Archive for December, 2014

Week Seventeen Picks

December 27th, 2014 Comments off

Wow. What happened to the 2014 season? Seems like I just finished counting down to the opener. And now I’m down to my last chance to embarrass myself before the playoffs. Here’s the deal so far: After my hopelessly uneven finish in week sixteen — 9-7 straight up, 6-9-1 against the spread — my season records stand at at 159-81 (.663) straight up and 109-127-4 (.462) against the spread. Let’s see how badly I can mess things up in just a single week, shall we? Here’s what not to expect.

Jacksonville (+9.5) at Houston
The Texans are never going to get all the help they need to land the final spot in the AFC playoffs. But they’ll certainly do their part. And Houston is simply a far better team than Jacksonville. Texans by ten.

Indianapolis (-7) at Tennessee
The Colts aren’t going much of anywhere in the postseason. They might yet win their wild card round game, particularly if they get the Bengals, but that should just about do it. But the Titans aren’t the Bengals. Indy by nine.

Cleveland (+13.5) at Baltimore
The Ravens are shooting for the AFC six seed. The Browns are preparing for 2015 (not well, mind you; they’re still the Browns). Baltimore by 17.

Buffalo (+5) at New England
I don’t know. The Patriots have nothing to play for, and every reason to focus mainly on not getting anyone hurt. That should translate to a loss. But the Bills are in enough of a state of disarray that maybe the Patriots backups will be able to beat them. I just really have no idea what to expect. I’ll go with New England, but only by a field goal (followed by two weeks of Boston sports radio talk about how the inability of the second string to put this game away spells trouble for the Patriots in the postseason).

NY Jets (+6) at Miami
Something tells me the Jets spent everything they had left last week. Dolphins by a touchdown.

Chicago (+6) at Minnesota
Neither of these teams is going anywhere in 2014. But the Vikings at least are pointed in the right direction for 2015. That’s gotta be good for something, right? Minnesota by a field goal.

San Diego (pick ’em) at Kansas City
I’m not sure Alex Smith’s absence from this game punches the Chargers’ ticket to the postseason. The Chiefs losing Smith simply doesn’t change the fundamental dynamic of the matchup, which is this: San Diego’s offense isn’t equipped to overcome the Kansas City defense; and San Diego’s defense isn’t structured to limit Kansas City’s run-focused ball control offense. If the Chargers are going to win, they’re going to need to come out ahead in the turnover battle by +2, and I simply don’t see that happening. Chiefs by a field goal.

Philadelphia (+2.5) at NY Giants
Yeah, um, Giants, I guess. Because why not? One of these teams has to win. Or not lose. Whatever. Let’s say by four.

Dallas (-4.5) at Washington
The Cowboys are the NFC three seed no matter how this game turns out (because they’re just not getting the silly help they would need to move up). But they should still beat the living bejesus out of the Racists, even if it’s just to flex their muscles some as they head into the postseason. Dallas by 14.

New Orleans (-4) at Tampa Bay
The Bucs secure the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. It will be interesting to see how they squander it. Saints by six.

St. Louis (+12.5) at Seattle
Well, sure, I think we’d all love to see the Cardinals get another chance by way of a Seahawks loss to the visiting Rams. That’s pretty enough to think about, I suppose. But it’s not exactly in tune with reality. Seattle by 17.

Arizona (+6.5) at San Francisco
I don’t care who Arizona’s starting quarterback is or where this game is being played, the Cardinals are just a better team than the 49ers. Arizona by a point.

Oakland (+14) at Denver
Watch the media fall in love with Peyton Manning all over again. For two weeks. Denver by 10.

Carolina (+3.5) at Atlanta
What a rare treat it will be next week to watch a seven-win team hosting a postseason game. The Falcons are at home, so let’s figure they carry the day. Atlanta by three.

Detroit (+7.5) at Green Bay
Things have changed considerably for the Packers since their week three loss in Detroit. Considerably. Green Bay sews up the division and the conference two seed with a six-point victory.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
The Bengals inability to stop the run translates to an inability to hold onto the NFC North title. Steelers by seven.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 18th, 2014 Comments off

I should probably stop and remind myself that the whole reason for point spreads is to make sure at least half of the people making picks get it wrong. If I could do that, I could probably live with an 8-8 finish against the spread, which is what I got in week fifteen. That’s not awful, particularly when you leave real money out of the mix. And my 12-4 record straight up was nothing to sneeze at. So I should probably feel good. And I do, about the fact that I’m 150-74 (.670) straight up on the season. But, man, would it be nice to go into the last two weeks with at least a shot of coming out even in my picks against the spread. At 103-118-3 (.466), though, that’s clearly not in the cards. Oh, well. Here’s what not to expect in week sixteen.

Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville
The tradition of outstanding Thursday night football continues as the 2-12 Titans take on the 2-12 Jaguars in a classic battle for the basement. Beyond that, you know, I’m just not sure what to say about this game. These teams have given up 104 sacks between them. How’s that? Interesting enough for you? Yeah, me neither. Obviously, one has to suspect the team with the quarterback who spends the least time in this game on his back is the team that comes out on top. But which one that will be, I have no idea. So I’ll just go along with the oddsmakers and figure the home team comes out on top by the default three.

Philadelphia (-7.5) at Washington
The Eagles had a chance to sew up the NFC East last week and they squandered it. But if Philadelphia wins out and Dallas drops one of its last two games, the Eagles still come away with the division title (by way of a tie with the Cowboys, a head-to-head split and a better division record). And the reality is that Philadelphia would have to be about six degrees beyond officially eliminated for Washington to have even a hint of a chance in this game. Eagles by 20.

San Diego (+1.5) at San Francisco
It’s a pretty safe bet the league and CBS didn’t view this as a likely battle of also-rans when they plugged it into a prime time slot. But that’s what they got. The 49ers are officially out of postseason contention. The Chargers need more help than they have a real chance of getting. And, honestly, even if San Diego had a real incentive to find a way to win, I’d be hard pressed to take a team quarterbacked by a guy who throws as many interceptions as Philip Rivers to beat a team that picks off as many balls as San Francisco. Niners by four.

Minnesota (+6.5) at Miami
On one hand, I’m inclined to wonder if the pasting they took in Foxborough might send the Dolphins into a tailspin over the final two weeks of the season. On the other, I have trouble getting my head around just what the Vikings are as a team. And I can’t take a mystery squad to win on the road based solely on a hunch about their opponents. So I’ll look for Miami to win it, but I’m not giving six and a half. Four, tops.

Green Bay (-10.5) at Tampa Bay
It’s this simple: All the Packers need to do to put their off day in Buffalo behind them and position themselves for a chance to take the NFC North title — not to mention, most likely, the conference two seed and its attendant first-round bye — when they host Detroit next weekend is secure a win over the Buccaneers. And all the Bucs need to do to hold onto the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft is lose their last two games. Given those circumstances, do you think there’s any chance this is still a game at halftime? I don’t. Packers by double the spread, easy.

Detroit (-7) at Chicago
The Lions don’t need to win this game to maintain a shot at the division title. Win or lose here, the NFC North comes down to next week’s game in Green Bay. (That is, unless the Packers find a way to lose to the Buccaneers. But, um, see above.) Detroit does need a win, however, to keep alive its hopes of holding onto the two seed, or even stealing the one. And, you know, the Bears have thrown in the towel. So there’s that. Lions by thirteen.

Atlanta (+6) at New Orleans
Here’s another game that probably looked like a potentially critical division matchup back when the schedule was being put together. Not so much now that the, ahem, 6-8 Saints are, ahem, fairly solidly, ahem, in control of the division. But I don’t see anything that tells me New Orleans wins this game by more than a field goal. So there you have it: Saints by three.

New England (-10) at NY Jets
Division rivalry business aside, it’s very hard to see any way this game isn’t an outright bloodbath. I’ll say two things: First, the Jets pass defense is the worst in the league. By a lot. Second, the takeaway/giveaway differential between these teams is a +22 in the Patriots favor (New England, +11; New Jersey, -11). There’s more. Plenty more. But I don’t really feel a need to go any deeper. Do you? New England by 28.

Kansas City (+3) at Pittsburgh
This is the end of the road for the Chiefs. Kansas City can’t stop the run. And Pittsburgh is well positioned to make them pay for that problem all afternoon. Steelers by at least a touchdown.

Cleveland (+4) at Carolina
Nice call on the Johnny Football thing, coach. The Panthers keep their ridiculous (and fake) postseason hopes alive with a seven-point victory.

Baltimore (-5.5) at Houston
The Ravens don’t have much hope of overtaking the Steelers for the AFC North title (I’m aware that the Bengals are in that spot now, but they’re not staying there — see below), but they do have a shot at overtaking Cincinnati for the five seed. And I don’t think they even need to win this game to make that happen. Which is good news for the Ravens, because they’re not winning this game. (Yes. You’re right. It’s utterly absurd to pick a team without a quarterback to win a football game. But I’m doing it anyhow.) Texans by a field goal.

