Week Fifteen Picks

December 13th, 2018 No comments

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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Week Eleven Picks

November 15th, 2018 Comments off

Week ten was rough enough that I can’t really get worked up about my 9-5 finish picking straight up.

What about 5-8-1 against the spread? Yeah. Ugh.

I’m now 91-55-2 (.622) straight up, 66-75-7 (.470) against the spread for the season.

Let’s see if I can’t make it worse. Here’s what not to expect in week eleven.

Green Bay (+3) at Seattle
I can’t for the life of me figure out how the Packers are getting points from the lowly Seahawks here. I mean, I keep hearing/reading about how Aaron Rodgers’ team still has a great shot not only of getting to but winning the Super Bowl. And, you know, if you don’t count their four losses, the Packers are undefeated. Think about that for a minute. Meanwhile Seattle is a mere 4-5. And since Aaron Rodgers isn’t their quarterback, all of the Seahawks’ losses count. So, yeah, I for one believe firmly that the 4-0(4)-1 Packers can travel to Seattle on short rest, figure out how to play run defense on the way, and beat a home team that has effectively lost its division and has its back against the wall in the wild card chase. Totally. Either that or I figure the Seahawks win this one by roughly six points. Um, let’s just go with that last thing.

Carolina (-4) at Detroit
The Panthers have had a lot to think about over the last week, none of it pleasant. I’m sure they’re about ready to take out some of their angrier thoughts on someone. And, well, there’s that thing where the Lions have given up on the season. Carolina by a touchdown.

Dallas (+3) at Atlanta
I’m beginning to get the sense that the postseason may need to happen without either of these teams. Unbalanced home team beats unbalanced road team. By a point.

Cincinnati (+4) at Baltimore
The Bengals can lose this game and still fool themselves into believing they can recover and make a run at a wild card slot. The Ravens can’t. So whatever quarterback Baltimore puts on the field needs to take advantage of Cincinnati’s disaster of a defense. I suspect he will. Ravens by a field goal.

Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars haven’t won a game since week four. They’ve beaten exactly one good team all season. And that was in week two. It’s hard to see anything but a brutal outcome here. Steelers by 14.

Tennessee (+2) at Indianapolis
The Colts have no defense. The Titans have nothing but defense. Indy by three, I guess.

Houston (-3) at Washington
The Texans have gone from 0-3 to 6-3, which is pretty nice for them. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they next run into a good opponent. But that may not be until January. Unless it’s here. I still have no idea what to make of the Racists. Maybe they’re actually a decent football team. If they are, they win this one. If not … Texans by one.

Tampa Bay (+1.5) at NY Giants
Are the 2018 Giants actually capable of winning two straight? If it costs them draft position, yeah, I’m quite sure they are. New Jersey by four.

Denver (+7) at LA Chargers
The Chargers continue to over-inflate their reputation by beating up on also-rans.  Los Angeles by 10.

Oakland (+5) at Arizona
I could have this wrong, but I suspect that when you’re getting five points from a team that averages less than two touchdowns per game it’s a sign either that you’re in serious trouble or that maybe, just maybe, the handicappers have it in their heads that you secretly want to lose. Cardinals by six.

Philadelphia (+8.5) at New Orleans
If there’s anyone out there today who still believes the Eagles can repeat as champions, one suspects they’ll be disabused of that notion by the time this game is halfway over. Saints by 17.

Minnesota (+2.5) at Chicago
If the Bears win here, they likely won’t need to worry about the week 17 rematch in Minnesota. (They should be locked in as the NFC three seed by that point.) Chicago by five.

Kansas City (+3.5) at LA Rams
Neither team will be seen in Mexico City. Neither defense will be seen in Los Angeles. Rams by a field goal.

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Week Ten Picks

November 8th, 2018 Comments off

I’d probably be somewhat pleased about having gone 7-6 with my picks against the spread in week nine — if I hadn’t also gone 7-6 straight up.

The former result is still awful, but it’s less awful than usual. The latter is well below even my shabby standards.

I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more to say. Oh, except that for the season, I’m now 82-50-2 (.619) straight up, and 61-67-6 (.477) against the spread.

Let’s see if I can flip the weekly results below the .500 threshold this week.

Here’s what not to expect.

Carolina (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
I’m pretty sure the Panthers are the better team in this match. But not by much. Certainly not by enough to move me to take the road team in a Thursday night game. Steelers by a field goal.

Buffalo (+6.5) at NY Jets
I’m not convinced this actually qualifies as a professional football game. Jets win 9-0.

Atlanta (-4) at Cleveland
Wasn’t one of these teams supposed to be good this season? Falcons by a point.

