Archive for November, 2012

Week Thirteen Picks

November 29th, 2012 Comments off

To hell with the intro, let’s just get to it. Here’s what not to expect.

New Orleans (+3.5) at Atlanta
Yeah, Atlanta is 10-1 and two wins (max) away from sewing up the AFC South title, while New Orleans is 5-6 and two losses (max) away from starting to look toward the 2013 draft. That doesn’t matter. Because these two teams aren’t just division rivals, they’re division rivals that don’t like each other one damned bit. If both were 2-8, you could still count on them to play their best football and make this a close game. Plus, there’s really only one essential difference between these squads: The Falcons are able to play pass defense. That’s it. But the reality is, that’s been enough. It’s why Atlanta is winning the division. It’s why Atlanta is winning this game (well, that and the fact that its in their building). But they’re not winning here by more than a field goal.

Seattle (+3.5) at Chicago
This is an interesting match. Seattle’s playing on the road for a second straight week. That’s not easy. The Seahawks also are coming off a tough loss in Miami. That has to have taken its toll. So this should be all about the Bears, right? I’m not so sure. And it’s not really because I’m still not convinced the Bears can beat good teams. I mean, I’m not, but I’m likewise not convinced that the Seahawks actually are a good team. It’s more to do with the fact that the Seahawks take pretty good care of the ball. Seattle’s not New England or Baltimore in that regard, but they’re better than most. And Chicago wins mostly by taking the ball away. The Bears have more takeaways than any team in the league (of course, they they also have a lot of giveaways). And unlike the Patriots, who use takeaways as a mechanism for minimizing the harm done by their defense, the Bears have used turnovers to set up and prop up a fairly anemic offense. The Chicago defense has put 56 points on the board so far this season. On top of that, the Bears have six touchdowns and four field goals that were set up by takeaways. That’s 110 of 277 points (39.7%) as a result of turnovers. That’s great and all, but what happens when the Bears face a team that doesn’t give the ball away? I suspect we may get an answer to that on Sunday. Combine that with Jay Cutler‘s high sack total, 35, and the Seahawks’ ability to get to passers and you get what could be a rough day for Chicago. Of course, the Bears are still the home team. And the Bears defense is still a unit to be reckoned with. So the smart money is probably on Chicago, at least straight up. But I’m neither smart nor playing for actual money, so I’m taking Seattle to pull of the upset. They win it by a single point.

Minnesota (+8) at Green Bay
Assuming the far-too-often-sacked Aaron Rodgers survives, this one should be a breeze for the Packers, and another giant step toward an early start to the off-season for the Vikings. Green Bay by 10.

San Francisco (-7) at St. Louis
Benching a quarterback who had a 6-2-1 record as a starter and a 104.1 passer rating, who was completing 70% of his passes and throwing for close to eight yards per attempt, and who had a respectable 13 TDs to five picks, in favor of a kid who’s had a couple of good games (with no film for opposing D coordinators to study), but who makes more than his fair share of bad decisions, is going to come back to haunt the 49ers before this season is over. But not this week. This week, all the Niners need is for the D to take care of business and the offense to stay out of the way. They’ll accomplish that. San Francisco by nine.

Arizona (+4.5) at NY Jets
Let’s peak inside the mind of the post-game Jets fan, shall we? “If the Jets can beat the Cardinals, and the Cardinals could beat the Patriots, then the Jets should have beat the Patriots. And if the Jets can win one in a row, they can probably win two in a row, which means they must be able to win five in a row. That would mean 9-7, which probably means the Jets make the playoffs, where they get to play the Patriots. And since they’ve already almost, pretty much, beat the Patriots twice (except during those lousy 52 seconds) they can’t lose. And if they can beat the Patriots, they can probably beat any team in the AFC. Jets are going to the Super Bowl!” Welcome back, Fireman Ed. New Jersey by a field goal.

