Hey guys. Sorry it's Saturday night and I'm just now getting to the picks. Kind of a crazy week ... still no baby, but soon!
No Lions game this week, but plenty of routing interest. All of Detroit's playoff competition is in action, including a Philly-Chicago Monday nighter. The Falcons get an auto-win against the Colts, but the rest of the NFC Wildcard contenders have tough games. Tampa plays at New Orleans, the Giants play New England, and the Cowboys ... well, they play Seattle, but no game is easy for the idiotic Cowboys. As for the rest of week 9, I'm hoping for a Ravens romp over the Steelers, which would give them the upper-hand in the AFC North. Baltimore's next five games include 4 gimmies (Indy, Seattle, Cleveland, Cincy). Other games of intrigue include Packers @ Chargers, Tebow @ Raiders, and Jets @ Bills. Without further ado ...
Seahawks (2-5) @ Cowboys (3-4)
Predicted Line: DAL by 10.5
Actual Line: DAL by 11
Tavaris is back in the lineup. Not sure if that's a good thing or not for Seattle. Dallas's defense can't really stop anybody, but the Hawks have no playmakers on offense whatsoever. That probably means Seattle scores somewhere between 13 and 20. For Dallas to cover they're going to need to score 30, and I don't trust their offense as much as I probably should. Let's say Cowboys 23-14.
Final score: 23-13. I was pretty darn close. Dallas continues to stink in the red zone, and Miles Austin is out for at least 2 weeks. But the good news ...
DeMarco Murray racked up 139 yards against the league's 2nd best run defense. In three starts, he has YPCs of 10.1, 9.3, and 6.3. On the season, it's 80 carries for 539 yards - a 6.7 average. Oh, and he holds the all-purpose yardage record at Oklahoma (3,685 rushing, 1,571 receiving), so it's safe to say he'll serve as the 3rd down back in Dallas and catch plenty of passes. In other words, Felix Jones is dead, and can be found next year for 75 cents at the Salvation Army store.
I might be getting ahead of myself, but I really think Murray is very close to surpassing Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles, and whoever else, to being the heir apparent to Adrian Peterson for "Best Running Back Alive." Not right now, but maybe twelve months from now. He is definitely the real deal. Dallas might just ride him to a playoff spot. I will ask once again ... Why didn't he get drafted until the 3rd round??????
49ers (6-1) @ Redskins (3-4)
Predicted Line: Whatever it is, it should be higher
Actual Line: SF by 4
I don't usually change my opinion of a team in the middle of a season, but with San Fran I don't have a choice. They are for real. They might have the second best defense in the NFL (behind Baltimore) and on offense they have Frank Gore healthy for the first time in five years. And their coach is doing a great job calling plays. They actually terrify me when I think about the NFC playoffs. Washington just keeps getting more miserable. Shanahan needs to go; Niners by 13.
San Fran won by only 8, but they outplayed them by about 28. They settled for 4 field goals and didn't give up a TD until 1:10 left when the game was basically over. John Beck was a checkdown machine, throwing 14 completions to rookie RB Roy Helu. This allowed Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman (who have emerged as the league's best LB tandem) to rack up 21 tackles, which allowed me to win one of my IDP fantasy leagues in which I own both guys. Alex Smith continues his efficient play (17/24, 200 yards, no picks), and Gore rushes for 100 yards for the fifth straight week.
With a 5 game lead over 2-6 Seattle and 2-6 Arizona, San Fran could literally forfeit the next 7 games and still make the playoffs. Heck, maybe they'll play Colin Kaepernick just to see how he does.
Dolphins (0-7) @ Chiefs (4-3)
Predicted Line: KC by 6.5
Actual Line: KC by 4
Here's the thing ... with Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry out, Miami actually has the better team. Being 0-7 has more to do with poor coaching than anything else. Also, they have the worst homefield advantage in football. But on paper, they have a lockdown corner, a great pass rusher, and an elite left tackle. KC doesn't really have any good players except Tamba Hali, who will be neutralized by Jake Long. Long story short ... I am taking the Fins and the upset, 24-10.
