Week 9 NFL Picks Against the Spread

My only twitter picks this season, extra t’s and all:

Those three lucky calls don’t redeem last week’s awful 3-5 record ATS:

One that would have been 2-5 but for the Redskins, 9.5 underdogs on MNF. (In a game with a great final several minutes that saw the Redskins miss on two easy turnovers that each would have essentially won the game, then win in overtime.  It was the second great Monday Night Football game in two weeks: last Monday the Pittsburgh Steelers went from being on defense and down 13-3, to a 24 -13 lead, in a remarkable span of 92 seconds.)

Some good lines from week 8’s very worst picks however:

Geno Smith is erratic (playing well after the world decides he’s awful, then playing not so well once we start to think maybe this cat can really play – which come to think of it is not so erratic, and he played really well last week at New England so – uh oh…)

“Uh oh” is right.

Coming off a great game where the 9.5 pt underdog Jets outplayed the New England Patriots, Smith threw three increasingly unfathomable interceptions in a row in the first quarter against the Bills, before being benched. I chose the Jets (-3) in the game; they lost 42-23.

I’m also always wrong on the Bears.

True, apparently.  For despite a questionable faith in the team’s character, I picked the Bears (+6) to show some much needed heart, and make it a game against the big bad Patriots.

Bad move. The Bears got walloped, and at one point were losing 45-7. It reminds one a little bit of the title and opening words of this song:

Regarding that game, last week further noted:

This “should” be a good game. (The word “should” being about as tepidly above a coin flip here as is possible, given that this is, after all, the modern day Bears.) Don’t throw picks Cutler.

Tepid, is also right.

I also wondered last week whether Lions head coach Jim Caldwell would get his team to sense that the Atlanta Falcons, otherwise a bad team now, have shown a lot of character during the regular season for years now under head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan – and needing this win, would play hard over in often distracting London.  If they didn’t, and lost solidly, I wrote that I would “blame Caldwell.” (Not that he cares – it was just bad literature.) Said literature concluded:

If the Falcons play tough, but the Lions pull out a close one, I’ll give Caldwell credit, and shoulder all the blame for this pick.

The Falcons did play tough – at least for a while. But the Lions (-3), who were down 21-0, managed a huge comeback to win on a field goal at the end, 22-21. (And managed to come back from a large deficit to win by only one point, for the second week in a row.)

I give Caldwell credit. And shoulder all of the blame for that pick. And all of them. Including the (heartless?) Bears.

This week – with tonight’s game starting in a few minutes – brings up another interesting question of heart. The Carolina Panthers – coming off of two losses in a row, including a late game loss last week where for the third year in a row they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory late against the very same team – are playing a team that often shows a lot of heart. Albeit not as much, sometimes, on the road: The New Orleans Saints.

And who are still favored by 3 points. Which itself is either a poor spread that over reflects the Saints big (and convincing) win over the Green Bay Packers last Sunday night, or it is saying something.

Maybe it’s both. The Panthers are home And despite missing their left tackle – who is being replaced by an undrafted rookie free agent (actually a guy who was drafted into the CFL) – and sometimes not showing the type of resilience, for whatever reason, that some other teams have been able to show, they should battle the Saints in a close game that actually starts in just a moment or two.

Saints (-3) at Panthers

Play with some heart, Panthers. It’s not like you are going up against saints, or anything like that. Oh, wait a minute…  Pick: Panthers

The rest of this week’s picks will be added later. (Update: see below)

Update, 11-2-14:

The Saints, despite being a pretty good team, prior to this Thursday night game hadn’t won on the road in almost a year, last winning November 21, 2013 against their then (and still) struggling division rivals, the Atlanta Falcons.

Despite playing the Saints tough in the first half, the Panthers fell behind 14-0. They gave up the ball late, couldn’t stop their opponents on a 3rd and 10 from deep on the Saints side of the field with under two minutes remaining in the half, then added a long pass interference call to move the Saints down to the 1 yard line with 6 seconds remaining.

