Archive for October, 2012

Week Eight Picks

October 25th, 2012 Comments off

It’s that time of the football season when I’ve realized that everything I thought I knew two months ago was wrong, but I haven’t quite figured out what’s actually right and what’s an illusion. Or, you know, that’s my excuse this week for getting everything wrong. Here’s what not to expect.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at Minnesota
Christian Ponder soared through the early part of the season, threatened to come back down to earth for a few weeks, then finally landed with a hard thump in the Vikings’ ugly week seven win over Arizona. He gets his wings back in this game. The Buccaneers pass defense is among the worst in the NFL. And since Tampa’s solidly average offense isn’t likely to accomplish much against the stingy Minnesota D, there should be a time of possession disparity that works in the Vikings’ favor as the game wears on. I think we’ll see a competitive first quarter, maybe first half, followed by a prolonged period of Minnesota dominance. It’ll end with the Vikings on top by 13.

New England (-7) vs. St. Louis at Wembley Stadium, London
If you’ve got Sam Bradford as maybe the backup quarterback on your fantasy team, ummm, you know, start him this week. I don’t care who your primary QB is. Aaron Rodgers? Bench him. Drew Brees? Bench him. Yeah, Bradford’s had just one standout game so far this season. And, sure, Bradford has thrown nearly as many picks (6) as touchdowns (7). And, OK, right, he’s gone three full games without a TD pass. That’s all true. But this week is different. Because this week Bradford gets to go up against the New England Patriots pass defense, which means for this week only, Bradford is hands down the best quarterback in the NFL. That’s how it works this season: the best quarterback in the league every week is the one playing New England. That changes when the Patriots change it, and not before. Does that mean I’m picking the Rams? No. I’ll take the Patriots, on the assumption that their own quarterback (who’s had a pretty good games himself here or there through the years) is due for a big outing. The St. Louis defense won’t make it easy for Brady. But they’re not exactly on par with some of the other NFC West Ds. What they are is an uneven unit that’s fared well against so-so offenses, but that’s also given up a pair of 300-plus passing performances. I look for Brady to make it three, and to nudge the Patriots past the Rams and into the bye with a record of 5-3. New England by a field goal.

Indianapolis (+3.5) at Tennessee
What do you think’s a bigger factor in this game, the Colts’ inability to stop the run or the Titans’ inability to stop anything? I’m actually gonna go with the former, believe it or not. In honesty, thought, that’s mostly because the game’s in Tennessee, which is just about the extent to which I’m willing to actually think about this game. Titans by a point.

Jacksonville (+14) at Green Bay
The Jaguars have neither a quarterback nor a running back. What they do have is a really, really long afternoon in front of them. Packers by 20.

San Diego (-2.5) at Cleveland
It isn’t easy to throw three interceptions in a road game and still come out on top, but that’s just what Philip Rivers is going to do in Cleveland. Chargers by a point.

Atlanta (+2.5) at Philadelphia
The Falcons have a significantly better offense and a slightly better defense than the Eagles. And the swing from Atlanta’s +10 to Philadelphia’s -9 takeaway/giveaway differential comes out to 19 in the Falcons’ favor. So why are the Eagles giving points? Because they’re at home? Because the Eagles under Andy Reid are undefeated coming off a bye week? Because the Falcons have had a few close calls in recent games andhave to lose a game sooner or later? Nope. Not buying any of it. Falcons by a touchdown.

Seattle (+2) at Detroit
Yet another game where I just can’t understand the line. The Seahawks are working on 10 days rest. The Lions are on a short week. And, offensive shortcomings and all, Seattle is the better, more complete team. So, ah, yeah, I’m looking for the “upset.” Seahawks by three.

Miami (+2.5) at NY Jets
The Jets don’t have the defensive unit they took into Miami back in week three (mainly because of how they came out of Miami in week three), but I don’t look at that as sufficient reason to expect a much different outcome when the teams meet again in the Meadowlands. (Early in the season to be wrapping up a division series, isn’t it?) Jets by three.

