Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/30/16

For the second week in a row, I can say it was a great week of Mythical Picking for NFL games. I made 15 selections and the record for the week was 11-4-0. That stretches the season record to 68-39-2.

The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol was also on fire last week. I flipped the coins three times and the record was 3-0-0. That means that the coins are 7-6-0 for the season which is pretty much what you should expect from coin flipping.

The Best Picks of the week were:

    Chargers +6.5 against Falcons. Chargers won outright.
    Eagles +3 against Vikes. Eagles won by 11 points.

The Worst Picks of the week were:

    Packers/Bears OVER 45.5. Total score was 36 points.
    Titans -3 against Colts. Colts won straight up.

As they say in the ads for mutual funds and financial advisors, past performance is not guarantee of future performance. Therefore, notwithstanding two consecutive weeks of profitable picking, no one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money this weekend. Here is how stupid you would need to be to do something like that:

    You think resisting arrest means refusing to take a nap.

General Comments:

Don’t look now, but there is only one NFL Division where all four teams carry winning records as of this week. That would be:

    The NFC East.

This division was a joke last year; none of the teams were good; two of the teams were less than mediocre; two coaches lost jobs there. As of this morning, the team in last place would be the NY Giants with a 4-3 record.

The Bears and Packers opened last week’s games on Thursday night with a snooze-fest that ended 26-10 in favor of the Packers. Brian Hoyer broke his arm and Matt Barkley had to play QB for the Bears for more than half the game. He threw for 81 yards and 2 INTs. Meanwhile, the Packers had to play various WRs at RB because the only healthy one they had was a guy they got in a trade about 48 hours before game time.

The Giants beat the Rams 17-10 in London. This too was an unexciting event. If you woke up early just to see the game and came away happy, I have to think one of these two things apply:

    You are a lifelong NY Giants fan
    You bet the UNDER in the game.

The winning offense here saw Eli Manning throw for 196 yards in the game; also, the Giants’ leading rusher, Rashad Jennings, carried the ball 13 times for 25 yards. The losing offense was the result of a game plan that had Case Keenum drop back and throw the ball 53 times even though the Rams were never in “catch-up mode”. The people on the Rams’ offensive coaching staff who came up with that idea need to be demoted – now. And it is not as if Keenum was having a hot day; he threw 4 INTs in the game.

I mentioned Rashad Jennings’ meager rushing output above. It was not nearly the worst rushing performance of the day. That would come in the Ravens/Jets game – – won by the Jets 24-16. Ravens’ RB, Terrence West was the leading rusher for the Ravens; he carried the ball 8 times for a total of 10 yards. Indeed, he was the leading rusher for the Ravens because while he gained only 10 yards on the ground, the Ravens total rushing offense as a team was only 6 yards; everyone else ran for a combined minus-4 yards. The Ravens get this week off to figure out how to correct that. Also, please recall that the Ravens fired their offensive coordinator, Marc Tressman, and several people said it was because Tressman was too “pass-happy”. Maybe there was a reason he was “pass-happy”.

The Ravens led in this game 10-0 but they were shut out in the second half. After the BYE Week, they return to action against the Steelers, Browns, Cowboys and Bengals in that order. If they do not get things right, they could flush their season in those next 4 games.

Geno Smith did indeed start the game for the Jets and the stat sheet says he threw a long TD pass in the first half. Actually, he threw a short hook pass over the middle and the receiver avoided one tackle and then outran the defense for the rest of the play. That was Smith’s highlight for the day; soon after that he injured his knee and it turns out to be an ACL injury that will probably require surgery and the end to Smith’s season. He is a free-agent at the end of this year; my guess is that his agent will be making more calls on Smith’s behalf than he will be taking…

I mentioned last week that the Jets were right to start Geno Smith to see what they had on their roster in terms of quarterbacks for the future. Well, that issue continues to confront the Jets’ braintrust. I have no idea how either of their completely untested QBs looks in practice, but if neither sees the field this year, you can conclude that they are both as green as the Jets’ jerseys.

