Archive for December, 2010

Week Seventeen Picks

December 30th, 2010 Comments off

Picking week seventeen is always a giant pain in the patoot. Between the teams with nothing to play for and lots of reasons to rest starters, the teams that have checked out, and teams that might want to finish strong but might not have the ability to pull it off, you tend to end up with half a slate of games where no amount of analyzing stats and trends will do you a bit of good. And even in a season when the playoff picture didn’t come together until late, that’s what we have this weekend. I see a handful of outright gimmes (Atlanta is beating Carolina; it’s that simple); a handful of shrugs (I don’t care if there’s a division title on the line, St. Louis-Seattle is an outright yawn); and a bunch of games where there’s absolutely no (accurately) guessing what might happen. Here’s what not to expect. (Or maybe this time it’s what to expect. How would I know?)

Miami (+3) at New England
This game would be a lot easier to pick if either team had an incentive to win. They don’t. The Patriots are locked in as the AFC’s one seed. And while it’s highly unlikely that Bill Belichick will rest starters for the sake of resting starters, it’s also unlikely that he’ll pass up the opportunity to give some key backups at least a bit of real-game experience as he prepares his squad for a post-season run. I expect to see Brian Hoyer lining up under center by the start of the fourth quarter. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have nothing to play for. Their season ends officially at the close of this game, though it was pretty clear last weekend that a number of players already had packed it in. I’m gonna make the assumption that the Patriots probably only need to play one half of serious football to put the Dolphins far enough in the rearview to hold on and win. Assuming they’ll do that, I’ll take New England and give the points. But you never really know with a game like this.

Buffalo (+3) at NY Jets
The Frat Boys may have something to play for on paper, but in reality, it’s nothing. New Jersey is in the playoffs win or lose. With a win and a Ravens win and a Steelers loss, the Frat Boys would move up from the six seed to the five. But it’s meaningless. They’re playing at Kansas City, Indianapolis or Jacksonville next weekend no matter what happens in the Meadowlands this Sunday. And which team hosts the wild card game will depend on what happens in those teams’ season finales, so there’s nothing to be gained by trying to pick an opponent. New Jersey also has a beat-up quarterback who may start the game but won’t finish it. So there’s that. The only pro football team that plays (most of) its home games in New York, meanwhile, is coming off a really embarrassing loss and likely feeling they’ve got something to prove, if only to themselves, before another long off-season begins. I expect the Bills to play hard and the Frat Boys not to, which leads me to think we’ll get an upset. It’ll happen late and it’ll be by a narrow margin – maybe just a point – but it’ll happen just the same.

Cincinnati (+9.5) at Baltimore
The Bengals shocked pretty much everybody by ending the Chargers’ season (excuse me while I wipe away a tear) last weekend. But don’t get too caught up in wondering if Cincinnati will be able to play spoilers again. The Bengals are still an awful team. And the Ravens go into this game with an outside chance (they need a win and a Steelers loss) at the AFC two seed and a first-round bye. That, plus Cincinnati’s complete inability to stop the run, should make for a fairly easy Baltimore victory. I’m rarely comfortable giving more than a touchdown in a divisional matchup, but I think 10 here is reasonable.

Tampa Bay (+8) at New Orleans
OK, so we can agree that the Saints aren’t getting the NFC South title and the one seed, right? Because that would require the Falcons to lose at home to the worst team in football, which simply isn’t gonna happen. That makes New Orleans the NFC five seed and puts them on the road at either St. Louis or Seattle a week from now. (That’s a win for the Saints.) And that means the Saints have nothing to play for here. The Buccaneers, on the other hand, have at least a phantom to chase: If they win and the Giants and Packers both lose, the Bucs are in as the six seed. They’re not getting there, of course, but that doesn’t mean the won’t try. That’s why, though I think the Saints would like to finish strong badly enough that they’ll probably play a full game and come out ahead, I like the Buccaneers to keep the margin to something closer to, say, three.

Carolina (+14.5) at Atlanta
The worst team in football travels to face a 12-3 squad that’s a win away from securing home field advantage through the NFC playoffs. You need something more than that? Atlanta by 20.

Minnesota (+7) at Detroit
The Vikings had a nice turn Tuesday night in Philadelphia, but I think the key verbiage there is “Tuesday night.” It’s hard enough to play back-to-back road games in the NFL. It’s tougher still if the second outing is against a divisional opponent. And it’s gotta be a complete killer when there’s just five days in between. I’d be taking the Lions straight up here either way – they’re far better than the Vikings offensively, only slightly worse defensively, and they protect the ball a whole lot better – and under the circumstances, I’m not even hesitant to give the seven points.

Oakland (+4) at Kansas City
From the perspective of post-season seeding, the Chiefs don’t have a lot to play for in this game. They can protect the three seed with a win, but that probably doesn’t mean all that much unless you want to make sure someone else has a shot to knock off New England before you have to travel there. But I don’t see Todd Haley taking his foot off the pedal (or letting his players take their feet off). Momentum means too much to a team in the Chiefs position. Plus, there’s never been a whole lot of love lost between Kansas City and Oakland. Both offenses rely heavily on the run, but the Chiefs have a defense that can actually stop it. Kansas City also takes much better care of the ball. I’m taking the Chiefs and giving the points.

