Last week: 3-3 ATS.
At least on the bright side, last week this blog picked the Jets to upset the Steelers, said the 49ers might win and that the spread of 5.5 against the Saints was too high. (They won in OT, while the Jets also won, and led the Steelers 20-7 with just over two minutes to go, before Pittsburgh scored a scrap touchdown.)
The Dolphins were also picked, getting 3 points, and they led by 3 with a few minutes to go and wound up losing; as Detroit, for the 3rd time in as many games, came back to win late. Although this time by a 4 full points – not just the 1 point they won by at the very end against New Orleans in week 7 and Atlanta in week 8 – and thus enough to defeat the Vegas spread, if not their opponent, by a point.
Week 10 picks in here also suggested “this game is more truly an ‘anything can happen’ game” with respect to the Oakland Raiders, who this blog foolishly picked at +11 hosting Denver.
And anything did happen, as Oakland essentially outplayed the Broncos through most of the first half, batting down a remarkable 5 separate Peyton Manning passes at the line of scrimmage and leading 10 – 6 with a few minutes to go before halftime, before falling apart in typical Oakland fashion. (In a side note, clandestine league talks of banishing the Raiders along with the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Canadian Football League, continue. Kidding.)
Week 10’s calls also picked the St. Louis Rams getting 7 at the now 8-1, albeit now also Carson Palmer-less, Arizona Cardinals. And the Rams led 14-10 almost halfway through the 4th quarter, then gave up a 48 yard TD pass: Then promptly threw an interception; then rookie QB Austin Davis did manage to throw a TD pass on their very next possession, although it was unfortunately another interception, and, just like the one on the possession before, only this one also went for the star Cardinal defensive back’s first “pick six” of this career; then Davis got hit on the next seriesby rookie Kareem Martin and the ensuing fumble was also returned for a Cardinals TD, and a 31-14 lead in what looked like it would be a close game down to the wire.
(The hit by Martin – in a league where hitting the quarterback too high draws a flag, hitting the quarterback too low draws a flag, hitting the quarterback in the chest with your helmet draws a flag, and even inadvertently spilling any of the opposing quarterback’s Earl Grey tea as they sit back in the pocket, scan the field and brew a nice cup or two before throwing, also draws a flag – was perfect. He drove in and up, while keeping his head back and slightly to the side, avoiding contact with Davis either at the neck of up, or any direct contact by Martin’s helmet. Martin also exploded up into him with his chest and arms, and Davis had little chance of keeping the ball. In short, it was a “nice” play, and not just a fluke.)
Here’s a recap of some of those picks, and the games, in particular, looking at how they turned out, along with a few end of game strategy observations.
As always, these picks below are only for the purposes of going to Las Vegas and winning enough to build a charitable foundation to feed starving children around the world or, bragging rights at the water cooler, after you phone (or more aptly) text in your brilliant ATS locks of the day to startled co workers, wondering how you continue to amaze them week after week. (Or, not.)
This week’s picks. As always, picks for Sunday will be added later in the week/weekend.
Bills (+5) at Dolphins (Thursday Night Football)
This is a tough game. The Dolphins didn’t lose at Detroit last week because they are a bad team, but because the Lions are a good team. And “if” they could have kept the ball at the end, they would have won. (But they didn’t, and lost legitimately.) And their last two home games have been a last minute loss to the Green Bay Packers, and a 37-0 pounding of the San Diego Chargers.
This is also a division game, and it matters more for the Dolphins. They are both 5-4. But the Bills won their earlier meeting. So if the Bills win, they will essentially be two games ahead of Miami, if it comes down to a two way tie at the end of the regular season. If Miami wins, they will essentially be one game up. That is a big difference, and makes this game even more urgent for Miami.
It is not clear that the Dolphins will get that hung up on such technicalities, but they do know the Bills defeated them earlier, and that this game is huge, and probably worse for them if they lose. And they are home.
