Last week was a mythically profitable week of mythical picking. The record was 9-6-0 bringing the cumulative record to 72-77-5. While it is by no means certain to obtain, at least the .500 level is within sight. The Coin Flip Games did well too last week with a record of 2-1-0 bringing the coin’s record for the season to 8-11-1.
The “Best Pick” from last week was the Skins/Saints game. I took the Skins plus a point and they won by 33 points; I also took the game to go OVER 50 and the total was 61.
The “Worst Picks” from last week were taking the Packers giving 11.5 point (they lost straight up) and taking the Bengals giving 10.5 points (they too lost straight up).
Instead of a disclaimer this week, let me say this directly. Do not use any information here as the basis for deciding which side to take in a real bet involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. There is no “inside information” here; these are done for fun. If you choose to ignore the directions above, here is all I have to say:
If stupidity were an Olympic event, you would be Mark Spitz.
In last week’s games, Kirk Cousins had a QB Rating of 158.3 which is the highest rating allowed on the scale that purports to measure “Quarterbacking”. On the same weekend, Peyton Manning had a QB Rating of 0.0 which is the lowest rating allowed on the scale that purports to measure “Quarterbacking”. Please raise your hand if you had that back in August…
There are reports out there that the Saints will allow Sean Payton to entertain offers to ply his coaching trade elsewhere once the season is over. Last week, Payton and the Saints parted company with defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan. Many commentators have interpreted that move as a natural reaction to the sorry-assed Saints defense this year. I think there is another potential message in that firing:
Perhaps, Sean Payton did that because he anticipates contact from other teams once the season is over; and he wants all of those other teams to understand clearly that if he takes their job, it is not a “package deal”. He can be their coach without having Rob Ryan tag along as the defensive coordinator.
In action from last week, the Dolphins beat the Eagles 20-19 and Eagles’ QB, Sam Bradford separated his left shoulder in the game and also suffered a concussion. At the time of his departure, he was 19-25 for 236 yards and 1 TD. His injury ushered in Mark Sanchez. Trailing by a point late in the 4th quarter, the Eagles had the ball deep in Dolphin territory; a field goal would probably win the game. It was at that instant that Mark Sanchez threw an interception in the end zone and the game ended.
Eagles’ fans – particularly the ones who have been screeching for Bradford to be benched in favor of Sanchez – need to recognize what they have in a backup QB. Sanchez has shown himself over the course of his career to be unpredictably inconsistent. There will be games – and large stretches of other games – where Sanchez is efficient and effective to the point where a viewer might say to himself,
“Hey, maybe this is the turning point for him; maybe the light just went on for him; he looks like a real NFL QB.”
And then there will be the games when he throws a deadly interception in the end zone when there is no reason on the planet to have thrown the ball to any receiver who was not open by 5 yards. Or worse yet, a butt-fumble… From here to the end of the season, Eagles’ games are going to be impossible to “handicap” because it is a flip of the coin as to what sort of quarterback play the team will get from week to week and even quarter to quarter. Back in August, I had the Eagles winning 10 games this season; they will be fortunate to win 8.
Elsewhere in the NFC East, the Cowboys lost to the Bucs last week 10-6. Matt Cassel had another mediocre game at QB and Dez Bryant caught 5 passes for a grand total of 45 yards. The Cowboys’ defense kept them in the game; they led 6-3 until the final moments when Jameis Winston ran a bootleg from the 1-yardline for a TD to win the game. Tony Romo returns this week. Unless he is so rusty that his performance is no better than throwing up on his shoes, he has to represent an advance for the Cowboys’ offense. Having lost 7 games in a row with Romo on the sidelines, the best the Cowboys can do is to go 9-7 for the season. Looking at their remaining schedule, I guess you can imagine them running the table; but it is not nearly an easy path:
At Green Bay
Staying in the NFC East for the moment, the Giants lost to the Pats 27-26 on a last second field goal. This was an entertaining game to watch from start to finish. The Giants led by 2 points with about 1:45 left on the clock and the Pats with no timeouts and the ball on the Pats’ 20 yardline. That was just too much time to leave Tom Brady who took the ball down to field goal range and a 1-point win.