Pittsburgh (-6) at Cleveland
I know there are more than a few people out there who believe, for whatever reason, that the Browns have the potential to play tough and deny their rivals a division title and a first round bye. I’m not one of those people. I look at the Browns and I see a team with an increasingly banged up running back, a likely lame duck head coach and, most importantly, no ability whatsoever to so much as slow down an opponent’s running attack. That doesn’t add up to a hard-fought Cleveland victory; it adds up to Pittsburgh getting a week’s rest. Steelers by nine.

Jacksonville (-1) at Houston
Quick: Who’s got a guess as to which foot the Texans will shoot themselves in this week? Because with David Garrard out and Maurice Jones Drew probably out, there’s very little reason to believe the Texans shouldn’t win this game. Thing is, the mere fact that the Texans should win has very little meaning. There have been a lot of games this season that the Texans should have won but didn’t. And there where it becomes impossible to pick this thing: You can’t expect either of these teams to win, but there’s no way for both of them to lose. I’m taking Houston because I can’t figure out a reason to pick Jacksonville. But I won’t tell you I feel good about that, because I don’t. I just really, really don’t.

Arizona (+6.5) at San Francisco
I’m having a very hard time getting my head around the decision to fire Mike Singletary. I mean, not in general. The 49ers are hosting a battle for last place in the worst division in professional football. A change was in order. But in advance of week seventeen? What’s the point? You finish the season and then you make a change at the top. Or, you know, that’s how sane organizations do it. Whatever. I don’t want to pick the 49ers, but I really can’t pick the Cardinals. So I’ll take San Francisco straight up and Arizona with the points. As if anybody cares.

Chicago (+10) at Green Bay
The Bears can say whatever they want, I’ll believe they’re “full go” for this game when I see it. Because assuming (once again, and just as safely) that there’s no chance the Falcons lose to the Panthers, the Bears’ last incentive to put it all on the line this weekend disappeared when Vikings upset the Eagles Tuesday night. The Bears are the NFC two seed. They’re getting a week off and they’re hosting at least one playoff game. And they’re not capturing the one seed. They’ve got nothing to play for here. The Packers, on the other hand, have everything to play for. If the Pack wins, they’re in. (And they get an all-expenses-paid wild card weekend trip to Philadelphia, where they will be pummeled mercilessly! Hooray!) That should be enough to carry Green Bay to victory over a team they’d have little chance of beating under normal circumstances. But I ain’t giving no 10 points. Four seems more like it.

Tennessee (+9.5) at Indianapolis
If I were Bud Adams and had to choose between Jeff Fisher and Vince Young, I’m not sure I’d find the decision too difficult. You stick with the proven pro, right? The guy who’s shown he knows how to win over the guy who can’t even show he knows how to do his job? Well, maybe that’s how people like you and I think. Bud Adams, not so much. Which means we can look forward to many more seasons of the Titans sucking. That’s good news for the Colts and Jaguars, I suppose. As for this game, uh, yeah, sure, I’ll give the points. Might as well.

San Diego (-3.5) at Denver
Hey, Chargers, I really enjoyed your game last week. Got a message for you from Nelson Muntz. But you know what? You go ahead and enjoy this easy win – and your off season. San Diego by a touchdown.

Dallas (+7) at Philadelphia
I can’t see giving seven points considering that the Eagles will be playing on five days rest, with a banged up quarterback and nothing to play for (win or lose, they’re the conference three seed). But I can’t pick the Cowboys to win on the road, either. So I’m looking for the Eagles to come out ahead by a field goal.

NY Giants (-4) at Washington
The Giants need help to get into the playoffs and I rather suspect they’re not gonna get it. But they shouldn’t need much help to take out their frustrations on a Washington team that does next to nothing well. Giants by six.

St. Louis (-3) at Seattle
I’ve gotta be honest. I’m rooting for Seattle in this game. Why? Because if one of these awful teams is gonna win a division, I want it to be the one that does it with a losing record. That’s 6-9 Seattle. Of course, my rooting isn’t gonna help the Seahawks overcome their inability to move the ball, inability to score, inability to stop opponents from scoring, and inability to protect the ball. Those things should add up to St. Louis winning the game and winning the NFC West at 8-8. It’s a push with the points.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 23rd, 2010 Comments off

The great thing about week sixteen in the NFL this season is that the playoff picture is about as wide open as we’ve seen it in recent years. Going into the weekend, only four teams have clinched playoff spots, and only one of those (Chicago) has wrapped up a division title. The not-so-great thing about week sixteen is that the matchups look fairly unexciting. With the exception of Jets-Bears and Giants-Packers on Sunday afternoon and Saints-Falcons Monday night, there isn’t a ton to look forward to unless the team you root for has a chance to sew up a post-season berth or seeding. That’s something, of course. It’s just not something that’s gonna make the games much more interesting to watch. Oh, well. More time for playing with those new Legos (er, um, I mean helping the kids with their new Legos), I suppose.

