Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Lifetime of Ruff

Lindy Ruff was hired as the Sabres coach in 1997, which means that every Sabres game I've ever watched - I'm not going to count games I may have seen when I was too young to, you know, get it - has been coached by Lindy Ruff. That's every hockey game I've ever been invested in. Through about 2010, I loved Lindy Ruff. He was the guy to listen to after every game, the guy who led the Sabres to back-to-back Eastern conference finals, the guy who did this:

Lindy has always been the coach. I grew to love hockey (partly) because of him. For a while, I thought he could do no wrong.

But it got old. You can only be a tough, growly hardass for so long before it starts to lose it's efficacy. A player gets chewed out the first couple of times, it works. It gets them motivated, especially when the team is otherwise doing well. But there comes a time when a player messes up, expects the chewing out, and it does nothing. They know what's coming, and it becomes white noise - especially in the midst of a slump. No player is perfect, and if they get chewed out for every mistake, it grates. Ruff, in interviews this season, claimed that he had mellowed out, but that too was ineffective- Lindy Ruff doesn't exist as a good coach without anger.

Ruff hadn't just lost the players message-wise; Ruff is simply behind the times in terms of coaching. His system forces players to perfectly play both offense and defense. This is increasingly rare in the new NHL, where specialization is rampant. The reason why Jonathan Toews is so valuable is that he is a true two way center, able to play in both zones. But most teams don't have their own Toews-level player; that's why you see a lot of teams manage their lines such that defensive lines take more draws in the defensive zone, and offensive lines take more draws in the offensive zone. In Ruff's system, players were taking roughly 50-50 splits. This would be fine if the team rolled four lines of defensively capable players, but they do not. The one successful line (Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville) should be taking about 75% of their draws in the offensive zone. Instead, we have to watch Cody Hogdson dick around in the defensive zone. On the flipside, the fourth line (some mixture of Kaleta-Hecht- and ugh why are you on this team John Scott) should be starting almost all their draws in the defensive zone. Instead, we see John Scott trying to do things in the offensive zone (never a good idea for someone who can only fight).

 In addition, Ruff constantly tinkered with lines (oftentimes to punish a slumping player, to the detriment of the team), and his managing of rookie Mikhail Grigorenko has been terrible. Putting a young player in the press box is not in itself a bad move every once in a while, but even when Grigorenko plays, he is put with defensive wingers. The guy needs scorers around him to actually succeed. If the team doesn't think he's ready for the NHL, they shouldn't have kept him past the five game tryout and wasted a year of his deal. It's a clusterfuck on all levels of the organization. But back to Ruff - as much as I've loved him, the Sabres have had trouble getting the puck out of their own zone for as long as I can remember. Even when the Sabres had a 'good' defensive core, they couldn't consistently get the puck out of their zone. Now they have a tire-fire on defense.

What comes next? Ron Rolston's hiring as interim coach isn't horrible, but he's going to have to fix a lot for this team to make the playoffs. The defense and power play both need to vastly improve, and some players not named Thomas Vanek need to start scoring consistently. The East is really, really mediocre this year, which puts the Sabres, despite their meager 13 points, only 5 points out of a spot at this point. If the Sabres can fix their defense and find some secondary scoring (perhaps through a trade?), they've got a chance. A very small one, but, still: a chance. Tanking seems to be the best choice right now- the Sabres are short on premier talent across the board. A top 3 pick in this year's draft would go a long way to fixing that.

Lindy Ruff couldn't keep this team motivated, couldn't maximize their potential, so he had to go. The GM who put this team together- full of great pieces, but not in the right places - ought to be next. It's going to have to get worse before it gets any better. So long, Lindy. Thanks for making me love hockey enough to know that it was time to move forward.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Week 9 NFL Picks: A Belated Return

"Hold on a second. Are you presuming I actually know what I'm doing?"

