Archive for September, 2008

Week Four Picks

September 26th, 2008 Comments off

I’ve got this weird feeling we may see a number of upsets this week. I have no scientific evidence to support that, mind you. It’s just that the picking seems too easy, too automatic. And that never seems to work out in professional football. Still, I can’t tell you where the big upsets are coming. Because when I look at these games … well, a lot of them just seem pretty damned easy and automatic. So I’ll lay it out straight and leave it to you to figure out where my reasoning is flawed.

Atlanta (+7.5) at Carolina
I was gonna start out by saying that I’m still not sold on Carolina. The Panthers are weak offensively. And while they’d appeared solid enough on defense for the first two weeks of the season, they were exposed last week, not by Adrian Peterson, but by Gus Frerotte. That doesn’t do much to recommend a D. But then I realized that I’m not sold on Atlanta, either. The Falcons look OK when they’re playing a Detroit or a Kansas City, but put them up against a real professional football team and things get ugly quick. And the Panthers aren’t the Bucs, but neither are they the Lions. So I’m splitting the difference, taking Carolina straight up, and the Falcons with the points.

Cleveland (+3) at Cincinnati
Every now and again, something happens in the NFL that exposes a rule so obscure that even the geekiest of the rule book geeks are left scratching their heads. If there’s a rule defining a way for both teams to lose a given game, this game seems likely to bring it to light. Otherwise, I’m taking the Bengals straight up (because they’re at home) and the Browns with the points (because I still suspect they’re slightly less awful than the home team). And I’m expecting we’ll see Brady Quinn lined up under center when the Browns come back from their bye two weeks from now.

Houston (+7.5) at Jacksonville
If it weren’t for the fact that last week’s huge victory still only got them to 1-2 on the season, you might expect to see a letdown game for Jacksonville here. But they are 1-2. So you won’t. But you also won’t see the Jags win by more than four.

Denver (-9.5) at Kansas City
The Broncos are gonna need to get more out of their D at some point this season. Probably. But not this week. The Chiefs don’t have an offense, so there’s nothing to stop. The Broncos, on the other hand, have what’s been rather a high-powered offense, which is bad news for the Chiefs, who balance their lack of an offense with a lack of a defense. Denver by three touchdowns.

San Francisco (+6) at New Orleans
Don’t be shocked if this one ends up in an upset. The 49ers don’t have much going for them, but they do appear to have a decent pass defense. And the Saints don’t have a running game. Now, don’t take that to mean I’m picking San Fran. I’m not. Because New Orleans ought to be able to get the job done. And the Saints are at home. But I’m not giving six. I’m keeping my money far away from this game. And I’m not gonna pass out if the Niners come out ahead.

Arizona (+1.5) at NY Jets
The Cardinals are the better team here, regardless of whatever’s up with Brett Favre’s ankle. But the Cardinals are also traveling two time zones to the east for the second consecutive week. And I may be crazy, but I’m not picking any team that’s doing that kind of traveling. Jets by three.

Green Bay (+1.5) at Tampa Bay
Let me ask you this: Do you think it’s possible that Brian Griese has actually turned into the guy we saw inthis game? Because I don’t. Green Bay by a field goal.

Minnesota (+3) at Tennessee
Great start aside, I’m still convinced the Titans are going to fade. (Of course, that’s what I thought about the Tampa Bay Rays.) But it’s not gonna start this week. This game is all defense, and the Titans are not only slightly better on that side of the ball, they’re at home. Tennessee wins straight up. Against the spread it’s a push.

San Diego (-7) at Oakland
I’m not sure anyone in Oakland is actually paying attention to football. They’re all too busy sniping at each other and fighting with newspaper columnists. And why not? At least they’re pretending to be entertaining. Chargers by 14.

Buffalo (-8.5) at St. Louis
Steven Jackson, who back to full health, apparently isn’t happy about his 0-3 team’s decision to make a change at quarterback. Jackson’s right in his assertion that Marc Bulger isn’t what’s wrong with the Rams. Unfortunately for Jackson, there’s so much that is wrong with the Rams, Bulger’s lack of culpability is almost entirely beside the point. Buffalo by 10.

Washington (+11) at Dallas
Yeah, you know what? I’m not getting into this game. There’s just not that much to say. Dallas is the better team. Dallas is the home team. Dallas wins by nine.

Philadelphia (-3) at Chicago
Brian Westbrook’s ankle doesn’t matter. The Eagles should have no trouble moving the ball against a Bears pass D that’s among the worst in the league. Philly by a touchdown.

Baltimore (+7) at Pittsburgh
A seven-point spread in this game? Seriously? Is there any real reason to believe that seven points will be scored between these two teams? OK, I don’t really mean that. I think they’ll combine for 16. Pittsburgh accounts for nine of those.

