Archive for December, 2007

Week Seventeen Picks

December 28th, 2007 Comments off

Um, listen, not that this isn’t always the case, but your guess is as good as mine on most of these games. You’ve got exactly five teams playing for a chance to make the post season (three vying for the six seed in the NFC and two for the six seed in the AFC). One of them (New Orleans) needs so much help it isn’t even worth talking about. Another (Cleveland) needs an assist from an Indianapolis team that has nothing to play for itself and couldn’t begin to care whether Cleveland or Tennessee rounds out the conference playoff board. Beyond that, there’s some jockeying for seeding in the AFC between Pittsburgh and San Diego, but neither team appears all that worried about whether it seeds third or fourth (which strikes me as odd given the fact that it means the difference between facing dangerous Jacksonville or also-ran Tennessee/Cleveland next week). Beyond that, nothing much matters, except to the Patriots who are playing for 16-0. Some playoffs-bound teams will be resting starters. Some teams that have been eliminated are clearly demoralized and ready to get on with the off-season program of service and repair (or, in some cases, plain old rebuilding). And no one has any idea of what to expect in the majority of these tilts. Least of all me. So here’s my take on what might happen. Or it might not. Who really knows?

New England (-14) at NY Giants
I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve been rather perplexed this week by the preponderance of chatter regarding the question of whether the Giants will rest starters. Does anyone believe it really matters? I mean, here’s the thing: the Patriots aren’t going to be resting starters. At least not until the game is well in hand, anyhow. And there can’t be too many people out there (outside of New York, anyhow) who really believe the Giants starters (or what’s left of them) can actually pose much of a threat to a motivated Patriots squad, can there? So why get caught up in conversations about non-issues? I won’t. Pats by 21.

Seattle (+2.5) at Atlanta
That’s right, the 3-12 Falcons are favored to beat the 10-5 Seahawks. Why? Because Seattle will be taking the week off in preparation for a visit from Washington or Minnesota. Trouble is, the Seahawks might still accidentally win this game. Possibly. Or maybe not. Ah, hell, I’ll take the home team and give the points, but only here. Not a dime of real money goes within 100 miles of this ridiculous charade.

Carolina (-2.5) at Tampa Bay
See Seattle-Atlanta above. Only this time I’ll take the road team over the home squad’s backups. But, again, it’s just for fun.

New Orleans (-2.5) at Chicago
Hey, if the Saints win and the team with the league’s best rushing offense (and a shot at making the playoffs manages to lose to the team with the league’s third-worst rush defense (and no shot at making the playoffs) and the Cowboys’ backups manage to beat the Redskins’ starters, New Orleans makes the playoffs. Exciting, huh? You know what? I think I’ll take the Bears. Why not?

San Francisco (+10) at Cleveland
Too little, too late. It all might have been different but for one horrible call in Arizona. But it isn’t. And what are you gonna do? Next year, Browns fans. Next year. Cleveland by a touchdown.

Detroit (+4) at Green Bay
Imagine going from being one of the hottest teams in your conference at the mid-point of the season to wrapping up with a game against a division rival that has nothing to play for (having sewn up the two seed), but in which you still end up getting four points? That’s gotta be a tough pill to swallow. Green Bay by six.

Jacksonville (+6) at Houston
The Jaguars will probably be the most dangerous team on any NFL field a week from now. Here, they’re just another squad taking a day off and getting ready for its next real game. Oddly enough, Jacksonville still won’t lose this game by six. More like three is my guess.

Buffalo (+7.5) at Philadelphia
Pride will only get you so far in the NFL. Both of these teams learned that this season. The Bills learn it one last time. But they at least move ahead of Philly in the draft order, so that’s something. Eagles by six.

Cincinnati (-3) at Miami
Oh, crap. Do I have to come up with something to say about this game? No? Wonderful. Thank you. Bengals by a touchdown.

Dallas (+9) at Washington
A win here and the Redskins get to go to Seattle next weekend. And then they can play the Cowboys’ starters in the divisional round. How nice. Washington by 10.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Baltimore
Of course Ben Roethlisberger’s gonna sit. Forget the ankle and shoulder issues. The guy gets sacked every other time he drops back to pass. And the Steelers should have no real trouble handling a Baltimore team that clearly gave up on the season after losing to New England. So why risk your starting QB as you head into the playoffs? Pittsburgh by four.

Kansas City (+6) at NY Jets
One of these teams is going to win this game. So … um, yeah. That’s pretty much what’s gonna happen. Might as well be the Jets. By three.

St. Louis (+6.5) at Arizona
Steven Jackson has 947 rushing yards on the season so far. What do you suppose the odds are he’s got a financial reason to wanna pick up another 53 here? Of course, in the end that means all of nothing. The Rams aren’t pulling off an upset here behind 53 rushing yards. It may, however, be enough to get St. Louis rolling. And I’m gonna guess that roll brings them to within a few yards of a win. Arizona comes out ahead, but only by a point or two.

