NFL Week 14 Predictions: The Best Week?

Week 14 just might be the best schedule the NFL has on paper all season. There are six games between teams with at least a .500 record. Maybe more importantly, there just aren’t any real “gimme games” where you can feel very confident that one team is just going to roll over the other. I’m going to quickly go through the remaining 15 games this week to show my concerns with picking a winner.

IND-BUF: Sure, the Colts stink, but they’ve blown five fourth-quarter leads and we don’t know if Tyrod Taylor is good to go. Nathan Peterman and his turnovers could be the key to an Indy win on the road, unless he turns into Rob Johnson vs. Indy.

CHI-CIN: I’d be worried about the Bengals having blown their emotional wad vs. Pittsburgh on Monday night. Chicago is bad, but good enough to pounce on some mistakes for return touchdowns/short fields.

SF-HOU: I can see the headlines already. “49ers 2-0 in close games with Garoppolo at QB.” This would be an interesting game if, you know, Tom Savage wasn’t the Houston QB.

OAK-KC: Trust the Chiefs these days? Impossible, and they already lost a game they should have won against the Raiders this year. Throw in a suspension to Marcus Peters, the return of Michael Crabtree, and I’m hesitant as hell about going with the Chiefs.

DAL-NYG: I believe in teams getting a boost the next game after a major firing, such as getting rid of Ben McAdoo. Add in the return of Eli Manning at quarterback, home field, and the fact that Dak Prescott has struggled to score points on the Giants in three tries. I don’t trust Dallas period these days, but this is a matchup I especially would not trust them in.

DET-TB: I think Matthew Stafford will be fine health wise, but you know I already suck at predicting Tampa Bay games. I can say fade Mike Evans in fantasy (DFS), and he’ll probably go off for 140 yards and 2 TD.

MIN-CAR: I feel oddly confident about the Vikings like I did last week when they won in Atlanta, but Carolina has shown some real quality play at times this season. Just don’t know which Cam will show up, and everyone seems to be waiting for Case Keenum to have that fall back to Earth game, which is certainly possible on the road against a decent defense. But MIN should win.

GB-CLE: Hey, I think this might be the week for the Browns to avoid 0-16. Another big firing (GM Sashi Brown) took place here, and it’s really just a good matchup for Cleveland. The Browns should be able to stop the run, forcing Brett Hundley to throw more. He hasn’t been that consistent or sharp. Meanwhile, Josh Gordon could feast on the secondary. The only concern here is DeShone Kizer, who continues to make crippling turnovers for this offense. But I could already see the headlines for this one too. “Packers expecting a win with Aaron Rodgers coming back next week suffer a huge loss in Cleveland; playoffs much in doubt.” Not my preferred narrative, but just something that I could see happening.

NYJ-DEN: Do you really want to start trusting Josh McCown and the Jets? Sure, they have no doubt been playing better than Denver this year, but doesn’t the losing streak have to stop eventually? The Jets aren’t the Eagles or Patriots. and Mile High is one of the best home-field advantages in the league. I could see some McCown turnovers helping out the struggling Denver offense. Not a game I’d want to bet on.

WAS-LACH: This is another one with a probable narrative. “The Chargers had been playing so well, but choked away another late lead to a Washington team that has now won twice in LA this year, as well as in Seattle.” Redskins had a long time to rest after that shitshow in Dallas. Not sure what we’ll get from them, but they’ve played pretty solid football outside of that game.

TEN-ARI: The Titans are one of the worst 8-4 teams in NFL history, and Arizona can still be competitive at home even with Blaine Gabbert. Bruce Arians should know Dick LeBeau’s scheme well. I’m sure I’ll have to write about this game in Clutch Encounters either way.

SEA-JAC: Oddly enough, this might be the game I feel the best about this week. I just think Seattle will go in there, like the Rams earlier this year, and win the game by making Bortles play bad and cough up turnovers. The Seattle defense is still very good. Not better than Jacksonville’s this year, but I was impressed with the way the Seahawks handled Philadelphia’s front last week to allow Russell Wilson time to make things happen. If they can do that on the road, and it’s not a 10:00 AM body clock game, then they should win this one, underdog status be damned.

PHI-LARM: The game of the week, I suppose, but still a lot of things for both teams to prove. I think Jared Goff’s stats are still as misleading as anyone’s this year, and he’ll have to play well against a very solid defense. Carson Wentz has to clean up the mistakes from last week on the road again, but I think this is a game for the Rams defense to remind us how good they can be too. I’ll take the Rams in a close one at home, but obviously the Eagles winning wouldn’t be any surprise.

BAL-PIT: The Steelers can’t really overlook their main rival for their main obstacle (NE) to a Super Bowl, plus this game is to clinch the AFC North. We know the Steelers play much better at home on offense, especially in prime time. Jimmy Smith being out is a huge loss for the Ravens, which should give Antonio Brown a better chance at a huge night. He might need it with the suspension of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Obviously the loss of Ryan Shazier is big too, and the losses in the secondary (Joe Haden most notably) are troubling for a defense that has started to give up many big plays. If Joe Flacco can throw the ball like he did against Detroit, then we definitely have a game here, but I think the Steelers will take care of business at home. I just don’t feel overly confident about it, because these teams love to split and play 3-point games. The Steelers aren’t going to keep winning every one-score game either.

