Saturday, September 29, 2012

Week 4: Hovering around .500

Bills hope to have Fred Jackson back- only way to stay in game

Wow. Last week was brutal. Between the horrible replacement refs (finally, finally gone) making football literally unenjoyable to watch and CJ Spiller going down with a horrible (looking) injury, it was the worst Bills win I think I've ever watched. As for my picks, most of my upset picks were horribly wrong, and a bunch of teams I was certain of faltered. Still, I ended up at 7-9 overall and 8-8 ATS. Which isn't horrible. That's just about all I can vouch for in terms of my picks right now: they're not horrible. Trust about half of them.

Onto the Thursday night game that already happened. Note on Thursday games: I tweet out my picks before the game.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-12)

I thought Baltimore would take this handily, and they did, just not handily enough. Browns covered the spread. The Browns could use like ten thousand new receivers, though. After some extensive research watching them last week, I can safely say that they are one again frontrunners for the most boring team in the NFL. When was the last time you actively watched a Browns highlight?

Half right pick: Baltimore wins, covers

New England (-3.5) at Buffalo

The Patriots have lost two straight games, but if you listen to angry Pats fans, like the ones who I work at summer camp with, they should be AT LEAST 2-1 (those fahckin' replacement refs!!!). To be somewhat non-biased, though, they haven't looked like the Patriots of old in either of those games- something's a little off on offense and the defense, though improved, isn't a world beater yet. If the Bills had a fully healthy Fred Jackson or CJ Spiller (both might play, but both are less than 100%- and Chan Gailey might be bluffing on these injury reports), I'd say they have a chance. The Bills offense is completely around the run game now; Gailey can't trust Ryan Fitzpatrick on a game to game basis, but he can trust two stud running backs. But Spiller and Jackson will sit out and play injured, respectively, and these Patriots don't lose three games in a row. Unless the Bills defensive line has a superhuman effort and forces Tom Brady into mistakes, the Pats should win this easily- the Bills offense just isn't at full strength, and the defense hasn't show it can shut down elite offenses yet.

Pick: Patriots win, cover

Minnesota at Detroit (-4)

Can anyone remind me why I should like the Lions and this spread? The Lions haven't looked very good this year. especially as they got lit up by the Titans last week. Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford are both ailing, which basically hinders the whole offense, and the defense has never been anything special. Minnesota, meanwhile, has a power running game and a rapidly improving QB in Christian Ponder. They know exactly what they want to do on both sides of the ball and execute. If they can beat the 49ers, I don't see the hobbled Lions faring much better against them.

Pick: Vikings win, cover

Carolina at Atlanta (-7)

Carolina has kind of looked like garbage this season. Last year's regression over the second half of the season by Cam Newton seems to have continued, and the defense has shown a disturbing fear of tackling. This does not look like the team many thought could contend for an NFC South crown (which, right now, looks to have three mediocre to bad teams in it). The one good team in the NFC South, the Falcons, have blown me away defensively this year. Their success in the regular season is pre-ordained, it seems. What remains to be seen is whether it can continue in the playoffs.

Pick: Falcons win, cover

San Francisco (-4) at New York Jets

It's hard to quantify just how important Darrelle Revis is to the Jets defense. On many defensive plays, he was tasked with covering one whole side of the field, leaving ten other defenders available to disrupt the other side. Without him, the dynamism of the Jets defense disappears, and with that, the Jets are immediately much worse overall. The offense is made to play with a great defense; they won't be able to stay in high scoring games. Meanwhile, San Francisco had a misstep last week in Minnesota, but I still believe in their overall talent- the defense, at its best, is nearly unbeatable and I don't think the Jets have the personnel to overcome that.

Pick: Niners win, cover

San Diego (-1) at Kansas City

Make no mistake: the Chiefs are really, really bad. The team they beat last week, the Saints, are just somehow, shockingly, worse. San Diego ran into a great Falcons team last week and looked beat from the start, and I'll still take them over the Romeo Crennel lead Chiefs. The Bills crushed them; the Chargers ought to be able to as well.

Pick: Chargers win, cover

Tennessee at Houston (-12)

Houston's looked really good this season, but I'm hesitant to take a twelve point spread in ANY game this season, especially since Tennessee had their offensive awakening last week. The Texans are still a better team, but the Titans should hang around and keep this game within ten. Kind of like Browns-Ravens, but with a little more excitement.

Pick: Texans win, Titans cover

Seattle (-3) at St. Louis

Well, I was very wrong about the Rams last week, but they're still a better team than last year. The Seahawks controversial totally ludicrous win last week has overshadowed the fact that their defense shut down the Packers for four quarters, and that they have one of the better secondaries in the league. On offense, they have a strong running game and Russell Wilson does just enough to pull out wins (even if they are, ahem, contentious). Seattle should take this one on the road, but I expect the Rams to stay within seven or ten.

Pick: Seahawks win, cover

Miami at Arizona (-5.5)

Alright. I give. The Cardinals are a good football team, anchored by a great defense and an offense that doesn't make mistakes. They will struggle, though, if they go down in a game- they are built to play ahead. Fortunately, the Dolphins, without Reggie Bush, are not the team that will give them that challenge. Arizona, somehow, gets to 4-0.

Pick: Cardinals win, cover

Oakland at Denver (-7)

How is Denver getting seven points here? Peyton Manning looks to be 60% of his 2010 self- that was his worst season- and the defense hasn't stepped up to make up for their deficiencies. The Raiders found their running game last week and found a way to win against the Steelers. That being said, I don't feel comfortable picking them to win in Denver. Popgun arm Peyton Manning finds a way!

Pick: Broncos win, Raiders cover

Cincinnati (-1) at Jacksonville

Wait, what? If the line is this low because of Jacksonville's home field "advantage", that's hilarious.This is the stadium that covers whole sections in tarps to prevent blackouts. I know. I've been there. The Bengals are just like last year; they'll beat every bad team they play and stay competitive with the elite. The Jaguars are slowly improving, but I don't see them winning, and a 1 point spread is basically asking me to pick a winner. Bengals look good to win here.

