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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Conference Championship Picks

January 17th, 2019 Comments off

This postseason is officially kicking my ass.

I fixed nothing in the divisional round. Just turned my poor performance around, going 2-2 straight up, 1-3 against the spread to even out my two-week disgrace at 3-5 (.375) all around.

Maybe I’ll get lucky and come out of this weekend dead even. Or, you know, maybe I’ll continue edging toward the Mendoza line.

Here’s what not to expect.

Oh, wait a second. I’ve charted some lovely stats for you to ignore first.

Now then. Down to business.

LA Rams (+3.5) at New Orleans
You may have noticed in your careful examination of the above that the Saints get better on both sides of the ball while the Rams get worse on both sides of the ball when the competition gets toughest. The same goes for the teams’ quarterbacks.

Here are how the big three predictive stats shape up if you look at all 17 games played by each team: Scoring differential, Rams +0.1 (which is to say, none); passer rating differential, Saints +4.0; takeaway-giveaway differential, Rams +2. That’s not much to go on, which is hardly surprising given that these two football teams have been outstanding all season long. It points to a narrow victory by one team or the other, in which case you kind of have to lean toward the home team, though you certainly wouldn’t expect the kind of double-digit margin of victory we saw the last time these teams faced off in New Orleans.

Isolate games against teams that qualified for the postseason, though, and the predictives look like this: Scoring differential, Saints +5.8; passer rating differential, Saints +23.4; takeaway giveaway differential, Saints +5. That’s a matchup in which the visitor has at best an outside chance to keep it close.

I could get into more stats, but they’re all right there for you above. I could explore the trends, but they point in the exact same direction as the stats.

The Rams are a fine football team. They’ll probably be a better football team still come September. But right now, I just don’t think they can keep up with the Saints for more than three quarters. Barring something unusual and unforeseeable, I think New Orleans comes out ahead by at least seven and probably more like 10

New England (+3) at Kansas City
Let’s do the same thing with the predictive stats here that we did with the NFC Championship game.

Looking at all 17 games for both teams: Scoring differential, Chiefs +1.2; passer rating differential, Chiefs +3.3; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +3. Those numbers favor Kansas City, though they don’t exactly point to a lock.

Looking at performance vs. postseason qualifiers: Scoring differential, Patriots +3.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +11.4; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +4. In Foxborough, those numbers would indicate a Patriots victory, though not a certain or a comfortable one. In Kansas City, they tell me the visitors have at least a pretty solid chance.

There’s nothing so definitive in either set of numbers to allow me to feel comfortable picking either way. So, shockingly, this ends up looking much the same following statistical examination as it did without it. Which brings us to — get ready for this gem of an insight — the team that executes better on the field is going to win the game.

I think if this turns into a shootout (like the meeting in Foxborough way back in week six did), you have to give the edge to the home team. Not because of some anticipated disparity in quarterback play — there’s unlikely to be any — but simply because those kinds of games always favor the home team.

If, on the other hand, the Patriots are able to get their running game going early the way they did last weekend, control the tempo of the game, control time of possession and keep the Chiefs offense off the field, then the New England defense has a solid shot of exhibiting just how good it became over the last half of the regular season.

I’ve got a feeling that’s what’s going to happen, which means I’ve got a good feeling that the Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl for a third straight year. New England by four.

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Divisional Round Picks

January 10th, 2019 Comments off

Well, the wild card round kicked my ass. Again.

I went 1-3 straight up, 2-2 against the spread last week. I’m placing the blame on my kicker.

I’m sure I’ll find a way to make even more of a mess of things this week.

We’ll get to the next round of ill-fated picks in a moment. First, let’s have a look at a couple of charts I pulled together that look at how the remaining teams’ quarterbacks and defenses fared this season when taking on the toughest competition.

Both charts compare performance vs. the entire field (the team’s full schedule or all of the QBs starts) with performance during the regular season and the wild card round against the other teams that qualified for the tournament. Some revealing data here, I think, regarding who steps up, who steps back, and who holds steady, when the going gets toughest. There’s always context to consider, of course. Like which opponents a team caught when — or how often. But I’m always in favor of a deeper dive into the numbers when I can manage it. (Oh, in neither case do the highlight colors mean anything. I’ve highlighted key columns, but the color differences are just about breaking things up visually.)

Absorbed all of that? Good. Now, like me, you have a much fuller appreciation of how little you know about what’s likely to take place on the field this weekend. Which is nice.

Here’s what not to expect.

