NFL 2015 Season Week 3 Picks Against the Spread

Last week, 4-4. (Glad I added a late update, taking the Giants at minus 2.5, who went on to blow a double digit 4th quarter lead two weeks in a row; and who also made several mistakes after creeping into field goal territory or picking up key 4th downs deep – but hey, that’s part of who the Giants are, right?)

Year to date: 10-6. And with some bad picks last week: Such as Buffalo, who I picked even after learning th confounded Bills “haven’t been to the playoffs since before the medieval ages” organization still had the cornball nerve to sell some supposedly Patriots mocking Deflategate “football air pumps” for the game.

That’s a good way to calm the Patriots and get them primed for a cush contest. Like poking a stick at hornets is calming.

If you have to play the hornets, grab the stick. But even implicitly joking they’re wussy bees who need to cheat to win, when all they’ve done is whupped you this entire century? Seems like a bad move.

Memo, to Bills: Don’t mock opponents that have owned you for nearly fifteen years over psi inflations having nothing to do with your game, and before you even beat them. (Note, Tom Brady came into the game 23-3 against the Bills. He left 24-3. Nice mockery job, Buffalo.)

So this week, first pick, who do we have? Well, of course, the Tyrannosaurus Rex Ryans:

1. Buffalo Bills (+3) at Miami Dolphins

If Buffalo’s the team I think they are (or maybe at this point it should be “thought”), they’re even or a bit ahead to win; and yet are pegged as underdogs for the contest.

Sure the Dolphins have the home field heat advantage (tough in Miami in September). But, weather aside, when these two teams play the home field really doesn’t mean too much. (Note: Here it might because of that weather: Given the role of temperature changes I just checked Miami’s forecast: 89 degrees at game time, with a 99 index. Between white jerseys and the natural thinner blood acclimation for the team practicing and living in the warmer area, it’s an advantage.)

And while the Dolphins just lost – not to the Patriots either, but to the team with more losses over the past three seasons than any other in the NFL – and will be rearing for a key division win in this their “this, time, we make it” season, the Bills may just be the better football team still.

Ryan Tannehill’s great, bla bla Been suggesting it since his first season when despite a super nice year by historical standards for a QB rook, he was overshadowed by the triple monster performances of one Lucky guy, RW, and some guy named R2d2 – or RG3, I get the nicknames confused. (But either way, a guy currently languishing as perhaps the highest priced 3rd string QB the game has seen, and who should be traded to a team in need of QB potential. And yes a triple win trade can be accomplished; the easily remediable, and in everybody’s interest to do so, “no cut if injured” clause on next year’s option notwithstanding. I’ll show how in another post.)

But consider Miami’s week 1 17-10 win at the Redskins: A likely underrated team (at least when Kirk Cousins isn’t having one of his every so often multi quarter mild play meltdowns) that outplayed Miami and probably should have won. (The Skins made a routine but large strategy error late in the game; gave up a 69 yard punt return for a TD and had marginal punting as well; and dropped two easy picks (by Culliver and Robinson, and Culliver’s would have probably been a pick six) – that had a good chance of changing the game’s outcome.)

The point is, Tannehill’s stats show 0 picks for the game. It’s a team sport, and randomness affects the numbers that alter our perception of individual performance: Two easy catches by NFL defensive backs, for whom catching footballs should be as automatic and easy as brushing one’s teeth (but apparently, through lack of proper kinesthetic and extra challenging multi sensory pass catch training, or whatever, it’s not), and Tannehill has bad stats, not good ones.  Yet the drops versus catches have nothing to do with how Tannehill performed.

He is good though, and should be on his game, at home, in a big matchup for his team that, facing two expectedly “poor” opponents first, they’ve probably been looking toward since preseason.

But perhaps a humbled Rex has his team more quietly fired up this time; and also has them flying a little more under the radar after their perhaps sudden self presumption of excellence after rolling a normally slow starting Colts team in week 1.

If he doesn’t, the team is probably not that good, and my pick of them to win the division, in hindsight, possibly wrong. (And it may be anyway, because I’m starting to suspect that the Patriots, after an entire offseason where their performance was implicitly questioned through the never ending “Deflategate” saga, are also somewhat quietly seething, and even more focused as a result.)

Pick: Bills

2. San Francisco 49ers (+6.5) at Arizona Cardinals

(Post game update: This is the worst pick of the season so far. I guess I forgot to remind myself of this.) The 49ers, even if Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater had his worst game, and the whole Vikings team seemed to play as if they simply expected to win (unlike in week 2 when they came out against the Lions and played with a different intensity level), showed in week 1 that they can play.

The Cardinals, last week’s game against the Bears (and after some key Chicago injuries) aside, don’t usually blow teams out. And it’s a division game: After several years of the 49ers being the challenged team, it’s also one with the tables now plausibly turned; and the battle should be well fought. [Again, this.]

While the Cardinals obviously have the edge in winning, it wouldn’t be that big of a true upset if the 49ers won. And given the division intensity and history, there’s a reasonable chance the game could be close, making this an easy pick with the almost touchdown cushion the 49ers are being given here.

Pick: 49ers 

3. New Orleans Saints (+9) at Carolina Panthers

Seriously, did Drew Brees really play all that fantastically in weeks 1 and 2?

I watched every play; and while Brees has been one of the best QBs in the NFL for a long time, and may still be well up there, it’s conceivable that the drop off to long time backup Luke McCown may not be as big as anticipated because of Brees’ play the first two weeks.

But then again, in those two weeks the Saints also lost twice – to the Cardinals, and then to the Buccaneers: That is, to the very same team who after winning all of two games in 2014 and just before playing the Saints, also lopsidedly lost in week 1 of this season as well. And it was a loss to the Titans no less, who themselves had also somehow managed the considerable feat of only winning 2 games in 2014, mirroring the Bucs.

Which of course, doesn’t bode well for the Saints either.

Still, the large underdog line represents too much compensation for the QB loss and the embarassing home debacle against the Bucs in week 2 (in which, however, and making matters worse, they were largely ouplayed, not simply “unlucky”): And it could be a harbinger that the Saints’ reasonably long run as a competitive team, including within their division, is over.

But the Panthers are a defensive oriented team. And though they aren’t among the league leaders in winning close games, they don’t tend toward large blowouts either. 8 points is a large cushion in a game that, given that the South doesn’t look like it’s going to be a pushover, could represent a Saintly desperation effort to keep this season’s hopes alive, and make it a tougher battle than it otherwise should be. (And possibly even shock the NFL world and Panthers in the process – don’t be surprised if it happens.) Then again they may not.

