Archive for October, 2015

Week Eight Picks

October 29th, 2015 Comments off

Well, I guess I’m pointed in the right direction. Or something. I mean, 9-5 is better than 7-7, right? So I did a better job picking straight up in week seven than I did in week six. And 8-7 against the spread is certainly a vast improvement over 3-10-1. I’ll take it. (What choice do I have?) But I’m not impressed with that finish straight up. Or with my numbers on the season: 66-39 (.629) straight up, 45-58-2 (.438) against the spread.

Maybe with all of the undefeated teams in action this week, things will become clearer for me. Or, you know, I could make some ridiculous picks and head back to a .500 finish — or worse.

Here’s what not to expect.

Miami (+8) at New England
Folks, can we maybe settle down a little with the “Dan Campbell has really turned the Dolphins around” bit? I mean, come on, already. Campbell has coached Miami for all of two games. Two. That’s also the length of Campbell’s total experience as a head coach, or, you know, anything more advanced than a position coach. (But, hell, he spent four full years coaching tight ends, the position he used to play, so he’s got all of that diverse experience to draw on.) And he’s coached the team to wins over two of the weakest teams from the single weakest division in the NFL. Sure, those wins over the Titans and Texans were decisive. But decisive is not necessarily the same as impressive. And I’m going to have to ask you to forgive me when I tell you that I’m not quite ready to buy what the Miami hype machine is selling. Or that as of right now, I wouldn’t pick the Dolphins to beat the foundering Colts, let alone the streaking Patriots. Just wouldn’t. And this is only part of the reason for that.


OK, yeah, Brady’s obviously a big part of the reason. The Jets couldn’t slow him down on Sunday, and they rolled into Foxborough with a better pass defense than the Dolphins, a much more experienced coach than the Dolphins, and a full week of preparation behind them. That result might not be the most hopeful sign for Miami. But there’s also the fact that while Campbell may have got the Dolphins players to buy in to whatever his message may be in a way that Joe Philbin couldn’t pull off, and/or may have found a way to get more out of Fins players by asking less of them, it’s not like he reinvented the team. The players who have gone 2-0 since Campbell took over are the same guys who started the season 1-3. And I suspect the team will settle back to being something closer to what it was under Philbin before too terribly long. At the very least, I expect them to come to rest somewhere between what they were in the early part of the season and what they’ve appeared to be over the last two weeks. And when I look at the Dolphins on the whole as they stack up to the Patriots, I don’t see any strong indicators of an ability to pull off a win in Foxborough. (Yes, it’s true, anything is always possible, particularly in a divisional game. Any given Thursday and all that. But omnipresent qualifiers don’t count in this conversation.) I see a visiting squad that falls short of the home team in each of the three most significant predictive stats: Scoring differential (New England +6.4), passer rating differential (New England +9.3) and turnover differential (+7). That doesn’t point to a third straight win for the Dolphins; it points to a seventh straight win for the Patriots. And I don’t expect it to be nearly so close as the Jets game. Patriots by 14.

Detroit (+5) vs. Kansas City at Wembley Stadium, London
If the Chiefs had a running back, they’d win this game with relative ease. But they don’t, so they’ll probably have to slog it out. Kansas City still comes out on top, but maybe only by a field goal.

Minnesota (-1) at Chicago
It’s hard to imagine Adrian Peterson not having a huge day against the Bears’ awful run D. You know, assuming he can lay off the shrimp. Vikings by 10.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Atlanta
Did I get the location of this game wrong? Because otherwise I can’t begin to understand how the Falcons are giving just a touchdown. There’s one thing the Bucs do relatively well (well, one thing other than blow giant leads to bad teams): run the ball. And this week Doug Martin gets to try carry the ball, and his team, against one of the better run defenses in the league. I think that might prove problematic. Falcons by 13.

NY Giants (+3) at New Orleans
Yeah, the whole picking against my instincts on Giants games thing went down in the flames in its first test flight. (Stupid Giants, winning a game I thought they ought to win.) And to top it off, the Saints are now playing as if maybe they still have some life left in them (though it could just be that the Colts are even worse than I’d thought), which means maybe New Orleans could actually win this game. Or maybe they can’t. One way or the other, even if I thought it was a good idea to keep picking the opposite of the result I expect in Giants games, I wouldn’t know where to go with this since I have no idea what to expect. So now what am I gonna do? I suspect this game will come down to one of two things: 1) whether the Giants can get to Drew Brees, or 2) whether the Saints can protect the ball. And that, too, lands me all of nowhere, because I can’t even pretend to be able to predict which team is more likely to do which thing (there’s no evidence that either is likely). And that just brings me back to the default position of taking the home team straight up and looking for a push with the points. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Stupid Giants. Stupid Saints.

