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 12 Picks Against the Spread – Thanks Giving Day Edition

Last week: Official picks against the spread: 0-1-1. Unofficial picks: 4-0.
Year to date picks against the spread (ATS): Official picks: 28-25-1. Total picks ATS: 32-25-1

Recap: Last week started a new edition to (ironically) improve the ATS record: Separately labeled picks of some worth and fun, yet perhaps not as strong as the “best” – many¬†of which had been losing and dragging down what would have been a well above .500 ATS year to date. Thus broke the “best” picks into official picks, and¬†added the rest as “fun picks.”

What¬†irony, as the fun picks swept the field, while the “best” went a whopping 0-1-1 as the Redskins, with nearly everything going wrong, were¬†pummeled by Carolina; and as a Rex Ryan coached team that still doesn’t know how to win a game against Bill Belichick that his team easily could have, didn’t even keep it as tight score wise as the game really¬†was.

That result was, in part, courtesy of a field goal smacking¬†the right post¬†that would have veered inside and not¬†in front if but an inch or two to the left. (But then had it done so, but for an “inch or two” to the right, it would have missed, instead of giving the Bills 3 more points and the Patriots worse field position); and then courtesy of,¬†amazingly, giving up an ensuing TD drive in an astoundingly low 46 remaining first half seconds¬†– 62 total yards as a result of the favorable post missed field goal position or not.

That spectacularly rapid TD drive, when all the Bills had to do was hold the Patriots for three quarters of a minute, was also given up to a team their defense had corralled, if not dominated, the entire half; not just stopping them cold on most series, but having given up only a measly 3 points, on the Patriots very opening drive. (And one kept alive by a defensive hold on a 3rd and 9 at that.)

Naturally, the last 4 picks, for the first time labeled unofficial “fun” picks, went an easy 4-0: As the Bengals, but for an AJ Green step¬†an inch or two too far right – thus hitting and stepping on instead of bouncing off inside the pylon – would have won outright; and¬†a bad Bengals decision on a 3rd and 2 to go for a long shot TD throw (that still almost worked but for that¬†pylon dance) in combination with the ensuing 4th & 2 field goal decision to “tie” a game with plenty of time left for an always predictably aggressive Arizona team to easily win it¬†when needing not a TD but just a field goal – and if not,¬†still have a 50-50 chance in overtime, helped the Bengals¬†lose by 3 at the buzzer. And they still covered the spread after blowing the game by not fully contemplating¬†the entirety of end game strategy, as well as a close¬†call on a non TD that didn’t go their way.

While¬†Detroit, in a pick em game, won¬†at home 18-13 (the line used last week for this pick, in explanation, was “surprise surprise“); the Texans, as 4¬†point underdogs, won outright by 7; and the Cowboys ¬†– as 2 point favorites on the road (where they have been playing better than at home for a while now) courtesy of the Tony Romo is back effect – won 24-14.


1. Carolina Panthers (pick ’em) at Dallas Cowboys

This is funny: But for a playoff game last year, the Panthers have not lost a real football game in about 361 days. Meanwhile the Cowboys, who were 8-0 on the road yet only 4-4 at home last year, and who would be 0-5 at home and 2-3 on the road (instead of 1-4 and 2-3, for a miserable 3-7 overall record) this one¬†but for an outright, purposeful, gift by the Giants, as well as, separately, the referees, in week one. Yet the Cowboys aren’t even an underdog.

Good teams don’t fall apart, whether they still “give effort” or not. (And why wouldn’t any athlete – let alone ones being paid millions of dollars – give effort; that’s what sport is for, particularly when there’s the¬†overriding¬†goal of winning the game driving all effort and play.) And the Cowboys did fall apart a little without their quarterback, losing 7 straight.

Still, common perception semi¬†dissing the Panthers’ accomplishments here notwithstanding, the Cowboys will likely win.

Why? We’ll let actor Tom Berenger explain, courtesy of none other than Tony Romo (who actually tweeted this last week before his first game back):

Pick: Cowboys ¬†Incidentally, if the Cowboys don’t win, it won’t be for lack of ¬†a good game. But because the Panthers — realizing that having just blown out the Redskins to remain undefeated at 10-0, and having not lost a regular season game in almost a year, still aren’t even favored against a (from their perspective) miserable 3-7 ball club — play angrier than hornets.

2. Chicago Bears (+8) at Green Bay Packers

Though there’s apparently no direct evidence of it this time, it looks like before last week’s win at the then division leading Vikings, QB Aaron Rodgers told his once again seemingly struggling team, R-E-L-A-X.

From early last season, before the Packers turned it on:

Still, as with the Lions, it’s getting embarrassing already how often the Bears lose to the Packers in the modern NFL era. Enough of this, perhaps the Bears are saying: and certainly new head coach John Fox, with an improving team, has to be helping to promote the idea.

Whether the Bears can do what the Lions managed to sneakily do two weeks ago in what was up to that point the most “surprise” upset of the season, remains to be seen. But they may stop this longer term trend of Green Bay blowouts at home, while the expected rain may murk up things even¬†more:

Pick: Bears 

 

Unofficial “fun pick”

Cancelled, game already started

Lions (-2) Maybe the Eagles will get it together this week, maybe they won’t. The casual call here is they won’t or, more oddly, the Lions – in a season that was earlier falling apart, will; and uncharacteristically, will do so on Thanksgiving Day no less. Update: Didn’t finish this piece and it’s¬†almost 1:00 EST, have no idea of the status of the Lions game, but since it’s already started (plus the line appears to now be Lions – 3, making it an even harder pick) can’t include it as a pick. Second update: Still finishing this up and¬†finally looked at the halftime score about a half hour ago, and “groan,” the Lions are pummelling the Eagles.¬†Naturally.

2015 Season, Week 9 Picks Against the Spread

Last week: 2-1
Year to date: 22-19

Last week recap: Pick of the Dolphins at +9 was one of the more miserable picks of this season – in hindsight anyway.

And I’m still not giving enough¬†weight to the idea I’ve nevertheless been saying since the¬†season started: the Patriots, and Tom Brady in particular, are on a rampage, feeling slighted over the offseason Deflategate scandal; something which the league, apparently, has gone so off its rocker on as to compare it – an issue of¬†slightly deflated football that refs handle on every play – to Chicaco Black Sox players alleged purposeful¬†throwing of the 1919 World Series.

