Archive for September, 2006

Week Four Picks

September 29th, 2006 Comments off

I’ve told you before I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve had one decent week picking so far this season. And yet here you are. Go away, already. Save yourself some time and some money. Go.

Arizona (+7) at AtlantaFirst he is a starter, then he is no starter, then he is. That’s a little Donovan thing. No, not this Donovan. I mean, this one. And anyway, if I have to explain the damned allusion it’s not really working, is it? The point is that, contrary to reports earlier in the week, Arizona head coach Dennis Green hasn’t officially initiated this season’s game of musical quarterbacks. As it turns out, all the talk was just talk and this fellow, who is neither Donovan nor Donovan, and not this fellow, will be starting under center for the Cardinals yet again this week. All of which is really neither here nor there given that this fellow (also not Donovan or Donovan, and also neither Kurt nor Matt) will probably be looking to make up for his piss-poor performance on Monday night. Add to that the fact that Michael will be facing a defense that has allowed 366 yards and more than 21 points per game while Kurt will be going against (I’d say up against, but the odds of him spending much time on his feet seem fairly long to me) a D that has given up just 297 yards and slightly less than 11 points per game and you get a clear picture of which caterpillar is likely to shed his skin to find a butterfly within (that’s getting us back to our original Donovan.) All of which is to say I’m taking Atlanta and giving the points. (This could be much simpler if I’d just let it.)

Dallas (-9.5) at Tennessee
Did he or didn’t he? I don’t know. Don’t much care. You know what I do care about? I care about whether the guy, who was my second-round draft pick in two fantasy leagues this season, is gonna be on the field on Sunday. But you know what? You shouldn’t even care about that. Because this week, T.O.’s playing status only counts if he’s on your fantasy team (or the one you’re up against, I suppose), because his reality team doesn’t really need him. Not to beat a team that gives up 25 points per game and is quarterbacked by a guy who was hired the week before the season started and has paid it off with these ugly stats. Maybe, just maybe, having Owens in uniform would give the Cowboys a better chance to beat the college spread in this game, but they probably don’t need him there, either. I’m not putting any money this game either way, because it’s foolish to put money on a nine-and-a-half-point favorite on the road and you just can’t risk cash on these Titans, but I’m thinking a Dallas victory by something slightly less than nine and a half.

Indianapolis (-9) at NY Jets
Well, Jets fans certainly are excited about their team’s 2-1 start. And, OK, fair enough. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, folks. In fact, maybe we should get right back down to earth. The Jets’ defense is, um, well, it’s not so good. It’s 387 yards and 20 points per game not good. It’s 4.2 yards per carry and five rushing touchdowns in three games not good. It’s 253 yards per game in the air not good. And this week it’s facing the Indianapolis Colts. I still don’t believe the Colts are the team they were a season ago, but they’re certainly better than the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills, the teams New York has beaten to get to 2-1. So let’s set aside the idea that Eric Mangini knows from his years with New England how to knock Peyton Manning out of his rhythm (he probably does, but he needs the personnel to execute and right now he ain’t got it) and get ready for a very revealing trip to 2-2. And contrary to what I said just above, here you can take the road team and give the nine. This one’s a full-on massacre.

Miami (-4) at Houston
You think Pep’s maybe gonna finally open it up against the team that ranks dead last in the league in overall defense and has allowed 321 yards per game in the air and seven passing touchdowns? Call me crazy, but I do. You bet your ass I’m giving the points.

Minnesota (+1) at Buffalo
The second hardest game of the week to pick, but not necessarily the game I’d put second on my list of games to watch (see San Diego-Baltimore below). But for some truly awful mistakes in last week’s matchup with the Jets, the Bills would be coming into this one 2-1, just like the Vikings. That said, they made the mistakes, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them make a few more. In the end, I think home field gets the job done, so I’m taking the Bills, but I wouldn’t be even remotely surprised were it to go the other way.

New Orleans (+7.5) at Carolina
That sure was a nice win for New Orleans on Monday night. Made everyone in the country feel good. Well, everyone except for the folks in and around Atlanta. And those of us who both picked the Falcons and had Mike Vick starting for our fantasy teams. What’s funny is that even after shutting down the best rushing offense in the league, the Saints are still only ranked 13th in run defense. And they’re still giving up 4.1 yards per carry. That’s gotta make DeShaun Foster, D’Angelo Williams and John Fox feel pretty good. I’ll tell you what. In deference to the way the Saints have outplayed my expectations so far this season, I’ll take them with the points. Straight up, I like the Panthers.

San Diego (-2.5) at Baltimore
There are exactly two things I know for certain about this game. And they’re related. First, if I were forced to choose just one professional football game to watch this weekend, I’d go with this one. Second, I have absolutely no idea how this game is gonna turn out, but I’m certain it’s gonna be a sweaty, bloody battle that goes down to the very last second. I have to tell you, I’ve looked at this game every way I can think of and I’ve got nothing. That’s nothing. Statistically, this thing is as dead heat. Or it is at least until you get to the giveaway-takeaway ratio, which I’m not entirely sure matters here. Let’s take a look: We’ll start on the ground, where you would think, based on the fact that they have LaDainian Tomlinson, probably the best running back in the league, that the Chargers have at least a slight edge. There’s no doubt San Diego’s offense has been strong in the run game. The Chargers have averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 218 rushing yards per game. They scored five rushing touchdowns in the two games before their bye last week. But they’re going against a Ravens run D that has allowed just 1.8 yards per carry, 34 yards per game, and one TD. That’s as solid as it gets. Meanwhile, the Ravens run offense, which has managed an unspectacular but better than average (and definitely good enough) 3.6 yards per carry, a respectable 109 yards per game and an adequate two TDs, runs up against a Chargers run D that has given up 3.6 yards per carry, 71 yards per game, and no TDs. So, on paper at least (more on this subject presently), you’ve got a one great run offense facing a great run defense and a better than average run offense facing a better than average run D. That’s a wash. In the air, we find a Baltimore offense that averages 183 yards per game and has scored three TDs while committing one interception, facing a San Diego D that has surrendered just 103 yards per game and one TD while picking off two balls. And then there’s the Chargers’ pass offense with its 172 yards per game, two touchdowns and no interceptions facing a Ravens D that has allowed 163 yards per game while allowing just one TD and picking off a league-leading seven balls. That, too, looks for all the world like a statistical wash. Looking at overall offensive and defensive stats paints a picture that would appear to favor the Chargers. Baltimore allows 6.3 points per game, and scores 23.3; San Diego surrenders 3.5 and scores 33.5. But when you look at those stats, you have to consider strength of schedule. Both teams have played quite possibly the worst team in the league in the Oakland Raiders (San Diego traveling to Oakland, Baltimore getting the Raiders at home). So there’s that. San Diego’s other game was a home contest against Tennessee, another candidate for league’s worst team. Baltimore, meanwhile, has traveled to Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Neither of those teams seems likely to play a game in January, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that either would crush the Titans. So that kind of evens things up there. And we end up back at zero. So give/take has to tell the tale, right? If it does, you have to like the Ravens, who lead the league at +10, over the Chargers, who are at a respectable +3. But then you note the fact that San Diego has yet to commit a turnover, and you have to wonder about whether Baltimore’s going to be able to build on its give/take lead in this game. Maybe. But I wouldn’t bet on it. So now you’re like me. You’ve gone through all the numbers and you’ve got nothing whatsoever to show for it. Let’s flip the coin, shall we? Mine came down showing a bird, so I’m going with the home team. You take it whatever way you like. But, shit, make sure you watch the game, OK?

San Francisco (+7) at Kansas City
This is where week’s most popular big upset pick will come from. It’s understandable, too. San Francisco has played fairly well; Kansas City has played fairly poorly; and Damon Huard entered the season as a backup quarterback for a very good reason. Me, I’m gonna take the team with the great running back over the team that can’t stop the run to save its life every time. Against the spread, it’s a push.

