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

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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 Week 2 Picks Against the Spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  Houston Texans (+3) at Carolina Panthers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Texans

2.  Detroit Lions (+2) at Minnesota Vikings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Lions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Bills

4.  Tennesse Titans (+2) at Cleveland Browns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Browns

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

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

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

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

Pick: Bengals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Packers.

7. Dallas Cowboys (+5) at Philadelphia Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Cowboys

Update:

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

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

Pick: Giants

_______

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we’ll see.

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

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

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

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

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

2015 NFL Season Picks Against the Spread, Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Patriots Should Win a Great Super Bowl Matchup

The two best teams in the NFL are probably meeting in the Super Bowl, helping to make this one of the best matchups in years. Continue reading