Indianapolis (+5.5) at Kansas City
There is going to come a point in this postseason when the Chiefs are going to be undone by their abysmal defense. And I think this may well be that point. It’s hard to miss in the above that while neither quarterback in this game can be accused of playing his best against the stoutest competition (though neither exactly falls to pieces), the defenses go in completely opposite directions in the tough games. The Colts step up. The Chiefs, who aren’t a good defensive team under any circumstances, completely fall apart. The simple solution to that for Kansas City would be to get the running game firing early. But I’m not sure the Chiefs have a running game at this point. On the other hand, I know for a fact that the Colts do. And I kind of expect Indianapolis, rather than making this the shootout everyone’s expecting, to try to take advantage of Kansas City’s terrible run D, control time of possession, and keep Patrick Mahomes from getting the opportunity to take over the game. (You know, the way certain teams used to do the same against a famous Colts QB.) I can’t say I feel terribly confident about this pick, but I think the balanced Colts go into Kansas City and pull off the upset. Indianapolis by four.

Dallas (+7) at LA Rams
A good bit what I wrote about the Saturday afternoon game also applies to the prime time match. But here I actually feel better about predicting an upset. The Cowboys surely will endeavor to get Ezekiel Elliott involved early in order to take advantage of the Rams’ weak run defense. But I also think Dallas has a better chance of shutting down the Los Angeles passing attack than the Colts have of limiting the Chiefs through the air. I see a day of upsets continuing as the Cowboys pull off a three-point win.

LA Chargers (+4) at New England
Here’s what you get when you look at the big three predictive stats (factoring in all 17 of the Chargers’ games to date): Scoring differential, Patriots +0.5; passer rating differential, Chargers +1.2; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +7. That’s most of a tossup with a slight advantage for the home team. (It would be more of an advantage if the visitors had a tendency to cough the ball up. They don’t. The Chargers’ +3 takeaway-giveaway line mostly reflects that they’re middle of the pack in both turnovers generated and turnovers committed.) Things start looking a little more favorable for the Patriots when you consider that the Chargers will be traveling for the third straight week, and traveling coast-to-coast for the second, and when you factor in the predicted frigid temperatures in Foxborough. The Chargers are not a team that typically plays well in the cold. But look at what happens with Philip Rivers and Tom Brady respectively in games against playoff opposition. Then do the same with the defenses. Those numbers paint a very positive picture for New England. I suspect the Chargers will find a way to keep this interesting (or maybe the Patriots will find a way to let the Chargers hang around). And I won’t be shocked by any means if Los Angeles comes away with a win. But what I expect is to see the Patriots put it away with a late score and ultimately come out ahead by seven.

Philadelphia (+8) at New Orleans
The Saints are probably the best team in the tournament. They’re certainly the best team in the NFC. The Eagles are — what are we calling them? Scrappy? Survivors? Eh, call them what you will. And once you’ve got their attention, wish them a good offseason. Saints by 14.

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Wild Card Picks

January 4th, 2019 Comments off

Well, I ended the regular season on a shockingly high note. And that’s got to point to a rough go of it with my wild card picks.

I somehow managed to get out of a typically odd week 17 with records of 12-4 picking straight up, and 10-6 against the spread.

That means I finish the regular season at 163-91-2 (.641) straight up, 124-122-10 (.504) with the points.

Not bad.

So bad comes next. Here’s what not to expect as the playoffs get underway.

Indianapolis (+1.5) at Houston
Each of the regular season matches between these division rivals this year went to the visitors. And while I think the Texans should be able to reverse that trend, I don’t think they’ll pull it off. Houston succeeds by stopping the run and rendering opposing offenses one dimensional. That puts the Colts at a rather odd sort of advantage here as Indy comes in with an offense that’s one dimensional to begin with. I expect an exciting game that goes down to the wire. And I expect to see Adam Vinatieri yet again put the winning points on the board in the closing seconds of a big game. Colts by two.

Seattle (+2) at Dallas
I don’t think I’d have much trouble picking this game if it were being played in Seattle. And not because the Seahawks beat the Cowboys handily there back in week three. That’s way too long ago to actually matter. It’s because the Seahawks are still the better team, with a balanced offense that should be able to adjust to the Cowboys D as the game wears on. Thing is, I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to carry the Seahawks in Dallas. I’m still taking Seattle, mainly because I just don’t see anything that would let me feel great about picking Dallas. But I’m expecting a nail-biter (or I would be if I actually cared about which team wins; I guess I’m really just expecting a close game). Seahawks by a field goal.

LA Chargers (+2.5) at Baltimore
Things didn’t go well for the Chargers when these teams met in Los Angeles just two weeks ago. I’m not sure a whole lot has changed since then. Baltimore by seven.

Philadelphia (+6) at Chicago
The Bears in this postseason are going only as far as the NFL’s best defense will carry them. Chicago has a quarterback who wilts when he faces tough competition.

