Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Week 9 Picks

Tampa Bay (5-2) @ Atlanta (5-2)
Predicted line: ATL by 6.5
Actual line: ATL by 8.5

Who would have ever thought that Tampa Bay would be playing for NFC South supremacy in week 9? Not me, that's for sure. When they fired Jon Gruden and said goodbye to Derrick Brooks and Monte Kiffin last offseason, I thought it would be a 5 year rebuilding process, at least. What they've done in 18 months is remarkable. I don't know who to give credit to. Raheem Morris? Josh Freeman? The defense, which ranks 12th against the pass? I can't help but believe their 5-2 record is a fluke, despite the fast that Josh Freeman looks like the real deal.

Look at the teams Tampa has beat: Cleveland, Carolina, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Arizona. Their two losses were to elite teams - Pittsburgh and New Orleans. By my count, none of the teams Tampa has defeated rank in the top 20 among NFL teams. That's pretty telling.

Another interested fact is that Tampa outscored opponents by a total of 23 points in the 5 victories, but was outscored by 50 in the two blowout loses. You know what that reminds me of? The 2007 Detroit Lions, who improbably began the season 6-2 but in the two loses were outscored by 31 and 35. As you may remember, those Lions finished the season 1-7.

Probably not a good sign for Tampa that I just compared them to the Lions. Of course it was a foregone conclusion that I would expect Atlanta to win, but the question is how competitive Tampa will play. Doesn't 8.5 seem like a high line for two teams with equal records?

Well, going back to the 07 Lions, they lost their final 7 games by an average of 17 points, including an average of 25 points on the road. So perhaps a blowout should be expected, especially considering that Atlanta is well-rested and Roddy White is unguardable and Michael Turner is on a roll and Tampa's biggest weakness is stopping the run (30th in NFL).

As much as I hate these kinds of spreads, I'll go with Atlanta +8.5.

Chicago (4-3) vs. Buffalo (0-7) in Toronto
Predicted Line: CHI by 4.5
Actual Line: CHI by 3

All the Bears have to do is beat the worst team in the league by a field goal? Easy money.


Hmm ... I really don't want to overthink this. Buffalo is tragically bad. So is Chicago. But Buffalo is worse. I'll take the Bears with no confidence.

New England (6-1) @ Cleveland (2-5)
Predicted Line: NE by 5.5
Actual Line: NE by 4.5

All the Pats have to do is beat one of the league's worst teams by 5? Easy money right?

Actually, I'm going against the public (88% of the action is on New England) and saying the Browns will cover. After this game New England faces Pittsburgh and then Indy. They might struggle to focus on the road against the surprisingly efficient Colt McCoy. Nobody has stopped Peyton Hillis yet this season (not Baltimore, not Pittsburgh), so I don't see New England keeping him out of the endzone. And since losing Randy Moss, Tom Brady just hasn't lit up the scoreboard. I like New England to win by 4 or less. Maybe even a shocker and the Browns win.

NY Jets (5-2) @ Detroit (2-5)
Predicted Line: NYJ by 4
Actual Line: NYJ by 4

Deep breath... okay here we go.

Last week was awesome. The Lions crushed the Redskins for the second year in a row, they sacked the crap out of McNabb, they played one of their best defensive games in this decade. Even the secondary was good, with the exception of one 50 yard pass to Anthony Armstrong and a few stupid penalties. Ndamukong Suh was simply brilliant. Kyle VandenBosch was fantastic. DeAndre Levy was finally back on the field and played great. All-around A+ for the defense.

All that being said ... we barely won against an uninspired team with major personnel issues.

Matt Stafford was statistically magnificent, especially in the second half. He had 4 TDs and 212 yards and a QB rating of 90.2. It was actually Calvin Johnson who was magnificent, but he made Stafford look good and that's the receiver's job. Stafford completed 26 passes, the running backs combined for over 100 yards, and we won time-of-possession by over 5 minutes. Offensively, it was a B+ for the squad and an A+++ for Calvin.

All that being said ... we only gained 302 total yards against a defensive which was on pace to give up the most passing yards in NFL history. We turned the ball over twice, were unsuccessful on 13 third-downs, and punted 9 times.

The moral of the story is ... we played good enough to beat Washington, but if we give the exact same performance against the New York Jets we will get routed. Calvin is now matched up against the league's best coverage corner, and even if he has 4 catches for 50 yards and 1 TD (which would be incredible against Revis) we'll still be offensively stymied.

The Jets allow the third-fewest running yards in the NFL (88 per game) and they blitz more than any other team except maybe Pittsburgh. Shaun Ellis, Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor are going to make life miserable for the offensive line and for Stafford. The interior linebackers - Scott and Harris- are both exceptional tacklers and good coverage players.

So the point is - we're playing an elite defensive unit, and I don't think our offense is up to the task. Last week we scored 37 points, but 7 resulted directly from a 71 yard punt return and 7 more came from a defensive touchdown with 1 minute remaining. So really we mustered 23 points of actual offense. And if we earned only 23 points against the Redskins, we shouldn't expect more than 17 against the Jets. Their defense is much, much better.