Carolina (-3) at Kansas City
The answer is, yes, I was really impressed by what Cam Newton accomplished Monday night in Philadelphia. And, yes, I believe Newton can carry the momentum into this matchup with the equally formidable Chiefs. But that’s not what I’m focused on here. Because I simply cannot take my eye off the turnover disaster that is the Kansas City Chiefs. I see at least two more on the way in this game, which Carolina wins by no less than a touchdown.

Indianapolis (+4.5) at Detroit
Note to Ndamukong Suh: Andrew Luck has already been kicked in the nuts in the recent past. So, um, maybe take it easy on the kid. The Colts may still make the playoffs, but only because the second-tier AFC teams are all kind of a mess in one way or another. The Lions aren’t going anywhere, but I think they’re still determined to prove something to themselves. They’ll take out some of their frustration against an Indy squad that’s considerably weaker than it looks on paper. Detroit by seven.

Jacksonville (+5.5) at Buffalo
I’m completely confident that the acquisition of Jason Babin will change everything for the Jaguars. Everything. I mean, what NFL team wouldn’t benefit from adding a defensive end who was cast off by the 3-8 Eagles? Maybe Jacksonville will only give up 27 points this week. And that’ll be helpful if their offense can figure out a way to score more than 14. But not helpful enough. Buffalo by a field goal.

New England (-7.5) at Miami
We could spend a lot of time talking about whether Miami’s average defense measures up against New England’s powerhouse offense well enough, or whether Miami’s weak offense matches up with New England’s questionable defense well enough, to give the home team a chance. We could. But let’s not. Because, no, they don’t. And no, they don’t either. And here’s what I’m going to tell you: New England, +24 takeaway/giveaway, best in the NFL; Miami -10, fifth worst in the league. Strange things can happen, of course, but by and large, trends like that don’t reverse themselves in a single game. Especially not when all other things are decidedly not equal. Patriots by two touchdowns.

Houston (-6) at Tennessee
Six? Really? Six? Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Texans have been flirting with a loss lately, playing down to the level of their competition. But come on. These two teams hardly belong in the same league. I’d give twice the spread. More than that, even. Houston by not a hair less than 21.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Denver
The Buccaneers are a better football team than they generally get credit for being. I think they’re heading for the post-season. And I won’t be the least bit shocked if they find a way to win in the wild card round. I expect to see them play the Broncos fairly tough for at least a half. But the Bucs still have a suspect pass defense, and that’s not a good thing to have when you face the Broncos, especially in Denver. The only way they win is if they manage to pick off Peyton Manning at least twice. And that’s not happening. Denver by four.

Pittsburgh (+8) at Baltimore
Sometimes, Pittsburgh, it just ain’t your year. Ravens get a stranglehold on the AFC North, winning by a touchdown.

Cleveland (pick ’em) at Oakland
Ugh. Let me repeat that: Ugh. Browns by a field goal.

Cincinnati (-2.5) at San Diego
The Bengals are the fakest of all the fake playoff contenders. But you won’t know it from watching this game (if you have to watch this game), because the Chargers are done with a capital DONE. Last week’s debacle was the end of them. Cincinnati by one.

Philadelphia (+10) at Dallas
In prime time, no less. The only thing that makes this game even remotely intriguing is the distinct possibility that it will feature multiple turnovers on a single play. That would be a kick, wouldn’t it? Cowboys by 12.

NY Giants (-2.5) at Washington
Here’s where the NFC East gets interesting, at least for a week or so. The Native Americans played the Giants tough in New Jersey back in week seven. And Robert Griffin III is playing better football now than he was back then. I see a shootout, and I see Washington finishing on top this time. Native Americans by six, at the buzzer.

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Week Twelve Picks

November 21st, 2012 Comments off

This week’s theme: What everyone will or should be thankful for around the NFL. Also, as always, what not to expect. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Houston (-3) at Detroit
The Texans, no doubt, are thankful that their letdown game on Sunday didn’t result in a (completely absurd) divisional loss. Now if they can beat a pair of 4-6 teams, Detroit and Tennessee, they may go into their week 14 Monday nighter at New England with a chance to secure both the AFC South title and a first-round bye. The Lions, I suspect, will be thankful when this game is over. Houston by 17.

