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Archive for November, 2008

Week Thirteen Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 27, 2008

As usual buyer beware…..

Last Week: 9-7 (.562)  Season: 108-66-1 (.617)

– Titans over Lions: So apparently I have an inability to pick Titans games correctly.  When I pick them to win, they get beat.  When I pick them to lose, they win and make look foolish.  No doubt Jeff Fisher has a voodoo doll of me now because I stopped picking against them last week, and they ended up getting bombed by the Jets.  Tennessee is still in great shape, as they are still running away with the AFC South, and they still have a two game lead over the Jets and Steelers for the top seed and home field advantage in the AFC playoffs.  The Titans should have some concern though about their offensive line, which had been so dominant early in the year, and got absolutely blown up by the Jets last week.  Tennessee had been winning most of their games with running and defense, which is fine, but last week they found out that you do have to occasionally score points to beat the good teams.  Surely it would behoove them to give LenDale White more than the one carry he got against the Jets too.  The good news for Tennessee is that the have the perfect get well card this week in the form of the 0-11 Lions.  Detroit has actually sold out Ford Field for tomorrow (gasp!) after three straight non-sellouts and subsequent TV blackouts, but something tells me the fans won’t exactly be behind the home team.  Detroit is the only team I know of that could squander the 17-0 lead they let get away against the Bucs.  The Lions do traditionally get up for their annual Thanksgiving day home game, but even extra emotion will not help.  Even if the Titans fail to bring their A game on a short week, they should get several gifts from the hapless Lions to help them to victory.  Tennessee wants to erase the losing feeling, and they will have no trouble whatsoever here, unless of course my picking Tennessee to win is a jinx, in which case I’m sure I will be hearing from Jeff Fisher. 

– Cowboys over Seahawks: The Dallas offense finally looked like its old self again last week, and it’s no coincidence that it’s because Terrell Owens was heavily involved in the game plan.  You can say what you will about Owens, for even though he whines when he doesn’t get the ball and often makes it seem like he’s in it for himself, you can’t deny that the Cowboys offense is much more effective when Owens is featured.  His 75-yard touchdown catch really swung the momentum after the Cowboys sputtered early against the 49ers, and he finished with a season high 213 yards.   Dallas also seems to be playing with more energy after Tony Romo’s return.  The concern for the Cowboys is the running game hasn’t been quite as effective the last few weeks, and their defense gave up some big plays against the 49ers.  The Cowboys definitely have a favorable matchup here though, as Seattle is still struggling offensively even with Matt Hasselbeck back in the lineup.  If Hasselbeck turns it over multiple times the way he has in his first two starts back, it will be long day for Seattle.  The Cowboys know they have a brutal December schedule and they have to get this one to stay in the playoff race.  Dallas wins by a lot in their annual Thanksgiving day game.

– Eagles over Cardinals: The Thanksgiving night game is a good one this year, which is too bad because only 40 percent of U.S. households have access to the NFL network.  Even fewer people will see this game because many of them will be asleep on the couch thanks to all the tryptophan.  Arizona has a real raw deal here, because they have a short week and a trip to the east coast.  Even though the Cardinals flew out this morning and the game isn’t until Thursday evening, they still face the prospect of a very difficult away game, with a short week to prepare, and a trip across three time zones.  If this matchup were to take place on a Sunday a neutral field, I would pick the Cardinals without hesitation because they are actually the better team right now.  My brain says I should stay away from the Eagles in light of their awful performance in Baltimore and last week’s benching of Donovan McNabb, but my gut tells me the Eagles will bounce back with the home crowd and the big advantage of playing at home off a short week.  I believe McNabb got a rude awakening with his benching last week, and I think he will come back with a good effort.  I also see Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson employing a variety of blitzes that the Cardinals will not be able to plan for on a short week.  Arizona’s pass happy offense has had great success at home, but I sense they may struggle in this game on the road in the cold, especially if the weather turns ugly.  If the weather is bad, Arizona’s inability to run the ball could doom them.  Besides, this game is not really important to the Cardinals with their huge division lead, while the Eagles must win to stay alive.  Philadelphia wins.

– Bills over 49ers: I really felt Buffalo was left for dead before last week, and now I’m not really sure what to make of the Bills after their 54 point effort in Kansas City.  Is the Bills offense back?  Was that more a result of a porous Chiefs’ defense?  The answer like many of these things is probably somewhere in between the two.  Trent Edwards gave one of his better efforts in quite some time, including his rushing touchdown, and the Bills will need him to perform down the stretch to stay in the race.  Buffalo has several advantages in this game, not the least of which being they’re hosting a west coast team in an early kickoff.  We all know what that means in any case, but Buffalo has a huge edge in this case being that the weather is likely to be bad and they are hosting a team from a warm weather city to boot.  Meteorology aside, the 49ers run game looked awful last week in Dallas, and that doesn’t bode well for a trip to Buffalo.  The passing game has not been any more consistent with Shaun Hill under center than it was with J.T. O’Sullivan, and the defense has given up way too many big plays.  The Niners are very much a work in progress and are improving overall, but that will not help them here.  Buffalo wins.

– Dolphins over Rams: How bad are the Rams right now, seriously?  It’s rapidly getting to the point where i might consider picking the Florida Gators against the Rams.  St. Louis might get Steven Jackson back in the lineup this week, but their problems go much deeper than that.  There is a quarterback carousel right now between Marc Bulger and Trent Green, Torry Holt has essentially been phased out of the offense except for when he gets throws his way when the game is out of reach, and the defense has more holes in it than swiss cheese.  Miami knows they let one get away last week against New England, and they lost their composure in that game too toward the end.  Miami needs to get its running game going again down the stretch to be successful, for Ronnie Brown’s numbers have dipped dramatically over the last month.  This will be a good matchup for the Dolphins to get that back on track, and their passing game should have success too with Ted Ginn Jr.’s speed on the carpet in the dome.  Miami should win this one comfortably to stay in the race in AFC as they try to complete their turnaround from last year’s 1-15 disaster. 

– Patriots over Steelers: This will be another great game between two teams that historically have enjoyed a lot of success.  The Patriots offense might officially be scary again if last week’s Randy Moss sighting becomes the norm as opposed to the exception.  Matt Cassel continues to play well, and the defense continues to not break in key situations.  Pittsburgh didn’t play its best game against the Bengals last week, and they will need to be able to run the ball much better to have a chance in this one.  Willie Parker does not look like himself, and I wouldn’t be confident turning my running game over to Mewelde Moore in a key game like this.  One thing to watch in this game is that both quarterbacks, Cassel and Ben Roethlisberger, are among the league leaders in sacks, which is not at all a good thing.  That could make this a lower scoring game than expected, although I would also expect Hines Ward to have more balls thrown his way than last week, when he had just one catch.  Ward normally steps up in big games and that could help the Steelers, but a hunch says that the Pittsburgh defense won’t quite be able to contain Moss and Wes Welker if they are both playing well.  It seems strange to say this, but Cassel has been playing better than Roethlisberger in recent weeks, and that will end up being the difference in a narrow Patriots win. 

– Jets over Broncos: I’ll be honest, it really doesn’t look good for the Broncos.  Denver somehow still has a two game lead in the AFC West, but it’s looking like it could be possible we might see a 7-9 division champion here, and if it’s the Broncos that won’t be a good thing for their playoff prospects.  Denver is coming off a very embarrassing blowout loss at home to the Raiders, which is not a good omen as they hit the road to face the hottest team in the AFC.  The Jets are coming off wins at New England and Tennessee, and they played complete football in every phase against the Titans.  They’re running well with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington (who is quickly becoming one of the league’s best game changers), Brett Favre is playing some of the best football of his career, and the Jets are dominating the line of scrimmage offensively and defensively.  This is matchup that looks like it could well be a Jets blowout on paper, especially since the Broncos are making the trip east.  The Broncos ironically have played better on the road than at home as of late, but even if the Broncos offense comes out and plays its A game, I don’t see the defense being able to slow down Favre, even if Champ Bailey does play.  If the Jets avoid a letdown after their two big road wins, they should get this one without too much difficulty.

– Ravens over Bengals: This will be a complete mismatch in every way.  Baltimore bounced back nicely with a blowout of the Eagles, and they did it with offense and defense.  The Ravens could be a scary group, and one I wouldn’t want to play in the playoffs, if they keep up their offensive prowess in addition to their always tough defense.  Joe Flacco has played very well for a rookie, and their long term key will be getting the running game going in big games.  Defensively, the Ravens continue to be aggressive and force turnovers, and that will be bad news for Cincinnati in this game.  The Bengals offense moved the ball early against Pittsburgh last week, but they stalled quickly after the first drive.  It will be interesting to see how the Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco/whatever his name is distraction continues to affect the Bengals’ offense.  Regardless, Ryan Fitzpatrick has not been the answer at QB and Cedric Benson has not gotten it done in the running game.  Oh, and Cincinnati’s defense also does not have a good matchup here.  Baltimore rolls, even on the road. 