Detroit (+5.5) at St. Louis
When, oh, when, will Matt Millen lose his job? Or, put another way, when will Detroit finally begin building a team that can win? I don’t know the answer, but I know it wasn’t last week, so I’m taking the Rams to win and cover.

Cleveland (-2.5) at Oakland
Charlie Frye vs. Andrew Walter? Somebody pinch me. And make it quick. Please. I really, really need to wake up from this one. The Raiders travel another mile on the road to a perfect season: 0-16. (Note to Art Shell: count the damned steps. Those are seven-step drops. And they don’t win in the NFL in 2006, though your offensive coordinator has absolutely no way of knowing that.)

Jacksonville (-2.5) at Washington
I don’t expect the Jaguars offense to get back on track in this game. But I don’t expect it to need to. What I do expect is for Mark Brunell to spend a buttload of time on his back and to throw one more touchdown to Rashean Mathis than he does to his own wideouts. The Jags win 10-0.

New England (+6) at Cincinnati
I’m gonna be honest with you from the start here: I’m picking what I want to happen in this game. There are reasons for that and all (which I’ll get to presently), but it remains the fact that you’re not gonna find anything remotely removed and scientific in my analysis of this game. If you want removed and scientific, you’re gonna have to go and do it yourself. Now for the reasons that I’m taking a six-point underdog to win a road game against a team some experts think is the best in the league. I’ll start with a weird and fairly meaningless stat I picked up listening to Gil Brandt on the radio: the Patriots have gone 52 regular season games without losing two straight. That’s the third longest streak of its kind in NFL history. It means the Pats haven’t lost consecutive games since the end of the 2002 season. Of course, that streak’s gonna end sometime, but the stat’s worth tossing around for fun if nothing else. What’s real and meaningful is that I don’t believe either defense can stop the other team’s offense. The Patriots have had a terrible time against the pass this season, surrendering 227 yards per game in the air. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is throwing for 200 yards per game and has scored six passing TDs. And Cincinnati has struggled against the run, giving up 4.1 yards per carry and four rushing TDs, while the Pats have been statistically strong, getting 3.8 yards per carry and scoring on the ground twice, and even better when Corey Dillon is healthy, which he apparently is. There’s also the fact that last week, I watched Pittsburgh, a team that hadn’t previously been able to run between the tackles, go up the middle successfully on down after down against Cincinnati’s defense. And I believe the Patriots will show improvement in their passing offense whereas I’m not sure you can expect the same from Cincy’s pass D. I think it’s a fairly even matchup, which, obviously, favors the home team. So if you’re smart, you’re picking the Bengals to win it straight up (though expecting the Pats to lose by six is a stretch). But I’m not playing this one smart. I’m going with my heart. I’m taking New England.

Seattle (+3.5) at Chicago
Apparently, Jehovah’s feelings about Seattle sports (or at least one Seattle sports star) do not mirror his feelings for Cleveland teams. So Shaun and the Seahawks have that going for them, which is nice. The Hawks also have a streak on their side in that Mike Holmgren coached teams have taken 12 straight over the Bears (another stat I picked up from Gil Brandt), though I’m not sure that means a whole lot. What the Bears have going for them, in addition to home field, is a defense that has allowed fewer than eight points per game this season, and has not given up a single passing touchdown. Put that D in a situation where it doesn’t have to worry much about stopping the run, and it’s almost bound to improve its stats. Add, on the other side of the ball, a Chicago offense that has shifted into high gear facing a Seattle D that’s almost certainly going to be spending a lot of time on the field and you’ve got a recipe for a Chicago win. I expect the margin to come in at about double the spread.

Green Bay (+11) at Philadelphia
What the hell is this? Are the people at ESPN and in the NFL scheduling office the only people in America who didn’t know six months ago that this game was a blowout? Who’s expecting anyone outside of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to be tuned in? What a mess. Eagles by two touchdowns.

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Week Three Picks

September 22nd, 2006 Comments off

Hey, I think I’m starting to figure this season out. And now that I’ve said that, you can pretty much assume every one of these week’s game is gonna turn out exactly the way I haven’t predicted below. Here’s what’s probably not gonna happen.

Carolina (-3) at Tampa Bay
It’s incredible to think about a week three game having playoff implications, but it’s undeniable that this one does. These teams, both of which were expected by virtually everyone (including me) to battle it out for the NFC South title, have faltered in a big way. One of them is gonna come out of this matchup with an 0-3 record. That means you’re pretty much finished for the season, particularly when you’ve already lost to the Atlanta Falcons, a team likely to come out of this weekend with a record of 3-0 overall and, more important, in the division. The other team is gonna come out 1-2 and still in the hunt for a wildcard berth (and, maybe, just maybe, if Atlanta totally collapses, the division title). Neither team has shown much ability to get things done on offense. And both have been average on defense (numerically speaking). So you take the home team, right? Or you take the team that would have been 1-1 if it hadn’t been for one unbelievably, and uncharacteristically, stupid bit of play calling. Or, as I’m fond of noting, you take the team not quarterbacked by Chris Simms. The Panthers come out ahead (sort of) in two out of three of those categories. So I’m taking them. And since the Bucs’ offense is averaging 1.5 points per game, I’m gonna go ahead and give the three.

Chicago (-3.5) at Minnesota
OK, yes, the Vikings are 2-0 and that’s never a bad thing. And while the teams they’ve beaten to get to 2-0 (Washington and Carolina) don’t have a victory between them at this point, both are teams that were expected by some to at least challenge for their division titles this season. So until we know for certain that both of those teams have tanked, it probably makes sense to assume the Vikings have honestly earned their wins. And they are at home. So there’s that. There’s also the fact that Chicago, while also 2-0, has got their by beating Green Bay and Detroit, clearly two of the worst teams in the league. The Bears probably are, as they’ve appeared thus far, somewhat better than they were last season, which is saying a lot because they certainly didn’t need to improve all that much. But they’ve yet to be truly challenged, so they’ve yet to truly prove anything. Still, I’m taking Chicago straight ahead in this game. Why? Because I just don’t see Minnesota’s offense having much success moving the ball against Chicago’s D, while I think the Bears can manage a few yards (and a few points) against the newly Erasmus James-less Viking’s D. Of course, that’s exactly what the oddsmakers see here, too. So while I’m guessing Minnesota will be able to keep Chicago’s victory margin to half a point less than the spread, I’m certainly not gonna risk any money on this game either way.

Cincinnati (+2) at Pittsburgh
Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that Cincinnati is facing some fairly significant injuries, I don’t think I’d have much trouble at all picking this game — regardless of where it’s being played. I simply haven’t been at all impressed with Pittsburgh this season. And I’m not just talking about last week at Jacksonville. I’d be hard pressed to judge the Steelers harshly on that performance alone (and I’ll note that the outcome of that game hardly took me by surprise.) As I noted last week, I didn’t think Pittsburgh looked particularly good in their opening night win over Miami. The Steelers didn’t run the ball between tackles much (or well) vs. Miami, and because of their inability to pound the rock, they were unable to establish a ground game vs. Jacksonville. I don’t see much chance of that trend changing with Cincinnati in town. The Bengals don’t defend the run as well as Jacksonville, but they do a much better job of it than Miami. And, unlike both the Jags and the Dolphins (not to mention the Steelers), the Bengals have an offense that has been running in high gear since week one; they can take away the run by forcing you to play catch-up with them on the scoreboard. And the trouble for Pittsburgh comes from the fact that Ben Roethlisberger’s poor performance Monday night wasn’t simply a function of lingering tenderness from his recent appendectomy or of the Jags’ crushing D (though clearly both were factors); it was, at least in part, a result of the fact that Big Ben is a young, slightly better than average quarterback who tends to make mistakes when he’s forced to throw the ball more than 30 times in a game. So what happens here? Well, unless Pittsburgh’s defense comes up very, very big (and the unit indubitably has a propensity to turn games) and keeps Cincinnati from scoring more than, say, 24 points, Roethlisberger is going to be put in a position where he has to throw very often and very accurately. That means picks. Most NFL games are won and lost in the trenches. I expect that fact to be more clearly evident here than it is in many contests. And the outcome is likely going to turn on whether the Bengals’ second-year backup center Eric Ghiaciuc is able to anchor the line well in starter Eric Braham’s absence. I expect Ghiaciuc, who played well against the Jaguars last season in his only NFL start to date, to perform just as well against the Steelers. So I’m taking Cincinnati. And holding my breath.

