Monday, October 21, 2013

Week 8 Picks

Week seven recap:
8-7 straight up
8-7 against the spread

71-36 straight up (66.3%)
55-47-5 against the spread (53.9%)

It was a bizarre week in the NFL, riddled with injuries and upsets.  Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were beat by QBs in their early twenties, Sam Bradford and Reggie Wayne tore ACLs, Brian Cushing and Lance Briggs were lost for the season, and Jay Cutler suffered his annual injury, decimating the Bears season. Doug Martin was also lost for the year, cementing his fantasy status as one of the worst busts ever.  Unknowns Harry Douglas (149 and a score) and Jarrett Boykin (146 and a score) delivered huge games in the wake of Julio and Cobb's injuries.  And some dude named Jordan Reed has emerged as not only the Redskins starting tight end, but their best offensive playmaker and maybe a top 5 fantasy tight end.

Also, Jim Schwartz showed everyone why he sucks as a coach, and Stafford proved yet again that his head just isn't in the game, and he doesn't have the overpowering will-to-win that NFL quarterbacks need to really be successful.  The Chiefs won again, and now stand as the only unbeaten team.  But they narrowly beat Case Keenum and the Texans;  by the way, Case Keenum is pretty good.   Nick Foles got a concussion, thus relinquishing the job back to Mike Vick, and the Jags lost by double-digits yet again, falling to 0-7. Their remaining schedule does not have any games that appear winnable;  0-16 is a fantastic possibility.   Why haven't they signed Tebow yet??!?  

Keep in mind, the Bucs are also winless, and now Doug Martin-less, so Teddy Bridgewater doesn't quite belong to Jacksonville yet.  The Greg Schiano firing has to be this week, right?   Maybe immediately after their loss on Thursday?

Some slow but intriguing developments are taking place in the Standings, as a few teams who started out crappy now look feisty.  The Panthers (3-3), Redskins and Steelers (2-4), Jets and Chargers (4-3) and Bills (3-4) all have to be considered frisky Wildcard possibilities.   And thanks to the aforementioned injuries to Cutler and Bradford, the road to the NFC Wildcard just opened up for Detroit.  Next week's game against Dallas is huge;  then a bye week to prepare for the Cutler-less Bears.  That's the must-win of the season.

Detroit's remaining seven games have only one killer (Green Bay) and three cupcakes (Tampa, Giants, Vikings), so if the Lions can go 5-2 in those games they'll have a great chance to finish 10-6 or 11-5, depending on if they can beat the Cowboys and/or Bears.  That would be great because it puts Detroit in the playoffs; that would suck because it probably means Jim Schwartz again in 2014.

Last note before we get to the picks - how stinking good is Andrew Luck?  He's now beat the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos.  He's yet to lose two games in a row in his brief NFL career.  And his next obstacle - keeping the offense going without Reggie Wayne - will be his next conquest.  T.Y. Hilton is about to be a fantasy star.  (Of course, it helps when the other three teams in the AFC South are on a 3-game losing streak, a 5-game losing streak, and a 7-game losing streak.)   The Colts have a tighter stranglehold on their division than any other team.   And their punter delivered the play of the season -- a helmet-to-helmet destruction of some tiny kick returner.  The punter is now being "randomly" tested for steroids.  Seriously.  

Oh, also, the Tigers lost in the ALCS and Jim Leyland was fired retired with great dignity. Hopefully the offseason will bring changes, namely some bullpen help and a left fielder.  Oh, and if we can find some sucker to take on Prince's contract (or just release him and eat the money), we could move Cabrera back to 1st, move Castellanos to 3rd, and have enough cash to keep Scherzer at the end of 2014.  Just saying.

So without further ado, here are the week 8 picks.  By the way, I'm trying something new this week - picking the over/under for total points in each game, based on the point totals.  Just for the heck of it.

