Thursday, December 4, 2008

Week 14 NFL Picks: Gosh! So Unpredictable!

Last Sunday, every home team lost, causing any number of NFL commentators (well, OK, Al Michaels, but that's enough) to talk about how, holy moley, no one knows anything! Home teams like the Raiders and Rams lost! Rue and calamity! How do they keep the sportsbooks open, for heaven's sake?

In short, um, whatever, and please STFU, which should be your default for such things anyway, right? In the picks, I went 7-9, so I'm not going to complain too much about the unpredictability of it all, really. We're 16 games over .500 for the year, paying the rent, and ready to move into the final stretch where it helps very much to know which teams have quit (hello, Jaguars!), whether a quitting team will start trying again, and whenever possible, giving the love to the truly dominant teams that don't get enough spread respect (that'd be the Giants, Titans and Ravens, who very well might be the three best teams in football... and the sad part is how it's really just #1 and whatever).

And with that, on with the picks!

* * * * *

OAKLAND at San Diego (-9.5)

Yet another terrible Thursday night game, brought to you by the people who really need to be stopped. This one features two teams from a breathtakingly awful division, both of whom have made the jaw-dropping mistake of employing Norv Turner to be their coach. The Raiders, at least, don't do that any more, and despite the usual insanity from the front office, seem to have gotten what they should out of their talent level: they are, of course, horrible. The Chargers are said to be a talented team, but I'm not really buying that anymore: talented teams can rush the passer, start a RB with a burst (no, that's so not LaDanian anymore -- he'll be out of the league in 2-3 years), and have a much better #1 WR than Chris Chambers. And if you don't believe me on the last one, look at the won-loss record of teams that have employed Chris Chambers to be, well, a #1 wideout.

The home team will win this game, but it will be ugly in the stands (LA Raider Fan is scary, and Charger Fan doesn't really care enough to keep the seat right about now) and on the field, which makes me think... road cover. Oh, and if you're still holding out hope that Tomlinson will do something, just because he's historically owned the Raiders, consider that he's ran against terrible run defenses for the past month, and hasn't cracked 3.5 yards a pop.

Chargers 24, Raiders 17

Jacksonville at CHICAGO (-6.5)


Hoo, doggie, have the Jaguars ever quit. That MNF game was downright embarrassing, and now they have to go on the road to face an angry Bears team that is still alive in the NFC North "race". Jacksonville isn't a good matchup for this Bears team under the best of times, since you beat them via the pass and usually can't run on them, especially at home. Meanwhile, Matt Forte will continue to just run up an ungodly amount of points for his fantasy owners. To think, you'd have two top 10 backs in the fifth round or much later, had you just gone for Forte early, and Steve Slaton late. This could get ugly.

Bears 31, Jaguars 13

MINNESOTA (+9.5) at Detroit


Some people think this will be the week for the Lions, who know plenty about this Vikings team, will have the home field "advantage", and could take advantage of Gus Frerotte to stay relevant in the game. They also have a couple of extra days to prepare after the Thanksgiving day massacre, and the Vikings could be looking at a letdown after that dominating performance against Chicago -- a performance that could have easily gone the other way, had Matt Forte simply got in from the one, leading to a 99-yard bomb to Bernard Berrian that more or less ended things. Finally, the longest suspension in the history of the NFL came down this week, with the the Vikings Wall Of Williams coming down, leading to a sudden inability to stop the run up the middle. Or so the theory goes.

All of this, however, is overstating two very central truths. First, the Vikings need the game, and are on a quiet little roll that's making them start to look like an honest to goodness playoff team (albeit a very possible first round home loser). Second, the Titans ran the ball for 500 yards or so against the Lions last week, and neither of their backs is Adrian Peterson. (Oh, and his back-up is pretty good, too.) Third, the short-term motivation boost to the Vikings is going to be huge; they are going to be pissed off over losing their studs, and it won't be fatal to them until later (like, say, the week after in Arizona, and overwhelmingly in Weeks 16 and 17 for Atlanta and the Giants, though the Giants probably won't be playing for anything).