It’s far from a lock. But it’s too early to be taking the Panthers as huge favorites aginst even a QB depleted but traditionally tough division foe, especially with LB Luke Kuechly out.

Pick: Saints

(Update: Original number was +8 for the Saints, yesterday when article posted it had moved past 9, and now is 10. Which seems like an over reaction)

3A. Atlanta Falcons (-1.5) at Dallas Cowboys

Okay, after this game I’ll have a lot of hindsight, and give you a great analysis as to who will win.

But before the game, are you kidding me? We’re slogging along at 10-6 on the year against the spread here – let’s keep that above .500 pace alive rather than risk it on a few coin tosses like the Bills and Lions were last week.

So why the write up? It’s just a great matchup, that’s all. Let’s face it, Tony Romo has been playing silk smooth, but the Cowboys have not played as well at home as on the road; meanwhile the Falcons are seemingly clicking on all cyclinders. And in Cowboys backup Brandon Weeden they’re going up against a QB who’s 5-15 in his career.

Granted, all but one of those games was with the Browns. But it’s still a really lousy record; Weeden (a wacky draft pick when the Browns wasted a first rounder on a then 28 year old “potential upside but already very mature college player” as their projected starter), hasn’t played all that well much of the time; and one of the Cowboys rare losses last year came in their one game with Weeden at the helm, and the game ultimately wasn’t all that close either.

While sure, he has arm skills, and could surprise, the drop off from Romo to Weeden is pretty significant as far as QB dropoffs go – kind of a big one. (Also note, as far as the Browns go, that pick of Weeden wasn’t even their worst move of that same 2012 first round: as the Browns just “had to make sure to have” running back Trent Richardson, and traded away three later picks in order to move up one single spot to number 3 overall just in case the Adrian Peterson rich and left tackle poor Minnesota Vikings traded away that third pick in the draft to someone else, and the Browns universe thus crumble away. I watched that draft, as always took copious notes, and for about the 500th time prayed, of course first for world peace, greater tolerance, less fervently held misinformation, hatred, righteousness and infringement on others in the world; and more personally, to be a team General Manager.)

This is just a great week 3 contest though: Dallas was my NFC pick to make it to the Super Bowl. But with a reasonable chance for Dez Bryant’s foot to not heal until very late or even at all this season, and Romo – in possibly what will utlimately be a faster healing injury, – out for at least 8 games, and a bit of a disapointment in the run game (I thought Darren McFadden might surprise, but it looks like his very early career flashes of great ability once again aren’t showing), it’s looking weaker at this point. I can’t even pick ’em in a tossup game against the Falcons, who are really playing with a renewed energy this year , and so far look to be in the early stages of also writing a strong season and improvement story.

I want to. I did pick them to win the entire NFC, after all, injury riddled or not. But I’m sticking with a more select group of picks here, and just can’t figure this game out. For those that can, email me.

Dallas is not just missing Romo and Bryant, but left guard Ronald Leary is out. Free agent rookie pick up La’el Collins, who took 1 snap at the position for every 2 by Mackenzy Bernadeaue in the week 2 win at Philadelphia (although the team reportedly didn’t even think he was sufficiently ready to even suit up for week 1), has been named the starter over Bernadeaue for the game.

Collins was originally targeted as a first round pick, before being questioned, without ever being a suspect, with respect to a heinous crime. And NFL teams, forgetting that police ask anybody with relevant information questions too, naturally flipped out and dropped him like a hot potato, also seemingly forgetting that the very act of drafting an untested player is a risk, and more importantly that this possible addition simply changed the calculus a little bit.

Veteran stalwart defensive end Jeremy Mincey is also now out. Big offseason acquisition Greg Hardy isn’t eligible to play until game 5. Promising rookie draft pick Randy Gregory is still hurt. Tight end Jason Witten is reportely playing with a few injuries.

Pick: None. Just a middling write up.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (+6.5) at Green Bay Packers

Upset alert: This game is near a tossup. So, as no one is picking the Chiefs, here you go: Chiefs win.

Putting aside trying to capture public perception, as lines must also do, the line should be 3 (maybe 3.5), for the Packers solid home field advantage. They usually seem to play much better in Green Bay. And the Chiefs also slightly lean toward being a better than average home versus road team.

But right now, but for prior expectations and perception, there’s no great way to peg the Packers as the better team. They beat the Seahawks. But, if closer, so did the Rams. They beat the Bears. Then the Cardinals half walloped the Bears.

The Chiefs are healthier than last year, have gotten a few key players back and have more depth, are a little under the radar this year, and as with the Packers also have a traditionally very successful coach.

Presumably they’re also hungrier; and presumably very hungry after blowing a key divisional and likely ultimate playoff game relevant matchup versus methuselah but still super savvy and competent Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

They stood toe to toe with the Broncos, in a game Denver was no doubt jacked up for, and in the majority of respects played a better game. Sure the Texans look meek so far this season, but the Chiefs also solidly outplayed them in week 1 in Houston.

While every game matters, being in the tough AFC West, they need a win, and this is the game the Chiefs make their statement That is, if they are capable of making that statement. And there is more than a good enough chance that they are that the game could be considered closer to a true tossup than the somewhat lopsided winner loser context the 6.5 spread suggests.

With the points, and even though when the Packers win at home (which is a lot), it’s not a close game anywhere near the league average, this is still an easy pick.

Pick: Chiefs

Note: There’s still more film to watch, so this might be updated before tomorrow afternoon with another game. None of the above picks will change once made; but if more worthwhile information is revealed in film, I’ll add it in an update as well.

Advertisements

NFL 2015 Week 2 Picks Against the Spread

Week 1: 6-2 ATS. 1-1 on upset picks: The Rams, who did win on a lucky and largely mistaken onside kick ‘attempt’ win in overtime in a game where they were leading by two scores late. And the Giants, who lost: Both due to their awful strategic decisions and assessments at the end, specifically. And due to NFL acknowledged botched officiating calls, specifically.

All last week’s picks were attempts to provide the best pick possible given the relevant information. But in keeping with the light satirizing (but at least in spirit, somewhat partial support) of Adrian Peterson’s 2500 yard season and Super Bowl proclamation, I ventured a pick on one game I thought was a tossup, hazarding a guess the Vikes would win; when the better call, given that they were favored and probably should have been 3 point underdogs and not 2.5 favorites, the better call may have been to take the home team based on what little we actually knew so far, and until the teams really showed who and what they are.

