A minimally frustrating moment for the humble proprietor of this humble little blog, last week finishing up a bit disappointing 3-3, after a poor (but in hindsight ironic) record the week before, and a pretty decent week 7 – the first week these picks started.
I’ve only had 2 “easy calls” this season. The Rams +10 against the 49ers last week (along with a few other notables from the week, there were some interesting things about that squeaky close 13-10 Rams win last week), and the Jets +9.5 in week 7.
So 2-0 on the main calls, and 3-0 or 4-0, if one heavily fudges and my one shouted out twitter pick from earlier in the year is included. (It’s atop last week’s pick’s post. I also made one other NFL prediction shoutout; but that was on the same Jets – New England game.)
So I was jazzed to see another great Thursday Night Match-up, that was again, an “easy” call.
Football is about emotion. And while it’s hard to predict, the Cleveland Browns pounded the Steelers a few weeks ago.
The Steelers in the meantime have been on a tear. Only making my pick below – once again – of the now 1-8 Jets in this week’s game against them even more either “insightful”: or, more likely, “idiotic.”
The Browns have squeaked by since then, but won. (Though they squeaked by in one or two games beforehand also, including this NFL record setting road comeback the week before the Steelers game, against the mightily struggling Titans.)
Cincinnati meanwhile has lost its verve at home.
Even if they got it back for this game, a Cleveland team that has been (rightly) all but ignored for years suddenly has a shot at the division, in a (for them, rare) nationally televised game, and inter division game in a stadium so close it’s barely travel for them. And they are playing good football, and were likely going to play as hard as they had all year.
The game was a pure tossup as to who was going to win. (I didn’t have the insight to call the win in advance, just that the game was probably almost a tossup). And likely to be close..
Of course, I was wrong on it being close.
But only because the Browns, on the road, pounded the Bengals. Dominated them. And prior to the game, the whopping +6 they were getting in a game that both teams had a decent shot at winning, and that was “probably” going to be a close game, was a definitive “easy call.”
Counting the more informal but singular Chiefs and Chargers pre-game prediction, and maybe offsetting that miserable 3-5 in week 8, the informal “top picks” calls so far this season – again all against the spread – would have been 5-0. Or 3-0, since the earlier Chiefs and Chargers twitter shoutout doesn’t really count.
Woulda Coulda Shoulda. I got so wrapped up in getting some other work done that I didn’t get to this weekly attempt to pop out some picks in time. In fact, I didn’t even start watching the game until it was too late to even still be awake. (To make matters worse, I picked it apart, and took over 3 hours of notes on the game alone.)
As always, should you be experiencing the unmistakable pain of laboring through this post for the hidden gems (or turds) of football insight, aka – “reading it” – the following picks are for recreational purposes, and post game bragging rights to friends.
Dolphins (+3) at Lions
The Dolphins have been flying high lately, but yet, as suggested here, are still somewhat under the radar. Yet last week was a big emotional win for them – their head coach had just lost his dad, and they pounded the menacing San Diego Chargers 37-0. And so far under now third year coach Joe Philbin, they have not seemed to be able to consistently maintain.
Meanwhile, Detroit, which eked out a somewhat lucky 1 point win against the New Orleans Saints in a large week 7 comeback, only to follow it up with a more amazing 1 point win and an even bigger comeback the following week in London against Atlanta (they were down 21-0 and won 22-21 for crying out loud), is 3-0 since losing arguably the most dangerous wide receiver in football.
And they seemed to have gained their early season form when, score aside, they dominated the New York Giants and solidly outplayed the otherwise solid Green Bay Packers (sandwiched around an ugly loss to the other wise not super impressive Carolina Panthers).
And, coming off of their bye week, they get that wide receiver, Calvin Johnson – aka “Megatron” – back for this game.
Miami is an outdoor warm weather team, traveling north. Where it will be cozy enough, but in a dome, where the Lions are extremely comfortable. (Remember, these aren’t Serengeti lions, but Detroit Lions. They play football.)
Given the home field edge, the return of a large cog to that Lions team, and a now once again healthy Reggie Bush out of the backfield, combined with the possibility, on the road, of a Dolphins let down, this game should yield an edge to the Lions.