– Colts over Browns: This should be another blowout.  The Colts are one of the hottest teams in the league, having pulled out another last minute victory in San Diego last week.  Inidianapolis has a really friendly schedule down the stretch, which clearly puts them in the driver’s seat for the top wild card spot in the AFC.  That is bad news for Baltimore, New England, Miami and perhaps Buffalo, who will all be fighting for the last spot in the playoff bracket more than likely.  The Colts have a very favorable matchup here, facing a Browns team that is in disarray again after a bad home loss to the Texans, and the news that Brady Quinn is done for the year with a broken finger he never should have tried to play with in the first place.  Derek Anderson does have a chance to take advantage of his opportunity to play out the string to get himself a job somewhere next season, but the Browns have no direction right now and they are facing a hot Colts team looking to solidify playoff position.  Even playing in the shadow of the Dawg Pound, Peyton Manning has no trouble here and the Colts roll. 

– Raiders over Chiefs: Dud of the game of the week, although it is a bitter rivalry.  Oakland blew the Chiefs out in week two at Arrowhead, and that was before the fans stopped showing up in Kansas City.  The Raiders really gave a surprising performance last week in Denver, and they actually come home with momentum.  The Chiefs defense was a complete embarrassment last week against Buffalo, and that should mean good news for JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden this week.  The Raiders defense has also played very well the past three games.  At some point, the Chiefs players will stop with playing with any confidence or energy, and we might have even hit that point already.  If the Chiefs fail to win another game and finish 1-15 on the heels of 4-12 last year, which would mean KC would have just one win in a 26 game stretch, it would be impossible for Kansas City to justify keeping Herm Edwards or General Manager Carl Peterson.  The Chiefs showed effort for several weeks in the middle of the season, but it hasn’t been there the past two games and that is a bad sign.  Oakland by contrast seems to be playing with more and more energy each week, despite the soap opera nature of their season.  The Raiders win their second in a row (gasp!). 

– Falcons over Chargers: I really fail to see how the Chargers are five point favorites in this game, even with them playing at home.  Atlanta is coming off a huge win over Carolina, and they have proven they can play both at home and on the road.  The Chargers had their entire season on the line last week in a night home game, and yet they failed to come up with the win, even knowing the division leading Broncos got waxed by Oakland.  LaDainian Tomlinson has just not been his usual self this season, and Philip Rivers has played solid but not spectacular.  It is clear that the Chargers’ defense really misses Shawne Merriman, and that will hurt them a lot in this game.  It is an interesting subplot that Michael Turner returns to face his former team.  Turner has proven his worth as a starter for the Falcons, especially in his four touchdown performance last week.  The Falcons are very much in the race in the NFC also in part thanks to Matt Ryan and the passing game, as well as their defense which has made plays when needed this season.  The Chargers should come out with an inspired effort at home, but we’ve been expecting that without results for weeks.  The Falcons prove they are for real by stealing one on the road here. 

– Giants over Redskins: This will be a critical game in the NFC East, but it will be more so for the Redskins.  The Giants are very close to having the division wrapped up, although they are still wanting to separate themselves for the top seed in the NFC.  Washington is clinging by a thread to the last playoff spot, but they have several teams breathing down their necks.  The Giants are by far the best team in the league, having proved it once again last week by winning at Arizona without Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burress.  The Redskins are banged up too though, as Clinton Portis will once again play despite not being 100 percent.  He ran hard for 143 yards last week at Seattle, and the Redskins will need a similar performance on Sunday to even have a chance.  It seems like an eternity ago, but the Giants dominated the Redskins completely in week one, and something tells me the Giants could once again own the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in this one as well.  Washington is coming off a win, but it wasn’t exactly an impressive one in Seattle.  The Giants are a better team and they are coming in with more momentum.  A hunch says the Redskins are fading, and even if they play their best game it may not be enough here.  The Giants steal a close road win to prove why they are the best team in the league. 

– Panthers over Packers: This is a tough game to figure because both teams are coming off puzzling efforts in road losses.  Carolina’s offense woke up too late to make it close in Atlanta, and though Jake Delhomme played better, the normally dominant Carolina running game wasn’t very effective.  The Packers defense got destroyed in New Orleans on Monday night, and Aaron Rodgers threw two costly picks in the third quarter when the game was still competitive.  Both teams fell out of the lead in their respective division with last week’s loss, so you’ll see two desperate teams battling it out at Lambeau Field on Sunday.  I give Carolina an edge here because their ability to run the ball has been well documented and the Packers defense has really struggled against the run in most games.  If Carolina really does fancy itself as a Super Bowl contender, then this is they kind of game they need to able to win, on the road against an up and down team.  Aaron Rodgers should be able to make some plays in the passing game, but the Packers don’t have enough offense to keep up.  Carolina win a close one.

– Saints over Buccanneers: I’ve been back and forth on this game ten times in the last hour.  New Orleans finally looked like the way they were supposed to look offensively Monday night against the Packers, and they will be coming into this game with a lot of confidence.  I am more convinced than ever that Drew Brees is hands down the best quarterback in the league, and he should absolutely be the MVP.  Now that Brees has his receivers healthy, and with the return of Reggie Bush really appearing imminent this week, the Saints offense should be even more dangerous down the stretch.  The problem the Saints are facing is a brutal schedule, and the logjam of teams they’re competing with for a playoff spot.  The Saints beat Tampa Bay 24-20 in the first meeting week one in the Superdome, so the Bucs should be feeling confident they can reverse the result at home.  Tampa Bay’s defense is capable of at least slowing down the Saints’ attack, but they won’t be able to stop it completely.  The key for the Bucs is that they will need to be able to score enough points to keep up with the Saints, and if Brees and company are clicking that simply won’t happen.  A hunch says New Orleans will win on the road. 

– Vikings over Bears: The Sunday night game will be a good battle for the NFC North lead.  When these teams squared off at Soldier Field in week seven, it ended being a high scoring shootout despite the presence of two good defenses.  Both teams are coming off a win last week, which makes this game equally important for both teams, since the winner will have a one game lead in the division.  Minnesota’s defense really set the tone last week in Jacksonville with two turnovers in the first 90 seconds of the game, and their propensity for being able to force turnovers really gives them a chance to win a lot of games.  Chicago is coming off a blowout of the Rams, so they too have some momentum coming in.  Both teams can run the ball, so the difference will be which defense can better slow the other offense down.  Chicago can force turnovers, but they also tend to get burned for a lot of big plays.  The Vikings always bring pressure and that could spell trouble for Kyle Orton, especially if the Bears fall behind early.  The Metrodome will certainly be loud for this division rivalry, and the Vikings should be able to pull this one out at home. 

– Texans over Jaguars: It’s unfortuante that the Monday night game is such a dud with so many great games on Sunday that many people won’t be able to see.  I realize flexible scheduling would be difficult to extend to the Monday night game, but I think it’s something the league should at least look at for the last 3-4 weeks of the season.  At any rate, the Jaguars have to be a contender for the biggest disappointment in NFL history, and Jack Del Rio’s job has to be in real jeopardy.  The Jaguars running game has never been able to get going all season, and their defense has not been as good as advertised.  Looking at Jacksonville’s tough remaining schedule, it is very possible they don’t win another game if they fail to win in Houston.  The Texans have also failed to meet expectations of improvement this season, although the injury to Matt Schaub does have something to do with that.  The Texans actually came up with a somewhat surprising road win in Cleveland last week, and their defense really did an excellent job, albiet against the musical chairs quarterback situation in Cleveland.  This will be the first Monday night game the Texans have hosted at Reliant Stadium, which means they will be fired up.  If Jacksonville really is just playing out the string, Houston’s offense should explode for points in this one.

Bonus College pick: Oklahoma over Oklahoma State.  This will be one of the best college games of the season, but even in Stillwater, the Sooners are too complete of a team to falter now.  This will create a big time logjam in the Big 12 South.  Will it be Texas or Oklahoma advancing to the Big 12 Championship game?  I also think Alabama and Florida will both win this week (against Auburn and Florida State respectively), setting up a showdown in the SEC Championship.  Things may end up working out for the BCS Championship game, but I believe this year screams for a playoff more than ever.  Stay tuned next week for my proposal for a 16-team playoff and why it would make sense, but also why it is not likely to happen soon.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and I’ll post again after the Broncos-Jets game.

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WHAT???????

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 24, 2008

Surely what I saw today was a bad dream.  I’m going to wake up from my nightmare any moment and realize that the Broncos-Raiders game hasn’t really kicked off yet.  I’m going to realize that the embarrassing 31-10 loss that I saw the Broncos suffer today will actually be reversed when I wake up.  Surely the Broncos really didn’t lose the turnover battle (again).  Surely they didn’t allow an 88-yard punt return touchdown to someone named Johnnie Lee Higgins right before halftime.  Surely Matt Prater didn’t actually miss two first half field goals.  Surely the Broncos’ red zone failures didn’t really come back to haunt them in the form of a lost fumble inside the Oakland five yard line on the first drive of the game.  I had to be hallucinating, was that really disgraced ex-Bronco Ashley Lelie ripping the ball away from Dre’ Bly and then later catching a touchdown pass while wearing the silver and black?  Was Eddie Royal really held to just 14 yards receiving?  Was Mike Shanahan really calling a running play on 3rd and 15 in Raider territory in the fourth quarter?  Were there really the thousands of Raider fans in the stands on Invesco Field that there appeared to be on TV?  I mean, that has to be a bad dream right?  The Broncos wouldn’t have allowed themselves to get embarrassed like that in an important division game right?