NE-MIA: I’d say it’s the lock of the week, but no Rob Gronkowski makes things interesting. Not to mention we’ve seen NE go down to Miami and lose when no one expected in 2004, 2006, and 2013-15. Yeah, you say Jay Cutler, but don’t forget about A.J. Feeley (2004) and Joey Harrington (2006). Weird things happen to NE down there. Plus I’ll probably have a ton of money at my fingertips on parlays waiting for the Patriots to give me a Merry Christmas, and they’ll screw me like they always do.

2017 Week 14 Predictions

The Saints quickly ended my dream of a 16-0 week, not like I ever had a shot at that in this particular week.

2017Wk14V2

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Week 11: 8-6 (Spread: 8-5-1)
  • Week 12: 12-4 (Spread: 7-9)
  • Week 13: 11-5 (Spread: 10-6)
  • Season: 120-72 (Spread: 31-28-1)
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NFL Week 13 Predictions: The End of an Era

Pour one out for Eli Manning as his streak of consecutive starts ends at 222 games including playoffs. That’s third all time among quarterbacks behind only Brett Favre (321) and Peyton Manning (227).

I love constants in the NFL, because they help make the most unpredictable league just a little easier to predict. For the better part of 14 seasons, Manning was a constant in New York no matter how erratic his play was. You knew you were getting a volume passer who didn’t take many sacks, could lead the offense to a reasonable amount of points (until recently), and fourth-quarter drama was often high with Eli. I used to say he’d start games like Archie, but could still finish like Peyton. His A game was quite good, but we just never saw it often enough. Fortunately, he brought it against the Patriots in the best moments. It’s for that reason that his Hall of Fame debate is going to rage on for years, but I’m not interested in talking about that right now. This is about the end of an era in New York, because I don’t see how the Giants, who are in full collapse mode, can ever go back to Eli after the way this unfolded.

So which exciting, young quarterback prospect do the Giants have to turn their fortunes to? Oh, it’s Geno bloody Smith, a turnover machine in an era where many turnovers look like bad bounces more than anything. That’s not going to accomplish anything for this team this year, so here’s hoping the Giants find a new head coach and a new quarterback for 2018 to quickly turn this thing in another direction. Manning deserved a better ending than this.

Another era that begins this week that may have some staying power is Jimmy Garoppolo making his first start for the 49ers. Similar to the Giants right now, the 49ers don’t have much going in the way of a supporting cast, so I wouldn’t expect much, though beating the lowly Bears isn’t out of the question. I’d avoid that game in bets this week. There are quite a few I’d avoid actually, but also some teams I really like (Patriots, Steelers, Rams, Jaguars to name a few).

Vikings at Falcons

I think it’s safe to say that this is the top game on paper this week. Both teams have been playing well as of late, though I think the Vikings have been a bit better all season long. Minnesota is just as good as the other NFC teams that get a lot of attention this year (Eagles, Saints, and Rams). I think the reason Minnesota gets less attention is the quarterback situation. Drew Brees’ name speaks for itself, while the typical “build up a young QB into a superstar ASAP” is at work for Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.

People don’t want to believe in Case Keenum, but it’s December and he ranks No. 1 in DVOA thanks in large part to the way he’s making plays under pressure and avoiding sacks. The latter is certainly a quarterback skill that is highly repeatable, and the fact that Minnesota’s OL is holding up enough for him speaks wonders about the turnaround job they’ve done after 2016’s terrible unit let the team down. Not only are Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs the best WR duo going this year, but Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have formed a pretty solid backfield after the team lost rookie Dalvin Cook so early. This is an impressive offense and the defense under Mike Zimmer is one of the best units in the league. This team is very balanced. I still think Atlanta is too offensive dependent, and Matt Ryan is still taking big sacks that kill drives. While Julio Jones went off last week, this isn’t Tampa Bay. He’ll see plenty of Xavier Rhodes in a good matchup. Meanwhile, I think the injuries in the secondary for Atlanta are big for Minnesota to take advantage of.

I like the Vikings in a close one.

Eagles at Seahawks

I’m honestly not sure this game will be that good to watch on Sunday night. More interested than anything in what the final margin ends up being given that the Eagles have won four in a row by 23+ points, and Seattle just almost never gets blown out. The Seahawks haven’t lost a home game by more than 7 points since a 2011 game against Cincinnati (pre-Russell Wilson). The Eagles haven’t been tested much, especially on the road. Five of their last seven games have been at home actually, so this is a step up in competition. It’s just that Seattle isn’t quite the same when there’s no RB/running game, and no Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor or Cliff Avril on defense.

That’s why Wilson has a pretty strong MVP case if he can finish well with a tough schedule ahead. He has to do so much for this team right now, and that’s why I think this is a bad matchup for the Seahawks since I think the pass rush is going to rack up a lot of sacks in blowing past this offensive line. No one really runs on the Eagles this year to begin with, and Seattle has the worst non-QB rushing of any team this season. So you pin a low point total to the Seahawks, maybe some turnovers that give the Eagles more good field position, and I think Philadelphia takes this one on the road.

2017 Week 13 Predictions

Well, Washington shit its pants on Thursday night. I wasn’t confident about picking that game either way, but that was a really poor performance all around from the Redskins. And to think some people on Twitter scoffed when I said Dallas would score 16 points (scored 38).

2017Wk13

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Week 11: 8-6 (Spread: 8-5-1)
  • Week 12: 12-4 (Spread: 7-9)
  • Season: 109-67 (Spread: 21-22-1)

NFL Week 12 Predictions: “Soft Division” Edition

There are five games on Sunday with a double-digit point spread, and no spread is larger than the Patriots (-17) at home against Miami, the team I called the worst 4-2 team ever. The Dolphins haven’t won since, but the Patriots are 2-5 against the spread under Bill Belichick when favored by 17+ points.