The only team in the NFC East to win last week was the Skins and they did so in the most emphatic win of the week. The Skins beat the Saints 47-14; at one point in the middle of the second quarter the score was 14-14 and it looked as if this game might resemble the game the Saints and Giants put on a couple of weeks ago where the final score was 52-49. The Saints stopped scoring but the Skins did not. I mentioned above that Kirk Cousins had a “perfect QB Rating” for the game. Cousins has been in the NFL since 2012, but he has not yet started 20 games; he is – in terms of experience – a rookie QB. If you watch him run the offense that Jay Gruden wants to run in Washington and look at him as a “rookie QB” and not a “4-year veteran”, you should be impressed. He can run that offense; and fortunately for him, his contract is up at the end of this season. He is in line for a significant payday…
Rather than extend the discussion of Cousins’ prowess at the QB position to outrageous levels, please recognize that last week he played against an inordinately inept Saints’ defense. The Saints do not merely lack “playmakers” on defense; they lack “competent players”. As mentioned above, the Saints did fire Rob Ryan after the game last week and I think this is a case where a firing or two on the defensive staff might be justified. The Saints’ defenders do not tackle people; they do not “wrap up”. Even when one or two of them are in position to stop a play, the offensive player gains plenty of yards after contact because the offensive player is bumped and not tackled. Some of that goes directly to coaching shortcomings.
Just to give you a flavor of how bad the Saints defense has been abused this year, consider how these QBs performed against that unit:
Sam Bradford: 333 yards – 2 TDs – 2 INTs
Kirk Cousins: 324 yards – 4 TDs – 0 INTs
Eli Manning: 350 yards – 6 TDs – 0 INTs
Marcus Mariota: 371 yards – 4 TDs – 0 INTs
Cam Newton: 312 yards – 2 TDs – 0 INTs (plus a rushing TD)
Carson Palmer: 307 yards – 3 TDs – 0 INTs
As you might imagine from those numbers, here is how the Saints’ defense stacks up as they head into their Bye Week “under new management” so to speak:
They rank 29th in the NFL in run defense.
They rank 30th in the NFL in pass defense.
They rank 32nd in the NFL in total defense.
They rank 32nd in the NFL in scoring defense.
Don’t look now, but the Bears are on a 2-game winning streak and both wins were on the road. Last week, the Bears went to St. Louis and beat the Rams by 24 points. The Rams will bench Nick Foles this week and turn the QB duties over to Case Keenum. Foles was unimpressive last week going 17-36 for only 200 yards.
The Chiefs beat the Broncos 29-13 and led 19-0 at halftime. Peyton Manning threw 4 INTs in the first half and was benched for the second half; he will not start this week; Brock Osweiler will be under center for the Broncos. The report is that Manning has a partially torn plantar fascia; how long it might take for that to heal is a mystery to me. I have the idea that if Brock Osweiler lights it up this week and throws for 350 yards and 4 TDs, the injury will not be healed by next week…
The Bills beat the Jets 22-17 in a game that did not come close to living up to the hype that it generated. It did have one very annoying feature; neither team wore its usual uniforms; the Bills were all in red and the Jets were all in green. Unless you were color blind, it was easy to tell one team from the other but the numbers on the red jerseys did not stand out nearly as well as they should and it was difficult at times to identify Bills’ players. The NFL is going to have “special uniforms” for Thursday Night Games down the road; that is not welcome news.
My long-suffering wife happened to glance at the TV at one point during the game and asked about the Bills’ all-red uniforms. After I explained that this was a new idea from some marketing troll at the NFL, she had this observation:
They should put snowflakes on the pants. That way they will look like the Starbucks’ coffee cups that some people want for the Christmas season.
Memo to the NFL Marketing Trolls: Do not take that suggestion seriously. Do not put snowflakes on red pants for future games.
The Bills won by 5 points in a game where they took the ball away from the Jets 4 times (2 INTs and 2 recovered fumbles). Le Sean McCoy ran very well; it appears as if he is recovered from whatever injury he sustained in training camp that carried over into the early parts of the season.