Truth is, the Broncos should be embarrassed for how they performed today.  It is unbelievable on so many levels that the Broncos still own a two game lead in the AFC West after giving that kind of performance, owing to the Chargers’ loss at home to Indianapolis (side note: how upset are Chargers fans right now after San Diego failed to take advantage of Denver’s collapse today?).  I will say that the Raiders deserve a ton of credit for their performance.  This is a franchise that in many ways became the official joke of the league after Al Davis dismissed Lane Kiffin, but Tom Cable has more less kept things from really falling apart.  The Raiders do after all have a win against the 8-3 Jets on their resume, and they also had fourth quarter leads against Buffalo, San Diego, and Miami, and they somehow held Carolina to one of the worst passing days in Panthers history.  The Raiders didn’t look like a 3-8 team today, and I’m sure Denver’s ineptitude had a lot to do with that, but the Raiders played with a lot of energy especially on defense.  I still say Nnamdi Asomugha is certainly a top three cornerback in the league, but he never gets credit because no one ever throws his direction.  I say he would be a multiple time Pro Bowler if he wasn’t a Raider.  He didn’t register a single tackle today, but his mere presence in the secondary disrupted Denver’s passing game, especially since the rest of the Oakland secondary did a good job too.  The Raiders also did a good job in the running game, especially on their final drive of the game, when they were able to kill off the last six minutes without Denver getting the ball back.  

That being said, the Broncos did not come out with the intensity you would expect of a big division game.  In retrospect, it should have been easy to see this coming earlier in the week when the players were saying things like, “We’re not concerned about the rivalry, we just want to win” or “They may be 2-8 but we can’t afford to overlook them”.  It used to be that the Broncos would be fired up for the Raiders whether they were 9-2 or 2-9, it never mattered.  Broncos Raiders used to always be the biggest game on the schedule.  Bad Broncos teams were capable of beating good Raiders teams and vice versa.  I suppose that was still true today, but the point is I got the impression watching the game today that the Broncos were treating it like any other game while the Raiders were fired up to play a big rival.  Oakland had a particular chip on its shoulder after getting waxed by the Broncos 41-14 in week one, and Denver seemed like it really had a letdown after two big road wins.  Even after the Broncos tied it at 10 in the third quarter, it still seemed like something was missing.  It even seemed as though the crowd was having a hard time getting into the game, which should never happen at a Broncos-Raiders game. 

The following sequence should in many ways sum up the Broncos ineptitude especially on offense.  It illustrates that even when the Broncos were given gifts (four Oakland penalties in this case), they got nothing out of it.  This was the last drive of the first half, after Higgins’ punt return gave Oakland a 10-3 lead:

    – 1st & 10 at DEN 26 (:59 seconds left): Oakland penalty, illegal contact – 5 yards

    – 1st & 10 at DEN 31 (:54): Jay Cutler incomplete deep to Eddie Royal – nearly intercepted

    – 2nd & 10 at DEN 31 (:48): Cutler short pass to Brandon Marshall, which he is able to turn into a 20 yard gain

    – 1st & 10 at OAK 49 (31): Cutler spikes ball, Oakland penalty – 12 men on field (declined), Oakland penalty – offsides (accepted)

     – 1st & 5 at OAK 44 (44): Cutler incomplete to Royal, completely blanketed by Asomugha, Oakland penalty – roughing the passer on Thomas Howard – 15 yards (I’ll be honest, this was not a good call, but the Broncos benefited)

     –  1st & 10 at OAK 29 (:22): Cutler runs up the middle for four yards on a designed keeper

     –  2nd & 6 at OAK 25 (:04): Cutler spikes ball, after the team stays in formation at the line of scrimmage for 10 seconds after getting set

     – 3rd & 6 at OAK 25 (:04): Matt Prater 43 yard field goal sails wide right

Now, to be fair, the Broncos were out of timeouts, and were probably thinking field goal upon starting the drive at their own 26 with a minute remaining.  They might have been thinking about even playing it safe and just not turning it over.  But, they got a gift of four Raiders penalties on the drive, including the roughing the passer that was at best questionable as it was not a late hit and Thomas did not go for Cutler’s head.  Nevertheless, the Broncos failed to turn this gift call into any points.  They were at the Raider 29 yard line with 22 seconds left.  Even with no timeouts, they had plenty of time to at the very least take a shot at the end zone or try a sideline pass or two to either get a closer field goal attempt or even try to get in position where you could more easily run a play that would allow you a shot at six points.  Instead, the Broncos called a designed run for Cutler to stay in the middle of the field, feeling confident that Prater could hit a 40-45 yarder.  After Cutler’s run, he was clearly in no hurry to spike the ball.  If the Broncos had called a sideline pass, say they even get 7-8 yards.  If such a play is run properly, it can be run in 7-8 seconds, so the Broncos had time to try two quick sideline routes.  Assuming the runner got out of bounds on both, the Broncos at the very least could have been looking at 30 yard try instead of a 40 yarder, which is a much higher success rate for any kicker.  It might have even given them time to try for the end zone.  I know Prater has been reliable most of the season, but he did miss a 47-yarder earlier in the game heading the same direction.  The Broncos wasted 30 valuable seconds where they had plenty of time for multiple plays to at the very least get closer for a higher percentage field goal attempt.

This is not to say that particular sequence decided the game by any means, I am merely using it as one example to show that the Broncos offense was not in sync most of the afternoon.  Here is a summary of the Broncos’ final three drives, starting right after the Raiders took a 17-10 lead with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter:

  – (starting at 5:26 3rd qtr) 3 plays, 0 yards, 47 seconds, punt (led to an Oakland TD)

  – (starting at 14:08 4th qtr) 3 plays, 2 yards, 34 seconds, interception (led to an Oakland TD)

  – (starting at 9:42 4th qtr) 8 plays, 42 yards, 2:55, turnover on downs

The last Broncos drive ended with 6:47 remaining in the game, which the Raiders were able to milk off the clock while running 10 plays. Overall, the Raiders held the ball for 15 of the game’s final 20 minutes.  Combine that second half time of possession dominance by Oakland with Denver’s two turnovers to Oakland’s none in the game, and you have a recipe for defeat by the Broncos.  

It is really important for the Broncos to put this one behind them immediately.  It seems strange, but even coming off this loss and sporting a 6-5 record, the Broncos still own a two game lead in the AFC West with five games to play.  Denver has a very difficult road game next week against the red hot Jets, who are coming off two huge wins including a rout of the previously unbeaten Titans today.  Denver in many ways seems to rise to the occasion when it’s assumed they have no chance, while falling flat when they’re expected to do well.  Denver has to hope that what happened today is an aberration, because they still are in the driver’s seat for the division title and a home game in the first round of the playoffs (that may not be a good thing, considering the Broncos have dropped three straight home games).  Their defense should a boost soon with the return of Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams, but the offense needs to get some consistency in a hurry.  In the meantime, I can still hold out hope that I’m about to wake up from my dream and the Broncos-Raiders game hasn’t really kicked off yet…….

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Week Twelve Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 21, 2008

There isn’t a whole lot to say about Pittsburgh’s 27-10 win over the Bengals last night, other than the result did not come as a surprise.  The surprise was that the game was still 10-7 at halftime, but Pittsburgh’s running game eventually got going (strangely enough with Mewelde Moore, not Willie Parker) and the Steelers defense swarmed and stifled the Bengals offense after the first drive.  Pittsburgh dominated the line of scrimmage defensively in the second half, and offensively started to assert themselves by the fourth quarter.  Pittsburgh needed that game with a tough stretch coming up, and they know they’ll need to get the running game going earlier in games than they did last night to be successful.  The Steelers’ final touchdown drive was impressive, chewing time off the clock and converting third downs in business like fashion (This is why I thought ‘game over’ immediately after Cincinnati’s field goal to cut it to 20-10.  Why would Cincinnati not go for it on fourth and goal there down 20-7?).  It wasn’t a perfect performance for Pittsburgh by any means, but they got win and now have 10 days to get ready for a trip to New England.  Now, on to the picks, keeping in mind I am 1-0 so far this week for once:

Last Week: 10-5-1 (.625)  Season: 99-59-1 (.626)

– Chiefs over Bills: Upset alert.  The Buffalo Bills have really fallen off the wagon.  After a 4-0 start, and then 5-1, the Bills have lost four straight and five of six.  Trent Edwards’ play has really regressed after he had a really stellar first month of the season.  The Bills were in the game against Cleveland last week in spite of Edwards, not because of him.  His three first quarter picks really put the Bills in a hole, and for him to not complete even one pass to top receiver Lee Evans in the game in inexcusable.  There is a significant track record of young quarterbacks faring horribly in their first appearance at Arrowhead Stadium, so this is not where the Bills want to be playing right now with Edwards struggling so mightily.  The Chiefs played hard again last week against New Orleans, and they are desperate for a win especially at home, and they will find a way to beat the rapidly flaming out Bills.       

