Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Week 6 Picks

Week five recap:
11-3 straight up
9-5 against the spread

53-24 straight up (68.8%)
41-32-4 against the spread (56.1%)

Giants (0-5) @ Bears (3-2) 
Predicted Line:  CHI by 9.5
Actual Line:  CHI by 9 

Eli Manning's historically bad season has not been adequately exposed by the talking heads.  For whatever reason, they are leaving him alone.  Probably because he's football royalty and to dump on one Manning while the other Manning is painting the Sistine Chapel just wouldn't seem nice.   But examine the facts:  in five starts, Eli's QB rating has topped 65 only once.  That means one out of five starts he hasn't been completely horrible.  He has 12 interceptions compared to 8 TDs, a ratio that puts him in company with only one other quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, who has a mind-numbing 7 picks and just 1 TD. Among QBs with at least 100 attempts this season, only two have completion percentages south of 54%:  again, Eli and Blaine.

If this season doesn't dramatically improve for the Giants - I'm talking about finishing a respectable 7-9 or 6-10 - this could spell the beginning of the end for Eli Manning.  This kind of incompetence won't be tolerated for very long.  Truly, I think this stretch of hideous play will be the kind of thing that ultimately keeps Eli out of the Hall of Fame.   15 years from now, the HOF panel will discuss his career, and say "Yes, he won those two Super Bowls, but we still can't figure out how the hell that happened, because look at 2013!  That guy was garbage."

And then there's Jay Cutler, a guy who shifts from garbage to superstar every other snap.  Can one of the NFL's biggest douche bags really be trusted to cover a double-digit spread?  

This spread opened at CHI -7 and quickly ballooned to -9, meaning the public is pounding the Bears.  And why wouldn't they?  The Giants can't stop anyone, can't score themselves, and Eli only seems capable of moving the ball in garbage time.  They've been outscored by an average of 20 points, so CHI -9 seems like a bargain.  The way I figure it, Chicago goes up 21-7, Matt Forte controls the clock and gets 100 yards in the second half, and Eli's garbage time TDs aren't enough to cover the spread.  Bears 36-24.

Raiders (2-3) @ Chiefs (5-0)
Predicted Line:  KC by 9.5

Actual Line:  KC by 9 

Among the myriad of quarterbacks who are playing better than Eli Manning, perhaps none is more surprising than Terrelle Pryor.  Though he is probably the fastest quarterback in the league, he is often forgotten in the discussion of young phenom QBs, because, come on, he plays for the stupid Raiders.  Plus, he was drafted in the "supplemental" draft.  Come on, isn't that like the freakshow of misfits?

But Pryor has been more than competent this season; he's been very good.  Excluding a beatdown to the Broncos, the Raiders have been 2-1 under Pryor in 2013, and gave away a game to the Colts that they should have won.  Pryor has been effortlessly moving the chains with his feet, while completing a high percentage of his passes and using scrub receivers to make big plays.  If that doesn't sound like the 2012 version of RG3, I don't know what does.

Oakland's roster still has more holes than it has answers, and they are still in NFL "no-man's land," with no hope for the present and no hope for the future.  But with Pryor at the helm, they'll be fun to watch, and they might pull off 7 or 8 wins.

KC is 5-0 and now begins a 3-game homestand against three inferior foes. While everyone is chalking them up to 8-0 and eagerly awaiting the week 11 Battle of Unbeatens between them and Denver, I'm saying watch out for the next three games.  Oakland, Houston, and Cleveland are all feisty.   And this is still Alex Smith and Andy Reid were talking about.   They have track records that shouldn't be so easily forgotten.

Remember in 2011 when the Lions started 5-0 and then had two straight home games which were supposed to bring them to 7-0?  They lost them both and finished 10-6.   Just saying.

I think I'm trying to talk myself into Oakland winning straight up, but that would just be a dumb pick when I can just take the points and the Chiefs.  Let's say KC 23-20 in OT.

Eagles (2-3) @ Bucs (0-4)
Predicted Line:  PHI by 2

Actual Line:  TB by 2 

Unfortunately, Josh Freeman vs. Michael Vick has been abruptly cancelled, and instead we'll have Mike Glennon vs. Nick Foles.  Hold onto your hats, this could get ugly.

In case you've been living under a rock, Josh Freeman was benched, then released by the Bucs, but only after they threw him under a speeding bus and dragged his name through the mud.  He has a new home in Minnesota, where he has an honest chance to reinvent himself and provide an upgrade to the woefully limited Christian Ponder.  (Sidenote:  it's too bad about Ponder, because he has good mobility and intelligence and seems to be a genuinely good guy.  Just doesn't have a good enough arm.  But we'll get to the Vikings later).