The game would have ruined a perfect 6-0 record against the spread. But, impressively the Falcons already accomplished that earlier the same opening Monday Evening, playing more like their pre-2014 form and beating a potentially tough Eagles team at home to open their season.

I liked the Vikings to surprise a bit his year. But the fact they were favored on the road against a generally good home team that had a better record than the Vikings last year even with lots of its stars injured, major offseason change since then or not, suggested many others did also. I also noted (see italics in particular) how it was odd the 49ers weren’t favored at home, and possibly also reflected a general, if premature assumption they would stink this year.

Week 1 the Vikings stunk. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had what was arguably his worst game as a pro – and an awful game overall – while Adrian Peterson had 31 yards on 10 carries. A 496 yard pace: Slightly off his optimistic if largely unrealistic 2500 rushing yard goal.

This week, week 2, is also a tough one. But still, if you’re in Vegas, here’s a way to win a large enough fortune to bankroll a global feed the starving children of the world campaign. (Or lose the same.) But as always, all picks are for fun and bragging rights at the metaphorical water cooler.

Which, naturally, of course would have worked out better had they been available by Friday workday.  But hey, I had game film to laboriously sweat over.

1.  Houston Texans (+3) at Carolina Panthers

Okay, I officially picked the Panthers to win the division. But it was an iffy call. (In a prior assessment, I didn’t even give them as high a chance of making the playoffs overall as the Falcons – who looked good in week one – while the Panthers beat the team that coming into week one had more losses than any other team in the NFL the past three seasons: Jacksonville.)

Meanwhile the Texans lost badly in week one, and are now starting the quarterback who was beat out (if only marginally) in preaseason by the guy they couldn’t even stick with through one full game into the season. (And who looked okay in his six minutes of play in largely garbage time.)

What’s worse is that historically, although they may have gotten a little better at this, the Panthers haven’t been the “greatest” at winning close games (and by not the greatest, I mean they’ve been pretty bad). So what’s the point of three points.

So, upset pick: Texans – even with an unknown and probably at this point (who knows though) okay enough backup QB starting – pull it together and win the game.

If they don’t, sorry Bill O Brien. Outbursts on the sidelines and you can’t beat the Panthers after getting waxed at home for three and a half quarters opening week? Early odds, if they lose, or don’t battle close in a very good game, will be against this team taking the next significant step, this year or any other – unless it’s all on new QB Ryan Mallet, and then it’s back to the drawing board. (Though their first loss wasn’t nearly all on starter Brian Hoyer, or, even, one bad pick and a fumble on a terrific play by LB Derrick Johnson aside, really on Hoyer, ultimately.)

But I’m picking them. Stay cool Bill. Fire the team up, not the arteries and blood vessels at routine bad pass interference calls/non calls. It also helps the Texans that the Panthers best defensive player, LB Luke Kuechly, will be out.

Pick: Texans

2.  Detroit Lions (+2) at Minnesota Vikings

The Lions were originally getting three points, which seems hard to figure given the fact they lost on the road week one to a theoreticaly tough San Diego home team, nearly beat the Cowboys in the playoffs last year, and are going up against a team that was 7-9 last year, hasn’t changed all that much, and was decidely outplayed in week one.

Last year the Lions beat the Vkings 17-3, then did so again at home later in the season, 16-14.  And 34-24 to open up the 2013 season, before losing 14-13, in Minnesota, to close it – and that in a year (as with last) that the Lions, despite entering week 17 at 7-8 while the Vikings were at 4-10-1 – that the Lions were actually a reasonably tough team still.

Going back a third year, the Lions were coming off of a strong (and, up until that point, for them fairly unusual) 10-6 season; but despite still being a team that battled tough in most games, they finished up at 4-12. Among the twelve losses were two to the Vikings, 20-13, and 34-24.

The Vikings themselves in 2012 were coming off a 3-13 season, and surprised everybody, going 10-6, and winning some impressive games in the process before losing in the wild card round of the playoffs to the Green Bay Packers.

So heads up the two teams have gone 3-3 the last six years.. And again, while the Lions lost in week one this season, the Vikings were embarassed in a nationally televised game against a team that was supposed to be “rebuilding.”

And they have that Adrian Peterson Super Bowl prediction to back up. So maybe they’ll be jacked up, and can simply erase the Monday Night game by beating the division rival, and presumed obstacle to the Packers – aka the Lions – straight up.

Perhaps increasingly foolishly at this point, I picked the Lions to win the division (and it’s the only pick that if redoing season predictions, I would change pending a loss after week 2). So, while the three points in a possible down to the wire divisional matchup would be nice, let’s see if I can’t go 0-2 on the Vikings so far this year.

My (iffy) call: Right now, until proven otherwise, the Lions should be the better team, in a divisional game that, at least as far as it goes early on, they need to win.

Pick: Lions

3.  New England Patriots (pick ’em) at Buffalo Bills

It makes it hard to pick the Bills after hearing about their gimmicky “football air pump” souvenirs. (And my poor excuse if they do lose – I mean come on, fun is fun, but mocking the Patriots through some sort of air pump gimmick? That’s lame, even if using the word lame in an article picking week 2 NFL game winners is a little lame – not as lame as deflate gate air pumps though.) I almost want to root for the Patriots now after such corniness.

But I picked the Bills to win the division. And obviously at home that means they win this. Right? Maybe.

And if the Bills don’t win this game after flat out mocking their opponent like that – with deflate a football pumps – it’s time for, well something: Maybe for the Bills organization to focus on the team and playing, and not stadium gimmicks more corny than a corndog made from corn and served on a corncob stick over a bed of corn pilaf. Just my take. Could be wrong. (Then again the Bills are also trying to make money, and fire up fans. And maybe it is fun for the home fans, so what do I know. It’s all good if they beat the Patriots; but it seems really lame if they flat out mock them like that and then get beat at home by them, and with regulation footballs no less!)

The Bills romp of the Colts in week one might also have them a little less hungry. And it also certainly put the Patriots on even more serious notice. (And one of the many things the Patriots are good at is being serious as it is to begin with). But this is the game that if there is a changing of the guard, even if temporary or just a “pull even with,” this is the first key opportunity.

There may not be that many more, so it might as well be now.

The odd thing is I picked this game before the season started, and if the Bills had lost in week one would be more confident of it. I know, if they lost week one it means they are not as strong.

But they are what they are; it showed late last year and in preseason, somewhat, and the Colts, and in particular Andrew Luck – for him anyway – played a bad game. And the Bills would have something serious to prove in this game, while the Patriots were more apt to at least somewhat think “same old Bills.”

