Archive for October, 2006

Week Eight Picks

October 28th, 2006 Comments off

I’m not getting any better at this. Just so you know. I was 5-8 straight up last week. And, OK, it really, really was crazy upside-down week, but still. Here are my likely painfully inaccurate guesses of what’s ahead in week eight.

Arizona (+3.5) at Green Bay
Geez, coach, it must be nice to know your job is safe until the end of the season. But still, umm, I’ve gotta wonder, who are you gonna blame for losing this one? Green Bay by a touchdown.

Atlanta (+4) at Cincinnati
You know what’s funny? I’m quite certain Cincinnati’s gonna win this game, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why I feel that way. Atlanta plays at least marginally better on both sides of the ball. Cincinnati can’t begin to stop the run, and Atlanta runs the ball like no other team in the league. And while Cincinnati’s passing offense certainly appears to match up well against Atlanta’s pass D, it wouldn’t seem to be enough of an advantage to lead one to conclude that Cincinnati should beat a team that might be able to control the ball with its ground game and win the time of possession battle by a ratio of as much as two to one. So why am I picking the Bengals here? Well, because the oddsmakers say I should and my gut agrees. I’m not giving four points, mind you, but I’m taking Cincy just the same.

Baltimore (+2) at New Orleans
I won’t be the least bit surprised if Baltimore pulls off an upset here. Brian Billick not only needs to get his team’s season back on track, but clearly needs to back up his bye week decision to fire Jim Fassel and take over offensive play-calling duties. And it’s hardly going out on a limb to speculate that Billick will set out to accomplish both goals by leaning heavily on the run. If his offensive line is up to the task (I, for one, still believe that his starting running back can be explosive if he gets blocks), Billick could see some significant success running the ball against a Saints defense that allows 4.9 yards per carry. And his own stingy run D (which has allowed a league-low 2.7 yards per carry and only one rushing touchdown while forcing 11 fumbles), should be able to quiet New Orleans’ typically productive ground offense enough to put the weight of this game on Drew Brees. If he can do that while not asking too much of his own banged-up quarterback, Billick may have a formula for an upset. All that said, I don’t think the Ravens will be able to shut down Brees in the Saints’ stadium. Not entirely. My guess is, Brees will be able to accomplish just enough to propel his team to a one-point victory, which may well come on the last play of the game.

Houston (+3) at Tennessee
Call me crazy, but I’m taking the team that ran the ball down the throat of the Jacksonville Jaguars a week ago to top the team that gives up 165 yards a game on the ground (and that’s pinning its offensive hopes on the notion that maybe David Givens will be healthy enough to make a real contribution).

Jacksonville (+7) at Philadelphia
I don’t know whether the Jags will be better or worse with Byron Leftwich on the bench (I suspect it’ll be somewhat better than with a hobbled Leftwich under center, somewhat worse than with a healthy Leftwich in the game). But I do know that the way Jacksonville has been playing lately, they’re not gonna pose much of a challenge for the Eagles at home. I like Philly straight up. Against the spread, I’m guessing it’s a push.

Seattle (+6) at Kansas City
I don’t see the outcome of this game ultimately having a whole lot to do with the inexperience of the likely starting quarterbacks. Sure, neither Seneca Wallace nor rookie Brodie Croyle (who’ll be the third QB to start for the Chiefs this season if Damon Huard can’t go) has ever started an NFL game, but that’s just the thing: their inexperience should prove offsetting; neither team can or should expect to get all that much out of its quarterback. The difference here will be in the fact that Croyle (or Huard) will have the opportunity to hand the ball off to Larry Johnson whereas Wallace can count on no such support from still-injured Shaun Alexander. That and Arrowhead Stadium spell a Chiefs victory, though maybe only by three.

San Francisco (+16.5) at Chicago
If I’m a player for the Bears, particularly Rex Grossman, I’m looking to put that last game way the hell behind me. I’m a player for the 49ers, I’m ducking. Bears by 20.

Tampa Bay (+9) at NY Giants
Is Tiki Barber’s retirement talk a distraction for the Giants? I don’t know. Evidence suggests probably not. Are Gary Myers, Tom Jackson and Michael Irvin really idiots? Myers and Jackson, probably not. Irvin, unquestionably. Does any of it matter more in this game than whether Bruce Gradkowski can continue to play at a high level? Most assuredly not. I expect Gradkowski will do OK given theinjury-plagued state of the Giants D, but I don’t expect him to play well enough for the Bucs to top the Giants in the Meadowlands. I like New York by a touchdown.

St. Louis (+8.5) at San Diego
Let’s see, now. On one side of the ball you’ve got LaDainian Tomlinson. On the other side, you’ve got a St. Louis run D that has a habit of rolling out the red carpet for running backs. How do you think I’m picking? Chargers by 12.