Here’s what not to expect.

Carolina (+14.5) at Pittsburgh
Oh, boy. I don’t know what kind of Thursday night plans you have, but my butt’s not getting off the couch, I can tell you that. Nothing more riveting than a thoroughly rudderless team, probably the worst in the NFL, traveling to face a playoff squad that’s coming off a costly loss and in the midst of a battle for a division title and a first-round bye. Should be a game for … oh, I’d guess about three minutes. Of real time. Steelers by 17.

Dallas (-6.5) at Arizona
I can tell you this for sure: When the schedulers put this one in for Christmas night, they were thinking the Cowboys and Cardinals both probably would be trying to sew up division titles and might even be in a battle for the NFC one seed. They certainly weren’t anticipating a matchup between a hopelessly disappointing Cowboys squad hoping it can maybe climb out of the NFC East cellar and a downright awful Cards team pulling up last place in a division that might be won by a 7-9 team. I’ll give it until halftime, but if this game’s as awful as I expect it to be, I’m cranking up Better Off Dead and calling it a Christmas. Since the Cowboys at least have their moments on offense and don’t quite fumble the ball away every other time they touch it, I’m looking for them to come out ahead. Probably by a touchdown or better.

Detroit (+3.5) at Miami
So if last weekend the Lions beat a better team than Miami in Florida and the Dolphins lost to a worse team than Detroit at home, the Lions should probably be able to pull off the upset here, right? I mean, there’s some kind of weird logic to that, or so it would seem. But then there’s also reality. Like, consider the fact that the Dolphins are 1-6 at home and 6-1 on the road this season. That kind of backward statistic isn’t sustainable over the long term. And while there’s only so much righting itself it can do in two weeks (especially since Miami’s week 17 opponents may not have much reason to play very hard), 2-6 at home at least seems a bit more reasonable. Plus, Detroit’s on the road for a second consecutive game. And the Lions’ defense is one dimensional. So I suppose I’ll take the Dolphins straight up, though I’m not giving any three and a half. In fact, I’m not sure I’d give any more than a point.

Baltimore (-3.5) at Cleveland
The team that used to be the Browns just needs a win to qualify for the post season. The team that wants to be the Browns would love to prevent that from happening. And I think if Colt McCoy is healthy, they’ll have a crack at it. Ultimately, though, I think the Browns’ inability to stop the run upends them here. Ravens grab a wild card berth, winning by a field goal.

San Francisco (+2) at St. Louis
This may very well be the season when a 7-9 team wins the NFC West. Check it out: The Rams are 6-8 going into this game. The Seahawks are 6-8, too. Seattle’s headed for 6-9 (see below), and St. Louis is headed for Seattle in week seventeen. That sets up the strong possibility of 6-9 Seattle squaring off with 6-9 or 7-8 St. Louis with a division title on the line. (We could also discuss scenarios that involve the 49ers, who, amazingly, are still in contention at 5-9, but it gets way too complicated). Astounding. Of course, none of that has a whole lot to do with figuring out how this game should turn out. So what do I propose there? I’m not sure. There’s really not that much difference between these two teams. The Rams do take a little bit better care of the ball, which is something. And they’re at home, which is another thing. So I’m thinking I need to take St. Louis straight up. But this is another game where I can’t see giving more than a point. So I’ll split the difference picks-wise and take the Niners with the points.

New England (-8) at Buffalo
The Patriots are looking to sew up the AFC East title. Pats players also will be taking the field with a strong desire to show their coach that they’re better than they looked on Sunday night. The Bills? They’re just all-around awful. Can’t score. Can’t stop opponents from scoring. Worst run defense in the league. Prone to turnovers. And, OK, sure, it’s a divisional matchup and the Bills no doubt would love to wrap up the home portion of their schedule by winning and making things harder on New England. But wanting to do something and having the ability to do it are two very different things. Patriots win by no less than 20, collect their caps and T-shirts, and head home to Foxborough knowing that the soonest they can conceivably have to play away from home is February 6.

Washington (+7) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars are gonna need some help to get to the post-season, but they can still get there. The Racial Slurs are planning for the 2011 draft (or, more likely, for the free agency period, which is the only place they ever seem to come out ahead). I expect Jacksonville to run the ball down Washington’s throats, which should cut down on David Garrard’s picks. Jaguars by nine.

NY Jets (+1) at Chicago
The Bears are looking to stay in the mix for the NFC seed and a first-round bye (the one seed is officially in play, but Atlanta just needs one win in its final two games to get it). The Frat Boys are looking to play their way into the post-season. And Rex Ryan, apparently, is looking for a hot pair of feet. (Everybody say, “Ewwwww, gross!”) Here’s what I think makes the difference in this game: Mark Sanchez, when he’s under pressure, throws picks. And the Bears are good at bringing pressure and better than any team except the Patriots at picking off balls. The Jets are also playing their second consecutive road game against a tough opponent. That’s never easy. So I’m taking the Bears and giving the point.