When Mike Vick left the game on Sunday with a very predictable injury (though I wouldn't have guessed hamstring), the Eagles didn't change their gameplan at all as Nick Foles ran every play out of the no-huddle shotgun.  He really wasn't very effective, but he got the win thanks to a couple of terrible Eli interceptions that giftwrapped the Eagles victory.  Foles was okay, but not great.

As for Mike Glennon, his only career start was extremely forgettable, as he chucked the ball 43 times and didn't even garner 200 yards, instead finding Patrick Peterson for two game-ruining interceptions. He lost a fumble, was sacked twice, and looked totally unprepared for the speed of the NFL.  Also, he proved that defenses are not going to fear his arm, as the Cardinals simply stacked the box with defenders and reduced Doug Martin to 45 yards on 27 carries. That 1.7 YPC.  Yikes.

So Foles is the better QB in this game, but that's like saying you'd rather have Ben Wallace shooting a free throw instead of Shaq.  Figure that Revis is going to shut down DeSean Jackson, so this probably comes down to which running back does a better job of fighting through 8-in-the-box and breaks a couple big plays.  McCoy is the better choice there by far.  In fact, Doug Martin really sucks this year (3.4 YPC compared to McCoy's 5.2).    So let's take Foles and the Eagles, 20-16.

By the way, the over/under is 1.5 weeks until Greg Schiano becomes the first coach fired .... and I'll take the under.

Packers (2-2) @ Ravens (3-2)
Predicted Line:  GB by 2
Actual Line:  GB by 3

I'm trying to resist the urge to overreact to what I saw from Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. Frankly, he was not all that amazing.  He made a few good throws, he was good enough to beat the Lions secondary as expected, but he wasn't methodical and surgical like I expected him to be.  He seemed to be in a pretty crappy mood and not really connected to any of his teammates.

Now, Clay Matthews is out for a month, which cripples the Packers pass-rush but does not change that fact that Clay Matthews will appear in 347 commercials every Sunday. On the flip side, the Ravens just traded for a stud left tackle in Eugene Monroe, and Terrell Suggs looks like one of the best players in football. Baltimore is clearly the better team, but Green Bay has the better quarterback.  It's the age-old dilemma.

If I had just a tad bit more confidence in Joe Flacco, I'd take Baltimore.  I really want to take Baltimore.  But the chances are this game will come down to the end, and the better quarterback usually prevails in that case.  I will take the points though, just in case.  Packers 31-29.

Lions (3-2) @ Browns (3-2)
Predicted Line:  DET by 3

Actual Line: DET by 2.5

Well, the first question that needs to be asked is:   Is Calvin Johnson going to play?

Jim Schwartz was very iffy on the subject on Monday.  Kinda, maybe, we'll see.  Schwartz made one thing clear:  they won't play him as a decoy.  If he's playing, he's really playing.  Which makes me think he's probably not playing.

As we saw on Sunday, this offense is a shitstorm without Calvin Johnson.  Reggie Bush had no where to run. The other receivers couldn't create any separation.  Stafford was lost.  What's the saying? 'You don't know what you have until it's gone.'  Matt Stafford is so used to safeties and linebackers cheating in Calvin's direction, that when he didn't see defenses respond the same way to Kris Durham, he suddenly morphed into Joey Harrington.

By the way, did you know Stafford and Durham were roommates at Georgia?  Since the announcers only told us that 47 times during the game, I thought I'd mention it one more time.

Fortunately, we're catching Cleveland at the perfect time.  Riding a three-game winning streak and rallying around some kind of inexplicable "We Don't Need Trent Richardson!" momentum, the Browns were struck a terrible blow when Brian Hoyer was lost for the season with an ACL (never thought those words would be said).  Now they're back to Brandon Weeden, who is terrible compared to other NFL quarterbacks, but let's be honest, he's probably good enough to rip apart the Lions.  Let's not get cocky.

The interesting thing is, whether or not Calvin Johnson plays won't be the huge factor it normally would be, because Cleveland will be able to use Joe Haden against him man-to-man.  If Calvin sits, Haden will simply eliminate someone else, probably Broyles, maybe Durham.  The Browns defense has proven to be very good against the run and pretty good at pursuing the quarterback, so it's probably not going to be a great day for Bush or Stafford.

I don't think either team will score many points.  I don't trust the Lions on the road, but I don't trust Brandon Weeden anywhere.   Lions win a battle of field goals, 19-16.