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Week Three Picks

September 19th, 2008 Comments off

Yeah, it’s week three and I still have absolutely no clue as to what’s going on. None of it seems real. None of it seems possible. Injuries are already at week fourteen levels. And I’m just stumbling around in the dark. So read with caution. And try hard not to believe any of it.

Kansas City (+5.5) at Atlanta
Three games, three starting quarterbacks for the Chiefs. It’s gonna be a long, long season in Kansas City. Falcons by a touchdown.

Oakland (+9) at Buffalo
So now it appears Lane Kiffin probably isn’t getting fired this week. Probably Al Davis figured the only way he could make the situation with Kiffin worse than it was already would be to string it out for a while. How very exciting. Buffalo, with it’s increasingly dangerous looking defense, wins 27-3.

Tampa Bay (+3) at Chicago
Devin Hester apparently isn’t quite sure what’s wrong with his ribs. My guess is that Devin didn’t come up with torn cartilage on is own. But whatever the problem is, I’ve got a feeling Hester’s ribs could prove to be an issue in this game. Tampa Bay’s kicking team has done a pretty good job of limiting returns so far this season. And if they don’t have to focus on kicking away from Hester, they can probably force the Chicago offense to work with long fields. That could prove rather problematic for the Bears decidedly one-dimensional attack. The Buccaneers don’t have a great run D, but it’s worth noting that they haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown so far this season (which, admittedly, is still very young). The Bears, meanwhile, have yet to score through the air, which isn’t surprising considering they’ve yet to do much of anything in the passing game. So I’m thinking there’s a lot riding on Hester’s ability to set Chicago’s offense up with good field position. If Hester can do his thing, Chicago can probably come out ahead. But my gut says he’s not gonna be able to do his thing. So I’m taking Tampa to pull off the upset.

Carolina (+3) at Minnesota
It’s hard for me to believe Gus Frerotte is the answer. But it’s entirely possible that I just don’t know what the question is. I guess the only question I need to worry about for the moment is, can Minnesota beat Carolina? Moreover, can they do it with Adrian Peterson at half strength and Steve “Slugger” Smith back from his involuntary vacation? And the answer is … I just don’t know. I think the Vikings defense should match up OK against Carolina’s offense. I don’t think Carolina’s pass D is really as good as it’s looked so far. And while I’m sure Frerotte isn’t someone who can carry his team to a win, I’m fairly certain he at least won’t go out of his way to lose. Plus, the game is in Minnesota. So I guess I’m gonna take the Vikings, but I’m not giving three points (they win it by one max), and I don’t feel at all confident about the pick.

Miami (+13) at New England
You know, it’s one thing to believe New England plans to stick with the short passing attack that worked so well for the team (and for Matt Cassel) in last week’s win over the Jets. It’s quite another to imagine the Patriots won’t take a few opportunities to open up the long game against a Miami defense that has surrendered a league-worst 11.88 yards per pass attempt (15.5 per completion) and has allowed opponents to complete 72.9 percent of their passes (also worst in the league) over its first two games. No, I don’t think we’ll see Cassel throwing 80-yard TDs to Randy Moss all afternoon. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 30- or 40-yard pass play here or there. Would you? Patriots by 17.

Cincinnati (+13) at NY Giants
You know what the Bengals really needed? Chad Ottocinque mouthing off about the O line. That’s what. I’m not saying Achtfunf is incorrect, mind you. (Cincy’s offensive line play thus far has been deplorable.) But you can be factually correct and still wrong. I’m not sure Achtvijf gets that. Giants by diecisiete.

Houston (+5.5) at Tennessee
The Texans come back from a hurricane-imposed early bye week to take yet another beating. Chris Johnson should be good for 120 yards on the ground. He might even carry the ball into the end zone this week. Maybe twice. Titans by 10.

Arizona (+3) at Washington
The spread makes this one look tougher than it is. Way tougher. I don’t care where this game’s being played, Arizona’s just a way better team. On both sides of the ball. Cardinals by seven.

New Orleans (+5) at Denver
I’ll tell you what: If this Denver offense is for real (and if that giant douchebag Brandon Marshall can manage to stay on the damned field, and Jay Cutler can learn to hold on the ball a bit tighter), the Broncos have a very good shot at winning the AFC. Of course, we don’t know yet whether the Broncos offense is real. They’ve only played one team that might turn out to be any good. But we’re not gonna get an answer this week, because the Saints appear not to have more than half a defense. And half a D isn’t getting it done in Colorado. Broncos by six.

