Saturday, September 13, 2014

NFL Picks, Week 2

It's week 2 of the NFL season, which means we're right in the middle of overreaction week. You see, fans, "experts", and even the clubs themsevles come into the season with (relative degrees of) informed opinions about how the season will play out. Then week 1 comes along and trashes many of those preconceived ideas. So does that mean we were wrong? Or was this just a small-sample-size issue that will be corrected as more games are played?

As always, home team in CAPS.

Baltimore (-2.5) over Pittsburgh
Note: I made this pick on twitter yesterday evening.
Question: Should I be looking at the 1st half Pittsburgh from week 1 or the second half Pittsburgh from week 1? 
After that game, I think the answer has to be second-half Pittsburgh. The Steelers simply have no pass rush whatsoever, and their secondary will continue to be horribly exposed unless they find one quickly.

CAROLINA (-2.5) over Detroit
Question: Wait, Carolina is heading for a big-time regression year...right?
Everyone and their mother was picking Carolina to take a big step back from last year's division championship. Many even had Carolina bringing up the rear in the NFC South. And then Cam Newton broke his ribs during the preseason. And then he was held out of their first game against a Tampa Bay team almost universally described as "frisky". Surely, Carolina would exit week 1 0-1.

Nope, they beat Tampa 20-14. Again, without Cam Newton, and without any wide receiver who caught a pass from Newton last season. That's right, Derek Anderson led this team to victory last week.

So what does this mean? Is Carolina going to become the first NFC South winner to repeat as division champion since the division was created in 2002? I'm not ready to predict that, but I am going to take the Panthers to win this game against the Lions, who looked unstoppable in week 1*.

* but it was against the New York Giants. More on them later.

For all of the questions surrounding the Panthers' offense, their defense hasn't lost much from last year's impressive season. And while Detroit is under new leadership, I'm not ready to believe they'll go on the road and handle a tough opponent until I see it happen.

Miami (PICK) over BUFFALO 
Question: Are these two teams for real? 
In Buffalo's case, they looked so bad offensively in the preseason, but then knocked off Chicago in week 1. In Miami's case, they outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half of their week 1 matchup behind a brand-new offensive line and under a new offensive system (one that doesn't include confusing hand signals). I'm buying Miami as a threat, but EJ Manuel still has a ways to go before Buffalo gets there.


WASHINGTON (-6) over Jacksonville
Question: Oh no, the RG3 bandwagon is veering towards a ditch, jump off!!! SAVE YOURSELF!!!!
Okay, that's not really a question. But let's talk RG3. He had a rough preseason, but last week was a real bucket of cold water for Washington fans. Griffin struggled, and worse, seemed averse to running. Granted, running too often has gotten him in trouble in the past, but if he takes it out of his arsenal completely, he's artificially capping his potential as a quarterback. Add in JAcksonville's surprising first half showing against the Eagles (0 points allowed), and this could get ugly quick for RG3 and his team.

Except if you look a little closer at the Jacksonville game, much of the blame for Philly's woes lays at Nick Foles' feet. I have seen snapshot after snapshot of Eagles receivers running free during that first half and Foles simply missing them or not seeing them. This leads me to believe the Jacksonville defense is more like the second half edition (27 points allowed) versus the first half one. Griffin gets back on track this week and silences (for now) the growing rumble of discontent in the nation's capital.

TENNESSEE (-3.5) over Dallas
Question: Could the Titans be a legitimate contender in the AFC South? 
Kansas City was going to regress this year, that much seemed clear. But very few people saw Tennessee's 26-10 easy win in week 1 coming. Now, I'm not ready to crown Tennessee, because it sure looked like Kansas City spent most of that game shooting itself in the foot and watching  important defensive cogs fall with season-ending injuries. And I still don't trust Jake Locker yet. That being said, Tennessee proved very capable of taking advantage of an over-matched defense, and this week they play the Dallas Over-matchedDefenses.

Arizona (-2.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS
Question: Are the New York Giants really that bad?
Well, I think so, yes. It's not just the 21-point loss to the Lions, or the multiple Eli Manning interceptions (no, those weren't 2013 flashback, those happened). More concerning to me were the numerous incidents where Manning and his receivers clearly weren't on the same page. Yes, the Giants hired a new offensive coordinator with a new scheme, but they had an entire offseason to get things right. And they're still flubbing simple things like hand signals? I take that as a very, very bad sign.

