Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Week 14 stuff

Started out awful, but nailed most of the late games and ended up 8-8 ATS and 13-3 straight-up, so I'm 141-67 SU and 108-93-7 ATS at this point.... Enormous game at Oakland this week.

Fortunately, the Raiders have fallen into holes of 34-0 and 31-0 in their last two games, so they may not be playing their best football right now. Let's hope that Suh returns with a vengenance and stomps all over Carson Palmer's throwing arm. Week 15 picks will be up soon.

Before we get to the picks, here are some random things I'm thinking about:

1) The Packers remaining schedule. They get Tyler Palko next week, then Caleb Hanie and the Forte-less Bears. Translation: they will incontrovertibly be 15-0 heading into week 17 against Detroit in Lambeau. In other words, Detroit needs to win three straight to make the playoffs. Dammit.

2) Speaking of the Packers, I heard some asshole say that Tim Tebow is now in the MVP discussion. Really? A quarterback who has 75 completions on the entire season? I hate people like that. I don't even remember who it was. Some jerk on the radio. Rodgers has already won the MVP and any discussion to the contrary is a waste of time. For the record, Brees and Brady are 2nd and 3rd, and nobody else deserves mention. It's called the Most Valuable Player, not the Nicest Christian Award.

3) On the topic of year-end awards, let's call it a two-man race between Mike McCarthy and Jim Harbaugh for Coach of the Year. Lots of other candidates (Tomlin, Kubiak, the other Harbaugh), but only two coaches have been consistently great all season. I'd give it to Harbaugh for doing so much with less talent, but if the Pack go 16-0 McCarthy certainly deserves it. I'll be fine either way. Just as long as Rex Ryan doesn't somehow take it.

4) Speaking of stupid coaches, what are the odds that Rob Ryan is a head coach next year in the NFL? Gotta be at least 90% right? That guy gets more TV time than any coordinator in the league. I also heard a pretty solid rumor that Mike Martz is interested in head coaching again and might head to the NCAA. Good riddance.

5) So what coaches can we expect to be fired this offseason? Jack Del Rio was long-deserving of the boot, and Jim Caldwell should have been fired 7 weeks ago. Steve Spagnuolo has done a terrible job with the Rams and is probably better suited as a D-coordinator. Todd Haley is in trouble in KC. Mike Shanahan is the worst coach in NFL history. And then there's the two big question marks: Andy Reid and Norv Turner. Both guys took ultratalented teams and wildly underperformed. They could both be fired, but my hunch is they both get one more year. Oh, and then there's Tony Sparano, who might have saved his job in Miami with a 4th win in 5 games.

6) The defensive MVP battle is wide open right now, unlike the offensive MVP. There are at least 6 deserving candidates. Jared Allen (14.5 sacks) and DeMarcus Ware (15 sacks) are this year's best pass rushers, while Woodson and Revis belong on the ballot once again. Polamalu has been too nicked-up, and the Ravens have about 5 elite defenders who all cancel each other out, although you could make a decent case for Terrell Suggs. Rookie Von Miller also belongs on the ballot, as does Clay Matthews, and Houston's Connor Barwin. But my vote goes to Patrick Willis, the cornerstone of San Fran's incredible defense. In his 5-year career, Willis has amassed an incredible 530 solo tackles, more than anyone else over that span.

Willis's numbers stack up neatly with the best middle linebacker of all time, Ray Lewis, who had 586 solo tackles after 5 seasons. Lewis won his first D-MVP in his 5th season, and I think Willis will do the same.

Here's my D-MVP ballot:
1. Patrick Willis
2. DeMarcus Ware
3. Jared Allen
4. Darelle Revis
5. Von Miller
6. Connor Barwin
7. Charles Woodson
8. Clay Matthews

7) Everybody hates the BCS, and finally people aren't afraid to say it. Boise State's head coach has been respectfully applauding the retarted system for years, and finally had enough. After his team was sentenced to play in the ShitFarm Bowl against Aquinas College, he spoke up and basically said what everybody's thinking: "This sucks. Change the dang system."

8) As much as I hate college football, I am excited about two things: the Draft, and the Heisman. Both are totally unpredictable this year. Andrew Luck will go #1 overall, and that's pretty much the only thing we know.

