Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Week 9 Picks

Week eight recap:
11-2 straight up
8-5 against the spread
7-5-1 over/unders

82-38 straight up (68.3%)
63-52-5 against the spread (54.7%)
7-5-1 over/unders 

I'll certainly take 11-2 straight-up (84%), but I'm not going to brag about it; when you consider that there were 9 favorites of 7+ points and all 9 of them won outright, it wasn't a very difficult week of picks.   In all, favorites went 11-2 straight-up this week, and one of those losses was Pittsburgh, who shouldn't have been favored on the West Coast, where they are 1-6 since 2003.  Oakland and the Giants - the two underdogs who won - were pretty easy picks ATS.    

The story of the week - with apologies to Megatron - was Cincinnati.  Scoring 49 points against a good defense, the Bengals proved they are legit.  Marvin Jones isn't going to be a fluke; he's a legitimate #2 receiver to complement A.J. Green, and now as defenses pay more attention to the deep ball, it allows Gio Bernard to use his speed and make some huge plays on draws and screens.   Cincy is set up nicely for a postseason run, with a 2.5 game lead in the surprisingly awful division.  

In fact, the AFC playoff picture is almost set and we're only halfway through the season.  We know KC, Denver, Indy, Cincy and New England are in.  That leaves one Wildcard spot, and the Chargers are the only remaining team above .500 at 4-3.  The Titans, Ravens, Dolphins, Jets, and maybe even Steelers, Browns, Raiders, Bills, and Texans have a chance at that #6 seed.  But the biggest storyline in the AFC is the two upcoming games between KC and Denver, which will determine who gets homefield throughout and who doesn't get a bye.  Right now, I'm thinking it'll be a Peyton-Luck rematch in the AFC Championship. 

The NFC playoff picture isn't quite as clear, though we do know the Niners, Seahawks and Saints are in.  The Packers are the logical choice to win the North, barring an injury to Rodgers, and nobody in the East is above .500, so it's safe to say no Wildcard will come from that division, especially considering the number of games they still play against one another.  That leaves Detroit, Carolina, Chicago and Arizona fighting for the final spot. In other words, not much changed this past week, as none of the playoff contenders lost.  Carolina is red hot, Detroit and Arizona got huge wins, and Atlanta, Tampa and St. Louis slid closer to the top of the 2014 draft.   The big surprise was Seattle, who looked like absolute crap and only mustered 135 total yards against the Rams, 80 of which came on one play.  Russell Wilson had 10 completions and was sacked 7 times.  

Three things to watch out for in the NFC:  
1) The Giants winning 6 of their last 8 games, and winning the division at 8-8.  
2) The Packers @ Lions on Thanksgiving.  If Detroit pulls the upset, that could shake things up in a big way.  
3) The Panthers - with two games left against the Saints (weeks 14 and 16) they have a snowball's shot at stealing the division. 

Lastly, I should probably say something about Calvin Johnson and his 329 yards and /or Dez Bryant acting like a raging lunatic.   You might remember my prediction before the game that they would combine for 400 receiving yards.  (I was off by one yard).   For all the talk about these two, I speculate that the only difference between these two players is between the ears.  Dez has phenomenal talent; in some ways, he's stronger and faster than Calvin.  But Calvin can run better routes, outthink defenders, anticipate the play before it happens, and inspire - rather than infuriate - his teammates.  It's like comparing Jerry Rice to Terrell Owens, or Tim Duncan to Allen Iverson.  Dez has superstar talent, Hall of Fame talent even, but he's a jackass and a thug and an embarrassment to his teammates and himself.    Calvin is the classiest, humblest, most reluctant superstar I've ever seen.  He's almost embarrassed by his own greatness. And that's why one guy had 14 for 329 and the other guy had 3 for 72.   That's why one guy is beloved by the entire league, even his opponents, and the other guy is bemoaned by his own organization. That's why Calvin broke the single-season yardage record, and just might do it again. 143 yards per game for the next eight games - definitely not impossible.  

Dez Bryant's career is on a trajectory somewhere in between TO and Ochocinco ... while Calvin is carving out a legacy that is one notch below Jerry Rice and one notch above everyone else.   

Here are the week 9 picks.  

Bengals (6-2) @ Dolphins (3-4)
Predicted Line:  CIN by 6.5

Actual Line:  CIN by 2.5 

I was expecting tons of line value following the Bengals' dismantling of the Jets, but apparently people aren't buying into Andy Dalton just yet.  Well, that's not entirely true.  90% of the betting is on the road team. But that's because the line is so curiously low.    The Bengals have won 4 straight, the Fins have lost 4 straight, so this seems like a no-brainer.  I can't think of a good reason why this line isn't 4 points higher.   

If I try really hard to overthink it, I suppose I could say that Miami has a strong defense, a capable secondary, a competent QB, and possibly the best overall player in this game now that Cameron Wake is finally healthy again. 

