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 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

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Embracing Mediocrity

I always like it when the afternoon games I’m most interested in are on my local CBS and FOX affiliates, which is the case this week. Without failure, each season someone is shocked that I don’t have Sunday Ticket, but why would I ever want or need such an expensive service? I prefer to watch a full live game if I can, particularly the Steelers, but I also have the RedZone channel. Then there’s Game Pass and torrents. So I get the league-wide access I need at a favorable cost. If there’s a drive full of 4-yard papercuts to Jarvis Landry that I need to see, I’ll see it in due time. No worries.

Bengals at Steelers

This is easily the game of the week. That may not mean it will play out as the best, but it is the most important game — the next chapter in a heated rivalry. It also brings up one of the more fascinating stats in the NFL: Marvin Lewis is 6-7 in Pittsburgh, but 2-13 at home against the Steelers (including two crushing playoff losses). The road team just happens to play better in this series, and Cincinnati’s 6-7 record in Pittsburgh trails only Jacksonville (3-1) and New England (3-2) since 2003 among teams with at least 3 trips to Heinz Field. Part of this weird split is that Ben Roethlisberger’s stats are better in Cincinnati than at home where he has had some of the worst games of his career in low-scoring struggles, including last season’s 16-10, three-pick defeat. At least this won’t be a game where Roethlisberger is just returning from injury as was the case last year.

In his career, Roethlisberger is 54-4 at home when the Steelers allow fewer than 21 points, but three of those losses were to the Bengals. Lewis’ defense has a good feel for defending this offense, including pressuring Ben and containing Antonio Brown as a receiver (he does have 3 punt return touchdowns against the Bengals). In Brown’s last 48 games with Roethlisberger at quarterback, he’s had at least 5 catches in all 48, and at least 70 yards in 40 of them. Only the Ravens (4), Bengals (3) and Seahawks (1) have held this duo under 70 yards. I think the Bengals can limit his damage again this week, and A.J. Green is going to have the bigger game. He almost has to with both offenses experiencing many departures, putting the onus on their star receivers to dominate. Heath Miller retired, Ladarius Green and Tyler Eifert are injured, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are gone, Martavis Bryant is suspended and Markus Wheaton appears to still be injured. This means newcomers have to contribute, including Eli Rogers, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd. While a game of HORSE between Brown and Green would be interesting, the offense that gets more secondary receiver contributions is likely to win this game. I do not think either running game is going to go off, though I’d give the Steelers the edge there with DeAngelo Williams still looking really good at an advanced age behind this offensive line. I’m still not sure what to think of Jeremy Hill after a disappointing 2015, and he’ll especially be happy if Ryan Shazier isn’t at full strength after Shazier’s dominant playoff game helped eliminate the Bengals. The Steelers ought to be happy that Vontaze Burfict is still suspended for this one after Burfcit injured Le’Veon Bell, Ben and Brown on hits last season.

Defensively, I would be concerned that the Steelers did not get much rush on Washington and gave up their share of plays, but got enough big stops to limit the points to 16. That is always key, but a similar offense in Cincinnati should get rid of the ball quickly and there really is no one capable of matching up with Green in this secondary. Andy Dalton is usually one of the best-protected quarterbacks in the NFL, but he took seven sacks on the road last week. The Steelers are going to have to get their front seven to deliver more this week. I would expect a few sacks from the Bengals of Roethlisberger, but he’ll be glad to see no Reggie Nelson in the secondary. The offense had few problems in the last three quarters against Washington, but must build off that performance. You saw the ugly first quarter and how a few turnovers could really change the game around. The Bengals have the better defense in this matchup.

So home field has been established as pretty irrelevant in this particular series, but I do give the Steelers a slight edge going into this one. They’ll be happy to be home given six of their last seven games were on the road thanks to being a 6th seed in the playoffs last year and opening this year on the road. Monday night’s performance was impressive enough for me to think this offense is clicking well enough early despite the personnel losses that they can pull out a close one here.

Bengals 21, Steelers 24

Colts at Broncos

I hope I’m not relying too much on “fighting narratives” to make game picks this season, especially after a bad Week 1. But this was a game where I picked the Broncos to win when I went through all 256 games before opening night. Yes, it is true that Andrew Luck has had great success against the Broncos (3-1), including the most efficient and effective game any QB had against them last year while he lacerated his kidney. Maybe he took those matchups with Peyton Manning personally, really wanting to impress the Indy fans. He doesn’t need any extra motivation to avoid going 0-2 this week, but he hasn’t seen this Wade Phillips’ called defense on the road yet. The Broncos are still very much led by that defense, which feeds on the crowd energy to play even better at home. Trevor Siemian threw one pass over 15 yards in Week 1 and it was intercepted. He may get a boost this week with the Colts’ beat-up defensive unit struggling to get pressure and cover receivers. The Demaryius Thomas injury is a little concerning given Denver is basically two deep at that position, but I like Emmanuel Sanders this week. Right now, Siemian looks like Alex Smith without the draft pedigree, but the Broncos can win with that as long as C.J. Anderson is making great cuts behind an improved run-blocking line. Luck looked great last week, but I fear his line on the road this week against a much tougher unit. I absolutely think the Colts can win this one since you really don’t need to score many points to beat Denver, but I just don’t see it working out this time. The Colts need more of a big defensive effort than a big game from Luck (smart will do).

