[I know it is only Wednesday and there is a daily rant already posted for today [scroll down to see it if you wish] but this is my annual Las Vegas weekend and all of the picks and postings have to be done by tomorrow afternoon. The NCAA flavor of Mythical picks will be posted here sometime tomorrow – not sure when since I have things to do this afternoon and we are having guests for dinner tonite.]
Last week was not a great week of mythical picking and it reduced the season-long totals to such a state of blandness that you might think Dean Blandino was making the picks. The record last week was 7-9-1; the cumulative record now stands at 47-47-3; the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games have gone 5-5-0.
The “Best Picks” were taking the Dolphins +2 points and watching them win in a walk over the Titans and taking the Saints +3.5 points and watching them win handily over the Falcons.
The “Worst Pick” was the pair of picks in the Broncos/Browns game. I took the Broncos – 4 (they won by only 3) and I took the game to stay UNDER 42.5. Cannot do much worse than that…
The picks for this week have been assembled much earlier than usual because this is the week I go to Las Vegas with friends. These are early lines and I would be surprised if many of them did not change significantly between now and kickoff.
Surely, no one will be tempted by any of the data above to think of anything that follows here as a realistic glimpse of the future. However, just in case … no one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money. If you are that stupid …
You also think that the archives are where Noah kept the bees.
Where else might I possibly begin this week other than the Colts’ “fake punt play”? If you did not see it live on Sunday Night Football and you have not seen it replayed on ESPN or checked out the Internet to see it, you are one of three things:
A rabid Colts’ fan who cannot bear to see your heroes do something so stupid
A member of Chuck Pagano’s nuclear family
A baseball fan who ought not to be wasting time reading all these words about the NFL.
I have long thought that the dumbest premeditated decision in the history of the NFL – or at least that portion of the history of the NFL that occurred during my sentient times – was the decision to hand the ball off in the situation that led to The Miracle at the Meadowlands. This decision resides up in that sort of rarefied air; in fact it may have been a diminished oxygen supply to the brain that made it happen.
Trailing by one score late in the 3rd quarter at your own 37 yardline with 4th and 3, this is clearly the time to punt the ball and play defense. It might be the time to line up in a goofy formation to try to draw the Patriots offsides knowing that if you take the delay of game penalty you will be punting from the 32 and not the 37. Big deal; the commitment here has to be to punt the damned ball. But the Colts did not and when the ball was snapped the guy under center had no more chance of making a play than Steven Seagal has of winning a Best Actor Oscar. Here is the note I wrote on my notepad at the end of that fiasco:
“Michigan had only the second worst punt play of the weekend. That was a physical error; this was just plain stupid.”
“Thought for a minute I was watching the Lions on the field with Wayne Fontes on the sidelines.”
There have been reports/rumors that Chuck Pagano’s job may be in jeopardy in Indy despite the fact that his teams always seem to go to the playoffs and have dominated the AFC South for much of the last decade or so. I have no inside information with regard to that but if the reports are accurate, there may be a rift between/among coach Pagano, GM Grigson and owner Irsay. Were I the owner and there were no rift between me and the coach up until last Sunday night, there might well be one there now…
Look Irsay owns the team and he can hire and fire whomever he wants to. I tend to think coach firings are more about owners’ egos than just about anything else, but he is the owner … However, were I the owner, I would be looking analytically at the team that has been assembled this year to wear the Colts’ uniforms. In most circumstances, that responsibility falls in the main to the GM and not the coach; in this circumstance, the GM would have a lot of ‘splainin to do. [/Ricky Ricardo]
The Colts’ major asset is QB Andrew Luck. For a football team – like any enterprise – protection of one’s major asset is of primary importance.
Some teams protect the QB by assembling an OL that is really good at opening holes for running backs such that the defense has to play the run and not get set to tee off on the QB.
Other teams protect the QB by assembling an OL that is really good at pass blocking and picking up blitzes.
