Archive for December, 2018

Week Seventeen Picks

December 27th, 2018 Comments off

Uneven. My results in week 16 pretty much define uneven. Which is perfect, because it means I’ve got a negative to focus on, which is always nice.

I went 13-3 straight up last week, 6-9-1 against the spread. That gets me to 151-87-2 (.631) straight up, 114-116-10 (.496) against the spread with a week remaining in the season.

Let’s see what kind of awful note I can go out on.

Here’s what not to expect in week 17.

Dallas (+6) at NY Giants
Let’s get right into the messy side of week 17, shall we? Neither of these teams has anything to play for. And the Cowboys, who are locked in as the NFC four seed and almost guaranteed a visit from the Seahawks in the wild card round, have something important to rest up for. Dallas plays no more than a half of anything resembling actual football, and New Jersey comes out on top by eight.

Carolina (+7.5) at New Orleans
The Saints have clinched home field and have no incentive to play hard. The Panthers are eliminated and arguably are better off losing and improving their draft position than winning. This should look like a preseason game. Saints by four.

NY Jets (+13.5) at New England
Yes, please tell me all about how “impressive” the Jets have looked in their last two games (both home losses) and how they pose a threat to the Patriots. If I chuckle, it’s just because I’m thinking about a funny thing my wife said this morning. It’s totally not that I think you’re an idiot. Scoring differential, Patriots +4.9; passer rating differential, Patriots +13.6; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +14. With the two seed and a first round bye as their reward for a game well played, the Patriots come out ahead by 17.

Detroit (+8) at Green Bay
Looks like they’re gonna go ahead and play this game. Because, well, you know, they sold all those tickets and everything. Packers by a touchdown.

Jacksonville (+7) at Houston
What specifically the Texans are playing for has at least something to do with what happens elsewhere. But at the very least, Houston has the AFC South title and the three seed at stake. That should be more than enough. Texans by nine.

Atlanta (+1) at Tampa Bay
I suspect the Falcons are less bad than the Buccaneers by enough to offset home field advantage. Atlanta by a field goal.

Miami (+3.5) at Buffalo
The Dolphins should win this game. But they’re not going to. What they’re going to do, soon enough, is get a new coach and start rebuilding. Bills by six.

Oakland (+13.5) at Kansas City
The Chiefs managed to hold the Raiders off in Oakland four weeks ago. It’s hard to imagine them not doing better than that in a home game that can prove the difference between a division championship, a bye, and home field throughout the playoffs, and a wild card berth. Kansas City by 14.

Philadelphia (-6.5) at Washington
The Eagles need a win and a Vikings loss to earn a trip to Chicago (probably) on wild card weekend. I’m sure Philadelphia will keep up its end of the bargain. Eagles by 10.

Cleveland (+6) at Baltimore
Well, you know, the Browns did manage to beat the Ravens in Cleveland back in early October. So there’s that. Baltimore by seven.

Cincinnati (+14.5) at Pittsburgh
Too little. Too late. Steelers by 12.

Chicago (+5) at Minnesota
If there were any chance of the Rams losing to the 49ers with a first-round bye on the line, the Bears might have a reason to try here. As it stands, Chicago’s best bet is to reveal as little as possible to the division rival it’s likely to face again next weekend. I expect the Bears to do just enough to stay in it until the out of town scoreboard tells them to take the rest of the afternoon off. Vikings by seven.

LA Chargers (+6.5) at Denver
Another game in which I expect the outcome will be colored by what happens (or, more to the point, what doesn’t happen) elsewhere. Once it becomes clear the Raiders aren’t pulling off a miracle in Kansas City, the Chargers will have no reason not to start pulling starters. That may give the Broncos a shot to manage a fake upset. At the very least, it will set Denver up to cover. Los Angeles by a field goal.

Arizona (+13.5) at Seattle
A win sends the Seahawks to Dallas next weekend. A loss and they may have to travel to Chicago. If you get to choose, you choose the Cowboys. (Not that the Seahawks could realistically even choose to lose this game.) Seattle by 17.