Pick: Bengals win, cover

New Orleans at Green Bay (-7.5)

I was so, so, so goddamn wrong about the Saints. They are comically bad. The Packers are angry after the debacle on Monday night and will shred the Saints' atrocious defense. Drew Brees might be able to keep it close for a bit, but nothing can overcome the bad mojo surrounding this team. Run, run away from the Saints bandwagon, all ye who have decided to remain on it while it burns. Sorry to one of my favorite high school teachers ever/ beacoup Saints fan for that.

Pick: Packers win, cover

Washington at Tampa Bay (-2.5)

Tampa Bay doesn't play pretty, but they play consistently ugly, and it keeps them in most of their games. The Redskins are this year's most entertaining team, which is good if wins and losses don't mean that much to you. The Redskins defense has been hobbled by injuries, and the offense might not be able to get past the no-nonsense Buccaneers defense. The Bucs will take this one at home, ugly, just how they planned it.

Pick: Buccaneers win, cover

NY Giants at Philadelphia (-2.5)

Philadelphia has won two of it's games by a point each; and got blown out by the Cardinals last week. Consistent through all that is tons of turnovers and a horrible offensive line. The Giants, meanwhile, have bounced back from some early season shakiness. Of course, just when you think they've fixed their issues, they manage to screw up. Still, I think the Eagles good record has been a result of a lot of luck, and I think the Giants have a better overall team.

Pick: Giants win, cover

Chicago at Dallas (-3.5)

If I had any money to bet, I would stay away from this game. The Bears were much improved last week, but it's always possible for Jay Cutler to lay an egg in primetime. The Cowboys won an ugly one last week against the Buccaneers. The Bears defense can keep them in any game; I'm just not sure about the offense yet. The balanced offensive attack the Cowboys are capable of should be enough to squeak out a win.

Pick: Cowboys win, Bears cover

Last Week (ATS): 7-9 (8-8)
This Week (ATS): 1-0 (0-1)
Overall: 24-24
Overall (ATS): 21-26-1

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Week 3 NFL Pickapalooza: Road Warriors

Fitzpatrick is not to be trusted with anything besides handing off

Week 3 is hard to figure since so many teams submitted completely different performances than Week 1. I don't think I'll have a handle on this season till about Week Five. And it shows in my picks! I went 8-8 last week and (yikes) 6-9-1 against the spread. Good thing I'm picking a majority of road teams this week, right? That always works out well!!!

New York Giants at Carolina (-2.5)

Full disclosure: I usually write the Thursday night pick before the game happens, but I was totally swamped and didn't have time. But I was absolutely certain that the Panthers would win this game. As my Dad says all the time: the Giants, always f***ing up my picks. My dad and I play in a confidence picks pool (that's 16 points on the team you are most certain will win, 1 on the pick you're least certain on) and I don't think he's picked a Giants game right, ever. This team will infuriate me and my Dad for the rest of time.

Totally wrong pick I made: Panthers win, cover

St. Louis at Chicago (-7)

I like the way the Rams have been playing lately. I think people forgot about Sam Bradford and how this team almost made the playoffs two years ago. It's like a low-level repeat of the 49ers last year, who got a new coach and played up to the standard they had set two years previous. They also got a ton of draft picks by trading their draft pick to the Redskins, so they're set up for long term success. As for the Bears, wow, what a difference a week makes, huh? Jay Culter was atrocious, and his offensive line was even worse. The defense is still fine, but not good enough to win games on their own. Plus, the Bears are playing without Matt Forte, making their offense very one dimensional. Which is a very long way of saying I think the Rams will upset the Bears.

Pick: Rams win, cover

Tampa Bay at Dallas (-8)

Totally schizophrenic performance from the Cowboys over the last two weeks. Impressive win over the Giants in Week One, then blown out by the Seahawks in Week 2. I have no idea what to expect. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers have played good football over the past two weeks, managing to beat the Panthers and stay with the Giants. I think the Cowboys talent will win out, but I'll take the points based on the Bucs' consistency.

Pick: Cowboys win, Buccaneers cover

San Francisco (-7) at Minnesota

The 49ers are the best team in the NFL, and it doesn't even seem close. The defense is too good, and the offense has fixed its glaring weaknesses from last year, actually adding receiving threats and letting Alex Smith throw the ball a little bit. The Vikings couldn't find a way against the Colts last week, and missed a primo opportunity to go 2-0; I don't see much of a chance for the Vikes here.

Pick: 49ers win, cover

Detroit (-3.5) at Tennessee

Detroit hasn't looked great this season, but they put up a fight against the 49ers last week, and still have one of the best offenses in the league. On the other side are the Titans, who look just plain awful. The offense can't get anything going- especially the corpse of Chris Johnson- and the defense has been ineffective at best. The Titans may just be one of the worst teams in the league this year, unless Jake Locker makes some huge steps at quarterback.

Pick: Lions win, cover

Cincinnati at Washington (-3)

Washington looks to be the same team as the Panthers were last year- exciting rookie quarterback (not just saying that because they're both black), good offense, no defense and no depth. A lot of shootouts, but with that a lot of losses. Meanwhile, the Bengals look to be as good as last year- consistently good defense and an offense that will put up at least 20 or so points in a game, against average competition. Washington lost two of their best defensive players last week, which should make this game easier for the Bengals.

Pick: Bengals win, cover

NY Jets (-1) at Miami

No idea on this game. Both teams have shown two completely different sides in their two games. The Dolphins could be a team with a great defense, great running game that hides their rookie quarterback. The Jets saw Mark Sanchez play more like the Sanchez we all know and love- horribly inaccurate- and the defense struggle without Darrelle Revis. Revis is back this Sunday, though, which makes the Jets defense much more dynamic- and I think that will be enough to shut down the Dolphins offense.

