Last week, new readers got their introduction – indoctrination? – into the NCAA version of Mythical Picks. Similarly, for the rest of the football season, there will be a separate but equal presentation focused on NFL games. The format will be a bit simpler. Ultimately, the purpose will be for me to make a selection against the spread – or on the Total Line – for each of the 256 NFL regular season games. Let me make something very clear from the outset:
I am highly unlikely to be able to make picks for every game because:
1. There will be weeks where I cannot get to writing these things until Friday and there will have been a game on that Thursday night.
2. Travel events and/or family events may preclude putting these pieces out for a given week.
I will do the best that I can…
Each week will begin with a summary of how the picks did the week before along with a running total for the entire season. As I did with the NCAA version of Mythical Picks, let me emphasize a few important points:
These are Mythical Picks. I am not going to make a wager on every NFL game and under no circumstances would I suggest that anyone else do anything like that.
If you do bet on sporting events, money management is as important as making selections because there is no way that you are only going to make winning selections. Even the phony shills on the radio and TV who shriek in order to get you to buy their “service” do not claim 100% accuracy.
[Aside: Be wary of people who claim a “documented 75% record” against the spread. There are handicapping contests in Las Vegas every year and the prize money is very significant; those contests are usually won by someone who hits a little under 60% of the picks made. If these radio/TV jokers could REALLY do 75%, they would have won the handicapping contests every year for the last decade. And none of them have or they would surely tell you that they did …]
After the review of the prior week, I will make some General Comments about the NFL about last week’s games and/or and the upcoming games and then I will get right down to the selections for the week. For the record, last year the Mythical Picks record was 134-121-5 which was ever so slightly profitable against the vig. I have been doing Mythical Picks against the spread for every game for 15 years now; this is only the second time I have had a “profitable” season.
Before I get to the General Comments, I do want to be sure that everyone understands that no one should use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money this week or any other week. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do such a thing:
You think barium is that they do to chemists when they die.
There will be a few “new things” regarding the NFL this year. Some of them will be steps forward; others will be a “lateral arabesque” – – better known as The Great Leap Sideways. First of all, there will be more international games this year. There will be three “London Games” this year and in Week 11 there will be a game in Mexico City. Those games will be positive events for the NFL because they will represent high revenue events. I am not so sure that these games will be positive events for the fans of the teams involved or for the players. Clearly, fans and players are secondary matters here; this is all about the pursuit of revenue streams.
For 2016, there is a rule change that – theoretically – should lead to more players being ejected from games. Here is the new rule:
A player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls will be disqualified. The types of fouls are:
Throwing a punch or forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even if no contact is made
Using abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures toward opponents, teammates, officials or league representatives
Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.
Note, the player would have to be penalized twice for such conduct to be ejected. So punching, kicking and taunting will result in penalties for the first infraction and penalties plus ejection for the second. Seems like a pretty wishy-washy rule to me.
There is a point of emphasis for the officials this season which means that the rule has not been altered but the Competition Committee wants the officials to enforce the existing rule a bit more strenuously than they did last year. [Aside: When I officiated basketball, I often thought that “Points of Emphasis” had a flavor of “shifting the blame to the officials” when the Rules Mavens chose not to change the wording of their sacred rules. But, clearly, I was biased in that viewpoint…]
Game officials will monitor and strictly enforce the rules pertaining to illegal acts committed by the defensive team while trying to block field-goal and extra-point attempts during the 2016 season, including:
Making forcible contact below the waist of offensive blockers.
Grabbing an offensive blocker and pulling him to the side or toward the ground to create space or a gap for a teammate to rush through.
Using the hands or other parts of the body to push off an offensive blocker to gain leverage in an effort to block the kick.
I am not sure what the defenders for PAT tries or field goals are now allowed to do. They cannot make contact below the waist; they cannot use any part of their body to push off a blocker as they try to block the kick. Other than spouting wings and flying over the offensive blockers, I am not sure what else they might do – legally – to block a kick.
There is another point of emphasis that will likely be ignored by all parties concerned. Basically, coaches are not allowed to leave the bench area except for very proscribed circumstances.
Despite being a point of emphasis in previous seasons, the issue of coaches leaving the bench area to gain the attention of the game officials or entering the field of play for other reasons continues to be a widespread problem. [Aside: This means that a “Point of Emphasis” in the past did not work but they are going to try to make it another Point of Emphasis again rather than change the rule.] The Committee sees no other recourse than to direct game officials to penalize coaches who do not comply with the rule.
A head coach can leave the bench area to get the attention of a game official when the snap takes place at a yard line not within the bench area and the coach is trying to call a team timeout or challenge an on-field ruling, and during an injury timeout to check the welfare of an injured player.