San Francisco (+8.5) at St. Louis
The Rams are getting better. The Niners are getting worse. Another big outing for Todd Gurley. And another win for St. Louis. Rams by 10.

Arizona (-5) at Cleveland
Here’s what I wrote in advance of last week’s matchup between the Browns and a team from the NFC West: “You know that thing where the Browns defense can’t stop the run? That’s gonna be a problem here.” Pretty much figure all I need to do this week is shift the linked copy in that last sentence from Todd Gurley’s stats to Chris Johnson’s. Hell, I might end up cutting and pasting that prediction a lot over the last half of this season. I think this game might turn out a hair uglier than the last for the Browns. Cardinals by 20.

Cincinnati (even) at Pittsburgh
A Bengals win here would pretty much close out the race for the AFC North title. And you’ve got to think the Bengals should come away with a win, especially if you assume that Ben Roethlisberger’s mobility will be limited. But this is also exactly the kind of game the Bengals typically find a way to lose. And I don’t think these tigers will ever really change those stripes. Steelers by three.

San Diego (+3) at Baltimore
Man, I don’t know which of these teams is worse. Oh, who am I kidding? Yes, I do. It’s the Chargers. Baltimore by six.

Tennessee (+3.5) at Houston
Man, I don’t know which of these teams is worse. Oh, who am I kidding? Yes, I do. It’s the Texans. And to make things even less interesting, Houston’s coming apart at the seams. But the Texans are at home. So maybe they’ll lose by just a point.

NY Jets (-2) at Oakland
You know how sometimes things seem to be going really well for a team but then they encounter the Patriots and it takes them a couple of weeks to recover? That. (And also, the Raiders are coming into their own. But don’t tell anyone I said so.) Oakland by four.

Seattle (-6) at Dallas
I’m not sure I buy into the notion that the Seahawks need a win here to prove (to whom?) that they really have got their season back on track. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m not sure a win over the Cowboys really proves anything or because I’m not sure the Seahawks are ever truly going to get this season back on track. What I am sure of is that Seattle’s a better team right now than Dallas, and not by a small margin. Seahawks by 10.

Green Bay (-3) at Denver
To my mind, there’s really only one big question surrounding this exciting prime time battle of 6-0 teams: When it’s over, will there finally be an acknowledgment of just how good the Packers defense is, or will everyone attribute the outcome solely to Peyton Manning’s ongoing collapse? For what it’s worth, my money is on option B. Better narrative, I suppose. Packers by nine.

Indianapolis (+7) at Carolina
The Colts eventually will “rebound” to take the AFC South title with a record of 8-8 or 7-9 (before losing to the Jets or Steelers in the wild card round — raise the banner!). But first they’ve got to sink to 3-7. The next mile marker in that dismal journey is a 10-point loss on Monday night.

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Week Seven Picks

October 22nd, 2015 Comments off

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this football game picking thing.

Week six was brutal. For me, I mean. I finished 7-7 straight up, which is awful, but nothing compared to my 3-10-1 against the spread. That brilliant effort brings my season totals to 57-34 (.626) straight up and a dismal 37-52-2 (.452) against the spread. That feels not very good.

Speaking of not very good, have you seen this week’s slate of games? Not much to get excited about here. But I’ll see if I can spice it up by picking more than half of them wrong. Sound’s fun, right?

Here’s what not to expect.

Seattle (-6.5) at San Francisco
The NFL’s most sacked quarterback, Russell Wilson, gets a reprieve as his O line takes on a San Francisco pass rush that has managed just nine sacks through six games. And the Seahawks keep their dwindling postseason hopes alive while bringing their division rivals’ season to an early end. Seattle by a field goal.

Buffalo (-4.5) vs.  Jacksonville, Wembley Stadium, London
There are some not very good NFL teams that I’d actually take to beat the hobbled Bills this week. They’re the teams that, records aside, at least have one or two things they do well. The Jaguars are not one of those teams. Buffalo by four.

Cleveland (+6) at St. Louis
You know that thing where the Browns defense can’t stop the run? That’s gonna be a problem here. Rams by six. (Also, bet the under. These two teams aren’t getting anywhere near 42.)

Pittsburgh (-2) at Kansas City
In other news, the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs are still dead. Steelers by three.