Panthers (3-3) @ Bucs (0-6) - Thursday
Predicted Line:  CAR by 6.5

Actual Line:  CAR by 7 

If you thought pubescent Mike Glennon was bad, wait til defenses no longer respect the running game and start double-teaming all his receivers.  With Doug Martin off the field, Carolina won't be worried about some sixth-round rookie named Mike James.  Vincent Jackson might be able to make a big play or two - Carolina's secondary isn't great - but it's going to be a crappy day for Tampa's offense.  

On the flip side, Cam Newton is suddenly playing the best football of his career (granted, only a two game sample size).  15 completions on 17 attempts against a pretty good defense. You can't beat that.   And now he's finally running again, he's no longer turning the ball over ...  in other words, this is a good time to bet on Cam Newton.

I know I should be wary of a seven-point road favorite, but this mismatch is tremendous.  Carolina 23-13.
(Under 40)

Cowboys (4-3) @ Lions (4-3)
Predicted Line:  DET by 2.5
Actual Line:  DET by 3.5

With 64% of Vegas betting on the Cowboys, this is the only game on the week 8 slate where the underdog is preferred by the public.  Which probably means this line drops down to DET by 1 or 1.5 by gameday.

And it makes sense.  While Romo and Garrett are the more publicized choke artists, Stafford and Schwartz are by far the inferior duo.  Romo shoots himself in the foot and everybody talks about it for weeks; Stafford shoots himself in the foot and nobody says two words about it, not even the Lions beat writers. How that guy escapes criticism is beyond me.   I think it has something to do with expectations;  after enduring the incompetence of Harrington and Kitna and a host of others, Stafford is a breath of wonderful fresh air to Lions fans.  Even though Stafford [somewhat secretly] sucks with those stupid sidearm passes and his brainless decisions on third down and his complete lack of pocket presence or pocket mobility, we're willing to overlook those deficiencies, because his arm is a cannon and he throws for a shitload of yards.  But to me, it's not about numbers.  Yes, he has thrown for more yards than anybody except Brees and Brady over the last three years.  Great.  But wins and losses are what matter.  The guy was the #1 overall pick, the guy is making $15 million a year, and despite the yardage numbers he puts up, no credible analyst would rank him in the top 10, let alone top 5, quarterbacks in the NFL.  Anybody who says he's better than Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson is a stupid Lions homer.  He's in the Cutler-Rivers-Eli tier, beneath a bunch of guys that he should be better than.    Also, let's not forget that he throws to the best receiver in the world.  We all saw what happened when Calvin was gone for one week.  (shudders)

One of those guys who Stafford should be better than but isn't is Tony Romo.   And speaking of expectations, Romo follows in the footsteps of guys like Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.  His fans, and the nation as a whole, expect greatness every game, and when he throws for 500 yards and 5 TDs, all people talk about is that one interceptions.  Imagine if that was Stafford.  The story would have been totally different.  Romo is under a weekly microscope;  Stafford is playing on an anonymous beach on a mystery island, and people only care about his box score.  Oh, 357 yards and 3 TDs on 51 attempts?  Nice job; you must be awesome.   No mention of the countless bad throws or bad decisions.  Or that the game was a loss and it was his fault for stupidly throwing the ball incomplete on 2nd and 3rd down with 40 seconds left and the Bengals only having one timeout in a tied game.  That's just basic football 101, but when Stafford makes those blatantly egregious mistakes, nobody even freaking mentions it.   If that were Romo, the talking heads would be dissecting him on an operating table and inspecting his lymph nodes as we speak.

So, all that to say, we are luckily catching the Cowboys at a good time.  DeMarcus Ware, their best overall player, will be out with a quad injury.  DeMarco Murray is questionable, and if he plays he won't be full strength.  And Miles Austin, who really isn't any good anymore anyway, is also out.  Not sure that matters though.

So it's back to the old Cowboys gameplan:  throw like crazy, play awful defense, and hope you can outscore the other offense.   In other words, a perfect fit for Detroit.

If things play out like they should, Dez and Calvin will combine for 400 yards, the starting running backs will combine for about 50 rushing yards, and Stafford and Romo will each air it out 55 times, while secondaries run around aimlessly, getting burned and getting called for stupid penalties, and it'll ultimately come down to which error-prone, non-clutch, overrated quarterback has the ball last.