Did anyone notice my absence last week? (Mom raises her hand). Ok, good. Midterms + the overwhelming feeling of ease that a Bills bye-week provided prevented me from writing last week's picks. I did, however, make some for my confidence league, so you'll have to take my word on how I picked last week. Using my magical powers of hindsight, I went 8-6 both overall and ATS. Meh. The week before, however, I went a stellar 12-1 overall and 8-5 ATS. Nice! That brings the two week total to 20-7 overall, 16-11 ATS.

I tweeted out my Thursday Pick again- Chiefs +7.5, Chargers to win. Chargers won, but by a much larger margin. And so it goes. 1-0 Overall, 0-1 ATS to start off. There's just one takeaway from that game: the Chiefs are really, really, really bad. Like, get blown out by the Bills bad. Onto the picks!

Denver (-4) at Cincinnati

After a slow start to the season, the Broncos have fought their way to 4-3 and into control of the (admittedly, very horrible) AFC West. Peyton Manning appears to have his mojo back, if not his arm strength, and the defense has started playing up to the potential they displayed last year. As for the Bengals, they're floundering through their season after last year's playoff run, which was mostly a combination of solid defense and an easy schedule. Things haven't been as easy this year, and Andy Dalton seems to have taken a step back, as well as a less effective defense. It won't get any easier against the newly cerebral Peyton Manning and a resurgent Broncos team.

Pick: Broncos win, cover

Arizona at Green Bay (-10)

People are calling the Cardinals this year's version of the 2011 Bills- a strong start based mostly on luck in close games that comes crashing down midway through the season, partly due to injuries. While I'd argue this year's Vikings are more reminiscent of last year's Bills, the Cardinals aren't getting any better this season. The Packers, on the other hand, continue to get better and better, despite their complete lack of a running game. While that might hinder them in games against great pass defenses, the Cardinals won't put up much of a fight against the Packers passing game, and the Cardinals offense, that struggled against the Bills more-holes-than-(pick your hole-y thing- old socks, swiss cheese, the room of holes in The Yellow Submarine) defense, won't do much against an aggressive Packers defense.

Pick: Packers win, cover

Miami (-2.5) at Indianapolis 

In a battle of two teams no one expected to be this good, or even halfway decent, I'm going with the Fins. Miami's got a better defense, and although Andrew Luck is miles ahead of Ryan Tannehill, defense will decide this game. Last year, as the Bills fell into their second half slide, me and my Dad started half-ironically rooting for the Dolphins. Time to jump back on that bandwagon!

Pick: Dolphins win, cover

Baltimore (-3.5) at Cleveland

I'm tempted to take the Browns here (much better than their record), but Baltimore can't possibly be as bad as their last game, and they know they need to win this one to keep up with the Steelers, who are quickly rounding back into form. The AFC North is always interesting, and this year, we'll see whether a severely banged up Ravens team can hold off the Steelers.

Pick: Ravens win, cover

Buffalo at Houston (-10)

I would take the Texans to cover a 17 point spread here, at least. The defense is so shoddy that it let the desiccated corpse of Chris Johnson run for about 150 yards, and gave the decrepit Matt Hasselback one final clip for his career highlight reel. But, of course, the Bills won't fire defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, because, apparently, accountability means nothing in Buffalo. Everything about this defense just, for lack of a better word, sucks. The Texans have more than offensive weapons to put up 40-50 points on this defense. It's too bad that an above average Bills offense is wasted by this horrible defense as well as Chan Gailey's horrible play calling. No matter how good CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson are doing, Gailey loves to put the ball in Ryan Fitzpatrick's erratic hands. At least Buddy Nix said the Bills were looking for a new QB; now, if he would only bring some accountability to the coaching staff, the Bills might actually improve. Till then, the playoffs remain a distant dream.

Pick: Texans win, cover

Carolina at Washington (-3)

Hey! Are you a sportswriter who needs to write a column, but without much effort? Why not compare Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, two quarter backs who are very different from one another, except their skin color? So goes the national media. I'll try and simplify the narrative: the Panthers have a bad defense, and Cam Newton has been struggling since the end of last season; Robert Griffin has yet to hit any rookie wall, and the Redskins play an exciting brand of football, one that unfortunately doesn't always produce wins. Against this Panthers team, though, their offensive firepower ought to be enough.

