and say, “Rush offense?” Gut may be right, but head controls the writing. So … Carolina by a field goal.

Minnesota (+5) at NY Giants
I’m not sure this game is so uneven that the home team should be getting five points. I think Minnesota comes out on top, but I think they do it with D while their offense continues to sputter. Vikings by three.

New England (-15.5) at Washington
I’m pretty sure no one needs me to do this, but I’m gonna do it just the same: Passer rating differential, Patriots +41.7; scoring differential, Patriots +18.4; takeaway/giveaway differential, Patriots +9. Another view of the same variables: The Racists have allowed more points per game on average (29.5), and more actual points in three out of four games, than the Patriots have given up so far this season (27). The only way this game is competitive is if New England falls asleep. Patriots by 24.

NY Jets (+14.5) at Philadelphia
The Jets are a disaster. But the Eagles haven’t shown themselves to be a team you pick to blow out opponents. Philly by nine.

Tampa Bay (+3) at New Orleans
You know what? I think right now, just for this brief moment in time, the Bucs might be a better team than the Saints. Tampa pulls out another impressive road win. This time the margin is a single point.

Atlanta (+4.5) at Houston
The Texans are a tick above average. The Falcons are at least a tick, maybe two, below. Houston by a touchdown.

Buffalo (+3) at Tennessee
I hope you like defense. Titans 10-6

Denver (+6.5) at LA Chargers
The Chargers have yet this season to beat a good team. That trend continues. Los Angeles by 10.

Green Bay (+3.5) at Dallas
My generally unfavorable opinion of the Cowboys hasn’t shifted any. But, man, you’re not beating Dallas if you can’t stop the run. Cowboys by six.

Indianapolis (+11) at Kansas City
The Colts have neither a defense that can keep the Chiefs out of the end zone nor an offense that can take advantage of the Chiefs’ D. Kansas City by 14.

Cleveland (+4) at San Francisco
Following a brief pause, the Browns go back to being the Browns. As long as they can hold on to the ball, the well rested 49ers should beat a Browns team that’s traveling for a second straight week by at least six.

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Week Five Thursday Night Pick

October 3rd, 2019 Comments off

Well, it’s happened again. Or, you know, for the first time this year.

Thursday evening has arrived and I’ve failed to work through all of this week’s games.

So here’s what almost certainly won’t happen tonight. I’ll get to the rest sometime before Sunday.

LA Rams (+1.5) at Seattle
I don’t trust either of these teams. Either or both of them may be championship material. And either or both could be one or two bounces away from a sub-.500 season. As far as I know right now, though, this is a fairly even match. And it’s a short week. So I’ll go with the home team. Seahawks by a field goal.

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Week Four Picks

September 26th, 2019 Comments off

I suppose there are worse ruts to be stuck in.

And, um, when I say I suppose, I probably mean I know.

Week three was the second week running in which my picks came in 11-5 straight up, 8-8 against the spread. And, yeah, I’d like to think I could do a whole lot better. But I’m pretty sure I should have done a whole lot worse. So I’ll take it.

For the season, I stand at 34-13-1 (.719) straight up and 24-23-1 (.510) with the points.

Given that I’m still mostly just flipping a coin at this point (I’ll start to feel like I have sufficient data to support poor analysis and worse decision making after this week’s set of games are in the books), the law of large numbers should probably catch up with me any second now. So, you know, approach all of the below with the complete lack of confidence and respect it deserves.

That is, here’s what not to expect in week four.

Philadelphia (+4.5) at Green Bay
I think I’m supposed to believe that the 3-0 Packers aren’t quite as good as their record implies, and that the 1-2 Eagles are better than their record lets on. And maybe both of those things are true. I certainly can think of teams I find more impressive than Green Bay. But I’m not picking based on what I think I’m supposed to think. Or at least not if it means taking the road team on a Thursday night. Packers by a field goal.

Carolina (+4.5) at Houston
The Cam Newton-less Panthers are playing their second straight road game. And this week’s competition is a good bit tougher than last week’s. Texans by six.

Cleveland (+7) at Baltimore
The Ravens have been playing pretty good football. The Browns, for all the preseason hype, have been playing like the Browns. Baltimore by nine.

Washington (+3) at NY Giants
The Giants still have a ways to go before they’re contenders again. But they’re already better than the awful Racists. New Jersey by four.

