Thursday, November 15, 2012

Week 11 Picks

Last week:
6-8 ATS
8-5 straight up (one tie)

74-70-5 ATS  (51.3%)
86-59-1 straight up  (59.3%)

It was another strange week.  In the three primetime games, the average score was a paltry 18-10; in the 11 midday games, scoring absolutely abounded, with the winning team scoring at least 28 in all but one contest, and that contest was a 24-24 tie.

There were plenty of blowouts, some very unexpected, like Tennessee (6 point underdogs) whooping Miami by 34 on the road (glad I changed that pick) or Cincinnati (5 point underdogs) stomping the Giants.

What do we take away from those crazy contests?  Is Chris Johnson finally trustworthy?  Is Jake Locker a budding star? What about Andy Dalton? Is AJ Green the best receiver in the whole stinking league already? Is Miami terrible? Is Ryan Tannehill a bust?   Can anyone catch the Colts and Steelers for the wildcards? What about the Giants -- are they secretly bad, or are they tricking us into forgetting about them once again so they can be the first ever "Nobody Believed In Us" mini-dynasty?

Those were just two of the crazy week 10 games.  In other news, Baltimore racked up 55 points on Oakland despite being outgained in yards.   The Saints and Bucs proved that the NFC South is still a division to be reckoned with.   Dallas, New England and Denver showcased their high-octane offenses and scored in the high 30s.  The Eagles and Cardinals extended their losing streaks to 5 games, and Detroit, Carolina, and St. Louis were essentially eliminated from the NFC playoff picture, barring a miracle.  Also, four starting QBs were knocked out: Vick, Alex Smith, Cutler, and Roethlisberger.  All four could sit for week 11, and Vick could be done in Philly altogether.

In the AFC, Jacksonville and KC look like the future homes of QBs Geno Smith and Matt Barkley (likely draft picks #1 and #2), as they both ride hideous 6-game losing streaks.  The elite teams are starting to separate themselves from the pack, while the Jets, Bill and Chargers have fallen apart and are already looking for new coaches.

In fact, as many as ten coaches could be fired before February.  Consider:

Andy Reid - Philly's "dynasty team" is 3-6 and Reid himself said before the season he would be fired if they finish 8-8 or worse.

Ron Rivera -  Carolina is 2-7 after a summer of Super Bowl hype. It's truly the GM's fault, not the coach's, but nonetheless, Rivera will be back to being a defensive coordinator soon.

Chan Gailey -  Chan is about to wrap up his third straight underachieving season with the Bills. Barring a blistering end to the season, he'll be gone.

Pat Shurmur - With Mike Holmgren (the guy who hired him) already gone, Shurmur will be mercifully allowed to finish the season, but won't be back unless the Browns miraculously win the rest of their games.

Norv Turner - He has a better chance at being President of the USA than being coach of the Chargers next year.

Romeo Crennel - It may or may not be his fault that the Chiefs are terrible.  But when a team is as bad as the Chiefs are, especially a team with quite a bit of talent, the coach has to go. That's the nature of today's NFL.

Rex Ryan - If he would just shut up, his job would probably be safe.  But all the hype and attention and trash talk really magnifies the Jets' struggles.  Plus his fate is linked with Mark Sanchez, which is a bad place to be.

Jason Garrett - Personally, I think he's a decent coach.  But if Dallas misses the playoffs for the third straight year, he's possibly the scapegoat.

Marvin Lewis - Ten seasons coaching the Bengals.  Zero playoff wins.  Could the run finally end?

Mike Mularkey - The Jags are the worst team in the NFL, but Mularkey didn't draft Blaine Gabbert, so he should be given more than one season.  But who knows.  If they are going to rebuild with Genoor Barkley, they may want a new coach to lead the new regime.

Dennis Allen - Another first year coach, so he's probably safe.  But Oakland has been awful, and Allen makes terrible decisions that show he's in over his head.

That's eleven.  And there are plenty of others (Jim Schwartz, for example) who aren't exactly earning contract extensions.  It's a pretty crazy league when more than half of the coaches who don't make the playoffs are canned.  But, the same thing happened last year.  It's a billion-dollar industry, so I'm not feeling bad for any of them.