The Panthers played worse in the second half, for some reason playing well except on 3rd downs, as the Saints, throughout the game, repeatedly converted 3rd and long. This, and the fact that for some reason Panthers quarterback Cam Newton proverbially could barely hit water from a boat with his throws (winding up a dismal 10 of 28 on not just some drops, but multiple passes, including a couple of touchdowns, that were wildly off the mark), doomed the Panthers.

And the ill advised pick of them in this post, above.

Always go with the team suspected of having more apparent heart, in a game that matters. That team, despite an abysmal road losing streak, was the Saints.

And this game – an early mid-season game for two teams battling for the lead in a division that likely isn’t going to send a wild card to the playoffs this year – mattered. (Last year the division sent the 11-5 Saints, as the Panthers won the division, in the process ensuring that for at least the 11th year in a row, a different team than the one before would win the NFC south). Given that it put the Saints ahead of the Panthers, and the Panthers now have to play the Saints later in the season in New Orleans – where the Saints repeatedly perform much better than on the road – it was a particularly important game for Carolina.  But the Saints came in a half of a game back, and have a stronger winning tradition and a stronger set of expectations, and it was a big game for them as well.

It was, in short, the seminal NFC South game of the season up until this point. And the Panthers lost handily.

The reasons they have taken a step back from last year, after taking years to get to that spot where they were finally a strong team, probably run deeper than just “spirit” or team energy when it matters,  and a long article going into their personnel moves is not finished in time for this update (but will be added when it is complete). So it may be unfair to over simplify and call this just a matter of heart.

Newton, for instance, certainly tried. Maybe too hard.

But it’s hard to comprehend how the Panthers defense could look so strong in the first half, until any 3rd and long came up; in which case the Panthers defense suddenly looked like it was a walk through flag scrimmage.  And ultimately, when it mattered most, in a game that up to this point, defines the season for that division, they were solidly outplayed.

In that more evenly balanced first half, which remained scoreless until near its end when the Saints half exploded for – and were half gifted – 14 points, the Panthers gave up an 85 yard scoring TD drive to their division nemesis from the Big Easy when there was only 1:49 left on the clock.

That’s a long end of half “non desperation”  drive – making it different from an end of game drive when the trailing team has both nothing to lose, and the entire game riding on the line and so can really let lose and also hurry – with the Saints starting out from their own 15 yard line on said drive, with no Saints timeouts remaining.

The drive was also enabled by a possibly questionable pass interference on a 3rd and 17 for the Saints, with only 14 seconds to play. Instead of setting New Orleans up for a long 51 yard field goal try on 4th and 17 to essentially end the half, the penalty put the Saints at the 1 yard line with 6 seconds remaining,

With a quarterback of Brees’ control, at the 1 yard line and 6 seconds remaining, even with no timeouts it was an easy call for them to take at least one shot at the end zone to see if they could score 7, and not just settle for the 3 points from a field goal. They scored easily, with Brees hitting Jimmy Graham for the TD in a play that took all of 3 seconds.

The Panthers also gave up this drive after taking over possession themselves with 2:38 left in the half, and doing essentially nothing to either keep the ball or make sure the Saints didn’t have so much time for a solid end of half scoring drive. That is, the panthers got the ball back with 2:38 remaining in the 1st half, trailing 7-0. And the Saints had only 1 timeout remaining. The Panthers did not turn the ball over. And they still managed to go into half time trailing 14-0.

It was worse than that though.  With only 4:21 remaining in the half, the score was 0-0, and the Panthers had the ball, and a first down. Their options? Put together a leisurely drive, kick a field goal, and go into half time up 3-0. Or fall apart and go into halftime down 14-0. It probably wasn’t voluntary, but they chose the latter, beginning with a strip of Newton that gave the Saints a 1st and goal at the 4 yard line.  Followed by a Carolina possession that took all of 38 seconds, plus 11 seconds for the punt. And then that nice, all too common, end of half “soft” defense that makes no sense.

Good teams respond in these situations, and come out the second half and play hard, and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work out right away.

That doesn’t seem to be the format the Panthers followed. Though they had played the Saints tough, the Panthers, being down 14-0 at the half didn’t respond by coming out in the second half and ratcheting up the intensity.

Instead, while they did pull to within 14-7, ultimately they looked much worse than in the first half, and, while it’s had to say what the game might have been had Cam Newton not been so inaccurate with his throws, otherwise never really made the game close.That’s not exactly a sign of a championship caliber, or even very good, team.