I like the Lions, because of the X-factor: Ndamukong Suh.  He's more disruptive than any other defensive player in this game, especially with Ware absent, and he might just wreak enough havoc to give Detroit an edge.  I will take the points but the Lions straight up, 37-34, maybe in OT.
(Over 51)

49ers (5-2) @ Jaguars (0-7) in London
Predicted Line:  SF by 16.5
Actual Line:  SF by 16.5 

Not only are the Jaguars 0-7, but they're an incredible 1-6 ATS this year, despite being double-digit underdogs every week.  Their only cover was 26.5 points in Denver, a game they lost by "only" 16 points.

So I'm taking San Fran, because Jim Harbaugh won't be afraid to put them in a hole and step on their throats.  And the Colin Kaepernick mini-slump appears to be over.  How about Niners 27-7.
(Under 41)

Giants (1-6) @ Eagles (3-4)
Predicted Line:  PHI by 5.5
Actual Line:  PHI by 6  

The line is set at Eagles by 6, because it now looks almost certain that Vick will be able to start. Foles' concussion was timely because Chip Kelly avoids a quarterback controversy ... for now.  There's still a glimmer of hope that third stringer Draco Malfoy [Matt Barkley] gets the start if Vick can't go.

The Giants are feeling confident after actually being competitive in their last two games and finally ending Eli's interception streak (six straight games).  Leave it to Coughlin and Eli to finish the year on a 8-2 spree after being 0-6 and save their jobs and reputations.   Not that I think they'll do that, but it wouldn't surprise me.

By the way, funny fact for the day:  Eli has attempted 4,725 passes in the NFL, played in 155 games over 10 seasons ... and is only TWO years older than Brandon Weeden, who was drafted as a rookie last year.

I'm taking the Giants +6 because Vick with a hamstring injury doesn't inspire much confidence.  It could easily go the other way, because the Giants have no running game and the Eagles have tons of running game, but I think Eli can keep the score close with a second-half barrage of points against the pitiful Eagles D.  Philly wins 22-20.
(Under 52)

Browns (3-4) @ Chiefs (7-0)
Predicted Line:  KC by 8.5

Actual Line:  KC by 7 

The Browns are an easy team to explain:  3-0 under Brian Hoyer, 0-4 under Brandon Weeden.

The defense has been solid all year, though not unbeatable.  But the offense has been erratic:  28.3 points per game with Hoyer and 11.5 points per game with Weeden.  I mean, that's just ghastly.

But wait!  As I'm checking these numbers, I stumble upon the announcement - just posted 6 minutes ago - Jason Campbell will start this Sunday in KC!  Weeden is benched, meaning his career as a starting QB is probably over.

Campbell played in only three games last season, for the Bears, after Cutler was hurt.  All three were losses, but you still have to consider him an upgrade over Weeden.  At least he can move around a little bit, and he does have a stronger arm, or at least he did a few years ago.  I'm sure KC's defense isn't in a panic, but they've got to be disappointed that they don't get to play Weeden.

I'm pretty sure this game falls under the category of "Don't Overthink It."   Chiefs get an early lead and then Jamaal Charles takes over.  KC 27-10.
(Under 40)

Bills (3-4) @ Saints (5-1)
Predicted Line:  NO by 13.5
Actual Line:  NO by 11.5

Two major factors in this game:  one is the health of Jimmy Graham.  If he doesn't play, I'm not sure the Saints can score enough points to cover the spread.  The other is the fact that New Orleans is coming off a bye.  Two weeks to prepare for Thad Lewis, and two weeks to gameplan for an opportunistic but not elite defense.  If Graham plays, it's a no-doubter.  But I'm thinking his foot injury keeps him out another week.  Still, I think the Saints can get a sizable lead and then force Thad Lewis into some mistakes.  I'm doubtful that he can keep the fourth-quarter magic going for a third straight game.  Saints 27-13.
(Under 49)

Dolphins (3-3) @ Patriots (5-2)
Predicted Line:  NE by 6.5
Actual Line:  NE by 7

In his last three games, Tom Brady has 1 TD, 3 INTs, and a 51% completion percentage. Those numbers are Gabbert-esque.