Houston (+4.5) at Miami
It’s going to take more than a win over the Jaguars to make me believe in the Texans. Then again, it’s going to take more than a win over the Titans to make me believe in the Dolphins. Smart money goes with the home team. But my gut tells me the changes the Texans have made over the last couple of weeks are more sound than the changes made by the Dolphins. So I’m going with Houston in a close contest. The difference may be as little as a single point.

NY Jets (+9) at New England
The Jets are probably the second best team in the AFC East. But I don’t think they’re a close second. Certainly not as close as their record suggests. And I’ll give you that New Jersey appears to have a stout defense. That’s neither new nor shocking. But how stout that D may be is still, to my mind, very much in question. Here are some numbers to consider.


And, OK, so maybe you look at that and figure, “Yeah, those combined numbers don’t look so great, but I bet there are a couple of bums dragging down the field.” Not so much. The reality is that the Jets have yet to face a QB who’s having anything better than an average season. In fact, overall, the numbers posted through week six by the two QBs who took snaps for the Browns when they faced the Jets in New Jersey back in week one are the top end of the mix. That’s right, Josh McCown (passer rating, 94.6) and Johnny Manziel (99.7) are pulling up the stats of the other four. In order of best to worst passer rating, those four are, Ryan Tannehill (80.1), Sam Bradford (80.0), Kirk Cousins, (77.4), and Andrew Luck, (75.0). All of which is to say that the Jets pass defense hasn’t been tested in the way it’s likely to be tested by, you know, this guy.


Keep in mind, too, while the narrative about how different Todd Bowles is from Rex Ryan is largely accurate, one place it falls flat is the assertion (assumption, really) that Bowles is less inclined than Ryan to dial up blitzes. He isn’t. While the Jets D hasn’t been piling up sacks, it has made regular use of extra pass rushers to put pressure on opposing QBs. And though things may be different this week given the injury issues plaguing the Patriots offensive line, blitzing Brady typically hasn’t amounted to good strategy. (Yes, you need to disrupt Brady. But the teams that have done that successfully in the past have been teams that were able to bring pressure up the middle with three or four pass rushers.) I don’t have any data that suggests the Jets can’t succeed against a Brady-led offense. But there’s nothing I’ve seen that suggests strongly that they can succeed. And there’s lots of evidence to suggest that Brady and the Patriots offense are going to be tough to stop.

So what about the New England D vs. the Jets offense? Certainly it’s no secret that the key matchup there is a Patriots run D that has an awful lot to prove against Chris Ivory, one of the best running backs in the league — if not the best, and certainly the most bruising. (Nothing against Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s having a nice enough season, and who has had some success throwing the ball in his previous seven meetings with the Patriots, his 1-6 record in those games notwithstanding. But Fitz is not powering the Jets to a win here. It’s Ivory or bust for New Jersey.) New England is going to have to find a way to slow Ivory down early and hope that they can put enough points on the board to force New Jersey to move away from the run game late. What you can’t have if you’re the Patriots is Ivory running the ball up the gut all afternoon. And this, I think is where recent addition Akiem Hicks has to start earning his keep for the Patriots. Hicks has the strength and straight-ahead speed to help New England’s defensive front get after Ivory, disrupt his running lanes and force him outside. (Not that I expect Hicks to do this by himself. He’s got pretty good company in the Pats front four. But this is the piece I think he needs to add to the puzzle.) If that works out, and the Patriots can force the game into Fitz’s hands, they should be able to take advantage and win fairly handily. Otherwise, it’s a tight one that could easily turn on the bounce of the ball.

I like New England to come out ahead in either case. And I certainly think the Patriots have the firepower to cover the nine-point spread at home. But I’m not counting on that happening in a divisional match with a tough opponent. So I’ll go with the Patriots by four.

Minnesota (-2.5) at Detroit
I’m not sure very much has changed since these teams met in week two. But to the extent that change has occurred, none of it would seem to favor the Lions. Let’s figure home field offsets that, though, and go with the same result: Vikings by 10.

Atlanta (-4) at Tennessee
I don’t know about you, but I kinda like Davonta Freeman‘s chances against a Titans run D that allows 130 yards a game and 4.7 a carry. But, you know, that’s just a hunch. Falcons by two TDs.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at Washington
Ugh. Why would I — how could I — conceivably care? Home team by three.