Colts 17, Broncos 20

Seahawks at Rams

I always like to say I get a lot of predictions wrong throughout the season, but I still get more right. It never fails to amaze me when I mention a long streak and it gets broken in the next game or two. All throughout the summer I feared a Russell Wilson injury this year due to his unusually good durability despite a frantic playing style behind a porous offensive line. Was this the year that would catch up to Seattle? Then he hurts his ankle in Week 1 and just barely limps to a late win over Miami. Unless the Seahawks are covering it up, Wilson seems to have avoided the dreaded high-ankle sprain and will start on Sunday. We don’t know anything about what Injured Russell Wilson looks like since he’s always been healthy. However, if his mobility is limited, then that’s a huge problem against a Rams defense that always gives him fits even when he’s on his game. Who saw the Rams going into Seattle in Week 16 and pulling out that win? Jeff Fisher can’t sniff a real Super Bowl again, so he treats these Seattle games as his team’s Super Bowl, and the success has been pretty good given Seattle’s overall dominance since 2012.

After the game on Sunday, I was determined to pick the Rams to win this game in their home Los Angeles opener given the Wilson injury. And then Monday night happened — an embarrassing 28-0 shutout to Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers, projected to be a bottom-two team this year. They drafted Jared Goff No. 1 to be inactive for this shit? Forget 7-9 bullshit, this looked like the start of 2-14 c*cksucker blues. And they want to give Fisher an extension? It’s madness.

And yet, as much as that game cooled me off the Rams’ upset, I still think they’re going to give Seattle a game here. I just don’t think it’s going to be enough because of that horrific offense against this great Seattle defense. Wilson may not need to throw for 100 yards. Just don’t turn the ball over.

Rams 6, Seahawks 16

Packers at Vikings

Opening a new stadium should be a joyous occasion, but in Minnesota, the throng of yawns in the air have already given the new place a stale smell of boredom and disinterest. Nothing can suck the life out of a fan base more than having to start Sam Bradford at quarterback after trading a first-round pick for him. Vikings fans, get ready to embrace mediocrity.

Mediocrity would actually be an improvement over most of Bradford’s career, but it’s really the best-case scenario this year. He plays at a league-average level, but does just enough in the right moments to get this team enough wins. Adrian Peterson is going to have to play much better than last week, though the Titans were built to stop the run and stink at the pass. Green Bay is a solid, but not great defense, and Sam Shields being out should help. I wouldn’t expect much from Bradford, but honestly, why would you ever expect much from Sam Bradford?

The other side of the ball is what interests me most about this one, because what the hell has happened to this Green Bay passing game? It went from years of being one of the most efficient attacks ever to a broken mess. Where are the timing plays and the chemistry on the back-shoulder throws? Anymore this offense works best by producing broken plays and taking advantage of offside penalties. It’s not sustainable, and it hasn’t been effective even though the Week 11 game in Minnesota is one of two times the offense has scored 30 offensive points in the last 13 games.

Aaron Rodgers has five seasons with at least 8.2 YPA.  He still ranks 5th all time in YPA (7.99). So it’s incredible when one of the most efficient passers ever has been held under 6.0 YPA in five of his last six games. That’s something Rodgers has only done in 12 other starts in his career. He’s been held under 7.0 YPA in 11 of his last 13 games (including playoffs). One of those two was the Hail Mary in Detroit to boost him up. Even though Jordy Nelson returned last week, he wasn’t the same receiver as he didn’t make the big plays. In fact, his 6 catches for 32 yards (5.33 YPC) is the lowest YPC he’s ever had in a game with more than 1 catch.

The effect this stretch of play is having on Rodgers’ career stats is interesting. He was at 8.22 YPA thru 116 regular-season games. Now after going a Joey Harrington-esque 5.96 YPA in his last 11 games, he’s down to 7.99. He still manages his TD-to-INT ratio well, but it’s hard to call this depressed passing game effective. Keep in mind the Packers are 6-7 since a 6-0 start last year. Rodgers has tore up the Vikings many times in his career, but not last year against Mike Zimmer’s defense. I think that defense rises to the occasion in this one, but the offense lets them down as Green Bay does just enough to sneak away with the win in the new stadium.

Packers 19, Vikings 16

2016 Week 2 Predictions

Well I was some 7-9 bullshit in a bad opening week. At least I changed my mind on the Jets starting 0-6 to give them the Thursday win over a growing mess in Buffalo. See, Ryan Fitzpatrick sucks against Rex Ryan defenses, but that Rob Ryan D is another story.

Winners in bold

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

Week 1: 7-9

NFL Week 1 Predictions: Upsets & Awards

I almost refuse to work on Saturdays during the offseason, but I don’t mind it during the season when it comes to making predictions here or doing that last-minute research for Sunday.

I even got a rare Saturday article at FO, the first of its kind for me. I interviewed a former NFL player, picking Jamal Anderson’s brain over what was different for the 1998 Falcons, one of the biggest surprise Super Bowl teams and quick turnarounds ever. And you know I had to ask about the Dirty Bird and Curse of 370. So that was something cool and different for me to do.

Now back to the stuff I’m used to doing. The full season predictions posted below were an epic-length post even by my standards, so I left the award predictions for today.