The following picks are for recreational purposes, or bragging rights. Or, for those in Las Vegas, for losing a lot of money:

Redskins (pick) at Vikings

The line is saying that the Redskins are a better team than the Vikings, since the Vikings are at home, and if the teams were considered “even,” Minnesota would be favored by 3.

But this is really a reflection of the fact that the betting public probably has the Redskins rated a little higher than they should be, since Washington just defeated their high flying division rival Dallas Cowboys in a nationally televised game last Monday evening (and which saw a rather remarkable final several minutes of play)

And a reflection of the fact that Robert Griffin is back and ready to play.

Griffin’s rookie year in 2012 was phenomenal.  It was overshadowed a little bit however by the fact that the player picked immediately before him in the draft – at no 1 overall that same year – Andrew Luck, was equally, if not more phenomenal (and Luck has only gotten better, while Griffin has apparently regressed); and by some cool cat named one Russell Wilson, who as a rookie that same 2012 year took his  previously somewhat ho hum team on an explosive run – only to barely lose in second round of the playoffs (following it up the next year – last year – with a Super Bowl appearance and victory).

Injured at the end of 2012, Griffin regressed last year, looked poor in the preseason this one, then played well for about a game and a half before once again getting injured – on an awkward angled, twisting airborne throw wherein not a soul laid a hand on him, and shouldn’t have resulted in injury.

And now he’s back.

Will the real R Griffin as QB please stand up.

Ultimately, that may well yet still be a good or even very good quarterback; though based upon last season’s regression it’s hard to say this.  But if it is, the Vikings hope it’s not this week.

If this guy is any good, it’s the third year now, the team, at a creeping 3-5, and going against a somewhat under the radar “good” second tier football team, needs the win, and now would be the time to show it.

It may be early, but this game may also be somewhat of an initial litmus test for new coach Jay Gruden as well.

Gruden, who has been an offensive coordinator (and who is MNF announcer and former Raider and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s brother) – and considered a pretty good one – has gotten his team to play at times;, but in general hasn’t shown much yet.

If there is some potential now to build and inspire a team on Gruden’s part, this key game against a beatable, but not easy, foe after a large division opponent win, to kick the Skins up to 4-5 and continue to give them them some ‘skin’ in the season playoff hunt game, would be a good time to show it.

I have no faith in Gruden’s ability to do so. (Yet.) I have little faith in Griffin’s.

Still, this quarterback was once a remarkable talent (that in part has gone somewhat forgotten, as last season he wasn’t impressive, and the Redskins gave up a lot of draft picks to move up several spots and take him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2012).  But that “once” was not that long ago. He’s really only one full season of play removed from it, and he may find half his wings yet again- and he probably will.

Thus, although it doesn’t feature two marquee “winning” clubs this season, it’s a pretty interesting game that could go either way – really with any final score or outcome, and should be a good football game.

It could also be the start of the Skins going from a mediocre to at least a decent team, and the resurgence, early, of Griffin’s promising career. Or, almost if not just as likely, the beginning of another run of mediocrity under yet another head coach hire for this wealthy nation’s capitol franchise that has, through head coach after head coach after head coach hire, otherwise been flapping in the wind.

Pick: Redskins

Jets (+9) at Chiefs.
Long time Eagles, and now Chiefs, head coach Andy Reid once again has his team winning regularly. And the Jets, after an interesting trade pickup from the Seattle Seahawks, and perhaps a waste of salary cap money when they were strongly in need of getting some better players at multiple key positions, are spiraling at 1-7.

Michael Vick was once a race car (with a throwing arm), playing quarterback in the NFL. He’s  a bit older, and it’s not that clear that his once phenomenal athleticism, speed and reaction time is as once was.

But Vick’s now (at least, for now), the starter. As up again down again Geno Smith (see above) has been benched for the second time this season, after melting down in the first quarter against the Bills last week and throwing interceptions – at least one of which was almost beyond belief inadvisable well before the ball was even thrown – on three successive, and increasingly poor, possession in a row. (Vick, as before when he came in to relieve Smith, didn’t do much better; and the Jets would up turning the ball over six times total in the game.)

