NFL Week 8 Predictions: Mid-Tier Edition

I see Week 8 with a lot of mid-level matchups and an appropriate main event in Philadelphia-Dallas on Sunday night. Of course, the Bears somehow got another stinker scheduled in prime time to end the week. But here are my thoughts on some of the games that should be helpful in judging where these teams are at the almost halfway point of the season.

Redskins vs. Bengals

Seriously, back-to-back London games at 9:30 a.m.? No thanks again, as I’ll just wait for the fourth quarter to see if Kirk Cousins can avoid the big mistake or not. I thought when the Bengals were down big in Dallas that even with a likely 2-4 start, the playoffs were not in doubt with the schedule lightening up as well as a very soft AFC (more on that later this week). Tyler Eifert is back at tight end, and Jeremy Hill had some big runs last week. Of course, it was the Browns, but the Redskins have been a poor run defense too, and they have some health issues in the secondary right now. That’s a bad recipe for defending A.J. Green, but this Cincinnati offense can be about more than just Green now. I like the AFC team here.

Chiefs at Colts

If this is half as good as the 2013 wild-card game…But the Chiefs have been so inconsistent this year (32nd in DVOA variance). The Colts (5th in variance) have been a pillar of consistency: they score and allow at least 20 points in every game, and Andrew Luck has had the ball in his hands late with a chance to lead his team on a GWD. He’s come through four times, but the defense wasted the Week 1 effort against Detroit. I think Spencer Ware should have a field day against the Indy defense, but wouldn’t expect a huge performance from Alex Smith. Luck should have a few more weapons back this week, but he’ll need to avoid going to the Marcus Peters well too many times. Peters can make him pay on a pick-six, but with Donte Moncrief and Philip Dorsett back, Luck shouldn’t have to force passes to T.Y. Hilton. Generally, I think Luck has played very well this season, but he’ll need to be on point in this one. My gut tells me KC, and I usually have a great gut for Colts games, but I still think I have to trust the Colts at home this week. Arrowhead? I’d say prepare for one of their blowout losses from 2012-2015, but I think they pull this one out.

Lions at Texans

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I expect Brock Osweiler to have a really solid game due to how terrible the Detroit pass defense is. He’s also at home, where things have gone much better this year than the difficult road trips to New England, Minnesota and Denver. That has to be the toughest road schedule in the league so far. That’s not to say Osweiler didn’t play like hot garbage, but as we saw against Chicago and late in the Colts game, he can still come through against a crap defense. That’s what Detroit has right now, and it will be on Matthew Stafford to have an exceptional road performance for Detroit to pull off the win.

Patriots at Bills

One of the dumbest things any team did this year was Buffalo’s waffling on playing Shady McCoy last week in Miami. Just let him rest with the hamstring issue and turn the ball over to Mike Gillislee. Instead they tried to play both, and it was just a mess after Miami’s front seven ate the Bills alive. Now McCoy is unlikely to play in what is essentially the biggest game of the season for the Bills: a chance to sweep the Pats and become a factor in the AFC. So poorly managed. Tyrod Taylor is down receiving weapons in what was already a limited passing game. I expect a far different outcome than the 16-0 shutout win that Buffalo got with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback for New England. Tom Brady was supposed to annihilate Pittsburgh through the air last week, but it’s more likely to come here in Buffalo.

Seahawks at Saints

Injury concerns are legit for Seattle again with Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett out. You never want to be down key defensive starters in the Superdome against Drew Brees. Russell Wilson seems to get a new injury every week — I had no idea about the pectoral issue when I wrote Tuesday’s fantasy article about stacking him with Jimmy Graham. I still think the potential for a big day is there since this is the Saints defense, and Graham will want to show up his old team, but the injuries definitely are a concern. Wilson has 22 runs for 33 yards this season. He’s clearly had to change his playing style due to the leg injuries and throw from the pocket more, but it hasn’t been as effective. Again, at least this is a putrid defense and likely not one Wilson will need his legs against often. He can beat the Saints from the pocket, but I wouldn’t trust Seattle here if the game becomes a shootout.

Chargers at Broncos

I think this game can look a lot different from the recent TNF matchup, won by San Diego. The Broncos are now the home team, Gary Kubiak is going to be coaching this one, and Trevor Siemian is healthier. C.J. Anderson is out, but I think Devontae Booker fills in well at RB. Denver’s defense should be strong again as it was for much of the last meeting. Philip Rivers hasn’t had a good go of things against this Wade Phillips-coached D yet, and I expect that to be the difference this week.