Maybe I should have listened to Heath Evans, who played for Belichick, and was on the roster when the Dolphins came into Foxboro in week 3 of the 2008 season (at 0-2, and 1-15 the year before) and demolished the Patriots:

I did include the entirety of his apparently spot on hyperbole in last week’s week 8 picks – just had too much naive faith that the Dolphins would play with a hunger and intensity; not have four players continually back up on 3rd and16 runs, then just wait right at the first down marker so the Patriots were¬†almost assured of making the first down.

I couldn’t even tweet¬†the game I got so far behind spending so long analyzing a series of plays early on where the Dolphins – not out of laziness, but fear and horrible techniques – literally gave the Patriots key first downs on their opening drive.

And, frankly, maybe a little bit out of laziness and not being in professional athlete shape as well. I never got paid, but have been in professional athlete shape, and there is no doubt, I don’t care WHAT the players are saying; they do not practice enough.

And this for a now Dan Campbell led team that was supposed to have gotten intense in its drills.

You don’t have to go out and break bones in practice. But it’s professional sports; you should be in professional athlete shape. Playing hard and popping up quickly off the turf is not hard for anyone with good endurance capability, who trains properly.

Not doing so, by two players (the first who missed the tackle, and one of the same culprits in the above described earlier 3rd and 16 fiasco, and another getting blocked on the sidelines), allowed an ensuing opening Patriots drive short pass to some dude known as “Gronk” to score an easy 47 yard touchdown gallop down the left sidelines, running right past where¬†the second of the two was¬†lackadaisically spinning off his block “well away from the play” until he saw Gronk about to race right past him. And it was all downhill from there.

That said, the Cowboys last week, at a silly +6, took the game down to the wire; but barring some luck all but gave away any real strong chance when late in the game they kicked their fourth field goal of the contest (a contest they were to predictably lose 13-12), on a 4th and long 2 from a little outside the eight yard line.

Not gonna go into it too much here, but teams essentially¬†don’t get the math of close to the end zone short yardage field goal situations; particularly late¬†in games where going up by 2 points against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, versus possibly continuing to trail by 1 (and handing the ball over on their 8 yard line) – versus the value of a good shot at making it a 5 or even better 7 point margin late, so that Wilson needs a touchdown not a field goal to simply win and if you make your two point conversion will only be playing for the tie in such a case, meaning their winning chances will be halved – is fairly trivial.

There was actually almost a quarter left to play, and the analysis gets more complicated: But even going up by 5, if there is more subsequent scoring, allows you to be able to win on a late field goal alone Рfar easier to do, particularly if in defensive battles between two good defensive teams such as in this game Рif the Seahawks go ahead with a TD (and either neglect to try or fail on a two point conversion try). And it also allows you to possibly extend your lead to 8 (meaning your opponent will only win one quarter of the time they even do score the touchdown to potentially tie the game with the last score of regulation) or even better make the two point conversion and thus go up by 10, on a late field goal, etc, etc.

Put simply, the taking of 3 points, given the strategic structure of the game there, doesn’t do that much to increase their overall chances. On the other hand, getting the TD – if they possibly can get it (and already being inside the 10, with a short yardage opportunity to get a new set of downs starting at the 6 yard line or better is a fairly strong possibility) – does substantially increase their chances.

It’s like some teams can’t see past the score at the moment, and only worry about the illogical but easy to grasp possibility of “going for the conversion and failing, and later losing by, gasp, 3 points or less,” while failing to recognize that what they do here will affect how their opponent plays and the end game unfolds, and more importantly the missed opportunity that was far greater on average that they gave up, in terms of their ultimate likelihood of winning the contest; which is what matters.

Most such calls (though the Cowboys are particularly bad at it)¬†are so off base it’s a caricature of good strategy. But if it was that obvious, a professional football organization in a close scoring defensive game against a top notch fourth quarter comeback team and in particular quarterback (and right now, with injuries, lacking one themselves), wouldn’t kick their fourth relatively short short field goal of the game on a 4th and long 2 from their opponents 8.5 yard line just to take a measly 12-10 lead.

Did proclaim last week (wrongly, as it turns out) that the Broncos had a slight edge: in hindsight they had more than that, holding Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards passing (something like 20 fewer than Matt Cassel put up in that aforesaid Seahawks battle), in a contest that but for a few well timed and at times questionable penalty calls keeping drives alive (although yardage after the penalties was legit); could have been closer to 29-0 Broncos. And picked them to win outright: Which part they did do, just far more convincingly than predicted.

Lastly, it was not an official pick, but last week’s picks also ended with an “upset alert” regarding the Colts at Panthers, including:

…in a close game ‚Äď if the Colts can play well enough to keep it close ‚Äď 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” [sort of approach by] Andrew Luck, who thus just plays, yet¬†focuses more and tries¬†less ‚Äď if he sees it that way and can find what he had before ‚Äď they may just show it.

Well, Luck didn’t play that way, until the fourth quarter when the team was down 17 points. When he did play that way. (At least for a while, then he seemed to somewhat tighten up again and, while still better than earlier in the game still wasn’t quite the same as he was late in razor tight contests in his first three years in the league, although a random deflection (and good hands by Panthers LB Luke Kuechly) on a nice pass breakup in overtime is ultimately what lost them the game; which at that point, with both teams having kicked a field goal in overtime and possession belonging to the Colts, had slightly favored the Colts.)

So the Colts, as it turned out, did almost pull off the upset; and didn’t win. It was the Panthers who won, and¬†yet another close game, uncharacteristically, and possibly¬†in a sign of growth of the team. (And Newton, who late in the game – ignore stats – played near lights out and relaxed, with a look of control and calm on his face – even retaining it when a picture¬†perfect on a rope low arc easy catch TD bomb that likely would have won them the game anyway, was dropped by Ted Ginn.)

But it wasn’t an official pick against the spread, so it doesn’t count unfortunately.

Picks this week: 

1.  Washington Redskins (+14) at New England Patriots 

It’s not clear Brady “lied” to Goodell in the Deflategate saga, and often assumption becomes conflated with fact¬†today.

But here, it does seem at least as if his statement that an undefeated season is “the furthest thing from anybody’s mind” is a bit of a white lie, if diplomatic and focus oriented.

That is, Brady should probably say what he in fact did say. And the players, even if they want to go undefeated, should try to think it; to focus on the present and on their best effort and performance every week, as it it comes up.

Brady¬†knows that, and most communications to the press about competitiveness should serve that purpose first and foremost – i.e., trying to win, not giving one’s deep down and somewhat irrelevant wishes on an ultimate W-L record.

And as noted, the Patriots are on a rampage. This¬†is a team that in general is also¬†focused anyway: they don’t tend to have “trap” games.

