Archive for December, 2009

Week Sixteen Picks

December 24th, 2009 Comments off

I’m sort of pressed for time this week, so in the tradition of my surprisingly well received “what I’m thankful for” post last month, here’s a look at my holiday wishes for teams and fans around the NFL.

San Diego (+3) at Tennessee
I wish the Titans a productive off-season. As for the Chargers, let’s go with a post-season rematch with the Patriots, with all the success they’ve had in those games in seasons past. San Diego by three.

Tampa Bay (+14) at New Orleans
My wish for the Saints is that they enjoy clinching the NFC one-seed. God knows they’ve earned it. I have no wishes for the Buccaneers themselves, but I do wish for their fans that the team will realize you can’t win in a league of parity when you spend 75 percent of what ever other franchise does on player salaries. Saints by 23.

Kansas City (+14) at Cincinnati
I wish the Bengals a happy AFC North title and the Chiefs a smoother ride in 2010. Cincinnati by 20.

Buffalo (+9.5) at Atlanta
I wish the Bills’ defense good luck finally slowing down an opponents’ running game and the Falcons’ offense a ton of fun exploiting the Bills failure to pull it off. Atlanta by nine.

Houston (+3) at Miami
I wish the Dolphins at their fans one last week of hoping to steal the final AFC playoff spot. I wish the Texans a successful search for their next head coach. (Oddly enough, I think the Texans are probably the better team in this matchup, but they’re not winning.) Dolphins by a point.

Seattle (+14) at Green Bay
My wish for Green Bay is that the Vikings slip to the three seed, giving the Packers the opportunity to be the team that eliminates Minnesota from the playoffs. My only wish for Seattle remains that I might stop having to give them so much as a second’s thought. I guess that’s just a bit more than a week away. Packers by 10.

Carolina (+7) at NY Giants
I wish the Giants the best of luck in trying to thread the needle and qualify for the post-season (it’s not happening). And I wish the Panthers and their next head coach good luck with the whole trying to get out from under Jake Delhomme’s ridiculous contract thing (it ain’t gonna be easy).

Oakland (+3) at Cleveland
I wish both teams an off-season filled with false hope and a 2010 season loaded with constant portents of near-mediocrity. Huzzah! I’ll take the home team and give the points. Because I can’t figure out which squad, if either, is gonna show up, so why not?

Jacksonville (+7.5) at New England
I wish the Patriots a grand old time taking advantage of the Jaguars’ pitiful pass defense and a muted celebration of their return to playoffs as AFC East champs. For the Jags, I wish a peaceful season finale in Cleveland. New England by 13.

Baltimore (+2.5) at Pittsburgh
I wish the Baltimore Ravens all the joy I know they’ll derive from eliminating the Steelers at Heinz Field (and from taking a big step toward locking up a wild card berth). And I wish Pittsburgh fans all the joy of watching their team charge headlong toward an 8-8 finish. Schadenfreude makes a great stocking stuffer. Ravens by six.

St. Louis (+14) at Arizona
For the Cardinals, I wish a lovely last opportunity to pick on the NFC’s bottom dwellers. It’s only gonna get tougher from here. My wish for the Rams is a successful contract negotiation with Jimmy Clausen. Arizona by 17.

Detroit (+12) at San Francisco
My wish for both of these teams’ fans is the same: That some day their squads will figure out how to play NFL football. (Niners fans have a prayer of that wish coming true.) San Francisco by 10.

Denver (+7) at Philadelphia
My wish for football fans everywhere is that the Eagles manage to snag the NFC three seed. Because that would set up a very high likelihood of a Philly-New Orleans conference championship, which I think would be a fantastic football game. My wish for the Denver Broncos is that their failure to get it done when they should have doesn’t bit them in the collective ass. (Though I have to say that last one’s a bullshit wish, since I really don’t care if Denver makes the post-season.) Eagles by 10.

NY Jets (+5.5) at Indianapolis
I wish the Colts starters a happy second half off, and the Jets’ fans a fantastic celebration of the big win. (Hey, it’s Christmas, and this is the last happy moment these folks are likely to have until their team wins the fourth game of the 2010 pre-season and the New York media declares them a sure thing for Super Bowl XLV.) Jets by three.