– Patriots over Dolphins: The Dolphins creamed the Patriots in the first meeting week three in Foxboro.  That was the game in which Miami brought out the Wildcat formation for the first time, and it resulted in five Ronnie Brown touchdowns.  This time the Dolphins get them at home, but Bill Belichick has now had time to study the Wildcat.   Let’s just say that Belichick doesn’t take well to being embarrassed.  He and his team will be much better prepared for the Wildcat this time, and they will be highly motivated to avenge the week three loss.  Miami has very quietly been one of the hottest teams in the league, having won four in a row, but they’ve barely won their last two against Seattle and Oakland.  If the Dolphins don’t give a better effort than they did in those two games they could actually be in big trouble.  New England isn’t afraid to play on the road, and they win this one here to once again make things interesting in the AFC East.

– Titans over Jets: I’ve learned my lesson.  I will not pick against Tennessee again anytime soon.  I’m sure Jeff Fisher is distraught that I am no longer picking against them.  The Titans are definitely for real, and they’ve handled three very difficult tests in a row, including two straight on the road.  They’re dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and Kerry Collins is playing so well that Vince Young has no hope of seeing the field this season or maybe next.  Is it possible the Young injury in week one is the best thing to happen to the Titans all season?  The Jets will provide another stiff test, especially since they are coming off their biggest win of the season in New England.  If Brett Favre plays as well as he did in Foxboro, this could be a very entertaining game indeed.  However, odds are the Titans defense will be able to come up with a big turnover late and they will continue their winning ways. 

– Ravens over Eagles: The fact that the Eagles allowed themselves to be involved in a tie game proves they are not among the league’s elite as once thought.  For Donovan McNabb to not know that a game could have ended in a tie is inexcusable (although to be fair, how many other players also didn’t know?  Probably more than you’d think).  Philadelphia also may not have Brian Westbrook, who is questionable again.  If he’s out, then it will be a Baltimore field day.  It may be all Ravens anyway even if Westbrook plays.  Baltimore will be hopping mad after waxed by the Giants last week, especially the Ravens’ defense.  The Ravens also know they can still see Pittsburgh’s taillights in the AFC North with a win.  An angry Ravens defense and a slumping Eagles team is not a good combination for Donovan McNabb and company.  Baltimore wins, and it could easily be by a lot. 

– Browns over Texans: This is easily the dud game of the week.  I feel sorry for fans in Texas that don’t care about the Texans who will get stuck watching this game on CBS.  Houston’s progress on offense has really stalled with Sage Rosenfels at the controls instead of Matt Schaub, although Steve Slaton is doing his best to carry the team on his back.  The run defense could be a trouble spot for the Browns after they got shredded by Marshawn Lynch last week.  Cleveland is coming off a big Monday night win over Buffalo, but Brady Quinn suffered a broken tip of his finger in the contest.  Quinn will try to play, but if he can’t go, Derek Anderson may get another shot to run the offense.  I am tempted to pick the Texans because of the Quinn injury and they fact they were able to keep it close against the Colts, but a hunch says the Browns will be able to get the win at home.     

– Vikings over Jaguars: I have officially given up on the Jaguars.  I have never had a preseason Super Bowl pick blow up in my face before the way I have with Jacksonville this year.  Jacksonville for whatever reason has not been able to run the ball near as effectively as they did last season.  This does not bode well considering Minnesota is among the league’s best at stopping the run.  David Garrard has certainly not been the problem, but the lack of a running game has hurt his ability to make plays in the passing game.  The injuries they’ve had on the offensive line have had a lot to do with that, but part of the Jaguars’ problem has been the defensive side of the ball too.  Jacksonville has given up way too many big plays at inopportune times.  That is a bad omen with Adrian Peterson coming into town.  If Peterson has a big day, Jacksonville is in real trouble in this one.    It seems strange to say the Vikings are more in playoff contention than the Jaguars but that is the reality.  Minnesota wins as Jacksonville’s free fall continues. 

– Broncos over Raiders: The Broncos have very quietly opened up a two game lead in the AFC West, and believe it or not they are only one game out of position for a potential bye in the AFC playoffs.  Denver destroyed the Raiders 41-14 in the opener in Oakland, but Denver did most of its damage against DeAngelo Hall, who is now a Redskin after the Raiders released him.  Denver still has half of its defense banged up, including Champ Bailey, who will once again not play.  The backups stepped up and played terrific against Atlanta last week, and the Broncos will need a similar effort this week.  The Raiders have actually run the ball well this year, and for all their struggles they have managed to keep it close in a number of games this year.  This is a huge rivalry, so the Broncos will need to be careful to avoid a letdown, but if the offense doesn’t turn the ball over than Jay Cutler and company should be able to have success offensively.  Oakland may have Nnamdi Asuomgua to shut down Brandon Marshall, but the Raiders do not have the secondary to contain Eddie Royal and Tony Scheffler.  Denver wins at home to keep their AFC West lead. 

– Cowboys over 49ers: Dallas did not quite look sharp last week in Washington, but they were able to get a road division win.  It almost looked as though Tony Romo’s return lit a fire under the defense as much as it did under the offense.  Dallas in many ways is fortunate to be 6-4 considering the issues they’ve dealt with, but now they have a chance to take advantage of the friendly portion of their schedule.  Now that Romo is back, it seems like it should be only a matter of time before Terrell Owens starts putting up big numbers again.  The 49ers have played very hard for Mike Singletary the last two games, blowing out the Rams last week.  Even though it was the Rams, the Niners still had a 35-6 halftime lead, so perhaps their offense is starting to figure things out.  San Francisco is not a cakewalk anymore, so the Cowboys have to be careful, but they should be able to win this one at home. 

– Cardinals over Giants: I feel like I’m tempting fate picking against the Giants.  I do feel as though they did not get proper respect from anyone at the start of the season, especially national idiots who picked them to finish under .500.  I believe the Giants are the best team in the NFL, so this is definitely not a knock against them in any  way.  This is an interesting game because the Giants return to the scene of their Super Bowl win last year, which happens to be a place where the Cardinals have become very difficult to beat.  Arizona’s areal circus passing game has been very effective under the roof, and I believe the Giants will have trouble containing both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.  The Giants may be without Brandon Jacobs, and even if he plays he won’t be 100 percent.  If Jacobs doesn’t play, they could still get a capable performance from Derrick Ward, but it would still hamper the Giants’ offense a little bit.  Arizona has been dominant at home, and the Cardinals will be fired up for this one to prove they are for real.  There is also a chance the Cardinals could actually clinch the NFC West this week if things break right around the league.  The motivation will be enough for Arizona to pull off the upset in the climate controlled indoor environment, with a caveat that if there is a playoff rematch in the Meadowlands, the Giants would roll in the bad weather.

– Redskins over Seahawks: Washington is coming off two tough home losses, but they currently still hold the last playoff position in the NFC.  They know they’re going to have to take care of business against a weak Seattle team if they are to maintain that position.  Clinton Portis did play against Dallas, and while he was limited, it does indicate that he should be able to go against Seattle.  His presence is really the key to the Redskins’ offense because of his ability to block in the passing game and his ability to make plays in the open field.  The Seahawks did not look any more improved with Matt Hasselbeck under center last week than they did without him, and Seattle still looks like they’re going through the motions during much of the game.  This game is very important for Washington, while Seattle is playing out the string for a lame duck coach that has announced his retirement at the end of the year.  This combination adds up to an easy Redskins victory, even on the road. 

– Bears over Rams: St. Louis has been outscored 75-6 in the first half of their last two games.  That tells you all you need to know about how bad things are in St. Louis.  The Bears lost 37-3 last week in Green Bay, which means they’re also limping into this game.  Chicago is only a game out of first in the weak NFC North, so the Bears definitely still have something to play for unlike the Rams.  Chicago’s defense has really struggled in the passing game this year, but they have been outstanding against the run (except last week) and they still have the ability to force turnovers and make things happen.  I sense a monster afternoon for Chicago’s defense against a weak St. Louis attack, and the Bears should be able to get enough yards on the ground from Matt Forte to win comfortably.  As bad as the Rams are and as difficult as Bears tickets are to find in Chicago, it wouldn’t surprise me if this felt like a home game to the Bears with tons of Chicago fans in the seats.

– Buccaneers over Lions: The 0-16 watch in Detroit continues.  Actually, the Lions gave a great effort last week at Carolina, and were just a two point conversion away from tying it up in the fourth quarter.  Daunte Culpepper didn’t look near as lost and the Lions actually got great running from Kevin Smith.  The other side of the ball is a different story however, as Detroit allowed a franchise record running day for the Panthers.  Tampa Bay’s defense successfully contained Adrian Peterson last week, and the Bucs’ defense should be licking their chops about facing the Detroit offense, and they will be able to shut down the Detroit offense.  The Bucs’ offense has taken a hit with Earnest Graham out for the season, but Warrick Dunn is perfectly capable.  Tampa Bay rolls on the road.

– Panthers over Falcons: This will be a great game in the NFC South.  The Panthers are very quietly 8-2 and in bye position in the NFC, while the Falcons are in the thick of the race at 6-4.  The Panthers won the first meeting fairly handily in Charlotte, despite being outgained on the ground.  Carolina got 100 yards apiece from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart on the ground last week and they should be able to have success running again this week.  This has the potential to be a really high scoring game, as the Falcons have ability to run as well, even though they were contained last week against Denver.  Matt Ryan is also not playing like a rookie and he is coming off a no touchdown game, so odds are he will bounce back.  I do give Carolina a slight edge in this game because it’s been three weeks since Steve Smith has had a big day and he is due for one.  If the Panthers can win a road game like this, they will prove that they belong in the discussion for Super Bowl contenders in the NFC.  