Washington (+3) at Dallas
I think we’re all (or at least those of us who aren’t Cowboys fans) thankful for the ongoing comedy routine that is Tony Romo‘s professional football career. The Native Americans should be thankful that they’re traveling on a short week to face a team that barely (and only with the help of at least one horrifically bad call) squeaked by the Cleveland Browns in week 11. I don’t care how bad the Washington defense is, I’m going with the visitors. Native Americans by a field goal.

New England (-6.5) at NY Jets
The loss of Rob Gronkowski for the balance of the regular season is going to be a problem for the Patriots. When they play actual football teams, that is. Against the Jets, maybe not so terribly. The Jets are sputtering and very much in need of a team to put them out of their misery. And the Patriots will be more than happy to do it. By the time the evening is over, New England likely will be very thankful to have drafted and developed Stevan Ridley. Because New Jersey comes into this game with a run defense that is close to the worst in the league (allowing 142 yards and a touchdown per game, 4.4 yards a carry) and that hasn’t shown any signs that it’s capable of getting better. Ridley turns in a career game and the Patriots win by three touchdowns.

Oakland (+8) at Cincinnati
The Bengals, I suppose, must be thankful that they get to keep their pretend post-season hopes alive for another week by beating up on the thoroughly dreadful Raiders. Football fans outside of Cincinnati and Oakland should be thankful that the most we’ll ever see of this game are the lowlights. Bengals by 10.

Pittsburgh (-1) at Cleveland
I’m sure Browns fans are beside themselves with thankfulness at the fact that their only getting a point from a visiting division rival that’s going through a quarterback a week. Hooray! The Browns have arrived! Steelers fans, one might imagine, are less thankful for the fact that their team is picking up wide receivers and quarterbacks off the street in week 12. I’m not sure what to make of this game, but I imagine that no matter who starts at what key position for the Steelers, the Browns, true to form, will figure out a way to lose. Pittsburgh by a field goal.

Buffalo (+3) at Indianapolis
The Bills must be thankful that they’re traveling to face the Colts the week after Indy was humiliated (and possibly demoralized) in New England. The Colts must be thankful that they’re going home to face a team with a defense that’s even worse than their own. Buffalo keeps it close through most of the game, but the Colts pull it out by seven in the end.

Denver (-10.5) at Kansas City
Peyton Manning should be thankful for this opportunity to pad his stats. Manning moved ahead of Dan Marino to take sole possession of second place all-time in passing touchdowns last weekend, with 423. He’ll probably close about half the 85-TD gap between him and Brett Favre in this game. Or, you know, throw another three anyhow. Denver by 20.

Tennessee (-3) at Jacksonville
The Titans might very well be thankful that the Jaguars played their good game last week and have commenced shutting it down for the season. Or maybe they don’t care. I know I don’t. I’m not taking either of these teams to win anything by three. Titans by a point.

Minnesota (+2.5) at Chicago
The Bears have to be thankful for their takeaway-happy defense. It’s the reason they win this game with or without Jay Cutler. Chicago by four.

Atlanta (-1) at Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers and their fans should be thankful that this game is being played in Tampa. It’s the reason the Bucs come out ahead. (Well, that and a second straight rough outing for Matt Ryan.) Buccaneers by three.

Seattle (-3) at Miami
The Dolphins may be thankful for the fact that the Seahawks have to travel across the country for this game, but it’s not going to help Miami one little bit. Seattle by four.

Baltimore (-1) at San Diego
The Ravens defense, which goes in with a pretty good 11 interceptions on the season, will come out with an even better 14 and will be thankful to Philip Rivers, who has thrown more picks than any other QB in the league. Baltimore by six.

San Francisco (-2.5) at New Orleans
The Niners may be thankful for Colin Kaepernick now (and well they should be), but I suspect they’ll be feeling rather more ambivalent come Monday morning. Because it appears Alex Smith is going to get the start. And the 49ers are losing this game. And that’s how you get yourself a quarterback controversy at exactly the wrong time. Saints by a field goal.

