Texans (5-6) @ Eagles (7-4) on Thursday
Predicted Line: PHI by 8.5
Actual Line: PHI by 8.5
Off to a good start. Hit the line exactly. Now... just have to figure out what to do with this mysterious Texans team ...
Their disgustingly bad secondary now faces Michael Vick, thus the 9 point spread. But some people will look at Houston's 20-0 win over Tennessee last week and ask, Is the defense getting better? Or did they just enjoy a good game against Rusty Smith? In my opinion, it's probably the latter. Don't expect any less than 4 TDs from Vick. He's the #1 QB option in fantasy football this week - especially given that the Texans D must travel across the country on 4 days rest.
But at first blush, I think this line might be too high. Philly's defense looked worthless last week against Chicago, and will likely be without Asante Samuel for another game. That means no one can match up with Andre Johnson, who was fined $25,000 but not suspended for his fight with Cortland Finnegan. Johnson is a BAD dude, and I mean that in a good way. He is not only the game's best wide receiver, but a pretty scary dude to fight against. Finnegan went from trash-talking instigator to pants-peeing-guy-getting-the-crap-beat-out-of-him in about 2 seconds. I loved it. Good call by the league not giving out suspensions. If you're not going to suspend Richard Seymour for sucker-punching a quarterback, don't suspend these guys for a 5 second fight in the heat of the game.
So I think Johnson will play well, and I'm certain that Arian Foster will be able to run on the Eagles. Houston should be able to score 24 or 27, especially if the Eagles move into a prevent defense late with a big lead and Houston gets a backdoor TD. But I see Philly scoring close to 40. I'll take Philly by a hair.
Saints (8-3) @ Bengals (2-9)
Predicted Line: NO by 7
Actual Line: NO by 6.5
90% of Vegas is betting on the Saints in this game. Really? To cover a 7 point spread on the road after almost losing to the Cowboys last week? I know Drew Brees is on fire right now, and I know Cincy is playing without stud CB Jonathan Joseph, but all season long we've seen Carson and TO cover backdoor spreads with garbage-time TDs. Why would it stop now, in a home game, when Carson is basically playing to keep his job? I think the Saints eek out an ugly 27-23 win. Anytime 90% of betting action is on a road-favorite I am leery. Go Bengals.
Bears (8-3*) @ Lions (2-9)
Predicted Line: CHI by 5.5
Actual Line: CHI by 3.5
I'm guessing this line was set prior to the news that Shaun Hill's broken finger might (and by might, I mean definitely will, but Jim Schwartz is doing that thing he always does where he tries to keep opposing teams wondering which crappy quarterback will start, as if they care) keep him out for the remainder of the season. Which means, yes, five games of Drew Stanton starting.
Five. Games. Of. Drew. Stanton. Starting.
But don't worry Lions' fans, yesterday we claimed 7th round rookie Zac Robinson off waivers and he will serve as the backup for the rest of the season. All in favor of calling him Z-Rob? None opposed? Okay, motion carried.
A quick Wikipedia search informs me that Z-Rob played his collegiate ball at Oklahoma State, where he threw passes to none other than Dez Bryant, and Brandon Pettigrew the year before! Z-Rob was a dual threat in college, running for more than 800 yards his sophomore season while passing for 2,800 yards. He set a school record for total yardage that season, and only one other college QB had 800 rushing yards and 2,800 passing yards. That was of course Heisman winner Tim Tebow.
Z-Rob was highly touted going into his 2009 senior season, but Dez Bryant's suspension killed the OSU season. Then Z-Rob got riddled with injuries. First a concussion, then a shoulder, then a hamstring. He ended up being drafted in the 7th round by New England (hey, if Bill Belichick was impressed, that's all I need to know) but then was cut from the 53 man roster. Seattle picked up Z-Rob, left him on the practice squad for 2 months, and then let him go. Now, he's the Lions backup quarterback. And unless you think Stanton can stay healthy for 5 games, we'll almost certainly see Z-Rob take the field before week 17. Somewhere Calvin Johnson is weeping in a dark closet.
