NFL Week 4 Picks Against the Spread

Last week: 2-2. Year to date: 12-8

Last week recap: “But perhaps a humbled Rex has his team more quietly fired up this time.” Apparently so.  Also, even more apparently so, “the Cardinals obviously have the edge in winning.” But picking the 49ers +6.5 points was almost the football equivalent of Titanic engineers picking their boat over icebergs. (Metaphorically speaking – no insensitive humor intended. Bad humor however, intended.)

But hey, four interceptions, two pick-sixes, 67 total yards passing; at least with “Bad Harbaugh” gone, not being asked to do things he doesn’t want to do (or presumably isn’t good at – as opposed to throwing pick sixes), quarterback Colin Kaepernick is now “comfortable.”

Whew to the 49er’s to be rid of the head coach who took over a team which went 7-9, 2-14, 4-12, 7-9, 5-11, 7-9, 8-8, 6-10 their prior 8 seasons, and immediately took them to the NFC Championship Game, the Super Bowl, the NFC Championship Game, and then a still tough 8-8 record in an injury and exodus rumor riddled season.

Which brings us to two icebergs – um, I mean football games – on this week’s docket. Namely, our two villains from last week’s “horrible pick of the month”:

The Gold Rush team, and the team this silly Harvard Sports Analytic Collective “study” gave a middling 30% chance of making the playoffs to. (But at least that same study picked the should be 0-3 Dolphins to have the highest chance of making the playoffs out of the entire AFC, and gave the 2-1 Raiders a statistically irrational 1 in 333 chance.)

The first of the two teams playing in that 49ers Cardinals contest is playing a team that, in a misleading final score game, played so well last Monday night that for much of the contest they looked like they were scrimmaging a local college squad. The second is playing a team so stubborn in its patterns that its mascot even grew horns.

1. Green Bay Packers (-9) at San Francisco 49ers

The fact that the (then very different) 49ers have beaten the Packers the last four times they’ve played doesn’t matter – except to the extent that the Packers, even though it’s “just another game,” might be aware of it.

And Aaron Rodgers is playing really, really, well. While Colin Kaepernick though, at least is “comfortable.”

But here’s one last dying hope to the idea that jettisoning Harbaugh to bring in Tomsula wasn’t like ditching Ulysses Grant to bring in Custer.

This is your moment 49ers. You can’t be a nearly 10 point home underdog with a strong home field advantage against a team that itself normally plays far better at home and coming off a big Monday night win in front of the nation.

Unless, you know, you really are one of the bottom teams in the league right now.

Pick: 49ers

2.  St Louis Rams (+7) at the Arizona Cardinals

I’m just probably not practical enough to recognize the reality of NFL football, where CBAs and the fact that athletes are “so good” makes pretty much everything reasonable.

Thus, tackling technique? For advanced high school athletes and wanna be posers. In the NFL, you need to bring a ball carrier down “any way possible.”

Which I suppose is one of the reasons that in a game where the single most important fundamental is tackling – it not only ends nearly every play, but ultimately determines each plays’ outcome – technique sometimes follows a “jump up around the guy’s shoulders,” “try to shoulder bump him to hopefully upend instead of missing outright,” or “try to dive low even when you don’t have to” approach, instead of driving and wrapping up with at least the intention of controlling the critical mid section or legs, and continuing to finish wrapping and driving through and back upfield or sideways.

Jeff Fisher is a head coach I have heard utter the ridiculous “he knows he needs to bring him down by any way possible” phrase. Which could explain why throughout the years Fisher’s otherwise solid enough looking defenses have gone through poor periods of tackling.

The Rams could be good this year. They should be good this year. (Though they do keep making questionable draft day decisions.) And that defense should be a monster.

But let’s face it, while so many of us have just long assumed that Fisher” is a very good NFL head coach, his teams have now been to the playoffs only twice in the last ten years. And there, with two losses total, no wins.

Over one third of all NFL teams – 37.5, or close to 40% – make it to the playoffs every season. Fisher has been a head coach for 20 years prior to this one, and despite an overall mild winning record (.522), his teams have won the division 3 times, and reached the playoffs 6. That’s 30% of the time. With one SB appearance.

And this year, the third season in a row his Rams were finally supposed to rise up from mediocrity, they’ve followed the same pattern:

Upsetting a Seahawks team who who they also beat in St. Louis last year as well. (And who outplayed them in overtime, but given the benefit of a semi mistaken onsides kick snafu that immediately put the Seahawks in a really bad field position hold, and ultimately a nice but probably fortuitous stop of the Seahawks the crucial fourth down of the all but first score wins overtime period, they won it.)