Plus, and perhaps most importantly, for picking against the spread, which is what I’m doing in these columns, since picking straight up winners is a lot easier overall, and nearly everyone else does that anyway, the Bills would be getting points in what would probably be a tossup game.

Week one did help confirm that the Bills are potentially fairly strong, which gives them a slight advantage now in that regard; but they lose the underdog edge they had, and that coach Rex Ryan has been pretty good at capitalizing on.

Even with the long week after a big opening Thursday night win, the Patriots are still adjusting to lot of new starters, and aren’t typically as good on the road. So there’s that. Though Billl Belichick, in a semi worthless, semi relevant stat, is 12-1 against first or second time QB starters – he’s probably good at game planning for them, as he seems to be against almost everybody. (Except Joe Flacco and Eli Manning.)

But if the BIlls win, though with the scrambling ability and athleticism he can certaintly help them, it shouldn’t be because of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but their defense, decent enough play from their offense, and no major mistakes by Taylor.

Pick: Bills

4.  Tennesse Titans (+2) at Cleveland Browns

I hate to pick against Marcus Mariota. I called him the “real deal” after week 2 of the preseason, and after week 3 said there was a large gap between him and number one overall pick Jameis Winston. And, though I still haven’t watched the film of his team’s apparent dismantling of the (still lowly?) Bucs in week one, rumor has it he’s, uh, pretty good.

Meanwhile Johnny Manziel, who still looks more like he belongs in a post Brooklyn teenager hijinks movie than a Browns uniform, can’t even keep from getting tennis elbow.

It’s hard to say a team that was 2-14 the year before could have a “letdown” going into week 2 of the following season, but this almost seems like it could be a letdown for the Titans, who, on the other hand though, seem to really be playing like a team behind Mariota. And the fact is, after getting pummeled by double digit points in three straight games, the Titans were also throuncing the Browns early last season before giving up the largest road comeback win in NFL history, and losing by a single point.

No Mariota there last year or not (and until he got hurt and had to be replaced late in the first half, then NFL quarterback – in his pre “I want to just work on my house” days – Jake Locker was pretty good, particularly compared to his non mobile replacement), it’s hard to imagine the Titans forgetting that one.

The Browns meanwhile, were simply outplayed by the Jets in week one last week. At least once 36 year old and largely career backup Josh McCown (who was actually playing pretty well), helicoptered in for a touchdown but came away with a lost fumble, no points and a concussion late in the first quarter and left the game.

Everything points to the Titans in this game. Still, it may not be a marquee matchup, but in pitting a possible team on the rise (the Titans) and a perennial who knows where – seemingly everywhere except for close to the playoffs Browns team since they reentered the league in 1999 – and the two former Heisman Trophy winners head to head (a week after the number 1 pick and QB in the draft went head to head with the number 2 pick and QB in the draft for the first time ever), not to mention the flamboyant personna yet first season failures on field and off of Manziel, it’s an interesting game.

Marcus Mariota for now remains the next future superstar, but Go Jonny Go; either make your move, or at least fire up your team to do so.

If I regret one pick so far this week, it’s this one: (Last week it was the Minnesota pick, so make of that what you will.) But am making it:

Pick: Browns

5.  San Diego Chargers (+3.5) at Cincinnati Bengals

If this was the playoffs, obviously the Bengals wouldn’t have much of a prayer. But more seriously, this might be the year the Bengals implode, finally start winning playoff games and go deep – possibly, surprising everyone, Super Bowl deep -or it could even (and most likely?) be the year that now 13 straight year and running Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis takes his already extremely impressive and somewhat statistically unlikely 0-6 (and almost all by solid losses) playoff record, and extends it to an even more unusual 0-7.

But it’s regular season, and despite some prognosticators counting the Bengals out-possibly out of fatigue over their perpetual playoff drop off – they’re a pretty good team, and have usually been very strong at home.

And besides, I know all that matters is this week, next week, and this season, but there’s revenge at least theoretically on the table: the Chargers came in as big underdogs in the 2013 playoffs, and beat the Bengals soundly. 34-7 won’t come close to making up for that loss, but it’s a start.

Pick: Bengals

6. Seattle Seahawks (+3.5) at Green Bay Packers

Speaking of revenge on the table, the Packers had the NFC Conference Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl all but won last season, when the Seahawks scored late, somehow recovered a low odds yet necessary non surprise onside kick, and scored again to knock the Packers out.

The Seahawks are a character team, and character teams take these kinds of opportunities to show their win was legitimate, even on the road, and missing their so called leader of the defense (Kam Chancellor, in a rare NFL holdout). And they are coming off an upset loss to the Rams in week one.

The question though is if they are the team from late late season (very good), or the team from early last season (decent).

If they are the team from late last season, and the Rams still went head to head with them, the Rams are legit. (And I hope so, since they were my NFC West pick to win the division.) If they are the team from early last season, the Packers should win this game.

And if the Seahawks are the team from late last season, the Packers – even down one 1519 receiving yards last year Jordy Nelson (though the Seahawks are missing their perhaps very slightly overhyped but still fairly key safety) – can still show their character by saying “yes, we basically beat you last year and fouled it up at the end, but not this time.”

And despite perception of Aaron Rodgers as the best quarterback in the NFL, he doesn’t have the best record in close games, and with the game on the line I’d take Romo, Brady, probably Rothlisberger, Luck, and yes, Russell Wilson, ahead of him. (Famous last words, right?)

So the Packers win by more than 3. Though I almost regret this pick as much as the Browns. (okay, not really:  At least the Packers do win at home. And Rodgers is really good.) Come on Aaron R, pull out a close game by incredible end game play, but win it by four.

Pick: Packers.

7. Dallas Cowboys (+5) at Philadelphia Eagles

The Cowboys are going to the Super Bowl this year, so how do they lose to the Eagles in a divisional matchup, on the road, where they’ve lately played better than at home. (Okay, I also rather optimistically picked the Eagles to meet the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game, and an 0-2 start doesn’t make such an event seem all that likely).

Still, the Cowboys are lucky to be 1-0 after that last Sunday Night Fiasco. Meanwhile the Eagles, flying high on everybody’s radar, just got embarassed last Monday Night. Well, okay, they simply lost. Embarassed just sounds better.

But really, they were road favorites, and head coach Chip Kelly made more moves this offseason than Gary Kasparov in a heads up speed chess match. (As a heads up, I’m good at football, and good at trying to make analogies, not at actually making them.)

