Week 13 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Last week: 1-1 Unofficial picks: 0-0 (See last paragraph last weeks picks.) Year to date picks against the spread (ATS): Official picks: 29-26-1. Total picks ATS: 33-26-1

Recap: Last week went with the Cowboys. Against an undefeated team whose coach probably asked them why they were 10-0 and undefeated in almost 365 days regular season if go back to last year, yet still not even a favorite (and in some places an underdog) against a debacle 3-7 team who’s not even very good at home. Which probably get then pretty riled. And rightly so.

This quote from a silly comedy movie, and tweeted by Tony Romo, inspired:

Here’s a better inspirational Tom Berenger movie:

This flick, a sort of far softer (and much nicer) “pulp fiction,” relied on¬†an inspirational book which wouldn’t support a team like the Cowboys, who have made excuses (Romo’s not playing!) but would support a team like the Vikings, who don’t.

Picks:

1. Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) at Minnesota Vikings:

3 points would be a more comfortable line here, since this game does involve a team that came within a 2nd & goal from the 1 yard line of winning its second Super Bowl in a row last year, and finished out¬†the 2012 season¬†by almost going to the championship game. A club¬†now with its back up against the wall. But so far it’s not quite been the same team;¬†while the Vikings have been quietly growing. This game will show whether that growth has continued.

Pick: Vikings

2  Arizona Cardinals (-3.5) at St. Louis Rams

Sure the Rams might win, in, of course, true recent history Jeff FIsher fashion.¬†The Jekyll and Hyde Rams, a moniker that’s been fitting since Fisher took over.

Now that they’re all but out of the playoff race, and can’t harm the Cardinals chances too badly even by beating them, they might yet win again and sweep. They outplayed the Cardinals (but lost) one of the two games last year and beat them by 2 points earlier this one.

The Cardinals remember that, and don’t like it.¬†But the¬†Rams seem to play this team well. They may again, but they’re still a a largely up and down but fairly mediocre team with no offense, and a defense that still doesn’t always tackle correctly. And going up against one of the best teams in the NFL,¬†coming into the game knowing they will get the Rams best shot – which given the Rams history is a lot different than the Rams frequent mediocre ones.

And while beating the Cardinals seems to unfortunately define the Rams season for them – and why in part they’re a scary team for the Cardinals to play right now – keep in mind this is now Jeff Fisher’s 20th season as an NFL head coach. It’s included only 6 playoff appearances, and a Rams team that each year continues to do no better than the quick spike in improvement from its prior dismal depths it showed the first year Fisher, now in year four, took over.

Pick: Cardinals

3. Carolina Panthers (-6.5) at New Orleans Saints

And then there were none.

Pick: Saints

4. Denver Broncos (-5.5) at San Diego Chargers

Denver’s a very strong football¬†team, but new QB Brock Osweiler is still somewhat unknown; and Denver’s also getting a lot of publicity off of beating an injury riddled Patriots team in a game they were solidly losing until near the end. And injury riddled or not, under QB Philip Rivers the Chargers have typically played pretty good football late in the season.

Pick: Chargers

5. Indianapolis Colts (+9) At Pittsburgh Steelers

The way the Steelers have been playing, it’s hard to see them losing. Particularly considering the easier schedule the more questionable, and normally almost entirely Andrew Luck led Colts – now still playing with a so far successful but not taking the stats column by storm 40 year old quarterback ¬†– has had. But 9 points is still too many for a game that is far from a near lock.

Pick: Colts

 

 

Week 10 NFL Picks Against the Spread – Patriots Giants Version

Last week: 2-3
YTD: 24-22

Recap: Putting aside the lousy record, last week’s calls weren’t too awful. The Cowboys probably lost to the Eagles on a beautiful (for the defense) Matt Cassel pick-six whose harm in an otherwise close game is hard to overestimate:¬†The Cowboys had the ball, then were receiving the kickoff to get the ball again after Cassel’s TD pass to the defense, so it’s a “pure” 7 points – unlike after an offensive score where a team adds 7 to its side, but loses possession of the ball to the other team as part of the bargain.

And¬†the Cowboys had been on the Eagles 36 yard line. So aside from the unrelated¬†fluke of a great ensuing great kickoff return by Lucky Whitehead,¬†they also lost a net of 42-44 yards average of key middle field position, as well as the 7 full points, on Cassel’s smooth move.

The Redskins, getting 14, lost by 17, in part because of a sudden plague of dropped passes. (Though while still being slightly random, those do count as being “what the team is.”) ¬†And the Colts won outright.

The one real bad pick was the same as week 8 – the Dolphins. Prescient words:

Remember though that tell tale sign of Dolphins playing scared of the Patriots, backing up on 3rd down runs, waiting at the first down marker, popping up slowly after blocks or tackle attempts, and responding poorly to the game going south ‚Äď hopefully these aren‚Äôt prescient words for this game, but we‚Äôll see. Reluctantly:

Pick: Dolphins

Also interesting:

Hard to imagine [the Dolphins can actually beat the same Bills who trounced them earlier]. And based on the type of response the Dolphins showed in the Patriots game two Thursday Nights ago (see above), they are not that team.

Here‚Äôs a vote that on this I‚Äôm wrong (usually though it‚Äôs reading the tea leaves of players’ attitude and character on the field that’s most telling, but am deferring to new or interim head coach Dan Campbell until they fall flat again).

Woops. Bad deferment.

Watch the Dolphins now upset the Eagles Рa reasonable possibility given that expectations are low again, and the Dolphins have shown that under Dan Campbell they can turn it on.

But¬†they’ve also shown they’re still lousy, and essentially the same team, while the Eagles may finally be morphing into a very solid club¬†that also needs a home win. ¬†(QB Sam Bradford is also getting less and less jittery the further away he moves from his umpteenth season ending injury.)

Also forgot to include the Bears Chargers. (Though in fairness was going to pick the Browns getting 13.5 at the Bengals¬†for week 8 TNF – a spread they still would have missed by 1/2 a point if Browns DT Randy Starks in an at that point very close game hadn’t mind-numbingly lined up offsides on what turned out to be an utterly¬†failed¬†4th down play, which instead of giving the Browns the ball gave the Bengals a 1st down at the Browns 3 yard line, and essentially 7 points. Though did call¬†the Jets to win this Thursday – just rarely get to picks by Thursday’s game.)

And forgot to include the 49ers, a pick I loved, since they’re not bad at home, Atlanta is a bad road team crossing the country, and has played middling teams close the past several games. And the 49ers wound up winning outright. (In part because the Falcons Dan Quinn, like a lot of head coaches, doesn’t really “get”¬†end game structural strategy situations.)

Picks: 

1.  Chicago Bears (+6.5) at St. Louis Rams

The Bears have been playing increasingly decent football, while the Rams may have finally turned the corner after a few years of flirting with becoming a very good team.