Minnesota (-3) at Denver
The Vikings run offense, behind Adrian Peterson, leads the league in yards per game (164), yards per carry (5.3), and rushing touchdowns (22). The Broncos run D is the third worst in the league, giving up 141 yards per game and 4.5 a carry. Denver has allowed 14 rushing touchdowns this season. So as long as the Vikings are able to keep their heads in the game and their eyes off the Washington-Dallas score, they should have no trouble winning by a touchdown or more. Which will at least send them into the off-season feeling slightly better about themselves.

San Diego (-8) at Oakland
JaMarcus Russell is gonna start under center for the Raiders. Finally. And, I mean, hell he earned it, right? Chargers by 14.

Tennessee (-6) at Indianapolis
I’m not sure this game’s the gimme for Tennessee that a lot of folks think it is. I mean, yeah, Tony Dungy is gonna pull starters at some point. But that’s probably only gonna happen after Peyton Manning gets a chance to throw some passes to newly healthy Marvin Harrison. And it’s really only ever gonna happen on offense, because the defensive backups have been playing for weeks; they’re what Dungy’s got at this point. Tennessee, which has a ton to play for, should still be able to pull off a win, but I’m not willing to give six points to Indy at home under any circumstances.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 20th, 2007 Comments off

Looking for a safe bet? Hold on to your money until the playoffs. Because, well, take a look. You’ll see road teams giving big points. You’ll see lots of teams with nothing to play for that may or may not show up, sometimes facing other teams with nothing to play for that may or may not show up. And if you know how to interpret that data, you’ll see that this week is a giant disaster waiting to happen. So why let it happen to you? Hold off until all the games count for all the teams playing. Meanwhile, here’s what not to expect.

Pittsburgh (-8.5) at St. Louis
I won’t be at all surprised if the Steelers manage to drop a game and fall out of the NFC North championship and into a wild card spot before all is said and done. But if Pittsburgh is gonna lose a game, it’ll be next week when they travel to Baltimore (a second consecutive road game for a team that’s 2-4 away from home this season, and a matchup with a divisional opponent, to boot). They’re not losing to St. Louis. I mean, we’re talking about a Rams team with an offense that can’t score and a defense that can’t stop opponents from scoring. It’s not hard to guess what happens when a team this bad faces a good team with something to play for. Steelers by two touchdowns.

Dallas (-11) at Carolina
Much like the Steelers, the Cowboys are a team that might just drop one of its two remaining games (both on the road) and move back a step in its conference’s playoff seedings (in this case falling from one to two in the NFC post-season). Also much like the Steelers, however, the Cowboys won’t be taking that loss this week. (If it comes, it’ll come next weekend in Washington.) I don’t care if Tony Romo has to throw lefty. All that might mean is that the Cowboys only win by three (you know, like maybe by a score of 3-0). I’m gonna hedge based on Romo’s condition and look for the Panthers to cover. But that’s as far as I’m willing to go. Dallas by seven.

NY Giants (-3) at Buffalo
I’ve got a weird feeling the Giants are gonna end up backing into the playoffs. That is, I think they’re making the post season, but I think they may get there not by winning this game (or, you know, next week against New England), but by virtue of Washington losing to Minnesota this week and New Orleans finding a way to lose to Philadelphia this weekend or at Chicago next. Yeah, I know the Bills have nothing but pride remaining to play for, but I’m not sure that won’t be enough. The Bills D gives up more yards per game than the Giants defense, but only allows half a point more per game. And given the way the Giants offense has played recently (and particularly last week) I’m not sure the statistical differences on that side of the ball are as meaningful as they might seem. One statistical difference I think will matter a lot is giveaway/takeaway. The Giants are at -7 on the season, mostly because Eli Manning keeps throwing picks. The Bills are +8, mostly because they pick off a lot of balls. That’s killer. Bills by three.

Green Bay (-9) at Chicago
The Packers may be locked into a first round bye, but they’ve also gotta be keenly aware of the fact that two wins (here and next week against the visiting Detroit Lions) coupled with a Dallas loss (which may yet happen in week 17) gives them the conference one seed and the right to host the NFC Championship game, which would be huge. The Bears, meanwhile, are operating on a short week and coming off yet another demonstration of their inability to finish games. Green Bay wins this game by 17.

Cleveland (-2.5) at Cincinnati
A win here and the Browns make the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and earn a chance (albeit an outside chance) to take a division championship for the first time since 1989. A loss here and the Bengals slip to 5-10 on the season, get embarrassed by their division rivals, and fall further into chaos. Since the implications (for both teams) of a Cleveland victory appeal to me, that’s what I’m rooting for. Since Cleveland has a slightly better offense, that’s what I’m expecting. And since neither team has so much as the illusion of a pro football defense, I’m betting the over. Browns by four.

