Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend OF 11/1/15

Last week continued the vanilla flavor of Mythical Picks for this season. Last week, the Mythical picks record was 8-8-0 bringing the season record to 55-55-3. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip games did not do as well; last week the coin flip games were 1-2-0 dropping the season record to a sub-.500 record of 6-7-0.

The “Best Pick” of the week was picking the Raiders/Chargers OVER 47. The game went comfortably over.

The “Worst Pick of the week was the Colts/Saints game. I picked the game to go OVER 52 (It did not.) and I took the Colts – 4.5 (They lost the game outright.)

No one should use any information here as the basis for making a wager involving real money on an actual NFL game this weekend – or any other weekend for that matter. To do that, here is how stupid you would have to be:

    If your computer “freezes up”, you think the proper remedy is to put it in the microwave.

General Comments:

I will try to be brief this week; there is a lot on my plate at the moment…

Kudos to Dan Campbell for getting the Dolphins to play hard and to play well in the last two weeks. Clearly the team has responded to his gung-ho/tough-guy message as the coach. The cautionary note here is that the opponents for the dolphins in the last two weeks have been the Titans and the Texans who have a combined record of 3-10. Those are not elite NFL squads.

At one point in the game last week, the Texans trailed the Dolphins 41-0; I thought that had to be the nadir of the season for them. A friend said that he thought the Texans had been behind the Falcons by that much earlier this year and so I went and looked. My friend was wrong; the Texans trailed the Falcons 42-0 earlier this year. The Texans lost Arian Foster for the year with an Achilles tendon injury; at age 29, that might be career ending for Foster. I am not wishing that for him, but many RBs reach their “sell by date” at age 29 without an injury that significant.

The Colts lost to the Saints and the Indy fans booed Andrew Luck in the first half of the game. Luck had a bad game and he has not played well much of the year. However, Colts’ fans really need to think about that booing; Luck has had the team in the playoffs for 3 straight years and the Colts were in the AFC Championship Game last year. You may recall that game; it is the one that introduced the word “Deflategate” to the sports vocabulary.

The Colts’ problems reside in their OL and DL; those were team weaknesses last year. In the offseason, management did little or nothing to strengthen those weaknesses and that is not Andrew Luck’s fault nor the fault of the veteran “skill position players” the Colts did sign in free agency. Consider that the Colts defense gave up more than 10 yards per carry to Mark Ingram in the loss last week (14 carries 143 yards) and allowed the Saints to hold the ball for more than 38 minutes.

The Colts continue to lead the AFC South simply because the other teams there are beneath mediocre. With the weaknesses of the Colts on display for all teams to see and with Andrew Luck still coming back from a shoulder injury, it would not be a surprise to see the Colts at .500 for the year. And that ought to win the AFC South comfortably…

The Bills continue to underachieve. Not only did they lose to the Jags in London last week, they lost because their defense gave up a game winning drive in the final moments and that put the Jags over 30 points for the game. The Bills have a Bye Week this week and that should get them back to their #1 QB, Tyrod Taylor.

    That is sort of a frightening thought. Tyrod Taylor as your starting QB is considered a gift from the gods…

As is often the case, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle sees things differently than most other folks. Here is his question in the wake of the Bills Jags game in London:

“Checking out the massive logistics and cost of taking two NFL teams to London for a game, wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to bring 70,000 London fans to America instead?”

In training camp, the Bills had Matt Cassel as part of their QB mix and then they cut him to go with EJ Manuel as the backup. Manuel has been “less than mediocre” in two starts but before Bills’ fans lament that personnel decision back in August, consider that Matt Cassel started for the Cowboys last week against the Giants and the Cowboys lost by a TD. Cassel threw 3 INTs in the second half and one was a Pick Six. In 2015, neither QB is anything more than a stop-gap.

The Giants beat the Cowboys but surely did not look dominant in doing so. The Giants lead the NFC East and – like the Colts in the AFC – they do not look nearly as competent/dominating as the other division leaders in the NFC.

The Jets played the Pats even for 3 quarters; in fact, they led 17-16 at the end of the 3rd quarter. No one seems to have caught this on videotape, but somehow Tom Brady found a phone booth between quarters and came out as Superman in the 4th quarter. Here is his stat line for the 4th quarter:

    14-17 for 150 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs

Those would be phenomenal stats for many QBs for a half game.