One of my more brilliant calls of the year, Miami picked up their first victory in a 31-3 game that wasn't quite as lopsided as the score indicates. KC actually had 9 more minutes of possesion, did better on third down, and didn't commit a single turnover. But they were undone by terrible field possession (began their first five drives on the 22, 6, 17, 14, and 9) and a few sacks on 3rd downs which knocked them out of field goal range. Matt Moore, on the other hand, was fiendishly brilliant, going 17/23 for 244 and 3 scores, with no turnovers and no sacks. I think we may need to consider the possibility that the AFC West is just as bad as the NFC West.
Jets (4-3) @ Bills (5-2)
Predicted Line: BUF by 2.5
Actual Line: BUF by 2.5
Putting aside my aversion for Rex Ryan, I have to admit I see this game as all Jets. Mangold is healthy, and Bills NT Kyle Williams is out. It could be a big week for Shonn Green. But mainly I just foresee a shutdown defensive week for the Bills. Revis will eliminate Stevie Johnson, and I guess I'm just not buying the Fred Jackson hype just yet. This is his chance to prove he is for real. We'll see. I'll take Jets 27-6.
Well, Fred Jackson did okay, but the Jets D proved why Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't really a playoff quarterback, and now the AFC East is a 3-way tie. It was lots of fun when the Bills were 3-0, but as I said then, all they accomplished was a nice start to an 8-8 year. Jets have won 3 straight and host New England next week on Sunday night.
Browns (3-4) @ Texans (5-3)
Predicted Line: HOU by 12.5
Actual Line: HOU by 10.5
Andre Johnson's out, so is Peyton Hillis. I tend to think this line is too high, but I'm not really sure if Cleveland can score any points. Last week Houston was favored by 9.5 and I took the points; they won by 10. Maybe I'm not learning anything ... but I'm taking the points again. Texans 20-13.
I hate the Texans. Since losing Andre and Mario, they've won 3 straight games by margins of 34, 10 and 18. Their defense ranks 5th in the NFL right now, and I don't think that's a fluke. Nice job by Wade Phillips.
Bucs (4-3) @ Saints (5-3)
Predicted Line: NO by 5.5
Actual Line: NO by 8.5
The spread seems a little high doesn't it? These NFC South battles are usually close, Tampa is finally healthy, and the Saints just lost to the Rams. You could say they'll be playing pissed off, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll blow out a pretty good team. I do like the Saints to win - Drew Brees is just too good to be 5-4, but I think it'll be close. How about New Orleans 24-20.
Tampa was going to cover until the Saints kicked a field goal with 1:17 left. Freeman actually played his best game of the season. But now, sitting at 4-4 with games against Houston and Green Bay the next two weeks, and Gerald McCoy out for the season, Tampa's playoff hopes are dwindling.
By the way, I still really like my preseason pick of New Orleans over Green Bay in the NFC Championship game.
Falcons (4-3) @ Indy (0-8)
Predicted Line: ATL by 13.5
Actual Line: ATL 6.5
If my upset special is correct and Miami beats KC outright, Indy's players will be doing backflips in the locker room after the game. They are WAY more interested in the Luck Sweepstakes than winning any games in 2011. I don't think the same can be said for the Dolphins. They remind me of the 08 Lions; awful coach, awful QBs, and a bunch of underachieving players. Tony Sparano actually reminds me a lot of Marinelli.
I don't especially like Atlanta, and it's tough to pick a road team to cover a touchdown. But it's impossible to take Indy right now against anybody. Falcons 34-14.
How much longer is Jim Caldwell going to keep his job? This is getting embarrassing. In other news, it was nice to see Julio Jones score his first TD on a 50 yard bomb. And then his second TD a few minutes later, on an 80 yard bomb. It was also nice to bench him in the B league.