Kansas City (+5) at Detroit
You know what might be a good thing for the folks in Kansas City to get over? The idea that Herm Edwards will ever be a good NFL head coach. He isn’t. Never has been. The Lions snap their six-game skid, just in time for it not to matter to anyone. The Lions and their awful defense aren’t winning by five, however. Not even over the Chiefs. Three, maybe, but not five.

Houston (+7.5) at Indianapolis
Tony Dungy says his starters are gonna play. That, and having just had the fear of God put in them by the 4-8 (at the time) Oakland Raiders ought to get the job done. That and, you know, hosting a solidly sub-par division rival. Colts by 10.

Oakland (+13) at Jacksonville
OK, I think we’ve been over some of this before. The Raiders can’t stop the run. They give up almost 144 yards per game (and worse still 4.7 per carry, which is just stunningly awful) and have surrendered a league-high 21 rushing touchdowns. The Jaguars offense averages almost 150 yards a game on the ground (and 4.4 a carry) and has scored 15 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for third most in the league. So you tell me how this game comes out. Jacksonville by two touchdowns minimum.

Philadelphia (+3) at New Orleans
Just as they did in facing the Patriots a few weeks back and the Cowboys last weekend, I expect the Eagles to come out fired up and to play 60 minutes of bruising football against the Saints. That’s gonna present problems for New Orleans, which has neither the defensive strength to hold the Philly offense in check for four quarters nor the offensive wherewithal to finish a tough game (firepower, New Orleans has; willpower, not so much) so I’m not expecting a close loss like the one in New England or a hard-won victory like the one in Dallas. I’m looking for Philadelphia to take control by about five minutes into the fourth quarter and win this game fairly handily. Maybe by more than a touchdown. (And, perhaps for the first time ever, an Eagles victory will make Giants fans happy.)

Atlanta (+10) at Arizona
If nothing else, the people of Atlanta this week learned what football fans in New England, New Jersey and Dallas have known for some time (and that the folks in Miami will learn soon enough: Bill Parcells is a giant douchebag. So, you know, that’s something, I guess. Cardinals by 13.

Tampa Bay (-7) at San Francisco
I don’t know about anyone else, but I think I’m gonna really enjoy seeing Jeff Garcia make the 49ers pay for kicking him to the curb a few years back to placate that insufferable fuckwad TO

Miami (+22.5) at New England
According to the Pro Bowl selections, the only truly impressive pro football player in the state of Florida lines up not for the playoffs-bound 10-4 Jacksonville Jaguars or 9-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Miami Dolphins, who are 1-13 and all but officially on the clock with the first pick in the 2008 NFL draft (they’ll be officially on the clock as soon as they lose this game). So, you know, that’s something for the Patriots to worry about. But I’m pretty sure the Pats know they need to account for Taylor (mostly because I heard Bill Belichick say precisely that in a radio interview on Monday). The Pats have also gotta know that there’s very little else they have to account for in playing a banged up team that, after last week, has absolutely nothing left to play for. (Don’t talk to me about defending the honor of the 1972 Dolphins. Most of these kids weren’t even born when that team was playing.) New England’s margin of victory will have at least something to do with the weather conditions in Foxborough Sunday afternoon. Right now, the forecast is for light rain, so I’m predicting a 28-point differential.

NY Jets (+9) at Tennessee
I confess: I’m rooting for the Jets for the remainder of the season. Why? Well, to begin with, I’d like to see New York slide down a bit in the draft order. More important, thought, I’d like to see Jets fans have some cause for hope at the end of the season. That way, there will be something for the Patriots to dash next year. That would be nice. Thing is, I can root all day and the Jets still aren’t winning this game. They won’t lose by nine points, mind you, but they won’t win either.

Baltimore (+10) at Seattle
Unlike in the AFC, where there’s a concrete reason to want the three seed rather than the four (see my pick on the Monday night game below), it’s tough to tell right now whether Seattle and Tampa Bay should care about whether they end up seeded third or fourth in the NFC. That’s because there’s no saying for sure what’s awaiting the team that lands in each spot. One of them is likely gonna face the very dangerous Vikings in the wild card round while the other gets the limping Giants. But we might no know which is which until very late on the last day of the season (Minnesota finishes with a late-afternoon game at Denver). Nor is there any knowing right now which seed gives you a trip to Green Bay and which to Dallas for the divisional round should you prevail in week one. So all you can really do is play to win and hope for the best. And there ends my ability to write around this game. Now I have no choice but to reveal that I have absolutely nothing to say about this matchup. Nothing. I just can’t get worked up about either team. Let’s say the Seahawks win by nine, because, hell, why not?