Pick: Jets win, cover

Kansas City at New Orleans (-8.5)

Both these teams are 0-2; surprisingly so for the Saints. The Saints defense has been so atrocious that the Saints offense, which has looked maybe 80% as good as last year (and thus, still better than a majority of the league) can't keep up with other teams. And I still, still think the Saints will beat the Chiefs this week. That's how bad the Chiefs looked last week. Romeo Crennel might have been the worst head coaching hire in quite some time.

Pick: Saints win, cover

Buffalo (-3) at Cleveland

The Bills looked really good last week, thanks to CJ Spiller and the fact they were playing the Chiefs. I'm worried about what happens when Spiller faces eight men in the box, planning specifically to stop him. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can make some throws early, then the Bills will have success. Not sure if I can count on that, seeing as Fitzpatrick was basically taken out of the game plan for the first half last week. The Browns looked a little better last week, but I have a hard time picking them to win; I think they can keep it close, but I don't trust them to win. Well, I trust them less than the Bills. Ah, the Bills: I can never feel safe!

Pick: Bills win, Browns cover

Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-3)

I'd like to sincerely apologize to my friend Ben for totally jinxing the Jaguars. They could not, as I predicted last week, keep it close against the Titans, and Blaine Gabbert struggled again. The Colts, meanwhile, played a lot better in Week 2, as Andrew Luck showed a lot of improvement. Defense still isn't very good, though, and that's why I can't get behind the Colts too much here. The Jags: they might actually stay in THIS one, I swear!

Pick: Colts win, Jaguars cover

Philadelphia (-3) at Arizona 

Arizona is 9-2 over it's past 11 games, and 2-0 this season. This cannot be real. I get it, their defense is great, but the offense has nothing except a terminally frustrated Larry Fitzgerald. It just doesn't make sense. The Eagles are also somehow 2-0, despite leading the league in turnovers. They've won both games by a point. Something has to give in this game, and I think the Eagles talent wins out in this game. But you know what? I can't count out the Cardinals. Somehow, they'll keep it close. Somehow.

Pick: Eagles win, Cardinals cover

Atlanta at San Diego (-3)

Surprised by the line here- San Diego has beaten two bad teams, while the Falcons at least beat the Broncos. Since I haven't seen anything that proves the Chargers are an elite team, I like the Falcons here. They have a better secondary than I expected, and the offense is as ruthlessly efficient as it's ever been.

Pick: Falcons win, cover

Houston (-1.5) at Denver 

Tough to call this one; Peyton Manning crapped the bed against the Falcons early, but then settled down and made a game of it by the end. The Texans haven't played anyone good yet. I like the Texans defense, though, and the consistency of their offense. Still don't know enough about the Broncos.

Pick: Texans win, cover

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Oakland

The Raiders are spinning their wheels and going nowhere. The return of Darren McFadden has not helped, and Carson Palmer is nothing more than an average quarterback. The Steelers, on the other hand, have a dynamic passing attack and a good (no longer great) defense. Same old, same old for the Steelers.

Pick: Steelers win, cover

New England at Baltimore (-2.5)

This looks to be the best game of the weekend. The Ravens will want revenge after last year's AFC Championship game and a tough loss last weekend; the Patriots will look to recover from their bizarre loss to the Cardinals last week. I like the Ravens in this game because of their defense- if the Patriots struggled against the Cardinals defense, why would they do any better against the Ravens? Add in the now dangerous Ravens offense, and I see Baltimore taking this one.

Pick: Ravens win, cover

Green Bay (-3) at Seattle

The Packers haven't looked great so far, but the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers, which keeps them in any game. If their offensive line figures out their crap, this will be a much better Packers team. As for the Seahawks, they acquitted themselves well in Week 2 after a bad Week 1 loss. They have a sneaky good defense, and when Marshawn Lynch gets going, the offense is tough to stop. I like the Packers overall talent at this point, but I think the Seahawks can stay in it, especially with a hyped up, Monday Night crowd behind them.

Pick: Packers win, Seahawks cover

This week (ATS): 0-1 (0-1)
Last Week (ATS): 8-8 (6-9-1)
Overall: 17-16
Overall ATS: 13-20-1

Friday, September 14, 2012

Week 2 NFL Picks: Impossible to Tell

 CJ Spiller: the only bright spot of the Bills, so far

The first week of picks is probably the hardest- there are so many unknowns. The second week is nearly as tough, though. There's no way to know the relative quality of each team yet. What I'm saying is, a team that looked impressive in Week One could've been playing a horrible team; a team that looked awful could've been playing a future Super Bowl winner. It's impossible to tell whether teams are better or worse than what they showed yet- the opponent matters so much. So these are hardly picks I make with extreme confidence, in most cases.

Last week, I went 9-7 overall and 7-9 against the spread. Batting around .500, which is fine for me on Week 1. And I already messed up the Thursday Night game- well, just the spread.

Chicago at Green Bay (-5.5)

The Bears are riding high off their Week 1 win over the Colts, and the Super Bowl hype is, obviously, already building in Chicago. Never mind that they beat a rookie QB making his first start surrounded by a horrible team. The Packers, meanwhile, are coming off a tough loss to the 49ers, who look to be the class of the league. The Packers have lost their last three games at Lambeau, and I'm sure they're tired of hearing about it. I see the Packers having more offensive success than last week (sorry, Bears, your defense is not on the 49ers level), but the Packers defense is still suspect. I like the Packers to win, but the Bears to keep it close, close enough to crush the hopes of delusional Bears fans.

No, the Bills Week 1 loss didn't make me bitter, or anything.

Pick: Packers win, Bears cover

(Update from the future: Jay Cutler was horrible and the Bears lost. Ha! The Packers weren't super impressive, though.)