The Dolphins have the edge to win, but this is almost like an early season playoff game for both teams, and the Bills have been playing solid football lately. Given that they have a chance to win, and there is a decent chance the game will be a tough hard fought battle, 5 points is probably just a little bit too much. Close call.
(Note, this was finished and then re-edited for typos at 8:52, and I’ve stayed oblivious to what the score is or what is going on the game. I hope the score is not like 14-0 Miami already.)
Update: It wasn’t. Buffalo was leading 7-3 by the half; but, along with a few small breaks that went against them, got outplayed by the Dolphins in the second half, and lost 22-9. (The Dolphins also sacrificed a decent opportunity near the end of the first half by making a truly awful if typical, strategic decision. And overall, the game was an interesting one from several different football angles, and one that has a lot of potential playoff implications. As the aforementioned link notes, it also featured a player predict before the game how the Bills were going to “beat that ass,” and then break his own ankle in the game.)
Eagles (+6) at Packers
The Packers might or might not be a little better than the Eagles; and they’re a pretty good home team. But this line is somewhat of a perception spread, as well as a value spread. Philadelphia might be nearly as good or as good as Green Bay.
The Packers also tend not to win (or even be in) a lot of close games, so getting 6 points here may not matter much. But the bottom line is that Philadelphia may be just as good as Green Bay (with Mark Sanchez or Nick Foles at quarterback) or close, and since they have a solid, if less than 50 50 chance to win, take the points. Impress at the water cooler this week after your text later this afternoon to your coworkers that says “Eagles +6 baby!” (Or hide after the Packers thrash them by 11.)
Both teams are in tight battles for their divisions, although the Packers are in slightly worse position and need the win a little more. At 6-3, they’re battling the 7-2 Lions (who also hold a 1-o heads up lead against the Packers), while the 7-2 Eagles have a half game lead over the 7-3 Dallas Cowboys.
Combined with the strong home field advantage, and the possibility still of being the slightly more dominant team, this of course gives Green Bay the advantage in the game. But not enough
Falcons (-2) at Panthers
Carolina has gotten worse and worse.
Quarterback Cam Newton is said to have lost the “gleam” in his eye.
Multiple analysts claimed that Newton had to be hurt in the Panthers dismal performance last Monday night at the Eagles. Both Newton and head coach Ron Rivera have since insisted that is not the case. But Newton made several poor decisions in the pocked – relying upon an imagined athleticism to escape rushing angles he had no chance of escaping from, and simply looking physically lethargic, or at least slowed.
On a Hail Mary pass from near midfield Newton, who has an extremely strong arm, didn’t reach the goal line with the ball, and though he stepped into the throw he never pulled his arm back sufficiently as if his very recently healed rib was impeding his backward range of movement (as ribs can do, and clearly seemed to be doing there whether he realizes it or not), and never followed through on the pass.
The Panthers have also lost 4 straight.
Everything about this line, pitting two sub par and otherwise somewhat even teams against each other, and which reflecting the home field advantage should be Carolina -3, screams that Atlanta will win the game.
This is a tough call. The Panthers, but for a brief flicker at the end of 2012 and then in particular at the end of last season – when they were actually a dangerous team with a shot to go all the way, have been a generally bad team for years. The Falcons have been a generally good team, playing up to or beyond their capabilities, while the Panthers, not so much. While the Falcons clearly aren’t very good this year, the Panthers are a very different team than last year, missing many key starters due to free agency, and injury, so a comparison to last year really isn’t warranted.
But they should be a better team than the Falcons. So far every time the word “heart” has been mentioned in a picks post on this blog, the team whose heart was questioned, has lost the game, and lost against the spread, and lost substantially. (This includes the Panthers at least once already.) And one would think the Falcons have, or have certainly more consistently exhibited, more of it. And, unless the disparity between teams is lopsided, heart dominates.
