NFL Conference Championship Picks

January 23rd, 2021 No comments

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at Green Bay
Tampa’s biggest obstacle in this game isn’t their opponent — the Bucs are a more complete football team than the Packers — or the cold (Tampa’s most important player has been in some big cold weather games and done just fine). It’s that this is their third straight road game. That’s never easy in the NFL. And it’s one of the reasons wild card teams only very rarely make it to the Super Bowl. But the Bucs aren’t afraid of playing in Green Bay. And they have the advantage of facing a pass D that has been inconsistent this season. The Packers’ pass D looks OK on paper, but only in aggregate. If you take a close look at the stats or watch the games, what you see is a unit that runs hot and cold depending on the quality of the opposition and whether their O is able to build a big lead and get the opponent to abandon the run. And that’s the thing all around. I think this game goes to the team that takes the run away from the others. For the Bucs, taking away the run means clamping down on D. If they can make the Packers’ offense one-dimensional, they’ll get Aaron Rodgers to make mistakes the way they got Drew Brees to make mistakes. For the Packers, taking away the run probably requires building a two-score lead. If they do that, Tom Brady loses play-action and has to try to buy time for his receivers to get open in the flat or downfield. That’s when the Buccaneers’ questionable offensive line becomes a problem. But if the Bucs can keep it close — and I expect they will — I’m confident Brady will find a way to get them to the Super Bowl. Tampa by three.

Buffalo (+3) at Kansas City
We all know (right?) that there isn’t really a question about whether Patrick Mahomes will make a miraculous recovery from his concussion and be cleared to play in this game. That’s happening. But whether Mahomes will play is less important than whether he should play. I think that’s the factor that makes the difference here, and we won’t really know what’s up until we see what happens on the field. The reality of this game is that the Bills have been playing better football than the Chiefs down the stretch — but not better by enough that we should expect Buffalo to be able to top a healthy Kansas City team in Arrowhead. But what if the Chiefs are playing with QB who isn’t as sharp as he ought to be. What makes Mahomes dangerous is that if he has the ball in his hands and he’s behind the line of scrimmage, all possibilities remain open. He can pivot on the head of a pin. The guy throws blind passes across his body and finds his receivers. That means you can chase him all the way to the right sideline and he still has two thirds of the field open to him. But if he’s out there in a fog trying to play like that, Mahomes is going to make critical mistakes. And that’s not about him. It’s about every player at his level. When a guy who thinks he’s a god is forced to play as a human, bad things can happen. I think the Bills D will keep this game close no matter what. And if Mahomes is operating at 75 or 80 percent, the Buffalo defense might find a way to win this game. If Mahomes is in better shape than that, the Bills offense is going to show that it can function in a big away game. I won’t be surprised at any outcome that isn’t a blowout one way or the other. But since I have to pick, I’ll look for Kansas City to find a way to come out on top. Chiefs by a point.

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NFL Divisional Round Picks

January 16th, 2021 No comments

LA Rams (+6.5) at Green Bay
I’m not sure this game is the cakewalk for Green Bay that it’s widely perceived to be. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be surprised if the Rams actually pull off an upset — though definitely not shocked. And if the Rams were healthy at QB, I’d probably think they had a real chance. As it stands, the Los Angeles offense needs to be both productive and consistent on the round for the Rams to have a chance. If the Rams fall behind by more than 10 points at any time, I think the game’s over. In the Rams favor is that they have the ability on defense to disrupt and make the Packers’ O one-dimensional. And that’s how you beat Green Bay. Because Aaron Rodgers, in the great tradition of gunslinger QBs, will make fatal mistakes if you can get him into a mindset where he believes he has to carry the team. So if the Rams can generate enough offense to keep it close, and take the run away from the Packers, they can win. But it’s hard to see everything going right for the Rams in a road game against a talented and well rested opponent. Packers by six.