Detroit (+4.5) at San Francisco
Quick: Which of these two teams is awfuler? Did you say, “Awfuler isn’t even a word”? Well, you’re right about that. But I don’t care. And the answer is still the Lions. San Fran by eight.

St. Louis (+9) at Seattle
Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom has vowed to shake things up if the team doesn’t get on the right track soon. I was gonna suggest that Chip consider adding a defense as one of the inevitable changes, but then I realized the Rams don’t have an offense either. Tear it all down, Chip. And start building a professional football team. Look for the 0-2 Seahawks to get off the schneid (if only temporarily) with a two-touchdown victory.

Cleveland (+2) at Baltimore
How long do you think it’s gonna be before we see Brady Quinn starting under center for the Browns? My guess is that if Derek Anderson doesn’t manage to lead his team to wins here and next week in Cincinnati, we’ll see Quinn make his debut against the Giants coming out of the bye week. Otherwise, it might take until the Browns fall to 2-4 at Washington in week seven. I have a feeling it’ll be the latter. I’m taking the Browns to win by a field goal here, though I half expect I’ll be kicking myself (again) for believing in them come Monday morning.

Jacksonville (+6) at Indianapolis
There’s one complete, healthy and talented offensive line involved in this game. Unfortunately, it’s split between two teams. Colts win 13-6. (For the record, yes, I do believe losing Bob Sanders is gonna hurt the Colts, but not until they play a team that can hold off Indy’s pass rush long enough for deficits in the secondary to become an issue. And that ain’t the Jags.)

Pittsburgh (+3) at Philadelphia
I don’t have the slightest idea of what to make of this game. Because I don’t know if the Eagles have a real defense and I don’t know if the Steelers have a real offense. I have no such questions when the ball’s moving in the other direction. I know (or at least I feel pretty sure) that both Philly’s O and Pittsburgh’s D are for real. Not that knowing that helps in any way. You’ve still gotta figure out which unit is stronger. As of right now — mostly because I’ve got nothing else — I’m figuring a slight advantage goes to the home team. I don’t imagine Brian Westbrook will be particularly effective running the ball, but I’m not sure the Eagles need him to be. Assuming Pittsburgh brings the blitz, Westbrook should get opportunities to catch short passes, which can open things up deep as effectively as the run. And I suspect that if the Eagles can slow Pittsburgh’s D down a little as the game moves into the second half, they should be able to move the ball down field. So, again, I end up pondering whether I think Ben “I Can Play Through It” Roethlisberger and his unit can keep pace against a Philadelphia defense that didn’t look nearly as impressive as I had guessed it would on Monday night. And, OK, yeah, I realize that the Steelers aren’t the Cowboys (just look at what each O was able to accomplish in Cleveland), but given that the Dallas offense is the only real offense the Eagles have faced this season (sorry, but the Rams don’t even belong in the NFL at this point), that defensive performance is pretty much all I have to go on. Still, as noted, the Pittsburgh offense isn’t the Dallas offense. And with nothing more substantive, that’s what I’m hanging my hat on here. Eagles by four. Maybe.

Dallas (-3) at Green Bay
Anyone else get the feeling the Cowboys are in for another obscenely high-scoring game? I mean, here’s a matchup between a pair of offenses that have put up better than 70 points a game between them thus far this season facing off against a pair of defenses that have allowed a combined 45.5 points a game. So, you know, it seems a fair assumption to me that we’ll see something on the order of 58 points on the board before all is said and done. What does that say about which team’s gonna win? Not one damned thing. It just tells you to bet the over is all. (The line’s at 52.) As for picking a winner, I guess I’ll go with the team that isn’t playing its second straight prime time game while traveling on short rest. It’s not much of a formula, but it’s what I’ve got. Green Bay by two.

NY Jets (+8.5) at San Diego
The Chargers have developed a nasty habit of losing at the last second. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ed Hochuli’s premature whistle. Blah, blah, blah. It was an awful call, granted. And if it doesn’t get made, San Diego wins that game. But it didn’t negate a great defensive play; it simply reversed a bit of good luck. Jay Cutler flat out dropped the ball. And, sure, luck is part of the game. But consider, too that the Broncos a) made it to the goal-line on their own; b) still had to score a touchdown; and c) managed a two-point conversion to seal the victory after that. So let’s not put it all on the officiating, shall we? Plus, the Panthers certainly didn’t win by virtue of anything but good, heads up play in week one. That habit of giving away games probably wouldn’t affect my thinking about this game much, if it were for the fact that Brett Favre has a career-long habit of winning games at the last second. And Favre is never better than on Monday night. I still have to believe the Chargers will manage their first win here, but I’m not giving eight and a half points. Not even to the awful, awful Jets. (And probably not to anyone as long as LT is hobbled.) And, frankly, I won’t be completely shocked if San Diego finds a way to lose straight up. Again.