Award Predictions

  • MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • OPOY: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • DPOY: Aaron Donald, Rams (think J.J. Watt’s health fails him)
  • Coach: Mike Tomlin, Steelers (really couldn’t think of a good answer for this one based on my playoff seeds)
  • OROY: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (would be cool if it’s Tajae Sharpe)
  • DROY: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
  • Comeback: Andrew Luck, Colts (the “because he sucked the year before” variety)

In the last two years I picked the MVP from my top-seeded team, and both picks were disasters with the 2014 Saints (Drew Brees) and 2015 Colts (Luck). Hopefully I didn’t put the jinx on Roethlisberger and the Steelers, though you can read in my predictions why I’m already cautious about their success this year.

The reason I pick Roethlisberger is that I think he’s playing as well as he ever has in the last couple of seasons. I think QB should pretty much always win MVP, so when you look at his competition this year, it’s not very deep and there are some real question marks, including how Luck will play. But with Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady suspended, Aaron Rodgers coming off his worst year, Drew Brees on a bad team, and Tony Romo hurt, the field has really shrunk. Yes, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson are right there, and I think it comes down to these guys staying healthy and they should all be high up there again by the end of the season. Yes, I see some people picking Cam Newton for back-to-back MVPs, but I never thought he deserved it last year and he’s off to the wrong start this season. In fact, I put together a chart of every first-team All-Pro QB season since 1989 and Newton’s season stands out in a bad way.

dyarap

Newton is the only season with fewer than 1,100 DYAR. In the last two seasons, Roethlisberger has had passing DYAR of 1,114 (missed four games) and 1,572 (1st in 2014). In addition to his play, shouldn’t he have a preset argument with all the skill guys that have been injured or suspended around him? Le’Veon Bell suspended for three games, Martavis Bryant gone for the year, Heath Miller retired and they put Ladarius Green on PUP for at least six weeks. Now that gives me some concern about how good this offense will be, but I think as long as Ben and Antonio Brown stay healthy, they’ll have enough to be successful. And therein lies the rub. Instead of debating Roethlisberger for MVP, I see Antonio Brown for MVP, which would be the first wide receiver to ever win the AP’s MVP award. That’s some 7-9 bullshit thinking right there. They call it a passing league, not a catching league. What has Brown accomplished without QB1 in the lineup? Not much, and for a wide receiver to truly win MVP, I think he’d have to have a mediocre QB at best and make some unbelievable plays that tip the balance of several high-profile games for a team that makes the playoffs. You would need a passing offense with stats where the QB was significantly more efficient and productive when throwing to this wideout than the rest of the receivers. Calvin Johnson may have been able to do this in past years, yet he never even came close to being MVP in Detroit.

But it’s really just typical mainstream NFL media giving Roethlisberger the Rodney Dangerfield “No Respect” treatment. I wrote about this during the 2014 season, and not much has changed. I know he doesn’t help himself by missing games most years, but few quarterbacks play at his level on a yearly basis. As long as the health is there, he has to be a top MVP candidate.

Week 1 Upsets

I have a few games I wanted to share some thoughts on in particular this week.

Pittsburgh at Washington

Well, this might not help the Roethlisberger MVP campaign. My thinking on Monday night’s opener is that Washington is going to pounce on a weakened Pittsburgh roster. While the pre-game narrative is going to be “Washington didn’t beat a good team last year and is Kirk Cousins legit?”, I think the Redskins and Cousins will put on a show in this one. Or at least for 3.5 quarters before maybe a PIT comeback, but it’s a tough matchup when you lose Bud Dupree, don’t have much in the secondary, and will be without RB1 (Bell), WR2 (Markus Wheaton) and TE1 (Green). Washington may not be able to run much, but I think the receiving corps is very deep and will give the Steelers trouble as long as Cousins is getting rid of the ball quickly. I’ve just seen too many instances of the Steelers laying an egg, especially offensively, on road games in prime time. I think the offense will need to step up in this one (24-point minimum), and while I don’t have any real fear of Josh Norman shutting down Antonio Brown, it is a limited PIT offense this week and Brown shouldn’t go off all night. I’d play Sammie Coates a lot because I think he’s the closest thing to Martavis on the roster, but the coaches seem to be emphatically in favor of Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey. And then Jesse James is the best TE at this point. Ho-hum.

I still have Pittsburgh going 12-4 and Washington 7-9, but at least for one night, I think it’s Hail to the Redskins.

Pittsburgh 16, Washington 24

Green Bay at Jacksonville

So much great, young defensive talent in Jacksonville after the last two draft hauls and bringing Malik Jackson over from Denver. The problem is this unit has never played together in a meaningful game, and Dante Fowler, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey have yet to play a regular-season game period. They’ll get a great test right away with the Packers, especially if Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy are playing at a high level. But I think with the recent offensive line shuffle and the Jaguars being at home, the Packers are going to face some good pressure and struggle to run the ball. When healthy, I think Jordy Nelson is one of the best in the game, but I’m a little skeptical of him this week. No reason to think too highly of Davante Adams or new tight end Jared Cook either. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have plenty of options in their skill players, but Blake Bortles needs to avoid the mistakes that plagued him last year. He can make a lot of good plays, but just hasn’t been consistent enough in his first two seasons.

Much like with Pittsburgh, I still think Green Bay has a great season and the Jaguars lose double-digit games, but for one week, it’s about the home team.