And, while granted the Eagles won’t be playing anywhere near as soft as the Giants ill advisedly did on the last two Dallas drives (both easy, quick, and ending in touchdowns) but the Cowboys still did play the last portion of that game without their start Dez Bryand, and are capable of winning without him while he nurses a broken foot.

This is a great matchup, the Cowboys rarely lose by a lot, and the outcome could very easily go to either team here. 5 points are a lot.

Pick: Cowboys

Update:

8.  Atlanta Falcons (+2.5) at New York Giants

So long as the Giants don’t have the lead late (ie., they are winning by a lot, or losing by a little) and thus decide to play far too soft on defense and all but literally give away the game, they should be okay against a potentially tough, but on the road Falcons team.

Pick: Giants

_______

Steelers 49ers commentary: Something makes me want to take the 49ers, as 6.5 point underdogs at the Steelers.

There’s some perception, as I even read it in a major sports column, that the “Patriots Steelers game was less close than the final [28-21] score.”

My impression is more the opposite. That even though the score in that game was a somewhat lopsided 28-14 late, the teams actually played very close. And that was with Tom Brady playing laser like in his focus, decisions, and releases, and the Steelers missing a few key players. (WR Martavius Bryant, out for about a month, RB Le’Veon Bell, out for the first two games, and most notably of all, all pro Center Maurkice Pouncey, out for at least eight weeks, possibly more.)

So 1) the Patriots are possibly not that great this year. Or 2) the Steelers are possibly pretty good this year, for some reason. (That often happens with the Steelers, and the clear perception of just that phenomenon is represented in this line, favoring them by almost a touchdown against a team that was convincing in it’s opening night win; a team that has a potentially decent enough quarterack, and a possibly good defense.). Or, well, 3) one game into the season doesn’t really tell us all that much.

But the Steelers are still missing those key players, and maybe the 49ers are not that bad. Still, coming off a Monday Night win, and now flying across the country to play at what will in effect be 10 a.m. in the morning for them, which is against what their bodies are used to doing – minor but not meaningless – does make it a little harder for them, and of benefit to the Steelers. So, we’ll see. Potentially a lot, from this game.

As murky as the picture is even by late season, it’s much murkier right now, when nobody really knows nor can know what teams will emerge.  But after week 2, a slightly better, if still early idea, will start to materialize.

It might not say much if the Steelers win by 15. But if this is a close game, it likely is saying something – whether it means a tough season for the Steelers, or the 49ers are going to keep the entire NFC West difficult this year, will be hard to say.

But we’ll see.

NFL Acknowledges Two of Three Officiating Mistakes in Cowboys Giants Game, One of Which Took Away the Win From the Giants

NFL Acknowedged Two Officiating Mistakes in the Sunday Night Giants Cowboys Game, One of Which Gave Dallas Four Points, and the Other Ultimately Gave Them the Game.

The referees blew at least three officiating calls against the New York Giants in last Sunday Night’s Game at Dallas, two of which were officially recognized and acknowledged by the league after the game. Continue reading

Giants’ Decision at End of Cowboys Game makes No Sense: Then They Prevent Themselves From Winning With Swiss Cheese “Prevent” Defense

In a 2015 NFL season week 1 Sunday Night Football matchup last night, the New York Giants, playing at Dallas, made one of the worst strategic decisions imaginable; even in a league filled with questionable strategic decisions that often go under the radar. Continue reading

2015 NFL Season Picks Against the Spread, Week 1

(Updated below with Ravens Broncos, 9-13 3:41 EST)

In honor of the fact that Adrian Peterson is going to rush for 600 yards a game this year, and the Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl, World Series, Indy 500, and Nobel Peace prize, our similarly ambitious goal is to finish a perfect 102-0 (picking roughly 7 games on average each week) against the spread.

So, we’ll blow that “statistically a little less likely than a huge asteroid blowing up the Mojave desert in the next 4 seconds” goal out of the water with our very first pick; which is, naturally, in honor of Adrian Peterson himself:

1.   Minnesota Vikings (-2.5) at San Francisco 49ers (MNF)

So, basically, the 49ers are the first new team to enter the NFL since what, the Houston Texans in 2002? But since they get a big edge the Texans never got – they get to keep several of the players, and even some of the office personnel, from the old team in San Francisco prior to this year, they should be a lot better than the Texans were.

So why is Minnesota, a team that along with Jacksonville, Oakland, Tampa Bay and a few others was rumored to be starting a new London Farm League last year (by somebody, somewhere, I’m sure), favored, on the road, against a team whose ghost went to the NFC Championship game three of the last four seasons – losing one on two muffed punts at the end of regulation and in overtime, and winning another -and who even last year with like half its team hurt, or at least the key guys, still had a better record and in a tougher division??

It must be that the old no “one knows about them” sexy pick to surprise this year – the Minnesota Vikings – are no longer the no one knows about them sexy pick to surprise this year.

Or it could be because, as everyone knows, Adrian Peterson is going to rush for 2500 yards this season, and the Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl. (Too bad I didn’t choose them for a wild card, but I did put them very close. Then again, this goofy but popular Harvard Sports Collective study put the Vikings at 12% to make the playoffs – although to be fair it was before AP told us how many yards he was going to get).

Pick: Vikings. But in a suprisingly tough game, as the new 49ers may not be slouches either.  And only because Adrian P said they were going to win the Super Bowl. Trouble is a lot of this line may represent early perception that the 49ers are no good. And that perception may be wrong, and to at least some extent, likely is.

2.  New York Giants (+6.5) at Dallas Cowboys (SNF)

This is your upset pick of the week. Yes Dallas makes the Super Bowl.  And yes Victor Cruz is out. And Jon Beason, who seems to get hurt a lot (hence in part why a then somewhat LB stacked Panthers finally let him go to the great delight of a badly lacking Giants middle a few years ago) is out as well.

And yes now that Eli is rich – 4 more years at another $84 million total plus the rare no trade clause – unless, one presumes, it’s to the Chargers – he has nothing to play for except the only thing he always had. To fool us with that “aw shucks” quiet approach, and slice up defenses just when we don’t expect him to do it. A theory which this high publicity contract just signed Friday somewhat ruins. Still:

Pick: Giants.  And as upset of the week, to win outright. Also, as an aside, the player starting in place of Jon Beason at MLB? Uani’ Unga. 27. Undrafted last year. Joined the Giants practice squad two days before Christmas. But if the Giants can’t win with a guy named Uani’ Unga, who can they win with?

