Super Bowl XLVIII Pick

January 31st, 2014 Comments off

Seattle (+2.5) vs. Denver
I knew well before the conference title games were played two weeks ago that the AFC champion was going to have to hope to get San Francisco in the Super Bowl. That’s not because I thought the 49ers would have been an easy opponent. Far from it. I simply looked at the Niners as the NFC squad most likely to make the kinds of mistakes that would allow the AFC champ to take home the Lombardi Trophy. But then, as I watched the actual game between Seattle and San Fran, it became clear to me that I’d been entirely wrong and, moreover, that my thinking had probably been more about maintaining the slim hope of a New England championship than anything else. Because the fact that was readily apparent by the end of conference championship Sunday was that neither AFC team ever had any hope of beating either NFC team.

Nothing that’s happened in the ensuing two weeks has changed my mind.

It’s worth observing that Denver has been a different squad in the postseason than it was in the regular season. This is a team that led the league in scoring by no small margin — 38 points per game (at home, it was 39.5), which is 10 more than the teams that tied for second, New England and Chicago — in the regular season. In Denver’s two playoff games, by contrast, the Broncos scored 24 against the Chargers, who didn’t even belong in the tournament, and and 26 at against the Patriots, who saw their best remaining defensive starter taken out early and who played terribly thereafter.  It’s really hard for me to imagine that those postseason Broncos are going to go into East Rutherford and put up a bunch of points on the Seahawks, who allowed 14.4 points per game all season and who have been consistently dominating on D in the playoffs. (The Seahawks gave up 15 to the Saints and 17 to the Niners, teams that scored 25 and change per game each during the regular season.)

On top of that, I think the Broncos defense is really ill-suited for stopping the Seahawks offense. The Broncos secondary is terrible. And I don’t believe the Denver pass rush can contain Russell Wilson in the pocket. That means I expect to see Wilson running all over the backfield buying time for his receivers to get open. Denver’s interior run D, of course, is very solid, so I don’t expect Marshawn Lynch to be a factor carrying the ball. But I don’t think he needs to be. What I think the Seahawks need form Lynch is to be there to prevent the Broncos from dropping extra bodies into pass coverage, and to pick up blitzes. I suspect he’s up to the task.

So here’s what I envision: At the two-minute warning, it’s Seattle 24, Denver 20 and the Broncos have the ball for one last drive. The Denver offense moves the ball out close to midfield, and then, Peyton Manning drops back and throws his second pick of the game to Richard Sherman, who takes it for six the other way, sealing the Seattle victory, and becomes the first defensive player named Super Bowl MVP since Dexter Jackson in Super Bowl XXXVII.

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Conference Championship Picks

January 16th, 2014 Comments off

Got a lot to say about one of this weekend’s games, not much about the other. Guess which one got all of my attention. Here’s what not to expect.

New England (+5.5)  at Denver
I’ll say it right up front: I’m taking New England straight up here. I’m making that pick in part because the Patriots are the local team. I’m making it in part because I’ve been repeatedly surprised through the season by the Patriots ability to keep winning in spite of what I’ve seen as long odds. I’m making it in part because I picked the Patriots to beat the Broncos in the AFC Championship before the season started and sometimes when you get this close to something, it just doesn’t make sense to change course (especially when there’s no real cost to you if it turns out  you were wrong.) But I’m also making it because, while absolutely no outcome in this game will surprise me in any way — seriously, I can see anything from a blowout by either team to a comeback win with the go-ahead score on the last play of the game by either team — the Patriots look to me like that team you see maybe every other season or so that goes into the postseason more ready and more determined, if not more able, than the others to win it all. And I’m making it because I keep watching the last game these two teams played, week 12 in Foxborough, and thinking about how the Broncos built the 24-point halftime lead that the Patriots eventually overcame to win.

Everyone remembers the comeback, of course. Because it was spectacular and unlikely. But we tend to forget what necessitated the comeback. Substantially, it was that the Patriots fumbled the ball away on their first three possessions of the game. First there was Stevan Ridley‘s crazy, unforced popup fumble at the Denver 41 that Von Miller scooped up and ran all the way in for a touchdown. Then, 37 seconds of playing time later, there was Miller’s strip sack of Tom Brady at the New England 21 that was picked up by Terrance Knighton and returned to the 10. That set up a two-play touchdown drive to put Denver ahead 14-0. Then, a minute and a half of playing time after that, LeGarrette Blount dropped the ball after taking a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit from Duke Ihenacho at the New England 44. Denver took advantage of that turnover to go ahead 17-0 with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Broncos scored seven more points before halftime, going 70 yards on 11 plays after the Patriots turned the ball over on downs at the Denver 30. And they added another seven with their single scoring drive of the second half.