I’d say this Miami team is no doubt going to trail by 17+ at one point on Sunday, but may do enough damage in garbage time to cover. Last season, Adam Gase’s Dolphins trailed 31-3 in New England, but still pulled to within 31-24 and actually had a 4QC opportunity at the end.

This is the beginning of a six-game slate where the Patriots play five division games and Pittsburgh, so basically five bye weeks and a game that likely determines home-field advantage in the AFC.

Oh, you thought the AFC East was going to be more competitive this year? Sorry. While the Jets started better than anyone imagined, things are back to where we expected them, especially with Buffalo doing its annual tease and denial act. The Patriots should have this thing locked up again very soon.

On Friday, I tweeted a table (with no comment) about how many wins were needed for the top five quarterbacks of this era to win their division in the period of realignment (2002-2016). I removed seasons where the QB missed the majority of time, so no 2011 Colts for Peyton Manning or 2008 Patriots for Tom Brady. The methodology was to look at what these teams needed as a minimum number of wins to win the division free of tie-breakers each year. I didn’t want to run into situations where you’re saying “well they could have finished 9-7 and still won the division thanks to a season sweep of the 2nd place 9-7 team, or by the third tie-breaker.” I also didn’t want to use ties, since who the hell ever wants to predict ties? Sure, technically an 8-7-1 record can win a division when the next-best record is 8-8, but let’s just be reasonable and use whole wins, so 9-7 it is.

So for the 2016 NFC North, you had GB (10-6), DET (9-7), MIN (8-8), and CHI (3-13). Since Detroit had the next-best record at 9-7, Aaron Rodgers’ minimum was 10 wins, or exactly what he got. For the 2015 NFC South, it was CAR (15-1), ATL (8-8), NO (7-9), and TB (6-10). So if we were doing this from Cam Newton’s perspective, the minimum number was 9 wins. But from Drew Brees’ perspective (and Matt Ryan’s), his minimum was 16 to topple Carolina’s 15-1 record. Granted, if he went 16-0, then Carolina at best could go 14-2, so I can see an argument for this outlier that the number should be 15 rather than 16. In fact, since Carolina’s lone loss was to Atlanta, I did change this one number to 15 for Brees, dropping his average from 12.1 wins to 12.0 wins, so still the highest average.

avgdiv

I also included a second column to show what happens with 11+ wins, and that even if the Saints won 11, 12, or probably even 13 games in 2015, they still wouldn’t have been able to win the division over Carolina. 11 is a great breaking point since (post-merger) only the 1985 Broncos and 2008 Patriots (go figure, the one year the AFC East got competitive by adding Brett Favre and a healthy Chad Pennington in Miami) have missed the playoffs with 11+ wins.

Naturally, my mentions, which I left alone for the night, were flooded with angry Patriots fans. I read a lot of it, and I didn’t see any good arguments to refute this table. In fact, I’d like to know how posting a stat table without comment is a “take,” but I guess that’s the world we live in now.

Anyways, there was one repeated argument that has merit in that it’s logical: the Patriots crush their division annually so the wins needed in their division are lower in part because of their success.

That’s a totally sound argument…except the same is true for everyone who dominates their division, and there is no data to support this reality that the Patriots are far ahead of the curve here.

From 2002 to 2016, Brady was 65-17 (.793) against his division in the regular season. That’s great, but did you know Peyton Manning was 62-14 (.816) in his division games in that span? It’s not as obvious since he played for two different teams, but that is the case, as is Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger hovering around 75% division wins despite actually playing some really strong teams like the 2006 Ravens and 2009 Vikings. Those two teams are better than anything the Jets, Dolphins, or Bills have put on the field in the 21st century.

What’s happening here is that Patriots fans love to aggregate division records, but ignore things like Brees and Manning switching teams, or the injuries to Roethlisberger and Rodgers. Sure, the division records don’t look as good when you do a quick search that ignores that the Steelers are 1-7 against Baltimore since 2004 when Roethlisberger didn’t start the game.

One of Brady’s greatest accomplishments that you never hear about is his durability. Aside from one Bernard Pollard hit in Week 1 2008, he’s been an ironman that only a few can compare to in that regard in NFL history. Yet instead of praising him for his steady availability even through old age, they resort to this myth that his play is just so much stronger than any other QB’s when that’s not the case. That’s what I look to point out.

The other problem with aggregating division stats is it hides the distribution of wins. Which division is easier to win? One with three 6-10 teams, or one with teams that are 12-4, 4-12-, and 2-14? Both add up to 18-30, but you have to win at least 12 games in the latter just to have a shot at a division title (13-3 without relying on tie-breakers). If you’re a double-digit win team and a legit Super Bowl contender, there’s not much difference in playing against a 4-12 team versus a 6-10 team. You’re expected to win those games almost every time. But a team that’s capable of going 12-4, or the type of team that the AFC East never presents to NE, is not likely to get swept. We’ve seen Baltimore and Pittsburgh split many times in years where both made the playoffs, for example.