Tampa Bay at NY Giants (-7.5)

The Bucs somehow managed to out-discipline, out-character, out-gritty and out-whatever cliche you want to use about a Greg Schiano coached team to beat the Panthers last Sunday, holding them to 10 yards rushing total. The Giants are better than the Panthers, though, have had since last Thursday to rest, and have a more balanced attack on offense- as well as a more talented defense. Plus, they played their typical "mess up an easily winnable game" last week, and the Giants rarely repeat those week to week. No, better to save it for every five weeks or so.

Pick: Giants win, cover

Arizona at New England (-13.5)

The Cardinals, despite their win over the Seahawks last week, still look to be one of the worst teams in the league. John Skelton, who 'won' the quarterback competition, is out with an ankle injury, and Kevin Kolb gets yet another chance to 'shine' as the starter. The defense was able to frustrate a rookie last week, at home, but this is against Tom Brady, on the road. I don't see things going so well for the Cards.

Pick: Patriots win, cover

Minnesota (-1.5) at Indianapolis 

Andrew Luck was not the magical franchise savoir everyone expected him to be in a Week 1 loss to the Bears- he was a rookie. There was some good, and some bad. While he'll get better with time, the rest of the team doesn't have quite the same ceiling. The offensive line, running backs, most of the receivers, and the defense are near the bottom of the league, talent-wise. No amount of rookie magic will fix that. The Vikings, meanwhile, look like they could be a decent team- Christian Ponder is slowly coming along at quarterback, Adrian Peterson is still one of the best running backs in the league, Percy Harvin works well in open space, and the defense isn't horrible. That sounds good enough to beat most bad teams in the NFL, including this Colts team.

Pick: Vikings win, cover

New Orleans (-2.5) at Carolina Panthers

The Saints were a little out of sorts last week, but that's probably what happens when your coach is the interim to the interim coach, and the real coach is lurking off somewhere in the shadows (presumably). Still, this is basically the same team as last year- the high powered offense with a turnover forcing defense. As for the Panthers, they looked all out of sorts, but with none of the excuses that the Saints have. They couldn't rush the ball, and Cam Newton struggled his way to an ugly 300 yard passing day. The defense was able to shut down the Buccaneers, but the Saints have a little more talent, and a little more to play for this week. The Saints are a playoff contender with Drew Brees at the helm; we have yet to see that from the Cam Newton Panthers.

Pick: Saints win, cover

Kansas City at Buffalo (-3)

Oh god, where to begin with the Bills. Fitzpatrick was awful. His third pick was maybe the most confident looking interception I've ever seen. He stepped in the pocket and just ripped it between Antonio Cromartie's numbers, in the flat, for a pick-six. The defensive line didn't show up, and the Jets used quick routes and throws to make sure they didn't. The corners were atrocious. Leodis McKelvin needs to be cut, or guarding tight ends. The only thing the Bills did well was run the ball (thank god for CJ Spiller, especially with Fred Jackson out for an extended period) and stop the run. They were flat out unprepared to play the Jets. It was one of the worst Bills games I remember watching. And yet...

I feel like this team can't be any worse than that performance. The Chiefs were almost as bad last week in losing to the Falcons, but I can't tell what will happen in this game. If the Bills think they are anything close to a playoff team, they win this game. And I have no idea if the Chiefs are as bad as they looked, or the Falcons are just that good, but I am, regrettably, once again putting my faith in the Bills. They can't be this bad.

Pick: Bills win, Chiefs cover

Baltimore at Philadelphia (-2.5)

Wait, what is this line? Do the Eagles have such a home field advantage that we're just ignoring last week? The Ravens completely blew me away as they destroyed the Bengals, showcasing a no huddle attack that actually works (not to say that the Broncos' version didn't work last week, but the Ravens do it all game) and the same stout defense. Meanwhile, the Eagles barely beat the Browns. With their horrible rookie QB. I can't trust the Eagles as long as Andy Reid coaches them. They have the talent to win titles but are consistently hampered by his awful time management and play calling. The Ravens look like a complete team; the Eagles, still a mess.

Pick: Ravens win, cover

Oakland (-2.5) at Miami

Ryan Tannehill's NFL debut was just as bad as I imagined, and I loved every second of it. That was the only solace I could take from last weekend as the Bills tried to ruin my day completely: Ryan Tannehill looks awful. The only thing that will keep them in games is their above average defense- and that's good enough for this game, at least. Oakland could barely move the ball last week against the Chargers,  and any team worth it's salt will shut down the Raiders running game and force Carson Palmer to throw- not the game plan the Raiders want to use. While I'm not huge on a West Coast team on a short week travelling across the country, the Dolphins are bad enough at home to warrant my belief that the Raiders will eke out a win here.

Pick: Raiders win, Dolphins cover

Cleveland at Cincinnati (-7)

Look at my Eagles pick and you'll see how I feel about the Browns. They are a boring team with a horrible quarterback. Brandon Weeden is a 28 year old project, and that combination rarely leads to wins in the NFL. Or ever. Meanwhile, Cincinnati got out-classed by the Ravens, but that's pretty much par for the course from what we saw last year- they beat bad teams and lose to good ones. Cleveland is a bad, bad team, and the Bengals should be able to win this easily.

Pick: Bengals win, cover

Houston (-7) at Jacksonville

The Jaguars aren't that bad! My Jaguars fan friend, Quazzo, will be overjoyed to hear this (we were watching Sportscenter during the pre-season, and the panel pretty much decided that the Jaguars were not a playoff team this yeah. No chance, at all. Not even considered. Not a good night for Quazzo). Even though he totally jinxed his team by celebrating before they had, you know, actually won the game. Either way, Blaine Gabbert looked like a halfway decent quarterback last week, Maurice Jones Drew didn't look too rusty, and the defense was as sneaky good as last year. The Texans traditionally struggle against their own division, and the Jags have the defense to stay in this. Not win it, mind you, but stay in it- not a minor feat against an extremely talented and balanced Texans team. And that's progress for the Jags! They're staying in it now! Your 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars- we're not getting blown out!

