Good news is -- the Tigers made the playoffs, Miggy won the Triple Crown (and soon to be MVP), Verlander has about a 50/50 shot at the Cy Young, and we're totally healthy heading into the 1st round and might actually win a series or two, though not if Leyland has anything to say about it.
So I'm now 26-35-2 against the spread and 31-32 straight up. Here are my crappy week 5 picks:
Cardinals (4-0) @ Rams (2-2)
Predicted Line: ARZ by 3
Actual Line: ARZ by 2
Two teams that are tricky to figure out.
St. Louis should have beat Detroit week 1, but should have lost to Washington week 2. Jeff Fisher has the defense playing great -- ranking in the top 15 in yards and points allowed -- but the offense still stinks - 27th overall.
The Cards are undefeated with a fluke win in Foxboro (if they played that game 20 times, Arizona would have won once), an OT win against crappy Miami, and a very close win against Seattle. So while they are technically 4-0, they could easily be 2-2 or even 1-3.
It's both team's strength against the other's weakness, as a couple of anemic offenses face two surprisingly dominant defenses. I doubt either team scores more than 20 points, but I do like Arizona to win because they have the only real playmaker in this contest - Fitzgerald - and because Steven Jackson's hamstring will reduce his effectiveness. So I'll say Cards go to 5-0 with a 20-17 win, and cover the 3 points.
Falcons (4-0) @ Redskins (2-2)
Predicted Line: ATL by 3.5
Actual Line: ATL by 3
Pretty sure I'm 0-4 against the spread on Redskins games. They've been all over the place -- beating the Saints, losing to the Rams, barely beat Tampa ... Hilariously, Alfred Morris is on pace for over 1,500 rushing yards. And Roy Helu, the one-time 4th round fantasy pick, is no longer part of the team. But RG3 has been fantastic, and Washington ranks as a top 5 offense in both points and yards. I give 99% of the credit to the quarterback, and 1% to the rest of the players. 0% credit goes to Mike Shanahan, by the way.
With Orakpo and Carriker lost for the season, the Skins won't be able to put any pressure on Matt Ryan (the MVP through 4 weeks), and he'll have another huge day. Falcons 34-27.
*Speaking of Matt Ryan ... after last week's demoralizing Lions' loss, FOX switched over to the end of the Falcons-Panthers game. Atlanta flew down the field and won on a last second field goal. Matt Ryan went absolutely nuts, like a gladiator who just killed a tiger with his barehands. It looked like his neck was going to explode, and then he screamed "Get the f*&k off our field!" in the direction of the Panthers' sideline. At that moment, I realized that in approximately 5 seconds, Matt Ryan showed more emotion and passion and desire to win than I have seen from Matt Stafford in over 3 years. It made me realize the Lions are not going to the playoffs this year, and I have been subtly mourning that fact all week.
Dolphins (1-3) @ Bengals (3-1)
Predicted Line: CIN by 4
Actual Line: CIN by 4
Watch out for Cincy. They've won 3 straight and now get Tannehill and Weeden the next two weeks. They'll likely be 5-1 soon. The tough part of the schedule looms, but if they can pull a couple upsets, they'll find their way back to the playoffs. AJ Green is leading the league in receiving yards (sorry, Brian Hartline doesn't count), and I think it's safe to say that AJ and Megatron are leaps better than any other receivers in the league right now. Still not a big Andy Dalton fan, but the Bengals are winning their easy games so far, so they've gotta be taken seriously as a wildcard team.
Miami is due for a blowout. They currently rank #1 in rush defense and that's not going to keep up. Maybe Green-Ellis runs for 150 here. I'll take Cincy, 28-13.
Packers (2-2) @ Colts (1-2)
Predicted Line: GB by 6.5
Actual Line: GB by 7
Is something off with the Packers this year? Why are they only 16th in passing yards and 19th in points? Is something wrong with Rodgers ... or is it simply because they played 3 brutal defenses (San Fran, Chicago, Seattle)? My gut is telling me that against Indy - maybe the worst defense in the league - Rodgers will silence all that talk and put up a QB rating upwards of 130. Maybe something like 25/32, 350 yards, 4 TDs ... and they'll coast to a 35-17 win.