Oh, by the way, Brady led the pats in rushing for the game carrying 4 times for 15 yards. Clearly, the Pats determined that they would do little business trying to run on the Jets’ DL and so they did something else; they threw the ball all over the field.

The Jets are playing very well this year because they are running the ball well and they are playing sound defense. They give up only 17.5 points per game – second only to the Broncos who give up 17.0 points per game. They are getting sound if not stirring QB play from Ryan Fitzpatrick and capitalizing on the totality of their game to be in second place in the AFC East a game ahead of the Dolphins.

The Raiders demolished the Chargers 37-29. It was not nearly that close:

    Early in the 4th quarter, the score was 37-6. The Raiders put the game on cruise control at that point and the Chargers scored 3 meaningless TDs to make it appear as if the game might have been in doubt at some point in the second half. It was not.

    Amari Cooper is the real deal at WR. He caught a TD pass last week and for the season he has 33 catches and is averaging over 16 yards per catch.

The Chiefs beat the Steelers last week but did not look inspiring in doing so. They beat the Steelers’ #3 QB and in that game Landry Jones showed why he is the #3 QB. He lost a fumble and threw 2 INTs putting the Steelers 3 games behind the Bengals in the loss column in the AFC North. The Chiefs raised their record to 2-5.

In the AFC West, the Raiders look as they are the most likely team to pick up the pieces if the Broncos come apart at the seams down the line. Both the Chargers and the Chiefs have looked awful this year – and the Chiefs have lost their best offensive weapon for the rest of the season. I am not trying to say that the Raiders are a good team yet; they are improved over last year and they are young enough to expect improvement next year. However, if abject misfortune befalls the Broncos, I think the Raiders are the least worst of the other teams in the AFC west.

Speaking of good young WRs as I was above, Stefon Diggs may be the main man in Minnesota. He made a highlight reel TD catch against the Lions last week that NFL Films will probably use for the next 5 years. Yes, I know; it was against the Lions last week. Nevertheless, Diggs was impressive.

The Lions led by 2 scores early in the game and then seemed lost at sea for the rest of the game. The Lions are the only team in the NFL to have won only 1 game this year. Sadly for Lions’ fans – there are probably still a few of them around somewhere – they are playing as if they deserve that record and that opprobrium.

Here is the fundamental reason the Falcons beat the Titans 10-7 last week:

    The Titans were even more incompetent than the Falcons were.

In the NFC West, I think the Rams are for real because they have an elite defense and they have discovered that Todd Gurley is indeed a fine NFL caliber RB. Last week against the Browns, he carried 19 times for 128 yards and 2 TDs. Here is what the Rams’ defense did:

    Forced four fumbles
    Recovered all four of the forced fumbles
    Ran back one of the recovered forced fumbles for a TD
    Sacked the QB four times.

Josh McCown suffered a shoulder injury in the game after running into the stadium wall. It may not be such a burden for the Browns should they have to turn to Johnny Manziel to play QB. Josh McCown is 36 years old; Father Time has determined that he is not going to be the franchise QB for any team in the league. The Browns at some point probably want to find out if Manziel can play the position well enough to be the starter – or the long term backup. It may tell them if they need to go and find one QB or two QBs.

The Panthers beat the Eagles despite the fact that Cam Newton threw 3 INTs. Other than those 3 plays, Newton played a very good game and Jonathan Stewart fan for 100+ yards. The Eagles have a problem on offense – and it is not just their QB.

The Eagles cannot or will not – makes no difference which is the case – throw the ball downfield 20 yards or more. That allows the safeties to “play up” and that limits the yards after the catch by receivers in the short passing game.

I have said for the last year or so that the best QB on the Skins’ roster to play in Jay Gruden’s offensive system is Kirk Cousins. After the Bucs jumped out to a 24-0 lead last week, Cousins led the Skins back to win the game 31-30 including a game winning 80-yard drive in the final moments. He threw for 300+ yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs in the game; oh, and he ran for the Skins’ fourth TD.

