(Updated 10-18-14, 10-21-14)
Getting a little lucky with my only real NFL prediction so far this season, I suggested 13 point underdog Kansas City would battle tough with Denver,(came down to the 2 yard line and a TD deficit) and San Diego would upset the Seahawks (31 – 20 final). (Update: Below I also claimed that with 9 1/2 points, taking the Jets, who went on later that evening to outplay the Patriots but lose by 2, was an “easy call.” Later update: I also picked the Giants as one of three picks against the 6 point spread, and they lost solidly, 31-21; and it could have been worse.)
I also liked Dallas; chances of defeating Seattle last weekend. At least relative to what was expected: Forced to pick a winner, I would have picked Seattle.
The Cowboys may be good, but I wouldn’t anoint them (or the Eagles, or even the Chargers, my preseason dark horse), king of the hill just yet.
(Updated) Prior to the Dallas upset, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson had won every game at home but one; thus somewhat remarkably going 17-1 in the first 18 home games of his career.
The one loss under Wilson was a key part of an incredible late season NFC and NFC West division playoff race – where there was a good chance of an 11-5 team not making the playoffs for the first time in NFL History, and it came right down to the wire in week 17 for that to be avoided. That history was originally part of the introduction here, but has been expanded, and moved here.)
So for fun, here are a few picks this week. And Dallas will be on the negative side of one of them.
Since it is relatively easy to pick winners straight up, as usually one team or the other has a clear advantage, we’ll use the Las Vegas spread to make it a bit of a challenge. (Update: For the three real picks here, anyway, since the list below winds up covering each game; and, in hindsight, making some pretty prescient, and a few awful, predictions. But the funniest one of all might be the attempt to pick the Texans to upset the Steelers, which for the pick literally reads “Te Te Te Teh Texx…. Steelers.” (Here is why that is pretty hilarious.)
New York Jets (+9 1/2) at New England Patriots:
This is an easy one. Jets head coach Rex Ryan (who, surprisingly, had an acting role in this beyond juvenile, and to some, absolutely disgusting, but still pretty funny Adam Sandler film, where Rex is a ‘Pats fan with a Tom Brady poster in his office), was unusually subdued this week in his press conference. Maybe he is a bit fatigued or just spent, and his team will reflect it. But the odds are his general emotion toward division games, and in particular, the Patriots, who he’s not really a fan of, will carry over to his team. And this is a big game for the Green Gang. Jets
(Update: Startling the NFL world barely 13 hours after the Patriots game, Fox Sports Jay Glazer first broke the news that the Seahawks, who had inked him to a $67 million deal and given up several drafts pick for him, had traded seemingly ever disgruntled but athletic phenom Percy Harvin to none other than the Jets, who need an infusion of talent like the Jaguars need better management and drafting (see below). Here’s why the trade, although it not a bad move for the Seahawks either, made a lot of sense for the Jets.)
Minnesota Vikings (+6) at Buffalo Bills
Before the week 5 Vikings divisional game at the Aaron “Relax“Rodgers led Green Bay Packers, unusual concern surfaced about how “Teddy Bridgewater won’t be able to play” as if he was a several year starter.
That was cool. But Bridgewater is a rookie. And he had only made two starts so far in his very short career. So although he played well in those two games for a Rookie, this was a hardly a big setback for the team’s chances, as his fill in was former starter, and 2011 No. 12 overall draft pick Christian Ponder.
Who, in turn had to be pondering how everyone seemed to be lamenting the perceived drop-off in the ‘Vikes chances because a barely tested rookie wouldn’t be able to go and – with original starter Matt Cassel injured – Ponder would have to get the nod.
The Vikings did go on to get trounced, 42-10, before Bridgewater came back, and, led them to a 17-3 loss at a “Calvin Johnson-less” Detroit Lions last week – themselves fresh off a strange 17-14 loss the week before to none other than the same Bills the Vikes now face.
So, naturally, since Bridgewater (1-2, making his 4th start) is playing, I’m going with the Vikings in this one!