Panthers (1-3) @ Vikings (1-3)
Predicted Line:  MIN by 3

Actual Line:  MIN by 3

Last week, Cam Newton had arguably the worst game of his career.  Not only were his numbers dreadful (no TDs, 4 turnovers, 7 sacks), the untimely loss put the Panthers in a nearly insurmountable hole at 1-3, and eroded the confidence of all Panthers fans.  Remember, Carolina began last season 1-6 and didn't start winning until other teams stopped caring about them.

Fortunately, the NFC wildcard is looking pretty obtainable this season.  The Falcons are 1-4 and just lost Julio Jones for the season. Let's consider them dead in the water.  The NFC East is going to be won be either an 8-8 or 9-7 team, so the rest of those teams are not wildcard contenders.  And with the Packers and Niners already at 2 losses, the only sure playoff teams are Seattle and New Orleans.  Green Bay will probably end up winning the North, and San Fran will grab a wildcard with 10 or 11 wins, and that leaves things open to the Bears, Lions, and maybe Cardinals.  A team like Carolina might be able to charge into that discussion with a winning streak.  Look at the Panthers next four games:  Vikings, Rams, Bucs, Falcons. Watch out for them if Cam starts playing like he did in 2011.

But that's just the thing.  Cam Newton is steadily declining in every way since his awesome rookie season.  His completion percentage is down, his turnovers are up, and he's no longer running the ball.  He's sulking more, laughing less, and becoming the franchise scapegoat faster than you can say "Sam Bradford."

But dangit, this Carolina defense is way too good to keep losing, especially the front 7.  It's a great test for Adrian Peterson, one I'm fairly sure he'll pass, but not without some difficulty.  Minnesota still doesn't seem clear on who their starting QB is, though it sounds like it'll be Matt Cassel this week, and maybe Freeman moving forward.  Is the Christian Ponder era done already?

I see the Vikings punting a lot in this game, and I see Cam making a few costly mistakes.  Something like 16-14 Vikings sounds about right.
*EDIT - In light of the awful news about Adrian Peterson, I'm changing my pick.  Don't want to pick against him right now.  Vikings 23-14.  

Rams (2-3) @ Texans (2-3)
Predicted Line: HOU by 4.5
Actual Line:  HOU by 9

I don't know how you can give that many points with the way Matt Schaub is playing.  Houston has lost 3 straight and they're talking about T.J. Yates taking over the QB job.  That doesn't sound like a 9-point favorite to me.  As morbidly unimpressive as Sam Bradford has been, I'd like to think he can score at least 14 points and that's all they'll need to cover.  Houston 20-17.

Steelers (0-4) @ Jets (3-2)
Predicted Line:  NYJ by 3

Actual Line:  NYJ by 3

Everything about this game tells me the Steelers will crush them.  They are embarrassed, disgraced, and they've had an extra week to prepare for Geno Smith.  They have a great coach and I can't imagine Mike Tomlin letting this team fall to 0-5.  Then again, I thought the same thing about the Giants last week.   When you just don't have the talent, you can't win based on pride and credentials.   But, this is the Jets.  They are so overdue for a beatdown.   Ugh, I don't know.  I can't picture any way in which that pathetic Steelers offense actually moves the ball against Rex Ryan's defense.  I'm taking the stupid Jets.  23-17.

Bengals (3-2) @ Bills (2-3)
Predicted Line:  CIN by 3

Actual Line:  CIN by 9

It took me a second to figure out why this line is so wacky.  Then I remembered:  E.J. Manuel is out for a month, and some dude named Thad Lewis is starting for the Bills.   When you figure it was these Bengals who kept Tom Brady without a TD last week, it makes sense why Vegas would overreact and make them 9-point road favorites.  After all, nobody's ever heard of Thad Lewis, so he must be a worthless sack of crap.

Well, I don't know.  Typically I don't take mediocre QBs like Andy Dalton to cover 9 points on the road against anybody.  Plus, the Bills have a good defense.  Don't they?  Can't they just triple team A.J. Green and then engage in a punt-fest?  I could see Buffalo scrapping all the pass plays from the playbook and racking up 65 rushing attempts for 280 rushing yards.  But just to be safe, I'll take the Bengals by 3.

Titans (3-2) @ Seahawks (4-1)
Predicted Line:  SEA by 13

Actual Line:  SEA by 14

I think this falls under the category of "Don't Overthink It."  Seattle's stiffing defense at home against Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Just gonna say Seahawks 23-0 and keep moving ....

Jaguars (0-5) @ Broncos (5-0)
Predicted Line:  ...DEN by 27.5?
Actual Line:  DEN by 27 




That's definitely a freaking record.   Well, this ties the highest spread ever, but any football that was played in 1966 was a bunch of old white guys in funny costumes and shouldn't be treated as anything but satire.  The mighty 2007 Patriots were favored by 20+ only three times, and topped out at -24 against the Eagles. (Worth noting: the underdog covered in all three of those games).

