Archive for November, 2006

Week Thirteen Picks

November 30th, 2006 Comments off

Here we go. Three teams can come out of this weekend having clinched their divisions. Two of them almost certainly will, and the third’s got as good a chance of wrapping up the AFC North tonight as they do of having to wait until next week. Even with this lingering cold I’ve got, I smell playoffs. It’s getting exciting. And there’s still a month of great regular season action for me to be wrong about. Here’s how things probably won’t happen this week.

Baltimore (+3) at Cincinnati
There are, to my mind, exactly three factors that make this game even remotely difficult to call. The first is that it’s being played on a Thursday night. This is a new situation for the league and for the teams and it’s hard to know how the players and coaches will respond. I’ve heard both Brian Billick and Marvin Lewis on Sirius NFL Radio this week discussing the difficulties of preparing for an important divisional game in what ultimately measures out to a three-day week. Neither coach is happy about it. And neither seems to have any real idea how it’s going to affect his team. My guess is that the situation favors the more seasoned and more disciplined squad (which is to say the Ravens), but who the hell knows? Second is the location of the game. In a divisional game, unless it’s a complete mismatch, home field can mean a ton. And third is the fact that the Bengals have their backs up against the wall. A Cincinnati loss here not only would end the division race in Baltimore’s favor (the Ravens would have a four-game lead with only four games to play and would own the tie breaker), but would leave the Bengals needing to win out in order to secure a wildcard spot (no one with fewer than 10 wins is gonna make the playoffs in the AFC). That’s not a situation you want to be in when you’ve got back-to-back trips to Indianapolis and Denver ahead of you. So you can rest assured Cincy’s gonna be playing with everything its got. Question is, will that be enough. My gut says, no. To begin with, claims to the contrary notwithstanding (you know you’re gonna have to back that shit up now, right T.J.?), the Ravens are simply the better team in this tilt. Cincinnati has been more effective on offense, yes, but only to the tune of 44 yards and two and a half points per game. On the other side of the ball, however, you’ve got a Baltimore D that ranks second best in the league, allowing just 265 yards and 13.4 points per game, and a Cincinnati D that ranks second worst in the league, allowing 362 yards and 21.2 points per game. That’s an enormous difference. And it’s hard to imagine Cincinnati’s D getting better in a game when the unit is likely to spend a significant amount of time on the field. I’m guessing the newly resurgent Jamal Lewis is gonna run wild in the second half. Then factor in the issue of giveaway/takeaway ratio. Cincinnati is an impressive +8 in that area, but Baltimore leads the league with a +15. And it starts to look like the Bengals can’t possibly keep up. But the thing is, maybe they can. Maybe playing at home on a short week in a game they absolutely, without question, must win will be enough to lift the Bengals over the Ravens and keep their season alive for another couple of weeks. I don’t see it. I see a Ravens win. But I won’t be surprised if I’m wrong.

Arizona (+6.5) at St. Louis
As the game clock ticks down to :00 and the Dennis Green employment clock ticks down to four weeks, the Joe Thomas “Oh, shit clock will tick down to five months. St. Louis by a field goal.

Atlanta (+1.5) at Washington
You know, I’m not gonna argue that Michael Vick isn’t part of the problem, but maybe if one of those Atlanta wideouts occasionally, you know, caught a fucking pass, there wouldn’t be as much of a problem to assess. I could try to break this game down, but I’ve got better things to do with my time than figure out which of these teams sucks less. I’m gonna guess that since Atlanta’s gotta get off the schneid sometime and since it’s now possible to break down tape on Jason Campbell, the Falcons are gonna find a way to win here. But I’m almost certainly wrong about that.

Detroit (+13.5) at New England
To paraphrase Darryl Rogers, what does a CEO/GM have to do to get fired around here? Apparently, whatever it is, we’ve yet to see it. I find that kinda shocking, you know? Because Rogers did get fired. Midway through his fourth season, when the team was 18-40 (.310) under him. Likewise, the team dumped Steve Mariucci 11 games into last season, his third as head coach. The Lions were 15-28 (.348) under Mariucci. But as this season wears on, and the Lions continue to lose week in and week out, you’d think it might start to dawn on the Ford family that the team is 23-68 (.253) since Matt Millen came in to run the front office in 2001. Add to that the fact that last week a team led by a guy who couldn’t win to save his life when he was with Detroit came in and embarrassed the Lions in front of a national audience and it should be impossible for the Fords to miss that Millen is their biggest blunder since the Edsel (and if they don’t take care of the problem soon, the situation’s gonna blow up like a Pinto). Chances are, an ass-kicking in Foxborough won’t be the straw that breaks this insane camel’s back, which is to say that if Millen survives until Sunday, he’s probably got another week in him. Patriots by 17.

Indianapolis (-7.5) at Tennessee
What happens here. Duhhh, I don’t know Tennessee. You know, I could see the Titan falling behind by 21 early again this week. And I could see one of these teams putting up 24 points in the last 10 minutes. What I can’t see is that team being the Titans again. I’d take Indy if I had to give twice the points.

Kansas City (-5) at Cleveland
Larry Johnson is good for a little more than 140 all-purpose yards a game. He averages 4.3 yards per carry on the ground. And he’s been in the end zone 15 times this season, 13 of them rushing. The Cleveland Browns run defense ranks 25th in the league. It gives up nearly 134 yards a game and 4.5 per carry. (Which, as I’ve pointed out before, is one of the things that can tend to happen when you insist on running a 3-4 defense with 4-3 personnel.) The Browns have only given up nine rushing touchdowns this season, which isn’t good, but isn’t terrible, so they’ve got that going for them, which … well, it really isn’t all that nice, because they’ve allowed 13 passing scores. So, you know, maybe Larry racks up a ton of yards but doesn’t score. Or maybe he catches a touchdown. Or maybe Larry just gets the Chiefs close to the goal line and someone like Tony Gonzalez does the bulk of the scoring. One way or another, things don’t look at all promising for Cleveland (or for Romeo Crennel’s job security). So, yeah, I’ll give the five points.

Minnesota (+9) at Chicago
Jeez, remember when the Vikings were 4-2, playing well and looking like they might sneak into the playoffs? They sure went tits up in a giant hurry, didn’t they? Bears win by 14 and cement the division title.