But until otherwise established, this consistently Jekyll and Hyde team shouldn’t be favored by nearly a TD against a decent, possibly up and coming team: Even with the possible to likely return off three key starters – DL Robert Quinn, S T.J. McDonald, and (rookie) RT Rob Havenstein – though that does make it a closer¬†call.

If the Rams do win this game solidly and fairly easily, they may have turned that corner (finally); as they have shown increasing signs already. But it’s still an if. And even if they have, the Bears may put up a decent battle anyway; though if the Rams have turned that corner, it’s less likely. So it could be Rams 26 – 9, in which case the Rams, given the last several games, might finally be a strong¬†contender in that division, but:

Pick: Bears, possible surprise upset. But that’s only banking on the fact that Jeff Fisher’s an overrated coach, not the fact he’s still a decent enough coach, with a lot of young talent and a team that from trades and bad records has now had a horde of high draft picks for years running.

2.  New Orleans Saints (pick) at Washington Redskins

How are the Saints, considered a good team, still a pick em game, even if a road game, against Washington, considered a bad team?

In part because too much may be being placed on the Saints loss at home versus the Titans (and a still underrated rookie Marcus Mariota at QB, coming back from injury, and a quick head coaching change bounce) – making this an absolute must win for the Saints against a middling opponent.

And in part because the Redskins aren’t a bad team, and they will likely be healthier in their secondary than they’ve been since starting¬†out week 3. (And their number one WR, out most of the season but active last week, may be a bit healthier – and certainly has to play lights out after grabbing his head coach’s chest the other day and giving him a “purple nurple.” (You just can’t do that to your head coach, who then says he expects a big game out of you, and not then light it up some.))

That makes this a tough game, and probably one of the better games of the week, in terms of the hidden story lines and real football, though it’s not getting much coverage.

QB Kirk Cousins simply can’t follow up his half fun but half kind of seemingly thin skinned “you like that!” scream with a bad loss at the Patriots (although he did have 7 dropped passes by his receivers in the game) followed then by¬†a home loss, can he?

Pick: Redskins

3.  Kansas City Chiefs (+4.5) at Denver Broncos.

This line is a little ridiculous. It opened at around 6.5 to 7, which is pretty high considering the rivalry, early season expectations, and the Chiefs mild rebound to 3-5.

Now it’s at 4.5 – a huge drop – and barely the 3 a home team gets in an otherwise “tie” game just¬†by virtue of being the home club. And this for a team that but for a desperate Colts team would not only be unbeaten entering week 10, but is one game past removed from a dominant beat down of the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers.

The Chiefs are also without arguably their best offensive player (and, since in a game that was otherwise going into overtime he fumbled the game away early in the season against the Broncos, the one with perhaps the most direct motivation for redemption): RB Jamaal Charles, who doesn’t run; he floats, glides, dances, with an instinct and balance for the game and its movement that can’t be taught.

So how are they now only 4.5 points? Conventional wisdom seems to be they may beat the Broncos. Conventional wisdom (except when fairly lopsided) is often¬†not right on football, but may be here. It’s the Chiefs season on the line, and they still have the players to beat the¬†Broncos. (Still, this would seem to be the insiders line as well, which doesn’t explain how the line opened so high, except for possible expectations that the public might not see it that way.)

And while the Chiefs showed poor resiliency and what appeared to be on field “heart” against the Packers after that debacle against the Broncos in week 2 (they not only got crushed scorewise until it was late in the game and meaningless, even in a key nationally televised game they showed listlessness, and poor body language), and then continued to spiral downward after that, enough time has passed since that, helped by some victories, they may not respond the same way this time.

4.5 is a pretty tight line for such a poor team missing it’s key offensive player on the road against a nearly unbeaten (and solid nearly unbeaten) team. But this game is likely to be close. And the Broncos are without half¬†of their key cornerback tandem, and one of their better pass rushers in Demarcus Ware.

The Chiefs “should” win or battle it close enough to make it a 3 or 4 point game. Beyond that, with the breakdown they showed at the Packers and beyond, it’s hard to say.

Pick: Chiefs, possible to likely upset

4. New England Patriots (-7.5) at New York Giants

It’s a game of the News. But never mind the oddity that of 32 different teams in the NFL these two have met in the Super Bowl twice in the recent past (or that those two times are barely¬†the only times the Giants even made the playoffs under that entire stretch), the Giants also won both.

That is, Brady and Belichick have been to a remarkable 6 Super Bowls together. They’re 4-2. ¬†The two losses are both to the giant slayers – the New York Giants. ¬†Who in that first Super Bowl not only beat New England, but ruined the first perfect season since the 1972 Dolphins (back when teams played a 14 game regular season schedule), with the at that point 18-0 Patriots one game away from accomplishing¬†what no NFL team has ever accomplished: A perfect 19-0.

The Patriots may say they don’t care about a perfect season this year, but no doubt they do. But in the type of interesting storyline twist that seems to occur often in the NFL, this so far perfect season could once again be ruined by the Giants:

Different teams, but the four main principals, Bill, Tom, Tom and Eli, remain. And while the Patriots hardly need a reason to stay vigilant for any road game this season, they know Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin seem to be able, for whatever reason, to play them well, and are perfectly capable of beating them; and despite some defensive breakdowns and injuries, seem to be playing a little better this year again.

Anything can happen this game. The Giants defense has given up about 422 yards per outing¬†– hardly a good number for a “good team,” and ranking¬†at the bottom of the league. (Even worse than the 414 per game Saints, who the Giants gave away a game to in week 8 by deciding to fask mask a ball carrier at mid field with seconds left on the clock – when the ball carrier wasn’t even allowed to advance the ball, and had himself made a big mistake by even trying to, in a key end game unfolding that was barely covered, yet ultimately and freakishly decided the game.)

But they also actively try for and create turnovers, and may figure out a way to take away some of those quick slants and underneath routes that Brady is so good at quickly unloading – a talent which has enabled the Patriots to easily weather the loss of what now amounts to just about half plus of their overall offensive line.

And 7.5 points on the road against a team who can easily beat them is a lot of points for any team, even the 2015 New England Patriots on a sort of “post deflate gate rampage.” Though really, given the fact that this is the Giants, it’s also just as much about the fact that the Giants may win; and simply because it’s Giants Patriots, there’s a good chance this game itself may be closer, in which case a touchdown and a half point is a lot.

Pick: Giants

5. Cleveland Browns (+6) at Pittsburgh Steelers

Until last year Cleveland had lost to Ben Rothlisberger something like 17 of the last 18 times, or something absurd like that. Ben’s not playing this game, but the Steelers are still good. And unlike the Browns, still in the thick of the race, and¬†need this division game.

Meanwhile the Browns don’t seem to recognize the potential high value of draft picks relative to the salary cap. The numbers are structured, so if a high or even mid (or low) round pick plays great, a team gets a value return that but for flukes rarely happens once a player gets past his rookie contract.

So picking a quarterback in the first round, then deciding to sit him for year two even when¬†the team is essentially out of any meaningful playoff race¬†– after a total of 85 NFL passes (in like three games by the time it was evident that was the team’s goal regardless unless McNown literally couldn’t play) for even a good 36 year old career backup, is a debacle of a move.