Pick: Texans win, Jaguars cover

Dallas (-3) at Seattle

The Seahawks completely extinguished the pre-season momentum that Russel Wilson engendered with a horrible performance against the Cardinals. That was on the road, though. Seattle has the best home field advantage in the league, good enough to change games. I expect the Seahawks to play better at home, but I don't know if they can beat the Cowboys this week. The Cowboys have had extra rest, are riding high after their win over the Giants, and have a plethora of weapons on offense- an offense that many teams will be hard pressed to stop, it seems. I don't think the Cowboys will make it easy- Romo could easily be rattled in this stadium- but if the Seahawks struggled against the Cardinals, home sweet home won't be quite enough.

Pick: Cowboys win, Seahawks cover

Washington (-3) at St. Louis

The Rams actually gave Detroit a tough game last week, forcing Matthew Stafford into three picks, limiting Calvin Johnson, and losing only in the last minutes. This is not the disaster that was last year- it's a cleaned up version, which I predicted last week. The defense is tough, Stephen Jackson is somehow still chugging along, and Sam Bradford is a good enough quarterback. As for the Redskins, they are filled with confidence after Robert Griffin III's auspicious debut. Unfortunately for the Redskins, teams now have some tape on RG3, and what surprised the Saints last week may not surprise the Rams. And the Redskins defense didn't look impressive last week (although most teams look bad against the Saints offense). All of this is a long winded way of saying, don't count St. Louis out of this game in the midst of all the RG3 hype and media adoration.

Pick: Redskins win, Rams cover

NY Jets at Pittsburgh (-5.5)

The Jets certainly surprised me last week, but I'm not sure how much of that was a product of the Bills horrible play or the Jets actual talent. Either Mark Sanchez is finally a functional NFL quarterback, or the Bills secondary made him look a lot better. I lean towards the latter. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, couldn't beat the overwhelming media narrative of Peyton Manning returning. Too scared to go with Jets when I still haven't seen them play a functional team (Note: the Bills were NOT that on Sunday). Plus, the Jets are without Darrell Revis, the lynch pin of their defense. I like the Steelers, angry after losing to the Broncos, winning at home.

Pick: Steelers win, Jets cover

Tennessee at San Diego (-6)

No idea what to figure on either of these teams. The Chargers pulled out an ugly win over the Raiders, while the Titans didn't do much to impress in a loss against the Patriots. Once again, I fall into the quandary of figuring out if these teams looked good or bad because of their opponent or if they are actually that good or bad. I have no new opinions about either of these teams since last week. When in doubt, take the points, right?

Pick: Chargers win, Titans cover

Detroit at San Francisco (-6.5)

While many were calling for a regression for the 49ers, the team that showed up to Lambeau last Sunday looked like favorites in the NFC, if not the whole league. Alex Smith actually has talented receivers, and the defense can shut down anyone. In a pass happy league, the 49ers have found an anti-dote. Any team that can't establish the run against the 49ers (which is hard enough) is doomed to flounder trying to pass. They made Aaron Rodgers look sort of pedestrian last week. Detroit is a very one dimensional offense- lots of passing- and didn't look great as they squeaked by the Rams. The 49ers are a class above the Rams, and I don't think Detroit will be able to keep up.

Pick: 49ers win, cover

Denver at Atlanta (-3)

Peyton Manning has his second week in a row playing in prime time, and he looked in vintage form last week. Atlanta also looked a lot better than I expected last week, though that could be a product of a bad Chiefs team. I still don't trust Atlanta's defense, though, and I expect this one to be a shoot out. With the game on the line, the Broncos can get a stop. I'm still not so sure about the Falcons in that situation.

Pick: Broncos win, cover

Last week (ATS): 9-7 (7-9)
Overall: 10-7
Overall ATS:7-10

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The NFL Week 1 Picks/ Season Preview Bonanza!!!

The Bills 100 Million Dollar Man, Mario Williams

Ok folks, let's be honest: this blog has been dead for a while. I was back in the great white North once again this summer, leading canoe trips, and unable to write. Now, I'm back in Montreal, and do most of my writing (and spend most of my earthly time) over at The McGill Daily, where I'm editing the sports section this year. Add that into school starting up again, and there just isn't very much time left for ol' Super Cursed.



BUT: It's football season again!!! And I have the unquenchable thirst to make my picks again, every week! This is just one thing I can't help but write about, and the Daily wouldn't run this in a million years (especially at this length), so here I am again. Week One of my weekly picks column usually acts as a sort of season preview, where I, longtime football fan (and long-suffering Bills fan) give my completely unsolicited and unprofessional view on how the season will play out for each team, along with a straight up and against the spread (ATS) pick. Here goes:

Dallas at NY Giants (-3.5)

In order to save President Obama's DNC from getting trounced in the ratings by the NFL opener, the league graciously moved this game to Wednesday. The defending Super Bowl Champion Giants get their showcase game against a hated division rival, and I don't think it will be as close as the spread suggests. The Giants have flown under the radar all offseason as all media attention in New York has shifted to Tim Tebow. The Giants still have one of the best defensive lines in the league, and the offense, which became scary good over the last half of last season, should pick up right where they left off. That combination of pass rush and pass offense is pretty hard to beat in today's NFL, and I like the Giants' chances to repeat as NFC East Champs. The Cowboys, to me, don't seem much improved from the team that limped to the finish last year- they upgraded their secondary, but the rest of the defense is unremarkable outside of DeMarcus Ware, and Tony Romo may be one of the least clutch QBs of all time. This Cowboys team might come out of the gates hot (as in previous years), but what's going to stop their usual late season swoon this year? The Cowboys are a wild card at best. For this game, I like the Giants, eager to start their title defense well, taking a high scoring game against the Cowboys.