The best thing you can say about MIA/NYJ/BUF is that none of the three have been a consistent bottom-feeder like the Browns (any year but 2002 and 2007) or Raiders (2003-2015) or recent Jaguars (2011-2016) teams. That’s the only reason the aggregate records aren’t so bad for the AFC East in this era. Oh, there have been some major duds like the 1-15 Miami team in 2007, but teams like the Bills and Dolphins have specialized in going 6-10/7-9 without ever being a real threat to anyone. Some of the worst 10-6 teams by DVOA (going back to 1986) are AFC East teams (2006 NYJ, 2015 NYJ, 2016 MIA). The Patriots also allowed two division rivals (2005 MIA and 2014 BUF) to get to 9-7 with Week 17 wins in rare “playoff rest” games for Brady.

Let’s finish with a few more stats that will hopefully slow people from tweeting me that only the Patriots with Brady can beat up on their division.

Average score for a division game, 2002-2016

  • Brady: 27.6-17.0
  • Manning: 27.4-18.7
  • Rodgers: 27.2-18.6
  • Brees: 25.0-22.2
  • Roethlisberger: 23.1-16.1

This is based on the final score, so it’s not adjusted for return scores or anything. Brady, Manning, and Rodgers are all very close with just over 27 points per game, but the Patriots have allowed 17.0 PPG, second to only the Steelers (16.1), who love to feast on the Browns twice a year and play plenty of low-scoring games with Baltimore and Cincinnati. But maybe the biggest number here is the 22.2 points per game allowed by Brees’ teams, which can easily explain why he is only 49-36 (.576) in division games. He started 4-6 with subpar stats in 2002-03 when he wasn’t a good player yet in San Diego, but obviously the defenses in New Orleans (perhaps until 2017) have given him less help than any of the other four quarterbacks. Teams that allow 22.2 PPG in the regular season only win about 48% of their games since 2002, so Brees doesn’t look too bad at 57.6% here.

I already showed that these other quarterbacks (minus Brees) were able to win 75-80% of their division games just like Brady. Now let’s add some passing stats to that as well as an important split that really puts things into perspective. I split up the division games by ones against teams with fewer than 11 wins and games against teams with 11+ wins.

QBDIV.JPG

So Brady, Rodgers, Manning, and Roethlisberger all won at least 80% of their division games against teams with fewer than 11 wins. Imagine that. Brady has the lowest completion percentage and YPA in those games, but they’re all pretty similar statistically.

But when you look at the 11+ win teams on the bottom, Brady’s only faced one since 2002: the pesky 2010 Jets, who split the regular season with Brady, and pulled off that shocking playoff upset a month after the 45-3 demolition. This means that Brady helped create his only 11-5 division foe, and they destroyed one of his best shots at another Super Bowl ring.

So when you try to say that these other QBs have created so many 11+ win teams in their division by losing to them, that’s not really accurate. Brees missed the first game against the 15-1 Panthers in 2015, and played very well against them in the loss that produced a Cam-led 4QC. The 2006 Ravens (13-3) are still 11-5 if the sweep went to Ben’s Steelers. The 2008 Titans are still 12-4 if Manning would have came back to beat them on MNF. Also, Peyton was still a very impressive 10-4 in these games, which includes a loss in the worst game of his career (2015 Chiefs) that almost ended his career. He was 4-0 against those Jacksonville teams that went 12-4 in 2005 and 11-5 in 2007. He probably would have preferred to face those Jaguars again in the playoffs like Brady did instead of the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Chargers (with Philip Rivers’ ACL intact for three quarters). Manning also led sweeps of the 2003 Titans (12-4) and 2013 Chiefs (11-5), who still both won at least 11 games regardless of Manning’s teams.

Sure, you can argue that Roethlisberger should have swept the 2005 Bengals (11-5) or Rodgers should have swept the 2009 Vikings (12-4) to put them both at 10-6, but it’s a shitty argument. Their teams allowed 30-plus points in those losses, and let’s just respect the fact that the Bengals had a breakout year with Carson Palmer and the Vikings were a great team with Favre at 40.

Believe it or not, but the success of one team doesn’t dictate that the other three must be failures for 16+ years.

I started this whole thing not out of interest of the Patriots in the AFC East, but as part of my research on Drew Brees that I hope to use for an article this year. I ran out of time in August to do one on him, but the Saints are doing so well that I’m sure the opportunity will present itself again. His numbers not being overly great here surprised me, but when the time comes for that article, I’ll be fair and acknowledge that along with some interesting breakdowns for context. For example, there were 19 division games for these quarterbacks where their teams allowed 34+ points. Brees has 12 of those games (2-10 record) compared to just one for Brady (a 34-31 loss to Buffalo in 2011 in which he threw a pick-six in the 4Q).

There’s a lot of nuance that 240 characters will never be adequate for, which is why I chose to not argue the point about this original chart on Twitter, but to wait for this post. I hope this clears up what I was looking into, but it’s not like I don’t expect to still get tweets that read “Brews, rogers, payton just not winners like [GOAT emoji].”

What, you think I’m exaggerating? I don’t do fake news.

Game of the Week: Saints at Rams

We do have one standout game in Week 12. It’s another chance for the Rams to show us something against a contender. The tests against Seattle and Minnesota didn’t go well, but this is another home game against a New Orleans team that showed some cracks last week, but still won with a crazy 15-point comeback. Robert Woods is out for the Rams, but that’s more than offset by rookie CB Marshon Lattimore being out for the Saints. I could see a deep-ball success for Sammy Watkins in this game, but it could very well be a lower-scoring game than expected weeks ago. I could also see Brees facing some interior pressure from Aaron Donald, but the running game has been fantastic for New Orleans with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. As much as I’m not used to picking the Saints in road games like this one, I just really like the way they have been playing since Week 3 and think they find a way to grind this one out. I’m not fully sold on the Rams as a legit contender this year until they show more in a game like this, but it’s definitely the one to watch tomorrow.

