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Archive for December, 2009

Week 17 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 31, 2009

Things are rapidly unraveling for the Denver Broncos, who are now in serious danger of becoming the second team in NFL history to start 6-0 and miss the playoffs (the 2003 Vikings are the other).  While there are 10 scenarios that would allow the Broncos to make the playoffs, all of them involve either a loss by the Jets or Ravens.  As you’ll see in the picks below, I don’t think either will happen.  It is safe to say that the Broncos have missed countless opportunities this season (especially in losses to the Redskins and Raiders) so it is their own fault that they are stuck in this position in the first place.  Had the Broncos won either of those two games, they would have clinched a spot already.  Now, they are on the wrong end of tiebreakers and need help to back into the playoffs.  Perhaps the most disappointing thing is I thought the Broncos played maybe their best half of the season Sunday in the second half against the Eagles.  Denver erased a 27-10 deficit, had the Eagles on the ropes, but couldn’t quite close the deal.  If Denver had played like that the week before against the Raiders, they would have blown them out.  Denver has been plagued by inconsistency all year, playing well against good competition most of the time but folding on several occasions against inferior opponents.

The bottom line for the Broncos is there have been too many times this season where they failed to capitalize in the red zone, and too many games in which they simply did not score enough points offensively.  I think the foundation is there for a good defense, for the unit has been much improved over last year.  On offense, the Broncos have got to figure out how to get more production next season, particularly out of guys like Eddie Royal and Tony Scheffler.  While they have a chance to finish with an improved record over last year, it appears probable in any case that the Broncos will once again be on the outside looking in.  That is unless a few major upsets take place.  We’ll have a more detailed breakdown of the season after it is all over, but for now the Broncos have to wonder about what could have been in a season where they had such a great start. 

Now on to the picks, while trying to navigate the minefield that is week 17, especially the part about trying to determine who will play to win and who will concede games by benching starters.

Last week: 9-7 Season: 157-81

– Bills over Colts: Obviously this is not a pick that would be made in normal circumstances.  If this was a meaningful game the Colts would win big every time, but this is clearly not a meaningful game.  The Colts I believe made a colossal error of epic proportions last week when they basically handed the Jets a free victory by benching their starters in the second half last week.  The Colts led 15-10 in the third quarter at the time, which clearly means that the game was not yet out of hand.  I believe especially at that point, when the starters had already played into the second half, with the Colts just six quarters away from an undefeated regular season and potential history, they pulled the plug.  I believe this is dead wrong for several reasons, not the least of which is they’ve now put themselves in a position where they will not play hard this week, will then have a bye week, and then will have turn the switch back on against a hot team coming off a playoff win.  History in the NFL has proven that teams that do this NEVER EVER win the Super Bowl.  The Colts themselves have stumbled numerous times by resting players in the final weeks of the regular season, only to fall flat on their faces in the first round of the playoffs.  The one year the Colts won the Super Bowl in 2006, they played their starters all the way through because they needed to, and lo and behold their momentum carried them all the way to the Super Bowl win!  I think in this case especially, when the Colts voluntarily torched their perfect season and shot and history, it will really come back to bite them.  The Colts players were clearly not happy with the decision, and I think it is just too difficult to turn the switch back on after weeks of inactivity.  No matter what anyone says you can’t simulate game intensity in practice nor can you expect to keep your timing and rhythm.  Factor that the Colts could well have a tough matchup in their first playoff game (possibilities include the Patriots, Bengals and several other teams) and I think the Colts are cooked.  In fact book it right now: Indianapolis WILL NOT play in the Super Bowl, largely because of this idiotic boneheaded decision to basically ignore the last two weeks of the season instead of going for 16-0 as they should have.  As for this game, I know the Bills have been awful, but I refuse to pick a team led by Chris Painter at quarterback to win on the road.  Besides, we know the Colts are basically not even attempting to win this game, thus I take the Bills at home. 

– Falcons over Buccaneers: A meaningless game in terms of the standings.  For the Falcons, they have a chance to finish 9-7 if they win.  Tampa Bay has won two straight, including last week’s stunner in New Orleans (for the record I will point out that I did pick the Bucs to win the first meeting in Tampa, only to see that blow up in my face, and then I took the safe route last and missed the pick again.  Go figure that I would pick the Tampa upset in the wrong meeting).  In this game, I think both teams want to end the season on a positive note, but I’ll take the Falcons on a hunch. 

– Panthers over Saints: This game has been rendered meaningless since the Saints have now clinched home field throughout the NFC playoffs.  While I’m not ready to write off New Orleans yet, they are in a sudden free fall that really extends back to their near loss in Washington.  I’m not sure if the Saints will bench Brees and company for this scrimmage of if they’ll actually try to win, but I’m leaning toward Sean Payton resting people (again a mistake, I think they need to get a win and get momentum).  In any case, the Panthers are suddenly red hot (blowout wins over the Vikings and Giants) and are getting good enough play from Matt Moore at quarterback that he may actually win the job for 2010.  Since the Panthers are on fire and playing at home, I like them to win, figuring that the Saints are likely to sit people and not risk injury.  In the end I think the Saints peaked too early, and are in real danger against several quick strike teams in the playoffs.

– 49ers over Rams: This is probably the dud game of the week with several contenders.  St. Louis can clinch the first pick in the draft with a loss, and chances are they’ll get it with plenty of empty seats at the Edward Jones Dome.  The 49ers have a chance to really finish out on a positive note (three wins in their final four games) with a win and carry momentum into next season.  The 49ers should win this without much difficulty. 

– Bears over Lions: Jay Cutler came out of nowhere and really had an outstanding game Monday night against Minnesota, leading the Bears to 36 points and an overtime victory.  That is the Jay Cutler the Bears thought they were trading for in the offseason.  Of course it is only one game and he performed that way when the pressure was completely off and the Bears were long eliminated from postseason contention.  It remains to be seen if Cutler will be able to do that on a consistent basis in 2010.  In any case the Bears have a lot of rebuilding to do at a number of positions and not a lot of draft choices to do it with.  For the Lions, they are limping into another disappointing offseason and will once again look to regroup.  I like the Bears to win this ugly affair even though it’s on the road. 

