Archive for January, 2021

NFL Conference Championship Picks

January 23rd, 2021 Comments off

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at Green Bay
Tampa’s biggest obstacle in this game isn’t their opponent — the Bucs are a more complete football team than the Packers — or the cold (Tampa’s most important player has been in some big cold weather games and done just fine). It’s that this is their third straight road game. That’s never easy in the NFL. And it’s one of the reasons wild card teams only very rarely make it to the Super Bowl. But the Bucs aren’t afraid of playing in Green Bay. And they have the advantage of facing a pass D that has been inconsistent this season. The Packers’ pass D looks OK on paper, but only in aggregate. If you take a close look at the stats or watch the games, what you see is a unit that runs hot and cold depending on the quality of the opposition and whether their O is able to build a big lead and get the opponent to abandon the run. And that’s the thing all around. I think this game goes to the team that takes the run away from the others. For the Bucs, taking away the run means clamping down on D. If they can make the Packers’ offense one-dimensional, they’ll get Aaron Rodgers to make mistakes the way they got Drew Brees to make mistakes. For the Packers, taking away the run probably requires building a two-score lead. If they do that, Tom Brady loses play-action and has to try to buy time for his receivers to get open in the flat or downfield. That’s when the Buccaneers’ questionable offensive line becomes a problem. But if the Bucs can keep it close — and I expect they will — I’m confident Brady will find a way to get them to the Super Bowl. Tampa by three.

Buffalo (+3) at Kansas City
We all know (right?) that there isn’t really a question about whether Patrick Mahomes will make a miraculous recovery from his concussion and be cleared to play in this game. That’s happening. But whether Mahomes will play is less important than whether he should play. I think that’s the factor that makes the difference here, and we won’t really know what’s up until we see what happens on the field. The reality of this game is that the Bills have been playing better football than the Chiefs down the stretch — but not better by enough that we should expect Buffalo to be able to top a healthy Kansas City team in Arrowhead. But what if the Chiefs are playing with QB who isn’t as sharp as he ought to be. What makes Mahomes dangerous is that if he has the ball in his hands and he’s behind the line of scrimmage, all possibilities remain open. He can pivot on the head of a pin. The guy throws blind passes across his body and finds his receivers. That means you can chase him all the way to the right sideline and he still has two thirds of the field open to him. But if he’s out there in a fog trying to play like that, Mahomes is going to make critical mistakes. And that’s not about him. It’s about every player at his level. When a guy who thinks he’s a god is forced to play as a human, bad things can happen. I think the Bills D will keep this game close no matter what. And if Mahomes is operating at 75 or 80 percent, the Buffalo defense might find a way to win this game. If Mahomes is in better shape than that, the Bills offense is going to show that it can function in a big away game. I won’t be surprised at any outcome that isn’t a blowout one way or the other. But since I have to pick, I’ll look for Kansas City to find a way to come out on top. Chiefs by a point.

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NFL Divisional Round Picks

January 16th, 2021 Comments off

LA Rams (+6.5) at Green Bay
I’m not sure this game is the cakewalk for Green Bay that it’s widely perceived to be. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be surprised if the Rams actually pull off an upset — though definitely not shocked. And if the Rams were healthy at QB, I’d probably think they had a real chance. As it stands, the Los Angeles offense needs to be both productive and consistent on the round for the Rams to have a chance. If the Rams fall behind by more than 10 points at any time, I think the game’s over. In the Rams favor is that they have the ability on defense to disrupt and make the Packers’ O one-dimensional. And that’s how you beat Green Bay. Because Aaron Rodgers, in the great tradition of gunslinger QBs, will make fatal mistakes if you can get him into a mindset where he believes he has to carry the team. So if the Rams can generate enough offense to keep it close, and take the run away from the Packers, they can win. But it’s hard to see everything going right for the Rams in a road game against a talented and well rested opponent. Packers by six.

Baltimore (+3) at Buffalo
I think the Ravens might be the best equipped team in the AFC to beat the Bills. I know. I know. The Chiefs are a team of destiny and all that. Fine. And we can talk about whether the Bills match up well against the Chiefs next week if that’s the AFC Championship we get. Because the Bills have to get by the Ravens first. And the outcome will depend on how well Buffalo handles the pressure of this game. The Bills are going to need to be disciplined enough to stick with the run no matter what happens here. Because if they start trying to sling the ball all over the field, the Ravens pass D will destroy them. And in order to stick with the run on offense the Bills are going to have to limit the run on D. Force Lamar Jackson to use his arm rather than (or perhaps it’s just as much as) his legs and Buffalo should be able to handle Baltimore. I think we’re going to get a hell of a game. And in the end, I expect the Buffalo D to make the big play that determines the outcome. Bills by a point.

Cleveland (+9.5) at Kansas City
This is the one game this weekend that I expect to disappoint everyone except Kansas City fans (assuming everyone else is rooting either for the Browns or for a good game). It’s really hard to envision a path to victory for Cleveland. Defensively, the Chiefs and Browns are pretty much identical. And Kansas City just has more and better options on O. I think it’s really that simple, and I expect this game to be over not long into the third quarter. Chiefs by 14.