Speaking of a team with QB “issues”, the Niners lost badly again last week – – this time to the Bucs 34-17. The Niners led 14-0 in this game and then watched the Bucs score 27 points in a row. Colin Kaepernick has not done anything in his two starts that would lead anyone to conclude that he is any better than Blaine Gabbert was in this offensive system – – and Blaine Gabbert was simply bad. The “other QB” on the Niners’ roster is Christian Ponder; that is like taking the bridge to nowhere…

Having said all of that, the Niners’ problem is not their poor QB play – notwithstanding the fact that I am being kind in calling it merely “poor”. The Niners’ defense is a disaster. Consider:

    The Bucs gained 513 yards of offense last week.
    The Bucs ran for 249 yards last week
    The Bills ran for 313 yards two weeks ago

    The Niners give up an astounding 185.3 yards per game rushing
    The next worst rush defense so far this year gives up “only” 139.9 ypg.

    The Niners are giving up just over 31 points per game
    The Niners have given up 33+ points in 5 of their 7 games this year.

The Niners’ defense is putrid; interestingly, their “partners” in the Bay Area – the Raiders – have a defense that gives up even more yardage. The Niners yield 407.6 yards per game; the Raiders give up 430.4 yards per game. Are they conducting an informal “Race to the Bottom” in Northern California this year?

The Raiders won last week – easily – over the Jags by a score of 33-16. It may not have been that close. Jags’ QB, Blake Bortles threw 2 more INTs in this game and one of them was a pass intercepted in the end-zone when he threw into TRIPLE coverage. That may have been the worst decision made by any human since Shelley Long decided to leave Cheers.

Some are calling for Bortles to be benched. Here is the problem with that idea at this moment:

    Jags have a short week; they play Thursday Night this week.
    Jags’ backup is Chad Henne.
    “Bad Blake” Bortles is not that different from Chad Henne.

From the “When it rains it pours” file:

    Jags force a punt with a 4th and 24 situation.

    There is a bad snap from center so things are really looking up for the Jags

    Raiders’ punter retrieves the ball and runs for 29 yards and a first down.

Not only was the outcome of this game decided by halftime, it was a sloppy game. A total of 24 penalties were enforced in the game. To give you some perspective, the Jags were penalized for a total of 112 yards; the Jags gained a total of 105 yards rushing for the game.

The Raiders have 4 road games after long trips. They have won in Tennessee, New Orleans, Jax and Baltimore. They are staying in Florida this week to prepare to play the Bucs rather than taking two transcontinental flights before kickoff. We will see how that works out…

The Chiefs beat the Saints 27-21. Drew Brees was 37 for 48 for 367 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT – which turned into a Pick Six. That was fine and dandy; but, as usual, the Saints defense was a no-show. Alex Smith was a workmanlike 17 for 24 for 214 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs and Spencer Ware ran for 77 yards on 17 carries – – and he added another 54 yards plus a TD receiving. When the Saints looked as if they came to play, that seems to be the time when penalties hit the team; the Saints were penalized 10 times in the game and all of them were harmful.

The Chargers rallied in Atlanta to beat the Falcons in OT 33-30. The Falcons have lost 2 in a row and the Chargers have won 2 in a row. I said that the Chargers rallied in this game; they were down 17 points in the first half and were still down 10 points with about 7 minutes to play in regulation time. RB, Melvyn Gordon had a very good day carrying the ball for 68 yards and catching the ball for an additional 58 yards while he scored 3 TDs. Falcons’ coach Dan Quinn made a controversial decision in OT. With 4th and 1 at his own 45, he chose to go for it – and the Falcons did not make it. That set up the Chargers with a very short field to be in position to hit the winning field goal.

Quinn was in a “damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t” situation there. Had he punted and watched the defense allow the Chargers to score a winning field goal, there would have been cries that he should have been more aggressive. He took a chance and he missed. Sometimes, it just is not your day …

The Colts beat the Titans 34-26. The Colts built an 11-point lead in the 2nd quarter; then the Colts’ defense went to sleep and the Titans led by 3 with 6 minutes to go in the game. Fortunately, Andrew Luck was not asleep; he drove the Colts to a go-ahead TD which must have produced enough noise to wake up the defense because they got a Scoop-and-Score for an insurance TD immediately after and put the game on ice.