And it doesn’t matter how much otherwise so far decent enough head coach Mike Pettine loves 36 year old Josh McCown or hates aforesaid number one pick Johnny Manziel. If that’s the case they shouldn’t have drafted him. And in a losing season are simply wasting opportunity and possible upside value, with little downside, by refusing to play him until forced into it, by McCown acknowledging that not only is it painful to throw, it’s painful for him to even put his shirt on due to rib and shoulder injuries.

“It’s okay though – The Browns have done so well on QBs since reentering the league in 1999 (starting just a mere 23 different ones so far), they get a pass on this bungling fiasco.” Which they may get rescued from anyway by¬†mere happenstance. Or not.

So will we see the Browns who played the Steelers tough last year both times (winning once and rallying furiously to tie and then ultimately lose by 3 in the other), or the Browns of old, who repeatedly get plastered by the Steelers almost every time?

While QB Manziel is once again a wild card (he played well early versus the Bengals last week, and then after a bad helmet to helmet hit on a pretty gutsy first down scramble attempt, coincidence or not, played poorly for the rest of the game), this is still a Mike Pettine team, the Steelers are not the Bengals – and certainly aren’t without Rothlisberger – and if the Browns are not to be the same debacle they’ve been for years and years running (though they may well, once again, be just that), they’ll battle and make this a real football game at least.

Though making it more challenging for them, they’ll have to do it without two of their better defensive players in Safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Joe Haden – once one of the leagues premier defenders – once again. Guard Joe Botonio will also be out; with a rookie (C. Erving), who reportedly hasn’t looked very good in his limited snaps so far, slated in to take his place.

Pick: Browns. ¬†Pettine may not be good with structural QB decisions, but he can otherwise coach and get a team to play. If he can’t, he should be out of there. All this talk of teams needing stability is a partial myth. What they need are good coaches, and there’s a world of possible candidates out there, and only 32 positions in the entire country. (Good teams “have stability” because good teams don’t need to change head coaches.)

6.  Dallas Cowboys (+1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Before the season started, the Cowboys said they were acting like a championship team because they thought they were one, and would be more likely to stay one if they acted that way.

They’ve now lost 6 straight games and are 2-6, and would be 1-7 if both the Giants and the referees, independently, hadn’t all but handed the Cowboys the game in week 1.

They kick a fourth field goal from just outside the 8 yard line on a 4th and long 2 in the 4th quarter against the Seahawks to take a 12-10 lead – as if helping to ensure that it stays a 1 score game even if they can add another now otherwise key additional field goal, and likely the easiest kind for an almost always clutch Russell Wilson to pull out at the end (which of course he did, easily), is a good move – to thus ultimately lose 13-12.

Their backup QB has a “good game” when he only throws one pick, although it was a pick-six that not only lost them a full 7 points, but also nearly half of the football field of field position on top of that as of the time of the pick (*see above).

Owner Jerry Jones, in response to their recent “history of apparent off field domestic violence and anger issues” acquisition literally strikes a clipboard from a coaches hand in another outburst of anger in full view of public cameras, points out in response that he’s a “team leader”….

Meanwhile, the Cowboys, who couldn’t intercept a morse code transmission if it was spelled out for them in block letters, have almost no turnovers, and a good defense that otherwise simply apparently doesn’t try to strip the ball – besides of course not tackling by aiming one’s shoulder into a player and hoping he falls,¬†the single most important thing to do on defense.

Number one overall draft pick Jameis Winston of the Bucs, meanwhile, while playing very poorly in preseason and somewhat poorly early on in the season, is starting to validate all of those prognistications interestingly proclaiming they liked what “Winston will be.”

But after four games without a Winston pick, the odds even out and the turnover challenged Cowboys somehow pick up a few in this game and come out with a victory. Then they get Romo the sharp, relaxed, charming, down to earth more intelligent than he acts all American humble good guy and goofy in a good way choirboy back, and they start winning and suprisingly make a run for it. While in private a not quite delusional Jerry Jones – or somebody, maybe Jason Garrett – insists that Greg Hardy start indulging in some behind the scenes but serious emotionally shifting anger management and self control counseling.

Pick: Cowboys. America’s team, almost perfectly, to the letter.

Week 8 Picks Against the Spread – Thursday Night Football

Last week: 3-5
Year to date: 20-18

Recap of miserable week 7:

Picked Redskins (they won the game by only a point);
.
Browns (staying loyal to preseason prediction of Bills making playoffs, while not staying loyal to Rams preseason prediction of making playoffs: both backfired, as the Rams trounced the Browns, and Bills lost at the end);

Cowboys, making the wrong call on the Giants a second week in a row. (After picking them to upset the Cowboys week 1, which they should have, and the Bills in week 4, which they did);

Eagles, buying into the “they’re starting out slow but¬†have just turned it around” idea for some reason, with, really no evidence (some luck and a bad performance by the Giants in week 6 isn’t turning it around), other than the lame fact¬†that when first taking over what was for him a brand new team, Chip Kelly had started out 1-3;

And, again, the Bills, staying with the sinking ship of that prediction and worsening an already bad ATS record. (Yeah, I know above 500 is “good.” Whatever, but not really.)

In the game on the road in London (the once and future London Jaguars “home” stadium for the contest),¬†the Bills fell behind 27-3. Then were up 31-27 late.

Then, on 3rd and 15 with 3:04 left from their own 47 yard line, a Blake Bortles pass fell incomplete.

But as is often the case in the National Football Penalty Flag League (charmingly often referred to as the National Football League), a questionable pass interference penalty was called, where to make matters worse, cornerback Nickell Robey was going for the ball as well.

This penalty wasn’t nearly as game changing as many. The reality is that while it was for 17 yards and a 1st down at the Buffalo 36 yard line rather than a 4th and 15 for Jacksonville from their own 47, the Bills still gave up what was the winning touchdown. And did so on the next two plays alone.

In fact they gave up a touchdown so fast that, along with their three timeouts still remaining, at 2:16 they had more than enough time for a strong two minute drill winning touchdown drive.

Not only did they botch it, they were slow on the drive and quickly burned their timeouts, which – in case they got stopped quickly (which they did) – they should have saved; that way they stood a good chance of getting the ball back again and if so could have had a¬†30 – 45 second shot at getting into long field goal range for the tie. But they didn’t do that either, and the Jaguars kneeled a few times, and that was that.

So, bad penalty or not, the Bills lost legitimately. And bad penalties are a part of football.

So to make up for last week’s miserable week, this week will sweep the table. Making this easier will be the fact, that ¬†(for now, at least, maybe some will be added before Sunday game time), the “table” will only be two picks. (Update: 3 picks)

Both could easily be big upsets. And one of the two is tonight, in what has quickly become a time honored tradition that some players apparently dislike, but the league itself, commercial telecast networks, and many fans, like a lot: Thursday Night Football.