Tampa Bay (+3) at New Orleans
The thing where it’s supposed to be hard to beat a team three times in a season is nonsense. Not because it isn’t true. There aren’t many opportunities for a three-game sweep given the structure of the NFL season and postseason. But when those opportunities arise, the sweep is completed more than half of the time. That doesn’t make the sweep an easy thing. Good teams are hard to beat. Every time. Harder when they’re in your division and know you well. And the only thing that ever really matters, regardless of what happened during the regular season, is what happens in that third game. What’s happening in this third game? The Bucs have improved over the course of the season as their offense has come together. The Saints at best, are they team they’ve been since week one. And they’re probably not quite even that. This game is going to come down to the wire. And the outcome is going to turn on whether Tampa’s mediocre coaching or outstanding quarterback play ends up making the difference. My money in that situation is on the guy with the ball in his hands. Buccaneers by three.

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NFL Wild Card Round Picks

January 8th, 2021 Comments off

Indianapolis (+6) at Buffalo
The Colts’ defense is stout enough that if I thought Philip Rivers could play effectively in a cold weather game, I’d be sorely tempted to pick an upset here. Bills by four.

LA Rams (+3) at Seattle
I’m not sure it matters who starts at quarterback for the Rams. In L.A.? Sure. But not in Seattle. Seahawks by a touchdown.

Tampa Bay (-8) at Washington
Brand X has a pass rush. And the Bucs have a questionable O line. That makes this a much tougher match than fans seem to think. But old #12 still has a few tricks up his sleeve. So I like the visitors here. Tampa by three.

Baltimore (-3) at Tennessee
I won’t be shocked if the Titans win this game. They figured out how to beat the Ravens the last time these teams faced off in Nashville a short seven weeks ago. But Baltimore is playing better football now than they were then. If they can get their ground game going this time (against an uneven Titans D), the Ravens ought to be able to take this one. Baltimore by a point.

Chicago (+10) at New Orleans
Conventional wisdom around Washington aside, I sort of think the Bears are the team that least belongs in the tournament this year. Saints by 14.

Cleveland (+6) at Pittsburgh
It’s nice for the Browns that they made the playoffs this year. Steelers by nine.

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NFL Week Seventeen Picks

January 3rd, 2021 Comments off

Just like everything else in 2020, somewhere along the line, my accounting of wins and losses for the season went haywire.

Maybe I’ll go back and fix it some time. Or maybe not.

Right now, I know I went 9-7 straight up and 8-8 against the spread in week 16. And I’m pretty sure I can do even worse picking the final 16 games of this absurd season.

So here’s what not to expect.

Miami (+1) at Buffalo
Even though the difference between the two and three seeds has been minimized by the expanded postseason format, I still expect the Bills to play to win. Buffalo by a field goal.

Baltimore (-14) at Cincinnati
The Ravens are in with a win. The Bengals are the Bengals. Baltimore by 13.

Pittsburgh (+9) at Cleveland
The visitors are grabbing a sort of bye week where they can. The hosts are playing for a postseason berth. The Browns ought to have this one sewn up by halftime. I bet they won’t. But I bet the pull it together just in time, and come out on top by 10.

Minnesota (-4) at Detroit
I never know how to pick a game like this. Neither team has anything to play for. And the Vikings are the “better” team, but the Lions are the home team. Ugh. Detroit by three.

NY Jets (+3) at New England
Somebody once said “you can’t not beat the Jets.” I don’t know if that’s still true. But it ought to be. Patriots by a touchdown.

Dallas (-1.5) at NY Giants
Either the 6-9 visitors or the 5-10 home team will out of this game with a shot at taking the NFC East title. Because 2020 isn’t really over yet. New Jersey by three.

Atlanta (+7) at Tampa Bay
A home win earns the Bucs a wild card round visit to the NFC East champion. That’s a nice little incentive. Tampa by 10.

Green Bay (-4) at Chicago
A win here and the Packers get a week off and home field through the NFC playoffs. That should do it. Green Bay by three.

Las Vegas (-2.5) at Denver
I’m not sure why the Raiders are giving points to any team in a road game. The Broncos are terrible, sure, but are they really that terrible? Denver by four.

Jacksonville (+14) at Indianapolis
There are numerous postseason possibilities for the Colts. But none of them mean anything if the team doesn’t win. They’ll wrap this one up early. Indy by 20.

LA Chargers (-5) at Kansas City
With home field through the AFC playoffs already secured, the Chiefs are taking week 17 off. The Chargers will take advantage of the opportunity to end their season with a four-game win streak. Los Angeles by seven.

Arizona (-3) at LA Rams
Effectively a play-in game, which arguably is not the ideal time to be without your starting quarterback. Cardinals by a point.

Seattle (-6.5) at San Francisco
The Seahawks don’t really have a shot at the NFC one seed. They’ll play like they do just the same. Seattle by a touchdown.

New Orleans (-6) at Carolina
The Saints are in mostly the same position as the Seahawks. Only they’re playing at home. New Orleans by 10.

Tennessee (-7) at Houston
The Titans have something to play for. Tennessee by nine.

Washington (-4) at Philadelphia
Brand X should probably win this one and capture the division. Which means they won’t. Eagles by six.

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