I’m not suggesting the Broncos should apologize for taking the 17 points the Patriots handed to them. Taking advantage of turnovers is one of the ways you win football games. But I will point out that the opportunity isn’t likely to come along again this weekend. Those three first quarter fumbles constituted a third of the Patriots total lost fumbles for the season (nine). They also constituted a third of the Broncos total takeaways by fumble for the season (again, nine). So that first quarter is not something you can expect to happen twice. (And if it is, the Broncos are going to have to find someone else to make some of the plays, because Miller’s on IR.) What’s notable to me is that although the Patriots had to go away from the run in that game — partially because their running backs couldn’t hang onto the ball and partially because they needed to climb out of a four-score hole — they still managed to rush for 116 yards. That’s not great, but it’s not bad. And when you look at what happened in the only previous meeting between the Patriots and the Peyton Manning/John Fox era Broncos, in week five of the 2012 season, things get a bit more interesting. In that 31-21 New England win, the Patriots — who were statistically about the same, but practically speaking not as strong at running the ball — rushed for 251 yards and three touchdowns, and they did it against a Denver defense that was considerably better at stopping the run than this year’s Denver D. (The Broncos defense in 2012 allowed 3.6 yards per carry and only five rushing touchdowns, while the 2013 version has given up 3.9 yards per carry and 15 TDs.) I like the chances of a New England team that has turned to the power run over the last part of the season and the playoffs against a defense that has had a lot of trouble stopping the run. And, sure, Denver could stack the box and force the Patriots to turn to the pass, assuming that Brady simply doesn’t have the targets to make it work, but challenging Brady to beat a fairly soft secondary isn’t necessarily great strategy.

Does all of that mean that the Patriots are going to win? Certainly not. Because, you know, as it turns out, the Broncos offense is, um, pretty good (I mean, if you think of historically productive as a positive thing), and the New England defense, while marginally better than the Denver D, has its fair share of challenges. So there remains the distinct possibility that this one comes out along the lines of a 42-17 Denver victory. Nonetheless, there’s reason to suspect that when team x is able to spot team y 17 points and still find a way to win, team x has a decent shot of winning the rematch eight weeks later, assuming team x can avoid spotting team y those same 17 once again.

So, yeah, I’m going to take the Patriots in the upset here. I’ll say New England wins 31-27.

San Francisco (+3.5) at Seattle
I’ve spent all my time this week thinking about the AFC Championship (maybe you could have guessed as much), so the truth of the matter is, I don’t know what’s going on here. But this is what I think: Yes, the Seahawks offense appears to have lost a step in recent weeks. And, yes, Colin Kaepernick is almost certainly a better quarterback than Russell Wilson (though both are clearly smart, talented players who can find a lot of different ways to gain yards and score points). And surely one of these teams is eventually going to figure out a way to win in the others stadium. But not this week. Not a team that’s playing its fourth straight road game traveling to face a divisional rival that’s every bit its equal. I have to believe the home team has the advantage here. Seattle by a field goal.

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Divisional Round Picks

January 9th, 2014 Comments off

Here’s how I know I’m going to be wrong at least once, maybe twice this weekend: I’m picking all of the home teams. And they’re not all winning. The last time all four home teams (also known as the top seeds in both conferences) won in the divisional round was 2004. Since then, the one seeds are 7-9 (.438) in this round, while the two seeds are 11-5 (.688). That’s a combined 18-14  for a winning percentage of .563, which will barely get you into the NBA playoffs most seasons. So, yeah, maybe it’s time for the home teams to have a big year. But probably at least one, maybe two, will get to stay home after this weekend — and not in a good way. You’d have to say, based on circumstances and matchups, that the Patriots and Pass Interferences are the home teams most likely to take a bow, so I probably should have picked against at least one of them. But I didn’t. So there you have it.

Here’s what not to expect.

New Orleans (+8) at Seattle
Remember the bloodbath last time the Saints visited the Seahawks back in week 13? Yeah, so do I. You can talk, I suppose, about the Seahawks having come back down to earth a bit, and having lost a pair, including a home game, in the six weeks since then. But it’s not as if the Saints stormed through their final four games. And, honestly, do you have a real reason to believe that the Saint’s are that much better, or that the Seahawks that much worse, than they were in early December? I didn’t think so. Neither do I. So let’s figure it’s a little closer this time around, but just a little: Seattle by 17.

