Week Eleven Picks

November 15th, 2018 Comments off

Week ten was rough enough that I can’t really get worked up about my 9-5 finish picking straight up.

What about 5-8-1 against the spread? Yeah. Ugh.

I’m now 91-55-2 (.622) straight up, 66-75-7 (.470) against the spread for the season.

Let’s see if I can’t make it worse. Here’s what not to expect in week eleven.

Green Bay (+3) at Seattle
I can’t for the life of me figure out how the Packers are getting points from the lowly Seahawks here. I mean, I keep hearing/reading about how Aaron Rodgers’ team still has a great shot not only of getting to but winning the Super Bowl. And, you know, if you don’t count their four losses, the Packers are undefeated. Think about that for a minute. Meanwhile Seattle is a mere 4-5. And since Aaron Rodgers isn’t their quarterback, all of the Seahawks’ losses count. So, yeah, I for one believe firmly that the 4-0(4)-1 Packers can travel to Seattle on short rest, figure out how to play run defense on the way, and beat a home team that has effectively lost its division and has its back against the wall in the wild card chase. Totally. Either that or I figure the Seahawks win this one by roughly six points. Um, let’s just go with that last thing.

Carolina (-4) at Detroit
The Panthers have had a lot to think about over the last week, none of it pleasant. I’m sure they’re about ready to take out some of their angrier thoughts on someone. And, well, there’s that thing where the Lions have given up on the season. Carolina by a touchdown.

Dallas (+3) at Atlanta
I’m beginning to get the sense that the postseason may need to happen without either of these teams. Unbalanced home team beats unbalanced road team. By a point.

Cincinnati (+4) at Baltimore
The Bengals can lose this game and still fool themselves into believing they can recover and make a run at a wild card slot. The Ravens can’t. So whatever quarterback Baltimore puts on the field needs to take advantage of Cincinnati’s disaster of a defense. I suspect he will. Ravens by a field goal.

Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars haven’t won a game since week four. They’ve beaten exactly one good team all season. And that was in week two. It’s hard to see anything but a brutal outcome here. Steelers by 14.

Tennessee (+2) at Indianapolis
The Colts have no defense. The Titans have nothing but defense. Indy by three, I guess.

Houston (-3) at Washington
The Texans have gone from 0-3 to 6-3, which is pretty nice for them. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they next run into a good opponent. But that may not be until January. Unless it’s here. I still have no idea what to make of the Racists. Maybe they’re actually a decent football team. If they are, they win this one. If not … Texans by one.

Tampa Bay (+1.5) at NY Giants
Are the 2018 Giants actually capable of winning two straight? If it costs them draft position, yeah, I’m quite sure they are. New Jersey by four.

Denver (+7) at LA Chargers
The Chargers continue to over-inflate their reputation by beating up on also-rans.  Los Angeles by 10.

Oakland (+5) at Arizona
I could have this wrong, but I suspect that when you’re getting five points from a team that averages less than two touchdowns per game it’s a sign either that you’re in serious trouble or that maybe, just maybe, the handicappers have it in their heads that you secretly want to lose. Cardinals by six.

Philadelphia (+8.5) at New Orleans
If there’s anyone out there today who still believes the Eagles can repeat as champions, one suspects they’ll be disabused of that notion by the time this game is halfway over. Saints by 17.

Minnesota (+2.5) at Chicago
If the Bears win here, they likely won’t need to worry about the week 17 rematch in Minnesota. (They should be locked in as the NFC three seed by that point.) Chicago by five.

Kansas City (+3.5) at LA Rams
Neither team will be seen in Mexico City. Neither defense will be seen in Los Angeles. Rams by a field goal.

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Week Ten Picks

November 8th, 2018 Comments off

I’d probably be somewhat pleased about having gone 7-6 with my picks against the spread in week nine — if I hadn’t also gone 7-6 straight up.

The former result is still awful, but it’s less awful than usual. The latter is well below even my shabby standards.

I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more to say. Oh, except that for the season, I’m now 82-50-2 (.619) straight up, and 61-67-6 (.477) against the spread.

Let’s see if I can flip the weekly results below the .500 threshold this week.

Here’s what not to expect.

Carolina (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
I’m pretty sure the Panthers are the better team in this match. But not by much. Certainly not by enough to move me to take the road team in a Thursday night game. Steelers by a field goal.

Buffalo (+6.5) at NY Jets
I’m not convinced this actually qualifies as a professional football game. Jets win 9-0.

Atlanta (-4) at Cleveland
Wasn’t one of these teams supposed to be good this season? Falcons by a point.

New Orleans (-5.5) at Cincinnati
The 5-3 Bengals are going 4-4 down the stretch. This is the first of two straight losses to start them down that path. Saints by 13.

Washington (+3) at Tampa Bay
Have the Buccaneers sprouted a defense? No? Good to know. Racists by a touchdown.

New England (-6.5) at Tennessee
Big three predictive stats first: Scoring differential, Patriots +4.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +9.8; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +5. That would point to Patriots victory even if the Titans weren’t a significantly unbalanced team. And the Titans are a significantly unbalanced team. New England by 10.

Jacksonville (+3) at Indianapolis
Imagine going from Super Bowl LII.125 champions in week two to getting three points in the battle for the AFC South basement in week 10. Quite a tumble for the Jaguars, wouldn’t you say? Colts by six.