– Titans over Seahawks: The only suspense here is whether Chris Johnson will achieve 2,000 yards rushing on the season.  He needs 128 yards to get it done, certainly very doable against a Seahawks team with nothing to play for and is just playing out the string of a very disappointing season.   I think Johnson has vaulted over Adrian Peterson this season for the honor of best running back in the league and will be a star for years to come in Tennessee.  The Titans still have a chance to finish 8-8 even after an 0-6 start, and that would be a tremendous achievement even though they’re out of the playoff hunt.  As for the Seahawks, expect big changes next year especially after the way they have practically given up in December.  Titans roll in this one. 

– Jaguars over Browns: Jacksonville’s playoff are hanging by a thread, and they will need a ton of help.  They looked awful in every way last week against the Patriots, which is probably an indicator that they wouldn’t be much of a threat in the playoffs if they were able to sneak in.  The Jaguars have nevertheless exceeded expectations this season, but you have to wonder if they’re wasting the prime of Maurice Jones-Drew’s career.  The Browns have very quietly won three in a row, but questions continue to hover about Eric Mangini’s future in the wake of Mike Holmgren taking over the organization.  I expect the Jaguars to win this game if nothing else to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

– Vikings over Giants: Minnesota is in real trouble.  They have lost three of their past four games and now are in real danger of losing their first round bye if the Eagles win in Dallas.  I do think the Vikings woke up offensively in the second half in Chicago, and they will need that kind of offensive attack going forward.  The real problem there now is that Adrian Peterson needs to hold on to the football.  The defensive front seven is still among the best in the NFL, but it was evident Monday night that they couldn’t get pressure, and it was also clear that cornerback Antonie Winfield was not near 100 percent.  If he continues to allow receivers to get that wide open, it won’t matter what kind of pressure the front seven generates.  I do still have a feeling though that this team is not dead yet, because I still think they are the most talented team in the league on both sides of the ball if they are clicking.  I think it will start with a momentum building win in this one, especially against a Giants team that is officially cooked after last week’s embarrassment against Carolina.  The Vikings know the bye is on the line, and I expect a spirited effort from Favre and company.  As for the G-men, it will interesting to see what changes await in the offseason after they blew a 5-0 start. 

– Steelers over Dolphins: Both teams are still mathematically alive, and both need help from multiple teams.  Pittsburgh is in better shape tiebreaker wise than Miami, but both teams will sink everything into this game to try and win it.  I think the Steelers are a sleeping giant that has woken up with two huge wins against Green Bay and Baltimore, and I think they are the team that no one in the AFC wants to see should they get in.  They are suddenly running the ball better, Ben Roethlisberger is throwing the ball well, and the defense is showing a knack for physical play again.  The Dolphins are coming off two straight losses, including one last week in which they allowed Houston way too big a lead in the first half.  I think even though this game is in Miami, the momentum is leaning toward the black and gold.  Pittsburgh wins an exciting game, keeping their playoff hopes alive at least into the late games. 

– Patriots over Texans: This is a hard game to figure because the game really doesn’t mean much to the Patriots unless they have a strong desire to be the three seed instead of the four.  Bill Belichick doesn’t have a history of resting players, although he was very coy about it this week in his press conferences.  The folks in Vegas seem to think the Patriots will basically take this game off, because the line is Texans by seven, which surely wouldn’t occur in ordinary circumstances.  If I were the Patriots I would play this game hard to win simply because I would want the three seed if I could get it (If New England loses and Cincinnati wins, the Bengals get the three).  The reason I would really want the three is just in case fluke circumstances occur in the playoffs that would allow the chance to host the AFC championship game, whereas with the four seed that is much more unlikely.  This paid off for the Colts in 2006 when they actually played hard in the final game to assure themselves the three seed, and ended up hosting the AFC title game, leading to a Super Bowl win.  In any case, I would be really surprised if the Patriots sat people against the Texans because that just doesn’t fit with the Belichick philosophy.  Houston is indeed red hot, and they are alive by a thread for the playoffs, and I do expect them to give a good effort at home, but if the Patriots play to win I like them to prevail on the road.  The caveat is I would take the Texans if I knew the Patriots would play backups, butI going to roll the dice and say that Belichick will play to win.  The reason I say that is Belichick knows the importance of momentum heading into the playoffs, and for this reason I think New England could be a dangerous team in the postseason.   

– Chargers over Redskins:  This is a meaningless game as the Chargers are locked into the two seed and have clinched a first round bye.  The question here is whether they will play to win and keep their winning streak alive (currently at 10 straight wins) or if they will sit everyone and basically take two weeks off.  My views are clear on this matter and I think the Chargers should play to win and keep momentum, but we’ll see what Norv Turner decides to do.  In any case, even if San Diego plays backups, I think the Redskins are so bad right now and in such disarray that I’m not so sure they would even be able to beat the Chargers JV on the road.   Washington has been really embarrassing in two straight prime time home games, and it seems clear that they are now just waiting to see whether or not Mike Shanahan is named head coach next week.  I’ll take the Chargers to win, and assume Rivers and company play at least a half.   

– Cardinals over Packers: This is an interesting deal because the Cardinals still have a slight chance at a first round bye (they would need a Vikings loss and the Cowboys to beat the Eagles).  The other factor here is this could very well be the first round playoff matchup for these teams.  Being that the wild card meeting is not guaranteed,  I think the Cardinals will see how the Vikings game unfolds in the early slot.  If Minnesota loses, I think the Cards go all out to win and go for the bye.  If the Vikings win, Arizona knows they can’t get the bye, and in that case I think they may rest everyone.  In that case I can see their point for doing it because it makes no sense to reveal your game plan against an opponent you’re likely going to play in a much more meaningful game the next week.  For Green Bay, it’s possible they could end up playing Philly or Dallas or maybe even Minnesota, but it seems like the Packers are likely to rest players at least for the second half in any case.  Thus, I pick the Cardinals to win. 

– Broncos over Chiefs: The Broncos woes have already been documented, but they need to win this game and then hope for some help.  The bottom line is they started 6-0 and then proceeded to lose seven of their next nine games, so it is their own fault they are in this position.  Denver let an easy one at home slip away two weeks ago against Oakland, so for that reason alone they should be motivated enough not to let that happen again.  The Broncos also slaughtered Kansas City 44-13 just a few weeks ago at Arrowhead, so this is a team in which they clearly are able to score points against.  The one thing to watch here for KC is that Jamaal Charles has quietly emerged as one of the more exciting backs in the league, so it will be important for the Broncos to contain him.  I think the Broncos win this game, but as you’ll see below I don’t think they’ll get the help they need to make the playoffs.  Still, 9-7 is much better than everyone’s preseason expectations for this team.