Pick: Redskins win, cover

Detroit (-4.5) at Jacksonville

Detroit's started to improve after a slow start, but I can't trust them to blow out the Jaguars, who have a good enough defense to limit most teams. They did it to the Packers last week, and they'll do it to the Lions - especially since Calvin Johnson is ailing - but their offense, once again, will not be enough.

Pick: Lions win, Jaguars cover

Chicago (-3.5) at Tennessee

Chicago plays ugly, brutally effective football. They rely on an above average defense and special teams to offset Jay Cutler's inconsistency, and simply find ways to win. In the end, wins are wins, no matter how unimpressive they look. The Titans are just good enough to barely beat the Bills, which means Chicago should take this one easily- well, as easy as they want to make it.

Pick: Bears win, cover

Minnesota at Seattle (-4.5)

Minnesota's strong run defense and Christian Ponder's effective play have vanished as the season has progressed; they now look nothing like the team that smashed the 49ers in the mouth and beat them at their own game. Seattle, meanwhile, has steadily improved each week, even if the results don't always follow (see: last week against the Lions). The Seahawks defense will be able to shut down the suddenly one dimensional Vikings offense, and Marshawn Lynch should run all over the Vikings. As I said before, the Vikings are following the Bills path from last year. Don't worry Vikings fans, it just gets worse from here!

Pick: Seahawks win, cover

Tampa Bay at Oakland (-1.5)

Pirate battle! Tampa Bay has had some bad luck this season, but they've committed to the run and Josh Freeman has found some success in the passing game. The Raiders, on the other hand, are thoroughly mediocre, or worse. The less I know about them, the better, I think. Knowing about Carson Palmer and the Raider pushes out more important information from the brain, like lines from Victorian Poetry ("...where ignorant armies clash by night", Arnold) and who the Bills slot corners are (I won't list the names- they're all awful, though).

Pick: Tampa Bay wins, covers

Pittsburgh at NY Giants (-3)

Looks like the best game of the weekend, especially now that the Steelers have rounded back into contender form. It's tough to predict how the Giants players will play after going through Hurricane Sandy (many had to leave their homes), but at their best, I think the Giants are the best team in the league. The Steelers will keep it close, but I like the Giants to come out on top. Their defense is still more trustworthy than the Steelers, and Eli Manning has assumed the crown from his older brother as "quarterback you'd most want down seven with a minute left in the 4th."

Pick: Giants win, Steelers cover

Dallas at Atlanta (-4)

Close behind the Giants in the "best team in the league" competition are the Falcons, the NFL's lone undefeated team; they have a multifaceted offense, and Matt Ryan has entered the upper echelon of quarterbacks. Most importantly, though, has been the huge improvement defensively. While I think the Cowboys are better than their record indicates, they won't be able to beat the Falcons. They should, however, keep it close.

Pick: Falcons win, Cowboys cover

Philadelphia at New Orleans (-3)

What Saints games are the oddsmakers watching? They're the only team that can even compete with the Bills in the "horrible defenses of 2012" competition. While the Eagles have been an unmitigated mess this season, teams have a funny way of looking especially good against the Saints. Even the Chiefs beat the Saints. The Chiefs! If the Eagles can't figure this out, well, Andy Reid should finally be fired. But I see a big performance from Mike Vick, and the Eagles win in a shootout.

Pick: Eagles win, cover

Last Week (ATS): 8-6 (8-6)
This Week (ATS): 1-0 (0-1)
Overall: 72-48
Season ATS: 58-61-1

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The rest of the Week 7 picks

"Thanks for scoring that TD. Lemme make sure to never give you the ball again, alright?"

After a good couple of weeks for me, the underdogs had their day last week, and I went 6-8 overall and ATS in my picks. To be fair, I picked a bunch of upsets, just not the right upsets. Also, I will continue picking against the Bills all season. If they lose, I'm right. If they somehow win, I'm wrong, but I just don't care. Just an altogether better way to spend a Sunday.