The Jags beat the Ravens on the final play of the game. Actually, it was on the play after the final play and it should not have happened because on the final play there was an offensive penalty that should have negated the final play – on which there was a defensive penalty. If that is confusing, it ought to be. The game should have been over with the Ravens in the lead; the officials botched the call; there was no booth review; the Ravens were jobbed. For the Ravens, it really does not matter; their record now stands at 2-7; it is not as if they would be Super Bowl contenders if their record was 3-6.
For the Jags, it might be a big deal. The AFC South is such a mess that it makes a tire fire look like a luau. The Colts and Texans lead the way in the division with 4-5 records; the Jags are one game behind at 3-6. The Jags are not any good, but if you look at their schedule, they do not face any top-shelf teams from here on out. If the cards fall their way, they might actually win that sorry-assed division. Here is the rest of the Jags schedule:
Vs Tennessee (currently 2-7)
Vs San Diego (currently 2-7)
At Tennessee (currently 2-7)
Vs Indy (currently 4-5)
Vs Atlanta (currently 6-3 but seemingly falling apart)
At New Orleans (currently 4-6)
At Houston (currently 4-5)
By the way, if the Jags were to win the AFC South, that would mean they would host a playoff game…
The Bengals played a listless MNF game and lost to the Texans 10-6. After suffering their first loss of the year, the Bengals travel to Arizona this week to play a good Cardinals’ team. That will be an interesting test for the resiliency of this Bengals’ squad.
The Steelers beat the Browns handily even though an injured Ben Roethlisberger had to play most of the game on a bad foot after Landry Jones left the sidelines on a cart. All Roethlisberger did was to go 22-33 for 379 yards and 3 TDs. That win maintains the Steelers stature in the AFC wild card race. They are 3 games behind the Bengals on the loss column so it will take a significant unraveling by the Bengals for the Steelers to win the division; their focus needs to be on a wild card slot.
The Browns say they will go with Johnny Manziel at QB for the rest of the season. Who knows if that will actually be the case? However, it is the logical thing for the Browns to do. At the moment, they are in line to have the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft; it would be nice for them to know if they are comfortable with Manziel as their QB for the next few years.
The Browns are a mess. In the game against the Steelers they committed 12 penalties for 188 yards and giving the Steelers 5 first downs; they ran the ball 14 times gaining 15 yards; they had the ball in “goal to go situations” 3 times and scored 0 TDs in those situations.
The Vikings beat the Raiders 30-14 last week to run the Vikes record to 7-2 and to put the Vikes in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Adrian Peterson ran for 203 yards in the game including an 80-yard TD run late in the game to seal the win. [Aside: That was Peterson’s 6th game with more than 200 yards rushing. The only other back to have done that in NFL history was OJ Simpson.] The Vikes’ defense held Latavius Murray to 48 yards rushing and Terry Bridgewater to 140 yards passing in the game. The Vikes’ schedule is almost the antithesis of the Jags’ schedule listed above; the Vikes have a bunch of tough games ahead – but as of now they lead the division. Here is what is in front of them:
Vs Green Bay
At Green Bay
The Vikings have won 5 games in a row; they are undefeated at home and are 3-2 on the road. Yes they have a tough schedule ahead but when you consider the current state of the Packers, things might not look as bleak. The Packers lost their third game in a row last week; they have not won a game since they had their Bye Week on October 25. The first two losses in that streak are “explainable”; they lost on the road to then-undefeated Denver and then they lost on the road to still-undefeated Carolina. Last week’s loss is much more difficult to explain – let alone understand. The Packers lost at home to the Lions; that is the first time the Lions have won a game in Lambeau Field since 1991.
Coming into the game, the Lions’ defense ranked 31st in the NFL in terms of yards per pass attempt. The Packers threw the ball 61 times in the game and only scored 16 points; at the end of the 3rd quarter, the Packers had only 3 points on the board. It seems as if the loss of Jordy Nelson as the lead receiver for the team has had its impact; Devonta Adams was the main target last week and while he may someday develop into a good receiver, he is not at Jordy Nelson’s level. James Jones was a major part of the pass offense earlier this year; last week he caught exactly 0 passes. Eddie Lacy was inactive for last week’s game and – truth be told – it looks as if Lacy is not nearly the reliable runner that he has been in the past. The Packers ran the ball 18 times against the Lions for only 47 yards. Here is a current assessment of the Packers:
They are not protecting the QB well; Aaron Rodgers is under duress too often.
They cannot run the ball.
The defense is good one week and horrid the next. (Recall that Philip Rivers threw for 500+ yards in a losing effort against the Packers.)
The Packers’ situation may best be described by recalling the way Michael Ray Richardson famously described the state of the NY Knicks back in the early 1980s:
“The ship be sinking…”
Four teams will take this week off:
Browns: They will take a week to settle Manziel in as the starting QB on a “permanent basis” and figure out how to avoid 188 yards in penalties in future games.
Giants: They lead the NFC East by half a game as of now; so they will be prepping for a stretch run – and rooting against the Skins and the Eagles this week.
Saints: They will try to adjust to a new defensive “philosophy” and maintain the fiction that they can still make the playoffs if they make a few “adjustments”.
Steelers: They will use the week off to let Ben Roethlisberger’s foot heal some more and to find out if Landry Jones will be available as his backup down the line this year.
(Thurs Nite) Tennessee at Jax – 3 (41.5): I know this is a “division game” and I know that I said above that the Jags had an easy schedule in front of them that could put them in contention to win that division. Nonetheless, neither team is any good; and so, this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week despite its being a national game. The Titans have a propensity to play down to the level of bad opponents – like the Jags:
Titans are 2-12-2 ATS versus opponents with losing records.
Titans are 1-6-1 ATS on the road versus opponents with losing records.
I am not a “trend bettor”. I do think the Titans are not as good as the Jags – unless of course this is one of those games where Marcus Mariota is at the top of his biorhythm cycles. Jags are 22 yards per game better on offense and 36 yards per game better on defense. I will hold my nose and take the Jags to win and cover at home.
Washington at Carolina – 7 (45.5): While I have said for the last two seasons that Kirk Cousins is well-suited to Jay Gruden’s offense and said above that he looks now as if he is really “getting it”, I have no confidence that he can earn a “perfect QB Rating” this week against the Panthers’ defense. I think the Panthers’ power running game and their defense will dominate the game. One other thing here; the Skins are 4-5 overall but they are 0-4 on the road. I like the Panthers to win and cover.
Oakland – 1 at Detroit (48): I do not like taking the Raiders on a long road trip particularly if I have to lay points. I also do not like taking the Lions without getting a sackful of points. Therefore, I will look at the Total Line here… The Oakland defense is “suspect”; it yields 408.6 yards per game. The Lions’ offense has been mediocre this season but this is the defense that ought to give it a shot in the arm. The Raiders have not had too much difficulty scoring and the Lions’ defense is hardly “elite”. I’ll take the game to go OVER.
Dallas at Miami “pick ‘em” (47): Even if Tony Romo suffers a bit of “ring rust”, he ought to put some bounce into the step of the Cowboys’ offense. Just his presence in the huddle in place of Brandon Weeden and/or Matt Cassel and/or whomever might make Dez Bryant start to play like Dez Bryant and make Jason Witten start to look like the Jason Witten fans have come to expect. The oddsmaker wants me to pick the winner; OK, I’ll take the Cowboys to win the game.
Indy at Atlanta – 6 (47): The Colts are not very good and the Falcons have lost 3 of their last 4 games. This game got fleeting consideration as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week but the Falcons record of 6-3 made that label inappropriate. Statistically, this game is a mismatch. The Falcons are 49 yards per game better on offense and 52 yards per game better on defense. However, lots of those stats are left over from the hot 5-0 start the Falcons got this year; in the last 4 games the Falcons have scored 67 points (17 points per game). This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Colts plus the points. OK, then…
St Louis at Baltimore – 2.5 (41.5): This game also got serious consideration as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week given the Ravens’ ugly season and the Rams’ inconsistency. However, the overall ineptitude of the Jags and Titans tilted the balance in that direction. This game has an interesting angle:
The Ravens’ pass defense is awful; they give up 7.3 yards per pass attempt.