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Week Two Picks

September 13th, 2008 Comments off

The matchups would probably make this week tough to pick mid-season. But it’s not mid-season, which means there are no long-term trends to analyze, only the results of a fairly weird week one to put too much stock in. So, you know, that helps a lot. I’m sort of figuring I’ll be lucky to come out of this week 8-8 picking straight up, and likely to do worse than that against the spread. Just so you know up front.

Chicago (+3) at Carolina
No, I don’t believe either of these teams is as good as it looked Sunday afternoon and evening. In fact, I’m not sure I know a single thing about either of these teams today that I didn’t know a week ago. All I know is that the Panthers are at home. So I figure they’ll probably win by about the three they’re giving.

Tennessee (+1) at Cincinnati
OK, yeah, the Titans have a quarterback who’s lost interest in playing football (and who won’t be this weekend). The Bengals, from what I saw last week have a whole team full of guys who have lost interest in playing football. Cincinnati does have a capable quarterback, though, so I guess that gives them the edge. Maybe. I’ll give the point on paper, too, but I wouldn’t put real money on this game if … well, I just wouldn’t.

Green Bay (-3) at Detroit
Do you believe the Falcons are really this good? Call me crazy, but I just don’t. I don’t care that Green Bay just played a tough, emotional Monday night game. I’m not worried about letdown. Because I’m not sure there’s a team in the league that can let down far enough to lose to these awful, awful Lions. (Of course, I go into each season firmly believing that Matt Millen’s days have to be numbered, and I always somehow turn out to have it wrong. So what the hell do I know?) Fatigue sets in late, and the Packers only win by nine.

Buffalo (+5.5) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars offensive line had better figure out how to keep pass rushers away from David Garrard, because if things keep going like this, they’re gonna find themselves shopping for a healthy quarterback by week four. My instincts tell me they’ll sort it out, at least temporarily. My instincts also tell me the Jacksonville defense will give Buffalo a better game time than Seattle’s D did. But my instincts don’t like the idea of giving five and a half points, so I won’t. Jags by a field goal.

Oakland (+3.5) at Kansas City
What a joke the Oakland Raiders have become. The team looked miserable in every aspect of the game on Monday night (and even worse early Tuesday morning). They’ve got a QB who can throw the ball a mile but almost no one for him to throw it to, a highly-touted rookie running back who runs to the outside when he should cut in and attempts to run between the tackles when he should go outside, and yet another head coach who’s had his legs cut out from under him by an owner whose football instincts have officially become worse than his fashion sense. Meanwhile, sure, the Chiefs are rebuilding. But they managed to stay with New England in Foxborough through four quarters last week. And, sure there were extenuating circumstances in that game, but the Pats without Tom Brady are still a better team than the Raiders at full strength. (Hell, the Pats with 11 semi-healthy starters playing iron man ball would be better than the Raiders at full strength. And New England isn’t the only team in the league about which I could make that statement). So you know what? I’m taking the Chiefs and giving the points. You tell me why I should do otherwise.

Indianapolis (-2) at Minnesota
Whether Peyton Manning is rusty (which he sure didn’t look in the second half on Sunday night) isn’t the big question for Indianapolis in this game. Not the way I see it, anyhow. I think the big question for the Colts is, if you give up 123 yards (5.3 per carry) and a touchdown to Matt Forte on your field, what do you suppose Adrian Peterson is gonna do to you on his? I’ve got some guesses. They add up to the Colts offense playing well and the Vikings still winning by a touchdown.

NY Giants (-8) at St. Louis
Remember what I said in my season preview and in last week’s picks about the Rams lack of anything resembling a defense biting them in the ass. Why don’t you figure I said that again here. Giants by 17. Minimum.

New Orleans (-1) at Washington
You know what would be interesting? If either of these teams had a ground game. That used to be a part of professional football, you know. Oh, what’s that? It still is, you say? Hmmm. Who knew? Coin toss says the Saints win this one. Maybe by three.

San Francisco (+7.5) at Seattle
Just when you thought the Seahawks couldn’t be more banged up, they went and got more banged up. That will continue to be a problem pretty much any time the Seahawks face a professional football team. Luckily for them, they’ve got the 49ers this week. Seattle by six.

Atlanta (+7.5) at Tampa Bay
You may have read this somewhere before (I’m not sure) but, do you believe the Falcons are really this good? I still don’t. Bucs by 10.

Miami (+6.5) at Arizona
I wish I had something interesting to say about this game. But I don’t. No one does. Because there is nothing interesting about this game. Unless you’re a Cardinals fan hoping for a 2-0 start, in which case it’s the goddamned game of the week. Arizona by nine.