But they might not have the same focus for the Skins that they had for the Dolphins, who after a mere two weeks were suddenly reannointed as some type of team on a monster roll. (Which was probably perfect as far as Belichick was concerned, making it easy to convey to his team to get super focused for the game.)

But this Redskins team is a better football team than many people think. And the NFC East is not a “lousy” division. (On the other hand, the AFC South is, as it has been for a while.)

It’s not a great division; it has four somewhat to possibly decently competitive teams, almost any one of which at this point could easily turn the corner and become a strong team.

This includes the Redskins, who have been playing without key starters for much of the season.

They get speedy and likely number one WR¬†DeSean Jackson back this week. TE Jordan Reed, though he didn’t miss too much time with a concussion, will have gotten additional rest. C Kory Lichtensteiger, who has also missed several games, will be a game time decison. OLB Ryan Kerrigan did tear something in his hand last game that was surgically repaired, and is likely to play, though this could limit him a little.

Most importantly both of the team’s top two CBs¬†have been out since early in the season: DeAngelo Hall played in the first three games, Chris Culliver played in three of the first four. Neither has played since.

Hall, with an injured toe, doesn’t sound like he’s 100%, which given that toes matter (balance, push, cuts), isn’t a great thing; but it seems as if he’s more likely to play than not. Culliver’s also still officially questionable, but didn’t practice Thursday, nor, reportedly, Friday – not good signs, but one never knows.

CB Bashaud Breeland, though dinged up a bit the last few games, has played in them all with the exception of week one. He’s also questionable, and like Hall practiced on a limited basis – although it doesn’t appear this was due to major injury limitations rather than simple precaution, but like Hall he is also not near a sure thing to play.

On balance the Redskins are still likely to have at least two of their top three CBs for the game though; which, if so, would be an improvement. (And Keenan Robinson, who’s been reasonably effective in coverage as a linebacker, though listed as questionable, has stated he will assuredly play). As would be the addition of Jackson on offense.

This team is not taking this game as the (here, somewhat humorous, however) joke many others may be taking it as, and while right now the Patriots are playing lights out, if the Redskins come in with fire, they may test the Pats a bit.

The key here is that the Redskins are not the bad team they’re perceived to be. Why they are not is not clear, but what is clear from watching their film is they aren’t all that bad.

The Patriots O line continues to be banged up, with Logan Mankins traded and their center out prior to week one (and placed on IR shortly thereafter, although he was just reactivated in the last 24 hours), left tackle Nate Solder placed in IR a few weeks ago, and injuries continuing to creep up on the remaining lineman.

But Brady is getting rid of the ball so quickly, and the young rookies seeing a lot of action are seemingly¬†getting good coaching and improving, that it hasn’t seemed to matter much.

This could be an interesting game, though some of it will depend on whether the Redskins do get some players back, and if they are in sufficient playing shape and relatively healthy enough to perform.

This one – as with nearly any Patriot game this season at home – could be a blowout. Or it could be a scary close game for the Patriots; but even a strong performance by the Patriots could still only be an 8 to 13 point victory (or even less).

Needless to say, for it to be a good game Skins quarterback Kirk Cousins has to be in his good QB play mode, not his occasional semi meltdown mode.

While he racked it up for fantasy players last week in a big comeback win versus the Buccaneers, and maybe got a little too excited (if playfully) about it – indicating a possible sensitivity to questions about his play (never good for a QB) – at least it may have taken the pressure off of him for a little bit.

That is fired up though.

But who knows with KC. A good game versus Brady could vault him back into possible “good NFL quarterback status” (or a shocker upset, even higher), until later in the season when a slew of bad and overly apprehensive worry driven decisions reappears – if it does.

Pick: Redskins

2. Denver Broncos (-5.5) at Indianapolis Colts

Last year in the playoffs the best pure QB to ever play the game (regular season, what he is able to do from the line of scrimmage pre and post snap), in the twilight of his career, and slowed by injury and nerve damage, faced the most likely contender to be the next greatest – until this season reared its ugly non Luck head ¬†– and the new guard beat the old. ¬†(Before going on to Foxboro and getting throunced with both slightly deflated and non deflated footballs, by – if the postseason is proportionately weighed – arguably the greatest; although it’s hard to measure with only one, and very successful, head coach.)

Surely the Broncos want revenge, and are more than capable of exacting it. Especially against a not very good Colts team, wherein a few of their defensive backs continue to take awful tackling angles, and the offense doesn’t seem to do much better.

Including a¬†quarterback who isn’t broadly scanning the field, is locking down on his decisions, and appears to be aiming or guiding the ball.

But this is the Colts. And Andrew Luck. He says he’s healthy. And if he stops aiming the ball, and just relaxes while simultaneously focusing without attention to result (as he did for a while in the fourth quarter against the Panthers last week) he can be a phenomenal quarterback. And when he plays like that, at home, getting points,¬†he can potentially beat any team.

Maybe not easily, particularly with an iffy team around him – and for this game possibly missing his game time decision top WR T.Y. Hilton. But this Colts team is too interesting to dismiss as a near 6 point underdog at home against a team, revenge minded or not, coming off of a big game against a previously undefeated team and powerhouse in which they had the embarassment of being undefeated, playing at home to a poor road team, and being tagged as the underdog.

Pick: Colts

3. Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Dallas Cowboys 

Just several months ago not enough people were satirizing the Bills for voluntarily taking on Matt Cassel for a five million dollar salary and the needless loss of an upcoming 5th round draft pick, now many are saying Cassel is no better than the just a tad over half a million dollar a year salary Brandon Weeden that he has replaced.

The Eagles might explode at any moment. At least that’s¬†the perception: Chip Kelly’s system and all, and as they have shown in the past, if not consistently enough late. But they also seem to show signs of it even this season. And they have to be reeling at the fact that last year the Cowboys beat them late¬†to help keep them out of the playoffs. And then this year, as underdogs, the Cowboys came in and beat them (and without Romo for some of the game, as it was the game he broke his collarbone in), for what was the Cowboys only real win of the season.

That is, had the Giants not, to use the highly technical term, made an especially bonehead decision right at the end of their week one matchup, or the referees not missed a call that the NFL subsequently announced to have been a mistake by said referees, the Cowboys would be 1-6 and not 2-5. (Almost assuredly in the first case, assuredly in the second.)

And the Cowboys aren’t even a good home team.

That said, this is their last stand. (Unless they are buying the popular koolaid that 9-7 or even possibly 8-8 will be a lock to win the division, rather than simply a good shot at it given the standings at this moment – and even then they’re still in a world of hurt if they lose.)