– Chargers over Colts: I am really tempted to pick the Colts here.  Indianapolis has won three in a row, and suddenly finds itself at the top of the wild card leaders in the AFC.  They are too far behind the Titans to catch them for the division lead, but the Colts are a team that would be really dangerous in the playoffs from any position.  Peyton Manning is really playing better, and the Colts finally got a 100-yard game last week from Joseph Addai.  The Chargers are really in trouble at 4-6, and they could potentially be facing a three game deficit in the AFC West with a loss.  The Chargers defense really gave a great effort last week in Pittsburgh, shutting down the Steelers’ running game and essentially holding them to 9 points (Pittsburgh also had a safety).  There was even a LaDainian Tomlinson sighting with a touchdown.  San Diego knows it has no more margin for error at this point, and for all the Chargers’ faults this season, they have not lost a home game since the opener against Carolina.  The Chargers have been particularly dominant in night home games, blowing out both the Jets and Patriots.  This is the Sunday night game, which means the crowd will be at a fever pitch.  A desperate San Diego team with nothing less than its entire season on the line will find a way to pull this one out and keep its faint pulse beating.   

– Saints over Packers: The Monday night game is one where both teams need a win to keep their season alive.  Both teams are coming off big wins, and a win here for either team will help them get momentum going down the stretch.  The Saints should get Reggie Bush back, and if they do he gives them a dimension on offense that they’ve really been missing the last few weeks.  With Drew Brees playing at an MVP level, and the Saints’ receiving core finally healthy, a healthy Bush would give the Green Bay offense another thing they have to worry about.  The Packers are actually coming off their best game of the season having blown out the Bears, and you really can’t say that Aaron Rodgers is the reason for their five losses as banged up as the Packers have been on defense.  This should be a very entertaining Monday night game, especially considering the Saints are playing their first home game since October 13 (which I’m sorry, that is ridiculous.  The league should not have allowed the Saints to be on the road that amount of time.  The Saints “home” game that was moved to London was a joke).  The Saints fans have waited a long time for the team to return, and they will provide the team with a big lift, helping them to a Monday night win.

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Thursday Night Football Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 20, 2008

This week’s Thursday NFL game definitely isn’t the most compelling matchup on the schedule in week 12.  In fact, it is in question what will be on the most amount of time in my house tomorrow night.  It’s not as if Steelers-Bengals is the only option I have to choose from.  I could choose to watch a very compelling college basketball doubleheader instead (Duke-Southern Illinois followed by UCLA-Michigan in the 2K Sports Classic).  Nevertheless, Steelers-Bengals is football, and thus I will at the very least be looking in on the game.  Let’s be frank though, it’s not as if this game requires much brainpower to make a selection.  The only questions here are margin of victory for the Steelers and will the game still be interesting enough to watch in the third quarter?

Cincinnati strangely enough actually does not have a loss in November, owing to their surprise win over Jacksonville, the bye, and their stellar non-loss to Philadelphia.  It seems fitting that the Bengals were involved in the NFL’s first tie in six years, being that they have grossly underachieved all season.  The Bengals were a mess from the get-go in large part thanks to Chad Johnson’s antics over the summer.  His open desire for a trade and unwillingness to report to camp had to be a distraction, plus his theatrics over legally changing his last name to Ocho Cinco had to take away from his focus on the field.  Carson Palmer’s injury and the flameout of Rudi Johnson (now in Detroit) didn’t help the offense either.  Cincinnati has shown effort in recent games, and they do have one bright spot in T.J. Houshmanzadeh (who is among the league leaders in receptions), but they have really bottomed out after their playoff appearance three years ago.  The fact that the Bengals (like the Eagles as well), ended up involved in a tie and couldn’t figure out a way to win that game speaks volumes about how much they’ve struggled this season.  

Pittsburgh on the other hand is coming off a big win over San Diego, one in which they had to fight to the end.  Despite two recent losses at home, the Steelers still sit at 7-3, and in 2nd place in the AFC.  The Steelers defense will not allow the Bengals to get anything going on the ground (especially after a less than stellar 47 yard effort from Cedric Benson last week), and they will harass Ryan Fitzpatrick all night.  Pittsburgh’s offense has not lit up the scoreboard, but they should be able to move the ball in this game with Willie Parker, and Hines Ward always steps up big against the Bengals.  The Bengals certainly remember his wicked block in the first meeting, and while they may say they’re motivated, it would really surprising if they try to be physical with Ward in the rematch, because that is a battle they will not win if they try.  Ben Roethlisberger has been toughing it out with a bum shoulder, and he will have to play through the pain again on a short week.  If Willie Parker runs effectively though, Roethlisberger will not be asked to do a lot to have to win this game.

Did I mention the game is at Heinz Field?  At night?  With a loud crowd?  Pittsburgh has a one game in the division now, and they want to keep it that way.  The Steelers schedule really beefs up down the stretch, including road games at New England and Tennessee, plus a home tilt with Dallas, so Pittsburgh knows they can’t afford to give this one away.  A win keeps the Steelers in bye position.  Cincinnati is playing for pride.  The Steelers blasted Cincinnati 38-10 on the road in the first meeting and they will do it again.  

The Pick: Steelers 31 Bengals 13.  It will not be compelling by the middle of the third quarter

*One caveat: the first two Thursday night games were upsets by the away team in wildly entertaining fashion.  There could be some Thursday night voodoo I’m unaware of that is causing this.  If Cincinnati wins, book the away team for every Thursday game the rest of the way.

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Another Gutsy Road Win

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 17, 2008

There is no doubt the Broncos-Falcons game will certainly be flying under the radar when compared to other games around the league this week.  You’ve got Tennessee coming from behind in a division road game to improve to 10-0.  You’ve got the Giants dropping 30 points on the Ravens defense.  You’ve got a crazy finish in the Steelers-Chargers game that resulted in an 11-10 final score for the first time in NFL history.  You’ve got a tie in the NFL for the first time in six years (Still perplexed by that one, was either team actually trying to win in overtime?).  You’ve got the Cowboys showing a pulse again in the NFC.  I could continue, but the point is the Broncos have very quietly opened up a two game lead in the AFC West, and they’ve done it with seemingly half the roster on the injured list.  Denver has won back-to-back road games for the first time in years, and dare I say it they actually seem like they could be dangerous again especially once they get healthy.

Denver’s win in Atlanta today was all about the unsung guys, starting with Spencer Larsen.  The rookie has quietly shined on special teams for the Broncos as a sixth round pick out of Arizona, but today he became the first player in Broncos history to start on offense, defense and special teams in the same game.  He played fullback, opening up holes for Peyton Hillis and Tatum Bell, had seven tackles on defense, and was around the ball on special teams.  First of all this should tell how banged up the Broncos are at multiple positions, but also that the team has a chance to succeed with guys like Larsen filling the void.  

Besides Spencer Larsen, even a die hard fan like me is needing a program these days to keep track of all the new faces.  How about Wesley Woodyard getting the start at middle linebacker?  He combined for four tackles in the first eight games while playing sparingly, but now has had 18 in the last two games, including nine today against Atlanta.  Or how about Josh Bell, who got a surprise start at cornerback today with Champ Bailey still hobbled, and multiplied his season tackle total by five?  Running back P.J. Pope had spent his entire career on the practice squad with three different clubs before being activated this week, and contributed 35 yards on four carries.  Even a familiar name like Tatum Bell required a double take as he rushed for 34 yards on seven carries, including the clinching first down in the final minute.  Even Peyton Hillis, who is a household name among Bronco fans now but was completely unkown a month ago, did very well in his emergency tailback duty, scoring two touchdowns.

This is not to say that the usual suspects didn’t do their part.  Brandon Marshall caught six balls, including a critical 47 yarder on third down in fourth quarter that prevented the Broncos from having to punt in their own territory.  Jay Cutler was sensational in the fourth quarter, leading a clutch drive that culminated in a zinger to Daniel Graham for the go-ahead score that evoked memories of an Elway fastball in the final minutes.  Eddie Royal didn’t have a great game statistically (four catches 34 yards) but his presence was critical in areas besides the box score, especially when he flattened Falcons safety Lawyer Milloy on a Tatum Bell run in the fourth quarter.  Even Dre’ Bly, who has had his fair share of tough moments this year, came up with a crucial momentum turning interception in the third quarter.  

Needless to say this game did not at all unfold the way I expected it to go.  The Broncos inability to stop the run this season has been well documented, yet a banged up Broncos defense gave up just 114 yards on the ground, allowing 3.3 yards per rush.  That’s definitely not bad at all considering Atlanta ranks second in the NFL in rushing, averaging 153 yards per game, while the Broncos rank 26th in the league, allowing 143 yards per game while allowing 4.9 yards per carry. The Broncos kept Michael Turner in check most of the day, although he did finish with 81 yards and two scores.  The Broncos offense actually did not make as many plays as I expected them to, but they got the job done at the end when they needed to.  The bottom line is anytime you’re winning on the road you’re doing something right, and the Broncos suddenly find themselves in a position where their confidence is sky high with what should be a very winnable home game against the Raiders on the horizon.