– Ravens over Raiders: The Broncos need their arch rival to do them a big favor and pull off this major upset in order to make the playoffs.  While the Raiders do have several surprising wins under their belt this year, including wins against AFC North foes Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull off this one even though it will be on their home field in the east bay.  Oakland looked lost last week in Cleveland with Charlie Frye at the controls, and it has already been announced that Frye will start again on Sunday.  Besides, it is hard to tell which games the Raiders will play hard in and which ones they won’t.  As for the Ravens, they know they let one get away last week in Pittsburgh, and for them it’s very simple: win and you’re in the playoffs.  Baltimore does not need any help, and they will come out with a playoff effort in this game and win it perhaps in blowout fashion.

– Cowboys over Eagles: This is the clear game of the week without question, and in my mind the one that should have been moved to Sunday night.  I’m not sure if the Cowboys were on too many times during the season, but the choice NBC made is at best questionable and at worst a very dumb one (more on that in a moment).  The winner of this game between the Eagles and Cowboys wins the NFC East.  Both teams have a shot at a first round bye (in the Eagles case they control their own destiny for it), and in spite of all that it is also possible these two teams may square off again in the first round of the playoffs.  That makes it very important for these teams to try and win this game so they can get home field advantage for that potential meeting in the event that they don’t get the bye.  This is also an intriguing game from the standpoint that the Cowboys won the first meeting in Philadelphia, and both teams come into the game red hot, and perhaps at this point the two favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl (no offense to the Saints and Vikings, each of whom look much more vulnerable right now then these two teams).  I think this will be a fantastic game.  Both offenses have the ability to strike quickly, but I think the Cowboys are playing better on the defensive side of the ball right now (they even held San Diego to 20 points, which considering the Chargers’ play of late has to be considered a fantastic effort).  I think the Dallas defense will get one more turnover than Philadelphia, and thus I take the Cowboys to win at home, and to win the NFC East.

– Jets over Bengals: Why this game was selected as the Sunday nighter is absolutely beyond me, other than they must have wanted the New York market.  Now, the Bengals are certainly worthy of a prime time appearance and they don’t have one yet, but here’s my problem with this game being moved to the night slot: depending on how the early games go, it may mean absolutely nothing for the Bengals.  If New England wins, Cincinnati is locked into the four seed with no shot of moving up.  If that happens, a Bengals-Jets wild card matchup could be a strong possibility.  This means the Bengals will not want to reveal anything and would be likely to sit Palmer, Ochocinco and company and basically tank the game.  This is particularly problematic when there are a number of AFC teams (Denver, Pittsburgh and Houston)  that need a Jets loss to make the playoffs.  Is is just me or is there a major problem when the Jets vault to the top of the wild card heap by virtue of two gimmie wins against teams that aren’t trying?  This problem could have been avoided had the NFL left this game in the 11 a.m. early slot, because if the Bengals and Patriots games kicked off simultaneously, it would stand to reason that both teams would play hard and try for the three seed.  Now, Cincinnati can wait and see how everything unfolds, and there is a better than 50-50 chance they will now rest people.  Granted, it is possible that if the Patriots lose, the Bengals will play hard and try for the three seed, but that is no guarantee.  I pick the Jets for the simple reason I think they will play the Bengals JV.  I do not think the Jets will be much of a factor in the playoffs once they play teams that are actually trying hard and giving maximum effort. 

So if my picks are correct, here are what the playoff matchups would look like:

AFC Wild Card: (6) Baltimore at (3) New England, (5) NY Jets at (4) Cincinnati

Top 2 seeds: Indianapolis, San Diego

NFC Wild Card: (6) Green Bay at (3) Arizona, (5) Philadelphia at (4) Dallas

Top 2 seeds: New Orelans, Minnesota

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Week 16 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 24, 2009

Obviously I’m not going to want to spend too much time delving into last week’s embarrassment for the Broncos, a 20-19 home loss to the Raiders in which JaMarcus Russell woke up from the dead and led the Raiders to the winning touchdown.  Needless to say, this is same old same old for us Broncos fans, who have watched the team collapse in December year after year.  Last year’s was particularly bad when they let a three game division lead get away with three games to play, so forgive us Broncos fans if we’re starting to get a bit restless.  Despite all that, no one expected the Broncos to lose a home game to a Raiders team that was starting Charlie Frye at quarterback.  Unfortunately for the Broncos, the following proved to be their downfall:

– Lack of a running game: Knowshon Moreno was held to just 42 yards rushing, and the Broncos routinely fell short on 3rd and short conversions during the game.

– Red zone execution: Twice the Broncos had a first and goal inside the five yard line, once in the first quarter and once in the fourth.  Both times they kicked field goals.  That’s eight points left off the scoreboard.

– The last drive of the game:  Russell came in for an injured Frye and proceeded to carve the Broncos’ defense up.  Oakland converted a key fourth and 10 along the way and Russell actually showed a spark maybe for the first time in his career.

Now to address  these three points.  As far as the running game, I’m sick and tired of Broncos fans who are bagging on Moreno.  Admittedly he has struggled to find holes the last two weeks, but let’s not forget that he leads all rookies in rushing by a country mile, despite good seasons from Beanie Wells and LeSean McCoy.  There is a lot more to running the football than just the back.  The offensive line is not getting the push up front, especially on 3rd and 1 situations.  On some of these plays, I don’t care if Walter Payton is back there, he’s not finding a hole to run through if the line isn’t preventing the defense from getting penetration.  I do wonder why Peyton Hillis isn’t in the game on some of these short yardage plays, but again the offensive line is responsible here too.  As for Moreno,  I do think he’s being asked to carry a lion’s share of the load with the injury to Correll Buckhalter, and he’s also hit that proverbial rookie wall.  I still think he’s due for a great future in the NFL and he has the talent to be a Pro Bowl back.

As for the red zone, there isn’t much to say there except for the obvious.  Goal to go chances have to be converted into touchdowns, period, end of story.  If you kick red zone field goals time after time, you’re going to lose the game every time.  This was Denver’s downfall under Mike Shanahan, and it has continued to be a problem this year with Josh McDaniels.  The Broncos must figure out a way to consistently punch the ball in the end zone. 