But, here’s a “time to gel” kind of pick. The Dolphins, even though opening day in the NFL can be very misleading, also showed some signs early this season, beating the Patriots to open their season – absolutely crushing them in the second half. And they’ve been strong for several weeks now.
Talk – up until this point anyway – of Ryan Tannehill being non starter material said several weeks ago was almost a joke (a bit more on Tannehill here regarding some of the interesting aspects of week 9): even if his head coach strangely didn’t answer a reporter’s question regarding who his starting QB was. (Prompting a cool Ryan to laughingly pull rank on his HC in the locker room and tell the media that yes he was the starter. Though he apparently wasn’t thrilled about the whole thing.)
Media talk of a tear in the team and damage done from the affair were premature, because it’s been the Dolphins who have been on a tear since the pseudo controversy, winning 4 of their last 5 since then; and with the one loss coming at home at the end to a strong Green Bay Packers team in a game they kind of botched. And successive wins of 27-14, 27-13, and 37-0 since then. (Though the 27-13’er was to the Jacksonville Jaguars, so no offense to the Jaguars – okay a little bit of offense (“you need a big time better General Manager, Jacksonville”) – that one kind of doesn’t count.)
This one at the Motor City is one of the better games of the week, in a week with several of them: It features two teams that have been somewhat lagging behind the stronger teams in the league for a while now; but they have both played well, and both have interesting season stories, and very different styles.
Detroit could have a let down, or simply play poorly. But they know the Dolphins come in at 5-3; beat the Bears on the road a few weeks ago; and just pounded San Diego. So they’ll be up for the game.
The emotion, and energy – or what during games, and sometimes between them, is called momentum – might be with Miami. Sure, the Lions may have it too – squeaking out two super 1 point wins in a row, and now getting a dude back who can be so monster in the game he’s essentially nicknamed after a transformer character. But until they show otherwise, the Dolphins might just be “gellin.” Maybe not like Magellan. But like a real football team. We’ll see.
Chiefs (pick ’em) at Bills
Kyle Orton has never been a particularly accurate quarterback, but he has won more than his fair share of games. And the Bills are now winning with this overpaid backup (or underpaid starter). Also, having shown signs of improvement under first year coach Doug Marrone last year, they are continuing on that trend this season, and seemingly getting better. (Marrone also took over from Chan Gailey, who was the Bills head coach for 3 seasons and compiled a fairly dismal 16-32 record with a team that should have performed better.)
While at the same time, the Chiefs tend to be a much stronger home team than away, and Buffalo, albeit not London, is a ways away.
But the Chiefs are also probably a better football team at this point. And more importantly, teams win a lot under head coach Andy Reid. They may lose; but the Chiefs won’t play around under Reid. It might be a mild surprise if the Bills won, but not if they lost.
49ers at Saints
How the mighty have fallen. Under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have consistently been one of the best teams in the NFL the past several seasons, reaching the NFC championship conference game the past three years, and the Super Bowl once. (Possibly twice if not for a muffed punt at the end of the first one that allowed the New York Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl, to send the game into overtime – where the Giants then won the game, again on a muffed 49ers punt.)
But they lost a lot of players to injury and elsewhere,and still don’t have back Aldon Smith, who is still suspended one more game for a mild panoply of substance related issues.
And after losing last week as 10 point favorites to the St. Louis Rams on what was essentially a complete judgment call on the part of the referees to determine the winner at the end of the game), at 4-4 they’re just one game ahead of the NFC West bottom dwelling Rams, and a full 3 games behind the division leading Arizona Cardinals in what is arguably the strongest division in the NFL. (A division which last year, in a game between those same Cardinals and 49ers to end the regular season, came within a hair of sending an 11-5 team home rather than to the post season for the first time in NFL history.)
Meanwhile, after losing their week 7 game by a point to the Lions despite outplaying them a little in an otherwise closely fought matchup, the Saints pounded the otherwise high flying Green Bay Packers at home, and then in a game that was closer than the score indicated, but in which they never even gave the Panthers a real shot at winning, they beat the Cats in Carolina by a comfortable 28-10 margin.