NY Jets (-1.5) at Green Bay
You know, for a while there on Monday night I really thought Green Bay had that game won And, hell, maybe if it hadn’t been for that absurd roughing the passer call, the Pack would have pulled out the win after all. If they’d won in Seattle, I’m sure I’d be picking them here. But they didn’t. So I’m not. I think the Jets come out on top by three or four in a high-scoring game. Sure do hope I’m wrong, though (about the Jets winning, that is).

San Diego (-6) at Buffalo
The Chargers are probably the best team in the league right now, but they’re not perfect. They have some issues in their secondary and I have this sense that J.P. Losman is gonna be able to exploit those issues and limit the amount of time Buffalo’s shaky defense has to spend contending with San Diego’s dangerous offense. It won’t be enough, of course. In the end, the Chargers still have the best player in the league on their side, and that should be more than enough to let them get the job done. Still, I’m gonna stop short of giving the six points. The Chargers might cover, but they might not and I think there’s a strong enough argument for not that I’m only expecting San Diego to win by four or five.

San Francisco (+7) at New Orleans
The Niners are suddenly playing some pretty decent football. Not good enough to hang with the Saints in New Orleans or anything, but good enough for San Francisco fans to feel hopeful about the future. And when was the last time you could say that? Saints by 10.

Dallas (-3.5) at NY Giants
God help Tony Romo if Mathias Kiwanuka draws a bead on him at any point during this game, because there are some mistakes you don’t take even the slightest chance of repeating. That, unfortunately, may be the only thing the Giants have going for them heading into this game, because contrary to King Douchebag’s declaration a couple weeks back, the Cowboys are clearly headed in exactly the right direction while the Giants are falling apart more and more by the minute. (This week’s blowup features Michael Strahan and Plaxico Burress, though apparently no one’s supposed to ask or comment about it.. Here’s the deal: New York has to win this game — has to, pure and simple — if it’s gonna have any hope of salvaging its season. But my guess is that Dallas, which comes in on 10 days rest, is gonna tough it out and end both the Giants’ 2006 run, but Tom Coughlin’s tenure as New York’s head coach. Dallas by four.

Houston (+3) at Oakland
Hey, guess what. “Coach” Shell finally figured out that his old pal Tommy Flapjacks is no longer qualified to run an NFL offense. Congratulations, Art. You now officially know as much about Walsh and your team as every football fan in America did 11 games ago. You know what else? Though I agree that it was time (well past time, frankly) to make a change, I’m not entirely sure the new guy is the answer to the Raiders’ offensive woes. To begin with, Shoop was 24-24 as OC of the Chicago Bears under Dick Jauron. That’s not exactly lighting it up. And there’s a reason Shoop’s been working as an assistant and not as a coordinator over the past two seasons. (You’ll also notice he apparently wasn’t one of the guys Jauron called when he landed the head coaching gig in Buffalo). Still, anything’s gotta be an improvement over the French toast offense (that’s the one where your quarterback drops seven steps, feels the heat and tosses the ball to a butterfingered receiver — and everyone ends up with egg on his face). So let’s see where it leads. This is probably as good a weekend as the Raiders will get to try out some new offensive tactics. Houston’s defense hasn’t been stopping much of anything, so unless the Raiders remain as effective at stopping themselves under Shoop as they did under Walsh, they’ll probably have at least moderate success moving the ball. More important, Houston’s offense, which has hardly been tearing up the league will face an Oakland D that overall isn’t as good as its reputation (it looks terrific in comparison to the Raiders offense, but it’s really just on the plus side of average), but it quite good at stopping the pass, which is the better part of the Texans O. It’s conceivable that the Raiders could win this game on D. And that’s just what I expect them to do, though certainly not by much. I think this one’s a push with the points.

Jacksonville (+1.5) at Miami
So you know that rule of thumb whereby in an evenly matched game you take the team that need to win more? How do you put that to work here? I mean, sure, Jacksonville, at 6-5, is fighting for its life, trying to hold onto its chances of making the playoffs in a crowded middle of the AFC pack. It has to win this game to keep up with Cincinnati and the Jets, not to mention to hold out hope of catching one of those strong 7-4 squads from the AFC West. But I think the Dolphins, winners of four straight, truly believe they have a chance of sneaking into the tournament. And at 5-6, they have to know that whatever chance that is disappears the moment they drop one more game. So you tell me who needs this game most. Exactly. OK, then, so you go with the hot team, right? The home team? Yeah, you do. Except it just doesn’t sit right with me. Jacksonville may have fallen apart at Buffalo last week, and Miami is coming in with 10 days rest, but, me, I can’t get past the fact that the Jags are simply a better team than the Fins in every aspect of the game. Plus, Miami’s gonna have to go without Ronnie Brown. So I’m going with Jacksonville (perhaps just this one last time). And I’ll probably be wrong, but so it goes.

Tampa Bay (+7.5) at Pittsburgh
Here’s what galls me about this game: There’s simply no way in hell the Pittsburgh Steelers should be giving more than a touchdown to anyone in any stadium. They’re a 4-7 team, for fuck’s sake. They turn the ball over more often than any team in the league. Yet, somehow, maybe it’s because they’re the defending champs (for whatever little that’s worth at this stage in the season) or maybe (as I suspect) it’s just because they’re the Steelers, everyone continues to believe they’re “better than their record.” Nonsense. And, hey, look, I’m not here to be a Buccaneers booster. Not by any stretch. The Bucs are a lousy team, and unquestionably as bad as their 3-8 record. Their offense can’t score worth a damn. And they turn the ball over way too much. But the Tampa offense may not need to score to keep the Bucs in this game. Ronde Barber may be able to take care of that. I still don’t see Tampa Bay pulling off an upset here, mind you. I just see it the game being a lot closer than the spread. But I’ll certainly be rooting for an upset, because maybe then everyone would stop believing the Steelers are better than they really are.