New Orleans (+4.5) at Indianapolis
Even Chuck Pagano‘s Colts can’t find a way to lose this one, right? Well, I mean, I guess they could, but they probably won’t. Not at home against a team that’s every bit as disappointing and one-dimensional as they are. Probably. But you never know. Indy by a field goal.

Oakland (+4) at San Diego
With a pair of offenses that can move the ball and a pair of Ds that can’t stop much of anything, I’d set the over/under on punts in this game at one. I think Latavius Murray is the difference here. Raiders come out of a high-scoring affair with a three-point victory.

Dallas (+3.5) at NY Giants
It’s reached the point where I think the only sensible thing for me to do is pick against the Giants when I think they’re likely to win and pick the Giants when I think they’re likely to lose. And the Giants absolutely should win this game. So, yeah, Cowboys by four.

Philadelphia (+3) at Carolina
I’m still trying to figure out how a team can play as poorly as the Eagles did on Monday night and come away with a 20-point victory. I’m not trying real hard, mind you. But I’m trying. And I can tell you this much: It’s not likely to happen again. Certainly not against the Panthers. Carolina by seven.

Baltimore (+7.5) at Arizona
It’s hard to get a win playing a second straight road game, especially for a team that couldn’t get a win playing it’s first straight road game. The Ravens are done. Cardinals by 10.

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Week Six Picks

October 15th, 2015 Comments off

You know what, I’m not inclined to apologize for my four misses (straight up) last week. Sure, I put my faith in Jacksonville and got properly bit in the ass. I’ll cop to that. And maybe I should have recognized the developing tragedy that is the San Diego Chargers. But no way could I have seen the home losses by Kansas City and Baltimore coming. That’s my story, anyhow.

In the end, I’ll take my 10-4 finish straight up. I’ll even live with my 7-7 against the spread, mainly because it’s the first non-losing ATS finish I’ve managed all season (and may well be the last). On the season, I’m 50-27 (.649) straight up, 34-42-1 (.448) against the spread.

And now comes a week when, once again, I feel like at least one of the six remaining undefeated teams has to take a loss, but I can’t figure out which it will be. (And, yes, I’m tempted to let that influence my pick on the Carolina-Seattle game. But I’m not going to.) It’s also a week in which the road teams are giving points, sometimes a lot of points, in six out of fourteen games. That’s a recipe for upside-down week. But I’m not picking that either.

So here we go with what is destined to be a giant mess. Or … what not to expect:

Atlanta (-3.5) at New Orleans
I just don’t have much to say about this game. The 5-0 Falcons may not be as good as the 5-0 Packers. But they’re a hell of a lot better, in pretty much every aspect of the game, than the 1-4 Saints. There isn’t much more than that to it. Even in New Orleans, the Falcons should come out ahead by at least a touchdown.

Denver (-4) at Cleveland
If the Browns could somehow just hold on to the ball, they might have a shot at giving the fans in Cleveland the thrill of seeing a big upset. But available evidence suggests Cleveland will commit at least one big turnover. That should be enough to give Denver yet another defensive victory. Broncos by a field goal.

Cincinnati (-3.5) at Buffalo
I keep waiting for Andy Dalton to turn back into Andy Dalton. And maybe sooner or later, I’ll have to accept that it isn’t going to happen. But, come on. Really? This just doesn’t happen.

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If I’m right, maybe this is the week when Dalton’s descent back to earth gets under way. The Bills certainly have the defense to get the job done. But even if Buffalo is able to make Dalton look more Dalton-esque, I don’t think it matters. Because even led by the real Andy Dalton, the Bengals likely would be just good enough to overcome the limping Bills. Cincy by three.

Kansas City (+3.5) at Minnesota
In no way am I sold on the Vikings. I promise to let you know the minute that changes. And still … the only reason you can’t say the Chiefs’ season ended when their offense went down for the season is that it had already ended a week or two earlier. Minnesota by 10.

Houston (pick ’em) at Jacksonville
Because I’m one of those folks who believes in Brian Hoyer, I’d very much like to take the Texans to win this game. And because I’m someone who expected Houston to be a contender this season, I’d very much like to believe the Texans at least have enough firepower to overcome the Jaguars. But because I believe the Texans problems go way beyond quarterback play — and a little bit because the game is being played in Jacksonville — I can’t bring myself to pick it that way. Jags by a pair.

Chicago (+3) at Detroit
There’s still no way for both teams to lose a football game, right? Bears by a point (but only because I’m rounding up from half a point).

Washington (+6) at NY Jets
If you feel compelled to gamble on this game (for Jupiter only knows what reason), forget the line and just bet the under. Jets. By a turnover. And four points.

