Thursday, December 20, 2012

Te'o or Milliner? ... Plus week 16's picks

At 4-10, the Lions are currently tied for the worst record in the NFC.  If the draft were today, we'd be picking 5th, behind Kansas City, Jacksonville, Oakland, and Philly.  Of those teams, you can bet at least 2 will be taking a quarterback.

That means the Lions are assured one of the top overall prospects in this draft.  To me, it comes down to two players:

Manti Te'o, inside linebacker, Notre Dame
6'2", 255lbs, senior, born in Hawaii
Heisman trophy runner-up
Tabbed as "the next Ray Lewis"

DeMarcus "Dee" Milliner, cornerback, Alabama
6'1", 200lbs, junior, born in Alabama
Best shutdown cornerback in NCAA
Could be the next Darrelle Revis

There are other elite prospects that warrant consideration in the top 10.  Certainly OLB Jarvis Jones from Georgia, but he'll probably go in the top 3.  Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel will be the first offensive tackle selected, but can Detroit draft back-to-back tackles when the defense is in shambles?  There are a few great DTs and pass rushers, but if Schwartz takes another D-linemen, it's going to really piss people off, and rightly so.

So to me, the decision comes down to linebacker or cornerback.  Te'o or Milliner.  Who will it be?

According to ESPN's Draft Board, Te'o is the #7 overall prospect and Milliner is #11.  At, Milliner is #4 and Te'o is #5. ranks Milliner at #5 and Te'o at #7.

From my own perspective, watching Youtube clips, reading articles, watching interviews ... these might be the two most NFL-ready players in the entire class.  I'm a little surprised they're not ranked #1 and #2.

Both guys have almost no red flags.  They have both showcased leadership skills, durability, consistency, intelligence, and a selfless team attitude.  Te'o is stronger in the intangibles (he's basically a hybrid of Tebow's personality with Patrick Willis' skills) but Milliner isn't exactly a low-life.   He's made it through the corrupt Alabama program without getting arrested, suspended, or accepting free tattoos.  So either guy would improve the assholeish nature of the Lions.  

What impressed me most about Te'o is his speed.  Combined with great instincts and perfect tackling form, he is almost Polamalu-esque in the way he appears to cover the entire field and bring runners down with ease and pain.  He has anchored an undefeated Irish team all year, been their emotional leader and best player, and he would be useful in an NFC North that feature AP and Forte.

However, Milliner is equally impressive to watch.  His ball-coverage skills are already superior to any cornerback the Lions have employed since .... Dre Bly?  Ray Crocket??   Dick LeBeau????    Both guys will be immediate starters and possibly Pro Bowlers in their rookie seasons, but Milliner appears to be the guy more likely to dominate the NFL right away.   Sure-tackling linebackers are pretty common, but shtudown corners are a rarity.  I know I'm prone to hyperbole at times, but his coverage skills can easily be compared to Darrelle Revis.  He has that combination of strength, speed, acceleration, quick hands, intelligence, and size.  To say he'd be an immediate upgrade over Chris Houston is an understatement.

Te'o would also become the Lions' best linebacker right away, but the gap between him and Stephen Tulloch would be minimal.  Tulloch is a great player, and Te'o's presence would move Tulloch to outside linebacker, which might not be a good fit.  The deciding factor will probably be what happens before the draft with our many free agents.  Along with Avril, VandenBosch, Gosder, and many others, our two starting outside linebackers - Levy and Durant - are both unrestricted free agents.  And both guys have played well enough to earn sizable contracts elsewhere.  If we manage to retain either guy, it'll be surprising.  That's why I think Te'o has a good chance at being the pick.

Unfortunately, Chris Houston is also unrestricted.  If the Lions lose him, they need to draft Milliner, because cornerback depth is not something we have.  Linebacker depth, on the other hand, is more promising; Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis supposedly are coming along nicely and ready to play.

Assuming the Lions aren't able to beat Atlanta or Chicago (a fair guess), we'll probably end up picking 4th or 5th overall.  Both Te'o and Milliner should be available.   Due to our hellish salary cap situation induced by Stafford, Calvin and Suh's massive deals, it'll be nearly impossible to retain any good players.  Avril is gone, at least one of the linebackers is gone (maybe both), Delmas might leave if he's not franchised, and Houston is probably gone too.   This could be one of those cases where you trade down and collect picks and try to meet multiple needs in one draft, but let's be honest, the Lions ability to find a starter in the 2nd round is minuscule at best.   When you're looking at the future Patrick Willis and Darrelle Revis, you don't trade down for two Boss Baileys.

It's too early now to make a real prediction, especially since some unknown guy always flies up the draft board and becomes a top 5 pick in March, but if I had to lean one way now, I'd say Milliner.

Realistically, the Lions will probably take Keenan Allen, receiver from California, because, you know, you can never have enough offensive weapons.