Packers at Falcons

The Falcons need to stop the bleeding here. I think a big game for Julio Jones is in store, and the Falcons could have better rushing success against Green Bay than anyone not named Dallas this season. Matt Ryan needs to atone for the late interception at home last week. While the Falcons have allowed six game-winning drives in their last 16 games, we are talking about Green Bay here. If the Packers don’t start well, I wouldn’t expect a comeback win. I still think the offense was struggling against Chicago despite the odd stat line from Aaron Rodgers, but you could clearly see Chicago’s defense was worn out in the second half from having to defend so many passes and not getting any help from the offense. Atlanta’s offense will help the defense at home here. While I think getting creative with Ty Montgomery is good for Green Bay, I don’t think his small average gains are going to be enough here, nor do I expect Davante Adams to star in back-to-back games.

Eagles at Cowboys

This one could have really cranked up the drama if Tony Romo was making his season debut, but alas it’s two rookie quarterbacks. Dak Prescott has clearly been better than Carson Wentz. The Cowboys certainly run the ball better than the Eagles, and they throw it better too. I really like Ezekiel Elliott coming off a bye week behind that offensive line. The Eagles had a horrific run defense performance against Washington a few weeks ago, and even made Minnesota’s impotent attack look competent last week. I’ll take the Cowboys here.

2016 Week 8 Predictions

Starting to get a better hang of things this season. I had the Titans without any hesitation on Thursday night, and they blew the doors off the hopeless Jaguars.

Winners in bold:

  • Redskins at Bengals
  • Chiefs at Colts
  • Lions at Texans
  • Patriots at Bills
  • Jets at Browns
  • Cardinals at Panthers
  • Raiders at Buccaneers
  • Seahawks at Saints
  • Chargers at Broncos
  • Packers at Falcons
  • Eagles at Cowboys
  • Vikings at Bears
  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Season: 62-45

I would normally give myself a tie for the Seattle-Arizona game, because if those teams don’t have to take a loss, why the hell should I after losing hours of my time to not see a winner? But since I said last week that I liked Seattle by 8 points, or more than they scored in five quarters, I’ll take the loss here.

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NFL Week 7 Predictions: And All That Could Have Been

 

In writing about the Steelers, Cardinals and Seahawks for FOA 2016 this past summer, I had a lot of expectations for Week 7 as a crucial day in determining home-field advantage for several of the top Super Bowl favorites. Now that the time has come, we are left with two games that are nowhere near the level of interest that I thought we’d get. In fact, Sunday evening has me looking more forward to which character bites the dust on The Walking Dead (and it better not be Glenn after all this lame buildup).

Patriots at Steelers

So much for that AFC Game of the Year, right? The Steelers host the Patriots in a battle of Super Bowl favorites, but unfortunately there is no Ben Roethlisberger in this one. Instead of perhaps the top quarterback duel of the season, we get to watch Landry Jones, who threw four interceptions in limited action in a preseason game this year. This is a huge disappointment. Roethlisberger always seems to miss some time each season, but it is possible this is the only game he misses. ESPN did report a potential 4-6 week absence, but I would guess that Roethlisberger misses Sunday and the Baltimore game in Week 9 (obligatory missed Ravens game) at worst.

But go figure, it’s the biggest game of the year for the Steelers and Roethlisberger cannot go. I spent a large chunk of my FOA essay talking about how the Steelers’ season was going to be determined by how well they play the Patriots, and now we get an expected blowout. Oh, the Patriots should be 10-point favorites if we’re being honest here. We already know that Tom Brady shreds this defense, and this is a unit that recorded the lowest pressure rate on Ryan Tannehill in his 70-game career last week. When you take Cameron Heyward, the best overall player on this defense, out of the game, there are going to be issues. While LeGarrette Blount could have a solid game, we know this is going to be about Brady throwing at will and throwing quickly to Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, James White and Martellus Bennett. Chris Hogan might even get a 50-plus yard play before this one’s over. Pittsburgh’s only real hope was for Roethlisberger to lead his own offensive charge at home, which was certainly possible against the 25th-ranked pass defense.

Now with Jones at quarterback, the Steelers are very limited in preparing a winning game plan. It basically consists of the Patriots crapping their pants with turnovers (at least a minus-two differential), which is unlikely to happen against a defense that is struggling to do anything destructive right now. On the other side, yes, Jones has Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown at his disposal. He has a solid offensive line. But he is also a mistake prone quarterback, or exactly the kind that Bill Belichick loves to exploit.

I’m not sure if the Steelers can impose their will with a ground-heavy attack that features Bell (DeAngelo Williams is out). There are plenty of plays to be had against this New England defense, but as always, it tightens up in the red zone and keeps the points down. Jones will have to make some big plays on crucial downs, and Mike Tomlin needs to understand that a surprise onside kick or going for it repeatedly on fourth down can be helpful in this game. Remember when Matt Flynn nearly led an upset of the Patriots in 2010? Mike McCarthy had a brilliant surprise onside kick in the first half. Tricks like that may have to be used here. Because I just don’t see how they defend this Brady offense with the weakest defense they have yet to put on the field against it.