Arizona (-3) at Pittsburgh
If Mike Vick can step up and play roughly twice as well here as he did in Monday night’s win over the Chargers in San Diego, the Steelers might be able to keep this one to within a touchdown or so. Another possibility is that Vick throws three picks and the Cardinals roll. I think that second one makes more sense. Arizona by 14.

Miami (+2.5) at Tennessee
Let’s see if the Titans can finish a game for a change. That could make this dog almost interesting. The Dolphins’ (completely untested) new coach and new outlook notwithstanding, I’m taking the Titans. Let’s call the difference a field goal.

Carolina (+7) at Seattle
Maybe the Seahawks, Super Bowl hangover be damned, should be a better team than the Panthers. But so far this season, they haven’t been. And, yeah, I get that the Seahawks, who are always a better team at home than they are on the road, have been winning their games in Seattle. But, really, they haven’t played much of anyone there. And, me, I’m gonna go with what I’ve got rather than what I think I should have. Panthers by four.

San Diego (+10.5) at Green Bay
If you can’t hold off Mighty Mike Vick and the Steelers on your own field, you’re sure as hell not beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on theirs. Indeed, you’re not even giving Green Bay a game. Packers by 21.

Baltimore (-2.5) at San Francisco
As much fun as it is to pick on the Lions, the truth is that the 49ers are very clearly the worst team in the NFL. That should show as they face a bad-but-not-that-bad Ravens squad — and lose by something on the order of nine points.

New England (-8.5) at Indianapolis
Before we get to the game, let’s take a look at how the 2015 Patriots have measured up against the Super Bowl XLIX championship team over the first quarter of the season.


That seems to be going OK.

I’m not gonna do the whole DeflateGate revenge thing here. It’s been written about everywhere. I have nothing to add to the conversation. Except … oh, wait, I’ve got another stat shot. A Tom Brady/DeflateGate related one. And then I’ll move on.


OK, now, I’ve been thinking about how I went wrong in looking ahead to last year’s AFC Championship game. I asserted there was no way the Colts were going to give up crazy yardage and a bunch of TDs to the Patriots on the ground, even though that was the established pattern in games between the two teams and even though the Colts had shown no ability to stop the run. I wrote: But it can’t happen. It just can’t. Because Chuck Pagano can’t let it. Really. It’s that simple. Pagano may find a way to win this game. Or Pagano may not find a way to win this game. Maybe he doesn’t even figure out a way to keep it close. But the one thing he absolutely can’t do is suffer yet another blowout loss in which the Patriots run the ball down the Colts’ throats. Because if that happens, Colts fans and the media are going to start asking questions like, “How did you not see this coming?” and “How could you not game plan for this?” So he has to game plan for it. He has to pull out all the stops to make sure the Patriots end up with far fewer than 200 yards and a handful of scores on the ground. And that, I think, is going to contribute to the Colts’ undoing.

I went on to speculate that the Colts would devote so much effort to stopping the run that they wouldn’t be able to maintain a decent pass D and Brady would carve them up. And I wrapped things up by predicting a 45-20 Patriots blowout. Works out I gave the Colts too much credit. Yes, Brady carved up the Indy pass D. But it wasn’t because the Colts were caught up taking away the run. It was because the Colts simply didn’t have a defensive solution for anything the Patriots brought to the field.

It’s hard to see where much of anything has changed over the last nine months. Except, you know, that the Patriots have got better while the Colts have got worse. That can’t bode well for Indianapolis, can it?

Look, anything can happen. I’m sure the Colts feel every bit as much as the Patriots do that they have something to prove in this game. Pagano certainly needs to prove something. So maybe Indy digs deep and finds away to turn the dynamic that has developed between these two teams upside down. It’s at least conceivable. But I don’t see a single stat, a single trend, a single meaningful indicator (except maybe home field advantage) that suggests I should expect such a thing. So I’m looking for another blowout win by New England. Will the difference be 20? 30? 42? I don’t know. But I’ve got a solid feeling it’ll be considerably more than eight and a half.

NY Giants (+4) at Philadelphia
If the only factor in this game were which was the better team, this one would be easy to figure. The Giants are the better team. Maybe they shouldn’t be. But they are. What’s uncertain, though, is whether New Jersey is better by enough to overcome the injuries plaguing the team. I don’t have an easy answer for that. So this is totally a guess on my part. But I’m taking the better squad to win. Giants by a field goal.