Pick: Giants win, cover

(Update from the future: Look how wrong I was!!! Although I would say if the Giants hadn't injured all their corners, the Cowboys wouldn't have had as much success. Still stand by these predictions)

Indianapolis at Chicago (-9.5)

As much as it pained me to say it, the Bears were headed to the playoffs last year before Matt Forte and Jay Cutler were injured. I'm still not sure how, though: they had (and still have) a terrible offensive line and had no quality wide receivers. The defense is solid as always, though, and Cutler and Forte were able to move the ball well together. Cutler and Forte return this year and the Bears have brought on (totally batshit) wide receiver Brandon Marshall, which should ignite the passing offense, as long as Cutler can stay upright. The Colts picked up some guy named Andrew Luck. The rest of the team is awful. Phenomenal seasons by rookie quarterbacks are fun to watch, but don't often result in playoff appearances- which is what we should see in Indy. Luck should be great, but the lack of depth on defense and a running game will keep this team from getting more than six wins (remember, this team plays in a division with Tennessee and Jacksonville- six wins isn't so unreasonable). As for this game, I like the Bears at home, but think Luck and the Colts will remain within the spread. The one benefit to rookie quarterbacks is the lack of tape on them- opposing defenses have a harder time preparing a game plan to stop them.

Pick: Bears win, Colts cover

Philadelphia (-8.5) at Cleveland

The torch of "most depressed NFL city" ought to be firmly placed in Cleveland's hands at this point. The Browns have decided to place their immediate future in the hands of a 28 year old ROOKIE quarterback (Brandon Weeden). And even with seven years on pretty much everyone else in the NCAA, it's not like he won any Heisman trophies- he was just a good college quarterback. Good thing the Browns helped out Weeden and addressed their gigantic, glaring need at wide receiver by picking up... (searches Google)... (sees that the Browns did nothing to address this). The defense is just about league average. This train wreck of an offense paired with that defense, playing in perhaps the hardest division in the NFL (the AFC North) leads me to believe that this will be a looong season in Cleveland, with a top 5 draft pick. As for the Eagles, after a season where almost everything that could've gone wrong went wrong, they seem due to bounce back. As long as Michael Vick can stay healthy, the offense is full of weapons. The defense got the linebacker they needed in trading for DeMeco Ryans, and have committed Nmandi Asomugah is returning to his preferred position on the outside (as opposed to guarding slot receivers). All this spells good news for the defense, which needed to improve to get this team back to the playoffs. For this game, it's pretty easy to see who I like, right?

Pick: Eagles win, cover

Buffalo at NY Jets (-3)

On to the Bills. Last year, I predicted 6-9 wins, or the Bills would bottom out and win 2 games. And they kind of did all of those things! They got to 5-2, then lost 9 of their last 10 games, which was wonderful to watch. The defense was terrible for most of the year- no pass rush, no corners, no run defense (especially after Kyle Williams went down with an injury)- and the offense fell apart halfway through the season as teams figured out that Fitzpatrick couldn't throw deep and Fred Jackson-who accounted for a ridiculous percentage of the Bills' offensive touches- was lost for the season. So what did the Bills do this offseason? They signed Mario Williams. Wait, I'm going to let that sink in AGAIN, because it is still ridiculous. The Bills signed the best defensive player on the market and one of the best defensive pass rushers of the past decade, for 100 million dollars. BUFFALO did that. Then they signed a situational pass rusher (Mark Anderson) and drafted a stud cornerback (Stephon Gilmore). The linebackers could still use a little work, but the defense is definitely much improved. On paper, this is one of the best defensive lines in the league, and Gilmore is already projecting to be a number one corner. On offense, the team returns basically the same starting lineup from last year, but with a new rookie Left Tackle (Cordy Glenn) and a rookie WR (TJ Graham) who could be a #2, deep threat wide receiver. Some have attributed Buffalo's offensive slide to Ryan Fitzpatrick, our occasionally brilliant quarterback, breaking his ribs- though some comes with opponents figuring out the Bills schemes- lots of short slants, screens and draws.

All signs point to this being a better Bills team, one that could compete for a wild card spot this year. And I hope that's the case. But it's the Bills, and every year I get more and more resigned that they will just crap the bed. This is not some sort of Bill-Simmons-Reverse-Jinx. I will not believe the Bills are bound for the playoffs until they clinch their spot. Like, as soon as the seconds tick off the clock of that game. For now, I hope to be proven wrong, hope that they start strong and stay strong over what looks to be an easy back half of the schedule.

As for the Jets? This team looks like a trainwreck. Mark Sanchez hasn't proven himself to be a legitimate NFL quarterback, and his backup, you may have heard of him (TEBOWWWWWW) is perhaps worse. The offense has one legitimate wide receiver (Santonio Holmes), a malcontent, and are committed to running the ball with a decent at best running back (Shonn Greene). The defense isn't as impressive as it was two or three years ago. It just looks like a bad team, to me. But they've owned the Bills the past few years and seem to be in their heads.

But you know what? At the forefront of a Bills season full of so much hope (a lot of media are picking them for the playoffs, the fans are excited...), the propensity for the Bills to disappoint me is too strong. The Jets will win this one. I hope I'm wrong.

Pick: Jets win, cover

Washington at New Orleans (-7)

After what might have been the most tumultuous off season in NFL history, the Saints begin their season without their head coach and middle linebacker. If anything, I think this will motivate the Saints this season, making it an us against the league type situation. They still have an elite offense (minus Robert Meachem, but that's not a huge loss) and an aggressive defense that tries to force turnovers. I like them to win the NFC South. It's a quarterback league, and Drew Brees, if you haven't noticed, is one of the best in the league. As for Washington, they've salvaged their future in order to get RG3, but the rest of the team remains the same from last year- nothing special. The defense has some standouts, but not a ton of depth, and the offense has no clear running back and overpaid, not-that-talented receiver corps. Add in the fact that the Redskins don't have first round picks for a while because of the RG3 trade, and it seems like we'll be seeing a couple more bad years from the Redskins. Doesn't the pick for this game seem obvious?