And if they play as they did against Seattle, and not just assume they can beat the Eagles, but pay attention to the fact they’ve lost 5 straight and should be 1-6, and that the Eagles trounced the Giants who lead¬†the division (and gave away the game to the Saints at the end last week in a boondoggle of plays almost no one much talked about), and almost beat the Falcons in Atlanta while the Falcons ran up and down the field on the Cowboys here in Dallas after falling behind early, etc., and that the home team has lost the last 5 games in a row between these two teams, and so they need to play harder as if they have the home disadvantage, they will win.

The¬†Cowboys have a potentially powerful defense, seem to know how to play the Eagles reasonably well, Matt Cassel “could” play a good game (well, that one might be pushing it), and the Eagles still aren’t fully meshing – though that also might be changing.

Pick: Cowboys,¬†who should win outright. So long as they recognize that they’re the road team.

4. St. Louis Rams (+1) at Minnesota Vikings

The line is saying the Rams here. Has this Jekyll and Hyde team of the past three years finally turned the corner it seemed to have almost gotten past several times now?

If so they have a decent edge in this game.

If not the Vikings have more of an edge.

Averaging that out, without trying to deciper what the Rams are (they were my “creative” don’t just go with the obvious favorite pick to win the division this season, but a few of those picks got out of hand so maybe they should go unmentioned), gives a slight edge to the home team in a non divisional game.

That said if the Rams are going to win the division or even make the playoffs, they probably need to win this game. The Seahawks are in their division. And the Cardinals, right now a game and a half ahead at 6-2, are still hot, and seemingly not letting up.

This is a pretty interesting game, since while the Vikings can afford a loss a little bit more than the Rams, they face a really tough schedule up ahead, and if they lose this one, may also not yet be for real.

I thought it was a bad draft pick for the Rams to take Todd Gurley. This is based on the fact that the Rams have made several¬†ill thought out draft decisions in the last few years based on the facts that existed at the time of the draft, and simply going on the fact that they liked him (I hadn’t evaluated his play or come to a conclusion about his potential); he was injured; and taking a running back at number ten overall and especially coming off a major knee knee injury should only be done if the player clearly, and outside of his college system/offensive line blocking, shows unusual ability and talent.

Gurley apparently did, and it was a good pick. And this is the Gurley Adrian Peterson Bowl. Whether that gives AP any extra motivation or not, who knows. Regardless, that Rams team, and in particular that defense, still has the potential to be very strong.

Are they finally getting there?

Here’s a vote of low confidence on competition¬†committee Jeff Fisher’s record, simply because he says he clearly understands the “what is and isn’t a catch” rule, and almost assuredly doesn’t:

Fisher says he understands the catch rule.

Then Fisher says “you have to complete the catch when going to the ground”; which is the only thing that is already a given in this rule anyway: with the two real issues being “when do you have to” (meaning the catch was not yet completed before hitting the ground, and not answered by Fisher or anyone else for that matter), as if the most important consideration and by far the most botched out on the field part of this issue¬†in live¬†calls and replay reviews doesn’t even exist),¬†and “what does completing it mean” (answered in a way by Fisher that contradicted the way referees have been explaining and interpreting it).

Still, for a head coach considered so strong, yet who has only made the playoffs 6 times out of 19 full seasons (a poor¬†record given the long head coaching tenure and fact that 37.5% of teams make it every year), this has to be the year right? And thus, likely, this may be the game. I’ll root for them, but:

Pick: Vikings

5.  Miami Dolphins (+3) at the Buffalo Bills

It’s hard to imagine a team that can be trounced by another team as badly as the Dolphins were early in the season by the Bills, can actually turn around and beat that team. 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’s a vote that on this I’m wrong (usually though it’s reading the tea leaves of players attitude and character on the field that is the most telling, but am deferring to new or interim head coach Dan Campbell until they fall flat again).

Rex Ryan still hasn’t lost a press conference; and, as his team should, and can be better than it is, and has a bad taste in their mouth (as should the Dolphins, both from TNF and their last Bills matchup), they can be better. And they’re coming off a bye, and teams do win a little bit more off of byes.

But let’s see if Dan Campbell’s fire works after a devastating loss, and toward a team that earlier also thoroughly embarassed them and led more than anything else to their prior head coach’s firing. If it doesn’t work here, it doesn’t work.

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 – hopefully these aren’t prescient words for this game, but we’ll see. Reluctantly:

Pick: Dolphins

 

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 7 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Last week: 2-1. Year to date: 17-13

Last week recap: Despite a probable laughing gas affect that caused the Colts to line up and snap a fourth down conversion try from their own 37 yard line – one where just in case it wasn’t already a bad idea, they literally had no one lined up to block (making it perhaps the first scene when¬†“Must see to be Believed Bloopers I, the Football movie” comes out) – the Colts pick was at least okay in hindsight.

Andrew Luck is still not throwing the ball as well as he has historically, however.

And again, their was that¬†“play” – two Colts lining up and literally snapping the ball from their own 37 on 4th and 3, with several Patriots defenders standing right there – and zero blockers – as if it was some sort of zany broadway Confederacy of Dunces theatrical football play.

More importantly, however, the Patriots surreptitiously put a layer of carbonated air on the field whenever they had¬†possession, leading to less gravity drag and higher scoring. (But the Colts – and thus Roger Goodell – still don’t suspect anything.)

The laughing gas byproduct of the procedure, at least according to top neurophysicists, also altered the Colts’ routine circuitry – wonderfully trying a hand at much needed NFL strategy situation creativity, but doing so in among¬†the most boneheaded and counter productive strategic fashions imaginable – and¬†leading to the aforementioned non fake “fake” 4th down punt boondoggle where viewers¬†might have reasonably thought they were watching post modernism football theatre, instead of a real matchup.

The Panthers¬†getting 7 points was an easier pick. The Seahawks almost never lose at home,and those bad cats from Carolina had not only been beaten in last year’s playoffs by those bad Seattle birds, but for some reason have played them the last 3 (and now, including this year, the last 4) regular seasons running; each time, prior to this year, in Carolina, with late game Carolina leads, and each time leading to a close Carolina loss.

Not this time. Go Cam. Not Kam and Company. Cam.

Re the atrocious Monday night (Giants) pick: Who knows what’s going to happen with the Eli Coughlin mix: This team can pop out of nowhere and win Super Bowls, and it can play poorly. The Giants are the real wild card team of the NFL.