This pick is a shot in the dark, since I have not seen the Vikings play enough, they have a new head coach in Mike Zimmer, and Buffalo was a team that I was rooting for to surprise a little – and now I’m voting against them for this game. They’re still probably the favorite to win. But if Minnesota, which (one thinks) has played a couple decent games this season can’t make this a game, after Zimmer called out his team – although not very passionately – then they really are bad. Vikings
NYG Giants (+6) at America’s Team – Oops, “Dallas Cowboys”
Yes, the Eli’s will be without Ted Cruz – wait, no, that’s the Cruz that wants to run for president of the U.S. but doesn’t understand the science of Climate Change.
It’s Victor. Victor Cruz, the Giants leading receiver the last few years in nearly all, or all receiving categories, who they will be missing. (Which, even though it’s bad, is good, as it would have been even worse for Giants if it was Ted Cruz they were relying on to catch the football.)
But listen, here’s the thing. Two things, really.
First, when Eli and Man from another age Tom Coughlin get together and conjure up wicked brew, anything is possible.
Knowledge of this is generally why, oddly, with a 3-2 record and 3 straight wins in a row (though, against, “ah, generally ho hum” teams), the Giants went into Philadelphia not as a traditional road team underdog in what was otherwise kind of a close call, but as a “pick ’em” – essentially a major diss to the Eagles, who had been questioned left and right for their lack of complete domination in amassing there 4-1 record, over teams, unlike in the case of the Giants, whose “ho hum” nature was repeatedly pointed out. (Though Philadelphia was missing a few key lineman. Plus there was a rumor circulating that Bradley Cooper was in the parking lot, and planning to start a riot.)
The Eagles then promptly crushed the Giants 27-0. This meant the same Eagles defense and special teams that outscored the Philadelphia offense by 21 points in their only loss so far of the season, 26-21 at San Francisco, also, albeit from that same San Francisco game, outscored the Giants offense in this game by 21 points as well.
Thus, the Eli-Coughlin hard to fathom magic was quickly forgotten. But it may not be gone.
Almost anything is possible when Eli takes the field and Coughlin sternly marches the sidelines, particularly, given our second “here’s the thing,” thing: namely when they play their nemesis the Cowboys, records, and which team is “better,” often don’t seem to matter too much. (Unless it’s a late season game for a chance to get into the playoffs, in which case Dallas usually manages to lose, sometimes convincingly.)
And anything is possible in this game. With 6 points added to a game the Giants could win almost as easily as the Cowboys – yes, you heard that right (though right now they could also get beaten soundly, helping further the idea that last season’s early year collapse did mark the end of the Giants magic, and they are just hanging on to keep it from crumbling), it’s an easy game. Giants
I could toss out a few more, but the Jets game is going to start soon, and, well, I have even less idea on the rest of the games than on these three.
Briefly, for fun, and for an even greater chance of getting many of these wrong, let’s race through the rest of the game, just picking winners:
Bengals at Colts:
Colts beat the best 5 teams in the league last year. The Bengals, despite their recent tail off and drop in the polls, might still be in that group. Plus, Luck is simply magic. Colts
Titans at Redskins:
See post on the Titans linked to above.
This is a tough game, as Whisenhunt is not that bad of a coach, and if the article disagreeing with the Titans offseason assessment to give up on Mike Munchak and then replace him with Whisenhunt linked to above is not even more relevant than I believe it is, his team needs to pull itself together and beat a somewhat mediocre Washington team.
And since Washington is another one of those teams “somewhat” all over the place – but mainly, so far bad – they are unpredictable. On sheer performance, this is an easy one, Washington Wins.
But clinging to the belief that Whisenhunt has to be a better coach than he is showing (or Munchak was an even better coach, with an otherwise very poor team, than I even suggested in that prior post), the Titans may pull this one at as solid underdogs. It’s close, but I’m going with Washington. I hope I’m wrong.
Dolphins at Bears:
Miami should be rip roaring mad after last week. Still, Bears.