NY Giants (+5) at St. Louis
Fumble! Recovered by the Rams. St. Louis by six.

Buffalo (-6) at Oakland
If you can beat the Packers one week, you’d damned well better be able to beat the Raiders the next. Bills by 10.

Indianapolis (+3) at Dallas
Statistically speaking, these teams are nearly identical — except that the Cowboys have a running game. Thing is, though, the Dallas running game has a broken hand. Got that? The whole running game got a broken hand. And I don’t care how good he is, a running back with a broken hand is a critical turnover waiting to happen. That’s what I think decides the contest. Colts edge out a win by a point.

Seattle (-8) at Arizona
You know, I really want to believe the Cardinals can win this game. Really. And that’s me being a Seahawks hater. I’m not. Neither am I some kind of bandwagon Cardinals fan. It’s just that the emotional part of me wants very badly to believe that a well coached, well constructed team like Arizona can endure injury after ruinous injury and still find a way to succeed. The detached realist in me, on the other hand, sees very clearly the handwriting on the wall. I think the Cardinals defense digs deep at home and finds a way to keep this much closer than eight, but I’ve still got the Seahawks coming out ahead. Let’s figure by three.

Denver (-3.5) at Cincinnati
The Bengals are the second fakest division leaders in the NFL after the Saints. That’s all I have to say. Denver by six.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 11th, 2014 Comments off

I don’t mean to startle anyone, but my results in week fourteen were brutally uneven. Crazy, right? I finished 12-4 straight up, which is pretty good, and 6-9-1 against the spread, which is damned awful. On the season, I’m now 138-70 (.663) straight up, 95-110-3 (.463) against the spread. This is where I repeat my line about how glad I am that I don’t gamble. And then it’s straight on to all the stuff that won’t come to pass in week fifteen, also known as what not to expect.

Arizona (+4.5) at St. Louis
I know St. Louis has logged a pair of impressive outings these last two weeks. And I know everyone’s waiting for Arizona to fall apart. But the Cardinals aren’t the Raiders or the Racists. And the Rams aren’t the Seahawks. So I’m banking on Arizona getting to 11 wins and clinching a playoff spot before surrendering the NFC West crown to Seattle next week. Cardinals by a field goal.

Oakland (+10) at Kansas City
Last time these two teams met — a whole three weeks ago — the Chiefs were 7-3 and hot on the heels of the Broncos in the AFC West race. Kansas City’s fortunes could hardly have changed any more dramatically than they have as a result of the three-game skid that started with their tough loss in Oakland.  The losing streak has pretty much wiped out the Chiefs’ chances of reaching the postseason. KC hasn’t been eliminated numerically, but the Chiefs need more help than they’re likely to get. Still, they’re not bad enough to suffer a season sweep at the hands of an ultimately inferior division rival. Kansas City wins this one decisively. Probably by a pair of touchdowns.

Jacksonville (+13.5) at Baltimore
See, because the kind of things the Chiefs would need in order to get into the tournament include the Jaguars going into Baltimore and beating the Ravens. And in football, just like in everything else, there are things that can happen and things that simply can’t. Baltimore by 20.

Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Atlanta
I suspect that what’s going to happen in the end is that the Saints are going to carry the NFC South at an almost respectable 8-8. Until that comes to pass, however, every loss by one of the two 5-8 NFC South “leaders” increases the potential for a 7-9 (or, hell, 5-11) team to host a 12-4 or 11-5 team in the first round of the playoffs. Here comes one of those losses. The Falcons may be able to keep it close against the unimpressive Steelers pass D, but in the end I think Pittsburgh takes control by running the ball down Atlanta’s throats. Steelers by a point.

Houston (+6.5) at Indianapolis
You know what? As crazy as it may be even to consider the possibility of the Colts missing an opportunity to clinch the AFC South — not to mention damaging their chances of snatching the conference two seed from the Patriots or Broncos — particularly against a team they beat in Houston back in October, I smell an upset coming here. Texans win the turnover battle this time around and exact a bit of revenge against their division foes. Houston by a field goal.

Cincinnati (pick ’em) at Cleveland
It should be fun to watch everyone get worked up about the greatness of Johnny Manziel after the Cleveland defense manhandles Cincinnati (once again) to complete the season sweep. Browns by a touchdown.

