Week 15 :
Sitting at 108-93-7 going into week 15 (a 53.7% percentage), my goal is an average of 10-6 over the next three weeks, which would get me above 55% by the end of the season. Fortunately, this week of games looks relatively easy. Here are the week 15 picks, but first a quick recap of the last week:
-Todd Haley and Tony Sparano fired; Crennel and McDaniels are rumored replacements in KC; get ready to hear the names Gruden, Dungy, and Cowher a billion times each; at least 3 more head coaches will be fired by the end of the year, the most deserving of which is Jim Caldwell; DeMarco Murray and Greg Jennings are out for the rest of the regular season; James Harrison suspended 1 game for helmet-to-helmeting Colt McCoy; Elway voices approval of Tebow for the first time; Houston clinches their first postseason berth ever, thus removing the ugly stigma of being the only franchise in major American sports to have never played in a playoff game; Marshawn Lynch has become a legitimate top 10 running back in the NFL; DeSean Jackson is almost certainly not going to be on the Eagles next year; all 4 Wildcard spots are up for grabs and unexpected teams (Seattle, San Diego, Philly) are still alive; only 3 divisions are still up for grabs, and they're neck-and-neck (that's the AFC South, AFC West, and NFC East); Packers going for 16-0 and the only remaining challenge will be the Lions (week 17); Colts going for 0-16 and the only winnable game is Jacksonville (week 17); Vikings and Rams fighting for the #2 pick in the Draft (Mall Kalil); the Bucs and Bills, both promising young teams, have both lost 6 straight thanks to a myriad of injuries; lots of teams are heading into the playoffs on big winning streaks: Pats and Saints (5 straight wins); Ravens and Steelers (4 straight); Broncos (6 straight); Texans (7 straight); and of course the Packers (18 straight). And lastly, get ready to hear the names Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck in the same sentence about 600 trillion times between now and April.
My thoughts right now on the Colts #1 pick:
-What they should do: trade the pick to Miami for their 1st, 2nd, 4th, next year's 1st and 3rd, a conditional 1st and 3rd in 2013, and a stud like Cameron Wake or Vontae Davis; keep Peyton, let him retire a Colt. Use the picks to bolster the D and give Peyton a stud playmaker. Have a great shot at winning a Super Bowl in the next 4 years, and then draft a new franchise QB four years from now, with a solid supporting cast of young quality players.
-What they will do: trade Peyton to either KC or San Fran for a 1st and 3rd and a conditional 2nd next year; draft Luck; go 5-11 in 2012 thanks to a still terrible defense; slowly improve the defense over the next few years; draft an offensive tackle and/or a receiver early in 2013.
Either way, I think Jim Caldwell needs to be fired, and I think Andrew Luck will win a Super Bowl by 2018. It's a good situation for the Colts no matter how they choose to act.
Week 15 picks:
Jags (4-9) @ Falcons (8-5) - Thursday
Predicted Line: ATL by 8.5
Actual Line: ATL by 11
I thought this line would be lower after Jacksonville put a 41-14 whupping on the Bucs last week. Jones-Drew played his best game of the year, and the defense completely dominated, something we've seen a few times this year. But Matt Ryan, who has struggled mightily at times this year, took advantage of an awful Panthers D and played perhaps his best game of the year as well.
The reasons to pick Atlanta -11 are plentiful and obvious: they have more to play for (a win would almost guarantee them the playoffs); home teams tend to dominate on Thursdays; Matt Ryan is waaaay better at home than on the road; Jacksonville leads the NFL with 27 players on IR; Blaine Gabbert is simply atrocious (50.3% completion percentage, 5.40 YPA, 65.3 passer rating); the Jags just fired their head coach 2 weeks ago; Julio Jones just played the best game of his career last week.
All that being said ... I just don't like Matt Ryan this year. And I think the line is a little too high. So I'm going against conventionally wisdom and saying Jacksonville's defense plays better than expected, and Jones-Drew has another decent game, and Falcons win by 6.
Cowboys (7-6) @ Bucs (4-9)
Predicted Line: DAL by 8.5
Actual Line: DAL by 6.5
Bad luck for the Lions: our 4 primary competitiors for the Wildcard play against crap teams (JAC, TB, WAS and SEA) this week. Dallas has lost two straight heartbreakers and now the annual 'Dump the coach and quarterback' discussion has started in Dallas. So predictable. Fortunately for them, Tampa is a wreck right now, Josh Freeman has completely fallen apart, the defense has too many injuries, and worst of all, Raheem Morris's future is in doubt. I've gotta take Dallas, 23-13, but I do think the injury to DeMarco Murray is going to catch up with them and bite them in the butt.