This week has begun in better fashion, as The 49ers won a brutal game over the Seahawks, and Jim Harbaugh decided to fuck with millions of gamblers by declining a last minute safety that would've pushed the game to 15-6. That safety would've given me a push, but other people who had the -7 or -7.5 line would've lost money. There is no reason that safety was declined besides gambling. Just no way.

Tennessee at Buffalo (-3.5)

As I mentioned before, I will not stop picking against the Bills, especially since last week they ran into a Cardinals team with no offensive line, or offense, and still almost lost the game. Chan Gailey still has a predilection to NOT giving the ball to his two best offensive players (CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson) and instead runs gadget Brad Smith plays or lets Ryan Fitzpatrick throw yet another wounded duck deep in the general direction of a downfield receiver. The Titans look like a garbage team, and the Bills should win this one and reinsert themselves into the playoff hunt (the Bills chance to make the playoffs hinges on them beating all the bad teams on their schedule). Also, they need this one, as they play Houston and New England in the next two weeks (4-5 is a lot better than 3-6, obviously). But they're this year's Bills, and they are just sure to crap the bed. Chris Johnson will probably have his one good game of the year, Matt Hasselbeck will have his swan song as an NFL QB, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will throw another three picks for good measure.

Pick: Titans win, cover

Arizona at Minnesota (-6.5)

The Vikings are better than what they showed last week (they were due for a letdown), and the Cardinals are just as bad (or worse) than what they showed last week- playing the Bills will help. The Vikings have a good pass rush- well, anyone wood against the turnstiles that make up the offensive line of the Cardinals- and their offense should be able to move the ball on an overrated Cardinals defense.

Pick: Vikings win, cover

Cleveland at Indianapolis (-2.5)

Tough pick here, since Indy has been good at home this season. But for some reason, I still have this gut feeling that the Browns pull off another win. They have a strong running game going against a horrible Colts run defense, Brandon Weeden shows varying degrees of competence, and the return of Joe Haden has completely changed the makeup of the Browns defense. God knows why, but I'm feeling the Browns this week.

Pick: Browns win, cover

Baltimore at Houston (-7)

Baltimore's defensive core has been decimated by injuries; which is to say, all their "big name" players- Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and LaDarius Webb- have some sort of injury. But seven points is a ton for a team whose pass defense was just eviscerated, and whose offense was exposed as somewhat one dimensional- and that's against a poor Packers defense. Joe Flacco is no Aaron Rodgers, but he should have success against the Texans. Unfortunately, though, I don't think the Ravens depleted front will be able to hold back the Texans run and play action attack.

Pick: Texans win, Ravens cover

Green Bay (-5.5) at St. Louis

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers announced that they were back in grand fashion, as Aaron Rodgers threw SIX touchdowns and swung like ten million fantasy matchups. Still, questions remain about their defense and offensive consistency without Greg Jennings. The Rams aren't an amazing team, by any means, but they have the defense to stick around. Packers should win, but the Rams will make the game ugly and stay somewhat close. The Rams are about one stud receiver away from contending seriously. But not yet.

Pick: Packers win, Rams cover

Dallas (-2.5) at Carolina

Carolina just looks all out of sorts this year, and Cam Newton has yet to regain his mojo after last season's gangbusters start. The Cowboys beat themselves in last week's game against the Ravens, but I don't think this game will be close enough for the Cowboys to shoot themselves in the foot yet again. Cowboys have too much on both sides of the ball, and the Panthers are stuck spinning their wheels.

Pick: Cowboys win, cover

Washington at NY Giants (-6)

The Robert Griffin III hype-bandwagon has reached full steam heading into this matchup with the Giants. There's no doubt that Griffin has been remarkable this season, fully looking the part of franchise savoir. Unfortunately for the Redskins, their defense is banged up, and doesn't look up to stopping the Giants dynamic attack. The Giants look to be the class of the NFC at this point; the Redskins, the entertaining sideshow.

Pick: Giants win, cover

New Orleans (-2.5) at Tampa Bay

I like the Saints here, despite the trainwreck football they've played this season. It's not that I think the Saints are especially good or yet again playoff bound. I just think Tampa Bay is a bad team, and won't be able to keep up with the Saints passing attack.