Green Bay 20, Jacksonville 24

New England at Arizona

If you know me well, then you know I basically always pick New England to win its game. This would have been a good one to test myself as I think it’s a loss even if Tom Brady was the quarterback. Arizona is a very talented, tough road opponent. This is  rough spot for Jimmy Garoppolo to make his first start, and when you take Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder out of the game too, that’s just asking for trouble. Bill Belichick would be pulling off a major upset with a win here, which I think can only happen if Carson Palmer really has turned into 2009 Jake Delhomme and implodes again with turnovers. Maybe a Jamie Collins pick-six, because I do think the defense for New England will keep this at least competitive.

The Gronkowski injury news coming late in the week intrigues me as potential out-of-the-box thinking from the Pats again. Keep an eye on his status next week to see how quickly he heals. I honestly believe Belichick is the only coach who would not go all in on a Week 1 non-conference game that he doesn’t think his team has a realistic shot to win. If you expect to lose, why play one of your most important players at less than 100% health? I doubt Gronk will miss a division game coming up.

New England 19, Arizona 27

2015 Week 1 Predictions

I took an L to start the year with Carolina losing a 10-point lead in Denver and Graham Gano missing a 50-yard field goal at the end. Real “game of inches” stuff to start the season.

Winners in bold

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

Oh fudge, that’s 13 home winners including Denver. You know that’s not right, but this is part of what makes Week 1 so fun. And it is very important too. That Bills at Ravens game was my deciding factor in which team I picked for the AFC’s second wild-card team.

NFL Week 15 Predictions: Carolina Is the Worst 13-0 Team Ever

The only Week 15 game where both teams have a winning record is Denver (10-3) at Pittsburgh (8-5). Things are not set in stone with three games left, but this is the 25th game this season between teams who currently have a winning record. The home team is 16-8 (.667), and these two teams were actually involved in half of the losses thanks to splitting their season series (all road wins) with the Chiefs and Bengals.

That is not to say this week lacks games that should be competitive. There are just a lot of sub-.500 teams this season, but since they are close to being equal in quality, some games should be decent. I think Detroit at New Orleans could be a fun shootout on Monday night, for example. As for the battle for the AFC South between Houston and Indy where the Texans are 0-13 all time, it’s a shame these offenses are reduced to starting an ailing Matt Hasselbeck and a third-string T.J. Yates.

Broncos at Steelers: Best matchup of the season?

This game lost a little bit of its luster with Denver’s loss last week to Oakland, dropping them to the No. 3 seed for the time being, but it’s still a huge game that both teams really need to win if they want to reach their goals this season.

What better matchup could we see this season than the Pittsburgh offense against the Denver defense? This is arguably the best against the best with both units close to having full health. Obviously the Steelers don’t have Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey or Kelvin Beachum, but Ben Roethlisberger is good to go with his cast of receivers, including a now confident (and competent) Markus Wheaton. The Broncos eased DeMarcus Ware back into action last week, and still have Von Miller to rush Ben and the cornerbacks to try covering these wideouts. Denver does have some safety injuries (T.J. Ward, Omar Bolden), so that could be a problem against the AFC’s best vertical passing game. But this is pretty close to getting these units at their best in Week 15. Definitely better health than what the Patriots and Broncos had in their meeting a few weeks ago.

Typically, we see the defense win in these matchups, but that’s usually in a playoff atmosphere where you already expect defense to get more leeway with the whistles and aggressive play. I really like the Steelers at home, and I don’t think they have to score 30 points to win, which is something they’ve done in five straight games for the first time in team history. The Broncos, no matter which quarterback is starting this year, just do not score many points (28th in points per drive). The Steelers can probably put up 24 points and feel great in this one, and I think this offense is more than capable of doing so right now with the variety of ways it can attack a defense. Martavis Bryant can score from anywhere on the field. Antonio Brown can usually get his in any given week. Heath Miller still brings a reliable pair of hands on the short passes as Ben’s security blanket. DeAngelo Williams has been very good in all phases of the game this season. They struggle a little in the red zone, but this offense can move the ball with the best of them, and you can argue Roethlisberger’s protection has been better than ever. They are basically running the Bruce Arians offense this season with all the vertical routes, which is a bit of a departure from Todd Haley’s more dink-and-dunk approach to the last three seasons. I still expect Roethlisberger to test this defense on the big plays with the safety injuries, and to try making them pay for their aggressive play with some play-action shots.

If the Steelers play a smart game offensively and avoid the turnovers, I really don’t see how Denver’s offense scores enough points to win. They will have to rely on short fields here, and a return score. The Pittsburgh defense certainly gives up a lot of plays and it’s not hard to throw for 300 yards on them, but the turnovers have been coming again this season after a historic drought. Thanks, regression to the mean. Brock Osweiler is a sack machine with his indecisiveness and lack of experience, which are a bad recipe behind an offensive line that clearly stinks. I could see big days for the likes of Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and James Harrison. The Steelers are no slouches against the run either, and Denver’s running game has been very hit or miss all season. Demaryius Thomas has killed the Steelers on some huge plays in past meetings, but he won’t get the kind of defensive looks afforded to Tim Tebow in that playoff game, and I can’t even picture him turning a bubble screen into 10 yards these days, let alone a long touchdown. He has to catch the ball first, and that has been a problem. I could see Emmanuel Sanders wanting to have a huge game against his former team, but his talents are being wasted a bit in an offense that has been so unsuccessful at throwing deep this season. While Peyton Manning kept overthrowing Sanders for much of the year, Osweiler barely even tries throwing the ball over 15 yards. When he does, it’s almost always an incompletion outside of that one drive against the Patriots where he hit two bombs on the way to a go-ahead touchdown. You can tell which people are paying attention to the games and which are watching highlights when they talk about Osweiler’s arm and the deep ball. He’s not helping them in this area at all. He’s gone 22 drives without a touchdown drive. The Broncos need to get Manning back, but a healthy Manning in 2015 may just be a pipe dream at this point.

