Recapping last week’s Mythical Picks:
I liked the Pats – 4 over the Bills. Pats won by 24. Yes!
I liked Pats/Bills Over 50.5. The game went way Over. Double Yes!
I liked the Titans +13 against the Texans. Not enough points. Boo!
I liked the Chargers even over the Chiefs. Chargers won by 17. Yes!
I liked the Vikes +4.5 over the Lions. Vikes won straight up. Yes!
I liked the Panthers +7 against the Falcons. Falcons won by only 2. Yes!
I liked the Seahawks – 1 over the Rams. Rams won the game. Boo!
I liked the Niners – 4 over the Jets. Niners won by 34. Yes!
I liked the Cards – 5.5 over the Dolphins. Cards won by only 3. Boo!
I liked Card/Dolphins Under 40. The game went Over. Double Boo!
I liked Raiders/Broncos Over 48. The game went Under. Boo!
I liked the Bengals – 1 over the Jags. Bengals covered easily. Yes!
I liked the Packers – 7 over the Saints. Packers won by only 1. Boo!
I liked Packers/Saints Over 53. The game went Over. Yes!
I liked the Skins +2 over the Bucs. Skins won straight up. Yes!
I liked the Eagles – 1 over the Giants. Eagles won by 2. Yes!
I liked Bears +3.5 over the Cowboys. Bears won by 2 TDs. Yes!
Last week was an easily profitable week – - mythically of course – - with a record of 11-6. That makes up for two weeks ago when Mythical Picks were in orbit around Saturn. The season record now stands at 33-32-3.
Notwithstanding the mythical profitability shown above, no one should use any information here as the basis for making any real wagers on any real NFL games this weekend or any other weekend. Anyone who did that would be stupid enough to be hit by a parked car.
The Houston Texans are 4-0 for the first time in forever. In recent years, the Texans offense has been explosive but the defense has not held up its end of the stick. This year, the Texans’ defense is as competent as the Texans’ offense. For the first quarter of this NFL season, the Texans have been the best team on the field.
The combined score for the Texans’ first 4 games is 126-56; they have scored more than twice as many points as they have given up. No other team even comes close to that ratio.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles have a 3-1 record after the first quarter of the season and they have yielded more points than they have scored. Their combined score is:
Eagles 66 Opponents 83.
The Eagles have won their 3 games by a total of 4 points or a victory margin of 1.3 points per win. If they were to win their next 12 games (meaning they would finish the season at 15-1) and maintain the same margin of victory in those 12 games, they would finish the season having scored fewer points than their opponents. Before anyone jumps all over me, I have no expectation that anything of the sort is going to happen.
One other team carries a 3-1 record at this point of the season with an unusual combined score:
Bengals 112 Opponents 112.
Last week, the Bengals scorched the Jags 37-10. The question from that game is simple. Did the Bengals defense turn a corner there or was this result just because they faced the ineptitude of the Jaguars’ offense? Marvin Lewis has to hope it was the former; I tend to think it was the latter.
The Raiders defense looked pathetic against Peyton Manning and the Broncos last week. Manning was 30-38 for 388 yards and 3 TDs leading the Broncos to a 37-6 victory. So, Raiders’ fans may think that this was Manning having one of his “hot days” and that he has done that to plenty of other teams; there is no shame in any of that. OK, so where was the Raiders’ offense last Sunday. Two field goals in 60 minutes of football in this offense-oriented league…?
I guess the Vikings are for real. However, if you still prefer to harbor doubts about their resurgence, you will then have to conclude that the Lions are a sham. When the Vikings beat the Lions last week, the Vikings snapped an 11 game losing streak within the NFC North Division.
If the Lions cannot run the football – and they have not shown that they can – then they are not going to win with their defense that gives up 28.5 points per game. Moreover, the Lions gave up 2 TDs on special teams two weeks ago against the Titans and then 2 more TDs on special teams to the Vikes last week. That is absolutely unacceptably bad.
Last year, the Lions started the season with a 5-0 record and people talked about the renewal of the Lions’ franchise. The Lions made the playoffs and then lost in the first round. If you count that playoff loss, the Lions are now 6-10 since their 5-0 start to last year. That 6-10 run looks less like a “renewal” than a “repetition” of the Lions’ franchise.