Indianapolis (+7.5) at New England
Seven and a half is nuts. Nuts. As in crazy. Yeah, OK, the Patriots had a bye. And they’re at home. And they’ve got Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. And they’re gritty as hell. All of that stuff, which has been enough to get them over an obscene number of obstacles on both sides of the ball all season long. It’s been a hell of a ride. Best yet for the Patriots is that while it’s all well and good for fans to be happy about the mere fact that the team has made it this far under the circumstances (fans should be happy about that; hell, if you’re a Patriots fan, you should get up right now and dance a little jig) the coach, quarterback and team clearly are far from satisfied. That’s meaningful when you’re a team that wins more by smarts and determination than by raw talent. But seven and a half? Against a team that, on paper, is all but a mirror image of New England?  It’s simply insane. I think the Pats come out on top here. And I think they do it largely because they have a better chance of taking advantage of the Colts’ weak run defense than the Colts have of taking advantage of the Patriots’ weak run defense. If New England can control the ball on offense, and either win or at least come up even in the the turnover battle (I’m talking to you here, Stevan Ridley), the Patriots should be able to move on to the conference championship. But a win isn’t guaranteed. The game is going to come down to the final possession. And it’s not going to be decided by more than a touchdown. I’ll take New England by a field goal.

San Francisco (pick ‘em) at Carolina
I’ve come to the conclusion that the Pass Interferences are only going to fail if I start believing in them. So let’s see what happens next week. Because I still don’t believe in Carolina. Not big picture, anyhow. That said, I do believe that Carolina should be able to hold off a San Francisco team that’s traveling for the second straight week, barely got by a defense-impaired Green Bay squad in the wild card round, and lost to the Pass Interferences in San Fran in week 10. I expect to see a few more points scored by both teams this time around, but I think Carolina comes out ahead — if only by one — yet again.

San Diego (+9.5) at Denver
Let’s get this straight right up front: The Broncos aren’t winning this game because of its supposed import to Peyton Manning‘s legacy. A win in a divisional round playoff game isn’t going to strengthen the case for Manning as one of the all-time greats. Neither is a loss truly going to diminish it. (Much as Manning detractors may relish the idea of another one-and-done postseason performance, the difference between eight of those and nine is a trifle.) At this point in his career, we know who Manning is. Those believe he’s one of the greatest (or perhaps, the greatest) ever are going to keep on believing that no matter what happens in this postseason. Those who think otherwise are unlikely to be swayed by a Super Bowl victory let alone a home win, in the week after a first-round bye, over a team that backed into the AFC six seed. And one suspects, talk about light at the end of the tunnel notwithstanding, Manning isn’t nearly so concerned about what this game means for his legacy as he is about the indisputable fact that he only gets to keep moving forward in the playoffs if his team wins. Plus, there are 52 other guys who play for the Broncos. And while I’m sure all of them like or at least respect their quarterback, I’m pretty certain that they’re all a lot more concerned with earning a ring than with propping up the case for Manning as GOAT. The reason the Broncos are winning this game is that they are simply the better team. Denver’s maybe a step behind San Diego on defense (where neither team is exactly Seattle), but they’re a dozen steps ahead on offense. And that’s what matters. Because, let’s be realistic here, it’s one thing to overcome the Bengals in a game in which an unending stream of turnovers allows you to score 27 points by way of just 318 yards of total offense, quite another to try to outpace an team that scores 38 points a game with a high-powered offense captained by a guy who may not be Tom Brady, but who certainly isn’t Andy Dalton. And, yes, I do know that the Chargers beat the Broncos in Denver a month ago. That’s nice, but it’s not happening twice in a season. It just isn’t. So go and talk about Manning’s legacy. Or talk about one seeds falling in the divisional round (it happens quite a bit, so it’s a fair topic of conversation). Or whatever it is you’re interested in. But don’t get too caught up in the idea of a Chargers upset, because you’ll only be disappointed in the end. Broncos by 14.

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Wild Card Picks

January 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Let’s dispense with the introductory nonsense and get straight to what not to expect, shall we?