Green Bay (+6.5) at Detroit
Matt Millen reportedly inquired into the possibility of a trade for disgruntled Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter this week. Yeah, Matt, that’s your team’s problem: not enough wide receivers with bad attitudes. What a fuckin’ dolt. The Lions are lucky as hell that they’ve got the awful, awful, awful Green Bay Packers coming into town. Because with the Oakland Raiders on a bye, the Pack is the surest bet to get it’s ass kicked this week no matter what team they’re playing, or where (but especially when Brett Favre is playing on turf; Brett couldn’t play on turf even when he was good). Give the points? I don’t know. Sure. Why not?

Jacksonville (+7) at Indianapolis
If I’m right about the way this season is heading, this game could be the point at which it starts to become clear that Indy is in for a rough ride. Yeah, as I predicted, the Colts’ running game appeared to kick in last week in Houston, when Indianapolis racked up 125 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. But, as I noted heading into that game, the Texans appear to be entirely powerless to stop the run. And it’s notable that while Philadelphia averaged 4.3 yards per carry against the Texans in week one (that’s 130 yards on 30 carries), Indy only managed 3.6 (125 yards on 35 carries), this despite the fact that Philly, playing on the road, trailed the Texans for a good part of the first half while Indy, playing at home, took a seven-point lead two minutes into the first quarter and never looked back. That is, facing the same opponent Indy had more opportunities to run, ran more often and came up with fewer yards overall and fewer yards per carry. Interestingly enough, the Colts and Eagles have swapped opponents in the first two weeks of this season, each facing the Giants as well as the Texans. So, just to test whether the results vs. Houston may have been a fluke, let’s look at how each team fared on the ground vs. New York. In week one, the Colts managed 55 yards on 23 carries for an average of 2.4 yards per. In week two, the Eagles got 107 yards on 30 carries for 3.6 per. Even considering the fact that Indianapolis had to travel to the Meadowlands while the Eagles got the Giants at home, 1.2 yards per carry is a hell of a gap. Now, with that in mind what do you conclude is gonna happen with the Colts face a Jaguars’ defense that has allowed just 57 rushing yards per game, and 3.2 per carry, in matchups with Dallas and Pittsburgh, teams that are known for their run-first approach to offense? I’m thinking it’s not gonna be pretty. And, as you may have read in this space before, the problem for Indy is that if you can’t run the ball, you can’t sell the play fake. And when Peyton Manning loses the play fake, he becomes a much less effective quarterback. Look, I’m not expecting the Colts to completely fold here, but I am expecting them to have a tougher time of things offensively than they did against the Giants in week one, and that was a game they could easily have lost (some would say should have lost, but that’s nonsense — they won, so no one else should have won). The question, then, is can the Jags’ offense be more effective than it was against Pittsburgh on Monday night? I say of course it can; it’s up against a far less potent D. Though much has been said about what a solid unit it is this season, Indy’s defense still is only truly effective when protecting big leads. The Colts have given up 22.5 points per game so far in a season that included a home game against Houston, that’s not what I call impressive. More to the point, let’s just say that defensively speaking the Colts ain’t the Steelers. Nor, frankly, are they the Cowboys, who are giving up an average of 17 points per game, but allowed the Jags 24 in week one. So, yeah, I like the Jacksonville offense to come alive here. And I like the Jags to pull off the upset. The experts say I’m wrong, but I’ll wait and see for myself if you don’t mind.

NY Jets (+5.5) at Buffalo
Lemme get this straight. I’m supposed to be impressed with the way the Jets offense “came alive” after the Patriots’ defense stopped playing midway through the third quarter last weekend in the Meadowlands. Really? ‘Cause the thing is, I’m not impressed. Not even a little. What I am at least mildly impressed with is the fact that Buffalo actually managed to play the Patriots tough in Foxborough on opening weekend, then went into Miami and manhandled the Dolphins. And, sure, the Fins were clearly grossly overrated heading into the season, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Bills are playing are playing hard and tough for new head coach Dick Jauron. I still don’t expect the Bills to be playing come January, but I’ll take them to stomp on the Jets right now. And I expect them to do it by 10 or more.

Tennessee (+11) at Miami
Wow. Looks like Miami finally gets a win, huh? I mean, you never know. Maybe losing alleged liar Billy Volek will prove to be just what the Titans needed to right their ship. But I’m not counting on it. Are you? (Note: I wouldn’t put an actual dime on this game, but if I were forced to bet, I’d probably take Tennessee to keep it slightly closer than 11.)

Washington (-4) at Houston
Well, one of these teams has to come away with a win, right? I mean, assuming either team can keep its quarterback on his feet long enough to take a snap. These teams have allowed 15 sacks between them over the first two weeks of the season, which is to say they’re O lines suck. Yeah, you can blame Mark Brunell for Washington’s offensive woes if you like (and I’m sure as hell not gonna come to Brunell’s defense here, because his performance this season has stunk out loud), but don’t go thinking it begins and ends there for the Redskins. Don’t go buying into the popular notion that everything wrong with Houston can be traced back to the team’s failure to draft apparent long-time professional athlete Reggie Bush, either. The Texans are in the early stages of a rebuilding period (or a building period, I guess, since rebuilding implies there was something there in the past) and those never start smoothly. And, yet, if it weren’t for the fact that Clinton Portis is due to take his place in Washington’s backfield for the first time this season, I’d be tempted to take the home team here. Still, Portis is due back, so I’m doing the sensible thing and taking the Redskins straight up. I will, however, go with the Texans to keep it to within a field goal.

Baltimore (-6.5) at Cleveland
OK, then. Now that Kellen Winslow Jr. has officially set Romeo Crennel straight on the way a professional football team should be run, I’m looking for the Browns to turn it on like crazy. Either that or get the living bejesus beat out of them by a Ravens team that is, simply put, superior to the Browns in every aspect of the game (except, OK, maybe not at tight end). Baltimore wins this one by a touchdown.

NY Giants (+3.5) at Seattle
You know, I really want to pick the Giants here. I really do. And part of me feels like I should. The Giants have been playing better football than the Seahawks. Tiki Barber is off to a much better start than Shaun Alexander. And there’s simply no way Deion Branch is gonna make much of a difference in his first game in a Seahawks uniform. Still, the Hawks are at home. The Giants are on the road for the second straight week, and have to travel across the country to get to this game. And the fact of the matter is, the Giants got themselves a big old gift last week in Philadelphia. I don’t see Seattle giving anything away, so I’m guessing the Hawks will tough it out and take this game by a point.

Philadelphia (-6) at San Francisco
The 49ers appear to be coming along quite nicely this season. Alex Smith is starting to play like a pro. Frank Gore’s numbers are impressive. And Vernon Davis is obviously going to live up to his billing sometime in the not-too-distant future. Looks to me like the Niners could potentially end up looking like a real football team again as early as 2007. Trouble is, it’s still 2006 and the Eagles have been starting to look like a real football team again already, their complete collapse last week notwithstanding. Losing Jevon Kearse will hurt over the long term, but it won’t be enough to stop Philly from rolling over San Fran this weekend. I’m giving the points.

St. Louis (+4.5) at Arizona
Here’s a little something I picked up that might help Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast with his game plan (if you know Clancy, maybe you could pass it along): the Rams’ new head coach, Scott Linehan, likes to call pass plays when his team is in red zone. Like, a lot. Like, almost all the time. So, you know, maybe don’t worry too much about stopping Steven Jackson when the Rams are in scoring position. Yeah, Jackson’s good. Really, really good. But he ain’t getting the ball. So there’s that. If you’re reading this to mean I have no faith in St. Louis’ offense this season, you’re reading it right. If you’re reading it to mean I like the Cardinals in this game, you’ve got me there, too. And, sure, I’ll give the points.