San Diego (-1.5) at Denver
Yeah, I know San Diego’s done very well in Denver the past few years. I know Denver’s coming off rather a late Monday night game, too. And I’m sure the Chargers are the more talented team. But I don’t care about any of that. What I care about is that San Diego found a way to lose last week. To Carolina. At home. And maybe I’m just looking for something, but I feel like I’ve seen this sort of thing with Norv Turner teams in the past. So I’m gonna take my chance with the Broncos in this game. Maybe I’ll be wrong, and I’ll be OK with that. But don’t count on it.

Baltimore (+5) at Houston
Last weeks results in Pittsburgh and Baltimore notwithstanding, I’m taking the team quarterbacked by Matt Schaub over the quarterbacked by Joe Flacco. This week, anyhow. Texans by a touchdown.

New England (+2) at NY Jets
To my mind the most fundamental change in this game as a result of Tom Brady’s season-ending injury is the shift in pressure. With Brady healthy, all the pressure here would have been on New England. The Pats would have been double-digit favorites heading into the Meadowlands for the first time since the game that touched off Spygate. Jets fans and the New York media would have been hoping for blood, but they wouldn’t have been expecting to get it. Now, with Matt Cassel lining up under center for the Patriots, the Jets faithful and the local hacks all expect to see their team take its revenge for being beaten up mercilessly by New England for years. Brett Favre, who has yet to beat a good team (or play a particularly good game) as the Jets QB, is expected (again, by the locals) to lead New York to a victory that will start a charge to an AFC East championship. And if the Jets fail to win this game, there’s not simply going to be wailing and gnashing of teeth, there’s gonna be hell to pay. New England, meanwhile, remains inarguably the better team at all but one position, which means the win New Jersey is expected to produce isn’t going to come nearly as easily as the home crowd anticipates. Then there are the expectations for Cassel, which are so low you’d have a hard time arguing they put so much as an ounce of pressure on the kid. If the Pats win, even if it isn’t Cassel’s play that gets them there, the guy’s a hero. If they lose, as long as he doesn’t lose the game on his own, everyone thinks, “Well, you can’t expect Matt to be Tom Brady.” Do I think that shift in pressure decides the game? Not at all. I simply think it allows Matt Cassel to make his first start in the NFL (and, indeed, his first start since high school) without feeling like he’s responsible for the fate of the world, which may prevent him from folding. What I think decides the game is that the Patriots are the better team. And that if Favre tries some of the things that worked for him against Miami with the Patriots defense on the field, he’s likely to throw two pick sixes. And that you just don’t need to have a Hall of Fame quarterback on your team in order to beat the Jets. Those are the things that decide the game. New England by four

Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Cleveland
Note to Browns fans: The mere fact that your team can’t afford to open the season with two home losses doesn’t guarantee that it won’t. Note to Steelers fans: The mere fact that your team has had Cleveland’s number in the past doesn’t guarantee that it’s gonna win this game. Me, I’m not as certain about this game as Browns fans, Steelers fans or the oddsmakers. I don’t know which team is gonna win, partly because I don’t have any idea what to makes of last week’s results. I need to see more from both of these teams. I do expect to see a competitive game. Because I think the Cleveland offense is better equipped to deal with Pittsburgh’s D than Houston’s offense was. You can’t just take away the Browns’ run game and expect the offense to fold. Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, and Kellen Winslow will make you pay for overcommitting to stopping the run (or, really, they’ll keep you doing it). And because of that, I believe the Browns can score some points here. The question is whether they can stop the Steelers from scoring more. On that point, I’m just not sure. On one hand, you can’t simply expect Willie Parker to have another three-touchdown day. On the other, the Browns managed to allow Dallas to put up three scores on the ground last week. They did, however, need to account for a potent Cowboys passing attack in that game. The Steelers passing offense isn’t nearly so much of a concern. So that’s the long way of saying precisely what I said early on: I have no idea what to expect other than a close game. I’m definitely taking Cleveland with the points. That’s easy. Straight up … I don’t know, I want to pick both. But I can’t do that. So I guess I’ll take the home team. But that’s probably just because I don’t particularly like the Steelers.

Philadelphia (+7) at Dallas
You know what? I could spend an eternity parsing this matchup, but I’m not going to. What it comes down to is this: I know the Eagles have the Cowboys number. I know the Philadelphia defense can bring the kind of pressure that gives Tony Romo fits. And, honestly, I hope Philly wins. But I just don’t believe the Eagles are healthy enough on offense to pull it off. It’s one thing to stomp on the Rams. The Cowboys ain’t the Rams. The Cowboys actually field a defense. And the game’s in Dallas. So I’m taking the Cowboys straight up, looking for the Eagles to find a way to keep it closer than seven, and rooting for an outright upset.