Pick: Saints win, cover

NY Jets at New England (-10.5)

The wonderful wrinkle of this season has been seeing the Patriots lose close games against clearly inferior opponents. They've lost the ability to close out games, basically, and it is SO MUCH FUN TO WATCH. The Jets, though, can barely throw the ball- the best way to beat the Patriots- and an old, overrated defense. Hmmm, Jets overrated defense against Patriots star-crossed offense? I guess I'll take the better team to win and the points.

Pick: Patriots win, Jets cover

Jacksonville at Oakland (-6)

Ah, here's this week's "only if I was in the Clockwork Orange Ludovico machine" game. Oakland put up a spirited effort against the Falcons, only to lose in a heartbreaker. The Jaguars took a bye last week, but I doubt anyone really missed their presence. Oakland should get the win here, but the Jaguars defense will keep them in the game. I look forward to not seeing the highlights afterwards!

Pick: Raiders win, Jaguars cover

Pittsburgh (-1) at Cincinnati 

Both teams have looked stunningly mediocre this season, but, at the end of the day, I trust the offensive ability of the Steelers more than the Bengals. If Roethlisberger has time, he can find Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown downfield and the Steelers can continue to try and run the ball with their tenth string running back. The Bengals don't have a good enough defense to stop the Steelers consistently, and their offense is going through fits this year without a solid running game and the lack of a complementary receiver for AJ Green.

Pick: Steelers win, cover

Detroit at Chicago (-6.5)

Detroit may think they got their mojo back after last week's victory over the headcase Eagles, but the Bears should give them a rude awakening. Coming off a bye week, the Bears should be able to succeed against a weak Lions secondary, and the Bears' defense should not have much trouble shutting down the Lions "chuck it to Calvin Johnson and pray" offense. The Bears look pretty good right now. I can't to see how that affects all my Chicago friends and the always level-headed, reasonable Chicago media. If the Bears win this one comfortably, you can bet the words "Super Bowl" will be plastered across front pages, and the spirit of Ditka will be invoked in thousands of calls to local sports radio.

Pick: Bears win, cover

Last Week (ATS): 6-8 (6-8)
This Week ATS: 1-0 (1-0)
Overall: 51-41
ATS: 42-49-1

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Most Dangerous Game: Week 7's Thursday Night Pick

Alright, I've been lazy this whole season and posting a pick for the Thursday night games on my twitter. I'll start doing it here, time permitting. (Shameless plug alert: read my stuff at !!!)

Before  I give my pick, some thoughts on the Thursday Night game. If I can't even muster the energy to write a pick out on Thursday, how does the NFL expect players to play on Thursdays? Four days are not enough time for a player to recover from Sunday's game- a week is barely enough time. For a league that has pledged support for "player safety," Thursday night games every week are a joke, a transparent cash grab (Thursday is a prime-time TV night, and it prevents the NFL from stacking up too many games on Sundays- maximum exposure is the goal). If they want to put any games on a Thursday, they ought to be after a bye week. But, no, the players will continue to struggle under this compressed schedule, the quality of the games will continue to be poor, and the NFL's promises to attempt to truly make the game safer will continue to ring hollow.

Fine. It's not really news to say that the NFL is a hypocritical. At the very least, they shouldn't be so outrightly hypocritical. Money over safety, every time.

Seattle at San Francisco (-9)

Nine??? Nine points? The Seahawks are definitely not a great team on the road, but they do have the defense to limit the 49ers offense (hell, they limited the far-superior Patriots last week). While I don't see the 49ers losing two games in a row, especially since they were embarrassed last week, this won't be a cakewalk. The 49ers defense should be able to limit Marshawn Lynch and frustrate Russell Wilson, and their offense should be able to eventually get by the Seahawks. But by more than nine? These Thursday Night games have all been somewhat sluggish, for one or both teams. As the season moves on and the deterioration of player's bodies continues, it won't get much better. Besides, the 49ers offense hasn't shown it can beat elite defenses, especially with Alex Smith's finger woes. Niners take this one, but by a touchdown or less.