Carolina (+7.5) at Chicago
Here’s an item for Cam Newton‘s suggestion box: Throw fewer interceptions and more touchdowns. Pretty simple, right? Well, maybe not so much when you’re facing a defense that leads the league in picks (14). Oh, well. Maybe next week. Bears by 10.

Washington (+4.5) at Pittsburgh
Of course RG3 is good enough to overcome the Steelers’ defense. But it doesn’t matter, because everyone is good enough to overcome the Native Americans’ defense. Pittsburgh by six.

Oakland (+2) at Kansas City
There was a time when this matchup really meant something. That time is not now. I honestly have no idea which of these two horrible, horrible football teams to pick. I guess I’ll go with the one that isn’t pinning its hopes on a switch to Brady Quinn at quarterback. Raiders by three.

NY Giants (-2) at Dallas
Yup, I sure do remember the Cowboys taking the Giants down in New Jersey in the season opener. I’m also aware that the Cowboys haven’t done anything remotely impressive since, while the Giants have rounded into form and started looking like a team that could repeat as champions. So let’s flip the score as well as the location. Giants win 24-17.

New Orleans (+6) at Denver
Sometimes you look at a game and realize that the only thing you can conceivably say is, “Bet the over.” Over/under is 55.5. These teams should get to that by about midway through the third quarter. In fact, this has the potential to be the ninth game in NFL history in which both quarterbacks throw for 400-plus yards. I don’t think it will be, however. Denver’s D is just good enough to slow Drew Brees down a bit, which should ultimately account for the difference on the scoreboard as well as the stat sheet. Broncos by four.

San Francisco (-6.5) at Arizona
Cardinals quarterbacks have been sacked 35 times this season on 257 attempts. That a sack percentage of 12.4 (or, if you prefer, a sack for every eight times an Arizona QB drops back to pass), which is far beyond awful. You can’t succeed when you subject your most important player to that kind of a abuse. You just can’t. Still, the game is in Arizona, and the Cardinals have a solid D. So I’ll say 49ers win by a mere four points.

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Week Seven Picks

October 18th, 2012 Comments off

Just 13 games this weekend. That’s lucky 13 for me. Less to get wrong. Here’s what not to expect.

Seattle (+7) at San Francisco
The Seahawks have a better defense than the team that held the 49ers to three points in San Francisco on Sunday. But the 49ers have a much, much better defense than the one that allowed the Seahawks to come back from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit in Seattle that same afternoon. The 49ers also have the better offense in this game by a huge margin. Add in the fact that Seattle is traveling on short rest following an emotional victory and I suspect you get a blowout. Niners by 17.

Tennessee (+3) at Buffalo
Neither defense can stop opponents from scoring. Neither offense can score. Should be interesting to see what gives. The Bills are bad, but the Titans are slightly worse, so I’ll take the home team straight up and look for a push with the points.

Arizona (+6) at Minnesota
You know why Kevin Kolb is hurt? No, it’s not just one big hit. It’s 27 sacks. More telling: 27 sacks in five starts. That’s 5.4 per game. And that’s brutal. Do you think John Skelton‘s likely to have much success behind an O line that allows that kind of pressure? I don’t. The Cardinals D will keep the team in the game, but Minnesota comes out ahead, if only by a point or two.

Cleveland (+3) at Indianapolis
If either of these teams had any ability to run the ball, the other one would be in a world of trouble. But they don’t. And that’s all I’ve got. The Colts are at home, so I’m taking them, but I wouldn’t give more than a point.

Baltimore (+6.5) at Houston
The only defense that you could find in Baltimore is hurt. Got that? The whole defense got hurt. That’s some lousy timing right there. Texans by a touchdown.