The Bengals beat the Browns 31-17. The Browns lost Cody Kessler to a concussion early in the game and Kevin Hogan – rookie from Stanford – came in to play QB. He played about the way you would expect a rookie who has not been taking many practice snaps to play. He threw for 100 yards and he threw 2 INTs. He did score a rushing TD and led the Browns in rushing (104 yards and 1 TD). Rookie QBs who run like that often do not evolve to be seasoned veteran QBs because rookie QBs who run like that often become injury victims.

The Lions beat the Skins 20-17 last week. With about a minute to play in the game, Kirk Cousins ran the read option, kept the ball and ran for a TD from 19 yards out. That put the Skins up 17-13 and all the Skins’ defense had to do was to keep the Lions out of the end zone for the final 1 minute and 5 seconds. Matthew Stafford drove the field – including a long scramble for a first down and finally hit Anquan Boldin for an 18-yard TD with 16 seconds on the clock. The final drive was 75 yards in 49 seconds; not a good showing by the Skins’ defense.

The Dolphins beat the Bills 28-25. That makes two wins in a row for the Dolphins as home underdogs; they beat the Steelers in Miami two weeks ago. Jay Ajayi ran for 200+ yards in a second consecutive game; only 4 RBs since the merger have done that and it is an impressive list:

    OJ Simpson
    Earl Campbell
    Ricky Williams

For a RB that was picked in the 5th round of the draft out of Boise St., that is a nice list to be on … LeSean McCoy had to leave the game in the second half due to a hamstring strain and that left the offense in the hands of Tyrod Taylor without a top-shelf run threat.

The Pats beat the Steelers 27-16. The biggest surprise for me was that Landry Jones did not stink out the joint. The Pats controlled most of the game but the potential for a major blowout never materialized.

The Broncos beat the Texans 27-9. This was a total domination by the Broncos’ defense. They only recorded 1 sack on Texans’’ QB, Brock Osweiler, but that is not the stat that tells the tale. Here is Osweiler’s stat line:

    22 for 41 for 131 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs

    That is 3.2 yards per pass attempt!

Meanwhile, CJ Anderson and Devontae Booker combined for 190 yards on the ground and each of them scored a TD.

I began this compilation of comments on last week’s games by citing the Bears/Packers and the Giants/Rams games as boring events. As a bookend, there are two other games from last weekend that could be categorized as sloppy/bad/off-putting – – or they could be praised as defensive gems. You can take your pick; I like defense…

The Eagles beat the previously unbeaten Vikes 21-10. A late TD by the Vikes in the final minute of the game makes the score look closer than it was. The Vikes had not thrown an INT in the first 5 games of the year and had only lost 1 fumble; last week they turned the ball over 4 times. Not to worry, though; the Eagles also turned the ball over 4 times. In fact, there were 5 turnovers by the two teams in the first quarter of the game. Some of that is sloppy football; some of that was very good defense. The Eagles’ front seven dominated the Vikes’ OL for most of the day; the Vikes only averaged 3.8 yards per offensive play. After the Vikes kicked a field goal to open the scoring, the Eagles returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD and never trailed after that.

In the Sunday night game, the Cards and the Seahawks played to a 6-6 tie after a fifth quarter of OT; it is the lowest scoring OT game in NFL history. Both teams saw their kickers miss easy field goals that would have won the game. The miss by the Seahawks’ kicker was so far left that even Elizabeth Warren criticized it. Because of the 8 turnovers in the Eagles/Vikes game, some might say the game was dominated by bad offense; in the Cards/Seahawks game, neither team turned the ball over even once in five quarters.

The Cards had the ball 18 minutes longer than the Seahawks in the game and ran up 186 more yards on offense; but when the Seahawks needed a big defensive stop, they got it. Neither team’s offensive line distinguished itself in this game.