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Week One Picks

September 4th, 2008 Comments off

And here begins another season of me getting it wrong. Exciting, isn’t it? For the record, keep in mind that no one, including the oddsmakers, has any real idea what’s gonna happen this week. My advice: have fun, but keep your money in your pocket until some trends start to emerge.

Washington (+4) at NY Giants
I’m not sure this game is likely to provide anything like real answers to the lingering questions about the Giants’ linebackers or the Redskins’ passing offense. Sure, you can keep a close eye on what happens when Clinton Portis breaks through the line. But getting outmaneuvered by Portis is hardly evidence that you’re deficient as a linebacker. And if I had to guess (which I suppose do, since that’s the point of this whole thing), I’d say you can expect Jason Campbell to play at least relatively well as long as Portis can be effective enough to keep the Giants’ D honest. Washington loses just the same, though I will take the Redskins with the points.

Detroit (-3) at Atlanta
Ugh. Do I actually have to say something about this game? OK, then, here goes: It should be interesting to see how Matt Ryan fares in his first NFL start. You know, on the highlight shows. Lions by five.

Cincinnati (-1) at Baltimore
You know when you’re in for a very long season? When you’re opening against a division rival that’s been forced to start a rookie quarterback whom it never planned to start (and who isn’t ready), because there just isn’t anybody else and you’re still only giving a point. The Bengals have problems. And by this time next year, they’ll have a new coach. I’m taking Cincinnati and giving the point, but I have to say I don’t feel great about it.

Seattle (pick ’em) at Buffalo
You’ve gotta think the Bills are gonna open strong at home. And, you know, the Seahawks are hardly strangers to slow starts. So, yeah, sure, I’ll take the Bills. Why the hell not?

NY Jets (-3) at Miami
Man, I bet Chad Pennington would love to be a part of handing it to the team that dumped him and the guy (what’s his name again?) who took his job. That is, I bet he’d like that. I don’t bet it’s going to happen for him. Jets by seven. (But for the record, Chad, I’m rooting for ya.

Kansas City (+15.5) at New England
Interesting concept: Take a team that’s starting a rebuilding process and put it up against a wrecking crew. This should do wonders for the young Chiefs’ confidence. New England by three touchdowns. (And Tom Brady doesn’t take a snap in the fourth quarter.)

Tampa Bay (+3) at New Orleans
The big question here is, can the Bucs defense slow down the Saints offense? Because we know the Tampa Bay O should be able to score against what passes for a D in New Orleans. I’m gonna go with yes, Tampa’s D takes just enough away from Drew Brees and the gang to make the difference. That’s right. I’m taking Tampa in the upset.

St. Louis (+7) at Philadelphia
You know, if the Eagles were playing a team with an actual defense, the condition of their receiving corps would be a concern. Maybe it will be next week — unless some guys get healthy quick. But the Rams don’t have a D, so there’s not a whole lot for the Eagles to worry about. I look at this game as one that will pretty much set the tone for the Rams’ season. They’ll score behind Steven Jackson (assuming Jackson, who held out through the preseason, sees significant time on the field). But they won’t score enough to overcome Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb, who should be able to complete passes to pretty much whomever Philadelphia can find to line up at X and Z (and, assuming they can find enough healthy bodies, Y) this week. Eagles by 10.

Houston (+6) at Pittsburgh
I think Houston can win some games this season. And I think Pittsburgh is gonna find a way to lose a few. But neither of those things is happening this week. I just don’t believe Houston’s offense is strong enough to overcome a defense that makes it one dimensional. And I’m anticipating the Steelers run D leaving the Texans offense with just one option. That adds up to a Pittsburgh victory, though I expect Houston to hold the difference to something more like four points.

Jacksonville (-3) at Tennessee
Yeah, ummm, three? Really? Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t see Tennessee scoring more than three points here. And I’ve gotta figure Jacksonville’s good for at least 17. So I’m gonna take the Jags and give the points.

Dallas (-5) at Cleveland
Don’t hold your breath waiting to see some stellar defense in this game. The offenses for these two teams are, in many ways, mirror images. In each case there are really three players a defense has to account for: the quarterback, the split end and the tight end. Talented running backs for both teams aside, if you can neutralize two out of three of those players, you’re probably gonna come out ahead. And what I’m looking at is a pair of defenses that aren’t going to be able to get that job done. It’s not that neither D can play. It’s just that the offensive weapons on both sides overmatch the opposing Ds. That tells me we’re gonna see a lot of points on the board. And, honestly, I think either team could come out on top. With that in mind, I’m taking the Cowboys straight up, the Browns with the points, and the over. Definitely the over.