That’s guaranteed to catch up with the team sooner or later, whether it’s here, next week in Los Angeles or two weeks from now in New Orleans. It won’t be in the Super Bowl, because the Bears aren’t getting past the Saints. I won’t be at all surprised if the Eagles pull off an upset here. But in the end, I think the Chicago D will be just a bit more than Philadelphia can handle. Bears win a low-scoring game by a point.

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Week Seventeen Picks

December 27th, 2018 Comments off

Uneven. My results in week 16 pretty much define uneven. Which is perfect, because it means I’ve got a negative to focus on, which is always nice.

I went 13-3 straight up last week, 6-9-1 against the spread. That gets me to 151-87-2 (.631) straight up, 114-116-10 (.496) against the spread with a week remaining in the season.

Let’s see what kind of awful note I can go out on.

Here’s what not to expect in week 17.

Dallas (+6) at NY Giants
Let’s get right into the messy side of week 17, shall we? Neither of these teams has anything to play for. And the Cowboys, who are locked in as the NFC four seed and almost guaranteed a visit from the Seahawks in the wild card round, have something important to rest up for. Dallas plays no more than a half of anything resembling actual football, and New Jersey comes out on top by eight.

Carolina (+7.5) at New Orleans
The Saints have clinched home field and have no incentive to play hard. The Panthers are eliminated and arguably are better off losing and improving their draft position than winning. This should look like a preseason game. Saints by four.

NY Jets (+13.5) at New England
Yes, please tell me all about how “impressive” the Jets have looked in their last two games (both home losses) and how they pose a threat to the Patriots. If I chuckle, it’s just because I’m thinking about a funny thing my wife said this morning. It’s totally not that I think you’re an idiot. Scoring differential, Patriots +4.9; passer rating differential, Patriots +13.6; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +14. With the two seed and a first round bye as their reward for a game well played, the Patriots come out ahead by 17.

Detroit (+8) at Green Bay
Looks like they’re gonna go ahead and play this game. Because, well, you know, they sold all those tickets and everything. Packers by a touchdown.

Jacksonville (+7) at Houston
What specifically the Texans are playing for has at least something to do with what happens elsewhere. But at the very least, Houston has the AFC South title and the three seed at stake. That should be more than enough. Texans by nine.

Atlanta (+1) at Tampa Bay
I suspect the Falcons are less bad than the Buccaneers by enough to offset home field advantage. Atlanta by a field goal.

Miami (+3.5) at Buffalo
The Dolphins should win this game. But they’re not going to. What they’re going to do, soon enough, is get a new coach and start rebuilding. Bills by six.

Oakland (+13.5) at Kansas City
The Chiefs managed to hold the Raiders off in Oakland four weeks ago. It’s hard to imagine them not doing better than that in a home game that can prove the difference between a division championship, a bye, and home field throughout the playoffs, and a wild card berth. Kansas City by 14.

Philadelphia (-6.5) at Washington
The Eagles need a win and a Vikings loss to earn a trip to Chicago (probably) on wild card weekend. I’m sure Philadelphia will keep up its end of the bargain. Eagles by 10.

Cleveland (+6) at Baltimore
Well, you know, the Browns did manage to beat the Ravens in Cleveland back in early October. So there’s that. Baltimore by seven.

Cincinnati (+14.5) at Pittsburgh
Too little. Too late. Steelers by 12.

Chicago (+5) at Minnesota
If there were any chance of the Rams losing to the 49ers with a first-round bye on the line, the Bears might have a reason to try here. As it stands, Chicago’s best bet is to reveal as little as possible to the division rival it’s likely to face again next weekend. I expect the Bears to do just enough to stay in it until the out of town scoreboard tells them to take the rest of the afternoon off. Vikings by seven.

LA Chargers (+6.5) at Denver
Another game in which I expect the outcome will be colored by what happens (or, more to the point, what doesn’t happen) elsewhere. Once it becomes clear the Raiders aren’t pulling off a miracle in Kansas City, the Chargers will have no reason not to start pulling starters. That may give the Broncos a shot to manage a fake upset. At the very least, it will set Denver up to cover. Los Angeles by a field goal.

Arizona (+13.5) at Seattle
A win sends the Seahawks to Dallas next weekend. A loss and they may have to travel to Chicago. If you get to choose, you choose the Cowboys. (Not that the Seahawks could realistically even choose to lose this game.) Seattle by 17.

San Francisco (+10) at LA Rams
I know the Rams haven’t been playing their best football of late. But let’s be real. It’s the 49ers coming to town. And a win = a week off and at least one home game in the postseason. Los Angeles by 20.