The Colts offense attempted 33 passes and gained 103 yards on those, a stunning 3.12 YPA. That might be the worst YPA I've ever seen. Anyone else remember hearing things like "The reason Peyton Manning is so good is because he has such good receivers ..." Or how about when people used to defend Joey Harrington by saying "Put Peyton Manning on this team and we'd still be 2-14." It seems that we are learning a lot from the 2011 Colts.
Broncos (2-5) @ Raiders (4-3)
Predicted Line: OAK by 5.5 (McFadden out)
Actual Line: Oak by 7
I'm giving Tebow another week. I think last week was simply a culmination of a playing against a great and angry defense, tons of personal pressure from the media, and just a few unlucky plays. He was really bad, but I think his stats made him look worse than he really was. I still think he's got a shot to succeed in the NFL someday. And I have no doubt that he's the superior quarterback in this contest. Palmer is done. He and McNabb should go have a picnic at Favre's ranch and talk about how great 2004 was.
If McFadden were playing, Palmer's awfulness wouldn't matter. But Michael Bush doesn't have big-play explosiveness, and if Denver can force lots of 3rd and longs they can use their great pass rushers to hurry Palmer and create some turnovers... Oh crap, I'm head over heels in love with Tebow. What happened to me??? Denver 23-20.
No big deal, just 118 rushing yards, 2 passing TDs, zero turnovers, 24 unanswered points, and a 14-point win on the road against a division rival. Go ahead everybody, keep hating on Tim Tebow. But Carson Palmer is the one who deserves scorn. 28 INTs in his last 20 games, a QB rating of 53.9 so far with the Raiders, and two straight bad loses. How's that 1st round pick looking now Hue Jackson?
Bengals (5-2) @ Titans (4-3)
Predicted Line: TEN by 3
Actual Line: TEN by 3
I don't see the Bengals winning 5 straight. That's all. Titans 24-16.
Dang, Andy Dalton strikes again! Cincy 24-17. The Bengals are now tied atop the AFC North. Three of their next four games are against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, so while it's very likely they'll fall back into mediocrity, it's also conceivable that they could control their own destiny and win the division.
Here's an interesting possibility: if the Bengals do somehow beat Pittsburgh and/or Baltimore and finish in the range of 9-7 or 10-6, would Dalton be considered for Rookie of the Year? His passing numbers are nearly identical to Newton's, and while Cam has 320 rushing yards compared to Dalton's 26, Newton also has a 2-6 record on a team that might actually be more talented than Dalton's Bengals. It's probably not going to happen, especially because the Steelers' and Ravens' defenses will almost certainly pummel Dalton's head into the turf, but shoot, it's at least worth a thought. And the amazing thing is: I think Christian Ponder might be the best rookie QB in the 2011 draft class.
Rams (1-6) @ Cardinals (1-6)
Predicted Line: ARZ by 3
Actual Line: ARZ by 3
I know the Rams should win, but I doubt they will. Who cares. Cardinals 26-20 in OT.
Wow. This was the first time all year I predicted an overtime game, and I not only nailed it, but nailed the Cards by 6 as well. This was Patrick Peterson's 3rd punt return for a TD, and all 3 have been at least 80 yards. The Rams are PATHETIC. 383 yards of offense, 23 first downs, 37 minutes of possession, and NO touchdowns?
Giants (5-2) @ Patriots (5-2)
Predicted Line: NE by 6.5
Actual Line: NE by 9
I feel like this should be a close, high-scoring, Pats 34-31 game, but with Bradshaw and Nicks out I am taking the Pats to cover. I'll say 35-24.
Yuck. All this "ELIte Manning" stuff is making me sick to my stomach. If Eli was really so great, he would have been able to beat Washington and Seattle, and he would have beat Arizona and Miami by more than 4 points apiece. Let's see how he does the next five weeks - @SF, PHI, @NO, GB, @DAL. If you recall, back in August I said the Giants would need to begin the year 6-1 to have a chance at 10-6 and the playoffs. This game was certainly monumental for their chances. But there is still some brutal football to be played.