Manning reportedly scored 39 on the Wonderlic test, yet in week 1 with the game but for a fluke all but mathematically over, he threw an incomplete to stop the clock and give the Cowboys a faint ray of hope. (On a play that amongst two NFL acknowledged officiating snafus, should have also drawn a flag and in fact mathematically end the game. )

In that rather remarkable week 1 game, that faint ray of hope then turned into a Cowboys win – given an ensuing super soft Giants defense that practically begged for the Cowboys to march down the field on it; as if losing a game that no way should have been lost, so long as they didn’t risk some long shot fluke of a 60 yard play.

But the Giants didn’t just play with far too much cushion for the basic field math of the situation, they also played soft overall, looking sometimes a little¬†lethargic, and frequently non focused both to the ball and their gaps, especially¬†on the earlier and middle part of the drive.

Then they got a break that should have saved them however, when a bad shotgun snap with only seconds remaining could have easily¬†ended the context, but Tony “Zen” Romo calmly snatched it up first try, flipped the laces, and easily found Jason Witten for the winning touchdown.

And now the Cowboys, fresh off a 3 game and no Romo no star WR Dez Bryant (and relatively sub par play regardless) losing streak, limp into New York to face the same Giants; although they will have most of their firepower on defense at the ready for this game.

Which brings us to….week 7 picks.

1.  Dallas Cowboys (+3) at New York Giants

Brandon Weeden is pissed about being benched:¬†It’s understandable, from a competitive wanting to play perspective. But take that away and the team in theory at least could be mildly pissed if Weeden wasn’t benched, since the fact he’s¬†0-11 in his last 11 starts is clearly related to the fact he played poorly in several¬†of them, and more importantly, repeatedly struggled to find good movement in the pocket to avoid rushers, find receivers, buy time, make better decisions, etc.

That said, if the Cowboys expect Matt Cassel to be their savior, that’s a mistake. (Update: for this game he wound up being the savior for the Giants defense; though when he wasn’t finding Giants defenders at really bad times, he did make some nice throws.)

Hopefully, the Cowboys can just get him to play as a competent backup (which is what he is), and try to recognize the fact that, if they can’t win games without their star quarterback, they’re not a very good team. And before the season they said they were a very good team.

Foolishly, I keep believing them week in and week out, though now probably¬†don’t. But with the Yin and the Yang of Giants football, and the fun this game would be if the Cowboys win again (even if this pick number 1¬†of week 7 is also official foolish pick number 1¬†this week, which it probably is) “easy call”: Cowboys in an upset, before the Giants regroup and either go into their proverbial slide or under the radar late season run toward a likely Super Bowl victory. (Which would also be helped if Victor Cruz’s mysterious calf injury can somehow heal – maybe he should get some of that advanced gadgetry Brandon Marshall uses, or at least a masseuse. And Jason Pierre-Paul can still play football after a fireworks related index finger and tip of the old thumb loss.)

Pick: Cowboys

2. New York Jets (+9) at the New England Patriots

Seriously, a division game involving two good teams, with a 9 point spread?

Oh yea, the reigning Super Bowl champ Patriots are on a rampage. But they may not trot out their trusty invisible surface anti gravity psi deflate carbonator machine; being, if just momentarily, perhaps sated at beating the Colts: The very team – with a huge assist from a multiple federal judge ruling arbitrary and capricious Roger Goodell – responsible at helping to bring the wonderful latest gate in American history lore into the NFL offseason forefront.

And while there’s no Rex Ryan there to get his team hyped into thinking that playing the Patriots is like the Super Bowl, the Jets may be somewhat hyped anyway, being that they’re playing the defending SB champs and long time division foe that’s won way more than it’s fair share against the Jets as well. And the current Jets are a better team than most of the ones Rex fielded.

Here’s to near genuis level quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick not having one of his occasional turnover meltdowns – always a possibility since Fitzpatrick doesn’t have the same natural ability as a lot of QBs, and tries to make to up for it with more intensity and calculated risk, while not simultaneously making a higher proportion of bungling mistakes (as he did early in his career, but has learned to somewhat corral).

Good article here by NFL Spin Zone on some of the key Patriots injuries, along with additional information, particularly regarding their¬†offensive line; although I’m not sure the injuries will hurt the Patriots that much (and they also largely haven’t yet), as the team plays better football than most because they practice better.

This line is still way too high though, and there is a solid possiblity of an upset here.

Pick: Jets. In, frankly one of the best and most interesting matchups of the year; though whether that remains the case after the fact, remains to be seen.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (+3) at Carolina Panthers

Okay, I would never wager on football. Far be it for me to even contemplate such a notion. (However, “gaming” on football player statss because – as the normal looking sports buff on the commercials assures us thirty times and hour – practically everyone wins, is different.) But I had a friend who happened to be in Vegas last week and he owed me four¬†Papa Johns pizzas.

So to finally clean the slate I asked him to put down 25 bucks on the Steelers, Panthers and Giants to win by 3 or more each. It paid 2370, and 50 pizzas on the Chargers +11 combined with the 49ers and, once again, Giants, to win. It paid 1100 pizzas.

The Chargers came within 3 yards of tying the game at the end, and the 49ers, in a game they very well could have lost (and in a very interesting fourth quarter no less), won by five.

And, incredibly, despite Carson Palmer carving up yardage over the middle of the field like a thanksgiving turkey (offset by some uncharacteristically turkey like play closer to the end zone), the Steelers, sprung from a somewhat too chill and this year very inaccurate Michael Vick, by virtue of a fortuitous hamstring pull, turned to their third string QB Landry Jones and managed to win, and by 12 points no less, 25-13.

And the Panthers managed to win by 4: In Seattle, where practically nobody wins. Except Seattle. (And, recently, almost, the also almost still winless and not very happy Lions.).

Naturally, at that point I knew the Giants had no chance.

But what does that have to do with this game? Everything: The Panthers were practically laughed at to win the division by this silly Harvard Sports Collective study. Despite winning it the past two seasons. But now they sit at 5-0.

Still, it will be hard to match the intensity of last week. And since Chip Kelly managed to turn the team around from a similar slow start in 2013 – though he was new to a previously struggling club¬†at that point – and they seem to be playing better, and Sam Bradford has still not hit his one time exhibited potential, they could just do it again. (Though if the Panthers stay fresh even after upsetting Seattle and do win – and, it’s not because the Eagles play like the Giants did last Monday night – watch out, as this division will have a nice battle to the end between these cats and some other birds – and still might anyway.)

Fly, Eagles, Fly.

Pick: Eagles

4. ¬†Buffalo Bills (-3.5) “at” the London Jaguars (also sometimes known as the Jacksonville Jaguars)

The Jaguars have lost more games the past 3 seasons than any team in the NFL, and continue to lose this year. And after coach Rex said he would “bet anyone” that his team would turn it on this season, the Jaguars should lose this one by 15 points. (Normally most¬†volunteer work on this end is for the poor, helping out with health issues, the homeless and public information; but I’ve offered to be the Jaguars general manager for free – though¬†I might¬†have to stop writing bad football columns that even google barely knows about. Tough choice.)