Indianapolis (-3) at Tennessee
Great way to end the regular season. Winner gets a trip to Houston on wild card weekend (maybe more if the Jaguars pull off an upset in the afternoon). The loser gets to start planning for the draft. The Colts are the better team overall, and they’ve been playing better football lately. I think Indy advances. Colts by a point.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 21st, 2018 Comments off

I knew a correction was coming. And it came.

I finished week fifteen a disappointing 8-8 straight up, and a downright miserable 6-10 against the spread. That’s brutal.

For the season, I’m now at 138-84-2 (.621) straight up, 108-107-9 (.502) with the points.

Can it get worse? Of course.

Here’s what not to expect to go with your eggnog.

Washington (+10) at Tennessee
The Titans need a win to remain in contention for the AFC six seed. The Racists need the end of the season to hurry up and arrive. Titans by 14.

Baltimore (+4.5) at LA Chargers
The winner remains alive for a division title. The loser ends up as either the five seed (Chargers) or the the six (Ravens). The home team looks like the better team to me, so I have to pick them. But anything more than a field goal seems excessive to give. So let’s say Chargers by three.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Dallas
The good news for all involved is that given the Buccaneers’ inability to stop the run, this game should go by pretty quickly. Not that anyone outside of Dallas will be watching. The Cowboys should feel free to pop the corks on their NFC East title celebration at halftime. Dallas by 17.

Buffalo (+13.5) at New England
We could talk about the inevitable end of the Josh Gordon moment, if you like. Or the Patriots’ two-game losing streak. But, me, I’m going straight to the meat of this thing, which is this:

What I’m saying is New England by 21.

Atlanta (-3.5) at Carolina
When a team tells you they’re done for the season, believe them. Falcons by four.

Jacksonville (+4) at Miami
The Dolphins aren’t making the playoffs, but they don’t know that yet. Miami by three.

NY Giants (+9) at Indianapolis
There’s really only one postseason slot still up for grabs in the AFC, and the Colts need a win here to remain in grabbing position. Indy by 10.

Houston (+1.5) at Philadelphia
The Texans need a win to hold on to the AFC two seed and a first-round bye. The Eagles need a win to keep their hopes of returning to the postseason alive. I think the Texans are better than the Eagles by enough to overcome the road disadvantage. Houston by a field goal.

Minnesota (-6) at Detroit
The Vikings season is going to end with a(nother) loss to the Bears. Might happen next week. Might be in the wild card round. But it won’t be this weekend. This weekend the Vikings will be busy beating the Lions. But not by six. Not in Detroit. Vikings by four.

Green Bay (-3) at NY Jets
The fact that this game is viewed as competitive says a lot more about the Packers than it does about the Jets. And it may turn out to be even more of a challenge for Green Bay than it looks. Packers by a point.

Cincinnati (+8.5) at Cleveland
You’ve got to figure this meeting of these division rivals turns out to be at least as one-sided as the last one, right? Browns by 15.

LA Rams (-14) at Arizona
The Rams aren’t getting the NFC one seed back. But they have an easy enough path to the end of the season that one suspects they’ll hold on to the two. Los Angeles by 20.

Chicago (-4) at San Francisco
The Bears go into this game with a league-best takeaway-giveaway differential of +13, the 49ers with a league-worst -22. That’s quite a swing, isn’t it? And it’s not even the biggest difference between these two teams. Bears by 14.

Pittsburgh (+6) at New Orleans
If the Steelers win this game, they effectively own the AFC North title. Lose and they may well end up out of the playoffs. Don’t despair, Steelers fans; September will be here soon enough. Saints by a touchdown.

Kansas City (-2.5) at Seattle
What happens with the Chargers on Saturday night really only affects what specifically is on the line for the Chiefs here. Should Los Angeles win, Kansas City will need this game to stay a half step ahead in the contest for the AFC West title (and the conference one seed). Should the Chargers lose, the Chiefs will have an opportunity to lock up home field with a victory. The Seahawks can probably wrap up the NFC five seed next week more easily than this. And still … Seahawks by a point.

Denver (-3) at Oakland
Ho-ho-hum. Raiders by a field goal.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 13th, 2018 Comments off

Week fourteen could have gone worse.

I mean, given that I went in fully expecting to do horribly, 9-7 straight up and 8-8 against the spread doesn’t seem so awful.

Of course, in reality, 9-7 straight up is pretty unforgivably awful. There’s really no getting around that.

For the season, I’m rocking a pretty damned unimpressive 130-76-2 (.630) record straight up, and a wholly pedestrian 102-97-9 (.512) with the points.

Let’s see what I can get wrong this week. Here’s what not to expect.

