Last week was not a successful one for mythical picking. I made 15 selections – you will recall there were no lines for the Titans/Broncos game at the time I made my picks – and the record for the week was 7-8-0. The season record now stands at 119-73-4.
There were 2 Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games last week and the coin went 1-1-0. For the season the coin is performing slightly better than one might expect from a coin flip; overall the coin is now 15-11-2.
There weren’t any really good picks from last week but the “Best Picks” from last week’s sorry lot were:
- Cards/Dolphins OVER 43.5. Total score was 49.
- Bengals -5 over Browns. Bengals won by 13.
The Worst Picks from last week were:
- Saints/Bucs OVER 51. Total score was only 27.
- Cowboys -3 against Giants. Cowboys lost straight up.
- Colts -6 against Texans. Colts lost straight up.
Naturally, no one should even think about using any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money; these are – after all – Mythical Picks. Only a dummy would do anything like that; in fact, that dummy would probably also try to kill a mockingbird by throwing it off a cliff.
The NFL’s TV ratings have gone back up; last Sunday night’s game was the highest rated game this year and was the highest rated program on TV in the last 3 weeks according to the folks who do TV ratings. Two months ago, there were analyses and prognostications that blamed the decline in ratings on concern over concussions and too much “league parity”; other folks thought that the Presidential campaigns had brought on a degree of “TV fatigue” for viewers. Given the rebound in NFL ratings after the election, my guess is that the “TV fatigue factor” was more important than the concern over concussions or quality of play. Not that it really matters which was more correct …
Last week, the Chiefs beat the Raiders 21-13. The Raiders were the top team in the AFC when the game kicked off; they had the same record as the Pats but would have a better tie-breaker than the Pats had it come down to those two teams angling for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This loss takes the Raiders out of the lead in the AFC West and puts them in the position as the lead dog in the race for the AFC wild card slots. That is a big drop for a single loss.
Tyreek Hill had a punt return for a TD and a 36-yard TD reception in the span of a couple of minutes in the second quarter to give the Chiefs a 21-10 lead at halftime. The second half was a defensive game all the way; the Chiefs made life miserable for Derek Carr (117 yards passing for the game); that was the worst game I have seen him play. On the flip side of the coin for Raiders’ fans, that was the best performance I have seen from the Raiders D-line in several years; they held the Chiefs to only 65 yards on the ground.
The Chiefs are on top of the AFC West as of this morning but they did lose LB, Derrick Johnson to an Achilles’ tendon injury in the game. That could be a significant loss for the Chiefs over the rest of this regular season and into the playoffs.
The Titans beat the Broncos 13-10 in a game that had significance in the AFC South and the AFC West races. The Titans win puts them above .500 at 7-6 which is the same record that the Texans have. For now, the Texans lead the division based on tie-breakers but the two teams will meet head-to-head in the final week of the season (Jan 1, 2017). The Titans won this game despite a dreary performance by QB Marcus Mariota against the Broncos’ defense; here is his stat line:
- 6 for 20 for 88 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs
Remember, that was the WINNING QB’s stat line…
The Broncos’ OL continued to be a weak link allowing the run game to amass the grand total of 18 yards on 9 carries. That is why the team called 51 pass attempts by Trevor Siemian; that sort of offensive imbalance with that sort of offensive firepower is not a successful strategy.
This loss puts the Broncos in a bad situation. They trail both the Raiders and the Chiefs by 2 games in the AFC West with only 3 games left to play. That is a bad situation all by itself, but if you check the schedule, the Broncos have the most difficult schedule over the final 3 games of any team in the NFL:
- This week: Vs. Pats who are 11-2 at the moment
- Next week: At Chiefs who are 10-3 at the moment
- Final week: Vs. Raiders who are 10-3 at the moment
Combined record for the final 3 opponents is 31-8. OUCH!
The Texans beat the Colts last week by a score of 22-17. This puts the Texans on top of the AFC South and leaves the Colts a game behind the Texans and the Titans in that divisional race. The keys for the Texans victory here were Lamar Miller running for 107 yards and the defense forcing 3 turnovers in the game. Once again, the Texans won despite an uninspiring performance by Brock Osweiler (14 for 24 for 147 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT).
The AFC South is not a good division; there are surely no “great teams” there and it would be generous to say that the teams at or near the top are anything better than “decent” but the AFC South does have something going for it. The Texans, Titans and Colts are within a game of each other and only one of the three teams is likely to make the playoffs. That means the games involving those teams should be interesting because they matter.
