Archive for December, 2012

Week Seventeen Picks

December 27th, 2012 Comments off

So this is it for the regular season. Which seems crazy to me, because I’m pretty sure the damned thing just started yesterday afternoon. I suppose the good news is that there will only be four games for me to predict poorly a week from now. So that should save all of us a good bit of time. Meanwhile, here’s what not to expect in week seventeen.

NY Jets (+3.5) at Buffalo
And now comes Mark Sanchez once again to not finish what he didn’t really ever start. Looking good, Jets. Looking real good. Buffalo by 10.

Baltimore (+2.5) at Cincinnati
The Ravens at least have the hope of snagging the three seed to play for. The Bengals’ only reason to try would be to prevent the Ravens from getting the three seed so they don’t have to face their division rivals again next week in Baltimore. I’m not sure that’s enough. Better to stay healthy, start thinking about a trip to New England (or maybe, but probably not, Houston; or maybe, but almost certainly not, Denver), and refuse to show Baltimore anything beyond your most basic looks on both sides of the ball on the off chance you do end up having to play the Ravens again in a week’s time. All told, I’ll take Baltimore to win it by a field goal.

Cleveland (off) at Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh by an impressive wedge shot to birdie the 12th.

Houston (-6.5) at Indianapolis
I’ll start by saying that I’m always suspicious of the notion that emotion is going to carry a team to victory. Yes, I think it’s in incredible story that Chuck Pagano is returning to the Colts sideline. I know the players must be thrilled for their coach and excited to have him back with the team. I’m sure they’ll play their hearts out for him. I’m just not sure it matters. If Indy wins this game, they’ll win it because it’s hard to sweep a division opponent and really hard to beat a strong division foe on their field. They’ll win it because Houston has stumbled a bit of late and is looking vulnerable. Maybe they’ll win it because Houston has appeared to lack focus in the latter part of the season. All of those things are possible. But I don’t think any of those scenarios will play out. Because the Texans are playing to secure home field advantage through the playoffs, and they’re doing that because they’ve been one of the best teams in the league all season long. The Texans are clearly the better team in this game, and I simply can’t see them failing to seize the opportunity before them. Texans by a touchdown.

Jacksonville (+4) at Tennessee
If you think the Jaguars are bad now, wait to you see them next season with Tim Tebow, the fakest quarterback in the history of fake quarterbacks, taking snaps. Tennessee by six.

Philadelphia (+7.5) at NY Giants
I think there’s a decent chance the luckiest team in football actually falls ass-backward into the NFC six seed. At the very least, the Giants will take out the frustrations of a disappointing title defense on the lifeless, purposeless Eagles. New Jersey by 10.

Chicago (-3) at Detroit
Given the likelihood that the Packers will knock off the Vikings later in the day, a win here would put the Bears in the playoffs as the NFC six seed. And it’s for that reason that I expect the Lions to pull off the upset. Seriously. The Bears are slightly better than the Lions on offense and much better than the Lions on defense. Chicago has a +16 takeaway/giveaway differential, the second best in the league; Detroit’s -12 is the seventh worst. Moreover, the Lions are as adept at finding ways to lose football games as any team I’ve ever seen. This ought to be easy for the Bears. But it won’t be, because the Bears are a team that’s absolutely destined to choke their way out of the postseason. You can feel it. Detroit wins it by a point on the last play of the game.

Tampa Bay (off) at Atlanta
The Falcons, having secured home field throughout the NFC playoffs, have absolutely nothing to play for this weekend. It’s hard enough to beat divisional opponents in the NFL when you actually have a reason to try. The Bucs get outplayed for three quarters, then get handed a victory in the fourth. Tampa by three.

Carolina (+5) at New Orleans
In which the Saints remind the Panthers that the NFC South is their division. Well, not really theirs so much as the Falcons’. But if it weren’t the Falcons’ division, it would be the Saints’ division. Probably. Only maybe not next season. But this one, um, definitely this one … if it weren’t for the Falcons. New Orleans by a touchdown.

