Friday, September 26, 2014

NFL Picks, Week 4

Three thoughts on the Thursday Night Pickfest:

1. I said the Giants would put up some resistance, which would be a big step up from what Jacksonville and Philadelphia did defensively, and that would bring Kirk Cousins back to earth a bit. Well, the Giants did put up some resistance, but they didn't collapse the pocket like I thought they would. Instead, Cousins simply imploded. His mechanics were bad (throwing off his back foot, not setting his feet), and unlike a Stafford or a Cutler, Cousins doesn't have the arm to get away with that. Combine that with him seeming to go on tilt in the 3rd quarter and repeatedly try to make up the ever-increasing defecit in just one throw, and you get another midweek dud.

2. It's amazing how night and day the Giants offense has looked these last two weeks versus the opening weekend horror show in Detroit. Eli looks comfortable, he's decisive, and he actually is completing 70ish% of his passes. And, much to my (fantasy-related) chagrin, he's found another tight end to fall in love with.

3. Washington gets Seattle at home and goes to Arizona in the next two weeks. Before this game, Phil Simms said Cousins stated he just wanted to give the team back to RG3 with a good record. At this point he may want to just still be the interim starting quarterback when Griffin returns. It's not going to get better anytime soon.

As always, home team in CAPS.

"OAKLAND" (+3.5) over Miami 
Ahh yes, another England game, featuring only the best of the NFL product: the 1-2 Miami Dolphins versus the 0-3 Oakland Raiders. Both of these coaches come in on the hot seat: Oakland's Dennis Allen because the team hasn't seemed to get one iota better in his 2+ years at the helm (in fairness this is the first year the cupboard hasn't been completely bare). And Miami's Joe Philbin because he's pretty clearly in over his head as a head coach (there was the bullying mess last year, you may have heard something about it) and now he created a quarterback controversy by refusing to publicly name Ryan Tannehill his starter even though he privately told Tannehill and the team he'd be starting. Oh, and the defensive players feel like they're being criminally misused.

Here's an idea: losing coach doesn't get to fly home and instead has to stay in England and coach the Tottenham Hotspur. Who's with me?

Green Bay (-2) over CHICAGO
Let's play a game of I believe.
I believe that Green Bay is truly a notch below the top teams in the NFC.
I believe that the Bears overall have more talent than the Packers.
I believe that Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback than Jay Cutler, but the gap is much narrower than it has been in the recent past.
I believe Brandon Marshall (currently questionable) will play, but that he will be very limited (like Jets-game limited not 49er-game limited)
I believe that the Packers running game (a little more power-oriented) is better equipped to attack the Bears' weak front seven than the Bears game is to attack the Packers weak front seven.
I believe points will come early and often in this game.
I believe the Packers will win, but would probably swing my pick if Brandon Marshall were close to healthy.

HOUSTON (-3) over Buffalo
I know Buffalo jumped out to that 2-0 start, but you saw what happened last week when you get some semblance of pressure on EJ Manuel. He goes into full scatter-shot mode. Of course, Ryan Fitzpatrick does the exact same thing. In the end, I'll take the shaky quarterback at home over the shaky quarterback on the road.

INDIANAPOLIS (-8) over Tennessee
The Titans are facing the very real possibility of not having starting quarterback Jake Locker available for this game. Granted, Locker isn't an above-average quarterback in the NFL, but the man behind him is the one, the only, Clipboard Jesus himself (Charlie Whitehurst). Whitehurst is the guy who the Seattle coaches benched mid-game for Tarvaris Jackson. That doesn't seem so bad, right? I mean, Jackson's a decent backup who Seattle's currently trusting to steer the ship if something were to happen to Russell Wilson. Well, the reason Whitehurst was playing for Jackson was that he had a torn pectoral muscle. Whitehurst did such an unimpressive job over a game and a half that they stuck Jackson back in and played him for the rest of the season with that injury.

BALTIMORE (-3.5) over Carolina
I expected to see Carolina's offense struggle to move the ball this season (hence the predicted regression). Of course, I expected to see them struggle against good defenses. To see them so completely inept against the Steelers was a bit jarring. Even more jarring was seeing Pittsburgh gash the Panther defense so badly on the ground.

Baltimore isn't going to have the same success on the ground (Le'Veon Bell is better than anyone in the Ravens backfield), but they should have success through the air. Add in Steve Smith getting a crack at the only team he ever knew before they cut him this offseason, and it says here that Baltimore will put up points. And Carolina won't keep up.