The Steelers beat the Bills 27-20. The game was not really as close as the score might indicate; the Bills got two late TDs when it really did not matter. LeVeon Bell ran for 236 yards on the Bills’ defense; that is not something one might expect from a defense under the tutelage of the Ryan brothers. Bell’s dominance overcame a bad game from Ben Roethlisberger who – uncharacteristically – threw 3 INTs in that game. The Steelers’ defense pitched in too sacking Tyrod Taylor 5 times.
Even before the game began, there were reports based on rumors that Rex Ryan would be fired in Buffalo. I have no inside info on any of that but I do know that he is still the coach of the Bills as of this morning. However, since these rumors were put out there, let me give you an overview of some of the realities that underpin Ryan’s position:
- He is in the second year of a 5-year contract worth $27M. If he is fired at the end of the 2016 season, the Bills will still owe him about $16M. His record so far in Buffalo has been 14-15.
- As noted above, the defense is not what you would expect from a Rex Ryan team. The Bills rank 18th in total defense; 17th in points allowed and 28th in rushing yards allowed.
- The Bills’ offense is not good enough to do much better than “break even” with those sorts of defensive stats. Tyrod Taylor is not a franchise QB; the team needs an upgrade at QB more than it needs an upgrade at head coach.
- The other 2 QBs on the Bills’ depth chart this morning are EJ Manuel and Cardale Jones. Both look like a downgrade compared to Tyrod Taylor to me…
The Bengals beat the Browns 23-10. RG3 was the starting QB for the Browns and various game reports said that the Browns were trying to run a “high school offense” dominated by “gadget plays” in the game. Well, if that was the case, it surely did not work. Here is RG3’s stat line:
- 12 for 28 for 104 yards with) TDs and 1 INT
At halftime, the Bengals led 20-0 and RG3’s stats were 2 for 10 for 20 yards and 1 INT. I know; he has not played since the first game of the season; it would be unreasonable to expect him to “light it up” in his first game back. Nevertheless, what he did was stink out the joint on a team that has specialized in stinking out every joint they have played in all year long.
The Browns are 3-31 since the end of the 2014 season; they have 3 games left to avoid an 0-16 season in 2016. Here are those games:
- This week: At Buffalo. If the Bills lose, Rex Ryan may need a flak jacket.
- Next week: Vs. San Diego. Chargers’ coach is in trouble already …
- Final Week: At Pitts. It would be a “Hollywood ending” if the Browns win here.
Before the Bengal/Browns game, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot. He may be on to something here:
“Begin countdown: Now that Robert Griffin III has recovered from his shoulder injury and will start Sunday for the Browns against the Bengals, what’s the over-under on how many games he’ll play before getting banged up again? Or are we wagering by the quarter now?”
The Pats beat the Ravens 30-23 last week. The win puts the Pats in the driver’s seat for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the loss drops the Ravens a game behind the Steelers in the AFC North race. Joe Flacco threw for 324 yards and 2 TDs in this game and was overshadowed significantly by Tom Brady’s performance of 406 yards and 3 TDs. The Ravens trailed 23-3 about half way through the 3rd quarter and it looked as if the Pats would coast home until …
- The Pats had a punt hit the returner’s leg and it was recovered inside the Pats’ 5 yardline. The Ravens got a quick TD here.
- On the ensuing kickoff, the returner fumbled the ball and the Ravens recovered in the red zone. That produced another quick TD and closed the scoring gap to 23-17.
The Ravens’ defense ranked 1st in the NFL in yards allowed per game (296.1 yards per game) at kickoff. The Pats’ offense last week was a whopping 496 yards against a very good defense …
The Lions beat the Bears 20-17. The Lions “returned to form this week”; they won after trailing in the 4th quarter of the game; that is their 8th comeback in the 4th quarter in their 9 wins this year. The Bears got the lead with a Pick Six on Lions’ QB, Matthew Stafford but they could not hold that lead. The Bears are now 3-9 and will be drafting early next April.
The Vikes beat the Jags 25-16. Sam Bradford was 24 for 34 for 292 yards and 1 TD in the game. The score could have been a whole lot worse:
- Vikes had the ball at the Jags’ 1 yardline but could not get a TD and turned the ball over on downs.
- Vikes had the ball at the Jags’ 1 yardline once again but turned the ball over on a fumble.
