Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 1/17/16

Last week’s Mythical Picks took gas. The record for last week was 1-3-0 taking the season record down to 128-119-5. There were no Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games so that record stayed put at 17-17-1.

The “Best Pick” from last week was the only pick I got right. I took the KC/Houston game to stay UNDER 40.5 points. It did. In no way did I think that the Chiefs could score 30 points in that game; also in no way did I think that the Texans would fail to score all day. Nonetheless, it turned out right for a bunch of “wrong reasons”.

The “Worst Pick” from last week was taking Washington and giving a point to Green Bay. I really thought the Packers were coming apart at the seams and that an average team like the Skins could beat them at home. Not even close…

Please do not succumb to the temptation to use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend if, in fact, the real wager involves real money. These are Mythical Picks; you would have to be a dumbass to consider them authoritative. How dumb?

    You probably think a reign of terror is a frightening storm.

General Comments:

The Cleveland Browns have a new head coach; Hue Jackson will move north from Cincy where he was the offensive coordinator to become the Head Coach in Cleveland. Jackson had a previous shot in the pilot’s seat with the Raiders in 2011; his record in his only year in Oakland was 8-8 but he lost his job when the team installed a new GM, Reggie McKenzie, and the new GM decided to go out and find “his guy” to coach the team.

Jackson’s 8-8 record did not look like a “world-beater” at the time; but in retrospect, it keeps looking better and better. Consider the Raiders’ coaching records of those who came after Jon Gruden left in 2002:

    Bill Callahan 15-17
    Norv Turner 9-23
    Art Shell 2-14
    Lane Kiffin 5-15
    Tom Cable 17-27
    Hue Jackson 8-8
    Dennis Allen 8-28
    Tony Sparano 3-9
    Jack Del Rio 7-9 (to be continued next season)

The Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999; since then, they have had 8 coaches which seems like a lot unless you look at the Raiders’ history over a similar period of time. However, it is really worse than that. Since 2010, they have had four head coaches; Jackson will be the fifth.

    Eric Mangini 2009 – 2010
    Pat Shurmer 2011 – 2012
    Rob Chudzinski 2013
    Mike Pettine 2014 – 2015

Here is an idea for a new name for the position of Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns:

    Short Attention Span Theater.

The Niners had interviewed Jackson before he spoke with the Browns. Both rosters are short on talent and Jackson chose the Browns. That should not be taken as good news by Niners’ fans… However, it does set up an interesting thing to watch. Hue Jackson is an “offense guy” and in order to run an NFL offense, you need a QB. On the Browns’ roster as of this morning they have:

    Austin Davis
    Pat Devlin
    Johnny Manziel
    Josh McCown
    Terrelle Pryor (played QB in college)
    Connor Shaw

So, does Hue Jackson – Mr. “Offense Guy” – see someone on that list who can be “The Man” for the Browns? If the Browns do not take a QB early in the draft, you would have to think so.

The Browns are not a good team and they need a QB. The Texans are a good enough team that they made the playoffs without a good QB. If the Texans could wave a wand and get themselves a top-shelf QB, the Texans could be a good team for quite a while. Here is the quarterback cadre that got the Texans to the playoffs this year:

    Brian Hoyer
    Ryan Mallett (released in mid-season)
    Tom Savage
    Brandon Weeden
    TJ Yates

If the Texans are going to repeat as AFC South champions next year, their cause will be aided by adding to that list. They may need to spend money in the free agent market or swing a trade for someone better than what is on the roster now. They are going to draft a bit too low in the first round to count on getting a QB there who is ready to start. It will be interesting to see what the Texans do here…

In all four of the Wild Card Games last weekend, the home team started a QB who had never started a playoff game before. Meanwhile, all four of the visiting teams brought QBs to the stadium that had playoff experience – and three of those four had Super Bowl rings. Yes, all the visiting teams won their games.

    Brian Hoyer (Texans) had a horrible game – his worst of the season.

    AJ McCarron (Bengals) played just well enough to set up the team for a loss when the inevitable “Bengal Bungle” happened late in the game. [See below…]

    Teddy Bridgewater (Vikes) was solid but never did find a way to get the ball into the end zone.

    Kirk Cousins (Skins) played adequately but he was betrayed by his OL who allowed 6 sacks and could not generate any meaningful running attack.