Baltimore (+3) at Buffalo
I think the Ravens might be the best equipped team in the AFC to beat the Bills. I know. I know. The Chiefs are a team of destiny and all that. Fine. And we can talk about whether the Bills match up well against the Chiefs next week if that’s the AFC Championship we get. Because the Bills have to get by the Ravens first. And the outcome will depend on how well Buffalo handles the pressure of this game. The Bills are going to need to be disciplined enough to stick with the run no matter what happens here. Because if they start trying to sling the ball all over the field, the Ravens pass D will destroy them. And in order to stick with the run on offense the Bills are going to have to limit the run on D. Force Lamar Jackson to use his arm rather than (or perhaps it’s just as much as) his legs and Buffalo should be able to handle Baltimore. I think we’re going to get a hell of a game. And in the end, I expect the Buffalo D to make the big play that determines the outcome. Bills by a point.

Cleveland (+9.5) at Kansas City
This is the one game this weekend that I expect to disappoint everyone except Kansas City fans (assuming everyone else is rooting either for the Browns or for a good game). It’s really hard to envision a path to victory for Cleveland. Defensively, the Chiefs and Browns are pretty much identical. And Kansas City just has more and better options on O. I think it’s really that simple, and I expect this game to be over not long into the third quarter. Chiefs by 14.

Tampa Bay (+3) at New Orleans
The thing where it’s supposed to be hard to beat a team three times in a season is nonsense. Not because it isn’t true. There aren’t many opportunities for a three-game sweep given the structure of the NFL season and postseason. But when those opportunities arise, the sweep is completed more than half of the time. That doesn’t make the sweep an easy thing. Good teams are hard to beat. Every time. Harder when they’re in your division and know you well. And the only thing that ever really matters, regardless of what happened during the regular season, is what happens in that third game. What’s happening in this third game? The Bucs have improved over the course of the season as their offense has come together. The Saints at best, are they team they’ve been since week one. And they’re probably not quite even that. This game is going to come down to the wire. And the outcome is going to turn on whether Tampa’s mediocre coaching or outstanding quarterback play ends up making the difference. My money in that situation is on the guy with the ball in his hands. Buccaneers by three.

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NFL Wild Card Round Picks

January 8th, 2021 Comments off

Indianapolis (+6) at Buffalo
The Colts’ defense is stout enough that if I thought Philip Rivers could play effectively in a cold weather game, I’d be sorely tempted to pick an upset here. Bills by four.

LA Rams (+3) at Seattle
I’m not sure it matters who starts at quarterback for the Rams. In L.A.? Sure. But not in Seattle. Seahawks by a touchdown.

Tampa Bay (-8) at Washington
Brand X has a pass rush. And the Bucs have a questionable O line. That makes this a much tougher match than fans seem to think. But old #12 still has a few tricks up his sleeve. So I like the visitors here. Tampa by three.

Baltimore (-3) at Tennessee
I won’t be shocked if the Titans win this game. They figured out how to beat the Ravens the last time these teams faced off in Nashville a short seven weeks ago. But Baltimore is playing better football now than they were then. If they can get their ground game going this time (against an uneven Titans D), the Ravens ought to be able to take this one. Baltimore by a point.

Chicago (+10) at New Orleans
Conventional wisdom around Washington aside, I sort of think the Bears are the team that least belongs in the tournament this year. Saints by 14.

Cleveland (+6) at Pittsburgh
It’s nice for the Browns that they made the playoffs this year. Steelers by nine.

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NFL Week Seventeen Picks

January 3rd, 2021 Comments off

Just like everything else in 2020, somewhere along the line, my accounting of wins and losses for the season went haywire.

Maybe I’ll go back and fix it some time. Or maybe not.

Right now, I know I went 9-7 straight up and 8-8 against the spread in week 16. And I’m pretty sure I can do even worse picking the final 16 games of this absurd season.

So here’s what not to expect.

Miami (+1) at Buffalo
Even though the difference between the two and three seeds has been minimized by the expanded postseason format, I still expect the Bills to play to win. Buffalo by a field goal.

Baltimore (-14) at Cincinnati
The Ravens are in with a win. The Bengals are the Bengals. Baltimore by 13.