3.  Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Atlanta Falcons (+3) (MNF)

I wrote in multiple comparison articles how I expected not just to beat the Harvard study probabilities by season end, but dominate them when all 32 teams are considered; and the study pegged the Falcons at a high 55% chance of making the playoffs, while I gave them a (still high, frankly) 42%.

And, though as but a wild card to make it into the playoffs, I put the Eagles in the NFC championship game this season. So I need them to win this game. And let’s face it, to have a shot at the playoffs they at least need to win a few games before Sam Bradford gets hurt again. (Kidding. Mostly.)

So they’ll probably lose. And traditionally Atlanta has been an extremely tough place to play; and Dan Quinn, at least versus last season, might be an upgrade right now at head coach over the perhaps somewhat burned out Mike Smith, who otherwise did such a solid job prior to last season.

Still, the Eagles are going to the NFC Championship game, and the Falcons are going to be battling it out in a weaker division:
Pick: Eagles

4.  Kansas City Chiefs (+1) at Houston Texans 

This line is not giving the Texans, who I have as wild card this year, much love at all.  But since I have the Chiefs winning the AFC West, I’ll hold my nose and:
Pick: Chiefs

5. Seattle Seahawks (-4) at St. Louis Rams 

I’m pretending I didn’t watch the Rams in preseason, where at times they still looked like a few of Jeff Fisher’s teams of old: The ones where proper tackling technique – wrapping around the lower midsection, bending slightly at the waist, squaring the shoulders and driving through and backward – seems optional. I’m hoping that was a mirage.

The Rams upset the Seahawks, so take the points:
Pick: Rams

6. New Orleans Saints (+2.5) at Arizona Cardinals

The team that gets its quarterback back, that still made the playoffs last year from arguably the toughest division in football, facing a team that scraped in at 7-9 last year doesn’t even get favored by the traditional 3 at home, but the sneaky 2.5?

Traditionally, when that happens, uh oh, watch out. Home team is not looking good. And this line is definitely telling us something: Either the Saints are going to win this football game, or well, the Cardinals are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. I’m going with the latter. It could get ugly though:
Pick: Cardinals

7. Tennessee Titans (+3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In the Marcus v Jameis battle, I’ll go with the Titans, who started off last year practically obliterating the Chiefs in Kansas City, then went 1-15 the rest of the way, getting blown out most games.

This is only on a hunch that Ken Whisenhunt is not as bad of a head coach as he now seems, but only as bad as I argued early last October when I said if the Titans were going to give up on first time head coach Mike Munchak (who had done a solid job over the first three years), it was a mistake to not have gone with someone with a much better winning track record than Whisenhunt or stick with Munchak, who showed upside.
Pick: Titans

8. Baltimore Ravens (+4.5)  at Denver Broncos (update addition) 

The Ravens almost beat the Patriots in the second round of the playoffs last season. But they weren’t that impressive during the regular season, and haven’t seemed to improve, at least on paper, since last year.

On the other hand, Broncos new head coach Gary Kubiak was in Houston for a lot of years before that team started winning. Then once they did and were being mentioned as Super Bowl conteners, they managed to go on a 14 game slide to finish up 2-14 in 2013. And the coaching switch from John Fox to Kubiak could be a downgrade.

Peyton Manning is also now 39 1/2 years old, says that though he wears gloves and it doesn’t seem to affect his throwing, he can’t really feel much in the fingertips of his right hand, and did have a bad neck injury a few years ago that seems to have damaged some nerves.

Playoffs aside, for many years Manning was so good that he was almost in a league by himself. (This is often lost, overlooked, or completely missed, since he has frequently returned to earth during the playoffs.) And he carried teams, over and over and over; with great adjustments at the line, unbelievably laser quick reads, accurate decisions, quick releases, and laser accurate throws.

Last year he finally showed signs of struggling, and the consensus is that in preseason, he may still not be quite the same old Peyton Manning. Much of former head coach John Fox’s staff also went with him to Chicago. And defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, a solid defensive coordinator before he came to Denver, and again therein, moved on to become Oakland’s new head coach.

A lot will be told about both Manning and this new coaching staff as the season wears on. But regardless of whether their QB is still the near perfect regular season quarterbacking machine he has usually been or not, this team is good enough to win, and win a lot, with a top notch coaching staff.

Denver has a good defense, possibly an underated one, New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a fairly good track record. They have a nice home field advantage in the high atltitude and supportive home crowd, and the Ravens have traditionally been a fairly poor road team. For now the new coaching staff gets the benefit of the doubt, and Denver “should” win this game, hence:
Pick: Broncos

Ender: Really the smart move for those in Vegas or vying for bragging rights, is to stay away from these games week 1. There is not enough information, and most of these games are tossups. And I’d have only picked three games this week – if there was even three to decently pick. Even the Giants game – upset special – is not a super great pick, because the Giants are all over the place when they play the Cowboys (though having lost their last four, and being definitively outplayed despite what you read, the last two); and in fact nearly everyone else. So if it is a close game, great, you win.

Happy viewing. And just in case you haven’t been reminded enough times, remember that three federal judges have now essentially ruled in just the last year or so that Roger Goodell has made his key decisions arbitrarily and capriciously, ostensibly in order to “protect the integrity” of the league; which I suggest if anything slightly undermines the integrity of the league. But then to me so does their sudden recent veritable pimping on many of its flagship shows of online fantasy football gambling sites, so maybe I’m wrong. (It’s not the advertising, it’s the “hard sell” promotion aspect of it that to me – but possibly not to many others – seems a little bit over the top.)

Predictions: 2015 NFL Season Division Winners

As everyone who pays any attention to football knows, and many who don’t probably know as well, another NFL football season is upon us.

At the same time, federal judge after judge in NFLPA actions continues to rule that despite extremely wide latitude under the CBA, commissioner Roger Goodell continues to violate it by “arbitrary” actions and decisions that represent an “abuse of discretion.”

Federal Judge David Doty, in a statement dripping with sarcasm, even wondered aloud in Federal Court recently: “I’m not sure the Commissioner understands there is a CBA.

Some, in process, have likened Goodell’s actions to overzealous politicians who believe “national security” allows or even demands they take those actions they support, U.S. Constitution, and government rules of process and inviolate rights be damned.

While far more trivial, Roger Goodell’s pattern of response for “conduct detrimental” to the league is similar. However, many of the 32 NFL owners apparently don’t view a commissioner who, federal judges continue to rule. acts in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner – dispensing his “own brand of industrial justice,” as New York Federal Judge Richard Berman most recently said in the “DeflateGate” matter – as somewhat detrimental to the integrity of the league.