Pick: Saints win, cover

New England (-5.5) at Tennessee

Not sure why the line is so low on this game. New England is a known quantity- elite nearly every year- while Tennessee is a mystery this year. The Patriots return one of the league's most potent offenses, and now add Brandon Lloyd to the mix, giving the Patriots a deep threat they have sorely missed since Randy Moss left. The defense was atrocious last year, but the Patriots actually decided- *gasp*- to use some first and second round picks on the defense, which should improve the overall unit (although, to be fair, they can't get much worse). They are basically the AFC favorites heading into this year. The dirty little secret about last year's team is that they weren't really good enough to be a Super Bowl team. This year, they're better. As for the Titans, this is a team that somehow finished at 9-7 and a game out of the playoffs. Think to yourself- do you remember one signature win for the Titans in the last eight weeks last season? It only came against an injured Texans team resting for the playoffs in Week 17. This year they've turned over the quarterback position to Jake Locker, who has extreme athleticism but not much in the way of what makes great quarterbacks really great- accuracy. He hasn't looked horrible this pre-season, though, and the rest of the offense is full of talent. The defense is nothing special, but also nothing to scoff at. In a division as weak as the AFC South, I see no problem with them finishing second in the division and threatening for a playoff spot. For this game, though, it should be business as usual for the Patriots.

Pick: Patriots win, cover

Jacksonville at Minnestoa (-3.5)

Oof. Well, not every game can be a winner, and this one, on paper, looks to be terrible. Vikings QB Christian Ponder was a first round reach in last year's draft, and he goes against Blaine Gabbert, another first round reach! The excitement is palpable here. If you are trying to see a gruesome injury, keep an eye on Adrian Peterson as he tries to return from an ACL injury months before most doctors would reasonably allow! Or, if you like malcontented receivers, watch as brand new Jaguars receivers (Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson) get increasingly frustrated with Blaine Gabbert's horrible inaccuracy! (Yes, he's been better this pre-season, but I've seen too many quarterbacks excel in the pre-season and go back to being horrible when the games count).  Also, the Jaguars have a sneaky good defense that should keep this game close, despite the Jaguars' offensive deficiencies (star running back Maurice Jones Drew is just coming off a holdout, which never works out too well). Ponder has shown more flashes of actual ability at QB than Gabbert, and has Percy Harvin at WR, and they're at home-good enough for me. In the long run, though, both these teams don't look like playoff teams.

Pick: Vikings win, Jaguars cover

Miami at Houston (-13)

Speaking of Blaine Gabbert and non-playoff teams, Miami drafted Ryan Tannehill in the first round this year, just to make sure they don't make the playoffs. Seriously, this guy is a wide receiver turned quarterback who was merely league average in the Big 12. But due to the quarterback draft hype cycle, he got bumped up about 30 spots in the draft by the attention starved Dolphins. And then they traded one of their best defensive players, CB Vontae Davis. Basically, I wouldn't bet on them going anywhere fast this year. As for the Texans, they were close to the AFC Championship game last year even though they they starting TJ Yates at QB. Now that they've got Matt Schaub back, a healthy (for as long as that happens) Andre Johnson, and the most consistent running back in football, Arian Foster. The defense lost Mario Williams (who was injured for the most of the season) and DeMeco Ryans, but was still one of the best units in the NFL. They should roll through their weak division and really roll over the hilariously bad Dolphins.

Pick: Texans win, cover

St. Louis at Detroit (-8) 

The Lions finally made due on their considerable talent and made the playoffs last year, led by a pass happy offense (seriously, NO running game) and ultimately brought down by their porous pass defense (seriously, NO corner backs). They still have a great defensive line and will still be able to pass (if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy for a second year in a row), but they didn't make any huge improvements from last year, and a healthy Bears team has closed the gap in the NFC North. Getting to the playoffs will be tougher this year- and I see them beating bad teams but struggling against the elite. They'll either get the last wild card or just fall short. The Rams, a sleeper pick last year, completely fell apart last year as Sam Bradford struggled through injuries. They have a new coach in Jeff Fisher, and that seems good to give them about 4 more wins this year (remember, this team went 7-9 two years) ago. 6-10 seems about right, yeah? Still, this Rams team won't be able to contain the Lions offense and won't be able to move the ball well (weak crop of receivers).

Pick: Lions win, cover

Atlanta (-2.5) at Kansas City

The Falcons are once again a trendy pick to go to the Super Bowl, due to people expecting a huge improvement from Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. While I think the Falcons can still be a playoff team (winning the NFC South or getting the wild card behind the Saints), the defense hasn't significantly improved since last year (sorry, Asante Samuel does not count), and that will be their downfall against elite offensive teams like the Saints, Packers, Patriots. They might win a playoff game this year, but I don't see them in the Super Bowl. As for Kansas City, they would have sleeper potential written all over them (unlucky with injuries last year, stout defense, capable offense with Jamaal Charles coming back), but Romeo Crennel is the coach. In a muddled AFC West, though, they could find a way to win the division, but I'd trust the other teams in that division first. For this game, although they're on the road against an unknown quantity, I like the Falcons to win by a touchdown or so.

Pick: Falcons win, cover

San Francisco at Green Bay (-4.5)

The 49ers were the surprise team of last year, going 13-3 behind the league's best defense and...well... a lot of David Akers field goals! The offense last year was horribly conservative, going for draw plays on  third and longs instead of trying to, you know, throw it. Basically, they were shielding Alex Smith. Now they've surrounded him with weapons in receivers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, as well as rookie running back LaMichael James. They have clearly addressed their most glaring need, but it remains to be seen if Alex Smith can become more than a quarterback who doesn't make mistakes. I expect a slight regression for the team, but that defense should be good enough to get them at least a Wild Card. As for the Packers, they ought to be the best in the NFC North again. Aaron Rodgers has assumed the throne as the best QB in the league and the defense can only get better after last year's disaster. In this game, what is surely the game of the week, I think the Packers come out on top. While their offense may be limited somewhat by the 49ers, the 49ers offense is still unproven- who knows if they can outscore even a limited Packers offense? So I'll take the Packers in a close one.