Detroit (+6.5) at Chicago
I’d say that if the Lions can’t find a way to win this one, they can call it a season if it weren’t for the fact that the Lions already have called it a season. Bears by 14.

Arizona (+16.5) at Kansas City
For one week, it will look like the Chiefs have a defense. Kansas City by three touchdowns.

LA Chargers (-10) at Oakland
It will not look like the Raiders have a defense. It would be almost impossible to make it look like the Raiders have a defense. Chargers keep it on the ground all day, mercifully speeding up the game, but also limiting their margin of victory. Los Angeles by nine.

Miami (+9.5) at Green Bay
The Packers are 0-2 since returning from their bye. They’re 3-4-1 on the season and facing consecutive road games in Seattle and Minnesota in weeks 11 and 12. If they don’t win here, they’re done. The good news for Green Bay (however short-lived it may prove) is that they’re winning here. Packers by seven.

Seattle (+9.5) at LA Rams
The Rams have pretty much sewn up the NFC West. Their win here won’t make it official, but it might as well. Rams by 10.

Dallas (+7) at Philadelphia
The Eagles have had their struggles this season, and I expect those to continue down the stretch. But the Cowboys are in a full-on tailspin. Philadelphia by six.

NY Giants (+3) at San Francisco
Oh, cool. I can go to bed early. 49ers by six.

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Week Nine Picks

November 1st, 2018 Comments off

I suppose I should be OK with an 11-3 finish picking straight up in week eight. But I’m not.

I’m definitely not OK with 6-8 against the spread.

But it’s not like me being OK with it matters. That’s where I landed.

For the season, that gets me to 75-44-2 (.628) straight up, and 54-61-6 (.471) with the points.

I’m sure I can do worse.

Here’s what not to expect in week nine.

Oakland (+2.5) at San Francisco
This is the way the Battle of the Bay ends. This is the way the Battle of the Bay ends. This is the way the Battle of the Bay ends. Not with a bang but a whimper. The 49ers should be able to keep the ball on the ground (assuming they can hold onto it), control time of possession, and come away with a six-point victory.

Detroit (+4.5) at Minnesota
I don’t know if the Lions threw in the towel this week, but they sure as hell didn’t throw down the gauntlet. Vikings by a field goal.

Kansas City (-8.5) at Cleveland
Sometimes a team’s first game under a new coach can … or maybe the Chiefs will be looking past the Browns to their big week ten battle with the Cardinals … or maybe the Browns will get some key takeaways … or, um, I don’t know … something. But, yeah, probably not. Chiefs by 14.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Baltimore
I’m not sure the Ravens right now are the team they appeared to be when they handled the Steelers with relative ease back in week four. Baltimore has lost two in a row to good teams and is starting to take on the look of one those squads that feasts on weak and mediocre opposition and fades when faced with an actual challenge. Trouble is, the Steelers look like one of those teams, too. Neither Pittsburgh nor Baltimore can afford to lose this game. But one of them has to. That usually works out to be the visitors. Ravens by a point.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at Carolina
Fitz was never the Bucs’ problem. But neither is he the solution to their problems. Panthers by 10.

NY Jets (+3) at Miami
Just for fun, let’s say the whole week two experience gets turned on its head and the Jets win 20-12.

Atlanta (+1.5) at Washington
I’m not sure the Racists’ defense needed to get better to secure a win in this game. But it got better just the same. Washington by four.

Chicago (-10) at Buffalo
It’s nice, I suppose, that Nathan Peterman is confident. Chicago by 17.

Houston (+1) at Denver
You think Demaryius Thomas might have a big game here? Actually, you know, he probably won’t. Five days isn’t really sufficient to absorb a new team’s system. Texans still win, but they make it happen mostly on the ground. Let’s call it Houston by three.

LA Chargers (+1.5) at Seattle
I’d pick the host no matter where these two evenly matched teams played. Seattle by a field goal.

LA Rams (+1.5) at New Orleans
No matter how much time I spend looking at this game, I end up at the painfully obvious conclusion that it comes down to whether the Rams can do a better job of slowing the Saints’ passing attack than the Saints do of slowing the Rams’ ground game. I suspect they can. And I suspect that as a result of that, the next meeting between these teams will take place in Los Angeles. Rams by a point.

Green Bay (+6) at New England
Let’s start with the big three predictive stats: Scoring differential, Patriots +3.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +4.6; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +3. That points to a narrow win for New England. But I need to see one more thing before I’ll feel comfortable predicting that result. I need to see a report confirming that Sony Michel is playing. He’s been practicing, which is good news for New England. But practicing and playing aren’t the same thing. And despite the matchup of big name quarterbacks, my strong feeling is that this game is going to be won and lost in the rushing game, which is to say it’s going to be a hard for New England to come away victorious without Michel on the field. I’m gonna assume he plays, as a result of which I’m expecting the Patriots to come out ahead by three.

Tennessee (+6.5) at Dallas
The unbalanced visitors are probably a bit less good (more bad?) than the unbalanced home team. Dallas wins 9-6.

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Week Eight Picks

October 25th, 2018 Comments off

I can live with last week’s results. I suppose.