The Colts have done neither; theirs is a mediocre-at-best OL.
The most undervalued portion of a team’s defense is the DL. The Colts’ DL is also mediocre-at-best.
I understand that drafting players is a crap-shoot and draft picks sometimes make good and sometimes suck wind. No GM does that perfectly to be sure. But when GMs make trades and sign free agents, you would think that they are working in an area where the uncertainties are less than in the draft. So, let me highlight just 3 of the GMs decisions in that arena:
He traded a first round pick to acquire Trent Richardson from the Browns. The operative phrase here is “from the Browns”; he was not good enough to be a cornerstone for the offense of the Browns.
In 2013, he signed OG Gosder Cherilus to a 5-year contract theoretically worth $35M. As of 2015 Cherilus is gone and has signed on with the Bucs at $3.5M per year; meanwhile, the Colts are on the hook for a total of $8.7M of “dead money” against their salary cap for the next two seasons. Where did the GM find Cherilus? He had been on the OL for the Detroit Lions for the five years leading up to his free agency; he was not good enough to be a cornerstone of the OL for the Detroit Lions.
Also in 2013, he signed S LaRon Landry to a 4-year contract theoretically worth $24M. As of 2015, Landry is gone and is serving a 10-game suspension for substance abuse policy violations. The Colts released him and are eating about $5M in dead money on their salary cap over the next two years. Where did the GM find Landry? He had been with the Skins and the Jets for 6 seasons meaning there was plenty of film available to show that he could not cover a corpse with a bed sheet.
I do not know if Chuck Pagano’s job is in jeopardy or if he will be fired. Truth be told, I really do not care all that much either. However, if the Colts’ GM stays on and gets a raise based on his performance over the past three years or so, I would have to suspect that he has come very incriminating pictures/videos in his possession…
As of this morning, the Colts are 3-0 against the AFC South and 0-3 against the rest of the NFL. Even if you extrapolate that record to its most wildly pessimistic end – the Colts only win 6 games for the whole season – it might be enough to win that division. If anyone were to beat them out, that team would have to win 7 games because the Colts would own all the tie-breakers. I am not so sure any other team in the AFC South can win that often.
Two other AFC South teams squared off last weekend; the Texans beat the Jags 31-20. The Jags are one of the AFC South teams that are not going to win 7 games this year; as of today they are averaging less than 20 points per game and giving up almost 30 points per game. Last week, their leading rusher was QB Blake Bortles with 37 yards. The Texans are now 2-4 and I guess they might win 7 games. I really like WR DeAndre Hopkins and I think he does not get nearly the acclaim he has earned because he plays in Houston for a mediocre offensive team. So far this year, he has caught 52 passes for 726 yards in 6 games. Not bad…
Going into last week’s game against the Dolphins, Ken Whisenhunt had led the Titans to a 3-17 record; now it is 3-18. The Dolphins waxed the Titans 38-10 last week making a lot of folks in South Florida a lot happier than they were two weeks ago. I am not ready to proclaim a new and rosy era for Miami football based on a single week of dominance; after all, those were the Titans out there in the opposing uniforms last weekend – a team that has won one out of seven games over the last season and a half… Oh, for the record, the Titans are the fourth team in the AFC South and they are not going to win 7 games this year either.
The Vikes beat the Chiefs 16-10 last week. I said in last week’s Mythical Picks that I thought this would be a boring game; it was pretty much like that. With Jamaal Charles on the shelf, the Chiefs ran for a grand total of 57 yards; with a defense focused on stopping Adrian Peterson, the Chiefs held him to 60 yards rushing on 26 carries. Neither team is exciting to watch; putting both on the field together showed that two individually unexciting teams can produce a completely unexciting game.