Carolina (+9.5) at San Diego
This is what I was talking about in my season preview (see below) about Carolina’s defense. Unless Tyler Brayton has become a completely different player (and has been holding back like crazy in the preseason so as not to show his hand), the Chargers offensive line should be able to double up on Julius Peppers all day. That means no pass rush for Carolina. And it’s all but impossible for anyone to stop the San Diego ground attack. So what do you think happens here? I’m guessing the Chargers win by 14.

Arizona (-2.5) at San Francisco
I’ve been trying to come up with a reason to believe the 49ers might be able to keep this competitive. All week. I’ve got nothing. Cardinals by a touchdown.

Chicago (+9.5) at Indianapolis
Yes, I really do believe the absence of Jeff Saturday (was he stoned when he sat for that picture?) is gonna pose a problem for the Colts in the early part of this season. Just not in this game. Indy by 16.

Minnesota (+3) at Green Bay
I’m really looking forward to this game. Two good teams that match up well against each other. Division rivals, no less, between which no love has ever been lost. And lots of questions at quarterback on both sides, hints of the answers to which should be abundant on the field. In the end, I like Green Bay straight up, because the Pack are at home and because the team (and particularly Aaron Rodgers) simply needs the win more. But I’m still scared of picking against the Vikings defense, so I’m not looking for anything decisive — and I won’t be shocked if Minnesota comes out on top. I’ll hedge by going with Minnesota with the points.

Denver (-3) at Oakland
And yet again we get bitter division rivals squaring off in a battle for the … ah, who the hell am I kidding? The only reason to stay up for this game is to see Darren McFadden in action. And don’t get me wrong; I expect that to be a good bit of fun. And, still, I expect the Broncos to come out on top by about a touchdown.

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2008 Season Predictions

September 3rd, 2008 Comments off

Another NFL season is upon us and what do I have to offer? Once again, it’s an assortment of utterly useless predictions. That’s right. This is where I try to project what will happen over the course of five months in a sport that’s all but impossible to predict a week at a time.

Which promising team will tank for reasons that everyone will say they should have recognized come November or December? I don’t know. Which one will collapse under the weight of one or two key injuries? Don’t ask me. Which team that looks right now like it’ll be lucky to win half a dozen games will manage twice that? If I knew, I’d be on my way to Vegas.

So why bother? Because it’s kind of fun, I guess. And because everybody else does it. (Don’t talk to me about jumping off bridges. No one gets hurt guessing at football results.) Plus, you know, on the off chance I get one or two things right, I’ll have something to crow about come January. So there’s that.

Regular Season Records
If you’ve been down this road with me before, you know that I don’t bother to predict a final record for every team in the NFL. Even I have better sense than that to pretend I’m capable of doing that with anything approximating accuracy. What I do instead is list a range of numbers that represent the total wins I think each team is likely to achieve. And those usually end up being somewhere between slightly and way off the mark. So what’s the point in the hedge? Again, you’ve got me. Still and all, here’s what I’m sort of expecting to see, division by division.

AFC East

New England Patriots, 13-15
The big question, to my mind, is how back-to-back West Coast trips twice during the season (that is, four total trips out west paired up thusly: Oct. 5 & 12, San Francisco and San Diego, and Dec. 7 & 14, Seattle and Oakland) will affect the Pats. If they manage to win three of those games, they have a shot at 15 wins total.

Buffalo Bills, 7-9
Another season, another mediocre finish with flashes of brilliance for the Bills.

New York Jets, 6-8
Brett Favre probably makes the Jets a better team. The Jets may even win twice as many games as they did last season. For whatever that’s worth.

Miami Dolphins, 4-6
The Dolphins very well may become the second best team in the AFC East. Next year.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns, 10-12
Ten wins didn’t get the Browns into the playoffs last year. It might not get them in this season either. Eleven or twelve, on the other hand, wins the North. If they can come out strong and avoid creating a quarterback controversy, the Browns should be able to win some games they would have lost a season ago. And if that happens, the division is Cleveland’s.

Pittsburgh Steelers, 9-11
The Steelers can win the division or they can miss the playoffs. And the difference, I suspect, will be whether Ben Roethlisberger can play well enough to prevent opposing D’s from stacking the box.

Baltimore Ravens, 6-8
Starting a rookie quarterback because you’ve decided to get it over with and turn the page is tough enough. Starting a rookie QB because no one else is healthy is something else entirely.

Cincinnati Bengals, 5-7
Same old story with the Bengals: Lots of talent, zero discipline. And that still doesn’t cut it in the NFL.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars, 11-13
I don’t see any reason to believe the Jags will be any less dangerous than they were a year ago. Do you?