Something to watch for: if Philly wins out (Jets, @Cowboys, Redskins) they will be 8-8 and own the tiebreaker against Dallas; they would also own the tiebreaker against New York if the Giants lose to both the Cowboys (week 17) and Redskins (this week). If that were to happen, all the Eagles would need is for Dallas to lose this game in Tampa, and they (Philly) would be in the playoffs, provided, of course, that they win their next 3 games.
In other words, go Tampa!
Redskins (4-9) @ Giants (7-6)
Predicted Line: NYG by 7
Actual Line: NYG by 7
One of the oddest storylines of this season has been the play of Eli Manning. After years of dopey mediocrity and turnovers, Eli is enjoying by far the best season of his eight-year career, with a career-best in QB rating, completion percentage, and the all-important YPA. In fact, he's thrown for more yards so far (in 13 games) than in any other 16 game season of his career. And are you ready for this: Eli is on pace for 5,000 passing yards this year, something that's only been done twice in NFL history (Marino 84, Brees 08). If he continues at his current pace and finds an extra 30 yards in there somewhere, he'll break the NFL record for passing yards in a season (5,084).
Of course, it's not getting much publicity because Brees is on pace for 5,376 yards, and Brady and Rodgers are on pace for 5,264 and 5,072, respectively. Four guys breaking 5,000 yards in a single-season. Amazing.
All that being said, Eli no longer deserves to be treated like the dopey little brother, and I'm actually taking him seriously from now on. I think Washington is pretty underrated from a talent perspective, but they just suffer from terrible coaching and quarterbacking, and won't be able to compete against the Giants who are the healthiest they've been all season. G-men at home, 28-16.
Packers (13-0) @ Chiefs (5-8)
Predicted Line: GB by 13.5
Actual Line: GB by 13.5
It would be tempting to take the Chiefs to cover, and say something about Greg Jennings's injury. But does anyone really think Greg Jennings is the key to the Packers offense? No offense to Greg Jennings, but I think the drop-off to James Jones and Donald Driver will not affect Rodgers one bit. KC just fired Todd Haley, who deserved it for being an arrogant hothead, and interim-coach Romeo Crennel then demoted Tyler Palko and made Kyle Orton the starter, broken finger and all.
The only way this game is moderately close is a fluky special teams play or a defensive TD for the Chiefs. The odds favor a blowout, Pack 35-17. Rodgers sits out the 4th quarter.
Saints (10-3) @ Vikings (2-11)
Predicted Line: NO by 10.5
Actual Line: NO by 6.5
Three thoughts related to this game:
1. This is the second week in a row the Saints are favored by 4 points fewer than they should be. I took them to cover 3.5 last week and I'll gladly take them this week too. Does Vegas not realize that Drew Brees is currently shattering yardage records?
2. Joe Webb was electrifying last week, but Leslie Frazier wisely opted to stick with Christian Ponder. That's the right move. Webb might give them a better chance of pulling the upset here, but Ponder is the QB of the future, and you don't want to smash his confidence by benching him for a glorified running back.
3. Now that Matt Kalil has officially declared for the Draft, the only way Minnesota doesn't get him with the #2 pick would be if the Vikings win more games than the Rams. Since St. Louis has Pittsburgh and San Fran coming up, and the Vikings have Washington and the Bears, I like the odds of Minnesota picking 3rd instead of 2nd. That could make a huge difference in the future of the NFC North.
Briefly, about Matt Kalil: 6'7", 295 lbs, 22 year old junior, smart guy, good character, hasn't allowed a sack in 2 years, considered the best LT prospect since Jake Long, and maybe even better than Jake Long. So obviously, we don't want the Vikings taking this guy.
Seahawks (6-7) @ Bears (7-6)
Predicted Line: CHI by 3
Actual Line: CHI by 3.5
Since losing Jay Cutler, the Bears are 0-3. That might be all I need to say. Seahawks 21-20.
Dolphins (4-9) @ Bills (5-8)
Predicted Line: MIA by 3
Actual Line: MIA by 1
Remember when Buffalo was 4-1 and Miami was 0-5? Who would have guessed that Miami would finish the year with a better record?
Unfortunately, this game is going to be a freaking nightmare. Jake Long isn't expected to play; Buffalo is without 5 or 6 of their best players; and Matt Moore is questionable, which could mean J.P. Losman returns to Buffalo to play against his former team. Talk about hideously intriguing.