Ravens (3-1) @ Chiefs (1-3)
Predicted Line: BAL by 6.5
Actual Line: BAL by 6
I keep waiting for Baltimore's dud game where everyone says "Oh yeah, they lost Terrell Suggs, I guess their defense isn't the same anymore." Maybe facing the #1 rushing offense will cause such a game? Or maybe they'll put 9 in the box and force Matt Cassel to throw? Who knows. Also, why is the Chiefs defense so bad? Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson ... and yet they're giving up 34 points per game. Weird.
I'm thinking this game stays low-scoring and KC pulls the upset, 20-13.
Brown (0-4) @ Giants (2-2)
Predicted Line: NYG by 10.5
Actual Line: NYG by 9
Cleveland has lost 10 straight games. Excluding wins against Gabbert, Whitehurst, Henne, Kerry Collins and Jimmy Claussen ... they've lost 22 straight. But the Giants are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 home games, while the Browns are actually keeping road games close. So what the heck. I'll take the points. Giants 31-24.
Eagles (3-1) @ Steelers (1-2)
Predicted Line: PIT by 3.5
Actual Line: PIT by 3.5
Of the 32 current NFL coaches, if I could choose any of them to take over the Lions, I'd probably go with Mike Tomlin. (Conversely, Jim Schwartz might be my last choice.) The point is, great coaches coming off a bye are usually pretty good bets. Especially with Polamalu and Harrison returning from injuries. And Mendenhall should play his first game. I'll go Steelers 31-23.
Seahawks (2-2) @ Panthers (1-3)
Predicted Line: CAR by 2.5
Actual Line: CAR by 3
Lot of conflicting trends and stats. When in doubt, go with the team you actually think is better. Carolina 27-14.
Bears (3-1) @ Jaguars (1-3)
Predicted Line: CHI by 7
Actual Line: CHI by 5.5
A few reasons to take Chicago:
-In two home games, Jacksonville has scored just 10 and 7 points.
-The Bears' D ranks 3rd against the run. If they can slow down MJD, they'll hold Jacksonville to no more than 13 points.
-Jacksonville, on the other hand, ranks 30th against the run. Matt Forte can destroy them early, setting up the play-action, which is Jay Cutler's only friend.
Bears lead 10-6 at halftime, but end up winning 38-13.
Titans (1-3) @ Vikings (3-1)
Predicted Line: MIN by 4.5
Actual Line: MIN by 6
Okay, since there is no Lions game this week I'll guess I'll put my Lions-Vikings thoughts here. First, a question: how seriously do we have to take the 3-1 Vikings? They beat almighty San Francisco, but other than that they only beat Blaine Gabbert in OT, and the lackluster Lions. If they can take care of Tennessee this week and go to 4-1, they then have five straight winnable NFC games (@WAS, ARZ, TB, @SEA, DET) before their bye. Realistically, Minnesota could very well be 7-3 heading into the tough part of their schedule. Even if they get swept by Green Bay, they have a real shot to be 10-6 or 9-7 and contend for a wildcard. In other words, Detroit is in danger of being last in the NFC North.
So I don't want to say much about the Lions pitiful effort last Sunday, but here are my bullet point thoughts...
- Fire the special teams coach. Now. Yesterday. Get rid of him, replace him with anyone. I'll take Stan Kwan back in a heartbeat. 4 TDs in two weeks. You've got to be kidding.
- Bench, trade or cut Brandon Pettigrew. He is not as good as Tony Scheffler. Just because Stafford targets him 12 times a game does not make him a good player. He is big, but that's his only skill. How many easy TDs has he dropped in his 3 year career? A dozen? He's also the slowest skill position player in the entire NFL.
- How about this: trade our 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks for an elite cornerback. Or, trade Nick Fairley and Mikel Leshoure for a cornerback. Heck, trade anyone outside of Stafford, Calvin and Suh and get yourself a cornerback. Now. We can't keep playing with this secondary. Do you realize we still haven't faced a good receiver yet this year, and yet we rank 26th in completion percentage allowed, 26th in QB rating allowed, 19th in yards per attempt, and we are the only team in the NFC without a single interception? What's going to happen when we face Marshall and Jennings twice apiece? What about Thanksgiving - is Andre Johnson going to have 30 catches against us?