Over the last decade, I don't think the Heisman has been a surprise once; it's usually decided by November. But this year, it's a three-man race between Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Trent Richardson. Any of them could fairly win it. Personally, I would vote for Luck, but I also think Griffin deserves to win and will win. I wouldn't be upset if Richardson won either; he only amassed 1,900 yards and 23 TDs with a sick 6.0 YPC. (Compared to former teammate Mark Ingram, who won the Heisman in '09 with almost identical stats but fewer TDs).

So why would I vote for Luck instead of Griffin? Their numbers are both unbelievable, and Griffin surprisingly has a better completion percentage and more passing TDs, as well as rushing stats that most running backs would be happy with. But you've got to look at the schedules. Luck played against the Pac 10, while Griffin went 20/22 with 3 TDs against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Seriously, who??????

Griffin also racked up 6 TDs in a beatdown of the Rice Owls. So, while it was impressive to see Baylor finish the season with wins against Oklahoma and Texas, you've got to take Griffin's gaudy stats with a grain of, well, Rice.

College football enthusiasts (aka losers) will say "Don't give Luck the Heisman just because he's going to be the better pro!" And I agree. But give Luck the Heisman because he went 11-1 against a tough schedule.

9) Speaking of the three Heisman hopefuls, did I mention I was pretty excited about the Draft in April? The great thing about this particular Heisman race is that the three leading candidates all project to be awesome pros.

As I look at Luck and Griffin, I see pretty clear NFL equivalents, and they're two guys who are having unbelievable seasons. Luck is a bearded Pac 10 pocket passer with 4.75 speed and more athleticism than you think; his arm strength and accuracy are almost perfect. In other words, he's a clone of Aaron Rodgers. Luck is actually 2 inches taller than Rodgers. And I seriously think if he can grasp NFL playbooks and understand NFL defenses (no easy task, mind you), he'll be one of the 5 best QBs in the league as soon as next year.

Griffin, on the other hand, is an ultra-athletic quarterback with the mobility and speed of a running back, but an unexpectedly smooth ability to throw the football. He came out of no where this season and will end up winning the Heisman and going early in the 1st round. The NFL equivalent is easy: Cam Newton.

Both Newton and Griffin run a 4.50 and have the mobility to extend plays while keeping their eyes downfield. Newton is bigger and more able to shed tacklers, but Griffin may end up being the faster NFL quarterback, with a Vick-esque ability to break 50-yard runs. But make no mistake - Robert Griffin III can throw the ball, better than Vick, Vince Young, Tebow, any of the guys he'll be compared to. Because of the incredible success of Newton's rookie season (not to mention Tebow slowly transforming the NFL into a run-focused league), I think Griffin will end up a top 8 pick in the Draft, going to either Miami or Washington.

Then there's Richardson, a freak of an athlete and maybe the best prospect in this Draft outside of Andrew Luck. He runs a 4.42 and benches almost 500 pounds. At 5'11", 220 lbs, he's got the frame of a Marion Barber but the skill-set of a smaller guy like Ray Rice. His potential in the NFL is limitless; he can be a goal-line guy, a third-down guy, a complete package. He'll probably drop in the Draft like running backs always do, but it would be insane if he fell past pick 10 or 12. Look at what DeMarco Murray is doing this year - a third-round pick! Richardson is better than at least half the starting RBs in the league right now and he hasn't even played his last college game yet.

10) Final thoughts on the Draft: it appears that Minnesota and St. Louis will be picking 2 and 3 in some order. Neither team needs a new quarterback, so it'll likely be OT Matt Kalil and WR Justin Blackmon, unless somebody wants to trade up for Griffin or QB Matt Barkley. The rest of the 1st round is a complete unknown. Six teams are currently 4-8 and and five teams are 5-7. That means a team like Philly could pick anywhere from 4th to 15th, depending on how they play over the next four weeks. I think some teams, particularly those with dead-duck coaches or seeking new QBs, will be in full-fledged tank mode.

11) Looking ahead to the playoffs, it really seems like only 3 teams from each side have a legit chance. You know who they are.