LA Chargers (-16) at Miami
The Chargers, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, are not known for their success record in 1 p.m. games on the east coast. And still, the Dolphins are scoring 5.3 points per game and allowing 44.3. So let’s go ahead and give the points. Chargers by 20.

Oakland (+7) at Indianapolis
You can probably count on the Raiders to beat all of the bad teams they play this season. That puts them in line for their next week when the host the Bengals in week 11. Colts by 13.

Kansas City (-6.5) at Detroit
I actually think the Lions can give the Chiefs a game. I recognize that I’m maybe the only person who thinks so. But that’s OK. I think Detroit’s offense is well positioned to take advantage of Kansas City’s inadequate D. And I suspect the Lions D can frustrate the Chiefs offense for at least a little while. In the end, I think the Chiefs have just too many offensive options for the Lions to be able to go 60 minutes against them. So I still like Kansas City in this one. But maybe by only a field goal.

New England (-7) at Buffalo
Spare me the whole “meeting of two 3-0 teams for control of the AFC East” bit, will you? The Bills can’t score on the Patriots’ defense. This one gets ugly early. New England by 17.

Tennessee (+4) at Atlanta
I don’t trust either of these teams, unless it’s to find ways to lose football games. I’ll give the edge to the home team, I suppose. But I won’t be shocked by any outcome. Falcons by three.

Tampa Bay (+9.5) at LA Rams
The home team’s better on both sides of the ball. Rams by a touchdown.

Seattle (-5) at Arizona
You get the feeling the Seahawks may be going into this game thinking they have something to prove, if only to themselves. The point they’re hoping to make, however, may not end up being quite so plain as they might like. Seattle by four.

Minnesota (+2) at Chicago
It would be interesting if one of these teams could beat a strong competitor. I think maybe the Vikings beating the Bears in Chicago would qualify. Minnesota by a three.

Jacksonville (+3) at Denver
I’m not really on the Minshew Mania bandwagon. But this week I can pretend to be. Because the risk is exceedingly low. Jaguars by a point.

Dallas (-2.5) at New Orleans
I’m not inclined to start believing in the Cowboys just because the Saints don’t have their starting QB. New Orleans by six.

Cincinnati (+4) at Pittsburgh
I don’t care how the Steelers have struggled to this point, they’re not losing at home to a terrible division opponent. Pittsburgh by three.

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Week Three Picks

September 19th, 2019 Comments off

The darts in week two struck only slightly less accurately than they did in week one. I’ll take it.

I was right on 11 of 16 games picking straight up last weekend, and on eight against the spread. That lands me at 23-8-1 (.734) straight up and 16-15-1 (.516) on the young season.

And the really good news is that 14 weeks is a lot of time for me to get way worse at this. Should kick in right around the time I start to think I know something — maybe two weeks from now.

Here’s what not to expect in week three.

Tennessee (-1.5) at Jacksonville
Here’s where the Jaguars finally get a win. It’s pretty much guaranteed. What makes me so sure? Simple: I always pick the Thursday night games wrong. And I’m expecting the Titans to win by a field goal.

Denver (+7.5) at Green Bay
Every time the Broncos take the field, the Ravens end up looking that much smarter. Green Bay by nine.

Detroit (+6) at Philadelphia
I’d take the home team in this match no matter which it was. Eagles by three.

Baltimore (+6.5) at Kansas City
Although their stats indubitably are skewed by the fact that they faced weak opposition in their first two games, I think the Ravens are the more complete, more balanced team. Were this game being played in Baltimore, I’d be sorely tempted to pick them. But it’s in Kansas City, so I’ll just look for the Ravens to make it interesting. Chiefs by a point. At the buzzer.

Cincinnati (+6) at Buffalo
Sooner or later, the Bills are going to have to face a good opponent. … Wait, what’s that again? Oh, OK. … Next week, the Bills are gong to have to face a good opponent. But next week isn’t this week, is it? Buffalo by seven.

Atlanta (+1.5) at Indianapolis
Hey, look, the Colts are playing a home game! That’s novel. Indy by a field goal (yes, an Adam Vinatieri field goal).

Oakland (+9) at Minnesota
Which one of these teams is more uneven? Why it’s the Raiders, of course. Though maybe not by quite as much as one might be temped to think. Vikings by six.