Well, truly the Bills aren’t missing like half their team. But they are missing several key players: Sammie “my ankle injury is making me and you look bad” Watkins (or possibly it was “not getting the ball,” and not a sprained ankle that prompted that excellent impromptu “team spirit” comment from Watkins); Percy “maybe I should rethink this whole NFL thing and also make sure my coach tells the world he ‘has no idea where I am'” Harvin; Starting QB Tyrod Taylor; Kyle, and Karlos, Williams.

Pick: Bills, staying loyal to a bad preseason prediction: But really I dunno ¬†(Update. I sure didn’t.) It’s just fun to write about this Bills team. I still wouldn’t be surprised it they win handily. (Maybe former No. 16 overall pick reach EJ Manuel will finally turn it on – throwing to somebody, anyway).

But if the Jaguars can’t win in their once and future English accented home against an injury riddled cast, at this point in year four of the very lengthy “Jaguars are turning it around” program, when can they?

4a. New Orleans Saints (+4.5) at the Indianapolis Colts 

Seriously? I could tell you who’ll win the U.S. presidency next year easier than I could this game.

I thought Andrew Luck was the next great quarterback. And this season he comes out and plays poorly. This last game against the Patriots – who he has all the motivation in the world to beat – he still didn’t play that well.

But whether this was still part of the not so great “new” Andrew Luck (if a slightly improved version of the “new” Luck), or some shoulder trouble, is hard to say. It seemed like the latter, but could be both.

The Saints weren’t going to let the Patriots beat them last week in the Superdome when they played the Falcons – it was just that kind of game. Their quarterback, coaches, and some of the players were angry and upset at having lost several games.

Can they come in here angry? On the other hand, are the Colts a debacle this year who have somehow managed to half keep it together and win (in which case they’re probably a little more likely than not to win¬†again, but likely close), or the same team who (somehow, if helped by an easy division), managed to get to the AFC Championship game before getting soundly trounced in the second half after referee approved recalibrated inflated footballs. Who knows. We’ll see.

Pick: The team that score more points at the end. (Sure, mock that¬†silly¬†answer. But by some of the strategy calls NFL teams repeatedy make in basic, structural game situations, it’s not clear some NFL teams really know this, or at least what maximizes the chances of it being achieved; what with punting across midfield on short yardage situations; punting late in games in decent yardage situations when trailing by 17 points (the Giants, twice, against the Eagles – heaven forbid they get stopped and maybe lose); going for the PAT instead of a two point conversion when taking a 12 point lead in the second half, punting the ball away on a 4th and ~6 when trailing by 5 with just under two minutes to go and only 2 timeouts (Saints, week 1, followed by the Cardinals making a mistake nearly as bad by not simply running the clock down to about 56 seconds and then punting inside of the 20, giving the Saints about a 1 in 50 chance, if that, of winning), etc etc etc etc….Or, update, this wild gift of a real chance to the Ravens by the Cardinals in a game that the Ravens otherwise had less than a one in hundred chance of even tying, let alone winning.

If you’re in Vegas, don’t rely on the last two picks. I don’t think they’re officially listed as options. ¬†“I dunno” might be, but it probably only pays in Monopoly money. Or pizza.

5. Cleveland Browns (+6.5) at St. Louis Rams

Seriously? When did the Rams become so big and bad.(Update: Just before this game, after I jumped off my preseason bandwagon of trying to be “cool” and picking them to win the division. I did pick them to upset the Seahawks in week 1, but whatever; helped by some big return plays, they did that last year as well.)

Jeff Fisher sure gets a lot of¬†pub as a good coach for a guy who hasn’t even made the playoffs the average 37.5% of the time, reaching the postseason, in his 19¬†full years of head coaching so far, in just 31.5% of his seasons.

Still, we’re all expecting it (I expected the Rams to surprise this year too), just probably not this game. Maybe, but probably not.

Pick: Browns

6.  Pittsburgh Steelers (+2.5) at Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have, uh, “disappointed.” For a team I expected to battle Denver heads up for the division (and since Denver was the easy call, actually picked the Chiefs to win it – now there’s a laugher, amongst an unusual bevy of bad preseason predictions), they sure are bad.

The most important clue was when they played the Packers in week 3 in a nationally televised game, after blowing an embarrasing (but otherwise, turnovers aside, solidly played) game at home in week 2 to the Broncos, who have beaten them every time since Peyton Manning came on board – and Manning, at least relatively speaking, can barely throw this year.

And not only did they lose, they allowed a late drive, then fumbled away the game in the last few seconds to take away even any 50 -50 chance in overtime if they couldn’t somehow pass deep and hit a quick field goal for the win prior to it.

It wasn’t the score in the ensuing Packers game (which was lopsided for most of the contest¬†until some junk TDs late), but the way the Chiefs played. I tweeted during the game that they looked more like a team that couldn’t wait to get out of there and drink beer, than one¬†focused and ready to play – let alone after such a big loss, and now on a national stage against a perenially strong team.

And they haven’t won¬†since. Andy Reid is at this point probably overrated, and they probably need to retool what it is they think they’re doing.

But they win this one. Jamaal Charles or No Jamaal Charles. This is their game to pump it up. (Or, then again, if they couldn’t even get psyched for the Packers on a national stage when their season was still alive, maybe I’m wrong.)

Pick: Chiefs

7.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3) at Washington Redskins

I don’t know what happened, but the Redskins are a well coached team this year. They play solid football. But they also played last week without about 9-10 originally projected starters, and not counting IR like 6 starters now that the season is underway (Jordan Reed, Chris Culliver, DeSean Jackson, DeAngelo Hall, Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, I think).

Jordan Reed, listed as questionable, is apparently expected to play (at least he hinted that way this past week), and Trent Williams in all likelihood will also – though as “questionable” it’s not certain.

Williams coming back at left tackle (if so), will be a boost, and while likely losing third down back Chris Thompson for this game won’t help, getting their top TE Reed back should help as well. Still, they’re down four key starters, as they’ve been for a while now, and last year, a Buccaneers team that won only two games, and really was pretty bad for most of them, came into Washington and beat the Redskins 27-7.

27-7! In Washington. It doesn’t even make much sense.