Washington (+6.5) at Minnesota
The Redskins were able to keep their slip playoff hopes alive by beating one of the two leading NFC wild card contenders last Sunday night. The question now is, can the Skins actually pull themselves into the hunt for real with a road win over the red-hot Vikings? The answer: probably not. Washington’s defense is probably good enough to slow Minnesota’s offense down a bit, but they’re not gonna keep the Vikings off the board all night. Minnesota’s D vs. the Washington O, on the other hand, may prove another matter entirely. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see the Redskins held to three or six points in this game. And with that in mind, I’m thinking a touchdown and half a PAT isn’t too much to give up.

Denver (+8) at San Diego
If you’re the Chargers, you really, really, really want to be the three seed in the AFC playoffs. Not only is it the different between traveling to Indianapolis or New England in the divisional round (if you make it that far), but it’s the difference between hosting Cleveland (or maybe Pittsburgh) or Jacksonville in the wild card round. And you simply do not want to face the prospect of having to battle through the Jaguars in week one only (if you survive) to have to turn around and travel across the country to face a well-rested Patriots team in week two. That’s a recipe for a crushing defeat. Add in the fact that there’s a division rivalry at work here, and the fact that Denver’s run defense is almost non-existent, and you get a San Diego victory wrapped up before Santa starts warming up the sleigh. Chargers by 17. And Merry Christmas.

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Week Fifteen, Pt. 2

December 13th, 2007 Comments off

I’ve got a bad feeling about this week. Not sure why. Most of these games look pretty damned cut-and-dry to me. But I do just the same. Here’s what you probably won’t see happen.

Cincinnati (-8) at San Francisco
Getting eight points from the 5-8 Cincinnati Bengals in your own stadium. Man, that’s gotta hurt regardless of how bad your quarterback situation is. And to make matters worse if you’re the Niners, you’ve already traded away the only silver lining a team can find in a season like this. You know, I’d wonder if Mike Nolan’s job were in jeopardy if I thought there were any chance San Francisco could find someone willing to take over. Bungles by 10.

Seattle (-7) at Carolina
Nope, I still don’t believe in the Seahawks. Except this week I do. Or, really, I guess it’s that I believe the Panthers will always find a way to lose. Seattle straight up. It’s a push with the points.

Buffalo (+5.5) at Cleveland
It’s a credit to the Bills that they’ve continued to battle through what’s been a very difficult season and have got themselves to the point where a win in this game would put them in decent shape for a run at the AFC six seed. Unfortunately for Buffalo, they’re not winning this game. How am I so sure? Simple. Since neither defense can stop anything, I’m guessing the game goes to the team with the higher-scoring offense. That’s Cleveland, by about 10 points a game. So I’m looking for the Browns to win by that same margin. (But next year Buffalo finishes second in the AFC East and grabs a wild card spot.)

Tennessee (-4) at Kansas City
The Titans are hanging on to the hope of sneaking into the playoffs (it’s not gonna happen, but that’s neither here nor there for the moment). The Chiefs are licking their wounds and thinking about 2008. I see no reason to believe either of those things will change based on the outcome of this game. Tennessee by three.

Baltimore (-3) at Miami
I still find it hard to believe that a team can finish the season 0-16. But I can’t see the Dolphins failing to make it at least as far as 0-14. Ravens by a touchdown.

NY Jets (+24.5) at New England
You know what’s funny? In a normal, regular world, this game is completely meaningless. Because here’s a simple fact that’s been all but lost in all the hype about a perfect season, astounding individual records, and all the craziness about Spygate, revenge and the mutual hatred of two coaches, two teams and two groups of fans: all the 13-0 New England Patriots need to do to enter the playoffs as the AFC’s top seeded team is to win one of their final three games. One. Not this one. Any one of the three will do. That’s an astounding thing when you consider the team’s history. And, much as I will revel in seeing the Jets destroyed and watching new records set, it’s kinda fun to set that stuff aside just for a minute and think of just how good things have been for the Pats and their fans. Keeps you grounded. New England by no fewer than 28 (regardless of the weather).

Arizona (+3.5) at New Orleans
Here’s another one of those games where the big prize is that you get to keep fooling yourself about having a shot at the playoffs. So, yeah. Wow. The fact of the matter is that neither of these teams deserves to win. But one of them has to. And since Arizona apparently has neither a pass rush nor a secondary, I’m going with the team that pretty much has to throw the ball 40 times anyhow. Saints by a touchdown.

Jacksonville (+4) at Pittsburgh
The biggest problem with losing to the Jaguars this week, if you’re the Steelers, is that it increases the chances that you’re gonna see them again three weeks from now. And it’s pretty clear that the one thing you don’t want, no matter who you are, is to host hungry, talented Jacksonville in the wild card round. Still and all, the Steelers are going to court that very fate. Pittsburgh, suffering from the post-New England game hangover that has dogged teams all season long, is losing this game by three.

