Super Bowl 50 Pick

February 4th, 2016 Comments off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conference Championship Picks

January 21st, 2016 Comments off

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

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

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

What not to expect in the conference championships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New England by 10.


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

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

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

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Divisional Round Picks

January 14th, 2016 Comments off

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

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

Time will tell, I suppose.

Here’s what not to expect.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Wild Card Round Picks

January 8th, 2016 Comments off

It would be entirely too kind to call my week seventeen results disappointing. I went 7-9 straight up, 5-10-1 against the spread. That’s just plain old ugly.

I finished the regular season with a barely respectable record of 156-100 (.609) straight up and an awful 118-132-6 (.473) against the spread.

But, you know, I’m picking all the road teams this week. So that should work out well, right?

Here’s what not to expect.

Kansas City (-3) at Houston
These teams are much more evenly matched now than they were back in week one, when the Chiefs beat the Texans by a touchdown in Houston. They’re much more evenly matched than the (well-deserved) hype about Kansas City’s ongoing 10-game winning streak might lead you to believe. I don’t think there’s an easy win here for either team. But I suspect that, as with their last meeting, this one ultimately comes down to ball security. The difference is going to be a turnover. And I think it’s Houston that commits the game-deciding giveaway. Chiefs by four.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati
Last time these teams met, the Bengals lost Andy Dalton to a broken thumb. This time, with Dalton still sidelined, I think the Bengals lose whatever little they have left of their hopes of finally advancing past the first round of the playoffs. The Pittsburgh D is highly suspect, and AJ McCarron may actually be able to take advantage of that. But even then, it’s a track meet unless the Cincy defense can shut down Ben Roethlisberger. And I just can’t envision that. Steelers by a touchdown.

Seattle (-5) at Minnesota
I don’t know if the Seahawks are going to get terribly far in their push for a third straight NFC Championship, but I feel pretty confident that they’ll make easy work of the Vikings. (Then again, I’ve been underestimating Minnesota all season. So who knows?) You can’t run the ball against the Seahawks. And that’s really bad news for a team like the Vikings. I won’t be surprised if this one’s over by halftime. At the very least, I expect Seattle to come out ahead by a solid 17.

Green Bay (+1) at Washington
Someone’s gonna have to explain to me how the Racists are giving a point here. (I mean, don’t. I’m just talking. I don’t care.) Sure, Washington has finished with four straight wins. But they’ve been wins over nobody. And, yeah, the Packers are a flawed team that has little chance of advancing past the divisional round. But Green Bay still has a great quarterback, who this week faces a Washington secondary that’s questionable at best. That’s about all I need to know. Green Bay by six.

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Week Seventeen Picks

January 2nd, 2016 Comments off

The thing about 17 weeks is that it’s, like, nothing. One minute you’re marveling at the fact that guys are able to play in pads and helmets while you’re sweating away in a T-shirt and shorts, the next you’re watching sideline shots of guys with steam coming off their heads and wondering whether you’ll get a snow game in the playoffs. And football just keeps happening the whole time. And happening in ways I never quite expect.

Take week sixteen. I finished 10-6 straight up (not terrible, I suppose, given that there were a couple of upsets I wouldn’t have picked even if I’d known they were coming), 5-11 against the spread (pretty bloody awful). For the season, I’m 149-91 (.621) straight up, 113-122-5 (.481) against the spread.

I don’t expect to improve any in this final week, particularly given that I don’t have any idea of which teams are gonna bother to show up to play. But I’ve got this far, so I suppose I might as well press on. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Jets (-2.5) at Buffalo
I’m sure Rex Ryan would love to find a way to derail his former team’s postseason hopes. But I suspect the Bills’ players are ready to move on to the off season. Jets by a field goal.