The Steelers beat the Cards 25-13. This is their second win with Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines with his knee injury; those two wins might be extremely important in December as playoff tie-breakers come into play. Landry Jones relieved Michael Vick in this game and played very well. I think the more important thing to note here is that Carson Palmer threw the ball for 421 yards in the game and that only produced 13 points. The Cards dominated the stat sheet but could not make that dominance into scores.
Speaking of dominating the stat sheet and losing the game, Philip Rivers threw the ball 65 times (completed 43 of them) for 503 yards with no INTs. Keenan Allen caught 14 passes for 159 yards in the game. Nonetheless, the Packers won by 7 points to remain undefeated; that is the most important stat to come out of this – or any – NFL game.
The Jets bet the Skins handily last week by 2 TDs. The focus of the moaning and groaning in the DC area has been Kirk Cousins throwing 2 INTs in the second half. While not trying to minimize how that makes winning more difficult consider some other factors:
The Skins got 3 turnovers in the first half; the Jets had none in the half. With that advantage, the Skins only led at halftime by 3 points.
As a team, the Skins ran the ball 17 times for 34 yards. Once the Jets got the lead, do you think the defensive coordinator there focused on stopping the passing attack or the running game?
The Skins’ defense gave up 221 yards rushing (5.4 yards per carry) and 474 yards of total offense.
The Jets/Skins game had an unusual twist to it. There were no penalties assessed until 10 minutes were left to play in the 4th quarter. For the entire game there were only 4 assessed penalties – all of the 5-yard variety. That does not happen very often in 2015…
The Broncos beat the Browns by a field goal in OT to advance their record to 6-0. It was a “winning-ugly” situation. Peyton Manning threw 2 INTs – one of which was of the Pick six variety – and really looked like an ordinary QB for much of the game. Of all the undefeated teams, the Broncos look to be the worst of the lot; having said that, there are an awful lot of teams that would like to be the worst undefeated team in the league as of today…
The Lions beat the Bears by a field goal in OT giving the Lions their first win of the year. The game had another controversial call with regard to a ball caught/not caught in the end zone for a TD/not-a-TD; if you see a replay and can explain the call here as it might be consistent with previous calls of this nature, please give it a try because I cannot. Matthew Stafford returned to the field after his second-half benching last week to throw for 400+ yards and the Lions accumulated 546 yards of total offense. Was this an awakening by the Lions’ offense – – or was this just the Bears’ defense being the Bears’ defense? Consider:
The Bears have allowed more points than any team in the NFL (179 in 6 games).
On Monday night, it looked after the first possession by the two teams that the Giants were going to win the game in a walk. Exactly the opposite happened; the Eagles came to life – particularly on defense – and the Giants started playing like zombies. The teams combined to fumble the ball 5 times (2 of them were lost) and to throw another 5 INTs. It was hardly a game where the adjective “artistic” might be applicable. Nonetheless, the Eagles now lead the NFC East by virtue of their head-to-head win over the Giants. That did not look likely just two weeks ago.
The Bengals stayed unbeaten by beating the Bills in Buffalo last week; the first snowflakes of the NFL season showed up on the screen as the teams were warming up. The Bills are now 3-3 for the season and all 3 of their losses have come at home. Andy Dalton picked the Bills apart surgically here with 3 TD passes and no INTs; most of the time he was unhurried. The Bills have a lot of high-paid players in the front-seven but they are not getting a lot of return for all that spending. Moreover, the needless and blockheaded penalties continue to pile up. At some point, you have to consider that the lack of production from the front-seven and the stupid penalties is a result of poor coaching by someone(s) on the staff.
Last week, Sammy Watkins went public with his complaint that he was not being targeted enough times. Basically he said that he was the best offensive option and they just needed to “get him the damned ball”. [/ Keyshawn Johnson] Late in the first half, QB, EJ Manuel, did just that; Watkins caught the ball in the end zone for a TD and was never touched on the play. He did wind up on crutches however with an ankle injury.
Memo to Sammy Watkins: You are indeed the best offensive player on the Bills’ squad. However, availability trumps talent.