The Jags are now 0-6 at home this year. In this game, they led 16-12 at the start of the 4th quarter but managed to invent ways to lose another home game…
The Packers beat the Seahawks 38-10. Yes, it was that much of a shellacking; the Packers intercepted 5 passes in the game. Aaron Rodgers played with a limp for the game with a “calf injury” but it sure did not affect his throwing arm or his accuracy. He threw for 3 TDs and 246 yards in the game. I could not tell if Rodgers’ passing effectiveness was due to the absence of Earl Thomas in the secondary or not; if it was, the Seahawks are in big trouble unless they “coach-up” a substitute very quickly. Here is an interesting stat:
- Aaron Rodgers has won his last 15 games at home in the month of December.
The Lions have a 2-game lead on both the Vikes and the Packers in the NFC North this morning. The remaining schedule for those teams is interesting:
- The Lions have to play the Giants and the Cowboys before meeting the Packers head-to-head in the final game of the season.
- The Packers and Vikes play each other next week.
- The Vikes play a desperate Colts’ team this week.
The Bucs beat the Saints 16-11. I thought this game would be a shoot-out; that was not even close to correct. Two weeks ago, Drew Brees threw 3 INTs in a game and did not throw a TD pass. Last week in Mythical Picks, I said directly that would not happen again. Well, in the game against the Bucs, Brees threw 3 INTs and 0 TDs. Once again, I was abjectly incorrect…
The Dolphins beat the Cards 26-23. The Cards managed to find a way to throw this game away:
- The Cards missed a field goal.
- The Cards missed 2 PAT attempts.
- One of the missed PATs was returned for 2 points on the Dolphins’ ledger.
- The Cards threw 2 INTs
- The Cards lost a fumble.
Dolphins’ QB, Ryan Tannehill had to leave the game with an injured knee. It turns out not to be as bad as it looked; he did not tear any ligaments in his knee; he only suffered a “bad sprain”; no timetable for his return is out there but reports are that he will not play this week.
The Panthers beat the Chargers 28-16. The Chargers turned the ball over 5 times in the game and allowed Philip rivers to be sacked 5 times in the game. Melvyn Gordon and Joey Bosa both had to leave the game for the Chargers. It is amazing the score was this close…
The Skins beat the Eagles 27-22. On the stat sheet, Carson Wentz got the better of Kirk Cousins throwing for 314 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. However, that INT came with the ball on the Skins’ 3 yardline and if the Eagles score a TD there, the complexion of the game would have changed significantly. The win keeps the Skins in the wild card race in the NFC, but things are complicated there.
The Giants beat the Cowboys 10-7. As the score indicates, this game was dominated by defense from start to finish. Back in my pre-season analysis, I said that I was unimpressed with the way the Giants had spent lots of money to shore up its defense in free agency. Well those free agents have been playing really well recently and they were outstanding against the Cowboys here. The Giants’ defense held the Cowboys to 1 for 15 on third down conversions. The Giants’ defense was good enough to overcome a poor performance from Eli Manning who threw 2 INTs and lost a fumble in the game.
The Giants’ defense also shut down Dez Bryant. He did not catch a pass until very late in the 4th quarter and then he promptly fumbled that ball and lost it to the Giants. That allowed the Giants to run the clock out and preserve a 3-point win.
The Cowboys have secured a slot in the NFC playoffs; the Giants lead the NFC wild card race as of this morning. These teams might see each other for a 3rd time this season sometime in January…
The Falcons beat the Rams 42-14. The Falcons led 42-0 at the start of the 4th quarter and pumped the brakes for the final 15 minutes. The game had an inauspicious start for the Rams. On the opening kickoff, the ball hit the returner in the facemask and the Falcons recovered the ball at the Rams’ 3 yardline. With only 10 seconds expired in the game, the team kicking off had a 7-0 lead. Then things got worse…
- Over the course of the game, the Rams turned the ball over 5 times – one of which was a Pick Six and another of which was a Scoop and Score.
In the stinker of the week, the Jets rallied to beat the Niners 23-17 in OT. Making fans sit through OT in this game comes close to being a human rights violation. The Niners led the game 14-0 after 1 quarter and held a 17-3 lead with 5 minutes left in the game. Then they invented a way to forge a tie with the Jets at the end of regulation play and a way to lose in OT. The Niners recorded 6 sacks on Bryce Petty and still managed to lose the game.
Petty started at QB for the Jets and was OK. He threw for 265 yards and only 1 INT. Colin Kaepernick was the Niners’ QB and he was awful (15 for 26 for 116 yards). The Niners entered the game with the worst run defense in the NFL; the Jets ran the ball 40 times for 188 yards. If I were a conspiracy theorist – which I am not – I would wonder about this:
- Are the Niners actually trying to be the worst team in the NFL just in case the Browns accidently win a game?