Green Bay (-9.5) at St. Louis
A win here puts the Packers one victory away from clinching a first-round bye (with a trip to Chicago and a home game against Detroit ahead on their schedule). A loss here … well that’d be about par for the course for St. Louis. So let’s figure on that. Packers by nine.

Atlanta (+12) at Tampa Bay
Looks like the Bucs will have Jeff Garcia back under center this week. You know, assuming Jon Gruden isn’t lying again. I’ll take Chucky at his word. And anyway, I’m not sure it matters. The newly decapitated Falcons aren’t beating anyone this week. Bucs by 14.

Indianapolis (-10.5) at Oakland
I’m not sure I get the spread on this game. OK, so there are no grudges involved, but given that the Colts are looking to sew up a first-round bye and the Raiders are beyond bad, this game could easily turn out to be as lopsided (if not as ugly) as the Patriots-Jets match. Indy by 20.

Philadelphia (+10) at Dallas
All the Cowboys need to clinch a first-round bye is a win. It might not be as easy as you think. The Eagles may not be a good team, but they’re really not too terrible either. And they’ve shown recently that they can play tough football on the road against good teams. Dallas wins, but not by more than a touchdown.

Detroit (+9.5) at San Diego
Shawne Merriman’s gonna miss this game. And Lorenzo Neal is gone for the season. So that should … well, actually, it probably won’t help the Lions much at all. Detroit, its strong start a distant memory, falls to 6-8, though maybe they only lose by six or seven.

Washington (+4) at NY Giants
You know, this is a pretty damned even matchup. Both teams have mediocre offenses and slightly above average Ds. Both give the ball away far too often (the Giants have a giveaway-takeaway differential of -7, the Redskins -8). And neither team is in any way likely to be playing come the second weekend in January. The two differences: the Giants are at home and the Giants will still be playing on the first weekend in January. Indeed, the Giants will clinch a playoff spot with their win by a field goal here.

Chicago (+9) at Minnesota
If there’s a team that’s gonna upset the applecart in the NFC playoffs, it’s the Minnesota Vikings, who edge one step closer to wrapping up the three seed and becoming the Seattle Seahawks worst nightmare with a 10-point win over the defending conference champion (see how funny that looks right now) Chicago Bears.

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Week Fifteen, Pt. 1

December 13th, 2007 Comments off

Well, here’s a start. I’ll get the rest up in a bit.

Denver (+1) at Houston
Wow, what a way to start a week of football. There’s a lot at stake here. I mean, one of these teams may well go into week sixteen still able to pretend it has a shot at making the playoffs. That’s just … just … just … wow. I don’t honestly care which of these teams comes out ahead. That despite the fact that I hate Denver and have no feelings one way or the other about Houston. And that’s fine, because this thing is a coin toss all the way. Denver has the more balanced offense, but Houston puts up more points on average. Denver’s D allows half a yard less per game in total offense than Houston’s D, but the Broncos’ run D is deplorable while the Texans’ run D is just on the bad side of average. And Denver allows more points on average. The only big difference I can see is in giveaway-takeaway, where Denver is a -1, Houston a -10. So I guess I’ll go with the Broncos to pull off the upset. And kinda hope I’m wrong.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 5th, 2007 Comments off

The thing that makes this week dangerous is that it seems so damned easy. Maybe 12 of the 16 games on the slate at least appear to be foregone conclusions. But that always means there are two or three big upsets on the horizon. I think I see likely spots for two of them. But I’m probably wrong. I usually am. Here’s what not to expect.

Chicago (+3) at Washington
Looking forward at the beginning of the season, you might have guessed this game would have playoff implications for at least one of the teams, and possibly for both. And in a way it does. At the end of the night, one of these squads will be 5-8 and a step closer to official elimination while the other will be 6-7 and hanging on to a realistic shot at the post season (the leading team for the NFC six seed at the end of this weekend will most likely be 7-6 — and known as the Vikings — and a one-game lead ain’t exactly insurmountable, particularly since Minnesota’s next two opponents are Chicago and Washington). The reality, however, is that neither of these teams seems likely to have anything but New Year’s parties on their schedule after December 30. Neither offense has been effective this season. And to the extent Washington has shown ability on D, it’s only done so sporadically. The difference in this game is pretty clear. The Redskins offense is fairly effective on the ground, while the Bears’ run D is particularly ineffective (surrendering close to 131 yards a game). I expect to see Clinton Portis have a big night. And as long as the Redskins can hold on to the ball (or at least log more interceptions than they give up fumbles), I think that adds up to a Washington victory. And, sure, I’ll give the points.