I finished 10-4 straight up, 7-6-1 against the spread. And that’s on the right side of .500 — if only just.

On the season, I’m at 64-41-2 (.607) straight up, 48-53-6 (.477) against the spread.

I’m confident I’ve found several ways to get moving in the wrong direction again this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Miami (+7.5) at Houston
Not all 4-3 teams are alike. The Texans have followed an 0-3 start with a four-game winning streak. The Dolphins opened 3-0, and have gone 1-3 since. More important, Houston does pretty much everything better than Miami. Add to the mix the difficulties of traveling on short rest (after having the ball shoved down your throats at home, no less) and it’s hard to come away with an optimistic outlook for the Dolphins here. Texans by nine.

Philadelphia (-3) vs. Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium, London
Were it being played stateside, this game would be only slightly challenging to pick. Although both teams are pretty average, the Eagles at least have been consistently uneven, while the Jaguars appear to be in a full-on fade. The only complicating factor would have been home field, and I’m fairly certain Philly’s better by just enough to have overcome that. But I don’t think it’s wise to overlook the Jaguars’ familiarity with London games. Transatlantic travel is tough on a football team, and the more experience you have with it, the better suited you are to take on the challenges. I can’t quite bring myself to pick the Jaguars based on that one factor, but I also won’t be at all surprised if Jacksonville manages an upset here. Eagles by a point.

Cleveland (+8.5) at Pittsburgh
Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions when these teams met in Cleveland in week one and the Browns still only managed to a tie. Roethlisberger has thrown just three more picks in the Steelers’ subsequent five games. Meanwhile, the Browns are on the road for a second straight week while the Steelers are coming of their bye. I’m just not counting on things to break right for the Browns. Steelers by seven.

Denver (+10) at Kansas City
The Chiefs are focused on holding off the Chargers in the division and the Patriots in the contest for top seeding in the conference. The Broncos appear to be shifting their focus to preparing for 2019. One imagines the outcome of this game will illustrate the underlying wisdom of each team’s orientation. Kansas City by 12.

NY Jets (+7) at Chicago
Three games into their four-week tournament against the AFC East, the Bears finally encounter a team they can beat. Chicago by six.

Washington (-1) at NY Giants
The Giants have called it a season. Racists by a touchdown.

Seattle (+3) at Detroit
If I thought the Seahawks could protect Russell Wilson from the Lions’ pass rush, I might actually consider picking an upset here. But I don’t. So Detroit by a field goal sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Tampa Bay (+4.5) at Cincinnati
Bet. The. Over. Bengals by six.

Baltimore (-2) at Carolina
I very well might come away from this game with a completely different feeling about this, but right now it just looks to me like the Ravens are the better team. Baltimore by one.

Indianapolis (-3) at Oakland
The Raiders have been oriented toward next season (or probably more like 2020) since before this one began. So it’s hard to understand why anyone was shocked that they underscored the point this week. The Colts are still pretending they have something to play for right now. They don’t. But that’s OK. Indy by seven.

San Francisco (+1) at Arizona
You know what? I just really, really don’t care. Home team by three.

Green Bay (+9) at LA Rams
It’s just gonna be a long day for the Packers, isn’t it? Or a short one, I suppose, if they can’t stop the Rams’ ground attack, which I don’t think they can. Los Angeles by 13.

New Orleans (+1) at Minnesota
I’ve said this in this space before: When it looks like a shootout that’s likely to come down to which team has the ball last, you go with the hosts. Minnesota by three.

New England (-14) at Buffalo
There’s probably not a lot that needs to be said about this game. Fortunately for me, we’re deep enough into the season at this point that it makes sense to do this: Scoring differential, Patriots +9.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +29.2 (it doesn’t get much more brutal than that, folks); takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +5. So, yeah, go ahead and give the two TDs. New England by 20.

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Week Seven Picks

October 18th, 2018 Comments off

I should be getting better at this by this point in the season. I usually do as the stats add up. But not so much so far this year.

I went 8-7 picking straight up in week six, 8-6-1 against the spread. For the season, that gets me to 54-37-2 (.591) straight up, 41-47-5 (.468) with the points.

Maybe this is my week. But it probably isn’t.

Here’s what not to expect.

Denver (-1.5) at Arizona
It’s entirely possible, as the teams with the worst run defenses in the league square off, that neither offense will need to call a pass play all night. And for the Broncos, that certainly would be one way for to limit Case Keenum‘s interceptions. It would also get the rest of us out from under this battle for 2019 draft position a bit earlier, which sounds good to me. The Cardinals are pretty awful, but I still like them to win this game by a field goal.

Tennessee (+6.5) vs. LA Chargers at Wembley Stadium, London
I expect to see Melvin Gordon carry the Chargers for a second straight week. Los Angeles by 13.

New England (-3.5) at Chicago
The Bears are an illusion. New England by 10.

Cleveland (+3) at Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers are awful. The Browns are just garden variety bad (which, you know, is actually a step in the right direction for Cleveland). But I don’t think the difference is quite enough to overcome home field. Tampa Bay by a point.

Detroit (-3) at Miami
I wonder who’ll be the Dolphins’ starting quarterback next season. Lions by two.

