Pete Carroll’s Decision is Being Roundly Castigated On the Unusual Results, Not the Call Itself and Likely Outcomes

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s decision to go with an inside slant pass call on second down from the one yard line, one timeout left, and trailing 28-24 with 26 seconds remaining on the clock after the snap in Super Bowl XLIX, is being called one of the worst decisions ever. (The tweets by notable players compiled by ESPN get better and better, all with the same general conclusion. And a slew of articles in major sports publications immediately emerged, scathingly castigating the play, and calling Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s explanations “cockamamie,” and worse.)

But because of the wildly poor outcome, and the “super” football changing history circumstances, a powerful hindsight bias is greatly affecting judgment of the decision after the play. And the irony here is that it was Bill Belichick – perhaps the best coach of the modern era – who made the really poor decision. (But more on that later.)

It’s possible that an inside slant wasn’t the best call by Seattle. And on this particular play, in hindsight, it worked out poorly. Very poorly: Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler made a great read and jump on the ball, quarterback Russell Wilson threw a micro second late and high, and Wide Receiver Ricardo Lockette stayed soft going for the ball:

But in football, there is huge variation on outcomes for any one play. As a result, the outcome on one play often can’t accurately indicate whether it was a good call or not, even though it can greatly affect judgment of the play after the fact.  Yet it’s hard to remove that outcome from biasing that analysis; particularly so when that outcome is a fluke interception from the one yard line that changes the outcome of the Super Bowl, as well as NFL, Patriots, and Seattle Seahawks’ history.

2 to 3 out of 5 times that particular play call in that situation (or any similar situation) likely would have worked. The other 2 to 3 times the pass goes incomplete and the Seahawks burn 3-4 seconds off the clock. Then, with about 22 seconds left in the game and their one remaining timeout, Seattle can choose to comfortably try two runs, or still mix up the play calling with a roll option, etc. And in such a case the Patriots would know Seattle doesn’t “have to” call this or that specific type of play (such as a pass) because of time constraints and would still be guessing before the ball is snapped – at least somewhat.

In this instance is the decision just worked out very poorly – and the Patriots guessed right before the snap. But near 49 times out of 50 (maybe very slightly less if the Patriots had a hunch from studying film – but they still don’t know that is going to be the play call), the play goes incomplete or it’s a TD, while maybe once in a while the ball is caught just outside the goal line and the receiver is driven backward.

And it’s very rarely a pick; particularly with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing. He’s had 26 picks over 3 regular seasons and 1252 pass attempts. And a few of those picks were in longer third down yardage attempts (where a long interception is often the same as an incomplete and a punt, so you might as well throw if nothing is open), or long odds comeback attempts, where the odds of throwing a pick also go up.

While Wilson didn’t play that well in the NFC Conference Championship game, throwing 4 interceptions – 2 off of tips that were’t really his fault – his performance over his seven other playoff games (all also wins) have if anything, been even better.

Thus the decision to pass from the one yard line is certainly not the “awful” decision it’s being made out to be. Particularly with the additional benefit to Seattle of a clock stoppage if the pass goes incomplete given that they have two more plays – and even a third play if a penalty is called – thus affording them the flexibility to elect a running play (with Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch even!), on any or all of them without time running out before they can get the play off.

Also easily overlooked is the fact that while bad things can happen on a quick slant, the odds are very low. But the only bad thing that really mattered here was ultimately not scoring a touchdown, versus scoring a touchdown. Getting stopped on three successive plays from near the goal line, although not quite as dramatic, is equally as bad as that pick.

And the odds of getting stopped on three successive plays – while lower than scoring (and, because of Belichick’s bad decision moments earlier, thus almost assuredly winning the game as a result) – are still much, much higher than a rare fluke pick on that pass call.

What happened was the sheer unpredictable variance of football, as well a great – and somewhat fortuitous – defensive play by the Patriots who possibly had prepared very well for the circumstances. They had reportedly practiced the play during the week. And according to Butler, who made the great read and jump on the ball and got the interception, he even got burned on that very same play in practice, and that is partly why he remembered it.

Additionally, and perhaps foolishly, Seattle lined up three wide receivers at the line instead of two. Also according to Butler, this tipped him off that the play stood a good chance of being a pass – possibly even an inside route – and he jumped it perfectly on a well timed guess. (And maybe the Patriots had picked up that tendency to not camouflage certain types of plays that well, but they can’t know that that is the exact play that Seattle is going to run, that Seattle would possibly telegraph it here if they did  run, or even that there was a good chance that it would work out the way that it did, regardless.)

While a lot of people may not have liked the slant even before the play – yet plenty would have had it worked, but within a second of seeing that slant, we all saw a wild pick that totally flipped both the game and modern Super Bowl history around – that doesn’t make it a bad decision; and certainly not a horrible one. But the very unusual outcome is being commingled with the actual decision at the time the play was called, when, although easy to confuse, they are two different things.