Seattle (+3) at Denver
So, listen, if you’ve got some way of figuring this game out, do me a favor and let me know what the hell it is. Because I haven’t a clue. I mean, OK, it’s in Denver, so common sense says you pick the Broncos. And the Seahawks found it difficult to stop the Packers Monday night, and the Broncos are better than the Packers, so common sense says you take the Broncos. Trouble is, I don’t know what the hell the Broncos are gonna look like with Jay Cutler under center . I mean, obviously, Mike Shanahan, one of the best coaches in the league, knows what he’s doing. He knows his team is in a playoff race. And if he’s making this change, he has to believe the rookie can get the job done. That’s all well and good. But Cutler’s still a rookie and he’s still likely to make some rookie mistakes along the way. And that’s likely to bite the Broncos in the ass in a game against a Seattle team that’s newly healthy and playing to earn a bye week in the playoffs. So you go ahead and tell me what the hell I’m supposed to make of this game. You can’t, right? Perfect. I’m right back where I started: on my own and totally clueless. So what can I do? I’m gonna trust Mike Shanahan to know his quarterback. I’m gonna trust the Denver defense to force Seattle to make some mistakes. I’m gonna hope like hell Shaun Alexander doesn’t manage another 200-yard effort. And I’m gonna hedge my bets by taking Denver to win, but Seattle to cover. How about that?

Carolina (-3) at Philadelphia
Like every week this season, you’ve got to try to figure out whether the good Panthers or the awful Panthers are gonna show up for this game. Only this week, it’s just a matter of knowing whether you give the three points and feel great about it or give the three and bit your nails over it. I’m gonna choose to believe the thing that keeps me from losing sleep. Because, really, what’s the difference?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Week Twelve Picks, part two

November 26th, 2006 Comments off

Well, it ain’t Friday, but it ain’t quite game time either. Here’s my look at what not to expect in games four through sixteen. Hope you had a hell of a holiday.

Arizona (+6) at Minnesota
My guess is that the next time Dennis Green faces a team he used to coach, it’ll be Northwestern or Stanford. The Vikings stink these days, but they should still be able to manage a win here by a field goal.

Carolina (-4) at Washington
Will this be the weekend Carolina takes over first place in the NFC South race? I’m guessing yes. Meanwhile, the only question left to ask about Washington is what overpriced free agents will Dan Snyder waste his money on next year? Four’s a lot to give on the road, but with the way the Redskins are playing, what choice does one have?

Cincinnati (-3) at Cleveland
Man, I’d love to see the Browns, who damned near officially put the Steelers out of their misery a week ago, find a way to effectively hand the Ravens the AFC North (and essentially eliminate the Bengals from wild card contention). And given that Cincinnati’s defense is now statistically the worst in the league, there’s a least an outside chance of that happening. But I still don’t see the Browns being able to accomplish much on offense, and since Cleveland’s D and special teams aren’t likely to top last week’s 14-poing performance, I just don’t see an upset in the making here. Too bad.

Houston (+5.5) at NY Jets
In some respects, on paper, this is a pretty even matchup. The Jets run the ball ever so slightly better than the Texans. Houston passes somewhat better than New York. The Titans stop the run a tad better than the Jets. New York defends the pass a smidge better than Houston. Of course, the Jets score a bit more than a point more a game than the Titans and give up a bit more than a point less. So there’s that. There’s also the fact that the game is being played in New Jersey. So I’m taking the Jets straight up, though I do like the Texans to keep it to within three or four.

Jacksonville (-3) at Buffalo
Donovin Darius is gone for the season. That’s not gonna help Jacksonville’s secondary any over the long haul. But I don’t expect it to hurt too bad this week, since I really have a hard time believing the sack-prone Mr. Losmanwill be able to stay on his feet long enough to test the Jags’ DBs. I’m taking Jacksonville and giving the points.

New Orleans (+3) at Atlanta
A lot of folks are picking the upset here. And I totally understand why. Atlanta has lost three straight (though, in fairness, New Orleans has dropped its last two) and has seen its rushing production drop precipitously over the last month. Plus Drew Brees is on fire. But I’m not buying it. To begin with, last week’s numbers notwithstanding, I’m not sure I believe Brees will be able to continue to light it up with Marques Colston out of the lineup. I’m also not at all sure you can expect Atlanta to struggle to run the ball against a New Orleans defense that gives up 126 yards per game and 4.8 per carry on the ground. I think the Falcons pull off a win here, and probably do it by about double the spread.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Baltimore
The press in Pittsburgh, at least seems to realize that the Steelers’ season is over. The team’s post-Super Bowl crash all but complete, the media is starting to break down the likely dissolution of the coaching staff come January. Even still, I’ve heard Pittsburgh fans on the radio this very week talking about a run at the playoffs. By a 4-6 team. That nonsense ends here. Ravens by a touchdown.

San Francisco (+5.5) at St. Louis
It’s entirely possible something interesting will happen in this game. Like, maybe the 5-5 underdog will knock off the 4-6 favorite. Or something like that. If it does, I’ll find out about it on NFL GameDay. And my reaction will be something along the lines of “Hmmm, how about that?” Meanwhile, I’m taking the Rams straight up, the Niners with the points.

Chicago (+3) at New England
This, to my mind is it. This is where we find out if the Patriots are a team that’s improving and moving toward being a real threat come January, or merely a team that’s likely to sail into the playoffs by winning a weak division then hit a major roadblock in the divisional playoff round (yet again). The Bears are playing their third straight road game. That’s a game you lose about 60 percent of the time (more often when you’re opponent has a winning record. The Bears also struggled quite a bit to overcome the Jets last week. And we all know that when things go bad for Rex Grossman, they don’t just go a little bit bad, they turn completely upside-down. All that said, it’s not like we can take the Patriots’ grand outing last week against the league’s second-words pass defense as evidence that New England has solved all of the problems that have led the team to three home losses this season. Maybe the new turf in Foxborough will help reverse the dangerous trend by which the Pats are better on the road than they are at home. Maybe it won’t. By the end of this afternoon, we’ll know what’s what with the Patriots, and we’ll have a pretty good idea of whether they’ve got it in them to make a run for a February visit to Miami. I’m expecting New England to stay focused on the damned run for a change, get to Grossman early, and come out ahead by four.