Patriots lost 2 games in a row for only the 3rd time in 8 years. The '08 Lions, by contrast, lost 2 games in a row 8 times in a row.
Unrelated sidenote: it's time for ESPN to end their radio-relationship with Mike Ditka. I get that he's a legend and a Hall of Famer, but he has nothing to say, and it's insulting to hear his analysis. It's obvious that he doesn't follow the game closely anymore, that he couldn't name more than 5 players on any team except maybe the Bears, and that's fine with me. He can do whatever he wants. But find someone to put on the radio who knows more than I do. Please.
This was Ditka's analysis this morning of the upcoming Bears-Eagles game: "Well I think it's a heck of a football game between two really good football teams. You talk about running the football, heck!, both of these teams can run the football." Thanks Ditka. Maybe next week you can inform us what color the grass is.
Packers (7-0) @ Chargers (4-3)
Predicted Line: GB by 4.5
Actual Line: GB by 5.5
I picked the Chargers to go 14-2, I picked Rivers to win the MVP, and I fully expect them to bounce back and win the AFC West (which might only require 9 wins). But this week they are just overmatched. San Diego could play thier best possible game and still lose. I'd like to take the points, but I can't bet against Rodgers right now. GB 37-27.
After the bye, Detroit plays @Chicago and then hosts Carolina. We absolutely need to win both of those games, because right now we need to consider Thanksgiving an automatic loss. Green Bay is going 16-0.
Ravens (5-2) @ Steelers (6-2)
Predicted Line: PIT by 3.5
Actual Line: PIT by 3
This is always a 3-point game. Take the points. Actually, Baltimore is the better team and has fewer injury issues. I like the Ravens by 3.
Ravens by 3 was one of my many good calls this week. I went 9-4 ATS (11-2 straight-up) with one game remaining.
I'm very close to switching my MNF pick to Bears+8, mainly because I'm not even convinced the Eagles will win outright. If Philly wins, it'll probably be high-scoring, something like 34-24. But Vick hasn't been good enough this season to earn my confidence against Peppers and the Bears D. Plus Matt Forte matches up really well with the soft underbelly of the Eagles defense. Okay, I'm convinced. Bears win 24-23.
Bears (4-3) @ Eagles (3-4)
Predicted Line: PHI by 3.5
Actual Line: PHI by 8
The line seems really high, but I am going with Philly 31-19. *EDIT* See above.
My last-minute switched helped me finish 10-4 this week, and a scorching 12-2 straight-up. I picked 5 underdogs to win outright, and all 5 of them did. Crazy.
Cutler played pretty well for the third straight game, but he wasn't exactly dominant. The Eagles just gave this game away again. Vick was erratic, inaccurate, confused, sloppy ... all the things people accuse Tim Tebow of. It was Vick's worst game of the season statistically, and it came at the worst possible time. Now Philly's 3-5 and has five teams to chase in the Wildcard race. I still think they have a shot (easy win next week against ARZ will help), but it's a long shot.
The Bears, on the other hand, have won 3 straight since the 9-false-start MNF loss at Detroit. The offensive line seems to have figured things out (only 3 sacks allowed in the last 3 games combined, despite facing Jared Allen & Babin/Cole), and Cutler is not making as many mistakes. They trail Detroit by one game and will host the rested Lions next Sunday. Detroit has had 2 weeks to prepare for this game; Chicago only 5 days. That is a gift that Detroit's coaching staff will hopefully take advantage of.
To channel my inner Mike Ditka: "It's a huge football game. Two good football teams playing good football, and let's see what the guys can do on the football field!"
Week 9: 10-4 ATS (12-2 straight up)
Season: 68-57-5 (87-43 straight up)