Kansas City (+1) at Indianapolis
If you want to hang your assessment of this game on the results of these teams’ week 16 meeting in Kansas City, that’s fine. There’s certainly plenty of that going around. But here’s something you should know: That was a strange game. The Chiefs turned the ball over four times in that game. A pick and three lost fumbles. The Chiefs, who finished the regular season with the league’s second best takeaway-giveaway differential, +18. The Chiefs, who lost 10 fumbles all season. Alex Smith, who threw a grand total of seven interceptions over 15 starts for the league’s third best interception percentage, 1.4. You simply can’t look at an anomalous result like that and conclude it’s likely to recur. Then there’s the fact that the Colts got unusually strong results from the running game with Donald Brown racking up 79 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. That’s great, except that most of that production, 51 yards and the TD, came on a single blown play. Still counts, of course, just like the turnovers. But you can’t expect a team to be able to replicate that kind of result. In a rematch of a game in which one team’s performance was out of character, I look for both teams to revert to form. And if I’m to expect that here, it means expecting the Chiefs to run the ball down the Colts’ throats. It also means expecting the Kansas City defense to make the Indy offense one dimensional by hemming in the run and forcing Andrew Luck to try to win it through the air. Given that the Chiefs’ DBs know how to get after the ball, I think that produces a turnover differential that runs toward the opposite of what we saw in week 16. And a result that runs in the other direction as well, though not by so wide a margin. Kansas City by six.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Philadelphia
If the Saints are going to win this game, Drew Brees is going to have to play virtually flawless football. The Eagles D is susceptible to the pass, but it’s not as if Chip Kelly doesn’t know that. It’s also not like Kelly doesn’t know that you can run the ball against New Orleans all night. So one expects that the Eagles will look to control the ball and the clock. The Eagles also will do everything they can to take Jimmy Graham out of the game and force Brees to work to other targets. Brees is more than capable of doing that, the question is, can he do it and still manage to work efficiently enough to outpace Philly’s offensive output while working with limited time of possession? If he can, the Saints have a chance. If he stumbles, they don’t. I’m not sure Brees can get it done on the road and in the elements. I expect New Orleans to put up a fight, but I also expect the Saints to come up short. Philadelphia by four.

San Diego (+7) at Cincinnati
I can come up with only one reason to believe that the Chargers might win this game: The fact that there’s virtually no reason to believe the Chargers can win this game. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that the gimme game of wild card weekend often ends up being anything but a gimme. But you can’t pick based on that kind of thinking. You pick based on what the teams bring to the field. And what I see here is a team that went into week 17 with a legit shot to snag the conference two seed and a first round bye hosting a team that barely qualified for the tournament in week 17 with an absurdly hard-fought win over Kansas City’s backups and a good bit of help from the directionless Dolphins. The Chargers really don’t belong in the playoffs. And they won’t last. Cincinnati by 10.

San Francisco (-2.5) at Green Bay
It’s all well and good to talk about harsh Green Bay weather (a predicted game time temperature of -5 with a wind chill factor of -51) favoring the Green Bay squad, but I’m not so sure it doesn’t work the other way around. The forecast conditions are going to make it very difficult to throw the ball, and there’s simply no way the Packers can succeed if Aaron Rodgers can’t sling it around effectively. Of course, I’m not sure the Packers could win anyhow, what with their almost total lack of anything remotely resembling a defense. I think the Niners cut the freezing fans a break and give them an excuse to head for warmer places (like, say, their beds) at halftime. San Francisco by 20.

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Week Seventeen Picks

December 29th, 2013 Comments off

Really? We’re at the end of the regular season already? And 252 days before we get another Sunday with a full slate of games. That’s kind of depressing. Of course, it also means 252 days before we get a game no one could conceivably want to watch, and longer still before we get the next game that’s undeniably meaningless. So there’s that. And here’s what not to expect in week seventeen.

Carolina (-6) at Atlanta
The Pass Interferences, who are playing to secure a division title and a bye and with the (rather outside) hope of capturing the NFC one seed, bring way too much defense to the field for the Falcons to overcome. The game’s in Atlanta, so the Falcons may be able to keep it close through the first half, or even the first three quarters, but the Pass Interferences will pull away at some point and come out ahead by at least 10.

Houston (+7.5) at Tennessee
I wonder what the Texans will do with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Titans by two touchdowns.

Cleveland (+7) at Pittsburgh
The good news is that after today we won’t have to hear any more about how dangerous the Steelers would be if they qualified for the playoffs. The Steelers. Who can get to 8-8 with a win here. Would be dangerous. Because, you know, they’re still called the Steelers. And all they need to get into the post-season is to win and have every other contending team lose. So, yeah, that’s pretty dangerous. I’d love to see the Browns put an end to all of this silliness, for everyone’s sake. But that’s not gonna happen. Pittsburgh by seven.

Washington (+3.5) at NY Giants
It doesn’t look like Eli Manning is going to be able to push past his brother to become the active quarterback with the highest single-season interception total. Eli comes into this game with 26 picks, which means he needs two here to tie Peyton’s 1998 total, three to beat it. Only, the Racists DBs wouldn’t know what to do with a ball if it hit them in the hands. So Eli’s just going to have to remain content with leading the Manning family in Super Bowl wins. Too bad for him, eh? Giants by six.

Baltimore (+6.5) at Cincinnati
Baltimore’s title defense came to a close last Sunday. The Ravens can still grab the six seed (and the win they’d need to get it likely would mean a wild card matchup with the Colts rather than a rematch of this game), but they need help that they’re not gonna get from the Jets or the Chiefs. The Bengals are playing with the hope of gaining the two seed if the Patriots stumble. More important, even if New England holds on to the bye, a win here would ensure Cincinnati a wild card game against Miami or San Diego (or, you know, maybe Pittsburgh), rather than Kansas City. This season, there’s a world of difference between the five and six seeds in the AFC; you want to host the six seed. So that’s all nice, but what about the actual matchup? Ah, you know, the Bengals are the better team (if not by nearly so much as one might think). And they’re at home. The Ravens will play it tough, not so much because of the playoff implications, but because that’s how divisional games between fairly evenly matched teams work. But the Bengals will come out on top. Probably by four-ish.