Let me offer up a dangerous game for those of you who think you need more excitement in your life:
It is a drinking game. Watch a Bills game and every time there is a penalty flag against the Bills, you chug a beer. The last person to have to hit the head – to relieve pressure from the top of the alimentary canal or from the bladder – wins the game. Win or lose, be prepared for a humongous headache the next morning…
The Niners beat the Ravens 25-20 in my Dog-Breath Game of the Week last week. The Ravens are toast; I projected that they would win 11 games this year; to do that they need to win out from here and that will happen about two weeks after Urkel wins the Olympic Decathlon Gold Medal. The Ravens’ defense is simply a mess; they get only a modicum of pressure on the QB and the DBs need the kind of help that is illegal in the NFL – namely they need a couple of extra guys back there in the secondary so they would have 13 or 14 men on the field. Colin Kaepernick threw for 340 yards on that defense last week and that is the second highest total passing yards in a game for Kaepernick. By the way, the Ravens’ OL is not “getting it done” very well to establish a running game either. Now, Ravens’ fans will surely attack my thesis here by noting – correctly – that the Ravens have lost their 5 games by a total of 22 points and that the worst loss was by 6 points. I do not dispute those numbers; they are correct. What is equally correct is that the Ravens’ record is 1-5…
A team that had high aspirations for this season that similar to the Ravens finds itself on the brink of a disastrous season is the Seattle Seahawks who lost last week to the Panthers after leading by 6 points after 3 quarters. Yes, they blew a 4th quarter lead for the 4th time this season. In the final 10 minutes of the game, the Panthers drove 80 yards twice to put 2 TDs on the board and win the game. Giving up 160 yards in 10 minutes in the 4th quarter to lose a game is hardly a competent defense let alone a champion’s defense. I thought Kam Chancellor was supposed to prevent that sort of thing from ever happening again…
The Panthers are now 5-0. Going into the game last weekend, the Panthers had beaten a bunch of bad teams (Jags, Texans, Saints and Bucs). They showed in this game that they can play with teams that put a lot more talent on the field than those first four opponents. The Panthers and Falcons meet twice down the road; the outcome of those two games should determine the winner of the NFC South. Question:
Will the “other team” in those matchups be a wild card team?
Teams that will take the week off are:
Bears: They will prepare to host the Vikes next week and will pretend that the rest of their season is relevant.
Bengals: They are undefeated at 6-0 with a 2 game lead over the Steelers. However, next week, they need to go to Pittsburgh for an important game.
Broncos: They are undefeated at 6-0 with a 3.5 game lead over the Raiders in a woeful division. Next week, the Packers come to town in a match of undefeated teams.
Packers: They are undefeated at 6-0 with a 2.5 game lead over the Vikes. Next week they go to Denver to play the Broncos.
(Thurs Nite) Seattle – 6 at SF (42.5): The spread for this game opened at 4.5 points and has been climbing in the early part of the week. I suspect it could climb higher by game time. The good news for the Seahawks is that they finally found a way to get Jimmy Graham featured in their offense last week; he caught 8 passes. There are two bits of bad news for the Seahawks:
1. Russell Wilson has been sacked 26 times in 6 games. That is the most of any QB in the league. For the record, that is not a good thing…
2. Not only do the Seahawks have a bad habit of giving up 4th quarter leads, they have been outscored in the 4th quarter of their last 5 games 48-9.
Both teams are 2-4; the loser will be in last place in the NFC West. The Niners won last week and Colin Kaepernick played his best game of the season by far. Anquan Boldin had his second consecutive 100-yard receiving game last week; it seems he has been in the league for about 25 years now. Here is a disturbing trend:
The Niners are 2-10 in their last 12 games against the spread on grass fields.
Why is that disturbing? Their home field is a grass field. I think the Seahawks are the significantly better team here so I’ll take them on the road to win and cover.