In the AFC, it's New England, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Houston is doing great things on defense, but let's all just be honest, T.J. Yates isn't winning the Super Bowl. In the NFC, Green Bay, New Orleans and San Fran have a major edge on the rest of the conference. Those teams went 3-0 this week, while the rest of the NFC playoff hopefuls went 0-7. With Detroit playing like a bunch of retards and Chicago losing Matt Forte, it's up to either Dallas or Atlanta to throw a wrench in the NFC playoffs. I don't see that happening, although it's more likely than Yates, Tebow or Sanchez winning a playoff game in the AFC.

But what's ultimately going to matter is homefield. Either Baltimore or Pittsburgh will be awarded a first-round bye, and the other will have to waste its time beating up an inferior opponent. Most likely, Baltimore gets the bye, since they have the tie-breaker. That's assuming the Ravens don't stupidly lose to the Browns or Colts.

The Packers already have homefield clinched, but it'll be interesting to see whether San Fran (10-2) can hold off the Saints (9-3) for the bye. New Orleans doesn't want to lose in the first round like they did last year against stupid Seattle, in what I will always remember as the stupidest football game of my lifetime.

Before the year started, I picked SD over NE and NO over GB, with the Saints beating the Bolts 35-27. Obviously the Chargers are going no where (though mathematically still alive), so I will change my AFC pick to Baltimore over New England. I still like the NFC side, and I still like Brees to go 24-33, 315 yards, 4 TDs and win his second Super Bowl MVP.

12) Looking back at the rest of my preseason predictions, I obviously whiffed on the MVPs (Rivers and Mario Williams), although Williams might have had a chance if he hadn't got hurt. I also missed O-ROY (Ingram) and Comeback Player (Romo), but I nailed four other picks. Here they are:

-McCarthy, Coach of the Year
-Von Miller, D-ROY
-Jack Del Rio, First Coach Fired
-Peyton's neck, Most Annoying Storyline

With that, let's begin the Week 14 Picks.

Browns (4-8) @ Steelers (9-3)
Thursday night

Predicted Line: PIT by 11.5
Actual Line: PIT by 14

You may have noticed I've been less vocal about my disdain for the Steelers this season. I'm not sure why. Maybe my football-related hatred has been directed at the Bears, Jets, really bad commentators, and the BCS, so I haven't had much to say about the Steelers this year. To review: they think they are so cool because they beat up on a crappy division, their players are thugs, their fans are clueless, their fans talk weird, their fans have this gross sense of entitlement and arrogance even though they have no idea what they're talking about, Roethlisberger is a dirtbag, Bettis was never anything more than a glorified fullback, Harrison belongs in a mental hospital, and it's impossible to drive around Pittsburgh without getting carsick and/or lost. That pretty much covers it.

For this game, I actually want the Steelers -14, even though the line is too high and the Steelers' 35-7 win against Cincy was closer than the score made it look. The Bengals actually outgained Pittsburgh in the first half, but fumbled a kick return, had a TD called back on a penalty, and gave up a punt return for a TD. That could have easily been a 21-20 game instead of 35-7. But the Steelers did dominate in the second half once Dalton was forced to throw, and now that Woodley and Polamalu are healthy, the defense is really clicking. They haven't allowed more than 17 points to anybody except Baltimore all year, and the Browns have only scored 20 once since week 2. Also, Ben Roethlisberger might be playing the best football of his entire career, but nobody is really noticing. I'll go Pittsburgh 33-10.

Colts (0-12) @ Ravens (9-3)
Predicted Line: BAL by 17.5
Actual Line: BAL by 16.5

My rooting interests over the next 4 weeks look like this, in order of importance:

1. Lions make the playoffs
a. Lions win
b. Bears, Falcons, Giants, Cowboys lose
2. Colts go 0-16
3. Packers don't go 16-0
4. Jets miss the playoffs; Steelers don't get the bye

If the Lions do end up missing the postseason, it will be at least somewhat redeemed if Indy ends up going 0-16. That's a definite possibility with Mr. 0-16 himself, Dan Orlovsky, leading the charge. Seriously, what are the odds of a kid growing up in Connecticut, playing college football well enough to get drafted in the 5th round, and then quarterbacking two different NFL teams to the only two 0-16 seasons in history? It's equal parts hilarious and tragic.