Vikings 31, Lions 16

HOUSTON at Green Bay (-6.0
)

Two teams that I just keep picking, regardless of the results, in a game that only the weather will keep from breaking 50 combined points. The Texans get back Matt Schaub and have a fully operational Steve Slaton. The Packers keep losing close games that they absolutely have to have, and suddenly seem to want to split the carries from Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson. I don't trust either of these defenses to do more than make a pick or two, and the Packers have returned a bunch of these for scores this year... but I'm not seeing this as a cover moment. (Oh, and if this game winds up happening in snow, I'm really going to regret taking the Texans to cover.)

Packers 34, Texans 31

Cleveland at TENNESSEE (-13.5)


I can't take this line fast enough. Cleveland is going to be starting Ken Dorsey -- Ken Dorsey! -- on the road against a vociferous defense, against a team that's just going to run the ball and grind them into paste. I wouldn't be surprised if the Titans' defense covers the spread by themselves in this game, and I can't see the Browns scoring more than 10 points. Heck, I'd take even money for a shutout. The only real danger for the Titans is making a big mistake early and giving the Browns the sense that they can actually play with this team. They can't, they won't, and you're going to be very happy to have laid the points well before halftime.

Titans 27, Browns 3

Cincinnati at INDIANAPOLIS (-13.5)


Waiting for the Colts to finally be, well, the Colts this year has been a long and frustrating drag. Week after week, they seem to have a perfect punching bag match-up in which to look like their old selves... and then they run into bad weather or a hurt Jeff Saturday, and yet they don't lose. They just fail to cover, fail to inspire, fail to look like the truly dangerous wild-card monster that plays their best football late in the year.

And yet, well, here they are again, against a Bengals team that actually played Jordan Palmer some last week, starts Cedric Benson at running back, has one win on the year with that infamous tie, and looks for all the world like a team that's going to lose by 20 points this week.

They will, of course, cover. But only because I'm still lighting a candle in the window for my fantasy Colts.

Colts 34, Bengals 16

ATLANTA at NEW ORLEANS (-3.0)


The Falcons just keep winning games, getting closer and closer to that wild-card berth (and, um, they still aren't out of it in the South, either) that absolutely no one saw coming, and winning over the one-time Vick Or Nothing fans of Peachtown. They go to New Orleans to visit the extraordinarily frustrating Saints, who saw non-MVP Drew Brees throw for just under 300 yards on the road in Tampa Bay last week, but also spit the bit with two late picks that led directly to a 3-point loss to the hometown Bucs.

This was a complete coin flip of a game to me; the Saints have a definite home field edge, haven't dropped two games in a row all year, and should score a great deal of points. But the Falcons just keep winning, they've got two running backs that should add up to 150 yards on the fast Superdome turf, and I'm tired of going to the river against these guys. It's their year. Oh, and the Saints losing two defensive ends to the diuretic suspension this week also doesn't help matters for them.

Falcons 31, Saints 24

Philadelphia at GIANTS (-7.0)


If you are an Eagles fatalist -- which is to say right about now, an Eagles fan -- there's really no good way this game can go down. If you somehow win, it's great, but it's still probably not enough to get you into a wildcard, and between their above-average won-loss record and the shockingly dumb Panthers trade (yes, we could have the Titans' Chris Johnson with that pick, or perhaps a healthy Felix Jones), their draft will suck. If you lose, the season's over and we're into the Meaningless Games Portion of the program, and there's really nothing very appealing about that, either. This isn't a good enough organization that you really want to see the back-ups, folks.

For the Giants, it's another week to execute a bloodless killing of a desperate division rival. Maybe this is the week that they actually miss Burress, who has historically owned the Eagles. Perhaps Plax will bring down Antonio Pierce, which could really start to impact them in coverage. Eli has a history of weak December performances, some of them at home; it wasn't so long ago that he was throwing multiple touchdown passes to the Vikings in a start that looked like the end of the Coughlin regime. If Brandon Jacobs is banged up, along with Ahmad Bradshaw, then Derrick Ward starts to look ordinary. Brian Westbrook went crazy Broadway-style last week, and got an extra two days of rest after that. There is Hope.