New Orleans (-5.5) at Cincinnati
The 5-3 Bengals are going 4-4 down the stretch. This is the first of two straight losses to start them down that path. Saints by 13.

Washington (+3) at Tampa Bay
Have the Buccaneers sprouted a defense? No? Good to know. Racists by a touchdown.

New England (-6.5) at Tennessee
Big three predictive stats first: Scoring differential, Patriots +4.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +9.8; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +5. That would point to Patriots victory even if the Titans weren’t a significantly unbalanced team. And the Titans are a significantly unbalanced team. New England by 10.

Jacksonville (+3) at Indianapolis
Imagine going from Super Bowl LII.125 champions in week two to getting three points in the battle for the AFC South basement in week 10. Quite a tumble for the Jaguars, wouldn’t you say? Colts by six.

Detroit (+6.5) at Chicago
I’d say that if the Lions can’t find a way to win this one, they can call it a season if it weren’t for the fact that the Lions already have called it a season. Bears by 14.

Arizona (+16.5) at Kansas City
For one week, it will look like the Chiefs have a defense. Kansas City by three touchdowns.

LA Chargers (-10) at Oakland
It will not look like the Raiders have a defense. It would be almost impossible to make it look like the Raiders have a defense. Chargers keep it on the ground all day, mercifully speeding up the game, but also limiting their margin of victory. Los Angeles by nine.

Miami (+9.5) at Green Bay
The Packers are 0-2 since returning from their bye. They’re 3-4-1 on the season and facing consecutive road games in Seattle and Minnesota in weeks 11 and 12. If they don’t win here, they’re done. The good news for Green Bay (however short-lived it may prove) is that they’re winning here. Packers by seven.

Seattle (+9.5) at LA Rams
The Rams have pretty much sewn up the NFC West. Their win here won’t make it official, but it might as well. Rams by 10.

Dallas (+7) at Philadelphia
The Eagles have had their struggles this season, and I expect those to continue down the stretch. But the Cowboys are in a full-on tailspin. Philadelphia by six.

NY Giants (+3) at San Francisco
Oh, cool. I can go to bed early. 49ers by six.

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Week Nine Picks

November 1st, 2018 Comments off

I suppose I should be OK with an 11-3 finish picking straight up in week eight. But I’m not.

I’m definitely not OK with 6-8 against the spread.

But it’s not like me being OK with it matters. That’s where I landed.

For the season, that gets me to 75-44-2 (.628) straight up, and 54-61-6 (.471) with the points.

I’m sure I can do worse.

Here’s what not to expect in week nine.

Oakland (+2.5) at San Francisco
This is the way the Battle of the Bay ends. This is the way the Battle of the Bay ends. This is the way the Battle of the Bay ends. Not with a bang but a whimper. The 49ers should be able to keep the ball on the ground (assuming they can hold onto it), control time of possession, and come away with a six-point victory.

Detroit (+4.5) at Minnesota
I don’t know if the Lions threw in the towel this week, but they sure as hell didn’t throw down the gauntlet. Vikings by a field goal.

Kansas City (-8.5) at Cleveland
Sometimes a team’s first game under a new coach can … or maybe the Chiefs will be looking past the Browns to their big week ten battle with the Cardinals … or maybe the Browns will get some key takeaways … or, um, I don’t know … something. But, yeah, probably not. Chiefs by 14.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Baltimore
I’m not sure the Ravens right now are the team they appeared to be when they handled the Steelers with relative ease back in week four. Baltimore has lost two in a row to good teams and is starting to take on the look of one those squads that feasts on weak and mediocre opposition and fades when faced with an actual challenge. Trouble is, the Steelers look like one of those teams, too. Neither Pittsburgh nor Baltimore can afford to lose this game. But one of them has to. That usually works out to be the visitors. Ravens by a point.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at Carolina
Fitz was never the Bucs’ problem. But neither is he the solution to their problems. Panthers by 10.

NY Jets (+3) at Miami
Just for fun, let’s say the whole week two experience gets turned on its head and the Jets win 20-12.

Atlanta (+1.5) at Washington
I’m not sure the Racists’ defense needed to get better to secure a win in this game. But it got better just the same. Washington by four.

Chicago (-10) at Buffalo
It’s nice, I suppose, that Nathan Peterman is confident. Chicago by 17.

Houston (+1) at Denver
You think Demaryius Thomas might have a big game here? Actually, you know, he probably won’t. Five days isn’t really sufficient to absorb a new team’s system. Texans still win, but they make it happen mostly on the ground. Let’s call it Houston by three.