Buffalo – 6.5 vs. Jax (42) [Game is in London]: The spread here opened at 5 points and has climbed steadily to this level. You can see this game through streaming on Yahoo! Sonny Jurgensen is still alive; I wonder if he ever imagined the construction of that sentence when he was playing in the NFL. I found two meaningless and contradictory trends for the Bills to share with you here:
Bills are 16-6 to go UNDER in their last 22 games overall.
Bills are 15-7 to go OVER in their last 22 games in October.
Make of that what you will… The Jags’ offense is 15 yards per game better than the Bills’ offense; the Bills’ defense is 10 yards per game better than the Jags. The Bills have some significant injuries to starting QB, Tyrod Taylor and to their two best WRs, Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin. DT Kyle Williams hurt his knee in last week’s game and is out for this one. LeSean McCoy played last week and looked as if he was over his leg injury; Taylor said he is going to play this week. The Jags have no set of injuries to key players that begins to compare to that list. I think that line is fat; I think the Jags have a legitimate shot to win the game straight up and the Money Line has the Jags at +220. For mythical purposes, I will take the Jags plus the points here. However, this is my Las Vegas weekend and should I find that Money Line steady at that level …
Cleveland at St. Louis – 5.5 (42): Todd Gurley has emerged as a threat to run the ball for the Rams in the last couple of games. The Rams had last week off to be sure to keep him involved in the offense because he is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The Rams have to win with defense and running the football because their passing attack does not scare anyone. Josh McCown has had some good games for the Browns at QB this year but he is still a career journeyman. I think the Rams will hold the Browns offense in check and I will take the Rams win and cover at home.
Pittsburgh – 2 at KC (no Total Line): Many sportsbooks have not posted a spread on this game and I cannot find a Total Line even at the sportsbooks that have this spread up on the board. The reason is that no one knows who will play QB for the Steelers in the game. Landry Jones played well last week and is clearly the healthiest of the Steelers’ 3 QBs. Ben Roethlisberger will “give it a go” in practice this week; Michael Vick has a “small tear in his hamstring” according to USA Today. What we know for sure is that Jamaal Charles will not play for the Chiefs and that is not something the Chiefs’ offense can overcome. The Steelers are 2 games behind the idle Bengals and face the Bengals next week. They need a win here so that a home win over the Bengals next week puts them only a half-game out of first place in the AFC North. I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover on the road – – and hope they do not have to go to an “emergency QB” sometime during the game.
Houston at Miami – 4.5 (44.5): The spread opened at 5.5 points, dropped quickly to this level and has stayed here for the last day or so. The Dolphins played a strong game last week dominating the Titans. It is the last three words of that previous sentence that are most important, “dominating the Titans”. I do not want to make the Texans out to be some kind of super-team because they are not but they are better than the Titans. Here is the question:
Was last week’s resurgence by the Dolphins a revival of their fortunes that will last or was it – as they call it on Wall Street – a dead-cat-bounce?
I shall turn the answer to that question over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip protocol and the coin says to take the Texans plus the points.
Jets at New England – 9.5 (48): Even though Todd Bowles is in his first year as a head coach, the Pats ought not to expect that he will gift them the game the way Chuck Pagano and his staff did last week. The Pats average 380 yards per game on offense; that is very good. The Jets allow an average of 269 yards on defense; that is very good. The biggest mismatch on the field is Ryan Fitzpatrick vis a vis Tom Brady. I do not expect the Jets’ defense to shut down Brady but they could easily keep him from throwing for 450 yards and 4 TDs. The question for me is how Fitzpatrick plays and how he controls the game. I think the line is fat; I’ll take the Jets plus the points.