Unfortunately, I believe the Colts will win week 17, at Jacksonville, in their last effort to avoid a winless season. The Jags are terrible, they're tanking for a top 5 pick, and they just lost their coach. Once Indy clinches the #1 pick, they'll be playing week 17 like it's the Super Bowl.

But this game is not even going to be close. Unlike New England last week, Baltimore will not allow any backdoor garbage TDs. Their defense has too much pride. I like the Ravens 23-0.

Falcons (8-4) @ Panthers (4-8)
Predicted Line: ATL by 1.5
Actual Line: ATL by 3

Matt Ryan was downright awful last week against Houston, leading his offense to just 10 points. Atlanta's offensive line hasn't been the same since losing Harvey Dahl in free agency; Ryan has been sacked 22 times this year in 12 games, compared to 23 sacks all of last year. His stats are down across the board, despite the addition of Julio Jones. Meanwhile, Dahl has done nothing to help the Rams offense. Strange.

The Falcons have really struggled to score points on the road for the last several years, especially outdoors. That trend figures to be a nonfactor against the Panthers' 32nd ranked pass defense. For Carolina to have a chance of winning, they'll need to rack up at least 28 points. And fortunately, I think they can.

Atlanta's D will be without CBs Brent Grimes and Kelvin Hayden, and Cam Newton has played arguably his best football over the past 2 weeks, both road wins. He hasn't turned the ball over since his 4-INT game in Detroit, and he is really maturing as a well-rounded quarterback. I was totally sold on Matt Ryan just a couple season ago, but now, I'm not so sure that Newton isn't the better QB in this game. And with both teams being nearly equal offensively, I guess I'll side with the homedog.

Panthers 34-23. Probably wishful thinking. But oh well.

Texans (9-3) @ Bengals (7-5)
Predicted Line: CIN by 3
Actual Line: CIN by 3

The Bengals' playoff hopes are riding on this game, and they're lucky enough to get the Texans without Andre Johnson. So it'll be plenty of Arian Foster running into a crowd of Bengals, and TJ Yates throwing on 3rd downs. That sounds like a recipe for disaster ... but I actually think Yates will fare okay. Cincy's secondary has plenty of injuries, as does their pass rush.

On the other side of the ball, Jonathan Joseph has an edge over AJ Green, and that'll throw the entire Bengals offense out of whack, forcing Dalton to throw into coverage on other parts of the field with the mighty Texans pass rush chasing after him. I could be dead wrong pinning my hopes to TJ Yates on the road two weeks in a row, but I see Houston pulling off another resilient win and slamming the door on Cincy's playoff hopes. Texans 23-16.

Chiefs (5-7) @ Jets (7-5)
Predicted Line: NYJ by 7
Actual Line: NYJ by 9

Long, long ago the Chiefs were a great home team who struggled on the road. For some reason, that isn't the case anymore. While the Chiefs aren't exactly undefeated on the road, they are at least competitive. As a road underdog, they are 23-13 ATS since 2007, including an impressive 5-1 ATS in back-to-back road games. Because of the hideous play of Tyler Palko, this line is quite a bit too high. The Jets only looked good last week because Washington is such a wreck.

Also, the KC defense is actually pretty decent, especially at the corner positions. So don't expect much from Mark Sanchez. Maybe 2 TDs, 2 picks, and lots of inaccurate passes. Of course, KC's offense won't score much either, especially with Revis shutting down Dwayne Bowe. I like the Jets outright - their playoff lives depend on this game - but they'll sweat it out, 20-17.

Vikings (2-10) @ Lions (7-5)
Predicted Line: None, Peterson gametime decision
Actual Line: None

With AP, this will probably be DET by 5.5; without him, maybe 7.5. Let's say 6.5, but in any event, I want the points, because I actually think the Vikings might win outright. I wouldn't give the Lions any better than a 51% chance of winning this game. Too much unraveling going on right now, thanks to two straight national TV games in which we got exposed as the undisciplined, unfocused idiots that we have been since the preseason, when I wrote the following prophesy:

...Detroit needs to respond on the field with great execution of their gameplan, not with stupid violence or tomfoolery. I love everything about Ndamukong Suh's vicious attitude, but I don't like when the rest of the defense initiates fights just because they want to be tough like him.