LA Chargers (+1.5) at Seattle
I’d pick the host no matter where these two evenly matched teams played. Seattle by a field goal.

LA Rams (+1.5) at New Orleans
No matter how much time I spend looking at this game, I end up at the painfully obvious conclusion that it comes down to whether the Rams can do a better job of slowing the Saints’ passing attack than the Saints do of slowing the Rams’ ground game. I suspect they can. And I suspect that as a result of that, the next meeting between these teams will take place in Los Angeles. Rams by a point.

Green Bay (+6) at New England
Let’s start with the big three predictive stats: Scoring differential, Patriots +3.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +4.6; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +3. That points to a narrow win for New England. But I need to see one more thing before I’ll feel comfortable predicting that result. I need to see a report confirming that Sony Michel is playing. He’s been practicing, which is good news for New England. But practicing and playing aren’t the same thing. And despite the matchup of big name quarterbacks, my strong feeling is that this game is going to be won and lost in the rushing game, which is to say it’s going to be a hard for New England to come away victorious without Michel on the field. I’m gonna assume he plays, as a result of which I’m expecting the Patriots to come out ahead by three.

Tennessee (+6.5) at Dallas
The unbalanced visitors are probably a bit less good (more bad?) than the unbalanced home team. Dallas wins 9-6.

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Week Eight Picks

October 25th, 2018 Comments off

I can live with last week’s results. I suppose.

I finished 10-4 straight up, 7-6-1 against the spread. And that’s on the right side of .500 — if only just.

On the season, I’m at 64-41-2 (.607) straight up, 48-53-6 (.477) against the spread.

I’m confident I’ve found several ways to get moving in the wrong direction again this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Miami (+7.5) at Houston
Not all 4-3 teams are alike. The Texans have followed an 0-3 start with a four-game winning streak. The Dolphins opened 3-0, and have gone 1-3 since. More important, Houston does pretty much everything better than Miami. Add to the mix the difficulties of traveling on short rest (after having the ball shoved down your throats at home, no less) and it’s hard to come away with an optimistic outlook for the Dolphins here. Texans by nine.

Philadelphia (-3) vs. Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium, London
Were it being played stateside, this game would be only slightly challenging to pick. Although both teams are pretty average, the Eagles at least have been consistently uneven, while the Jaguars appear to be in a full-on fade. The only complicating factor would have been home field, and I’m fairly certain Philly’s better by just enough to have overcome that. But I don’t think it’s wise to overlook the Jaguars’ familiarity with London games. Transatlantic travel is tough on a football team, and the more experience you have with it, the better suited you are to take on the challenges. I can’t quite bring myself to pick the Jaguars based on that one factor, but I also won’t be at all surprised if Jacksonville manages an upset here. Eagles by a point.

Cleveland (+8.5) at Pittsburgh
Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions when these teams met in Cleveland in week one and the Browns still only managed to a tie. Roethlisberger has thrown just three more picks in the Steelers’ subsequent five games. Meanwhile, the Browns are on the road for a second straight week while the Steelers are coming of their bye. I’m just not counting on things to break right for the Browns. Steelers by seven.

Denver (+10) at Kansas City
The Chiefs are focused on holding off the Chargers in the division and the Patriots in the contest for top seeding in the conference. The Broncos appear to be shifting their focus to preparing for 2019. One imagines the outcome of this game will illustrate the underlying wisdom of each team’s orientation. Kansas City by 12.

NY Jets (+7) at Chicago
Three games into their four-week tournament against the AFC East, the Bears finally encounter a team they can beat. Chicago by six.

Washington (-1) at NY Giants
The Giants have called it a season. Racists by a touchdown.

Seattle (+3) at Detroit
If I thought the Seahawks could protect Russell Wilson from the Lions’ pass rush, I might actually consider picking an upset here. But I don’t. So Detroit by a field goal sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Tampa Bay (+4.5) at Cincinnati
Bet. The. Over. Bengals by six.

Baltimore (-2) at Carolina
I very well might come away from this game with a completely different feeling about this, but right now it just looks to me like the Ravens are the better team. Baltimore by one.

Indianapolis (-3) at Oakland
The Raiders have been oriented toward next season (or probably more like 2020) since before this one began. So it’s hard to understand why anyone was shocked that they underscored the point this week. The Colts are still pretending they have something to play for right now. They don’t. But that’s OK. Indy by seven.

San Francisco (+1) at Arizona
You know what? I just really, really don’t care. Home team by three.

Green Bay (+9) at LA Rams
It’s just gonna be a long day for the Packers, isn’t it? Or a short one, I suppose, if they can’t stop the Rams’ ground attack, which I don’t think they can. Los Angeles by 13.