I'm taking the Jags for one simple reason.  I think Peyton only plays a quarter and a half in this game. Broncos go up 35-0 in about 8 minutes, and then Brock Osweiler gets the rest of the snaps.  The Broncos will gradually pull their veteran stars from the game; I mean, why bother playing Champ Bailey or Wes Welker when you're up by 35?  You're just asking for an injury.

Against the Broncos' backups, I think Blaine Gabbert and Justin Blackmon are able to pull off the backdoor cover.  Let's say the final score is Denver 38-14.  But don't be shocked if it's 84-0.  Just depends on how aggressive/good Brock Osweiler is.  

Cardinals (3-2) @ 49ers (3-2)
Predicted Line:  SF by 7

Actual Line:  SF by 11.5 

One of the best-kept secrets of the 2013 season has been that Colin Kaepernick hasn't been any good. Arizona's defense is good enough to keep this game close.  Let's say Niners 24-17.

Saints (5-0) @ Patriots (4-1)
Predicted Line:  NE by 1.5
Actual Line:  NE by 3 

I'll probably end up being proven wrong by the end of the season, but I no longer think Tom Brady is part of the elite QB tier with Peyton, Rodgers and Brees.  In fact, I'm not sure Brady is still in the top 5.  This isn't overreaction to his no-TD performance last week.  I've been slowly coming up with this conclusion since week 1.  He's not a top 10 QB this year in yards, TDs, completion percentage, passer rating, or YPA.  In many of those stats, he's way down in the mid-20s, amid guys like Ponder, Locker and Schaub.

Granted, he's had no Gronk, no Welker, no Hernandez, etc, etc, etc.  I fully understand that he's operating with a worse supporting cast of weapons than any QB in the league.  But we all expected Brady to be Brady despite that.  I thought he'd make Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins into stars, not scapegoats.   But he seems content to blame and bitch and moan and kick field goals, and frankly, the Pats are lucky to be 4-1 and not 2-3.   If they barely beat the Jets and Bills, how are they gonna handle the Saints, the only team that gives Denver any contention for best team in the league?

Drew Brees has been mowing down good defenses all season, unleashing the fury of Jimmy Graham, who by the way, might break the yardage record that Calvin just broke last season.  Against a Wilfork-less Pats defense, the Saints will score way too many points for New England to keep up.   New Orleans 45-34.

Redskins (1-3) @ Cowboys (2-3)
Predicted Line:  DAL by 4.5
Actual Line:  DAL by 6

Remember a few years ago when every time Tony Romo tied his shoe or threw an incomplete pass, all the guys at ESPN gasped and cried like they were watching someone give birth.  One of the best things about the emergence of the great super young QBs has been that the national media no longer has to freak out about every damn thing Tony Romo does and then yell about it incoherently for hours.  They let him go about his business of being a good but mistake-prone QB.   Then last week happened, and it was back to an endless blur of Romo hyperbole.  Hopefully it will slowly fade away again, but we can't be too careful.

I have two sneaking suspicions related to this game:
1)  Dallas gave everything they had last week against Denver, came up short after playing the best game they can possibly play, and now they'll come out flat and undisciplined.
2)  Washington is the playoff darkhorse.  They threw everyone off their scent with a terrible first two games, they play in a winnable division, and RG3 just might turn back into RG3 if his knee if healthy.  I can't yet decide if we're witnessing a sophomore slump or a superstar who has been limited by his messed-up knee, but there's a glimmer of chance that it's the latter.

So I'm going to take the points.  Cowboys 33-30.

Colts (4-1) @ Chargers (2-3)
Predicted Line:  IND by 3
Actual Line:  IND by 1.5

This line actually opened at San Diego by 2.5, and with overwhelming action on the Colts, has swung all the way in the Colts favor.  Something like 89% of money is on Indy.  I think the line's still too low.

After Indy topped Seattle and their unstoppable defense last week, the nation is now fully aboard the Andrew Luck Bandwagon, and rightfully so.  He's leaped past Brady and  is closing in on Rodgers to be legitimately called the third best QB in the league.  All the physical tools are there in abundance, but his intelligence sets him apart.  He knows where defenders (and receivers) are going to be before they do. What's scary is that he's still figuring it out.

All that said, I want to take the Chargers.  Indy's defense is getting way overhyped right now and will struggle to stop Rivers on the road.  Indy's going to have to score at least 30 points to cover.  I don't have a ton of confidence in them, but what the heck, might as well keep picking with Luck until he gives me a reason not to.  Colts 34-31.

Go Lions!  

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