Pittsburgh (+9) at Cleveland
The visitors are grabbing a sort of bye week where they can. The hosts are playing for a postseason berth. The Browns ought to have this one sewn up by halftime. I bet they won’t. But I bet the pull it together just in time, and come out on top by 10.

Minnesota (-4) at Detroit
I never know how to pick a game like this. Neither team has anything to play for. And the Vikings are the “better” team, but the Lions are the home team. Ugh. Detroit by three.

NY Jets (+3) at New England
Somebody once said “you can’t not beat the Jets.” I don’t know if that’s still true. But it ought to be. Patriots by a touchdown.

Dallas (-1.5) at NY Giants
Either the 6-9 visitors or the 5-10 home team will out of this game with a shot at taking the NFC East title. Because 2020 isn’t really over yet. New Jersey by three.

Atlanta (+7) at Tampa Bay
A home win earns the Bucs a wild card round visit to the NFC East champion. That’s a nice little incentive. Tampa by 10.

Green Bay (-4) at Chicago
A win here and the Packers get a week off and home field through the NFC playoffs. That should do it. Green Bay by three.

Las Vegas (-2.5) at Denver
I’m not sure why the Raiders are giving points to any team in a road game. The Broncos are terrible, sure, but are they really that terrible? Denver by four.

Jacksonville (+14) at Indianapolis
There are numerous postseason possibilities for the Colts. But none of them mean anything if the team doesn’t win. They’ll wrap this one up early. Indy by 20.

LA Chargers (-5) at Kansas City
With home field through the AFC playoffs already secured, the Chiefs are taking week 17 off. The Chargers will take advantage of the opportunity to end their season with a four-game win streak. Los Angeles by seven.

Arizona (-3) at LA Rams
Effectively a play-in game, which arguably is not the ideal time to be without your starting quarterback. Cardinals by a point.

Seattle (-6.5) at San Francisco
The Seahawks don’t really have a shot at the NFC one seed. They’ll play like they do just the same. Seattle by a touchdown.

New Orleans (-6) at Carolina
The Saints are in mostly the same position as the Seahawks. Only they’re playing at home. New Orleans by 10.

Tennessee (-7) at Houston
The Titans have something to play for. Tennessee by nine.

Washington (-4) at Philadelphia
Brand X should probably win this one and capture the division. Which means they won’t. Eagles by six.

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NFL Week Sixteen Picks

December 26th, 2020 Comments off

OK, let’s just get this over with, shall we?

I went 10-6 straight up, 7-8-1 against the spread in week fifteen, which lands me at 133-73-1 (.643) and 99-228-6 (.457) respectively for the season.

None of that is particularly good. But I’m off to a 1-0 start both ways in week sixteen. So there’s a Christmas miracle for you.

Let’s see how I manage to mess it up. Here’s what not to expect.

Tampa Bay (-10) at Detroit
If you land as the five seen in the NFC this season, your prize is a wild card round game against the NFC East “champions.” If that’s not an incentive for the Bucs to take care of business this weekend, I’m not sure what would be. Tampa by nine.

San Francisco (+5.5) at Arizona
The Cardinals are still in the hunt. The Niners are not. There are good reasons for that. Arizona by a field goal.

Miami (-3) at Las Vegas
I’m not sure what’s gone wrong with the Raiders. Or what’s gone right with the Dolphins. But here we are. Miami by three.

Atlanta (+10.5) at Kansas City
The Chiefs just need to win one of their final two home games of the season to sew up home field in the AFC playoffs. I don’t think they’ll opt to wait a week. Kansas City by 17.

Cleveland (-9.5) at NY Jets
The Jets got their win for this season last week. Browns by seven.

Indianapolis (-2) at Pittsburgh
The Schedule was always going to catch up with the Steelers. And now it has. Colts by six.

Chicago (-7.5) at Jacksonville
I think we can just go ahead and say that the Jaguars are on the clock. Bears by nine.

NY Giants (+10.5) at Baltimore
The Giants (sort of) look like they’re playing for something. The Ravens actually art playing for something. Baltimore by 13.