Green Bay (-5.5) at St. Louis
You know what happens when the Packers actually give their quarterback some protection? This. It’ll be interesting to see if the Green Bay offensive line can keep it up, or if it goes back to giving up four-plus sacks a game. I expect to see continued improvement. But I also expect to see a team playing its second straight road game. I’ll take the Packers, but I wouldn’t give more than four.

Dallas (-2) at Carolina
Jerry Jones can think whatever the hell he wants to think; the Cowboys aren’t winning a title. The way the Cowboys turn the ball over, it’ll take something of a miracle for them to win eight games. But they’ll win this one. Probably by a field goal (assuming it doesn’t go wide).

Washington (+6) at NY Giants
The Giants lead the NFC East with a record of 4-2. And they just pulled off an incredibly impressive win in San Francisco. But they’re also 0-2 in the conference. They can’t afford to fall to 0-3. The Native Americans won’t make this game easy to win, but the Giants should still be able to pull it off. I expect to see a lot of scoring by both teams, what with the Native Americans’ potent offense and impotent defense. But in the end Washington’s slipshod D will prove the difference as the Giants take it 31-27.

New Orleans (-3) at Tampa Bay
The Saints are done in the NFC South. Their 1-4 start has left them, less than halfway through the season, with no chance of catching 6-0 Atlanta. And if they’re to have any hope of overcoming the ongoing distractions and clawing their way into position for a wild card berth, they’re going to have to start with a win here. I can’t come up with one piece of concrete evidence to suggest that New Orleans will be able to pull off a win here (OK, well, there’s Josh Freeman, but that’s it). But, still, I have a feeling that they will. Saints by six.

NY Jets (+10.5) at New England
The New England secondary can make any NFL quarterback look like the second coming of Dan Marino. And it appears that’s going to be a problem all season. Luckily for the Patriots, the Jets don’t currently have an actual NFL quarterback on their roster. New England by 14.

Jacksonville (+4) at Oakland
One of these teams pretty much has to not lose this game. And … uh … yeah, that’s it. The Raiders are at home, so I’ll take them to not lose. By three.

Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Cincinnati
If the Bengals had any ability to hold onto the ball, I might be tempted to pick them in this game. (I wouldn’t feel that way if the game were in Pittsburgh, but in Cincy, just maybe.) But they don’t. So I’m taking the Steelers. By four.

Detroit (+6) at Chicago
The way the Chicago defense has been playing, even Jay Cutler hasn’t been able to find ways to manufacture losses. That will change eventually. But not this week. Bears by 10.

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Week Six Picks

October 11th, 2012 Comments off

It’s all about turnovers this week. Or most of it is. Or … well, at least that’s the way I see it. Of course, I’m kind of obsessed with turnovers to begin with, which raises the question, why are you even listening to me? Here’s what not to expect.

Pittsburgh (-6) at Tennessee
I’m sure this game looked pretty good on paper back when the schedule was put together. That’s when people thought the Titans were toward something. The only thing Tennessee’s building now is a tally of points scored by their opponents. The Titans give up an NFL-worst 36 per game. And in related news, the Titans trail all 31 other teams in net points, with a -93. I don’t expect to see the scoring trends magically reverse themselves here. Pittsburgh by 14.

Cincinnati (-1) at Cleveland
I know the Bengals just dropped one at home to the Dolphins (as I predicted they would). That looks pretty bad. But let’s be honest: Perhaps the best thing you can say about the Browns in relation to the Dolphins is that Cleveland is marginally less awful about turning the ball over. And that thing is, you don’t so much worry about turnovers when you play the Bengals, because they have such limited ability to take the ball away. The Browns are worse than the Dolphins at everything else. I don’t see the Bengals outpacing the Steelers for a wild card spot at this point, but neither do I expect to see them fall quite so far into the AFC North basement as the Browns. Cincinnati by a field goal.