Indianapolis (+2.5) at Denver
The key to this game is supposed to be whether the Broncos D can hold the Colts’ very productive (to the tune of 28.5 points per game on average) offense to somewhere between 10 and 12 points. Any more than that and the Broncos offense won’t be able to keep up. And that conventional wisdom is likely truer than ever in light of the fact that Denver has lost standout left tackle Matt Lepsis for the season. I’m not expecting Denver’s pass offense to come alive this weekend. Unlike many, however, I am expecting the Broncos’ rather stout defense (which has allowed a league-low 7.3 points per game thus far this season) to be able to keep the Colts’ scoring to a minimum. I’m expecting Peyton Manning, who has never thrown a touchdown pass in Denver, to throw two TDs this weekend, one to Reggie Wayne and another to Champ Bailey. That TD, and a second Bailey pick, will prove the difference in a 14-13 Denver win.

NY Jets (+2.5) at Cleveland
I’m gonna warn you right up front that I’m picking this game based on pure personal animus. Because, oddsmakers’ take aside, I have no real reason to believe the Browns have any chance of winning this game. To begin with, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that firing Maurice Carthon (or not firing Carthon but still getting rid of him, or whatever the hell the Browns did) is likely, all by itself, to fix an offense that hasn’t managed to do one damned thing well all season long. And further, I’m absolutely certain that losing Carthon won’t do a single thing to change the fact that running a 3-4 defense with 4-3 personnel has a weird way of not proving terribly effective. But you know what? The Jets’ defense sucks. They can’t stop the run to save their lives. So I’m choosing to believe that Reuben Droughns is gonna have a huge day and bring the abhorrent Jets and their annoying fans back to reality (which is that their team sucks). Browns by three.

Pittsburgh (-9) at Oakland
Set the Super Bowl XL champs thing aside and just think about what it means when you’re coming off a 22-9 win and you’re still getting nine points in a home game against a 2-4 team. You know what it means, right? It means you don’t even qualify as sucky. They’d have to come up with a new word to describe how bad you are. Only no one’s gonna bother to come up with that word, because you’re not worth the effort. And, anyway, if you ever get better, they’ll never be able to use that word again, because no team’s ever been this bad and it’s unlikely no team will ever be this bad again. That’s what it means. In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m taking Pittsburgh. I do think Oakland’s defense finds a way to keep the margin of victory to more like six or seven, though. So there’s that.

Dallas (+5) at Carolina
Congratulations, Dallas fans, you got your wish. I don’t know how that’s gonna work out in the long run, but I’m quite certain that this week at least, you’re gonna choke on it. Big time. I see more picks for young Mr. Romo as the Panthers win by 14 or more.

New England (-2.5) at Minnesota
I get why it’s so popular to pick an upset here. I really do. The Vikings have been playing well on both sides of the ball. They’re at home. It’s Monday night, so the dome will be loud. And while the Pats are 5-1, there’s this idea out there that because they haven’t done anything terribly spectacular, they may not be that good. Plus, lots of folks still don’t trust New England’s revamped receiving corps. I get it. I just don’t buy it. I see two factors (in addition to the fact that New England is a much better team than many seem to realize, and getting better by the week) pushing this game into the win column for the Patriots. First, the Vikings offense, while it’s been indubitably productive this season, has yet to face a 3-4 defense. I expect the Patriots to be able to disrupt the rhythm that’s so vital to the Vikes’ West Coast style and force Brad Johnson to throw incompletions and take a few sacks. Second, the Vikings play a Tampa two defense, and the Patriots passing game has fared well against that secondary alignment in the past. In short, I expect the Pats to be able to out dink and dunk the Vikings. I also expect a frustrated Vikings team to start making some mistakes in the fourth quarter, allowing the Pats to turn what will have been a close game into a win by seven to 10 points.

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Week Seven Picks

October 20th, 2006 Comments off

Here’s something you should know: I finished last week 6-7 straight up. Would have been 5-8, too, if the Cardinals knew how to protect a lead (or, you know, kick a field goal). Not sure how I did against the spread. And please don’t email to tell me. I really just don’t want to know. That said, it was crazy upside-down week, which only happens once a season. So I expect to turn it around this week. But you certainly don’t want to take my advice at this point (not that you ever did). Overall, I see this as a fairly meaningful week in the NFL. I expect this to be the week when the AFC East is essentially decided, the AFC North officially becomes a two-team division and the NFC East picture becomes less muddy by one team. Then again, I’m probably wrong about most, if not all of that. Here’s what I expect (and what you probably shouldn’t):

Carolina (+3.5) at Cincinnati
If you’re looking at this game and thinking, “I just don’t see Cincinnati losing three straight,” you’re looking at it all wrong. You’re not alone, but you’re still off the mark. The fact is that Cincinnati can lose three straight, because Cincinnati has already lost two straight, both of them games the Bengals were expected to win and the latter of them a game the Bengals not only should have won but very likely would have won but for one obscenely bad call. And what does any of that have to do with this game? Little, except for the rather remote possibility that the Bengals have been too distracted by that roughing call and all the talk about it to prepare for this game. What this game comes down to is whether the Bengals’ pass defense can get its shit together and find a way to stop a Panthers pass offense that has been on fire since Steve Smith got healthy. And you know what? I don’t see it. I think the Panthers are gonna light it up on offense, clamp down hard on D and come out of this very much a part of the race for the NFC South, while the Bengals are gonna slip back behind the Ravens in the AFC North.