New Orleans (+1) at Minnesota
I’ve said this in this space before: When it looks like a shootout that’s likely to come down to which team has the ball last, you go with the hosts. Minnesota by three.

New England (-14) at Buffalo
There’s probably not a lot that needs to be said about this game. Fortunately for me, we’re deep enough into the season at this point that it makes sense to do this: Scoring differential, Patriots +9.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +29.2 (it doesn’t get much more brutal than that, folks); takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +5. So, yeah, go ahead and give the two TDs. New England by 20.

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Week Seven Picks

October 18th, 2018 Comments off

I should be getting better at this by this point in the season. I usually do as the stats add up. But not so much so far this year.

I went 8-7 picking straight up in week six, 8-6-1 against the spread. For the season, that gets me to 54-37-2 (.591) straight up, 41-47-5 (.468) with the points.

Maybe this is my week. But it probably isn’t.

Here’s what not to expect.

Denver (-1.5) at Arizona
It’s entirely possible, as the teams with the worst run defenses in the league square off, that neither offense will need to call a pass play all night. And for the Broncos, that certainly would be one way for to limit Case Keenum‘s interceptions. It would also get the rest of us out from under this battle for 2019 draft position a bit earlier, which sounds good to me. The Cardinals are pretty awful, but I still like them to win this game by a field goal.

Tennessee (+6.5) vs. LA Chargers at Wembley Stadium, London
I expect to see Melvin Gordon carry the Chargers for a second straight week. Los Angeles by 13.

New England (-3.5) at Chicago
The Bears are an illusion. New England by 10.

Cleveland (+3) at Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers are awful. The Browns are just garden variety bad (which, you know, is actually a step in the right direction for Cleveland). But I don’t think the difference is quite enough to overcome home field. Tampa Bay by a point.

Detroit (-3) at Miami
I wonder who’ll be the Dolphins’ starting quarterback next season. Lions by two.

Carolina (+4.5) at Philadelphia
I haven’t been particularly impressed with either of these teams. (Sorry. I know the narrative is that Philadelphia has started to turn it around, but I’m just not sure I’m ready to view stopping a two-game skid with a win over the Giants as season saving.) But the Eagles are playing at home on 10 days rest while the Panthers are playing a second straight game on the road. And, more important, I suspect Philadelphia will be able to limit Carolina’s production on the ground and render the Panthers offense one dimensional. I think that should prove just enough. Eagles by three.

Buffalo (+7.5) at Indianapolis
I’m sure Derek Anderson will be every bit as good as Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman at getting the snot knocked out of him. Colts by two touchdowns.

Minnesota (-3) at NY Jets
If the Jets can win the turnover battle, they may very well be able to make this a game. But can they win? Probably not. Vikings by six.

Houston (+4.5) at Jacksonville
If the Texans had an offensive line, I might actually be tempted to pick them. (Or maybe not. Maybe if the game were being played in Houston.) But they don’t. And I’m setting the over/under on the number of Texans QBs knocked out of this thing at two. Hope you’re ready to go, Joe Webb. Jaguars by three.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Baltimore
Balance. Baltimore. By four.

Dallas (+1.5) at Washington
Can I just predict a home-home split in the season series right now and avoid dealing with this showcase of mediocrity when it repeats in Dallas five weeks from now? Racists by three.

LA Rams (-10) at San Francisco
I’ll be shocked if this is still a game at the end of the first quarter. Or, rather, I’ll be shocked if I find out after the fact that this was still a game at the end of the first quarter. I know I won’t be paying attention in real time. Rams by 21.

Cincinnati (+6) at Kansas City
This week, it’s the Chiefs’ turn to win the Sunday night game 43-40.

NY Giants (+5.5) at Atlanta
The only thing likely to slow down either offense in this game is the Giants offense. Falcons by eight.

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Week Six Picks

October 11th, 2018 Comments off

I’m not getting better at this. I should be getting better at this as the data sets on each team grow to meaningful levels. But I’m not.

In week five, I went 10-5 straight up for the second straight week. That’s not completely awful. But against the spread, I’m only getting much, much worse. I was a miserable 5-9-1 in week five. There’s nothing close to a positive spin you can put on outcome like that.

For the season, I currently stand at 46-30-2 (.603) straight up, 33-41-4 (.449) with the points.

And now I’m staring at a slate of week six games most of which I have no idea what to make of. That always points to great results, doesn’t it?

Here’s what not to expect.