San Francisco (+10) at LA Rams
I know the Rams haven’t been playing their best football of late. But let’s be real. It’s the 49ers coming to town. And a win = a week off and at least one home game in the postseason. Los Angeles by 20.

Indianapolis (-3) at Tennessee
Great way to end the regular season. Winner gets a trip to Houston on wild card weekend (maybe more if the Jaguars pull off an upset in the afternoon). The loser gets to start planning for the draft. The Colts are the better team overall, and they’ve been playing better football lately. I think Indy advances. Colts by a point.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 21st, 2018 Comments off

I knew a correction was coming. And it came.

I finished week fifteen a disappointing 8-8 straight up, and a downright miserable 6-10 against the spread. That’s brutal.

For the season, I’m now at 138-84-2 (.621) straight up, 108-107-9 (.502) with the points.

Can it get worse? Of course.

Here’s what not to expect to go with your eggnog.

Washington (+10) at Tennessee
The Titans need a win to remain in contention for the AFC six seed. The Racists need the end of the season to hurry up and arrive. Titans by 14.

Baltimore (+4.5) at LA Chargers
The winner remains alive for a division title. The loser ends up as either the five seed (Chargers) or the the six (Ravens). The home team looks like the better team to me, so I have to pick them. But anything more than a field goal seems excessive to give. So let’s say Chargers by three.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Dallas
The good news for all involved is that given the Buccaneers’ inability to stop the run, this game should go by pretty quickly. Not that anyone outside of Dallas will be watching. The Cowboys should feel free to pop the corks on their NFC East title celebration at halftime. Dallas by 17.

Buffalo (+13.5) at New England
We could talk about the inevitable end of the Josh Gordon moment, if you like. Or the Patriots’ two-game losing streak. But, me, I’m going straight to the meat of this thing, which is this:

What I’m saying is New England by 21.

Atlanta (-3.5) at Carolina
When a team tells you they’re done for the season, believe them. Falcons by four.

Jacksonville (+4) at Miami
The Dolphins aren’t making the playoffs, but they don’t know that yet. Miami by three.

NY Giants (+9) at Indianapolis
There’s really only one postseason slot still up for grabs in the AFC, and the Colts need a win here to remain in grabbing position. Indy by 10.

Houston (+1.5) at Philadelphia
The Texans need a win to hold on to the AFC two seed and a first-round bye. The Eagles need a win to keep their hopes of returning to the postseason alive. I think the Texans are better than the Eagles by enough to overcome the road disadvantage. Houston by a field goal.

Minnesota (-6) at Detroit
The Vikings season is going to end with a(nother) loss to the Bears. Might happen next week. Might be in the wild card round. But it won’t be this weekend. This weekend the Vikings will be busy beating the Lions. But not by six. Not in Detroit. Vikings by four.

Green Bay (-3) at NY Jets
The fact that this game is viewed as competitive says a lot more about the Packers than it does about the Jets. And it may turn out to be even more of a challenge for Green Bay than it looks. Packers by a point.

Cincinnati (+8.5) at Cleveland
You’ve got to figure this meeting of these division rivals turns out to be at least as one-sided as the last one, right? Browns by 15.

LA Rams (-14) at Arizona
The Rams aren’t getting the NFC one seed back. But they have an easy enough path to the end of the season that one suspects they’ll hold on to the two. Los Angeles by 20.

Chicago (-4) at San Francisco
The Bears go into this game with a league-best takeaway-giveaway differential of +13, the 49ers with a league-worst -22. That’s quite a swing, isn’t it? And it’s not even the biggest difference between these two teams. Bears by 14.

Pittsburgh (+6) at New Orleans
If the Steelers win this game, they effectively own the AFC North title. Lose and they may well end up out of the playoffs. Don’t despair, Steelers fans; September will be here soon enough. Saints by a touchdown.

Kansas City (-2.5) at Seattle
What happens with the Chargers on Saturday night really only affects what specifically is on the line for the Chiefs here. Should Los Angeles win, Kansas City will need this game to stay a half step ahead in the contest for the AFC West title (and the conference one seed). Should the Chargers lose, the Chiefs will have an opportunity to lock up home field with a victory. The Seahawks can probably wrap up the NFC five seed next week more easily than this. And still … Seahawks by a point.