NY Jets (+22) at New England
Maybe the only thing stranger than seeing a 22-point spread on an NFL game is figuring it’s pretty safe to give the points. The Patriots outscored their first two opponents this season by a combined 76-3. And one of those teams not only had a quarterback (at the time), but a decent team around him. New England by 36.5. (And the Jets front office asks the musical question, “We fired Todd Bowles for what exactly?”)

Miami (+22) at Dallas
You almost get the feeling that Vegas doesn’t think very highly of certain AFC East teams. The Dolphins were outscored 102-10 in their first two games. They were home games. Cowboys by as many as they want. But for the purposes of this prediction, let’s figure the margin comes out at something like 51.

NY Giants (+6.5) at Tampa Bay
New quarterback, same old struggles for New Jersey. Bucs by seven.

Carolina (+1.5) at Arizona
You might have heard this, but quarterback is kind of an important position in football. Cardinals by three.

New Orleans (+4) at Seattle
See immediately above. Seahawks by six.

Houston (+3) at LA Chargers
I don’t know. I think the Texans are a bit better than anyone seems to realize. Houston by three.

Pittsburgh (+6.5) at San Francisco
I’ve got a feeling the Steelers are going to end up being a fairly strong team before this season is out. But not quite yet. Niners by seven.

LA Rams (-3) at Cleveland
The Browns are 1-1 headed for 1-6.

Because the Browns are still the Browns. Rams by 10.

Chicago (-4) at Washington
The Bears are nothing to get excited about. But the Racists are a misfortune headed for a disaster. Chicago by five.

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Week Two Picks

September 12th, 2019 Comments off

Not bad for pure guesswork. I suppose.

I got out of week one with records of 12-3-1 (.781) picking straight up and 8-7-1 (.531) picking against the spreads. It was pure luck that got me there, of course. No one knows what the hell to expect in week one. Or week two for that matter. My darts just happened to land on the right part of the board more often than not.

Let’s see if I can’t plunge toward mediocrity with this week’s wild and largely uninformed guesses. Which is to say, here’s what not to expect in week two.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at Carolina
Jameis Winston is a turnover machine. And he’s extra fond of giving the ball to he Carolina defense. In seven career starts against the Panthers, Winston has thrown nine picks and lost five fumbles. You don’t need me to do this math for you, but I will anyhow: That’s an average of two giveaways a game. Not a hopeful sign for a team traveling on short rest. Panthers by nine.

Indianapolis (+3) at Tennessee
As if the Colts didn’t have enough obstacles to deal with this season, they get to start year with two straight road games. Who knows, maybe Marlon Mack goes off again this week. And maybe it makes a difference this time. But I’m not counting on either of those results. Titans by four.

LA Chargers (-2.5) at Detroit
Whichever team comes closest to playing all four quarters this week wins. I’m thinking that’s probably the Chargers. By a point.

Buffalo (-1.5) at NY Giants
The Bills wrap up their two-week residency in East Rutherford with a Super Bowl XXV rematch. How exciting! Better still, if the Bills win, they capture the title in the closely watched real New York vs. fake New York occasional football tournament. And all the rest of the league will be able to do is look on in envy. Buffalo by a field goal.

Arizona (+13.5) at Baltimore
On one hand, this week’s unimpressive Ravens opponent actually appears at least to be interested in playing to a tie. On the other, the Cardinals have to travel across the country to play an early game against a team that is probably a good bit better than they are. On the third hand, well, there is no third hand, of course. (Are you new here?) Ravens by 17.

New England (-18.5) at Miami
This year, it’ll be a miracle if Dolphins manage to put as much as three points on the board. Patriots by 28.

Dallas (-5) at Washington
In which the Cowboys continue to masquerade as an elite football team, a pageant that is scheduled to end two weeks from now in New Orleans. Dalls by a field goal.

Jacksonville (-9) at Houston
Can Gardner Minshew continue to complete 88% of his passes? Can he continue to throw TDs on eight percent of his passes? Can he maintain his 11 yards per attempt? His 122.5 passer rating? These are the big questions. … No they aren’t. They barely qualify as little questions. They do have a little answer, though. It’s no. Texans by six.

Seattle (+4) at Pittsburgh
The Seahawks barely got by the Bengals at home. They’re not traveling across the country and beating an angry, embarrassed and desperate Steelers squad. Pittsburgh by a touchdown.