So that leads to the obvious question - will 17 points be enough? Considering the Jets scored ZERO last week against Green Bay, maybe I should like our chances. After a brilliant start to the season, Mark Sanchez finally had the stinkbomb I was expecting last week with a 16/38 day. He threw 2 INTs and no TDs. But, he did have 256 yards passing (that's 16 yards per catch!) and there were plenty of drops. On top of that, the Jets attempted a stupid fake punt on 4th and 18, Nick Folk missed a 37 yard field goal, and Rex Ryan stupidly went for it on 4th down twice in the fourth quarter. He tried to be aggressive and instead he was idiotic. Rex Ryan is simply the most overrated coach in pro sports.

But against the Detroit defense, the Jets are clearly not going to get shut out. Ndamukong Suh will have his massive hands full with All Pro center Nick Mangold, and VandenBosch's matchup against D'Brickashaw Ferguson isn't much better. The Jets should be able to run the ball with relative ease (although I thought the same thing about Washington) and that should set up a few deep balls for Sanchez.

Am I just being too much of a gloom and doom fan? Am I not giving Suh the credit he deserves? Shouldn't I have a little faith in my team for a chance?

All valid questions. I've become so accustomed to losing that's it hard for me to accept winning and positive play. I honestly wonder how many games Stafford will have to win before I can accept that he might be an okay quarterback? I surely don't want to be a bitter old man watching the Lions win their 10th consecutive Super Bowl and shouting insults from my couch. If they're good, I want to enjoy it!

But at the same time, can we really say they're 'good' after just one win? Certainly they've moved beyond their status as the league's doormats (thank you, Buffalo!), but they haven't quite become a competitive team in the way that the Jets are competitive. Just a void in talent.

I hate to pick against them again, but this 4 point spread seems too low and the Jets will be out for blood. Bad matchups all over the field for Detroit. I'm not convinced this won't be a blowout.

Pick: Jets +4. I hope I'm wrong.

New Orleans (5-3) @ Carolina (1-6)
Predicted Line: NO by 7.5
Actual Line: NO by 6.5

A SHOCKINGLY low line.

The Panthers have ZERO offense and the Saints just beat the Steelers. I think Drew Brees is way, way, way overdue for a 4 TD explosion. For once, I'm willing to overlook the Madden Curse because I don't think there's any way this game is close. Not after last week, when Carolina got destroyed by the Rams. I started Jonathan Stewart in my main league because of DeAngelo Williams's injury, and Stewart responded to the starting role by rushing 4 times in the first half for 1 yard. He finished with a disgusting 30 yards on 14 carries. If the Panthers couldn't stop Sam Bradford, how are they gonna stop Drew Brees?

I'll make Saints +6.5 the Lock of the Week.

And since my Lock of the Week has been completely blown out two weeks in a row (Denver lost by 35, Dallas lost by 18), I wouldn't feel good if I were a Saints fan.

Miami (4-3) @ Baltimore (5-2)
Predicted Line: BAL by 5.5
Actual Line: BAL by 5

Miami's three loses this year are against three of the NFL's best teams: Pittsburgh, New England, and the Jets. Two of those loses can be blamed on special teams, and one can be blamed on officiating. Bottom line: Miami is darned good for a 4-3 team.

But Baltimore is also one of the NFL's best teams, and they're rested, and they have the personnel to make Miami one dimensional on offense and Chad Henne is not playing well lately. Just not a lucky schedule for the Dolphins. Next week they get Moss and the Titans. Good thing they finish out the year with games against the Bears, Lions, Raiders, Bills, and Browns.

This game reeks for Miami. They've kicked 10 field goals in the last 2 games because their offense can't get into the endzone. Now they face Ray Lewis and Co. I like Baltimore, but just barely.

San Diego (3-5) @ Houston (4-3)

Predicted Line: HOU by 3.5
Actual Line: SD by 3

It's incredible that San Diego is favored on the road against a team with a better record. This line makes absolutely no sense. And yet ... I'm leaning towards picking the Chargers.

Phillip Rivers might throw for 700 yards against this Texans secondary. I am loving Patrick Crayton and Antonio Gates (I have both guys) for fantasy purposes this week. Houston is giving up 299 passing yards per game. Losing DeMecco Ryans for the season really put a damper on Houston's already bad defense.

This line is weird, possibly even awful. But sometimes you can't make picks based solely on weird lines. I'm gonna go with the Chargers.

Arizona (3-4) @ Minnesota (2-5)
Predicted Line: MIN by 6.5
Actual Line: MIN by 9

3 weeks ago it was Brett Favre making his return to Jets' stadium where he played terribly and sexually harassed employees with his cell phone.

2 weeks ago it was Favre making his return to Lambeau amidst thundering BOOS.

Last week it was Moss making his return to Foxboro, which led to one of the most bizarre sequences in NFL history. Moss seemed to be outwardly rooting for the Patriots, then gave the single craziest press conference of the year, then got kicked off the team just 4 weeks after the Vikings traded for him, and he's now a Titan.