Here, the fact that it was the Super Bowl, the one yard line, a super Super Bowl match-up with great story lines, and led to such a wild fluke pick, at the very moment after the Patriots last drive to take the lead when it looked like Seattle – and on a fantastic on his back thirty three yard catch by Jermaine Kearse down to the five yard line at the 1:14 mark moments earlier – had driven down to steal it the game back from them, to instead effectively end one of the most memorable Super Bowls in modern history, and do so on second down no less on a pick at the one yard line by one of the best decision making and “calm under game on the line pressure” quarterbacks in the game, is amplifying this tendency further.

Giving the ball to Lynch, strong of a runner as he has been in the postseason for Seattle, does not mean he gets a TD or even that the odds of a TD on a Lynch run are higher than they were (before the fact), on a slant pass.

And even if the odds were a little higher on the run but somewhat close, it supports the slant because of the clock stop advantage on an incomplete pass. Otherwise Seattle would likely have to throw at least once more anyway barring a running score on the very next play, which makes trying a pass first – rather than trying it on third down or fourth down (where it’s even more predictable because it would be forced by the clock) – a moot point anyway (but for the super fluke pick).

In addition, Lynch might have fumbled as well, even if the odds of that were arguably even lower than of Wilson throwing a pick. (Remember, there the Patriots do have a free shot at the ball even if guarded by Lynch who is pretty good at holding onto it.  And with three shots from the one yard line the Patriots know they may need to knock the ball out as backup to stopping Lynch in the first place. Fumbles do happen on the goal line.)

Though again, the key point is that the odds of each – interception or fumble – are so low that with the game up in the air they really can’t be factored in rather than simply opting for the set of plays that, as offensive coordinator and head coach, Bevell and Carroll believe gave them the best chance of making sure they got into that end zone by the end of fourth down. And making sure, if they got to that fourth down – or even possibly to a fifth play due to a penalty – that they also had the time left on the clock to run it.

The fact that a team has a really good running back certainly doesn’t mean they should never throw the ball. And it doesn’t mean they should never throw the ball near the goal line – teams with good running backs do all the time – with success. That’s part of why it’s football, passes and runs are mixed in together.

And while we can argue that a different type of pass play was a “better” call, that again is the art of the game and the art of play calling itself – the latter of which is fairly subjective no matter how impassioned feelings to the contrary run after the fact.

The fact is – and it’s been overlooked by lot of popular analyses (although here are two that are reasonably solid) – there is huge variability on individual plays in football. So outcome, again, doesn’t usually determine whether something is a great call or horrible bad. It’s just a small clue, while play calling remains largely subjective, and if anything more often around the fringes of “iffy” or “solid” – as much as after the fact, in terms of their knowledge “before the fact,” nearly everybody suddenly has a crystal ball as to what was more likely to have happened on that particular play,

Again, the real awful strategy decision at the end of the game was actually made by one of the best – if not the best – coach of the modern era: BIll Bellichick.

Belichick, in not saving his team clock time in the (likely) event of a Seattle score, might have been hoping for the Seahawks to line up for an inside slant, for Butler to read it well, for Wilson to botch it and for it to work out perfectly for the interception and also for Seattle to only do so because the Patriots don’t use their timeout and give themselves a legitimate change to still tie the game after and in the event of a likely Seattle touchdown.

But that is somewhat wishful thinking, and a long shot in comparison with the substantive value that the Patriots decision with a minute left deprived themselves of – even more of a long shot in comparison given the reasonable likelihood of a Seattle score with three plays to run from the Patriots one yard line.

It just didn’t work out that way this time. Another time, it might have. And still another time, it would have. It’s the way it goes. Just as with this now famous – or infamous – slant call by the Seahawks that changed Super Bowl history.

 

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Week 15 NFL Pick Against the Spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinals (+6) at Rams, Thursday Night Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Cardinals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raiders (+10) at Chiefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Raiders

Bengals (-1) at Browns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Bengals – Marvin’s team

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

49ers (+9) at Seahawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: 49ers

Broncos (-5) at Chargers

Yeah, Denver Broncos, Bla bla bla bla…

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

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

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

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

Thus, against the spread, naturally,

Pick: Chargers 

Packers (-5) at Bills 

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

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

Pick: Bills

Dolphins (+7.5) at Patriots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick: Dolphins

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

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

A Remarkable and Strategically Notable Late Fourth Quarter, as the Washington Redskins Upset the Dallas Cowboys in Overtime 20-17 on Monday Night Football

The Washington Redskins, coming into last night’s Monday Night Football game at 2-5, and looking awful several times so far this season, were 9.5 underdogs to the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys: i.e, the team many this past week called the best team in the NFC. Continue reading