San Francisco (+1.5) at Cincinnati
YepIn case you haven’t figured it out, I’m not particularly high on the 2019 Bengals. But they’ve got to be better than the Buccaneers. And playing a second straight game on the road is always a challenge. Cincinnati by a point.

Minnesota (+3) at Green Bay
Dear Vikings: Woody Hayes is 32 years dead. You may need to work out a passing attack at some point. Packers by four.

Kansas City (-7.5) at Oakland
Patrick Mahomes’ ankle might prove problematic at some point this season. But not this week. It’s a second straight road game for the Chiefs, and against a division rival no less, which makes seven and a half feel excessive to me. But only by a couple of points. Chiefs by six.

New Orleans (+2.5) at LA Rams
I’m not sure I’d pick the Saints in Los Angeles under any circumstances. But traveling on a short week after their nail-biter at home on Monday night? I just don’t see the ball bouncing their way this time. Should be a great one to watch, though. Rams by four.

Chicago (-2.5) at Denver
Am I crazy or is this the one of the easiest picks of the week? Bears by a touchdown.

Philadelphia (-1.5) at Atlanta
The Falcons kind of have to win this game. Which is a shame for them. Because they’re not going to. Eagles by six.

Cleveland (-2.5) at NY Jets
I’m not even sure the Jets are going to be able to field a complete team. Browns by seven.

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Week One Picks

September 4th, 2019 Comments off

There’s a part of me that really likes picking week one games. It’s the part that should be in control throughout the season, the one that says, “Dude, you know exactly nothing. Stop thinking. Take your best guess and move on.”

This is the one week I’m smart enough to listen. Or where I make it look like I’m smart enough to listen by virtue of having nothing I can pretend to base my inaccurate picks on.

For whatever little it’s worth, I wrapped up the 2018 regular season 163-91-2 (.641) straight up and 124-122-10 (.504) with the points. I went 5-6 in the postseason both picking straight and picking against the spread, which landed me at an aggregate 168-97-2 (.631) straight up, 129-128-10 (.502). But, you know, I totally nailed Super Bowl LIII (yes, I am going to keep pointing that out; you would, too). So I’m going into this year riding high.

Here’s what not to expect (or maybe what you should expect; I don’t know) as the 2019 NFL season gets underway.

Green Bay (+3) at Chicago
The line on this game amounts to Vegas saying, “Yeah, we don’t know either.” Which I suppose is kind of comforting. Now watch me hedge: Bears by a point.

Atlanta (+4) at Minnesota
I’ve got both of these teams making the playoffs this season. So that’s a little bit of a thing. Entirely beside the point in week one, of course. But a bit of a thing just the same. In any meeting of evenly matched squads you take the home team. So I’m taking the home team. Vikings by three.

Washington (+9.5) at Philadelphia
The Eagles should be the better team here by quite a lot. And maybe they really are that much better than the Racists. But nine and a half in a division game? It’s just too much. Philadelphia by a touchdown.

Buffalo (+3) at NY Jets
It’s almost a given that one of these teams won’t lose this week. I’ll just figure it works out to be the home team. Jets by two.

Baltimore (-7) at Miami
If I weren’t expecting the Ravens to get off to a bit of a slow start (what with the whole new offense thing) I might be tempted to give the points. The Ravens still should win this game (unless they don’t), but I’m thinking it’s by something more like four.

Kansas City (-3.5) at Jacksonville
I’d love to feel good about picking the Jaguars. I really would. I mean, look, the Chiefs have no defense. Nick Foles ought to be able to do something with that, right? And Jacksonville should once again have a very good D, so maybe they can limit the much ballyhooed Kansas City O. But I don’t know. A loss by everybody’s Super Bowl LIV favorites on opening weekend would be just too perfect, wouldn’t it? Too perfect indeed. I’m gonna call a close (one-point) victory by Kansas City, and mischievously hope for an outright upset by the home dogs.

Tennessee (+5.5) at Cleveland
If this game were being played in Nashville, I’m pretty sure I’d take the Titans. I know the Browns are everybody’s pet pick this season, but I’m not entirely sold. Cleveland has some O line issues. And Tennessee has the personnel on the defensive front to expose those. I don’t think it will be enough to earn the Titans a win in Cleveland on opening day. But I do think it will keep things close. Browns by a field goal.

LA Rams (-3) at Carolina
The Rams are just the better team. Los Angeles by six.