But energy is a part of it, and at home, with all teams below .500 in the NFL South, and a chance to redeem their season, the Panthers may finally play with energy. Newton tends to get in patterns of play, and the suspicion is that his intensity and tendency to take it seriously, critique himself, and dwell on his mistakes, combined with the high expectations for him (and that he has himself) has fed upon itself each time his play has regressed.
The only real question is, is he at that point where he is able to realize he’s just a mortal, it’s just a game, he’s got good skills, to be criticized for not being a good NFL quarterback still makes one a better athlete that most people in the country, and to get paid millions to play the game and probably the most fun position in the game to play, is more than an honor, it’s a dream, and to get his perspective in order, and just let lose, play his heart out, but as athletes like myself do or have done always in multiple sports, simply for the love of the game, at any level (no matter how low) level, and not play his head out.
Probably not. Still, here’s to a questionable pick, on the ill reasoned suspicion that this team pulls it together for this game. If they do it was probably not a good call, just a lucky one. If they don’t, it was probably a bad call. Just saying.
This team knows how to beat Atlanta, and usually over performs against them. And they are certainly still a capable football team.
Bengals (+7) at Saints
The Saints, though very good at home and with motivation coming off a tough overtime loss at home to San Francisco last week, are slightly overrated. And the Bengals are a mediocre road team, who, after peaking last season (carried over to the very beginning of this season, their 5th loss out of 5 total in the post season under the over rated Marvin Lewis notwithstanding) have been slowly declining. And they were absolutely dominated by the Browns in a key divisional matchup last Thursday night.
Still, Andy Dalton catches a lot of flak for a quarterback originally taken in the 3rd round of the NFL draft, and who is one of the winning-est quarterbacks through the first three (now three and one half) seasons to ever play the game.
And this is a litmus test for this team. They fail their post season litmus tests repeatedly; but it’s not as clear this is the case during the season. They need a win to pull it together, and there is every reason to believe they are just as good, or can be just as good, a football team as the New Orleans Saints,if not better.
If there is going to be an upset pick, this is it. And the Saints, so dominant at home, lose their 2nd straight here. If not (unless the game is close and the Bengals just get a little unlucky) the Bengals time is over, and it’s likely time for their ownership to see the writing on the wall – while it’s great to finally have winning seasons, after nearly 12 full seasons you haven’t gone anywhere with the now 2nd longest tenured head coach in the NFL (after Bill Belichick.) Give it a switch. Though I would imagine the Bengals ownership won’t, pending how the rest of the season plays out.
Raiders (+10) at Chargers
San Diego has lost three games in a row, after going to Oakland in week 6 and winning a close game late against an Oakland team that has played few teams close, but that played surprisingly well in interim head coach Tony Sparano’s first game up.
The Chargers are also coming off of a 37-0 thrashing at Miami, and a bye, and know that for them Oakland is not a walkover; so they will be rarin’ to go, and also not take the game lightly.
And Oakland, as noted, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars, should be banished to the Canadian Football League. (I volunteer to be the general manager for either team, for no salary, and I’ll subsist on rice, beans and noodles just to prove the point that a good general manager who knows how to evaluate and monetarily value draft, player and trade opportunities and build a team would do wonders for either franchise’s abysmal records.)
After a bad stretch of injuries, and while losing 2014 first round pick rookie cornerback Jason Verrett for the season (who has had some trouble staying healthy anyway), the Chargers are also getting some key players back; including former 2012 1st round pick outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, running back Ryan Matthews, and 2013 early 2nd round pick and linebacker Manti Te’o. (Although Te’0, improved for this season, hasn’t impressed quite as much as had been hoped.) Matthews hasn’t played since September 14, Te’o since September 21, and Ingram is coming off of IR early.
All of that notwithstanding, Oakland forgets about the last 32 once again dreadful minutes of football it played against the dominant Denver Broncos in week 10, rallies, and puts up a good fight in what will be a better football game than the collective 5-14 (and lopsided 5-4 versus 0-9) records of the two teams might indicate.