NY Giants (-3.5) at Tennessee
At first glance, this game seemed pretty simple to me. The Giants may be on two-game losing streak, but the fact is they do virtually everything better than the Titans. That’s why they’re favored on the road and it’s why they’re likely to win. Then I started thinking about everything going on around the Giants. Like the way some fans wanna see struggling Eli Manning pulled Matt Hasselbeck or Jared Lorenzen (who looks to me like one of those idiots who walk around wearing shorts all winter long). Or the way Tiki Barber can’t stop spouting off about how messed up the team is. I’ve heard Tiki lay into both Eli’s mechanics and the coaching staff (for a failure to properly utilize King Douchebag) on his radio show over the past two weeks. And now he’s out there talking to the press about how he thinking the team’s play calling is a mess (which it kind of is, but that’s neither here nor there). And that tells me that the Giants are in serious trouble as a team. And I don’t care how much talent you have on your roster, that kind of turmoil can cause you to lose games. Add a bunch of ongoing injury problems, and I’m not at all confident in the Giants’ ability to get off the schneid. So I’m gonna go out on a bit of a limb and take the Titans straight up here. We’ll see how it plays out. I hope I end up being wrong.

Oakland (+13) at San Diego
For the first time in a long while, all season maybe, I think I just went a week without reading anything about the sorry state of the Raiders as an organization. Maybe there’s just nothing left to fall apart. I did, of course, read all about LaMont Jordan’s season being over. And, this is just a guess now, but I’m kinda thinking that’s not gonna make Oakland, which is maybe the worst team in the NFL, any more prepared to take on San Diego, which is maybe the best team in the NFL right now. So I’m taking the Chargers and, Oakland’s defensive successes aside, I’m giving the points.

Philadelphia (+9.5) at Indianapolis
You know, I’ve always liked Jeff Garcia. He seems humble and hard working. I root for the guy. And I hope he finds a way to have one last shining moment as Philly’s starter. But I’m not holding my breath or anything. The Colts rebound from their first loss of the season with a blowout here, topping the Eagles by 17, minimum. (Oh, right, Psssst. Hey, Andy. That’s Brian Westbrook over there. You’re up against the league’s worst run D and you don’t have your star quarterback . Hand Westbrook the damned ball. This could be your job, man.)

Green Bay (+9.5) at Seattle
Man, it’d be nice to see Green Bay find a way to beat Seattle. They won’t, though. I can’t keep track of who’s healthy and who’s hurt in Seattle any more, but I know it mostly doesn’t matter this week. The Packers will find a way to put up some points, I think, but the Seahawks will still win this one by a touchdown.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Thanksgiving Game Picks

November 22nd, 2006 Comments off

I don’t have time to get to all 16 games before the holiday, but I did work through the Thanksgiving day trio. So here’s what you can not expect to see in between courses and naps. I’ll try to get to the rest by Friday. Enjoy your holiday.

Miami (-2.5) at Detroit
Joey’s looking to make a statement. The Dolphins are playing like a team that wants very much to be the “experts'” off-season darlings once again. (Hell, there are even some folks down in Miami looking at the 4-6 Fins’ big three-game winning streak and talking playoffs. Seriously. Check the link. I’m not making this up.) And Detroit just found out that Shaun Rogers hasn’t quite managed to get himself into playing shape yet. Plus Kevin Jones is probably out with a bum ankle. And and then there’s the fact that, as usual, Detroit sucks. Dolphins by a touchdown.

Tampa Bay (+11) at Dallas
Breaking news! Turns out Terrell Owens is a self-absorbed asshole. Shocking, isn’t it? Of course, maybe T.O.’s just too busy relearning how to catch passes to take time to send good wishes to his old teammate. Now would be a good time for Terrell to bone up on his fundamentals, given the fact that the resurgent Cowboys appear poised to snatch the NFC East away from faltering Giants. And my guess is that Owens will have rather a good outing here. Not only because he has a way of coming on strong when the spotlight’s on his team, but because the Cowboys are facing a Tampa D that allows something on the order of 210 yards per game in the air and has given up 16 passing touchdowns this season (only five teams have allowed more) while picking off just three balls (only one team, Washington, has intercepted fewer). Plus, Dallas is facing a team that plays a Tampa 2 for the second straight week; and, if memory serves, they fared pretty well against the Colts. Part of me is reluctant to give the 11 points, both because that’s just way too big a spread in an NFL game and because Jon Gruden is 3-0 coaching against the Cowboys. But then I consider that two of those wins came when Gruden was coaching the Raiders and the third came as coach to the 2003 post-Super Bowl Bucs team that was bad (finished 7-9) but not nearly so bad as this year’s squad. And I also look at the fact that Tampa will be playing for the third time in 11 days. And then I figure, what the hell, I’m gonna go ahead and give the damned points.

Denver (pick ’em) at Kansas City
A loss here and the Broncos will have dropped from first place in the AFC West and a near-lock for a playoff spot (and possibly a first-round bye) to third place in the division and in serious jeopardy of missing the post-season. All that in a matter of just two weeks. And a Denver loss here is just what I expect. Why’s that? Well, let’s start with Denver’s record in Arrowhead. It ain’t good. In the 10 seasons prior to this one, the Broncos have won only two regular season games in Kansas City. Adding a playoff win at Arrowhead to the mix, Denver still only comes out 3-8 over that span. And two of those eight losses came in games that pitted Denver teams that finished 11-5 and 10-6 against Kansas City teams that wrapped up 7-9. That’s not a healthy track record no matter how you look at it. Then I factor in the Broncos’ complete collapse in the second half Sunday night vs. San Diego. And while I know Larry Johnson isn’t quite LaDainian Tomlinson, he is an immensely talented back who’s found the end zone 11 times in the Chiefs’ last six games. I have very little doubt but that the Broncos have it in them to win this game. And I won’t be at all surprised if they pull it together, win here and begin a march into January. But I won’t believe it until I see it. And for the nonce, I’ll take my chances with the Chiefs.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Week Eleven Picks

November 18th, 2006 Comments off

I’m late this week, but I promise my picks are entirely as unreliable as ever. For whatever that’s worth.

Atlanta (+4) at Baltimore
What happens when a team that relies on the run for the bulk of its offensive production — and that has already seen its rushing totals drop by something like 60 yards a game in its last few tilts — runs up against the league’s second best run D? It loses. That’s what. Atlanta probably only loses this game by three, but that’s enough. That’ll make three in a row. And pretty much end the Falcons’ hopes of getting back in the NFC South race.