St. Louis (+2.5) at Arizona
No one’s as thankful as I am that I don’t have to spend any real time thinking about this game. St. Louis is edging toward being the better team at this point, but they won’t get there until they learn how to hold onto the ball. That’s not happening all at once in Arizona, so I’m taking the Cardinals. They probably win by a field goal.

Green Bay (+2.5) at NY Giants
Giants fans are thankful that November is very nearly over. They should be thankful for the fact that the Packers still haven’t figured out a way to keep Aaron Rodgers off his back. Rodgers took yet another three sacks, losing 17 yards, in Detroit last weekend. That gets his league-high season total to 32, which is better than three a game. The Packers overall are a better team than the Giants, maybe significantly so, but I don’t think you can go on the road and beat a team like New Jersey when you leave your QB exposed like that. So I’m taking the Giants. Let’s say by four.

Carolina (+2.5) at Philadelphia
Ugh. I’m, um, thankful for the fact that there are actual good prime time games coming up over the next few weeks. That might make enduring this battle of the dregs slightly less painful. I’m just going with the home team by a field goal. Because why not?

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Week Eleven Picks

November 15th, 2012 Comments off

I’ll be signing copies of Tom Brady vs. the NFL: The Case for Football’s Greatest Quarterback at the Barnes & Noble stores in Holyoke and Walpole, Massachusetts, over the next couple of days. I’ll be in Holyoke on Friday, November 16 from 6 to 8 p.m., and in Walpole on Saturday, November 17 from 1 to 3 p.m. For directions, or info on other upcoming readings and signings, check out the events page on my web site.

What does that have to do with this week’s picks? Nothing. So let’s get to it. Here’s what not to expect.

Miami (+1.5) at Buffalo
Sunday’s outright disaster notwithstanding, Miami’s defense has been fairly stout against the run this season. The Dolphins D is also ever so slightly less terrible than the Patriots defense (admittedly, that’s not such a tough club to get into). Put that together with an offense that should be able to take advantage of Buffalo’s weak D and I think Miami comes out of this game still the least bad of the AFC East’s trio of non-contenders. Dolphins by a field goal.

Philadelphia (+3.5) at Washington
In which Nick Foles puts a final stamp on Michael Vick‘s ticket out of Philadelphia by not turning the ball over a gazillion times, victimizing the horrifically inept Washington defense, and consequently appearing to be Eagles’ savior. Philly by a touchdown.

Green Bay (-3.5) at Detroit
Here’s something the Packers need to worry about: Aaron Rodgers has been sacked a league-leading 29 times this season. The next guy on the list is Jay Cutler with 28. After that comes Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb, who have 27. So what do those last three guys have in common? That’s right: They’ve all missed time with injuries. So has Alex Smith, who’s been sacked 24 times. The Packers are playing with fire by failing to protect their outstanding, irreplaceable quarterback. If they don’t solve that problem, it will come back to bite them on the ass, probably at the exact worst moment. There’s that. Now here’s something the Packers don’t need to worry about: The thoroughly disappointing and increasingly inept Detroit Lions. Green Bay by 10.

Arizona (+10) at Atlanta
A week ago, the Falcons were due for a loss and headed to New Orleans to face a team that was (and is) on the upswing. That game went almost exactly as I thought it would. This week, the Falcons are playing at home, due for a win, and playing a team that might be able to slow them down but won’t be able to beat them. The results are similarly predictable. Falcons by six.

Tampa Bay (-1.5) at Carolina
The Buccaneers are tied with the Giants for the league’s third-best takeaway/giveaway mark; they’re at +11, trailing just the Patriots (+16) and the Bears (+14). But Tampa has achieved its spot on the leader board in a manner that’s more similar to New England than to Chicago or New Jersey. That is, the Bucs success isn’t built on a blistering number of takeaways (they have 19, as compared to the Giants’ 27 or the Bears’ 30 — the Patriots have 23) but on a combination of opportunistic takeaways by their defense and ball protection by their offense. Only one team, New England, has fewer giveaways than Tampa’s 8. That should serve the Bucs well as they battle with the Vikings and Seahawks for an NFC wild card berth. It will certainly serve them well here against a Panthers team that you can count on to turn the ball over about twice a game. In Tampa back in week one, Cam Newton threw a pair of picks and Buccaneers beat the Panthers by six. The Bucs are a better team now, and the Panthers are perhaps a bit worse. But it’s in Carolina, so I’ll just look for virtually the same result. Tampa Bay by a touchdown.