So this line is currently at just 3.5, but by Sunday I expect it to rise to 6 or so. No one respects Drew Stanton, and rightfully so. He was an adequate college player, but doesn't have an NFL arm. But dangit, I'm writing this pick now, so I'll make the pick against the 3.5 line.
Remember, last time we played Chicago, we beat them on a last-second TD pass to Calvin Johnson. Thus the asterisk next to Chicago's 8-3 record. They know they're 7-4, and Detroit knows they're 3-8. The problem in that game for Detroit was an inability to slow down Matt Forte, especially on that one horrendous 80 yard screen pass. The other problem was Jeff Backus trying to block Julius Peppers by himself, which led to Matt Stafford missing 6 games. The good news is that Stanton's mobility is a nice fit for Backus's awfulness ... at least Stanton can run away from Peppers. But that's only if he sees him coming. What separates great QBs from awful QBs is eyes in the back of their head. A guy like Manning, Brees, or even Vick does not get strip-sacked, because they know the timing down to the split-second. They see Peppers coming and step up in the pocket (or run away, in Vick's case) at exactly the right moment. The only way to have that ability is in-game experience. No way Stanton has that. Not even close. So as fast as he might be, he'll never see Peppers coming. And thus you can expect 4+ sacks for Chicago and a fumble or two.
If Detroit's smart, they'll double team Peppers with both Backus and Sims, and chip him with Maurice Morris as well. We really don't want to begin the Z-Rob experiment any sooner than necessary. And we know firsthand the devastation that a Peppers karate chop can have. Dude is pretty strong.
Calvin Johnson won't be guardable by Chicago's overrated secondary, but it won't matter unless Stanton can throw him the ball. And since he doesn't have the arm strength or the accuracy of Shaun Hill (which really isn't saying much), that's probably unlikely. Maybe Calvin will have 4 catches, 50 yards, and a TD. Maybe.
The running game won't exist once again, at least not from the RB position. But Drew Stanton does have one skill that might make this game interesting: he can scramble for first downs. 3rd and 5, 3rd and 7, even 3rd and 10, Stanton isn't afraid to take off towards the marker. He won't slide a yard short like Stafford. He'll go for it. That might keep drives alive and keep this game close. It also might commence Z-Rob's career.
The way Chicago is playing right now, coming off an impressive win against Vick and the Eagles, it's just way too hard to pick against them, especially against the Lions' 3rd string QB. I know Chicago is hugely overrated and I know Jay Cutler is garbage; I'm not jumping on the Chicago bandwagon at all. They're the worst 8-3 team in NFL history, and they're about to be the worst 9-3 team in the NFL history. I'm taking the Bears. Bah.
Ps. I know I didn't talk about the most obvious matchup in this game - Suh and KVB against the Bears' piss-poor pass protection. I felt it was too obvious. It's become almost a given that the Lions will put pressure on the quarterback, have a few sacks, and cause a few bad throws. But until the secondary can play like professionals, it's really not helping us win games. Suh is spectacular, and might have a 2 sack game against Cutler and Martz's moronic gameplan. But I don't trust the CBs to stop speedsters like Knox and Hester. As bad as Cutler is, he's one of the few quarterbacks who can be trusted to occasionally convert a 3rd and 15. Detroit would have a chance in this game if the defensive gameplan was flawless, and the blitzes were well-timed and effective, and the coverage schemes were competent. Unfortunately, I just don't trust Gunther Cunningham.
PS - Worst Case Scenario this week in fantasy. Playing against both Cutler AND Forte in the A league. The good news is a TD for one cancels out a TD for the other (unless it's a screen, in which case I boil some hot water and dump it on my head). The bad news is both guys should have at least 2 TDs without breaking a sweat. Come on Suh, I need you this week!
49ers (4-7) @ Packers (7-4)
Predicted Line: GB by 9.5
Actual Line: GB by 10
See, this is why you don't want to start the season 0-6. You might stage a nice little comback, but then you have to travel to Lambeau in December. Green Bay wins this game, no doubt.