The Saints seem to have gotten their mojo back. The same mojo that has made them one of the winning-est teams in the NFL overall, with Drew Brees at QB and Sean Payton at the helm. (Which would omit the entire 2012 season when Payton was questionably suspended for the entire season for the infamous “bounty-gate” scandal.).
And it’s true the Saints haven’t lost a game at home since something like Bill Clinton has been in the White House. (They also hadn’t won on the road in near forever also, before beating the Panthers last Thursday night.)
But the struggling 49ers are at least a “little” bit healthier; relatively speaking, anyway, although a huge question is if they get middle linebacker Patrick Willis, one of the best linebackers in the NFL, back for this game.
Sure, they could win without him, and lose with him, but his presence makes a difference to that 49er defense. And it would be a present for them if he can play. (Willis, with the type of injury that usually means more time lost, was nevertheless originally expected to miss “just one game” several weeks ago. But after that one game he had the bye week, and still missed another – last week versus the Rams. And despite being listed as “questionable,” meaning technically 50 50 to play but in reality more likely to play than not, Willis sat out practice all week and is reportedly unlikely to play yet again, and again asserted yesterday by the local writers who specifically cover the team, and say Willis has “little chance” of playing. That’s good news for the Saints)
There’s also talk, however, of Harbaugh planning to leave San Francisco. It has been rumbling around for a while. And earlier in the season there was a lot of anonymous reporting that Harbaugh had lost his locker room.
There are 32 teams in the NFL. Only 4 make it to the conference championship game. Harbaugh’s team has done it every single one of the 3 years he has been their coach. No other team in the league has accomplished this, let alone in transition to a new coaching staff – and before Harbaugh got there, the 49ers weren’t’ all that great; while his first season, 2011, was supposed to be a “re building” year. Amazing how little credibility that gets him.
Maybe he’s “lost his locker room.” But with more than their fair share of key injuries and offseason losses, his team has still played pretty well.
Perhaps the talk, including from an insistent former 49er great – Jerry Rice – that Harbaugh is leaving, might finally get to the team. Or maybe they’ve just been over achieving for a while under his coaching. And maybe quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who may not represent that big of an upgrade over the low turnover and precise Alex Smith (who was traded to the Chiefs a few seasons ago to make room for Kaepernick to start), may not yet be quite the superstar that he is often credited with being.
But this is a big game for a team that, until it shows otherwise, has consistently proven it’s mettle under Harbaugh. 5.5 points is too large of a spread, no matter how dominant the Saints have been at home. San Francisco might end their home winning streak this week as well, though with the key injuries and absences that still remain, the edge of course still goes to the Saints.
Who knows with a 49ers team that “could” be in transition back to an average team (in which case they’ll get beaten solidly by the Saints). But it should be a good football game. And it might just yet show that the 49ers ain’t done yet. Particularly if they somehow manage to do it without once again disruptive Aldon Smith, who they finally get back after the game and his original 9 game suspension is concluded. (As well as Willis, if he also doesn’t play again, as seems likely.)
That’s just 3 picks. For bragging rights, that’s all you need. You’d be 4-0 after this weekend had I gotten that Browns game in. (The most likely letdown of the 3, incidentally, is the Detroit game. That’s a tough game. )
But as foreshadowed above, let’s ruin it with a 4th, and a team that is not only bad on the scoreboard, but a horrible 1-7-1 this season against the spread. That’s hard to do, because it means as expectations continue to fall, the team continues to consistently under perform them as well. Though perhaps expectations haven’t fallen enough for the New York Jets, who in week 8 as a 1 win team were nevertheless favorites against the 4-3 Buffalo Bills, in a game that was apparently the first time a 1-6 team was a betting favorite against a team with a winning record in at least two and a half decades; maybe ever.
And it wasn’t like the Jets were only 1-6 because of some fluky losses, or the Bills 4-3 on some fluky wins where they were thoroughly dominated. Apparently the Bills took note of this and used it as motivation, with their sometimes outspoken center Eric Wood even somewhat aptly, calling it “insulting.”