Final score: Steelers 24, Broncos 16

It Doesn’t Take a Giant to Knock Off an Undefeated — Just the Giants

If you’re a Giants fan, you can celebrate some of the best wins in NFL history, and these were usually done against true giants in seasons where New York was really about average at best. No one really expected any of this to happen.

1934: The 8-5 Giants with their middling statistics beat the dominant 13-0 Bears by a 30-13 final in the 1934 NFL Championship Game.

1998: The 5-8 Giants with Kent Graham at quarterback shocked the 13-0 Broncos, eventual winners of back-to-back Super Bowls by a 20-16 final in Week 15.

2007: The underdog Giants used the greatest drive in NFL history to down the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, holding them to just 14 points in a 17-14 win.

2011: The Giants were outscored by 6 points in the regular season, but played Green Bay very tough in Week 13. In the NFC Divisional Round, the Giants stunned the Packers again in Lambeau with a 37-20 win. Green Bay was 13-0 at one point and 15-1 going into that game.

Maybe this history is what has a lot of people surprisingly on the Giants’ side this week as they host 13-0 Carolina. Maybe it’s the fact that this middling Giants squad has let five games slip away in the fourth quarter this year, including what should have been a win over the superior Patriots.

Count me in on the upset talk.

First, Carolina is just not as good as your usual 13-0 team. Pretty much every advanced statistical metric does not have Carolina as the best team in the NFC, let alone the NFL this year. They certainly don’t compare to the teams I mentioned above, and I really don’t see them as better than the 2005 Colts or 2009 Saints, both of which lost after 13-0 starts themselves.

For all the talk about how soft the 1972 Dolphins’ schedule was — and it sure was — has anyone really looked at Carolina’s schedule? I mean, really look at this thing.

I made a tweet in September about the Falcons’ schedule, which obviously has most of the same games as Carolina, back when Atlanta was a bit more impressive than the Panthers to start the season.

ATLtweet

People love to bring this up on Sundays as Atlanta keeps losing even though I said I’m not predicting 16-0, but they’re missing the point. I picked out the right schedule, but wrong team for 16-0. You know how we make all those jokes about this year’s AFC South and NFC East? Well that’s half of Carolina’s schedule. This schedule is the main reason the Panthers have a very good shot at 16-0, and this Giants team is really the last big obstacle in their way assuming they go all out with starters in the final weeks.

Carolina’s 2015 schedule has been an unbelievable combination of bad teams and drawing decent teams at the perfect moment. I can think of at least 30 teams from this century that could have went 16-0 against this schedule. Just take a look.

Week 1 at JAX (W 20-9): lousy team that started 1-5. Offense and Blake Bortles only started picking things up after Week 8 bye. Panthers relied on big 4Q to clinch win.

Week 2 vs. HOU (W 24-17): made a panic move to start Ryan Mallett. This team trailed 42-0 and 41-0 in road games early this season. Got better starting in Week 8. Panthers needed a red-zone stop to beat them.

Week 3 vs. NO (W 27-22): Drew Brees has missed one game due to injury in his career. It was this one. Luke McCown went 31-of-38 with 3 drops and Carolina still needed a Josh Norman INT in end zone to hold onto 5-point win.

Week 4 at TB (W 37-23): Jameis Winston was turnover prone early in season & TB has a bad defense. Buccaneers started playing better in Week 8, but still a young .500 team at best. First game of the season where Carolina didn’t need 4QC stop.

Week 6 at SEA (W 27-23): Seattle came in at 2-3 with 3 blown 4Q leads, something they’ve done 5 times this year. Carolina needed 9-point 4QC for win. This is the worst Seattle team since 2011, but they have just started playing some great football over the last four games. I would pick Seattle to win a playoff game in Carolina right now.

Week 7 vs. PHI (W 27-16): Sloppy game on SNF against a disappointing Philadelphia team. Defense was playing much better than offense at the time. Now? You never know what to expect from them.

Week 8 vs. IND (W 29-26 OT): Andrew Luck made some of the worst plays of his career, yet nearly pulled off a 17-point 4QC in Carolina in regulation. Panthers needed to become first team in NFL history to win after trailing in OT. Like Seattle, this is the worst Colts team since 2011.

Week 9 vs. GB (W 37-29): Again, the Panthers nearly blew a 23-pt 4Q lead, but Aaron Rodgers threw an interception in the red zone at the end. The Packers started 6-0, but lost four of five after the bye week and were clearly in a funk. Normally, beating SEA/IND/GB would mean something, but this is also the worst GB team since 2008.