2017 Week 12 Predictions

So I had my Thanksgiving picks not go too well after nailing the Vikings-Lions game. I really want to pick the Colts for some reason, but just can’t go through with it.

Wk12

Note: my SEA-ATL pick last week went from SEA at -3 to SEA at +1, so I gave myself the spread win, SU loss for that game. 

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Week 11: 8-6 (Spread: 8-5-1)
  • Season: 97-63 (Spread: 14-13-1)

NFL Week 11 Predictions: “Tire Me” Edition

This easily could be an epic rant about the MVP race, or the Patriots/Eagles in general, because I like to do that from time to time on here. 140 280 characters on Twitter just doesn’t do it sometimes, especially when people take one part out of context and jump into something they don’t understand.

However, you can even try to have a conversation about these things and still get stuck in the mud. Yes, I went on WEEI in Boston on Thursday, and instead of getting a debate about where things stand in 2017, I felt like I never left 2003 when Patriots fans started using W-L record to justify Tom Brady’s greatness. It’s been 14 years of lousy “count the rings/wins, ignore the individual performance” arguments ever since, and it does get tiring at times to keep reading them. I also had a busy week with an ALEX update and another FiveThirtyEight article.

Just like how I don’t really read my articles after I write them, I don’t listen to my radio appearances. All I know is after it was over, I didn’t understand why I was accused of jumping all over the place when my point was the same beginning to end. Brady has not given the Patriots an edge at quarterback since 2001 that would be any greater than if a handful of his peers were in his position and provided the same advantages and breaks he’s had. The key to NE’s success is that the gap between Bill Belichick and the other coaches remains the largest in the NFL, and it only seems to have increased in recent years. It’s a plug-and-play system in NE. You provide a Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees with the best coaching, the best clutch kicking, the hardest team to score 30 points on, the hardest defense to crack in the fourth quarter, a sad division that can’t find a worthy rival at QB/HC, and you damn well should expect similar, if not greater success.

But I’m going to stop right there, because it’s not like these stories are going away any time soon this season. This could be 2004 all over again with the Patriots, Eagles, and Steelers as the top three teams.

To be continued.

There are actually a few games I’m interested in looking at this week.

Jaguars at Browns

Really, this one? I’ve designed a career (recap close games, preview big games) where I can avoid covering games like this one that are crap on paper, but I can’t help but smell an upset here. While I gave the Browns this win before Week 1 when I picked the whole schedule, it is clear that Cleveland has been worse than imaginable and the Jaguars are better.

However, I like the matchup. Cleveland’s offense doesn’t really match up with any defense in the league, let alone one we’ve been calling the best in the NFL this year. But look at the contrast of styles here. The Jaguars shut down the pass, prefer not to pass with Blake Bortles, and are 30th in DVOA against the run. The Browns’ best trait is stopping the run, would like to run the ball on offense, and you can always get some takeaway opportunities from Bortles, who really cheated the football gods last week when he threw two picks after the two-minute warning and still got the win in overtime. Sure, the Jaguars have kicked some ass at times this year, but they’ve had their asses kicked too. Hell, Jacksonville already lost on the road to the Jets this year, albeit an overtime game. Cleveland lost by just 3 to the Steelers in Week 1 and played better than the final score suggests in Detroit last week.

The Browns are at home, and do you really want to pick an 0-16 season when there’s only been one in NFL history? A shaky, turnover-prone QB on the road with an injured crew of weapons sounds tempting to me. The fact that Jaguars are saying they’ll win in a shutout can’t sit well with the Browns. Hue Jackson needs a win in the worst way to save face.

Sure, the Jags may win 30-6 when it’s all said and done, but I like my gut enough on this one to go with Cleveland.

Rams at Vikings

This is the “Jeff Fisher Can’t Coach Bowl.” Case Keenum and Jared Goff had a terrible time in the Los Angeles offense a season ago, but give them real coaching and teams that understand how to use their talent, and both are in the top 5 in DVOA right now. This is a cool battle of 7-2 teams that probably no one expected to be 7-2 at this point.

I wrestled a lot with a winner in this game. In the end, I’m going with the Rams for arguably their most impressive win yet this season. I think Keenum is heavily dependent on Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, while the Rams can use a larger variety of weapons. Both defenses are really good, and haven’t been playing the best of offenses, so it’s a step up in competition for both. Admittedly, the two games I focused most on with Keenum this year the two losses (Steelers and Lions), so I’m probably looking at him in more of a negative light than someone who would have focused more on his two huge games against the Bucs and Redskins. But even last week he had a couple of picks in the second half, and I guess I’m rooting for some chaos where putting Teddy Bridgewater back at QB1 is a reality.

I will say that this is a game where Goff needs to show us something good. He’s getting MVP consideration after shredding the Giants and Texans the last two weeks, but he’s really been given an “EASY” button this year. He has the best starting field position, the highest play-action rate, doesn’t have to throw into tight windows, and gets the most YAC of any QB. If he can play some great games down the stretch I’ll change my mind, but he has probably the most misleading stats of any QB this season. I’m just glad he’s shown he can play competent football after last year, but I wouldn’t go all in on him being MVP caliber right now. He struggled with Seattle and special teams did much of the damage in Jacksonville. Let’s see how Goff does with this good road test this weekend.