The problem is, now the offensive players are creating just as much ruckus as Suh and his cohorts. It was a total team meltdown Sunday night. Titus Young throwing the ball at a defender like it was 7th grade recess; Burleson committing 3 offensive interference penalties; Pettigrew shoving a referee like he just hit on his girlfriend. If Suh had done that, he would have been ejected, suspended, fined, and maybe kicked out of the league permanently. But whatever. It was embarrassing, not only for the fans, but for the players, coaches, and everyone who bleeds Honolulu Blue.

Now Detroit prepares for a must-win game against a division rival who is much better than their 2-10 record and would love to spoil our season. Detroit would have lost to McNabb's Vikings if not for a huge comeback, and now we get the improved Ponder Vikings. Of course, Suh is suspended, Houston and Delmas are hurt, Kevin Smith is hurt ... so I don't have any expectations for a win. The only thing working in Detroit's favor is Minnesota's crappy secondary (who just got torched by Tim Tebow), but to take advantage of that mismatch Stafford is going to need time to throw, and with Jared Allen opposite Jeff Backus I never have a good feeling. Stafford has looked really gunshy the last few weeks, like he's lost his moxie in the pocket and is just waiting to get sacked. But who knows, maybe Calvin will finally have another monster game. He is certainly due.

It's tough to make a pick with AP out. He certainly changes the entire complexion of the game. But let's just say Lions 30-27.

Saints (9-3) @ Titans (7-5)
Predicted Line: NO by 8.5
Actual Line: NO by 3.5

Wow. I don't think I've missed a line by 5 points in the entire time since I've been doing picks. Why the crap are the Saints only 4 point favorites?? I'm probably missing something here, and no disrespect to the Titans, but the Saints are just too good. I'm not going to overthink it, I'll just take the Saints, 34-20.

Eagles (4-8) @ Dolphins (4-8)
Predicted Line: MIA by 3.5
Actual Line: MIA by 3

How far the mighty Eagles have fallen. [Insert joke here about "dream team" and "nightmare."] What reason do they have to try now? Vick will be back in the lineup, but with his $100 million contract, what does he care if the Eagles fall to 4-9 or 4-12 for that matter? That just means he'll get a better teammate in the draft.

Miami is playing out of their minds right now, and it's about time I recognize that. Matt Moore is giving one hell of an effort to keep his starting job. It's reminiscient of what Ryan Fitzpatrick did last year, leading the Bills away from the #1 pick and saving his job in the process. Fitz got rewarded with a nice contract, and Moore might pull off the same move.

But I doubt it. Miami actually has some stud players at some pretty key positions (LT, DE, CB, WR), so if they can find themselves a franchise QB they might be a darn good team next year. Maybe Moore will earn a starting job elsewhere next year if the Fins draft Barkley or Griffin III.

I like Miami to win easily, let's say 34-17.

Patriots (9-3) @ Redskins (4-8)
Predicted Line: NE by 10.5
Actual Line: NE by 7.5

With the Jets up 20-16 and 4:30 remaining, Washington got the ball with plenty of time to march down the field, score 7, and win. I got excited for a split-second about the possibility of the Jets losing and missing the playoffs ... and then, they showed Mike Shanahan's grumpy, expression-less face on the sideline, and I could tell that all he was thinking was "... 97 Broncos ... I'm a genius ... Elway Elway Elway ... running back by committee ... 98 Broncos ... maybe next week I'll put Santana Moss at running back just to screw with everyone ... "

Then, a turnover, some penalties, terrible tackling, and all the Jets win by 15 instead of 4. Now, Washington's two best offensive players (LT Trent Williams and TE Fred Davis) are suspended for drug issues. So I've got to wonder, why the crap is this line so low?

Ohhhh yeah, I just remembered. This is the 2011 Patriots, not the 2007 Patriots. These guys don't play any defense and they gave up 24 points to Dan Orlovsky last week. No reason to think Rexy can't put up 300 yards and a garbage TD or two. So let's take the points; Washington's pass rush is pretty good. 27-20, Pats.