The Cardinals’ defense took the day off against the Dolphins giving up 431 yards passing to Ryan Tannehill and 245 yards receiving to Brian Hartline. Nevertheless, the Cards did just enough to force the game to OT and then to win the game with a field goal. In that game, Kevin Kolb was sacked 8 times. Evidently, that was not an aberration because in last night’s loss to the Rams, Kevin Kolb was sacked 9 times. I know that Kolb is not high on the “QB Escapability Scale”, but that is not the problem for Arizona. The Cards’ OL is just not able to block speed rushes from the edges nor does it pick up delayed blitzes up the middle. Kolb is a sitting duck back there…
At the conclusion of last week’s game, the Seahawks had posted less than 200 yards passing for the fourth game in a row. In the pass-happy environment of the NFL in 2012, that is not a recipe for success. That worked fine in 1972 … The Seahawks defense has been very good this year. Against the Rams last week, the Rams converted 5 of 13 times on third down and in all 5 cases the situation was third-and-ten or longer. That is unusual against a mediocre defense let alone a good one.
Speaking of the Rams, after last night’s win on Thursday Nite Football, the Rams are over .500 for the first time since 2006.
Last week, the Chiefs, playing at home, gave up 37 points to the Chargers. The week before, the Chargers had been at home and could only manage to score 3 points. Remember, head coach, Romeo Crennel, is a “defensive guy”…
The Bills led the Pats 21-7 and seemed to be having their way in the game. Then the lights went on for the Pats’ offense. The Pats had two running backs over 100 yards in the game – no really, they did – and Tom Brady even scrambled enough to score a running TD. The Bills allowed 2 of the Pats’ receivers to accumulate 100 yards in the game and surrendered 31 points in the fourth quarter. I believe the word for that kind of performance is:
Speaking of things like “capitulation” and “absolutely, unacceptably bad”, the NY Jets’ performance against the Niners last week was that and more. With 10 minutes to play in the game, the Jets trailed 24-0 and had amassed the grand total of 134 yards of offense for the day. Even “Fireman Ed”, who may have been granted his GED after he proved he could spell “J-E-T-S” two weeks in a row, had to know the game was “O-V-E-R” at that point. Moreover, it only got worse ending up 34-0.
There is no room to blame that kind of performance on “injuries” as the Jets’ cheerleaders in the press will surely try to do. The Jets gave up 245 yards rushing to the Niners and there was precious little “finesse” running or “trickeration” in that total. They jammed the ball down the Jets’ collective throats. The Jets rank 31st in the NFL in rushing defense; that is not due to an injury to Darrelle Revis.
Last week the Jets were 2 for 13 on third down conversions. That is pathetic. Moreover, in their last 34 possessions the Jets have scored precisely 1 TD. That too is pathetic.
Is Tim Tebow the answer? Highly unlikely even though Mark Sanchez has stunk out the joint for most of this year completing less than 50% of his passes. What Tebow might do for the Jets is to shorten games a bit by emphasizing his running skills to keep the clock moving and by keeping the Jets’ offense on the field with that clock running. That would keep the porous Jets’ defense on the sidelines a bit more so they might be gashed less.
The Jets are one of a few NFL “teams in trouble” for the season. As the first quarter of the season has passed, here are my Teams in Trouble:
That is my “Lowest Quartile” for the first quarter of the year. Projecting from this point, I would not be surprised to see those eight teams all drafting in the top ten picks next April…
Let me close my commentary this week with the MNF game between the Bears and the Cowboys. In last week’s Mythical Picks, I said that the key question for that game was to figure out if Tony Romo or Jay Cutler would be the QB to lose the game for his team. Well, Romo threw 5 INTs in the game (one was not really an INT but that is how it will go in the stats) and the Bears coasted to a win. Tony Romo played one of his really bad games on Monday night.
Nevertheless, he did not lose that game by himself. Do not take anything I am about to say as any kind of “apologia” for Romo; he was terrible in the game. At the same time, the Cowboys could not even pretend to be able to run the football; they had all of 41 yards rushing for the game. The Bears’ defense had that figured out early on and just kept applying more and more pressure on the passer creating more opportunities for Romo to “make bad decisions”. To be sure, he made plenty of those…
In addition, Dez Bryant did not play like a wunderkind; rather he played like a stumblebum. He ran the wrong route on one INT; he dropped two passes that would have kept drives alive; he dropped a pass that hit him on both hands when he was almost two full strides behind the deepest Bears’ defender.
The Cowboys have a Bye Week this week – and they had better use it advantageously because their schedule for the five weeks after the Bye Week is hardly a cakewalk. Here is what they will face:
Brad Dickson of the Omaha World Herald had this to say about the Bears/Cowboys game on Monday night:
“Tony Romo threw five interceptions on Monday Night Football as the Cowboys lost to the Bears. Compared with Romo, last Monday night the replacement refs had a pretty good game.”
“There was a 3.4 magnitude earthquake in Texas. The ground was shaking so hard that one of Tony Romo’s passes on Monday Night Football sailed into the arms of a guy on his own team.”