Buffalo (+2.5) at Houston
As far as I can figure, the oddsmakers have this one sussed. There’s absolutely no reason I can think of to expect anything other than a narrow Houston win. But I’m always wrong about games like this. And this season, so are the oddsmakers. So I’m taking Buffalo.

Chicago (-7) at NY Jets
Jets fans are pumped. For the first time in 827 years, their team beat the Patriots. Looked good doing it, too. And so the way they figure it, the Jets have shot at making the post season. Hell, maybe they can steal the AFC East crown. Now, here comes reality, roaring out of Chicago with a gent named Jones who’s gonna pound the ball down the Jets throats all afternoon long, And that’s it, Jets fans. Because, while its true that sometimes you get to eat the bear, it’s equally true that sometimes the Bears eat you. I’d give 10 if I had to.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at New Orleans
There comes a point in certain seasons when you have to stop considering what a team should be and focus on what that team is. That point, I think, has long since come and gone where the Cincinnati Bengals are concerned. The Bengals are a one-dimensional team. They can score points on offense with the best of them, but their D has morphed from a unit that couldn’t stop the run into a unit that can’t stop anything at all. And when you’re traveling to face a Saints team that puts up an average of 25 points a game (31 per in the last two weeks) and is pushing for a division title, shoddy defense only buys you a loss. I’d give the three and a half twice over here.

Minnesota (+3.5) at Miami
Once upon a time this was gonna be the game where Daunte Culpepper got to show his former team that he’s still got what it takes to win in the NFL. Now, with it looking more and more like the question of what Culpepper can and can’t do won’t be settled until next season, it’s just a boring matchup between a Dolphins team that may be mounting yet another too-little-too-late end-of-season surge and a Vikings squad that appears to be in full-on collapse. Guess I’ll go with the squad that’s on the upswing, though with Joey Harrington under center, there’s no way I’m taking Miami to win by more than a point.

New England (-6) at Green Bay
There’s only one question you have to ask in order to figure out how this game is gonna go: Is the Patriots’ offense gonna play as badly this week as it did in weeks nine and ten? Because if the Pats keep sucking on O, they’re not just gonna lose, they’re gonna get their asses kicked. You can’t keep playing that poorly and expect to stay in game the way New England has. Sooner or later, some team is gonna steamroll you. Me, I just have a really hard time believing the Patriots have a third straight horrible outing in them. And my guess is that even if they play just on the good side of average, they should be able to handle a Packers team that plays OK against the run but has the league’s second worst pass D.

Oakland (+10) at Kansas City
On Monday, I’ll be 40 years old. The first conversation I can remember having about professional football took place when I was five or six. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the first time I’d ever talked football. So what I’m saying is, I’ve been paying attention to this game for a mighty long time. And I promise you I have never seen a team in such utter disarray as the 2006 Oakland Raiders. You’ve got multi-millionaire veterans who just aren’t in the mood to play hard. You’ve got a quarterback getting punished for speaking honestly about an offensive system that hasn’t been effective since the middle ages. And you’ve got opponents feeling so confident that they’re willing to roll out a rusty quarterback against you so they can be sure he’ll be ready to face a real NFL team come Thanksgiving. That’s as bad as it gets. I think. Kansas City by 21.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Cleveland
Last week’s results aside, I still don’t believe the Steelers are one bit better than their record. Of course, I’d say the exact same thing about the Browns. Pittsburgh wins, Cleveland covers.

St. Louis (+6.5) at Carolina
It’s hard for me to understand how the Panthers are giving most of a touchdown in this game, since, on paper at least, it appears the Rams do just about everything other than stop the run better than the Panthers do. I could see St. Louis pull off the upset here. But my gut tells me it doesn’t happen that way. I’ll take the Panthers straight up, the Rams with the points.

Tennessee (+13) at Philadelphia
I suppose if I tried hard enough, I might find something to say about this game. Lord knows others have. But it’s late and I’m just not up to it. Eagles by 10.

Washington (+3) at Tampa Bay
Wanna know what a well-executed corner blitz looks like? Tune in here. I’m thinking a lot of plays are gonna end up with Ronde Barber on top of Jason Campbell. Tampa by 10.

Detroit (+2) at Arizona
The loser of this game very well could end up picking first in the 2007 NFL draft. And that kinda makes me want to root for Arizona here. I’d love to see Detroit pick first, just to see if they’d be stupid enough to pick another wide receiver. And, you know, I’m sure Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Jarrett and Ted Ginn Jr. wouldn’t view that prospect with anything approaching the sense of whimsy that I do, but I’m not them. And, let’s face it fellas, the Lions will probably have a shot at one or all of you even if they end up picking fourth, which is about as late as they’re likely to go. Arizona by three.

Indianapolis (-1) at Dallas
Sooner or later, Indianapolis is gonna lose a game. A regular season game, I mean. (We all know the Colts are gonna lose one in the playoffs, because the giant post-season fold is their sine qua non.) And, sure it could come here as easily as anywhere else. Indeed, if it weren’t for the fact that Flozell Adams couldn’t slow down a speed rusher if he were driving a bulldozer, I’d be sorely tempted to pick Dallas. Still wouldn’t, though. Know why? Because it seems like every other week, Indy goes up against some team that can and should beat them, but the Colts still come out ahead. And I’ve decided I’d rather pick the Colts and be wrong once or twice, than continue picking against them and be wrong six or seven more times. Indy by a field goal.

Seattle (-6) at San Francisco
So wait a minute, Senator Feinstein. Your party is preparing to take leadership role in Congress after 12 years of Republican rule and the thing that’s on your mind is stopping a football team from moving (or I guess it’s stopping them from leaving and keeping their name)? Good use of the Senate’s time, Dianne. Well thought out. Makes me real hopeful about the next few years. Real hopeful. As for the game, I don’t know. Something tells me San Francisco’s gonna find a way to win. But I don’t know what that is, and I no longer trust those voices. So I’m taking the Seahawks straight up and expecting the future Santa Clara Software Engineers to keep the margin to three or less.