Cincinnati (+9.5) at Seattle
Don’t even think about putting money on this game. Nine and a half points in week one. Are you kidding? Yeah, the Seahawks win. And they probably cover. But one weird bounce and it’s a late field-goal to cut the lead to 7 or extend it to 10 and you’re shaking your head and muttering about how you should have known better. And you should have. Since there’s no money on the line for me, I’ll say Seattle by 10.

Indianapolis (+6.5) at LA Chargers
Can you belive the team in this game scrambling to replace a retired QB is the Colts? Chargers by a touchdown.

NY Giants (+7) at Dallas
Seven’s a lot to give in a divisional game. But the Giants are not a good football team. And the Cowboys should at least sustain the illusion that they’re a good football team through the early part of this season. Dallas by nine.

Detroit (-2.5) at Arizona
Better line play wins the day. Detroit by four.

San Francisco (pick ’em) at Tampa Bay
Neither of these teams is going far this season. But the Niners come into the campaign in slightly better shape than the Bucs. San Francisco by three.

Pittsburgh (+5.5) at New England
You’ve no doubt heard or read about Tom Brady‘s career success in home games against the Steelers. And, yeah 5-0 with 18 TDs, 0 INTs, and a passer rating of 130.8 is … well, it’s pretty damned good. But it’s meaningless in terms of forecasting this game. Every season is different. Every game is different. And the Patriots and Steelers teams that will meet on Sunday night are different from the Patriots and Steelers who have met in the past. Don’t get me wrong. This looks to me like a New England win. I just think it’s likely to be a defensive victory. Maybe 16-10. Something like that. So, yeah, I guess I’m still giving the points.

Houston (+7) at New Orleans
The Texans are going to win a few games this season. But this won’t be one of them. Saints by 10.

Denver (pick ’em) at Oakland
… Not with a bang but a whimper. Oakland (I guess). By a field goal (probably.)

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2019 Season Predictions

September 3rd, 2019 Comments off

I think I’ll start by noting that a year ago at this time, I predicted the Patriots would beat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

Seriously. I totally did.

And then (ready for this?) the week before the game, I predicted that the Patriots would force Jared Goff to make a fatal mistake late in the game and that New England would come away with a 10-point victory. Which is, you know, exactly what ended up happening. And, OK, sure, I got pretty much everything in between completely wrong. But still, pretty good, right?

So what I should do now is retire from making any kind of predictions. Because I’m never doing any better than that.

And also, trying to predict the outcomes of football games five months in advance is an exceedingly stupid thing to do. But, uh, I guess I’m an exceedingly stupid person. Because once again, here I go.

As usual, I’m not going to predict win-loss records. I’ve found I can be just as wrong just as often in offering a range of the total wins I think each team is capable of. And then, I’ll get into specific matchups and outcomes in my postseason predictions, mostly because I can’t come up with a way out of it.

Let’s get on with it, then, shall we?

AFC East

New England Patriots, 12-14
The 2019 Patriots offense was always going to need a bit of time to get into a groove. No, not because Tom Brady is 42 years old, though there will be no shortage of pundits and fans ready to pin a slow offensive start on the GOAT. And not entirely because of the significant adjustment losing a player like Rob Gronkowski requires, though Gronk’s retirement is certainly a significant factor (and one the will be pointed to frequently by frustrated fans and gleeful haters alike). It’s to do with the scope of changes the O has undergone during the off-season. The New England offense during Brady’s career has been better than most (all?) at adjusting to change. But even they need time to work things out on the field. And that task became even harder with the last-minute loss of their starting center to injured reserve. I expect the Pats to lean on the ground game early on, perhaps through the entire first half of the season. And I expect that shift to scare the life out of fans. But at the same time, I expect a Patriots defense that looks stronger than it has in maybe 16 years to allow the new offense the luxury to grow into itself. And assuming everything manages to click by the time December rolls around, I expect New England go to into the postseason strong and ready to make yet another run at the championship.

Buffalo Bills, 7-10
The Bills were maybe a half step better than a shrug a year ago. And they’ve probably improved by half a step, which means they should be a shrug and a friendly sigh this season. But they’ve also got a tough schedule. So maybe the ball bounces their way a few times and they finish a bit better than last season’s 6-10. And maybe not.

New York Jets, 5-8
Somewhere in the middle of their transition from a one-dimensional team focused on defense to a one-dimensional team focused on offense, the Jets may accidentally achieve enough balance to win a few games they really should lose.