But isn't 10 points a little too high for a game that's supposed to by 29 degrees and snowy? It's going to be tough for even Aaron Rodgers to score in the snow without a running game. And San Fran has come confidence after the Monday night blowout. So they might keep it close for a while, even without Frank Gore. I see this game somewhere in the range of Packers 23, Niners 17. I'll take San Fran**.
Jaguars (6-5) @ Titans (5-6)
Predicted Line: TEN by 1.5
Actual Line: TEN by 2
Kerry Collins is listed as day-to-day with a calf injury, but after seeing the trainwreck named Rusty Smith last week you can bet that Jeff Fisher will put Collins out there even if he can't walk. Does a 37 year old quarterback even need calves anyway? That, along with the fact that nobody trusts the Jaguars, is why Tennessee is favored despite getting blanked last week.
I have absolutely no idea what to do for this game. The AFC South is a crapshoot. Probly just take the home team.
Denver (3-8) @ KC (7-4)
Predicted Line: KC by 6.5
Actual Line: KC by 9.5
This is the first line (other than the bad Lions line which doesn't account for Hill's injury) that I've missed by more than 1 point. This line is way too high. Matt Cassel shouldn't be giving 10 points to anybody. The Chiefs might cover, but I'd rather take the points. Especially with Orton leading the comeback attempt.
Browns (4-7) @ Miami (6-5)
Predicted Line: MIA by 4
Actual Line: MIA by 4.5
My brain says: Delhomme on the road! Take Miami!
But then my brain also says: Peyton Hillis is completely unstoppable!! Take Cleveland!
I am completely conflicted. What is more of a factor, Hillis's goodness or Delhomme's badness? I guess I'd have to say Delhomme's badness. I'll take Miami and hope Brandon Marshall plays. He should.
Bills (2-9) @ Vikings (4-7)
Predicted Line: MIN by 5.5
Actual Line: MIN by 5.5
This line is predictably low because AP is a gametime decision with a sprained ankle. But I personally think he'll play. And Buffalo's defense gave up 188 yards to Rashard Mendenhall last week, so even if AP sits out Toby Gerhard should run without much resistance. But like I said, I think AP will play, and thus, I like the Vikings in a big win. Especially because Buffalo is probably wore out after the heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh last week in OT. This game has Vikings all over it. I might even make it the Lock of the Week. Yeah, I think I will.
Redskins (5-6) @ Giants (7-4)
Predicted Line: NYG by 7
Actual Line: NYG by 7
Both of these teams are quite awful right now. New York's high powered offense has become a lot less exciting without Nicks and Steve Smith. Mario Manningham should have had a bonkers week against Jacksonville last week, but he only had, what, 60 yards? I also expected a lot from new WR2 Derek Hagan, and he was invisible. Tight end Kevin Boss has suddenly become one of Eli's favorite targets, and he's as slow as any tight end I've ever seen. Add in the fumbling issues and injuries to the offensive line ... and I'm not a big fan of the Giants offense. Which is why I'm taking the Redskins, who I also don't like at all right now. They have bad receivers, a bad running game, and no identity on offense. Not to mention a bad offensive line, and a coach who seems to hate half of his players for no apparent reason. I hate both of these teams. So I expect a sloppy game and 7 points is probably too high.
Raiders (5-6) @ Chargers (6-5)
Predicted Line: SD by 10.5
Actual Line: SD by 13
Knew this line would be big, but didn't think it would be two-touchdowns big. That's asking a lot for an inconsistent San Diego team with a tremendously overrated defense. I don't trust them to stop McFadden or the big-play receivers in Oakland. Jacoby Ford has quickly made a name for himself as a 2 catches for 75 yards kind of guy. If this line were SD by 10 or 11, I'd sign up. But 13 is a bit too high. I'll go with Oakland in a 35-24 losing effort.
Carolina (1-10) @ Seahawks (5-6)
Predicted Line: SEA by 6
Actual Line: SEA by 6
That's the fourth line I've guessed exactly.
Upset of the Week time. I actually like Carolina to win this game straight up, for a few different reasons.