But watching the Washington team closely this year, again, it’s a well coached team and playing differently than last year, for some reason. Losing all these players hurts. But if this team is not still near the bottom of the league, and they don’t seem to be, they win this game. Maybe even if Kirk Cousins does throw another two picks; though it sure won’t help if he does.

(Side note to RG3’s agent – With an expensive option next year, and either a more expensive contract or he’s out the door if he plays well, after that, as well as a 16.1 million loss if he gets hurt this season and can’t play next, the Redskins have little to gain and a lot to lose by playing him. RG has a lot to gain, and, with his stock currently so low, very little to lose by not languishing on the bench, and instead hitting a team in need of some QB help or at least competition. The Redskins also benefit from trading him instead of just paying out his salary, making sure he doesn’t get injured, and then voiding the (now, with no injury, voidable) year five 16.1 million dollar option. So drop the silly injury clause, and stop with the triple lose lose lose. (The Skins, RG, and perhaps some NFL team that could use a player who still has the possibility of turning it on.) And turn it into a win win and win and get this guy’s talents back in the mix now, not as an undervalued free agent after the season is entirely wasted. Though this should have been done earlier.)

Pick: Redskins 

Added pick, early Sunday a.m.

8.  Minnesota Vikings (-1) at Detroit Lions

Sure the Lions could surprise,¬†but right now they’re not as good. Close call, but

Pick: Vikings

Week 5 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Last week 2-2. Year to date: 14-10.

Last week recap: On the bright side, pegged the Giants and Rams as picks against the spread and to each win outright; making the proclamation with respect to the Giants at the bottom of the game summary, and with¬†respect to the Rams in said¬†summary; dryly noting how it would “shock” ESPN. (Mainly because EPSN’s power rankings after week 3, by virtue of the Cardinals beating three middling teams, two by lopsided scores, already had the Cardinals as number two in the league – ahead of the Packers who¬†almost made it to the Super Bowl last season and are playing even better early on in this one.)

Downside: 2-2 again. Sure, 2-1-1 would have been squeaked out had the Saints hit their chip shot field goal at the end to win 23-20. But the Cowboys could have also won the game outright in overtime as a result (and 15-9 total against the spread looks so much better than 14-10, doesn’t it?), or lost it by the far more common 3 points, same as if the Saints had not missed from inside what is now extra point range.

The missed field goal was great luck for Dallas. Such great luck, Dallas¬†apparently didn’t realize they were actually in overtime until the second play after the kickoff. Which worked out well for the Saints, since they scored an 80 yard touchdown on the first play, and won, 26-20.

Bigger downside: Once again, shamefully, went with the 49ers. But at least Colin Kaepernick elected not to throw more passes to the opposing players than his own this week; and frankly, the 49ers played a much better game.

Without further ado, let’s roll through a few lock picks. Not necessarily a lock to be right, but a lock to be right, wrong, or possibly a push.¬†One of those three, at least.

1.  New England Patriots (-9) at Dallas Cowboys

The only thing keeping the spread here from being a joke, besides the fact that the Cowboys are missing their two biggest superstars – Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, with the QB drop off from Romo to Brandon Weeden being among the largest in the league, missing their best CB Orlando Scandrick for the entire season, and the fact that before losing to said at the time 0-3¬†Saints, they gave up a 14 point lead to lose to the Falcons by two scores right here in Dallas, is….um…uh…

Wait a minute. Those are a lot of things keeping the spread from being a joke, and it doesn’t even cover it all.

But the most key thing might be this: The Patriots seem to be on the proverbial warpath after their post Super Bowl glory was seemingly made partial mockery of by the NFL’s labeling of Tom Terrific Brady as a ball deflating cell phone destroying cheater. (Never mind that Brady willingly gave permission to access any texts and phone calls with all¬†potentially relevant parties rather than open up the entirety of his personal communications, or that the CBA concept¬†of giving the commissioner broad discretion doesn’t mean there’s suddenly an expectation of yielding one’s intimate¬†personal communications –¬†and possibly nudie pictures or worse with, or of, his wife, etc. – to the NFL for what are in effect on field equipment transgressions.)

And the fact that nearly the entire NFL offseason was essentially shaped if not dominated by this ongoing “Deflategate” saga. (We’ve certainly come a long way from Watergate, when ‘Gates were tied to things like the basic subversion of our democracy rather than whether footballs for one team but not the other were somehow purposefully and thus illicitly deflated below the requisite 12.5 lbs of pressure.)

That’s a pretty good reason to be worried about the Patriots, if one is playing them. At least, it certainly is combined with the fact that through three games they’ve looked as good as any team in the league, and are the defending Super Bowl champs.

That said, this is also the team that the Cowboys could have possibly played in that Super Bowl if the football on a pretty athletic Dez Bryant catch didn’t graze the ground and come loose for a moment. And, that is, if they could have then beaten Seattle again in Seattle.

But hey, before melting down at the end and giving up two scores sandwiched around a long shot Seattle onside kick recovery (enabled by a some unintentional Packer assistance), those Packers were beating that same team and heading to the Bowl themselves; and the Cowboys were a better road team than Green Bay last year.

The Cowboys are a little different now, missing their key two offensive superstars Romo and Bryant, and without their top CB for the season. (Along with their superstar running back from last year, with no seemingly suitable replacement yet – although Demarco Murray hasn’t done anything over at rival Philadelphia yet.)

And while they haven’t had a chance to practice, and will be rusty and less in tune with the defense, they do get Greg Hardy back from suspension, along with Rolando McClain, who will ostensibly finally play¬†alongside key MLB Sean Lee. (Who in turn missed the last 3 quarters of the Saints game last week but was on the field for the Falcons debacle in week 3.)

Maybe the Cowboys aren’t a team with championship aspirations ability and attitude.

But they seem to think they are; and if they are, they’re playing the Super Bowl champs, lost their last two games including an embarrassing home loss two weeks ago, and have a chance to show¬†the nation (and themselves) that yes, they possibly could have done what Seattle (almost did but) did not do.

And if they don’t at least battle the Patriots reasonably close here at home, in a game that’s less meaningful to the Patriots – who are also playing on the road – that idea becomes a bit far fetched no matter how many excuses are made about how they “didn’t have Romo or Dez.” (But, though not an equal trade given the key importance of the QB position – and the fact that Greg Hardy has never played with them, was also suspended last year, and is rusty coming off a four game suspension this one – they do have Hardy, and¬†Sean Lee; while last year Hardy wasn’t with the team, and Lee was injured for the season.)

The Cowboys could surprise by not being what they say they are, and lose solidly. But it’s more likely they “surprise” and put up a tough battle, and possibly even a real “surprise” win.