Cleveland (+8) at Dallas
Over the next three weeks, the Cowboys host the Browns, the Native Americans and the Eagles. They ought to go 3-0 over that stretch and emerge having fooled Jerry Jones, the Cowboys-loving football media, and large chunks of a populace that’s forgotten how the Civil War turned out (or quite possibly never actually studied history, what with all the time spent being force-fed creationism in “science” class), that they’re an actual professional football team. As it works out, the Cowboys will almost certainly figure out some clever way to drop one of these games. But it won’t be this one, because the Browns, somehow, are actually even better than the Cowboys at beating themselves. Not-Cleveland by four.

NY Jets (+3) at St. Louis
Oh, you silly, silly Jets. St. Louis by seven.

Indianapolis (+9) at New England
Do you believe that any player (let alone one who can be had mid-season for a fourth-round pick, I don’t care how much of a disaster his personal life may be) can single-handedly turn around a terrible defense? I don’t. That isn’t to say that Aqib Talib can’t help the Patriots. Talib is a physically gifted young man who seems to have a good head for the game (and apparently nothing else). If he can take some of the pressure off the rest of the New England secondary, give the other guys one fewer receiver they need to worry about — maybe allow the Patriots to call a safety blitz here or there and keep opposing QBs guessing — that will undoubtedly help. And, hey, maybe it’s just a matter of time before the New England D gels anyhow. But Talib’s not coming in this weekend and turning a unit that makes every quarterback look like Dan Marino into a unit that shuts down a QB (rookie or not) who’s been throwing for close to 300 yards a game, sometimes against actual good defenses. If New England is going to win this game, it’s going to win it on offense. That means finishing drives. It means not calling passes on three straight plays when you take over at your own goal line. And it means running, given that the Indy defense has been fairly sturdy against the pass. The one place the defense likely can make a big contribution is (as usual) by forcing turnovers. The Colts are middle of the pack in giveaways (they’ve surrendered the ball to opponents 15 times), but they almost never take it away. So one pick or one fumble recovery by the Patriots could prove decisive. If the offense puts up its usual 33 and the D can make that one big play, New England should come out ahead. But not by nine. Let’s go with seven.

Jacksonville (+15.5) at Houston
It’s as simple as this: One team is on track for the top seed in the AFC playoffs, the other’s in the hunt for the top pick in the NFL draft. But, you know, I suppose it’s possible that the Texans are due for a bit of an emotional letdown after their huge Sunday night win over the Bears in Chicago, so I’ll take the Jaguars with the points. Texans win this one by a mere two touchdowns.

Cincinnati (-3.5) at Kansas City
The number of times this season that the Chiefs offense has presented the ball to an opposing defense is now up to 30. No other team in the league has more than 21 giveaways. And the closest any team gets to Kansas City’s resultant -20 giveaway/takeaway differential is a -11. You simply don’t win games when you play football that way. Not against the Bengals. Not against anybody. Cincinnati by four.

New Orleans (-4.5) at Oakland
The Saints appear to be back on track. And, in a strange (and ultimately sad) way, so do the Raiders. New Orleans by 10.

San Diego (+7.5) at Denver
Here’s where the Broncos effectively sew up the AFC West title, and Norv Turner wraps up his tenure with the Chargers.

Baltimore (-3.5) at Pittsburgh
It’s possible that in the two big prime time games of week 11 (sorry, Dolphins and Bills), only one team will have its starting quarterback available. And in this one, I just can’t pick against the division-leading squad with the in-tact offense. The Steelers D keeps it close, but the Ravens still come out on top by a field goal.