Frankly, I don’t expect the Steelers to put up much of a fight, but maybe that’s not a terrible thing. While I dread the thought of this team trying to win in Foxboro in January, it would certainly be a much different game when your best player on both sides of the ball returns. Don’t show the Patriots a whole lot in this one, and learn from what they show you for next time.  We know every Belichick playoff loss has been a rematch from the regular season.

Final: Patriots 36, Steelers 21

Seahawks at Cardinals

Seattle is starting to shape into the team we have come to expect, thanks to some improved health along the offensive side of the ball. The defense hasn’t blown a fourth-quarter lead yet, and actually broke some major tendencies by aggressively blitzing Matt Ryan on four straight plays last week in the 26-24 win. Meanwhile, Arizona is hard to figure out so far. The Cardinals have already blown two fourth-quarter leads, but still have the No. 1 pass defense. David Johnson has been very consistent, but Carson Palmer has not been. He’s not hitting the vertical passes at anywhere near the MVP-caliber rate he was last season, and we’re not seeing as much production from John Brown and Michael Floyd.

The Seahawks have actually blown the doors off Arizona in the three years that Bruce Arians has been the head coach, so there is no fear of performing in this building. Russell Wilson has eight touchdowns to zero interceptions since 2013 in three Arizona starts. I think both defenses are solid, but right now, there are more ways for the Seahawks to attack the Cardinals with Wilson’s mobility, the emergence of Christine Michael, the versatility of the wide receivers and better play from Jimmy Graham. The Seattle defense has been shutting down running backs cold, and while Johnson has broken 100 yards from scrimmage in each game this season, I think that stops in this one. Palmer will have to be pinpoint and great, and I just don’t see that happening in this one.

Final: Seahawks 27, Cardinals 19

2016 Week 7 Predictions

I finally had a strong week last week (12-3), and kept it going with the Packers winning on Thursday night against a putrid Chicago team that just will not kindly piss off from these prime-time games.

Winners in bold:

  • Giants at Rams
  • Redskins at Lions
  • Browns at Bengals
  • Bills at Dolphins
  • Ravens at Jets
  • Vikings at Eagles
  • Colts at Titans
  • Saints at Chiefs
  • Raiders at Jaguars
  • Chargers at Falcons
  • Buccaneers at 49ers
  • Patriots at Steelers
  • Seahawks at Cardinals
  • Texans at Broncos

I fully expect the Denver defense to make Brock Osweiler look silly on Monday night. In a similar fashion, I think Minnesota’s defense will travel well to Philadelphia, and even if Sam Bradford doesn’t do a whole lot, he’ll have a better day than Carson Wentz as the Vikings continue their undefeated season. Finally, even though I think DeMarco Murray should go nuts and the Titans should beat Indy at home, we are talking about the Titans here. Somehow (say a GWD), some way (Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton), the Colts get a win in this one.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Season: 52-40

NFL Week 6 Predictions: Opposite Day Edition

My game picks have not gotten off to a good start in 2016, but I’m still doing better than the Panthers and Cardinals. I am feeling a few underdogs in Week 6. This all started on Thursday night when I picked San Diego to beat Denver. As much as the Chargers tried to blow an 18-point fourth-quarter lead, they finally held on in the end. Let’s look at a few big ones this Sunday.

Carolina at New Orleans

It looks like Cam Newton is going to play in this one, but either way I like the Saints at home coming off the bye. Drew Brees should have a big game against this secondary, and remember, the Saints were a drive away from beating Carolina in each game last year. That even included a Luke McCown start where I believe he was 31-of-38 with a couple of drops. This offense had a lot of success against the stingy Panthers of 2015, and there’s no Josh Norman to make the game-saving pass defense this time. Sure, I hate backing the New Orleans defense, but it’s not like Carolina has been an efficient offense this season. As unfathomable as 1-5 sounds for Carolina, the Saints should come through at home and complete the NFC South sweep of the Panthers.

Kansas City at Oakland

Yes, Andy Reid is 15-2 after a regular-season bye, but that really doesn’t factor into my thoughts on this one. I expected Oakland’s offense to get off to a nice start due to the schedule. Now can they get better results against a team like the Chiefs? Kansas City’s defense has had as much variation as any in the league this year. They can be great one week, terrible the next, or even do so in the same game (Week 1’s 21-point comeback vs. San Diego). Jamaal Charles should see a bigger workload, and it’s not like Oakland’s defense has been impressive. On the other side of the ball, I think Marcus Peters is going to have to come up with another interception for the Chiefs, and Derek Carr is not shy about forcing some 50/50 balls that Peters can win. If the rest of the secondary can handle Oakland’s three wideouts, then this should be a winnable game for Alex Smith and the offense.