Denver (+7) at New England
You know what? Just go ahead and ignore anyone who talks about payback in relation to this game. Yeah, it’s true that Denver eliminated New England from the playoffs last season, ending the Patriots hopes of becoming the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls. But the thing is, the Patriots aren’t about payback; they’re about winning football games. They don’t need extra motivation. Plus, there’s very little chance the Patriots hold that game against the Broncos. Chances are better that the Pats coaches and players recognize that winning that game was the Broncos’ job, just as it was theirs. Unlike some teams, the Patriots don’t believe they’re entitled to win games. They operate under the belief that it’s their responsibility to find ways to win them. And it seems to work. All that said, don’t think that playoff loss hasn’t been on the minds of the Pats. Tom Brady doesn’t like to play poorly, as he did in that game, and you can bet he’s analyzed what went wrong there a thousand different ways. Bill Belichick, too. You can also bet that both have found ways to make improvements, Brady by eliminating errors, Belichick, primarily, by finding ways to counter those 11-up blitzes that the Broncos ran so well against the Pats in that game (and that both Buffalo and the New York Jets have employed against them this season). What Belichick’s solution will be I don’t know, but I’m assuming he’ll find one, and I’m guessing that whatever it is it will involve Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney logging even more yards on the ground than they did in weeks one and two. I’m also guessing that the Pats D will concentrate on stopping Denver’s run, much as they did in that playoff game, a tactic that could pay even better dividends in this game considering the fact that Jake Plummer hasn’t been on his game at all so far this season. And I’m guessing it all adds up to a Patriots win by precisely the margin of the spread. That won’t be payback, it’ll just be a win.

Atlanta (-4) at New Orleans
Nice story, isn’t it, about the Saints returning to New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina? Nice that they come into this game 2-0, too. It’s just too bad the Saints can’t stop the run to save their lives, especially since the Falcons have the league’s top rushing offense. This looks like one ugly homecoming to me. Falcons by two touchdowns.

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Week Two Picks

September 15th, 2006 Comments off

Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t have any idea how week one went the way it did. Three shutouts? In the NFL? Eleven games going to the road teams? Seven upsets? I don’t get it. So that’s one more reason you shouldn’t take my advice. Got it? Good. Now here’s what I’m looking forward to (probably not) happening in week two.

Buffalo (+6.5) at Miami
Got Randy McMichael on your fantasy team? Start him. Start him twice if you can. The Bills put Troy Vincent on IR (or something like IR; they’re gonna waive him once he’s healthy, a move that’s gonna cost them something on the order of $2.6 million in real dollars andcap money, apparently — the folks at ProFootballTalk do a good job of explaining how all that works, and assigning blame for the error, if you’re interested in that sort of thing). And since Vincent was pretty much the only guy on their squad who’s got it in him to shut down a tight end like McMichael, Randy seems like a pretty safe bet to have a big day here. As for the rest of the action in this game, I don’t know, I’m kind of expecting a fairly one-sided affair, though I should note that division matchups rarely go that way. Sure, the Bills played at least a solid half of football in New England last week, and damned near pulled off what would have been a giant upset. But Buffalo’s offense only scored one of the team’s two touchdowns that day. And while the other one certainly still counted, it’s the kind of thing that you can’t expect to happen too often. The Bills D caught New England’s O-line napping on the first play of the game and turned it into a seven-point lead with 14:48 remaining in the first quarter. My guess is the Dolphins coaching staff and players noticed that play and won’t put themselves in a position to make a similar mistake. And while Miami certainly didn’t look like a playoff team in it’s loss to Pittsburgh opening night, the Fins have will have had 10 days to rebound from that loss, figure out what they need to do better and work on it. I do expect Miami’s young DBs to continue to make some mental errors, at least for the next few weeks, but I don’t expect those errors to hurt them against the Bills the way they did against the Steelers. I think if Daunte Culpepper can resist the temptation to throw into tight coverage (those Bills DBs are very good) and find his tight end for some nice short gains, and if the Fins can run the ball half as productively against Buffalo as New England did last week, Miami should be able to control the game and put it away by midway through the third. I’m taking the Dolphins straight up. And if I were gonna bet on this game, I’d give the points. But the reason I’m not gonna bet on this game (the big reason, anyhow) is that you simply never can tell what’s gonna happen in these division games.

Carolina (-1.5) at Minnesota
Man, the Panthers didn’t look good at all in that 20-6 home loss to Atlanta last week, did they? I mean, this is supposed to be a Super Bowl contender and they didn’t manage to do one thing well. At home. Minnesota, meanwhile, did a lot of things well. Enough, in fact, to surprise the Washington Redskins on the road Monday night. That’s not so bad. Maybe the Vikings are the real contender here. Still, I’ll believe it when I see it. In the meantime, I’m taking Carolina and giving the point and a half.

Cleveland (+10) at Cincinnati
Man, it’s one thing when big-mouthed NFL players make guarantees they can’t back up for themselves, entirely another when they do it for their teammates. Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., having successfully made it through an NFL game without suffering a season-ending injury, this week guaranteed that his “boy,” cornerback Leigh Bodden, would shut down Bengals receiver Chad Johnson. And while it’s true that Bodden did a remarkable job of covering Johnson last time the teams met, holding Johnson to a season-low 22 yards on two catches, there’s no way to ensure that anyone will ever be able to stop Johnson twice. And it’s certainly not Winslow’s place to make promises for someone else. It’s also worth noting that Johnson’s off-day aside, the Bengals won that December 11 game 23-20. I’m guessing Chad was OK with getting the win even if he didn’t have huge stats. I’m thinking he’ll probably feel pretty good about his team’s win in this game, too, even if he doesn’t have a big day, and even if the victory comes by a margin of somewhat less than 10 points.

Detroit (+9) at Chicago
More guarantees. Roy Williams, who caught three passes for 36 yards at home against the Seahawks last week, has guaranteed a victory for the Lions. I’m not sure why, but I’m not quite ready to put my faith in Roy. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and take the team with the big, crushing defense. You know, the one that hasn’t allowed a point so far this season. And, hell, I’ll give the nine. Sorry, Roy.

Houston (+13) at Indianapolis
Following this game, you’ll probably hear a lot about how the Colts, who couldn’t run the ball to save their lives last weekend in the Meadowlands (Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai combined for 55 yards on 23 attempts — that’s an average of like 2.4 yards per carry — in what, for their team, really was the Manning Bowl), got their running game going against the Texans. Don’t believe it. Or at least keep in mind that these are the same Texans who in week one allowed 130 yards on the ground to the visiting Philadelphia Eagles, a team that prior to that game hadn’t so much as attempted a run play in something on the order of 100 years. All of which is to say that I’ll believe the Colts have found their running game when the crank out some yards against Jacksonville in week three or Denver in week eight and not a minute sooner. All that said, I’m taking the Colts here and giving the points, because, really, who needs a ground game to beat up on the Texans?