LA Chargers (+3) at Kansas City
It’s sort of criminal, to my mind, that this game is being played on a Thursday night. The Chiefs clinch the AFC West title (and a first round bye) with a win. If the Chargers can manage an upset, however, they retain a solid shot at grabbing the division title (not to mention a first round bye and quite possibly home field throughout the postseason). Los Angeles is making the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game (and Kansas City is probably winning the division no matter what), but there’s a huge difference between the one seed and the five. All of which is to say that there’s an awful lot riding on a game that skews even more heavily than usual toward the home team given the difficulties of traveling on short rest (particularly when the short weeks effectively upends your running attack for a game against a team with a terrible run D). But this is what you get sometimes. I think the Chargers will still find a way to make a game of it. But I expect them to come up just short. Chiefs by a field goal.

Houston (-6) at NY Jets
In Houston, this one would be downright ugly. In New Jersey? Eh, let’s say Texans by seven.

Cleveland (+3) at Denver
The Browns have another win coming to them before the season’s out. But not this weekend. Not quite. Denver by a point.

Green Bay (+6) at Chicago
The Bears gave the Packers a pretty good scare in Green Bay back in week one only to get tripped up by costly errors late. The two teams’ seasons have gone in entirely different directions over the 13 weeks since, however. And the difference should be very much in evidence here as the Bears clinch their first NFC North championship since 2010. Chicago by six.

Detroit (+2) at Buffalo
Are the Bills worse than the Lions by enough to suffer an upset at home? Damned if I know. Which, yeah, means I’m just totally guessing when I say Detroit by three.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Baltimore
In which the Ravens take another step toward their inevitable AFC North championship. Baltimore by 10.

Arizona (+9) at Atlanta
The Falcons are awful. The Cardinals are awfuler. But not nine points awfuler. Atlanta by six.

Oakland (+3) at Cincinnati
One of these teams has to not lose this game. Right? Bengals by two.

Tennessee (+3) at NY Giants
With their chances of making the postseason still alive, I think the Titans grind out a win here. Tennessee by three.

Miami (+7) at Minnesota
I don’t think this is an easy win for the Vikings. But it’s a win. Minnesota by four.

Washington (+7) at Jacksonville
The not having a quarterback thing continues to pose a problem for the Racists. Jaguars by a field goal.

Dallas (+3) at Indianapolis
I suspect the Cowboys have a better shot at limiting the Colts’ passing attack than the Colts have at limiting the Cowboys’ ground game. Dallas by three.

Seattle (-5) at San Francisco
Maybe this one won’t be quite as ugly as the meeting in Seattle two weeks ago. Maybe. Seahawks by 16.

New England (-2) at Pittsburgh
This is an odd matchup for a New England team that typically succeeds by figuring out how to take away what an opponent does best. Because you don’t beat the Steelers by taking away the thing they do best; you beat the Steelers by making them do more of the thing they do best. The Pittsburgh offense is the most pass heavy in the league. The Steelers go to the air on 67 percent of all plays from scrimmage. That’s roughly eight points above the median, nine above the mean (which is more than two standard deviations). Over their last three games, the Steelers have thrown on close to 74 percent of their offensive snaps. (This, of course, is in no small part the result of James Conner‘s ankle injury.) That’s just insane. And here’s the thing: Pittsburgh lost all three of those games. Indeed, if there’s a pattern to the Steelers’ losses this season, it’s been that they’ve gone pass heavy. And only in one of those games (the home loss to Kansas City way back in week two) can that be attributed even in part to a need to climb out of a deep hole. When the Steelers have put up 100-plus yards running, which they’ve mostly done against weak opposition, they’ve tended to win. Under 100 yards on the ground and they mostly lose. So while much discussion about this game has centered on whether the Patriots can stop the Steelers’ passing attack, what’s actually critical to assess is whether New England can limit the run and spur Pittsburgh to keep the ball in the air. If the Patriots can make that happen, you can count on Ben Roethlisberger to make some big plays, but also to make some big mistakes. The bad news for New England is that the Patriots give up an awful lot of rushing yards, 113 a game (right in the middle of the pack, 15th fewest in the league), 4.9 per carry (sixth most in the league). The good news for New England is that the Patriots have allowed only seven rushing TDs this season, which is tied with the Cowboys and Texans for second fewest), and the Steelers really rely on the run to finish their drives. One suspects that the Patriot could get away with giving up 80 or 90 yards (though that won’t be easy for Pittsburgh to achieve if Conner is missing or limited), but surrender no rushing TDs and still accomplish the goal of putting the game on Roethlisberger’s arm. Oh, BTW, the big three predictive stats point to a narrow win for New England: scoring differential, Patriots +0.4; passer rating differential, Patriots +5.5; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +14. That last bit is the one to watch. The Patriots D averages an interception a game, and so does Roethlisberger. Patriots by a field goal.

Philadelphia (+11) at LA Rams
I’m confident the Eagles won’t let uncertainty at quarterback get in the way of getting their asses kicked by the Rams. Los Angeles by 14.