Dallas (-6.5) at Washington
I wish Cowboys fans the wisdom not to get too prideful about their team winning two straight games in December. Because January’s coming. And two straight losses with it. I wish the Native Americans happy housecleaning. Dallas by four.

Minnesota (-7) at Chicago
For Minnesota fans, I wish a relatively painless visit to the land of Brett Favre’s giant ego. For Chicago fans? Well, it could be worse. You could have traded the franchise for Favre. I wish you the peace of knowing that. Minnesota by four.

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Week Fifteen Picks, Post-Thursday Night

December 18th, 2009 Comments off

Well, I called Thursday night’s game right. So I’ve got that going for me. Here’s what not to expect from the rest of the weekend.

Dallas (+7) at New Orleans
The Saints continue their march toward a perfect regular season (not saying they’ll get there, just that they’ll be taking another step in that direction here) while Wade Phillips continues his march toward unemployment. New Orleans, still playing for the one seed, wins by 10.

Cleveland (+1.5) at Kansas City
Yeah, I know the Browns are coming off a huge win (I watched the game; they were very impressive) and the Chiefs are coming off an embarrassing loss, but I just can’t take the Browns, with their league-worst minus-12 giveaway/takeaway differential, to win a game on the road. I can’t and I won’t. Kansas City by four.

Chicago (+10.5) at Baltimore
With this game, a visit to the disintegrating Steelers and a home finale against the Raiders ahead of them, the Ravens likely have the inside lane in the race for the AFC six seed. I don’t expect to see them blow it against a Bears squad that won’t have much to get excited about until at least April 22.

Arizona (-11.5) at Detroit
Often a second straight road game, particularly when it’s played on a short week, can be a setup for a loss. But I just don’t see Arizona getting surprised again. Cardinals by nine.

New England (-7) at Buffalo
Moss, Moss, Moss. Enough already. You know what? I don’t think Randy Moss or the other 81 is gonna be much of a factor in this game. What is? A swelling Patriots rushing offense vs. a Buffalo run D that ranks last in the league, giving up 5 yards per carry and 170 per game. New England by 13.

Atlanta (+6) at NY Jets
This could be an interesting game. Both teams are getting healthier and both are playing for their playoff lives (though the Falcons aren’t in great shape if they win, the fact that they’re plain old done if they lose has to mean something). I think it’s a much closer game than the spread indicates. The Jets may have a distinct edge on defense, but the Falcons main vulnerability on that side of the ball in the passing game. And I’m not convinced the Jets can capitalize on that particular deficiency, regardless of who’s taking the snaps. If taking the Jets straight up, because they do arguably have more on the line and the game is happening in New Jersey. But I’m not giving six. More like one. Three tops.

Miami (+3) at Tennessee
With San Diego on the way in week sixteen, things aren’t looking too good for the Titans playoffs-wise. I’m not sure they’re ready to accept that, though. And it’s clear that they still feel like they’ve got something to prove. I know the Dolphins want this game like crazy. I know they need it, with their wild card competitors the Jets and Ravens likely winning this weekend (the Broncos, too, of course; but I’m assuming Denver’s all but locked up a playoff spot) and the Patriots just a game ahead of them in the division. I just don’t think they’re gonna get it. Titans by a point.

San Francisco (+9) at Philadelphia
Not only are the Eagles heating up in December as usual, but they demonstrated Sunday night that they’ve figured out how to use Michael Vick in a way that’s tough to defend. I think they’re the most dangerous team in the NFC and I won’t be at all surprised if they push on through to that thing in Miami February 7. The Niners, who are traveling across three time zones to play on short rest, should be a breeze. Eagles by 14.

Houston (-10.5) at St. Louis
Well, Jimmy, the Rams do have neat looking helmets. And a better-than-average shot of turning things around within three years. So there’s that. Houston by 10.