Chicago (+5) at San Francisco
I don’t know who’s going to line up behind center for either of these teams, but, honestly, I don’t much care. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I’ll buy into Chicago as soon as I see them beat a good team. That hasn’t happened yet (unless you count the week one home win over the Colts in Andrew Luck‘s first ever NFL start). And, so long as whoever starts at quarterback for the Niners can take care of the ball, it won’t happen here. San Francisco by three.

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Week Ten Picks

November 8th, 2012 Comments off

Now that the election is over, I can finally focus my attention on football. Oh, wait, I was already doing that. And it hasn’t been working. Quick, somebody find a way to distract me. Here’s what not to expect this week.

Indianapolis (-3) at Jacksonville
I don’t know if the 5-3 Colts are serious contenders for an AFC wild card slot (and I’m quite certain, though I think he’s going to have an incredible career, that talk of Andrew Luck as a Rookie of the Year candidate is pure nonsense), but I do know that the Jaguars are serious contenders for first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. And there’s a reason for that. But traveling on a short week is tough for a young team, so the Colts only win this one by a touchdown.

Buffalo (+11) at New England
The BradyBelichick era Patriots are 19-2 overall against the Bills, 10-0 in Foxborough. Brady’s thrown for 300-plus yards in each of the teams’ last three meetings and seven of the last 12. And in their three meetings in New England since Brady returned from his 2008 injury season, the Pats QB has gone 83 of 115 (72 percent) for 968 yards (8.4 yards per attempt), eight touchdowns and two interceptions, for a passer rating of 113.2. I don’t see any reason to expect a major reversal in any of those trends. Nor in the scoring trend; New England has outscored Buffalo by close to 16 points a game in Foxborough over Brady’s career, 12 points per game in the last three years. Patriots by two touchdowns.

NY Giants (-4) at Cincinnati
Eli Manning hasn’t played his best football over the last couple of weeks. And the Giants have a history of struggling through November. But let’s be honest here. These are the Bengals. If New Jersey so much as gets off to a slow start, it will be the Giants own doing. And even then, they’ll recover quickly enough. Giants by 10.

San Diego (+3) at Tampa Bay
It would be easy enough to look at this as a matchup of two 4-4 teams headed in completely different directions. And maybe that’s the smart thing to do. The Buccaneers are getting it done with Doug Martin, who makes two key contributions to the offense: First and foremost is 5.2 yards per carry and seven TDs; second, though, is the fact that Martin’s presence has opened things up for Josh Freeman, who looks to be having his best season as a pro. The Chargers, meanwhile, haven’t beaten a team with a winning record yet this season; their four wins include two over the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that barely qualifies as professional at this point. So, yeah, these teams are going in entirely different directions. Still, if this game were in San Diego, I’d still be tempted to pick the Chargers, because I think they have a chance to slow down Martin and make Freeman earn a win. I’m not sure he’s ready to do that on the road. But I’m confident he can do it in Tampa. Buccaneers by a field goal.

Denver (-3.5) at Carolina
Another week, another weak opponent for Denver, another opportunity for the national media to fawn over Peyton Manning‘s “incredible” comeback season. (Whatever will they say after the Broncos are eliminated after just one playoff game?) Denver by six.

Tennessee (+6) at Miami
I’m nobody’s idea of a football genius, Bud, but if you’re looking at “alternatives,” may I be so bold as to suggest defensive players who can tackle and offensive players who can hold on to the ball? I mean, I really think those things would help. But maybe it’s just me. Dolphins by four.

Oakland (+7.5) at Baltimore
A week ago, I told you I wasn’t buying into the notion that the Raiders were a good team, because they hadn’t beaten anyone good. I said they’d falter against the Buccaneers. And I was right. So what do you think I’m going to say as the Raiders head off to face a serious contender? Exactly. Ravens by 17.

Atlanta (-2.5) at New Orleans
I’m sitting in the Hyatt Regency New Orleans looking out at the Superdome as I write this. It’s an impressive building. Should be a lovely place for the Falcons to take their first loss of the season. Matt Ryan has an off day and the Saints pull off the upset, winning by six.