As for the defense, it is not entirely their fault the Broncos lost the game to Oakland.  If the offense took care of business in the red zone, the game never would have been in doubt in the fourth quarter.   That said, given that the Broncos were holding a six point lead, the defense did not step up and shut down the Raiders at the end when it was needed most.  Denver’s defense is improved over last season (the numbers very clearly say so) and it largely because of them that the Broncos even had the lead in the first place, as they shut down the Raiders most of the afternoon.  Still, they needed to come up with a play at the end and didn’t.

The bottom line for the Broncos is they let a huge opportunity slip away.  Had they won, the Broncos would have virtually assured themselves a playoff spot.  Now, they might need a little help to get in.  They currently sit at 8-6, and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, but there are six teams at 7-7 right behind them.  From what I’ve looked at in regards to tiebreakers, the Broncos may still be ok even at 9-7, but they also might be the odd team out depending on who they end up tied with.  Now on to the picks, listed in chronological order of when the games will be played.

Last week: 9-7   Season: 148-74

– Chargers over Titans: This will be a special Friday night contest, owing to the timing of the Christmas holiday.  For the Chargers, they have already won the AFC West and have a stranglehold on the number two seed and a first round bye.  They would need to lose both remaining games to fall to the three seed, and given that they’ve won nine straight, such a collapse in unlikely.  San Diego has quietly played some of the best football in the league, and I think they have what it takes to be a legit contender for the Super Bowl.  Philip Rivers is playing at an MVP level, and the Chargers have enjoyed good all around play both offensively and defensively.  Tennessee is also playing very well, having won seven of their past eight games (the one loss to the Colts) after a disastrous 0-6 start.  Vince Young has been one of the prime reasons for the resurgence, playing through injury last week to throw three touchdown passes.  Chris Johnson is also going for a 2,000 yard season on the ground.  The Titans do need to win both of their remaining games to have a chance to get in, and even then the tiebreakers may not be in their favor.  They did suffer a disastrous blow this week with news that star linebacker Keith Bullock is out for the season.  I think that tips the scale in San Diego’s favor in this game and allows the Chargers to pull out a close one.

– Falcons over Bills: One of the dud games of the week with no playoff possibilities for either team.  The Falcons can still achieve a winning season, and I think they’ll get this one at home.  Buffalo isn’t sure who will start at QB for them, so that is bad news for Terrell Owens and company.

– Raiders over Browns: Might as well flip a coin in this one.  This is a game between two bad teams who have been playing well and winning lately.  Both teams have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers, and both are coming off road wins last week.  Charlie Frye will start at QB for Oakland despite Russell’s heroics last week, while Derek Anderson is back under center for the Browns now that Brady Quinn is shelved for the season due to injury.  This game may be blacked out in Cleveland due to a non-sellout, but the Browns were granted an extension to try and sell the remaining tickets.  I like Oakland to win just on a hunch.

– Bengals over Chiefs: Cincinnati showed a lot of heart last week playing hard in memory of Chris Henry.  The Bengals need only to win one of their two remaining games to clinch the AFC North (they own the head to head tiebreaker with the Ravens), and they shouldn’t have any trouble at all against a bad Chiefs team at home.  Kansas City allowed James Harrison to run for 286 yards last week, and they also allowed two kickoff return TDs to Josh Cribbs.  I smell a big day for Cedric Benson, and perhaps former Chief Larry Johnson on the ground.  I also like the odds of a couple scores for Ochocinco.  Bengals win big and clinch the division.

– Saints over Buccaneers: New Orleans no longer has a shot at an undefeated season, and frankly looked lost and confused offensively for most of the game against the Cowboys.  They did wake up late, and in the playoffs they will still be very dangerous because of their ability to strike quickly.  One of their issues though could be on defense against a quick strike team like Arizona or Philadelphia.  In any case, they need one more win to cinch up home field, so expect the starters to play all the way through in this one, and expect the Saints to get back on track with a blowout win against a bad team that is just playing out the string.  Even though Tampa Bay won last week, I don’t expect them to really challenge the Saints.

– Dolphins over Texans: This is essentially an early playoff game for both teams.  Houston has surprisingly fought their way into the logjam of 7-7 teams, and is not eliminated yet, although they are on the wrong side of every tiebreaker and will need help even if they win their last two.  Miami is also 7-7, so the winner of this game is still alive while the loser will be essentially eliminated from playoff contention.  The Dolphins suffered a heartbreaking OT loss last week, and they suddenly have a problem with Chad Henne launching interceptions (eight in the past four games).  However, Henne still throws the ball well and Ricky Williams is running hard.  Houston struggled to win a close game against the awful Rams last week, so I am not sure about their ability to win on the road against a better than average team.  I think this should be a very close game, and as such I’ll take the home team, meaning Miami will keep their playoff hopes alive.

– Patriots over Jaguars: Jacksonville nearly shocked the undefeated Colts last weekend thanks to three scores from Maurice Jones-Drew and an inspired performance by David Garrard.  In the end though the defense couldn’t stop Peyton Manning and the offense couldn’t get a late score when one was needed, despite scoring 31 points overall.  That was essentially a playoff game for the Jags especially in terms of effort and intensity, so it will be interesting to see what they have left for their final two games.  For New England, they won a game they had to get last week in Buffalo, and I’m sure Patriots fans were glad to see Randy Moss step up with a solid game.  The Patriots need one more win to lock up the AFC East, while Jacksonville is in the 7-7 wild card logjam.  The Jaguars do have a conference record edge over the other 7-7 contenders, but they still need to win two to assure themselves a chance at a spot.  So far this year I have not seen much evidence the Jags can win a big road game, and as such I take the Patriots, although this should be a close game.  A New England win would clinch the division and keep alive their hopes for a bye if the Chargers lose.

– Ravens over Steelers: This is always a tough, physical low scoring game with a lot of hard hitting.  Pittsburgh nearly pulled the road upset in the first meeting with Dennis Dixon under center, so it would stand to reason that they are in better shape with Ben Roethlisberger under center and a home crowd behind them.  Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards last week against the Packers, so the passing game was clicking, but I somehow think the Ravens defense will step up and hold those numbers more in check. The Steelers defense did surrender a ton of points last week against Green Bay, so that doesn’t bode well for them.   Baltimore is starting to get hot at the right time and they would love a chance to stop the playoff hopes of their rival.  Joe Flacco has played better the last two games (granted against subpar competition) and the defense is starting to play like the Ravens defense of old again.  The Ravens are 8-6 and in the best position of any of the wild card contenders, while Pittsburgh is in the 7-7 logjam.  If the Steelers lose, they are essentially out.  I think that is more than enough motivation for Baltimore, and I’ll take the Ravens to win this defensive struggle on the road.