- This is the 3rd game this year that the Niners have led by 14 points and then coughed it up.
(Thurs Nite) LA at Seattle – 15.5 (39): I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games. Somehow, the Rams have beaten the Seahawks the last 3 times these teams have met including a 9-3 win back in September of this year. I do not see the Rams doing much on offense in this game; if they are going to keep it close, it will be the play of the Rams’ DL (team’s best unit) dominating the Seahawks’ OL (team’s worst unit). Only because I said would make a pick in every game, I’ll take the Seahawks to win and cover at home. Looking for some solace in that pick, here are some meaningless trends that support my choice:
- Rams are 2-7 ATS in their last 9 games against teams win a winning record
- Rams are 2-7 ATS in their last 9 games in Seattle.
(Sat Nite) Miami – 2.5 at Jets (37.5): Even if the starting QBs were Ryan Tannehill and Ryan Fitzpatrick, this game would not be at the top of my list of interesting contests. Neither Ryan will start here; this will be a “showdown” between Matt Moore and Bryce Petty. I will try to maintain composure… Since neither QB projects to be dominant here, it behooves me to look at the run defenses because both teams will probably try to run the ball until the defense forces them to do something else:
- Jets are 17th in the NFL giving up 102.5 yards per game
- Dolphins are 28th in the NFL giving up 133.8 yards per game.
Neither team is a scoring machine; the Dolphins score 21.6 points per game which does not sound like much until you realize that the Jets score 17.6 points per game. Weather.com says it will rain on Saturday with perhaps 1-3 inches of snow. That is not “Miami weather”. I’ll take the Jets plus the points at home.
(Sun Nite) Tampa at Dallas – 7 (47): The Cowboys are on a nationally televised game again; Jerry Jones loves it. This is a big game for the Bucs; right now, they are tied with the Falcons for the NFC South lead. The Bucs are riding a 5-game win streak and it has been their defense that has made that happen. Over the last 5 games, the Bucs have allowed only 64 points. Conversely, this game is less important to the Cowboys who hold a 2-game lead over the Giants in the NFC East and own the best record in the conference. Moreover, the Cowboys’ high performance offense has sputtered in its last two games scoring a total of only 24 points. Is this because defensive coordinators have gotten more data on Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott? If so, the Tampa defensive braintrust probably has access to and a sound analysis of that same data… Purely a hunch; I think the Bucs will keep this game close so I’ll take them plus the points here.
Detroit at Giants – 4 (41): This game was a contender for the Game of the Week because this game is important to both sides. The Giants will not guarantee themselves a playoff slot with a win here but it would put them in a very comfortable position. The same thing goes for the Lions regarding their NFC North division championship. I expect both teams to put it on the line here. Matthew Stafford injured a finger on his throwing hand in last week’s win over the Bears and the weather in New Jersey on Sunday will be a carryover from the messy weather the Jets will play in on Saturday night. I think this will be a low scoring affair so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.
Philly at Baltimore – 5.5 (41): I really do not like the Eagles’ offense against the Ravens’ defense; I think that is a mismatch. I’ll take the Ravens to win and cover.
Green Bay – 5.5 at Chicago (39): The spread opened at 6.5 points and settled in here pretty quickly. The Total Line opened at 44 and has been dropping all week; check the weather forecast at the end of this selection. Even though he limped through the game last week, Aaron Rodgers will be the better QB on the field in this game. The Packers need to win out to have a good chance at the playoffs and I just do not see them coughing up this game against a 3-9 Bears team that just isn’t very good. I’ll take the Packers to win and cover. Oh, by the way, weather.com says that it will be sunny on Sunday in Chicago with a high temperature of zero followed by minus-15 degrees over Sunday night with 15 mph winds. Can you spell frostbite…?
Indy at Minnesota – 4 (45.5): Here is another game where both teams need a win badly. Neither offense here is scary; the Colts OL is mediocre on its best days and should be dominated by the Vikes’ front-7; the Vikes’ offense ranks 31st in the NFL – ahead of only the LA Rams. I see a low scoring game here and I like to take points in those situations. Therefore, I’ll take the Colts plus the points on the road. There are two “disturbing trends” at work in opposition to my selection here:
- Vikes are 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games against teams with a losing record.
- Vikes are 21-6 ATS in their last 27 games at home.