New England (-10) at Miami
Big spread aside, the Dolphins should be able to find a way to win this game. Sure, the Patriots are playing for home field throughout the AFC playoffs. But New England has chosen to rest several banged up starters. They’d clearly rather be a healthy two seed than an even more hobbled one seed. A division opponent looking to end its season with a satisfying win in front of the home crowd would take advantage of that situation. But I’m not sure that’s Miami. The Dolphins have looked for weeks as if they’ve given up on their season. And I don’t think you can just dial the intensity back up in week 17. Patriots win a fairly sloppy game by a touchdown.



Baltimore (+9) at Cincinnati
The Bengals don’t really have any hope of snagging the AFC two seed and a first round bye after Monday night’s loss to the Broncos. But with Denver’s game not kicking off until 4:25, Cincinnati still as to play as if there were a real chance the Broncos could stumble. And the Ravens already had their big moment last week when they effectively knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs. Cincinnati by 13.

New Orleans (+5.5) at Atlanta
I don’t know which of these teams is worse. I don’t know if either of them cares about this game. But I do know that one of them has to win. And one of them is playing at home. Falcons by four.

Jacksonville (+6.5) at Houston
With a win here, the Texans will be assured of a winning record even after the Chiefs bounce them from the playoffs next weekend. So that should feel good. Houston by three.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Cleveland
If the Steelers really were the team that “nobody wanted to see” in the playoffs, it appears everybody’s going to get their wish — courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens. Everybody, that is, for the poor Browns. Angry, angry Pittsburgh by 14.

Tennessee (+6) at Indianapolis
Turns out the answer to the delightful question, “Could the Colts be more of a mess?” is yes. Yes, they really, really can. Don’t you just hate it when bad things happen to nice teams? Lucky for the Colts, the Titans have a reason to lose. Indy by a point.

Washington (+4) at Dallas
The Racists are locked into the NFC four seed. The only question for them this weekend regards which team they’ll lose to in the Wild Card round. Cowboys by a field goal.

Detroit (+1) at Chicago
The Lions aren’t worse than the Bears by much. But they’re worse than the Bears just the same. Chicago by four.

Philadelphia (+3.5) at NY Giants
Complete disarray can be difficult to overcome. Giants by 20.

Tampa Bay (+10.5) at Carolina
A year from now, this may be a compelling matchup. Right now, it’s not. Panthers by nine.

Oakland (+7) at Kansas City
The Raiders couldn’t keep it close with the Chiefs in Oakland four weeks ago. They’re not likely to fare any better in Kansas City. Chiefs by two TDs.

San Diego (+9) at Denver
A win, and the Broncos are the two seed at worst, maybe the one (if Miami can knock off New England). A loss and they probably fall to the five seed. That should be pretty strong motivation to beat a Chargers squad that can’t get out of its own way, don’t you think? Denver by 10.

St. Louis (-3.5) at San Francisco
Yeah, sure. St. Louis. Why not? Rams by six.

Seattle (+6.5) at Arizona
The Seahawks blew their shot at an easy first round trip to Washington with their ridiculous home loss to the Rams last weekend. Now they get the winner of the NFC North championship game. Of course, that all comes after they’re done getting swept in the 2015 season series by the Cardinals. Arizona by a touchdown.

Minnesota (+3) at Green Bay
The Packers should be able to win this game and lock up the NFC North title. But you never know. So I’m going with the hedge pick: Green Bay by a point.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 24th, 2015 Comments off

Week fifteen turned out pretty OK for me. I finished 12-4 straight up, 10-5-1 against the spread. That lifts me to 139-85 (.621) straight up and 108-111-5 (.493) against the spread on the season. In all cases, I’ll take it.

Here’s what not to expect in week sixteen.

San Diego (+6) at Oakland
I get that there’s a lot of emotion associated with the fact this will be Charles Woodson’s last game Oakland. I know I’ll be rooting for Woodson to go out with a big game. But I don’t think Woodson’s sendoff is a reason to pick the Raiders. I think the fact that the Raiders are the better team is a reason to pick them. And I think the fact that they’re playing at home on a Thursday night is a reason to pick them to win by more than six. Oakland by a touchdown.