San Diego (+2.5) at Denver
I’m pretty sure the Chargers are the better team in this matchup. Even without Juicy Juicenstein. I know for a fact that the Chargers are the more balanced team in this game (by virtue of the fact that they have an offense that shows up every week). And if this game were being played in San Diego, I’d take the Chargers without hesitation. But it isn’t (though we’ll get that game December 7). And I just have the sense that Denver’s gonna be able to trick out a win at home. I’ll take the Broncos straight up, but I like the Chargers to keep the difference to a single point.

NY Giants (+3.5) at Jacksonville
You know those guys who say the Giants are too banged up to win this game? I’m one of them. David Garrard rebounds from his horrible showing in week 10 and Jacksonville wins in a rout.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Week Ten Picks

November 10th, 2006 Comments off

Midway through the season and if you haven’t figured out I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about yet, it’s because you haven’t been paying attention. Here we go. The road to January officially begins here. And here’s what I do know: there’s a team that has stumbled so far that will win six or seven of its last eight and either just get in or just miss. And there’s a team that’s been hot that will collapse outright. I can’t tell you for certain which team is which, but I do know that the collapse usually happens in Louisiana. Here’s what not to expect this weekend.

Baltimore (-7) at Tennessee
My guess is that when you’re having trouble getting your offense started, the last team in the league you want to see pop up on your schedule is the Baltimore Ravens. Too bad it’s breaking that way for the Titans, but it is. Ravens win by 10.

Buffalo (+11.5) at Indianapolis
I can’t come up with one good reason for even thinking about picking the terrible, awful Buffalo Bills in this game. I did however, come up with three shaky ones. They go like this: Letdown, A-Train and Fins over Bears. So, while I expect to be wrong, I’m taking the Bills in a shocker.

Cleveland (+8) at Atlanta
Take a team that gives up 4.8 yards per carry and send them off to visit a team with the league’s best ground offense and you get what quite possibly may be the quickest game in NFL history. I’m thinking it doesn’t much matter if Mr. Anderson gets the start over ailing Charlie Frye, he still might never see the field. I’m taking Atlanta and giving the points.

Green Bay (+5) at Minnesota
Maybe Minnesota will rediscover the concept of playing offense this week. Maybe it won’t. I have now way of knowing in advance what’ll happen, so I’ll split the difference and take the Vikes to win and the Pack to cover. And I’ll do my best between now and Sunday to come up with a reason why I should care one way or the other.

Houston (+10.5) at Jacksonville
Of course Dave Garrard should be the Jags’ starter. And you know what? That’s all I’ve got to say about this game. Really. Oh, right. Ummm, guess I’ll give the points.

Kansas City (-1) at Miami
You know what’s funny about this game? When I look at it on paper, it kinda looks like maybe Miami could win it. The Dolphins pass better than the Chiefs. They stop the pass better. And they stop the run better. Of course, the Fins don’t have an apparently unstoppable running back who’s on course for a 1,600-yard season. And with the exception of that one big game they haven’t done much other than lose all season. So I’m ignoring what I see on paper and taking Kansas City.

NY Jets (+10.5) at New England
You’d have to be a fool to believe the Patriots can’t possibly lose this game. Yeah, the Pats beat the Jets in the Meadowlands eight weeks ago (at a time when New England’s offense hadn’t quite come together yet). And yeah, the Pats have gone 58 weeks without back-to-back losses. Oh, and there’s the minor fact that the Jets suck. But you know what I can’t stop thinking about? I can’t stop thinking about how Rodney Harrison is out and how if anyone knows what kind of vulnerabilities an injury like that creates in the Patriots’ secondary, it’s Eric Mangini. So, yeah, the Jets could win this game. Could. If only they had even the slightest ability to stop the run. Which they don’t. So while I think New York will find a way to keep it closer than ten and a half, I do expect New England to come out ahead, and, for all intents and purposes, wrap up the division.

San Diego (-1.5) at Cincinnati
How does a team that allows 129 rushing yards per game (4.3 per carry) beat a team with a running back who averages 104 yards per game (4.9 per carry) on the ground all by himself? They either find a way to light it up against a defense that’s missing one juiced-up star or they take a giant hit. I’m expecting to see option two play out, though maybe by half a point less than the oddsmakers want me to believe.

San Francisco (+6) at Detroit
Hey, did you hear the news? The 49ers have found some idiots stupid enough to give them whatever they want to get the team to build a stadium in their community. Just wanted to make sure you knew about that, because it may be the last piece of “good” news you hear regarding the Niners until 2012. Detroit wins. San Francisco covers.

Washington (+7) at Philadelphia
Andy Reid’s Eagles never lose coming off a bye. The Redskins are lucky they’re not 1-7. And that’s the rest of the story. Eagles by six. (And, no, neither of these teams is going to the playoffs.)

Denver (-9) at Oakland
The bad news, I’m afraid, is that we’re all gonna have to endure one more Raiders appearance in prime time this season, when they host Kansas City week 16 (Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas from your friends in the NFL scheduling office). Watching Oakland play these days is like taking a sharp kick in the nuts. The good news is, nobody has to watch this bloodbath. Denver by 13, minimum.

Dallas (-7) at Arizona
Terry Glenn might not be able to play. And Terrell Owens apparently has forgotten that his job is to catch the ball. That would suck for the Cowboys if it weren’t for the fact that the Cardinals are so adept at beating themselves. I’m guessing Arizona beats itself by about nine this week.

New Orleans (+4) at Pittsburgh
Yeah, that’s what’s going on, Bill. That bum Ike Taylor’s dragging your whole team down. You know, if you really wanna have a chance to win some games, you might try doing something about that addled quarterback you insist on starting every week before he throws another 14 picks. Just a thought. New Orleans wins this one by a field goal.

St. Louis (+3.5) at Seattle
Are the Seahawks who are giving three and a half points in this game the same Seahawks I watched struggle to beat hapless Oakland on Monday night? I mean, I just want to make sure, because I’m a bit thrown by the line on this game. If it is that same Seahawks team (and it would appear it is), then I’m taking St. Louis, with the points or without ’em.