Miami (+10) at New England
Something tells me that a Dolphins-Patriots matchup in week seventeen of the 2013 season could prove meaningful for both teams. This season, it only matters to the Patriots, who might (but probably won’t) be playing for the two seed and a bye, and who could (but almost certainly won’t) steal home field through the AFC playoffs, and who probably (though not definitely) will at least need a win in order to hold onto the three seed and the remote hope of hosting the conference championship. No matter how things shape up, New England is going to go into this game looking for a decisive victory that will send them into the postseason on the right note. I suspect the Patriots get what they’re looking for, even if they don’t get everything they may be wishing for. New England by 14.

Green Bay (-3) at Minnesota
Wouldn’t it be interesting if, en route to securing the NFC two seed and a wild card round bye, the Packers ended up opening the door for the Giants, the team that has consistently given them fits in the postseason? No matter. Green Bay is taking the two seed, eliminating their division rivals, preventing Adrian Peterson from getting the 208 yards he needs to break the record for rushing yards in a season, and ensuring that the soonest they’ll see New Jersey is in the NFC Championship — and only if the Giants get past San Francisco and Atlanta first. Packers by four.

Kansas City (+16) at Denver
There’s nothing, not one single thing, about the Kansas City Chiefs that isn’t awful. The Broncos earn a wild card round bye and possibly, but not probably, home field through the playoffs with a decisive victory. The game is over by halftime, and the Broncos come out on top by 20-ish.

Oakland (off) at San Diego
What do you get when the second and third worst teams in football’s weakest division square off with nothing on the line? I don’t know and I don’t intend to find out. Chargers by seven.

Arizona (+16.5) at San Francisco
A win for San Francisco is the difference between going into the playoffs as the three seed (and maybe, but probably not, the two) which means starting the postseason with a home game against the (Giants? Vikings? Bears? Native Americans?) and going in as the five seed and opening with a trip to Washington or Dallas. That’s about all you need to know. Oh, also, the Cardinals are on their fourth starting quarterback of the season. (Poor Brian. I always liked him.) Niners by 21.

St. Louis (+10.5) at Seattle
Yup, the Seahawks are going to win their fifth straight game, extending what is already, by a factor of two, their longest winning streak of the season. And, nope, it doesn’t matter. They’re the five seed and the five seed they shall remain. Let’s see what happens next weekend when the NFL’s two top rookie quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, go head-to-head. Seattle by 14.

Dallas (+3) at Washington
This is kind of it for Tony Romo, right? Either he wins this game and proves that the real Tony is the guy with the impressive regular season stats, or he loses and proves that the real Tony is the quintessential postseason choke artist. OK, sure, this game isn’t actually a postseason game. But it might as well be, particularly for the Cowboys. Because if Dallas wins this game, they’re the NFC East champions. (And, hooray! They get to host the Seahawks next weekend!) If they lose, they’re done. The Native Americans can survive a loss here so long as the Bears and Vikings both lose earlier in the day. But come on, now. You know the Cowboys aren’t winning this game. I know the Cowboys aren’t winning this game. And I rather suspect the Cowboys know the Cowboys aren’t winning this game. They simply don’t have what it takes. Romo throws a costly pick late and Washington take the game and the division title. Native Americans by four.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 22nd, 2012 Comments off

Busy week and no Thursday night game means it took me until Saturday to figure out ways to be wrong about all sixteen of the week’s games. Here’s what not to expect.

Atlanta (-3.5) at Detroit
It’s this simple: The Falcons are an uneven team that’s made a season-long habit of finding ways to win games in spite of themselves; the Lions are an uneven team that’s made a season-long habit of finding ever more ridiculous ways to lose games. I can’t come up with any reason to expect either of those trends to change. Atlanta by a field goal.

Tennessee (+12.5) at Green Bay
The Titans barely got by the Jets on their own field on Monday night. They’re sure as hell not traveling to Green Bay and beating the Packers. I’d add my usual caveat about the Packers needing to keep Aaron Rodgers on his feet here, but the Titans can’t get after the quarterback, so protection shouldn’t be much of a problem. This game may be close through the first half, but Green Bay will star to pull away early in the third quarter and will come out on top by at least three touchdowns.

Oakland (+8.5) at Carolina
Every year, the excitement with which I await the post-season is s tempered at least a bit by the knowledge that the regular season is coming to a close. Games like this, however, make the end of the regular season seem like a blessing. Because, you know, ugh, ugh, ugh. Panthers by ten.