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Week Five Picks

October 8th, 2015 Comments off

This is why I don’t gamble. Or, really, this is one of the reasons I don’t gamble.

I finished week four a solid 12-3 picking straight up. Against the spread, I was a dismal 6-9. For the season, I’m now 40-23 (.635) straight up, 27-35-1 (.437) against the spread. And having bet exactly zero dollars, I can feel good about my improving record picking them straight and laugh off my complete failure as a handicapper. And also continue to buy groceries, which is kind of nice.

Just 14 games this week, roughly half of which look like outright gimmes to me. But that comes with a minor hedge. You have to figure at least one of the six remaining undefeated teams is going to take its first loss this week, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out which. I know it won’t be the Panthers, who have the week off. The Packers and Falcons both are heavy favorites at home. The Patriots are heavy favorites on the road. The Broncos, also on the road, are solidly favored. And the Bengals, while favored only by a field goal, are hosting a Seahawks squad that’s traveling across the country and that, more important, has looked shaky this season, including in a narrow Monday night victory at home over the rather unimpressive Detroit Lions. So you tell me: Where’s the upset coming? Because even though I sort of know it’s on the way, I just can’t seem to spot it.

On to the picks. Or, what not to expect.

Indianapolis (-1) at Houston
Here it is at last. The opportunity the red-hot Texans have been waiting for to wrest control of the AFC South from the sinking Colts. And I have little doubt that … um, hold on a minute, would you? … Oh, I see. … Heh. … OK. So it turns out Houston somehow is even more of a mess than Indianapolis. Guess I’ll take the Colts, then. By a field goal. (Which should get Colts fans and the Indianapolis media fired up about the team and talking Super Bowl — I wonder who’ll be first to proclaim that Indy’s “gone 3-0 following their 0-2 start” — just in time for next Sunday night’s visit from the hated Patriots.)

Jacksonville (+3) at Tampa Bay
These are some pretty awful teams. But I suspect the Jaguars are slightly less awful than the Buccaneers. And I expect T.J. Yeldon to have a big day against a highly suspect Tampa Bay run defense. Jaguars by six.

Buffalo (-3) at Tennessee
I’m really tempted to take the home team in the upset here. These teams are fairly evenly matched. I suspect both will spend the season hovering around the point of mediocrity. And by one standard, the smart play in an evenly matched game is to take the home team. But by another, it’s to take the team most likely to benefit from turnovers. I’ve got a hunch this plays out by the latter rule. So I’m taking Buffalo straight up, though I think the margin is likely to be a single point.

Cleveland (+6.5) at Baltimore
Venue is all you really need to know about this game. Because no matter where it’s played, this match ends in a narrow victory by the home team. Baltimore. By a field goal.

Washington (+7.5) at Atlanta
It’s hard to run the ball against the Racists defense. But, man, you can throw it all day long. Falcons by two touchdowns.

Chicago (+9.5) at Kansas City
Neither of these teams has an offense you’d describe as efficient. Or a defense you’d describe as effective. But the Bears have experienced considerably more difficulty than the Chiefs in finding the end zone. And while each D has surrendered a league worst 31.3 points per game so far this season, Bears opponents have needed to exert far less effort than Chiefs opponents to achieve their elevated scores. So, sure, I’ll take the Chiefs. But no way am I giving more than a touchdown.

New Orleans (+5) at Philadelphia
The disappointment bowl. I’d say the loser gets to start planning for 2016, but that’s not accurate. The Saints are done win or lose. And the NFC East is such a complete mess that the 1-3 Eagles conceivably could drop this game and get right back in the mix with a win over the Giants next week. But the Eagles aren’t losing this game. (Then again, they probably aren’t beating the Giants next week. So there’s that.) Philly by four.

St. Louis (+9.5) at Green Bay
I think the Rams defense is going to find a way to make this a game. Not a game St. Louis wins, mind you. But more of a game than anyone expects. Packers by six.