But enough of that. Let’s turn to far better controversy; one that will be resolved by regular season end, and that we get to watch unfold each Sunday in the process – beginning with tomorrow, the first Sunday of the regular 2015 NFL season, and the day some consider the main opening day to the season.

So, here are your division winners for each of the 8 NFL divisions, as well as second, third and last teams for each division. Wild card contenders for each conference are then also listed, in predicted order of success – with the first two teams on each list the projected wild card winners.(Though done in comparison to a very questionable earlier Harvard Study, and for purposes of fairness thus didn’t take into account pre season action or injuries in its actual percentage ratings, these three pieces assess some of the key variables affecting each of the 32 NFL teams’ chances.)

American Football Conference (AFC)
East

  1. Buffalo Bills
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Miami Dolphins
  4. New York Jets

North

  1. Cincinnati Bengals
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Baltimore Ravens
  4. Cleveland Browns

South

  1. Indianapolis Colts
  2. Houston Texans
  3. Tennessee Titans
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars

West

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Denver Broncos
  3. San Diego Charger
  4. Oakland Raiders

AFC Wild Cards
1. New England Patriots. 2. Houston Texans. 3. Denver Broncos. 4. Miami Dolphins. 5. Pittsburgh Steelers.

*Notes: The Patriots are also likely to take the AFC East, and the Broncos and Texans could easily be fllip flopped. QB Peyton Manning carries teams, and even at 39, with what might be a good defense, Denver could be a great team again and even beat out the Chiefs for the division. Miami and Pittsburgh could also both obviously move up, or win their respective divisions, as the East, North, and West should be particularly interesting this season. Regarding prior poor teams, Oakland might greatly improve, while Tennessee could show significant, if not as much improvement as well. The Jets are expected to improve as well, and might help make that NFC East a tough division this year.

It also feels a little uncomfortable to completely leave out a team that has more playoff wins than any other in the NFL since their QB and head coach joined them in 2008, and who last year was solidly beating the ultimate Super Bowl champion Patriots in the Conference Semi Finals before losing a very close game at the end on a rare Joe Flacco playoff interception.

But some teams have to be left out. And just as other teams could do better than expected from last season and before, some could do worse. Needless to say, the Ravens and Bengals could also be flip flopped here. And if that happens and the Ravens do get into the playoffs – as they’ve proven before (and much like the Giants, who they also happened to defeat back in their first Super Bowl appearance in January, 2001), anything can happen.

Championship game: Colts v Chiefs

National Football Conference (NFC)
East

  1. Dallas Cowboys
  2. Philadelphia Eagles
  3. New York Giants
  4. Washington Redskins

North

  1. Detroit Lions
  2. Green Bay Packers
  3. MInnesota Vikings
  4. Chicago Bears

South

  1. Carolina Panthers
  2. New Orleans Saints
  3. Atlanta Falcons
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

West

  1. St. Louis Rams
  2. Seattle Seahawks
  3. Arizona Cardinals
  4. San Francisco 49ers

NFC Wild Cards
1. Philadelphia Eagles. 2. Seattle Seahawks. 3. Green Bay Packers. 4. Minnesota Vikings. 5. Arizona Cardinals.

*Notes: Minnesota and Green Bay, in even more of a surprise, could flip flop, and the Giants could also make it into the playoffs as a wild card. Big improvement would be needed in the South to send a wild card (although the NFC South had a particularly hard schedule last year, and has an easier one this go round); but the Saints are a possibility if some of the other teams don’t improve as projected here.

The Falcons could always also rebound back in their stead or even in place of the Panthers, who to take the division again do need to play as a cohesive team from day one, and with possibly the key piece from his otherwise weak offense missing, QB Can Newton needs to play at a fairly high consistent level.

Championship game: Cowboys v Eagles

Super Bowl: Cowboys v Colts

It’s too easy to just predict the best teams from last year plus obvious offseason additions, and every year there are some surprises that wind up completely changing expectations from what they were earlier in the season. This set of predictions tries to capture at least some of that.

Probabilities of Making the Playoffs for All 32 NFL Teams

Below is a list of each of the 32 NFL team’s chances of making the playoffs before opening day Sunday.

The number in parenthesis is the percentage chance of that team making the playoffs based on this iffy but popular Harvard Sports study. The first number is the chance given here, broken down over three successive pieces assessing each team’s chances.

Note that this isn’t a ranking of the relative strength of each team. Each conference is a little different, and some divisions are much harder than others or have tougher or easier schedules this year. And all of these factors also play into each team’s actual chances of making it into the playoffs.

  1. Green Bay Packers: 80% (93%)
  2. Seattle Seahawks: 75% (99%, originally 95%)
  3. Indianapolis Colts: 70% (57%)
  4. New England Patriots: 64% (60%)
  5. Detroit Lions: 60% (57%)
  6. Denver Broncos: 55% (57%)
  7. Buffalo Bills: 55% (39%)
  8. Kansas City Chiefs: 52% (61%)
  9. Philadelphia Eagles: 50% (41%)
  10. Houston Texans: 50% (50%)
  11. Dallas Cowboys: 45% (27%)
  12. Miami Dolphins: 45% (74%, originally 77%) 
  13. Cincinnati Bengals: 42% (33%)
  14. Atlanta Falcons: 42% (55%)
  15. New Orleans Saints: 40% (48%)
  16. Pittsburgh Steelers: 38% (45%)
  17. San Diego Chargers: 38% (27%)
  18. New York Giants: 38% (48%)
  19. New York Jets: 38% (51%)
  20. Arizona Cardinals: 36% (30%)
  21. Baltimore Ravens: 36% (24% originally 9%)
  22. Carolina Panthers: 36% (22%)
  23. St. Louis Rams: 35% (10%)
  24. Chicago Bears: 28% (25%)
  25. Cleveland Browns: 26% (25%)
  26. Minnesota Vikings: 24% (12%)
  27. San Francisco 49ers: 20% (9%)
  28. Washington Redskins: 19% (22%)
  29. Tennessee Titans: 12% (2%)
  30. Oakland Raiders: 10% (.03%)
  31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10% (2%)
  32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 8% (3%)

Final Notes: Based on preseason action; some of the more key injuries; and last evening’s season opening Thursday Night game where the Steelers looked better than expected despite missing some key players (one of whom, their all pro and near all world Center Maurkice Pouncey, is on the IR designated to return list), a few of the numbers may be off a little bit. Some examples:

-The Patriots might actually be lower than 64%, and they’re only even anywhere that high because they were very good last year (if with a few key different players). And they somehow keep doing it. (Probably because, in the next scandal to be alleged or made up, they surreptitiously put slip n slide clear “banana peel” fun rub underneath opponents’ cleats before each game.)