On the season, he's 29th in completion percentage, 30th in YPA, 26th in QB rating, and, oh by the way, 3rd in total attempts, behind just Stafford and Peyton.

Are we sure he's still Tom Brady?  A few games is understandable, but seven games is no longer a small sample size.  Why are the Pats still getting lines like this?  They could easily be 2-5.  Wilfork and Mayo are both lost for the season.  I don't get it.

All I know is, I was ready to drop Brady in my fantasy league, and then I got an offer for him and accepted it without a second's thought.  It could have been Priest Holmes and I would have accepted.  (It was Andre Johnson, who I don't love, but whatever.)  Then I had the choice between Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Geno Smith, and Thad Lewis from free agency.  Frankly, I see all of them as an upgrade over Brady.   I'll be playing the matchup at QB for the rest of the season and to me, that's a whole lot better than Brady throwing for 170 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.  I'm officially done with Tom Brady.  If he wants to prove me wrong, go ahead, I don't even care.

Dolphins 23-19.    (Under 45)

Jets (4-3) @ Bengals (5-2)
Predicted Line:  CIN by 6.5
Actual Line:  CIN by 7

I can't figure either of these teams out.  Both have wins against New England; the Bengals also beat Green Bay (although that was a fluke), and the Jets beat the pre-injured Falcons.

But both have terrible losses on their docket;  Cincy scored only 6 points against Cleveland, while the Jets got annihilated by Tennessee.

Both these teams fall in the stupid, annoying category of "They could beat anybody, they could lose to anbody."   Completely inconsistent.  Though I will admit, both these teams are much better than I gave them credit for back in August.   Taking the points is the only pick that makes any sense.  Bengals 23-19.
(Over 41.5)

Steelers (2-4) @ Raiders (2-4)
Predicted Line:  PIT by 3

Actual Line:  PIT by 3 

Nice two game winning streak, but now it's time to remind people how incredibly bad this Steelers team is as they get demolished by Terrelle Pryor.  Raiders 31-14.   (Over 40)

Redskins (2-4) @ Broncos (6-1)
Predicted Line:  DEN by 14.5
Actual Line:  DEN by 14 

All that talk about how Peyton was returning to Indy after being there for 13 seasons.  How about this game: Mike Shanahan returns to Denver after coaching there for 13 seasons.  A pretty big deal, right?

Another good storyline:  RG3, always in Luck's shadow, now has to try to replicate the success that Luck had against Denver.  

I wasn't impressed by Denver's defense at all last week; Champ Bailey looked bad and is now hurt.  And Washington finally has a threat in the passing game in Jordan Reed.

But the Redskins defense is too bad to even consider them slowing down the Peyton Manning Machine. I'm gonna say 35-13 Denver.   (Under 58)

Falcons (2-4) @ Cardinals (3-4)
Predicted Line:  ARZ by 2.5
Actual Line:  ARZ by 2.5 

Last week Matt Ryan proved that he can still be a great quarterback without great receivers.  He made freaking Harry Douglas unstoppable.  This week, though, with Roddy White still out, Douglas gets matched up against Patrick Peterson and won't half half the success he had against.  So will Matt Ryan be able to use Jacquizz Rodgers and Tony Gonzalez to be effective, or will the offense fall flat against the underrated Cardinals D?  And how is the Cardinals D still underrated?     I want to think the return of Steven Jackson will help, but I have my doubts about that.

Arizona's offense is pretty anemic without a healthy Fitzgerald, as we've seen lately. Actually, they've been pretty anemic all season.  The most points they've scored all year was 25, and that was with plenty of help from the retarded Lions defense.   Weirdly, they've scored between 20 and 25 points in 5 of their 7 games, so we have a pretty clear idea of what their offense can do.  If they would dump Mendenhall and focus entirely on the superior Andre Ellington, that might take some pressure off Carson Palmer.  Maybe.  But it's a very limited offense with a very unreliable offensive line, and Fitzgerald has a mixture of injuries and attitude problems and just isn't dominant anymore.