1) Seattle is terrible. They can't run the ball (Marshawn Lynch is a joke; his YPC is a measly 3.1), they can't protect the passer, and Hasselbeck doesn't have any decent receivers right now. Whenever an injury to Mike Williams is severely crippling your offense, you know your team is pathetic. And their defense has been completely unable to stop the run ever since Colin Cole and Red Bryant got hurt about 5 weeks ago. (They were ranked 5th at stopping the run, since then they've fallen to 20th.) Their secondary has been terrible all year (they rank 30th) and in 3 of their last 4 games, Seattle has failed to record a sack. So yeah, Pete Carroll's squad is much worse than their 5-6 record.
2) Carolina isn't as bad as their 1-10 record indicates. Well, okay maybe they are. But last week they ran the ball for 153 yards against a pretty solid Browns defense. Mike Goodson and Jonathan Stewart were able to put Claussen in all kinds of 3rd and short situations, and despite having no NFL-caliber receivers, he played decently and almost rallied to win.
3) Seattle's home-field advantage isn't what it used to be. And typically it's unwise to pick an east-coast team traveling West , but John Fox has been an exception: he's 7-2 ATS on the west coast as head coach of the Panthers.
4) Did I mention that Seattle is terrible? They should in no way be 6 point favorites, ever. If you swapped these teams divisions and schedules, right now Carolina would be 5-6 and Seattle would be 1-10. They are equally talented. I'm taking Carolina to win straight up, and if all they do is cover the 6 point spread I'll at least get my Upset pick right.
Rams (5-6) @ Cardinals (3-8)
Predicted Line: STL by 3
Actual Line: STL by 3
Make that five lines picked precisely. Although this one was easy.
Rams are playing great right now, Cards are playing awful, but nobody wants to give a rookie QB more than a field goal on the road. This is a crappy situation for Bradford. If he loses this game, it's a big step backwards for his career, his reputation, and his ROY chances. People will question and doubt him and say "Come on, you can't even beat the CARDINALS?"
But if the Rams win, nobody will be impressed. They just beat a terrible team. Big deal.
It's sort of like the Lions recent game against the Bills. Nothing to gain, but everything to lose. The best thing Bradford can do is just play like he's been playing, and get the win.
And on the other side ...wait, what? I haven't said anything yet about Derek Anderson's unintentionally hilarious tirade after the MNF blowout? In case you didn't see it, Anderson was seen laughing on the sideline with a lineman during the blowout, and was asked about it by a reporter in the postgame conference. Here's Anderson's now-legendary reaction. And here's a parody video that was made the next day. Classic. And here's basketball star Dwight Howard making fun of Anderson. And this one is an absolute MUST-WATCH. I don't have anything else to add. Those videos speak for themselves. YouTube is awesome.
The thing that outrages me isn't that Anderson was laughing on the sideline. Whatever. It's a 3 hour game and who knows what he was laughing about. I'm sure it wasn't "Haha, I suck, I love losing." Probably an inside joke or making fun of a coach or something. Who knows.
People are saying, "Yeah, but you would never catch Tom Brady laughing on the sideline during a blowout loss." Very true. That's a valid point, and probably part of the reason why Brady is a champion and Anderson is not. But still, the laughter isn't what outrages me. It's the fact that Anderson is still allowed to start at quarterback for the Cardinals.
He's lost 5 straight as a starter, and in 8 starts this season his QB rating hasn't once exceeded 92. It's a dreary 68.2 for the season. And his completion percentage, 52.8%, is one of the worst I've ever seen. He's like a mix between Jake Delhomme's interceptions and JaMarcus Russell's inaccuracy with a dash of David Carr's willingness to get sacked. But he has one thing none of those guys had. Larry Fitzgerald. And a Hall of Famer in Alan Faneca on the offensive line. So come one. Take Anderson out of there and see what you've got with the young QBs Max Hall and John Skelton. We've seen Hall stink this year (though he showed promise in beating the Saints) and for all we know, John Skelton might be okay. At least give him a chance you numskulls.