Washington (+3) at Philadelphia
The prize in the riveting battle for the 2015 NFC East title will be a first-class ass-kicking by the Seahawks in the Wild Card round. Who wouldn’t want that? Racists by two.

Chicago (+3) at Tampa Bay
Both of these teams are headed nowhere in 2015. But the Bears appear determined to get there faster. Bucs by a field goal.

Carolina (-7) at Atlanta
The Panthers still have something on the line. Not sure anyone needs to know much more about this game. Carolina by 20.

Dallas (+6) at Buffalo
This game’s got memorable written all over it, doesn’t it? Bills by 10.

San Francisco (+9.5) at Detroit
Ugh. This one, too. Prediction? Here’s a prediction: I won’t care any more about this game while it’s being played or after it’s been played than I do right now. Lions by a touchdown.

Cleveland (+12.5) at Kansas City
It will be absolutely shocking if this is still a game at the end of the first quarter. Chiefs by 21, minimum.

Indianapolis (+1.5) at Miami
Is this really how the Colts’ season ends? Yes. Yes, it is. Dolphins by four.

New England (-3) at NY Jets
Yeah, the Patriots need to win this game in order to clinch the AFC one seed. Or they could always do it next week in Miami. And most important of all for New England is getting healthy for the postseason. So I expect the Patriots to go at about 75 percent strength, which means I only expect them to beat New Jersey by four.


Pittsburgh (-10) at Baltimore
I haven’t bought into the hype around Pittsburgh quite yet. Not sure I will. But the Ravens have been done for weeks, and they haven’t really been anything to worry about all season. Steelers by 20.

Houston (+4.5) at Tennessee
Wait the Texans are getting points in this game? Really? Sign me up. Houston by a field goal.

Jacksonville (+3.5) at New Orleans
I’m not sure how or when I arrived in a world where the Jaguars could conceivably go into New Orleans and beat the Saints, but here I am. Here we all are. Only maybe don’t take your shoes off, because I’m not sure we’ll be staying long. New Orleans by a touchdown.

Green Bay (+4.5) at Arizona
The Cardinals might not be better than the Packers by all that much. But they’re probably better by enough to be able to win at home and sew up the NFC two seed. Arizona by a field goal.

St. Louis (+13.5) at Seattle
A win here and the Seahawks probably don’t need to put much effort into their week 17 matchup with the Cardinals. They’ll have the five seed, which means an easy Wild Card round trip to the NFC East “champion.” Seattle by 16.

NY Giants (+5.5) at Minnesota
The Vikings move one step closer to the back-to-back losses in Green Bay that will end their season and their postseason. Fun. Minnesota by seven.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Denver
In which the Broncos defense secures the two seed, ensuring at least three more weeks of talk about the Broncos quarterback situation. Denver by six.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 17th, 2015 Comments off

I’m not sure how to feel about my week fourteen results. I went 10-6 straight up, which isn’t embarrassing, but also isn’t something you want to thump your chest about. But I also went 10-6 against the spread, which feels pretty damned impressive to me. Of course, there’s the whole thing where I don’t bet. (And even if I did, I’d surely have had my money on some of the six games I got wrong. Which is why I don’t bet.) So, you know, it’s still just 10-6.

For the season, I’m now looking at 127-81 (.611) straight up, 98-106-4 (.481) against the spread. Respectable, but unimpressive.

Let’s see if I can’t erase that respectability this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Tampa Bay (+1.5) at St. Louis
I wonder how many regret-inducing, drunken office holiday party make-out sessions were preserved by the NFL’s decision to schedule this clunker as the Thursday night game the week before Christmas. Seriously. Perhaps there’s some list of things you wouldn’t rather do than watch this thing, but I’m guessing scarfing seven-layer dip and pigs in blankets while pretending to care about Will from accounting’s travel plans doesn’t even come close to making it. I mean, in fairness, I suppose I should point out that neither of these teams has been officially eliminated from postseason contention yet. But since neither is part of the NFC East, that distinction is largely technical/numerical. Which is to say that both will be in a position to start focusing on the draft soon enough. And by soon enough I mean tomorrow for St. Louis, Monday for Tampa Bay. Bucs by a field goal.