Some other thoughts from the game:

– How on Earth did the Falcons have that many empty seats at the Georgia Dome?  Do the fans there realize the Falcons are actually playing well?  I swear anyone could have walked up five minutes before game time and purchased an entire section.  The attendance is listed at 54,644.  The Georgia Dome seats over 71,000.  Something is seriously wrong with Atlanta sports fans, although maybe it’s not surprising considering how many non-sellouts the Braves had for playoff games over the years.

– The Broncos were almost in a position where they would have needed another clutch drive in less in a minute to win.  Matt Ryan’s deep ball on 3rd & 18 just missed Roddy White in the corner of the end zone with 1:05 to go.  If White catches that ball, and it was very close indeed, Denver would definitely have felt the pressure.  It goes to show how many little things can alter the outcome of a game.

– Speaking of Ryan, he is playing phenomenally well for a rookie.  Ryan showed poise that many veterans don’t have, and showed ability to make plays out of the pocket.  The few times the Broncos were able to get pressure on him, he got away easily while making throws on the run.  He is already a very good quarterback and the Falcons have long forgotten about Michael Vick.

– Jay Cutler seems to be learning how to make plays while at the same time taking care of the ball.  He made good decisions today even when no one was open.  He spread the ball around to multiple receivers and didn’t try to force something that wasn’t there.  If he can continue that, the Broncos will have success going forward.  

– If the Broncos are to keep up the pace for a division title, they will need to get the running game going consistently.  Denver did very quietly rush for 124 yards, but they will need to be more consistent.  Two times in the first half the Broncos passed on 3rd & 3 or less, and were not confident the running game could move the chains.  That will not work in the playoffs.  This area should improve when Selvin Young returns and Tatum Bell gets more in game shape.  

– The defense needs to continue to improve.  They need to progress from the bend but don’t break ideal to forcing turnovers and getting more pressure.  They are moving in the right direction and need to continue to make progress.  

For all of Denver’s struggles this year, they are 6-4 and have a two game lead in the AFC West.  Their 6-4 record matches New England, Miami, Baltimore and Indianapolis in the AFC, and perhaps Buffalo if the Bills win tomorrow.  The Broncos have an advantage those teams do not, and that is that they play in the weak AFC West.  The Chargers are 4-6 and look like they might be in real trouble.  I realize the Broncos still have issues and are not in the class of Tennessee or Pittsburgh right now, but If they  get healthy they can be dangerous, perhaps just in time to maybe even make a run at the top teams in the AFC.

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One More Post-Holliday Trade Note

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 17, 2008

I’ll let Jim Armstrong, the great sports columnist from The Denver Post, make the point.  You can read his latest thoughts on the Holliday trade, and specifically why such a lopsided deal wouldn’t happen in the NFL here.

I completely agree with everything he says.  MLB really needs to adopt the NFL model, except the players (and especially the union and their agents) are too greedy.  The sad thing is the way the NFL labor contract currently reads, the 2010 season would be played without a salary cap, and the players say they will not go back to one if they play a season with an uncapped year.  It seems in any case from what I’ve heard that the NFL is on its way to labor strife after the 2010 season (or after two more seasons following the conclusion of this one).  It’s a ways off yes, but it would be a shame if the NFL and its players allowed the best business model in sports to go poof.

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Jets-Patriots Recap plus Week Eleven Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 14, 2008

Well, for the second straight week I was incorrect on the Thursday night game.  Needless to say, I did not expect the Jets to jump out the way they did on the road.  Leon Washington’s kickoff return was clearly a momentum changer early, and the Jets offense was really clicking in the first half.  Give the Patriots a lot of credit for battling back from a 24-6 deficit and giving themselves a chance to win, even if they were unable to pull it out.  I really thought New England made the right call going for it on 4th down twice at the end of the first half, even though one of them was unsuccessful, because kicking a field goal when you’re down 24-6 does not help you.  The Patriots ended up scoring a critical touchdown before halftime that gave them a much needed boost for the second half.  Had they kicked the field goal to cut it to 24-9, odds are the second half would have turned out to be much easier for the Jets.

The last 20 minutes of the game (including the overtime) was simply a display of terrific football.  After the Patriots tied it at 24, the Jets chewed up more than seven minutes off the clock with a short passing game and a sense of purpose.  Brett Favre made the throws you would expect of a sure fire Hall of Famer, and when Thomas Jones capped it off with a touchdown to put the Jets up 31-24, you got the sense the game was still not over.  Even when the Jets got the ball back with just over two minutes to go, New England knew they could get the ball back with a stop.  Sure enough the Patriots got it back with 1:15 on the clock, and Matt Cassel evoked memories of Tom Brady, chewing up the Jets prevent defense with short passes to Wes Welker, and managing the clock beautifully.  His throw on the run to Randy Moss for the tying touchdown with one second left was phenomenal, and Moss did a great job hauling it in even with Ty Law draped all over him.  New England appeared to have all the momentum heading into overtime, even after the Jets won the coin flip.  

They did until Brett Favre answered Cassel in the overtime, escaping what looked like a sure sack to convert a key 3rd & 14 to keep the drive alive deep in his own territory.  Favre then made precision throw after precision throw, mixed in with hard running by Jones, and the Jets won it on a Jay Feely field goal 34-31.  It is unfortunate that New England never saw the ball in overtime, but their defense was unable to come up with a stop when needed.  I am one that does not think the overtime rule needs to be changed, even though a lot of times the team that wins the toss marches right down for a field goal.  New England had several chances to come up with a stop, and beyond that, Bill Belichick elected to go the safe route and kick the extra point and send the game to OT with one second left, rather than going for two and the win.  Clearly, that is a judgement call that does not necessarily have a right answer, as teams going for two in that situation are one for two this season.  I am one though where I would seriously think about going for two there if there is a chance my offense may not see the ball in OT.  Regardless of that, the Jets were able to pull the road upset in a very entertaining game and take control of first place in the AFC East.  That is exactly why the Jets signed Favre, for that kind of performance.  The Patriots will not go away quietly, but New York is in the driver’s seat for the time being.  If all of these Thursday games are bound to be this exciting, perhaps the Bengals may have hope next week in Pittsburgh?  I still say not likely.  At any rate, on to the picks, keeping in mind I’m already 0-1 this week:

 

Last Week: 10-4 (.714) Season: 89-54 (.622)

– Dolphins over Raiders: This has complete mismatch written all over it.  Miami has very quietly won three in a row, and can actually vault into second place in the AFC East with a win.  Miami is getting a fantastic year out of Joey Porter, and he has really energized the defense.  The Dolphins are also getting great running out of Ronnie Brown and (surprise!) Ricky Williams.  The Raiders are a complete joke in every way, especially when they’ve played on the road this year.  Even in a game where they forced Jake Delhomme into four picks last week, they still managed to score just six points.  Oakland will not be able to move the ball in this game, and Chad Pennington will not get rattled in the pocket.  The Dolphins have enough offense to win their fourth straight, setting up a showdown with New England next week.

– Eagles over Bengals: Philadelphia knows they must win this game to even be in the mix in the NFC East, especially since they have tough games with Baltimore and Arizona coming up after this one.  The Eagles had chances to win last week against the Giants despite getting dominated in time of possession, and have way too much talent to be stuck at 5-4.  Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook are actually healthy, and spells bad news for Cincinnati’s defense in this one.  The Bengals are coming off their first win of the year, and have showed signs of life at times this year, but they will not be able to keep up in this one.  Ryan Fitzpatrick under center against Jim Johnson’s ballhawking Eagles defense is not a good combination.  The lack of interest in ticket sales in Cincinnati also means there will be lots of green in the stands at Paul Brown Stadium.  Philadelphia survives an early punch and then pulls away late.

– Giants over Ravens: This will be a great game.  The Giants keep proving doubters wrong who picked them to falter after winning the Super Bowl last year, having won yet another tough road game last week in Philadelphia.  The Giants have great balance on offense with Brandon Jacobs and Eli Manning is playing at least as good as his older brother.  The defense has also been effective despite losing both defensive ends from last year’s team.  Baltimore continues to surprise at 6-3, having blown out the Texans not only with their usual tough defense, but now the Ravens have an offense to go with it.  Now that Willis McGahee is healthy again, the Ravens offense can cause problems for opponents in addition to the defense.  I expect a tough physical game from both teams that will probably come down to turnovers.  I take the Giants at home, but if the game were in Baltimore I would be really tempted to go the other way.  Still, the Giants are the defending champs and they will prove why by pulling this one out.

– Steelers over Chargers: Both teams are extremely desperate for a win.  The object the Steelers see in their rear view mirror that is the Ravens keeps getting closer and closer, and Pittsburgh wants to get that winning feeling back after losing two of their last three, both at home.  Ben Roethlisberger will start again for the Steelers and they will need him to take care of the ball.  Willie Parker really will be back this time, and that will help the Steelers offense tremendously.  San Diego has way too much talent to be 4-5, but it does seem very clear that they do miss Shawne Merriman more than anticipated on defense.  The Chargers know they can sill win the AFC West with Denver hobbling, and we keep waiting for the light bulb to go on.  Still, the Chargers barely beat Kansas City this week, and we know the track record of west coast teams heading east.  Pittsburgh wins a close one.  