Tennessee (+5) at Kansas City
The Chiefs close the season with two winnable home games and a clear path to their first AFC West title since 2003. The Titans close the season with a boatload of disappointment and an incredibly murky future. Chiefs by a touchdown.

Indianapolis (-3) at Oakland
The smart pick here is probably the Colts, who can take the AFC South and earn a spot in the post-season tournament by winning their final two games (and since they close at home against Tennessee, this is the one that makes the difference). But, you know, I’m not sure. The Colts haven’t been able to stop the run this season. And the Raiders will run the ball at you all day long if you let them. Plus, with Austin Collie gone for the season, I’m not sure the Colts offense is gonna be able to do what it wants and needs to do to win. So I’m taking the Raiders straight up, though I’m looking for a push with the points.

San Diego (-7.5) at Cincinnati
Unless Kansas City trips up in a major way, it appears San Diego’s annual late-season charge (see what I did there?) will prove too little too late this time around. But the Chargers are still beating up on the hapless Bengals this weekend. San Diego by 10.

Houston (-2.5) at Denver
Lovely. A team that can never find a way to win hosting a team that always finds a way to lose. I’m thinking this one comes down to whichever offense doesn’t hold the ball last. I’m looking a Houston team that can run the ball and a Denver team that can’t stop the run, holding my breath, and taking the Texans to win it, but only by a single point.

NY Giants (+3) at Green Bay
The Packers aren’t making the playoffs this season (they’ll be losing to the Bears in week 17), but they don’t know it yet. The Giants might yet qualify to play a game on January 8 or 9, but it won’t happen this weekend. Still reeling from their epic collapse last weekend, New Jersey rolls into Green Bay to face a squad that very nearly beat the best team in football on the road a week ago and is getting its starting QB back. I expect to see Eli Manning to throw a pair of costly picks and the Packers D get back to allowing fewer than 16 points a game. Green Bay wins this one by six.

Seattle (+6) at Tampa Bay
For my take on just how horrifically bad the NFC West is, see my pick on the 49ers-Rams game above. You’ll also note there that I’m taking Tampa Bay in this game. That’s mainly because the Seahawks are part of the horrifically bad NFC West. But it also has to do with the fact that the Buccaneers major defensive weakness is an inability to stop the run, which I don’t expect will hurt too badly in a game against an offense with no running game. Then there’s the glaring advantage in giveaway/takeaway differential: Seattle is a -9 with 20 picks thrown; Tampa Bay is a +8 with 18 balls picked off. That’s just not something that swings wildly in week 16. Bucs by 10.

Minnesota (+14.5) at Philadelphia
Seriously, what do you want me to tell you about this game? You know the Eagles are winning it. The Vikings know the Eagles are winning it. There are unknown aquatic creatures that have lived their entire lives at the bottom of the Mariana Trench that know the Eagles are winning. So is the question, “Can Minnesota cover the big spread?” Because if that’s the case, I’ll just point out that that this team lost 40-14 Monday night at home (OK, sort of at home) to a team with an offense not half as potent as Philly’s. So, yeah, I’d say go ahead and give the points. Eagles by 17.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Atlanta
Look, one could go on and on about this game, but here’s what it comes down to: The Falcons execute better on both sides of the ball and they pick off a ton of balls, which sucks for Drew Brees, who’s already thrown 19 interceptions on the season. The Falcons wrap up the NFC South title and the conference one seed with a four-point win that comes down to a key defensive play late in the game.

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Week Fifteen, Post Thursday Night

December 18th, 2010 Comments off

Two kinds of games this week: Total gimmes and games too tough to pick with anything resembling confidence. And even in the gimme department, I think we can expect to see at least one serious upset. (And, no, I would see entirely awful Carolina beating mostly awful Arizona at home as a serious upset. Just so you know.) Don’t be surprised if that big upset happens in either Seattle or Pittsburgh – not that I’m actually picking the dog in either of those places. Here’s what not to expect.

Kansas City (+1) at St. Louis
You have to imagine that with the Chiefs battling to hold on to first place in the AFC West (especially since second prize in this contest isn’t even a set of steak knives) Matt Cassel’s gonna be on the field. And if you assume Cassel will be out there, which will help the Kansas City rush offense get its legs back, there’s not much to look at other than the facts that the Chiefs are better on both sides of the ball and that the Rams can’t hold on to the damned ball. I’m taking Kansas City straight up.

Buffalo (+6) at Miami
The bad news for the Dolphins is that even if they manage to win out and steal a spot in the playoffs, they’re gonna have to play all of their games on the road. The good news is, the Dolphins pretty much only win away from Miami. The better news is that the Dolphins should actually win a home game this weekend for a change. Because the Bills aren’t beating anyone anywhere. Miami by seven.