Looking at Vick’s history, it seems to emerge that with a lot of pressure, he presses, and doesn’t play as well. The Jets want to play Smith some more this season. And why not, they need to find out if he may still yet be their QB. Which brings up the question – if so, why even bench him this week.

It could be that the Jets are unsure at this point, or are possibly already leaning toward Smith not being their guy, despite what head coach Rex Ryan says. Or are of the mind that a week or two off is the best thing for him at this point. So it’s not clear if Vick is feeling the pressure to “perform,” since he has Smith breathing down his neck. Or if at this point, he really doesn’t care.

If it’s the latter – even though a “no caring” Vick is also perfectly capable of playing a poor game as well (particularly if he gets so non caring that he carries the football around like a loaf of bread – something Vick, remarkably has done a large portion of his career, and somehow not raised the ire of head coaches enough to literally glue about 8 footballs to his stomach round the clock until he stops doing it)-  look for it to be a good football game.

This is the Jets, and they are capable of winning. The Chiefs are also capable, even with Reid as their coach, of looking past them a little bit.

While on the other hand, after that disappointing 2 point loss to the Patriots 2 weeks ago, when the at that point 1-5 and near 10 point underdog Jets should have won, they may be just mailing it in at this point. (In which case they’ll get crushed at Kansas City.)

But the chances are, and bad as the Jets are, they’re not quite just yet.

They have a shot at winning, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they keep the game close. If they don’t, and fall to 1-8, no matter what they do the rest of the season, maybe it’s time for Rex, even involuntarily, to go. If for no other reason than to get away from the Jets.

Then maybe they can pick up a head coach named Bennie,

Pick: Jets.  

Rams (+10) at 49ers

This is an easy game. Rams coach Jeff Fischer is perennially over rated. The Rams don’t have a QB. And once again, even with some major injuries, the 49ers are a strong team under Jim Harbaugh, who has gotten these guys to the NFC championship 3 years (and the Super Bowl one of them) in a row.

And the Rams have gotten plastered in San Francisco a few times.

But, this Rams team is not that bad.  The 49ers don’t seem to have the personnel, and on the field, also, surprising as under Harbaugh this team can always be, don’t seem to be quite as strong of one. The Rams also generally play them tough, and Fisher seems to know how to coach against them.

The 49ers do technically have more riding on the game. They’re in a fight to stay with it in the toughest division in football. While the Rams bring up the rear. But they’re not a team without soul, and they have some talent, particularly on that defensive line. It’s only “one game,” but it’s been a while now. If they get blown out, it’s long past due for the love fest over Jeff Fisher as such a presumed strong head coach, to wane.

Pick: Rams 

Raiders (+14) at Seahawks

Oakland’s a bad team. They haven’t won since Jimmy Carter’s been in the White House.

Okay, they did hit a Super Bowl or so in the very early 2000s, losing in the conference championship game in the 2000 season to the eventual SB champion Baltimore Ravens, in a game in which they lost their most valuable player early on – Rich Gannon.

Then as arguably the best team in the AFC, losing in the divisional round in the 2001 season in a close game which they should have won, but for a famous fluke whereby Tom Brady “pump faked” the ball and then fumbled and lost it on a hit, but it was ruled that Brady had not yet “tucked” it in, and so it was not a fumble. (This rule never made any sense, since it meant – but was often not interpreted this way – that all a QB had to do was pump fake, then never pull the ball back into his side and he couldn’t “fumble.” And the rule has (finally) since been changed.)

Then in 2002, as the top seed, this time crushing their two opponents in the playoffs, to reach, but only to lose, in the Super Bowl, in a strange Hollywood like twist of fate, to a team with brother Jon now running things from, of all things, their Super Bowl opponents’ sideline; as Oakland had taken the bait and traded away their head coach to the Bucs in the offseason for some cash and some draft picks. And his first (and most successful) year there, Gruden took the Bucs all the way to the Super Bowl, where they faced none other than his former team.

But since then, they’ve been pretty awful. And, if anything, they are even more so than normal, this year.

And Seattle’s a good team.