Miami (-7.5) at New England
The Dolphins are probably a slightly better team now than they were in week one when they outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half and sacked Tom Brady four times en route to a 33-20 victory. The problem for Miami, though, is that New England now is a much better team than it was then. Brady hasn’t taken more than two sacks in any game since the opener. And the Patriots, over a just-concluded brutal stretch of schedule that saw them face the Broncos, Colts, Lions, Packers and Chargers, allowed a total of 30 second half points, including just three touchdowns, while scoring 71, with nine TDs. (Also, 24 of those second half points allowed, and all three TDs, were in the first two of those games. In their last home game, against Detroit, and the two-game road swing to Green Bay and San Diego, New England gave up just six total second half points.) Add a rather significant difference in weather conditions and a revived New England ground game that Miami has little chance of stopping and I think you have a formula for a rout. Patriots wrap up their sixth straight AFC East title, winning by three touchdowns.

Tampa Bay (+4.5) at Carolina
Even without Cam Newton in the lineup, the Panthers should be able to dispatch the Buccaneers. But even with Netwon, Carolina wouldn’t have won this game by more than a field goal. Panthers by three.

Washington (+6.5) at NY Giants
It’s hardly a compliment to say that a team is at least somewhat better than the Racists. But there you have it. Giants by a touchdown.

Green Bay (-5) at Buffalo
The Packers may not be quite the force away from Lambeau Field that they are at home. And Green Bay may be traveling on a short week. But, um, come on, now. Green Bay by no less than a touchdown.

Minnesota (+8) at Detroit
The Vikings have certainly improved since the last time these teams met. That’s nice and all. But what does it mean? Maybe Minnesota puts up 10 points this time. And, you know, maybe Detroit doesn’t miss a pair of field goals. So if the Lions took the last one by 14 and my math has the Vikings closing the gap by a net of one point, that gets us to Detroit by 13. Exciting.

NY Jets (-1.5) at Tennessee
This should be riveting. Jets by a field goal.

Denver (-4) at San Diego
The Chargers ought to be able to pull off the upset here, what with duck season having arrived in Denver and all. If they were a serious postseason contender, the Chargers would pull off the upset here. But they aren’t. The Chargers have been frauds all season and frauds they remain. They’re not taking this one, and they’re probably not making the playoffs. Though I suspect San Diego will make it look like a game for about three quarters, in the end, Denver comes out ahead by three.

San Francisco (+9.5) at Seattle
When the home team is surging and the road team is falling apart, it gets pretty easy to make a call. Seahawks by 16.

Dallas (+3.5) at Philadelphia
The Cowboys couldn’t get it done against the Eagles at home on Thanksgiving. I don’t see any reason to think they can turn things around in Philadelphia 17 days later. The Eagles effectively, though not literally, wrap up the NFC East title with a six-point win.

New Orleans (-3) at Chicago
Three pieces of good news for the Saints: They’re on the road, where they occasionally win a game. Even at 5-8, they have the inside track to the NFC South “championship.” And, best of all, the Bears have an atrocious pass defense. New Orleans by a touchdown.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 4th, 2014 Comments off

I gonna blame it on Thanksgiving. And the nor’easter that hit the day before. Because, yeah, it can’t just be me. There has to be some external cause of my poor picking in week thirteen. I finished 8-8 straight up, 6-10 against the spread. Yeesh. For the season, that puts me at 126-66 (.656, which isn’t awful) straight up, 89-101-2 (.468, which is pretty awful) against the spread. Let’s see how much farther I can fall this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Dallas (-3.5) at Chicago
Heading into their Thanksgiving matchup with the Eagles, the Cowboys must have looked at their December schedule, realized they only had two certain losses on the way, and decided to get an early start on their annual late-season fade. Dallas may yet find a way to lose this game — like they did when they went into Chicago in week 14 of last season — but I can’t see what it might be. Even so, I wouldn’t give more than three. Cowboys by a field goal.

Baltimore (+2.5) at Miami
The Ravens are getting two and a half? From the Dolphins? The same Dolphins who barely escaped the one-dimensional Jets on Monday night? Yeah, that totally makes sense. Baltimore by a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Cincinnati
With Cleveland headed for a loss to Indianapolis and a sweep of the season series with Baltimore already in the bag, Cincinnati has a chance to effectively (though not numerically) sew up the the AFC North title here. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Bengals wilt, but given the uncertainty about Ben Roethlisberger’s wrist, I’m not going to bet on it. Cincinnati by six.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at Cleveland
While I certainly agree that sticking with Brian Hoyer gives the Browns their best chance to win this game, I’m not sure the Browns “best chance” is actually that great of a chance. I do think the Browns defense can limit Andrew Luck‘s production, so I don’t expect a blowout. But I still think the Colts come out on top. Let’s say by a field goal.