Cleveland (+1.5) at Cincinnati
Colt McCoy is back under center for the Browns. And the Bengals can’t hold on to the ball, can’t stop the run, can’t stop the pass, and can’t get out of their own way. So someone please explain the spread on this game to me. Browns four.

Jacksonville (+5) at Indianapolis
A win here would clinch the AFC North title for Jacksonville. Which is nice, I suppose, but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of chance of it happening. The Colts are getting healthier and they know they have to win this game to have a shot at the division (they also have to know that a loss here puts them in line to miss the post-season entirely, with Baltimore, New Jersey, San Diego and probably Miami ahead of them in the wild card chase). Indy never seems to be able to put Jacksonville away handily, even in their own stadium, so I’m looking for a margin of victory that’s closer to three than five, but I still like the Colts straight up.

Houston (+1) at Tennessee
Even on a short week and on the road, the Texans ought to be able to find a way to beat the foundering Titans. And if, instead, they find yet another way to beat themselves, well, maybe they should see that as a sign that Gary Kubiak isn’t the right guy for the job. Houston by a field goal.

Washington (+6) at Dallas
Normally, I’m not one to second guess Mike Shanahan, but, umm, seriously? The less dysfunctional team (it’s the Cowboys in this case, if you can believe that) wins by a touchdown.

Philadelphia (+3) at NY Giants
In many ways (most ways, really), this is about as evenly matched a game as you’re likely to find. That’s why it’s effectively the NFC East title game. Both teams come in at 9-4. Both are playing pretty to very good football on both sides of the ball. Both are headed for the playoffs. The one major difference I can find is in the giveaway-takeaway differential. The Giants stand at -2. They’ve lost 14 fumbles on the season, which ties them with Chicago for third most in the league. And Eli Manning has thrown 19 picks. That’s tied for the second most in the league. Put ’em all together and you get a league-high 33 giveaways. You shouldn’t be able to keep winning when you’re giving opponents that many extra opportunities with the football. The Eagles, meanwhile, are at +15. That’s second only to the Patriots and it’s built on a league-best 22 interceptions. That’s not good news for Eli and the Giants. And it’s the reason I’m expecting the Eagles to win this game, and the division, by four points.

Arizona (+2.5) at Carolina
This is a professional football game? I guess I’ll take the Cardinals. They don’t travel east well, but they have four times as many wins as the Panthers. So, you know, there’s that. Arizona by a point.

Detroit (+5.5) at Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers still have a shot at the post-season. The Lions still have a shot at a top five draft pick. Welcome to yet another season in the NFL. Tampa by a touchdown.

New Orleans (+1.5) at Baltimore
I’m taking the Ravens, because they’re at home and because the Saints’ 30 turnovers on the season make me very uncomfortable. But the reality is that this game could go either way. For our purposes today, let’s say Baltimore by a point.

Atlanta (-6.5) at Seattle
If the Falcons can avoid looking past this game to their home matchup with the Saints next weekend, they should win handily. And until I get some reason to think otherwise, I’m gonna assume the Falcons are 11-2 for a reason (and I know the Seahawks are 6-7 for a reason). Atlanta by 10.

NY Jets (+5.5) at Pittsburgh
This game might not be as easy for the Steelers as a lot of us have assumed. Without Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh could let New Jersey hang around, which is maybe the only time the Jets are dangerous. I think Pittsburgh still comes out ahead at home and working to shore up the two seed (and hold onto their chance at stealing the one seed from New England), but I’m only willing to give three points.

Denver (+6.5) at Oakland
The Broncos are just a painfully bad football team. An offense that would boarder on middling if it could hold onto the ball (which it can’t) paired with a defense than can’t stop the pass or the run doesn’t get you far in the NFL. It won’t get Denver past a solidly average Oakland squad here. Raiders by nine.

Green Bay (+10) at New England
Let’s be honest. The Packers aren’t winning this game with or without Aaron Rodgers. I do think Tom Brady’s no-interception streak probably comes to an end against Green Bay’s ballhawking DBs. But that won’t matter, because whichever QB Green Bay starts is gonna throw a few picks of his own. Patriots by 14.

Chicago (-3) at Minnesota
I’m sure it’s always been Joe Webb’s dream to get his first NFL start on a Monday night against an angry, hungry Bears team with something to prove. Chicago by 10.

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Week Fifteen, Thursday Night

December 16th, 2010 Comments off

I’m not gonna get to all 16 games before the kickoff of tonight’s thrilling affair in Southern California, so here’s what little I have to say about that game.

San Francisco (+9) at San Diego
It would seem kind of lame to think that the 7-6 Chargers wouldn’t be out of the AFC West division race with a loss here, except for the fact that the 49ers, who come in at 5-8, would still have an outside shot at the NFC West title. That’s just plain old embarrassing. Chargers by 12.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 9th, 2010 Comments off

I actually managed to get everything line up ahead of the Wednesday night game this week. I wonder how much extra wrong that’ll make me. I’ll tell you this: Whenever you’ve got this many road teams giving this many points, you’re in for some surprises. Here’s what not to expect.