Lions (pick ’em) at Cardinals
The Cardinals get no respect. And part of this line reflects the fact that star quarterback Carson Palmer is done for the year, and maybe its time for at least a brief Cardinals relapse. And the fact that Arizona hasn’t really badly beaten anybody (and should have lost to the aforementioned Chargers in week 1 but San Diego badly bungled the end of the game in multiple ways) but just somehow seems to win.
Until this 8-1 team shows otherwise, they should get the benefit of the doubt, even with the downgrade to quarterback Drew Stanton (who played three games for Arizona earlier in the season – all wins, but not as impressive) at quarterback. And particularly against a Detroit Lions team, that, at 7-2, playing strong with Calvin Johnson back now for a second game, or not, still had to come from behind to win its last three games.
Patriots (+3) at Colts
Both of these teams are all about business, and strong. On paper the Patriots should be an improved team from last year. And while earlier in the season it looked like the opposite had occurred, that no longer seems to be the case.
On the other side of the coin, for the first time since Andrew Luck entered the league in 2012, he might be fielding a team capable of hanging with and legitimately beating the New England Patriots in a game that matters. (The Colts stayed close with or defeated every team they played in Luck’s interesting inaugural 2012 season until they went to New England in week 11 and lost 59-24 to fall to 6-4. And last season, after pulling off the second largest comeback in NFL playoff history to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44, the Colts advanced to the second round of the playoffs where they faced the Patriots in New England. And again lost, 43-22.)
At home, that might be enough of a spark to earn the Colts – who in week 2 uncharacteristically blew a very late 10 point lead at home against the Eagles (including a poor call on a non existent horse caller that helped advance a key Eagles drive) – the victory in their home stadium. A place where since Luck has come into the league they have consistently beaten the best teams in the league. (In 2012, Luck’s first season, and coming off of a 2-14 record and 1-2 so far that year, the Colts upset a then very strong Green Bay Packers team 30-27 in week 4. And last year, they just happened to play, and defeat, the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Denver Broncos, the three best teams in the league last season, as the Colts alone were responsible for about one third of those three teams’ total collective regular season losses for last year – although their upset 27-7 victory over the 49ers came in San Francisco.)
But when two heavyweights, including a team like the Patriots – even if they are far better at home than on the road play, suit up -,and the game’s not clear and stands a good chance of being reasonably close, take the points. While the Patriots under Brady lose a remarkably low share of close games, the Colts, under Andrew Luck, win a fairly high number of them.
This is one of the best games of the season, and also an extremely close game, and probably not worth a pick, or ruining this blog’s exemplary ~.500 record. But still – 2014, Colts, Patriots, and new quarterback (Luck, for a while now the likely heir apparent to Manning Brady), but same teams. And a Sunday night contest. If you like the NFL, this is what it’s all about.
And just like the Patriots week 9 game in Foxboro against the Broncos,it’s one with possibly significant post season seeding implications. Which, given the Colt’s miserable performances up in New England versus their home stadium thus far, this could be a key factor in which team advances in the post season this year.
It’s also a game with interesting divisional implications, as a defeat by the Colts would put the Patriots only 1 game ahead of the Dolphins, who have already beaten the Patriots once, and could pull ahead (on the tie breaker) if they can pull off the feat again in New England. And being that New England has won that the NFC East nearly every year since Tom Brady first started playing in 2001, that would be kind of interesting.
Remember, while the Patriots have looked good, they did struggle in some games early (losing at Miami, and then in week 3 “only” beating the then even more dreadful Raiders by 7 at home), and back in week 4 went into Kansas City, and got waxed 41-14. And the Colts are probably a better team th an the Chiefs.
Pick: reluctantly, Patriots (If forced to pick a winner, the call might be Colts by a hair; which makes this a borderline silly call, since it means the Colts by 2 (or 1), and far too narrow a window for any real prediction here to mean much).