Personally, I would be more than happy if the Angry Era of Jim Schwartz ended in Detroit and both his clueless coordinators went with him.   Maybe we could  swoop in and grab Reid as the new O-Coordinator or Rivera as the D-Coordinator or something like that.  Some proven winners would be a nice change.

Anyway ... here are the week 11 picks:

Dolphins (4-5) @ Bills (3-6)
Predicted Line: MIA by 1

Actual Line: BUF by 3

Fred Jackson is out with a concussion, which actually helps the Bills, because CJ Spiller leads the NFL with 7.3 YPC and the Bills played their two best games of the season when Fred was sidelined (granted, against Cleveland and KC).   Miami ranks 5th against the run, but they gave up 177 rushing yards last week to Tennessee, and they seem to be deteriorating defensively.  That should make for an interesting matchup.

Miami's gameplan is simple: keep the score low.  They usually succeed offensively, as they've exceeded 21 points only twice.  But defensively, they go up and down, depending on the week.  Against the turnover-happy Bills in cold weather, it should be safe to take the points.  Especially on a Thursday, when scoring is notoriously limited.  Bills win, 13-12.

Cardinals (4-5) @ Falcons (8-1)
Predicted Line: ATL by 16.5

Actual Line: ATL by 10 

How could this game possibly be close?

Falcons offense: If Patrick Peterson is guarding Roddy White, throw to Julio Jones.  If Peterson guards Jones, throw to White.  If Peterson somehow guards both guys, throw to Gonzalez.   Build an early lead. Then run the ball.

Falcons defense: put 5 guys on Fitzgerald, completely ignore the nonexistent running back, and send pass rush at horrible O-line.  Your early lead will force Kolb to throw, and you'll end up running an INT (or two) back for 6.

I just don't see it going any other way.  Especially in Atlanta.    I'll say Falcons go up 28-0 at halftime and win 45-10.

Browns (2-7) @ Cowboys (4-5)
Predicted Line: DAL by 8.5

Actual Line: DAL by 8 

Cowboys are way too unstable to be laying 8 points.  Even against Cleveland.  I've learned my lesson with them too many times.  Dallas 27-20.

*EDIT - Joe Haden is not going to play.  In that case, I should probably take the Cowboys +8.  Maybe 27-13.   Ughh, I'm probably going to regret that.

Packers (6-3) @ Lions (4-5)
Predicted Line: GB by 4.5
Actual Line: GB by 3.5

Remember all those 3rd downs, where Matt Stafford showed no urgency to complete a pass or move the chains, and instead willfully took a sack or threw the ball out of bounds?  Remember the times it was 3rd and 8 and he threw a useless 4 yard dumpoff to Pettigrew or Joique Bell, realizing that it had no chance of moving the chains, but figuring it was better than taking a risk?  Remember all those fricking plays in the red zone where he didn't even try to loft the ball to Calvin, but instead threw the ball out of bounds because a field goal is just as good as a touchdown?

Well, the reason all those plays were important ... is because now we're 4-5 and we have to play the Packers, then the Texans, then the Packers again two weeks later.  Anybody ready to be 4-9?  And end up 5-11?   Because that's our fate.  All because we couldn't beat the Vikings, Titans, and Vikings again.  Those were three games we should have won.  And even though the secondary and coaching have been abysmal  and even though the running backs have been lousy, and even though Pettigrew is the worst football player in the universe and Stephan Logan is a disgrace and the receivers drop way too many passes and the O-line isn't great and the D-line leads the league in penalties, I still am more than willing to place the blame squarely on Matthew Stafford.

I know Stafford hasn't jumped offsides 14 times like Nick Fairley, I know he doesn't give up 70 yard touchdowns passes to wide open 3rd string receivers like our entire secondary, and I know he doesn't make the decision to run on 2nd and 10 like Scott Linehan ... but it's his inability to execute and "make plays" (pardon the cliche) that has the Lions 4-5, instead of 7-2, where they should be if they beat the teams they should have beat.  And when you consider that 3 of our 4 wins were miracle comebacks, we could easily be 1-8.  We've played a lot more like a 1-8 team than a 7-2 team.  And by "we," I mostly mean our quarterback.