One that’s also 17-2 at home in Russell Wilson’s fist 19 career starts for the Seahawks in their home stadium.

And, if the Raiders were going to improve some under interim coach Tony Sparano, after playing San Diego tough in week 6, then the losing at home by 11 to the Cardinals,  they were probably going to at least play Cleveland tough in week 8. Instead, they lost by the identical score they lost to the Cardinals the week before (24-13) minus one point off for their opponent. (Though they managed to give Cleveland a tough game.)

If Cleveland can win by 10, Seattle, who is monster at home, ought to win by 14, right?

It doesn’t work like that in the NFL. If it is going to, it’s because Oakland doesn’t come in with fire, and Seattle, angry after 2 losses in the past 3 weeks and now (prematurely) almost considered a near second tier team, does; and doesn’t care that they’re facing a 0-7 team. Then they’re going to pummel them.

But Seattle’s not that good. So far.  They are facing an 0-7 team. And here’s still expressing some faith in Tony Sparano’s motivation of this poorly put together football team:

They are playing the defending Super Bowl champs. In a place where few beat them. If they can’t get psyched for this game, they might as well just stop playing for the rest of the season, and send their fans, Fox, CBS, and the NFL network, refunds, while the league figures out how to ship the Raiders, and not the even worse Jaguars (who still even have at least one win) off to London.  And, maybe let the Jaguars play in L.A. instead.

Pick: The team from London/Oakland

Denver -3) at New England

Denver was a much better team than the Patriots last season.  They showed it too, in the playoffs where the Patriots on average outperform, and teams under Peyton Manning – otherwise the greatest quarterback to ever play the game (and has been for a long time) – under perform, when the Broncos last year easily beat the Patriots in the AFC conference championship game.

But prior to that matchup, during the regular season in Foxboro last year the Patriots came back from something like a 4000 point deficit to win an incredible game in overtime. And this game. this year, probably should be a pick ’em: The Broncos are a monster team, but the Patriots usually play Manning tough, are super tough at home, and are now playing fairly well this year.

But the problem is Brady, who is something like 10-5 against Manning head to head as opposing quarterbacks throughout their careers, tends not to not lose close games.

It happens. But it happens less than with any other quarterback in the league. (It’s just a guess -stats monsters can crunch numbers to verify or dispute, but the hunch here is that Ben Rothlisberger of the Steelers is next. Andrew Luck, for so early in his career, is probably creeping up there pretty fast, too.)

So while the Pats could lose by 2, or 3 (and it seems as if it’s time for Manning to even things up just a bit, doesn’t it?) it essentially seems like the points are worthless.  The Pats might win by 3 – and it wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. But if they lose by 3, that probably would be.

It almost goes without saying that this game, which pits the top two quarterbacks of the modern era – who have been long time playoff rivals, and once again, at least at this moment, seem to be leading the top two AFC teams, or close to it – is almost an instant classic before it starts. And almost regardless of what happens.

The weather is also a wild card.  Denver, nearly a mile high and near the Rockies, is a cold city. So it’s not a question of the still very thinned blood of a warmer climate team not yet used to real cold weather. And the afternoon high should be around 40, not 15 degrees.

But with a 100% chance of rain, and all that travel to the East Coast for the mountainous Denver team, the Patriots team might have the edge once again. But who knows.

The points are nearly a waste. But not completely.  In a near tossup game – with, if anything, the edge in New England until the Broncos can beat them there there – minor as they are, take ’em

Pick. Patriots

Update: 11:50 a.m. The official weather forecast is still showing rain, with a 100% chance of rain this afternoon in Boston,and a high of 40 degrees and windy, but it’s still reportedly snowing right now at Foxboro, and recent pictures show the field with a layer of snow, along with snow in the air.


3 thoughts on “Week 9 NFL Picks Against the Spread

  1. Pingback: Some Early Observations, Week 9 of the NFL – Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, and Some Quarterback Numbers « NFL Football Strategy

  2. Pingback: Week 10 NFL Picks Against the Spread « NFL Football Strategy

  3. Pingback: Week 13 NFL Picks Against the Spread, Some Notes on Picking Games, and a Look at Some of This Blog’s Picks « NFL Football Strategy

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