But on the flip side ... Cincy's D is better than Miami is, they'll be able to stop Miami's non-existent running game with only 4 defenders (especially because one of those guys is Geno Atkins), and they'll create lots of 3rd and longs and then put seven guys in coverage.  A careful look at Tannehill's game-by-game stats shows that he's starting to regress.  Maybe he's trying too hard to compensate for the worthless running game.  Who knows. When he was drafted I considered him John Navarre 2.0, so if he regresses and ultimately doesn't work out as a starting NFL quarterback, I guess I won't be too surprised.  

With the emergence of Marvin Jones last week, Miami's D will be the first to try to figure out how to stop these suddenly explosive Bengals, and if they aren't careful A.J. Green will take advantage.  I'm thinking Gio Bernard has a big game here and officially becomes the leading candidate for ROY.   Bengals 27-9.  
(Under 42) 

*Edit - missed the pick, but I was right about Gio.  Dang.  

Falcons (2-5) @ Panthers (4-3)
Predicted Line:  CAR by 8

Actual Line:  CAR by 7.5 

I'm all about line value in divisional games.  This is an overreactive spread based on what happened last week. Matt Ryan is too good to be an 8-point underdog.  I like the Panthers in a bit of a shoot-out, 30-27.  
(Over 43.5) 

Vikings (1-6) @ Cowboys (4-4)
Predicted Line:  DAL by 8

Actual Line:  DAL by 10.5

It's a small sample size, but in the 25 games that he's been favored by 7+ points, Tony Romo has only covered 32% of the time.  Plus, they say that teams playing a second road game in a row tend to cover a lot of spreads. So that makes me initially lean toward the Vikings, even though I just watched them get demolished by Aaron Rodgers a couple nights ago.  

This might be a good place to mention the NFL trade deadline, which is today (Tuesday the 29th). Lots of rumors, which include everyone from Larry Fitzgerald to Jared Allen to Maurice Jones-Drew and many more.  It's too bad more trades don't occur in the NFL.  For example, why doesn't a team on the fringe of the playoffs (say, the Lions) give up a 3rd round pick to a non-contender (say, Houston) for a position they need (say, CB)?  Wouldn't that make plenty of sense?  Even if it's just for depth, to keep Bill 'The Human Penalty' Bentley off the field on third downs.  It's not like the Lions don't end up cutting all their 3rd round picks anyway.  Might as well get something for them.  I don't see why NFL GMs aren't more aggressive at the trade deadline like they are in baseball.  Can we make Dave Dombrowski the dual-GM of the Lions and Tigers? 

*EDIT - No trades occurred.  None that matter anyway.  

I think I'm going to lay the points here, despite the trends I mentioned above. Minnesota's in disarray.  Their own coach has no idea who he wants to start at quarterback and it's week 9.  They are wasting Adrian Peterson's prime right now and it's a travesty. Cowboys have too much offense for the hopeless Vikings D.  Dallas 31-14. 
(Under 47.5) 

Saints (6-1) @ Jets (4-4)
Predicted Line:  NO by 6

Actual Line:  NO by 6 

Both of these teams have winning records against the spread, with the Saints 5-2 and the Jets 5-3.  Aside from their loss to the Patriots (a game the Saints should have won and would have won 8 out of 10 times),  they've won 5 of their 6 games by 6 points or more.  However, they typically score 30+ points at home (15 out of the last 20 times) but average just 26.4 on the road, including a meager 23 per game this season.  And despite what happened last week, the Jets do have a solid defense.  [Insert Rex Ryan joke and/or complement here]. 

So the question becomes, can the Jets offense score at least 20 or 23 points and thereby cover the spread? 

It should be mentioned, but certainly not elaborated upon, that Rex's brother is the D-coordinator of the Saints.

Geno Smith has been the epitome of inconsistency this year, with an every-other-game trend that is alarming. Check out his QB ratings by game:   
80.6 27.6, 89.9, 79.2, 147.7, 48.8, 71.9, 51.9.    
Or his fantasy points per game:   16, 3, 28, 9, 27, 4, 22, 2.  

It's wacky.  It's also worth noting that most of his good games have come at home.  I'm gonna say Jets cover. Saints 24-20.  
(Under 45) 

Titans (3-4) @ Rams (3-5)
Predicted Line:  Pick Em 

Actual Line:  TEN by 3 

I spent a good eight minutes thinking about who is the best overall player in this game.  I have no idea.  Chris Long?  Jake Long?  The Rams kicker?? It might actually be a guy I had never thought about prior to this season - Alterraun Verner, a CB for the Titans who is making a strong case for the Pro Bowl.  He's also the guy who did this. (I hate you Pettigrew).  

I know Jake Locker is the better quarterback, but I'm also pretty sure the Rams have the better defense.  They just shut the Seahawks down entirely. Tennessee's defense started out hot but has regressed, although it's notable that their last three games were KC, SEA and SF.  Not exactly a winnable slate.  Before those games they were 3-1 with an overtime loss.  