About 6 weeks ago I said that I was ready for Shaun Hill.  I've held off on saying that week after week because Stafford is, after all, our franchise quarterback, the guy who threw for 5,000 yards in a year, the second fastest QB to throw for 10,000 yards, blah blah blah blah blah .....

Perhaps I'm being too critical, but I'm not that impressed by yards.  I look at QB rating, turnovers, completion percentage, yards per attempt, red zone TD percentage, and third down completion percentage. Those are the stats that help you win games.  I recently heard an interview with Ben Roethlisberger where they rattled off some stats about his TDs and yards, and he said the same thing "The three most important stats for a QB are completion percentage, yards per attempt, and 3rd down conversion percentage."  I couldn't have agreed more.

In those areas, Stafford isn't a top 15 quarterback at all.  He's barely in the top 20.

In YPA, he's below 4 rookies, including Tannehill who isn't any good.

In completion percentage, he's behind Dalton and Ponder.

In  QB rating, he's sandwiched between Kolb and Bradford.

On third downs, he's comparable to Vick and Cassel.

So while his yardage marks make him the contemporary Joe Montana or Dan Marino, I question if that's more of a result of having thrown the most passes in the NFL two years in a row. (Also, should be noted he plays with that Calvin Johnson guy.)

Funny thing is, Detroit leads the NFL in passing attempts, but still manages to run an offense that's way too conservative.  They run the ball and kick field goals in the first half, and consequently they've trailed at halftime in 8 of their 9 games this season (ridiculous!), which causes them to throw like maniacs in the 4th quarter.

Stafford's average game statistically has been solid:  27/43 for 302 yards.  But I think it's safe to approximate that the average 1st half is 7/15 for 90 yards, and the average second half is 20/28 for 212 yards.

Heck, look at the Lions scoring by quarter this year:
1st quarter -  28 points
2nd quarter - 47 points
3rd quarter - 20 points
4th quarter - 121 points

And if you throw out the one good game Detroit has played all year (Jacksonville), it's a sum of 74 points in the first 3 quarters compared to 111 in the 4th quarter.

What the heck.

So what does this bizarre situation tell us about our Lions?

Detroit is the master of scoring garbage time points?
The coaching is terrible and doesn't make adjustments?
The playcalling sucks?
Stafford doesn't have any urgency until the 4th quarter?
Stafford is unflappable?

I say yes, to all of the above.

I'm taking the Packers, but I'm taking the points just in case.  Clay Matthews and Greg Jennings are out.  I'm sure their replacements will have terrific games, but anytime you're missing two stud players and are on the road, it's probably worth taking the 3 points.  Packers 30-27.

*Wait, I've got one last rant about the Lions....

I'm sick and tired of everybody saying the Lions secondary has all these injury problems.  Everyone is using that stupid excuse on every TV, radio and website.  It's not a legitimate excuse.  When your week 1 secondary is a quartet of castoffs who were cut from teams that aren't any good, and those guys get hurt and you replace them with other guys who suck, and this whole problem is because the front office drafts sexy positions instead of drafting for NEED once in a while, it's not because of the injuries that your secondary sucks.  Our perfectly healthy secondary gave up 378 passing yards to Jake Locker.   If all your defensive backs in Madden were a 62 out of 100, and they all got hurt and you replaced them with a bunch of 61s, would injuries really be the problem?

You know what, screw Detroit, I'm taking the Packers to cover.  37-20.

Bengals (4-5) @ Chiefs (1-8)
Predicted Line: CIN by 2

Actual Line: CIN by 3.5

Beware the Arrowhead homedog!   Cincy just played 3 straight at home and they're ready for a loss on the road.  Plus, KC is not as bad as their record.  They have some talent.  Chiefs 22-17.

Jets (3-6) @ Rams (3-5-1)
Predicted Line: STL by 2.5

Actual Line: STL by 3.5

Man, I hate ties.  They screw everything up.  Why not just play a 2nd overtime?

Picking Jets games is like going to the circus and betting on which clown is the best juggler.  It's a stupid waste of time, but at least you get to see some clowns.   They could win by 50, lose by 50, or anything in between.  The Rams are pretty consistent, they've been competitive against everyone against New England, but I don't know about this line.  I'll say Rams by 2.