The Bucs meanwhile played a miserable second half of football. Not only did they surrender a generous lead; they were called for 16 penalties in the game. I realize that Lovie Smith is a darling of the football media but consider:

    He is an anointed defensive genius and master of the “Tampa 2 defense”. The Skins torched that defense in their comeback.

    Stupid penalties are partially attributable to bad coaching.

The Bucs had the overall #1 pick in the draft last year and they are 2-4 this year.

The Games:

Here are the teams with Bye Weeks:

    Bills will take 2 weeks to contemplate how they can be as good as their coach proclaims them to be and yet be at the bottom of the AFC East.

    Eagles will take 2 weeks to figure out how to stretch the field just a bit so that defenses play them honestly.

    Jags will take 2 weeks to bask in the glory of being tied for second place in the AFC South; that is rarefied air for the Jags.

    Skins will take 2 weeks to analyze what they fed kirk Cousins for his pre-game meal last week so that they can duplicate it next time they play.

(Thurs Nite) Miami at New England – 8 (51): Not only is this a division game; this is a game in which the Dolphins will demonstrate if the “Dan Campbell Turnaround” is for real. Here is what I have seen from the Dolphins over the past two weeks:

    They are playing much harder.
    They are playing smarter.
    They are playing a more open offense.

Does that mean they will beat the Pats here? I doubt it, but they are more likely to do so tonight than they were to do so four weeks ago. If you like the Dolphins to win straight up, you can find them at +340 at several sportsbooks. I think this will be an offensive game on both sides and so I like the game to go OVER.

Detroit vs KC – 5 (46) [Game is in London]: The spread here opened at 3.5 points and expanded to this level quickly. The Committee of One (me) who selects the Dog-Breath Game of the Week thought long and hard about this one since the teams bring a combined 3-11 record to the coin toss. However, there is another game below to which that “honor” will fall. Neither team in this game is even marginally relevant for 2015. Matthew Stafford will be the superior QB on the field but to say that he can be erratic is to say that Jeffrey Dahmer was not a nice man. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game – to a large extent because I do not care enough about this game to waste any synapse firings over it – and the coin says to take the Lions plus the points.

Minnesota at Chicago “pick ‘em” (42): Look, in a “pick ‘em” game, my inclination is to go with the team that I consider to be the superior side. Therefore, I’ll take the Vikings to win the game.

Tampa at Atlanta – 7 (48.5): If I were only to consider this game off of last week’s performances, this would clearly be the Dog-Breath Game of the Week but the Falcons have shown better in previous weeks than they did last week. It will be interesting to see how the Bucs coaching staff gets their young team to forget the come-from-WAAY-ahead loss and to focus on this division rival. I think this is the week the Falcons shake off the fog they have been playing in for the past 2 weeks and come back to life. I’ll take the Falcons at home and lay the points. After making that pick, I ran across these two meaningless trends that seem to support the pick:

    In the last 29 meetings head-to-head, the favorite is 20-8-1 ATS.
    In the last 8 meetings head-to-head, the home team is 5-2-1 ATS

Giants at New Orleans – 3 (48.5): The Saints have won 2 games in a row over the Falcons and the Colts; the Giants come off an important win over the Cowboys in which they got a Pick Six and a kickoff return for a TD as they scored a grand total of 27 points. The Saints are not likely to offer up the same level of largesse here but by the same token, the Giants’ OL is not likely to allow the same level of pressure to Eli Manning that the Colts OL allowed the Saints to apply to Andrew Luck. More importantly, Mark Ingram will not be running for an average of 10 yards per carry against the Giants. I think the wrong team is favored here; I’ll take the Giants plus the points.

SF at St. Louis – 8 (39): In games I think will be low-scoring, I usually want to take the points – particularly if there are more than a TD’s worth of points on the table. However, I am loathe to do that here because the Rams’ defense just might hold the Niners to single digits in this game. The Rams’ defense should feast on Colin Kaepernick once they shut down the threat of Carlos Hyde running the ball. The Rams offense is not fearsome, but against the Niners’ defense, it should have a decent day. I like the Rams to win and cover here. Not counting defensive/special teams scores or scores coming from ridiculously short fields, I will not be surprised to see this game wind up 20-6.