Houston (-5) at Jacksonville
There’s a possibility that what we saw last week wasn’t simply a meltdown by the Giants, but also an indication that the Jaguars are starting to round into form. Of course, it’s an outside possibility. And the Texans still have a chance, however slim, at qualifying for the postseason. So I’m gonna hold off getting excited about Jacksonville for a little while longer. Houston by a touchdown.

NY Giants (pick ’em) at Tennessee
There’s also a possibility that what we saw last week wasn’t anything more than the Giants transitioning from a team struggling through a season with a roster depleted by departures and injuries to a team in utter disarray. And that makes this game tough to pick. The Giants ought to have it in them to beat the Titans, but you don’t win many football games when you can’t keep your locker room focused. I’m reluctantly taking the home team, which I guess feels slightly better than reluctantly taking the visitors. But only slightly. Titans by a point.

Carolina (+9.5) at New Orleans
The Saints can both end a three-game home losing streak and, with the Falcons headed for a big loss Monday night in Green Bay, take control of the NFC South by beating up on a Panthers squad that appears to be more interested in preparing for 2015 than finishing 2014 with more than three games in the win column. That’s a deal even the hot-and-cold Saints can’t pass up. New Orleans by 13.

Tampa Bay (+9.5) at Detroit
The Lions aren’t out of the NFC North race yet. Win this one, next week’s home game against the Vikings, and their week 16 road game against the Bears, and the Lions can go into the final week of the season with a chance to surprise the Packers in Green Bay (which would complete a sweep in the season series) and take the division. That last part isn’t going to happen, but, if nothing else, I like Detroit’s chances to make that final game count. And I certainly like the Lions’ chances to get December off to a strong start with a win over the awful Buccaneers. I’m not taking a team that scores fewer than 20 points a game to win by nine and a half over any team on any field. But I don’t think a seven-point Lions win is too much to expect.

St. Louis (-2.5) at Washington
It doesn’t matter who you start at quarterback if you can’t keep him upright. Rams by four.

NY Jets (+6) at Minnesota
The Vikings don’t have much of a run defense. So I’ll look for New Jersey to hold Minnesota’s margin of victory to a field goal.

Buffalo (+9.5) at Denver
The Bills have a tough final quarter of the season ahead. After this game, they go home to host the Packers. Then they get a little break with a trip to Oakland before they head to Foxborough to round out the season. To me, that looks a lot like 7-5 and a shot at the playoffs turning into 8-8 and wait till next year. Denver by two touchdowns.

Kansas City (+1) at Arizona
I don’t know how to pick this game. Both teams are fading fast, but one of them has to win. If it weren’t for Andre Ellington’s injury, I’d feel pretty good about the Cardinals, figuring their ability to stop the run combined with the Chiefs’ vulnerability to the run would end up making the difference. But Ellington’s hurt, and I don’t know that Arizona can do much damage through the air. I guess that all means that I’m not expecting much offense from either team. Maybe that means this thing turns on a big defensive play. If that’s the case, you’ve got to like the Cardinals. And that’s where I’m going. I suppose. Arizona by a point.

San Francisco (-8.5) at Oakland
Sometimes home field isn’t really home field. Niners by ten.

Seattle (+1) at Philadelphia
With Arizona dropping off, this game has the potential to decide which of these teams gets a first-round bye in January. The winner also has a shot at snagging the NFC one seed. Neither of those things is a small prize. Of course, none of that gets anyone any closer to figuring out how this game is likely to turn out. Really, almost nothing does. It should be a hell of a game. In the end, I guess I like Marshawn Lynch‘s chances of breaking through the Philadelphia run D better than LeSean McCoy‘s odds of running successfully against Seattle. And I definitely don’t like Mark Sanchez‘s prospects of throwing successfully against the Seattle secondary. So I guess I’ll take the Seahawks to win it outright.

New England (-3.5) at San Diego
You can talk about Tom Brady being angry about the Patriots loss to Green Bay if you like. You can talk about New England rarely losing two straight. But I don’t think Brady or any of his teammates really need to tap into their feelings about one game to find motivation to win another. It’s December. This is a divisional matchup with another team making a push for the postseason. What’s it matter what happened last week? What matters this week is that the Patriots are playing for the AFC one seed. What matters more is that the Chargers defense has trouble pressuring the passer, which is to say that San Diego doesn’t have the tools to slow down the New England offense. Neither do the Chargers have the offensive weapons to prevail in a shootout with the Patriots. So, yeah, I like New England. And I don’t think it’s nearly so close as three and a half. Patriots by 14.

Atlanta (+12) at Green Bay
And the NFC South title goes to New Orleans. Green Bay by 20.

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