Indianapolis Colts, 10-12
A three-time Pro Bowl center isn’t an easy player to replace, which is why I believe the Colts will get off to a rough start without Jeff Saturday, who’s out for at least the first six weeks and maybe the first eleven. Indy will turn it around, because they’re a great football team. The question is, will they turn it around in time to overtake Jacksonville?

Houston Texans, 8-10
I expect the Texans to be a better team this season than they were last. Unfortunately for them, the AFC South is maybe the second best division in the NFL.

Tennessee Titans, 6-9
Like the Texans, the Titans could probably win the NFC West or South, but they’ll have trouble in this division and with four games against bruising AFC North opponents.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers, 9-12
For most teams, year two under Norv Turner would be a complete mess. For a team with this much talent, it’s probably just the beginning of the end. And it’s not like there’s another sure-shot good team in the division to worry about.

Denver Broncos, 8-10
If the Chargers stumble early while dealing with injuries and the Broncos come on strong, you could see a race to the finish line in the division. If not, you can at least expect Denver to be in the Wild Card mix until late in the season and to be labeled the team to watch in 2009.

Oakland Raiders, 3-6
The Raiders defense, once again, is loaded with potential. But potential is meaningless when you spend 45 minutes a week on the field.

Kansas City Chiefs, 2-5
Rebuilding year or no rebuilding year, if Herm Edwards survives this season, it’ll be a miracle.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys, 11-13
You can like the Cowboys. You can hate the Cowboys. But you have to respect the Cowboys. This is a tough and talented football team that should be on a mission after letting it all slip away at the end of 2007.

Philadelphia Eagles, 10-12
If Donovan McNabb can stay healthy, and the Eagles can once again resist the temptation to rely on the pass, the Eagles have a shot at the division title.

Washington Redskins, 6-9
Because this is what the Redskins do.

New York Giants, 6-9
The Giants’ solution to their problems at defensive end is to raid an already thin linebacking corps. That might not be a great idea.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers, 10-11
Somebody’s gonna win this division. Might as well be the Packers. (If Brett Favre were starting at QB, they’d probably have run away with it.)

Minnesota Vikings, 10-11
Somebody’s gonna win this division. Might as well be the Vikings. Adrian Peterson alone should be enough to get you eight or nine wins. All Tarvaris Jackson’s gotta do is figure out how not to lose two others and the Vikes are golden.

Chicago Bears, 3-6
If I knew the Bears had an issue at quarterback going into the off-season, how come the Bears didn’t know it?

Detroit Lions, 2-4
The only thing entertaining about the Lions most seasons is figuring out why they suck. (That is, you know, beyond the whole Matt Millen thing.) Not having a defense is the place you’ll probably want to start this season.

NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneer, 10-12
In a stronger division, the Bucs miss the playoffs. In this one, they take the title.

New Orleans Saints, 8-10
The Saints defense should be marginally improved from 2007. Which will be good for one or two more wins. And if the offensive line can hold, they might find another win on top of that.

Carolina Panthers, 6-9
I’m not sold on the Panthers. I just have this idea that one talented defensive end does not constitute a pass rush.

Atlanta Falcons, 3-6
The good news for Atlanta fans is that things appear to be changing for the better. If Matt Ryan pans out, next season could be fun.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals, 9-11
Every season I pick a team other than the Seahawks to win this division. And every season, the Seahawks prove me wrong. This year’s victim is Arizona. Just because.

Seattle Seahawks, 8-10
And now the Seahawks will win 13 games. Just to spite me. I know it. The bastards.

St. Louis Rams, 3-6
A defense is a good thing for an NFL team to have. You’d think the Rams might have learned that by now.

San Francisco 49ers, 3-6
At least Mike Nolan will be remembered as a snappy dresser.


Might as well get into how the playoffs probably won’t go, right? Let’s start with our seedings:

1. New England
2. Jacksonville
3. Cleveland
4. San Diego
5. Indianapolis
6. Pittsburgh

1. Dallas
2. Tampa Bay
3. Green Bay
4. Seattle
5. Philadelphia
6. Minnesota

Wild Card Playoffs

Indianapolis defeats San Diego
Cleveland defeats Pittsburgh

Minnesota defeats Green Bay
Philadelphia defeats Seattle

Divisional Playoffs

Jacksonville defeats Cleveland
New England defeats Indianapolis

Dallas defeats Minneapolis
Philadelphia defeats Tampa Bay

Conference Championships

New England defeats Jacksonville

Dallas defeats Philadelphia

Super Bowl XLIII
New England defeats Dallas, 23-20

That’s about what I’ve got for you. Except to predict, again, that most of my predictions will turn out to be wrong.

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