-The Steelers may be higher than 38%, although it’s hard to assess how much of that game last night – which was closer than the ongoing and late score indicated – was the Steelers’ doing, and how much was the Patriots’ doing.
But 38% is also low regardless for a team that at least all but perenially contends, and often contends strongly; and that has an extremely good (and very long underrated, although the last few seasons that seems to be changing) quarterback in general and clutch situations.

-The Jets could be higher than 38%, but that’s still just on paper – nothing much in the preseason really showed it. (They may also be lower than 38%, as it’s still a pretty high number for a team with a new head coach, no real quarterback yet, and one that hasn’t really been a solid contender for a while.)

-The Eagles may be higher than 50%, but they have a big if in Sam Bradford, who is a natural at quarterback, finally staying healthy.

-Both the Eagles, and Cowboys, are possible Super Bowl picks. Ignoring the Harrvard study’s rather iffy 27% number, as we are all their numbers, this may seem to suggest a higher than 45% chance of making the playoffs.
But for the Cowboys it may not:
The division may be tough. (Even the Giants could contend and run it at the end, as they already have twice with the still together Eli M and HC Tom Coughlin tandem.)
And the Cowbys are a little bit of an unpredictable team, apart from the fact that their record seems to usually be pedestrian despite the fact they seem to be a better team than their usually pedestrian record suggests.
They could easily fall to that pedestrian record again, or, particularly if Tony Romo’s late game play improvement (of late) is in fact the new Romo, just as easily solidly make the playoffs; and if they do, there is no reason to think they’re not, or won’t be, the best team in the NFC.
They were probably extremely close to it last season.

-It’s hard to assess the Ravens.
But 36% still feels low for this team and their General Manager Ozzie Newsome’s now fairly consistent longer term record – even putting aside the study’s originally near ludicrous 9% for the team that has more playoff wins than any team in the NFL since 2008, when the still in place QB Flacco HC Harbaugh combo signed on.
Yet every team can’t make the playoffs.And even good teams have down years. It’s just hard to say who in advance.
But if the Ravens make the playoffs yet again, it’s time to start giving a LOT of credit – I mean even more – to those guys. (That is, putting aside their rag tag handling of the Ray Rice fiasco last year when they fully had his back – maybe too much even for a beloved and charitable teammate with a then fiance now wife victim nearly pleading for their continued support of said teammate – then when a repeatedly looped video of a totally drunken Rice and his fiance surfaced essentially showing all the facts we knew, dropped him like a hot potato and made it seem as if the video was some major revelation. Thereby pinning the already arbitrary and capricious NFL commissioner into a bit of a corner. Which commissioner then in turn acted even more arbitrarily and capriciously once again by not even simply applying the new 6 game suspension rules under the new tougher policy under claim the video provided specific detail about the type of punch thrown, and thus “relevant new” info. (If it wasn’t sufficient for that, it certainly wasn’t sufficient for a random indefinite suspension in discord with the initial punishment, and in complete and total discord with the new tougher domestic policy, particularly under all the circumstances.)

-I would probably give the Chiefs a higher chance of making the playoffs than offered above, they’re likely to be very strongly in the mix.

-The Vikings could be one of the surprise teams, even a possible contender in the playoffs. And though they present a large range – from lagging to a possible playoff team to even a solid playoff team – 24% is probably low. They’re also a good dark horse team pick to surpise and take the division, or battle for it and squeak in a wild card.

-The Rams are still probably too low at 35%. They could very well wind up battling it out with the Seahawks, or Seahawks and Cardinals with one of the two runner ups making a wild card.

-I previously said the Bills will make the playoffs this season for the first time since 1999. But the 55% number represents not my hunches and predictions, but the best assessment of their actual chances, all things considered.
And 55% already puts the Bills chances very high in a tough AFC, given their prior records and fact they have an unproven quarterback who’s never started a regular season game and was a late round pick in 2011; and as their now third string quarterback have a guy who was a big reach at number 16 in the 2013 draft (this includes the fact they probably still could have gotten him had they traded back, and possibly even if they had traded back quite a ways), but has shown potential. (Although if it was me, and first time starter Tyrod Taylor falters, I’d bring in that former No. 16 pick EJ Manuel next to see what he could do, and not long time solid backup occasional spot starter Matt Cassel. Even more so considering Manuel would be playing without first round draft pick expectations for the first time, )

-The Browns could be higher than 26%, and they showed this potential for a while last year under now second year head coach Mike Pettine.
But backup, potentially still not ready (even if ever) QB Johnny Manziel is a complete wild card.
And bizarrely, the Browns let go of their only starting quarterback of the astounding 22 they’ve had so far (not counting week 1 this year) since coming back into the league in 1999, in order to pick up a 36 year old career backup for the same money that Brian Hoyer is now getting paid in Houston.
And they did so even after Tampa Bay failed with the same experiment last year.

-Though we all have it wired in that the Packers always seem to win the division, their real chances are probably lower than 80%, perhaps significantly so. Losing receiver Jordy Nelson hurts them. And there is a good chance the Vikings are competitive this year and the Lions stay strong, making the division much closer. Also, one never knows about the Bears under new head coach John Fox, who leaves a decent enough track record behind him. And QB Jay Cutler might even suddenly play well again.

-I want to put the Panthers higher than 36%; they were the best team in the NFC South at the end of last season, and they shouldn’t fall off this year, and their QB might even improve.
But the division isn’t likely to be quite so weak this year, and losing their really only proven wide receiver in Kelvin Benjamin, who was a huge part of their offense last year even as a rookie, then having number 41 spot draft pick WR Devin Funchess (who they traded up to get) be held up most of training camp and preseason from injury, hurts them.

Much more information and analysis is found in the three separate, longer pieces assessing each team’s chances in comparison with the Harvard study. And many of the numbers are conservative, as they are trying to replicate the most reasonable probabilities, not what could happen. Hence why the Vikings are still pretty low, although they could easily surprise. Ditto with a few other teams, including, again, the Rams, who could easily turn out to be a scary good team later this year; even with potential offensive line issues and a still probably lagging wide receiver corps, and a possibly slightly overrated quarterback in Nick Foles after trading the “The Natural” (but often hurt) Sam Bradford to Foles’ old team in exchange for him (and his much lower salary),plus a draft pick.