So this week ... Minnesota hosts Arizona, the team for which Ryan Longwell once worked as a cheerleader before his controversial sex change operation ... er, I mean, they host Arizona, the team which Adrian Peterson once referred to as a bunch of "mother f******ing Nazis." Wait, that never happened either? Can it be ... a normal Minnesota Vikings game?? No major soap-opera drama hanging over the game? What on earth will the commentators talk about? The actual football game on the field?!? Say it isn't so!

There's still 3 days before this game starts. Plenty of time for Favre to appear on the Oprah show and publicly come out of the closet. Or announce his intention to run for President in 2012. Or his involvement as a secret correspondent for Al Qaeda. Anything is possible.

As for this game, I'd say the line is too high. Minnesota isn't good enough to be getting 9 points. They'll likely win, but not by 9. We don't even know if Favre can walk anymore.

By the way, is there anyone who is enjoying Brett Favre's career meltdown more than Tiger Woods?

NY Giants (5-2) @ Seattle (4-3)
Predicted Line: NYG by 3
Actual Line: NYG by 7

This is the third straight line that's very strange. Seattle's an entirely different team at home. How can you make them Home Dogs by 7 against the Giants, while the Panthers are only Home Dogs by 6.5 to the Saints? That implies that either the Giants are better than the Saints (false) or that the Panthers are better than the Seahawks (not even close). Weird.

I'm not going to give this game too much thought. I'll go with Seattle to cover, and I'll make that the Upset of the Week because I think they're at least 45% likely to win outright.

Indianapolis (5-2) @ Philadelphia (4-3)
Predicted Line: IND by 2
Actual Line: PHI by 3

Speaking of atrocious lines ... why isn't Indy favored in this game? Honestly, why? Has Peyton Manning not yet proven in his illustrious Hall of Fame career that he probably should at least be given the benefit of a 3 point line against a 4-3 team with a terrible defense? In 3 career games against the Eagles, Manning has scored 44, 45, and 35 points. And this is the worst defense they've had in a decade.

Only 15 times since 2003 has Manning been an underdog. Most of those games were against top-notch opponents like New England and the Ravens. Manning is 12-3 against the spread in those games. The Eagles aren't even good! The Lions almost beat them this year!

This is undoubtedly the weirdest and worst line of the season. I'm taking the Colts and making it the Lock of the Week. Forget what you read earlier about New Orleans.

Kansas City (5-2) @ Oakland (4-4)
Predicted Line: Pick Em
Actual Line: OAK by 3

Hmmm ... am I crazy, or is this the most exciting game of the week?

Both of these teams can run the ball extremely well, while both struggle in the passing game. But the Chiefs are 7th at stopping the run, while the Raiders are 29th. So it stands to reason that Kansas City will move the ball more effectively than Oakland. Thus a pick 'em would have made more sense.

I don't feel good about backing the Raiders as favorites, but I also hesitate to pick against them after they've scored 90 points in their last 2 games. Perhaps it's worth noting that by far the best player involved in this game - Nnamdi Asomugha - is doubtful with an ankle sprain. That should help KC's passing game substantially.

I'll go Chiefs to cover.

Dallas (1-6) @ Green Bay (5-3)
Predicted Line: GB by 9
Actual Line: GB by 8

I am way sick of picking the Cowboys. Last week I announced Jon Kitna as a top 5 fantasy option and a major sleeper. He responded with 4 INTs and just 12 fantasy points. Granted, 3 of his 4 picks were good throws that bounced off receivers hands. But still. Getting blown out at home by the Jaguars is inexcusable. They have no reason to try anymore.

Amazingly, 81% of the betting action is on Green Bay, despite the 8 point spread. I'm always hesitant to back an 8 point spread, especially when the team scored only 9 points last week and stinks at running the ball.

Rodgers should have a very solid game (Cowboys are 30th against the pass) but I expect Dallas to keep pace and lose a semi-close game at Lambeau. I'll go Cowboys -8.

Pittsburgh (5-2) @ Cincinnati (2-6)
Predicted Line: PIT by 5
Actual Line: PIT by 4.5

Another strange line. If NYG gets 7 points at Seattle, shouldn't Pittsburgh get at least 7 points at Cincinnati? Pittsburgh is way better than the Giants, and Cincy is every bit as bad as Seattle.

I guess Pittsburgh still has a reputation as a low-scoring team, despire scoring 20 points a game since Roethlisberger's return. This line is wacky. I don't see any reason to believe the Bengals won't get shut out. They're very one-dimensional, and Benson won't have a chance against the Steelers #1 ranked rush defense which hasn't allowed any running back - including Chris Johnson, Michael Turner, and Ray Rice - to run for even 50 yards this season. They'll force Palmer to throw on 3rd and longs, and that means plenty of bad news for the Bengals.

It's Monday night and Cincy is at home, so I won't predict a blowout. But something like PIT 17, CIN 10 wouldn't shock me. I'll take the Steelers +4.5.

Last week: 8-5
Overall: 62-53-2

Lions Picks: 3-4
Lock of the Week: 3-4-1
Upset of the Week: 5-3

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I think we're diverging a little bit in thoughts. I rather like the Giants. Although I think the rest of our picks are similar.

    I did take Oakland, and cheated on my Buffalo pick...