Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 1/13/13

Let me begin with a review of the Mythical Picks from two weeks ago – the final week of the regular season.

    I liked Jets/Bills Under 39.5. The game stayed Under. Yes!

    I liked Bengals -1 over Ravens. Bengals won by 6. Yes!

    I liked Colts +7 against Texans. Colts won outright. Yes!

    I liked Titans -4 over Jags. Titans covered easily. Yes!

    I liked Eagles +9 against Giants. Giants won by 35. Boo!

    I liked Bears -3 over Lions. Bears won by only 2. Boo!

    I liked Panthers +6 against Saints. Panthers won outright. Yes!

    I liked Dolphins/Pats Under 47. Game total was only 28. Yes!

    I liked Packers -3 over Vikes. Packers lost the game. Boo!

    I liked Chiefs +17 against Broncos. Chiefs lost by 35. Boo!

    I liked Cards +17.5 over Niners. Cards lost by only 14. Yes!

    I liked Seahawks -10.5 over Rams. Rams lost by only 7. Boo!

    I liked Redskins -3 over Cowboys. Skins won by 10. Yes!

The final week of the regular season was mythically profitable with a record of 8-5-0 in the 13 games where there were lines available at the time I wrote the piece. That brings the final regular season record to 138-112-7, which too would be mythically profitable against the vig.

Although I did not make picks for the wild card round of the playoffs this year since I was out of the country, let me assert that none of the winners of the games surprised me at all. I thought the Colts/Ravens game would have been a higher scoring affair than it was and I thought that Andy Dalton would have had a much better day than he did throwing the ball against the Texans.

Notwithstanding the fact that Mythical Picks remain in mythically profitable territory, no one should take any information herein as authoritative when making a decision as to which side to back in a real wager on any of this weekend’s NFL playoff games. Here is what I would say to anyone even contemplating doing that:

    Anyone who does not think you are stupid does think that you are possessed by a retarded ghost.

General Comments:

In case you do not believe in reincarnation, let me suggest that last week’s Redskins/Seahawks game provides a hint that it may indeed happen. The FedEx Field “turf” actually looked like grass when viewed from a distance. Michelangelo gained his fame by painting a ceiling; perhaps he came back to paint the field last week? [/ Rod Serling…]

On a serious note, the Washington Redskins are supposedly the third most valuable NFL franchise according to Forbes with a value in the neighborhood of $2B. Every year by the time the end of the season rolls around, the condition of FedEx Field is as bad as an inner city high school field. Given the climate of Washington DC and the species of grasses that can grow here, the field cannot – and does not – survive its wear and tear by the Redskins, by other football games, by concert goers and the like through the end of December. Danny Boy Snyder has never been shy about dipping into the pockets of the fans; it is now time for him to “go to the hip” and put in a top-quality playing surface at FedEx Field. He has only owned the place for 13 years now…

Jags’ owner, Shahid Khan, cleaned house this week. I think he showed a bit of football insight in the way he did that. The first thing he did was to fire the GM that assembled that seriously flawed Jaguars football team. Then he hired a new GM and let the new GM decide what to do about keeping or firing the head coach. Coach Mike Mularkey had only been in Jax for one year but he is now out looking for work with two years of Jaguars’ money still coming to him. The important thing here is that Khan seems to have recognized that the 2012 Jags’ team was a football team in the same way that the Frankenstein monster was a man.

Look at the coaches who lost their jobs in the NFL this year and you will find two prevalent threads which are interrelated. Teams with bad offensive lines generally get poor quarterback play and teams with poor quarterback play tend to lose a lot of games and get their coaches fired. Consider:

    Andy Reid: Eagles’ OL lost 4 starters for most of the year and that led to sacks, fumbles, QB injuries and 12 losses. Oh, by the way, the defense stunk too.

    Lovie Smith: Bears’ OL gave out hits on Jay Cutler like Halloween candy. Smith got sacked at the end of the season because Cutler got sacked so often during the season.