Chicago (+1) at NY Giants
Quick, name four healthy starting wide receivers in this game. Either team. How about four defensive ends? Six linebackers? Get my point? Good. Now you may flip your coin. I’m taking the Giants, mostly because they’re the home team, but also because of the guy who’s preparing to join the pro shuffleboard circuit and because they didn’t just get their asses kicked by a 2-6 team. I won’t be at all surprised if I end up being wrong, though. And if I’m right, I bet it’s a push with the point.

Tampa Bay (+9.5) at Carolina
All the pressure’s on the Panthers here. Carolina can’t really pull itself back into contention with a win over Tampa Bay (unless Atlanta and New Orleans both managed to lose on Sunday, and the Falcons, at least, seem incredibly unlikely to lose), but they can effectively drop out of contention with a loss. My guess is they manage to pull it together, at least temporarily. I’ll take Carolina straight up, Tampa Bay with the points.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Week Nine Picks

November 3rd, 2006 Comments off

So this is it. The last week of byes (after which every team in the league will have played eight games). The last week when you can say its premature for the really good teams to talk about playoff seeding. The last week when you can argue it’s premature for the really bad teams to think about draft order. The last week before Sunday night flex scheduling officially kicks in (and it’s already paying huge dividends). The point in the season at which statistics and trends really should tell you most of what you need to know about any given matchup. Only, that last part isn’t working out so well. The only trend that seems to matter so far this season is that just when you think you know something, it turns out you’re wrong. Oh, and since you’re reading this, one other trend: I’m pretty much always wrong about everything. Or nearly everything. So be careful.

Atlanta (-4.5) at Detroit
You know, the thing about Mike Vick is that he just refuses to be defined by conventional standards. I mean, just when you think he’s a one-dimensional player who’s style can’t succeed in the pros, he goes and plays like this and this. And then when you think he’s maybe turning into one of the greats, he’ll go out and play like this or this. And the thing is, as folks who compete against me in fantasy football will gleefully attest, I am entirely incapable of figuring out which Vick is gonna show up when (no matter how hard I try and how much time I commit to analysis of statistics, trends, opposing defenses, fucking tarot cards, you name it). So what I did is I destroyed a lovely, mint condition vintage Twister set to make a Good Michael/Bad Michael spinner. Put it to use for the first time this week and it came up, “Left hand, Good Michael.” I figure that’s gotta be some kind of amazing omen. So I’m taking the raptors to win, though I like Detroit’s chances of keeping it to within three.

Cincinnati (+2) at Baltimore
From the second I first looked at this week’s schedule I’ve known exactly one thing for absolute certain about this game: It’s gonna bite me in the ass no matter which way I pick it. And the more I look at the damned thing, the more certain I am of that. Because nothing, but nothing leads me to believe that the Bengals have even the slightest hope of beating the Ravens in Baltimore. Still, there’s something within me that simply knows Cincinnati is gonna find a way to come out ahead. I don’t know what that thing is, but it’s there. And so, even though I’m picking Baltimore to win by three (and expecting Jamal Lewis finally to have a big game), I’m pretty much expecting to be wrong.

Dallas (-3) at Washington
I hope everyone enjoys Mark Brunell’s last game as a starter. I mean, I’m pretty sure the Redskins and their fans won’t, but, you know, everyone else. I’m not sure the Cowboys cover (maybe it’s a push) but I’m pretty confident picking them to win.

Green Bay (+3.5) at Buffalo
Green Bay has found a winning formula somehow. Buffalo has lost it. Makes this pick kinda easy if you ask me. Or I could put it like this: In a matchup of one-dimensional teams, I like Green Bay’s offense slightly better than Buffalo’s defense so I’m taking the Pack to win it straight up.

Houston (+13) at NY Giants
I suppose if you can beat Tampa Bay by 14, you ought to be able to beat Houston by 13, right? That’s about what I can come up with, anyhow. My guess is it stays close through the first quarter and possibly through the first half until the Giants remember that they do, in fact, need a win here. Then Eli and the Giants receivers come on, and the thing is over by the end of the third. Giants 27, Houston 10.

Kansas City (+2) at St. Louis
Last weeks 35-28 victory over Seattle pushed the Chiefs record vs. NFC West opponents this season to 3-0. (Kansas City is just 1-3 vs. AFC opponents), so this game represents not only a chance for the Chiefs to capture the Missouri state championship for the next four years (barring an all-Missouri Super Bowl sometime between now and 2010, which seems rather unlikely), but to complete a season sweep of their 2006 NFC rivals. That, of course, means all of nothing. In fact, the only way this game becomes meaningful beyond how it affects the teams’ records is if the NFC West title comes down to tie-breaker number three, which is record against common opponents (comes after head-to-head record and division record). A win here would put St. Louis at 4-1 against the two teams’ non-division common opponents from the AFC West and NFC North, with a home game against Chicago and trips to Oakland and Minnesota in its future. Assuming Seattle beats Oakland Monday night (hardly a stretch), they’d be 2-3 against common opponents with home games against Green Bay and San Diego and a trip to Denver in the offing. That would appear to favor St. Louis (you know, so long as the Rams can win at Seattle next week and pull even in a division race in which they currently trail the Hawks by two games. ) All of which is to say, well, another big bunch of nothing, really. (Sorry for the time suckage, but once I started down this road I wasn’t turning back.) Kansas City runs the ball and stops the run better, so I’m taking them to win by a field goal in what I expect to be a fairly high-scoring affair.

Miami (+13) at Chicago
Daunte Culpepper? Joey Harrington? Cleo Lemon? Shit, man, it’s starting to look like the next quarterback to manage a successful campaign for the Miami Dolphins could be Brady Quinn. I’d happily give four touchdowns to the Fins here; not quite two is nothing short of a gimme.

New Orleans (-1) at Tampa Bay
It’s the “they’re gonna nail us no matter what we do” follies part two. The only way I have a snowball’s chance in hell of picking this game right is to pick the exact opposite of what I think is gonna happen. The trouble is, I don’t know what to think is gonna happen. The Bucs are playing better football than they were a month ago when New Orleans was only able to beat them by three points in the Superdome, but Tampa Bay still isn’t playing particularly well on either side of the ball. Not consistently anyhow. New Orleans overall is the better team, but this is a division game, on the road, and the Saints are coming off a pretty brutal loss (look at the numbers, it wasn’t as close as the final score/stats imply) and there’s still no saying for sure just how much hot sauce Bart Scott put on Reggie Bush’s ankle. (And what kind. I mean if it was just your standard issue Tabaski, that’s one thing, but what if it was something more powerful, something hot as shit? That could present a whole range of long-term problems.) Still, my gut tells me New Orleans will find a way to win this game. That’s why I’m picking Tampa Bay, and giving the points. Because that’s how much I don’t trust my gut these days, especially on this game (and extra especially when hot sauce enters the deal).