Browns at Jaguars. (Update: Just for a warning, this is where I go from knowing too much about football and being far too familiar with poring over game film, to basically making stuff up as if I’m still trying to figure out why – besides them essentially not knowing what they’re doing strategically – teams keep going for extra points when they have a good offense and offensive line, and getting the two and making it a full score differential (3 or 7) is far more valuable to them than just getting the one and being either just behind the opponent on the next score rather than tied; or within a score (or two) rather than within a score (or two) to then trail by 1; or ahead by a score rather than a score minus 1.
Oh,wait, terrible example. Teams do it because they usually just follow convention, and, when it comes to the mathematical and situational expected opportunity value of certain key situations in the game, strategically have a few things backward. Somewhat like I do when it comes to assessing this Browns Jaguars game. Read on:)
Cleveland is fresh off of the largest road comeback win in NFL history, courtesy of above said Titans, followed by a walloping of the Ben Rothlisberger Steelers last week, despite the fact that as the Steelers QB Ben R went into the game with, in a league of relative parity, a near astonishing 18-1 record against them. And in this game they are understandably a fairly heavy road favorite. And, former GM extraordinaire Bill Polian, whom I love and admire, apparently (metaphorically speaking you realize) was “smoking crack” – or simply gets math backward – when several weeks ago on Sirius NFL radio he incredibly stated that the still absolutely horrible Jaguars, who actually played semi-decently toward the end of last season, were “100 times better than last year.”
So, it’s not very rational, but I am going out on a twig of a limb, to pick a strange upset. I picked the Browns under new head coach Mike Pettine (who had been a great defensive coordinator) to be good this year, or at least improved. And the Jaguars have not only been horrible, their offseason moves and drafts have been illogical, and very poorly considered. (Shahid Kahn, are you listening? No offense to your current guy, but you need yet another new GM. I volunteer.)
So, ridiculous pick that defies all logic here, and that is being done on sheer, blind, and ill thought out, faith. And the hope – albeit hope gets you a good feeling, it doesn’t change outcomes where performance is required – that the Jaguars are finally sufficiently embarrassed, and the Browns, who right now are a far better football team, are sleeping. Jaguars (Update, my assessment of this pick, since making it Thursday just before the Jets-Patriots TNF game, has gone from “absolutely awful,” to “really bad.” So, that’s an improvement, right?)
It’s 8:22 p.m Eastern Standard Time. If time allows, I’ll add the rest of the games later.
Update, post Thursday Night Football: In several respects the Jets outplayed the Patriots, who in turn – well, because they are the Patriots, and the Jets flubbed some key things – nevertheless avoided most major mistakes, and made enough big plays, to win. to win. The Jets also made a few key recognizable mistakes – most notably ill timed penalties – and a few key strategic mistakes. And they lost by 2 after a 58 yard field goal try, that had they been fortunate enough to make it would have given them the 1 point win, was blocked.
Given 10 points, in a close game all the way that comes down to the wire and is lost by 2, is a clean call. Come on Eli and Coughlin magic brew potion, and come on Teddy Bridgewater Rookie magic, to make it a trifecta of against the spread calls
Finishing the silly part of the above list:
Seahawks at Rams:
This is a tough game for the Rams, who, despite missing a somewhat underrated QB Sam Bradford (he’s rarely had a good offense around him) for the season, has shown some signs, and under Jeff Fisher since he took over what was a lousy in 2012, they have sometimes played the best teams in the tough NFC West really hard. So the game is not a cinch for the Seahawks, though not because they are suddenly not all that good, as has been the proclamation since America’s team handed it to them on their home turf last Sunday.
But because the Rams, with a lot of extremely high draft picks and very good players on that defensive line, may try to salvage a disappointing year by playing this game against the reigning champs, with every ounce of passion. That said, the Seahawks need a division win this week, they’re coming off a big home loss, and a few players down or not, they are still the Champions, and have character. And are the better team. Seahawks
Panthers at Packers:
This would have been a much better game to throw out a curveball big upset, as the Panthers have the capability of beating the Packers anywhere in the continental United States, while the Jaguars, going against a solid Browns team with a capable, clutch, good leader quarterback, are a rare second (Or is it eighth) tier team, having repeatedly made mistakes of management. (Are you listening Shahid Khan? I volunteer offseason strategic rebuilding help – which your team has desperately needed, and has needed for a long time. If not, you know Goodell is going to try to banish your team to London, right?)