Miami (+7) at Buffalo
The Bills probably won’t have a victory handed to them this weekend. But that’s OK. They can beat Miami all by themselves. Buffalo by 14.

St. Louis (+6.5) at Cincinnati
Hey, guess what. Marc Bulger might play. Seriously, he might. Wow, huh? So that makes this game exciting, doesn’t it? No? So you’re saying no one outside of St. Louis and Cincinnati (and maybe a few people in Cleveland) cares about this game in any way? OK, then, guess I might as well go ahead and pick the upset. Rams by two behind a big day from Steven Jackson.

Dallas (-11) at Detroit
What’s funny is that if Dallas weren’t playing to clinch the NFC East (and to edge closer to wrapping up the conference once seed), I might actually pick the Lions in this game, dismissive as I’ve been of Detroit these past three or four weeks. What? Surely I can’t believe the Lions are a better team than the Cowboys. Well, of course I don’t. That would be silly. It’s just that every team has to have a letdown game or two at some point in the season, and the Cowboys, having just vanquished the Green Bay Packers, seem to me to be due. And the thing is not every team can be New England and actually win their letdown games. And, hey, Detroit certainly has the ability to move the ball and score points through the air, which plays right to the Dallas D’s biggest weakness. That said, I think the ‘Boys can probably come into this game flat and still pull out a win, albeit a close one. That leaves two questions: Will Dallas come in flat? I have a hunch they will. And if they do and this game does become a battle, will the media claim Detroit, even in defeat, has created a blueprint for beating the Cowboys? I’m gonna guess they won’t. Dallas puts up a late field goal to make its margin of victory six.

Oakland (+10.5) at Green Bay
Hey, so the Raiders have won two straight. So that means everything’s gonna be OK in Oakland. And Lane Kiffin won’t be taking a powder at season’s end. And Robert Gallery isn’t really the worst high first-round draft choice ever (just the stupidest looking). And, and, and … Green Bay? Really? Ah, never mind. Packers by 17.

Tampa Bay (-3) at Houston
Once again, Jeff Garcia’s uncertain status makes it virtually impossible to pick a Bucs game with any confidence. But, you know, Tampa Bay won without Garcia last week (though one can hardly expect to see decision making as poor as what you got from the Saints at the end of that game every week). And Houston isn’t much better than New Orleans. And Garcia might play. So I guess I’ll take the Bucs straight up, though I’m pretty sure I’m gonna regret it, so I’ll hedge by taking the Texans with the points.

Carolina (+10.5) at Jacksonville
Ten and a half points, my ass. I’m pretty sure the Panthers are gonna win this game outright. Because, you know … um, it’s just that I … well … . OK, I’m just not gonna be able to sell this, am I? Jacksonville would have won four divisions in the NFL this season (you figure out which; it ought to be obvious). And their only real problem going forward is that their best-case scenario (since the six seed almost certainly isn’t beating Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round) is that they end up taking a trip to Foxborough to face the well-rested Patriots in the second week of the playoffs, and we all know how that game turns out. Focusing on the now, however, of course the Jags beat the Panthers. Probably by twice the spread.

NY Giants (+3) at Philadelphia
Going in to last week, I was pretty certain that a Giants win would prove something about the team and set New York on a path for the NFC five seed (which is to say the top wild card spot — Dallas having all but officially won the division). Coming out, I’m not so sure. The Giants didn’t look at all good in that win over the Bears. And I’m not sure they’ve got it in them to take it on the road and pull off a key victory over a division rival. Scratch that. Looking at the stats, I’m almost entirely certain the Giants don’t have what it takes to win this game. This in spite of the fact that with Minnesota breathing down their necks for the five seed (with the tie-breaker already decided in the Vikings’ favor) the Giants can scarcely afford to lose this game. But lose it they will. I mean, sure, the Eagles haven’t been terribly impressive this season. But when I look at how these teams stack up, I think Philly comes out on top on both sides of the ball. Well as they’ve run the ball this season, I think the Eagles look at the matchups, go pass-happy, build a nice lead and then challenge Eli Manning to play catch-up, knowing he’ll throw a few picks. I expect that strategy to pay off, and I expect to see the Eagles come out ahead by something like a touchdown.