Seattle (+3) at Cincinnati
I continue to believe that Andy Dalton is in for a significant statistical correction. Check it out:


And, sure,  it could be that Andy’s figured something out. Come into his own. Got better weapons around him. Something. Or maybe this is what he always could have done with better protection. (The fact that he’s tracking just eight sacks on the season has to mean something, right?) On the other hand, it could all relate to the fact that he’s yet to face an opponent with a better than middling pass defense. Just a thought. Of course, the Seahawks may not be in much of a position to change that. Seattle hasn’t got off to a great start against the pass. Notably, four games into a season in which they’ve faced Matthew Stafford, who can’t stop throwing picks this season, and Jimmy Clausen, who never could, the Seahawks have yet to log a single interception. (Maybe Seattle has mysteriously developed an institutional aversion to the very concept of interceptions.) Neither have the Seahawks had much success with sacks. They’ve recorded just six so far in 2015, which ties them for sixth fewest in the league. More telling, I think, is this: In each of the past two seasons, the Seahawks D allowed the fewest passing yards per game in the NFL, 172 in 2013, 186 in 2014. Seattle also finished the last two seasons ranked near top in defensive passer rating, 63.4 in 2013 (first), 80.4 in 2014 (fifth). But the 2015 Seahawks currently are tied for fifth in passing yards per game, 190, only by the grace of Mr. Clausen, who managed just nine completions for 63 yards when the Bears visited Seattle two weeks ago. In their other three games, Seattle has allowed an average of 238 yards through the air, which would qualify them for 15th in the league. And their defensive passer rating stands at 97.8 (21st). That number, too, arguably skews artificially downward as a result of the 61.6 posted by Jimmy C. So, yeah, I’m not anticipating that the Seahawks will be the team to bring Dalton’s numbers back to earth. The Bengals pass D, on the other hand, could make things seriously difficult on Russell Wilson, who’s been taking some very hard hits en route to his league-leading, record-threatening 18 sacks. The Cincy D has been averaging close to three sacks a game, tied for the sixth best pace in the NFL. The Bengals pass defense is hardly stifling — they give up 279 yards a game and have allowed opposing passers a collective rating of 94.9 — but it’s considerably better than the Lions pass D that put Wilson on his back six times and held him to a single TD pass in Seattle Monday night. I guess that’s all a long way of saying that while I still don’t really believe in the Bengals, I certainly believe they’re good enough to hold off the flawed Seahawks in Cincinnati. I’ll take the home team to win it by six.

Arizona (-3) at Detroit
I’m convinced the closeness of the Monday night game told us a lot more about the Seahawks than it did about the Lions. And I’m certain that the Cardinals, who can’t be happy about any aspect of their own performance in week four, will drive that point home by delivering a decisive win over the home team. Arizona by 17.

New England (-9) at Dallas
The Patriots are rested after their early bye week. Tom Brady is doing this:


And the better part of a Cowboys team that probably couldn’t have beat New England at full strength has been sidelined by an unending string of injuries. Also, while Brandon Weeden has put up the best numbers of his career since he stepped in for the injured Tony Romo in the Cowboys’ week two match with the Eagles, he’s done it against some of the league’s least effective pass rushes. (Plus, um, Weeden really didn’t have anywhere to go but up.) The Patriots should present some challenges Weeden and the Dallas offensive line haven’t seen to date. Not sure there’s much more I need to say. Patriots by 14.

Denver (-5.5) at Oakland
If this were about offense, I’d take the Raiders. Strange as it is to say, Oakland brings in a more balanced attack led by the better performing quarterback. But this isn’t about offense. It’s about defense. Denver’s D has been one of the best in the league, which is virtually the sole reason the Broncos are 4-0. Oakland’s D has been … eh, I’ll go with absentee. That becomes a bigger problem here than it’s been thus far this season. The Broncos may put up “only” 24, but that should be a good 11 more than they need to win.

San Francisco (+7) at NY Giants
The Giants may not be a great football team, but they’re better than they’re credited for being. And they have the potential to become increasingly dangerous as the season wears on. The 49ers are an unmitigated disaster. I’d give triple the spread.

Pittsburgh (+3) at San Diego
In which the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers suffer the second of five straight losses (maybe six). San Diego by a touchdown.

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Week Four Picks

October 1st, 2015 Comments off

Well, week three was decidedly less awful for me than weeks one and two. I actually managed to finish a semi-respectable 11-5 straight up and a very respectable 10-6 against the spread. That success boosted my season results to 28-20 (.583) straight up, 21-26-1 (.448) ATS. Maybe that means I’m finally starting to get a feel for what teams are really about. Stats and trends never start to make sense until after week four, but matchup issues become a bit easier to ID once teams have played a couple of games. Or maybe I just got lucky for a week and the only thing that’s gonna stop me from finishing week four 0-16 is the fact that, with byes beginning, there are only 15 games (OK, well, that and the abject awfulness of the Lions).

Here’s what not to expect.