Detroit (+3.5) at NY Jets
So what am I supposed to say about this game? Both teams suck. I don’t care if the Jets are 3-3. They suck. You know they suck. I know they suck. Everyone who isn’t a Jets fan knows they suck. As for the Lions, hell, even Detroit fans know the Lions suck. So why should I care about what happens in this game? Yeah, yeah, it would appear to have implications for New England in the AFC East. But it doesn’t. Not really. Because even if they beat the Lions (and if they do, Jets fans will be talking about winning the fucking Super Bowl, you can bet the farm on that) the Jets will still suck. And they’ll still lose five out of their next nine games minimum. But I’ve got to pick the damned thing, I suppose. So here’s what I’m going with: I’m taking the team that has Kevin Jones at running back, averages 3.8 yards per carry, has found the end zone on the ground six times and is facing a D that has allowed 4.4 yards per carry and 12 rushing touchdowns, to beat the one that has Kevan Barlow at running back, averages 3.3 yards per carry, has five TDs and is facing a D that has allowed 3.4 yards per carry and just one rushing score. Yeah, I know that’s not the home team, or the favorite, but I don’t care.

Green Bay (+4.5) at Miami
You know, there’s a part of me that says, “You know, Green Bay might just win this game.” And then there’s another part of me that gives that first part of me the fisheye and says, “What are you, some kind of an imbecile?” Then that first part of me says, “Listen here. I’ll have you know that the Packers … .” Oh, hell, who cares. I’m going with the dude with the attitude. Dolphins by six.

Jacksonville (-9.5) at Houston
It’s true, Houston really has managed just under 68 yards per game on the ground this season. Not only is that the worst average in the league, it’s less than seven teams manage in a typical half. Don’t worry, though, because Wali Lundy is ready to start again, so that should fix that problem. Oh, right, there’s also the fact that Houston can’t stop the run. Or the pass. Should be a terrific game. Just terrific. Jacksonville by … oh, I don’t know. Just for fun, let’s go with 41.

New England (-5.5) at Buffalo
I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I think the Patriots can’t possibly lose this game. They can. Hell, it was only six weeks ago that New England damned near did lose to Buffalo. And that was a home game. Still, I think there are a few factors worth considering. First, the Pats haven’t exactly found it impossible to win in Western New York in recent years. Last season, the Pats went to Buffalo in week 14, six weeks after struggling to beat the Bills in Foxborough (the Pats had to overcome a 16-7 fourth-quarter lead to win that game) and walked away with a 35-7 victory. In 2004, the Pats beat the Bills handily in both matchups, including a 31-17 victory at Buffalo in week four. And while the Pats opened their 2003 season with a 31-0 loss at Buffalo, that game is the only one of the last 12 games between the two teams to go the Bills’ way. That doesn’t mean anything, of course, except that there doesn’t appear to be much by way of home field going for the Bills this weekend. More important, that week one game pitted the Patriots against the Bills for the first time since Dick Jauron took over as Buffalo’s head coach. No one, not even the great genius, could have accurately predicted what Jauron’s Bills would look like in a regular season game. Now we know. And Belichick knows. Which means he knows how to scheme. That’s not good news for the Bills. Then there’s the fact that the Pats offense has only begun to come together in any real way. And with Chad Jackson finally off the injury report and apparently ready to make a real contribution, that O likely will only get better. That should work out well against a Buffalo defense that’s been surrendering 323 yards and 21 points a game, and that last week allowed nearly 400 offensive yards to the, ahem, Detroit Lions. I just don’t see Buffalo in this game having anything approaching the kind of success they enjoyed in week one. And I see the Patriots cruising to a 5-1 record and a virtually assured AFC East championship. I’ll give the five and a half, too.

Philadelphia (-5) at Tampa Bay
For two weeks now, I’ve been waiting for Bruce Gradkowski to start playing like the undrafted rookie he is. And for two weeks, he’s failed to do it. This week, unless it turns the refs really do expect defenses to cuddle Gradkowski to the ground, I’m kind of expecting the Eagles and their impressive, sack-happy pass rush to give the kid a proper welcome to the league. I’m taking the Eagles and giving the points.

Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Atlanta
The Steelers can’t afford to lose this game. Then again, neither can the Falcons. With Baltimore off and Cincinnati likely to have rather a tough time of things with Carolina, the Steelers have the potential, with a win, to make a statement that they’re not out of it yet at the very least. Should Cincy drop a third-straight game, a Pittsburgh win would make the AFC South a three-team division. A Pittsburgh loss, on the other hand, would raise the question of whether the team’s week six evisceration of Kansas City was little more than an upside-down week fluke, and would leave the Steelers, at 2-4, very much on the outside of the emerging playoff picture. The Falcons, on the other hand, need to win both to remain competitive in an increasingly touch NFC South race — the Saints, apparently, are for real, and the Panthers, as noted above, are a different team now that Steve Smith is back on the field – and to demonstrate that they can still beat good teams, something they haven’t done since week one when they surprised Carolina (they’ve since beaten Tampa Bay and Arizona and had their asses kicked by New Orleans and the New York Giants). Of course, none of this means all that much to where this game is going. In the end, it’s not like one team clearly needs a win more than the other. And that sucks, because this game is a bastard to pick and it’d be nice to have something there that made you feel like someone had an emotional edge. Maybe the answers in the stats. You start with the rush, since that’s where it’s at for both of these teams on both sides of the ball. On paper, it looks fairly even there. Atlanta’s offense has the better numbers (6.4 yards per carry and four touchdowns vs. Pittsburgh’s 4.2 per carry and six TDs). Defensively, they flip-flop. Atlanta allows 4.2 yards per rush and has surrendered two TDs on the ground, while Pittsburgh only allows 3.2 yards per rush and has given up three rushing touchdowns. That would appear to be a wash, since in looking at those numbers you’d have to conclude that both teams can earn first downs on the ground. And both need to, because their offenses tend to falter when forced to go to the air. Pittsburgh’s good for just 191 passing yards a game and has scored just five touchdowns through the air, while Atlanta’s passing offense is last in the league with 114 yards per game and three TDs — and both teams allow too damned many sacks. Both unsturdy pass Os this week face solidly middle-of-the-road pass Ds that give up 200-ish yards per game and do a good job of getting to the quarterback (though the Steelers have a bad habit of surrendering passing touchdowns). The trouble is, I think both teams’ rushing numbers have been skewed slightly by their last games. The Steelers offense racked up 219 rushing yards vs. the Chiefs, which isn’t all that shocking given that the Steelers led pretty much from the get-go and that Damon Huard threw a pick pretty much every time he touched the ball, giving Pittsburgh a lot of possessions to extend their lead. The Steelers also scored half their season total of rushing touchdowns in that game. Meanwhile, the Falcons defense surrendered a rather atypical 259 rushing yards to the Giants. That’s 150 more than the Falcons have allowed on average this season (even factoring in the numbers from the Giants game) and 100 more than the Giants have averaged. Now, you can argue that those results aren’t freaky, but indications of what these two teams are really all about, but I’m not buying it. Not without further evidence. Because what I’ve seen so far this season is that Pittsburgh can’t run the ball up the middle, which makes running difficult for any team. And the numbers speak for themselves on that offensive performance by the Giants. I also have to look at the fact that Ed Hartwell will be back on the field for the first time this season, which should make Atlanta’s run D even better. And I have to consider the fact that Atlanta has a giveaway/takeaway ratio of +6 while Pittsburgh stands at -1, which, considering the fact that Pittsburgh was +2 within that Kansas City game last week, says quite a bit. So my expectation here is that Atlanta will be able to both establish and stop the run better than Pittsburgh, which, combined with home field, should let the Falcons escape with a win, if only by a point, and move the Steelers one giant step closer to painful post-championship irrelevance.

San Diego (-5) at Kansas City
As noted just above, the Chiefs took an absolutely merciless beating at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend. And I don’t know about you, but I’m looking at the Chargers and thinking they’re a better team than the Steelers. So I don’t know what I could possibly expect except a big (read: 10-plus points) San Diego win.

Denver (-4.5) at Cleveland
You know what? I don’t care how bad Cleveland is, until Denver demonstrates an ability to put up more than one touchdown in a game, I’m not taking them to win any game by more than a point or two. Of course, I’m still picking the Broncos to win this one straight up. I mean, I hate Denver and all, but I’m not crazy.

Arizona (-3) at Oakland
Here’s a challenge for you in three parts,Dennis. First, see if you can coach your team into blowing yet another double-digit lead, only this time do it against the worst team in professional football. Then, do your damnedest to prevent your head from actually exploding this time. And last, try to figure out who to fire next, because the problem certainly isn’t you, right? Or don’t. Maybe just hold onto whatever lead you build and beat the Raiders. By, say, seven. You ought at least to be able to pull that off.

Minnesota (+6.5) at Seattle
Every day, I’m more and more sure I made the right decision when I traded Shaun Alexander away in my fantasy league a few weeks back. Because the more I read about how great he’s doing, the more certain I become that Alexander either won’t see the field again this season, or will come back and never quite get fully healthy. Of course, none of that matters this week. Seattle and its lovely bouquet of wide receivers (sure though they are to wilt as the season wears on) take this one by six.