Detroit (-2) at Minnesota
I hate this game. The Vikings are fading.  The Lions are (kind of) surging. The Vikings beat the Lions in Detroit back in week four with smoke and mirrors. The Lions should be able to win. And if it were in Detroit, I’d feel pretty good picking it that way. But it isn’t. And, right or wrong … I … just … can’t. Vikings by a field goal.

NY Jets (+6.5) at Seattle
Never mind the silly guarantees. The 2012 Jets are all done. And this game, in which they’ll be lucky to score three points, should illustrate that reality perfectly. Seahawks by 10.

Dallas (-1) at Philadelphia
It’s virtually unavoidable that one of these teams will somehow fail to lose this game. And when you can say that, you know you’re in for some great football. I’m gonna take my chances on Tony Romo to be ever so slightly less of a knucklehead than Michael Vick. Isn’t that a hell of a thing to hang your hat on? Cowboys win straight up. It’s a push with the point.

St. Louis (-11.5) at San Francisco
the 49ers are only a game ahead of the Seahawks in the win column (two in the loss column), but their lead in the NFC West is functionally two games because San Fran is guaranteed at least a split with Seattle and the Seahawks are 0-3 in the division. The Niners have two games against the lowly Rams over the last half of the season; if they win both, their lead in the division becomes effectively insurmountable. That should be simple enough. San Francisco by 14.

Houston (+1) at Chicago
I’ve been saying I’ll buy into the Bears when they beat a good team. I mean it. They win this game, I’ll accept that they’re for real. Until they do that, I remain skeptical. The Bears live by the takeaway. That’s fine, I suppose. But you can’t scheme for it. You can coach it, but that’s a different thing. You still have to rely on your opponents to present opportunities for your guys to take advantage of. The Texans don’t present many of those opportunities (indeed, almost none). And that’s the difference here. Houston by six.

Kansas City (+12.5) at Pittsburgh
Dying by turnovers is different from living by them. No one has to come up with ways to get you to give them the ball. If it’s what you do, it’s what you do. Either you correct it or you keep on getting bit in the ass by it. The Chiefs, who have 29 giveaways and a giveaway/takeaway differential of -20 (nearly double the league’s second worst mark, Dallas’ -11), have shown no evidence that they have any ability to correct their problem. The Steelers devour teams that consistently make mistakes. Pittsburgh by 14 (actually, considerably more than 14, but it will be 14 at halftime, which is when everyone outside of western Pennsylvania will turn off the TV and go to bed).

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Week Nine Picks

November 1st, 2012 Comments off

Let’s just get straight to it this week, shall we? Here’s what not to expect.

Kansas City (+7.5) at San Diego
Chiefs fans are convinced that Matt Cassel is the source of their team’s struggles. I’m don’t buy it. Cassel clearly is not one of the all time great QBs, but he’s played OK to well over most of his seasons in Kansas City. This year, not so much. Cassel’s completing close to 60 percent of his passes, as he usually does. He’s taking his share of sacks, but his sack percentage isn’t what you’d call scary. And despite that, he’s throwing picks like they’re going out of style. Ten interceptions on 206 attempts over five starts/six games. That’s an interception percentage of 4.9, and that’s just awful. Add in the fact that Cassel’s only thrown six TDs and it looks even worse. I don’t think Cassel can possibly be solely responsible for what’s happening with him any more than I think he’s solely responsible for what’s happening with the Chiefs. There have to be play-calling issues, and those rest with Brian Daboll. Of course, in the end it doesn’t much matter whose fault it is that the Chiefs are falling apart, because the fact remains that the Chiefs are, you know, falling apart. And a trip to San Diego to face a Chargers team fresh off a fiasco in Cleveland and desperate to revive the pretense that it remains a contender in the AFC West (or at least for a wild card berth) is rather unlikely to help Kansas City solve its problems. The Chiefs can’t score, can’t stop opponents from scoring, and can’t begin to hold onto the ball (their -18 giveaway/takeaway differential not only is the worst in the league, but is worse by seven turnovers than the next team on the list, the Dallas Cowboys). That’s nothing but a formula for losing. San Diego by 10.