Denver (-3) at Oakland
Ho-ho-hum. Raiders by a field goal.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 13th, 2018 Comments off

Week fourteen could have gone worse.

I mean, given that I went in fully expecting to do horribly, 9-7 straight up and 8-8 against the spread doesn’t seem so awful.

Of course, in reality, 9-7 straight up is pretty unforgivably awful. There’s really no getting around that.

For the season, I’m rocking a pretty damned unimpressive 130-76-2 (.630) record straight up, and a wholly pedestrian 102-97-9 (.512) with the points.

Let’s see what I can get wrong this week. Here’s what not to expect.

LA Chargers (+3) at Kansas City
It’s sort of criminal, to my mind, that this game is being played on a Thursday night. The Chiefs clinch the AFC West title (and a first round bye) with a win. If the Chargers can manage an upset, however, they retain a solid shot at grabbing the division title (not to mention a first round bye and quite possibly home field throughout the postseason). Los Angeles is making the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game (and Kansas City is probably winning the division no matter what), but there’s a huge difference between the one seed and the five. All of which is to say that there’s an awful lot riding on a game that skews even more heavily than usual toward the home team given the difficulties of traveling on short rest (particularly when the short weeks effectively upends your running attack for a game against a team with a terrible run D). But this is what you get sometimes. I think the Chargers will still find a way to make a game of it. But I expect them to come up just short. Chiefs by a field goal.

Houston (-6) at NY Jets
In Houston, this one would be downright ugly. In New Jersey? Eh, let’s say Texans by seven.

Cleveland (+3) at Denver
The Browns have another win coming to them before the season’s out. But not this weekend. Not quite. Denver by a point.

Green Bay (+6) at Chicago
The Bears gave the Packers a pretty good scare in Green Bay back in week one only to get tripped up by costly errors late. The two teams’ seasons have gone in entirely different directions over the 13 weeks since, however. And the difference should be very much in evidence here as the Bears clinch their first NFC North championship since 2010. Chicago by six.

Detroit (+2) at Buffalo
Are the Bills worse than the Lions by enough to suffer an upset at home? Damned if I know. Which, yeah, means I’m just totally guessing when I say Detroit by three.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Baltimore
In which the Ravens take another step toward their inevitable AFC North championship. Baltimore by 10.

Arizona (+9) at Atlanta
The Falcons are awful. The Cardinals are awfuler. But not nine points awfuler. Atlanta by six.

Oakland (+3) at Cincinnati
One of these teams has to not lose this game. Right? Bengals by two.

Tennessee (+3) at NY Giants
With their chances of making the postseason still alive, I think the Titans grind out a win here. Tennessee by three.

Miami (+7) at Minnesota
I don’t think this is an easy win for the Vikings. But it’s a win. Minnesota by four.

Washington (+7) at Jacksonville
The not having a quarterback thing continues to pose a problem for the Racists. Jaguars by a field goal.

Dallas (+3) at Indianapolis
I suspect the Cowboys have a better shot at limiting the Colts’ passing attack than the Colts have at limiting the Cowboys’ ground game. Dallas by three.

Seattle (-5) at San Francisco
Maybe this one won’t be quite as ugly as the meeting in Seattle two weeks ago. Maybe. Seahawks by 16.