Indianapolis (+3.5) at NY Jets
Here it is, folks. Stoppable force vs. movable object. Neither offense can run the ball worth a tenth of a pickled damn, which is going to prove frustrating to someone, because neither defense could stop a running joke. So this game happens in the air. I honestly don’t know which team is gonna come out ahead, and I suspect I won’t until about 5:30 Sunday afternoon when the thing finally wraps up. But I guess in a passers dual, I’ll take the team with the promising young quarterback over the team that doesn’t seem to have a quarterback. Indianapolis by one.

Kansas City (+4) at Tampa Bay
I know I’ve said effectively this same thing about this same team before, but it just keeps on being true: You can’t win games in the NFL when you consistently turn the ball over the way the Chiefs do. Kansas City has lost a league-worse 10 fumbles. In five games. You don’t need me to do the math on that one for you, right? (Aw, hell, just in case: 10/5=awful.) Factoring in their nine picks, you get to a giveaway/takeaway differential of -15, also worst in the league. Until they fix that, the Chiefs are going nowhere. Buccaneers by 10.

Oakland (+9) at Atlanta
It appears the AFC West is becoming the new NFC West. (That’s not a compliment.) And the Raiders are back from an early bye to demonstrate that even when you’re well rested, having no ability to run the ball, throw the ball, stop the run, or stop the pass will tend to prevent you from winning football games. Falcons by 14, minimum.

Dallas (+3.5) at Baltimore
Let’s spin the Wheel of Romo to see how Tony will cost his team any chance of winning this game. Brrrrrrrrrrrr-rut-dut-dut-dut-dut-dut-dah: Botched exchange leads to a turnover deep in Cowboys territory! Thank you for playing Wheel of Romo! A strong defensive effort by the Cowboys is wasted as the Ravens come out on top by six.

Detroit (+4) at Philadelphia
The Eagles aren’t playing good enough football to be in first place in the NFC East. But the Lions aren’t playing good enough football for that to matter. More’s the pity for the Giants, who actually have to face a good team this week. Turnover machine Michael Vick and the Eagles offense will do everything they can to lose this game, but they’ll still come out ahead, if only by a point.

St. Louis (+3.5) at Miami
Last week I picked the underdog Dolphins to win on the road (got it right). This week, I’m looking for the home favorite Dolphins to lose. Why? Well, mostly because while there aren’t a ton of things the Rams do well, they are pretty good at picking off passes. And Ryan Tannehill is pretty good at throwing interceptions. I don’t see a ton of other factors that separate these teams, so I’ll go with that. St. Louis by three.

New England (-3.5) at Seattle
Don’t look for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense to put up their usual 33 points in this game. Yes, it does appear that the Patriots have bounced back from their close losses in weeks two and three. And, yes, New England appears to have created a balanced and complex offense that will force opponents to pick their poison. That should serve them well through the balance of the season. But it doesn’t mean you can count on the Patriots hanging a ton of points on every team they face. The Seattle defense is big and fast. The Seahawks stuff the run and bat down passes at the line of scrimmage. They may actually have the kind of D that can pick its poison and spit it back out. Unfortunately for Seattle, the Seahawks’ offense isn’t quite there yet. They move the ball well on the ground behind Marshawn Lynch, but they don’t score many rushing TDs (just two so far this season). More to the point, the Seattle passing attack is nothing anyone needs to worry about. And any time the Patriots D can focus on taking away the one thing an opponent does well, that opponent is in trouble. Seattle also has a habit of turning the ball over, which is particularly deadly when you face the Patriots, who are tied with Atlanta for second in the league in total takeaways (14). I expect a game that’s relatively close, but that ends with the Patriots ahead by a touchdown.

Buffalo (+4.5) at Arizona
Miserable bit of scheduling for the Bills, who play their second consecutive road game against an NFC West opponent. That’s gotta hurt. I expect Arizona to do pretty much what San Francisco did, though I don’t think they’ll score quite as many points. Let’s say Cardinals by 23.

Minnesota (+2) at Washington
It looks like Robert Griffin III is going to be able to play. That’s good news for the Native Americans. Less good is that Griffin still doesn’t play defense. And since neither does anyone else in a Washington uniform, I’ll go with Minnesota by four.