A coach cannot leave the bench area to question a game official, and at no time is a coach allowed onto the field of play. At no time can an assistant coach leave the bench area, even during breaks after scoring plays. These rules remain in effect during any timeout. Only incoming substitutes, team attendants or trainers seeing to the welfare of a player may enter the field. Violations will result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the coach and/or the club may face additional discipline.
Please read that third paragraph above about who can and cannot leave the bench area. My guess is that just looking on TV you will see a half dozen violations of that rule and that point of emphasis in every half of every game this season.
Which head coach will be the one to get the first 15-yard penalty of the year for being improperly on the field?
I think my money would be on Mike Tomlin…
The NFL also changed the rule on touchbacks on kickoffs. Now the ball will come out to the 25-yardline instead of the 20. The thinking here is that the extra 5 yards for “taking a knee” would result in fewer returns and therefore fewer injuries. We shall see…
If I were a special teams coach, I would look to have my kicker learn the kickoff version of a “pooch punt” which would go high in the air and come down around the opponent’s 10-yardline. Given enough hang time, that could create fair-catches for kickoffs or it could get the return guy creamed by kick cover guys. That might be the result of the Law of Unintended Consequences…
The Tampa Bay Bucs defied – – drumroll please – – conventional wisdom back in May when they used a pick in the 2nd round of the Draft to take – – gasp – – a kicker. Roberto Aguayo never missed a PAT in 3 years at Florida State and his field goal accuracy was 88.5%. Yes, I know that colleges kick the PAT from the 10 yardline and the NFL kicks the PAT from the 22 yardline. Nonetheless, Aguayo’s numbers are attractive; people just did not think a kicker should go in the 2nd round of the Draft. Then Aguayo struggled in training camp and in exhibition games. If Aguayo were to miss an extra point or a chip shot field goal that costs the Bucs a game this year, you can be sure that he will take his place in the Pantheon of Bad People.
Note that the lines for the games on Sunday/Monday could change a lot from the ones cited here. These lines are current as of mid-morning on Wednesday.
(Thurs Nite) Carolina – 3 at Denver (42): Holy Super Bowl rematch, Batman … The spread opened as a “pick ‘em” game and has stretched out to this number. Perhaps oddsmakers thought Mark Sanchez would be the QB for Denver and bettors piled on Carolina when they learned that the starting QB for the Broncos would be a guy who has never thrown a pass in a real NFL game. Whatever, that is the situation at hand… If you would like to see some conflicting trends, consider these:
Panthers are 7-1 against the spread in their last 8 games on grass.
Broncos are 7-1 against the spread in their last 8 Thursday games.
This is a Thursday game on a grass field…
I agree with the oddsmakers that this will be a low-scoring affair and in most cases, I prefer to take points in low scoring games. However, this time I think the Panthers are more than a field goal better than the Broncos. I’ll take the Panthers to win and cover on the road in the NFL season opener.
Cincy – 2.5 at Jets (41.5): This should also be a defense dominated game and this time I do like the underdog – especially at home. Please note that the game will be played on 9/11 in NYC and the home team is the Jets. If I were prone to make picks for oddball reasons, I would be taking the Jets here. Combining my slight preference for the Jets with this karmic coincidence means I will indeed take the Jets plus the points.
Cleveland at Philly – 4 (41.5): I think line movements here reflect the trade of Sam Bradford to the Vikes and the idea that the Eagles will start Carson Wentz “if he is healthy”. The line opened at Philly – 7 and the Total Line opened at 45. That is a lot of movement for NFL lines. Here you have two teams coming off bad enough seasons in 2015 that they fired their coaches. Hue Jackson takes over in Cleveland and tries to return RG3 to some semblance of his form as a rookie. Doug Pederson takes over in Philly as an offshoot of the Andy Reid coaching tree and hopes to last as long in Philly as Reid did (14 years). I think both teams will finish at the bottom their divisions but I do think the Eagles are the better overall squad. I’ll take the Eagles at home to win and cover.
Oakland at New Orleans – 1.5 (51): I know that the State of Louisiana suffered a ton of flood damage just a couple of weeks ago and that the Saints rallied that part of the world in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when it went on a run and won the Super Bowl a few years back. But I think the Raiders are the better team here and I think the Raiders are primed for a playoff berth. There are conflicting trends for this game too:
Raiders are 6-2 against the spread in their last 8 games on field turf.
Saints are 6-2 against the spread in their last 8 games in September.
This game is on field turf in September.
I’ll take the Raiders plus the points.
Minnesota – 2 at Tennessee (41): Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford as the Vikings QB here? I’m not sure it makes much of a difference because I think the Vikings defense can dominate the game and Adrian Peterson can run the football. I like the Vikings to win and cover even on the road.