Carolina (+4.5) at Philadelphia
I haven’t been particularly impressed with either of these teams. (Sorry. I know the narrative is that Philadelphia has started to turn it around, but I’m just not sure I’m ready to view stopping a two-game skid with a win over the Giants as season saving.) But the Eagles are playing at home on 10 days rest while the Panthers are playing a second straight game on the road. And, more important, I suspect Philadelphia will be able to limit Carolina’s production on the ground and render the Panthers offense one dimensional. I think that should prove just enough. Eagles by three.

Buffalo (+7.5) at Indianapolis
I’m sure Derek Anderson will be every bit as good as Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman at getting the snot knocked out of him. Colts by two touchdowns.

Minnesota (-3) at NY Jets
If the Jets can win the turnover battle, they may very well be able to make this a game. But can they win? Probably not. Vikings by six.

Houston (+4.5) at Jacksonville
If the Texans had an offensive line, I might actually be tempted to pick them. (Or maybe not. Maybe if the game were being played in Houston.) But they don’t. And I’m setting the over/under on the number of Texans QBs knocked out of this thing at two. Hope you’re ready to go, Joe Webb. Jaguars by three.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Baltimore
Balance. Baltimore. By four.

Dallas (+1.5) at Washington
Can I just predict a home-home split in the season series right now and avoid dealing with this showcase of mediocrity when it repeats in Dallas five weeks from now? Racists by three.

LA Rams (-10) at San Francisco
I’ll be shocked if this is still a game at the end of the first quarter. Or, rather, I’ll be shocked if I find out after the fact that this was still a game at the end of the first quarter. I know I won’t be paying attention in real time. Rams by 21.

Cincinnati (+6) at Kansas City
This week, it’s the Chiefs’ turn to win the Sunday night game 43-40.

NY Giants (+5.5) at Atlanta
The only thing likely to slow down either offense in this game is the Giants offense. Falcons by eight.

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Week Six Picks

October 11th, 2018 Comments off

I’m not getting better at this. I should be getting better at this as the data sets on each team grow to meaningful levels. But I’m not.

In week five, I went 10-5 straight up for the second straight week. That’s not completely awful. But against the spread, I’m only getting much, much worse. I was a miserable 5-9-1 in week five. There’s nothing close to a positive spin you can put on outcome like that.

For the season, I currently stand at 46-30-2 (.603) straight up, 33-41-4 (.449) with the points.

And now I’m staring at a slate of week six games most of which I have no idea what to make of. That always points to great results, doesn’t it?

Here’s what not to expect.

Philadelphia (-3) at NY Giants
Think the NFC East couldn’t possibly be more of a mess? Think again. New Jersey by a field goal.

Arizona (+10) at Minnesota
If the Vikings can’t get their running game going against the Cardinals, it won’t matter whether — or by what margin — they win this game. The Vikes travel to New Jersey to face the Jets next week. That’s a game they should win. After that, though, their schedule turns difficult no matter what, brutal for a team with a one-dimensional offense. So if you want to know where the Vikings are headed, don’t look at the scoreboard late Sunday afternoon; look at the box score. I don’t know what you’ll see there. We’ll find out together. But I am fairly confident the scoreboard will show a nine-point Minnesota margin of victory.

LA Chargers (-1) at Cleveland
The Browns haven’t lost a game in Cleveland yet this season. I’m not sure that means very much. But it’s something. And, you know, reluctant as I am to buy into the Browns on any level, I have to think that if you can hold off the Ravens in your building one week, you ought to be able to hold off the Chargers in your building the next. Cleveland by three.

Chicago (-3) at Miami
Remember that time the Dolphins started 3-0 with home wins over the Titans and Raiders and a road victory over the Jets, and then all the Miami fans decided their team was running away with the AFC East? Wasn’t that hilarious? Now the Dolphins pretty much need to beat the well-rested Bears just to get their season back on track. The good news for Miami is that the Bears aren’t really as impressive as their 3-1 record might suggest. The bad news is that the Bears are still better than the Dolphins. Chicago by one.

Carolina (+1) at Washington
I don’t really know what I can believe about either of these teams at this point in the season. But I think the Racists are slightly more uneven than the Panthers. I think. Carolina by four.

Indianapolis (+2.5) at NY Jets
Neither of these teams has much going for it. But New Jersey at least is playing at home. Let’s call that the deciding factor. Jets by three.

Pittsburgh (+2.5) at Cincinnati
The Steelers absolutely cannot afford to lose this game. Not only do they trail the AFC North-leading Bengals by a game and a half, the Steelers are 0-1-1 in the division and 0-2-1 in the conference. It’s hard to imagine Pittsburgh climbing out of the hole they’d be in if they don’t find a way to get a win here. My gut says the Steelers find a way to keep things interesting for at least a little while longer. But my head says, “Shut up, gut. You’re stupid.” Bengals by two.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at Atlanta
Which defense is worse? No, seriously, I’m asking. Because I really have no idea. Atlanta wins by three, quite possibly with an Arena Football League style score, say 63-60. (If you must bet, bet the over.)