Buffalo (+5) at Miami
Football fans in Buffalo and Miami can be glad that at the very least they’re not Jets fans. Dolphins by six.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
This game is being billed as a battle for the AFC six seed. And that’s technically accurate. The Bengals are in the playoffs with a win here, and a Steelers win would give Pittsburgh the ability to get in with a home win over the Browns in week 17. But there’s also this: If the Bengals win this game and the Ravens lose to the Giants, Cincinnati will go to Baltimore next week with a chance to snatch the division crown. I suspect they’ll get that shot. The Steelers, a team that leans heavily on defense, have given up 61 points over the past two weeks. They’ve lost four of their last five. They’re fading in a big way. The Bengals, meanwhile, appear to have recovered from their mid-season slump. They’ve won five of their last six games, putting up 28 points per game over that stretch. It’s a division game, and its in the Steelers’ building, so I don’t see the Bengals winning by much. But a point will be all they need. Bengals win 24-23.

New England (-14.5) at Jacksonville
I’m not sure there’s a lot that’s worth saying about this game. It has a college spread for a reason (or, actually, a lot of reasons). So I’ll just point out that Tom Brady has enjoyed considerable success against Jacksonville over his career. He’s faced the Jags five times, come out on top five times, and gone 114 of 154 (74%) for 1,207 yards (7.8 yards per attempt), 13 touchdowns, and no interceptions, compiling a passer rating of 124.5. And the last two times the Patriots faced the Jaguars, Brady was even more efficient, completing 49 of 54 passes (91%) for 529 yards (9.8 YPA), 7 TDs, and no pick, which gets him to a passer rating of 147.0. So, yeah, ugly is probably what you can expect. New England by 35.

Indianapolis (-7) at Kansas City
This should be interesting in at least one regard. Though you’d never guess it from the extreme disparity in their win-loss records, these two teams share an appalling inability to hold on to the ball. The Chiefs have 34 giveaways on the season, tied with the Eagles for worst in the league. The Colts have presented the ball to opponents 27 times, which ties them with the Steeles for fifth worst. The teams also have been similar in their failure to take the ball away from opponents. The Colts are last in the league with 10 takeaways on the season, while the Chiefs are tied for 31st with 12. So what does that all mean? Probably nothing. Only when I try to imagine this game all I see is the ball bouncing all over the field with players from both squads giving hapless, hopeless chase. In between the slapstick sketches, I guess I expect to see the Colts put up about nine more points than the Chiefs. So there’s that.

New Orleans (+3) at Dallas
Drew Brees and Tony Romo have thrown 34 interceptions between them. That’s a big part of the reason the Saints are out of the playoff picture entirely and the Cowboys are battling for a chance to lose in the wild card round. Given that the Cowboys actually have something at stake in this game, I’m going to bet on Romo to find a way to make a critical mistake at exactly the wrong moment. New Orleans by four.

Washington (-6.5) at Philadelphia
If the Native Americans win out, they take the NFC East championship — and go into the playoffs looking very dangerous. I can’t see them letting the awful Eagles get in their way. Washington by 10.

St. Louis (+3) at Tampa Bay
I don’t know. One of these teams isn’t going to lose. Is it the home team, or the team with something resembling momentum? I’m gonna go with option two: Rams by a field goal.

NY Giants (-2.5) at Baltimore
The Ravens need a win to clinch a post-season berth. The Giants need a win to keep their hopes of earning a post-season berth alive heading into week 17. But while the Giants have been uneven lately (OK, really, all season long), the Ravens over the last three weeks have looked like they just don’t have anything left in the tank. I think New Jersey finds a way to keep both the NFC and AFC playoff pictures interesting into the final week of the season with a three-point win.

Minnesota (+7.5) at Houston
Adrian Peterson is on a mission. Unfortunately for the Vikings, so are the Texans. Houston can clinch home field through the AFC playoffs with a win here. That, combined with the fact that they’re simply the better, more balanced team, makes the difference. Texans by 10.

Cleveland (+13) at Denver
There are an awful lot of people in New England who would love to believe that the Browns can win this game. They can’t. Broncose by 17.