New Orleans (-6) at Carolina
The Rams really don’t have a tough game left on their schedule. That means the Saints need to beat the Panthers twice and the Steelers once over the next three weeks in order to clinch home field. If they win this one, they probably have it. So, yeah, they probably have it. Saints by nine.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 6th, 2018 Comments off

I didn’t do so bad in week thirteen. And that worries me.

I finished 11-5 straight up, 9-6-1 against the spread, which means that for the season, I’m 121-69-2 (.635) straight up, and 94-89-9 (.513) with the points.

That’s all fine. Except for how it makes a second straight week of decent results across the board for me. And that means something has to break. Probably this week.

Here’s what not to expect.

Jacksonville (+4.5) at Tennessee
The Titans might be better than the Jaguars. (That certainly appeared to be the case the … yawn … last time around.) The Titans might still have an outside chance of qualifying for the postseason (though not really). But the Titans are definitely the home team in a Thursday night game. I’m gonna lean on that last thing. Tennessee by a field goal (again).

Baltimore (+7.5) at Kansas City
The Ravens can’t afford to lose this game. They can’t afford a loss in the AFC North race with the Steelers. And they can’t afford a loss in the wild card chase. But the Ravens are taking a loss just the same. Because the home team really can’t afford a loss either with the Chargers lurking in the AFC West and the Patriots waiting for a chance to steal home field through the playoffs. I expect the Ravens to give the Chiefs a scare, but to come up just short of pulling off a big road upset. Kansas City by four.

Indianapolis (+4.5) at Houston
The Texans began their turnaround from an 0-3 start with an overtime win over the Colts in Indianapolis back in week four. They’ll take a huge step toward clinching the AFC South title with another narrow victory over Indy. Texans by three.

Carolina (-1) at Cleveland
A win here coupled with a Vikings loss in Seattle would put the Panthers in position to capture the final spot in the NFC playoffs. Now, Carolina won’t stick in that spot even if they get there, what with two games against New Orleans remaining on their schedule. But for the moment, it gives the Panthers something to play for this weekend. Look for the Panthers to keep the ball on the ground and come out ahead by a field goal.

Atlanta (+6) at Green Bay
Joe Philbin is a genius! I’m not even joking. How, you ask, do I justify such a statement? It’s like this: Philbin takes over the Packers with a career record as a head coach of 24-28 (.462). The last time his career winning percentage saw the plus side of .500 was at the end of September 2013, when his Dolphins’ 3-0 start catapulted him to 10-9. Still, by the time his term as interim coach in Green Bay is over, Philbin will be viewed as the guy who led a Packers team that had been failing badly under Mike McCarthy to a 3-1 record in the final quarter of the 2018 season. (That would make Philbin’s Packers undefeated except for the loss.) Might even open the door to another head coaching gig somewhere. And that’s pretty damned genius if you ask me. Oh, also, the Falcons are awful everywhere, but especially on the road. Packers by a touchdown.

New Orleans (-8) at Tampa Bay
I feel like there may be some unfinished business between these two teams. Saints by 20.

NY Jets (+3.5) at Buffalo
Well … I mean … I don’t know. You know? Bills by six.

New England (-8) at Miami
Ready? Scoring differential, Patriots +5.3; passer rating differential, Patriots +3.4; takeaway-giveaway differential, Dolphins +2. Those numbers, along with location, point to a close game that could go either way. But, you know, I just don’t see it. The Dolphins’ complete inability to stop the run was a problem the last time these two teams met. It’s been a problem in virtually every game the Dolphins have played this year (the only team they’ve limited on the ground has been the Jets). And I see very little reason to anticipate it won’t be a problem for Miami again on Sunday. I expect a huge day for Sony Michel, and a 14-point victory, plus a 10th straight AFC East championship, for the Patriots.

NY Giants (+1.5) at Washington
Mark Sanchez last threw a touchdown in November 2015. He’s made two meaningful appearances since then, during which he’s gone 22 for 38 and thrown 3 picks for a passer rating of 37.7. I doubt even the Giants can figure out how to lose this game. New Jersey by four.

Denver (-6) at San Francisco
The Broncos have an outside shot at a wild card berth. The 49ers are a pointless Thursday night win over the Raiders removed from the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. Denver by eight.

Cincinnati (+14) at LA Chargers
This game will be a lot easier for the Chargers to dominate if Melvin Gordon is indeed back on the field. But it’s a win for the home team either way. And I’m thinking by a good 17 even if Gordon isn’t available.

Detroit (-2.5) at Arizona
Oh, goodness. This is an actual thing that’s happening, isn’t it? Lions by four. I guess.