3-1 on outright upset picks on the year. (The other two besides the Giants and Rams in week four were also the Giants and Rams, but in week one. And while the Rams somehow managed to defeat the Seahawks in overtime, the Giants got some fortunate picks and had the game won until the referees completely blew it for them, and, separate and apart from the referees, they completely blew it for themselves.)

So, time for boldness and risking a fall to 3-2 on upsets? And this would be a BIG one.

But Brandon Weeden!? He’s 0-10 his last 10 starts. And now he’s¬†playing the likely still upset Super Bowl champion Patriots. Cowboys – not even with recently acquired second backup and former Patriots back up stalwart Matt Cassel, but Brandon Weeden – defeat the so far bulletproof appearing Super Bowl champs?? (While Cassel could get in, that would likely only be if Weeden is doing poorly, and putting the Cowboys into an even bigger hole. And it’s not like Cassel is all that good – he’s a solid backup who has occassionally started, and therein had one or two nice¬†runs with good personnel around, and some very poor ones.)

It’s hard to tell whether picking the Cowboys to win with the clear lack of winning leadership from¬†Weeden is a bold move, or a fruitless one. Going with¬†the latter: But really, 0-10 is the time for a bold move. But the issues, as the Falcons game (as well as the last Saints drive when they had to stop them, then again on one play in overtime) clearly showed, aren’t just Brandon Weeden.

Pick: Cowboys, in a very close loss. 

2.  New Orleans Saints (+6) at Philadelphia Eagles

In week one the Saints lost a fairly close game on the road to a team that after two more games against bad opponents ESPN questionably¬†ranked number two in its NFL power rankings; lost at home to a weak Buccaneers team; lost a fairly close game at the 4-0 Panthers (not that the Panthers have played any team that’s all that great yet); then got back a few defensive players and essentially beat Dallas at the end, first missing an otherwise game winning 30 yard field goal, then winning in overtime.

Meanwhile, the Eagles are 1-3 against the spread, and most of those haven’t been¬†all that close. This also matches their record. Thus it could be¬†that perception of this team doesn’t really match what they are.

But apparently that perception continues.

Sure, the Eagles played now 4-0 Atlanta very tough, beat a solid Jets team, and lost close to an underrated (but still at this point fairly middling) Redskins team. But they’re 1-3 like the Saints. And while they get one or two guys back on defense, the two players the Saints picked up for week four – CB Keenan Lewis and S Jarius Byrd (who saw limited action), might be more key because they help lead what has otherwise been a weak defense.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ shoulder, injured in week two against the Buccaneers – which limited his throwing (and kept him out of week 3 against the Panthers, though Verizon commercial star Luke McCown played an outstanding game in his stead) – also wasn’t fully healed for the Dallas game in week four, and should be stronger this week.

If Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford stops playing skittish, worried and tense, and plays like he did against the Redskins in the second half of week 4 or better, the Eagles will be tougher to beat; but Bradford’s fall from his one time lofty potential is not the Eagles only problem.

With the way offenses and the new rule tweaks of the last few years have been going, six points is not a huge amount; as a lot of games become high scoring offensive scoring affairs, and double digits is now ho hum.

But while the Eagles “look” to be slightly better and probably have a small home field advantage, this game would¬†otherwise be close to a tossup, and not the seemingly at least somewhat one sided battle a six point spread suggests.

One almost never knows with the NFL, but this should be a good game.

Pick: Saints 

3.  Pittsburgh Steelers (+4) at San Diego Chargers

This just isn’t the same Steelers team with Michael Vick at the helm instead of Ben Rothlisberger; it’s tough to cross the country; and the Chargers are a pretty good home team that might be slightly better injury wise than last week (but possibly not by much). While the Steelers will also be without last year’s first round pick (No. 15 overall) Ryan Shazier, although he’s missed the last two games as well.

But that said, this line may in part be an overreaction to the Steelers botchery against the at that point winless (but always dangerous) and ultimately half WR-less Ravens in a nationally televised week four Thursday Night matchup.

Here’s the real botchery.¬†But the most notable was the miss of that same 49 yard field goal near the end that would have won the game¬†the way it played out; then the miss of the 41 yarder that almost assuredly (but for some tupe of near Hail Mary type fluke) would have as well; then the two fourth down conversion, odd play call and Michael Vick failure tries in overtime. With, as icing on the cake, the second coming from winning field goal range that the Steelers were at that point too skittish to try, one yard closer in than the distance (52 yards) from which nearly bulletproof Ravens kicker Justin Tucker then beat them¬†a few moments later. (Though I half¬†agree with their decision to go for the fourth down conversion, if not the more subjective specific play call itself, and disagree with analytic guru¬†Brian Burke. The only reason I might not have, unless my kicker didn’t have a confident look in his eyes, is that with nothing to lose at that point and a chance at redemption, then very soon to be released Josh Scobee might have had laser focus for the kick. But that was just a guess, and defensible strategically only because the decision was otherwise close; and a read on kickers is important in close calls, if¬†something that’s often hard to see away from the sidelines.)

But let’s get on with this game, and why this is an easy pick:

At Foxboro in week one the Steelers, despite perception to the contrary expressed by a few articles, weren’t really much outplayed by the Patriots; which in turn suggested either the game was an aberration (common in the NFL), the Patriots weren’t yet very good (hard to fathom when Tom Brady was laser sharp for the contest, and even harder to fathom now), or the Steelers were good.

The Steelers then trounced the 49ers. Sure, big deal; but the 49ers are still a football team who did beat the Vikings the week before. (Glad I picked the Vikings in that game, who were decidedly outplayed by the 49ers – who in turn haven’t covered since (and not even been within half a mile in two out of three) – before going on a slight rampage; very solidly winning outright by substantial margins the next two weeks, then covering in a close game at Denver last week. So basicallly: when this site gives you a pick that involves the San Francisco 49ers, go with the opposite. 14-7 so far against the spread this season in games not involving the 49ers. 0-3 in games involving them.)

Then the Steelers outplayed the Rams in St. Louis, before outplaying the Ravens for most of this last game, and Vick’s full contest, week four.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is outstanding at the end of football games. Michael Vick is not. On the road, against a home crowd, it’s tough to see the Steelers winning a close game.

But right now they are probably the better team. And getting four points. And though it might in large part be due to Big Ben, who is cheering from the sidelines, they tend to have a pretty extreme winning record on Monday Night Football. (They even managed to win this one last year against the Texans by somehow getting the ball back and then scoring 24 points in the span of less than 3 minutes, 21 of which came in 90 seconds.)

Pick: Steelers, in a game that’s probably at best a tossup for the Chargers to win.

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