Chicago (-5.5) at Arizona
Hey, it’s the NFL’s oldest rivalry. And, hey, the Bears are still hanging onto the hope of qualifying for the playoffs. And, yep, that’s exactly what’s interesting about this game. Chicago by a touchdown.

San Francisco (-1) at Seattle
If the 49ers can play a second straight prime time road game and come up with a second straight victory over a tough opponent, they’ll sail into the post-season as the odds-on favorites to win Super Bowl XLVII. If the Seahawks win, they’ll generate a ton of buzz about being the “team no one wants to play” in the post-season. And that’s about what I’ve got to say here, because in the matchup department these teams are virtually identical. I’m giving the advantage to the Seahawks, because (and only because) they’re at home. Seattle by three.

San Diego (+2.5) at NY Jets
Anybody have anything interesting going on Sunday night? Jets by a field goal.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 13th, 2012 Comments off

I’m short on time this week, so here’s what you get. What not to expect.

Cincinnati (-4.5) at Philadelphia
Things are considerably more interesting in the AFC North right now than fans of teams outside the division realize. A week or two ago, Baltimore not only appeared to have the division title locked up, but had the inside track for the AFC two seed. Now, it looks to me like Cincinnati might get a chance to steal the division. Sure, the 9-4 Ravens still hold a two game lead over the 7-6 Bengals and Steelers. But the Ravens host the Broncos this week and the Giants next. Both of those teams are better than the Ravens, and both have the potential to win even in Baltimore. The Ravens then finish their season with a trip to Cincinnati. The Steelers travel to Dallas this week, and that game could go either way. Then they host Cincy, before finishing with Cleveland, a team that doesn’t look great on paper, but that’s been playing good football of late. (The Browns started their current three-game winning streak with a victory over the Steelers in week 12.) If the Bengals win this game, which should be a breeze, and go on to topple Pittsburgh, there’s a possibility they’ll be looking at the opportunity to win the division with a week 17 victory over Baltimore. That might look like a lot of ifs, but it’s really just a lot of possibilities. Of course, it all has to start for Cincinnati with a victory here. And the only way they don’t get that is if their heads are filled with weeks 16 and 17. I suspect they’ll find a way to top the hapless Eagles. Cincinnati by 10.

Green Bay (-3) at Chicago
This is a dangerous game for a Packers squad that has shown no ability to protect its quarterback. The Bears need a win here not just to stay alive in the division (a Green Bay win would clinch the NFC North title), but to stay ahead of a pack of challengers for the conference six seed. They obviously know that you can get to Rodgers, so one expects that’s exactly what they’re going to try to do. The question is, can the Bears D apply enough pressure over four quarters to keep Chicago in the game? I think they can. I expect to see the Packers struggle here and I have a feeling the Bears will actually find a way to steal a win. Let’s say by two.

NY Giants (+1.5) at Atlanta
Yes, it was fairly shocking that the Falcons lost to the Panthers last weekend. But it won’t surprise anyone when they lose this one to the Giants, because, records aside, everyone knows at this point that the Giants are the better team. New Jersey by six.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at New Orleans
Blah, blah, blah, Bountygate. These whiny, whiny Saints are enough to make you long for the whiny days of Archie “Whinemaster” Manning.” Would somebody just put this team out of my misery, already? Yeah, probably not this week. New Orleans by a touchdown.

Minnesota (+3) at St. Louis
OK, let’s see: 1,600 divided by 13 is 123; 2,106 minus 1,600 is 506; 506 divided by 3 is 169; 169 minus 123 is 46; and 46 divided by 123 is .374 (or 37.4%). Yeah, uh, it ain’t happening, AP. Rams by a touchdown.

Washington (-1.5) at Cleveland
Well, it was a nice little winning streak while it lasted. Right, Browns fans? The margin depends on whether Robert Griffin III is healthy enough to be effective, but the result is a win by the Native Americans either way. And by no less than a field goal.

Jacksonville (+7) at Miami
Ugh. Just ugh. Dolphins by 14.

Denver (-2.5) at Baltimore
In which the Ravens complete the transition from presumptive two seed to probable four seed (with an option for six seed). Which is to say, an ugly finish to a once-promising season in Baltimore continues here. Broncos by at least four.