Jacksonville (+10.5) at Indianapolis
I don’t really feel like I should have to say anything about this game. I don’t know, maybe Indy will build a big lead then pull back a bit to try to keep guys healthy for next week’s battle with Kansas City. So maybe Jacksonville finds a way to make the final score look sort of oddly respectable. Like maybe the Jags only lose by 13.

NY Jets (+5.5) at Miami
A win (and a Ravens loss or a Chargers win, at least one of which is going to happen) gets the Dolphins into the post-season for the first time since 2008. A win or a loss gets the Jets a chance to start working toward a 2014 season in which they are destined to a) win the Super Bowl (if you’re a cement-headed Jets fan), or b) struggle to a .500-ish finish and miss the playoffs yet again. Miami by 10.

Detroit (+2.5) at Minnesota
The Lions started this weird season with a win over the Vikings. With Adrian Peterson out, Detroit will add the second bookend. Lions by four.

Buffalo (+7.5) at New England
A win gets the Patriots a week off to heal and prepare for a chance to avenge their regular season loss to the Bengals. (The one seed thing isn’t happening, folks.) The Bills have one thing going for them: They pick off a lot of balls. The Bills have 22 picks on the season, second only to the Seahawks’ 26. Assuming Tom Brady can avoid foolish mistakes, and assuming the Patriots can take advantage of the Bills’ weak run D, New England should be able to get the job done. Patriots by a touchdown.

Tampa Bay (+12) at New Orleans
The Saints need a win to keep their post-season hopes alive. They’ll get it. But not by 12. New Orleans by a touchdown.

Denver (-11) at Oakland 
With a win here, the Broncos will earn a week off to feel all warm about their single-season records and individual accolades before the Chiefs come to Denver in the divisional round and bounce them from the playoffs. Denver by 23.

San Francisco (-1) at Arizona
In which the Niners sew up the five seed with a narrow loss. Cardinals by a field goal.

Green Bay (-3) at Chicago
Finally, someone has to win the NFC North. That will mean something for a week, two at the outside. I’m pretty sure the over/under on punts in this game has to be something like three. If I were betting, I’d be betting the under. At the end of the shootout, Green Bay is the team left standing. It’s a push with the points.

Kansas City (+10) at San Diego
With a win, the Chiefs will be the AFC five seed and earn a trip to Indianapolis (probably) next week. With a loss, the Chiefs will be the AFC five seed and earn a trip to Indianapolis (probably) next week. So, right, Chargers by six.

St. Louis (+11.5) at Seattle
If the Rams turn in a good effort, we’ll all get to hear nine months of talk about how the NFC West is going to be football’s best division in 2014. And probably we’ll get that even if the Rams get clobbered, which is what I expect to happen. The Seahawks put the clamps on the division title and the conference one seed with a 17-point win.

Philadelphia (-6.5) at Dallas
I’m not accustomed in any way to rooting for the Cowboys, but how can I not in this game? A Dallas with with Kyle Orton behind center would throw both teams into a state of disarray. What could possibly be a more fun way to end the regular season? Of course, wanting something and thinking it’s going to happen are two different things. The Cowboys aren’t winning this game no matter who they have at QB. They’re just not good enough. Eagles by nine.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 20th, 2013 Comments off

Sixteen weeks into the 2013 season and I still have absolutely no idea what’s going on. What can you do? Here’s what not to expect.

Miami (-3) at Buffalo
You know, I was initially inclined to say I expected Miami to qualify for the post-season (for the first time since 2008) with a win here and another at home against the Jets next week. Then I started thinking about sacks. Buffalo’s defense leads the league with 49. And Ryan Tannehill comes in as the NFL‘s most sacked QB at 51. That’s not a great combination. And although it didn’t play much of a role when the teams met in Miami back in week seven, the Bills still managed to come away with a 23-21 victory. So you know what? I think I’ll take the Bills. By three this time.

New Orleans (+3) at Carolina
The good news for the Saints, I suppose, is that after this they won’t have to play another road game in the regular season. That’s when they’ll travel to Philadelphia to lose to the Eagles in the Wild Card round. Pass Interferences by a touchdown.