Week 10 at TEN (W 27-10): Titans are just a lousy 3-10 team with an especially bad defense.  Carolina took care of business.

Week 11 vs. WAS (W 44-16): Washington has been spanked on the road by superior teams several times this season. Another game where Carolina, which started playing better in recent weeks, dominated an inferior opponent.

Week 12 at DAL (W 33-14): This became a lost season for Tony Romo, who suffered another collarbone injury. This is the worst Dallas team since maybe 2004.

Week 13 at NO (W 41-38): The Saints (5-8) are in the running for the worst passing defense in NFL history. At least Brees was back this time, and the Panthers needed a late 4QC/GWD and another final-drive stop to get the win.

Week 14 vs. ATL (W 38-0): The Falcons basically took their ball and went home after an embarrassing loss in NO in Week 6. Once 5-0, Atlanta has not won since Week 7’s 10-7 barnburner over Zach Mettenberger and the Titans. When you need a 4QC to sweep the 2015 NFC East, we should have known better than to accept that 5-0 as legit. And guess who the Panthers get in Week 16?

Now does 13-0 make sense? I’ll freely admit that Cam Newton has played at an MVP level since Week 9. There has been a colossal difference in how he played in Weeks 1-8 vs. Weeks 9-14, but not changing is the fact that this schedule is Charmin soft. I think some of those old Carolina teams with Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and Julius Peppers could have went 13-0 against this schedule.

So here come the Giants, who are certainly an average team themselves, but I still like them in this matchup.

The best way to beat the Giants is to throw all over them. They don’t rush the passer, yet they still have 25 takeaways, second in the league. Carolina is not a prolific passing team. They struggle to move the ball that way some times, whether it’s Newton overthrows or Ted Ginn drops. Greg Olsen is a little banged up this week, but he’s still probable. Jonathan Stewart is out, so you have some lesser players in the backfield. The Giants are middle of the pack at stopping the run, but they’re not likely to get killed in that area by this backfield.

The Giants have a passing game that can be prolific and spread the field with multiple weapons, including the hottest one in the game (Odell Beckham Jr.). I doubt Josh Norman completely shuts him down. Eli Manning just had a virtuoso performance on Monday night, and we’ve seen him get hot for a month stretch at a time (every four years it seems). He can score the points necessary to win this one. The teams that gave Carolina the most trouble had the passing game to do it. It’s not like the Giants are going to try winning with Rashad Jennings averaging 3.5 YPC and Andre Williams not scoring touchdowns.

New York’s two worst performances this season were on the road against division rivals (WAS, PHI). They were still in every other game this year. I expect them to be in this one with the chance to seal the win in the last minutes again.

Final score: Giants 28, Panthers 24

If the Giants fall short again, maybe they’ll just get another crack in January. We’ve seen this movie before.

2015 Week 15 Predictions

Of course I got the Tampa Bay game wrong on Thursday night. I’m 3-11 at picking Buccaneer games this season. Hey, maybe I’ll pick them to lose to the 15-0 Panthers in two weeks…

Winners in bold:

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

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 4-10
  • Week 11: 9-5
  • Week 12: 8-8
  • Week 13: 11-5
  • Week 14: 10-6
  • Season: 128-80 (.615)

NFL Week 14 Predictions: Cincinnati Is Pittsburgh’s Safe Space

Over the next three weeks the AFC playoff picture will get a lot clearer with a series of games involving the Steelers, Bengals and Broncos playing one another. Buried in that absurdly deep 1 p.m. slate of 11 games is the rematch between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. You probably knew I would write about this one, because I tend to write about the biggest games. It just so happens that the only other Week 14 game between teams with winning records happened on Thursday night in Arizona, and I already shared 3,000 words on that yesterday. Today I also wrote about QBR and QB stats for 2015 involving Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Cam Newton. I’m trying to stay busy while things are difficult at home right now.

Steelers at Bengals

I think this is one of the craziest stats I know: Marvin Lewis is 2-11 at home against the Steelers in his career, including that infamous playoff loss in the 2005 season. For some reason, the Bengals continue to play much better in Heinz Field than they do at home against their rival. I don’t want to ignore that, and frankly it leans me towards picking the Steelers to get the season split. But I see much better reasons than that for it.

Ben Roethlisberger is not making a return from an MCL sprain this time like he was in Week 8 when he had his worst game of the season. The Bengals are the only team to hold him under 334 yards passing in a game he finished this year, and the two interceptions in the fourth quarter were obviously killers. I’ve warned in the past that Roethlisberger has had some of his worst games against the Bengals, but I like him to rebound this week with the way he has been playing in the last month. The protection is usually solid this season and the receivers are healthy and available with Markus Wheaton starting to come along as a viable option. The running game is a bit hit or miss, but DeAngelo Williams has been quite good at times, making you forget about Le’Veon Bell’s absence. That’s the other difference I see this time. Not only was Roethlisberger making his return in Week 8, but the Steelers had to deal with the blow of losing Bell early in the second quarter of that game, which had an offensive start before the defenses took over and the Bengals pulled out a late 16-10 win.