Arizona – 4.5 at Cleveland (46.5): The Cardinals fly way to the east to play a non-conference opponent. That is not the stuff of adrenaline and emotion. Fortunately for the Cardinals, that non-conference opponent is the sorry-assed Browns. The Cards are 86 yards per game better on offense and 30 yards per game better on defense. That should translate to a Cardinals’ win but a 4.5-point spread often translates into a need to win by a TD. That scares me enough to opt to take the game to go OVER.

Cincy at Pittsburgh – 1 (48): This spread opened with the Bengals as a 3-point favorite; what we see here represents a 4-point swing in the spread and that is a lot. Ben Roethlisberger practiced this week and is “probable” for this game. After watching Landry Jones play last week and Michael Vick play the two weeks before that, I think Ben Roethlisberger playing on a crutch would be an upgrade at QB. The Bengals are playoff bound; they have 6 wins already and at least 4 easy games on the schedule after this one. The Steelers are sitting at 4-3 but they have all 3 of their losses in conference. That will not help in wild-card tiebreakers. I will assume that Roethlisberger will play here. I will take the Steelers and lay the point and I will take the game to go OVER.

San Diego at Baltimore – 3 (50): Here is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The Ravens started the season looking at getting a bye week in the playoffs; they are now 1-6 overall and 0-2 at home. The Chargers were the “sexy pick” in the AFC West to dethrone the Broncos; they are now 2-5 overall and 0-3 on the road. I am turning the game over immediately to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol just to get out of the stench here. The coin says to take the Chargers plus the points.

Tennessee at Houston (no lines): If there were lines up for this game it would have been the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Now I – and you too – have a perfectly good reason to ignore it and pretend it does not exist…

Jets – 2.5 at Oakland (45): This is not the best game on the card by far but it is a game that ought to be interesting. The Raiders are not going to run away and hide with a 31-point lead over the Jets; their offense is improved to be sure but not that much improved. Both teams have running games that could exploit the opposing defense but the Jets’ pass defense is much better than the Raiders’ pass defense. That is a long way to travel for those Jets and they did have a hard-fought game in New England that went down to the final moments. Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Raiders plus the points.

Seattle – 6 at Dallas (41): With apologies to Rick Pitino from his days with the Celtics:

“Look, Tony Romo isn’t walking in through that door – – and if he does, he will still have his arm in a sling.”

The Cowboys’ defense will pressure Russell Wilson all day long but he will still make fewer mistakes than either Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden or Jason Garrett should he put on a uniform and hit the field to play QB. Darren McFadden ran well last week but he does not have a history of stringing together excellent games. Both teams are in dire straits when it comes to their playoff aspirations this year. The Seahawks are 1-3 on the road this year; the Cowboys are 1-2 at home this year; that does not seem to be much of a venue advantage. Out comes the Curmudgeon Central Coin for the Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Seahawks and lay the points.

(Sun Nite) Green Bay – 3 at Denver (46): Here you have the Game of the Week; two undefeated teams took last week off to prep for this game; two outstanding QBs face off against each other. We have a dinner engagement on Sunday evening, but you may be certain that I will record this game and watch it in its entirety after our guests depart. At this moment, Aaron Rodgers is the better QB; at this moment the Denver defense is the better defensive unit. Rodgers and the Packers have not faced a defense nearly this good all year long; their toughest opposing defense was the Rams. At the same time, the Broncos have not faced an offense – and a QB – as potent as the Packers are; there toughest opposing offense was the Chiefs back with they had a healthy Jamaal Charles on the field. The Packers run the ball better than the Broncos by 1 yard per carry; however the Broncos run defense is better than the Packers run defense by 1.1 yards per carry. I like the Packers to win and cover on the road.

(Mon Nite) Indy at Carolina – 7 (47): If I am correct about the Packers winning on Sunday night, that will set up the Game of the Week next week when the Packers meet the Panthers because I think the Panthers are going to win this game handily. I like the Panthers at home to win and cover.

Finally, here is an NFL observation from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“The NFL Network did a quick apology after accidentally showing nude Cincinnati players in the background of a locker room interview.

“But with a 6-0 record, the Bengals are having a tough time proving they’ve been exposed in any way this year.”

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