Indianapolis (+8.5) at Houston
The Texans really, really, really need to bounce back from the beating they took in Foxborough on Monday night. This game accords them an great opportunity to do just that. I’m not sure the Texans can beat the division rival Colts twice in three weeks, but I’m confident they can do it once. At home. Though maybe by more like seven.

Carolina (+3) at San Diego
The mediocrity! The mediocrity! Home team by four.

Seattle (-5.5) vs. Buffalo at Rogers Centre, Toronto
You know you’ve got yourself a hell of a football team when a squad that’s known for not traveling well can cross the country to face you on something resembling (if only vaguely) your home turf and end up giving you five and a half. What more can one possibly say about this game? Seahawks by a touchdown.

Detroit (-6) at Arizona
The Lions defense has 30 sacks going into this game. They’ll likely have 40 coming out. And they’ll still barely manage a win (which I suppose is a step up from perpetually finding new ways to lose). Detroit by a field goal.

Pittsburgh (-1.5) at Dallas
I’m not sure I’ve ever rooted for a tie before, but that’s about the only outcome that could hurt both teams’ playoff hopes. And I really just want to get to the point where I can stop hearing about both of them. So I’m looking for a tie. Not expecting one, though. I’m expecting a narrow victory by the Cowboys. Because they’re at home. And because the Steelers look really tired to me, even though they’re probably the better team in this match. Dallas wins 17-16.

Kansas City (+3) at Oakland
The Chiefs, at -157, are the team with the worst net points in the NFL. The Raiders, at -154, are second worst. So, yeah, this one should be a barn burner. Oakland by a field goal.

San Francisco (+5) at New England
The 49ers will need to get a great performance out of their terrific defense to have a chance in this game. Because the 49ers simply don’t have an offense that can keep up with the Patriots if New England start piling up the points the way it has over the past several weeks. If San Francisco can bring some pressure, slow New England down and hold the Patriots to 17 or fewer, they have a chance. If the Pats put up as few as 24, the game is over. I expect to see the Patriots put up at least 30. So I’m taking New England and giving the points.

NY Jets (+2) at Tennessee
I’ve been saying it since the moments after their blowout loss to New England in Foxborough on Thanksgiving night: The Jets are going to win out and back into the playoffs. Here’s one more step toward the six seed. New Jersey by three.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 6th, 2012 Comments off

Three quarters of the season down, the playoff picture coming together, and still here I am with next to no idea what the hell is going on. Here’s what not to expect in week fourteen.

Denver (-10) at Oakland
The only way the number ten factors into any assessment of this game is in a calculation of how many wins Denver will have at the end of the night. Nine going in, ten coming out. Denver by a bazillion (which I’m fairly certain is considerably more than ten).

Baltimore (+2.5) at Washington
The Ravens are fading; the Native Americans are surging. And Baltimore has zero hope of shutting down the Washington run game. It won’t look it, because the Native Americans will only lead by about nine, but this one for all intents and purposes will be decided by halftime. In by the time it’s literally over, Washington come out on top by something on the order of 16.

Kansas City (+6.5) at Cleveland
The Browns may not do a ton of things well (though they’re getting better week by week), but there are only four teams in the league with more takeaways than Cleveland this season. And — ready? here comes your moment of absurd understatement — none of those are the Chiefs. Count on Kansas City to do a whole lot of what they do best, put the ball in the hands of the opposition, as they earn their eleventh loss of the season. Cleveland by nine.

San Diego (+6.5) at Pittsburgh
It was just about to ask whether the Chargers could be any more done, and then I realized that, yes, they can. And they will. And it doesn’t even matter who’s taking the snaps for Pittsburgh. Steelers by a touchdown.

Tennessee (+5.5) at Indianapolis
If the Colts were a bit more balanced on offense, I’d be happy to give the points here. Indy’s D is terrible, but I’m not sure the Tennessee offense has the weapons to take advantage of that weakness. So all the Colts need to do is put up a bunch of points and commence worrying about the Texans and preparing for the playoffs. But that may not prove all that easy. I expect to see Andrew Luck throw a pair of costly picks in this game, and for the score to be closer than it ought to be as a result. The Colts win, but not by more than a field goal.