– Colts over Texans: Houston’s best chance of beating the Colts came in September, when the Texans blew a 27-10 lead with under five minutes to play.  After Indianapolis made that comeback, and factoring the trouncing the Texans took against Baltimore last week, and there is no way Houston has any mojo heading into this game.  The Colts meanwhile have been red hot, earning back to back wins against the Patriots and Steelers.  Reggie Wayne has certainly picked up the slack for a struggling Marvin Harrison, and Peyton Manning is finally starting to look like his old self again.  Suddenly, Indianapolis has a very friendly schedule down the stretch, and the Colts look like playoff material.  Factor in that the Texans are still stuck with Sage Rosenfels, he of two fumbles in three minutes against the Colts last meeting, and there is no way the Colts don’t roll in front of the home fans.  

– Jaguars over Titans: I know, I know, I keep picking against Tennessee and they keep winning.  I keep waiting for the thank you card from Jeff Fisher any day now thanking me for continuing to pick against them.  This pick has less to do with Tennessee and more to do with Jacksonville, who finally got the running game going last week.  Okay, so it was against the Lions, but if the Jags can get a repeat performance from Maurice Jones-Drew, they will have more than a fighting chance against the undefeated Titans.  David Garrard having the ability to make plays with his legs will also be a factor in neutralizing the Titans defense.  Tennessee could not get the running game going at all against the Bears, and to their credit they adjusted and Kerry Collins played great, but Jacksonville’s defense is better against the pass than Chicago’s.  This is a fierce division rivalry that is always close, and I have a hunch the Jaguars will save their season and get to .500 by pulling out a tough win in front of the home fans.  

– Falcons over Broncos: I expect a high scoring shootout in this one.  The Broncos offense is back to form now that they have Tony Scheffler back in the lineup to stretch the defense, and Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal will benefit from great matchups against the Atlanta secondary.  One of them will be matched against former Bronco Dominique Foxworth, who routinely got burned in Denver, so as a Broncos fan I am licking my chops at that one.  Thing is, the Broncos are very thin at running back, having just signed old friend Tatum Bell this week.  Bell was selling cell phones in the mall last week, so who knows how good of shape he’ll be in.  Meanwhile, the Broncos defense is so banged up that none of their starting linebackers are available, although Champ Bailey may try to play.  Still, the Falcons are as red hot as anyone in the league right now, and are right in the mix in the NFC South at 6-3.  Matt Ryan is certainly not playing like a rookie, and he has an excellent matchup here against Denver’s 29th ranked pass defense, even if Bailey plays.  Factor in Denver’s complete inability to stop the run, and you also have big plays from Michael Turner and probably Jerious Norwood too.  I like Atlanta to win a close high scoring game in this one.  Side note, how ironic would it be if the Falcons beat Denver on a last second Jason Elam field goal?  My stomach churns as I type the sentence.  

– Chiefs over Saints: UPSET OF THE WEEK.  I may be nuts, but Kansas City has given terrific effort for three straight weeks, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion each time.  They lost to the Jets on a last second drive by Favre, they let a huge lead get away at home against the Bucs, and they lost in San Diego when Herm Edwards rolled the dice to go for two at the end and they didn’t get it (although that would not have been necessary if not for a missed extra point earlier in the game).  Remember the name Mark Bradley.  In fact you might want to grab him in your fantasy league if he is still available.  The rookie is rapidly emerging as a major threat in the Kansas City offense, and he and Dwayne Bowe actually have a very favorable matchup against the Saints’ secondary.  New Orleans has been up and down all year, despite an MVP type year from Drew Brees.  The Saints should get Reggie Bush back, and that will definitely help their offense in more ways than one.  Even though the Saints should score a ton of points in this game, something smells fishy here.  If Arrowhead Stadium is rocking, and the fans who have shown up this year have still been loud, than I think the Chiefs hard effort pays off in the form of an upset win.

– Packers over Bears: One of the league’s best rivalries gets renewed in the NFC North, and both teams are coming off tough losses.  This is the type of game where you have to throw the records out owing to the intense nature of the rivalry.  Chicago’s defense gave a great effort against the Titans, holding them to minus 5 yards in the first half, but their suspect pass defense ended up catching up with them in the end.  Kyle Orton will try to return for the Bears, and if he does it will really help take the pressure off rookie back Matt Forte.  Green Bay lost a bizarre game to the Vikings, where they lost despite getting an interception return for a touchdown and a punt return TD.  They would have won if not for a Mason Crosby missed field goal at the end, but it’s not often a team even has a chance to win after giving up two safeties in one game.  The fact that the Packers are back at Lambeau Field will be the sway factor in this one.  Aaron Rodgers should be able to make enough plays in the passing game to give the Packers a much needed victory, which will create a real logjam in the NFC North.  

– Panthers over Lions: Blowout of the week.  Carolina’s offense will be back to form after an off week against the Raiders in which Jake Delhomme was just 7 of 27.  The Panthers will have no problem moving the ball against the Lions to the point where last week’s offensive struggles will seem like a distant memory.  Steve Smith will have a monster day, and the Carolina running game will have a big day too.  The Lions seem unsure who will start at quarterback, but it won’t matter if it’s Daunte Culpepper or Drew Stanton, either one will have a big problem against Carolina’s attacking defense.  I can’t even come up with a feeble argument for how Detroit can even keep this game close.  They can’t run it, they can’t pass, and they can’t play defense, that about sums it up.  The 0-16 watch is on in Detroit, as the Lions schedule does not ease up after this game in any way.  

– Buccaneers over Vikings: This will be a very entertaining game.  I can’t wait to see the unstoppable force (Adrian Peterson) go against the immovable object (the Bucs defense).  Something has to give here, because Peterson is a threat for a big play every time, while Tampa Bay’s defense makes a habit of making even Pro Bowl offensive players look foolish.  If Peterson is taken away, Gus Frerotte will have a difficult time making plays in the passing game, so it will be important for the Vikings to be able to run the ball.  This game may well be decided on the other side of the ball, where it will be key for the Bucs’ offense to control the clock against the Vikings’ defense.  Most teams have had trouble running against Jared Allen and company, so the onus will be on Jeff Garcia to make plays.  Both divisions are really tight, so this a game that both teams really need.  I go with Tampa Bay because they’re playing at home, largely on the strength of their defense being at least able to contain Peterson.  

– Cardinals over Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck is back for the Seahawks, although it screams too little too late.  Mike Holmgren’s club is 2-7 and actually trails the Cardinals by four games in the NFC West.  Seattle actually gave a valiant effort last week in Miami, and Hasselbeck’s return and the home crowd should give the Seahawks a lift, but the Cardinals know this is a game they need too.  Arizona has to deal with the Giants and the Eagles in the next two weeks, so there is no way they want to head into that stretch coming off a loss.  The Cardinals struggled at times against San Francisco last week, but Kurt Warner still made the throws he needed to, and the defense came up with big stops at the end.  This is the type of game Arizona would have blown in the past, but not this time.  Even though the Seahawks will be fired up with Hasselbeck returning, Arizona will have enough to win this one, even on the road.  

– 49ers over Rams: The question facing the Rams is have they given up on the season?  St. Louis really looked like they didn’t care last week against the Jets, and that can only mean good news for Rams’ opponents the rest of the year.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see Marc Bulger yanked in favor of Trent Green, and Steven Jackson is once again out of this game due to injury.  The 49ers played with a sense of purpose last week, and it looks like Mike Singletary is well on his way to turning things around.  If not for a crazy sequence at the end of the game, they would have upset the Cardinals, and this is the kind of game where San Francisco will be able to feel good about itself going forward.  Frank Gore should have his best game of the season, and should be able to run at will against the porous Rams’ defense.  There is talent on this Niners team, and they can begin the process of building momentum for next year now, starting with a big win here.  

– Cowboys over Redskins: Tony Romo is back for Dallas in the Sunday night game, and that will energize the Cowboys’ offense.  Dallas is also coming off a bye week, so they have had a chance to regroup.  For all that has gone wrong in Big D, they are still 5-4, and very much in the thick of the playoff race.  It is ironic that they have essentially switched positions with the Giants from last year.  Last year Dallas won the NFC East while the Giants floundered midseason and got it together at the end to win the Super Bowl.  If the Cowboys believe in history repeating itself, then they very much have a chance to make a serious run.  Romo’s return is definitely good news for Terrell Owens and Roy Williams, who has had the bye to get more comfortable with the offense.  The possible return of Felix Jones should also help Dallas get the running game going.  Washington, meanwhile, is also coming off a bye but they also got waxed by Pittsburgh in their last game.  to make matters worse, Clinton Portis is doubtful with an MCL injury.  Even if Portis plays he won’t be near 100 percent, and that will make things very difficult for the Redskins.  Even though Washington is at home, and even though it is a big rivalry, and even though the Redskins will benefit from a rocking crowd, Dallas shows they are back in the mix by collecting a huge road win on a national stage.  