New England (-3) over MINNESOTA
Questions: Are the Patriots dead? Long live the Patriots? 
I'm going to say no to this one. I do believe the offense will take another small step back this season (unless Gronk plays a full 16 plus playoffs, which I doubt), but the defense should be very good. Like top-5 good. Yes I'm concerned about that second half in Miami where the Patriots could not stop the Dolphins from running all over them, but I trust Belichick to shore things up there. And then there's this:

Absolutely unbelievable. Whether you believe in some form of corporal punishment or not, I just don't see how it's anything resembling good parenting to whip a 4-year-old with a tree branch. Especially if you have the strength of an NFL running back.

New Orleans (-6.5) over CLEVELAND
Question: Umm...what happened to the good Saints defense that should only have gotten better? 
New Orleans was a top-10 defense last season. Yeah, really. And they added a top safety in the game to their defense this offseason. And then Atlanta went out and hung up 37 on them. I'm writing this off as an outlier. Or, to put it another way, I think that result says more about Atlanta and their offense than it does about New Orleans and their defense. The Saints get back on track this week against the Browns.

Atlanta (+5.5) over CINCINNATI 
Question: Is Atlanta back? 
As long as Matt Ryan, Juilio Jones, and Roddy White are healthy, the offense should be there. In this game, I think they can put up enough points to bring out bad Andy Dalton.

TAMPA BAY (-6) over St. Louis
Question: Are either of these teams better than they showed last week? 
I think they have to be, but Tampa Bay will get there quicker. As of this writing, the Rams sound like they're leaning towards starting Austin Davis on the road against a Lovie Smith defense. If Tampa can't put the clamps on Davis a week after failing to do so on Derek Anderson, sound the alarms.

Seattle (-6) over SAN DIEGO
Question: Is Seattle as good as they looked against Green Bay? 
Will they blow everyone out by 20+ points? No. But will their offense continue to show great progress and take more of the load on their shoulders instead of relying so much on their terrific defense? Yes, especially if they can keep Percy Harvin healthy. And if the offense can be on close to equal footing with the defense...watch out NFL.

Houston (-3) over OAKLAND
Question: Can the Texans really compete for a playoff spot with Ryan Fitzpatrick/Ryan Mallett under center? 
I still say the answer is no, but that won't stop JJ Watt from ripping apart the Raider offensive line to get to Derek Carr.

New York Jets (+8.5) over GREEN BAY
Question: Green Bay is still really good, right? 
Their offense is, unquestionably. The defense is probably as bad as they looked on kickoff night. Especially if you a) play enough defense to keep the game close, b) are committed to the run and will stay with it all game. Green Bay's secondary is good and talented, the rest of that defense? Well...no. The Jets won't dominate this game like Seattle did, but if they can avoid early turnovers I don't see Green Bay pulling away.

DENVER (-12) over Kansas City
Question: Just how bad will Kansas City be?
It's looking like worse than we thought. The defense got hit pretty hard by injuries in week 1, but it may be the offensive line that's most responsible for the team's regression. They could not protect Alex Smith, which probably gave him flashbacks to the Mike Nolan San Francisco era. When you can't protect Alex Smith, he;s not going to give you much. Even if Andy Reid remembers to not ignore Jamaal Charles (aka, his main offensive weapon) in future games, Kansas City is going to struggle to put up points.

SAN FRANCISCO (-6.5) over Chicago
Question: Were San Francisco's preseason struggles overblown? 
To a degree, yes. They were never going to be as bad as the preseason made them look. There's too much talent here still, even after they've been thinned by injuries and suspensions. But putting up 28 points against Dallas doesn't tell us much, and honestly, Chicago's defense isn't much better. I thought we'd get more answers about San Francisco's defense in this game, but with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey gimpy at best (and they might not even play), Chicago doesn't have the firepower to compete with the 49ers on the road.