Oakland (+14) at Denver
If the Broncos take care of business here and in their week seventeen home game against the Chiefs, they won’t have to worry much about what happens next weekend in Philadelphia (unless the Chargers manage to lose to Cincinnati, in which case the division, at least on paper, would be back in play). That should provide plenty of motivation for putting a beatdown on the Raiders. The fact that the Raiders are down to plan C at quarterback won’t hurt, either. Denver wins and covers.

Cincinnati (+6.5) at San Diego
Just as I think the Eagles are the most dangerous team in the NFC, I think the Chargers are the most dangerous team in the AFC. That’s bad news for the Bengals, who are facing a tough matchup on the road for the second consecutive week. This should be the game in which the Chargers lock up the two seed. San Diego by seven.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Seattle
I refuse to comment on this game. Seriously. I’ll take Seattle to win and figure on a push with the points. Because I just don’t care.

Green Bay (+2) at Pittsburgh
Can someone explain to me how the Steelers, who have lost six straight, three of the last four of which were to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns are giving points to the 9-4 Packers. And, no, I don’t care where the game’s being played. Green Bay by four.

Minnesota (-9) at Carolina
The Vikings wrap up the NFC North title and take a big step toward locking up the conference two seed. I’m taking Minnesota and giving the points.

NY Giants (-3) at Washington
The Giants are hanging on to their playoff hopes by the merest thread. It snaps here. The Redskins become the second straight home underdog to pull off an upset against a better divisional opponent.

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Week Fifteen, Thursday Night Pick

December 17th, 2009 Comments off

I’m not gonna finish up this week’s picks before game time tonight. So here’s my first bad pick of the week to get things started.

Indianapolis (-3) at Jacksonville
There are good and obvious reasons to pick Jacksonville in this game. They’re the home team in a divisional matchup. The Jags are trying to play their way into the post-season while the Colts have nothing left to play for (except for 16-0, which everyone learned to years ago isn’t worth the effort). The Colts offense likely will be led by a rookie QB through at least the fourth quarter. And still, I somehow can’t bring myself to make that pick. Indy by three.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 10th, 2009 Comments off

I’m taking some upsets this week. Most are hardly upsets at all. But at least one is the real deal. So, you know, the favorites should win all of those games. (And the underdogs will take a few others.) All of which is to say here’s what not to expect.

Pittsburgh (-10) at Cleveland
Yeah, I know the Steelers have lost four straight. And, yeah, I know two of those losses have been to the Chiefs and the (holy crap!) Raiders, but they can’t lose to the Browns. Right? I mean, that would just be way too much. Right? I’m gonna think that until I have a reason not to. Pittsburgh by nine.

New Orleans (-10) at Atlanta
If you go with the which team needs it more philosophy of picking football games, you’ve gotta like the Falcons here. Because, look, up until a week ago, the Saints, unlike the Colts, actually had a reason to shoot for 16-0; the Vikings were just a short step behind them in the contest for the NFC one seed. Now, though, New Orleans has home field all but locked up. They can afford to drop one. Atlanta, meanwhile, is about a loss away from having no shot at the post season. So, yeah, if you pick ’em like that, you lean toward the Falcons. Or you might, if only the Falcons had anything remotely resembling a healthy offense, which they don’t.The Saints engage the cruise control early in the second half and still manage to cover and then some.

Carolina (+13.5) at New England
This is it. This is either the game where the Patriots start a four-game winning streak that has the “experts” who have written them off scratching their heads as January rolls around or the game where it becomes clear that unsettled issues (which will get settled quick in the off-season, especially if the looming uncapped year renders such typical concerns as cap hit immaterial), on-field shortcomings, and off-field … well, you know, lives are conspiring to make 2009 the team’s most purely frustrating season since 2002. (No, I’m not counting the 2008 season, which ended after less than a quarter.) The Patriots don’t need a win here. They need a big, big win. A “those mean old Patriots are running up the score” win. A win in which Brady is still throwing deep to Moss two thirds of the way through he fourth quarter even though the team is ahead by 23. I expect them to get just that. Patriots 45-17.