NY Jets (-3) at Dallas
The way things are shaping up in the AFC playoff race, the Jets probably need to win out in order to hold on to the six seed. That’s not gonna happen. In fact, I won’t be surprised if the Jets drop two of their last three. But this match against one the worst teams in football shouldn’t pose much of a problem. New Jersey by nine.

Chicago (+5.5) at Minnesota
If the Vikings want their week 17 trip to Green Bay to be about more than holding on to the NFC six seed (that is, if they want a shot an NFC North championship and the right to host their third meeting with the Packers rather than starting, and ending, January playing two straight games in Wisconsin) they need to win this game and next week’s contest with the Giants. I don’t know if they’ll pull it off, but I expect them to come out of this week with their hopes still intact. Minnesota by four.

Atlanta (+3.5) at Jacksonville
It’s fitting, I think, that the Falcons and Jaguars meet at this point in both of their seasons. Atlanta is 6-7 and moving rapidly in the wrong direction. Jacksonville is 5-7 and moving in fits and starts in the right direction. The Falcons should look at this game as a chance to halt their six-game skid. But I don’t think they have the will to do it. I expect both teams to emerge from this game at 6-8 — and one of them to be happy about that. Jacksonville by three.

Houston (+2) at Indianapolis
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect illustration of the mess that is the AFC South than the fact that a game that could determine the division title is going to be played without either team’s starting quarterback on the field. I guess I have to go with Houston to win it, since the Texans occasionally field a defense and have at least some chance of mounting a ground game. I think. Maybe. Texans by a point.

Kansas City (-7.5) at Baltimore
The red hot Chiefs have to be looking at the way the Broncos stumbled last weekend against the Raiders and thinking they may be presented with an opportunity to steal the AFC West championship. It only happens, though, if they’re able to remain focused on winning the games they have in front of them. This one should be a breeze. Kansas City by 13.

Buffalo (-1) at Washington
The outcome of this game determines whether the NFC East “champion” will have a record of 7-9 or 8-8. (To be clear, that’s not numerically a done deal. I’m speculating.) And, uh, I think it’s gonna be 7-9. Bills by three.

Tennessee (+14) at New England
The last time the Titans traveled to Foxborough it was … um, well, it was not pretty. It’s hard to imagine this one goes anywhere near that poorly for Tennessee, particularly in light of New England’s continued struggles with injuries. But the predictive stats tend toward the lopsided. Passer rating differential: Patriots +17.0. Scoring differential: Patriots +8.5. Takeaway/giveaway differential: Patriots +14. So I’m still looking for a fairly fluid New England win. I’ll say Patriots by 17.


Carolina (-5) at NY Giants
The Panthers have to drop a game eventually. And we all know the Giants have a history of disrupting undefeated seasons. So it only stands to reason that I’m picking Carolina here. Mostly because of that thing where they’re the better team. Panthers by seven.

Cleveland (+14.5) at Seattle
The Browns are in a three-way race to secure the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. I kind of hope they get it, mainly because I think it will be fascinating to see how they squander it. Seahawks by 28.

Green Bay (-3) at Oakland
Turns out I was wrong about the Raiders not having a defense. Or maybe last Sunday’s upset victory was really about the Broncos not having an offense. In any case, the Raiders have to be feeling pretty good about having taken some of the air out of their postseason-bound division rivals’ sails. And, hopefully, feeling good for a week has been good enough for them (and Bobby McGee). Because I’ve got a hunch that somewhere near Salinas (well, not that near) they’re about to let it slip away. What I mean is, I don’t think Oakland’s quite ready to upend a balanced team like Green Bay. Packers by six.

Miami (+1.5) at San Diego
When two teams are functionally identical, which is the case here, you take the one playing at home. Chargers by three.