San Diego (-1) at Tennessee
The bottom line here, in my estimation, is that San Diego simply has way, way, way too much at stake for losing even to be an option. A win in this game would all but guarantee the Chargers the AFC West crown (they’d have at least a two-game lead over Denver heading into the last three weeks of the season with two almost certain victories — next week at home vs. Detroit and week 17 in Oakland — on the schedule. And, should Pittsburgh lose to New England (which is, after all, the likely scenario), the Chargers with a win would find themselves just one game behind the Steelers in the race for the AFC three seed (which likely will mean the difference between hosting overachieving Cleveland or bruising Jacksonville in the first round of the playoffs) — with Pittsburgh facing both Jacksonville and their division rival, Baltimore, down the stretch. Lose, on the other hand, and not only does that shot at the three seed all but disappear, but, with Denver poised for a win over Kansas City, the Chargers would have the Broncos breathing down their neck in the division race. Does any of that mean the Chargers are sure to beat the Titans? Certainly not. That’s just what’s circling around this game for the 7-5 team with a realistic chance of making the playoffs. The reason the Chargers should win, probably by a field goal, is that they’re a slightly better team. If only just slightly.

Minnesota (-8.5) at San Francisco
Probably the last thing the Vikings needed in the middle of a major rebound that will probably take them from a 2-5 start to securing the six or possibly five seed in the NFC playoffs, was to lose depth at a key position by way of a suspension. Lucky for the Vikes, then, I suppose, that their schedule going forward isn’t exactly daunting. This game certainly isn’t hard to call. Minnesota by 10.

Arizona (+7) at Seattle
Seattle has a chance to effectively wrap up the division in this game. How much you wanna bet they blow it? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Ken Whisenhunt shown an ability to control the Seattle offense once or twice in the past? Arizona by a point.

Kansas City (+6.5) at Denver
I would be flat-out lying if I claimed to have half a clue what to make of either of these teams. Both are all over the place. And both have spent the entire season winning when I think they’re going to lose and losing when I think they’re going to win. I should just pick a tie, figuring I’m gonna take my lumps either way. But instead, I’ll take the opportunity to go with a cheap gag and predict that newly cleared Travis Henry will celebrate his off-field victory by lighting up (that’s the joke, get it?) Kansas City’s fairly weak run D. Broncos by seven.

Cleveland (-3.5) at NY Jets
Hey, Eric, you remember Bill’s pal Romeo, right? Yeah, he’s a good 10 times the coach you can ever hope to be. Browns by no fewer than nine points.

Pittsburgh (+10.5) at New England
Eventually, one would imagine, there will have to come a time when Patriots’ opponents will learn to shut the hell up and just play the game. Eventually. But not this week. The esteemed Mr. Smith’s confidence notwithstanding, the only way this game goes well for the Steelers is if the exhaustion from having played three consecutive night games catches up with the Pats in devastating fashion. The Patriots are, plain and simple, the better team in this matchup. Defensively, the teams are close (and the Steelers are statistically slightly better). Offensively, they’re on different planets. And I expect to see a Patriots team in this game that has caught up to the fact that it is essentially playing playoff-intensity games for the rest of the season — and that is ready to clinch a first-round bye (which the Patriots can do by winning here). I’ll be shocked if Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t throw at least two picks in this game, and I expect the seven points that result from one of them will account for about half the difference in the score.

Indianapolis (-9.5) at Baltimore
Do you suppose the Ravens will stop sulking about their loss to New England long enough to compete with Indy? Neither do I. Colts by 10 (which is unfortunate, because it’ll get Indianapolis fans saying, “Well, if the Patriots struggled against the Ravens and the Colts … blah, blah, blah,” and I’m just not in the mood for it.)

New Orleans (-4.5) at Atlanta
You know what? I almost don’t even care who wins this game. Neither of these teams is going anywhere. And the only reason I’m even going to watch is to root for Atlanta, because a Falcons win could give the Patriots (via San Francisco) a higher pick in the 2008 draft (to trade down out of). But the Falcons aren’t gonna win. So I’m not picking them. I’ll take New Orleans and give the points and just be happy to be happy if I’m wrong.

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Week thirteen Picks, Pt. 2

December 1st, 2007 Comments off

OK, so the Thursday night tilt didn’t go as I expected. Not even close. And yet somehow here you are wondering what I think about the games ahead for the rest of the weekend. One of us isn’t thinking things through very clearly, wouldn’t you say? Here’s what not to expect.

San Francisco (+2.5) at Carolina
It’s one thing to wonder if the Miami Dolphins might not actually lose eight home games this season, but you’ve gotta figure a team like Carolina that can win on the road is eventually gonna find a way not to disappoint the home crowd at least once, right? This seems like as good a time as any for the Panthers to win in Carolina. I mean, there are only so many times you can expect Tully Banta-Cain to fall on a loose ball in OT, right? Panthers by six.