Pick: 49ers win, Seahawks cover

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Back from the woods for the Week 6 Picks

The Bills latest attempt at pass coverage.

It's been two weeks, but I'm back, and (legitimately!) better. Over the past two weeks, I've nailed my overall picks (21-8) and stayed steady against the spread (15-14). Looks like I'm close to figuring out this season...

Which, of course, means I already screwed up my first pick of the week, taking the Steelers to cover and win. As a result of some bad coaching by the Steelers, the Titans won by three. Well, whoops. Time to soldier on.

Cincinnati (-2.5) at Cleveland

This Bengals team doesn't have quite the mojo it did last year; Andy Dalton is struggling without a running game, and the defense isn't covering up his mistakes as well as it did last year. The Browns, meanwhile, have yet to get a win this year, but they're not as bad as everyone thinks. Well, they're not 0-16 bad. They have to get a win sometime, and they've been playing better as of late, so, why not? Cleveland gets a W, followed by another long losing streak.

Pick: Browns win, cover

Indianapolis at NY Jets (-3.5)

Though the Jets put up more of a fight last week than expected, this is still a broken football team without Darrelle Revis. Sanchez and Tebow are in a race to the bottom at quarterback; their best receiver is Jeremy Kerley; and they have a commitment to ground and pound football straight from the 1950s. The Colts, on the other hand, are plucky and playing for their leukemia-stricken coach (yes, it's insensitive to say, but it is motivating the Colts- just watch the postgame from their win over the Packers). New York seems to be getting the points here because they're at home, but I fail to see the advantage 80,000 angry, drunk Jets fans will give the team as they relentlessly boo Sanchez. So I like the Colts here.

Pick: Colts win, cover

Kansas City at Tampa Bay (-4)

You could only get me to watch this game if you strapped me in Clockwork Orange style. The Buccaneers relish in playing boring football (or, GRITTY NEVER SAY DIE CHARACTER BALL BY COACH GREG SCHIANO), while the Chiefs have not led a game yet- their one win came in overtime. Tampa Bay has more talent on both sides of the ball and Kansas City is starting Brady Quinn. at quarterback. Seems easy enough.

Pick: Buccaneers win, cover

Oakland at Atlanta (-9)

Oakland is just a terrible team. And they're playing across the country against one of the best teams in football right now. While those two sentences should be enough, fine, I'll say a little more: Oakland's corners are awful, and the Falcons have really good receivers. On the other side of the ball, the Atlanta defense is sturdy, and the Raiders have a quarterback who looooooves to throw interceptions almost as much as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Michael Vick's lovechild. I just don't see how the Raiders stay in this game.

Pick: Falcons win, cover

Dallas at Baltimore (-3.5)

Baltimore is one of the better teams in the league, but they have an odd tendency to play down to their opponents as well as not give the ball to their best player, Ray Rice. The Cowboys are coming off a bye, and the extra rest should be enough to keep them in the game- but not enough to win. The Cowboys defense has been extremely vulnerable, and Tony Romo is still finding new and ingenious ways to screw up in the 4th quarter.

Pick: Ravens win, Cowboys cover

Detroit at Philadelphia (-3.5)

With the emergence of the Vikings in the NFC North, the Lions increasingly look like they're going to be squeezed out of the playoff picture (I still believe in the Packers). Their secondary is horrible, and the lack of a halfway competent running game has left the offense too one dimensional to compete week to week. Philly, meanwhile, is a great team bearing the burden of a terrible coach. The Eagles should hand the ball off to LeSean McCoy 20+ times a game, but instead they allow Michael Vick free reign to turnover the ball as much as he wants! Since I can't figure out how good either of these teams are compared to one another, I'll just take the home team to win and the points.

Pick: Eagles win, Lions cover

St. Louis at Miami (-3.5)

I thought that at least if the Bills sucked this year, the Dolphins and Ryan Tannehill would too. But: they don't! The Dolphins solid defense and running game have led them to be 3-2, and they have the ability to stay in most games and beat bad teams. The Rams are by no means a bad team, but they're on the road, out of the comfort of their dome. I think the Dolphins pick up another win and further depress me with their competency.