Detroit (-1.5) over NEW YORK JETS
I mentioned above how the Giants look so much better than they did against the Lions in week 1. Yes, the Lions jumped out to an early lead and forced the Giants to play catch-up, but the Lions defense has looked legitimately good too. I think we're at the point were we have to ask, are the Giants actually decent-to-good and the Lions are just that much better?

The answer may be yes, but with a big ol' BUT: the Lions may be that good at home. That Giants game? Ford Field. The emasculation of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense? Ford Field. Their one road game? A 24-7 loss to Carolina. Detroit has had struggles translating what (little) success they've had to the road since the early 90's  (at least).

But they're playing an offense who went 1/6 in the red zone last week (at home) against Chicago, who sports nothing resembling a good defense. Jets fans won't be any more pleased with Geno Smith after this one.

BYE (-6) over St. Louis
There are six teams on bye this week, and I still almost couldn't find one to make this joke work (Bengals, Browns, Rams, Broncos, Cardinals, Seahawks). And Cleveland is one of them!!! Do you know how hard it is to write this column without the easy Cleveland jokes to get me through the low times? It's that damn Brian Hoyer. He's so hot right now.

Thankfully St. Louis stepped up (down?) to (away from?) the plate. This is a team with the best young talent on its defensive line of any team in the league. So of course they bring in Gregg Williams, a coach who loves to blitz, even without talent to cover for it in his secondaries (no, really). The results? The Rams have 1 sack from their D-Line through three games. Oh, I almost forgot, the offensive coordinator is Brian Schottenheimer, so it's all on the defense this season if the Rams are going to be at all competitive.

PITTSBURGH (-7.5) Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay is an absolute mess right now. I was sure that Lovie Smith would come in and actually get something out of a defense that had much more talent than the Schiano era would have you believe. But that simply hasn't happened. And if Pittsburgh could put up 37 on the Panthers, just how ugly is it going to get on Sunday?

SAN DIEGO (-13) over Jacksonville
I'm a little worried Blake Bortles could put up enough points to beat this lopsided spread, but I'm even more worried that the Jaguars offensive line can't protect Bortles at all. This is the offensive line who gave up 10 sacks to the Redskins. That's right, the same Redskins you just watch get torched last night.

Philadelphia (+5) over SAN FRANCISCO 
Last year the 49ers started 1-2, including an embarassing home loss to the Indy Lucks, err...Colts. They went 11-2 the rest of the way and came within 30 seconds of making the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons. This year the 49ers have started 1-2, including an embarrassing home loss to Chicago.

Clearly San Francisco doesn't trust their offensive line (which is jarring to someone who has watched the 49ers in the Harbaugh era) so they aren't committed to the power run game. More distressingly, their defense can't consistently rush the passer. That will be a problem against the Chip Kelly offense, but seeing as Philadlephia doesn't really have a defense, the 49ers offensive woes should subside for at least this weekend.

It should be a shootout, and while I have the 49ers winning, they won't be able to pull away from the Eagles offense, who will cover.

MINNESOTA (+3) over Atlanta 
Matt Ryan in open air <<<<<<<<< Matt Ryan in a dome.
Minnesota should get a boost from starting Teddy Bridgewater, and Bridgewater supporters should get a boost with Teddy getting to feast on the Falcons (lack of a) defense.

New Orleans (-3) over DALLAS
This was a Sunday Night game last year too. You may remember the carnage. But put that aside for a minute, Dallas very much has a chance in this game. You see, the Cowboys have embraced a ball-control offense, featuring heavy doses of DeMarco Murray. This allows them to shorten the game and avoid hanging their (awful) defense out to dry. Normally you'd say the Saints will simply score early and often and take the Cowboys out of the conservative game they want to play. In other years you'd be right. But this year something is just off about the Saints offense. I don't think they can run away with this one.

So why am I still picking them? I just don't trust Dallas' ability to cover Jimmy Graham. When Brees has his favorite toy, he can settle in and get comfortable.

KANSAS CITY (+3.5) over New England 
Until I see actual evidence that the Patriot offensive line can give Tom Brady something resembling a clean pocket, I'm not buying the Patriot passing game. Without that passing game, New England's defense is going to have to lead the way as they did in week 2's 30-7 win over Minnesota. For all of Kansas City's faults, they don't beat themselves like that. Add in a pair of pass-rushing stars in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and this won't be a good Monday night for Pats fans.

This Week: 1-0 (Whoo-hoo!)
Last Week: 10-6 (.625)
2014 Season: 24-24 (.500)

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