Washington (+9) at Indianapolis
So it would appear the Redskins are going to be the odd team out in the highly competitive NFC East. And for this, Dan Snyder has mortgaged the future of his franchise. Pity. Colts by 14. (And, oh, Redskins, in case you happen to be reading, one thing you might try — this is just an idea from a guy who’s never been a professional football player or coach — is playing defense. Well, that’s what I’d do anyhow.)

NY Giants (+3) at Dallas
No, Tiki Barber’s not gonna put up the kind of numbers against this Dallas front seven that he’s managed against other opponents this season. (Certainly nothing like the 227 all-purpose yards he logged last week in Atlanta.) And seeing what happens when Tiki can’t carry the team should make the Giants very, very concerned about their long-term outlook. It’s hard to win consecutive road games in the NFL. Harder still when they come against good teams. And even harder when the second puts you up against a divisional rival (it’s hard enough to beat division teams on the road under ideal circumstances). So, ultimately, I’m not expecting much from the Giants here. As for T.O., Drew and the rest of the Cowboys offense, I expect they’ll do just fine against a Giants defensive front that’s still vulnerable and a secondary that remains mistake-prone. I can’t imagine Terrell logs three TDs again, but I don’t expect he’ll need to. I’m taking Dallas straight up and looking for a push vs. the spread.

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Week Six Picks

October 14th, 2006 Comments off

Better late than never, I hope. One thing I can predict for certain this week is that the favorites won’t all win again. They almost never do. Now, try to find the upset(s). That’s the hard part.

Buffalo (pick ’em) at Detroit
How often do you get to say this? The safe bet in this game is Detroit. Straight up, anyhow. Against the spread it’s anybody’s guess and my only take is that you’re a damned fool if you risk a penny on this game either way. The game is statistically even. I can’t find a single place in the numbers where either team comes out ahead. The Bills have an average defense, a lackluster offense. The Lions have an average offense and (for all the praise it garnered early on) a lackluster D. Both teams played well in losing efforts on opening weekend, but haven’t impressed anyone since. So what you do, if your smart, is pick the home team. And that’s how you know I’m not smart. I’m taking Buffalo. Why? Because I think they’re a tougher team. Tougher minded and more physical. I think they’ll keep slugging until they find a way to win, which they’ll do in the fourth quarter after the Lions either wear out or give up. Or not.

Carolina (+2.5) at Baltimore
I hate the idea of picking games like this as much as I love the idea of watching them. For the third straight week, the Ravens are involved in what I expect to be one of the best, most hard-fought games of the week. I’ve picked them in the previous two (and been right once, when they hosted the Chargers in week four). And my inclination is to stick with them and look for two out of three. That’s a tough thing to do, though. To begin with, that Monday night game in Denver was buh-rutal. And you can add to that the fact that the Ravens are coming off an even shorter week than most post-MNF teams. Plus, Carolina has been playing some great football since they got Steve Smith back in the starting lineup. I started to look at the stats and quickly came to two conclusions: First, the work wasn’t gonna get me any closer to a prediction, because it’s all too close. Second, the stats kind of don’t matter here. Carolina is clearly a different team with Smith in the roster than it was without him, which makes it hard to figure out what the team’s real numbers are. And Baltimore was either just exposed by Denver, in which case its stats through week four are fairly meaningless, or had a fluke of a game that will have skewed its overall stats in entirely the wrong direction. I’m thinking the latter — you kind of have to when you consider both the fact that the Broncos have made other good teams look bad this season and the fact that Steve McNair, a quarterback not given to making mistakes looked like a rookie at times during that Broncos game, throwing as many picks in that one game as he’d thrown all season going in — but the fact of the matter is that Baltimore’s offense hasn’t really performed exceptionally all season (the Ravens are winning games on defense and everyone knows it), so its hard for me to simply take it on faith that Baltimore is guaranteed to rebound. So what do you do? Well, first of all, you keep your money away from this game. (Really, if you need a bet to make this one interesting, you need to ask yourself whether you have a serious gambling problem or whether you’re really a football fan.) And if you’re picking in a pool or something you flip a coin. I went with a dollar coin that I got out of the stamp machine at the post office. Sacagawea told me the Ravens would win it by a point on the last play of the game. So that’s what I’m going with.

Cincinnati (-6) at Tampa Bay
Give Bruce Gradkowski his props. The kid had a very nice day in his debut as a starter at New Orleans last weekend. They’ll never be able to take that away from him. The question now is what happens when he faces a (well rested) team that’s had a chance to study some tape. I’m thinking the oddsmakers got this one almost exactly right. I like the Bengals by a touchdown with the extra point.