- One of the FOX commentators (I think it was Brian Billick) said that if he could start an NFL team with any offensive player, he would take Percy Harvin. Later, he retracted and said he meant not including quarterbacks. Okay ... so you would take Harvin -- the guy who openly quit on his coach, suffers from migraines, has a history of foot injuries and marijuana suspensions, was on a 3-13 team last year, and isn't even 6 feet tall ... over Calvin, Fitzgerald, Foster, Joe Thomas, Ray Rice, Gronk, McCoy, Jake Long ... not to mention Harvin's teammate, Adrian Peterson, who might be the best running back in the past 15 years. Reeeeeeallly?
If the Lions offered to trade Calvin to the Vikings for Harvin straight-up, how long would it take Minnesota's GM to say yes? .00001 milliseconds? What if Detroit said "You can have Calvin for Harvin if you throw in your 1st round pick for the next 15 years?" Wouldn't the Vikings still take the deal? How can Brian Billick (or whoever it was) say something so stupid and not get mercilessly ridiculed for it? They should have cut to Los Angeles for a gamebreak and just had Curt Menefee mock him for 2 straight minutes.
I get his point ... Harvin is multi-functional, he can return kicks, play out of the slot, even run the ball. But come on. He doesn't even demand a double team. 3 catches for 22 yards last week. Whoa, watch out. 21st overall in receiving yards last year. Only scored 6 TDs. Calvin had that 3 weeks into the season. Come on Billick.
- Matt Stafford doesn't look good. He has forgotten how to navigate the pass rush.
- Mikel Leshoure was even worse. There was an invisible alien forcefield 2 yards past the line of scrimmage that he kept running into. Either that or he owes money to some mobster who threatened to kill his family if he had a single run of more than 2 yards. Then when he did accidentally have one run for 10 yards, he remembered the mobster's warning and promptly fumbled the ball.
- Fortunately, Scott Linehan was devoutly committed to those worthless 2 yard runs, which allowed Stafford the chance to throw on 3rd and 8 on every single possession of the first 3 quarters. Then, when the Lions kicked into desperation mode, Stafford decided to check down to Joycke Bell on every play (where the heck did that guy come from) and make sure we didn't have time to score enough points. It really seemed like the Lions entire offense was trying to lose.
- Stafford was sacked 5 times, and I didn't think the O-line was really at fault. Stafford just wasn't going through his reads quickly, and wasn't taking chances, and wasn't stepping up in the pocket. He was letting the pass rush come to him, instead of evading it with his feet. When he actually did let go of the ball, the receivers all took turns dropping it.
- Dwight "Bill" Bentley is a real piece of crap. He's the cornerback we drafted in the 3rd round from Louisiana Lafeyete. Remember, we took Ryan Broyles in the 2nd because, clearly, a 5th string receiver who hasn't played a single down this year is more important than a starting cornerback who commits the same pass interference penalty on pothead Jerome Simpson 3 times.
- Just a real shit performance from almost everybody. Suh was bad, VandenBosch was bad, Fairley was bad, Stafford and Leshoure were terrible, and the special teams kick coverage should all be cut. A few exceptions:
- It goes without saying, Calvin was great. No problems there. When he took that helmet-to-helmet shot courtesy of Chad Greenway in the 4th quarter, I thought it was the Madden Curse. But Calvin got up and kept playing, amazingly. Greenway is probably going to get hit with a fine, but I hope he doesn't. You could tell it was accidental and he felt terrible about it.
- DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch were both excellent. Racing to AP, making great tackles, and keeping the tight ends from doing anything in the middle of the field. Granted, AP had 102 yards, but it could have been a lot more. Our linebackers are the strength of our defense, not the D-line. Who would have thought.
- Hanson was money. 12 for 13 this year. I wished we could stop settling for field goals, but at least Hanson is making them. Only "Greg the Leg" Zuerlein has scored more points this year. Speaking of whom, that dude has already kicked 4 field goals of 50+ yards. And he's a rookie. We could be looking at the eventual best placekicker in NFL history.