New Orleans (-2.5) at Green Bay
You know you’ve passed through the goddamned looking glass when New Orleans is giving two and a half points to the Packers anywhere let alone at Lambeau Field. Still, while it’s mighty tempting to think that Green Bay can’t possibly open its season with two straight losses at home (and equally tempting to look at New Orleans and think about how hard it is to win two straight road games at any point in the season), you can’t assess this game that way. You’ve got to look at things realistically. And what’s real is that the Packers are foundering. They may be the worst team in the league (though that distinction probably belongs to the Oakland Raiders). So, yeah, the Saints are in rebuilding mode and going nowhere. New Orleans’ victory in Cleveland last week probably says more about the state of the Browns than the state of the Saints. But the Packers aren’t even truly rebuilding. Not yet, anyhow. They’ll have officially entered their rebuilding period later in the season when they make the very difficult decision to sit Brett Favre in favor of Aaron Rodgers. That move won’t signal that Mike McCarthy believes Rodgers gives the Packers the best chance of winning. It will signal that McCarthy knows he’s gotta see if Rodgers has the stuff to lead his team into the future before he has to decide whether to take Brady Quinn with the number one or number two pick in the 2007 draft (the Raiders likely won’t take Quinn if they end up with the top pick regardless of how badly they need a quarterback, because the Raiders have been shy of drafting QBs in the first round ever since Todd Marinovich’s giant flameout). So, setting the location aside, I see a contest between a team that’s rebuilding on the able shoulders of Reggie Bush and a team that’s collapsing and doesn’t quite know where to turn. I’m taking the guys on the upswing. And if I’m gonna take New Orleans on the road, I guess I might as well give the points.

NY Giants (+3) at Philadelphia
In week one, the Giants outplayed the Indianapolis Colts in just about every aspect of the game and still came away with a loss. That’s rough, but it happens. The Eagles, meanwhile, victimized the crap out of a Houston Texans team that’s still got a long way to go in its rebuilding process. You take the win, but maybe don’t get too worked up about how it means your team is back on track and poised to storm the very tough NFC East. If the Giants can run the ball nearly as well as they did against the Colts, and take the run away from the Eagles half as well as they took it away from Indy, they own this thing. If they can’t, the Eagles probably come out ahead in a close one (maybe by a point). In the end, I simply have more faith in New York, so I’m looking for the upset.

Oakland (+11.5) at Baltimore
My answers to the two big questions concerning Oakland this week. 1) Was Jerry Porter really cheering as his teammates took a beating at the hands of the San Diego Chargers or was he (as he claims) just goofing around with fans and not paying attention to the game? What the fuck does it matter? One way or the other, you’ve got a very highly paid wide receiver contributing nothing because he’s in a snit over his coach’s demand that he act like a member of a team. Porter’s talented, but he’s a become a problem. 2) What happened to the Raiders’ offense? Here’s what: they hired a guy who’s been running a bed and breakfast for the past decade as coordinator. Why on earth should anyone be surprised that what they produced was a giant bagel? OK, and they’ve got Aaron Brooks at QB. And an offensive line that apparently doesn’t get that it’s job is to stop defensive linemen from getting to their quarterback. (I mean, the Chargers have some terrific pass rushers and all, but nine fucking sacks? You’ve gotta be kidding me, right?) Oh, right, and then there’s the other team playing in this game. The home team. The one lots of people (including me) expected to be much improved with Steve McNair under center. The one some people (including me) expect to make the playoffs this year. The one almost no one, including me, expected to beat, let alone blank, the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay last weekend. So how do you think that same team fare’s against the gang that couldn’t shoot straight? Yeah, that’s what I figured. I’m giving the 11 and a half, too.

Tampa Bay (+5.5) at Atlanta
The Buccaneers have had Atlanta’s number ever since Jon Gruden rolled into Florida, which is nice for the Bucs and has absolutely nothing to do with this game. Until I see otherwise, and until Cadillac Williams’ back problems go away, I’m taking the team not quarterbacked by Chris Simms or the team that shut down the Carolina Panthers last weekend. Look at it however you want. Atlanta by three.

Arizona (+7) at Seattle
My god, am I tempted to put some money on Arizona with the points. I mean, it’s not like I expect Seattle to go another week without scoring a touchdown or anything. And it’s not like I’m not aware of the fact that Shaun Alexander has had some his best games against the Cardinals. So, O-line problems notwithstanding, I’m expecting Seattle to put up some points here. Enough points to win the game, probably. (The Seahawks are at home, after all.) But I’m also gonna go out on a limb and guess that Larry Fitzgerald and Edgerrin James can have some success against Seattle’s D, which is to say I think the Cards can almost keep pace with the Hawks. Actually, now that I think if it, maybe what I’ll do is take Seattle straight up, Arizona with the points on paper, and put my money on the over (the line is 47). Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

St. Louis (-3) at San Francisco
You know, I thought about using this space to implore Scott Linehan (who doubtless takes time out of his busy coaching schedule to read this blog) to run the damned ball if his team gets inside the 49ers’ 10 yard line, but you know what? Never mind. The Niners gave up three passing touchdowns to the Cardinals from the same distance last week. Just do your thing, Scott. It’ll work like a charm this week. And we can revisit the topic as you prepare to face Arizona (which has a habit of allowing TDs on the ground) in week three. Translation: I’m taking the Rams and giving the points.

Kansas City (+10.5) at Denver
Under normal circumstances, you’d have to believe a team (Denver) that gave up 5.5 yards per carry in week one might run into trouble against a team that features Larry Johnson at running back. But you know what? There’s a reason LJ didn’t do terribly well when the Chiefs hosted Cincinnati last week. Once Trent Green was knocked out (literally) in the middle of the third quarter, Johnson became the only guy on Kansas City’s offense that the Bengals had to worry about, which made it a lot easier to slow him down. Larry’s the whole KC offense for the whole game this weekend, which means you probably shouldn’t expect Denver’s D to repeat its disappointing performance. And since the Chiefs’ D hasn’t managed to stop anything this season, I expect both Jake Plummer and the running Bells (Mike and Tatum) to come up big. I’m not gonna give ten and a half points in a division matchup, but I will take the Broncos straight up.

New England (-6) at NY Jets
I’m not nearly as worried about the Patriots in the wake of last week’s ugly win over Buffalo and Monday’s trade of Deion Branch to Seattle as some folks seem to be. The Pats began to find their way after half time in the season opener. It wasn’t much, but it was all they needed. And 183 yards on the ground looks pretty impressive to me no matter how small the team’s margin of victory. Neither am I nearly as impressed by the Jets and Chad Pennington as some folks seem to be. Yes, Chad had a very nice day throwing short passes against the Tennessee Titans. The team fared far better than I expected them to. So what? What I saw on the highlight reel was Pennington floating an awful lot of passes out there. Some of those balls just seemed to freeze in midair and wait for a receiver to get to them. I hope Chad throws a few of those against the Pats. I’d hope it even more if I had the Patriots’ D on one of my fantasy teams. I don’t. So I’ll settle for watching Tom Brady return to form, Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney continue to burn up the turf, and the Pats run away with a victory by two touchdowns.

Tennessee (+11.5) at San Diego
Not to San Diego: don’t expect the Titans to be as easy to victimize as the Raiders were. Note to Tennessee: don’t expect the Chargers to take it as easy on you as the Jets did. Philip Rivers isn’t even a factor here. LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers D make it a long, long, ugly day for the Titans, who lose this one by 20.

Washington (+6) at Dallas
Somewhere in that 700-page playbook of his, Al Saunders probably has a play that will work. He might even find it this week. But it won’t be enough. Expect Terrell Owens to have a huge day against a Redskins’ D that gave up 77 yards to Troy Williamson on Monday night. Washington will keep this one competitive, but they’ll fall by a field goal (assuming there’s someone in Dallas who can kick a field goal).

Pittsburgh (-1) at Jacksonville
There are plenty of people out there who were extremely impressed by Pittsburgh’s performance against Miami September 7. I don’t happen to be one of them. What some people saw was a running back, Willie Parker, who logged 115 yards on 29 carries (for a nifty average of 3.9 yards per run). What I saw was a guy who did an awful lot of running to the outside and very little up the middle. That’ll work against an aged defensive front like Miami’s. Not so much when you’re facing younger, quicker, more athletic guys like the ones Jacksonville has in its front seven. Some folks saw Steelers backup QB Charlie Batch hook up with tight end Heath Miller for a spectacular 87-yard touchdown. I saw Miami’s young DBs so thoroughly messing up a play that no one was anywhere near Miller, then failing to pursue the lumbering TE at anything that approached full speed. Then I saw the officials award a TD to Miller despite the fact that he’d clearly stepped out of bounds at the Miami 5 yard line, and Dolphins coach Nick Saban make the most half-hearted attempt to challenge a call that I’ve ever seen. Some folks also saw Pittsburgh’s defense making spectacular plays late in the game. I saw Daunte Culpepper trying to win a game all by himself and, in the end, putting the ball in the hands of a linebacker. That is, I’m not sure I saw Pittsburgh win so much as I saw Miami lose. I know that what I saw in the Dallas-Jacksonville matchup three days later was a tough, talented young team digging in and finding a way to overcome a 10-point deficit, rattle a veteran quarterback and make a solid second-half performance by the best wide receiver in the league irrelevant. I’m taking the team that did all that good stuff, especially since they’re at home.