I think Moore probably plays, and Miami wins 16-13. But I really have no clue.
Panthers (4-9) @ Texans (10-3)
Predicted Line: HOU by 6.5
Actual Line: HOU by 6.5
Now that Houston has clinched their first ever playoff berth, I think it's time for a relapse. Carolina 23-13. Does this even constitute as an upset when TJ Yates is the favored quarterback?
Titans (7-6) @ Colts (0-13)
Predicted Line: TEN by 8
Actual Line: TEN by 6.5
With Jake Locker making his first start for the Titans, I have a terrible, terrible feeling that Indy is going to win their first game. I won't pick them straight up, but I will take the points, just in case. Titans 20-16.
Bengals (7-6) @ Rams (2-11)
Predicted Line: CIN by 6.5
Actual Line: CIN by 6.5
The Colts may be 0-13, but I think the Rams are a worse team. Sam Bradford has had perhaps the most disappointing season I've ever seen from anybody. Bengals by 13.
Lions (8-5) @ Raiders (7-6)
Predicted Line: Pick Em
Actual Line: DET by 1
I've been on the fence about this game week. Lots of injuries, lots of things to consider.
First, the obvious: both teams are right on the postseason-bubble and need this game badly. This is basically, pardon the cliche, a 'playoff game.'
Second, the injuries. Oakland is without McFadden (their best player), and likely without KR/PR/WR Jacoby Ford. Their other starting receiver Denarius Moore is likely to play.
The Lions are expected to have Kevin Smith back, although he'll probably get hurt by halftime. Chris Houston is questioanable, and 'limited practice' is never a good sign. Delmas and Fairley are doubtful, as are Durant, Berry, Wright, are our two backup DEs (Young and Jackson). That's 7, maybe 8, injuries on defense. Holy crap.
Fortunately, Nstompakong Suh will be back in action, which gives the entire defense a much-needed boost. If Houston plays, we've got our 6 best defensive players (Suh, Tulloch, KVB, Avril, Levy, Houston) in action, which at least somewhat negates the loss of Delmas and 5 valuable backups. Make no mistake, if Detroit does make the playoffs and wants any chance whatsoever to upset San Fran or New Orleans in the first round, we'll need every single one of those players healthy. But for a Mcfadden-less Raiders, I think we'll be pretty effective with guys like Bobby Carpenter and John Wendling playing meaningful snaps.
The best part of this game for the Lions is the potentially horrid play of Carson Palmer. At times, Palmer has looked like a poor man's Jay Cutler, throwing into triple coverage, overthrowing open guys, and just making terrible decisions. But at other times, he's looked pretty polished and poised. He's definitely a passer who can be rocked by a good pass rush, which will be the key to this game.
Oakland's offensive line is pretty good, but not impenetrable. Their best lineman is a rookie, LG Stefen Wisniewski. Granted, he's a pretty amazing rookie, but still a rookie. The other guard is a 34 year old dude named Cooper Carlisle who should really struggle against a furious Suh. The tackles are great run-blockers, but mediocre pass-protectors. So another huge key to the game will be shutting down Michael Bush and forcing Palmer to throw. Thank God we have Stephen Tulloch, who should be able to rack up 10+ tackles and keep Bush from doing what he does best - yards after contact.
Without Tulloch, I'd be pretty much giving up hope for this game. I think we often take for granted having one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL.
With all the injuries in the secondary, it's inevitable that Carson will find a wide-open Heyward-Bey or Schielens on some bogus 60 yard score, but Detroit should be able to force 2 or 3 picks and keep Oakland from lighting up the scoreboard.
This sounds stupid, but Oakland's best player might actually be their punter, Shane Lechler. He's by far the best punter in football, having ranked either 1st or 2nd in average-yards-per-punt (a stat I've never mentioned before) every season since 2003. I was watching the Raiders-Bears game a few weeks ago when he booted an 80-yarder over Hester's head. The dude is a punting fiend. Combined with Stefan Logan being pretty much worthless this year, I expect Detroit to have come lousy field position throughout the game.
For Stafford and the offense, we face a slightly-worse-than-average defense which is totally healthy. Oakland was playing some great defense early in the season, particularly against the run, but has been steamrolled in consecutive games, giving up 46 points to the Packers and 34 to Matt Moore and the Dolphins. The loss of Nnamdi Asomugha is finally catching up with their secondary, and Calvin Johnson should have a monster game against CB Chris Johnson. They'll shade him with a safety and a linebacker as most teams do, and that will allow Pettigrew and Burleson and Young some room to work. It's been a pretty successful plan all year and Oakland doesn't figure to be the team that figures out how to solve Megatron.