Atlanta – 3 at Washington (51): Matt Ryan has played 4 really good football games so far this year and he has two quality wide receivers (Julio Jones and Roddy White) to catch his throws. Oh, by the way, Tony Gonzalez at tight end ain’t too shabby either. The Redskins’ secondary could not cover a turtle with a king-sized blanket. I think the Falcons will score lots in this game. Robert Griffin III has played 4 really good football games so far this year and he makes defenses crazy with his ability to run and to throw. The Falcons are a good team but they do not “relentlessly pressure opposing QBs” so Griffin should be able to move the Skins and score points too. Meaningless trends:
Skins have lost 7 home games in a row
Both Skins wins this year have come against NFC South opponents.
I like this game to go Over.
Philly at Pittsburgh – 3 (43): This line opened as a “pick ‘em” game but was at this level by Tuesday afternoon. Call this game the Turnpike Tussle. It will be one of the best games of the weekend. The Steelers will supposedly get three players back for this game – Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall. Those defenders will put pressure on Michael Vick who was “turnover prone” in the first three games of the year. Mendenhall will be in his first game back from a knee injury and the Steelers’ running game has not been the same with him in street clothes. The Steelers have been vulnerable in the secondary to an unusual extent this year and the Eagles have wideouts that are speedy and sure-handed. Meaningless trend:
Eagles are 2-0 this year against the AFC North.
Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Steelers and lay the points.
Green Bay – 7 at Indy (47.5): This should be an emotional game for the Colts as they take the field without their head coach who will undergo chemotherapy for leukemia for at least the next month – and likely longer. On paper, this is a talent mismatch; the Colts are starting over. However, the Packers have played very poorly this year considering how dominantly they played last year. The redeeming feature for the Packers here is that the Colts’ run defense is not so good meaning that Aaron Rodgers might actually have play action pass options open to him. Only because the ground rules here are that I will make a pick in every game, I will take the game to go Over.
Cleveland at Giants – 8.5 (44): This line opened the week at 13 points and has been dropping steadily all week. I would not be surprised to see it at 8 points by kickoff. Why there is a tsunami of money on the Browns is a question I cannot answer. The Giants lost a heartbreaker Sunday night to the Eagles; the Giants’ team has a sufficient veteran core to turn that defeat into motivation instead of deflation. The Browns are not very good – but they seem to play hard and covered last week against the Ravens. Here is the match-up that should kill the Browns:
Giants are 2nd in the NFL in pass offense (321.5 yards per game)
Browns are 27th in the NFL in pass defense (286 yards per game)
I’ll take the Giants and lay the points.
Miami at Cincy – 3 (45.5): The Dolphins are 1-3, but they have not played terribly. The Bengals are 3-1 but have not been dominant. Brian Hartline leads the NFL in receiving yards for now after his 245-yard outburst against the Cardinals last week. In this game, I think the Bengals’ WR, AJ Green, might be the go-to-guy because the Dolphins’ secondary is not the team’s strength. Speaking of exploiting the other team’s defense, Reggie Bush might pick up a lot of yardage against a Bengals DL that allows 5.4 yards per rush. Meaningless trends:
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, the Bengals are 10-2-1 against the spread when playing non-division opponents.
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, the Dolphins are 7-3 against the spread when playing on the road.
Dolphins have won 6 of the last 7 games played in Cincy.
I am flipping a coin here in Curmudgeon Central and the coin says to play the game Under.
Baltimore – 6 at KC (46.5): The Total Line opened the week at 44 and has climbed steadily to this level. You can find it at 47.5 at one sportsbook this morning. The Ravens of 2012 are not exactly like the Ravens of recent years; they continue to win but this year they are winning with offense and not with a smothering defense and a game-management offense. The Chiefs just stink; the press in KC is starting to call for GM Scott Pioli’s head on a plate and fans in KC are pretty convinced that Matt Cassell is the worst starting QB in the NFL. [He is not a top-shelf QB, but he is not the worst in the league either.] I think the interesting comparison in this game will be RBs Jamal Charles and Ray Rice. I smell a blowout here and it could turn the KC fanbase ugly-squared. I like the Ravens to win and cover.
Seattle at Carolina – 2 (43.5): Last week, the Seahawks had to fly to St. Louis; then they flew home for the week; now they fly to Charlotte for a game. Where will the schedule-makers have them playing next week? Bujumbura? [To save you Googling time, that is the capital of Burundi.] The Seahawks bring a mediocre offense with them [see above] but a strong defense. The Panthers have a porous defense that gives up almost 400 yards per game and an offense that can be very proficient. I’ll make this a venue call and take the Panthers to win and cover.