Philadelphia (-3) at NY Giants
Think the NFC East couldn’t possibly be more of a mess? Think again. New Jersey by a field goal.

Arizona (+10) at Minnesota
If the Vikings can’t get their running game going against the Cardinals, it won’t matter whether — or by what margin — they win this game. The Vikes travel to New Jersey to face the Jets next week. That’s a game they should win. After that, though, their schedule turns difficult no matter what, brutal for a team with a one-dimensional offense. So if you want to know where the Vikings are headed, don’t look at the scoreboard late Sunday afternoon; look at the box score. I don’t know what you’ll see there. We’ll find out together. But I am fairly confident the scoreboard will show a nine-point Minnesota margin of victory.

LA Chargers (-1) at Cleveland
The Browns haven’t lost a game in Cleveland yet this season. I’m not sure that means very much. But it’s something. And, you know, reluctant as I am to buy into the Browns on any level, I have to think that if you can hold off the Ravens in your building one week, you ought to be able to hold off the Chargers in your building the next. Cleveland by three.

Chicago (-3) at Miami
Remember that time the Dolphins started 3-0 with home wins over the Titans and Raiders and a road victory over the Jets, and then all the Miami fans decided their team was running away with the AFC East? Wasn’t that hilarious? Now the Dolphins pretty much need to beat the well-rested Bears just to get their season back on track. The good news for Miami is that the Bears aren’t really as impressive as their 3-1 record might suggest. The bad news is that the Bears are still better than the Dolphins. Chicago by one.

Carolina (+1) at Washington
I don’t really know what I can believe about either of these teams at this point in the season. But I think the Racists are slightly more uneven than the Panthers. I think. Carolina by four.

Indianapolis (+2.5) at NY Jets
Neither of these teams has much going for it. But New Jersey at least is playing at home. Let’s call that the deciding factor. Jets by three.

Pittsburgh (+2.5) at Cincinnati
The Steelers absolutely cannot afford to lose this game. Not only do they trail the AFC North-leading Bengals by a game and a half, the Steelers are 0-1-1 in the division and 0-2-1 in the conference. It’s hard to imagine Pittsburgh climbing out of the hole they’d be in if they don’t find a way to get a win here. My gut says the Steelers find a way to keep things interesting for at least a little while longer. But my head says, “Shut up, gut. You’re stupid.” Bengals by two.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at Atlanta
Which defense is worse? No, seriously, I’m asking. Because I really have no idea. Atlanta wins by three, quite possibly with an Arena Football League style score, say 63-60. (If you must bet, bet the over.)

Seattle (-3) vs. Oakland at Wembley Stadium, London
Jon Gruden can’t stop thinking about how during Live Aid, Phil Collins played in London and Philadelphia on the same day. Played a set. Hopped on the Concorde. Played another set. (And then another.) Except for how the music was awful, it was pretty impressive. At least that’s what I’m guessing’s been on Gruden’s mind. It would explain why the Raiders’ coach might figure there’s no reason his team can’t have a nice Saturday evening out in Oakland, catch a red-eye to London and be on the field ready to kick ass come 10 a.m. West Coast time Sunday. Or something like that. Maybe Gruden’s hoping the extra time in California will give him a chance to locate his defense. Barring that, I can’t begin to understand his strategy. Seahawks by 17.

Buffalo (+10) at Houston
If Josh Allen can manage to avoid giving the ball to the Texans defense, the Bills might not lose too badly. Houston by a touchdown.

LA Rams (-7) at Denver
I don’t care where it’s being played, or in what weather conditions, this game has ugly written all over it. Rams by 20.

Jacksonville (-3) at Dallas
Jaguars, 10-9.

Baltimore (-3) at Tennessee
You beat the Titans on the ground. Unless you’re the Ravens, in which case you lose to the Titans by not being able to mount a sustained running attack. Tennessee by a point.

Kansas City (+3.5) at New England
The Patriots defense has shown some positive signs over the last two weeks. That’s fairly typical. New England tends to grow into its D every season. I think the unit is still a few weeks away from really coming together, though. And even when it does, it might not be enough to slow down the powerhouse Chiefs offense. It’s possible there isn’t a D in the NFL this season that can do that. But at the same time, it doesn’t look to me like Kansas City’s D is ever going to be ready to stop any half decent offense. And the Patriots’ O is considerably better than half decent. I expect this game to go back and forth all night. And I expect that whichever team holds the ball last will come out on top. In a situation like that, I take the hosts. New England by three.

San Francisco (+9.5) at Green Bay
Major League Baseball couldn’t have scheduled game two of the ALCS against this dog? Green Bay by halftime. And 13 points.

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