Seattle (-3) vs. Oakland at Wembley Stadium, London
Jon Gruden can’t stop thinking about how during Live Aid, Phil Collins played in London and Philadelphia on the same day. Played a set. Hopped on the Concorde. Played another set. (And then another.) Except for how the music was awful, it was pretty impressive. At least that’s what I’m guessing’s been on Gruden’s mind. It would explain why the Raiders’ coach might figure there’s no reason his team can’t have a nice Saturday evening out in Oakland, catch a red-eye to London and be on the field ready to kick ass come 10 a.m. West Coast time Sunday. Or something like that. Maybe Gruden’s hoping the extra time in California will give him a chance to locate his defense. Barring that, I can’t begin to understand his strategy. Seahawks by 17.

Buffalo (+10) at Houston
If Josh Allen can manage to avoid giving the ball to the Texans defense, the Bills might not lose too badly. Houston by a touchdown.

LA Rams (-7) at Denver
I don’t care where it’s being played, or in what weather conditions, this game has ugly written all over it. Rams by 20.

Jacksonville (-3) at Dallas
Jaguars, 10-9.

Baltimore (-3) at Tennessee
You beat the Titans on the ground. Unless you’re the Ravens, in which case you lose to the Titans by not being able to mount a sustained running attack. Tennessee by a point.

Kansas City (+3.5) at New England
The Patriots defense has shown some positive signs over the last two weeks. That’s fairly typical. New England tends to grow into its D every season. I think the unit is still a few weeks away from really coming together, though. And even when it does, it might not be enough to slow down the powerhouse Chiefs offense. It’s possible there isn’t a D in the NFL this season that can do that. But at the same time, it doesn’t look to me like Kansas City’s D is ever going to be ready to stop any half decent offense. And the Patriots’ O is considerably better than half decent. I expect this game to go back and forth all night. And I expect that whichever team holds the ball last will come out on top. In a situation like that, I take the hosts. New England by three.

San Francisco (+9.5) at Green Bay
Major League Baseball couldn’t have scheduled game two of the ALCS against this dog? Green Bay by halftime. And 13 points.

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Week Five Picks

October 4th, 2018 Comments off

There are lots of reasons I don’t gamble on football. One is that I don’t gamble on anything; it does nothing for me. Another one, though, is that I’m not good at it.

I went 10-5 last week picking straight up. That’s not terrible (though it’s certainly not great by any measure). Against the spread, though, I was 6-7-2. And that’s just plain awful. If I were putting actual money on these games and faring this poorly, I’d have to stop just to save myself from bankruptcy. But where the only cost is pride I never had to begin with, I can press on.

I head into week five with season records of 36-25-2 (.587) straight up and 28-32-3 (.468) against the spread.

I’m sure I can do worse.

Here’s what not to expect over the next five days.

Indianapolis (+10) at New England
This may not be news to you, but the last time the Colts visited Foxborough there was a, um, well, a bit of a thing. Seriously. It really has been that long. Seems crazy given that these teams used to have a rivalry, but it’s been better than three years since the last meeting in New England, and two weeks shy of three years since the Pats and Colts played at all. It’s also been nearly nine years since the Colts last beat the Patriots in any building, and most of 12 since Indianapolis last came out ahead in New England. And the Colts have never pulled off a win of the Patriots with Andrew Luck as their quarterback. None of that has a thing to do with this game, of course. Three years is forever in NFL time. So long that if it weren’t for recent off-field history, one might well conclude these teams were functionally strangers to each other. And, you know, had this game taken place in Indianapolis two or three weeks ago when the Patriots still had a lot to figure out, the Colts may have been able to pull off a win. Had it taken place in Foxborough a week ago, I might have expected a close game. Records notwithstanding, I don’t see a lot that separates the Colts from the Dolphins. Indy and Miami have played at effectively the same level, with many of the same strengths and weaknesses, against a slightly different set of opponents. Given that, given what we saw Sunday afternoon when the Patriots hosted the Dolphins, given the fact that the Colts are traveling on four days rest after playing through a full overtime in week four, and given that the Patriots just got an important weapon back, I have a hard time imagining the Colts are going to be able to keep up for 60 minutes. I expect to see a competitive first half, but I think the Indy starts to wear down after halftime, at which point it becomes the Sony Michel show. Even playing ball control for much of the second half, I think the Patriots come out on top by two touchdowns.

Baltimore (-3) at Cleveland
A year from now, this may well be a game. Right now, it isn’t. For the Browns to succeed, Carlos Hyde needs to succeed. And I’m not sure Hyde can have a big day against the Ravens’ D. Ravens by six.

Jacksonville (+3) at Kansas City
Unbalanced as these two teams may be, I can envision them meeting again in mid January with a lot on the line. And if that comes to pass, the outcome here may well determine the venue. That may be bad news for the Jaguars. Because even though the Jacksonville offense is slightly less unimpressive than the Kansas City defense, I don’t think it’s by enough to overcome home field advantage. Chiefs by a point.

Tennessee (-3.5) at Buffalo
It’s starting to look like the Titans might be for real. It’s abundantly clear that the Bills are not. Tennessee by a field goal.

NY Giants (+7) at Carolina
Pin the Giants’ problems on Eli Manning if you like. But if you do, you’re missing the point. Eli Manning is playing exactly like Eli Manning. And that kind of consistency is pretty much the best one can expect from a 37-year-old quarterback. Certainly, it would be foolish to expect Manning to suddenly start playing like Drew Brees, regardless of whether that’s what fans might want. It wouldn’t be foolish, on the other hand, to think the Giants would try to develop a run defense. This is something they haven’t quite managed to do. And I expect it’s going to bite them on the ass is a major way once again this weekend. Panthers by 16.