Bucs (4-8) @ Jaguars (3-9)
Predicted Line: TB by 1.5
Actual Line: None (Freeman?)

Both of these teams got decimated last week; both defenses are ravaged by injuries. If Josh Freeman plays for Tampa, I like the Bucs to be favored by 1.5, and I'll take them by 3. If Josh Johnson starts again, we'll say the line is JAC by 1.5 and I'll take the Jags by 3.

49ers (10-2) @ Cardinals (5-7)
Predicted Line: SF by 6.5
Actual Line: SF by 3.5

Interestingly enough, the Cards have won 4 of their last 5 games, with the only loss against San Francisco. What's changed has been their defense: they've faced 6 good running backs in a row (Murray, Gore, Rice, McCoy, and Jackson twice) and held them to an average of 77 yards per game. This isn't the same Arizona team that started 1-6. I'm not ready to say they're good or even underrated, but the defense is taking shape under Ken Whisenhunt, and they've got a true stud to build around in Patrick Peterson.

But their problem exists mostly on the offensive line. They've given up 41 sacks, the 2nd most in the league behind St. Louis. Kevin Kolb has proven that he's better suited as a backup and not a franchise QB, something Arizona wishes they would have known before they gave him a monster contract.

For this game, I'm taking the homedog for three reasons:
1. San Fran doesn't have much to play for. They've clinched the division now, and they haven't played a bad game all season and they've been due for a letdown all year. Every new playoff team has a pre-playoff letdown game.
2. The Cards are a good homedog team. They're 13-6 ATS under Whisenhunt in homedog situations.
3. The main reason I'm taking Arizona straight up, and the reason this line is 3.5 and not 7.5, is because San Fran's best player is out. Patrick Willis could probably play if the Niners needed him, but now that they've clinched the division they're wisely playing it safe and keeping him out. Without Willis, I don't know if San Fran's defense can stop anybody, even Kevin Kolb.

So what the heck. I'm taking Arizona, 27-26.

Bears (7-5) @ Broncos (7-5)
Predicted Line: DEN by 3
Actual Line: DEN by 3.5

Broncos have won 5 straight, 4 of which were on the road. Now Tebow triumphantly returns home and the Denver crowd will be insane. It's a shame Cutler won't be playing against his former team, because the fans would really give him some serious crap. But Caleb Hanie probably won't fare well against the crowd noise either. Especially not without Matt Forte. That Bears offense is really going to struggle against one of the hottest defenses in the NFL.

But it's tempting to take the points, because all Tebow does is win close games. He's won the last three games by 3, 3 and 4. But something about the Denver crowd makes me thing Tebow is due for his first big blowout. I will say Broncos 34-13.

Raiders (7-5) @ Packers (12-0)
Predicted Line: GB by 11
Actual Line: GB by 11

Even though Rodgers has covered as a favorite more than two-thirds of the time in his career, I think this game ends up being closer than 11. Just a hunch. It could certainly be a blowout, but with Woodson out and Oakland playing for their lives, I am only taking the Packers by 7.

Bills (5-7) @ Chargers (5-7)
Predicted Line: SD by 10
Actual Line: SD by 7

San Diego is coming off their best game of the season, and they're feeling just a little twinge of hope that their playoff chances aren't over. Buffalo, meanwhile, is crushed by injuries and just can't wait for this season to end. I like the Bolts by 13.

Giants (6-6) @ Cowboys (7-5)
Line: DAL by 3

These NFC East games always baffle me. I guess I'll take the Giants straight up ...

Rams (2-10) @ Seahawks (5-7)
Monday night
Line: SEA by 4

Sam Bradford is not practicing and not expecting to play. AJ Feeley is out with a broken thumb. So... it will be Tom Brandstater starting for the Rams. Yes, that is a real person.

Here's the Wikipedia rundown - 6th round pick in 2009, played college at Fresno State, MVP of the Humanitarian Bowl in 2007, never played an NFL snap, has been on and off the Rams practice squad 3 times this year.

So, while I'm not a big fan of Tavaris Jackson, I guess I've gotta take the Seahawks -4.

Wait a second... is our Monday Night Football matchup really Tavaris Jackson against Tom Brandstater?? How did that happen?

Go Lions.

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