– Giants over Panthers: Carolina has come out of nowhere and played some good football this year against some of the best teams in the league, particularly last week in their dismantling of the Vikings.  The thing is, they’ve played bad football against teams they should beat, and thus are out of the playoff picture.  The Giants are still alive for a wild card spot in the NFC, but they do not control their own destiny.  They did play nearly flawless football last week against the Redskins, and they will need to do so going forward to have a shot.  I don’t see much trouble for them in the Meadowlands against the Panthers, but this is also the type of game that has given them trouble in the past.  Still, I expect the running game of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to carry the day for the Giants, and I expect them to win and keep their playoff hopes alive.

– Packers over Seahawks: Green Bay knows they let a win slip away last week in Pittsburgh, and with it they lost any faint hopes they had of a division title.  Still, the Packers are in excellent position for a wild card berth if they take care of business.  I expect a nice bounce back game Sunday from Aaron Rodgers and company on the offensive side of the ball, and I also expect the defense to have a big game against the struggling Seattle offense.  The Seahawks of late can’t run the ball worth a lick and Matt Hasselbeck continues to go in the tank.  I would be really surprised if Hasselbeck remains Seattle’s starting quarterback in 2010 the way he has underperformed this season.  This is a classic late season game of playoff contender rolls over non-playoff contender.  Packers win easily.

– 49ers over Lions: San Francisco is out of the running for a playoff spot, but this is a team that looks to have some positive momentum heading into 2010.  The Niners are getting rejuvenated play from Alex Smith at quarterback, and they are starting to fill in the pieces on both sides of the ball.  They have an opportunity to finish out their schedule on a positive note and I believe they will be a playoff contender next season, particularly if they can figure out to get more big plays out of Michael Crabtree in the passing game.  As for the Lions, Matthew Stafford has been placed on injured reserve, and they are left to compete with the Rams in the Ndamokong Suh sweepstakes.

– Cardinals over Rams: Arizona has clinched the NFC West title and a playoff home game.  The Cardinals interestingly are looking eerily similar to last season’s team that made the Super Bowl.  Last year’s team stumbled into the playoffs and then got hot at the right time.  This year’s team is showing a lot of the same characteristics.  If Kurt Warner and the offense is clicking on all cylinders, there isn’t a team in the league that they aren’t capable of beating.  That is, if they play well.  They’ll have no trouble here against a Rams team that would benefit more from losing and getting the top pick in April’s draft.

– Colts over Jets: This is actually a tough game to pick because I’m not sure if the Colts will actually play their starters and try to win this game.  They did play to win last week in Jacksonville, but at some point you have to wonder if Peyton Manning and company will start watching from the sidelines in these final weeks.  I do think the prospect of an undefeated season should ultimately win out in Indy, and I think the Colts would be much better served to keep playing everyone than to start resting people.  The track record in NFL history is clear that teams who take their foot off the gas when they got everything clinched often tend to lose out in the playoffs.  As for the Jets, they are alive and in the 7-7 logjam, but when Braylon Edwards come out and says his team doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, you have to think the Jets don’t have what it takes to win at Lucas Oil Stadium if the Colts are playing to win.  I do think the Jets could win if the Colts sit Manning after the first series, but I think he’ll play a half at least.  In any case, I’ll take the Colts in this one, which would pretty much eliminate the Jets.

– Eagles over Broncos:  I don’t want to do it, but I just can’t see my Broncos going to Philadelphia and beating one of the hottest teams in the league.  Denver’s defense is still playing well for the most part, but I think they’ll have trouble stopping an Eagles offense that is getting Brian Westbrook back this week, and also has playmakers galore with DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and oh yeah Donovan McNabb leading the way.  I think the Eagles will be a very dangerous team in the playoffs, and they are capable of winning any road game, including New Orleans.  For the Broncos to have any chance to win they’re going to have to score minimum 24 points and probably 30, and I just don’t see them being able to do that right now in this game unless things change in a hurry.  The Eagles are fighting with the Cowboys for the NFC East title, but they should make the playoffs in any case.  For the Broncos, a loss drops them down to the logjam of teams, but tiebreakers may still allow Denver to get in even at 9-7.  It just depends on how the other games go this week and how many teams Denver would be tied with.  It is too early to tell yet, but right now the Broncos are in danger of falling out of the postseason after a 6-0 start.  In this game, I’ll take the Eagles rather handily 31-17.

– Cowboys over Redskins: I once again will say that I do not understand the NFL tv schedule sometimes.  This is the second straight week that we’ve been handed a Sunday night game that makes no sense whatsoever.  It is also the second straight week we’ll be subjected to the awful Redskins in prime time (they played on Monday night last week).  What good does flex scheduling do if they’re going to put a bad team in the Sunday night contest this late in the season?  I can think of no less than seven games that are more important and more compelling this week than this snooze fest.  At any rate, Dallas proved last week that they are not dead yet, and with a win here they can actually put themselves in a position to possibly win the NFC East next week.  If the Redskins play like they did last week, the only question here is margin of victory for the Cowboys.  Washington is playing like they’re looking forward to a new coach already.  The big question for them is will they hire Mike Shanahan after the season is over Jan. 4?  The rumors say yes.  In any case, book a win here for the Cowboys and maybe make alternate plans Sunday night to keep yourself entertained.

– Vikings over Bears: The big drama here is between Brett Favre and Brad Childress.  Minnesota has been blown out in two of their past three games, and are in danger of losing the number two seed in the NFC and a first round bye.  The good news for them is they should have a relatively easy win on deck on Monday night in Chicago.  The way things have been going, Jay Cutler should be guaranteed two interceptions minimum, and the Vikings offense is more than capable of turning those turnovers into points.  For Minnesota, the question going forward is will Brett Favre carry them to the Super Bowl, or will the chemistry just get completely blown up leading to an early first round playoff exit?  The Vikings are also worried about Percy Harvin, who is headed to the Mayo Clinic to try to cure his migraine headaches as well as a bulging disc in his neck.  I think the Vikings will win this game rather easily, and then we’ll see how the attitude is going forward.  I still stick with them as my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, but that is looking a little shaky right now.