NY Giants (+6.5) at San Francisco
We all know what the 49ers need to do if they want to hold off the Giants this time around: Convert at least some third downs and, you know, hold onto the damned ball when it really, really matters. Once again, the Niners are the better team here (if only by a little). Of course, that only matters if you execute, but I expect San Francisco to execute this time around. If this were a playoff game, I might think different (and at this point I’d probably have faith that the Giants would find a way to win). But it isn’t the post-season. San Francisco by four.

Green Bay (+3.5) at Houston
So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Packers have a Swiss cheese offensive line and, consequently, the second most sacked quarterback in the league. (Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 21 times this season, one fewer than Kevin Kolb and six more than any other QB. That puts him on track to take 67 sacks this season, which wouldn’t just shatter Rodgers’ own club record for a single season — 50, 2009 — but would be the fourth highest single-season total of all time. It would also match Rodgers’ combined sack totals from 2010 and 2011. All of which is to say, “Duck, Aaron! Duck!”) Green Bay also has an unproductive, and further diminishing, running attack. And the Packers are traveling to face a team with a defense that’s tied for fifth in the league in sacks (16) and that’s second in defensive passer rating (65.3). And despite all of that, somehow Green Bay’s only getting three and a half. Is that right? Note to the oddsmakers: These ain’t the Packers you used to know. Houston by 10.

Denver (+1.5) at San Diego
Two straight weeks on the road for Peyton Manning‘s Broncos. That’s not an easy task for Denver. Neither, it seems, is securing the football. Turnovers once again bite the Broncos on their hind quarters and the Chargers take a two-game lead in the AFC West. San Diego by six.

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Week Five Picks

October 4th, 2012 Comments off

Six road teams giving points this week. And so where am I picking upsets? Not in those games. No, sir. Not me. That would be smart. And I’m either dumb as a post or a gigantic glutton for punishment. Or both. Here’s what not to expect.

Arizona (-1.5) at St. Louis
I was absolutely not a believer in the Cardinals heading into this season. But QuantCoach keeps telling me take turnovers out of the equation and the Cardinals are effectively the same as the 49ers. And I’m starting to see what he’s talking about. The Rams do a pretty good job taking the ball away (or at least they do by way of picks; they’ve yet to recover an opponent’s fumble), but the Cardinals have done an even better job so far this season of holding onto the ball. So I’m inclined to take Arizona and give the point and a half. Heck, I’ll double it: Cardinals by a field goal.

Atlanta (-3) at Washington
The Falcons are 4-0 by the very skin of their teeth. And if the Native Americans defense weren’t so bloody awful, I’d probably be looking at this one thinking that kind of luck can’t hold on forever. Atlanta has exhibited little ability to stop the run, which unquestionably is going to be a problem for them in a game that pits them against one of the better rushing offenses in the league. But Washington can’t stop anything and that’s gonna hurt like hell with Matt Ryan in the building. I expect to the Falcons find a way to win in yet another very close game. Atlanta by a point.

Philadelphia (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
You’re right, Michael Vick really was significantly less awful against the Giants on Sunday night than he’d been through the first three weeks of the season. That becomes a trend when it happens two or three times in a row. Until then, Vick remains in a category with Tony Romo: quarterbacks who are every bit as likely to cost their teams a win as earn them one. And as uneven as the Steelers may be, their defense eats quarterbacks like that alive. Pittsburgh by six.

Green Bay (-7) at Indianapolis
You’re going to hear and read about the Colts trying to win this one for their coach. And maybe there’s something to that. But I tend to think that if the Colts pull off a win, it’ll have less to do with them willing it to happen and more to do with the Packers’ offensive struggles. Green Bay’s O line has some issues with pass blocking (that’s why even after a game in which he took none, Aaron Rodgers continues be the most sacked quarterback in the NFL, averaging four a game). And the Packers’ rushing offense is … well, it sort of just isn’t, actually. If it weren’t for the fact that Indy’s still developing offense is probably thoroughly outmatched by the Green Bay D, I’d actually be tempted to pick the home team to pull off an upset here. Still, I just don’t quite see it. Not straight up, anyhow. Packers by four.