Chicago – 4.5 at Jax (41): The recipe for beating the Bears has been to pressure Jay Cutler until he gets flustered and/or angry and then starts making mistakes making him more flustered and/or angry. So far in the 2012 season, the Jags have 2 sacks; they do not tend to put a lot of pressure on the QB. In situations such as that, Jay Cutler tends to shine. On the other hand, Jay Cutler has shown a tendency to play up or down to the level of his opponents and playing the Jags would be an opportunity for him to play down. Last Monday, the Bears smothered the Cowboys because they did not have to worry about a running attack; this week, they will have to play the run very honestly because Maurice Jones-Drew is a well-deserved Pro Bowler. Meaningless trends:
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, the Bears are 3-5 against the spread playing opponents under .500.
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, the Jags are 3-8 against the spread playing opponents over .500.
Here is an historical note that might well be pertinent:
When Jay Cutler was injured in that Bears’ playoff game a year ago and did not play in the second half, Maurice Jones-Drew was one of the players whose Tweets questioned Cutler’s toughness and manhood.
Jay Cutler might show his manhood – figuratively of course – to MJD and the Jax fans here.
I see a low scoring affair here. For mythical purposes only, I’ll take the Bears and lay the points.
Tennessee at Minnesota – 5.5 (44): Here are two inscrutable teams. Nonetheless, here is something that is clear to me. The Titans allow more than 420 yards of offense to opponents this year and Adrian Peterson is due for one of his dominating games. Here are question marks for the game:
Did Chris Johnson get his groove back last week?
Is Christian Ponder really that good?
Is Matt Hasselbeck as step up or a step down from Jake Locker?
Will the Vikings score on special teams yet again?
Out comes the coin… It is in the air… The coin says to play the game Over.
Denver at New England – 6.5 (51.5): I do not know if this is the best game of the week [Philly/Pittsburgh is a contender for that honor.], but with the opportunity to watch Peyton Manning and Tom Brady play QB at the same time, it is the game I would prefer to watch this week. If these two teams do not meet in the playoffs this year, it could be 2015 before the Broncos and Pats play again; that means this might be the last match-up between these guys. That is the feelgood stuff. Here is what is at stake:
The loser here will be under .500 for the season.
The winner here will hold a tiebreaker for playoff purposes.
Here is a meaningless trend:
The Broncos have won 15 of their last 20 games against the Pats.
I like the Pats at home to win and cover and I like this game to go Over.
Buffalo at SF – 9 (44.5): Last week, the Bills gagged up a 2 TD lead at home against a good Pats’ team. This week, the Bills fly 3000 miles to play a good Niners’ team. The Bills will have a healthy Fred Jackson in the line-up and that might give Ryan Fitzpatrick a small measure of relief from the Niners pass rush. Will that be sufficient? Probably not. Will the Niners continue to use Colin Kaepernick in a Wildcat/Pistol offense? They should not need that here so they could keep it under wraps. Consider these meaningless trends since the beginning of the 2011 season:
Niners are 16-4-1 against the spread.
Niners are 8-0-0 against the spread at home.
Niners are 11-3-0 against the spread as a favorite.
Niners are 11-2-1 against the spread against non-division opponents.
I said those trends are meaningless, but they are impressive. I think the Bills are in for a LONG day after their LONG journey to the city by the bay. I’ll take the Niners to win and cover.
(Sun Nite) San Diego at New Orleans – 3.5 (52.5): NBC will play up the storyline of Drew Brees being let go by the Chargers to retain Philip Rivers as the Chargers franchise QB. We will also hear about Drew Brees’ chance to break John Unitas record for consecutive games with a TD pass. That is because the Saints 0-4 record tarnishes the shine that was on this game when NBC got it for its Sunday Night Football schedule. At least the Saints played the Packers close last week… Nevertheless, the Saints pass defense is miserable and the Chargers can throw the football more than a little bit. Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham are two elite tight ends and we should see each of them more than once in a while. The Chargers were on the road last week and now have a long trip here. I think this is where the Saints get their first win but I do not like that spread. I do like the game to go Over.
(Mon Nite) Houston – 8 at Jets (41.5): Shop this line; it is all over the place. It started the week at 7 points; and this morning, it is anywhere from 7.5 points to 9.5 points (at one sportsbook). So far this year, the Texans have won and covered the spread in all four games. This team is clicking on all cylinders. The Jets are a mess. Last week, the Niners gained 245 yards rushing on the Jets’ defense. This week Arian Foster and Ben Tate come to town. That is not the recipe for a respite… This game looks like a mismatch – - or a train wreck if you are a Jets’ fan. I’ll take the Texans to win and cover.
Finally, let me close with a comment from Conan O’ Brien:
“O.J. Simpson is claiming that Khloe Kardashian is his daughter. He makes the claim in his new book called ‘The Only Thing I’m Ashamed Of.’ ”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………