Dallas (-3) at Washington
If the Cowboys can’t beat the Racists, they don’t belong in the playoffs. Then again, even if the Cowboys can beat the Racists, they don’t belong in the playoffs. And that gets us all of nowhere, doesn’t it? Still, I’m taking Dallas. By six.

Tampa Bay (+4.5) at St. Louis
In an evenly matched game, you take the home team. So that’s what I’m doing. Straight up, anyhow. Rams by a field goal.

Cleveland (+2) at NY Jets
The great thing about weeks 16 and 17 in the NFL is that there are usually lots of games that matter. The lousy thing is that there are always a few that … well, don’t. The Browns are probably slightly less awful — and although the Jets are decidedly less on the road, I’m going to go with the less awful squad in the upset. Cleveland by four.

Indianapolis (+6.5) at Kansas City
Given that these two teams are almost certain to meet again in Indianapolis two weeks from now, I don’t expect the Chiefs will want to show everything they’ve got. Even then, though, the Chiefs are simply a better team than the Colts. Kansas City by six.

Minnesota (+8) at Cincinnati
The Bengals have way too much on the line to lose at home to a sub-standard team like the Vikings. I expect them to get out to an early lead and never look back.

Denver (-10.5) at Houston
The Broncos need to win out to ensure themselves of an AFC West title and the conference one seed. Fortunately for them, they’ve got the Texans and the Raiders. So it’ll be the divisional round before the Broncos lose again. Denver by 17.

Tennessee (-5) at Jacksonville
In which the Jaguars resume their late push to move into a slightly less expensive part of the 2014 draft. Jacksonville by four.

Arizona (+10.5) at Seattle
It was all bound to fall apart for the Cardinals at some point. Seattle sews up the NFC one seed with a victory that’s more impressive than the seven-point margin.

NY Giants (+9) at Detroit
Things are pretty grim for the Lions, but not nearly so grim that I expect them to fall to the truly inept Giants. The only question here, to my mind, is whether Eli Manning will move closer to overtaking his brother for the lead among active players in highest single-season interception total. Eli, who comes into this game with 25, needs three to tie Peyton‘s mark from 1998, four to pass it. And there are only two games to go. Should be interesting to watch. (Not the game, mind you. Just the pick total.) Detroit by 12.

Oakland (+10) at San Diego
The Chargers aren’t going to qualify for the post-season (they need too much help). But they’re going to go down fighting. San Diego by 14.

Pittsburgh (off) at Green Bay
Now that we know Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing, it won’t be long before there’s a line set on this game. But I’m not waiting for it. Packers by a field goal.

New England (+2.5) at Baltimore
As the injuries have piled up for the Patriots this season, the question has been, when does it all become too much? I think we got the answer last weekend. I suspect we’ll hear more of the same on Sunday afternoon. The Pats will still win the AFC East, and maybe they’ll somehow manage to hold onto their first round bye, but they’ll have to do it all with a win over Buffalo in week 17. Ravens by four.

Chicago (+3) at Philadelphia
With just 222 passing yards in this game (or, really, the next two), Jay Cutler will overtake Sid Luckman as the Bears’ all-time leading passer. That’s a mark that has stood since 1950. So it’s not a minor accomplishment. And, you know, it’ll give Cutler something to feel good about after the Bears season ends next weekend. Philadelphia by a touchdown.

Atlanta (+12.5) at San Francisco
Um, yeah. Niners by 20.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 15th, 2013 Comments off

Well, Thursday night didn’t go as expected. I guess Peyton must have thought the playoffs had started. Let’s see what else I can get wrong t his week. Here’s what not to expect.

Washington (+6.5) at Atlanta
The loser here will be on track for the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. Well, that’s the case if the loser is Atlanta, anyhow. A Washington loss would also go a long way to determining draft order — but with the advantage going to St. Louis, the team that owns the Racists’ first round pick. The Rams have to be feeling pretty good right now. Atlanta by a touchdown.

San Francisco (-5.5) at Tampa Bay
It’s entirely understandable that it has become popular to pick the Bucs in the upset. Tampa is one of several home underdogs, and any week that features a overlarge number of home dogs is going to give rise to a few upsets. The Buccaneers also have won four of their last five, a run that includes victories over the Dolphins and Lions, neither of which is a great team but both of which are in the post-season hunt. Moreover, San Francisco is coming off an exhausting win over a Seattle and may well be due for a letdown game. But, you know, I’m just not seeing it. The Niners are a better team than the Fins or the Lions, especially on defense. Plus, San Francisco’s has hardly locked up the NFC six seed; the 49ers know they need to win games like this one in order to ensure themselves a place in the tournament. They’ll get the job done and, more than that, win handily. San Francisco by 13.