Atlanta at Seattle

Nice matchup. Basically another No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense type of game, but Seattle has faced the weakest set of offenses yet this season. Atlanta just got a great test in Denver last week, though the Seahawks will be a different challenge. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman should not run wild as they did in Denver. Julio Jones still has another tough matchup with Richard Sherman, who can certainly keep him under 100 yards. I don’t see Atlanta cracking more than 24 points on the road here, but the biggest difference from last week is the fact that Atlanta’s defense will be seriously challenged unlike what they saw from Paxton Lynch in his first start. The bye week should have been great for Russell Wilson to heal more from his leg injuries, but he was playing very well with them in his last two games, both of which saw Jimmy Graham crack 100 receiving yards. Atlanta’s cornerbacks are a strength in its defense, but I think the Seahawks can negate that inside with Graham and Doug Baldwin. Tyler Lockett is also reportedly feeling healthier, and Christine Michael has taken over at running back. I think Seattle will be too much for Atlanta at home, though I am a little surprised about the spread being 6.5. I definitely can see a late Matt Ryan-led GWD in this one, though I’m still taking Seattle.

Dallas at Green Bay

This might be a good example of early-season statistics vs. opponent adjustments. The Packers have been excellent at stopping the run, but they’ve also played four pretty shite rushing attacks. The Cowboys are arguably the best right now with that OL and Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas’ offense is more efficient than Green Bay’s this season, and when he’s not playing the terrible Detroit defense, Aaron Rodgers still looks like the same quarterback from the last 12 games last season, which is bad news for the Packers. I’d be all over Dallas if this game was at home, but alas, you don’t know what you’ll get from young players on the road, and it sounds like Dez Bryant won’t be catching or not catching anything here on Sunday. I could see Dak Prescott’s no-INT streak ending in this one as he tempts history. That still doesn’t mean he can’t have a very nice game, but it really comes down to how well the Cowboys are running it, and if they’re getting pressure on Rodgers. He has been pressured quite a bit this season, and the Packers have struggled with the blitz. Dallas needs to be a little aggressive to pull this one out on the road, and I certainly believe it can.

Indianapolis at Houston

Of course we get some AFC South slop in prime-time. This could even be the game that decides which team leads the division for the rest of the season given the direction the teams are heading. The Colts have been right there at the end of all five games, but only enter at 2-3, relying so much on Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton to perform miracles. The Texans are 3-2, but have played mostly poor football, and were exposed badly by the Vikings and Patriots. There is no J.J. Watt, but Jadeveon Clowney is stepping up nicely. Brock Osweiler was horrific last week and overall pretty bad this season. We also know the Texans don’t get much YAC, which killed the Colts last week against Brian Hoyer and the Bears. However, I think this is a game for Lamar Miller to finally break out and score his first touchdown as a Texan. The Colts are still soft against the run, because what else would you expect from Ryan Grigson building the defense? I really think the Texans are going to seize this opportunity at home in prime time to play their most complete game of the season, but I also kind of expect to see Luck flirt with another 17-21 point comeback in the second half. In other words, a typical Colts-Texans game in the years that Houston is quasi-competitive.

2016 Week 6 Predictions

Like I said, the Chargers came through for a change.

Winners in bold:

  • Browns at Titans
  • Steelers at Dolphins
  • Rams at Lions
  • Ravens at Giants
  • Panthers at Saints
  • Eagles at Redskins
  • Bengals at Patriots
  • 49ers at Bills
  • Jaguars at Bears
  • Chiefs at Raiders
  • Cowboys at Packers
  • Falcons at Seahawks
  • Colts at Texans
  • Jets at Cardinals
  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Season: 40-37

NFL Week 5 Predictions: Low Ratings Edition

So ratings are down 11 percent in the NFL. I could have predicted this given the indisputable facts that Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady was suspended, and 11 percent of all NFL interest still comes back to arguing about them.

Okay, but on a more serious note, this league has had the No-Name Chicago Bears and Blaine Gabbert on in prime time twice each before Columbus Day. What did you expect? Week 5 seriously got started with Drew Stanton completing less than 50 percent of his passes and Phil Simms praising Gabbert for missing important throws. It’s not going to get any better with the farcical Presidential debate going on tomorrow night during Giants-Packers, and no Cam Newton against the Buccaneers on Monday night. The prime-time games have just been bad, and I’ve taken a few naps during the middle portions of them. It is hard to watch an island game that’s just bad football with countless commercial breaks for three hours.

Is the national anthem controversy sparked by Colin Kaepernick part of the decline? It could be. I’ve seen some weird people (Trump supporters, go figure) on Twitter saying how they’ve stopped watching for this reason, but overall I think it’s just been about the quality of the product. Chiefs-Steelers seemed like a nice game on paper, but the casual fan could have turned over to HBO for Westworld at 9 p.m. last week. It was a first-quarter knockout, and that was one of the good games on the prime-time schedule. Do  you really want to watch Jets-Cardinals next Monday night? That was a bad idea in April.