But two things are paramount in this game: 
1)  The Rams had a short week to prepare after playing Monday night, while the Titans have had two weeks. 
2)  Jeff Fisher - after coaching the Titans for 16 seasons - is playing against them for the first time.  It'd be more interesting if this game was in Nashville, but there are still plenty of intriguing subplots stemming from the Fisher Bowl.

I can't see either team running away with it, so I'm going to take the points and say Titans 20-19.  
(Under 39.5) 

Chiefs (8-0) @ Bills (3-5)
Predicted Line:  KC by 6.5
Actual Line:  KC by 3.5  

Just wrote a couple big long paragraphs and then this stupid website deleted them and won't let me click 'undo.' 
Whatever - Chiefs 23-17.  
(Under 40.5) 

Chargers (4-3) @ Redskins (2-5)
Predicted Line:  SD by 1

Actual Line:  SD by 1 

My least favorite game of the week to pick. I'm 100% sure I'll get this game wrong.  I guess I have a slightly better feeling about the Chargers - coming off a bye, Rivers can light up Washington's secondary.  I think it'll be fairly high scoring.  Let's say 30-26 San Diego.  
(Over 51) 

Eagles (3-5) @ Raiders (3-4)
Predicted Line:  OAK by 3

Actual Line:  OAK by 2.5

There was a lot of preseason talk about the Raiders going 0-16.  They were barely good enough to play in the SEC, many people said.  So how have they won 3 games, and how did they almost beat the Colts?   And considering that two of their losses were against Denver and KC, and another was with backup QB Matt Flynn stinking it up, you could honestly argue that this is a pretty good team.  When Terrelle Pryor plays, they are 3-3, with losses to teams that are a combined 20-3.  

On the flip side, their wins are all at home, and are against teams that are a combined 6-16, including a win against Jacksonville, which doesn't really count.  

So, the story is, they can beat lousy teams, but they can't beat good teams.  That's a perfect segueway to discuss the Eagles, the most schizophrenic team of 2013.   Philly clearly sucks - their offense has only scored 3 points in the past two games - both against lousy defenses, both home games.   And we know Philly's defense is horrendous - they rank 31st in yards allowed, 31st against the pass, and lead the league in defensive penalties. The Chip Kelly experiment has failed, and Oakland will move to 4-4 and stay in playoff contention.  

But ... LeSean McCoy leads the league in rushing yards, DeSean Jackson is 5th in receiving, and the offense ranks 5th in yards-per-game, not bad for a flurry for injuries at the QB position.  Now they are moving back to Nick Foles, who is clearly their best option at QB, which isn't saying much.  Maybe all Chip Kelly needs is a QB who can run his scheme (Tajh Boyd? Marcus Mariota? Johnny Football?) and this team will be unstoppable.  It's reasonable.  

Even with Foles, this team has been pretty effective.  He's got 6 TDs, 0 picks, and a 2-1 record as a starting QB this year.  Of course, his two wins are against 0-7 Tampa and the 2-6 Giants.  But still.

I'm going to take the mild upset and say Eagles 26-23. 
(Over 45) 

Bucs (0-7) @ Seahawks (7-1)
Predicted Line:  SEA by 17

Actual Line:  SEA by 17

Since blowing out San Francisco in week 2, Seattle really hasn't been dominant enough to be worthy of being a 17 point favorite.  This spread has more to do with Tampa .  With Richard Sherman shutting down Vincent Jackson, and Mike Williams and Doug Martin injured, it's difficult to imagine how Tampa could possibly move the ball or score any points.  Of course, I said the same thing about the Kellen Clemens-led Rams, and they outgained Seattle 339 to 135.  But that was in St. Louis, and we all know how good Seattle plays at home.  

I'm gonna take the Seahawks, who are 10-3-1 ATS in their last 14 home games.  Final score 31-10. 
(Over 40.5) 

Ravens (3-4) @ Browns (3-5)
Predicted Line:  BAL by 3

Actual Line:  BAL by 2.5

Not overthinking this one.  Ravens 20-13. 
(Under 41.5) 

Steelers (2-5) @ Patriots (6-2)
Predicted Line:  NE by 5.5

Actual Line:  NE by 7

This one either.  Pats 23-22.  
(Over 44) 

Colts (5-2) @ Texans (2-5)
Predicted Line:  IND by 2.5
Actual Line:  IND by 2

Personally, I don't think that Reggie Wayne injury is all that detrimental.  Between Hilton, Heyward-Bey, Fleener, and whoever else slides up the depth chart, Andrew Luck will figure things out.  Maybe they'll finally start throwing the ball to Trent Richardson.  I like the Colts 34-24. 
(Over 44.5) 

Bears (4-3) @ Packers (5-2)
Predicted Line:  GB by 10.5
Actual Line:  GB by 11 

Taking the big points in another division matchup.  Josh McCown can do a decent job of keeping it close given the weapons he has to work with.  Packers 34-27. 
(Over 49.5) 

Go Lions. 

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