Denver (+1.5) at NY Jets
Neither of these teams is very good. Jets by three.

Atlanta (+3) at Pittsburgh
I know the over/under on this game is an insane 57.5, but if I were betting, I’d still bet the over. There’s simply no reason to believe either of these teams is suddenly going to discover defense. Home team by a point.

Green Bay (-1) at Detroit
The Lions this season clearly are going to be the team that always does the exact opposite of what I expect. Which means they’re destined to win this game. Packers by four.

Miami (+6.5) at Cincinnati
The Dolphins weren’t quite good enough to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati before they were exposed by the Patriots. It’s just that now everyone knows it. Cincinnati by nine.

Oakland (+5.5) at LA Chargers
The Chargers so far this season have been uneven. As time goes on, they’ll prove fatally flawed. The Raiders? They’re just bad. Chargers by four.

Arizona (+4) at San Francisco
You can’t not beat the Cardinals. San Francisco by three.

Minnesota (+3) at Philadelphia
It’s too early in the season for this literally to be true, but it feels like the Vikings need this game. They’re not getting it. The Eagles fire up the ground game, control the clock, and come out on top by a touchdown.

LA Rams (-7) at Seattle
I’m not disputing the Rams’ greatness, but it would be nice, sometime this season, to see them face a good opponent. That’s not happening this week. Los Angeles by 13.

Dallas (+3) at Houston
I suppose one of these teams has to win. Or at least, you know, I can’t really pick a tie. So let’s go with the home team. They seem to be slightly better anyhow. Maybe. Houston by two.

Washington (+6.5) at New Orleans
I think the well-rested Racists make this a game. Saints by three.

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Week Four Picks

September 27th, 2018 Comments off

Damned underdogs.

That’s where I’m placing the blame for my horrific performance in week three. I’m not sure you could call it upset week — hell, I’m not inclined to believe you could call any week three upset week — but it’s nonetheless true that six underdogs won outright last week. Four of them did it on the road. And one of those teams, the Buffalo Bills, was getting most of three scores (16.5 points) going in. There’s no picking a team like that to win it straight up. Just isn’t.

Of course, it’s also possible that I’m just a dunce. I’ll let you weigh the possibilities while I point out that I finished the week at 7-9 both straight up and against the spread. That brings my season numbers to 26-20-2 (.563) straight up and 22-25-1 (.458) against the spread.

Let’s see if I can’t manage to creep even closer to the Mendoza Line this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Minnesota (+7) at LA Rams
The Vikings need a big win to rebound from the beatdown the Bills put on them on Sunday. Not exactly the circumstances under which you want to travel on short rest to face the Rams. Los Angeles by 17.

Miami (+7) at New England
I’m not sure I’d give a touchdown to the Dolphins in September (maybe December in Foxborough) even if the Patriots hadn’t stunk up the field in each of their last two games. I definitely wouldn’t give seven here. At the same time, though, I’m not overly impressed with the path Miami has taken to 3-0. New England by three.

Houston (+1) at Indianapolis
The Colts don’t look to me like a team that can succeed against top-tier opponents. But the Texans aren’t a top-tier opponent. The Texans are toast. Indianapolis by four.

Cincinnati (+5.5) at Atlanta
These teams may be more evenly matched than I imagined four weeks ago. I’m still taking the home team. But I wouldn’t give more than a field goal.

Buffalo (+10) at Green Bay
With Josh Allen starting behind center, the Bills may be capable of more than anyone expected. Winning against a heavily favored opponent in a road game for a second straight week? I don’t think they’re up to that quite yet. Packers by nine.

Detroit (+3) at Dallas
There are a lot of ways one can look at the Lions’ destruction of the Patriots on Sunday night. I, for one, believe I saw a team that should have been better than its 0-2 start finally buying into its new head coach’s approach and playing disciplined football. Add to that the fact that the Cowboys have been wholly unimpressive thus far this season and I’m looking for an upset here. Lions by a point.

NY Jets (+7.5) at Jacksonville
With their letdown game behind them, I expect the Jaguars to get back to business. Jacksonville by 10.

Tampa Bay (+3) at Chicago
Here’s how this game is going to prove harmful to the Buccaneers: They’re going to lose and the loss is going to be pinned on Ryan Fitzpatrick, opening the door for Jameis Winston to retake the role of starting QB. In reality, the loss is going to be the fault of the Tampa Bay defense. But for the rest of the season the conversation in Tampa is going to revolve around which quarterback is more of a disappointment, all while the Bucs D continues to sputter. And nothing will get fixed. Bears by six.

Philadelphia (-4) at Tennessee
Whichever team discovers the magical football quality called “offense” wins. I’ve gotta think that’s Philadelphia. Eagles by three.

Seattle (-3) at Arizona
I’m confident Josh Rosen is going to have his moments in this game. Rosen’s a talented guy. And the Seahawks at best are an uneven team. But I don’t think any one player is turning the 2018 Cardinals around. Seattle by four.