And the Giants are very, very good at crushing that.

Giants 27, Eagles 17

Kansas City at DENVER (-9.0)


Who can figure out this awful division? Denver earned back it's D last week with a startling win in New York against the Jets. The Chiefs bounced back from somehow giving up 50+ points to the Bills at home to holding a road opponent (OK, it was the Raiders) to 13. At least we now know who is going to go to the playoffs from this collection of turds, and maybe they'll finally start to get on a little bit of a roll, especially with Patrick Hillis giving the Denver running attack a pulse.

Tyler Thigpen will rack up some yards (were you aware that he's ran for more yards than any other QB in the league this year? Why, yes, nearly all of the black QBs *did* lose their jobs!) and numbers in this one, but Kansas City isn't very good at ball control, and the only thing that should stop Jay Cutler in this game is if he makes the ball slippery with his drool. It also doesn't hurt at all that the home team might be getting back Champ Bailey, which will give them an infinite increase in good cornerbacks. (Going from zero to one is, after all, an infinite increase.)

Broncos 30, Chiefs 20

MIAMI at Buffalo Not Really (NL)


The game is in Toronto, which means this entry has extra u's in the words and exchanges for more than the American version. Take off, eh?

The Dolphins keep winning games against terrible teams. The Bills are more or less impossible to predict, with wins and losses seemingly coming at random; I'm not sure just how you lose to the Niners at home, especially since the Niners were going against that Unfathomably Deadly West Coast team at 1pm EST thing. But it becomes a little more understandable when you dig into the box score of that game, where Trent Edwards left with a groin injury and did not return, leaving the game in the less than capable hands of JP Losman.

I'm going with the Fish despite the difficulty of going north in December under the understanding that Buffalo will be saddled with Los(er)man; if Edwards is back, I'd probably go with the Bills, who are suddenly getting a lot out of Marshawn Lynch. But the Fish are crafty, have a pretty good running game of their own, and just seem to have more going for them right now. Besides, the Bills deserve to lose for this insult to their real fans.

Dolphins 24, Bills 21

NY JETS at San Francisco (+4.0)


Last week in New York, the Jets were down a touchdown to the Broncos after Thomas Jones scored his second touchdown of the day on a 29-yard burst where the RB rolled over a defender, avoided touching a knee or elbow on the turf, then went to the end zone as the Broncos decided against any more effort on the play. At the time, the Jets were averaging 9.9 yards per carry on a day where cold rain was pouring down sideways, thanks to a strong wind.

Now, here's a fun question. How many, of the next 25 offensive plays for the Jets, were runs?

Let's see, horrible weather, wild success running with a main back that's been dynamite for the last six weeks. The back-up, Leon Washington, has been providing big plays in very limited touches. The opponent is bad at stopping the run. The weather favors, strongly, running the ball. Your QB, while having a good year, has still thrown more picks than anyone else in the history of professional football.

And the answer is... four! Four, four, four runs against 21 passes.

And it got sillier than that. On multiple fourth-down calls in the second half, Jets head coach and offensive coordinator Eric Mangini kept throw, throw, throwing, despite the fact that it didn't work once. Meanwhile, the Broncos kept, um, running the ball, and quite effectively too, with Patrick Hillis having a career day despite the presence of Kris Jenkins and what had been a very stout Jets run defense.

Honestly, I have no idea what Mangini was thinking, but I'm assuming he'll learn something from this. Or, at least, that his defense will do better against Shaun Hill, who is, well, no Jay Cutler. Of course, if this winds up being a mud slop Candlestick game... Mangini will throw it every down. The man makes Andy Reid look sane.

Anyhoo... I have no idea why the line is so low, other than New Yorkers might just hate themselves and are convinced that the Jets are going to spit the bit. Vegas needs to remind themselves that the Niners are starting Hill, and that he's a turnover machine. It'll remind Saint Brett of when he was well, himself.