New England (-2) at Pittsburgh
This is an odd matchup for a New England team that typically succeeds by figuring out how to take away what an opponent does best. Because you don’t beat the Steelers by taking away the thing they do best; you beat the Steelers by making them do more of the thing they do best. The Pittsburgh offense is the most pass heavy in the league. The Steelers go to the air on 67 percent of all plays from scrimmage. That’s roughly eight points above the median, nine above the mean (which is more than two standard deviations). Over their last three games, the Steelers have thrown on close to 74 percent of their offensive snaps. (This, of course, is in no small part the result of James Conner‘s ankle injury.) That’s just insane. And here’s the thing: Pittsburgh lost all three of those games. Indeed, if there’s a pattern to the Steelers’ losses this season, it’s been that they’ve gone pass heavy. And only in one of those games (the home loss to Kansas City way back in week two) can that be attributed even in part to a need to climb out of a deep hole. When the Steelers have put up 100-plus yards running, which they’ve mostly done against weak opposition, they’ve tended to win. Under 100 yards on the ground and they mostly lose. So while much discussion about this game has centered on whether the Patriots can stop the Steelers’ passing attack, what’s actually critical to assess is whether New England can limit the run and spur Pittsburgh to keep the ball in the air. If the Patriots can make that happen, you can count on Ben Roethlisberger to make some big plays, but also to make some big mistakes. The bad news for New England is that the Patriots give up an awful lot of rushing yards, 113 a game (right in the middle of the pack, 15th fewest in the league), 4.9 per carry (sixth most in the league). The good news for New England is that the Patriots have allowed only seven rushing TDs this season, which is tied with the Cowboys and Texans for second fewest), and the Steelers really rely on the run to finish their drives. One suspects that the Patriot could get away with giving up 80 or 90 yards (though that won’t be easy for Pittsburgh to achieve if Conner is missing or limited), but surrender no rushing TDs and still accomplish the goal of putting the game on Roethlisberger’s arm. Oh, BTW, the big three predictive stats point to a narrow win for New England: scoring differential, Patriots +0.4; passer rating differential, Patriots +5.5; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +14. That last bit is the one to watch. The Patriots D averages an interception a game, and so does Roethlisberger. Patriots by a field goal.

Philadelphia (+11) at LA Rams
I’m confident the Eagles won’t let uncertainty at quarterback get in the way of getting their asses kicked by the Rams. Los Angeles by 14.

New Orleans (-6) at Carolina
The Rams really don’t have a tough game left on their schedule. That means the Saints need to beat the Panthers twice and the Steelers once over the next three weeks in order to clinch home field. If they win this one, they probably have it. So, yeah, they probably have it. Saints by nine.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 6th, 2018 Comments off

I didn’t do so bad in week thirteen. And that worries me.

I finished 11-5 straight up, 9-6-1 against the spread, which means that for the season, I’m 121-69-2 (.635) straight up, and 94-89-9 (.513) with the points.

That’s all fine. Except for how it makes a second straight week of decent results across the board for me. And that means something has to break. Probably this week.

Here’s what not to expect.

Jacksonville (+4.5) at Tennessee
The Titans might be better than the Jaguars. (That certainly appeared to be the case the … yawn … last time around.) The Titans might still have an outside chance of qualifying for the postseason (though not really). But the Titans are definitely the home team in a Thursday night game. I’m gonna lean on that last thing. Tennessee by a field goal (again).

Baltimore (+7.5) at Kansas City
The Ravens can’t afford to lose this game. They can’t afford a loss in the AFC North race with the Steelers. And they can’t afford a loss in the wild card chase. But the Ravens are taking a loss just the same. Because the home team really can’t afford a loss either with the Chargers lurking in the AFC West and the Patriots waiting for a chance to steal home field through the playoffs. I expect the Ravens to give the Chiefs a scare, but to come up just short of pulling off a big road upset. Kansas City by four.

Indianapolis (+4.5) at Houston
The Texans began their turnaround from an 0-3 start with an overtime win over the Colts in Indianapolis back in week four. They’ll take a huge step toward clinching the AFC South title with another narrow victory over Indy. Texans by three.

Carolina (-1) at Cleveland
A win here coupled with a Vikings loss in Seattle would put the Panthers in position to capture the final spot in the NFC playoffs. Now, Carolina won’t stick in that spot even if they get there, what with two games against New Orleans remaining on their schedule. But for the moment, it gives the Panthers something to play for this weekend. Look for the Panthers to keep the ball on the ground and come out ahead by a field goal.