I know the Rams have been absymal on the road for the past 5 years or so, and it's tough to pick them as a road favorite covering 3 points. But with apologies to Carolina and Buffalo, I think Arizona is the NFL's worst team right now. So I've got to pick the Rams.
Cowboys (3-8) @ Colts (6-5)
Predicted Line: IND by 7.5
Actual Line: IND by 5
This line makes me giggle. I'll take Indy and if I could I'd gladly put down a couple hundred dollars. I'm also changing this to my Lock of the week, instead of Minnesota. How can the oddsmakers say the Colts are only TWO points better than the Cowboys?? (remember, football betting 101 -homefield accounts for 3 points) This line is just absurd. Peyton Manning losing a third straight game, especially when the playoffs are on the line? Austin Collie should be back, Addai might be back, and Dez Bryant is hurt for the Cowboys. And do I need to remind you who the Cowboys quarterback is? Jon Kitna! Why is this line only 5 points?! What am I missing???
... Oh yeah, the Colts can't run the ball, they can't protect Manning, Dallas has DeMarcus Ware, and the Cowboys are finally playing up to their potential now that Wade is gone. Hmm. Plus Peyton has thrown 7 picks in the last 2 games. But I'm willing to say that was a fluke and he gets back on track. He's not the greatest QB ever for no reason.
Colts by 5. Lock of the Week. My prediction: Colts 30, Cowboys 20.
Falcons (9-2) @ Bucs (7-4)
Predicted Line: ATL by 3
Actual Line: ATL by 3
Picking the line here is the same situation as the Rams @ Cards game. The road team is clearly the better team, but it shouldn't be a blowout. That's almost always a line of 3. Don't look now but I've picked six of these lines to the exact point.
This game is huge for Tampa Bay, who wants to prove that they belong with the big boys. I've no doubt that Josh Freeman belongs (or will belong someday), but I have my doubts about the Tampa defense and the Tampa running game.
LeGarette Blount had a nice little streak going (nice enough that I was able to swap him straight up for Reggie Wayne, an absolute steal for me), but I think he's regressing into the immature rookie that he is. Plus that offensive line is below average, which is putting it mildly.
Aqib Talib is proving to be a stud at cornerback, but he's got his hands full with Roddy White. Last time these squads met White had a season-low 49 yards. Obviously you can't bench White in fantasy, but expect a less-than-amazing game from him and a better-than-average game from Tony Gonzalez.
The Bucs' front 7 really has no chance against Michael Turner. They gave up 107 yards and 2 TDs in their previous matchup, and rank dead last in YPC defense. Turner has a cake matchup. He'll have to carry the team, because as I've said before, Matt Ryan is not the same QB on the road. He struggles in outdoor games, which is weird because he played his college ball outdors in the northeast.
Like I said, this game is huge for Tampa Bay. It will make-or-break their playoff hopes. But, don't make the mistake of believing that this game is less meaningful for Atlanta, or that they'll be flat. They desperately need each remaining win to secure homefield throughout the playoffs, and considering Ryan's ridiculous 19-1 record at home, that's something they need more than any other team.
86% of the betting action is on Atlanta, which proves that nobody is buying into Tampa as a real team yet. I wish this line were 1 point or 2 lower, because I do think Atlanta probably wins. But I know Freeman will keep it close, and with a gun to my head I'd take the Bucs to cover. This is their biggest home game in years. Why are people always sticking guns to my head when I make my picks?!
Steelers (8-3) @ Ravens (8-3)
Predicted Line: BAL by 3
Actual Line: BAL by 3
Sometimes picking the line is too easy. Same record, equal teams, the home team will be favored by 3. That's seven exact lines.
This is being hyped as the Game of the Week because it will dictate the winner of the AFC North. But I think it should be mentioned that both of these teams are already IN the playoffs. The loser of this game will be earning one Wildcard, while the other goes to the Jets-Pats loser. So while this is a huge game, it's not a playoff-determining game. Why not? Because both teams still have Cleveland and Cincinnati remaining on the schedule, so they'll both win at least 10 games, and that'll be enough for the playoffs in the AFC because the Colts and Chargers are going to win their divisions with 9-7 records. My guess is the winner of this game finishes 12-4 and the loser goes 11-5.