Consider that list of first-time-starting QBs who exited in the first round of playoff games with the 8 QBs that are left and their playoff experience:

    Tom Brady – 29 playoff games
    Payton Manning – 24 playoff games
    Cam Newton – 3 playoff games
    Carson Palmer – 2 playoff games
    Aaron Rodgers – 13 playoff games
    Alex Smith – 3 playoff games
    Ben Roethlisberger – 16 playoff games
    Russell Wilson – 9 playoff games

    [Aside: Had you given me that list and asked me to name the QB with the fewest playoff starts, I would have guessed Alex Smith and not Carson Palmer. Hi-Ho! ]

Last weekend, the Texans ran up against the KC Chiefs and the Chiefs like the Texans have a really good defense. What that game put on display was the Texans’ inability to deal with a “really good defense”. The final score was 30-0 and that pretty much tells you what was going on down there on the field. The stats might lead you to believe that the Texans were able to run the ball a bit here, but that is a mirage. The stats say the Texans ran the ball 25 times for 114 yards which seems rather good. The problem is that they got 50 yards on one play so that for the rest of the game, they ran the ball 24 times for 64 yards – less than 3 yards per carry.

That lack of a running game – and the fact that the Texans were behind in the game from the opening kickoff that was returned by the Chiefs for a TD – set up Brian Hoyer to throw the ball 34 times. It simply was not Hoyer’s day; he was sacked 3 times and intercepted 4 times.

With the ball at about the Chiefs’ 1-yardline in the second quarter, the Texans sent JJ Watt in on offense to play “single wing tailback” with Vince Wilfork as a blocking back and another behemoth lineman next to Wilfork on the right side of a “single wing formation”. Everyone north of Antarctica knew where that play was headed; indeed, it lost yardage due to lack of surprise. That bad play call did not lose the game for the Texans, but the folks who put that play in the game plan and then actually called it in anger ought to be made to run laps.

I think the injury that took Jeremy Maclin out of the game for the Chiefs could be very important. Maclin did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday this week but reports say that he is “not limping” and that his injury is a “mild high-ankle sprain”. Maclin is very important to the Chiefs’ offense because he provides speed in addition to experience and good hands and all that stuff. The Chiefs need a healthy Jeremy Maclin; for the moment, he is “questionable”.

The Chiefs/Texans game was hotly contested on both sides; you did not see any players on the field “dogging it”. Nevertheless, there were no cheap shots or “criminal intentions” exhibited on the field; there was no “head-hunting”.

I mention that as a way to lead into the Steelers/Bengals game. I understand that this is a division rivalry game that happened in a playoff situation. I get that. I also get that there is really no way to justify the barbarity/violence/thuggery exhibited by both teams in that game. All of that came to a head – so to speak – in the final minute of the game, but it was sadly on display for almost the entire game. In addition to the barbarism, there was an annoying level of “celebrations-over-nothing” in the game. The culmination of that was a 15-yard penalty on the Steelers for excessive celebrating after what turned out not to be a TD after all. On any ordinary week, the perpetrator of that silliness would be the odds-on favorite to be the Asshat of the Week. But not in this game…

In the final minute, the Bengals held a 1-point lead thanks to a nice pass from AJ McCarron to AJ Green. When the Steelers recovered a fumble, they had hope – but it was a faint hope. They had to march the length of the field with little time, no timeouts and with Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder such that he could not throw the ball very far downfield. Then came the “Bengal Bungle of the Year” – the “Massive Meltdown”, the “Feline F-Up”, the “Incredible Inevitable Idiocy”. You have to have seen the replays of Vontaze Burfict’s head-shot on Antonio Brown and if you have followed football for any time now, it should not have surprised you. Burfict has been a serial offender when it comes to violent cheap shots for all of his NFL career and for some of his college career. That ridiculous penalty stopped the clock; gave the Steelers a first down and put them on the fringe of their kicker’s range. And then it got worse…

Adam Jones – in case you did not know, this is the same player who used to be known as “Pacman” Jones and the one who had that “minor incident” in a strip club where gunfire rendered a guard paralyzed for life – decided that this was the exact moment to get involved in some other altercation on the field in order to earn yet another 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. That made the field goal try not much more than an extra point try. The Steelers made the field goal and won the game.

In one sense, these monumental screw-ups are not all that surprising.

    The perpetrators have a history of “off-center behaviors”.

    The team has a history of having players who “make bad decisions”.

    The coaching staff apparently does not sanction such behaviors in any meaningful way because they continue to manifest themselves.

    The team has no GM so I think it is fair to surmise that the team’s owner, Mike Brown, has some role in roster building and player retention; if so, his inaction over the years would seem to be a form of acceptance of such stupidity.

Some have suggested that Marvin Lewis might – or even should – lose his job over all of this. I agree that Lewis has not provided the sort of strict discipline needed to curb this sort of stupidity; but on balance, he has done far more “right things” with the Bengals than he has done “wrong things”. These moronic manifestations should not cost him his job. However, this happened on a large national stage in front of a big audience; I do think he should be put on notice that another display of this kind would be sufficient to look seriously at getting a new coach in Cincy.