Cincinnati (-7.5) at Houston
The Texans should at least be “good” enough to beat the Bengals at home. I think. Houston by four.

Denver (+3) at LA Chargers
Sometimes you have to play a game even if it doesn’t matter and no one cares. Chargers by six.

Carolina (+1) at Washington
There’s still a solid chance Brand X “wins” the NFC East title with a losing record. But I think we’re going to have to wait a week. Washington by three.

Philadelphia (-3) at Dallas
Uh, yeah, sure. Eagles by a point.

LA Rams (+1.5) at Seattle
With a win here, the Seahawks can clinch the NFC West and the conference three seed. They may need all 60 minutes to get it done, but they’ll get it done. Seattle by three.

Tennessee (+3) at Green Bay
Both teams need a win. Either can get a win. One is at home. Packers by a point.

Buffalo (-7) at New England
The battle is over, but I’m not sure the Patriots are done fighting it. They’ll make the postseason just a bit tougher for the division champs. New England by three.

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NFL Week Sixteen, Christmas Day

December 25th, 2020 Comments off

Minnesota (+7) at New Orleans

“You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.

“If quite convenient, sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound?”

The clerk smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin.

Now, what was I saying?

Oh, right. Um, Saints by 10.

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NFL Week Fifteen Picks

December 19th, 2020 Comments off

This week is off to a typically unspectacular start thanks to my foolish belief that Raiders season wasn’t quite in the tank yet. Works out it is.

So for a second consecutive week, I’m 0-1 straight up and against the spread heading into the weekend.

Last week’s bad start gave way to an 8-8 finish, both straight up and with the points. (And what’s weird is that there were no splits. I either got a game right or got it wrong both ways.) That put me at 133-73-1 (.645) and 92-110-5 (.457) respectively through week fourteen.

Let’s see how much worse things can get. Here’s what not to expect over the next three days.

Buffalo (-6) at Denver
Buffalo will wrap up their first AFC East title in 25 years with a win here. The Bills are going to take the division even if they figure out a way to lose this one. But there’s very little risk of that. Bills by a touchdown.

Carolina (+8.5) at Green Bay
I feel like the Panthers could have a shot at an upset here if they could just, you know, become a football team sometime before kickoff. That would be a surprise development. But you never know. Packers by 17.

Tampa Bay (-6) at Atlanta
The Buccaneers look like a team that’s likely to hit a brick wall pretty early in the postseason. Until then, it should be fairly clear sailing. Tampa by four.

San Francisco (-3) at Dallas
Does it matter? I guess the Niners might have a defense, at least comparatively speaking. I’m not convinced they have an offense, though, which can present problems. Still, let’s say San Fran. By a point.

Detroit (+10.5) at Tennessee
Something tells me the Lions’ complete lack of a run defense is likely to be a factor here. Titans by 20.

Houston (+7.5) at Indianapolis
The Texans are toast. Colts by 13.

New England (+2) at Miami
The Patriots have a tendency to struggle in Miami even in the best of seasons. This is not the best of seasons. Dolphins by a field goal.

Chicago (+3) at Minnesota
Both of these teams are done. The visitors are just a little bit doner. Vikings by four.

Seattle (-5.5) at Washington
The Seahawks are the better team. But they’re not nearly consistent enough to be giving more than a field goal on the road. Seattle by three.

Jacksonville (+13) at Baltimore
This is gonna be ugly. Ravens take their foot off the gas in the second half and still come out ahead by 14.

NY Jets (+17.5) at LA Rams
This is gonna be uglier. Rams don’t take their foot off the gas. They win by 28.

Philadelphia (+6.5) at Arizona
The Cardinals are a hard team to figure. The Eagles are just bad. Arizona by six.

Kansas City (-3) at New Orleans
I don’t know which of these teams wins on a neutral field (say the one in Tampa). On a not neutral field, I’m taking whichever team is at home. Saints by a point.

Cleveland (-5) at NY Giants
The Giants are getting better as the season wears on. But I don’t think they’ve quite caught up with the Browns. Cleveland by three.