Cleveland (+9) at NY Giants
The Giants would like to forget about their failure to pull off a comeback victory Sunday night. The Browns probably should forget about any thoughts of logging a win before mid-season. New Jersey by 14.

Tennessee (+5.5) at Minnesota
I’ll be honest: I haven’t bought in to the whole Vikings thing yet. That’s neither here nor there for this week, though. Because Christian Ponder has been playing very good football and Minnesota is finding ways to win games. And there really just isn’t anything that the Titans do well. Vikings by nine.

Miami (+3.5) at Cincinnati
If you can stop the run OK and you can create turnovers, you can beat the Dolphins. Every time. Now, guess which team isn’t good at either of those things. Bing! Miami in the upset. Let’s say by three.

Baltimore (-5) at Kansas City
The Chiefs have a giveaway/takeaway differential of -13. That’s the worst in the league. And the second worst, Dallas’ -7, isn’t even close. The math for Kansas City is tilted by the fact that the Chiefs have only two takeaways on the season. But still, that’s 15 giveaways in four games. And you don’t win football games when you turn the ball over close to four times a game. You just don’t. Baltimore by 10.

Seattle (+3) at Carolina
The Panthers are another team that gives the ball away too damned much. They’re -6 on the season in giveaway/takeaway. But the Seahawks don’t have it in them to capitalize on that tendency. Nor does Seattle have the offense to take advantage of Carolina’s weak D. Panthers by four.

Chicago (-5.5) at Jacksonville
There are, I would say, no fewer than 26 teams in the league that I would pick to beat Chicago this week. It’s the Bears second straight road game. They’re playing on a short week. And I just don’t think their win on Monday night, decisive though it may have been, was all that impressive. Tony Romo was a bigger factor in that game than Jay Cutler. Trouble is, none of the teams I would pick to beat the Bears this week is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Simple formula gets me there: When you can’t score, and you can’t keep your opponents from scoring, you can’t win football games. Crazy, but true. Tired Bears still win it by four.

Denver (+7) at New England
I know this is the game everybody wants to talk about this week, what with the renewal of the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning rivalry and all. And if I were a smarter man, I’d probably jump all over that (considering I have this book out about Brady being the best of all time, and Manning not). But I don’t see this game as likely to provide one of the more memorable Brady-Manning moments. Because as I’ve said before, I think Manning’s Broncos are likely to be a tough out all season long at home, not such much through most of the season on the road. The last time Denver played a road game, Manning threw three picks en route to a 27-21 loss to Atlanta. And the Patriots D has been as good as the Falcons D this season at picking off passes. If this game were in Denver, I might pick a close win by the Broncos. But it’s in Foxborough, so I’m going with the Patriots straight up. It’s a push with the points.

Buffalo (+9.5) at San Francisco
I’m just not sure there’s anything I could say about this game that would be worth my time or yours. San Francisco by 21.

San Diego (+3.5) at New Orleans
Given his druthers, do you think Drew Brees would pick breaking Johnny Unitas‘ supposedly untouchable record of 47 straight games with a touchdown pass, or leading the Saints to their first victory of the season? (I know they’re not mutually exclusive; just putting it out there.) I bet he’d pick a win. I’ve got a feeling he’s gonna get the record. That first win? Maybe in two weeks. Chargers by two.

Houston (-8) at NY Jets
Here’s where the bottom finally drops out on Mark Sanchez. And the 2012 Jets. And, ultimately, the Rex Ryan era. The Texans are probably slightly better than the team that just destroyed the Jets in New Jersey. And the Jets are now without yet another key player. So I’m gonna go with Houston by 35.

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