This is a possible, but not super likely, upset. So, it’s close, but: Packers
Falcons at Ravens:
Any team has the ability to surprise, at any time. But these birds, on the road, not so much the past two years. And since Harbaugh and Joe Cool Flacco first entered the league together, the team has made it to the playoffs and performed reasonably well there, every season (culminating in that second franchise Super Bowl win for 2012), until last year, their first to miss.
While General Manager Ozzie (Newsome) is snazzy and jazzy, and when it comes to NFL players, knows how to use some, they probably shouldn’t have let go of Anquan Boldin prior to last season – but it’s always a cap and funds management issue, and choices have to be made, and Newsome’s been pretty good at them.
The Ravens have one of the best GMs in the league, a very solid head coach, a quarterback who was underrated for a long time because of an overemphasis on stats rather than when precisely what created those stats occurred, and the Ravens are, once again, seemingly, a good team, and for a long time have been a stronger team at home than on the road. (Unless they are playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week – whom they demolished, going up 28-0 in the first quarter, and whose other out of control lopsided crushing defeat came earlier in the year at the hands of none other than, yes, these same Atlanta Falcons).
And the Falcons have been a stronger – sometimes much stronger – team at home than on the road as well. And they are not as good as the Ravens. It would be a big storyline if the Falcons win this game, and really throw another question mark into the intriguing NFC South (as well as the powerful NFC North). But they likely won’t. Ravens
Saints at Lions:
The line in this game, with the Lions favored by a little less than 3, suggests a feeling that the Saints are the slightly better team. And perhaps they are. Over the past several years they have certainly been the far better team. And the maned cats are playing without a player nicknamed “Megatron” for his on-field skills, and who many feel is the best wide receiver in the game. (Albeit last year, the best receiver, playing for a poor offensive team with far from marquee quarterback names, may have been the guy who nevertheless led the league in receiving yards, and who is suspended for the first 10 games this season. The Brown’s Josh Gordon.)
The Lions did lose to the Bills two weeks ago, and didn’t dominate a Jets team, that, it turned out, played Denver somewhat close last week, and was neck and neck, if not ahead of, the Patriots in a must win for them tonight, but is still 1-6. And they got worked by the still somewhat questionable Carolina Panthers in week 2. And the Saints are a big enigmatic, have shown a lot of resiliency in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, and really need this game.
But, whoever the Giants were in week 1 (great Giants, iffy Giants, bad Giants), the Lions absolutely manhandled them to open up, beat the Packers solidly in Week 3, and then in week 5 – facing a Vikings team that had to be embarrassed by it’s drubbing at the hands of the Relaxation led Packers in front of a national Thursday Night audience the week before and playing yet another key, division opponent – held them to 3 points, even without Megatron. This is one of the best games of the week, it’s a close call, and could wind up being a tellling game: Lions
Chiefs at Chargers:
After solidly losing in week 1 (following a lot of losses late last season to extremely good football teams) many gave up on the Chiefs. Since then, despite a few key injuries, they played Denver close, and have solidly beaten everybody else except the still underrated San Francisco 49ers, who they lost to 17-22 last week.
Which means the “everybody else they’ve solidly beaten” is only two teams, and they are only 2-3. Which makes it odd that as a road team, they are only 4 point underdogs to a Chargers team that several leading power poll rankings, a bit optimistically (at this point) have at or very near the top of the league.
One of the two teams the Chiefs solidly beat was Miami. In Miami. But Miami is a middle of the pack team. The other was New England, whom they beat 41-14.
If the Chargers had lost last Sunday to a previously horrible Oakland Raiders, they might be a bit more chomping at the bit for this game. But in a division with both Denver, and K.C, who nearly kept the Chargers out of the playoffs in week 17 last season while playing with most of their backups (despite the fact that the following week the Chargers were able to go into Cincinnati, against a team that was 8-0 at home and pummeled nearly everyone who played there last year, and win, because well, Marvin “concussions linger longer now” Lewis consistently loses in the playoffs), they should be pretty motivated against another division rival. But they are banged up.