Patriots vs. Raiders

I guess for six months I assumed this was a Monday night game, because that’s when Oakland played Houston in Mexico City last year. But it’s a 4:25 start, and it’s not nearly as interesting as we thought it would be for Oakland. Sure, the Raiders can prove something with a win, but I give the No. 32 pass defense that still doesn’t have an interception little chance here. The Patriots are starting to roll again offensively, and the defense hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in any of the last five games. You’d like to think Derek Carr can move the ball in this one to keep it close and exciting, but his red-zone performance has been brutal this season. You can’t win by settling for field goals against the Patriots. Brady tears up Jack Del Rio defenses regularly, but this is one of the weaker units yet that he’ll see. With losses already to Buffalo and Baltimore, Oakland slipping to 4-6 is just another step closer to an irrelevant rest of season.

Eagles at Cowboys

This should be a much bigger game, but things have gone really sour recently for Dallas. Never mind the Jerry Jones saga that is amping up. Actually, that could be uncomfortable this week with Dallas in high-profile games (SNF and Thanksgiving). But let’s not worry about that. On the field, Dallas could be without three of its very best players in Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee. Hell, kicker Dan Bailey being out is a problem too.

This is why it’s annoying to hear the “Dak can’t score without Zeke” narrative when clearly there is far more missing than Elliott. Last week, Adrian Clayborn had six sacks with Smith out. He even admitted to having “one move” after the game, and Dallas failed to adjust for that. Regardless of who is on the field, a quarterback needs better protection than that, and the Dallas defense really struggled with Atlanta. It was a 10-7 game at halftime, but while Dallas missed a field goal in the third quarter, the Falcons added two long touchdown drives to take a 24-7 lead and blow that one open.

Philadelphia comes in  hot, fresh off a bye, and with one of the better defenses in the league at getting to quarterbacks. It’s a really tough matchup for Dallas, and I don’t expect the Cowboys to win this one. It would have been tough even with those players available.

2017 Week 11 Predictions

So I started picking against the spread last week. I went 6-8 compared to 12-2 straight up. This is a weekly thing now from me, and hopefully better weeks to come. Off to a good start with the Steelers impressing on Thursday night.

2017Wk11

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Season: 89-57 (Spread: 6-8)

NFL Week 10 Predictions: The Upside Down

A year ago, Week 10 was incredible in the NFL. It was the week that left us stunned after the election, and Sunday’s hyped games even managed to exceed the hype with Cowboys-Steelers and Seahawks-Patriots. We needed that so badly. I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed a football Sunday as much as that one in the year since.

When I look at this year’s Week 10 lineup, much like last week, I struggle to find a game to get excited for. Steelers might flirt with disaster in Indy, or it might be a blowout for the fourth year in a row (third year in a row where Andrew Luck won’t suit up for Indy). Sure, Tom Brady may not have a big game in Denver per usual, but he doesn’t have to when he’s playing against that Denver offense in the night game.

Game of the Week (?): Saints at Bills

I much rather would have preferred to see Saints-Bills flexed to SNF. At least that game is interesting on both sides of the ball. Drew Brees has dinked and dunked his way to a very efficient, but not quite as spectacular passing season. The running game has picked up since the Saints realized Adrian Peterson had no place in this offense, and rookie Alvin Kamara deserves more touches with Mark Ingram. The Bills play very opportunistic defense and get a lot of takeaways. New Orleans’ road struggles are well documented. But we also know that Buffalo struggles to manufacture scoring offense with a limited cast around Tyrod Taylor, though all eyes will be on Kelvin Benjamin in his team debut. Oh yeah, the Saints are actually playing defense too, which has really carried this impressive 6-game winning streak.

I feel like I’m leaning on old trends here, but I’m going with Buffalo at home, because I think the defense will get those turnovers that swing the game into their favor. Good day for LeSean McCoy so Tyrod doesn’t have to match score for score with Brees.

Cowboys at Falcons

Glad it looks like the Ezekiel Elliott suspension is starting. I just want that story to go away. It also presents an opportunity for Dak Prescott to gain traction in the MVP race and silence some critics that Elliott is driving their success. No, great QB play has been the biggest change in Dallas over 2015 when the passing game was terrible with Tony Romo injured. The running game was still top 10 that year, but so what? You need the QB first. I think they’ll run the ball just fine without Elliott too, but it’s about the defense keeping the score down. Dallas has allowed 30+ in every 2017 loss. I keep saying the Falcons could be 1-7 just as easily as 7-1, so they’re a dangerous team, both to opponents and themselves. I think Julio Jones rebounds from last week’s horrible drop with a big game and Atlanta gets on track at home. For Dallas, it’s not just Zeke’s suspension, but Tyron Smith is out and Dez Bryant might be gimpy.

This won’t stop anyone, especially those from the other side of Pennsylvania, from blabbering on about “Dak ain’t shit without Zeke”. Hey neanderthals, you have 280 characters now. No excuse not to add “Dak ain’t shit without Zeke, Tyron Smith, and a healthy Dez.”

(Yes, Week 11 will be lit.)

Jets at Buccaneers: REVENGE

This game is crap, but I just wanted to point out all the revenge options here. Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick have both played for the Jets and Buccaneers. Austin Seferian-Jenkins was supposed to be Tampa Bay’s TE1, but they found two better players in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. I guess that’s more revenge on New York’s side, but man, the big story is that Fitzpatrick has schemed his way into starting another game.