OK. Onto the actual game.
Baltimore won the previous matchup 17-14 at Heinz Field, but that game featured Charlie Batch instead of Rapelisberger, which is obviously huge. But that game was also in Pittsburgh, and this one is in Baltimore. Also huge.
We've learned a lot since week 4; Rashard Mendenhall is the unquestioned centerpiece of the Pittsburgh offense; Ray Rice is more dangerous as a receiver than a runner; injuries to the offensive line have hurt both teams, especially Pittsburgh; Baltimore's defense is overrated against the run, giving up 101 yards per game and 4.2 YPC, compared to 64 yards per game and 3.0 YPC for Pittsburgh's historically good run defense; Pittsburgh secretly stinks at defending the pass, ranking 22nd in terms of passing yards allowed and 23rd in completion percentage allowed. Baltimore's pass defense is actually much better, especially since Ed Reed returned from the PUP list. They ranked 7th and 9th in the two aforementioned statistics, respectively. But one of the key differences in these defenses is pass rush; Pittsburgh has the second most sacks in the NFL with 32, while Baltimore's 19 sacks rank 28th best.
This should obviously be another low-scoring affair, and thus it makes sense to take the points and take Pittsburgh. Interesting fact: since the Roethlisberger-Flacco era began 3 years ago, this game has been decided by 4 or less points in 5 of 7 matchups. It's never been more than a 10 point game. I think that trend will continue, and I like the point. But I actually think the Steelers will win outright. But if they lose, it'll be by 3 points or less. Gimme dem Stellers en geddaff ma cotch. (Pittsburgh translation: Give me them Steelers, and get off my couch)
Jets (9-2) @ Patriots (9-2)
Predicted Line: NE by 3
Actual Line: NE by 3.5
Blast! If I had got that line exactly I would have picked 8 lines- HALF the games - exactly right. That would have been an accomplishment in itself.
But I should have smelled something fishy; everybody knows the Pats are an elite team and the Jets are a 9-2 team masquareding as elite but they have tons and tons of flaws. Starting with their quarterback Mark Sanchez, and his Derek Anderson-esque 55% completion percentage. And their washed up, overrated running back. And their vastly overrated pass defense which only ranks 12th best in the NFL, even though they talk about themselves like they're the 85 Bears.
But the most important distinction between these teams comes in the schedules. Listen to this and prepare to be blown away:
The Jets have beaten only ONE playoff team this season, and that was New England, week 2. Their other 8 wins are against Miami, Buffalo, Minnesota, Denver (because of a bad pass interference call), Detroit (because Suh missed an extra point and Detroit was unbelievably stupid), Cleveland (because the Browns fumbled in field goal range in OT), Houston (because the Texans blew a 16 point lead in the 4th quarter), and Cincinnati (because they stink). When they played elite defenses (Baltimore, Green Bay) they scored an average of less than 5 points per game. What's going to happen in the playoffs when they face either Baltimore or Pittsburgh?
The Pats, on the other hand, have beaten the four best teams in the AFC: Indy, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and San Diego. If you swap these teams' schedules, New England is 10-1 and the Jets are 6-5. No doubt in my mind. So, even if the Jets win this game, I'll still have no problem saying that New England is the better team.
So I am picking the Pats to win, and not just by 3; I think they'll win by 27. And here's why:
1) The last three times Belichick lost a divisional game and then faced that same team later on in the season, he won by 31, 20, and 17 points. He holds grudges. Especially against attention-hogging idiots like Rex Ryan. He'll run up the score and expose every weakness the Jets have.
2) Tom Brady knows how important this game is. The winner gets homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and a first round bye. The loser has to play either Manning or Rivers in the first round. The difference between Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez is like the difference between Kobe Bryant and Troy Murphy. It's embarassing.
This is the biggest regular season game of the year. And it's going to be all Pats.
That's all I got. Sorry these picks are later than usual. Go Lions.