Houston (+13) at Dallas
The conventional wisdom on this game is that Drew Bledsoe bounces back from his poor showing in Philadelphia and Terrell Owens gets an answer to his oft-quoted big question, which is to say the Cowboys sail. And considering the fact that Houston gives up a league-worst 295 passing yards and better than 28 points a game, you’ve gotta figure the conventional wisdom is pretty much on the money. I hate giving big points in NFL games, but I don’t really see where I have a choice here.

NY Giants (+2.5) at Atlanta
Everyone knows what this game comes down to, right? It’s all about whether Atlanta’s league-best running game (at least in terms of yardage: 6.1 yards per carry and 234 yards per game top the league, though the Falcons have only scored two rushing touchdowns), can prevail against a Giants run D that has allowed only three yards per carry, 86.5 per game and three TDs. It has to be that because Jim Mora keeps talking about how he’s not gonna go away from what his team does well just because you’re supposed to be able to pass the ball against the Giants but not run it. But you know what? I don’t think that means Michael Vick is gonna get through the day without throwing a pass. And the fact of the matter is that when Vick does pass, he’s gonna be throwing against a D that has given up 232 yards per game and eight passing touchdowns in games in which it didn’t have to account for a quarterback who’s as likely to break open a 20-yard run as he is to fire a 40-yard pass. Mix in a turnover-prone Giants offense facing a Falcons D that has a plus-6 giveaway/takeaway ratio and has allowed only 10.5 points per game, and you’ve gotta come away liking Atlanta. If you’re me, you like the Falcons by three.

Philadelphia (-3) at New Orleans
You know, the thing of it is, I just haven’t been all that impressed by the Eagles this season. I know that’s kind of a weird thing to say given that Philly is 4-1 and has outscored 30 teams in the league. Weirder still considering that Donovan McNabb has a passer rating of 107.2 (and is only being asked to throw the ball something on the order of 35 times a game) and Brian Westbrook is averaging more than 5 yards per carry. But, you see, that’s all about the offense. The defense is a different story. It’s allowing 335 yards (105 on the ground) and more than 19 points a game, which is more than any other winning team in the league other than Cincinnati. That is, the Eagles appear to me to be a rather unbalanced team, and that tells me it’s all gotta come crashing down at some point. And there are certainly those who believe this weekend may be telling. The Saints have, on paper at least, a slightly better defense than the Eagles (they’ve allowed 30 fewer yards and two fewer points per game), and their offense, while not as potent as Philly’s has been putting up about 24 points per game. And, of course, the Saints are at home. When you look a little closer, however, you can’t help but note that the Saints D has been getting killed by the run, surrendering 4.9 yards per carry, 123.8 yards per game. That’s not good given Westbrook’s impressive numbers. I expect the Saints defense to spend a lot of time on the field on Sunday. And in the end, I expect the Eagles, impressive or not, to come away with win by somewhere between four and six points.

Seattle (-3.5) at St. Louis
So what happens when your solution to losing arguably the best running back in the league to injury is to go four wide and then one of those four gets too sick to play just as you’re heading for a tough divisional matchup with a 4-1 team that’s executing fairly well in every aspect of the game except run defense? Well, either you you’re your magic wand over Maurice Morris and hope the Rams don’t figure out how to turn him back into a pumpkin before the game is out or you lose. I’m expecting the latter, though only by a field goal.

Tennessee (+9.5) at Washington
In which the Redskins once again look like they’ve figured out how to win, even though they really haven’t. Washington by a touchdown.

Kansas City (+7) at Pittsburgh
Can someone please explain to me how a team that has failed to do anything well all season is favored by a touchdown over a team that has at least managed to execute its game plan once or twice? I mean, I know Pittsburgh’s at home. I know the Steelers’ backs are against the wall. And I’m sure they’re going to find a way to win here. But by seven? I just don’t see it.

Miami (+2.5) at NY Jets
Talk about having your backs against the wall. If Miami loses here, it goes from being the pick of certain “experts” to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLI to being one of season’s earliest complete failures. And there are certainly those out there who believe that will be enough to elevate the Dolphins to a victory over a Jets squad that has also accomplished all of nothing this season and can’t play defense worth half a damn. They may be right. And I honestly couldn’t begin to tell you which of these rotten teams is less rotten than the other, so I’m going with two old tricks in making my pick: In a close game, pick the home team. And in any game pick the team not quarterbacked by Joey Harrington. Jets by a field goal.

San Diego (-10) at San Francisco
The rebuilding appears to be going fairly well in San Francisco. But when you’re a team that can’t stop the run and you come up against a team that features LaDainian Tomlinson at running back, you tend to lose. I wouldn’t give 10 points to a home team if real money were involved, but I’m not putting real money on this game, so what the hell.