Denver (+6) at Pittsburgh
Like I’ve been saying, it was only a matter of time before opposing coaches had enough film on Brock Osweiler to be able to scheme against him effectively. Last week’s result wasn’t encouraging for Denver’s “next great quarterback.” This week’s result, I suspect, will render any lingering questions about Peyton Manning‘s return to the starting lineup academic. Steelers by 10.

Cincinnati (-4.5) at San Francisco
It’s one thing to conclude that the Bengals are going nowhere in the playoffs unless Andy Dalton’s thumb heals quickly. It would be quite another to think Cincinnati is likely to struggle against San Francisco in Dalton’s absence. Almost no one struggles against the Niners. Bengals by a touchdown.

Arizona (-3.5) at Philadelphia
It’s undeniably true that both of these teams are in contention for their respective divisions’ titles. But that’s about where the similarities end. The Eagles are hoping to back into a spot in the postseason by “winning” the second worst division in the NFL. The Cardinals are driving to shore up the NFC two seed. There is simply nothing about the Eagles that would lead any reasonable person to conclude that they can compete with the Cardinals. On any field. Arizona by eight.

Detroit (+3) at New Orleans
One of these teams has to win. Right? Saints come out on top, but it’s a push with the points.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 10th, 2015 Comments off

I finally had a respectable finish in week thirteen. I went 12-4 straight up, 8-8 against the spread for the week. I can live with that. My numbers for the season? Meh. I’m 117-75 (.609) straight up, 88-100-4 (.469) against the spread.

Maybe I can power through a few more good weeks and get those averages up. Or maybe I’ll fall flat on my face.

Here’s what not to expect.

Minnesota (+11) at Arizona
I could write about the difficultly of traveling to play on a Thursday night. I could write about the fact that although the Vikings have a good record, the closest they’ve come to beating a good team was a narrow home victory over the then-reeling Chiefs way back in week six. I could write about how the Vikings have a one-dimensional offense that doesn’t match up well against the Cardinals D. But why bother? The simple fact is that the Vikings don’t belong on the same field as the Cardinals. That’s all I ever really needed to write about this game. Well, actually, that and Arizona by 35.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Cincinnati
The default line of home team -3 makes perfect sense to me. Because as far as I can see, these teams are effectively the same. Of course, that only makes picking this thing all the more difficult. So excuse me if I take the coward’s way out and hedge: Bengals by a point.

Buffalo (-1.5) at Philadelphia
If all of Philadelphia’s remaining opponents helpfully self-destruct, the Eagles can totally carry the NFC East. But I’m not sure that’s something you can count on. I think I’ll stick with the whole “better team usually wins” thing for now, even in games where the better team isn’t ultimately all that much better. Bills by four.

Atlanta (+7.5) at Carolina
Can the Falcons snap a five-game losing streak and end their division rivals’ quest for an undefeated season? Well, as the Eagles demonstrated last weekend, anything can happen in the NFL. But it usually doesn’t. Panthers by ten.

San Francisco (+1.5) at Cleveland
One of these teams is going to find a novel and entertaining way to lose this game. Which will it be? I have no idea. They’re clearly equally capable. Let’s just say home team wins by a fluky three points.

Washington (+3) at Chicago
Seventy-five years ago this week, these two teams squared off in an NFL Championship game still remembered for the 73-0 beatdown Sid Luckman’s bears put on Slingin’ Sammy Baugh’s Racists. This Sunday, it’s just a matchup of two 5-7 teams. Well, except that Chicago is all but eliminated from postseason contention while Washington is currently in first place in the NFC East. I keep reading and hearing about how Chicago is much better than Washington. I don’t see it. But I don’t have it in me to look all that hard. Still, the Bears are at home. So, whatevs. Just for fun, I’ll say Chicago by 73.

Detroit (-2.5) at St. Louis
I know the Lions are supposed  to be the better team. I just don’t really understand why. I’m looking for the home team to win it by a field goal.