Pick: Dolphins win, cover

New England (-3.5) at Seattle

New England's offense has spent the past six quarters absolutely rolling on offense (to be fair, two of those quarters were against the Bills). Their offense is, to use a hoary cliche, a well oiled machine. The Seahawks, though, relish the opportunity to throw sand into the machine, clog up the gears, and make the game ugly. Their defensive secondary and pass rush should do enough to slow down the Patriots; but their offense, led by Russel Wilson (whose closest comparison is Tim Tebow, because, improbably, they find a way to win in the end despite all empirical evidence pointing to them being bad quarterbacks) won't be able to keep up with even a sputtering Patriots team.

Pick: Patriots win, cover

Buffalo at Arizona (-4)

I imagine the Cardinals gathered to watch tape on the Bills and burst out in laughter throughout. The Bills aren't getting beat on defense by fancy schemes, trick plays, weird mistakes or pure talent; they just don't execute at even the most basic level. Apparently, "coverage" and "tackling" are optional in the defensive scheme, as well as "getting close to the quarterback." They just don't do those things. On offense, the Bills try running the ball about two times, and then they give up on it (or they're already down by two touchdowns because of their atrocious defense) and let Ryan Fitzpatrick try to throw deep passes down the sideline, always in vain. Goddamn, I hate watching this team. My fifth grade flag football team could score on this defense (I have a feeling even I, a slow offensive lineman, could burn Aaron Williams and Leodis McKelvin). Jim Kelly could come out of retirement and throw a better deep pass than Fitzpatrick. Hell, Jack Kemp could do it better from his grave.

The Cardinals have a good defense and their half-competent offense should be just fine against the Bills carcass of a defense. No, I'm not bitter at how this season's gone at all. I can't wait to sarcastically clap when the Bills allow less than 40 points. Can't wait!

Pick: Cardinals win, cover

Minnesota at Washington (-2)

Tough to figure this one out. The Vikings are good, but I don't know if they're good enough to improve to 5-1 on the road against a not horrible Redskins team. On the other side, RG3 is returning from a concussion and the Redskins defense has been decimated by injury. I guess I'm going with the Vikings in a close one. Just to complete an absolutely horrible weekend for Washington sports.

Pick: Vikings win, cover

NY Giants at San Francisco (-6.5)

Game of the week, by far. San Francisco's been the better team so far this season, but the Giants are...well, the Giants, meaning they constantly confound expectations. Like a six point spread for the defending Super Bowl champs. While both coaches have tried to play the "underdog" card this week- hell, they've competed for the title in an attempt to motivate their players- the 49ers have more to play for in getting even after last season's NFC Championship game. I think this will be a close one, high scoring, but I trust the 49ers defense to get a stop wayyyy more than I trust the Giants. In a close game, that's all that matters.

Pick: 49ers win, Giants cover

Green Bay at Houston (-3.5)

Green Bay's been less than impressive this season- Aaron Rodgers is struggling, the running game is a joke, and the defense hasn't improved much since last season. The Texans are one of two undefeated teams in the NFL- but they haven't played anyone good yet (sorry, Broncos). I'm feeling some upsets this week, so I think Rodgers puts on a vintage performance, shreds the Texans secondary, and wins a close one.

Pick: Packers win, cover

Denver at San Diego (PK)

The Broncos must be glad that their contract with Peyton Manning is only guaranteed for one year, because right now, at least, he just doesn't have the same skills as he used to. His celebrated cerebral-ism is still there, but his inability to throw with as much zip as he used to is killing him. He can dink and dunk down the field, but that does only so much. The Chargers aren't a great team by any means, but they have an effective offense and they're playing at home. I think they should take this one. My only reservation is that Norv Turner is still coaching the Chargers, and it's on national television. Never a good combo.

Pick: Chargers win

Last 2 Weeks (ATS): 21-8 (15-14)
This Week (ATS): 0-1 (0-1)
Overall: 45-33
Overall (ATS): 36-41-1

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