Oakland (+16) at Denver
You know, I’m very well aware of the history between these two teams and all that, but this game illustrates perfectly why I’m thankful there’s flex scheduling in the Sunday night games coming up later this season. Sixteen points is a lot to give in an NFL game, especially when it’s four more than the favorite has scored on average this season (even if it’s 12 fewer than the underdog has surrendered), but my guess is that all Denver has to do is put up 17 and they’ll cover. Wake me when it’s over. (Or not really. Wait till Monday morning. That’ll give me a few extra hours to dream and pretend I don’t care.)

Chicago (-10) at Arizona
Unstoppable force meets fairly easily movable object. It’s another Chicago blowout. And another prime time dog. This one’s over by halftime and the final margin’s something on the order of three touchdowns. Bring on week seven.

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Week Five Picks

October 6th, 2006 Comments off

Thank the football gods for the night games this week, because otherwise, there’s just not a whole lot to get excited about. Here’s what you shouldn’t expect to happen:

Buffalo (+10.5) at Chicago
There’s no question but that the Buffalo Bills are a whole lot better this season than anyone (or anyone outside of Western New York, anyhow) ever expected. J.P. Losman is playing well. The Bills D is giving up a relatively low 297 yards and a unquestionably low 16.3 points per game. Given that the team is in its first year under a new head coach, you’ve gotta respect what they’re doing. You don’t, however, have to pick them to beat a Bears team that once again has the league’s stingiest defense (Chicago has allowed just 7.3 points per game) and now also features a potentially explosive offense (258 yards and 29 points per game) led by a quarterback with a passer rating of 100.8 (fifth best in the league). So I’m not. I won’t take Chicago to cover the big, big spread here, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them come within half a point of it.

Cleveland (+8) at Carolina
The Panthers have come to life in a big way over the past two weeks, besting division rivals Tampa Bay and New Orleans to draw back to even after a rough start. Think that’s got anything to do with Steve Smith getting back on the field and snagging 17 balls for 199 yards? Now, do you think the Browns, who have a decent pass defense (on paper, anyhow) but still give up more yards in the air than either the Bucs or the Saints, are gonna be able to slow Smith down? Exactly. I’m taking Carolina and giving the eight.

Detroit (+6.5) at Minnesota
On paper, the Lions have a marginally better offense than the Vikings. In reality, the Vikings have a marginally better offense than the Lions. On paper and in reality the Vikings have a far better defense than the Lions. Advantage Minnesota. Maybe the Lions can keep it to within four or five, but they sure as hell ain’t winning.

Miami (+9.5) at New England
So, say you’re the team with the offensive line that has allowed a bit more than five sacks per game and that just got its ass kicked by Anthony Weaver, Travis Johnson, Anthony Payne and Mario Williams, how good do you think you’re gonna feel about facing Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green? Not too good, I’m willing to guess. Not too good at all. Daunte Culpepper (or maybe it’ll be Joey Harrington)and Ronnie Brown can’t be feeling all too good about the matchups in the trenches this week, either. I dunno. I hate the very idea of giving nine and a half points in an NFL game. And, last week’s results in Cincinnati notwithstanding, I’m doubly wary of picking the Pats to beat that kind of spread given their tendency to play to the level of their opponents at times. Plus, division games tend to be tough. But I don’t see how I could possibly look at this game and expect New England to take it by anything less than two touchdowns. And the loss effectively ends the Dolphins’ season.

St. Louis (-3) at Green Bay
You know, I can’t tell you that I have anything even remotely interesting to say about either of these teams. Neither has any balance. Neither can play defense worth a damn. Both give up rushing touchdowns like they’re going out of style. And since St. Louis runs the ball slightly better than Green Bay, I’m gonna take them. But if it goes the other way I won’t be surprised. And I really won’t care. At all.

Tampa Bay (+6) at New Orleans
Welcome to the NFL Mr. Gradkowski. The 300-pound gentleman on top of you? His name is Brian Young. Hurts, don’t it? New Orleans by a touchdown.

Tennessee (+18.5) at Indianapolis
You know what I think when I read about Bud Adams swearing he’s not planning to fire Jeff Fisher? I think there’s a team somewhere in the league (New York? Pittsburgh?) that’s gonna have one hell of a new coach next season. And that’s about the only remotely interesting thing I can think of that’s even tangentially related to this game. Two things I can’t do: Bet on any team (no matter how good they are or how bad their opponent is) to cover an 18.5-point spread in an NFL game. And pick the Tennessee Titans to so much as show up for this game.

Washington (+4.5) at NY Giants
You know who’ll really make you pay for stupid mistakes? The Washington Redskins defense. You know who makes a lot of stupid mistakes? The New York Giants offense. You know who’s rounding back into form really nicely? Clinton Portis. Last weekend against Jacksonville, Portis looked phenomenal, plunging up the middle down after down and finishing with 112 rushing yards and a touchdown on 27 carries (plus, he had another 28 yards on two catches). The Giants’ run D is about as good as the Jaguars, but their pass defense isn’t nearly as good. So even though the Skins are on the road, I’m sort of expecting similar results. I like Washington to come out ahead by a field goal.