We’ll see if the ratings return to normal once the election is over, The Walking Dead goes on winter break, and the stakes get higher with each passing week of the regular season. But right now, the NFL is pushing crap games and it shouldn’t be shocked if people aren’t willing to put in the time. Life is too short to see if Ryan Tannehill has a breakout year in him. (In fact, that’s good advice for the Miami Dolphins too.)

Falcons at Broncos

We at least have one standout matchup this week: the red-hot Atlanta offense going into Denver against the most-respected defense in the NFL right now. Yes, defense usually beats offense in such meetings, but not always, and definitely not always in a Week 5 regular-season game. In fact, I can recall the 2006 season when Peyton Manning led the Colts into Denver in Week 8. The Broncos were 5-1, and had only allowed 3-7 points in each of their last five games (26 points total). It wasn’t that scary of a defense by personnel, but it did have Champ Bailey, John Lynch, Al Wilson and a rookie pass-rusher named Elvis Dumervil. Manning and Reggie Wayne had one of the best games of their careers in the 34-31 shootout win. The Colts of course won the Super Bowl that year, and I believe that team is being honored this weekend in its matchup against the Bears for a 10th-year anniversary.

Anyway, I’ve always viewed Matt Ryan as the poor man’s Manning, but he’s off to probably his best four-game start ever this season. Unfortunately, he’s seen nothing even close to a defense like this yet this season. Carolina did not have anyone capable of keeping up with Julio Jones last week in the 500/300 game for this combo. Denver has a couple of corners capable of containing Jones. That’s the biggest difference, because this Atlanta offense is not very deep at receiver. The other guys are more pedestrian at best. This isn’t like 2012 when Roddy White was still a stud. Contain Julio, and the passing game, which has historically not gone as well for Ryan on the road, should not be as efficient this week. If there’s somewhere for Atlanta to attack, it may be with its running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Broncos have not been as stout there this year, and I could see Freeman popping a big one.

But these offenses do share some similarities in that it’s the Shanahan/Kubiak style of WCO, utilizing zone-blocking scheme and play-action/bootlegs. The Falcons had a great touchdown bomb to a wide-open TE last week with a bootleg play. Ryan is definitely thriving in Year Two of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but this is something Kubiak and Phillips should be very familiar with. I know Denver has a quarterback concern with Trevor Siemian as questionable, but I’m not even that worried about Paxton Lynch if the rookie has to make his first start. He was airing it out like crazy last week against Tampa Bay, so the Broncos will not hold back with him. I also think the Falcons are a pretty poor defense despite having the outside corners to contend with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. This might be a bounce-back game for C.J. Anderson and the running game.

As I tweeted after last week’s game, Atlanta’s first four games have been historically high scoring.

The Falcons can stake their claim as the No. 1 team in everyone’s meaningless power rankings with impressive showings the next two weeks on the road in Denver and Seattle. However, I think they’ll fall completely on their face in at least one of these matchups, and this is the one where I think they’ll come back to earth offensively. I don’t expect a blowout, because Denver almost never does that to anyone (three times in 23 games under Kubiak), but I don’t see the offensive production continuing for Atlanta here.

Best of the Rest

What else am I looking at in Week 5? It’s not a very good week…

Jets at Steelers – I’ve been a Darrelle Revis fan since he was at Pitt, but it’s been tough to see him play this year. He’s allowing 16 yards per target, by far the worst in the league. It doesn’t sound like he’ll play in this big matchup with Antonio Brown, but that might actually be a good thing for the Jets at this point. I worry that the Steelers might rest on their laurels after the huge win against KC, but this should be a game they take care of well at home. There’s a huge mismatch in play-action passing here. However, I still think Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall are going to play well. Fitzpatrick has to know his job is hanging on the line with nine interceptions in two games. Another pick parade, and I can’t see how Todd Bowles can keep putting him out there at 1-4.

Eagles at Lions – Well, here we go again, Eagles fans. The Lions are 32nd in defensive DVOA, and 31st against short passes. They’re also 28th against deep passes, so it’s really been a shitshow start for this unit. The Lions have been a huge disappointment since blowing a 12-point lead in the 4Q to the Titans in Week 2. Now they need a win against a 3-0 team that’s coming off the bye and has played very well, balanced football. It doesn’t look good for the Lions, and I think Carson Wentz should have another good game. It’s just a matter of how much credit does he really deserve when it’s feasting on another bad opponent? I’m all for opponent adjustments in stats. It’s absolutely not the same when you play the worst defense in the league compared to one of the best, like Matt Ryan will be doing in Denver. However, I’m not sure if we’re going about opponent adjustments the best way we can, because when you think about it, the concept of a team’s defense is constantly changing due to injuries and players being benched. Detroit is likely to play without its best pass rusher (Ezekiel Ansah) and linebacker (DeAndre Levy) again this week. So far, Andrew Luck in Week 1 was the only QB to face the 2016 Lions with Ansash (2 GS) and Levy (1 GS) on the field. It definitely should make a difference in playing Detroit without Ansah and Levy vs. playing Detroit with them, but how do we account for that statistically in a way that’s not so arbitrary? You can almost say a team’s defense (or any unit) has 16 one-game seasons rather than one singular unit playing a 16-game season. I wish I had some good answers for how to account for this better, but I haven’t put in the work to do so. I just know it’s an unfortunate issue with opponent adjustments.