Baltimore (-2.5) at Pittsburgh
The Ravens’ season ended just before the two-minute warning in week three. But they don’t know it yet. Pair that blissful ignorance with a visit to a quarterbackless opponent, and I think you get a narrow win. No way I’m giving two and a half, though. Baltimore by a point.

NY Jets (-1.5) vs Miami (Wembley Stadium, London)
The only arena on the planet in which the Dolphins could hope to compete with the Jets is the one they agreed to move this game away from. New Jersey by at least four.

Jacksonville (+9.5) at Indianapolis
The good news for the Jaguars, I suppose, is that the Colts aren’t in a position to hang 51 points on anyone. So it will at least look like Jacksonville has taken a step in the right direction. Maybe. At the very least, we’ll get to hear all next week about how the Colts have righted the ship. They won’t have. But it might be week six before that fact is made manifest on the field (and your television). Indy by 17.

Houston (+6.5) at Atlanta
Heading into the season, I thought Houston was ready to make the leap to competitiveness in the AFC South. I was wrong. I mean, the Texans may actually still win the division. But if they do, it won’t be because they got markedly better, but because the Colts got markedly worse. Turns out Houston doesn’t have a quarterback. That’s a problem. The Falcons, meanwhile, may be better than I expected. I thought they could compete in the NFC South, but probably nowhere else. That may yet prove true. But my guess at the moment is that the Falcons, at the very least, could easily win the AFC South. As it is, they appear to stand a solid chance of sweeping that division. Still, I suspect the Texans will make this game appear competitive even if it really isn’t. Atlanta by a field goal.

Carolina (-3) at Tampa Bay
Maybe playing at home keeps the Bucs in this one. Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think we’re looking at a very long afternoon for Tampa Bay. Carolina by 11.

NY Giants (+5.5) at Buffalo
In which Eli Manning throws his first interception of the 2015 season. And his second. Bills by a touchdown.

Oakland (-3) at Chicago
Before last Sunday, the Raiders hadn’t won a road game since November of 2013. That adds up to 11 straight road losses. In that light, it’s hard to imagine picking them to win a second straight away from home. Except that the Raiders are much better than anyone expected. And, you know, the Bears are a disaster. Oakland by six.

Philadelphia (-3) at Washington
Quick: Which is the worst team in the NFC East? Yeah, I don’t know either. But until I do, I’m not picking any of them to win back-to-back road games. Washington by a field goal.

Kansas City (+4) at Cincinnati
The beatdown the Chiefs experienced in Green Bay on Monday night was largely attributable to the fact that the Packers are a great football team. But one shouldn’t allow that to mask the fact that the Chiefs we’ve seen on the field this season may be capable of competing in most of their games, but ultimately don’t have what it takes to overcome tough opposition. The trend continues here. Bengals by six.

Cleveland (+7.5) at San Diego
Quarterback play may not mean very much in this game, since there’s likely to be little need for either offense to go to the air. But I’m still taking the team with the quarterback. Chargers by four.

Green Bay (-8.5) at San Francisco
The Niners aren’t going to beat many teams this season. They’re certainly not going to beat the good ones. And the Packers are one of the best. Green Bay by 14.

Minnesota (+6.5) at Denver
I keep reading and hearing about how the Minnesota defense is going to give Peyton Manning the the Broncos O all they can handle. That may be true. The Denver offense hasn’t been particularly impressive so far this season. But I’m not sold on Minnesota’s unbalanced offense, either, particularly not when it has to go up against a D like Denver’s, which isn’t terribly susceptible to the run. I see the Vikings D spending an awful lot of time on the field, and wearing down. Maybe it’s a game into the fourth quarter, but I still see Denver coming out ahead by at least a touchdown.

St. Louis (+7) at Arizona
If the Cardinals offensive line can continue to protect Carson Palmer as well as it has over the team’s first three games, we’ll have to look at Arizona as the most dangerous team in the NFC. This game should present a good test. The Rams aren’t a great team by any stretch, but they know how to get to the passer. St. Louis is tied with New England for the league lead in sacks at 13. I expect the Rams to make things difficult on Palmer, and to make this Arizona’s most competitive game of the season in the process. I’m still expecting a Cards win, and I think they cover. But I’ll be surprised if the difference is greater than high single digits. Let’s just say nine.

Dallas (+4) at New Orleans
Kinda weird to think about what a dog this matchup is, right? And yet … . The Ain’ts finally get a win. The difference is a field goal.

Detroit (+9.5) at Seattle
The Lions are just completely terrible. Seahawks by 17.

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