1.  Miami Dolphins (+9) at New England Patriots

The Pariots rampage continues. Plus, they remember what an at the time 0-2 Miami Dolphins team (coming off a 1-15 year) did to them in September, 2008, ending their 21 game regular season win streak in the process. This:

Never mind that Matt Cassel was the quarterback in that game, Cassel still piloted them to an 11-5 record.¬†And the Patriots don’t make excuses.

Heath Evans, who played for Bill Belichick, and was also on that 2008 Patriots squad, had this to say about the Dolphins game tonight:

“By Thursday afternoon around 1:00pm, Belichick will have his Patriots team convinced¬†that the Miami Dolphins:”

But the Patriots are somewhat playing that way anyway; and if the Dolphins are now for real under new interim head coach Dan Campbell, this is the game they would play as hard as any,

It’s by no means a lock. The Dolphins might now think they are good and simply assume they can do it rather than play with maximum intensity and focus at all moments, or simply make mistakes against a formidable team; a team that almost never loses at home, and a team that is laser beam focused, and that Belichick not only has the recent scary Dolphins buzz to use as well as the still motivating offseason marring Deflategate “scandal,” but that 2008 dismantlement of the Patriots by the Dolphins in Foxboro, as further motivation.

But this should be a tightly fought division matchup. And for the Dolphins, it’s their closest thing to a Super Bowl in quite a while.

Pick: Dolphins

2.  Seattle Seahawks (-6) at Dallas Cowboys

It’s hard to pick the Cowboys to win outright here – Russell Wilson’s record at pulling out close games, and games in general, is just too good. (Often he carries that team a lot more than stats indicate, creating plays where none exist, and turning losses into key yardage and first downs with well timed scrambles.)

The Seahawks remember that the Cowboys beat them last year in Seattle (one of the only two teams to do so in Russell Wilson’s first three years in the league, until the Panthers did so two weeks ago.)

And this Seahawks team has been championship caliber for a few years now, and need to win this game.

While the Cowboys, in falling apart after losing their star quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant, have shown that despite what they confidently said pre season, they are not.

The Cowboys will at least try to play like it this game,¬†and in terms of caliber of players, they aren’t outmatched. And while they haven’t been a particularly good home team, Seattle is a much better home team than on the road

This one should be a close Dallas loss, or an outright win.

Pick: Cowboys

3.  Green Bay Packers (-3) at Denver Broncos

This game could go either way. And frankly the 3 points Denver is getting probably don’t¬†matter much: Go back and study Aaron Rodgers’ record, he has won less than his fair share of 3 point games.

He has won some close ones, of course. But also notice his record even in games won by 7 points or less Р24-22 Рand compare it with his record in games won by more than 7 points Р55-15. There has to be some natural difference here, as games that are closer in score were on average more up in the air with regard to outcome and therefore more likely to be lost in the first place, but the margin here is pretty steep.

Peyton Manning acknowledged weeks ago he barely has feeling in a parts of his fingers. On his throwing hand. He’s clearly not the QB he was, or even close.

This is not news of course. But Manning is¬†still like having an offensive coordinator who’s great at making line reads and adjustments, out there as a team’s QB.

He also demands the best of his players Рat least he has, and usually gotten it, in the past.

The Packers are a better football team right now. But their road record under Aaron Rodgers barely scrapes .500

The one scary stat is that Rodgers hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record, on the road, since December of ’12.

That stat has to end; and why not now, with his team clicking on all cyclinders, against a team that really isn’t nearly as dominant as the Packers are, and could easily have several losses.

But the odds are slightly against them here. Rodgers and the Packers faced a very good defense early on in the Seahawks, and solidly outplayed them. But the game was at home. (They also did it last year in the NFC championship game on the road, in a game they should have won. Against those same Seahawks.) Can they do it again?

Interesting game, no doubt. And it’s too bad the points probably won’t matter in this one, since getting 3-3.5 extra for a home team that probably has a slight edge in the game would otherwise be an easy call.

Pick: Broncos, with a slight edge to win outright.

Upset alert: Not an official pick, and the points are also irrelevant in this possible big upset game as well. But in the second half of the Saints game last week, where through some bad luck and bad play the Colts had fallen behind 27-0, and thus with relatively “little to lose” and yet a big challenge on the table, there were suddenly some glimpses of at least a little of the old Andrew Luck. (Aka the relatively new in the ¬†league Andrew Luck, who now may be suffering a hint of the 2012 two best college QB prospects to come out in 10 years syndrome, one that after his rookie year hit RG3 like a rock): He read the field, moved his eyes, head, made quicker, better decisions and tighter throws, and played far more relaxed and natural.

He didn’t play like this in the first half, where he seemed to play somewhat poorly, as¬†he has much of the season. With tight feet, frozen reads, some questionable decisions, and imprecise throws.

And this Colts team doesn’t know how to tackle – not that that’s all that unusual. But they are also not very good at it even when executing half correctly – which is more unusual, and harder to overcome.

And in the fourth quarter, once the Colts pulled within two touchdowns of an outright win, their comeback last week did get quickly stifled, as the Saints bore down again, and the Colts didn’t look as Colts teams of fourth quarters past.

Plus, on the flip side, the Panthers have some serious team unity going on this season, and that makes them very competitive, and hard to play against.

But Andrew Luck once had the ability to pull out almost any game in the NFL. (That is, at least unless it happened to be in a stadium now named after a razor shaving company, and with a guy taking snaps on the opposite side of the ball who’s pretty well known; though integrity of the game (never mind integrity of the process, or the higher importance of not making presumptions and conflating them with fact) aside, one does wonder how at 38 and without “deflated” footballs, Tom Brady has managed to effectively all but dominate the league.)

This game is so lopsided in favor of the Panthers that Luck may just play like he started to in the second half of the Saints game, and his team may follow suit.

That said – and it’s no doubt an “if,” not a “will” –¬†Luck¬†is (or at least was) easily as good as anybody in the NFL at winning close games: Including yes, the master himself, TB.

The Panthers, on the other hand have been extremely poor at it.

Though they finally managed to accomplish¬†it in week six against the Seahawks¬†–¬†a team that had come from behind late to win close games, in Carolina against the Panthers,¬†each of the last three¬†regular¬†seasons.

Thus¬†they are seemingly¬†getting better. And with such a good overall record,¬†and now having pulled off the close game comeback to none other than the Seahawks up in their dome, will probably be more relaxed about close games now as well. Plus, they’re home, which, undefeated atop the division, can help with both energy motivation from the crowd – particularly in a non divisional game matchup – and noise control.

But in a close game – if the Colts can play well enough to keep it close – the edge, at least based on history, undoubtedly still goes to the Colts.

And out of desperation and a sort of nothing to lose at this point but one more crappy game Andrew Luck, who thus just plays yet focuses more and tries less Рif he sees it that way and can find what he had before Рthey may just show it.