Eagles (3-6) @ Redskins (3-6)
Predicted Line: WAS by 4

Actual Line: WAS by 4

The Eagles have got to be pretty close to quitting on their season.  Five-game losing streak, 2 straight blowouts, injured QB, dead-duck coach.  Even with veteran leaders like Asomugha and Cole, I can't see them putting up much effort.

Washington, on the other hand, still believes they can make the playoffs.  Coming off 3 tough losses, they caught a bye at the right time and finally have RG3 at 100%.  He should have a terrific game, despite his lack of receiving weapons.

But the story of this game is Nick Foles, who will get the start in place of Vick.

One of the nice things about being an NFL Draft junkie is that when a guy like Foles suddenly becomes a starting QB, I already know a little bit about him.  I know he's very tall, not super mobile, throws a monster deep ball, but lacks accuracy and decision making ability.  I know he's a good fit for Philly because of the downfield threats with Jackson and Maclin's speed, but I think he'll struggle against NFL pass rushes and the intelligence of NFL secondaries.  He'll probably throw 1 or 2 successful deep balls in this game, but he'll likely heave at least 1 interception as well.  He has a long way to go to prove he can be a starting QB in the NFL, but he has the size and arm to be the next Josh Freeman or even Ben Roethlisberger.  He just needs to develop the footwork, intelligence and accuracy, otherwise he'll be the next John Skelton or John Navarre.

I could certainly see this game ending up pretty close. Philly's bad offensive line will be relived to see Washington's weak pass rush, and McCoy should be able to make Foles' life a lot easier.  But with Foles on the road against a division rival and the potential of Philly completely giving up and quitting on their coach, I feel better taking Washington to cover.  Let's say 33-23.

Bucs (5-4) @ Panthers (2-7)
Predicted Line: TB by 1

Actual Line: TB by 2

Did you know Tampa has the league's #1 rushing defense, in terms of both yards per game and yards per attempt?  It's probably safe to say Gerald McCoy has surpassed Ndamukong Suh as the best defensive tackle from the 2010 draft.  How sad.   But one of the biggest reasons for Tampa's stifling defense has been rookie OLB Lavonte David, who has a league-high 30 tackles in the past two weeks.   You probably don't remember my final mock draft from April, but I was hoping the Lions would take Lavonte with pick 54, if he were available.  I watched enough highlights of him at Nebraska to be convinced he would be an NFL stud.

Well, he was available at pick 54, but instead Detroit took Ryan Broyles, who is a nice 3rd string receiver but certainly not a 2nd round pick.  If the Lions really did want to take the best player available, as they claim they do, they would have taken Lavonte David.  Instead, they tried to be cute and take Broyles.  Well, David just might be making a push for Defensive Rookie of the Year and might be a Pro Bowler within a couple years.  If Ryan Broyles ever makes the Pro Bowl, I'll run through the mall naked on Black Friday.

Along with their #1 rushing defense, Tampa has the league's #32 passing defense, at 321 yards per game.  But this is deceiving.  Tampa ranks 3rd in the league with 15 INTs, and has some solid playmakers in the secondary, namely Mark Barron and Ronde Barber.  Trading Aqib Talib away for peanuts may not have been very smart, and signing Eric Wright certainly wasn't smart, but the main problem with their secondary is caused by their lack of a pass rush.  Adrian Clayborn's injury has been tough for them, and DaQuan Bowers hasn't panned out yet.

All that to say ... I still believe in Cam Newton, and Steve Smith should have a nice game.  I like the homedog Panthers in a shootout, 38-34.

Jaguars (1-8) @ Texans (8-1)
Predicted Line:   Hmmm ... let's say HOU by 17.5

Actual Line: HOU by 15.5 

If Jones-Drew were playing, I'd consider taking the points.  But he's not.  Houston 27-0.

Saints (4-5) @ Raiders (3-6)
Predicted Line: NO by 3

Actual Line: NO by 5.5

Are the Saints the only team to ever start 0-4 and then five games later be favored by almost 6 on the road? Probably so.  I'll take them anyway.  Brees is on fire, the Raiders still don't have McFadden.  NO 31-16.

Chargers (4-5) @ Broncos (6-3)
Predicted Line: DEN by 6.5

Actual Line: DEN by 8

If Denver wins, I think Norv Turner will be fired within 24 hours.  That's my hunch.  And I think Norv knows this, which will part of the reason why Denver wins. Also, Peyton Manning.   Broncos by 13.