Miami Dolphins, 2-4
The Dolphins weren’t looking like a very good team even before they gave up on the season (or didn’t, even though they did). Which might explain why they gave up on the season.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers, 9-11
The Steelers are going to go as far this season as their defense takes them. And that’s not my way of saying I think Ben Roethlisberger can’t or won’t pick up where he left off in 2018, which wasn’t his best season but was his best season in quite some time. I honestly don’t know whether he can, particularly in light of the Steelers’ meaningful off-season changes in offensive personnel. But I do know that the younger, more athletic D Pittsburgh is fielding this season looks like the kind of unit that can carry a team with an evolving offense for at least half a season, and possibly a good bit longer. The Steelers may miss the playoffs again. Or they may get to the second or third round. Which it is will depend largely on just how good Pittsburgh’s D turns out to be.

Cleveland Browns, 8-12
Maybe the Browns turn out to be as good as the hype around them would have one believe. Maybe they turn out to be the Browns yet again.

Baltimore Ravens, 7-11
Lamar Jackson might take a step back this year. Or he might not. And if he does, it will probably be less about Jackson than the Ravens’ new offense. (Jackson’s a talented QB, who’s going to work out just fine for Baltimore over the long term.) Whether the Ravens end up repeating as division champs or getting an early start to their off-season will depend not only upon how Jackson plays, but on whether the D is up to last year’s high standard, and whether the team gets a few good bounces over the course of a challenging schedule.

Cincinnati Bengals, 5-7
The best thing that can happen with the Bengals this year is that they finally figure out their quarterback is a liability.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts, 7-11
I thought about changing my forecast for the Colts following Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement. And then I didn’t. No disrespect to Luck, who was a terrific passer when he was healthy. It’s just that you never really knew how healthy Luck was or how long he’d stay that way (which, you know, is a huge part of why he’s now retired). I still feel about the Colts roughly the same way I feel about the rest of the AFC South. They could be good. They could be mediocre. They shouldn’t be awful. And they probably can’t be great. Let’s see how the ball bounces.

Jacksonville Jaguars, 7-11
Another AFC South team I have no idea what to make of. (See the second half of my thoughts on the Colts above.)

Tennessee Titans, 7-11
And another.

Houston Texans, 7-11
And still another.

AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers, 11-13
I know it’s heresy to pick any team except the Chiefs to win the AFC West this season. (Hell, it may be heresy to pick any team other than the Chiefs to take the conference title.) But I’m one of those folks who remembers that the Chargers exist. And, well, they were good enough last year to reach the divisional round. And this year’s squad is probably a notch better than last year’s. So let’s see what happens.

Kansas City Chiefs, 10-12
I’d probably go along with the crowd and take the Chiefs to win the division if Kansas City had used the off-season to develop a defense. It didn’t. (This, I have to say, is not a surprise.) The Chiefs O is still more than good enough to carry a team to a division title and deep into the playoffs. But the team is going to falter eventually. It’s just a question of when.

Oakland Raiders, 5-7
The Raiders are probably going in the right direction. But they’re not getting there fast. Not in this division.

Denver Broncos, 3-6
I’ve never been a Joe Flacco hater. He’s fine. Not as good as he thinks he is. Not as bad as his detractors make him out to be. Fine. But Flacco is not the answer in Denver.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles, 9-12
Philadelphia put a balanced team on the field last season. And were it not for a bit of wear following their 2017 title run, they might have repeated as division champs. As it was, they seemed to figure things out down the stretch and into the first week of the postseason. They look like a pretty balanced squad again this year. And I’m expecting a little more experience and a little more rest to make a difference.

Dallas Cowboys, 8-11
Last season, the Cowboys struggled early and surged late, earning a division title and winning in the wild card round before falling to the eventual conference champion Rams. I expect to see the opposite this year. The Cowboys should come hot out of the gate, but I suspect they’ll stumble as the games get tougher down the stretch. In the end, I think the best they’ll manage is a wild card berth.

Washington Racists, 7-11
I think the Racists are still probably a season away from making a run at the division and the playoffs. But I won’t be shocked if it turns out I’m not giving them enough credit.

New York Giants, 4-7
The Giants have some work to do.

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings, 8-12
I’m looking at the NFC North in much the same way I see the AFC South. Except for this part: I know that I’m supposed to be excited about at least one (most seem to think it’s this one) and perhaps as many as three of these teams (all but the Lions). But I’m just not. Which isn’t to say I think they’ll all stink. I actually think the division may send two teams to the postseason. It’s just that I couldn’t tell you which two. And I think all four of them have a shot

Green Bay Packers, 8-12
Maybe they’ll be great. Maybe they won’t. Depends in a lot of ways on whether Aaron Rodgers believes he’s playing for the Packers or playing for himself.

Chicago Bears, 7-11
I’m still not sold on Mitchell Trubisky. But sometimes I’m wrong about stuff.

Detroit Lions, 7-11
I still believe football games are won and lost in the trenches. So I still believe the Lions can win games. How many depends on whether they can do more than win the battle at the line of scrimmage.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints, 12-14
Sooner or later age is going to catch up with Drew Brees (just as it’s going to catch up with the guy in New England). But I’ve seen nothing that leads me to believe it’s going to happen this season. The Saints ran away with the division last season. They may get more of a challenge this time around. But they still come out on top.

Atlanta Falcons, 9-12
The Falcons might have made a run at the division a year ago if they’d been a bit healthier. They still wouldn’t have overtaken the Saints, mind you. But they might have made it interesting. Maybe this year.

Carolina Panthers, 7-11
If Cam Newton can stay healthy (assuming he’s actually healthy right now), the Panthers can be dangerous. Do you believe Newton can stay healthy? Because I’m not sure I do.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 5-8
I’m confident Bruce Arians can get the Buccaneers turned around. But not all at once.

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams, 11-14
The Rams look like the kind of team that’s going to be very good for a very long time. And unless the Seahawks surge, I think that puts Los Angeles in line for a third straight division title and probably at least a first round bye.

Seattle Seahawks, 10-12
The Seahawks definitely have the look of a postseason contender again this year. Whether they end up on the road as a wild card qualifier or at home for at least a week probably comes down to whether they can split the season series with the Rams, something they didn’t manage last year. Which means Seattle will probably know what their postseason prospects look like come October 3.

San Francisco 49ers, 7-10
The 49ers might be dangerous this year if Jimmy Garoppolo can shake off the rust quickly. Me, I tend to think Garoppolo’s going to need at least half a season to get into form. And by then, the Niners will probably be looking ahead to 2020.

Arizona Cardinals, 4-6
Kyler Murray should be fun to watch, anyhow.

Playoffs

This is the really stupid part of this exercise. (OK, the extra stupid part.) The part where I pretend it makes some kind of sense to predict what will happen 17, 18, 19, 20 or 22 weeks down the road. Because that makes sense.

AFC
1. New England
2. L.A. Chargers
3. Pittsburgh
4. Jacksonville
5. Kansas City
6. Cleveland

NFC
1. New Orleans
2. L.A. Rams
3. Philadelphia
4. Minnesota
5. Seattle
6. Atlanta

Wild Card Playoffs

AFC
Pittsburgh defeats Cleveland
Kansas City defeats Jacksonville

NFC
Atlanta defeats Philadelphia
Seattle defeats Minnesota

Divisional Playoffs

AFC
Los Angeles defeats Pittsburgh
New England defeats Kansas City

NFC
New Orleans defeats Atlanta
Los Angeles defeats Seattle

Conference Championships

AFC
New England defeats Los Angeles

NFC
New Orleans defeats Los Angeles

Super Bowl LIV (forever to be known as the Geezer Bowl)
New England defeats New Orleans

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Super Bowl LIII Pick

February 1st, 2019 Comments off

The good news for me is that last year I was doing pretty OK with my postseason picks, only to trip at the finish line. So, you know, maybe the fact that I’ve struggled thus far in this year’s playoffs means I’m headed toward a spot-on Super Bowl pick. Because that’s how things like this work, right?

No? Crap. I thought someone might say that.

I went 1-1 both straight up and against the spread in the conference championship round, which breaks down to 2-0 in the AFC, 0-2 in the NFC. I could blame my failure on the refs, I suppose, but I suspect there’s enough of that going around. And whether it’s the zebras’ fault or my own, I’m now sitting at 4-6 (.400), both with and without the points, as we head into the final game of the season. That means my best possible finish is .455. So no matter what transpires on the field Sunday, I’ll still be a loser. What fun.

Here’s what not to expect in the big game.

New England (-2.5) vs. LA Rams

 Let’s start with the paint by numbers stuff, which I know is fun for everybody.