Patriots at Browns – Let’s dial back on the “Angry Brady” narrative. Truth be told, he’s probably played just about every game since Spygate with a sandy va-well that’s not very presidential of me to say. But I really find it a tiresome narrative. Quarterbacks should always be motivated, and the Patriots should be extra motivated after a 16-0 shutout loss to Buffalo last week. Do I expect Cleveland to lose? Absolutely; this is the only winless team in the league, but it’s not a historically bad team. It’s just a lousy Cleveland team. Do I expect a total domination by the Patriots? Not necessarily, because the Browns are at home and have played competitively the last few weeks. And it’s not like the Patriots with Brady dominated this team in 2010 (lost 34-14) or 2013 (won 27-26 after needing a late onside kick for a comeback). Much like that 2010 game fueled by Peyton Hillis, the Browns need to run the ball well and control the clock with Isaiah Crowell, who is off to a great start in Hue Jackson’s offense. I don’t expect much from this game, but I certainly don’t expect a Brady masterpiece because he’s “angry.”

2016 Week 5 Predictions

I had the Cardinals by double digits on TNF, and that surprisingly worked out after it looked like neither team would score if you gave them 75 minutes of game time. Turnovers are a bitch.

Winners in bold:

  • Redskins at Ravens
  • Bears at Colts
  • Texans at Vikings
  • Patriots at Browns
  • Eagles at Lions
  • Titans at Dolphins
  • Jets at Steelers
  • Falcons at Broncos
  • Bengals at Cowboys
  • Bills at Rams
  • Chargers at Raiders
  • Giants at Packers
  • Buccaneers at Panthers

Man, all Derek Anderson does in Carolina is excel in garbage time and starting against Tampa Bay. I also wish the debate was on Monday instead, because Giants-Packers could be decent. If Odell Beckham Jr. has a dominant, great game, it will sadly get less attention than one of his tantrum games gets. But don’t take my Beckham prediction to the bank. Even though I plan to use him heavily in DFS this week, my overall game predictions have started about as poorly as any season I can remember.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Season: 33-30

NFL Week 4 Predictions: Pump the Brakes Edition

I’m going to fire off a rant here, so if you don’t know the backstory, let me quickly catch you up: Shocking, but after three games, I don’t think Carson Wentz is the greatest rookie QB to ever live. I pointed out that Wentz has thrown the third-shortest passes through three weeks, and naturally, this turned the Eagles fan base into an angry mob. I was even getting criticized for pointing out an argument in my mentions between a Cowboys fan and Eagles fan. This was all fueled even more by one of the most cherry-picked articles you’ll ever see by one of their writers. Apparently picking out 12% of specific plays beats a statistical analysis of all 100% these days. Straw men were created at record rates, including things I never said such as Wentz is bad, Wentz never throws deep because he can’t, that I hate Wentz, and insert any other thing you want that’s unfounded. I never said if Wentz’s play has been good, bad or indifferent. I just did what I’ve always done for six years: told people to pump the brakes on unjustified hype, but when you try to knock a player down a few pegs, people automatically assume you hate that player. Welcome to the 2010s, I guess, where being rational isn’t as good as calling a guy “pre-snap Peyton, post-snap Rodgers” after three games.

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I had an exciting idea for a post today, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the timing was not right. While I’ll almost inevitably want to write it within the month, I’m going to take the high road today, or at least a medium road.

Sure, it was easy in 2012 to absolutely shred a random internet dude after he questioned the effort of my work online. But that’s because I was mostly just a random internet dude myself at the time. There are more eyes on what I do now, including current (and perhaps future) employers. When there aren’t that many full-time jobs in this business, a thought I try to repress 24/7, I cannot afford to blow mine by eviscerating someone that’s completely not worth the time. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I very rarely block people, and probably put up with more crap than the average user does. I’m not afraid to use the Mute button, but I haven’t thrown many Block parties in my 5-plus years.

This week, I had an epiphany, and I guess you could say it took the rabid Eagles fanbase to help me get there. I’ve written negative things about the Eagles before, and was proven right by the way (Michael Vick contract was a joke and the good starts in 2012-14 were fool’s gold), but I think people have gotten extra sensitive in recent years. Then with a 3-0 start for a team that, let’s be honest, has been barely relevant for the better part of a decade, I suppose optimism is really high right now. You have a young generation of Eagles fans that don’t really know what it’s like to experience disappointment after expectations.