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Power? What Power?

September 13th, 2006 Comments off

OK, I recognize that I may be some kind of rube. I certainly don’t have Dr. Z’s credentials. But wouldn’t you think a team should at least demonstrate that it can score a touchdown before it gets ranked #3 in someone’s power rankings.

I mean … well here’s what I mean: The Rams offense lined up in the red zone on five different drives in Sunday’s home game against the Denver Broncos and never came away with anything more than a field goal. And what’s more, they scored on only four of those five trips (the other two field goals St. Louis scored in its 18-10 win came on drives that stalled outside the red zone). The other time? Well, that came toward the end of the first quarter when the Rams offense started a drive at the Broncos 2 yard line after a Jake Plummer fumble. Did the Rams do the sensible thing and run, run, run ’til they made it into the end zone? No, because the Rams are coached by Scott Linehan, who consistently calls pass play after pass play when his teams are on the goal line (more on that in a second). They ran once for no gain then went to the pass. The result: second and goal from the 2, Marc Bulger called for intentional grounding, pushing the team back to the 16 with an attendant loss of down; third and goal from the 16, incomplete pass; fourth and goal from the 16, holding, moving the ball back to the 26; fourth and goal redux, Jeff Wilkins misses a 44-yard field goal attempt. A 44-yard field goal attempt. Capping a drive that began with first and goal at the 2. Great football there, gang. Great play calling, coach.

Now, what happened on those other pushes into the red zone that prevented St. Louis from logging a TD? Well, St. Louis fans will tell you Bulger goes soft inside the 20. I have to ask, why was it even on Bulger? Early in the first quarter, the Rams started a series at the Broncos’ 8. Three incomplete passes later they brought in Wilkins to bang home three points. Then, in the fourth, the Rams started a series from the Denver 9. On first down, Steven Jackson (who was averaging 5.5 yards per carry on the day) ran for three yards. (Note: three times three is nine.) On second and third down, Bulger threw incompletions. Then Wilkins came in to hit a 24-yarder. That’s not smart football. That’s not good football. That’s not #3 in your power rankings football, either. Not if you’re me, anyhow.

All in all, in those five trips into the red zone (including, you’ll remember, drives in which series commenced on the Broncos’ 2, 8 and 9 yard lines), the Rams ran the ball four times and passed 11. This with a running back on the field who was averaging enough yards to score touchdowns in just two plays on each of the series that commenced inside the Denver 10. So, I don’t know. Ranked #3? Not by me, friends. Then again, I’m no Dr. Z.

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Week One Picks

September 7th, 2006 Comments off

Here we go. Another NFL season. Another opportunity for me to invest a ridiculous amount of time explaining picks that are sure to lose me money. Another chance for you to make some dough by betting the other way. And, best of all, the bad advice doesn’t cost you a cent. So there’s that. Let’s get to it.

Miami (+1) at Pittsburgh
My take on this game has very little to do with whether Charlie Batch can fill in effectively for Ben Roethlisberger. History tells me he should be able to (’cause, let’s be honest, Roethlisberger’s just not that great a QB), but probably won’t. So what? I was leaning toward Miami here even before Big Ben’s emergency appendectomy. And, look, I’m not one of those people who thinks Miami is headed for a Super Bowl or even an AFC East championship (the Fins haven’t caught up with the Patriots quite yet, no matter what anyone says). Nor am I so impressed with Daunte Culpepper’s quick recovery from his knee injury that I think he can’t help but lead the Dolphins to an opening-day upset. I think Pep will have a fine game — and, indeed, a fine first half of the season, and maybe a bit more — but I don’t think that’s the difference. There are two key factors that I believe will put Miami over the top in this game. The first is Miami’s offensive line, which is heading into its second year under Hudson Houck, arguably the best O-line coach in the game (though New England’s under-appreciated Dante Scarnecchia surely deserves consideration there, too), and that now has free agent acquisition L.J. Shelton at left tackle. This is a solid blocking unit that will give Culpepper and Ronnie Brown the room they need to get their jobs done and make life difficult on Pittsburgh’s D and particularly, as the game wears on, a Steelers secondary that lost a key player in Chris Hope during the off-season and that I expect to struggle a bit in the early part of the season (though don’t get me wrong; I still expect Pittsburgh’s DBs to rate in the top half of the league over the long term). The second is Pittsburgh’s running game, which I expect to have a tough time getting started against a Miami defensive front that I believe will be better than advertised this season. Yeah, the Fins front seven is looking a tad long in the tooth, but I have little doubt that if Nick Saban didn’t know they could stop whatever comes at them, he’d have made some off-season moves to get things headed in the right direction. Plus, I’m not all that sure that Willie Parker is gonna be able to get things done all by himself. I’m one of those people who thinks Jerome Bettis’ departure is gonna be more problematic than the Steelers and their fans want to believe. It all adds up to Pittsburgh’s defense spending a bit too much time on the field, which can’t help but to start to hurt as the end of the third quarter rolls around. And that’s why I like Miami to come out on top by about four.

Atlanta (+5) at Carolina
So now it appears Steve Smith, Carolina’s top offensive weapon and maybe, when he’s healthy, the second best wide receiver in the league (because Terrell Owens is still the best, even if he is an asshole) has two bad hamstrings. That’s not gonna help him run routes. Won’t do much for his YACs either, I’m thinking. Still, you’ve got Keyshawn Johnson on the other side of the field. And Keary Colbert. And you have to like Carolina defense at home against an always inconsistent Atlanta offense. If the Panthers defensive linemen can come out of this game with their knees intact, Carolina ought to be able to emerge with a win. Maybe not by quite six (especially if they have to go without Smith), but a win’s a win.

Baltimore (+3) at Tampa Bay
As you may have figured out if you read my season predictions (below), I’m quite sold on the Baltimore Ravens this season. I think Jamal Lewis was rounding into form at the end of last season. Add a prison-free off season to the mix and, so long as Lewis’ hip injury isn’t a lot worse than we’ve been led to believe, I think you’ve got an elite running back on that squad again. I’m also confident that Steve McNair still has a good-to-outstanding season or two in him. Yeah, I’ve read all about how McNair hasn’t performed well since 2003, same as you have, but I can’t stop thinking about the fact that no one seems to remember that in addition to being injured most of the last two seasons, he’s been playing on completely shitty teams. I think McNair rebounds in a huge way joining a team that was, in reality, a quarterback away from being a playoff contender last season. Plus, Baltimore’s defense is healthy again and ready to make a difference. All that said, I don’t see the Ravens getting out of Tampa Bay with a win this week. The Buccaneers are clearly poised to make Carolina’s run to the NFC South championship a difficult one. They’ve got most, if not all the pieces in place. An outstanding defense. A young running back set to build on his successful rookie campaign. A group of wide receivers that includes a proven, and still viable veteran in Joey Galloway and a third-year player, Michael Clayton, whom I expect to live up to the potential he showed two years ago. And a quarterback who may yet prove to be better than I’d given him credit for. Plus, they’re at home. I don’t expect a high scoring game here. I just expect a Tampa Bay win straight up. Against the spread, it’s a push.