Tennessee (+10) at Jacksonville
Two questions: How long will it be until the delightful Pacman Jones graduates to something even more reprehensible (whatever that might be)? And will the NFL actually pretend to care this time around? Two guesses: Sooner than later. And probably not. Oh, meanwhile there’s a game. And it appears the Jaguars aren’t going to pretend no to know who their starting quarterback will be this time around. I suppose there’s no real point in keeping it a secret this week. Jags by 14.

Minnesota (-5) at San Francisco
Bench Brad Johnson? Bench Brad Johnson? After one bad game — against New England? Are there really Minnesota fans who believe their team is better off with Brooks Bollinger under center? Or that Tavaris Jackson is ready to start in the NFL. Because neither of those things is true. Fortunately for the Vikings, it appears that Brad Childress, if no one else, knows it. So Johnson remains the starter and the Vikings beat the 49ers by a touchdown.

Cleveland (+12.5) at San Diego
I believe ya, Shawne. Really, I do. I mean, it’s not like you’ve been so freaky good that no one could possibly suspect you of cheating or anything, right? You know what would be nice? If professional athletes who get caught using steroids would stop insulting everybody’s fucking intelligence by boo-hooing and denying they did anything wrong. Yes, guys, ya did, and most of us will never ever believe you didn’t know it. And you know what, Shawne? Even if all you really are guilty of is abject stupidity, that’s more than enough, because you’re supposed to be a professional, you ought to know better, and you’re team is gonna pay the price. Not this week. Because between your defense handling Cleveland’s stunningly inexplosive offense even without you and LT likely ripping off another three touchdown outing, your team should have no trouble not only winning, but covering. But come next week in Cincinnati and especially the following week in Denver, Mr. Merriman, your absence is gonna be felt. And if the Chargers lose those two games and then just miss the playoffs, I hope you’ll realize that it’s on you.

Denver (+2.5) at Pittsburgh
I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how a team that’s playing as poorly as Pittsburgh is favored to beat a team that’s playing as well as Denver by any margin, in any stadium, at any time. And since I don’t expect to get a reasonable explanation for the handicappers’ pick here prior to kickoff, I’m going with the Broncos (though I hope I’m wrong, since the Steelers are cooked and I’d love to see Denver take a loss).

Indianapolis (+3) at New England
Lots of folks expect this game to come down to the final play. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they turned out to be right. But I simply don’t see it going that way. My guess is that this game will be decided in the first quarter, if not in the first two or three possessions. My feeling is that if the Colts don’t come out of the first quarter with a lead of at least 14 points, they’ve got no hope of winning. And the way I see things going, I’ve got a feeling the Colts may actually find themselves trailing by that margin before the first period concludes. The Colts may be 7-0 coming in, but they’ve got a major weakness that absolutely everyone knows about: they can’t stop the run. More than that, they can’t even begin to stop the run. Indy’s run defense is the worst in the league, allowing 168 yards per game (5.7 per carry). This despite the fact that they’ve frequently found themselves defending big leads. And while Indy’s pass D looks good on paper if you just look at yards per game (they’ve allowed only 167 on average), it drops to just above mediocre if you consider yards per attempt (6.54), and lower still if you take a look at the fact that the Colts have allowed 10 passing touchdowns in seven games. It doesn’t take too much work, then, to figure out that a significant contributor to the fact that the Colts haven’t allowed many yards in the air is the fact that opponents haven’t really needed to throw the ball against them. And good teams don’t throw when they don’t have to throw. All that considered, I don’t expect the Patriots to have a very difficult time scoring in this game. The Patriots may just be getting their passing game together, but they’ve still managed 215 yards per game in the air. They managed 372 yards passing Monday night in Minnesota (against a team that plays largely the same defense as the Colts). And, most important, they’ve scored 14 passing touchdowns so far this season. That’s tied for third most in the league. You’ve got to like the chances of New England’s wide receivers scoring against that Indy pass D. And then, pile on top of that the fact that Indy’s horrible run D faces a New England ground attack that’s been good for 125 yards per game (four yards per carry) and seven TDs. The Colts, who haven’t run the ball well this season, can’t expect to have much success against a Patriots run D that’s ranked third in the league. So, as usual, if the Colts are gonna win, they’re gonna have to do it passing. That worked well (or as well as Indy needed it to) against Denver last week, but Indianapolis won’t see the kind of defensive looks from New England that it saw from Denver. The Broncos linebackers and corners have been lining up five and six yards off the line of scrimmage this season, which has worked well in general, but which gave the Colts the opportunity to throw underneath coverage. The Patriots will play their corners closer to the line and those corners will harass Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne from the moment they come across (which should be enough to cause Bill Polian to have a stroke). That combined with the current field conditions in Foxborough should limit what the Colts’ WRs are able to accomplish. I don’t expect the Pats to be able to shut down the Colts’ passing game, of course. That would be impossible. But I do expect them to be able to limit it somewhat. And that should be all New England needs to do, since the Colts can’t win this game on the ground. Indy absolutely has to force a shootout if it hopes to win. Trouble is, under the current circumstances, even that favors the Patriots. So as I said at the start of this thing, my guess is that unless the Colts can break out a huge lead early, huge enough to outright force the Pats to go away from the run, they almost can’t come out ahead. And since I don’t see the Colts getting that big lead, I don’t see them winning. I’ll take the Patriots and give the points.

Oakland (+7.5) at Seattle
This one’s easy. I’m not expecting Seneca Wallace to throw four picks or the Oakland defense to contribute two touchdowns (one maybe, but not two), so I’m not expecting Seattle to lose. I’ll take my chances on the Raiders defense to keep it closer than seven and a half, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: