Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 12/27/15

Allow me just moment of gloating here. Last week’s Mythical Picks were outstanding; the record for the week was 12-4-0. If I were one of those touts on TV, I would scream at the top of my lungs that I have a “documented” 75% win rate picking NFL games and that everyone should call my toll-free hotline and buy my picks for the rest of the season at a greatly reduced rate because I am so smart and so magnanimous and so – – phony. Indeed, last week was a great week of Mythical Picking; the reality is that the inclusion of that great week into the season record makes the season record 115-113-5.

    The season record is above .500.

    Nonetheless, the season record is mythically unprofitable playing against a 10% vig.

The Coin Flip Games were in the black too with a 2-1-0 record. That bring’s the coin’s season record to 16-17-1.

The “Best Picks” from last week were the picks in the Eagles/Cards game. I liked the Cards minus 3 points and the Cards covered easily; I also liked the game to go OVER 51 and it did so.

The “Worst Pick” was taking the Niners + 6 points against the Bengals. The Niners lost by only 10 points but it took two garbage-time TDs for them to get that close.

Please notice that I was being completely sarcastic above when I said people should call to subscribe to my Mythical Picks for the rest of the season. No one should even think of doing that; in fact, no one can do that because there is no way to subscribe to my Mythical Picking service other than to read on from here. It would be the height of folly for anyone to use any information here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. Here is how dumb one would have to be to do that:

    You think “Instagram” is having your grandmother on speed-dial.

General Comments:

In the battle for “supremacy” in the AFC South, the Texans beat the Colts 16-10. The Texans won in Indy for the first time in franchise history – and remember, since these teams are in the same division, the Texans have played the Colts in Indy every year of their existence. It was not that long ago when the Colts were on a winning streak and people were asking – in a serious tone of voice – if the Colts should keep playing Matt Hasselbeck at QB even if Andrew Luck were healthy enough to return to action. Look, Matt Hasselbeck is a warrior and he has earned every dime of whatever his contract calls for him to make. However, behind that marginal OL, he has taken a beating – as did Andrew Luck – and Hasselbeck’s 40-year old body is just not ready to take much more of the same.

The Texans’ defense dominated the game. The Colts managed only 190 yards total offense in the game and a truly meager 68 yards of offense in the second half of the game. The Texans started TJ Yates at QB but he went down with an ACL injury; their starter, Brian Hoyer, is still in the concussion protocol – the second time this year he has been part of that convention. Coming off the bench to “save the day” was none other than Brandon Weeden. There is some delicious irony here:

    On the same weekend that Brandon Weeden “guided” the Texans to a win that puts the Texans in position to make the AFC Playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys were eliminated from the NFC Playoffs.

    Dallas had to replace its starting QB for reasons of inadequacy and turned to Kellen Moore. Weeden was no longer available to them.

    Now, if Hoyer is still not cleared to play and if the Texans make the playoffs, Weeden will be the QB for a team from Texas in the playoffs. Simultaneously, the Cowboys will be sitting at home watching the games.

Please do not misinterpret what I just said. Brandon Weeden still has a long way to go if he is to be labeled as a journeyman back-up QB. But, he took the fall in Dallas for the Cowboys’ demise in the middle of the season and none of the QB play for the Cowboys since his departure has been even as good as mediocre. Nice move by the folks in Dallas who do “roster building”…

The Jets needed a field goal with about 30 seconds left in the game to beat the Cowboys 19-16 last week. The Cowboys lifted Ryan Mallet and inserted Kellen Moore for his first extended action in an actual NFL game. He threw a TD pass in the first half to give the Cowboys a halftime lead; unfortunately, he also threw 3 INTs as rookie QBs are wont to do.

    With this win, the Jets remain in the midst of the AFC wild card picture with the same record as the Chiefs and the Steelers.

    With this loss, the Cowboys are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Even Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother cannot help them now.

The Cardinals easily handled the Eagles by a score of 40-17. Rookie RB, David Johnson from Northern Iowa, had himself a game. He ran for 187 yards and 3 TDs leading a Cardinals’ running game that gained 230 yards on the ground. The win was the 12th one for the Cardinals and it marks the first time in franchise history that a Cards’ team has won 12 games.

    I mentioned above that the Texans beat the Colts in Indy for the first time in franchise history; that history only goes back to 2002.

    The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been around for a while with incarnations as the Chicago Cardinals (1920 – 1960) and the St. Louis Cardinals (1961 – 1987) before becoming the Arizona Cardinals.

The Eagles did nothing to help their cause by turning the ball over 4 times in the second half of a game where they only trailed 17-10 at halftime.

The Panthers remained undefeated last week beating the Giants 38-35. The Panthers led 35-7 late in the 3rd quarter and had the game on cruise control thereby letting the Giants score 28 straight points to tie the game. At that point, Cam Newton put it back in “serious mode” and led the Panthers to the game-winning field goal. For the game, Cam Newton became the first QB in NFL history to rush for 100 yards and throw for 5 TDs in the same game.

Here is something I said in last week’s Mythical Picks:

“For the ‘game within a game’ think about seeing Odell Beckham, Jr. being covered all day long by Josh Norman. That alone could be worth the price of admission.”

I wish that confrontation had limited itself to straight football. The antics by both players was unattractive at best and closer to disgusting on the spectrum of behaviors. Without rehashing here is my reaction to what happened:

    Odell Beckham Jr. deserved a suspension. His targeted head shot to Norman was despicable. Frankly, I think he deserves a suspension much longer than a single game.

    Josh Norman did not distinguish himself with his actions in the game. He is a defensive back and not a ju-jitsu competitor. He was flagged for 2 penalties and could easily have been flagged for a half-dozen.

    Where was the “leadership” on the sidelines from players and/or coaches to put a stop to the nonsense on the field?

    How did the officials allow that kind of thing to escalate? Yes, they called penalties on some of the confrontations; when that did not work, why did they allow the combatants to remain in the game?

The Skins took over the lead in the NFC East beating the Bills 35-25 in a game that was not that close; the Skins led 28-3 and controlled every phase of the game. The Bills’ season was on the precipice; if they lost, they were done; even if they won, they needed some other things to break in their favor, but a loss was going to be catastrophic. In that milieu, they came out as flat as Kansas. The Bills are now out of the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season. I guess you can hang some of the blame on the coaching staff for the team coming out flat; I know you can hand some of the blame on the coaching staff for these two events in the game:

    In the first half, the Bills used a timeout with 13:13 left to play in the first quarter. No one had worked up a sweat after only 1:47 of action and the Bills had to burn a timeout.

    In the second half, the Bills used a timeout with 11:02 left to play in the third quarter. After 20 minutes of halftime to get organized and to get things straight about what had to be done in the second half to salvage the game, the team was sufficiently discombobulated that it had to burn a timeout after only 3:58 of action.

The Pats beat the Titans 33-16 last week. Just as the Cardinals unleashed a new RB on the Eagles, the Pats put Joey Iosefa into NFL action for the first time. Iosefa played at Hawaii in college; he was drafted by the Bucs this year and played for the Brooklyn Bolts in the FXFL (the Fall Experimental Football League) this year. Last week, he carried the ball 14 times for 51 yards playing the role vacated by LeGarrette Blount due to Blount’s hip injury. Iosefa is listed as 6’0” and 247 lbs.

Marcus Mariota had to leave the game in the second quarter with a knee injury; frankly, I do not think that changed the outcome of the game at all.

The Chargers beat the Dolphins 30-14. If that was indeed the last game for the Chargers in San Diego, at least they go out with a win. On the other hand, it was a contest that sought to identify the least worst team in town that day. The Dolphins were indeed the worse of the two pounding out all of 77 yards of offense in the first half. Danny Woodhead caught 3 TD passes in the game.

The Lions beat the Saints 35-27 in a meaningless game that was not particularly entertaining to watch. Here is how bad it was:

    During a timeout, I went grazing through the cable channels on my system and I discovered that there was a pro ‘rassling exhibition on the air on another channel.

    I went back to the football game – – but I wondered how many other fans would have done that if they had made the same discovery that I did. The game was indeed, that bad…

The Saints’ pass defense is poised to be the labeled the worst pass defense in NFL history. The record for most passing TDs allowed is 40 and it was set by the Denver Broncos back in the wild-and-wooly days of the AFL in the early 1960s. With two games left to play, the Saints have given up 39 passing TDs – – almost 3 per game. The next two opponents for the Saints will be the Jags and the Falcons. The question is this:

    What will be the passing combination that scores the 41st passing TD this season hanging that level of humiliation on this Saints’ defense?

One of the Saints’ defenders has already set an NFL record with two games still to play. Brandon Browner has now committed the most penalties called on an individual player in NFL history. The previous record was 22; Browner has already taken the flag 24 times in 2015 and 21 of those penalties have been accepted. As a DB, Browner’s penalties have been very serious in that they give the opposition a first down. Here is a breakdown:

    Defensive holding: This is always a first down; there have been 11 of those.

    Pass interference: This is always a first down; there have been 3 of those.

    Face mask: This is always a first down; there have been 3 of those.

    Unnecessary roughness: This is always a first down; there have been 3 of those.

    Illegal contact: This is always a first down; there has been 1 of those.

The Steelers beat the Broncos 34-27 last week rallying from a 27-13 deficit at halftime. When asked how the team did that, Mike Tomlin had a simple explanation:

“We stopped kicking our own butts.”

Indeed, the Steelers shut out the Broncos in the second half but it was more than just keeping them out of the end zone; the Steelers dominated the second half. The Broncos had the ball 9 times in the second half and here are the results of those ‘drives”;

    Punt – one more time
    Punt – yet again
    Ball goes over on downs
    Ball goes over on downs

If I have read the game chart correctly, the most productive drive for the Broncos in the second half was a 4-play drive that gained 29 yards before ending in a punt. The total yardage amassed by the Broncos in the second half was 72 yards. Brock Osweiler has done some really nice things in his first starting QB opportunities this year; the second half of this game was not one of those really nice things.

The Bengals survived their first week having to start back up QB, AJ McCarron; the Bengals beat the Niners 24-14. The game was 24-0 in the second half and the Niners scored twice in what amounted to “extended garbage time”; this was not a close game at all. Blaine Gabbert threw the ball 50 times in this game; 3 of those were INTs. The only real bright spot for the Niners was that it held the Bengals’ running game in check; the Bengals ran the ball 36 times for 68 yards – less than 2 yards per attempt.

The Chiefs beat the Ravens 34-14; it was the 8th straight win for the Chiefs after a 5-game losing streak that had the team record at 1-5 back in October. The Chiefs scored twice on defense; one was a long “scoop and score” after a fumble; the other was a “Pick Six”. The Ravens scored one of their TDs on the final play of the first half with a Hail Mary pass from 50 yards out.

The Seahawks beat the Browns 30-13. Russell Wilson had another highly efficient day gong 21-30 for 249 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Doug Baldwin caught 2 of those TD passes. Johnny Manziel played QB for the Browns and he played well enough to demonstrate that the Browns need to consider him as their QB for next year if they do not stumble across a better candidate between now and the start of training camp in 2016. The Seahawks’ defense is really playing well; against that unit, Manziel was 19-32 for 161 yards plus 1 TD and 1 INT. Those are not eye-popping numbers, but they are not “throw-up all over your shoes numbers” either. The Browns only managed to run 52 plays in this game.

The Vikings beat the Bears 38-17 and maintained their position in the NFC wild card picture. The Bears’ OL seemingly took the day off because the Vikes sacked Jay Cutler 5 times in this game. Terry Bridgewater threw 4 TDs in the game and ran for the other score himself. The outcome of this game was not in doubt for long…

The Packers beat the Raiders 30-20 holding onto their 1-game lead in the NFC North. The Raiders defense played well here; they held Aaron Rodgers to 204 yards passing and the Packers offense to a total of only 293 yards. Often, that is enough to win a game but last week Derek Carr had a really bad game. He threw 2 INTs; one of them was a “Pick Six”; the other gave the Packers the ball in the Raiders’ red zone; those two throws basically handed 14 points over to the Packers. Amari Cooper continued to show that he is going to be an elite WR in this league; he caught 6 passes last week for 120 yards and 2 TDs.

The Falcons beat the Jags 23-17. This win brings the Falcons back to .500 and the loss shows that the Jags are not yet ready for prime-time despite being only one game out of first place in the AFC South at kickoff time. The win snapped a 5-game losing streak for the Falcons and may have lowered owner Arthur Blank’s blood pressure to manageable levels. Julio Jones caught 9 passes for 119 yards and a TD; not a bad performance. The game was tied at 17-17 after 3 quarters; the Falcons got 2 field goals in the 4th quarter, but the story was the performance of the Falcons’ defense in the 4th quarter to seal the win:

    1st Jax possession: 3-and-out, minus-5 yards, 1 minute 25 seconds.

    2nd Jax possession: 3-and-out, 6 yards, 1 minute 49 seconds.

    3rd Jax possession: 6 plays, 30 yards, 39 seconds, ball goes over on downs.

The Games:

(Thurs Nite 12/24) San Diego at Oakland – 6 (46.5): Last week, the Chargers played what may have been their last game in San Diego and they used that as a momentum builder in a game against a less-than-mediocre Dolphins squad. Flip the script here. The Raiders are playing what may be their last game in Oakland (the Raiders go on the road next week to KC) against a less-than-mediocre opponent. In terms of anything else that might give meaning to this contest, the only thing I can come up with is this:

    If the Raiders win, they will avoid another double-digit losing season – something they seem to have specialized in over the last decade or so.

That is not exactly a rousing locker room speech… Nonetheless, I’ll take the Raiders and lay the points.

(Sat Nite 12/26) Washington at Philly – 3 (47): If the Skins win, they are the NFC East champion and go to the playoffs; if the Skins lose, it is still a 3-way race in the NFC East. On defense, the Skins give up 370 yards per game putting them 25th in the NFL; the Eagles give up 393.3 yards per game putting them 29th. I see points happening in this game so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite 12/27) Giants at Minnesota – 5.5 (45.5): This is the “flex game” for the week. The Giants have to win if they want to stay in the NFC East 3-way race – assuming the Eagles beat the Skins on Saturday night. If that incentive is gone, the Giants have nothing to play for and with Odell Beckham Jr. suspended they have a seriously diminished squad to play with. The Vikes can cement themselves in the NFC playoffs with win. The availability/effectiveness of Adrian Peterson is up in the air; he left last week’s game with an ankle injury and did not practice on Wednesday this week. Still, I do like the Vikes ability to throw the ball against the Giants’ meager pass defense. I’ll take the Vikes at home and lay the points.

Chicago at Tampa – 3 (45.5): So far, I have been able to impute some sort of value to the games on the menu for the week. For this one, it is a stretch indeed. The Bucs still have a shot at finishing at .500 for the season if they win out; the Bears – – well, they are sure to show up for the rest of their scheduled games. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game; the coin says to take the Bears plus the points. Remember folks, these are Mythical Picks done for fun…

Carolina – 7 at Atlanta (47): The Panthers continue their quest for an undefeated season; the Falcons continue their quest for time off in January. Last time these teams met in Charlotte, the final score was 38-0; presumably that will give the Falcons some reason to play with a tad of emotion. Maybe the way the Falcons’ defense showed up in the 4th quarter last week (see above) was a portent of their effort this week? Purely a hunch, make this a venue call; I’ll take the Falcons plus the points.

Dallas at Buffalo – 6 (42.5): The Total Line opened the week at 44 and has been sagging all week long. You can find it at 42 at one Internet sportsbook this morning. Kellen Moore gets his first NFL start against the Bills’ defense. I am not a Rex Ryan acolyte, but he does present a defense that has a variety of ways to play; a first time starter might have some difficulty with that. Moore has been in the NFL for 4 seasons but last week was his first action in a real game; I think he might just be faked out with some of the wrinkles the Bills will show him here. One would think the venue would be part of the selection here but the Bills are only 3-3 at home while the Cowboys are much better on the road than they are at home. This year the Cowboys are 3-4 on the road and 1-6 at home. I like the Bills to win and cover.

Jax at New Orleans – 3.5 (51.5): This game got lots of consideration from the Selection Committee for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Both teams are 5-9; it is an inter-conference game so there is no sort of natural rivalry involved between teams that meet – on balance – once every 4 years. The only thing here that might be interesting would be a shoot-out. Both teams can score; the Saints are 9th in the NFL in points per game and the Jags are 12th; given their records you should expect that both defenses leave something to be desired. Because I said there would be a pick for e very game, I’ll take this game to go OVER.

SF at Detroit – 9.5 (43): The spread opened at 7.5 and has been climbing all week; you can find it as high as 10 points at 2 sportsbooks this morning. Here we have the winner for the title of Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Look, the Niners are a bad team and they are on the road where their record this year is 1-6. However, I am not sanguine about taking the Lions and laying more than a TD against another team consisting of guys who collect paychecks for playing football. I will hold my nose and avert my eyes as I take the Niners plus the points here.

Cleveland at KC – 12 (43): The Chiefs have won 8 in a row; if they win out, they are guaranteed a wild-card slot in the playoffs and they could still be the AFC West champions and host a playoff game. The Browns – – are the Browns. However, that is an awfully fat line – almost as fat as Andy Reid. I’ll take the Browns plus the points even though I have no inkling that they might win the game outright.