    Mike Mularkey: Jags did not have a QB of average NFL productivity on the roster or a running game that bothered any defensive coordinators.

    Romeo Crennel: Chiefs QBs were average at best.

    Chan Gailey: Neither the Bills’ OL nor the Bills’ QB situation was above average.

    Ken Whisenhunt: The Cards had no quality QBs on the roster and then the Cards’ OL let them be knocked around like bowling pins – the double whammy.

As of today, eight NFL teams are looking for new coaches – or have signed new ones since the end of the 2012 season. Six of the eight coaches on the street had QB/OL problems of significant proportion…

The Jets’ “quarterback situation” seems to have quieted down for the moment. I did not say it was resolved or anything of the sort – merely that it has quieted down to the point where it is not a featured segment on SportsCenter five days a week nor the headline on the back page of the NYC tabloids three days a week. Looking back on the way the Jets’ season ended with the benching of Mark Sanchez and the subsequent turn to Greg McElroy in lieu of Tim Tebow, I think that decision was a calculated move by Rex Ryan diffuse what was going to be a wave of criticism and angst over the 2012 season. Here is what that decision accomplished:

    1. It showed that he really did not have any faith in or use for Tim Tebow as a QB. His decision to pass over Tebow and start McElroy basically said that he thought a guy who had never taken a meaningful NFL snap was better prepared to be the Jets’ QB than a guy who had taken a team to the second round of the playoffs last year. By distancing himself from Tim Tebow, he was also distancing himself from the decision to make the trade that brought Tebow to NYC.

    2. It also showed that Rex Ryan – despite his bluster and braggadocio – is an analytical thinker. Imagine if he had played Tebow for the last couple of games and the Jets had won those games. They still would not have made the playoffs and the howls from the fans and the NY media would be at 100+ decibels screeching that he should have made the move earlier. By going with McElroy, he had a degree of “cover” in the event of a small winning streak at the end of the season.

The Jets’ season did not end with a small winning streak and now the team has to figure out what it is going to do about its ‘quarterback situation” for a very simple reason. If they do not get significantly better QB play next year, the team is going to have another losing season and that will make life miserable for Rex Ryan, Woody Johnson and more than a few of the Jets’ players. To give you a flavor for the way various sportswriters view the Jets’ “quarterback situation”, consider these observations:

“Parting thought: Went to my market and saw they were selling mushy old bananas nobody would want. That reminds me, I hear the Jets are willing to trade quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.” [Greg Cote, Miami Herald]

And…

“The Jets are desperate. They gave Mark Sanchez a big contract extension last season, then traded for Tim Tebow, hoping he would light a fire under Sanchez’s rear end.

“That must have been quite a meeting. ‘What the hell can we do to get our overpaid quarterback interested in quarterbacking?’

“It didn’t work. If you seek to inspire the San Francisco Philharmonic to a higher level, you don’t try to scare ‘em by bringing in a hot kazoo player.” [Scott Ostler, SF Chronicle]

And…

“Next move: Now that the Jets appear ready to liberate Tim Tebow, the usual question arises: ‘Will another team build an offense around Tebow’s unique skill set?’ Unique skill set, of course, is a euphemism for ‘dude can’t throw.’ “ [Bob Molinaro, Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot]

On one of the local sportsradio stations, I heard a discussion between a host and caller about the possibility of Ray Lewis becoming an NFL coach. Surely, if he expresses an interest in going down that career path, he will get an opportunity to do so. However, the host and the caller when into rhapsody mode here saying that Lewis would certainly become one of the greatest coaches ever because of his intensity and his focus on perfect execution on the field. That focus and that attitude would lead to coaching greatness.

Sounds great but the first thought that crossed my mind was:

    Mike … Singletary.