Colts (6-3) @ Patriots (6-3)
Predicted Line: NE by 7

Actual Line: NE by 9 

I love being right. And while I wasn't the only one who thought Andrew Luck would be a stud, I was pretty adamant about it.  A lot of people forget, he would have been the #1 pick in 2011 if he declared.  Remember when he stayed in school to get his architecture degree, everyone said it was so risky, he might get hurt, blah blah blah.  Well, he used that year to improve, to play a pro style offense, and to basically enter the NFL without any learning curve.  He was a top 15 quarterback the day he was drafted.  He was a top 10 quarterback within 4 weeks.  And by week 11, he has surpassed the previous three #1 overall picks: he's already a better quarterback than Cam Newton, Matt Stafford, and Sam Bradford.

The scary thing is - so is Robert Griffin.  

But Luck is better than Griffin, maybe not in explosiveness or excitement, but in consistency and arm strength and for the mere fact that he's much less likely to get hurt.  Back in May, I ranked the quarterbacks, and had Luck at 15 before he played a single game.  Now, if I redid that list, Luck would leap past several quarterbacks, including Vick, Flacco, Cam, Stafford and Rivers.

I would still put Rodgers and Brady at 1 and 2, with Brees, Matt Ryan, and Peyton rounding out the top 5, and then Eli and Ben at 6 and 7.  Then, it's probably Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Tony Romo in the top 10.

Then ... Schaub, Flacco, Rivers ... Cutler, Stafford, Cam .... Freeman, Dalton, Ponder, Locker, Bradford... Alex Smith, Mike Vick, Russell Wilson ... Fitzpatrick, Kolb, Sanchez, Palmer ... Tannehill, Gabbert, Cassell, Weeden.    That's 32.  I guess Tebow squeezes in somewhere between Fitzpatrick and Kolb.

So anyway, I'm taking the Patriots to win, given the Colts terrible roster, but I certainly think Andrew Luck can keep the score close.  Maybe Aqib Talib shuts down Reggie Wayne in his first game as a Patriot, but maybe Andrew Luck finds someone else to throw to.  Pats 27-23.

Ravens (7-2) @ Steelers (6-3)
Predicted Line: BAL by 3.5 (Roethlisberger out)
Actual Line:  BAL by 3.5

93% of the betting is on Baltimore, so Vegas must be thinking they are awfully sneaky with this line so low.  What's the reason - is Byron Leftwich going to be better than people think?  Is Pittsburgh's defense finally healthy?  Will it be the Heinz Field factor that keeps this game close?

Back in 2010 when Ben had to sit for 4 games, the Steelers went 3-1, and the loss was a home game against Baltimore. Final score: 17-14.  A lot has changed in two years, but Mike Tomlin, Troy Polamalu, and 65,000 screaming, stupid Pittsburgh fans will still be there, so I expect the same result.  17-14 Ravens.

Bears (7-2) @ 49ers (6-2-1)
Predicted Line: SF by 5.5 (Cutler and Smith both out?) 

Actual Line: SF by 5 

Sounds like Alex Smith might play, and Jay Cutler definitely won't.  Regardless of who the quarterbacks are, I'm all over San Fran for this game.  I'll say Niners 23-13. And if Smith sits, I think Colin Kaepernick has a great game.  That dude can play.  Jason Campbell, I'm not so sure.

That's it for now.  GO Lions!!!

Also,  Torii Hunter!!   Hitting in the 2-hole ahead of Miggy, Prince and V-Mart.  That's an amazing top 5.  I can't wait to see how Leyland mismanages that roster!


  1. Dave, fantasy question for you.

    This week I'm playing Otto, who's QB is Brees. I'm sitting pretty on WR's right now, so I'm wondering if Colston actually gets a smidge more value this week, on the theory that he could mitigate some of Bree's TDs. So between Colston and Graham, everytime Brees throws a TD, it helps me more than it does him.

    Does that make sense or am I missing something?

  2. That makes sense to me.

    Lot of people say "just play whatever WR is going to score more points." But your thinking is safer because that way if Brees has a 6 TD game he doesn't destroy you.