Indianapolis (-3) at Tennessee
When was the last time the Colts faced a must-win game in week 14? (Yeah, I could look into it and come up with an answer fairly easily, but it’s sorta beside the point.) Well, here it is. Indianapolis wouldn’t be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss here, but they sure wouldn’t help their position any – particularly in the AFC South, where the Jaguars are threatening to prove they’re for real (they’re not, and we’ll see some of why on Sunday, but the Colts can’t know that for sure on Thursday night). The Colts need to preserve their ability to pull up even with Jacksonville next week. They also need division wins, because even if they beat the Jags in their place, it’ll only make the two teams even on the season. Fortunately for the Colts, the Titans appear to have called it a season. (Which is doubly nice for Indy, since they play Tennessee twice over the next four weeks.) The Titans have lost five straight, two of them in their stadium. They’re doing next to nothing right. They’ve got respected alums criticizing their lack of effort. They appear to be in a death spiral. And, you know, maybe the opportunity to put a nail in their hated division rivals’ coffin will wake the Titans up for a week. Tennessee does pick off a good number of balls, and Peyton Manning suddenly loves throwing to DBs. But, you know, I don’t think it’ll be enough. The Titans might actually manage to keep this game close – if they can be bothered to try – but they’re not coming away with a win. Colts by a single point.

Cleveland (+1.5) at Buffalo
The Browns, as you may have heard, have had some pretty good success against the AFC East this season. They smoked the division’s (and the conference’s) best team, came up just short against New Jersey and last week won ugly in Miami. It’s likely none of that means anything as far as this game goes, but it’s interesting all the same. I still have a hard time picking a team with Jake Delhomme at quarterback, but it’s not so tough for me to pick a team with Peyton Hillis running the ball against the worst run defense in the league (the Bills allow a shameful 171 yards per game on the ground and have surrendered 14 rushing touchdowns this season). So, yeah, I’m looking for Cleveland to finish 3-1 against the AFC East. That might at least mean something to their coach. Browns by three.

Atlanta (-7) at Carolina
If the Panthers weren’t so thoroughly awful and the Falcons weren’t in a tight division race with the Saints, you might think Atlanta could be in for some kind of a letdown game here. But that’s not happening. Falcons by 13.

NY Giants (-2) at Minnesota
Let’s see if either of the quarterbacks in this game can manage to throw more balls to his own receivers than he does to opposing DBs. If one of them can pull that off, his team probably wins the game. I like Eli Manning in that contest. Giants by six.

Cincinnati (+9) at Pittsburgh
Can someone please explain to me how it is that three head coaches have lost t heir jobs this season and not one of them is Marvin Lewis? Steelers by 14.

Oakland (+4.5) at Jacksonville
Wait a second; I need to think. [So it’s bad Raiders, good Raiders, good Raiders, bad Raiders, good Raiders, bad Raiders, good Raiders, good Raiders, good raiders, bad Raiders, bad Raiders, good Raiders. So that means it’s … oh, hell, I give up.] Both of these teams like to run the ball. Jacksonville gives up fewer rushing yards per game (though virtually identical yards per carry), but has allowed 12 rushing TDs on the season to Oakland’s 9. And the Jaguars fumble a lot while the Raiders take away a lot of fumbles. I’m going with Oakland in the upset. Let’s say Raiders by three.

Green Bay (-6.5) at Detroit
In which the Packers temporarily sprout a running attack, control the tempo of the game, and come away with a respectable, if not great, win over the Lions. Green Bay by six.

Tampa Bay (-2) at Washington
Part of me wonders if maybe the Buccaneers, having just blown an opportunity to establish themselves as legit might not go into a tailspin. But another part of me thinks that if you’re the Racial Slurs and you can’t run the ball to save your life and you’re going up against a team with a stout pass D, you’re in a lot of trouble. I’m going with analysis over hunch and taking the Bucs. Let’s say by three.

St. Louis (+9.5) at New Orleans
At some level, I’m sure there’s something satisfying about being the best team in the NFC West. Might even buy you a cheap post-season appearance. But it won’t do you one damned bit of good against a team like the Saints. Not in January and not now. New Orleans by 17.

Seattle (+5) at San Francisco
Oh, goody, it’s an NFC West showdown. You know what that means, don’t you? A pair of offenses that can’t score facing off against a pair of defenses that can’t stop opponents from scoring. It’s a poser, isn’t it. I’m taking the home team because, well, because they’re at home. But I’m not giving five. Two, three maybe, but not five.