I feel like the offenses are going to shine in this one and we’ll get a much different game. A.J. Green is a DFS favorite for me this week as few defenses get targeted by the No. 1 WR more than Pittsburgh, and Tyler Eifert is back in the lineup. The Bengals have stomped the Rams and Browns the last two weeks, just as you would expect them to do given the mismatches in team quality. The Bengals are actually first in DVOA right now. This is a very good team playing a big game at home, so of course that will be the measuring stick this week. It’s not in prime time, but it certainly counts a lot with the Bengals pursuing a No. 1 seed. I just think the Steelers can copy a similar formula to what the Cardinals used a few weeks ago and attack this secondary, which has had some recent injuries (Adam Jones is out and Darqueze Dennard went on IR), with the bevy of receivers. That requires Roethlisberger to be on point, but again, I think the prospects of him doing that are much higher this week than they were in Week 8 when his movement looked limited in the pocket. Still, I do not trust the Pittsburgh defense to have a standout game against this talented offense, so the score should be pretty high, but I don’t think the game will have enough possessions for both teams to get into the 30’s.

Final score: Steelers 29, Bengals 26

2015 Week 14 Predictions

I had the Cardinals, but they sure cut it closer than expected against Minnesota in one of the best TNF games you’ll see. Now explain to me why we couldn’t have seen that game on Saturday night? This late in the season you’re either going to get lousy teams in prime time, or if it’s a big game, why play it on four days of rest? Once the college football regular season ends, scrap that TNF noise and move the games to Saturday.

Winners in bold:

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

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 4-10
  • Week 11: 9-5
  • Week 12: 8-8
  • Week 13: 11-5
  • Season: 118-74 (.615)

I’ll end with an amusing stat.

For all the talk about Brock Osweiler giving the Broncos a deep threat with his arm, the fact is he is 3-of-15 on passes thrown 20+ yards this season.

Do you know which other quarterback started this season 3-of-15 on his 20+ yard passes? Why yes, that would be Peyton Manning.

NFL Week 12 Predictions: Super Bowl Rematch, Super Matchup Spoiled

Most of the country will be watching the next two games, both of which I have plenty to say about.

Steelers at Seahawks

This is only the second time in 20 years the Steelers will play in Seattle, so it’s a rare matchup. Over the last three meetings, the Steelers have all but silenced the Seahawks. There was the 21-10 win in Super Bowl XL where despite all the bitching and moaning, the Seahawks were clearly outplayed and allowed three of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history. The last two meetings have taken place at Heinz Field at 1:00 p.m. and the Steelers won 21-0 in 2007 and 24-0 in 2011. That 24-0 win is significant because it marks the last time Seattle was unable to stay at least within 8 points of its opponent in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks trailed 17-0 at halftime, 24-0 late in the third quarter and there was no score by either team in the fourth quarter. No one else has thoroughly beaten the Seahawks since that point, a streak that spans an NFL-record 80 games:

SEA80

Arizona opened up a 19-0 lead a few weeks ago, and I would imagine the Steelers studied that film to prepare for this matchup. Antonio Brown can get his against any defense, but I think Richard Sherman will have a good day. Martavis Bryant is the weapon that Ben Roethlisberger needs to utilize best against Seattle’s lesser corners, and Heath Miller needs to have one of his big days as the tight ends have been killing this defense down the seam all year. You can’t abandon the run against the Seahawks, and I don’t think Pittsburgh will, but this is a game where Roethlisberger has to play big just like Carson Palmer did a few weeks ago. The Seattle defense is not as good as it was in 2012-14, but it’s still a talented group that can take over this game if the offensive line struggles to protect Roethlisberger.

Defensively, the Steelers continue to exceed expectations, but they still give up plenty of plays and yards. They just have done a better job of getting takeaways and limiting points. This is a pretty unfamiliar opponent and Russell Wilson is coming off of his best game of the season. I like Doug Baldwin in this matchup and Jimmy Graham may even show up for this one too. Marshawn Lynch is out, but that hasn’t meant the running game has slowed down one bit with Thomas Rawls this year. Seattle’s offense has underachieved for most of the year, but I feel like this game can be more high scoring than expected. I shudder at the thought of predicting the Steelers to score much on the road, but they also tend to play up to the competition. Despite the 5-5 record, at Seattle is still a marquee matchup. You could argue the Seahawks have looked better in their five losses than their five wins this year, especially factoring in the competition. The team that pressures the quarterback better should get this win, and I still think the home team is capable of doing that here.

Final score: Seahawks 27, Steelers 23

Patriots at Broncos

A few weeks ago this looked to have the potential of the most hyped regular-season game in NFL history. The Patriots were rolling. The Broncos had just embarrassed the Packers — not as impressive now as it looked then — and a battle of 10-0 teams seemed like a real possibility. Then the Patriots suffered some injuries at the skill positions and have not been as dominant. The Broncos lost two in a row and Peyton Manning accumulated a few more injuries. Now the legendary offensive showdown looks like a low-scoring slog between arguably the league’s two best defenses.

Oddly enough, the Patriots have allowed one fewer point (182) than the Broncos coming into the week, just like the Packers allowed one fewer point than Denver heading into their 6-0 vs. 6-0 matchup on SNF. Carolina actually leads all defense ins Pts/Dr, but Denver is second and the Patriots are fifth. New England is also really stingy at allowing points early in games, allowing many of their points with the game practically out of reach while the Broncos have played in almost nothing but close games all season.

Ultimately, I think the New England defense wins this game by confusing a young quarterback into mistakes, but it sure has the potential to be an ugly 60-minute affair.