Jacksonville (+7) at Indianapolis
I’m having a hard time seeing this as a make-or-break game for either team. I mean, obviously, it’s a big deal for both. If the Colts can come out on top, they pretty much wrap up the AFC South title, since there’s little chance of the Jaguars making up three games in four weeks. And if the Jags can pull off the upset, the win and the momentum it would give them might be enough to lead them to a division title (though they’ll still have work to do even after this weekend to make that happen). But let’s face it, both squads are making the post season. So it’s really just a matter of where they seed — and maybe, for Jacksonville, something of a test of whether they’re ready to get over the hump. Just can’t see that as a big deal. All that said, however, this is still a game that pits two division rivals, and more important two excellent football teams against each other. My heart wants to pick Jacksonville, not because I dislike the Colts (though I do), but because I’ve seen the Jaguars playing their butts off week after week and I want to see them succeed. My head keeps telling me to pick the Colts, because in the end I think they remain the better team. There is this other little part of my head that keeps telling me the Jags are traveling to Indy at a great time, a time when the Colts are banged up and possibly vulnerable. But when I look at the stats, I can’t help but conclude that the little part of my head is just ganging up with my heart to make things difficult. So, much as I’d like to do otherwise, I’m taking the Colts straight up, though I will split the difference and take the Jaguars with the points. (And I still hope Jacksonville wins it outright.)

San Diego (-5) at Kansas City
The Chargers haven’t done anything this season to make me believe they ought to be giving five points in Arrowhead stadium. But the Chiefs haven’t done anything to make me believe they can beat their division rivals. So I’m taking the Chargers to win and the Chiefs to cover.

NY Jets (+1) at Miami
How awful do you have to be to be getting points from the 0-11 Dolphins? Exactly as awful as the Jets. Miami finally pulls out a win — by a score of 10-9.

Detroit (+3) at Minnesota
Adrian Peterson is expected back, which points to a fourth straight loss for the foundering Lions. Minnesota by a touchdown or more.

Tampa Bay (+3) at New Orleans
You can’t touch this game with real money, because the outcome depends entirely on whether Jeff Garcia can play. If Garcia goes, the Bucs win outright. If he doesn’t, the Saints probably get themselves back into the division race, though it’s a push against the spread even then. Since it’s looking like Garcia will be back, I’ll take Tampa Bay, but only on paper.

Seattle (+3) at Philadelphia
Do I think the Eagles are really as good as they played vs. the league’s best team last Sunday night? Nope. But I’m pretty sure they’re just good enough to squeak past the visiting Seahawks. So there’s that. Philly by an extra point.

Atlanta (+4) at St. Louis
While the Falcons have been busy countering claims that a guy who’s headed to prison, probably for a decent stretch, should get to keep money he took in exchange for a promise to play football for the team for the next several years (as opposed to, say, causing the team no end of headaches and embarrassment), the Rams have been becoming a better and better team. St. Louis demonstrates the difference here, winning by 10.

Houston (+4) at Tennessee
You’ve gotta figure the Titans are gonna start playing up to their talent level sooner or later. And this game’s as safe a bet as any. Titans by three.

Buffalo (+6) at Washington
Seems like only a few weeks ago the Buffalo Bills were being sold as exciting up-and-comers who were getting it done in spite of injuries. Now, with the injuries continuing to pile up, the only excitement to be had from the Bills comes in watching the game of musical quarterbacks unfold. Redskins by a touchdown.

Cleveland (pick ’em) at Arizona
I’m taking the Browns. Just because I like them. OK, that and because I like Jamal Lewis to have a huge day against an Arizona defense that gives up better than 100 yards a game on the ground and hands out rushing touchdowns left and right (and, you know, up the middle). Cleveland by three.

Denver (-3.5) at Oakland
If I know the Raiders have the worst run defense in the league, and you know that the Raiders have the worst run defense in the league, what do you suppose the odds are Mike Shanahan knows the Raiders have the worst run defense in the league? Right you are. Denver by 14.

NY Giants (-2) at Chicago
This is a major test for the Giants. Win here and they’re in the catbird seat in the NFC wild card race with four weeks to play, a two-game cushion, a chance to eliminate two challengers (Philadelphia and Washington) over the next two weeks, and a week 16 home game against Buffalo that they should win. Lose it, and they’re exposed as frauds, the Eagles and Redskins games start to look like trouble and the odds of one of those teams plus Minnesota, New Orleans or even Chicago sneaking in and stealing their spot increase dramatically. I think New York will rise to the occasion. Giants by four.

Cincinnati (+7.5) at Pittsburgh
What could you possibly be looking for from me here? The Steelers are the better team by a long shot. If this is news to you, I’d recommend watching some football. Pittsburgh by 17.

New England (+20) at Baltimore
Yeah, I’ll give you a blueprint. Here’s your blueprint: The Ravens can’t throw the ball or run the ball worth half a damn. They can kinda stop (or maybe it’s more like slow) the run for a while, but they can’t stand up to the pass, certainly not when they face a team like the Patriots. And even if they had a better defense, there’s only so long a D can stay on the field before it starts to break down. That’s a blueprint for disaster. Patriots by 27.

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