New England (-3) at Chicago
I’ll say this: If the Patriots are losing another game this season, it happens here. Short week. Long trip. Great (not good, great) pass D. This is the type of game that, if the argument that there are no elite teams in the NFL this season is correct, probably should go to the home team. I don’t think it’s happening. Lots of reasons for that, not the least of which is the fact that elite teams have started to emerge and New England is one of them. But there’s also this: Jay Cutler throws picks. And the Patriots defensive backs are ball hawks. If Chicago falls behind, as other recent Pats opponents have done, you can count on Cutler to press. And then the interception situation gets worse. I think the Pats start out a bit slower than they have in recent weeks (again, short week/long trip), but to start asserting their will late in the first half and then to take over sometime around the middle of the third quarter. New England by 10.

Miami (+5.5) at NY Jets
No, I don’t think the Monday night massacre is gonna put an end to the Frat Boys’ season. I do think New Jersey is gonna have a tough go of it in weeks 15 and 16 with consecutive road games in Pittsburgh and Chicago. But with a lot to prove (to themselves, their fans and the league) and the foundering Dolphins in town, they should take this one – even if it takes some late heroics to get it done. Frat Boys by a field goal.

Denver (-3) at Arizona
I have a sneaking suspicion that one of these teams is gonna not lose this week. I’ll take the one that actually has a starting quarterback and that has a new head coach. And, sure, I’ll give the points. Why not? Denver by four.

Kansas City (+7) at San Diego
Look, I like the Chiefs. And I suspect they’ll be able to hold on and win the AFC West title. But I didn’t like them against the angry, wounded and desperate Chargers even before they lost Matt Cassel, so I’m sure as hell not picking them now. Chargers by nine.

Philadelphia (-3) at Dallas
Nope. Sorry. I’m still not buying into the Cowboys. I don’t care what they did last week. Eagles by six.

Baltimore (-3) at Houston
After Sunday night, the Ravens can’t afford to screw around here. They need a win to stay competitive with the Steelers in their division. And they’re playing a team with one of the worst defenses in the league. So I’m going with Baltimore straight up, though I think it’s a push with the points.

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Week Thirteen, Post-Thursday

December 4th, 2010 Comments off

Mixed bag this week. A lot of games that seem pretty clearly to be going in one direction (though that usually means at least one or two shocking upsets are in the offing) and a handful that I can’t figure no matter how hard I try. I’ll probably come up on the wrong side of most, if not all, of those. Here’s what not to expect.

Jacksonville (+2) at Tennessee
I can’t find a single meaningful reason to anticipate that the Jaguars have any real hope of winning this game. Jacksonville has no ability to hold on to the ball. The only thing the Jags do consistently well on offense is run. The only thing they do consistently well on defense is nothing. Plus, they almost always lose to the Titans. Still, Tennessee has appeared to be circling the bowl in recent weeks. And I’m not sure a halfway healthy quarterback is all they need to set things right. I’m going with Jacksonville straight up, but I’m warning you right now that I’m doing it on a total hunch.

Washington (+7.5) at NY Giants
There’s very little about the Giants that inspires confidence. But there’s nothing whatsoever to like about the Racial Slurs. And the game is in New Jersey. So, yeah, I’ll take the home team and give the points. Why not?

Cleveland (+4.5) at Miami
If Colt McCoy were playing, I’d absolutely be taking Cleveland in this game. But he isn’t. And I’m not taking a squad quarterbacked by Jake Delhomme at this point in his career. I’m just not. Miami by six.

Chicago (-3.5) at Detroit
Sooner or later, I’m probably gonna have to give in and accept that the Bears are for real. It hasn’t happened yet, though. And it probably won’t happen after this game, even though I fully expect Chicago to win with relative ease. The Lions can’t run the ball to save their lives. And no one seems to be able to beat the Bears through the air. That doesn’t leave you with much if you’re Detroit, does it? Chicago by no less than a touchdown.

Buffalo (+6) at Minnesota
Here’s the deal: Ryan Fitzpatrick is far and away the best quarterback in this game. And everyone knew it except Brett Favre. The old guy throws a pair of costly picks and the Bills pull off yet another big upset on the road, winning by a point.

New Orleans (-6.5) at Cincinnati
It’s official: The Bungles are back. And so are the Super Bowl Saints. Though they’re playing a second straight road game, I still like New Orleans by 14.

San Francisco (+9.5) at Green Bay
There’s not a whole lot to say about this game. It’s about as uneven a matchup as there is on the schedule this week. And there’s no chance of San Francisco catching Green Bay sleeping. The Pack are trying to keep pace with the Bears in the NFC North. They need a win and they’ll get one. By 10, anyway.

Denver (+8) at Kansas City
The only question remaining about when the Broncos will can Josh McDaniels is whether there will be a new CBA in place before the end of the season. If there is, you can expect McDaniels to be out of work by January 6. If there isn’t, there’s always the possibility the team waits until its sure there’s gonna be a 2011 season before they make a move. What does that have to do with this game? Not all that much. Or not before the fact, anyhow. Though if Denver manages to get blown out by a division foe yet again, maybe things change. I’m not expecting that, though. I think the Chiefs win my a more reasonable margin. Let’s say six.