Philadelphia (+4) at Dallas
The Eagles could come out of this one as the first place team in the (unimpressive) NFC East. Or they could come out of it with little to no shot of qualifying for the postseason. I’m thinking it’s the latter. The Cowboys beat the Eagles by a touchdown in Philadelphia four weeks ago. Let’s figure they do at least that well in Dallas.

Pittsburgh (-11) at Oakland
The Steelers, who have dropped two straight, close their season with a pair of tough games bookended by a pair of easy games. The good news for Pittsburgh is that as long as they win the easy ones, they should be able to drop one or both of the tough ones and still win the AFC North. This is one of the easy ones. If they can just hold on to the ball, the Steelers should have little difficulty winning by at least 13.

LA Rams (-3) at Chicago
The Rams already have clinched the NFC West title. With a win here, they would sew up a first-round bye and position themselves to shore up home field by week 16. The Bears, meanwhile, need a win to hold their lead in the NFC North and to hold on to the three seed and a shot (albeit a tiny one) at the two seed and a first-round bye of their own. And from a distance, it looks like the Bears actually might have a shot, particularly if they can slow down the Rams’ ground game. But when you get up close, you can see that the Chicago D is wildly uneven. That’s not going to be sufficient vs. Los Angeles. Rams by five.

Minnesota (+3.5) at Seattle
I don’t buy into the whole Seattle is “the team no one in the NFC playoffs wants to face” narrative. But I do think the Seahawks are good enough to make things interesting in the wild card round. I also think the Vikings are playing a tough opponent on the road for the second straight week. And I’ve got a feeling this game’s going to look similar to last week’s in some important ways. Seattle by 10.

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Week Thirteen Picks

November 29th, 2018 Comments off

I’m not sure this has ever happened before.

To me, I mean. I’m sure it’s happened to normal people. But … well, yeah.

I actually managed to do better picking against the spread in week twelve than I did picking straight up.

I went 10-5 straight up, 11-4 against the spread. Still would have lost money if I’d actually placed any bets. But I didn’t, so I can just sit back and wonder how I managed so much as to come out on the right side of .500 for a change picking with th epoints.

I’m now 110-64-2 (.631) straight up, and 85-83-8 (.506) against the spread for the season.

Let’s see if I can get back to getting most everything wrong this week. Here’s what not to expect.

New Orleans (-7) at Dallas
Traveling on short rest is tough, as a result of which I only even consider picking the visitor in a Thursday night game if there’s an overwhelmingly compelling reason to do so. There’s an overwhelmingly compelling reason here. It’s that the Saints are the better team in every aspect of the game, and not by a small margin. So I’ll take New Orleans. But I think I’ll hedge a bit and decline to give the seven. Saints by four.

Indianapolis (-4) at Jacksonville
Let’s pretend for a second that the Jaguars aren’t more of a mess now than they were when these teams met in Indianapolis three weeks ago. Do you envision Indy taking its foot off the gas this time around? Because I don’t. Colts by seven.

Carolina (-3.5) at Tampa Bay
You know how you get to 29 giveaways through 11 games in the NFL? This is how:

That kind of nonsense doesn’t add up to wins. Not even in home games against middling teams like the Panthers. Carolina by six.

Baltimore (+1.5) at Atlanta
I don’t care (well, not much) about where this game is being played. And I don’t care at all about who starts at quarterback for Baltimore. The Ravens remain at least a good. And the Falcons don’t beat good teams. Baltimore by three.

Cleveland (+6) at Houston
The Browns have won twice as many games over the last two weeks as they won in the 2016 and 2017 seasons combined. They’ve won as many games this season as they won in all of 2015, 2016 and 2017. And they may well win one or two more before this season is out. But not this one. Texans by four.

Buffalo (+4) at Miami
I think the Bills can beat the Dolphins. But not until they meet in Buffalo to wrap up the season. Miami takes this one by a field goal.

Chicago (-4) at NY Giants
Should I bother pointing out that lack of a defense could potentially pose a problem for the Giants here? Bears by a touchdown.

Denver (-5) at Cincinnati
By the time they roll into Los Angeles for their second round with the Chargers in week 17, the Broncos are going to be 9-6 and looking to play their way into the postseason. The Bengals were fading fast even before they lost their quarterback. Denver by nine.

LA Rams (-10) at Detroit
Gosh, folks, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a notion this one might get ugly. Rams by 17.

Arizona (+14) at Green Bay
By the time this game hits the fourth quarter, the national media will have decided that the Packers (still undefeated if you don’t count their 6 losses!) have righted the ship and are cruising toward the Super Bowl championship that is Aaron Rodgers’ birthright. Green Bay by 13.