Cleveland (+2.5) at Oakland
I’m not 100 percent on this, so, you know, don’t quote me or anything, but I think the last time the Browns won two straight, their quarterback was Otto Graham. Of course, since the Oakland defense is a complete shambles … nah, actually, I still can’t pull the trigger. Raiders by one.

San Francisco (+10.5) at LA Chargers
The 2018 San Francisco 49ers put all of their offensive eggs in one basket. C.J. Beathard is not that basket. Chargers by 13.

New Orleans (-3.5) at NY Giants
Drew Brees has been lighting up questionable defenses, which has covered up the Saints own defensive struggles. I don’t believe the Giants’ D is likely to make things easy for Brees, though. And to my mind, that means this game comes down to whether Eli Manning can avoid making stupid mistakes. In New Jersey, anyhow, I’m inclined to think he can. Giants by a field goal.

Baltimore (+3) at Pittsburgh
Nothing I’ve seen from the Steelers this season has been remotely impressive. Ravens by four.

Kansas City (-5) at Denver
The Chiefs’ lack of balance is going to catch up with them at some point. But not this point. Kansas City by seven.

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Week Three Picks

September 20th, 2018 Comments off

Enough with the ties already, NFL. This is not soccer. Or hockey. No one wants to see this nonsense. Bring back the full-length overtime period. Extend it if you have to. Just have these teams play until one of them wins.

Or maybe I should welcome ties. At least with those games, I can pretend my picks were half right. And that’s something I could have used more of in week two.

I wrapped up last week 9-6-1 straight up, 7-9 against the spread. For the season, that gets me to 19-11-2 (.625) and 15-16-1 (.484) respectively.

Let’s see how much worse it can get in week three. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Jets (+3) at Cleveland
Ugh. The Jets are not a good football team. But neither are the Browns, who haven’t won a game since Christmas Eve of 2016. I know the short week favors the home team and all that, but I just can’t bring myself to pick Cleveland. Can’t. Jets by a point.

New Orleans (+3) at Atlanta
The home team rebounded from a tough road loss to the defending champs in the season opener with a win over another tough opponent at home in week two. The road team rebounded from a humiliating week one home loss with a narrow week two win at home over the Browns. If I need to have faith in one of these squads at this point, I’m going with the Falcons. Atlanta by six.

San Francisco (+6.5) at Kansas City
If the 49ers want Jimmy Garoppolo to lead them to a Super Bowl, they may want to invest some time in figuring out how to keep him on his feet. I can’t remember the last successful team that exposed its quarterback to a 72-sack season. Chiefs by four.

Oakland (+3) at Miami
I’m still not buying into the idea that the Dolphins are a good football team. But I’m totally in on the idea that the Raiders are a bad one. Miami by a touchdown.

Buffalo (+16.5) at Minnesota
Bills quarterbacks have taken a combined 11 sacks this season. Josh Allen has been on the pancaked end of eight of those. That translates, for Allen, to an absolutely brutal sack percentage of 14.3.

sack percentage tweet

The Vikings defense, meanwhile, has recorded seven sacks thus far this season. That’s an 8.5% sack rate, roughly once every 12 times an opposing quarterback has dropped back. This, in case you were wondering, is not a promising combination of factors for Buffalo. I’m still not giving three scores, though. Vikings by 14.

Indianapolis (+6.5) at Philadelphia
You have to figure Carson Wentz is going to need a bit of time to shake off the rust, right? So let’s figure maybe the Eagles win this one by just four.

Cincinnati (+3) at Carolina
The Bengals can’t win every game they play 34-23. Maybe this week they’ll lose by that score. Panthers by 11.

Denver (+5.5) at Baltimore
Sure, 2-0 is a nice start to a season. But a pair of narrow home wins over mediocre and bad opponents doesn’t ultimately mean that much. I’m not sure the Ravens are a great team, but they’re the best the Broncos will have faced this season. And I expect it to show. Baltimore by six.

NY Giants (+6) at Houston
I guess I’ll go with the unproven home team over the unproven road team. Texans by a field goal.

Tennessee (+7.5) at Jacksonville
The Titans’ only hope here is that the Jaguars are in for a letdown game after their big week two Super Bowl victory. I don’t think it’ll be enough. Jacksonville by five.

Green Bay (-3) at Washington
I suspect the Packers could win this one even if Aaron Rodgers had to play on crutches. Green Bay by four.

LA Chargers (+7) at LA Rams
The Chargers should prove a tad harder to stop than the Raiders and Cardinals. Which, of course, is to say absolutely nothing. Rams by six.

Chicago (-6) at Arizona
We all knew the Cardinals were going to be bad this season. But I don’t think many of us realized they were going to be this bad. Bears by 10.

Dallas (+1.5) at Seattle
Neither of these teams has been able to protect its quarterback so far this season. But at least the Cowboys have shown some ability to get to opponents’ QBs. Dallas by three.

New England (-6.5) at Detroit
You can’t expect new addition Josh Gordon to be a factor for the Patriots this week even if he’s active. The Patriots’ run game, on the other hand, will be going up against a Lions D that surrendered 169 and 190 rushing yards to the Jets and 49ers respectively. That, you know, seems like an opportunity. New England by 13.

Pittsburgh (-1) at Tampa Bay
I’m not sure the Buccaneers are for real. But I’m starting to believe that the Steelers are a real mess. Tampa Bay by four.