So there you have it. And there’s nothing left for me to say, right?

Oh, right, the big three predictive stats.

Here’s how they shake out if you look at all 18 games (regular and postseason) for both teams: Scoring differential, Rams +0.7; passer rating differential, Patriots +2.9; takeaway-giveaway differential, Rams +1. That’s about as even a match as you’re likely to see. It might favor the home team if there were a home team. But even then you’d be a fool to place a bet, and a bigger fool still to be willing to give as much as a point no matter what team you put your money on.

And here’s what you get when you isolate games involving the highest level of competition (which is to say games played against teams that qualified for the postseason — in the regular season and the playoffs combined): Scoring differential, Patriots +3.7; passer rating differential, Patriots +13.4; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +1. In Foxborough, those numbers would point to a win for New England. In Los Angeles, they’d still give the Patriots a solid chance. On a neutral field and the big stage? I don’t know. Slight advantage for the AFC champs, I suppose. I still wouldn’t bet the farm on the basis of that data, though.

Here’s what I think matters in those numbers: As an examination of my nifty charts above makes clear, the difference has a lot to do with Jared Goff. The Rams have the same (excellent) running offense no matter who they’re up against. Their D takes a step back, but mostly to the extent that one would expect. The run D doesn’t get any more awful against good teams than it is in aggregate. And while the pass D struggles comparatively against the better teams, it’s not by more than a team with a fully functioning offense couldn’t or shouldn’t overcome.

Goff, on the other hand, is a different QB depending on who’s on the other side of the ball. Against poor, average, even pretty good teams, Goff’s play is typically lights out. When the competition truly heats up, Goff wilts.

But, you point out, Goff is in the Super Bowl. He’s won two straight games against postseason teams, including a huge one on the road against an outstanding Saints squad. (I’m not getting into the bad call here, partly because it’s been done to death, but mostly because that call may have cost the Saints a chance to seal a victory, but it didn’t hand the game to the Rams.)

Here are Goff’s aggregate numbers from those two games: 40 of 68 (58.8%) for 483 yards (7.1 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown and 1 interception, for a passer rating of 79.5. That’s not great. Neither is it wholly awful. (If he’d been awful, we wouldn’t be talking about Goff and the Rams right now.) But for a guy who in the regular season was a 64.9% passer, threw for 8.4 yards per attempt, and boasted a passer rating of 101.7, it’s more than a bit of step back.

The Rams’ aggregate running numbers in those two postseason games: 350 yards and 4 TDs on 74 carries. And, yes, the bulk of that production came against Dallas in the divisional round. But the better part of the Rams’ entire postseason offensive production came in that first game. And the Los Angeles defense played a critical role in the conference championship.

Goff was part of both of those postseason wins. But he wasn’t the driving force behind either of them.

With that in mind, what I expect the Patriots to do defensively is focus on stopping the run and challenge Goff to beat them.

That’s no simple task. The Rams have an outstanding rushing attack, led by Todd Gurley, who led the league with a jaw-dropping 6.3 yards per carry during the season, and who led the way in the victory over the Cowboys three weeks ago. Nonetheless, I believe it’s the task before the Patriots’ D. Whether they can accomplish it depends on whether they’re the unit that had its ups and downs in the regular season, or the one that allowed 60 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in two postseason games against teams with formidable ground games.

It will also, help, of course, if the Patriots can put up points of their own and force the Rams to try to keep up.

They should be able to pull that off.

The strength of the Rams D is their pass rush. Los Angeles has shown little ability to stop the run this season, particularly when facing teams that can run around the perimeter of the offensive line — teams like the Patriots. The Rams also struggle in coverage, a weakness that’s been particularly pronounced in games against postseason qualifiers.

I expect the Patriots to be able to take advantage of at least one of those flaws from the start, which should set them up to take advantage of both as the game wears on.

If New England’s offense can finish drives, it will help the defense put Goff in a position where he needs to carry the Los Angeles offense. And if Goff has to carry the offense, I think you can count on him to make a fatal mistake.

I won’t be surprised if this game comes down to the final possession. Super Bowls involving the Patriots pretty much always do. But neither will I be shocked if this one is effectively over by the middle of the third quarter. And, in fact, I’m more inclined to think we see the latter than the former.

Whatever the path might be, I expect the destination will be a 10-point Patriots’ victory.


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