Before concluding my commentary on the Steelers/Bengals game, let me say clearly that Mike Tomlin, the Steelers’ coaching staff, and the Steelers’ players did not behave in an exemplary fashion either last week. The Steelers did not exhibit nearly the same levels of anti-social behavior or the same depths of moronic activities as did the Bengals; and indeed, they won the game. Nevertheless, their game behavior was anything but exemplary and they have not attracted anywhere near the level of public scorn as have the Bengals. However, they are not blameless here…

Dwight Perry had a wonderful summary of all this in the Seattle Times:

“Hothead costs the Bengals a playoff win? Cue the first “Burfict storm” headline in 3 … 2 … 1 …”

The Vikes/Seahawks game was another hard fought game featuring two good defenses that were both hitting hard from start to finish. However, there were no cheap shots or kill shots in the game despite the fact that there were hard hits on the vast majority of plays. It seemed as if the Vikes’ defense was out to prove that it is much better than what they showed in the last meeting between these teams a couple of weeks ago. In that contest, the Seahawks ran off to a 35-0 lead and dominated the game.

I still wonder why the Vikes did not really try to throw the ball downfield in the game. I can only recall one deep pass and it was incomplete. Maybe it was the frigid weather? Maybe it was a lack of confidence in their receivers? I have seen Bridgewater throw deep in previous games; he can do that when given the chance; the play calling never got to that last week.

The Seahawks’ defense geared itself to keep Adrian Peterson under control for the day. Peterson ran the ball 23 times for a total of 45 yards. The Seahawks’ defense can declare “mission accomplished” for that one. Peterson was extremely valuable for the Vikes this year in that he forced defenses to tend to him thereby allowing Terry Bridgewater some lebensraum in the passing game. For the Vikes to advance as a team next year, they will need Peterson to play at a comparable level to this year AND for Terry Bridgewater to ramp up the passing game.

I really thought the Skins had sufficient momentum going for them to win at home against a Packers’ team that had struggled in the late part of the season and a team that had looked discombobulated in several of their late-season losses. When the Skins led 11-0 in the early second quarter, I thought they might run away and hide. What followed next was that the Packers proceeded to score points on their next 6 possessions to win the game comfortably.

I mentioned above that the Skins’ OL betrayed Kirk Cousins. If you have a recording of the game, go and watch Skins LT, Trent Williams. He is a constant Pro Bowl selection and he deserves those honors; he is a really good offensive lineman. However, not last week… In the late stages of the game, the pressure and the sacks were always coming from his side of the formation and he was often the guy lurching in a desperate attempt to get a body on a defender just as Kirk Cousins was about to take a shot.

I also want to make a comment about Skins’ WR, DeSean Jackson. His speed, his hands and his general athleticism make him a serious deep threat that any defense must pay attention to. Having said that, he has hardly lived up to his physical abilities recently. Let me do a brief reset here:

    Jackson chose – as is his right under the CBA – to skip all of the Skins’ offseason workout programs and OTAs last year. He was working out on his own.

    Jackson injured himself in training camp by running into a blocking sled. Honest, he did that…

    After missing most of the exhibition season – but repeatedly professing that he was working on his speed and would be ready for the opener – he pulled a hamstring on the first deep ball thrown his way in the opening game. I believe the next time he was on the field in anger was in early November.

    Jackson appeared in 10 games this year, caught 30 passes and scored 4 TDs. That is a meager output from a nominal #1 receiver who claims that there is not a defender alive that can cover him on the field.

I went through all of that to set up the fact that Jackson cost the Skins a TD in this game. He caught a pass over the middle at about the 10 yardline and made for the pylon at the goal line. Holding the ball out from his body in a stylish fashion, he glided across the goal line but did not step in the end zone before going out of bounds. Hence the ball was not past the pylon and it was not a TD; had he dived into the end zone it would have been a TD. As fortune would have it, the Skins could not put the ball in the end zone even with a 1st and goal spot at the half-yardline. They got a field goal; and they saw the game momentum shift immediately to the Packers.

Two seasons ago, Chip Kelly simply cut Jackson in Philly and lots of people thought Kelly had taken leave of his senses. Jackson is an immense physical talent; there is no question about that. Jackson is also – to use a word a former colleague used frequently – a “meathead”. His “meatheadedness” is not violent or dangerous like the behaviors of some of the Bengals, but Jackson’s “meatheadedness” seemingly would have him fitting in just fine in the Bengals’ locker room.