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Week 15 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 17, 2009

Before we get to week 15, I want to point out that I think the Broncos actually played one of their better games on Sunday, even though they fell to the Colts 28-16.  Now, this does not mean that I excuse them for their inability to convert in short yardage or in the red zone, but when you compare it to previous outings against the Colts over the years, this was definitely progress.  The Broncos intercepted Peyton Manning three times, and really stiffened up defensively in the second half.  The Broncos held the high powered Colts offense to just 27 total yards in their first seven possessions of the second half, a number that is nothing short of incredible considering Manning was at the controls.  This was after the Broncos fell behind 21-0, a broken record for the Broncos in Indianapolis.  Unlike in the past however, the Broncos kept fighting, and almost put themselves in a position to win, cutting it to 21-16 with more than nine minutes to go.  Now, in the end, Manning was Manning, but I am convinced that the Shanahan Broncos would have lost this game 40-10 or something along those lines.  The way the defense took control and gave the team a chance to come back is something that had been lacking in Denver for many years.

I would of course also be a fool not to give a tip of the cap to Brandon Marshall for his NFL record 21 receptions on Sunday, breaking a single game record previously held by Terrell Owens.   Marshall has continued to show throughout this season why he is one of the best receivers in the game and why he is almost unstoppable when his mind is right.  I think the Broncos need to make retaining him their biggest priority in the offseason.  I will say that this also means the Broncos need to take better advantage of their other weapons, especially Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokley, but it can’t be denied that Marshall is a big time playmaker who has the chance to change the outcome of games by himself each week.

It is interesting to think that the Broncos are in almost the exact same position as they were a year ago.  They currently sit with an 8-5 record, and are on the inside track for a playoff spot.  The biggest difference is they are looking up at San Diego instead of holding the three game lead that they let slip away last year, but that says a lot more about San Diego’s consistency this year than it does about the Broncos.  Considering the panic shown by almost everyone about Denver’s hectic offseason, I think their season to date shows nothing less than a tremendous achievement.  It is almost comical now to think that everyone was sure they would win less than five games and wouldn’t be worth anything.  Anyone still think Josh McDaniels should have been fired before he coached a game?  I sure don’t, and never did.  Sure the team is still a work in progress, but if they take care of business against two woefully inferior opponents at home, they will be back in the playoffs for the first since 2005 while Jay Cutler and Mike Shanahan watch on television.  That’s good enough for me.  Now, on to the picks.

Last Week: 11-5 Season: 139-67

– Jaguars over Colts: UPSET ALERT.   The Thursday night game this week is one of the most intriguing games of the week, and certainly more interesting than many of the Thursday night offerings we’ve seen so far this season.  My reasoning for this pick is relatively simple actually, even if it is a bit out there.  I think that with home field advantage cinched up the Colts will soon go into rest their starters mode and will start to take things easy as they head into the playoffs (which I think is a huge mistake and might actually prove to be their downfall in the playoffs but that’s another discussion).  In any case, even if the Colts’ starters play most or all of the game, it really doesn’t mean anything tangibly for them, whereas for Jacksonville this is practically a playoff game.  The Jaguars are currently in playoff position if the season ended today, but they know they need to keep winning to hold that position.  Also, when these teams played in week one in Indy, the Colts won 14-12.  Jacksonville has always had some success slowing down the Colts’ offense, and with Maurice Jones-Drew leading the way, they have the ability to play ball control.  Being that is practically a playoff game for the Jaguars, and that they will have a raucous home crowd behind them, I think the recipe is there for Jacksonville to pull this off, especially if Manning and other starters aren’t out there the whole time as I suspect they won’t be. 

– Saints over Cowboys: The other 13-0 team gets its shot in a rare Saturday night game this week.  Unlike the Colts, I believe the Saints will finish 16-0 because they seem more inclined to keep playing their starters as opposed to resting people.  Their schedule is also friendly enough that they just might be able to beat their last two opponents (Tampa Bay and Carolina) even while resting their starters.  In the end, I do think the Saints will suffer the same fate as the ’07 Patriots and will not win the Super Bowl, but I do think they’ll finish 16-0.  This game is more important for New Orleans than Indy’s game is this week, because the Saints still technically have not secured home field advantage yet.  Unlike the Colts, the Saints have no reason to rest anyone Saturday night even if they wanted to.  This is also an important game for the Cowboys, who are quickly fading fast in the NFC East, but it certainly doesn’t appear that they have what it takes to hang with the Saints in the Superdome right now.  The interesting thing is that Tony Romo’s numbers have actually been pretty good even in the last two losses, but I think this will turn into a shootout (especially with DeMarcus Ware likely out) and that is bad news for Dallas.  I like the Saints in a thriller.

– Patriots over Bills: As is the always the case in upstate New York this time of year, the temps will be very low and the wind will be howling.  That makes predicting any game very difficult especially if neither team is able to throw the ball, as was the case when these teams squared off in December last season.  This will likely come down to who can run the football, and in that case I give the nod to New England if nothing else because the game is meaningful for them whereas the Bills are eliminated from playoff contention.  I still think the Patriots will end up winning the AFC East due mainly to their schedule down the stretch, but they do have a big problem if Randy Moss has mentally checked out, as was clearly the case last week against Carolina. but they won’t need Moss to win this game. 

– Dolphins over Titans: This is a very interesting game because both teams are in similar position.  Both have a shot at the playoffs still, but both will very likely need to win out to have any chance at actually getting in.  Miami has a little bit more wiggle room due to their 7-6 record and the fact they still have hope of winning the division, but realistically this is an early playoff game for both teams.  Tennessee has been one of the hottest teams in the league since a disastrous 0-6 start, but one of the big reasons they’re hot may not play Sunday.  Vince Young had to come out of last week’s win against St. Louis due to a right leg injury, and frankly they are not the same team with Kerry Collins under center.  Chris Johnson is still arguably the best back in the league, but if Young isn’t in there, it may hamper Tennessee’s ability to move the football.  The Dolphins have shown in the last two weeks that they don’t need the Wildcat to have success, for that has essentially been out the window since Ronnie Brown’s season ending injury.  Ricky Williams is running well and Chad Henne is quickly showing he has the tools to be a good quarterback in the NFL.  This will be a very close game, but Miami has proven they can win tough games on the road.  I like Miami to keep their hopes alive in a squeaker. 