Philadelphia (+3) over INDIANAPOLIS
Question: Can we just write off that whole 17-0 halftime deficit to the Jaguars? 
I'm going to say yes, like I said above, most of the issues fall at Foles' feet. And while he's not going to have only 4 turnovers all season again, he's not going to start averaging 3 a game either. Unless you can matchup with Philly's receivers in man coverage consistently, or you can get to Foles, Philly's going to get theirs on offense. I don't see Indy doing either one consistently Monday night.

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 6-10 (.375)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

NFL Picks, Week 1

I'm the best prognosticator in the game. When you come at me with a sorry line like Seattle -5.5 at home against a defense like Green Bay, that's the result you're going to get! Don't you ever talk about me!

*mic drop*

Sorry about that, with me being undefeated for the season and all I just had to channel my inner Richard Sherman. I probably won't get this opportunity to crow again.

Before we move on to the rest of week 1's slate, here are three thoughts on the 36-16 Seahawks win.

1. Green Bay's defense is not good. They have talent in their secondary, but their line and linebackers (outside of Clay Matthews and maybe Julius Peppers from a pass rushing perspective) are average at best. Fortunately for Green Bay, their offense will be good enough to jump out to early leads and force other teams to play catch-up. In that mode, this defense should be okay. But against the top teams who can stay balanced, Green Bay is going to struggle to keep up. I still expect the Packers to win their division, but barring some big changes between now and January, I don't see them as legitimate contenders for the title.

2. Last year Seattle was the best team in the league with an historically good defense, great special teams play, and an offense that did enough overall. This year the defense looks pretty close to last year's levels, the special teams have taken a small step back (Earl Thomas is a phenom, a terrific safety, and the lynchpin that makes Seattle's defense work...but he's not a punt returner), but the offense is ready to take its place as a true peer to the defense, instead of remaining in its shadow. Much of that improvement comes with having a healthy (for now...hopefully for the season) Percy Harvin. But two other important factors are 1) the continued maturation of Russell Wilson and 2) massive improvements in the play of both offensive guards.

3. The margin of victory in this game was 20 points. Seattle was never threatened in the second half. And the Seahawks played maybe a B- game. This game could easily have been a 30+ point blowout in the 3rd quarter. Your move, rest of the NFL.

Onto the picks. Home teams in CAPS

New Orleans (-3) over ATLANTA
The Saints have a great offense, and a very good defense. Atlanta has a very good offense, and...well, their offense is pretty good. Did I mention that?

Minnesota (+3.5) over ST. LOUIS
In all honesty, I wasn't all that impressed with the Greg Williams hire as defensive coordinator for the Rams. Williams is a very good defensive mind, but his specialty is bringing extra guys to pressure the quarterback, leaving his secondary very vulnerable if they don't get home. The Rams have arguably the best young front four in the league and a poor secondary. If Williams gets blitz-happy, he's needlessly going against the strength of his team.

Oh yeah, and St. Louis lost their starting quarterback for the year in preseason.

PITTSBURGH (-6.5) over Cleveland
Cleveland is 4-25 against the Steelers since 2000. Brian Hoyer is not the quarterback to change these fortunes. And if they feature a Manziel-package, well, ask Rex Ryan how specialty packages for the backup quarterback work out (spoiler alert: not well).

PHILADELPHIA (-10.5) over Jacksonville
I'd feel better about this pick if Philly's defense were good. Luckily, Chad Henne is definitely not good, so I'm going with Philly's offense to run up a lead and coast to an easy win.

NEW YORK JETS (-5.5) over Oakland
Rex Ryan's defense against a rookie quarterback on the road with Oakland's supporting cast? Yes please.

BALTIMORE (-1.5) over Cincinnati
Andy Dalton is 30-18 in his three seasons in the NFL. Exactly zero of those 30 wins have come on the road against Baltimore. In fact, Dalton has just 2 wins in 6 tries against the Ravens overall, and his last win (in week 17 last season) featured this stat line:

21/36, 281 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, 0 sacks

Yeah, not good. The Ravens won't be completely inept on offense this year, so I'm picking Dalton's struggles against them to continue.