Kansas City (-14.5) at Oakland
The Chiefs take a step toward the AFC one seed. The Raiders take a step toward the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. Everyone gets what they’re looking for. Except the fans. All they’re likely to get is drunk and angry. Kansas City by 21.

NY Jets (+8) at Tennessee
I have a hunch the Titans may make their week 17 rematch with the Colts interesting by winning their next four games and going in tied with Indy at 9-6. (This is my way of saying I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about the game at hand.) Titans by five.

Minnesota (+5) at New England
Five seems excessive to me here. The predictive stats say this is a narrow win for the Patriots. Look for yourself: Scoring differential; Patriots +1.8; passer rating differential, Vikings +2.2; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +3. That’s an even match. And, yes, that favors the home team. But I wouldn’t give more than the standard three. So there you go. New England by a field goal.

San Francisco (+10) at Seattle
The Seahawks’ push toward the postseason should benefit greatly from the fact that their remaining schedule features their home game against the Cardinals and both of their 2018 meetings with the 49ers. Seattle by three turnovers and 14 points.

LA Chargers (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
I don’t think either of these teams has beaten more than one truly tough opponent so far this season. And I’m not entirely sure that’s going to have changed by the time this game ends. But I think the Chargers are less overrated than the Steelers. Los Angeles by three.

Washington (+6.5) at Philadelphia
Anybody want to take the NFC East title this season? (Not talking to you here, Giants.) No? That’s just an all-around no? OK, then. Good to know. Eagles. Because sometimes mediocrity is contagious. By … I don’t know, let’s say seven points.

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Week Twelve Picks

November 21st, 2018 Comments off

My amazing run of mediocrity continues!

I went 9-4 picking straight up in week 11, 8-4-1 picking against the spread.

For the season, I’m now at 100-59-2 (.627) straight up, 74-79-8 (.484) with the points.

Lots of games to get wrong this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Chicago (-4) at Detroit
This is the second meeting in a span of 11 days for these two teams. Let’s figure the difficulties of traveling on short rest cut the margin of victory from their previous match in half. Bears by six.

Washington (+7.5) at Dallas
I think the Racists could have kept this close if they had a quarterback. But they don’t. Dallas by 10.

Atlanta (+13) at New Orleans
Back in April, this looked like a great way to cap Thanksgiving. Now? Well, you can probably expect to see two or three Saints TDs before the red wine and tryptophan do their thing. So there’s that. New Orleans by 20.

Jacksonville (-3) at Buffalo
It’s hard to imagine that even the Jaguars can find a way to lose this game. (For the record, if there were a way, it would be turnovers. But I don’t see it.) Jacksonville by four.

Oakland (+11) at Baltimore
There’s nothing worth saying about this game. Ravens by two TDs.

San Francisco (+3.5) at Tampa Bay
How’s that Buccaneers defense shaping up? 49ers by a point.

NY Giants (+6) at Philadelphia
Who cares? Home team by a field goal.

Cleveland (+3) at Cincinnati
The Browns are abysmal. The Bengals are supposedly in the wild card hunt. And yet in Cincinnati, the Bengals are only giving three. And the Browns are going to cover. (Also, when these teams meet again four weeks from now in Cleveland, the Browns are going to win.) Bengals by two.

New England (-9.5) at NY Jets
Not that they’re in legitimate contention anyhow, but with a loss here the Jets would be officially eliminated in the AFC East. That’s not good news. This is bad news: scoring differential, Patriots +4.5; passer rating differential, Patriots +14.7, takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +11. That’s a bloodbath in the making, folks. New England by 13.

Seattle (+3.5) at Carolina
The outcome of this game may determine which team lands as the five seed and which as the six (which will likely be the difference between starting the postseason in Dallas or Chicago). Or it could determine which team is the six seed and which gets January off. It’s ultimately a pretty even matchup. So I’m taking the home team to win it by a field goal.

Arizona (+12) at LA Chargers
Chargers by 4:15 eastern. And no less than three touchdowns.

Miami (+9) at Indianapolis
Another game with the potential to shape the wild card field. The Colts are the better team and the team with the better trajectory. Indianapolis by seven.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Denver
The Steelers, who have been looking all over for an opponent that can expose them, stand a pretty good chance of going 2-3 over their last five games. If they want to hold on to the AFC North, and compete for a bye week, they need to win games like this one. And they should. Steelers by four.

Green Bay (+3.5) at Minnesota
This game really could go either way. But since the Vikings battled to a tie in Green Bay back in week two, I guess I have to give them the benefit of the doubt in their own building. Minnesota by three.

Tennessee (+6) at Houston
If Marcus Mariota plays, the Titans should be able to keep the margin here to a field goal, maybe less. But I’ve got a strong sense he won’t end up playing (or he’ll play, but not terribly well). So I’ll say Texans by seven.

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