Pick: Packers win, 49ers cover

Carolina (-2.5) at Tampa Bay

The Panthers, led by Cam Newton, were 2011's most entertaining team- but entertainment doesn't get you wins. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, was one of the league's disappointments. While some are lauding the hire of Greg Schiano from Rutgers and calling for a Buccaneers resurgence, I have my doubts. Schiano was never that successful at Rutgers, and is a known disciplinarian. While Jim Harbaugh, another 'tough' cough, had a ton of success last year, how many hard-ass coaches have we seen fail in the NFL? I feel like Schiano could be just like Harbaugh's predecessor in San Francisco, Mike Singletary, who lost all the respect of his team with his stern rules. Plus, it remains to be seen whether this team has a viable QB in Josh Freeman or a solid defense. The Panthers, meanwhile, didn't do much to get better in the offseason, and are hoping that returns from injuries will help them get over the hump. I don't see it yet- Newton struggled over the second half of last season, and might run into trouble again, and the defense still isn't anything special. They'll play in a bunch more shootouts, and maybe get a win or two more, but their division is too tough to make the playoffs. The Panthers might just be a year away. For this game, I'll take them, though, because I have yet to see how the Buccaneers respond to their new coach.

Pick: Panthers win, cover

Seattle (-2.5) at Arizona

People are starting to overload the Russell Wilson bandwagon in Seattle, as the undersized rookie beat out high priced free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job. While I loved the guy in college, I'm hesitant to drink the Kool-Aid. The difference between the regular season and the pre-season is vast, and teams will start to be able to game plan for this guy. He will struggle. Still, the Seahawks were sneaky good at the end of last year, and should be able to compete in a weak NFC West- perhaps for a wild card. The Cardinals, meanwhile, look like a candidate for the worst team in the league. That's what happens when John Skelton, the "developmental" project from Fordham, is named your starter in Week 1. (He was labeled developmental in 2010- and still looks the part today!) The only plus they have is Larry Fitzgerald at receiver (not getting the quarterbacking he deserves) and Patrick Peterson at corner back. Two stars does not a team make. So I like the Seahawks here- the Cardinals look like a tire fire this year.

Pick: Seahawks win, cover

Pittsburgh at Denver (-1.5)

Ah, the return of Peyton Manning. The Broncos found the only way to extricate themselves from the Tebow situation by managing to land one of the best quarterbacks in league history. While it sounds like a dream come true, the signing is tempered by the fact that Manning is coming off four major neck surgeries and has had to regain his arm strength as he recovers- no one knows how he will handle a big hit or if he can throw with the same velocity he had before- pre-season results have been inconclusive. Add in the fact that advanced metrics show that the Broncos were NOT a playoff worthy team last year, and the Manning signing doesn't immediately make the Broncos a Super Bowl team. If Manning plays like the Manning of old, they win the AFC West easily. If not, well, I can't see a below average Manning carrying a below average supporting cast to the playoffs.

The Steelers, on the other hand, seem to be underrated this year- even though I thought they were the best team in the NFL with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger. No team could match their mixture of pass attack and solid, turnover producing defense. And, despite that defense getting older, I like this team again. The running game remains a problem, but I still like them in the AFC North (more on the Ravens next). For this game, I like them as well- I just can't believe in Manning yet.

Pick: Steelers win, cover

Cincinnati at Baltimore (-7)

The Ravens, like the Falcons, are another trendy pick to make the Super Bowl. It's not hard to see why-  they were a dropped Lee Evans pass or missed Billy Cundiff field goal away from the Super Bowl last year. I'm not as high on them as others, though. I'm not sold on Joe Flacco, star NFL QB, yet. Reports from the preseason are praising the new no-huddle offense. But I don't remember the last time a no-huddle offense actually worked in the NFL, besides, of course, the Jim Kelly Bills of the 90s. The Trent Edward/ Terrell Owens Bills tried it out a couple of years ago to little effect. Add in the fact that the Ravens have lost Terrell Suggs for about half the season, and this team might not be as good on either side of the ball. I can pencil them in for a Wild Card spot, but the success of last year might be hard to repeat.

The same goes for the Bengals, who unexpectedly rode Andy Dalton to the playoffs last year. The defense is still stout, but it remains to be seen if the offense can get more dynamic than just "Andy Dalton to AJ Green!" I think they'll regress a bit this year (too many close wins last year) but will be a tough out for many teams, and come close to the playoffs. In this game, the Ravens should be good enough to win, but a seven point spread seems fishy to me.

Pick: Ravens win, cover

San Diego at Oakland (-1)

Last year, before Darren McFadden and  Jason Campbell were injured and the world went to Carson-Palmer-shit for the Raiders, they had established  themselves as a power running team that could beat you deep on the play action, with a nasty defensive front. While the front office has released some overpriced veterans from that group, the identity remains the same, and if McFadden can stay healthy (that's a big if) I like this team to make some noise in the AFC West. The Chargers, meanwhile, may have wasted away their championship window laboring under the horrible coaching of Norv Turner. Phillip Rivers might bounce back from his awful season last year, but the offense lost it's best receiver. Running back Ryan Matthews, while talented, has yet to make it through a season injury free (and he won't this year, as he misses the first game). The defense is still not good enough to keep this team out of shootouts. Either Phillip Rivers puts in a remarkable comeback season, or I don't see this team making the playoffs. Which is a long way of saying, I like a healthy Raiders team in this game- doesn't San Diego always manage to mess up the late Monday Night game?

Pick: Raiders win, cover

Overall: 0-1
ATS: 0-1