It may be what we expect; a good team at home who wants to stay atop their division and at least this year go into the playoffs with some home games and a bye, easily defeating a relatively poor team in a nationally televised game. But it may also not be.

True, one never knows with the all over the board St. Louis Rams (have they finally turned that corner they’ve been trying and at times seem to slide around now for almost three years??); but of all the¬†seemingly lopsided games,¬†this is the one¬†most primed for an upset. And it’s on Monday Night.

Week 6 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Last week: 1-2. Year to date: 15-12

Last week recap: Last week’s picks provided¬†all sorts of good reasons why the Patriots would trounce the Cowboys. Then picked the Cowboys because they are a “really good team” with championship aspirations and potential, and really good teams in key games against defending Super Bowl champs no less (as if they needed more motivation), don’t get blown out at home.

Yeah, well okay, that was wrong. To say the least.

Meanwhile, backup Cowboys QB Brandon Weeden, who’s now 0-11 in his last 11 starts, said he was “pissed” that he was benched.

Tim Tebow should be pissed due to the groupthink that swept thru the NFL like spinach salmonella food poisoning from¬†a team cafeteria eathathon(okay¬†that was a terrible analogy); and collectively decided Tebow¬†can’t “play” even though when he has played in games, he’s come through and the team has won, which seems to warrent great consideration as at least a backup that can give a team a spark, until and unless it turns out the fact that the team seemed to play better when Tebow, and he pulled multiple games out at the end was some sort of bizarre fluke.

On the other hand, Weeden should be eternally grateful that he got 11 starts.

And¬†this is the same league that after Tebow’s 2011 season where he started 11 games¬†in Denver much of the overall collective thinking – while some (myself included) said he should be a backup, and a few¬†said he can’t play at all -was that¬†he could play (there was all this Tebow excitement, remember? And it wasn’t just the fans), and maybe even be a good starter.

This opinion has drastically changed despite the fact that but for a couple of meaningless plays with the Jets in odd situations (he attempted a total of 8 passes with the Jets, completing 6 for 39 yards), Tebow has not played again in a regular season game. (As far as training camps odds go, he’s never¬†really looked good in practice; so neither that nor the non playing Jets time should really have that fundamentally changed things.)

On to this weeks disaster picks. Which should be easy, since the 1:00 E.S.T games are already going on – those were too hard anyway.

1.  Carolina Panthers (+7) at Seattle Seahawks

After blowing a 17 point lead on the road to Cincinnati last week and falling to 2-3 (and this after almost losing at home the week before to at this point – at least before today’s early games end –¬†still winless Detroit in a game that if the referee’s made the proper call on a bizarre fluke of a meaningless play, they more than likely would have),¬†energy and focus levels seem to suggest the Seahawks.

And this Seattle team has shown its championship caliber and ability to focus when necessary, again and again.

They also seem to play far better at home, and on the road the last three seasons they’ve beaten the Panthers in close games, all of which the Panthers led late.

And beat them soundly in the playoffs last year.

It is for these last two reasons, both of which are¬†also be compelling reasons for the Panthers to focus for the game, that 7 points is too high. The Panthers may be improving – particularly under Cam Newton’s play. They’re coming off a bye. And while he’s not expected to play all of the snaps (and his backup, A. J. Klein will be out), stud linebacker Luke Kuechly will be back. And this is the Seahawks; who but for a wild play at the one yard line in the final seconds, would have been repeat Super Bowl Champs.

Seattle, who’s also getting back running back Marshawn Lynch, is tough to beat at home. And if it’s the same old Panthers they will probably lose, but it might still be a reasonably close game. And this Panthers team at least has reasons to be motivated, to say the least.

Pick: Panthers

2.  New England Patriots (-9.5) at Indianapolis Colts (Sunday Night)

Yes this game should be a blow out as well for the Patriots. Just like last week. And just like last week, the (questionable?) call here is maybe not. Though once again this may be ascribing more to presumed character and motivation than really exists.

Yet everyone is talking about all of the motivation that the Patriots have. And they’ve shown it. It’s even been noted¬†on several occassions in here – before the Cowboys and before the Bills game and elsewhere – that the “Deflate-gate” saga seems to have focused the motivated the Patriots even more (and somewhat understandably).

And this Colts team is the team that “told” on them, which reportedly also¬†has some Boston area fans upset.

The league’s handling of the deflategate saga was an abomination (following a pattern, no less), and it was made into something it was not. However, if footballs are supposed to be inflated to a psi range and they aren’t, and no one checks them during the game, then how do rules get enforced save for teams noticing it?

The issue needed to have been brought up. The question is how. Mentioning it to the Patriots directly in a league filled with refs, rules and oversight seems a little odd. That leaves only one choice: The Colts bringing the correct attention to it. (Although it could be argued – maybe – that the Colts perhaps could have brought it up generically and less attached to a particular game, so that the issue was proper psi inflation in general, not proper psi inflation for “our game.”) And given that the Colts did make an issue of it, and what it led to, it’s¬†easy to see it as being motivating for the Patriots

But the bottom line is that the Colts have also been somewhat pilloried for this. More importantly they’re playing the Super Bowl champs. And playing the team that has owned them the past several years.

The Partiots are the team that has beaten the Colts the last six times they have played. The team who beat them 59-24 in late 2012. Who next beat them 43-22 in the 2013 playoffs.¬†Who next beat them late last¬†season, 42-20. (In Indy, too.) And who then in last season’s playoffs beat them 45-7; with most of it coming in the second half, with carefully recalibrated footballs.

Again, the evidence that this Colts team simply can’t match up with the Patriots (combined with the fact that the Colts haven’t been very good this year, uncharacteristically, and the Patriots are seemingly on a rampage) may be too much.¬†And choosing the Colts getting a measly 9.5 points may be a weak move.

But if any team has motivation here, it’s the Colts.

True, the Patriots will no doubt be focused. Even their non statements suggest it. “Um, we just want people to realize we didn’t beat them 45-7 because of deflated footballs,” is what’s reportedly being uttered.

But, while they simply may not be good enough, if this¬†game doesn’t get the Colts focused to play as if a Super Bowl, then nothing can.

So, here’s saying it would just be too predictable, too formulaic, for this otherwise¬†thus far not very good team – and one that really didn’t improve in the offseason despite all their talk about how they are a different team (they are, they’re worse) – not to play its heart out.

Though once again the mistake may be presuming focus and motivation where it doesn’t exist.

And the other mistake – but less important if the Colts play with an energy that simply won’t accept losing – just as the Saints did Thursday Night against the Falcons – is not giving sufficient due to the fact that right now they’re still not a very good football team, and are going up against a laser focused Super Bowl championship team with¬†strong motivation to not just beat them, but throunce them,¬†again.

But here’s to a suprisingly good and quite the story lined Sunday Night NFL matchup:

Pick: Colts

3.  New York Giants (+5.5) at Philadelphia Eagles (Monday Night) 

This is the Giants. Point spreads barely matter. And yes Odell Beckham might not play, Victor Cruz is still out, the Giants almost lost to San Francisco at home last week, while the Eagles last week finally showed us they may be closer to what we all thought they may be (aka, “good” rather than not so good).