So when one of their leading voices defends the flag, that awful Twitter herd mentality takes over and you get mobbed by a bunch of people united with the same beliefs. Homerism at its finest (and worst). That’s the difference with what I do. I can raise the flag or burn it down for all 32 teams any time I want, so I don’t really unite any one fanbase behind me. I can at least gather an intelligent following to laugh at some of the ridiculous mentions I get, but I’m realizing I probably give those people more time than they deserve.

My epiphany was quite simple. You don’t block someone just because of what they said; you block them so you don’t have to see what they say next. I’m not going to keep the line of communication open if I know what type of slop is coming out the other end. If you can’t engage in a civilized way, or you’re clearly just another sheep in the herd, I shouldn’t respond, and I should just take a course of action that guarantees we won’t butt heads any time down the road as well.

So I started blocking these people — 71 in all this week. A few may actually have been at a quasi-professional level, or more than just a rabid fan, but if they’re just going to subtweet and create straw man arguments with the best of them, then I don’t have time for them either. If you want to say something, @ me.

Twitter is not always the greatest place for debate due to the 140-character limit, but some people could do much better. Thinking purely as a fan, I would have no problem in tweeting at writers I disagree with, but my motivation would be to actually show where they were wrong or what my disagreement was. I wouldn’t just resort to a petty insult or ride the coattails of what another writer tried to say about them.

I’ve found this is how most people expose themselves as being worthy of a block. When someone who has likely just stumbled upon you for the first time starts with this “you don’t watch the games” crap, just block that person. First of all, would it really be that hard to fathom that a full-time NFL writer would watch Week 2 Monday Night Football, or that someone from Pittsburgh would watch the Week 3 Steelers-Eagles game? Is that really that hard to believe? Are they only showing Eagles games on limited edition VHS tapes these days? Are they that obscure now? Never mind the fact that I have countless tweets in my history from live-tweeting those two Eagles games. Never mind the fact that I do a weekly column that recaps games, albeit the Eagles have yet to appear in it yet this season. Never mind the fact that I’m always ripping NFL Game Pass so much that I just got an email on Friday to speak to members of that product to talk about how it can be improved. What do you think I use Game Pass for, to masturbate to Cris Collinsworth’s face? I watch games every week, I watch them in the offseason, and I have a collection of over 1,200 on DVD. If you knew anything about my work, you wouldn’t bring up such nonsense.

Then there’s the typical “numbers are for nerds” crap. Block those people too. Numbers aren’t just for nerds. You need to understand numbers to some degree just to get through life as an adult. I was shocked at how many people failed to understand the concept of air yards this week. They kept confusing them with yards per attempt or yards per completion. You don’t know how many times I had to hear about some dropped passes in September by the Eagles this week. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard about any drops more than these. And if common sense prevailed, they would understand that whether or not a pass is caught has nothing to do with how far it was actually thrown. Now I understand why there are so many concerns about education in this country.

The people who try to connect my Wentz tweets to a Pittsburgh loss or some pre-draft evaluation are beyond clueless. Do you know how many times I’ve read “well he must not like Tom Brady’s style of dink and dunk either.” Uhh, yeah, I’ve been downgrading him for that since I was in high school. Again, if you knew anything about my work, you would know I’m just being consistent in my analysis of the game, highlighting the things I find to be important and applying them to what’s gone on so far this season. As for “Draft Twitter”, I’m not a part of that. I don’t study the college players like those people do. I made many tweets about Wentz in the offseason leading up to the draft, but I was pointing out things about his role that might be a red flag for the NFL. Why in the world should I go back on a tweet where I said he’d need to have great insulation to succeed? We’re three weeks into the season, and this kid has the No. 1 defense, the best starting field position, the third-shortest throws, the third-most YAC, the second-lowest pressure rate, and has played virtually with the lead almost all season long against very suspect defensive competition. Go ahead, try naming a DB in Chicago. On what planet would I not be calling these things out for another QB? That’s heavy insulation. He’s played better than I expected, but he’s had a great situation, and they haven’t had to ask him to carry the team yet. That doesn’t mean he can’t, or that he won’t when given the chance, but it hasn’t happened yet. So why would I go back on something that, through three weeks, has been proven right? Why would I completely change my mind on how I’ve always viewed short-passing games? Go figure that Wentz is dead last in ALEX (-2.2) for all downs this year, but allegedly that just shows my bias too. Sure, a stat I created in 2015 when no one outside of North Dakota knew who Wentz was has him dead last among QBs at attacking the sticks through three games in 2016. I must have hated this dude before he was even born too, right?

I’ll give Wentz more credit when I believe he’s earned it, just as I would for any player. My knowledge of NFL history and use of statistics prevent me from making foolish claims that he’s the best ever after three games. Sorry, that’s just how I do things. You can always find another source to tell you things are better than they are. If you can’t see my future opinions because you’ve been blocked, then maybe you’ll reevaluate how you approach someone for the first time about their work.