Atlanta (+6) at Green Bay
Joe Philbin is a genius! I’m not even joking. How, you ask, do I justify such a statement? It’s like this: Philbin takes over the Packers with a career record as a head coach of 24-28 (.462). The last time his career winning percentage saw the plus side of .500 was at the end of September 2013, when his Dolphins’ 3-0 start catapulted him to 10-9. Still, by the time his term as interim coach in Green Bay is over, Philbin will be viewed as the guy who led a Packers team that had been failing badly under Mike McCarthy to a 3-1 record in the final quarter of the 2018 season. (That would make Philbin’s Packers undefeated except for the loss.) Might even open the door to another head coaching gig somewhere. And that’s pretty damned genius if you ask me. Oh, also, the Falcons are awful everywhere, but especially on the road. Packers by a touchdown.

New Orleans (-8) at Tampa Bay
I feel like there may be some unfinished business between these two teams. Saints by 20.

NY Jets (+3.5) at Buffalo
Well … I mean … I don’t know. You know? Bills by six.

New England (-8) at Miami
Ready? Scoring differential, Patriots +5.3; passer rating differential, Patriots +3.4; takeaway-giveaway differential, Dolphins +2. Those numbers, along with location, point to a close game that could go either way. But, you know, I just don’t see it. The Dolphins’ complete inability to stop the run was a problem the last time these two teams met. It’s been a problem in virtually every game the Dolphins have played this year (the only team they’ve limited on the ground has been the Jets). And I see very little reason to anticipate it won’t be a problem for Miami again on Sunday. I expect a huge day for Sony Michel, and a 14-point victory, plus a 10th straight AFC East championship, for the Patriots.

NY Giants (+1.5) at Washington
Mark Sanchez last threw a touchdown in November 2015. He’s made two meaningful appearances since then, during which he’s gone 22 for 38 and thrown 3 picks for a passer rating of 37.7. I doubt even the Giants can figure out how to lose this game. New Jersey by four.

Denver (-6) at San Francisco
The Broncos have an outside shot at a wild card berth. The 49ers are a pointless Thursday night win over the Raiders removed from the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. Denver by eight.

Cincinnati (+14) at LA Chargers
This game will be a lot easier for the Chargers to dominate if Melvin Gordon is indeed back on the field. But it’s a win for the home team either way. And I’m thinking by a good 17 even if Gordon isn’t available.

Detroit (-2.5) at Arizona
Oh, goodness. This is an actual thing that’s happening, isn’t it? Lions by four. I guess.

Philadelphia (+4) at Dallas
The Eagles could come out of this one as the first place team in the (unimpressive) NFC East. Or they could come out of it with little to no shot of qualifying for the postseason. I’m thinking it’s the latter. The Cowboys beat the Eagles by a touchdown in Philadelphia four weeks ago. Let’s figure they do at least that well in Dallas.

Pittsburgh (-11) at Oakland
The Steelers, who have dropped two straight, close their season with a pair of tough games bookended by a pair of easy games. The good news for Pittsburgh is that as long as they win the easy ones, they should be able to drop one or both of the tough ones and still win the AFC North. This is one of the easy ones. If they can just hold on to the ball, the Steelers should have little difficulty winning by at least 13.

LA Rams (-3) at Chicago
The Rams already have clinched the NFC West title. With a win here, they would sew up a first-round bye and position themselves to shore up home field by week 16. The Bears, meanwhile, need a win to hold their lead in the NFC North and to hold on to the three seed and a shot (albeit a tiny one) at the two seed and a first-round bye of their own. And from a distance, it looks like the Bears actually might have a shot, particularly if they can slow down the Rams’ ground game. But when you get up close, you can see that the Chicago D is wildly uneven. That’s not going to be sufficient vs. Los Angeles. Rams by five.

Minnesota (+3.5) at Seattle
I don’t buy into the whole Seattle is “the team no one in the NFC playoffs wants to face” narrative. But I do think the Seahawks are good enough to make things interesting in the wild card round. I also think the Vikings are playing a tough opponent on the road for the second straight week. And I’ve got a feeling this game’s going to look similar to last week’s in some important ways. Seattle by 10.

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