Denver (-3.5) at Cincinnati
The Broncos have already played the only four tough opponents on their schedule in the first five weeks of the season. They’re now set to cruise to a 13-3 finish. Maybe they’ll slip to 12-4 if they let one get away from them somewhere. But that won’t be this one. The Bengals just aren’t good enough. Willis McGahee puts up 100-plus for the second straight week and the Broncos come out on top by at least a touchdown.

Arizona (+11) at Green Bay
The Cardinals managed to surrender yet another four sacks when they hosted the 49ers Monday night. That gets them up to 39 on the season, for a sack percentage of 11.2. That’s going to continue to pose a problem for Arizona until it gets fixed. “But, Sean,” you say, “Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 28 times on 299 attempts. That comes out to 12 percent. Isn’t that worse?” And I say, sure, it is. But the other thing about Rodgers is that he’s thrown 21 touchdowns to just four interceptions. John Skelton? One TD, four picks. And, the Cardinals are traveling on a short week. It all makes this one easy. Green Bay by 21.

Miami (-2.5) at Indianapolis
The Colts are a 4-3 team in spite of themselves. The Dolphins have earned 4-3. I’ll take earned over fell ass-backward into every day. Miami by six.

Baltimore (-3.5) at Cleveland
The Browns have been scrappy this season. I’ll give them that. But scrappy wasn’t enough to make their last game against the Ravens as close as the final score made it appear. And it won’t be enough this time, either. Baltimore by a touchdown.

Buffalo (+10) at Houston
You know what you get when you put Arian Foster up against the NFL‘s worst run defense? A great, big pile of ugly. That’s what. The only thing that will hold Houston’s margin of victory in the 20s is that time ticks off the clock faster when you run on every down.

Carolina (+3) at Washington
Look, Ma, no defense. The difference here come from the fact that the Panthers offense actually stops itself. Native Americans by a touchdown.

Detroit (-4) at Jacksonville
The Lions aren’t good. But the Jaguars are just plain bad. Detroit by six.

Chicago (-3.5) at Tennessee
I’m not buying into the notion of the Bears as legit NFC North contenders until they demonstrate an ability to beat a good team. You may correctly read that to mean that I won’t be buying into the Bears as legit contenders even after they take apart the Titans. Chicago by 10.

Tampa Bay (+1.5) at Oakland
OK, you know what? Don’t ask me why I’m not one of the folks who are all excited about the Raiders as a result of their two straight wins, which have come against Jacksonville and Kansas City (the first of which they needed overtime to win at home). Beating those teams doesn’t make you good; it makes you better than awful. The Bucs aren’t great, but they’re better than the Raiders and they’re going to win this game. Tampa by a field goal.

Minnesota (+5) at Seattle
I thought Christian Ponder would get his season back on track last weekend when the Vikings hosted the Buccaneers. He didn’t. And if you can’t get it done against the middling Tampa Bay defense in your own building, you’re sure as hell not gonna have much success taking on the excellent Seattle defense on the road. Of course, I’m not expecting much from the Seattle offense, either. I’ll go with Seahawks by four.

Pittsburgh (+3) at NY Giants
This is the game of the week for better or for worse. And, honestly, I think it’s for better. I think it turns out to be a hard-fought, very competitive. I think it will be either team’s to win until late in the fourth. And, of course, that’s when Eli Manning is at his best. Giants by three.

Dallas (+4) at Atlanta
Yet again I find myself looking at a spread and feeling insulted on behalf of the Falcons. Dallas couldn’t keep it this close to Atlanta if the game were in Texas. They’re sure as hell not going to keep it close in Georgia. I will be absolutely dumbfounded if this game isn’t over by halftime. Tony Romo will have another one of those games that makes everyone who isn’t Jason Garrett or Jerry Jones wonder how the hell he keeps his job, and the Falcons will come out on top by 20.

Philadelphia (+3) at New Orleans
Who could fail to score a bunch of points against the hapless New Orleans defense? Michael Vick, that’s who. Saints by 10.

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