This game could surprise a lot of people who are ranking the Chargers as the number 1 team in football, and the game is far more of a tossup than a foregone conclusion. As a division game, the home field aspect won’t matter as much either, and given the season’s unfolding, this is a far more critical matchup for the Chiefs than it is for the Chargers (who could be 7-0 if they didn’t make some silly mistakes as well as some hidden strategic errors, and blow a large late game lead to the Arizona Cardinals in week 1). It also can’t be a complete accident that for many years, Andy Reid brought his Eagles to a division title, and to the NFC championship game something like four times. Then took over the maligned Chiefs last year, and they improved to 11-5.
Still, with some home field edge, the long under heralded Philip Rivers finally getting a lot of recognition and at times playing lights out at times, and the way the entire team is responding – while again it would no surprise if Kansas City makes a statement, thereby once again turning around many of the post weekend NFL presumptions around – the slight edge goes goes to the team from the city with the perfect weather. Chargers
Cardinals at Raiders:
If the previously awful Raiders, under interim coach Tony Sparano’s first game, didn’t take the Chargers down to the wire last weekend, they night have caught the Cardinals napping a little bit. The Raiders are now a better team than under former head coach Dennis Allen (also covered herein); although they were so awful that isn’t necessarily saying too much.
The Cardinals have been overachieving under Bruce Arians, who is a good enough head coach – with a team that missed the playoffs last year at 10-6 and is still in a very good division – to probably not let his team take this Oakland team too for granted. And they have been warned by the Raiders performance last week that the Raiders can, in theory, play.
But, key injuries or not, Arizona is simply a much better football team. And a very well coached football team. And while this is no fun if one doesn’t go out on a more than occasional limb once in a while, that mistaken Jaguars limb was mistake enough for several of them. So, although it is likely to be a closer game than most of the Raiders blowout losses this season, Cardinals. Although I’m rooting for the Raiders. And truly torn on this one.
49ers at Broncos (Sunday Night):
The 49ers have done nothing less than make it to three consecutive NFC championship games, losing last year in a close battle with division foe Seattle, who then went on to throttle Denver in the Super Bowl; winning the year before and then falling far behind the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens before mounting a furious (and possibly odd stadium blackout interruption affected) comeback to almost win; and the year before that falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants courtesy of both a muffed punt at the end of regulation that allowed the Giants to tie the game and send it into overtime, and, rather remarkably story lined, yet another muffed punt in overtime that then allowed the Giants to win, and advance to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers and Giants had danced in several key postseason and NFC championship games in the past, and, notably, it was a late game fumble…
This year the 49ers are down several key players, perhaps more significantly than any team in the league. But, given their record under Harbaugh, until they are, don’t count them out.
Still, Denver under Manning, unless it is a Super Bowl, is nearly unbeatable at home, and however tough they are (and might want to show that they too, like Seattle, could have beaten Denver), the 49ers are still an underdog, particularly on the road.
It could be a great football game. And despite the long odds given all the San Fran’ injuries, and their relegation to the near scrap heap of once upon a time contenders, it still could possibly be a Super Bowl preview. (Though a repeat of last year’s Super Bowl, but this time with the next team in line from the NFC West to face up to Denver – the same team that two years before saw its head coach face his own brother in the first ” bro v bro” head coaching Super Bowl – then steal away the real reason that, after Joe Flacco, the Ravens got to that Super Bowl – Anquan Boldin – would be a bit too much, wouldn’t it?)
And the last time I made such a proclamation, it was three years ago, for this game, when both teams were far from being noticed. (The 49ers at that point had been a bad team for a while, and the Giants were a far cry from their Super Bowl Victory four years prior to that, oddly identical to the four year period transpired since their prior Super Bowl the last time they met the 49ers in an NFC Championship game). That one was a much better (and far more unique) call; this one hinges on the 49ers kind of outperforming everyone’s expectations – including mine. Broncos
Texans at Steelers (Monday Night):