The Games:

(Sat. 4:35 PM EST) KC at New England – 4/5 (42.5): The Total Line for this game opened at 45.5 and plunged to this level right away; you can find it as low as 41.5 this morning. The Pats will get Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola back on the field for this game and the knee-jerk thinking is that this will throw the Pats’ offense back into overdrive and all will be well in Chowdah City. I am a bit antsy with tha kind of reasoning because:

    The Pats’ offensive line is significantly diminished by injuries.

    The Chiefs’ defense succeeds by pressuring the QB.

I think that match-up is seriously tilted towards the Chiefs. I know that Bill Belichick has had 2 weeks to cook up some kind of “magical scheme” for this game. I think he needs a magical potion to heal his offensive linemen so they can play in top form more than he needs a “magical scheme”. On the other side of the ball, Belichick’s 2 weeks to prepare a defensive strategy may pay significant dividends. Alex Smith has been very efficient and effective this year during the Chiefs’ 11-game win streak. However, the Pats’ bring a good defense to the field and those 2 weeks to come up with a few “confusing wrinkles” could prove decisive. Make this a venue call, I’ll take the Pats and lay the points.

(Sat. 8:15 PM EST) Green Bay at Arizona – 7 (49.5): The Cards beat the Packers in Arizona 38-8 just a few weeks ago. Sounds as if laying only 7 points is a bargain, right? Remember, two of the Cards’ TDs in that game came from fumble recoveries that were run in for a score. How likely is that to happen again? Also, consider that the Vikings lost to the Seahawks 38-7 just a few weeks before those teams met last week. What happened there? The Seahawks won the rematch by a single point – and needed a botched chip-shot field goal to do that. This game is not a slam-dunk for the Cards. The Packers played the way we have come to expect the Packers to play against the Skins last week but there is a difference here. The Skins’ defense ranked 28th in the NFL this season in yards per game; the Cards’ defense ranked 5th in the league; the Cards gave up about 60 fewer yards per game than did the Skins. I think there will be lots of offense and lots of scoring here so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Sun. 1:00 PM EST) Seattle at Carolina – 3 (44): For me, this will be the best game of the weekend. I think the winner of this game goes to the Super Bowl and the winner of this game will be the favorite in the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson is undefeated playing against the Panthers in Charlotte; his record there is 3-0. None of those wins were blowouts by any stretch of the imagination, but they were victories. Counterbalancing that information is the fact that the Panthers beat the Seahawks this year on the Seahawks’ home turf in another close game. The Panthers have had a week to rest and to prepare for this game. The Seahawks on the other hand had to play in the “Minnesota Freezer” last week, fly back to Seattle, and then fly to Charlotte (3-hour time change for an early kickoff). The Seahawks are here thanks to a missed chip-shot field goal. Does that mean they are “destined” to win it all this year or does it mean they are not really good enough to be in this game in the first place. I have no idea about their destiny; I do believe they are good enough to deserve to be in this game. I like the Seahawks plus the points here. Notwithstanding that selection, I think this will be a great game to watch.

(Sun. 4:40 PM EST) Pittsburgh at Denver – 9 (40): The spread opened at 4.5 points and has been rising all week. Reports this morning say that Antonio Brown will not play on Sunday; reports earlier in the week said that Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury is a “sprained AC joint and torn ligaments in his right shoulder”. I do not know an AC joint from a DC joint but it stands to reason that injuries to the throwing shoulder of a QB are not trivial matters. At the very least, Roethlisberger will be playing at something less than full effectiveness. If in fact Landry Jones has to play a significant portion of this game, let me say this very clearly:

    Landry Jones is probably a very nice young man, but against the Broncos’ defense in Denver, he is – simply – overmatched.

In the real world, no one would get down on this game until the playing status and the anticipated proficiency level for Roethlisberger was far better known. However, I have to make these picks a bit more than 48-hours before that information will be available. Here is how I think the game will roll out:

    Roethlisberger starts but it becomes clear very early on that he cannot throw the ball downfield.

    That diminishes the value of the speed the Steelers have at the WR position – even with Antonio Brown sidelined.

    Steelers’ defense also has no real deep threat to worry about because the evidence from the 2015 season says that Peyton Manning is not the deep threat he was just a few seasons ago.

    Both teams will try to run the ball with only marginal success against defenses that line up to stop the run.

    The game will turn on field position and turnovers.

With that scenario, I like the game to stay UNDER. By the way, if I knew for certain that Landry Jones and/or Michael Vick would never see the field in this game, I would take the Steelers with that basket of points. But I don’t know that for certain …

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment with regard to Johnny Manziel and his off-field escapades in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Johnny Manziel has appeared in so many possibly alcohol-related videos, he’s been named an honorary Clydesdale.”

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