The Seahawks now sit comfortably atop the NFC West with a 4-1-1 record; the Cards are in second place at 3-3-1. Both teams have identical division and conference records so the rematch between these squads in Seattle on Christmas Eve should have great bearing on which team will be the division champions.

The Games:

Six teams have this week off:

    Baltimore will try to find its offense – particularly its running game.

    LA will continue to play Where’s Waldo/ Where’s Jared Goff?

    Miami will give Jay Ajayi a well-deserved break.

    NY Giants will join Baltimore in looking for its running game.

    Pittsburgh will light candles in church for Ben Roethlisberger’ knee.

    SF will stink in silence.

(Thurs Nite) Jax at Tennessee – 3 (43.5): No suspense this week. The first game on the card is indeed the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. I have little to no interest here so I’ll turn this over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says take the Titans to win and cover at home. Who cares?

(Sun Morning) Washington vs. Cincy – 2.5 (47.5) [Game played in London]: The suits at the NFL have got to be hoping that these two teams put on a good show on Sunday. The first two of this year’s “London Games” were Jags/Colts (a brutally bad game) followed by the Giants/Rams last week (a snooze-o-rama). If the league is to continue to play to enthusiastic sell-out crowds there, they need to put on a decent game to watch at least once in a while… Both teams need a win here; the Bengals are one game behind the Steelers in the AFC North; the Skins have 2 more losses than the Cowboys in the NFC East. The Skins have 3 starting players who are dealing with injuries/concussion protocols; if none of them can play, the Skins will have a tough time matching up with the Bengals. In any event, these three Skins’ starters should not be at peak efficiency, so I’ll take the Bengals and lay the points.

Green Bay at Atlanta – 3 (52): This was a contender for Game of the Week but did not make the final cut. The Falcons started off as world-beaters and have now lost 2 in a row; the Packers have been up and down all season long. The Packers trail the Vikes by a game in the NFC North while the Falcons are a half-game ahead of the Bucs in the NFC South. Each team can use a win; neither will see their season go up in flames with a loss. If you are a trend bettor, decipher these:

    Packers are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 road games.
    Falcons are 2-7 ATS in their last 9 home games.

    Packers are on the road; Falcons are at home…

Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Falcons and lay the points.

Detroit at Houston – 2.5 (45): I am not a fan of the Lions on the road as a favorite. I am not a fan of the Texans’ offense. Coin Flip time !! The coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Seattle – 2.5 at New Orleans (48): The spread here opened at 3.5 points. Sportsbooks really do not like to take spreads across 3 points or 7 points because those are common margins of victory – – and that allows bettors to set up a middle which can drain the books’ profits. In this case, they took the spread across the 3-point mark very quickly meaning to me that a lot of the money went originally to the Saints at +3.5 points. Don’t look now; but if the Saints win here and the Falcons lose to the Packers (could happen) and the Bucs lose to the Raiders (could happen) all three teams would have 4 losses in the NFC South. I do not like the Saints’ defense even a little bit; in the NFC, only the Niners’ defense is worse. However, I am not in awe of the Seahawks’ offense either so I do not like the Seahawks in a shoot-out. Make this a venue call again; I’ll take the Saints plus the points.

New England – 6 at Buffalo (46.5): This is not the Game of the Week – – but it is the Revenge Game of the Week. The Bills beat the Pats in Foxboro a few weeks ago just before Tom Brady came back from suspension. I doubt that anyone would need to be convinced that Tom Brady at QB is significantly different from Jacoby Brisset at QB and that is the situation at hand here. Here is a particularly meaningless trend for this game:

    UNDER is 9-3 in Buffalo in the last 12 games in Week 8.

I’ll take the Pats and lay the points even on the road.