But this is the Giants. And Eagles. Home field advantage doesn’t matter that much, and there’s no strong edge in terms of who’ll win. (After the fact there may appear to have been. But even if the Eagles are now “good,” given that this is the Giants, and it’s the Giants versus¬†Eagles, and it’s the Giants versus¬†Eagles on Monday Night, there’s still not much of an edge here.)

So given this, if it’s a close game, 5.5 points is a lot. The Giants may win – even if the odds are lower than for the Eagles winning. The Giants may lose handily. ¬†And the Giants may lose by a somewhat close one score game, in which case, spread wise, they still win.

Pick: Giants

The only pick that’s an uncomfortable one here (even if the Panthers do get pummeled, they have the ability to hang with and beat the Seahawks and this game should be big to them) is the Colts Patriots game.

This is because the Colts so far, at least relatively speaking, somewhat stink. And more disturbingly, no strong hints even seem to be coming out of the organization¬†to the effect that they’re sick and tired of the Patriots, to say the least, rather than, instead, silly things like “we’re a different team.” Particularly when after a season that so far has shown that though on paper they are no better, they are a decidely “different” team: One no longer capable of hanging with¬†anybody in the league (except the Patriots, that is), the last two seasons running.

But maybe they’re just keeping it to themselves. We’ll find out tonight.

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.

Week 15 NFL Pick Against the Spread

Update: Season record to date‚Ķ..let‚Äôs see, carry the 1, divide by the hypotenuse, multiply by the¬†square root of the cube‚Ķ Wait, no, I just found it. Each week in all its laborious glory: Right down to the ‚Äúwho‚Äôs gonna play tough‚ÄĚ guesswork more relevant than who’s going to stop which player – since stopping x or y guy on the field sounds great, but is present every game for¬†all players as a team.

That is, two things matter in picking games: Which team is better at the moment and where the game is being played. And who is more likely to play hard.

Most of the stuff¬†we¬†hear about who will win because¬†this or that¬†team can “run the ball well” or something similar, sounds great; but doesn’t matter.

If team A, for example, struggling with the pass¬†and relying on the run, andnow facing team B who is “guess what,” good at stopping the run (an analysis I just heard on an excellent flagship football show¬†offered as rationale for why team A would lose), that means team B is weaker at stopping the pass. Which against a struggling passing team who can use the weak pass defense¬†help so they can introduce balance back to¬†their offensive attack, may be even more relevant than the fact their opponents are good at stopping the run.

Or it may not be. And if team B is also stronger at stopping the pass, it simply means team B has a good defense. Which means Team A’s defense¬†catches a break. Or it team B also has a good offense, it means team B simply has a better football team, which is the real reason team A is more likely to lose. Etc., etc.

In¬†contrast to analysis that makes it sound otherwise, it’s extremely hard to pick out in advance which team will play well against another team apart from a) how good they are, and b) how hard they are going to play. And the best way to determine this is history (and even then that’s often because one team tends to play hard, or “charged up” against another one), or on rare occasion a particular talent by one team that offsets a talent by the other that most other teams can’t seem to stop; but trying to figure this out in advance¬†often gets confused with¬†simply focusing in one area of the game and not realizing it is offset by other areas. And that if it’s not offset by other areas, it usually simply means that one team is better than the other one, which is why they are more likely to win.

Thus¬†a lot of¬†analysis we¬†hear about which team is going to win that doesn’t focus on who is actually better, and who is likely to play better in that particular game, sounds great, but isn’t otherwise of as much value as it sounds. That’s why many¬†picks you read even by experts at the country’s leading sports sites, against the spread at least, (or straight up for otherwise very close games) are about the same as a coin flip. Or worse.

That said, the picks here ain’t much better: ¬†Season history to date: Week 14: 4-4.¬†Week 13: 4-4¬†Week 12: 4-3. ¬†Week 11:¬†4-2-1. Week 10:¬†3-3.¬†Week 9 3-3. “Debacle week” 8:¬†3-5.¬†¬†Week 7:¬†2-1 Season record to date: 27-25-1, not counting the 1-0 record this week so far.(28-25 -1, or 29-25-1 including last Thursday, with outside verification that the Browns at +6 were a “pick em” possible upset pick at the Bengals back in week 10, but I didn’t get to this column in time. I ranted about it as if I had 40,000 dollars on the game, 5 million weekly readers, and was in a heads up season long gentleman’s wager with the far funnier Bill Simmons (nice picks column here¬†by Simmons, for example) for post season bragging rights, rather than – well – really no real reason at all.)

Though, we are here sporting a perfect record so far with (sparingly offered) upset picks.

That should change this week however¬†– can’t keep hitting on every one. Plus this week has two outright upset pick calls. And really, they are both close games rather than strong favorites to pull an upset. (Though given the teams involved, as you’ll see below, that doesn’t necessarily mean the games should be close if the upset team loses; but in the case of one at least it should.)

Cardinals (+6) at Rams, Thursday Night Football

This is simple. Over the past several weeks, and notwithstanding a close loss at San Diego 3 weeks ago, the St. Louise Rams have been close to the best team in football. The cardinals have overachieved. And Drew Stanton is not even close to Carson Palmer at quarterback. (Update: Stanton got hurt, and Ryan Lindley – who will likely start next week and probably the week after that for the Cardinals, before Stanton, with the same type of MCL sprain that sidelined Larry Fitzgerald for two games a little earlier in the season, can return for the playoffs – is not even close to Drew Stanton at quarterback. Though when not throwing passes that traveled closer to opponents than his own teammates, he otherwise showed good judgment and quick decision making.)

And, just before the just below the surface potential of the St. Louis Rams (for two seasons now) finally exploded, they went into Arizona in week 10 and were leading 14-10 early in the 4th quarter (against a Carson Palmer led team), before they fell apart (right after, ironically, Palmer tore his ACL).

Since then they’ve beaten the Denver Broncos 22-7 – holding them scoreless in the second half¬†in the process¬†– lost 24-27 at the San Diego Chargers, beaten the Oakland Raiders 52-0, and beaten the Washington Redskins in Washington, 24-0. (The team that traded away half of its draft to this same Rams team back in 2012, so they could draft a quarterback who is now benched.)

But the Cardinals, who still have to face the Seattle Seahawks and who have seen their once dominant division lead fall to a slim one game lead (and they’ve already lost to the Seahawks once), won’t go down without a fight.

The edge to win the game goes to the team who is better right now, and who is playing for something as important to this team as making the playoffs:  The pride of running the table and showing they not only belong in what is still the toughest overall division in football, but that they might be able to soon take it.

Six points, however, is too many against a desperate team that will battle, in a likely lower scoring game between two defensive oriented clubs, in what shapes up to be one of the most interesting games of the season Рand will remain so after the fact no matter how it turns out.