- Let's keep things in perspective a little - the Lions had more yards, more first downs, more time of possession, and scored more points on offense. If not for two freaking touchdowns on special teams, the Lions would have won.
Back to the pick. I'm not real excited about laying 6 points with the Vikings, but the Titans have been awful in every phase of the game this year, except of course for those five 60-yard TDs against Detroit. I will say Vikings 28-20.
Broncos (2-2) @ Patriots (2-2)
Predicted Line: NE by 7
Predicted Line: NE by 7
Actual Line: NE by 7
The Peyton Manning Reunion Tour continues. First he got his old playoff nemesis, the Steelers. Then his old division nemesis, the Texans. Now, his greatest career nemesis, Tom Brady.
Both teams are better than a 2-2 record indicates, and it's a shame that one of them will fall to 2-3. I think the Pats at home will prevail, but they don't have the defense to make this a blowout. Pats 30-27.
Bills (2-2) @ 49ers (3-1)
Predicted Line: SF by 8.5
Predicted Line: SF by 8.5
Actual Line: SF by 10
Niners won 34-0 last week, and I think we see a similar result here. Bills' defense has been terrible; they won't be able to slow down the Niners balanced offense. And Buffalo won't be able to run on San Fran, forcing Ryan Fitzpatrick to add to his 7 INTs. I'll take San Fran in another blowout, 27-6.
Chargers (3-1) @ Saints (0-4)
Predicted Line: SD by 2
Predicted Line: SD by 2
Actual Line: NO by 4
Wow. I haven't missed a spread by 6 points in a long time. Hmm... I could see Saints by 2.5 or 3, but giving more than a field goal? For a winless team with no defense and no coach?
I guess the bleeding has to stop eventually. And San Diego's secondary is not very good. Eh, what the heck: Saints 34-20.
If Ryan Matthews actually scores 3 touchdowns, as NFL.com is projecting he will for my fantasy team, I will literally burn my house down, push my car off a cliff, and dedicate my life to Islamic jihad. That's how confident I am that Matthews will not score 3 touchdowns. I really wish NFL.com would stop offering such ludicrous projections. They make me irrationally angry.
Texans (4-0) @ Jets (2-2)
Predicted Line: HOU by 8.5
Predicted Line: HOU by 8.5
Actual Line: HOU by 9
So much for all that Revis/Ewing Theory crap. The Jets are done. Rex Ryan might not make it to the end of the season. After two straight blowout losses at home, it's definitely going to be Tebow Time. Texans 44-10.
Quick Tigers preview:
Game 1 : 6pm Saturday
Against the Oakland A's
The A's suck. I can't figure out how they made the playoffs.
If you made a list of the 10 best players in this series, it would be a list of the 10 best Tigers.
Not only did Oakland lead the AL in strikeouts this year, but they set an AL record with 1,387 strikeouts, shattering the previous record by over 60. That's 8.5 strikeouts per game.
Their pitching staff also sucks. It's 5 rookies. Literally. They do have a really good bullpen though.
They didn't have a single player hit .300 (Detroit had 4), and their best power hitter batted just .242. In fact, Oakland's best offensive player was a rookie, Cuban Yoenis Cespedes, who you may remember from last offseason, when Detroit almost got him. That dude hit .292 with power and 19 steals. You gotta watch out for Coco Crisp (I still can't believe that's a real person), who stole 39 bases. They've also got a youngster named Jemile Weeks, who can't hit worth a lick but drew a ton of walks. But the guy to worry about is Josh Reddick, with his 32 homers, 85 RBI, and 150 strikeouts. He's an all-or-nothing guy, and we can't let him beat us with home runs.
Verlander pitches game 1, which should be the perfect concoction for about 12 strikeouts and a shutout, provided the bullpen doesn't blow the game. Oakland doesn't have a single starting pitcher with "ace" stuff, but they are all pretty solid. Then again, Detroit's offense tends to do worse against terrible pitchers, so I almost wish Oakland had good pitching.
Either way, our pitching should get us through the first series. We got lucky drawing Oakland at home. Let's home Texas loses the wildcard playoff game, because anytime the best team in the AL doesn't make the playoffs, it's a bonus.