Seattle (-7) at NY Giants
The Seahawks need two more wins (max) to sew up home field advantage through the NFC playoffs. A victory over the Giants, who are 100 percent done and looking toward the off-season, should prove a pretty solid first step. But this is Seattle’s second straight road game, and the trip east is never easy, so let’s look for the difference to be more like four.

Chicago (pick ‘em) at Cleveland
It became clear to me several weeks ago that no one wants to win the NFC North. Browns by six.

Houston (+5.5) at Indianapolis
The Colts may be fading, but no one’s fading fast enough to lose to the truly awful Texans. Indy by a touchdown.

Buffalo (-2) at Jacksonville
There’s nothing on the line but a better spot in the draft. The Bills come out ahead in that regard. Jaguars by a field goal.

New England (-2.5) at Miami
The Broncos’ loss to San Diego Thursday night opened the door for the Patriots to steal the AFC one seed. That’s nice and all, but it’s rather unlikely. New England’s going to drop one of their last three. Might be this one. Might be next week in Baltimore. (Might be both, frankly, given the Patriots’ increasingly insane injury situation, not to mention their inability to get the offense going in the first half.) Ultimately, though, until I see different I have to pick the better team to win. And that’s New England. Another close one. Patriots by a point.

Philadelphia (-4.5) at Minnesota
The better part of the Vikings offense is sidelined. That should just about do it. Eagles by 14.

NY Jets (+11) at Carolina
The Jets have won one in a row. That’s usually enough to get the fans in New Jersey thinking their team’s going to the Super Bowl. And that’s got to be a nice little world to live in. Panthers by 20.

Kansas City (-4.5) at Oakland
The Chiefs have an outside chance to grab the AFC West crown. You know, if the Broncos completely fall apart. That’s not happening, which makes this game almost entirely irrelevant. But the Chiefs will win it anyhow. By a touchdown.

Arizona (-2.5) at Tennessee
The Cardinals still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs if they can win out. That won’t matter much when they get to Seattle next weekend. But it might help propel them to a win here. Along with, you know, being the better team. Arizona by six.

New Orleans (-6) at St. Louis
Road schmode, it’s an indoor game. Saints by 17.

Green Bay (+7) at Dallas
Neither of these teams is going anywhere. But Dallas will still be able to pretend it’s going somewhere when it’s all over. Cowboys by seven.

Cincinnati (-2.5) at Pittsburgh
There’s no question about which of these is the better team. Cincy’s headed for a divisional title and may well yet take the AFC two seed away from battered New England. But that doesn’t mean anyone should expect the Steelers to roll over as they host a hated divisional rival. Pittsburgh will make it a game, even if they don’t succeed in spoiling the Bengals chances to improve their post-season berth. Cincinnati by three.

Baltimore (+6) at Detroit
The Ravens probably have the toughest path of all the teams playing for the AFC six seed over the final weeks of the season. From here, Baltimore hosts New England, then travels to Cincinnati. They need to win at least two of those three if they’re going to hold off Miami and San Diego. The Lions are the weakest of the three opponents, which means the Ravens absolutely have to win this game. Fortunately for them, there’s that thing where no one wants to win the NFC North. Baltimore by four.

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Week Fifteen, Thursday Night

December 12th, 2013 Comments off

Yup. My last chance to get all my picks done before the Thursday night game and it just isn’t happening. Here’s what not to expect.

San Diego (+10.5) at Denver
The Chargers’ backs are up against the wall. They absolutely have to win out if they’re going to have any shot at sneaking into the post-season as the AFC six seed. So maybe they’ll come out swinging and manage to give the Broncos a run for their money. Even if they do, though, it won’t matter. The Broncos took care of the Chargers easily in San Diego back in week 10. They’ll have an even easier time of it here. Denver by 17.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 8th, 2013 Comments off

Here we are in the home stretch, a time when every game either means something or it doesn’t. All of which helps me not one damned bit. Here’s what not to expect.

Kansas City (-3) at Washington
The Chiefs need desperately to get off the schneid and get their feet back under them as the regular season moved into the home stretch. The Racists need desperately to get this season over with and get out of the way. (Or maybe it’s just that I need desperately for the Racists to do that.) It’ll all happen just as everyone needs it to. Kansas City by 14.

Minnesota (+6.5) at Baltimore
The Ravens are in the hunt (and, for the moment, on the inside track in the race for the final AFC wild card spot). They’ll remain their for one more week before starting the three-game skid that will leave them on the outside looking in come December 30. Baltimore by nine.

Cleveland (+10) at New England
The Patriots have scored a total of 10 first half points in their last three games. They should have 10 on the board by midway through the first quarter of this one. On defense, the Patriots should come out of this game looking like they’ve solved their inability to stop the run and rediscovered the takeaway (even though the former, at least, will be an illusion). New England by no less than (and possibly rather more than) 17.