Very close, because right now the St. Louis Rams are probably the favorite to win the NFC West next year, and probably the entire NFC, but,

Pick: Cardinals

As always, the remainder of games picked against the spread will be added prior to late Sunday Game Day morning.

Update: Well, that time is now once again upon us. ¬†But also notice how Thursday Night’s Pick went from “this is simple,” to “very close” by the end of the discussion. ¬†It was simple. And, in hindsight, given the Cardinals outright 12-6 win, better if the “very close” was left off, which kind of lamefied my pick. (I’ll check with Webster’s D later to make sure they’ve finally included “lamefied,” as a verb. If not I’ll suggest it.)

Column/post/prattling is still to come on that strong Rams Cardinals contest,¬†which from a pure NFL and football rather than “marquee” perspective, was an excellent one entering the game. And for some who like real defense – ¬†and not just aerial shows up and down the field with less strategy – trickier scores, and defensive balance, was an excellent game as well.

There was also a series of two remarkable strategy decisions in a row in the game by the Cardinals, which will get a separate column/post/prattle fest, since they go to some of the key structural mechanics of the game being overlooked in routine “strategic” game decision situations, and that serve as excellent examples of each.

But that’s later to come. In the meantime, the Rams are, and will remain, next year’s dark horse pick. Watch out for them. And if they pick up some strong receiver and offensive line help, double watch out for them.

Also – though it seems “about as unlikely as if a multi million year level of change to the concentration of the same long lived greenhouse molecules responsible for keeping our earth from being a lifeless frozen ball of ice and rock hurtling to space somehow wouldn’t change earth’s climate” – if they¬†happen to surreptitiously swap¬†places with the New Orleans Saints, and thus clandestinely plant themselves into the thick of the AFC South instead of the current best division in football, triple watch out for them.

Unauthorized division swapping unfortunately is of course a tad bit unprecedented, and highly taboo by the basic rules. ¬†(Though trading division places for draft picks might make for some interesting machinations, as teams foolishly give up draft picks in order to move into “easier” divisions, only to then see those divisions quickly turn strong.)¬†Plus, the guys who makes the NFL schedule, along with the rest of us – and certainly the other teams – would probably need to find out about it at some point.

So okay, let’s face it: The Rams will still be in a division with the always under rated Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers (who will come back¬†tough next year if Harbaugh remains) and the Legions of Boom up in Seattle, who seem to have gotten their boom on recently, and are not a team anybody wants to play right now. (Although Arizona plays them in week 16, just like last year. And, guess who – St. Louis – hits them up in Seattle to close out the season. In a game that might really wind up mattering for Seattle, both for the division title and a first round bye, or an extra game and wild card trip on the road or, pending, possibly even making the playoffs at all.)

But once again, right now, entering next year with the return of Sam Bradford and a young, hungry, improving team under a decent head coach, watch out for the Rams next year.

So let’s do some picks. Buckle up, this week’s are strong: (So I say now. Check back Monday.)

Raiders (+10) at Chiefs

This game is a bit lopsided from a spread perspective.¬†If you follow football, do you really need the analysis here? ¬†When a team is getting 1o points (even in today’s explosive score oriented NFL) and stands a legitimate chance of winning the game, there’s no decision to be made.

If you don’t think the lowly 2-11 Raiders have a legitimate chance to defeat even their now desperate for a win to stay alive, and playing at home, and hated, division rivals, you haven’t been playing close attention to football. (But don’t laugh too hard if the Raiders lose 28-13. Nothing is locked in gold in football except the idea that the Jaguars are awful and should be banished to the CFL, or get themselves yet another new GM (once again Shahid Kahn, I volunteer), or that the Titans didn’t have to be absolutely miserable this season (losing by at least 14 points in an astounding 8 out of their 11 losses so far this season) to prove an idea I suggested months ago in heavily questioning their offseason firing¬†(though¬†“questioning” is a nice word), of then head coach Mike Munchak.)

In week 12 Oakland wins their very first game of the season -against these very same Chiefs, 24-20.

They promptly go the following week and lose, 52-0. ¬†And, lose to our very own dark horse Super Bowl contender for next season, the St. Louis Rams. (Here’s an interesting analysis of that next game, before the fact.)

Then, they apparently try a little harder the following week (last week) and pull off another big upset, against the San Francisco 49ers, 24-13. (24 seems to be their number in those rare instances they win games this season.)

So, now another post big win let down for the currently¬†“over achieving” two win team? Or is it possible that the Raiders have learned their lesson.

Probably not. But being as this is the Chiefs, and the team that Oakland would probably rather beat than any team in the NFL – let alone sweep – for this game, they may have learned it.

And again, 10 is a lot of points for this much potential emotion, with a team that has shown it can beat the Chiefs, and- even if the Chiefs do need a division win badly to keep their season alive – that are playing a little better themselves.

It would be cool, but probably less likely that the Raiders sweep. But between their chances of winning the game outright, and their larger chances of at least playing with some serious spark to try and give their season some meaning by showing they can dominate at least one of the good teams in the division, 10 is still too large a number for this game even with some additional bad injury news for the somewhat depleted Raiders squad.

Pick: Raiders

Bengals (-1) at Browns

As Joey Lawrence used to so accurately say on the hip 90s sitcom “Blossom”: Whoa!

Johnny Football, the guy who stood in front of a more elderly crowd in cute leotards and led them through some dandy exercises before being woken up by an appropriately much older (and hence wiser) NFL player, the guy who captured the country’s sports heart with his swashbuckling style as a devil may care quarterback at Texas A&M¬†who just won baby, gets his first start in the NFL. (While he also appropriately laughed off another set of silly (okay, stupid) comments by the Bengals head coach.) (Manziel incidentally was also the 837th pick of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft. Which put him, let’s see… again, carry the 1, divide by pie…. um, infinity spots ahead of me in that particular major league baseball draft.)

Last week, in foolishly picking the Bengals as 3 point favorites against Pittsburgh, this blog boldly stated:

The Bengals are simply a better football team. The question to be answered here is whether they have as much heart as Pittsburgh traditionally shows. Because Pittsburgh, more likely than not, will show it here.

Outscored 25-0 in the fourth quarter en route to their 42-21 home loss to Pittsburgh (whom they meet again in Pittsburgh to close out the season in week 17), that question was probably answered.

Now, embarrassed, and if the Bengals lose again this weekend with the Steelers able to vault ahead with a win at Atlanta (as can Baltimore with a win at Jacksonville, where they are 14 point favorites), will they show heart this game?

Maybe, maybe not. But given that they’re going against a still largely untested rookie making his first NFL start, on paper at least are still the better team, and have the strong revenge factor in a key playoff implication divisional game on their side, they’re the call to make¬†here.

But still, how can you not root for Johnny JamBoogie?

I’ll be rooting for him and his semi¬†underdog Browns to make this the wrong pick.