NY Jets (-2.5) at Jacksonville
Awfully confused meets confusedly awful. The good news for New Jersey is that they could stick 44-year-old Browning Nagle behind center and still come away with a win in this one (hell, he might even get Woody Johnson’s vote to keep the starting job). Jets by four.

Chicago (-3) at Minnesota
I’m more certain than ever, after last week, that the Bears simply cannot beat good teams. Of course, I’m also pretty damned certain that the Vikings just put half their offense on injured reserve. So Chicago’s ability to succeed against quality competition has exactly zero to do with this game. The Bears will win the turnover battle by three, the game by 13.

Atlanta (-3.5) at Carolina
The Falcons need two wins over their final four games to sew up home field advantage through the playoffs. They’ll make it one with a big win over the foundering Panthers. Atlanta by 10.

Philadelphia (+7.5) at Tampa Bay
The Eagles have decided to make the most of their early off season with a team trip to the Gulf Coast. Maybe they’ll pick up some pointers on how to play football. Bucs by a dozen.

St. Louis (+3) at Buffalo
I don’t know. One of these teams is bound to win. Let’s just figure it’s the home team, though it’s a push with the points.

Dallas (+3) at Cincinnati
We know the Cowboys can win at home against opponents who clearly don’t care. Should that lead us to conclude that they can win on the road against opponents who are trying to battle their way into the post-season? Even though I still suspect their playoff hopes are somewhat less than realistic, I think the Bengals keep themselves in the mathematical hunt for another week with five sacks of Tony Romo and a fairly convincing win over the Cowboys. Cincy by 14.

Miami (+10) at San Francisco
The 49ers need a win. The Dolphins are due for a loss. None of that matters, but what am I gonna do, explain to you why Miami can’t keep pace with San Francisco in this game? You already know. Niners by three touchdowns.

New Orleans (+5) at NY Giants
In which the Giants, having successfully put their hold on the NFC East in jeopardy, finally get around to turning it back on. It’s a good day for both quarterbacks, but a slightly better one for Eli Manning. Giants finish a high-scoring game with a last second TD and a four-point win.

Arizona (+10) at Seattle
I never would have believed it heading into the season, but the Seahawks actually have a shot at the NFC West title. The Cardinals, um, do not. Seahawks by double the spread.

Detroit (+7) at Green Bay
As long as the Packers can keep him on his feet, Aaron Rodgers should be able to shred Detroit’s secondary. Green Bay edges closer to the NFC North title with a 10-point win.

Houston (+3.5) at New England
I keep hearing and reading about how the Patriots are the better football team in this match, records notwithstanding. And that may be true. But I’m not as certain of it as others seem to be. No doubt, the Patriots have been good football lately. Their win in Miami on Sunday might have been their best win of the season — because they won in spite of the fact that their quarterback struggled a bit (as is his wont in Miami), and they did it with solid defense and an actual four-minute offense. Patriots fans should feel great about that. They should also be mindful of the fact that the Patriots were playing the Miami Dolphins. Yep, division rival and all that. But still, the Miami Dolphins. And the Miami Dolphins are most decidedly not the team with the inside track on the AFC one seed. The Texans, even if they haven’t looked as powerful lately as they did earlier in the season, remain a very talented, very dangerous team. They have a balanced offense, which makes it tough when your defensive orientation is to take away the one thing an opponent does best. They have a balanced D as well, though they do a particularly good job of getting to the quarterback and disrupting opponents’ passing attacks. That spells trouble for a team like the Patriots. And, on top of that, the Texans are almost as good as the Patriots at taking care of the ball. New England lives by the takeaway. The Patriots have 33 on the season, second only to Chicago’s 34. And, too often, they’ve used takeaways to compensate for defensive deficiencies. That’s OK; winning the turnover battle typically wins you the game in the NFL. But it’s unreliable. When you run into a team that protects the ball, reliance on takeaways can tend leave you wanting. None of that means that the Patriots can’t or won’t win this game. They can. They may. Since they’re at home, perhaps one might even go so far as to say they will. But it’s not gonna be easy. And I wouldn’t give more than a point or two. Let’s say New England wins 30-28.

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