San Diego (+10) at Kansas City
The Chiefs continue their push for the playoffs while the Chargers continue their push for first overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Kansas City by 17.

New Orleans (+3.5) at Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers, who toppled the Saints in New Orleans back in week two, last swept this season series in 2007. The Saints swept the Bucs in each of three seasons prior to this one. That’s not terribly interesting, is it? And still, somehow, it’s more interesting to me than actually talking about this game. Bucs by six.

Indianapolis (+1) at Jacksonville
The Colts ultimately are going to surrender the AFC South title to the Texans. But it’s going to happen with a loss to Houston next week, not a loss to Jacksonville here. Indy by three.

Tennessee (+7) at NY Jets
The Jets win with takeaways. The Titans can’t hold on to the ball. That makes picking this game pretty easy, don’t you think? New Jersey by nine.

Seattle (-9) at Baltimore
The Ravens couldn’t have won this game even if they had a quarterback. Which they don’t. Seattle by 20.

Oakland (+7.5) at Denver
If the Raiders can avoid big mistakes, I think they can make this a game. But they still can’t win it. Because the Broncos take the unconventional approach of fielding a defense. The Raiders might want to take note of that. Denver by six.

Dallas (+7) at Green Bay
Green Bay retakes control of the NFC North with a big win over an awful Dallas squad. Packers by 16.

New England (-3) at Houston
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the sky is falling in New England. The Patriots went out last Sunday, made five horrifically bad, thoroughly unforced, and entirely uncharacteristic errors, and, as a result, lost to the 9-point underdog Philadelphia Eagles. This, according to much talk in New England and some in the national media, proves that the Patriots cannot win without Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski on the field. (This despite the fact that the Patriots put up 28 points, which is more than the scoring average of all but three teams in the league, one of which is New England. And despite the fact that the New England defense only allowed 14; with another 14 of Philly’s points scored on special teams plays and seven scored via a 100-yard pick six.) And this, of course, makes the Patriots the worst 10-2 team ever. I mean, it’s either that or — as I said for weeks earlier in the season, mostly to New England fans who were talking about 16-o — the Patriots were always going to drop two games, and it was always the case that one of them would be a loss no one would see coming. And now the Pats are done losing for the rest of the season (unless by some chance their week 17 game in Miami turns out to be meaningless). The Texans are a good team, of course. And they’re hosting. So anything can happen. But here are the predictive stats (come out ahead in two out of three of these and you’re in line for a win): Scoring differential, Patriots +5.8; passer rating differential, Patriots +9.9; takeaway/giveaway differential, Patriots +6. It’ll be a late night for New England fans as the Texans keep it close, but the Patriots win this one by a touchdown.


NY Giants (-1) at Miami
The Giants have three winnable games on their schedule over the next four weeks. They need to come out on top in at least two of those to take the NFC East title. This should get them off to a good start. New Jersey by three.

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Week Thirteen Picks

December 6th, 2015 Comments off

Finally getting these on record, and I don’t expect it to be pretty. I don’t offer this as an excuse, but my work life recently has got busier and busier. That means I get home exhausted. And that means I’m not in much of a position to spend my evenings obsessively tracking football stats and trends. Not that I haven’t been doing it at all, mind you. It’s just that time and attention span aren’t what I’d like them to be.

And that means I’m not expecting the kind of brilliant football insights that got me all the way to 9-7 straight up during Thanksgiving week. So that’s gonna be a problem. Though I’ll note that I did manage a 9-7 finish against the spread, which ain’t half bad when there’s no actual money involved. Maybe not thinking too hard is helpful there. For the season, my record stands at 105-71 (.597) straight up, 80-92-4 (.466) against the spread. (This doesn’t factor in that I’m 1-0 straight up, 0-1 against the spread so far this week.)

Let’s move on then. What not to expect.

San Francisco (+7) at Chicago
I haven’t quite bought in on the whole Bears turnaround thing. But I can’t see how anyone could not be on board with the 49ers disaster thing. Chicago by 14.