But, after their embarrassment at home to the Steelers last week to put Pittsburgh back into the race, if this Bengals team can’t even up the series against the Browns after getting demolished by them on national TV at home in week 10 (in my best pick on this blog that never officially got made), then Marvin Lewis, with his 0-5 playoff record, should walk out of the stadium and go join the Jaguars in Canada. (Or London, once Roger Goodell gets his way. Though if I was Jacksonville’s GM I wouldn’t let Lewis within 100 miles of the franchise, ¬†unless it was as defensive coordinator, and with a standing gag order to desist from making medicinal related commentary on concussions, and other wildly inane statements that wholly¬†miss the point of what was done wrong and incorrectly assumed with respect to concussions in the past.)

Pick: Bengals – Marvin’s team

Make this the wrong pick Johnny Boogie and a Browns team that repeatedly shows heart, and sweep those Tigers.

49ers (+9) at Seahawks

At some point this San Francisco team has to tailspin. And it looks like while earlier in the year they kept it somewhat together despite a bunch of injuries and rumors about head coach Jim Harbaugh leaving (which have only increased), that tailspin may now be happening. Particularly if the players are resigned to losing their head coach, and know they may be playing under new leadership (or even for a different team) next year.

And the Seahawks, who have gotten over their early post Super Bowl Championship slump (though the return of defensive superstars Kam Chancellor and in particular linebacker Bobby Wagner has certainly helped), would probably like little more than to pummel the 49ers once again; just as they did Thanksgiving evening just two weeks ago down in the Santa Clara area. (The 49ers new “home” digs.)

But this is the 49ers, and Harbaugh’s 4th season as a head coach in the league. He has taken them to the NFC championship game every one of this first three seasons. (And he didn’t take over all that great of a team, either.)

When he says all they really have left to play for at this point is “pride,” it may still mean something with this bunch. ¬†And there’s little more prideful than being able to show that while they may be down and out, they can¬†still go into Seattle and avenge their NFC championship game loss from last season and show they still got that swagger, and in effect declare, “come on 2015, bring it on, whoever leads our charge.”

They just may not¬†have the ability to do it right now. And Seattle knows they’re going against a wounded team with a lot of pride, who have a fierce rivalry with them and who have won an awful lot of games over the last few seasons, with a chance at some serious season redemption. And so the Seahawks, who have lately been showing it anyway, likely won’t lose focus.

But given the rivalry and the potential for enormous passion on the part of the 49ers, which can make any game close – and the 49ers are by no means a bad team, yet are coming off a loss to the Oakland Raiders of all teams –¬†this is a San Francisco call all the way.

Sure they could get pummeled, as Seattle likes to do to San Francisco, and has done to San Francisco a few times now up in Seattle recently when San Francisco was a lot better team even. But for this game, don’t necessarily bet on it.

Pick: 49ers

Broncos (-5) at Chargers

Yeah, Denver Broncos, Bla bla bla bla…

And Peyton Manning, who has suddenly been playing subpar (but the Broncos keep on winning) could at any moment turn into superman with a football (again); but this game is one of the better match-ups of the season, regardless.

And despite many claims to the contrary, when the Chargers played Denver back in late October (though a bit more injury riddled than at the moment, albeit they are still down to their 4th center, having lost a remarkable 3 total successive starting centers to season ending injuries), and lost 35-21, the Chargers actually did get outplayed.

But, while it doesn’t matter too too much where the game is being played when these two teams meet, this is December; it is in San Diego; the Chargers need the game badly, the Broncos don’t (as much, though it’s true they do need it, and they don’t want to have to go up to New England to advance); the Chargers, despite that earlier season loss, know how to battle Denver in general; and, most importantly, “this is Philip Rivers time”: That is, late November and¬†December – with a shot at a playoff berth with wins – is where this quarterback has shone like no one else in the league apart from someone named Tom Brady.

It doesn’t mean he will again, or that the better team here – Denver – won’t win. But this is more likely the Chargers game for the taking. Upset pick; Chargers win outright.

Thus, against the spread, naturally,

Pick: Chargers 

Packers (-5) at Bills 

Yes, the Packers could be facing the Patriots (or someone else) in the Super Bowl later this season. (Or it could just as easily if perhaps not more easily be the Seahawks – with the Lions, Cowboys, Eagles, and the always under respected Arizona Cardinals with decent enough shots to also unseat them.)

But the Bills, by sacking Aaron Rodgers¬†more times than the Packers recently improving offensive line would prefer, and smacking the ball away a few times in the process, send the ‘Pack packing, and pull off the surprise upset. ¬†Even if their normal December “cold Buffalo weather “advantage might be somewhat¬†nullified by a team seemingly from the Midwest’s version of Alaska – aka, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Pick: Bills

Dolphins (+7.5) at Patriots

Yes, the Patriots actually held the Chargers to negative yards rushing in the second half in their win last week in San Diego.

Yes the Patriots have dominated this division this entire millennium, and are on a roll right now to boot.

And yes the Dolphins haven’t dominated anything but the occasional¬†autumn sport news headlines down in South Florida. And are rolling themselves, but off of a resounding 28-13 home loss to the Ravens last week in a game they needed to win.

But Miami probably isn’t done speaking yet this season. And have beaten the Patriots 2 out of the last 3 times the two teams have met. (Though both wins were at home. ¬†And they were swept by the Patriots the season before – 2012, and lost by 10 up in New England last season, and 28-0 the season before to close out the year.)

The points are also a little iffy this game, since it’s really a question of whether Miami comes into New England with its ears pinned back – then watch out, it’s anybody’s game. If not, there’s a pretty strong chance the Patriots win this by well more than touchdown.

Balancing that out, this is a decent number of points, even against a Patriots team hitting its stride, and whose defense is really coming together, against a divisional rival team capable of beating them and who probably wants to, badly.

It’s¬†a tough pick, because under Joe Philbin the Dolphins haven’t really ever taken that full step to the next level. And just when it looked like they may have slipped in under the radar to become a strong¬†team this year, they lost at the end¬†in¬†Detroit in week 10, and have slipped back into a just barely on the outside looking in team, once again – needing that win at home last week against the Ravens, a team that under head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco, has repeatedly beaten the Dolphins.

This might be one of the weaker picks of the week (though by accident it would look genius if the Dolphins pull off the upset). ¬†The reason behind it is the idea that Miami will go in and give it their all and then some, and make it a tough game all around. If that call is wrong – and we’ll know soon enough -well, then, this pick is a pretty bad one:

Pick: Dolphins

Catch you on the flip side, as we sift through the wreckage after the fact of this week’s picks. (Whoever “you are,” as right now the only verified devotedly regular reader of this blog is my neighbor’s cat “Frenchie,” who somehow has learned to read in English, and taken a penchant – very surprising for a cat – toward watching football of all things, ever since Dish TV cancelled his favorite mice marathon racing channel.)

This piece originally consisted of only the pick for Thursday Night’s game to start off the week (pick: Cardinals, +6), and has been updated and expanded to include all of the key picks for week 15 and more, and moved¬†here.