As long as the O-line gives Stafford some time, we should be able to forego the running game and having lots of success through the air (unless Kevin Smith is actually healthy, in which case let's give him the ball early and often and try to move the chains, because this is seriously going to be a game of field position and 3 and outs will be killer. I'm not undervaluing the importance of having an All Pro punter).
Oakland does have a pretty decent pass rush, ranking 5th in sacks. Kamerion Wimbley is a stud OLB and Richard Seymour is one of the best pass-rushing DTs (because he's really a converted DE), and then there's stud MLB Rolando McClain, who I thought I really liked until the whole handgun-assault-related arrest. It's strange that since McClain's arrest the entire Raiders D has fallen apart. It makes you wonder if the players are thinking "Hey, I'm counting on this guy to fill a gap and make a tackle, and just last week he was holding a gun in some dude's face in Alabama ..."
The Raiders's secondary stinks, but it's not quite as bad as Detroit's. Oakland has the edge in running the ball, stopping the run, defending the pass, and a huge edge on special teams. But Detroit has an edge at QB, a huge edge at receiver, and a decent edge in terms of pass rush. Coaching is pretty much a wash, unless the undisciplined tomfoolery of the Lions shows up again, in which case we don't deserve to be in the playoffs.
It should be a very close game, and I'm scared of a repeat of the 49ers game (getting our asses kicked by field position), but I'm taking the Lions because we've got two superstars and Oakland has none. We also don't have Carson Palmer.
Let's say Lions, 34-24.
Patriots (10-3) @ Broncos (8-5)
Predicted Line: NE by 3
Actual Line: NE by 7.5
I mean ... is there anything I can possibly add to the Tim vs. Tom discussion that hasn't already been said 500 times. The only interesting thing I can say about Tebow is that I think Tebow is a great name for a dog, and will probably be the name of my future dog someday.
I'm taking the points, but sort of expecting a massive Pats blowout. For the record I'll say Pats 27-23.
Jets (8-5) @ Eagles (5-8)
Predicted Line: NYJ by 3
Actual Line: PHI by 3
Are you sick of hearing the phrase "control their own destiny" yet? I am.
This game kicks off at 4:15, and if the Cowboys and Giants both win (which they should), the Eagles will know they are eliminated. If that happens, they'll probably come out flat. But who knows. All I know is, the Jets CTOD, so I'll take them, 29-24.
Browns (4-9) @ Cardinals (6-7)
Predicted Line: ARZ by 5.5
Actual Line: ARZ by 6.5
That's the sixth game with a spread of 6.5. Not a very creative week in Vegas apparently.
Colt McCoy was almost killed last week by the lethal James Harrison hit, so we're pretty sure Seneca Wallace will get the start against John Skelton. Whoa, watch out, we might be breaking TV ratings records!
CB Joe Haden should be able to shut down Fitzgerald, and I think that might keep this game close. Plus Seneca is a tricky guy to stop with his speed and ability to extend plays. I like the Cards by 3.
Ravens (10-3) @ Chargers (6-7)
Predicted Line: BAL by 3
Actual Line: BAl by 2.5
Apparently Phillip Rivers no longer sucks. It's a shame he waited until week 12. Even if Rivers has another great game, he's facing an elite defense, and the Ravens O has way more talent than the Bolts' D. Baltimore is way too focused on beating out the Steelers for the bye, and SD isn't focused on much except maybe running Norv Turner out of town. I'll take Baltimore by 13.
Steelers (10-3) @ 49ers (10-3) - Monday night
Predicted Line: SF by 2.5
Actual Line: None
No line because Big Ben is 'questionable.' That's a load of crap. He played last Thursday 45 minutes after almost breaking his ankle, and limped through an entire second half; now he had 10 days to prepare for the most important game of the season and he's going to let Charlie Batch play, guaranteeing the Steelers a loss and solidifying the fact that Pittsburgh will play a road game in the second round of the playoffs instead of a home game? Roethlisberger may be a dirt bag, but he's a competitor, and he wants to get back to the Super Bowl. He's going to play.
Since there's no official line, I'm going to put it at SF by 2.5, and I'm going to take the Niners to win by 3.
That's all ...