Kansas City (-3.5) at Arizona
Can the Chiefs, hot off their week four dismantling of the San Francisco 49ers, continue to tear through the powerhouses of the NFC West? Sure. Does it matter? Not as far as the big (read: playoff) picture goes. Still, a game is a game. Kansas City by a touchdown.

NY Jets (+7) at Jacksonville
I don’t care who’s hurt,. I don’t care that Jacksonville has now lost two straight. The Jags aren’t losing to the Jets. They’re not beating them by more than a touchdown. But they’re not losing to them.

Oakland (+3.5) at San Francisco
You know what? I refuse to have anything to do with thinking about this game. At all. San Fran wins it. I’d have to think about it too much to say by how many points. So I’ll take the Niners to cover, just because I might as well.

Dallas (+2.5) at Philadelphia
Now this game I’ve thought about a lot. An awful lot. And the more I’ve thought about it, the less I’ve cared about what Terrell Owens is going to do vs. his old team. (Well, that’s a bit of a lie. I’ve got T.O. on both of my fantasy teams, so from that perspective, at least, I’m very concerned about what he’d gonna do here.) The point is, I don’t think T.O. will be the guy who wins or loses this game. Owens can have a seven-catch, 100-plus yard day (with or without a TD) and the Cowboys could still lose. Philly just has a way of putting up points. Or the Eagles could completely take T.O. out of the game and still allow Dallas to come out ahead where it counts. Philly just has a way of letting teams stay in games. The player whom I think will swing this game in Dallas’ favor is Marion Barber. Here’s why: The Eagles don’t have much of a pass defense. They allow 244 passing yards a game and have given up five touchdowns in the air this season. And the reason for this is that Philly’s secondary sucks. They attempt to make up for it by blitzing like crazy. And it’s worked OK. After all, the Eagles are 3-1, first in the NFC East. The Eagles also have logged 16 sacks on the season. (The Cowboys, I should note, have given up only three sacks in three games, a fairly amazing accomplishment considering the fact that they’ve got a statue starting under center.) I expect Dallas to counter Philly’s blitz with screens. And since Barber is a damned good outside runner with a good pair of hands, I expect him to be the guy catching those screens. In fact, I expect to see him doing that pretty much all afternoon long, and lifting his team to a half-game lead in the division in the process.

Pittsburgh (+3.5) at San Diego
Look, I could break this game down. I could talk about how neither team is gonna have an easy time running the ball, but San Diego’s more likely to get it done than Pittsburgh. I could point out that the Chargers offense has averaged a yard more per carry than the Steelers O, and note that you have to figure the team with LaDainian Tomlinson has a better chance of moving the ball against a tough run D than the team with Willie Parker. And then I could go on and talk about how San Diego, with arguably the best pass defense in the league, has a decided advantage in that aspect of the game over a Pittsburgh D that allows 100 more passing yards per game. But why bother? Because until the Steelers figure out how to run the ball up the middle and take the pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger, they’re not gonna win games against good opponents. And that’s all that matters. I’m taking San Diego and giving the points.

Baltimore (+4) at Denver
This makes two weeks in a row that we find the Baltimore Ravens in what stands to be the most interesting game of the week. It also marks the second straight week that the game the Ravens are playing is a statistical dead heat until you get to the giveaway/takeaway ration. Let’s take a look: Denver’s run offense, which has been gaining 4.7 yards per carry, but has only one touchdown on the season, faces a crushing Baltimore run D, which has allowed only 2.6 yards per carry and has given up only one TD on the ground in four games. Meanwhile, the Ravens’ lesser run offense (3.4 yards per carry, two touchdowns) takes on the Broncos somewhat lesser run D (3.9 yards per carry, one TD). Maybe there’s a slight Denver edge there, but I’m not sure. In the passing game, we find a Denver offense that has managed only 176 yards per game and two touchdowns (both vs. New England), crashing into a Baltimore defense that gives up a mere 156 yards per game and has allowed just two touchdowns. Meanwhile the Ravens passing offense, though it has a less than stellar 175 yards per game, has found the end zone five times. It faces a Broncos pass D that has given up 215 yards per game, but only two TDs. Maybe there’s a slight Baltimore edge there, but it’s probably undone by Denver’s home field advantage. Then you get to that giveaway/takeaway and compare Baltimore’s +8 with Denver’s -4. That’s a 12-turnover differential (or, allowing for the fact that Denver has played only three games, a differential of 3.3 turnovers per game) in Baltimore’s favor. Add to that the fact that Steve McNair has done a great job this season of taking his time and making good decisions, whereas Jake Plummer continues to try to do too much and to make mistakes, and I see Baltimore coming out of this game with a victory, if only by a point or two.

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