Fitzpatrick is so ready for this revenge game that he even shaved his fucking beard off. I know he went to Harvard — it’s true, if you haven’t heard — but I never hear what his major was. Alchemy? Dark arts? How else can you explain how a QB this bad can start a game 10 years in a row? I almost have to pick Tampa Bay even though I know the Jets have played better football for two months now.

2017 Week 10 Predictions

I told you this was the upside down edition, so here’s something brand new that I’ve never done in all these years. I’m going to start giving you my picks against the spread (ATS) every week in addition to the straight up (SU) picks I always deliver. I’m using Bovada’s lines on Saturday afternoon and I’m never going to bother updating them for any pre-kickoff changes. You get what you see.

2017Wk10

I know this is just going to annoy me more each week when so many spreads are determined by one play, like the late touchdown in SEA-ARI on Thursday night, but some have asked me for years to show my spread picks. I don’t have experience doing this, so we’ll just see how it goes. This is not my ideal season to start this (just look at my SU picks), but if not now, then when?

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Season: 77-55

NFL Week 9 Predictions: The Seven-Year Itch

The Seven Year Itch was a 1955 film famous for Marilyn Monroe’s white dress blowing up over a subway grate. The psychology behind the seven-year itch is that seven years into a marriage, the quality of marriage declines and you lose interest with your significant other.

This is my seventh season as a full-time NFL writer, and 2017 is really wearing me down to the point where I’m starting to wonder if I’m feeling the seven-year itch myself with this league.

Maybe it’s just the quality of this particular season that is bugging me, or what’s going on in other areas of life in 2017 has wore me down too, but something hasn’t been right since Week 1. The Week 9 slate in particular isn’t doing me any favors to get my interest back up. I fell asleep for most of Jets-Bills on Thursday, exhausted from the day’s events, and ultimately bored by the product on the field that night. I don’t feel bad about it either, just as I don’t feel bad about waking up late for Browns-Vikings in London last week when it was already 30-16 in the fourth quarter.

The only game I’d even really want to talk about this week is Chiefs-Cowboys, and that’s partly thanks to this frustrating Ezekiel Elliott story. Great, he’s playing again, and he’s been on a tear. But I was really hoping to see him miss this one actually just to see if the running game could stabilize itself without him as it did in 2015 (without a QB that year too), and if Dak Prescott could carry the load, which I think he can. The Cowboys still have some great players minus Zeke, and I think this has shootout written all over it with the two defenses present. It should be a fun game with Tony Romo on the call, and I look forward to that part of my Sunday afternoon, but the rest of the week looks like a bust to me.

Since the 2006 season, I have collected torrents of NFL games. I haven’t kept up with it as much lately (mostly due to NFL Game Pass, when it works, and a lack of hard drive space/laziness to plug in the externals), but I have a pretty big collection. My weekly routine started with, as you may have guessed, getting the full game for the Steelers, Patriots, and Colts. Any other really good game with other teams may have been added as well, and I got a high-quality copy of every playoff game. By 2012, I added Denver to the weekly rotation because of Peyton Manning, and kept the Colts because of Andrew Luck. I was also getting every Green Bay game, usually the condensed version unless it was a great game, to keep a catalog of Aaron Rodgers’ prime. I also started doing Seattle for Russell Wilson.

At the rate things were going this year, I may have started getting Houston games for Deshaun Watson, who has had one of the greatest 7-game starts in NFL history. Even though the Texans were 3-4, I thought I might be arguing later this season that Watson is deserving of the MVP award for the impact he’s had on Houston’s offense.

Then Thursday came.

I saw this tweet a little before 5 p.m. about Watson being limited in practice because of a sore knee.

No big deal, right? He should be fine. Then I get an email from an editor about my FiveThirtyEight article. (Yeah, I’m writing there now too, and here’s the first article). It says that we need to change a paragraph now that Watson is injured. I start replying “Oh it’s just a limited in practice situation, he’ll be fine.” Before I can send that, I get a tweet from my long-time editor:

Then I saw the breaking news reports over and over: Watson tore his ACL on a non-contact injury in practice. His season is over. It’s not like I never considered this could happen, but you don’t actively think about it happening.

I was shocked and really sad in a way that I usually don’t feel over countless other NFL injuries. Most of my favorite players have been great at avoiding the long-term injury, or if it did happen, it wasn’t some practice injury during the season. It was an odd situation from the offseason like Peyton Manning in 2011 or Andrew Luck this year. Hell, we just had the news on Thursday afternoon that Luck wasn’t going to see the field in 2017, and that was bad enough. You add Watson on top of this, and it’s just about the worst season for quarterback injuries that I have ever seen.

With Watson, it just feels different because of how new and exciting he was, and how quickly he’s been taken away from this season. I actually gave a damn about watching Houston Texans games for a change. This is like getting a puppy or kitten, enjoying the hell out of them for 7 weeks, and one day they just get ran over by a car.

Watson’s not dead, and he’s already come back from one ACL injury, but it’s just not fair. He’ll never be able to finish what could have easily been the most historic, record-breaking rookie QB season in NFL history. I can only hope he returns 100% and makes Houston a contender immediately next season. I just hate that we have to wait until September 2018 to give a damn about Houston again.

But getting back to the torrents. With Week 9 in particular, the Steelers and Patriots are on a bye week. The Colts may as well be on a bye every week this year. I stopped collecting Denver games after Manning retired, and wouldn’t want to waste my hard drive with that offense (now featuring Brock Osweiler). Green Bay is on Monday night, but Rodgers won’t be playing. There’s really no special interest for me this week, and that kind of sucks.