Buffalo (+9) at New England
Look, it doesn’t take a great football mind to figure out that the Patriots are gonna win this game. Doesn’t even take a whole lot of analysis to figure out that they’re probably gonna do it by two touchdowns or more. So what do you want me to tell you? That Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork matches up really well against Vikings castoff Melvin Fowler, who’ll be starting his first regular season game at center for the Bills? That if the Bills attempt to give Fowler any help against Wilfork, they’re gonna end up opening the door for one of New England’s DEs, Richard Seymour and Ty Warren? That the Bills have exactly one guy on their defensive line, right end Aaron Schobel, who can get to the quarterback and everyone knows it? That even if Bills corner-turned-safety Troy Vincent manages to shut down Pats tight end Ben Watson completely (which is highly unlikely, but about the only way the Bills will stand a chance of even keeping things close), the Pats will be able to spread the ball around to their other tight ends, tailbacks and WRs and open up the run game? That there’s no reason to expect the Patriots running backs not to put up huge numbers under the circumstances? You knew all of that stuff already, didn’t you? Or if you didn’t, you at least knew that the Pats are a way better team than the Bills, which is about what matters in the end.

Cincinnati (+2.5) at Kansas City
There are only two reasons anyone should expect Kansas City to win this game. One is Larry Johnson. The other is Arrowhead Stadium. That’s it. Everything else, from the miraculous recovery of Carson Palmer and the not-unrelated expectation that the Bengals will again be fielding one of the league’s most high-powered offenses this season to the fact that Cincinnati’s defense is a year older (and that’s a year under Marvin Lewis) and on to the fact that the Chiefs should probably be somewhat worse on both lines than they were last year, points to an absolute slaughter by the Bengals. And still, Arrowhead and LJ (mostly LJ) are enough for me. I’m taking the Chiefs to win, though I’m thinking maybe it’s only by a point.

Denver (-3.5) at St. Louis
How on earth the Broncos are only giving three and a half here is a mystery to me. OK, yeah, there’s the fact that everyone always thinks more of the Rams than I do. But the Broncos are a hell of a football team. And while I don’t expect Denver to be able to stop St. Louis from moving the ball, I do expect the Rams offense to suffer when it comes to scoring. That’s because head coach Scott Linehan has a long, long track record (as an offensive coordinator) of getting teams to the goal line only to pass on three consecutive downs, which results more often than not in settling for a field goal. That doesn’t win football games. I’m taking the team coached by the guy who values the run game. That’d be Mike Shanahan. That’d be the Broncos. And I’m taking them to win by a touchdown or more.

New Orleans (+3) at Cleveland
Hey, everybody, it’s Reggie Bush! And, um, those other guys from New Orleans. You know, the guy with the bad shoulder and them. Yeah! Look, this is all I have to say: Center or no center, the Browns win this one by four.

NY Jets (+2.5) at Tennessee
Quarterbacks, quarterbacks everywhere, nor any one to start. Holy shit. Less than a week after the 100th anniversary of the legalization of the forward pass (the move that made football football), we may actually get an entire professional football game in which no one manages to throw a completion. Compelling stuff here, kids. Don’t blink. I’ll take the Titans to win this one 3-0.

Philadelphia (-5) at Houston
You know, I really do understand the decision to pass on Reggie Bush in the 2006 draft. Gary Kubiak comes from Denver. He’s installed Denver’s system (or he’s in the process of installing it anyhow) and we all know that Gary Coleman could start at running back in that system and succeed wildly. But, shit, man, Wali Lundy? That’s gotta scare the life out of you. Meanwhile, the experts are asking who’s gonna run the ball for the Eagles if Brian Westbrook is hurt. And I’m asking, who thinks the Eagles are gonna run the ball even if Westbrook isn’t hurt? When did Philadelphia ever run the damned football? Donovan McNabb and the gang get back on track here, beating the Texans by seven.

Seattle (-6) at Detroit
So now you’ve got first round receivers being cut, defensive line coaches driving around the city (allegedly) drunk and pantsless, and still no one seems to have figured out that Matt Millen will never, ever, ever be able to run a winning team. I’d say some things about the Seahawks here, but there’s no reason. I’ll save it for next week. For now, I’ll just point out the obvious: Detroit is so outclassed in this game it isn’t even funny. Seattle takes this game by no less than two touchdowns.

Chicago (-3.5) at Green Bay
Here’s what you need to know about this game: Green Bay’s new head coach, Mike McCarthy, and new offensive line coach, Joe Philbin, have installed a fairly complicated zone blocking scheme. They’re asking a line that includes rookies at guard on both sides to pull off those blocks. And while the interior linemen, whose roll in the scheme is key, are all experienced guys (they’ve got seven years in the pros at both tackles and three years at center), you have to believe it’s gonna be tough for those guys to do their jobs and make up for whatever trouble the rookies might experience and hold off what may once again be the best defense in the league. That’s gonna put Brett Favre under tremendous pressure. And, well, we all know what the new model Brett does when he’s under tremendous pressure. Oh, and, Chicago’s D finished last season tied for second most picks in the league with 24. That’s 1.5 per game. I expect them to double that average in this game. The Bears win by two touchdowns (one of them defensive).

Dallas (+2.5) at Jacksonville
This should be an outstanding game. Two playoff contenders (both, I believe, headed for division championships). Terrell Owens back on the field and, one has to expect, looking to make a point. Jacksonville’s estimable defense looking to make a statement by either shutting down T.O. or, in the style of the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, taking everything but Owens away from their opponents, knowing he can’t beat them all by himself. The main question to answer in sizing this one up regards which typically competent quarterback do you trust to be most competent. I’ll go with the one playing at home. Jacksonville by a point.

San Francisco (+7.5) at Arizona
Hey, look, if the league had asked me what team I wanted to face when I opened my new stadium, I’d probably have chosen San Francisco, too. Look for Edgerrin James to have an absolutely gigantic afternoon as the Cardinals toast the Niners. Go ahead and give the points, because San Fran’s got no chance of keeping this thing close.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at NY Giants
The good news: someone named Manning has to come out on the losing end of this matchup. The bad news: someone named Manning has to come out on the winning end of this matchup. The worse news: there will be trademark Manning whining no matter what. Ah, yes, the Manning bowl. What excitement. What ceremony. What a goddamned fucking drag. My only hope of enjoying this thing is maybe Tiki Barber will have a big game. Tiki deserves all the success he can get. For the record, I’m expecting the older Mr. Manning to struggle some this season now that Edgerrin James is playing elsewhere. My observation is that when you take play action away from Peyton, you render him average. And I don’t think either Dominic Rhodes or Joseph Addai brings to the table what Edge did. So I think Peyton’s gonna have a much harder time this season selling play fakes, which I think is gonna force him to throw into actual coverage more often, which is gonna lead to picks. Starting here. I’m looking for Michael Strahan and the rest of the Giants’ front seven to make it a long night for Peyton. And I’m taking the home team straight up.

Minnesota (+4.5) at Washington
So wait just a minute, here. You’re telling me I’m supposed to be worried about an Al Saunders offense because the Redskins didn’t manage to win any of its preseason games? For real? You mean it? Look, I get being concerned about Clinton Portis’ injury. I get being worried about Mark Brunell’s ability to lead a team through 16 games. I even get being worried about Minnesota’s D line. And, hell, I like Brad Johnson (though I wonder who exactly he’s gonna throw the ball to — Todd Pinkston, maybe? ), so I’m not entirely down on the Vikings’ offense. But it’s pretty clear to me that Washington’s not gonna need to score all that many points in this game, because the Redskins defense should be able to keep Minnesota off the board. I’m taking Washington to win and giving the points.

San Diego (-3) at Oakland
I don’t know. I wanna pick the Raiders here. I really do. And between Philip Rivers’ inexperience and Randy Moss’ health almost make me feel like I could. Or should. Or something. But LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Shawne Merriman and Aaron Brooks make me feel like I can’t. Or shouldn’t. Or something. So I’m going with the Chargers to win and the Raiders to keep the margin to exactly three.