/ENDRANT

Week 4’s Key Games

We do actually have some good games this week, so here are my thoughts on a few of them.

Carolina at Atlanta

I think this is the most interesting game of the week, and also a very important one in the NFC. Are the Panthers still a contender, and are the Falcons one this year after they should have did better in 2015? After Monday night, I realized I couldn’t wait to see these teams match up, and was very pleased to see it was happening this Sunday. For as good as Atlanta’s offense has been, we have to keep in mind the opponents have been the Bucs, Raiders and Saints, or three lousy defenses. The Panthers still bring it on that side of the ball, so this is a great chance for Atlanta to show if year two of the Kyle Shanahan offense is really this legit with the bigger emphasis on the running game. On the other side of the ball, some shaky starts by the Panthers this year even with Kelvin Benjamin back. The lack of production for him and Devin Funchess last week was pretty alarming against the Vikings. Atlanta has some good corners and just shut Brandin Cooks down on Monday night. Again, an all-around huge opportunity for Atlanta to take a nice lead in the NFC South at 3-1 while dropping the Panthers to 1-3. I know it just feels wrong to pick that, and a strong front seven against Matt Ryan combined with a less than 100% Julio Jones and Atlanta’s weak run defense feels like a Carolina win, but I think I’ll go with the home team here.

Seattle at NY Jets

Much like the Rams game in Week 2, this feels like another road game with a hobbled Russell Wilson against a strong defensive line where I should be picking Seattle to lose. Not to mention it’s a long trip and early start time. But then I think of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 6-pick game last week, and the suspect health of his top receivers, and I think it’s going to be an all-around struggle. I still like Seattle to win, though if the 91-game no blowout streak was ever in jeopardy, it could be this game that does it in should Wilson turn it over a few times.

NY Giants at Minnesota

This was a rout last year in a game Odell Beckham was suspended for. I’d like to see a closer game this time, and that shouldn’t be hard to pull off. The main thing is can Minnesota score points on offense? They’re at 15.5 PPG in the two Sam Bradford starts. You can’t rely on D/ST scores every week, though they’ve come through twice now for Minnesota. That secondary should get a great test against NY’s 3-WR attack, but I still like the Vikings to force some Eli mistakes in this one.

Buffalo at New England

It’s almost impossible to lure the Patriots into a trap game, especially after 10 days’ rest, but I have a weird feeling about this one. Yeah, Buffalo always loses to NE, Rex has stunk against Bill since 2011, they lost Sammy Watkins, and everything sounds pretty bad, but don’t things almost sound too rosy for the Patriots? “Oh, they can win with any QB.” Well, what if it’s an injured QB, and which one is it going to be? That seems like a pretty big deal to me. I think a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo makes this a no-brainer, but if he’s still injured or if it’s Jacoby Brissett, then I could see Tyrod Taylor outdueling them in this one with a refocused running game led by LeSean McCoy. I’m still obviously picking New England, but keep this one as an upset alert.

Kansas City at Pittsburgh

Great game on paper, and another important one in the AFC. The main thing to watch is if the Chiefs try to exploit a lot of the horizontal passing the Eagles, a very similar offense, succeeded with a week ago against the Steelers in one of the worst games I’ve ever seen this team play. Granted, a lot of injuries to the middle of the defense during the game didn’t help, but Ryan Shazier is out while the Chiefs get Jamaal Charles back. I doubt Charles is up to his usual effectiveness, but that should be a lift of some sorts for the team. I don’t think Roethlisberger will fear any Marcus Peters-Antonio Brown matchup, but Peters does have incredible ball skills. Le’Veon Bell’s return is another huge story, but it’s not going to be that good if the offensive line doesn’t open up more room than it has in the last two games. But more than anything, can the Steelers get some sacks? They have one in three games, and it was after Andy Dalton held the ball for 7 seconds and tried to scramble for a 0-yard loss. That’s pretty pathetic, but we know Alex Smith is open to taking sacks, so I think the Steelers will collect several at home in this one and score enough for the win.

2016 Week 4 Predictions

I had the Bengals on TNF, but didn’t it look like the Dolphins were ready to show something after that TD bomb to open the game? Then…nothing. It’s as if Joe Philbin has never stopped coaching that team.

 Winners in bold:

  • Colts at Jaguars
  • Browns at Redskins
  • Lions at Bears
  • Bills at Patriots
  • Titans at Texans
  • Panthers at Falcons
  • Seahawks at Jets
  • Raiders at Ravens
  • Broncos at Buccaneers
  • Rams at Cardinals
  • Saints at Chargers
  • Cowboys at 49ers
  • Chiefs at Steelers
  • Giants at Vikings

Yes, I picked the Broncos to lose in Tampa Bay. I’ve also shown I have no clue what I’m doing at picking Buccaneer games since 2015.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Season: 25-23