So, that said, I see a whole lot of punting going on in this game, and quite a few field goals.   Atlanta has the superior quarterback, but the inferior defense.  I'll take the Cards by 4, 20-16.
(Under 45)

Packers (4-2) @ Vikings (1-5)
Predicted Line:  GB by 8.5
Actual Line: GB by 10 

Going against the grain (and 83% of the public) and taking the Vikings +10.  It makes plenty of sense to side with Aaron Rodgers, who wins 63% of the time ATS since 2009.  He proved last week that he can dominate without Cobb or James Jones.  I'm sure the Pack will be able to score 24 to 27 points at least.  Plus, Rodgers may be extra motivated playing against professional ass-clown Greg Jennings after all that nonsensical preseason trash talk.

But something tells me Adrian Peterson isn't a smart guy to bet double-digits against.  Just because he's had a few down weeks doesn't mean he's not still Adrian Peterson.  And I like that the Vikings are smartly moving back to Ponder;  although it's silly to fake a concussion for Freeman instead of just admitting that he stinks, it was still a smart move.  Ponder has a lousy arm for the NFL, but he can manage the game without making many mistakes, and he is more mobile that Freeman.  Also, the Packers don't have Clay Matthews.   So, I'm going to say Packers in a surprisingly close game, 27-23.
(Over 47.5)

Seahawks (6-1) @ Rams (3-4)
Predicted Line:  SEA by 11

Actual Line:  SEA by 11

That's four lines guessed exactly, and 13-for-13 lines guessed within 2 points.  Much better than last week, when I was off by 2 or more points 9 times, and picked the wrong favorite 3 times.   That explains why last week there were so many close games (6 games decided by 4 points or less).  This week should feature at least 6 or 7 blowouts.

And this will be one of them, with Kellen Clemens making his first start since 2011.  Clemens started three games for the Rams in 2011, all losses by at least 7 points.  And he was something of a backdoor expert. Losing 34-13 to the 49ers in the 4th quarter, he chucked two garbage TDs to make the score look respectable.  Losing 20-6 to Cincy with 1 minute left, he got another garbage TD.  And in his other start, Pittsburgh shut him out, with the Rams losing 27-0 and Clemens throwing for just 91 yards.

His other starts all came in 2007 with the Jets;  he was 3-5 in 8 starts with twice as many INTs and TDs, and a 60.9 QB rating.

So in other words, it makes sense why the Rams reached out to Brett Favre this week.  They are not feeling confident in Kellen Clemens.  But (thank God), Favre turned them down, and they're stuck with Clemens for the rest of the year, unless they do something unconventional like call up Tebow or Pat White or Troy Smith, or turn to newly signed 3rd stringer Brady Quinn.  Clemens will probably be just good enough to keep the starting job, and simultaneously prevent the Rams from drafting in the top 8 spots next year, which probably means more Sam Bradford in St. Louis.  A lot will depend on whether sophomores Hundley (UCLA) and Mariota (Oregon) declare for the draft.  If they do, there are at least FIVE quarterbacks going in the first round (assuming Manziel, Boyd and Bridgewater).   That means the Jags, Browns, Bucs, Eagles, Vikings, Rams, and maybe Cardinals (seven teams) are fighting over those five quarterbacks.  So the moral of the story is, you don't want to win too many games if you're a Rams or Cards or Eagles fan.

Also, how much smarter is that Trent Richardson trade looking for Cleveland?   Richardson has 228 yards on 75 carries (a repulsive 3.0 YPC) for the Colts, and a shockingly bad 2 receptions in 5 games.  Or in layman's terms, he has about 6 fantasy points per game.  While the Browns have an extra 1st round pick (which, granted, will be in the 20s) to package with their own 1st round pick and move up and make sure they get one of the elite QBs.  It was a calculated risk that looked idiotic in the short-term, but in the long-term means the Browns will enter 2014 with a new face of the franchise.

So all that to say, I'm taking the Seahawks in the blowout of the season, 42-0.
(Under 42.5)

Go Lions!

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