Thursday, December 6, 2012

Week Fourteen

Yet another mediocre week of picks.  I went 8-7-1 ATS and 11-5 straight up for the second straight week. I'm now 29-29-2 over the past four weeks.  Talk about consistency.

For the year, I am:
97-91-7 ATS (51.5%)
119-72 straight up (62.3%)

For a little history, in 2010 I picked the games only straight-up, and had stunning 67%  accuracy.  In 2011 I picked only ATS, and ended up at an equally stunning 54.1%.  Last year, I picked both ATS and straight up, and was a solid 51.7% and 67.5%.

I'm hoping to exceed last year's 51.7% mark, but 67.5% is nearly impossible at this point, barring the elusive 16-0 week.

With the Lions' fourth straight loss being the most crushing one yet, I don't feel like talking much about last week's games.  Let's just say I should have changed my pick to KC+3 after the events that took place in Kansas City.  Also, I wonder how many more games have to be played before Luck and RG3 are thrown into the Ben/Eli/Ryan pantheon as no-doubt top 10 quarterbacks?  By middle of next season, I expect both guys to be neck-and-neck with Drew Brees for top 5 QB status.  And within 3 years, I think the top 3 QBs in the league are unquestionably going to be Rodgers, Luck and Griffin.  Amazing.  And scary.

Let's begin the week 14 picks ...

Broncos (9-3) @ Raiders (3-9)
Predicted Line: DEN by 9.5

Actual Line: DEN by 11

What's most impressive isn't merely the Broncos' seven-game winning streak.  It's the fact that they've won each game by at least 7 points.  And they've scored 30 or more in all those games except one.  Peyton Manning is playing like Peyton Manning, and yet we're all so surprised.

On the other side, Oakland has lost five straight, they got trashed by Brandon Weeden last week, and they can't stop the run whatsoever. Also, Von Miller has more sacks (15) than the Raiders (14).

So why lean towards Oakland?  Well, because three years in a row double-digit underdogs have covered the spread more than half the time (approximately 57%).  Those numbers are even higher for home underdogs, and higher still for home underdogs in divisional games.  So by all predictable logic, the Raiders should cover this game about 68% of the time.  I'm almost positive the final score will be Denver 26-17.
(Under 48.5)

Rams (5-6-1) @ Bills (5-7)
Predicted Line: BUF by 3

Actual Line: BUF by 3

I don't think I've picked a Bills game correctly in 3 years.  I freaking hate them.  This feels like it should be a pretty low-scoring, sloppy game, so I might as well take the points.  Plus, the Rams are way underrated.  How about Bills 18-16.
(Under 42.5)

Cowboys (6-6) @ Bengals (7-5)
Predicted Line: CIN by 1

Actual Line: CIN by 3

A surprising four-game winning streak has Cincy back in the playoff hunt, but it needs to be noted that the last three teams they've played are all abysmal.   Overall, they've faced the easiest schedule in the league, so 7-5 really isn't a great record.  Their remaining schedule is tough, and they'll have to win in Pittsburgh week 16 to have any chance at the playoffs.

Dallas is in a similar boat. They basically need to win their remaining 4 games to make the playoffs.  I don't think they will, but they'll at least win this one, because it's mandated in the NFL's constitution that every season involve some sort of Cowboy-related playoff intrigue.  Cowboys 31-23.
(Over 45.5)

Chiefs (2-10) @ Browns (4-8)
Predicted Line: CLE by 3

Actual Line: CLE by 6.5

Frankly, I'm not sure Cleveland should be favored by this many points against half the teams in the SEC. Then throw in the fact that the underdogs are suddenly inspired by a major tragedy, and have found a leader in the shockingly profound Brady Quinn, who incidentally just played the best game of his career. Now he heads back to Cleveland, his hometown, to avenge the terrible years he played with the Browns. I like the Chiefs straight up, 23-13.  Which by the way, would throw a wrench in all the mock drafts that have KC taking Geno Smith at #1.

Seriously, it's worth watching that video of Quinn's press conference.  My respect for him went from a 0 to about a 99 in 50 seconds.
(Under 37.5)

Titans (4-8) @ Colts (8-4)
Predicted Line: IND by 6.5

Actual Line: IND by 6

So, I don't mean to brag, but did I call that Lions-Colts game or what?

I said Luck would have his first 3 TD game .... he did.  (plus one more)
I said Luck would throw for 350 yards ... he did.   (plus 40 more)
I said Calvin would have a monster game .... he did.
I said both teams would score in the 30s ... they did.
I said the teams would combine to score 66 points .... they scored 68.

I said the Colts would win on a last-second heart breaker ... they certainly did.

So I'm not sure what that means, other than I have a good read on the dysfunctional nature of the Lions and the unflappability of Andrew Luck.

I think the smart pick here would be Colts winning but Titans covering the spread, given that Indy's margins of victory this season have been narrow: 3, 3, 4, 6, 3, 7, 2, and 17.   But, I'm taking a risk that Luck will manufacture one of his first blowouts, as the Titans defense really lacks talent, and at 4-8, they'll also lack the motivation.  Indy wins big in a romp at home, 38-16.