Tampa at Atlanta – 3 (47.5): Both teams represent mediocrity here. I am not thrilled by the prospect of taking the Falcons and laying points here; nor am I enthralled by the prospect of taking the Bucs on the road. And so I shall introduce the concept of the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game. When I do not like any of the choices for a game – but I need to make a pick – I have a coin flip protocol that goes like this:
Coin Flip #1:
Heads means play the spread
Tails means play the Total Line
Coin Flip #2
Heads means take the favorite (spread) or the OVER (Total Line)
Tails means take the underdog (spread) or the UNDER (Total Line)
This is the first Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game of the season and the coin says to take the Bucs plus the points. Why not?
Buffalo at Baltimore – 3 (44.5): Until and unless the injury bug visits the Ravens again this year, their defense will be improved over last year’s unit. The injury bug has already hit the Bills – particularly on the defensive side of the ball. I like the Ravens to win and cover at home.
Chicago at Houston – 6 (44): Will JJ Watt play? If so, is he really ready to play – not having played or practiced since last January? I know Brock Osweiler is going to make a ton of money this year but is he anywhere near worth it? We will not know the answers to those questions for a while but we do know this:
The Bears are only mediocre at best.
I like this game to stay UNDER.
San Diego at KC – 7 (44.5): The Chiefs are the better team and the Chiefs are at home. But that line looks as fat as Andy Reid himself. I’ll take the Chargers plus the points.
Green Bay – 5.5 at Jax (48): This game will not get the same level of hype as some other matchups this weekend, but this could be a very good game. Might this game be the opportunity for the Jags to make a statement that they are going to be a factor in 2016? I think that is sufficiently possible that I will take the Jags at home plus the points.
Miami at Seattle – 11 (44): I hate double-digit spreads on NFL games. I cannot see the Dolphins winning this game but that line is awfully fat. I’ll take the Dolphins on the road plus the points. Notwithstanding that selection, there is a disturbing trend at work here:
The Dolphins are 5-21 against the spread in their last 26 games.
Detroit at Indy – 4 (50.5): The return of Andrew Luck makes the Colts’ offense a lot better than it was last year. The Lions’ defense is nothing to write home about. Indeed, the Lions’ offense will miss Calvin Johnson but if there is a silver lining here it is that the Lions get to open against a defense that was not very good last year and seemingly made no major improvements. I like this game to go OVER.
Giants at Dallas “pick ’em” (46): Early in the week, these lines were all over the place. At one point on Monday evening, you could find the Cowboys as a 1-point underdog and just about every spread along the way to the Cowboys being a 3.5-point favorite. The Total Line was just as mysterious. It ranged from 45.5 to 49.5. What I have used here is where the majority of lines reside at the moment. Dak Prescott looked like a world-beater in the exhibition games – – but those were exhibition games. The real question here is this:
Can the Giants stop/slow down the Cowboys run game?
I do not think they can do it sufficiently to keep the scoring down and so I will take the game to go OVER.
(Sun Nite) New England at Arizona – 6 (47): The Total Line opened at 51 but it has been at this level since Monday evening. I do not think that the Pats can overcome the insertion of Jimmy Garropolo for Tom Brady on the road against a team that I think will win 11 games this year. That is not a knock on the Pats or their coaching staff or Garropolo; I think the Cards are too good a team for the Pats to beat with those disadvantages in the first game out of the gate. I like the Cards at home to win and cover here.
(Early Mon Nite) Pittsburgh – 3 at Washington (50): An interesting thing to watch here will be Josh Norman in the defensive secondary for the Skins. Norman got a ton of money to sign here in the off-season and he was REALLY good last year. Some have said that he is not nearly as good as he looked last year because he played behind a fearsome front seven who gave opposing QBs little time to be comfortable in the pass game. Well, Norman is now behind a front seven that is not nearly as fearsome as the Panthers’ unit was last year. Oh, and the Steelers will bring Antonio Brown to the game … Speaking of defenses that will need to step up, the Steelers defense looks to be vulnerable again this year. I like the Skins plus the points at home and I like the game to go OVER.
(Late Mon Nite) LA – 2.5 at SF (44): The Niners’ offense is a “work in progress” to be polite and the Rams’ defense is very good. The Niners’ defense is not nearly as good but playing against Case Keenum as the opposing QB might make the Niners’ defense look better than it really is. I like this game to stay UNDER.
Finally, here is a comment from Mike Bianchi in the Orlando Sentinel. It has to do with the perversity of fantasy football:
“My first thought when Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater blew out his knee and was lost for the season earlier this week wasn’t sympathy for Bridgewater but concern about how it would affect Adrian Peterson’s production on my fantasy team. And this is why fantasy football makes you a sad, pathetic person.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………