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Week Two Picks

September 13th, 2018 Comments off

I’m off to a perfectly mediocre start, which is nearly as comforting as it is frustrating. In this crazy world, there’s something to be said for taking consistency where you can find it. Probably. I’m a consistently OK picker of football results straight up, and a consistently semi-accurate picker against the spread. With zero dollars ever on the line, I can live with that.

I finished week one 10-5-1 (.656) straight up; 8-7-1 (.531) against the spread.

Let’s see if I can draw some faulty conclusions from the tiny sample size of one result per team and really cut into my results in week two.

Which is to say, here’s what not to expect.

Baltimore (-1) at Cincinnati
I don’t feel like I know anything more about either of these teams than I did a week ago. Well, except that maybe I underestimated both heading into the season. Or, you know, maybe not. A week ago, I wasn’t sure the Ravens could put a lot of points on the board against the Bills. Works out they could. That knowledge would be more helpful if the Ravens were playing Buffalo again. Or if I had a better sense of whether last week’s result had more to do with the Ravens being better than I expected or the Bills being worse (somehow). But I don’t. Meanwhile, the Bengals at least beat a team with an offense. But I’d really like to see them do it more than once before I draw any hard conclusions. In the end, I still have little to go on here. If what I still suspect is the better of the two teams were the one hosting on short rest, I’d just go with them and have done with it. No such luck. But I’m still going to hold my breath and take the Ravens. By two.

Indianapolis (+6) at Washington
I don’t know what happens when the Racists face an actual NFL opponent yet. I also don’t know yet whether the Colts are capable of playing defense. For now, I’m just going on the fact that Washington’s playing at home, the impression that the Colts can’t stop the run, and the belief that Alex Smith is at least as good a quarterback as Andy Dalton. Racists by a field goal.

Carolina (+6) at Atlanta
I don’t think the Falcons are six points better than the Panthers. In fact, I don’t think the Falcons are better than the Panthers at all. But I know the Falcons are playing at home on 10 days rest. And I think the injuries each team is dealing with pretty much offset. Atlanta by four.

Minnesota (-1) at Green Bay
If you’re Aaron Rodgers and you’re hopping around on your one good leg just trying to make something happen (because you aren’t just your team’s best option at quarterback; you’re their only option), you can’t feel good about the Minnesota Vikings coming to town. You can’t feel good about that at all. Vikings by six.

LA Chargers (-7.5) at Buffalo
Angry Chargers vs. awful Bills. I know Los Angeles doesn’t typically fare well on the east coast. And I know the Bills have made a change at quarterback. I’m just not sure a change at one position (though, obviously, it’s a big one) and a jet-lagged opponent are going to be enough to fix what’s wrong with Buffalo. Chargers by nine.

Houston (-2.5) at Tennessee
The team that keeps its starting quarterback upright longest wins. Since we don’t really know whether Marcus Mariota actually belongs on the field, I’m going with the Texans. Houston by a point.

Kansas City (+4) at Pittsburgh
No matter how I pick this game, it’s pretty much guaranteed to bite me in the ass. The Steelers are a different team at home than they are on the road. The Chiefs are playing their second straight road game. These aren’t minor factors. Still, I keep thinking about the extent to which the Cleveland Browns battered Ben Roethlisberger in week one. And I don’t know how to think past that. Chiefs by three.

Miami (+3) at NY Jets
Jets by a point. Why? Because I’m just guessing. That’s why.

Philadelphia (-3) at Tampa Bay
I don’t know if you’re aware of this — it’s a fairly well kept secret — but Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. Philadelphia by a touchdown.

Cleveland (+9) at New Orleans
I’m pretty sure the Browns played their Super Bowl in week one. They managed a tie. Because, yeah, the Browns probably could find a way to play to a tie in a Super Bowl. (You know, in the pretend universe where the Browns could get to a Super Bowl.) Saints by 13.

Arizona (+13) at LA Rams
Sometimes early in a season a pretty bad team catches a pretty good team off guard. I can’t see that happening here. Rams by 17.

Detroit (+6) at San Francisco
If Matt Patricia had all of the pieces in place, and if those pieces were actually interested in being coached, I might think the Lions defense could exploit their coach’s familiarity with Jimmy Garoppolo and steal a win. Oh, wait. Detroit would also need an offensive line. Those can come in handy. San Francisco by 10.

New England (-1.5) at Jacksonville
Is, um … there’s a lot that makes this an interesting game — AFC Championship rematch, home team’s excellent defense, ongoing uncertainty about the visitors’ depth at wide receiver … just a lot — but my question remains: is, um, is Blake Bortles still playing quarterback for the Jaguars? Oh, he is? OK, then. Patriots by a field goal.

Oakland (+6) at Denver
The Broncos are not great. The Raiders are not good. Denver by seven.

NY Giants (+3) at Dallas
At this point, I can’t imagine doing anything other than taking the home team to win by the default margin of three. Maybe I’ll think differently by the time this series gets to New Jersey at the end of December. But that’s where I’m at right now. Cowboys straight up; a push with the points.

Seattle (+3.5) at Chicago
Maybe the Bears defense will play a full four quarters this week. Maybe they won’t even need to. Chicago by four.

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