Then going to Washington (to face a team they shut out last year 24-0) and practically being shut out themselves, 24-0, before ultimately losing 24-10. Then in week three coming home and being outplayed by the Steelers in a 12-6 loss where despite being on the road and losing their quarterback in the third quarter, the Steelers were decidedly the better team.

Why be stubborn like the horns of a Ram and go against the pattern of them as a mediocre team? Because I have faith I’m not completely right about Fisher. That he’s not really a so so coach disguised as a good one.

And that after 10 years of near mediocrity, against a division rival who the Rams outplayed for over three quarters in Arizona last season (with Carson Palmer in the lineup – in fact ironically the game fell apart for the Rams after Palmer left with his infamous injury), after yet again the same, old same old; the Rams will play like a football team, and not only cover this piddling 7 point spread, but upset the Cardinals and so shock ESPN and the “play fantasy football” channel on Monday that total team and division ranking chaos ensues.

There’s also another reason to pick the Rams. Their pattern also suggests they might play a tough game. And the Cardinals rise from preseason afterthought to suddenly number two in the power rankings ahead of Green Bay, after just three middling opponents, might (or might not) ultimately wind up being justified; but right now it’s not.

Pick: Rams.

3. New York Giants (+5) at Buffalo Bills.

In week 1 the Giants were fortunate with turnovers. But save for missed referee calls (acknowledged by the NFL – well, at least the two critical ones were), that literally changed the outcome of the game, as well as their own end game multiple strategy breakdowns, they did “beat” the Cowboys. Or they should have. And they similarly held a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter against the Falcons in week 2, also ultimately a Giants loss.

But luckily, despite Eli Manning’s strange pronouncement after the game that their goal had been to finish strong and that they did so, they so dominated the Redskins in week 3 that even though they actually finished weak, they still won the game.

It would be nice if the Giants got Victor Cruz back. (Or even had Jason Pierre-Paul.) But you know, fireworks, and recurring calf problems and all.

Pick: Giants, in an upset

4. Dallas Cowboys (+3) at New Orleans Saints

Save for possibly the 49ers game, the above picks were too easy (famous last words, right?). So here’s a slightly harder one:

The now nine straight losses in a row Brandon Weedens (that is, teams quarterbacked by Weeden have now lost their last 9), clash head on with the three straight losses of the Saints; who in turn, after missing his first game since high school (and back in the last century), get back quarterback Drew Brees,

With Weeden, and yet missing a few players on defense and the heart and soul of that team – Tony Romo – can the Cowboys possibly win?

I picked them to win the NFC. (Which, with Romo out with a broken collarbone, and Dez Bryant out for who knows how many months, and after blowing a 21-7 then 28-14 point lead to lose 39-28 at home to the Falcons last week, isn’t looking so hot incidentally). And to stick with the nautical and iceberg theme here, I might as well go down with the ship.

The Saints hung with the Panthers last week and could have won the game; are a strong team at home; they get Drew Brees back (though Luke McCown played very strong at Carolina); and are desperate at 0-3.

Meanwhile, if the Cowboys are the team they say they are, and not the team that otherwise always seems to go 8-8 (and a loss here would put them at a nice 2-2, not 1-3, courtesy, again, of both referee calls and the Giants how not to finish a football game strategy camp), they have to be geared up for this game. And it should be a good one.

I picked them to be closer to the team they say they are, and not the one they usually seem to be. And they did outplay the Giants, and dominate the Eagles. So one game isn’t enough to jump ship (though with Weeden as the engine, it is time to start thinking about it).

One final note, though hopefully a mere coincidence. I picked the Chiefs last Monday Night. (0-3 so far ATS on Monday Night Games, 12-5 on Sundays).

I did it because they were a little under the radar, because of Andy Reid’s long standing solid record as a head coach (and who at this point might just be sort of doing the same old same old, since it’s hard to see how he could let his team play so flat in such a key game after an embarassing and critical home loss the week before).

And, relevant here, I did it because I believed they were who they said they were. (Notice though, so far at least, I left the Bengals Chiefs game off this list. And that should be an easy pick as well.)

Pick: Cowboys

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One thought on “NFL Week 4 Picks Against the Spread

  1. Pingback: Week 5 NFL Picks Against the Spread | NFL Football Strategy

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