I’m not sure where New England’s offense is going to get its yards from. They can try going big with 2 TEs (get Scott Chandler invovled) and pounding LeGarrette Blount, letting Tom Brady use play-action to his advantage. Denver is still pretty strong against the run however.

For the first time since the 2006 season, Brady won’t have his little (white) security blanket since Danny Amendola is out with a knee injury. Julian Edelman is still out. Wes Welker is in St. Louis. Bill Belichick better fire up the cloning device or try to get Cole Beasley from Dallas in the offseason. It’s not like the Patriots can’t find another shifty player to run 5-yard routes, but it’s been interesting to see how they’ve created such a specific role in their offense since 2007 for players who just so happen to look the same. Brady was using Troy Brown in similar ways a long time ago, but this has been one of the more interesting things about the NE offense over the years.

If you’re Denver, I don’t see how you don’t just use Chris Harris and Bradley Roby to defend Brandon LaFell and Chris Harper man to man. Not even Aaron Dobson (IR) is active, so it’s really those guys at WR. I would use a lot of Aqib Talib on Rob Gronkowski, just like the Pats did with Talib against Jimmy Graham in 2013. I would consistently double Gronk with Talib and a LB, or a safety (throw some T.J. Ward memories at him). With Dion Lewis out and no real receiving threat at RB available, this is really a limited offense. I don’t believe Buffalo showed a blueprint for Gronk. I just think they got first dibs on a depleted NE offense, and if this is how things are going to look with Amendola out, then Denver’s defense should have a good night. The only way the Pats should break 20 points is if they get short fields from turnovers. It would really help to have DeMarcus Ware (out) for this matchup as another player who can get quick pressure on Brady, because I don’t think the coverage is going to be too much of an issue. However, Brady should still get sacked a few times behind a revolving OL, and I expect at least one interception. He’s really going to have to keep his patience and remember that punting is okay in this one.

On the other side of the ball, Denver has Brock Osweiler in his second start, which sounds like a bad formula against Bill Belichick, but Gary Kubiak has used his system in the past to elevate lesser QBs (Brian Griese and Jake Plummer) to successful outings and wins against the Patriots. The tight ends got more involved last week, which could be big here since I think Malcolm Butler will press Demaryius Thomas, who does not handle press coverage well. Emmanuel Sanders will hopefully be healthy for this matchup, but the wild card is Osweiler. Despite claims of mobility, he looks like a major sack machine, already taking 8 sacks in not even six quarters. It took him one start to match Peyton Manning’s career high in sacks for a game (5). Only a facemask penalty negated a sixth sack against a Chicago defense that hardly gets sacks this year. He’ll catch a break with Jamie Collins out, but I think NE’s front seven can get good pressure and stall multiple drives with sacks against this battered OL.

It’s a joke that Osweiler won AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his first start. What I saw there was a true game manager performance. He didn’t have turnovers, but he also wasn’t making any plays in terms of escaping pressure or throwing to guys who weren’t first or second reads. He just found the primary receiver, who was open more often than not. And that’s a smart way to coach a young kid in his first start on the road. It just wasn’t that great of an individual performance. His first touchdown pass was a total blown coverage with Thomas getting a ton of YAC to complete the score. Where was that the first 9 weeks in Denver? Just a fluke TD. The Patriots rarely ever beat themselves like that and Belichick will show Osweiler plenty of things he hasn’t seen yet.

But with the career luck of one Peyton Manning, I can see Denver winning a 20-17 game with Osweiler doing very little, prompting the simpletons to “see, Brock beat Brady in the regular season, Peyton couldn’t for Denver. He’s done, this is Brock’s team.” Yep, in the last three years, in games all played in Foxboro, the Patriots went 3-0 against Manning’s Broncos with an average final score of 36 to 24.3. This could be just like Manning’s college career at Tennessee where he went 0-3 vs. Florida in games that had an average final score of 43.3 to 28.7. In 1998, with Manning at Indy and Florida QB Danny Wuerffel also in the NFL, Tennessee did beat Florida with Manning’s successor, Tee Martin. What did Martin do in that game? He went 7-of-20 for 64 yards and I believe had negative rushing yardage (sacks). Tennessee won 20-17 in overtime after Florida missed a 32-yard field goal. But yep, “Tee Martin did what Peyton couldn’t.”

Then with games coming up against SD-OAK, it’s not unexpected to think Osweiler can get on a roll here. Ultimately, I think Denver should aim to get Manning back for Week 16, a MNF home game with the Bengals that could be for a first-round bye. Yeah, tough matchup, but I think you’d want to bring him back at home rather than in Pittsburgh the week before. And if he can’t physically cut it in that type of setting, then maybe you go back to Osweiler for the playoffs, but that would be my target date of bringing back Manning healthy.

I just know that bringing him back at all will be very hard if Denver wins this game, which is the case regardless of how Osweiler plays. That’s the totally wrong way to look at things, but people do it.

And I also know better than to go against the Patriots, so there.

Final score: Patriots 19, Broncos 16

2015 Week 12 Predictions

I thought I was going to have a perfect 3-0 start on Thanksgiving, but the Bears really surprised me. I thought GB was the most sure thing on that slate too. It’s just not their year.

Winners in bold:

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

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 4-10
  • Week 11: 9-5
  • Season: 99-61 (.619)