The Games:

(Sat 4:30 PM EST) Baltimore at Denver – 9.5 (46.5): With the announcement that this will be Ray Lewis’ final season, you can expect that he will be prowling the sidelines and the field to assure maximum effort from everyone. That will provide inspiration and motivation but the Ravens have a lot to overcome here. First, they have not been nearly as good on the road as they have been at home this year; note that the game is in Denver. Second, statistically, the Ravens are about 106 yards per game behind the Broncos; the Ravens gain 46 yards a game less than the Broncos do and the Ravens give up 60 yards per game more than the Broncos do. Third, the last time the Broncos lost a game – anywhere – was in October and the Broncos have scored 30+ points in 9 of their last 10 games. Here are a couple of meaningless trends associated with this game:

    Broncos are 16-7 to go Over in their last 23 home games. [Remember, Peyton Manning has only been their QB for 8 of those home games.]

    Broncos are 11-4 in their last 15 games ATS when the game is played on a Saturday. [Seriously…]

I think the Ravens defense will do better than it did against the Broncos when they played in December and I think the Broncos defense can hold the Ravens offense in check. Therefore, I’ll take this game to stay Under.

(Sat 8:00 PM EST) Green Bay at SF – 3 (45): As pointed out above, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and quarterbacks need a combination of talent, experience and protection to function properly. I like Colin Kaepernick a lot; I like Aaron Rodgers even more. The Packers are only 4-4 on the road this year while the Niners are 6-1-1 at home. The Niners may get Justin Smith back on the field for this game. Smith tore a tendon in his elbow/triceps a month ago so a return here would be on a very short calendar. [Aside: Redskins’ coach, Mike Shanahan, has to hope Smith plays, plays well and does not sustain any added injury in the process so he can “justify” his decisions to keep Robert Griffin III on the field as long as he did.] Here is a trend for the game that is irrelevant, meaningless and it demonstrates that some people have far too much time on their hands:

    Niners are 9-3 in their last 12 games ATS when the total score in the game is between 42.5 and 49 points. [Really!]

I think the wrong team is favored here despite the fact that the Niners are an excellent team. I’ll take the Packers plus the points.

(Sun 1:00 PM EST) Seattle at Atlanta – 3 (45): This line is all over the place; you can find it at 1 point in a couple of places and at 3.5 points at 1 sportsbook. The Falcons – and Matt Ryan specifically – need to win this game. Ryan has been to the playoffs multiple times in his career and has never won a playoff game. In fact, he has never thrown for 200+ yards in any of those playoff losses. The Seahawks’ cornerbacks like to play physical coverage with not a lot of help from the safeties on many plays. Can they do that for 60 minutes against Julio Jones and Roddy White? If they can, then the Seahawks can pay a lot of attention to Tony Gonzalez in the middle of the field and give Matt Ryan another helping of playoff agita. The Seahawks offense showed resiliency last week coming back from a 14-0 deficit on the road in the first quarter against the Redskins; they should not count on being able to do that two weeks in a row. I am tempted to take the Seahawks on the money line but the best odds I can find for that is +122 so I will pass on that. Instead, I will take the Seahawks plus the points.

(Sun 4:30 PM EST) Houston at New England – 10 (47.5): It was only a month ago that the Texans paid a visit to Foxboro and lost to the Pats by 4 TDs. If you watched that game, you saw a vivisection. So, is this game really a glorified tune-up for the Pats as they prepare for the winner of the Broncos/Ravens game? Or, will the Texans use that recent shellacking as a motivation to come out and show that they are much better than they showed on this field the last time? The Pats have the #1 offense in the NFL coming into this game; on defense, the Texans are no slouch, they rank 4th in the AFC. I think the Pats are the better team and they had a week off to let some injuries heal but that line looks way too fat for me. I’ll take the Texans plus the points here.

Finally, since I used several lines about the Jets’ quarterback situation above, let me close here with a note from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald that is tangentially related to that subject:

“The New York Daily News reported that Jets coach Rex Ryan has a tattoo of his wife wearing nuthin’ but a Mark Sanchez jersey. HARD-HITTING INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM LIVES!!!”

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

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