After this game, Mike & Mike will start to wonder if we'll see Luck vs. Peyton in the AFC Championship.
(Over 48)

Bears (8-4) @ Vikings (6-6)
Predicted Line: CHI by 3

Actual Line: CHI by 3

Next time somebody tries to tell you that Jay Cutler is good, it would be helpful to remind them that the Bears rank 31st in passing offense, and Cutler doesn't rank in the top 15 in any statistics except interceptions and sacks.   The real reason the Bears are 8-4 is because they lead the NFL with 34 turnovers, and they've scored on a whopping 8 of those turnovers.  But, they haven't scored a defensive touchdown in 4 weeks, and not coincidentally they're 1-3 during that span.  Cutler's injury only hurt them because of how bad the backup was; it was like downgrading from a 72 to a 52.  But make no mistake, Jay Cutler is a C-minus quarterback, and if the defense doesn't make big plays, the Bears don't win.

With Percy Harvin now on IR, I'm inclined to pick against the Vikings ... but then I watch Adrian Peterson highlights, and I see his otherworldly 6.2 YPC, and the fact that he has almost as many runs of 20+ yards as the next two RBs combined, and I wonder if he might be the single most valuable/dangerous/don't-pick-against-this-guy player in the league.  He's having one of the best seasons any RB has ever had, and he's doing it against 8 guys in the box on every play.  And he wasn't even supposed to play at all this year.

I know there's a mandate that MVPs have to be quarterbacks, but I think the two best players in the league this year have been AP and Megatron.   And I also think the Vikings can win this game at home.  Maybe a sorely needed bounce-back performance for Ponder?   Minnesota 24-21.
(Over 39)

Chargers (4-8) @ Steelers (7-5)Predicted Line: PIT by 6
Actual Line: PIT by 7

I'm not sure how it works when the coach and GM know they're going to be fired.  It's an undisputed fact that Norv Turner and AJ Smith are gone as soon as the season ends.  So what does San Diego do these last four games?  Play for pride? Go through the motions?  Give up completely?

I think it comes down to the leadership on the team.  Detroit is out of the playoffs, but because of Schwartz's anger issues and respected veterans on the team (VandenBosch, Burleson, Raiola, etc) the team won't quit trying to win.  I'm not sure San Diego has those kind of guys.  Rivers definitely isn't one.  It's especially tough to muster any sense of competitiveness on the road in a very hostile environment.

From a merely X's and O's perspective, I really like the Steelers.  They'll be able to throw all over the place now that Ben is back, especially since San Diego has no pass rush.  The Steelers D should be able to dominate Rivers and his decimated offensive line; the Bolts are down to their 3rd string left tackle (fresh off the practice squad) and are also missing starters at RT and LG.  James Harrison will be licking his chops.

I'm going to take Pittsburgh in a blowout, 37-7.

Eagles (3-9) @ Bucs (6-6)
Predicted Line: TB by 8.5

Actual Line: TB by 7.5 made a compelling argument in favor of the Eagles.  He basically says that since the Vick Era officially ended, the Eagles began to try again, and they've almost won their last two games, thanks to some incredible running by emerging star Bryce Brown and the slowly improving Nick Foles. On the other hand, Tampa has fallen apart as Doug Martin appears to have hit a major rookie wall.  He gained a horrible 2.8 YPC over the last two games.

Walter makes valid points, and this line probably is a few points too high.

But then again, WalterFootball has been terrible this year, picking 47.2% of the games correctly, much lower than my 51.5%.   So even though he exceeded 52% in 3 of the past 4 years, I don't know how much I should trust him.  Many times this year I've taken his advice and got the pick very wrong. He has too many biases that influence his picks, and his biggest bias is against Vick.  I know he's pretending to like Foles just because of how much he dislikes Vick.   He hasn't swayed me into thinking that Nick Foles is any better than he actually is .... but he does make good points which are backed by good research.   I'll go Bucs by 3, 20-17.
(Under 47)

Ravens (9-3) @ Redskins (6-6)
Predicted Line: WAS by 1

Actual Line: WAS by 3

Betting against RG3 is about the dumbest thing a person can do nowadays.  Plus Baltimore is kind of overachieving; other than Oakland and Cleveland, they haven't beat anybody by more than 3 points since week 1.  Now, Terrell Suggs is out again with a bicep tear, and Ray Lewis is still one week away from playing, and of course Lardarious Webb is out too. Baltimore's defense actually ranks a crappy 25th in terms of yards allowed, narrowly ahead of Washington at 29th. This could quickly turn into a barnburner.   While Baltimore has the better coach, Washington has the better QB, and I think that makes the bigger difference.  Redskins 34-30.  
(Way over 47.5)

Falcons (11-1) @ Panthers (3-9)
Predicted Line: ATL by 4

Actual Line: ATL by 3.5

What the Panthers lack in the win column, they make up for with bravado.  Prior to the season, their players were guaranteeing Super Bowls.  Cam Newton made a stupid Youtube video pleading his case to be on the cover of Madden, and he began the video by listing about 30 self-appointed nicknames, such as Mr. Swag Man.  And now, mediocre defensive end Greg Hardy is telling anyone who will listen that the 3-9 Panthers are a better team than the 11-1 Falcons and something about "punishment."