Indy at Miami – 2.5 (44): The spread opened at 1 point and has moved up as the week progressed. The Dolphins are 5-9; they are out of the playoffs; at home this year they are only 2-4. And they are favored here over a Colts’ team that is 6-8 (better overall record) and 3-4 on the road (better record than the Dolphins at home). The Colts can still win the AFC South but that depends on them winning out. I do not understand this line. Therefore, I will go with my gut and take the Colts plus the points.

New England – 3.5 at Jets (46): The Pats are guaranteed a Bye Week in the playoffs; as of this morning, they hold a 1-game lead over the Bengals and a 2-game lead over the Broncos for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That sounds like lots of incentive for this game until you consider what the Jets are looking at. The only way into the playoffs for the Jets is as a wild card; as of this morning, the Jets, Chiefs and Steelers have identical records at 9-5. However, if all three wind up with the same record at the end of the season, the Jets will lose out on tie-breakers. Therefore, the Jets have to win out AND have either the Steelers or Chiefs lose one of their final 2 games. This week, the Steelers play the Ravens and the Chiefs play the Browns and both are double-digit favorites. The Jets have to win this game. The Jets normally play the Pats well and they are at home. I like that hook on top of a field-goal’s worth of points in the spread. I’ll take the Jets plus the points.

Houston at Tennessee (no lines): The starting QB for both teams remains up in the air as of this morning so the lack of any lines is no surprise. In terms of motivation, the Texans lead their division by a game; if they win out, they make the playoffs. The Titans sport the worst record in the NFL as of this morning; enough said. Bottom Line:

    I can’t make a pick if there are no lines.

Green Bay at Arizona – 4 (49.5): Both of these teams are going to be in the NFC playoffs. The Packers currently lead the Vikes in the NFC North and the division winner hosts a game so there is incentive there. The Cards can still get home field advantage by winning out so long as the Panthers lose out too. Hey, it could happen. While it might seem as if the Packers have the motivational edge, I think that will not be enough to overcome the edge the Cards have on offense against the Packers’ defense. I like the Cards at home to win and cover.

St Louis at Seattle – 13 (40.5): The Total Line opened at 42 and dropped to this level very quickly. I like both defenses in this game and you could convince me that the Rams will struggle to score more than 13 points. However, even in that scenario, covering 13 pints is a challenge. Last week, the Seahawks covered 15 points against the Browns; the Rams are hardly a top-shelf team, but they are better than the Browns. I’ll take the Rams plus the points.

Pittsburgh – 10 at Baltimore (47): The Steelers are on a roll; they have won 3 in a row and 5 of their last 6 games. Even in their most recent loss, they scored 30 points on the Seahawks’ defense. In the last 6 games the Steelers are scoring an average of 35 points per game. The Ravens are reduced to playing their JV squad. As mentioned above relative to the Jets’ playoff situation, the Steelers will make the playoffs with a three-way tie for the wild card but the only way for the Steelers to assure that sort of thing is to win out. They play an out-manned Ravens’ squad this week and the Browns next week. If they lose a game there, it will be a self-inflicted wound. I do not think the Ravens can keep this one close. I’ll take the Steelers and lay all of those points even on the road.

(Mon Nite 12/28) Cincy at Denver – 3.5 (40.5): The Total Line opened at 42, dropped to this level right away and has stayed here for the balance of the week. This is the Game of the Week – and ESPN deserves a good game for MNF after last week’s Saints/Lions hot mess. The Broncos are 10-4; the Bengals are 11-3; both of them are looking up at the Pats who are 12-2. Two of those three teams will have a Bye Week in the Playoffs and one of them will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A Broncos win keeps their hopes alive for a Bye Week; a loss dooms those hopes. Both defenses are top-shelf; the Broncos lead the NFL in yards allowed per game and the Bengals are 9th in the league. Both teams will start inexperienced QBs meaning that offensive stats for the entire season are not really applicable here. I see this game going down to the final possession in a game were points will be scarce. Therefore, I will take the Bengals plus the points.

This is the last offering of Mythical Picks for the calendar year and for the NFL regular season. Family events will preclude Mythical Picks for Week 17 but absent some sort of cataclysm, I will be back in the Mythical Picking arena for the start of the NFL playoffs in January.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………