Jets 24, Niners 17

NEW ENGLAND at Seattle (+4.5)


Oh, what a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, Matt Cassel was a home favorite against the Steelers, cheaper, younger and healthier than Dreamboat Brady, and coming off consecutive 400-yard passing days. Now, he's a tarnished non-star who can't even command a touchdown preference over a terrible, terrible Seahawks team that's making Seattle Fan look forward to WNBA season. (Seriously, they are.)

Seattle comes off an evisceration in Dallas on Thanksgiving that is said to have made Mike Holmgren cry. No, really. You see, there are just four more games left for the increasingly unhinged -- look at those tusks grind! -- overrated non-legend before he's pushed out onto an ice flow. And that's a darn shame right about now, because with global warming and the relatively early season that's happening in the Northwest, Mike doesn't stand a chance. Swim, Mike, swim!

Patriots 27, Seahawks 21

St. Louis at ARIZONA (-14.0)


Kurt and Brenda Warner Will Be Avenged! And with significant scoring, much to the delight of his fat and happy fantasy owners. Expect a big bounce-back game from Anquan Boldin, who might have played the worst game of his life in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving day, and some nice vulture moments from disappointing starting running back Tim Hightower.

For the Rams... no, I'm sorry, you can't pay me enough to talk about the Rams. Torry Holt is ancient and sad, their quarterbacks are awful, their lines aren't very good, and if Stephen Jackson and Donnie Avery aren't on their games, they don't have a single offensive player that you'd want anywhere near your team. The Cardinals are going to enjoy this game.

Cardinals 41, Rams 16

Dallas at PITTSBURGH (-3.0)


Truly the best game of the week, and why this isn't the SNF game, I'll never know. Dallas should be able to put pressure on the QB. Pittsburgh should be able to make Dallas one-dimensional, even if that dimension is Marion Barber; he's got a 15 carry for 40 yards day staring him down, and that's assuming his foot is OK. The Cowboys should be able to score some points through the air, as Ike Taylor has looked susceptible in coverage, and Tony Romo has a knack for extending the play. Pittsburgh should be able to keep the chains moving on the ground, and could truly exploit the secondary.

Dallas needs the game more, but Pittsburgh is dreaming of the #2 seed and that crucial first-round bye, so that's really not a factor, either. The Cowboys get back Adam "Mister" Jones, which is probably a push; he's talented and helps their depth, but he's also a distraction and hasn't really played well at all in a Cowboy uniform.

It will come down to which team doesn't make the big mistake, and the home crowd will help matters there. I'm also really hating the 3 point spread here, as it's looking like a pure push to me. So... give me the home team. Barely. This should be a classic.

Steelers 28, Dallas 24

Washington at BALTIMORE (-5.0)


The SNF game looks like a bit of a squash to me, as the Ravens are just tough and with a real play-making defense, while the Skins are increasingly beat-up and don't make big plays on defense. I also think that I trust Joe Flacco more than I do Jason Campbell, especially at home, even though these teams are close enough that there should be rampant cross-pollination in the stands. (Of course, since Redskins Fan couldn't keep his stadium in check from the Steeler Nation, it's not like he's really going to make his voice heard against the Purple Flock.)

Give me the Ravens in a surprisingly easy one. It's taken a while this year, but the 'Skins are what we thought they were... a borderline .500 team that won't be in the playoffs.

Ravens 24, Redskins 13

TAMPA BAY at Carolina (-3.0)


A MNF game that matters, but won't be pretty. Tampa comes in with an impressive defensive win at home over the Saints. The Panthers got what could have been their best win of the year in Green Bay, as they lost a second-half lead but then came back to clinch it late, with do-everything WR Steve Smith making the huge plays to set up the win.

The smart thing to do when NFC South teams play each other is just close your eyes and take the home team; these are teams that just don't travel well. It's also truly stomach-churning to take Jeff Garcia on the road, especially when his running game is in a state of flux. But I'm down on this Panthers team, and will be for at least one more week, as the two-headed running attack is now down to one... and Jake Delhomme against this Bucs defense doesn't inspire. It won't be pretty.

Bucs 16, Panthers 14

Last week: 7-9

Year to date: 100-84-4

1 comment:

CMJDad said...

you really don't like me very much, do you?