Cleveland at Buffalo – 10 (41.5): I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games and I do believe that this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The game is pretty much meaningless for both teams – unless you think the question of actually winning a game this year is meaningful for the Browns. The weather is going to be awful. Weather.com says it will snow and rain from Thursday through Saturday in Buffalo and then be cloudy with temps in the 20s and winds at 20 mph around game time. Such a joy … I shall turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Bills and lay the points. Oy vey!
Tennessee at KC – 5.5 (42): Yet again, both teams need this game. The Titans are tied atop the AFC South; the Chiefs are tied atop the AFC West. Absent major turnovers leading to scores by either or both sides, this will be a low scoring game. I’ll take the Titans plus the points in that scenario.
Jax at Houston – 6 (39): The Texans need to win this game; the Jags would get the #3 overall pick in the draft were it to be held tonight. This too looks to be a low-scoring/defense dominated game but I cannot bring myself to do what I prefer to do in those situations. I just do not like the Jags on the road when the Texans are 5-1 at home and undefeated in the division. I’ll take the Texans to win and cover here. Please note that I took the home team and the favorite here; now take note of two ominous trends:
- Road team is 8-2-1 ATS in the last 11 games between these two teams
- Underdog is 6-2 ATS in the last 8 games between these two teams.
New Orleans at Arizona – 2.5 (50.5): The Saints have the #1 offense in the NFL at 418.3 yards per game and the Saints’ record is 5-8. The Cards offense has sputtered this year as compared to last year; it ranks 10th in the NFL at 363.8 yards per game and the Cards’ record is 5-7-1. Despite the two losing records here, both teams have outscored their opponents for the season. That tells me something about the defenses here… Drew Brees has been in a 2-game funk throwing 6 INT and 0 TDs in those games. Carson Palmer has been underwhelming all year long. Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Cards at home where they are 4-2-1 for the season and lay the points.
SF at Atlanta – 14 (51.5): I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games. Atlanta needs a win here and they are going to get one. The Falcons lead the NFL in scoring at 32.9 points per game. The Niners have never scored more than 28 points in any game and the only time they got that high was on opening day when they shut out the Rams for their only win of the year. Compounding the agony here, the Niners give up the most points of any team in the NFL at 30.9 points per game. I think this game sets up as a rout. I’ll take the Falcons and lay the points.
New England – 3 at Denver (44): This is the Game of the Week. The Pats hold home-field advantage in the playoffs today; they surely want to keep it that way. The Broncos are not a cinch even to make the playoffs given their record and their remaining opponents (see above). This is a top-shelf defense against a top-shelf offense when the Pats have the ball. This is a good defense against a marginal offense when the Broncos have the ball. The bugaboo here is that the Pats rarely play well at Denver. In fact, in the last 10 games between these teams – going back to 2008 – the home team has won 9 of the 10 times. I am going to go with the desperation factor here and take the Broncos at home plus the points. However, I realize that if the Pats get off to a good start and get a 10-point lead on the Broncos, it might be all over at that point…
Oakland – 3 at San Diego (49): Before I make my selection for this game, I should tell you about something I do not ever recall seeing on a game like this. Virtually every sportsbook has this game at 3 points or at 3.5 points. However, one Internet sportsbook has it listed as a “pick ‘em game” but you have to lay minus-145 with your pick. [That means you need to wager 145 dollars to win 100 dollars.] An interesting proposition to draw attention – and possibly action – to one sportsbook… Regarding the more mundane way to make a pick for this game, I think this will be a scoring-fest and so I’ll take the game to go OVER. Here are 2 contradictory trends – if you are into that sort of thing:
- Chargers are 5-14 ATS in their last 19 home games
- Underdog is 14-2 ATS in the last 16 games between these two teams
Pittsburgh – 3 at Cincy (44): The Steelers lead the AC North; the Bengals are not mathematically eliminated from that race – but in fact they are not going to win the division. The Steelers are 4-3 on the road this year and the Bengals are only 3-2-1 at home. I think this will be a low-scoring game – – as most of the games between these teams are – – so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.
(Mon Nite) Carolina at Washington – 6.5 (51): The spread opened at 4.5 and has climbed steadily all week long. Frankly, this game is a total mystery to me. I can see either team winning handily and I have no idea what factors will prevail. Obviously, the betting public is putting their money on the Skins; that is what has driven the spread up 2 points in the past several days. I am turning this over the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Panthers plus the points.
Finally, here is an NFL comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:
“In September, a TV meteorologist in Cleveland vowed not to shave again until the Browns win a game. For residents of Cleveland, it looks like the ZZ Top bassist is doing the weather.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………