CHICAGO (-7) over Buffalo
Chicago's defense is legitimately bad, but their offense (as long as Cutler stays healthy) should be explosive. Buffalo's defense should be above average, but their offense is going to struggle. At the center of these struggles is second-year starting quarterback EJ Manuel. Manuel was so unimpressive this preseason that Buffalo got Kyle Orton off of his couch and handed him $5 Million to "back up" Manuel. Of course, if they really wanted him to back up Manuel, a) they would have brought him in sooner, so he could help Manuel get better over the course of the preseason and b) they wouldn't have handed him $5 Million.

Washington (+3) over HOUSTON
I believe RG3 will make more plays against a great Houston defense than Ryan Fitpatrick will make against a good-when-its-healthy-and-it's-week-one-so-it's-pretty-healthy Washington defense.

KANSAS CITY (-3) over Tennessee
The Chiefs earned a playoff spot last year by beating the teams they should beat and losing to the good teams they played. They just had an easy schedule so the math worked for them. This year their schedule is harder, but Tennessee has no part in making their schedule harder than last year's.

New England (-4.5) over MIAMI
New England is going to be a powerhouse defensive team this season. Miami is starting an all-new offensive line from last season (which is more good than bad, as last year's line was atrocious, but still isn't ideal heading into week 1), and their starting center is missing the first month of the season.

TAMPA BAY (-2.5) over Carolina
The reason Greg Schiano was fired is because this team has talent, especially on defense, and Schiano had no idea how to use it to maximize their ability. Case in point, he had Darrelle Revis, likely the best man corner in the league, playing almost exclusively off zone defense. Lovie Smith knows defense. He's clueless on offense, which helps explain why he gave Josh McCown the unquestioned starting quarterback job, but he will have this defense playing up to its talent level. And Carolina, with an injured Cam Newton with no receivers on the roster who caught a pass from Newton last season, won't put up enough of a fight to force Tampa's offense to make a lot of plays.

San Francisco (-4.5) over DALLAS
I know the 49ers have had their share of offensive struggles this preseason, but Dallas fielded the worst defense in history last season...and they somehow got worse this offseason. And by somehow, I mean thanks to Jerry Jones' a) mismanagement of the salary cap and b) refusal to commit to a rebuilding period to clean up their cap. But he insists he's the guy to bring Dallas back to prominence.

DENVER (-7.5) over Indianapolis
I believe Andrew Luck is on his way to being a great quarterback. I believe the Colts have used up their good fortune for the next 50 years by timing their tank jobs so well twice (for Manning and then Luck). I believe the Colts are the 3rd best team in the AFC. But I believe Indy's defense is a patchwork job, and the absence of Robert Mathis means the pass rush cannot paper over this fact. Without a pass rush, they will not slow down Peyton Manning.

DETROIT (-6) over New York Giants
Did you see the Giants offense this preseason? I just don't see them hanging with the offense the Lions will put up, especially when you factor in that Detroit front four going against the unimpressive New York offensive line.

San Diego (+3) over ARIZONA
Arizona reached 10 wins mostly on the back of a top-5 defense. Thanks to defections, injuries, and suspensions, that defense will take quite a few steps back this season. That will force Carson Palmer to do more. And when Carson Palmer tries to do more, turnovers happen. In bunches.

This Week: 1-0

Regular Season History:
2013 season: 115-134-7 (.463)
2013 Midweek Picks: 7-9-1
2012: 114-133-9 (.463)
2011: 51-55-4 (.482)

Postseason History:
2013 Postseason: 4-5-2 (.455)Miles' 2013 Postseason: 6-3-2 (.550)
2012 Postseason: 6-4-1
2011 Postseason: 6-5

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Quick NFL Preview and Tonight's Pick

Well, these last couple of months have been a whirlwind. The main reason? My wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world in mid-August. She's beautiful and wonderful, and her and my son take up much of our time. For those (terrific) reasons, I'm scaling back the blog for this football season. No standing updates, no power polls, just the occasional commentary and the picks.