The Rams’ pass offense produces a measly 6.2 yards per attempt.
The Rams will start Case Keenum at QB.
So, will the inept Rams’ offense be able to flourish against the inept Ravens defense – – or vice versa? This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER.
Jets – 2.5 at Houston (no Total Line): You have to go looking for a line on this game; most sportsbooks have it off the board for now until there is some clarity regarding who will be the Texans’ QB in the game. As of this morning, Brian Hoyer has not been cleared through the NFL concussion protocol putting TJ Yates under center. That could change by Sunday but… I am not thrilled by having to take the Jets here but I do not want the Texans if Yates has to play. Therefore, I will take the Jets – and an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick – and lay the points.
Green Bay at Minnesota – 1 (45): This may be the most important game of the week if not the best game of the week. A Vikes’ win here would give them a 2 game lead and a tiebreaker advantage over the Packers with 6 games to go. It would also mean that the Packers would be on a 4-game losing streak. The Vikings defense is good; they only give up 17 points per game. I like the Vikings here to win and cover.
Tampa at Philly – 5.5 (45): The line here opened the week at 4 points and has climbed steadily to this level. In fact, you can find it at 6 points at 2 Internet sportsbooks this morning. Both teams bring 4-5 records to the game. The difference is this:
The Bucs have no prayer of winning their division with the Panthers at 9-0 at the top of the division.
The Eagles have a SLIM chance to win their division with the Giants atop the division at 5-5.
Give the motivation edge to the Eagles; give the venue edge to the Eagles. Now, which version of “Mark Sanchez the Quarterback” will show up? It is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.
Denver at Chicago – 1 (41): The Broncos cannot expect Brock Osweiler to light up the scoreboard here even against a mediocre Bears’ defense. The Broncos’ defense will have to return to its “domination mode” from early this season for the Broncos to win this game. They get Aquib Talib back from his one game suspension for doing a credible imitation of a pro rassler poking his opponent in the eye. That will help. What would help even more would be for Demarcus Ware’s back injury to heal sufficiently that he could see action here; as of this morning, that looks unlikely. I think that Total Line is short; I’ll take the game to go OVER.
SF at Seattle – 12.5 (40): I hate laying double-digit spreads in NFL games. If I expect a low-scoring game, I prefer to take the points – particularly double-digit points. I will violate those principles here and take the Seahawks to win and cover. Here’s why:
While the Seahawks’ defense has been less fearsome this year than in past years, it is still a good unit.
The Niners did not have Anquan Boldin at practice on Wednesday (hamstring).
The Niners did not have Carlos Hyde at practice on Wednesday (foot).
The Niners did not have NaVorro Bowman at practice on Wednesday (shoulder).
The Niners will start Blaine Gabbert at QB.
KC – 3 at San Diego (44): The Chargers are not very good and they were battered and bruised going into their Bye Week last week. I do not trust the Chargers and I do not trust the Chiefs on the road as a favorite. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER. That is good enough for me…
(Sun Nite) Cincy at Arizona – 5 (48): This is the best game of the week; these are two good teams. The spread opened the week at 3 points; it jumped to 3.5 points almost immediately and has climbed steadily to this level as the week progressed. The Total Line opened at 47 points and has been steady at this level for several days now. Both teams need this game as both eye the potential for a Bye Week in the playoffs. I like the Cards to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.
(Mon Nite) Buffalo at New England – 7.5 (48.5): This is the second best game of the week and one that will have more hype tied to it than any other. The loss of Julian Edleman for 6-8 weeks is a significant loss. This is the 3rd straight division game for the Bills (they won the first two) and a win here puts them solidly in the AFC wild card picture. I think the line is fat; I’ll take the Bills plus the points.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………