Cincinnati (-9) at Cleveland
And speaking of disasters … . Bengals by 5,000 points. Or actually, 5,000 isn’t divisible by seven. So let’s go with something that is. Say, 28.

Jacksonville (+2.5) at Tennessee
Two meetings between these two powerhouse teams over the course of three weeks. Will the AFC South excitement never end? The Jaguars took their home game. Now the Titans take theirs. Tennessee by a field goal.

Houston (+3.5) at Buffalo
If the Bills are to have any chance of qualifying for a wild card spot, they absolutely have to take this game. Ultimately, Buffalo won’t make the playoffs. But the Bills will nudge their way past the Texans here on the strength of their ground game. Buffalo by a point.

Baltimore (+3.5) at Miami
And now we start to see some of these terrific matchups in which the winner’s prize is to move behind the loser in the draft order. Congratulations, Dolphins. Miami by three.

Seattle (-1.5) at Minnesota
You’re trying to tell me that the Vikings are playing to hold on to the lead in their division and a shot at the NFC two seed, while the Seahawks are trying to hold on to the last wild card spot? That can’t be true. Can it? If one of these teams were better equipped to slow down the other’s rushing attack and the other were better equipped to move the ball through the air, I’d have a tough time picking this one. But since Seattle comes out ahead in both of those areas, I’ve got to go with the Seahawks. Seattle by a field goal.

Arizona (-4.5) at St. Louis
One suspects the Cardinals may be going into this game feeling like they have something to prove — if only to themselves. Arizona by a touchdown.

Atlanta (+1) at Tampa Bay
The Falcons opened their season with five straight wins. Here’s a fifth straight loss to balance things out. Buccaneers by four.

NY Jets (-2) at NY Giants
The Jets really ought to be able to pull out a win in the middling New Jersey football team championship. Which is how you know the Giants are coming out on top. Giants by three.

Denver (-4) at San Diego
If won’t be long before opposing coaches have enough film on Brock Osweiler to take advantage of some of his weaknesses. But even if we were already there, the Chargers don’t have the defensive weapons to get it done. Denver by six.

Kansas City (-3) at Oakland
The Raiders have the offense to make this a spectacular and exciting game. But they don’t have enough defense to carry the day. Chiefs by a point.

Carolina (-6.5) at New Orleans
Sooner or later, the Panthers are going to drop a game. And a visit to a divisional rival, no matter how weak, is a solid candidate for that eventuality. Which is to say that anything can happen. But still, the disparity between these two teams is far too significant for me to be willing to predict anything other than a decisive win by the Panthers. Carolina by two TDs.

Philadelphia (+9) at New England
You can talk all day about the Patriots injury-depleted receiving corps. And, yeah, it’s a problem. But it didn’t stop New England a week ago from forcing overtime on the road against the Broncos, a team with one of the NFL’s best defenses. And it seems unlikely to pose a significant challenge this week as the Patriots host an Eagles squad with one of the league’s worst Ds and a struggling offense. Patriots by 21.


Indianapolis (+7) at Pittsburgh
The Colts still can’t stop the run. Steelers by 10.

Dallas (+4) at Washington
Boy, oh, boy, is the NFC East awful. I’ll find out how this game came out on Tuesday morning, because you couldn’t pay me to watch this dog. Racists by six.

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Week Thirteen Thursday Night

December 3rd, 2015 Comments off

Haven’t done this at all this season, but I’m not going to get to the full slate in time for tonight’s exciting matchup. So let’s start with getting on the record on this one.

Green Bay (-3) at Detroit
If the Lions could beat the Packers in Green Bay, they ought to be able to beat them in Detroit, right? Um, maybe. I mean, there’s clearly something very wrong with the Packers. And no one picks on a weakness better than a division rival. But, you know, I’m just having a hard time believing the Lions can achieve a season sweep over what on paper remains the better team. So I’m gonna hold my breath a bit and look for the Green Bay defense to get it done by forcing turnovers in key spots. Packers by a point.

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