Atlanta (+3) at Green Bay
The How The Mighty Have Fallen Bowl. Three months ago, this game looked like it could potentially decide the NFC one seed. And here we are, with the Falcons just trying to get through the rest of the season and the Packers holding on to the futile hope that they’ll be able to keep their post-season hopes alive long enough to get their star QB back on the field. For whatever little it’s worth (and it’s very little indeed; they’re going nowhere), Green Bay wins the game. It’s a push with the points.

Oakland (+3) at NY Jets
Both of these teams are done. But the Jets, only because they’re the Jets, apparently don’t know it yet. This game won’t do anything to change that. New Jersey stumbles to a one-point win.

Indianapolis (+6.5) at Cincinnati
The Colts very simply cannot afford to lose this game. These two teams come into this matchup at 8-4. After this, the Bengals are winning at least two of their last three, while the Colts are winning exactly two of their last three. That means a loss would effectively lock the Colts into the four seed (barring some kind of precipitous drop by the Bengals or Patriots) and a first-round matchup against the Chiefs. The Colts don’t want to catch the Chiefs on wild card weekend. (You’ll see why two weeks from now when Indianapolis visits Kansas City.) Trouble is, the Colts have very little chance of winning this game. In fact, I can see exactly one way for Indy to get the upset here: They need to come out ahead in the turnover battle by at least +2. That’s a possibility when you’re facing Andy Dalton, whose 16 picks are the fourth most in the NFL this season. But it’s a hell of a tough thing to have to tie your hopes to. And I strongly suspect it won’t be nearly enough. Bengals by four.

Detroit (+3) at Philadelphia
The NFC North officially overtakes the NFC East for weakest division in the NFL this season. Eagles by 13.

Miami (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
In which the Steelers commence the seemingly unlikely four-game winning streak that will net them the AFC six seed and the right to play exactly one extra game in January. Pittsburgh by four.

Buffalo (+2.5) at Tampa Bay
Neither of these teams has anything real to play for, so I’ll take the one that’s fooled itself in to believing it’s playing for pride. Tampa by three.

Tennessee (+12) at Denver
“See,” Peyton Manning fans will say after this one is over. “Peyton can so play well in cold weather.” And the rest of the top AFC teams will tremble, knowing that the great Manning can indeed play well enough in the latter part of the season to help his team get past struggling competition. Never mind the pair of picks he threw on the way. Those don’t matter. Denver by 10.

St. Louis (+5) at Arizona
In the end, 9-7 isn’t going to quite get it done for the Cardinals. And unless the Seahawks have the one seed completely sewn up by week 16 and choose to open the door for Arizona as a result, 9-7 is where the Cards are headed. But Arizona’s an improving team and they’re going to fight all the way to the finish. That should be enough to get them a win today, though I wouldn’t give more than three.

NY Giants (+3.5) at San Diego
When the Giants return to the visitors locker room following the game, they’ll find a banner reading, “Forget you, too, Eli. Enjoy your off-season.” San Diego by a touchdown.

Seattle (+2.5) at San Francisco
The Seahawks were a better team than the defending NFC champions back in week two, and they’re still a better team now. But a short week, a desperate opponent, and the difficulty of beating a good division rival on the road will conspire to neutralize Seattle’s quality advantage, if only just. San Francisco by a point.

Carolina (+3) at New Orleans
Six days ago, the Saints were playing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. New Orleans lost any hope of that early on. Now, one has to wonder whether the Saints can hold off the Pass Interferences, who are challenging for the NFC South crown. Recent evidence suggests they cannot. Carolina by a field goal.

Dallas (+1) at Chicago
I don’t believe in either of these teams. Well, that’s not true. I believe that each of these teams has a good shot to qualify for the playoffs as the winner of a weak division, only to be bounced in the wild card round by Carolina, New Orleans or San Francisco. These are both wholly mediocre squads, and I’m going with the one playing at home. Bears by a field goal.

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Week Fourteen, Thursday Night

December 5th, 2013 Comments off

Damned near forgot there was a game tonight. Because, yeah, it’s exactly that compelling. Here’s what not not even anyone in Jacksonville or Houston cares whether they should or shouldn’t expect. (Ugh.)

Houston (-3) at Jacksonville
The Texans are supposed to be a better team than the Jaguars. Statistically speaking, the Texans mostly are a better team than the Jaguars (except that they’re way worse at taking the ball away from opponents, which is largely because they’re worse at that than every team in the league other than the Jets). But in reality, the Texans aren’t a better team than the Jaguars. Not at all. Here’s how I know. And I’m taking the home team that should be worse to beat the road team that should be better. But I won’t find out whether I got it right until Friday morning, because, really, I have much better things to do tonight. Don’t you? Jacksonville by a field goal.

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