Steelers (-5) at Jets
The Jets are awful. They’ve lost 8 straight. Meanwhile, their head coach might even be dancing close to the edge of complaining over things that are all but irrelevant. And since coming back into the league, Michael Vick – for now at least the Jets starter – simply hasn’t won a lot overall in comparison to what his team could probably otherwise do.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is hot; having won three straight solid victories over decent to strong teams (Houston, Indianapolis, and Baltimore) after getting thrombottled by Cleveland a few weeks ago, to pull out to a solid 6-3 record.
But the Jets will win the game. Maybe.
The points don’t matter as much, since it seems more of a question of whether the Jets can pull out a win, or just not compete again. But even though it seems like the Jets will lose by a proverbial 8 to 14 or finally just pull off an upset, in a tight battle the edge goes to Ben Rothlisberger here every time. That is, a quarterback who is great at winning close games (Rothlisberger), against a quarterback who is particularly bad at winning them (Vick). So from that standpoint, the points do matter. Except for the fact that the Jets are a much worse team than Pittsburgh, and shouldn’t even be able to keep it close.
But this is their game.
The only question is, has Rex finally given up, or is the team just really that bad, and their personnel decisions (and strategy) need reevaluation. Or all three. My vote is 2 out of the 3: This is their game, and their personnel decisions need to be seriously reevaluated. But Rex hasn’t given up.
Update some time after the game.
Rams (+7) at Cardinals
This is kind of an adventure pick. The Rams are bad. They aren’t a particularly good road team. The Cardinals are good, lead the league with an NFL best 7-1 record, and are a good home team. And after nearly hitting an 11-5 mark and missing the playoffs anyway last year, and with four games still remaining against division rivals Seattle and San Francisco, they aren’t about to let up on the gas any time soon; particularly in another division game.
And the Rams have suffered a bunch of injuries, and are probably feeling “pretty high on the hog” after beating the 49ers as 10 point underdogs last week to creep up to a whoppingingly successful 3-5 under (perhaps at this point over rated?) Jeff Fisher
Still, it’s not completely baseless that Fisher is considered a good coach; the Cardinals play smart, solid, competent winning football but don’t exactly crush; and in another division game the Rams could just be wild fired up and make it a battle.
They have a really young team, a right at this moment over priced defensive line that essentially consists of almost all super high draft picks (that went into their game against the 49ers last week with just six sacks on the season, and then added six more in just the first half of that game alone), and this is the kind of game – to take a win from the division leader as solid underdogs yet again – they should get worked up about.
Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.
Broncos (-11) at Oakland
On the one hand, 11 points is an extremely large amount to be favored by, on the road. But on the other hand, Denver wins by a lot in most of the games it wins – which is most of them. And Oakland loses by a lot in most of the games it loses – which is all of them.
So maybe the spread should be like 35.
Predictions (made here) of Oakland playing a little better under interim head coach Tony Sparano, while Oakland has been playing teams a little tougher, haven’t really panned out. It’s possible that Dennis Allen wasn’t as horrible of a head coach as I thought, and in part this team is bad because of awful personnel moves. (While coaching usually trumps personnel (unless it’s, say, the Jaguars), I thought it was both, and if so at least a little of the heat has to be taken off of Allen.)
And worse, Denver – a team with legitimate Super Bowl or bust expectations, is coming off of an embarrassing loss at New England. They’re probably not going to be in the mood to coast – certainly not with John Fox as head coach and the ever competitive Peyton Manning at quarterback. And they’re now trailing the Patriots – who they may well face again in the post season, just as they did last season (in Denver, notably) – for home field advantage seeding. And this is a division game, with the Chiefs just one game behind.
Still, the days of Oakland being a walkover this season may be fading; the game is in Oakland; and playing Denver, there is ample opportunity for the Raiders to be excited about the game. A win doesn’t erase the fact that they were 0-8. But beating the team that, so long as they are not playing in New England, still might be the best team in the NFL right now and a long hated division rival, will add something to their season.
Their challenge is the fact that Denver is a far far better football team.
Theoretically, it’s always an anything can happen Sunday in the NFL; and it’s always anything can happen in any game. But while the Broncos should either dominate or at least win the game in something other than a super close squeaker, this game is more truly an “anything can happen” game, and Oakland might just battle them tough.