Buffalo (pick ’em) at Kansas City
This could easily be the shortest game of the season. Neither defense has any ability whatsoever to stop the run, which should keep the ball on the ground and the game clock running. And, given the fact that neither the teams nor their fans have any reason to want to prolong the 2009 season, that might not be a terrible thing. The Bills, who are slightly less awful on both sides of the ball, should come out ahead, maybe by a point.

NY Jets (-3) at Tampa Bay
Even with your franchise in a tailspin (yet again) and your “Sanchize” on the bench, there’s no losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jets keep their post-season hopes alive for another week with a freebie, 19-13.

Miami (+3) at Jacksonville
The Dolphins managed to puff within a game in the division with their comeback victory over the Patriots a week ago. That means that if Miami can win out, all they’ll need to capture a second-straight AFC East title is one more misstep by New England. Unfortunately for Miami, winning out isn’t gonna be easy. They follow this game with a trip to Tennessee. And they finish the season with a visit from Pittsburgh. Neither of these teams has much to offer by way of pass defense. And since Jacksonville’s offense is in a somewhat better position than Miami to take advantage of that situation, I’m taking the Jags to win. But not by much. It’s a push with the points.

Cincinnati (+6.5) at Minnesota
I’ve gotta say, six and a half points seems rather excessive to me. Yeah, the Vikings are getting a lot of attention (and rightly so) this season. But, hell, they’re only a game better than the Bengals, and they’re a game better in the NFC, which is maybe even, maybe a game worse when you adjust for competitive imbalance. And here’s the big thing: The Bengals don’t just let you beat them on the ground. You absolutely have to earn your wins through the air with them. And they don’t exactly come easy there. That’s the kind of situation that has exposed Brett Favre in the past, and I’m not certain we won’t see more of that in this match (especially after Sunday night, because I promise you Cincinnati’s D is a good bit tougher than Arizona’s). Does that mean I’m anticipating a second-straight loss for the Vikings? Not at all. Minnesota’s at home. Minnesota’s not in a position to give away games (a loss would, at least on paper, put the two seed in jeopardy). And Minnesota, as you might have heard, has a pretty impressive defense itself. So, yeah, I’m taking the Vikings. But I’m not giving anything close to six and a half.

Detroit (+13) at Baltimore
The Ravens can still squeeze into the playoffs if they just win their own games and get a little bit of help from either Indianapolis or New England (Jacksonville’s opponents in weeks 15 and 16). That ain’t a terrible position to be in. Baltimore by 17.

Green Bay (-3) at Chicago
The Bears can’t run. The Bears can’t stop the run. And the Bears can’t hold on to the ball. The Packers can do all three. That adds up to a Green Bay win. By six.

Seattle (+6) at Houston
One of these teams is gonna see another frustrating season come to its all-but-official end this weekend. I’m gonna guess it’ll be the road team. Texans by a touchdown.

Denver (+7) at Indianapolis
You know what? I’m taking the Broncos. Here’s why: The Colts have, for all intents and purposes, locked up the AFC one seed. The Colts are going to drop a game at some point (though it’s arguably more likely to come in week 16 or 17 with most of their starters sitting out chunks of the second half). And the Broncos have developed a habit this season of beating good teams. Also, I have a weird hunch. Denver by a point.

Washington (-1) at Oakland
Ugh (ly). This would be easier if Oakland weren’t coming off a nice win. Then I’d just go ahead and pick the home team, even though the visiting squad is arguably a bit less awful. But that would mean picking the Raiders to win their second straight, which just seems obscenely unlikely. So, again, I say ugh. I’m holding my breath and taking Oakland.

St. Louis (+13) at Tennessee
The too little too late factor probably caught up with Tennessee last weekend. Tennessee still has a chance to be a factor in the post-season, but it will be as a spoiler – maybe by killing Miami’s hopes next weekend, maybe by denying San Diego the two seed in week 16, maybe both – rather than as a competitor. None of that has anything to do with this game, however. Here it’s the Titans by 17.

San Diego (+3) at Dallas
You know, on paper this is a great game. Each squad has a narrow lead in its division. Both need a win. And the edge shifts depending on which side of the ball you’re looking at. In reality, I’m not so sure. The Chargers are, true to form, heating up as the season comes to a close. The Cowboys appeared last weekend (also true to form) to be cooling down in December. If those trends hold true, and/or if Dallas doesn’t figure out how to protect the football, this isn’t gonna be much of a game at all. I’m looking for the Chargers to win it straight up.

Philadelphia (+1) at NY Giants
This is what Sunday night football should be all about. If I’m right about the Chargers beating Dallas, this game is for first place in the NFC East. That’s kinda shocking, considering how banged up both of these teams are right now. I’m tempted to take the Giants, since they’re at home and since they need it more. And for the most part the stats say it’s a coin toss, which invariably favors the home team. But the fact that the Eagles come in with a giveaways/takeaway differential of plus-12 while the Giants are at minus-1 gives me pause. And when I unpause, I settle on the Eagles.

Arizona (-3) at San Francisco
In which the Cardinals, playing in prime time for the second consecutive week, sew up the NFC West and get the experts talking about another run to the Super Bowl. Arizona by nine.

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Week Thirteen Picks (post-Thursday night)

December 6th, 2009 Comments off

All-in-all this week presents some of the most lopsided contests of the season. In a typical year, I might think that pointed to an upset week. But this isn’t a typical year. The gap between the haves and have-nots is just way too wide. Of course, since I’m usually wrong about pretty much everything, that probably means … ah, forget it. Here’s what not to expect.

St. Louis (+9) at Chicago
You can probably add to the growing list of reasons it makes sense for Jimmy Clausen to come out a year early the fact that he stands a very good chance of going to the Rams, which beats the living crap out of heading into a draft knowing your headed for Oakland or Detroit. What does that have to do with this game? Little to nothing, which matches exactly what I can come up with to say about a matchup like this one. St. Louis covers, because the Bears aren’t beating anyone by 10 points right now, but Chicago wins it straight up.

New England (-5) at Miami
Look, I’d be lying if I said I don’t think there are a lot of reasons to believe the Dolphins can win this game. And almost none of them have to do with the uncharacteristically terrible performance the Patriots turned in Monday night in New Orleans. There’s the fact that the Patriots are playing their second consecutive road game, which is never an easy win in the NFL. That’s compounded by the Pats playing on six days rest, also a factor that consistently trips teams up. Add in that divisional matches are usually tough and the fact that the Dolphins have their backs against the wall (lose this and they’re done in the division and in need of a good bit of help if they’re gonna capture a wild card spot). All of that points to the possibility of an upset. What points more convincingly in the other direction, however, is that the Patriots simply don’t play badly in back-to-back games. That and the prospect of a Miami pass defense that allows nearly 13 points per completion facing an angry Tom Brady. Oh, also a giveaway/takeaway swing of 15 in New England’s favor (Pats are plus-12, Dolphins minus-3). I think the Dolphins will play hard and make it a game into the third quarter, but in the end the Patriots win and cover.

Philadelphia (-5.5) at Atlanta
Michael Vick returns to Atlanta and blah, blah, blah. It’s Philly’s defense that makes the difference here. Eagles by a field goal.

New Orleans (-9.5) at Washington
Would I be shocked if New Orleans were to run into a letdown game this week? Hell, no. The Saints are bound to drop one at some point. And the Native Americans are easy to look past and better (you know, on defense) than they’re record lets on. So, sure, it could happen. But I’m not picking it. Not today. Not ever. Saints by 13.

Tennessee (+6.5) at Indianapolis
Yes, the Colts eventually are gonna drop one, too. And, yes, the Titans, who come in hot, are as likely a candidate to be on the other side of that as any team in the league. But, no, I’m not picking that either. I’m just not. Indy by three.

