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Divisional Round Picks

January 10th, 2019 No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what not to expect.

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

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

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

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

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Wild Card Picks

January 4th, 2019 Comments off

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

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

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

Not bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week Seventeen Picks

December 27th, 2018 Comments off

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

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

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

Here’s what not to expect in week 17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 21st, 2018 Comments off

I knew a correction was coming. And it came.

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

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

Can it get worse? Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m saying is New England by 21.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 13th, 2018 Comments off

Week fourteen could have gone worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 6th, 2018 Comments off

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

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

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

Here’s what not to expect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week Thirteen Picks

November 29th, 2018 Comments off

I’m not sure this has ever happened before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week Twelve Picks

November 21st, 2018 Comments off

My amazing run of mediocrity continues!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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