But before I get to tonight's pick, here are my quick predictions for the year:

AFC
NFC
Team
W
L
T
Team
W
L
T
New England Patriots (1)
13
3
0
Philadelphia Eagles (4)
11
5
0
Miami Dolphins
8
8
0
Washington Redskins
8
8
0
New York Jets
7
9
0
New York Giants
5
11
0
Buffalo Bills
4
12
0
Dallas Cowboys
4
12
0
Team
W
L
T
Team
W
L
T
Baltimore Ravens (4)
10
6
0
Green Bay Packers (3)
12
4
0
Cincinnati Bengals (5)
9
7
0
Chicago Bears (5)
10
6
0
Pittsbugh Steelers
8
8
0
Minnesota Vikings
8
8
0
Cleveland Browns
5
11
0
Detroit Lions
5
11
0
Team
W
L
T
Team
W
L
T
Indianapolis Colts (2)
12
4
0
New Orleans Saints (2)
13
3
0
Houston Texans (6)
9
7
0
Atlanta Falcons
8
8
0
Tennessee Titans
6
10
0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7
9
0
Jacksonville Jaguars
5
11
0
Carolina Panthers
5
11
0
Team
W
L
T
Team
W
L
T
Denver Broncos (3)
11
5
0
Seattle Seahawks (1)
13
3
0
San Diego Chargers
7
9
0
San Francisco 49ers (6)
10
6
0
Kansas City Chiefs
6
10
0
St. Louis Rams
8
8
0
Oakland Raiders
3
13
0
Arizona Cardinals
6
10
0
Leading to a somewhat familiar outcome:


WILD CARD ROUND
AFC (3v6)
Broncos over Texans
AFC (4v5)
Ravens over Bengals
NFC (3v6)
49ers over Packers
NFC (4v5)
Eagles over Bears
DIVISIONAL ROUND
AFC (1v4)
Patriots over Ravens
AFC (2V3)
Broncos over Colts
NFC (1V6)
Seahawks over 49ers
NFC (2V4)
Saints over Eagles
CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
Patriots over Broncos
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
Seahawks over Saints
SUPER BOWL
SB XLVII
Seahawks over Patriots
Yes, I'm picking the Seahawks to repeat. Going into this offseason, I was sure they wouldn't repeat because the margin between them and the 49ers last season was razor-thin, and a combination of reloading and general luck could easily swing the 2014 NFC West title to the 49ers. However, everything about the preseason indicated the 49ers may be looking at a bit of a regression, while the Seahawks look like any defensive regression will be countered with an offensive improvement (please stay healthy Percy Harvin). 

As for the AFC, I believe there are (again) two legitimate contenders: the Broncos and Patriots. And if they stay healthy, I believe the improvements New England has made on defense will carry them over the Broncos in the regular season (to secure home field for the rematch), and in the AFC Championship Game. 

And while I believe the Patriots will put up a much better fight than last year's Broncos, I trust Russell Wilson and his weapons to put up a few more points on the Pats D than I do Brady and his weapons against the Seahawks defense. 

Now, onto tonight's pick, home team in CAPS.
SEATTLE (-5.5) over Green Bay
Similar to the narrative heading into the Super Bowl, everyone is talking about the Packers offense versus the Seahawks defense. I don't expect the Seattle D to shut down Rodgers like their Super Bowl performance (Green Bay has a better running game and should be more balanced than Denver was), but I do expect them to hold him below 21 points with the home crowd on their side. 

So we look to the Seahawks offense versus the Packers D, can Seattle score 24+ points? I believe they can put up 30+. With Percy Harvin healthy, and Russell Wilson looking maestro-ish (new word alert) throughout the preseason (I know, I know, but he looked really REALLY good, it can't all be meaningless), this offense is ready to step out of the defense's shadow. And I just do not see the Packers putting up a whole lot of resistance. Dom Capers has proven exceptionally bad at a) containing dual-threat quarterbacks, b) executing disciplined rushes against said QBs, or c) adjusting mid-game to a wrinkle he hadn't expected. And Green Bay's defense isn't talented enough to stop a good offense if they're not working with a schematic advantage. 

Seahawks win 34-19.

Regular Season History:
2013 season: 115-134-7 (.463)
2013 Midweek Picks: 7-9-1
2012: 114-133-9 (.463)
2011: 51-55-4 (.482)

Postseason History:
2013 Postseason: 4-5-2 (.455)Miles' 2013 Postseason: 6-3-2 (.550)
2012 Postseason: 6-4-1
2011 Postseason: 6-5