Last week:
6-10 ATS
10-6 straight up
8-6 over/unders

109-109-9 (50.0%) ATS
138-85 (61.8%) straight up
19-10 over/unders (65.5%)

Let's hit the week 16 picks:

Falcons (12-2) @ Lions (4-10)
Saturday night - 8:30, ESPN
Predicted Line: ATL by 4

Actual Line: ATL by 4.5

With Detroit getting embarrassed by nine-game-losing-streak Arizona, it's no surprise 85% of the public is betting on the road favorite.  But I'm going the other way.  Detroit will step up its game for a few reasons:
  • This game is nationally televised, they want to spare themselves more embarrassment.
  • They want to help Schwartz keep his job;  for whatever reason, the team likes him. 
  • They hate Atlanta; remember all this nonsense? 
  • They love shootouts.  Calvin will embrace the challenge of outshining Julio and Roddy. 
  • Calvin is gunning for a major, major record. 
  • Stafford needs 375 yards per game over the next 2 games for 5,000;  he definitely wants it.  
  • Mostly, they want to prove they are better than 4-10, and how better to do it than beating a 12-2 team on national TV right before Christmas?  
Unfortunately, Atlanta is better coached, better quarterbacked, smarter, more disciplined, has a great offensive line, commits the fewest penalties in the NFL, and they continually feed off their lack of national respect.  Detroit may actually possess the most talented roster, but in terms of execution and gameplan, it's no contest.

I think Atlanta will win, but Detroit will find a way to make it interesting.  Final score: 28-24, Falcons.  
(Over 51) 

Saints (6-8) @ Cowboys (8-6)
Predicted Line: DAL by 3

Actual Line: DAL by 3

Dallas did what I figured they would do: kept themselves in the playoff hunt despite all odds.  Thanks to a no-show from the Giants and Bears, Dallas is right in the mix.  If Seattle loses to San Fran this week (likely) and Minnesota loses in Houston (also likely), Dallas will be right in contention.

But, as I said two weeks ago, Dallas was going to get back in the race only because they're Dallas and they create drama.  They aren't actually getting into the playoffs.  They're just way too undisciplined and dumb and they have too much Tony Romo.  Plus, the Saints just won 41-0, so now's not the time to bet against Drew Brees.  I'll say the Saints end the Cowboys season and officially commence the hyperactive "AHHH TONY ROMO AHHH" discussion.    New Orleans 34-16.
(Under 51.5)

Titans (5-9) @ Packers (10-4)
Predicted Line: GB by 13.5

Actual Line: GB by 13

Green Bay has clinched the division, but they're still playing for a first-round bye.  So they should come out with guns blazing and looking to rack up some points.  Tennessee doesn't have the defense to slow them down.  Packers 38-13.
(Over 46)

Colts (9-5) @ Chiefs (2-12)
Predicted Line: IND by 6.5

Actual Line: IND by 7

With just two weeks to go, KC can't afford another win if they want to secure Geno Smith.  So they should be in full-tank mode.  Even if they weren't, I'm not sure they can score any points or stop anybody.

However, I'm taking the points, simply because 7 points is a few too many for a road favorite when that road favorite has a terrible defense and is going against Jamaal Charles.   Let's say Colts 24-19.
(Over 41.5)

Bills (5-9) @ Dolphins (6-8)
Predicted Line: MIA by 3

Actual Line: MIA by 4.5

Not much time to write these ... sorry.
This looks like too many points ... Dolphins by 3.

Chargers (5-9) @ Jets (6-8)
Line: Jets by 1

I liked Bill Simmons' pick of Jets 4, Chargers 3.  But since that would be a tie on the spread, I'll say Jets win 5-3 and cover.

Redskins (8-6) @ Eagles (4-10)
Line: WAS by 7

Redskins have something to play for, Eagles don't.  RG3 makes a big final push for ROY.  Skins 34-24.

Bengals (8-6) @ Steelers (7-7)
Line: PIT by 3

Go Bengals!! But I doubt it.  Steelers 24-20.

Rams (6-7-1) @ Bucs (6-8)
Line: TB by 3

Should be a close game.  But Bucs have more offense.  Tampa 30-26.

Raiders (4-10) @ Panthers (5-9)
Line: CAR by 10

Carson is the king of garbage time.  Gotta take the points.  Panthers 27-20.

Patriots (10-4) @ Jags (2-12)
Line: NE by 15

Make it Pats by 30 and I would still take the favorites.

Vikings (8-6) @ Texans (12-2)
Line: HOU by 9

Christian Ponder has been more and more awful as the weeks go by, but AP keeps games close and will be single-mindedly focusing on another 200 yard game.  I'll say Texans by 6.

Browns (5-9) @ Broncos (11-3)
Line: DEN by 14

Lot of huge lines this week.  I'm counting on big games for Brady, Rodgers and Manning as they all cover 13+.  With the MVP on the line, it makes sense for them to be padding their stats a little.  I think Broncos rack up 30 in the first half and cruise.

Bears (8-6) @ Cardinals (5-9)
Line: CHI by 6

Last week was a fluke.  Ryan Lindley is still the optimum guy to bet against.  Bears by 20.

Giants (8-6) @ Ravens (9-5)
Line: Giants by 1 

Who knows. Could flip coins all day and still have be 100% sure I'll get this pick wrong.  I'll just take the home team; Ravens by 3.

49ers (10-3-1) @ Seahawks (9-5)
Line: SF by 1

As good as Seattle is at home, San Fran is just the better team.  Plus they won in New England last week.  And Colin Kaepernick ....  I'll go Niners 20-13.

Go Lions. Merry Christmas.


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