– Jets over Falcons: Atlanta has been a disaster since Matt Ryan and Michael Turner have been sidelined by injury.  They did give the Saints a pretty big scare in the Georgia Dome last week, but I think they used up all of their eggs so to speak in trying to win that game, so it seems inevitable that they’ll have a letdown in a tough outdoor game where bad weather is likely.  The Jets may or may not have Mark Sanchez available for this game, but Kellen Clemens gave a serviceable effort last week and may be able to do so again against an Atlanta defense that have struggled all year.  I expect another big day from Thomas Jones, and I expect the Jets to win this game without too much trouble, thus keeping their playoff hopes alive. 

– Chargers over Bengals: First and most important, our thoughts are with Chris Henry’s family.  Henry has died one day after falling out the back of a pickup truck, and now the Bengals organization is left to deal with the second tragedy of the season (Vicki Zimmer, wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, died unexpectedly in October).  Comments from Bengals players indicate they will try their hardest to honor Henry and will dedicate the rest of the season to him, but it seems clear that this will be a very difficult thing for the players to fight through the rest of the way.  Cincinnati is one win away from clinching the AFC North, and they have all of the division tiebreakers in their back pocket, so I still think they’ll win the division eventually, but I just can’t see them getting it together this week to win a very challenging game on the road.  San Diego is on fire right now, and I just don’t see them slipping at home in any case.  The Chargers may well be the team to beat in the AFC.

– Ravens over Bears: This has complete mismatch written all over it.  The Ravens defense is still playing well at home, and they have shut down several bad offenses this year.  They are about to face another struggling offense in Chicago that can’t run the ball worth a lick, and I’m sure the Ravens secondary is looking forward to several good interception chances courtesy of Jay Cutler, who still leads the league in that category with 22.  Baltimore did find their offense as well last week (albeit against the Lions), and they have the look of a team that may not lose the rest of the way in the regular season.  They may need to win out to make the playoffs, but they certainly look very capable of doing that.  I like Baltimore in a blowout at home, further jeopardizing Lovie Smith’s job.

– Browns over Chiefs: I mentioned last week that the Chiefs barely avoided a tv blackout due to a last minute extension from the NFL.  This week no such extension was granted, even with more than 5,000 tickets still available earlier in the week.  As of this writing the deadline has come and gone, with no announcement as to whether the Chiefs succeeded in selling out this awful matchup.  This leads me to believe that negotiations are in progress to make the game available to Chiefs fans within a 75 mile radius of Arrowhead Stadium, but my question is why bother?  Clearly Chiefs fans are fed up enough with their team to not pay to see them, and I’m sure many of them would rather watch a meaningful and more interesting matchup on Sunday.  As for the game, it features this week’s strange but true bit of information, and that is that Brady Quinn has outplayed Matt Cassel in absolutely every statistical category over the past month, and most of the numbers aren’t even close.  The truth is that Quinn may in fact be saving his job for next season, while the Chiefs are concerned enough about Cassel’s poor play that they are reportedly going to explore other options in the offseason.  Cleveland got a monster win over Pittsburgh last week, and while a letdown could be possible, the Chiefs aren’t likely to provide strong opposition considering they couldn’t win a game last week against Buffalo that the Bills kept trying to give them.  This game is the clear dud of the week, and I hope that fans in Kansas and western Missouri aren’t actually subjected to this garbage. 

– Steelers over Packers: If Pittsburgh has any pride whatsoever, they will find a way to win this game at home.  The Steelers have dropped five straight, including dreadful ones to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland, and in the process have pretty much eliminated themselves from playoff contention.  Mike Tomlin has quickly gone from being the city’s crown citizen to being roasted over the coals.  This matchup in many ways looks to be a very winnable game for the Packers, who are clearly the better team and a clear contender in the NFC, but Pittsburgh is a veteran group and the players in that locker room have to be absolutely embarrassed about what has gone down in the past month.  I can’t imagine guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward will allow this thing to slide down any further than it already has.  In the end, Green Bay will be in the playoffs and Pittsburgh won’t, but I think it will take a perfect game by Green Bay to win this one on the road.  That is, if Pittsburgh has any pride at all, and I know that those players do. 

– Texans over Rams: Houston continues its tradition of winning December games that don’t matter because they are already out of it.  Texans fans have to be tired of getting close to the playoffs every year and watching it slip away by a hair.  In the case of this year, they’ve lost two games via a missed field goal on the final play, and lost another when they let a huge lead slip away against the Colts.  I still think Houston has way too much talent not to be in the race, but I’m not going to point the finger at coach Gary Kubiak either.  I think the Texans have the pieces in place, and just need something to bring it together.  They’ll win this one quite handily, but then again who hasn’t pummeled the Rams this year?  St. Louis desperately needs help at every position, but if they have the top pick in April, I hope they have the sense to take Ndamukong Suh instead of reaching for a quarterback that isn’t worthy of the top spot. 

– Broncos over Raiders: This is clearly a game that the Broncos should win for all of the obvious reasons.  It is a home game against a bad team, one that the Broncos destroyed in week three in Oakland.  The Raiders are coming off a home loss to Washington in which they surrendered 34 points to a mediocre offense.  Granted, Oakland had been playing well since making the switch to Bruce Gradkowski, getting surprise wins against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  Thing is, Gradkowski hurt his knee last week and may miss the rest of the season.  The Raiders have been nothing short of awful in games started by JaMarcus Russell, so much so that Russell will not get the start on Sunday.  Instead, Oakland is going with journeyman Charlie Frye, which tells me that the Raiders are so fed up with Russell that are they willing to go with anyone else if it means not having to play him.  For the Broncos, this is the type of game they have let slip away in the past (06 against San Francisco and last year against Buffalo coming to mind right away), so in that sense this is a very worrisome game for many Bronco fans precisely because it is a game they are supposed to win handily.  I still think the Broncos will get the job done, but it wouldn’t shock me if turns into a struggle or a close game.  Nevertheless, I pick the Broncos to win 24-14.