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2006 Season Predictions

September 5th, 2006 Comments off

So just in case you somehow haven’t figured this out all by yourself by now, I guess I start by pointing out that pre-season football predictions are entirely for shit. No one knows what’s gonna happen during the season. No one. Not the real “experts.” Not your brother-in-law. And certainly not me.

No one knows how any team is going to do, because no one knows who’s gonna be injured, who’s gonna flake out, who’s gonna come on unexpectedly and who’s gonna fit in or not fit in with their new squad. (Not to mention, these days, who’s gonna get shot, stabbed, clubbed, or arrested.)

I can tell you what I think might happen, but I’m gonna be wrong about a lot of it. Last year, at this time, for instance, I was predicting that the first pick in the 2006 NFL draft would go to the Chicago Bears and that the Bears would select Matt Leinart. For those who missed it, the Bears finished with the second-best record in the NFC, 11-5, and Leinart went 10th in the draft to the Arizona Cardinals. Now, I will point out that the Cardinals played in Chicago from 1898 until 1960. And the first digit in 10 is a 1. So maybe there was some odd vibe in the air. You can go with that if you like, but if I were you, I’d just go ahead and make the safer assumption that I’m as clueless as the next guy. Seems sensible.

All that said, I’m gonna make some predictions. Why do something so utterly lacking in value? Because it’s fun. Because it gives me an opportunity to get back in the habit of sounding off about football-related matters, which I haven’t done in a while. And because if five months from now I’m able to look back and say that I got one damned little thing right, that’s all anybody’s gonna hear from me. Because you’ll have forgotten about how wrong I was. And even I don’t have the energy to check the archives on this stupid blog. So there’s that.

Here you go. Not all of these are serious, of course. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what’s what.

Division Winners
The only thing you can ever really safely predict about the NFL is that just when you think you’ve got something figured out, it’ll change. After that, the closest thing to a sure thing is related to division winners. Four or five divisions in the NFL have new champions every season. It just happens. So the question is, which four or five will it be this year?

That’s a harder question to answer this year than it has been in the past. There isn’t really a division champ that has fallen apart in the off-season. And there was really only one 2005 division champ that you could argue was a fluke: one-dimensional Chicago. And the fact of the matter is that the Bears play in probably the weakest division in the league. They may only be slightly better this season, but they may not need to be better at all. It may be, in fact, that a little bit worse could have got it done.

You almost have to conclude that virtually every division winner from 2005 has the potential to repeat. But they won’t. My best guess is that we’ll have new champions in the NFC South, where Carolina should have the juice to unseat Tampa Bay, and the NFC East, where every team is strong enough to win so a Giants repeat becomes unlikely just as a factor of the law of averages. I also like the odds of a new champ in the NFC West despite the fact that the Seattle Seahawks appear to have enough talent to overcome the kind of collapse that has befallen other Super Bowl losers. Something tells me Seattle loses half a step while the Arizona Cardinals come on just enough to edge them (and lose in week one of the playoffs). I see Baltimore making a move to grab the AFC North away from Cincinnati (though I’m less certain of that now that I’ve seen how well Carson Palmer has recovered from his knee injury.) And I see Jacksonville capitalizing on what I expect to be a slightly off season for Indianapolis and taking the AFC South crown.

Playoffs/Super Bowl
I guess this is supposed to be the thing you save for the end. I don’t care. Here’s how I see it breaking down.

AFC Seedings
1. New England
2. Denver
3. Baltimore
4. Jacksonville
5. Indianapolis (who remain the “experts” pick to win it all)
6. Miami

NFC Seedings
1. Carolina
2. Dallas
3. Chicago
4. Arizona
5. Tampa Bay
6. Washington

Wild Card Weekend
Baltimore defeats Miami
Jacksonville defeats Indianapolis
Chicago defeats Washington
Tampa Bay defeats Arizona

Divisional Playoffs
New England defeats Jacksonville

Baltimore defeats Denver (the press asks, can Baltimore be this year’s Pittsburgh?)
Carolina defeats Tampa Bay
Dallas defeats Chicago

Conference Championships
New England defeats Baltimore
Dallas defeats Carolina (with a temporarily “reformed” Terrell Owens turning in a huge game)

Super Bowl XLI
New England defeats Dallas
(“The Patriots got lucky again,” Indianapolis fans declare. “New England still isn’t a dynasty,” Pittsburgh fans sneer.)
Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady
Dallas player most likely to turn on his teammates and completely self destruct after the loss: who the fuck do you think?

Regular Season Records
Actually, I’m not gonna predict regular season records. It’s just too ridiculous. Too much changes from week to week. I will, however, offer a range of wins I think each team can accomplish. I’ll even be wrong about most of these, but I went through the damned schedule and I’m not just throwing away that time. So here goes:

AFC East
New England, 12-15
Miami, 10-12
Buffalo, 4-7
NY Jets, 1-3

AFC North
Baltimore, 9-11
Cincinnati, 8-10
Pittsburgh, 6-9
Cleveland, 4-7

AFC South
Jacksonville, 10-12
Indianapolis, 9-10
Houston, 4-6
Tennessee, 2-5

AFC West
Denver, 11-14
San Diego, 8-10
Kansas City, 5-8
Oakland, 3-5

NFC East
Dallas, 10-13
Washington, 9-11
Philadelphia, 8-10
NY Giants, 8-10

NFC North
Chicago, 10-13
Minnesota, 5-8
Detroit, 4-6
Green Bay, 2-5

NFC South
Carolina, 10-13
Tampa Bay, 10-12
Atlanta, 6-9
New Orleans, 2-6

NFC West
Arizona, 9-11
Seattle, 8-9
St. Louis, 6-9
San Francisco, 4-6

There will be at least one team I’ve pegged as a sure loser that will have a terrific season, and at least one that I’m looking at to come on or thrive that will falter. And that’s the only regular season prediction I’m sure of.

Random Thoughts

Take these or leave ’em.

Experts will spend the entire season expressing wonderment at the New England Patriots’ ability to win games with so-called no-name players in key positions, contrary to an entire off-season’s worth of dire predictions — as if there were any reason this kind of thing should still be taking anyone by surprise.

The Oakland Raiders will trade Randy Moss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fourth-round draft choice, and LaMont Jordon to the Dallas Cowboys for a sixth-round selection. The team will reveal that, like Doug Gabriel, the players simply didn’t fit Tom Walsh’s offense. Neither, they’ll explain, could make French toast worth a damn.

Kellen Winslow Jr. will get off to a great start in his first real season in the pros, but will suffer a season-ending injury in a freak rock climbing accident. “It’s not my fault,” Winslow will complain. “No one told me you’re supposed to use ropes.”

No one in the media will be able to understand why the Detroit Lions still suck, even though absolutely everyone not in the media (except for members of the Ford family) will know that the problem is, as it always has been, Matt Millen.

After he replaces Rex Grossman (round about week four) and comes out with a great performance in his first game as the Bears starting quarterback, Brian Griese will be the most picked-up player in fantasy football leagues. Griese will be the most dropped fantasy player a week later after throwing four picks in his second game. Grossman will return to the starting position in week eight. Griese will be back there in week 12.

Brett Favre will throw two picks for every touchdown. At the end of the season, experts will wonder if maybe it’s time for Brett to consider retirement before he does real damage to his team and his legacy.

The Indianapolis Colts and the New York Giants both will field mediocre teams. Both teams’ successes will be credited to a Manning, but neither team’s failures will reflect poorly on its quarterback. The real problems will come in the form of incompetent O-line play, idiot kickers, and a general failure by the rest of the teams in the league to understand the fact that they’re supposed to lose to Manning-led teams.

The Cincinnati Bengals will win the 2006 Ohio state inter-prison flag football tournament.

The Carolina Panthers will, once again, be the only team in the NFL whose players use steroids. At all. Ever. (Except for, you know, in the Sudafed.)

Someone will be given a four-week, unpaid vacation from his $5 million-a-year job because he couldn’t wait until February to sneak a fucking bong hit.

Kurt Warner will get hurt. (I may be going out on a limb here.)

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