– Bills over Browns: The Monday nighter seems like a big yawner compared to all the other great matchups this week, but it is very important for the Bills, who are already in last place in the AFC East despite a 5-4 record, and will further find themselves entrenched in that spot with another loss.  Buffalo has lost three straight, and their 4-0 start seems like distant history.  Trent Edwards has really struggled in the past month or so, but he has chance to get things together in this game against a Browns defense that gave up 447 yards passing to Jay Cutler last week.  Buffalo needs their defense to step up in this one, as the Browns will be sure to open things up a little more for Brady Quinn than they did in his first game.  Quinn developed great chemistry with Kellen Winslow immediately, so that could be bad news for Buffalo, but I say the Bills’ raucous home Monday night crowd will give them a lift early, and then Edwards should be able to pull something out of the bag in the second half to give the Bills the win.  Something to watch in this game also: both sets of special teams are capable of making big plays, including touchdown returns.  If one of these teams scores a special teams touchdown, it could sway the game.  Still, I like the Bills.

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Thursday Night Football Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 13, 2008

The NFL Network certainly lucked out with its Thursday night game draw this week, a titanic AFC East showdown between the Jets and Patriots.  Both teams sit 6-3, and both teams have been hot lately.  The Jets have won five of their past six games, including a 47-3 thrashing of the Rams last week in which they had a 40-0 lead at HALFTIME.  Granted, two of the other Jets wins in that stretch have come against the Bengals and Chiefs, but they also hung 56 points on the NFC West leading Cardinals (how strange does that phrase sound?) and they also won a tough division road game in Buffalo.  New England, meanwhile, has managed to win three of its past four, including a win over the Bills themselves last week in which they sealed it with a 19 play, 92 yard drive that took 9:08 off the clock in the fourth quarter.  Basically the Patriots were able to hold the ball for two thirds of the fourth quarter to seal the win, which is needless to say impressive. 

The winner of this game takes over sole possession of first place in the AFC East, so it’s obviously a critical game for both teams.  This is exactly the kind of game the Jets signed Brett Favre for, an intense division game on the road.  Favre has certainly if nothing else provided the Jets a spark, which is an understatement considering the Jets have already surpassed their 2007 win total.  The Jets have run the ball well with Thomas Jones, and that will certainly help them control the tempo of the game, especially in trying to temper the intense crowd of New England fans that will be on hand.   The Jets’ defense has also been playing surprisingly well as of late, so that gives them a chance in this game.  If they can get pressure on Matt Cassel, they will have a chance. 

Speaking of Cassel, the Patriots have gotten very good play from him over the past month or so.  He hasn’t put up spectacular numbers, but he has made the plays he has needed to and has not made bad decisions.  Sounds almost like a carbon copy of the 2001 Tom Brady doesn’t it?  The Patriots haven’t been getting the big plays from Randy Moss that they got last year, but Wes Welker is among the league leaders in catches, and they’ve found ways to score enough points to win games.  New England has run the ball effectively despite being gashed with injury at the running back position, and the defense has done a good job keeping them in games. 

The key to this game will be whether or not the Jets’ defense can get pressure on Cassel.  For all that Cassel has done well, he has been sacked a whopping 29 times this season.  Even in his best game against the Broncos, Cassel was sacked six times.  Even last week against the Bills, there were times where he didn’t necessarily look comfortable in the pocket, although he was able to make the plays he needed to.  If the Jets can rattle Cassel and force him into turnovers, it will change the complexion of the game considerably.   Keep in mind the Patriots won the week two meeting in New York 19-10 primarily because they were able to pressure Favre and make him uncomfortable.  The Jets will need to do the same to Cassel in order to win.

This will certainly be an intense, tight game throughout, but I have to give the Patriots a slight edge in this one.  They are playing a night game at home, they won the first meeting on the road already, and they’ve won 11 of their past 12 games against the Jets.  I think Favre will make enough plays to keep the Jets in it, but it won’t be quite enough.  While the Jets defense might be able to get to Cassel a little bit, the Patriots will somehow find a way to pull this one out at home.  Even with a short week to prepare, it’s hard to bet against Bill Belichick when the game is this close. 

The Pick: Patriots 20, Jets 17

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Holliday Follow Up

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 13, 2008

A couple of quick follow up thoughts on the trade that sent Matt Holliday to Oakland for Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez, and Greg Smith:

– The Rockies are trying to portray Holliday as not being a team player and are trying to argue that they will be better team next year even though their best hitter and only game changer is gone.  Please, Dan O’Dowd, don’t insult our intelligence by trying to say the team is now better.  It may be better in two years if Gonzalez and Smith turn out to be as good at their potential indicates they could be, but the team is not better now.

– As for Holliday not being a team player, it’s hard to argue with O’Dowd on that point.  Holliday wrote his ticket out of town and put his full selfishness and greediness on display the instant he hired Scott Boras as his agent.  Players who hire Boras are seeking as much money as possible and NEVER re-sign with their current team for less.  The Rockies frankly couldn’t afford to keep Holliday, and we all knew that.  My issue is more with the timing of the trade and what the Rockies got (or didn’t get) in return.

– I do want to give Smith, Gonzalez, and Street the benefit of the doubt.  Smith did eat up a lot of innings last year in Oakland, and maybe we should give him a chance to see if he can cut his walks down, which he will have to do to be effective.  The Rockies need him to be a 2 of 3 starter, not the 4 or 5 starter he is now.  Gonzalez  has the tools to be a good center fielder, but he has yet to put it together at the Major League level.  If he can meet his full potential and improve his woeful on base percentage, the trade may prove to be ok for the Rockies in 2-3 years.  If he is a bust, the trade is a full failure.  As for Street, it is unknown whether the Rockies will keep him or try to spin him for a starter.  If he stays, he will compete with Manny Corpas for the closer role, but the Rockies should be aware of his less than promising injury history.  Street has the talent and to his credit does not walk many hitters, but he has yet to prove he can stay healthy.  That must change if he is to be effective in the Rockies’ bullpen. 

– To those ripping A’s General Manager Billy Beane regarding his acquisition of Holliday: ask yourself who you’re ripping.  Beane has routinely made bold moves to improve the A’s.  It is unknown whether the A’s will keep Holliday after this year, but they knew they needed an elite power bat to keep pace with the Angels in the AL West.  Holliday is a game changer, and the A’s will benefit from his presence in the middle of the order.  If nothing else, the A’s will get two high compensatory picks in next year’s draft if Holliday bolts as a free agent.

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Unfortunate Reality Hits the Rockies

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 10, 2008

So apparently the Rockies have traded Matt Holliday.  I can’t really say I’m surprised frankly considering Holliday is represented by Scott Boras, who to put it kindly is extremely greedy.  Boras is notorious for getting monster deals for his clients (see Alex Rodriguez, he of the 10 year $275 million deal).  I’m sure Holliday has his reasons for not wanting to re-sign with the Rockies.  He says he wants to be somewhere where he has a consistent chance to make the World Series every year, and frankly it’s hard to argue that Colorado fits with that ideal.  There are reports of a rift with ownership considering the teams willingness to win and upgrade the roster, which is very possible considering the Monforts weren’t exactly active in the free agent market even after making the World Series.  If those are Holiday’s reasons for not accepting an extension with the Rockies and essentially forcing a trade, that’s one thing.  Of course it’s frustrating, but you can’t blame a player for not wanting to be somewhere where winning is a top priority. 

Now, if this is indeed about nothing other than money, than it impossible to keep any respect for either side.  If it is true that Holliday turned down an $85 million extension before last season, than I say good riddance.  Seriously, what can you do with $160 million that you can’t do with $85 million, short of buying a hundred cars and three extra mansions and who knows what else?  Maybe I just don’t understand it because I’ve never known what it’s like to have that kind of money, but I say if $100 million isn’t enough for you, perhaps you ought to work a real job for a year to better learn to appreciate the opportunity you have.  Maybe it’s just me.   I obviously can’t say for sure what Holliday’s motives are for not wanting to stay in Colorado, and I don’t want to throw him under the bus based on speculation, but it seems like it is with most Boras clients that it really is a money issue regardless of what else comes out of the player’s mouth.

I personally believe that the unsettled nature of the Holliday contract negotiations had to have an adverse effect on the team’s performance last season.  The ownership and players alike may say otherwise, but how could it not have had an effect?   If nothing else, there was a notable decline in Holliday’s numbers last season (.321 average down from .340 the previous year, home run decline to 25 from 36, and RBIs were down from 137 to 88).  To be fair, Holliday did miss two weeks in May due to injury, but even factoring that in, that’s a noticeable decrease in production.  Even considering his two week injury, that type of decline in production doesn’t seem to merit the $20 million offer he is seeking.  Even given all that, it is a shame that the relationship between Holliday and the Rockies went south so quickly that the Rockies felt forced to deal him even with a year to go before he hit free agency. 

It seems clear that Rockies ownership is in a pickle here because they seem to have made Holliday the best offer they could afford.  His unwillingness to accept their offer means they are now getting roughly 30 cents on the dollar in the deal.  While reports vary on what exactly the Rockies will get in return, the one consistent piece seems to be pitcher Greg Smith, he of a 7-16 record last season and a 4.16 ERA.  Smith finished third in the AL in walks allowed with 87, which is not a good stat.  The 16 losses may not be a good indicator of his ability because the A’s weren’t a good team last year, but walking guys is never a good thing.  If this is the best the Rockies can hope for in return for Holliday, than there is no way they can make a legitimate argument they are a better team for trading Holliday.  Whoever’s fault it is, it is still frustrating to know that already the Rockies are behind the eight ball in the NL West race and spring training is still three months away.

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