Jets – 3 at Cleveland (43): This spread opened at 4.5 points and has been moving steadily down all week long. The winless Browns might not be this short as an underdog again this year; as I look at their upcoming schedule, I am virtually certain they will never be favored in a game for the rest of the season. I agree with the oddsmakers here; this will be a low-scoring game so I will revert to my preference in such games and take the Browns plus the points. I do wish I had written these picks when the line was still at 4.5 points but there is no looking back…

Oakland at Tampa – 1.5 (49): The Raiders and the Broncos are tied for the lead in the AFC West and those two teams will meet next week for the first time. This game is important to the Raiders. The Bucs are “in the mix” in the NFC South simply because the Falcons have lost two in a row and because the Panthers have already lost 5 games. This game is important to the Bucs too. The Bucs’ offense should have a good showing against the porous – and that is a generous adjective here – defense put out by the Raiders. On the flip side, it is not clear how the Bucs will deal with a pair of wideouts of the caliber of Crabtree and Cooper at the same time. I think Oakland has at least an even chance to win outright, so I’ll take the Raiders plus the points.

KC – 2.5 at Indy (50.5): I like the Chiefs run offense against the Colts run defense here and I am confident that the Chiefs overall defense is better than the Colts’ defense. Andrew Luck will be the better QB on the field, but I think Alex Smith will be more than adequate against the Colts’ defense. I’ll take the Chiefs to win and cover here.

San Diego at Denver – 5.5 (45.5): This is not the Game of the Week nor is it the Revenge Game of the Week – – but it is a revenge game. The Chargers beat the Broncos two weeks ago in San Diego. The Broncos will be without CJ Anderson here putting the onus for the run game in the lap of rookie Devontae Booker. The Broncos are only giving up 175 yards per game passing so far this year; I doubt they will hold Philip Rivers to that number. The Chargers have held opponents to 90.1 yards per game rushing; with CJ Anderson on the shelf, they might do that here. Check out these contradictory trends for this game:

    Chargers are 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games on grass
    Broncos are 6-2-1 ATS in their last 9 games on grass

    This game is on grass …

Purely a hunch, I’ll take the Chargers plus the points here.

Arizona at Carolina – 2.5 (47): These teams met in the NFC Championship Game last year on this field and the Panthers won in a laugher. Both teams have failed to perform in 2016 to the standard they set for themselves in 2015. The Panthers’ record is a dismal 1-5; yet, they are favorites here because the Cards no longer score points by the bushel; in fact, the Panthers have scored more points in 6 games than the Cards have scored in 7 games. The Panthers had last week off to figure out how to get back on a more positive heading for the rest of 2016; they should realize that a playoff berth means they need to go 9-1 for the rest of this year. With that realization, they do not want to “spend” that 1 remaining loss here. I’ll take the Panthers – in their desperation mode – to win and cover here.

(Sun Nite) Philly at Dallas – 4 (43): This is the Game of the Week; it has great significance to the standings in the NFC East; it has the great storyline involving rookie Carson Wentz vis a vis the two rookie sensations, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Here is the nub for the game:

    If the Eagles’ defense can keep Elliott from running wild, they are opportunistic enough on defense to force turnovers and that could win the game for the Eagles.

I do not think that is going to happen. I’ll take the Cowboys and lay the points here.

(Mon Nite) Minnesota – 4.5 at Chicago (40.5): The spread here opened at 6 points and dropped to this level quickly. Jay Cutler will be back at QB for the Bears after several weeks off with an injured thumb in his throwing hand. Jay Cutler may not be a likeable person and he is certainly not a “cerebral QB” by any stretch of the imagination. Having said all of that, he is a huge step up from Matt Barkley at QB. [Aside: I wonder if Charles Barkley would be a step up from Matt Barkley at QB. Hmm…] I think folks are over-reacting to the Vikes’ loss to the Eagles last week. They only gave up 21 points and 8 of them came on a kickoff return plus a 2-point conversion. The Vikes’ defense forced 4 turnovers. Yes, the Vikes lost last week and were not really in the game for all of the second half, but that is because the Eagles’ defense forced turnovers from the Vikes’ offense. That should not happen again here. I like the Vikes to win and cover here.

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