Oakland (+12.5) at San Diego
Man, the Raiders sure did have their little moment in the middle of the season, didn’t they? But that appears to be over. Back to business as usual. Chargers by 14.

Carolina (+6.5) at Seattle
Man, would I prefer not to pick an NFC West team to win, but can you see the Carolina Panthers and their non-existent offense (12.7 points per game) traveling across the country and posting their second win of the season? Neither can I. Seahawks stumble into a 10-point win.

Dallas (+5) at Indianapolis
OK, so I said the Colts wouldn’t lose two in a row and I was wrong, wrong, wrong. But that was the Chargers. This is the Cowboys (well, you know, not really the Cowboys, just some guys wearing Cowboys uniforms). Indy by 13.

Atlanta (-2.5) at Tampa Bay
If the Buccaneers want to be taken seriously, they have to win this game. Actually, I take that back. There’s no question the Bucs want to be taken seriously. I guess what I mean is that if they expect to be taken seriously – not to mention hope to compete for a wild card berth – they have to be able to win a home game against a division opponent, no matter how good that opponent might be. (For the record, I think the Falcons are very, very good, but maybe not so great as their press at the moment.) I don’t think Tampa’s up to the task. They lack the offensive firepower to keep up with Atlanta. And they have way too much trouble stopping the run to have any chance of controlling the pace of the game. This is where the Buccaneers bow out and Tampa Bay fans start looking to next year. Falcons by four.

St. Louis (-3) at Arizona
It’s a dubious distinction to be sure, but the Rams are easily the best team in the NFC West. And the Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their inability to score, inability to stop the run and inability to hold on to the ball all should bit the Cards in the ass yet again this week. Rams by seven.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Baltimore
As the injuries continue to mount in Pittsburgh, the question of the moment is, could the Steelers end up on the outside looking in come January? This game should start to answer that question. If the Ravens can figure out how to hold on to the damned ball, they should be able to manage a win. I’m taking Baltimore straight up and looking for a push with the points.

NY Jets (+3) at New England
You know, I didn’t think the Frat Boys stood much of a chance in this game before they lost Jim Leonhard, so I’m sure as hell not giving them a shot now. On paper, yes, these teams look fairly evenly matched. And the Frat Boys took it to the Patriots pretty good last time the two teams played. Nearly three months ago. In New Jersey. But anyone who’s been paying attention knows not only that the Patriots are a much different team than they were then (as has been well document and oft stated), but that while the Pats have been playing better and better football of late (particularly on the offensive side of the ball), the Frat Boys in recent weeks have looked more than a bit off. I think you can talk about the trends and you can talk about intangibles (the Pats don’t lose at home, they don’t lose to the same team twice in a season, they need it more – because, look, with the way the tie-breaking system works, if the Jets win this game, that’s it for the division, but if the Pats win, the Frat Boys are still in the race – Pats don’t lose in December … ) and they all come up favoring New England. But you know what else? I think a lot of what happens here is gonna come down to blitzing. I’m not a huge fan of blitz-heavy defenses, but I have the sense that this game is gonna turn on which team can afford to blitz and which can’t. I think the Frat Boys are in a bad position here. The New England O-line is playing extremely well; if New Jersey wants to get to Tom Brady, they’re gonna have to send extra bodies after him. And the problem with blitzing Brady is that if you do it, he tends to carve you up. He only needs a second to find the one of his possession receivers or tight ends you’ve left uncovered in order to send that extra man, or to swing the ball out to his pass-catching tailback. And if all he can get are five yards at a time, he’ll dink and dunk you to death. Well as he’s played for a second year man, I’m not sure you can say the same for Mark Sanchez. And I think, in many ways it’s easier to blitz Sanchez than it is to blitz Brady. You’re not gonna get to Sanchez by tying up his receivers until your defensive front can get to him (certainly not with the Patriots’ pass rush; but, really, not with anyone’s pass rush); those receivers are too good. You’ve got to hurry Sanchez and get him to make mistakes. I expect to see the Patriots use a four-man fronts, blitzes and disguised coverages to shake the young QB out of his comfort zone, and thus neutralize whatever advantage the Frat Boys’ athletic wide receivers might otherwise provide. And as the game wears on and the Patriots build a lead, I expect to see Sanchez make one or two costly mistakes. I’m looking for a New England win by a margin of better than 10.

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Week Thirteen, Thursday Night

December 2nd, 2010 Comments off

Once again, I’m not gonna get everything wrapped up before the Thursday night kickoff. So here’s our first hopelessly off-the-mark take of the week. I’ll be back with the rest tomorrow or Saturday.

Houston (+8) at Philadelphia
It’s crazy to think it, but the Eagles, technically speaking, aren’t the only team in this game in contention for a division title. The difference, of course, is that the 7-4 Eagles are probably going to win the NFC East, whereas the 5-6 Texans are only numerically in contention as a result of the fact that the Indianapolis Colts are struggling this season. The Eagles are banged up enough that it might not be a total bloodbath, but Philly ain’t Tennessee either. Eagles by 13.

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