Pittsburgh (-12.5) at Cincinnati
The fire vs. wood matchup in my solstice bonfire likely will prove more competitive than this game. Steelers by 14.

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NFL Week Fifteen Thursday Night

December 17th, 2020 Comments off

LA Chargers (+3.5) at Las Vegas
The Raiders have developed a real talent for losing football games over the past four weeks. They’re gonna miss the postseason as a result. But even they shouldn’t be able to find a way to win a home game against a very weak opponent playing on short rest. Right? Las Vegas by six.

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NFL Week Fourteen Picks

December 13th, 2020 Comments off

If I’d listened to the halfway reasonable part of my brain, I’d have started this week 1-0 straight up, 0-1 against the spread. But I didn’t. So I’m off to a 0-1 week across the board as a result of the Rams dismantling of the Patriots on Thursday night.

It’ll be fun to see just how much more damage this weekend can do. Though in all honesty neither my week thirteen results — 11-4 straight up, 8-7 with the points — nor my season so far — 125-65-1 (.657); 84-102-5 (.453) — are anything anyone could get excited about.

Still and all, here’s what not to expect between now and whenever the week fourteen action wraps up.

Houston (-1.5) at Chicago
Neither of these teams does much of anything right. And the matchup helpfully pits weakness against weakness. I’m just taking the home team and having done with it. Bears by a point.

Dallas (-3) at Cincinnati
Can the Bengals actually be this bad? Cowboys by four.

Kansas City (-7) at Miami
If the Dolphins are for real, they’ll win this game. Chiefs by six.

Arizona (-3) at NY Giants
The Giants actually appear to be putting something together. I don’t think it’s enough to carry them deep into January, but it should continue to serve them well enough in a mid-December home game. New Jersey by a field goal.

Minnesota (+7) at Tampa Bay
You can’t really run the ball against the Tampa Bay defense. And that strikes me as problematic for Minnesota. Buccaneers by 10.

Denver (+3.5) at Carolina
The Panthers are making slow but steady progress in the right direction. The Broncos have no direction. Carolina by a touchdown.

Tennessee (-7.5) at Jacksonville
I feel neither a desire nor any real need to think about this game. Titans by 14.

Indianapolis (-3) at Las Vegas
The 2020 Raiders have played their best football against the toughest competition. And if they can move the ball on the ground in this game, they should be able to continue that trend. I’m not sure they can pull it off against a strong Colts D, but I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the home team. Vegas by three.

NY Jets (+15) at Seattle
The Seahawks have struggled of late. And still it’s hard to understand why the Jets bothered to leave New Jersey this week. Seattle by 21.

Green Bay (-8.5) at Detroit
Sooner or later, the Lions always go back to being the Lions. Packers by seven.

New Orleans (-7.5) at Philadelphia
I’m not sure it matters who starts at quarterback. For either team. Saints by nine.

Atlanta (pick ’em) at LA Chargers
I’m not convinced there’s a meaningful difference between these teams. But the matchups look to favor the home team if only ever so slightly. Chargers by a point.

Washington (+3) at San Francisco
Do I pick the crap team in a divisional race or the crap team playing out the string? I think I’ll just take the crap home team and call it a day. Niners by four.

Pittsburgh (+2) at Buffalo
Both offenses are overrated. The Steelers defense may be for real. Pittsburgh by three.

Baltimore (-3) at Cleveland
The Ravens are cooked if they can’t come up with a win here. The Ravens are cooked. Browns by three.

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NFL Week Fourteen, Thursday Night Pick

December 10th, 2020 Comments off

New England (+4.5) at LA Rams
I honestly have no idea what to make of the 2020 Patriots. Every time I think I know what kind of team they are, they find a new way to prove me wrong. I do know that playing a second straight road game is always tough. And so is playing twice in five days. Plus, you know, the Rams are a pretty good team that’s trying to wrap up a division title. I think if I were smart, I’d probably take the Rams straight up, even if I liked the Patriots to keep it close. But, whatevs, I’m stupid. New England by a field goal.

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