Minnesota – 2.5 at Detroit (44.5): You can be sure that I will not be playing this game in Las Vegas this weekend and will likely be giving it only minimal attention as it progresses. Neither team is reliable; you never really know which version of the team – or either QB for that matter – will show up and play. Only because I said I would make a pick in every game will I turn this one over the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip. The coin says to take the Lions plus the points. Hey, if the coin says so…
Atlanta – 4 at Tennessee (48): I am surprised that there is a line on this game early in the week because there were questions about Marcus Mariotta’s availability for the game on Monday. Normally, that sort of thing postpones posting a line. The Falcons’ loss last Thursday to the Saints was an ugly loss and the Saints are not a good team. However, as noted above, the Titans are 3-18 during the tenure of head coach Ken Whisenhunt so there is no way to pretend that the Titans are any good either. I like the Falcons to regroup here and to win and cover on the road.
Tampa Bay at Washington – 3.5 (43.5): This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. More than likely, the team that makes the last mistake will lose the game and both QBs have shown that they are very error-prone. Between the two of them, they have thrown 15 INTs this year. Once again, this is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Bucs plus the points. Really…?
New Orleans at Indy – 4.5 (52): The Saints need to build on their win last week if they have any hope of relevance for their season past Thanksgiving. After last week’s soiling of the sheets, the Colts will likely get an earful of scorn from their home crowd if they do not play dominantly. Here is the key question for this game:
Can the Saints’ defense repeat the positive performance it showed last week in beating the Falcons or was that a one-time aberration?
I do not think the Saints’ defense matured last week; I think they just got on a roll in the game. I like the Colts to win and cover here and I like this game to go OVER. I smell a shoot-out; both teams give up more than 400 yards per game on defense.
Oakland at San Diego – 4 (47): The spread opened the week at 5.5 points. Both teams are on a 2-game losing streak; the Raiders had last week off to prepare for this game. If these teams harbor thoughts of the Broncos coming back to Earth sometime later this year, they each need to win here to become the “team in the best position to pick up the pieces”. Both teams throw the ball better than they run the ball and neither pass defense is outstanding. I like this game to go OVER. Now if that spread were to drop all the way to 3 points…
Dallas at Giants – 3.5 (45): The spread here opened the week at 6 points and dropped to this level almost immediately. This is an important NFC East game; the Cowboys had a Bye Week to prepare; the Giants had a short week to prepare. Brandon Weeden goes to the bench and Matt Cassel takes over under center for the Cowboys. Cassel is not the second coming of John Elway by any means, but he should be a significant step up from Weeden. The Giants’ offense was AWOL last week. Was that because the Eagles’ defense smothered it or was it a mass drop in their collective biorhythms. Consider:
In the first half against the Eagles, the Giants threw the ball to Odell Beckham, Jr 7 times and he caught all 7 passes.
In the second half, they only threw it at him once.
Was that a great defensive adjustment by the Eagles or a total brain-freeze by the Giants?
The Eagles’ DL harassed Eli Manning most of the night; will Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory be able to do the same this week? On the other hand, the Giants’ DL seems to think it is Lent and they have chosen to give up rushing the passer for Lent. I like this game to go OVER.
(Sun Nite) Philly at Carolina – 3 (46): The Eagles need this game to stay atop the NFC East; the Panthers are only a half-game ahead of the Falcons in the NFC South. Both teams will know how their rivals fared in earlier games as they take the field here. Consider these comparisons:
Carolina is 5-0 with a point differential of +41.
Philly is 3-3 with a point differential of +34.
Both teams score in the mid-20s on average.
Both teams allow less than 20 on average.
This might be the best game of the week. I’ll take the Eagles plus the points here.
(Mon Nite) Baltimore at Arizona – 7.5 (48): I think this game comes down to a single factor. The Ravens’ pass defense is a mess; they do not pressure the QB nearly well enough to cover for the mediocrity that exists in their injury-depleted secondary. At the same time Carson Palmer and his corps of pass-catchers average 8.7 yards per pass attempt. The Ravens are 1-5 for a reason and I think that reason will be on display front and center next Monday night. I like the Cardinals to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………