I said recently that this has been the most depressing season, and the events of the last few days have only gone on to deepen that for me.

I’m still watching, writing, researching, and tweeting, because it’s my job after all. But to say I’m having a lot of fun this season would be a lie.

2017 Week 9 Predictions

Can I just say I hate Tampa Bay? I was one game short of my first perfect week of picks ever, and the Buccaneers just had to ruin it with a dud at home against Carolina. Granted, the Bucs were the only favorite to not win last week, but can’t we have one week where the team everyone expected to win actually won? That’d be fine, but apparently that never happens. It wouldn’t have been an impressive 13-0 perfect week, but it still would have been a perfect record. Thanks for nothing, Bucs. And I’m almost willing to pick them to win this week even though it would make no sense with the way the Saints have played in a five-game winning streak. But nothing is supposed to make sense with the Jameis Winston-era Bucs, apparently.

The quest for perfection ended immediately this week. I had Buffalo and we know the Jets owned that second half on Thursday, even if I was out cold for most of it.

Winners in bold.

  • Buccaneers at Saints
  • Ravens at Titans
  • Colts at Texans
  • Rams at Giants
  • Broncos at Eagles
  • Falcons at Panthers
  • Bengals at Jaguars
  • Redskins at Seahawks
  • Cardinals at 49ers
  • Chiefs at Cowboys
  • Raiders at Dolphins
  • Lions at Packers

I am amused with the SNF game between Oakland and Miami after I called them two of the worst 12-4/10-6 teams ever last season. Both are struggling this year, with Miami being the worst 4-3 team ever (outscored by 60 points). Incredibly, the Raiders don’t have an interception on defense in eight games. That’s never been done before. I’m going to say they get at least one and win this game. While Derek Carr is overrated, he’s still better than post-retirement Jay Cutler. This would have been a good game to keep Jay Ajayi around for, but the trade deadline is what it is.

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Season: 71-48

 

NFL Week 8 Predictions: Sleep In Sunday

As I look at the Week 8 schedule, I don’t see a whole lot of quality in the early slate.

Vikings vs. Browns – should be the lowest-rated London game yet. You like football more than I do if you get up at 9:30 A.M. EST for this kickoff. I might roll out of bed a little before noon for this one’s ending.

Raiders at Bills – somewhat interesting, and a game I would expect to cover in Clutch Encounters this week.

Chargers at Patriots – what’s the latest tragic loss Philip Rivers can suffer at the hands of Brady and Belichick? He’s 0-6 against that duo. Should put up some yardage at least.

49ers at Eagles – I guess San Francisco kicking ass in this game would be payback for the 1994 regular-season meeting won 40-8 by the Eagles. It would almost be that weird of a result with the 49ers still winless this year.

Panthers at Buccaneers – there isn’t a result you could predict that would surprise me with this one. Two very inconsistent teams.

Colts at Bengals – Both have two wins, but Bengals are a better team and should take care of business.

Bears at Saints – can you complete fewer than 10 passes and win in the Superdome? I’ll take Drew Brees at home.

Falcons at Jets – probably our most interesting one just because of the train wreck the Falcons have been, and the surprising competitiveness of the Jets this year.

It’s not until we get to the later games that we have some standouts.

Texans at Seahawks – how will Houston’s players perform after being at odds with comments made by their owner? This is an interesting matchup on paper with Deshaun Watson leading a sudden scoring juggernaut into one of the toughest venues to play in the NFL. Seattle hasn’t looked like the dominant team we have come to expect, so I would give Houston a good chance in this one.

Cowboys at Redskins – both teams are 3-3, but both have played a lot of good football this year. Washington just tends to fade in games, while Dallas has struggled defensively. The NFC is too wide open to count anyone out yet, but it is a very important game with neither wanting to drop to 3-4. I just think Dallas has a slight edge with more consistency on offense (translation: Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott should make plays while you don’t know if Chris Thompson or Vernon Davis will rip off a 40+ yard reception again) and Washington’s defensive injuries hurting the depth.

Steelers at Lions – probably the right pick for SNF, I think Pittsburgh’s offense could have a strong showing with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell leading the way again. They’ve benched Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster has played well, and the offense is getting the ball into the hands of its best players at a high volume again. Detroit has a lot of the same issues with running the ball and defending, and we know the Lions almost never beat a team destined for the playoffs. Pittsburgh isn’t performing anywhere near at peak level yet, but should be good enough to win this one on the road.

Broncos at Chiefs – someone is losing three in a row on Monday night, and there’s no way I’m picking the Chiefs to do that. The offense is way better than Denver’s, they’re at home, and while the defense is struggling right now without Eric Berry, the Denver offense hasn’t hit 17 points since Week 2.

2017 Week 8 Predictions

Of course I had Miami losing on TNF, but 40-0 was very unexpected. Still, is it really that much of a reach after this team should have lost 20-0 in back-to-back weeks to the Jets and Saints? Throw in a few late pick-sixes from the third -string QB and there you go.

Winners in bold.

  • Vikings vs. Browns
  • Raiders at Bills
  • Chargers at Patriots
  • 49ers at Eagles
  • Panthers at Buccaneers
  • Colts at Bengals
  • Bears at Saints
  • Falcons at Jets
  • Texans at Seahawks
  • Cowboys at Redskins
  • Steelers at Lions
  • Broncos at Chiefs

Last week was my best all season, and I feel good about this week being right up there.

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Season: 59-47