Friday, October 30, 2015

NFL Picks, Week 8

If you've been following my writing over the last couple of years, you may have noticed something has been missing from my NFL blogging this season: my power poll. I dropped the power poll to give myself one fewer weekly responsibility for my blog to eat up what little free time I have. I didn't want to get rid of the picks posts, because it's the closest I get to actual writing about my passion, the NFL, and I really want to hang onto that. I didn't give up the standings posts because I'm anal and follow the minutiae of playoff positioning on my own anyway, so it's not much extra work to throw up a couple of posts about that. So if I was going to drop something from my weekly update series, it would have to be the power poll.

I drastically changed my power poll process a year ago. Before last season, I ranked the teams the way the "old-school" way: my gut. I did it in large part because ranking teams using my gut felt somewhat dishonest to my readers (all 4 of you, hi guys/girls!) As a husband, father, and soon-to-be-homeowner, I don't have time to watch more than a game or two a week. While I still read voraciously on the league and watch whatever highlights I can, there's just no way I can stay on top of 32 teams well enough to present an informed gut feel on all of them. So instead, I went metric-heavy. I took freely available statistics and combined them into a "team score", then ranked the 32 teams based on that. It helped me in two ways: I felt less like I was cheating the reader week after week in trying to come up with an intelligent ranking and commentary on every team 17 times a year, and it took me substantially less time each week to put the rankings together.

Why am I blathering on about all this in my weekly picks post? Simple, much like with the standings information, I couldn't stay away from the power poll either. Not only was I still drawn to how the teams stacked up vis a vis each other this season, I still had a bad taste in my mouth at how the season ended. No, not for that reason (well, yes for that reason, but that's not relevant to my point). But my rankings had the Patriots down around the 20s for the best team in the AFC and Super Bowl Champion. Not that I'd expect my (or any) rankings to correctly predict the best team in the league and/or Super Bowl Champion, but the discrepancy was simply too wide.

To (finally) get to the point, I couldn't stay away from my power rankings. And if I'm going to put in the legwork to crunch the numbers, I'm going to publish the results. So next week, the new and improved power rankings will return.

How does this affect the picks? I'm glad you asked! While I didn't let my rankings make my picks for me last year, I do believe having that information running around my head made me a better picker. After my worst week of the season last week, it seems I could use all the help I can get, so make way for a guaranteed smarter, better picker of games*!

*Note: no actual improvement guaranteed

And before I move on to the picks, there's one other piece of news I had to comment on:

Yes, ESPN has shuttered Grantland, the brainchild of Bill Simmons. I have been a Simmons fan for almost 15 years, since being introduced to the Boston Sports Guy's website while in college. The two best remnants of Simmons' time at ESPN are the 30 for 30 documentary series and Grantland. Grantland was filled with great writers who used longform writing to tackle interesting subjects. I enjoyed reading countless stories from the site over its 5-year run, and the greatest compliment I can give is that anytime I gave a story I didn't think I'd be interested in a chance simply because it was on Grantland, or because I trusted the writer, I can't remember a time I clicked away disappointed. It's a sad day for sports-writing and writing in general that Grantland is no more.

Thanks for bearing with me, let's get on to the picks. As always, home team in CAPS

KANSAS CITY* (-4) over Detroit
The best part of this game? When it's over, the NFL is done with London for the season.

Minnesota (+1) over CHICAGO
How in the name of anything and everything holy is Minnesota getting points here? The Bears are not good. They're 2-4 (that's bad). They are the 2nd worst team in the league by pythagorean win percentage (also bad). My rankings have them as a bottom-5 team (they probably aren't losing sleep over that one, but it's still bad). Sure, they're at home, but is that really enough to offset everything else? Doesn't this bother anyone else? Doesn't anyone notice these things?

ATLANTA (-7) over Tampa Bay
Last week seemed like a big step forward for Jameis Winston, NFL quarterback. Since he's a rookie, and saddled with a poor team, that means we can probably expect a step backwards this week. Atlanta's offense does give some cause for concern, seeing how they scored a whopping 10 points against a Mariota-less Titans squad last week, but their first home game in 3 weeks should help their offense get going.

New York Giants (+3) over NEW ORLEANS
In the interest of full disclosure, this is the one game this week I ended up going against my rankings. And it's quite possible I'm not giving the Saints enough credit. But despite the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of the Giants, even in the best of times, I still trust Eli's offense a little more than Drew's right now.

ST. LOUIS (-8) over San Francisco
Seattle's defensive line has been coming on in the last 3 weeks, and the exclamation point was last Thursday's 6-sack party in San Francisco. The Rams defensive line is more talented than that Seahawks line. Good luck, Colin. Oh, and if you needed more convincing, remember how I said the Bears have the 2nd-worst pythagorean win percentage in the NFL? The 49ers are the lone team with a worse one.

Arizona (-6) over CLEVELAND
I trusted you, Josh McCown. I trusted you to go into St. Louis and keep that game close. Instead the Rams defense got a touchdown and your offense got 6 points. Now McCown is hurt and we're likely getting the Johnny bleeping Football show.

Cincinnati (+1) over PITTSBURGH
I can't decide how to feel about Pittsburgh's defense. They have been atrocious for a couple of seasons now (which is jarring, even for someone like me who wasn't alive for the Steel Curtain teams), but this season they've shown some signs of life. They "held" the Patriots to 28 points in week 1 and beat the Cardinals 2 weeks ago by holding them to 13 points. Of course, they also gave up 23 points to the Chiefs last week and managed to give up 23 in a loss to the one-win Ravens. Still, inconsistent is a big step up for this defense. It just won't be enough against the Bengals.

San Diego (+3) over BALTIMORE
The Chargers at least do one thing well: throw the ball. Which is good because they have to do a ton of throwing with no running game and no defense.

HOUSTON (-3.5) over Tennessee
I don't really want to pick the Texans after that abysmal showing last week. And now they won't even have a running game with Arian Foster on IR. If Mariota were playing, I'd pick Tennessee. But I can't back Zach Mettenberger on the road to beat a better team.

New York Jets (-3) over OAKLAND
Normally this would be an easy pick because the Raiders are always terrible. That's not the case this year, the Raiders are decent. This year this is an easy pick because the Jets are a damned good team.

Seattle (-6) over DALLAS
I understand the excitement over getting Dez Bryant back (even though he won't be close to 100%). But you have Matt Cassel throwing him the ball and a terrific secondary covering him. Yes the Seahawks have had their issues in the secondary but they still handle outside receivers really well. The only potential fly in the ointment is Greg Hardy, the Cowboys' pass rush specialist. Of course, Hardy is as liable to hit someone on his own team as he is Russell Wilson.

Green Bay (-2.5) over DENVER
One team has a good offense and a good defense. The other team has a great defense and a decrepit offense. While I don't see Aaron Rodgers unleashing hell on this Broncos defense, the Packers will score in the 20s without giving up crippling turnovers. And I don't see Peyton Manning matching that output without said turnovers.

CAROLINA (-7) over Indianapolis
We've seen what good defenses do to these Colts. I'm just excited at the prospect of the Colts leading the AFC South with a 3-6 record next weekend (they play the Broncos next weekend).

This week: 1-0 (Whoo-hoo!)
Last week: 5-9 (.357)
Season: 49-53-3 (.500)

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