Oakland (+13.5) at Pittsburgh
Thinking about the internal turmoil the Steelers are dealing with, I briefly started looking for reasons to justify picking the Raiders in this game. Seriously. I did. Which is more of an indication of what a complete pudding my brain is at the moment than anything else. Of course, reality does manage to push its way through here and there. And reality says that while there’s no giving most of two touchdowns with the 2009 Steelers, there’s also no picking the Raiders to win straight up. So Pittsburgh wins, Oakland covers. And that’s that.

Denver (-4.5) at Kansas City
With the Chargers a game out ahead of them for the division title and trips to Indianapolis and Philadelphia coming up, the Broncos need to win games like this one to stay in line for a post-season berth. Given that the Chiefs come in ranked 29th in the league on both offense and defense, one wouldn’t think that would be a terribly tough row to hoe. Denver by a touchdown.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at Carolina
It’s hard to know whose future is looking less bright at the moment, Jake Delhomme‘s or the team that gave him a bit extension this past off-season and owes him $13 million regardless of whether he ever completes another pass. Not that any of it matters this week, given that Delhomme’s not playing and there’s hardly any chance that any team loses to Tampa Bay. Carolina by four.

Houston (pick ’em) at Jacksonville
I’ve got no insight to offer on this game. Really. There are plenty of reasons to believe that each team can win. And I could run through them. Or I could point out that whichever of these squads I pick to win is going to lose. Because that’s how it’s been all damned season long with both of them. In the end, I kinda think the Texans will pull this one out, which is why I’m taking the Jaguars. How’s that for reasoning.

Detroit (+13) at Cincinnati
After this, the Bengals go on a two-game road trip that starts in Minnesota and wraps up in San Diego. Flip that around and Cincy has a chance to come out of it 1-1. But you can’t, so that’s likely a pair of losses. That means the Bengals have to win here to preserve their lead over Baltimore and Pittsburgh and their chances to take the division with victories over Kansas City and the New Jersey Jets in weeks 16 and 17. They’ll get step one right. Bengals by 17.

San Diego (-12.5) at Cleveland
Who loses to the Browns? Chargers by 14.

Dallas (-1.5) at NY Giants
Not a lot of wiggle room here for the Giants. I mean, sure, you can lose this one and still pretend you have a shot at a wild card spot, but the reality is that the ship is foundering and unlikely to recover with yet another gaping hole in the hull. There’s reason for hope, I suppose, for Giants fans and Cowboys haters alike. I mean, virtually all of the stats favor New Jersey. But the momentum favors Dallas, as does the injury situation. And I can’t shake the feeling that the Giants’ season ends this weekend.

San Francisco (pick ’em) at Seattle
You know what’s gonna happen, don’t you? One of these teams is gonna win this game. Of course, since I can’t begin to care which, I’m just gonna take the one that appears to be going in the right direction (even though it actually isn’t, because it always appears to be going in the right direction but never really is): San Francisco. By four.

Minnesota (-3) at Arizona
Pair a Cardinals’ loss here with a Niners win in Seattle and you’ll have some San Francisco fans believing their team can win the NFC West. For exactly a week. Minnesota by 10.

Baltimore (+3) at Green Bay
Wow. An interesting matchup on Monday night for a second consecutive week. Who’d have imagined it? Of course, there’s part of me that figures there must be another blowout in the offing. But then there’s another part of me that realizes that both of these teams trade on defense. I’m going with Packers, both because they’re at home and because their plus-17 giveaway/takeaway differential is the best in the league. Seems like sound enough reasoning to me.

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Week Thirteen, Thursday Night

December 3rd, 2009 Comments off

I’m not gonna get all of my picks wrapped up before game time, so here’s what I’ve got for tonight.

NY Jets (-3) vs. Buffalo at Rogers Centre, Toronto
If the Bills could beat the Dolphins, who are probably as good a team as the Jets, they ought to be able to do the same with the Jets, right? Yeah, I’d like to think so, too. But I don’t. Give me one or two more good performances from the new coach, new approach Bills and maybe I’ll think differently. For now, though, I’ve gotta go with what I’ve got, all of which favors New Jersey. Still, since I’m gonna be rooting for the Bills anyway, I might as well split the difference and take them to cover. Jets by a point.

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