It reminds me of the Jon Kitna/Kevin Smith days when the Lions would predict 10 wins for themselves and then win 2 games.  It's nice to have confidence, but you've gotta back it up with some talent and some composure on the field.  Carolina hasn't done that, and Atlanta has.  Personnel-wise, they may be close, but Atlanta actually performs on the field, and they don't beat themselves.

That said, Carolina is playing their best football right now, especially Newton, who has 8 touchdowns and 0 turnovers in the last 3 games.   And homedogs getting more than 3 points are usually a good bet.  However, I think Hardy's stupid comments might give Atlanta just enough motivation to kick the crap out of Carolina's sorry secondary and possibly even run up the score.  Who knows.  I'll say Falcons 37-27.
(Over 48)

Jets (5-7) @ Jaguars (2-10)
Predicted Line: NYJ by 1

Actual Line: NYJ by 3

If it wasn't for Tim Tebow's rib injury, this actually might have been the most interesting game of the week.  Sanchez finally benched, Tebow in his hometown, rumors of Tebow becoming the Jags' QB next year .... but instead, it's an absolute waste of time. Sanchez gets another chance, Henne hands the ball to a 4th string running back, and both defenses suck.  Taking the homedog.  Sanchez shouldn't be a road favorite against anyone after his confidence was dragged through the dirt.   Jags 16-6.
(Under 38.5)

Dolphins (5-7) @ 49ers (8-3-1)
Predicted Line: SF by 8

Actual Line: SF by 10

Conventional wisdom says to take the points.  Miami typically steps up against superior foes, and is a stunning 15-3 ATS on the road against teams with winning records since 07.

But one major injury scares me.  Jake Long is gone for the year with a tricep injury.  Many suspect that his career in Miami is over, as he'll be a free agent after this season and hasn't been extended.  He'll either get franchised (1 year, $15 million) or a long-term deal (something like 7 years, $80 million, $40 guaranteed).  Most people speculate that Miami doesn't want to retain him as they have too many other holes on the roster, and Long is getting older and has been hit by a few injuries lately.  If he doesn't get paid by Miami, he will get a big payday somewhere, and unfortunately, Detroit will not be among the possible candidates with the available cash, in case you wondered.

Long's injury impacts this game because he'll be replaced by rookie Jonathan Martin, who has never started in the blind side before.  Martin's task is to block current sack-leader Aldon Smith, while also keeping an eye on All Pro Justin Smith.  Yikes.  

This could easily lead to 6 or 7 sacks and 3 or 4 turnovers for Ryan Tannehill, who is notoriously unaware of protections and blitzes.  That alone will be enough to beat the spread, provided San Fran's offense puts up at least 20 points, which should be no problem.

I'll take the Niners 27-13.
(Over 39)

Saints (5-7) @ Giants (7-5)
Predicted Line: NYG by 3.5

Actual Line: NYG by 5

Saints' defense is horrible, but Brees will be looking to prove he doesn't suck after last week's debacle.  I have absolutely no read on either of these teams.  But I know it would be hilarious to see the Giants miss the playoffs, so I'll say Saints win, 33-25.
(Over 53)

Cardinals (4-8) @ Seahawks (7-5)
Predicted Line: SEA by 9.5

Actual Line: SEA by 10

A lot of really tough picks this week, and here's another one.  I don't like laying 10 points with rookie QBs, but I don't like anything about the Cardinals and their 8-game losing streak.  At least they wisely benched Ryan Lindley and put him out of his misery.  But is John Skelton (2 TDs, 7 turnovers), going to fare any better?  Among QBs with at least 50 attempts, Lindley has the worst QB rating (40.4), but Skelton has the next worst (64.4).  And while they do have a wretched offensive line, they also have Larry Fitzgerald, so the excuses are limited.  By comparison Kevin Kolb (86.1) is an absolute rock star.  When his ribs are fully healed, he'll likely be the QB to finish out the season.

But no question, Arizona leads the list of teams that need a new QB next year.  Is Alex Smith on their list? What about Vick?  And it needs to be asked, Tebow?   Or will they just take the best rookie in a class that's not particularly impressive?

I'm taking Seattle, but not by 10, and the only reason is because Arizona's defense is pretty solid.  Here's a link to one of the most impressive interceptions you'll ever see, courtesy of Patrick Peterson last week.

Seahawks 20-13.
(Under 35.5)

Lions (4-8) @ Packers (8-4)
Predicted Line: GB by 7.5

Actual Line: GB by 7

..... Probably taking the points.  The Lions can't seem to get blown out by anybody.  Packers 33-27.
(Over 51)

Texans (11-1) @ Patriots (9-3)
Predicted Line: NE by 3

Actual Line: NE by 4

Pats by 7.  37-30.
(Over 52)

That's it for now .... Go Timberwolves.

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