– Eagles over 49ers: This has suddenly turned into one of the better games of the week.  Philadelphia has arguably been the NFL’s most exciting team over the past few weeks, due in large part to the play of DeSean Jackson and an increased presence from Michael Vick.  The Eagles defense still has some holes, but they way they are playing offensively right now they have the potential to really make a run in the NFC.  Perhaps the most amazing part about their play is that they’ve been able to do this without Brian Westbrook, who has been absent from the lineup due to continuing concussion like symptoms.  San Francisco meanwhile believe it or not still has playoff hopes alive, although they will probably need to win out to ultimately get in.  They did show a lot last week in their thrashing against Arizona, enough to make be believe they could be a contender in 2010, but I would be surprised if they had the same kind of performance against a red hot Eagles team on the road in nasty Philadelphia.  I like the Eagles to break open a close game late and win this relatively comfortably.

– Cardinals over Lions: Arizona should be hopping mad after their embarrassing seven turnover performance on Monday night in San Francisco.  The Cardinals at times this year have looked every bit like last year’s Super Bowl team, and there have also been times like last week where they looked like the worst team in the league.  I do think that if the Cardinals play to their ability, they are capable of beating any team in the league including Indianapolis and New Orleans.  While the lack of consistency has been baffling, I don’t see any scenario in which they don’t get it together and win against the Lions on Sunday.  At that, I even expect them to blow Detroit out from the word go.  I believe last week in particular was an aberration for Kurt Warner, who otherwise has been playing some of the best football of his career this year.  As for the Lions, they can perhaps also look forward to maybe being able to draft Ndamukong Suh in April.

– Seahawks over Buccaneers: This is a close contender for dud game of the week.  Seattle has shown a few flashes here and there this year, but overall they have to be considered one of the league’s biggest disappointments.  I’m even wondering if Matt Hasselbeck is close to being done as quarterback of the Seahawks, for his numbers have taken a big tumble and he shown a complete inability at times to get the ball to his talented receivers.  I also have to think that T.J. Houshmandzadeh has to be regretting his departure from Cincinnati, watching his former team have great success without him while he once again plays for a struggling team.  Tampa Bay has been awful with the exception of their one win against Green Bay, and it is interesting to wonder how they will go about their massive rebuilding project in the offseason.  Seahawks should be able to win this one at home comfortably. 

– Vikings over Panthers: How this game ended up as the Sunday nighter is a head scratcher to say the least.  I’m sure it’s because NBC wanted to showcase Brett Favre, but didn’t they just do that two weeks ago?  I thought the point of flexible scheduling was to ensure that the Sunday night game is always a meaningful matchup, not to keep showing the same teams over and over.  In this case, I don’t see how this is anything other than a blowout in favor of the visiting Vikings.  Minnesota bounced back nicely last week and blew out  a very good Bengals team, while Carolina couldn’t get anything going against New England.  There is a chance the Panthers could consider this game to be their Super Bowl of sorts and come out guns blazing, but I don’t see how they will be able to run on the Vikings front four or contain Minnesota’s offense.  I still stand by my preseason pick of the Vikings winning the Super Bowl, and if they are going to live up to that, they shouldn’t be slipping up in a game like this. 

– Giants over Redskins: The Monday night is a curious choice as well, only because I’m not sure who actually thought the Redskins would be competitive when the schedule was announced back in April (On that note why is Washington on Sunday night next week?  Seriously the schedule makers are either being really lazy or actually think we want to be subjected to bad teams in prime time.)  Granted, the Redskins have been playing better lately, but they are still not in any way a playoff team, and I would think that this time of year the meaningful games should be showcased, not necessarily those involved big east coast markets.  The Giants are continuing to fade very quickly, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where they surrendered a staggering 45 points to the Eagles last week, but I still think they are a team that no one would want to see in the playoffs because of their ability to score points offensively.  It remains to be seen whether or not they will actually make the playoffs, but I like them to win this game primarily because I can’t envision a Jason Campbell-led offense being able to keep up with the G-men if they are scoring points the way they have in the past two weeks.

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Week 14 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 11, 2009

Before we get to this week’s picks, a quick word on last night’s stunner (picked incorrectly by me and I’m sure most people).  I was sure that Pittsburgh would be in must win mode after four straight losses, knowing that they very likely needed to win out in order to even have a shot at a wild card spot in the AFC.  I was sure that the Browns would be perfect for them, especially with a short week and less opportunity to dwell on the loss to the Raiders.  Cleveland hadn’t shown any indicator that would have what it took to win a game against a desperate team. particularly with last night’s mixture of empty bright orange seats and terrible towels dominating the landscape in Cleveland.  Little did I know that the Steelers would come out and lay their biggest egg of the season, even worse than the losses to Kansas City and Oakland.  Rashard Mendenhall was completely shut down, Ben Roethlisberger got sacked on seemingly every other play, Pittsburgh couldn’t convert a third down to save their lives, and they couldn’t stop Josh Cribbs from making big plays on special teams.  Give the Browns a ton of credit, for their defense played lights out and dominated an offense that has shredded them for years.  It just goes to show that anything can happen in the NFL, and that’s what makes the league so great.  I just never thought the Steelers would lose five straight games, especially after they actually looked like the defending champs in their most recent win, a 28-10 thrashing of my Broncos on a Monday night in early November.  In all seriousness, I just wish we could have played Pittsburgh this week and not lost month when they were playing well.  Alas, on to this week’s picks, with last night’s incorrect selection factored in.

Last week: 10-6 Season: 128-63

– Bills over Chiefs: I never thought I would see the day.  The Chiefs were dangerously close to being blacked out in Kansas City for the first time in almost two decades for their game against the Bills, but avoided it thanks to a last second extension.  I remember attending games at Arrowhead in the late 90s and early 2000s when I was in college and being stopped on the Interstate waiting to turn in to the stadium.  Now, a combination of frustration with the team’s continued futility and expensive prices in this economy is keeping people away from the stadium, not to mention the cold weather this time of year.  Kansas City looks like they have no identity right now.  Matt Cassel was so awful last week against the Broncos that he got yanked, and they have no running game either.  This game will be ugly, and I actually feel sorry for fans in Kansas and western Missouri who are now stuck with this instead of Broncos-Colts or Bengals-Vikings.  The Bills aren’t in much better shape, but they have actually shown a little more consistency as of late than the Chiefs.  I like the Bills, and I sense a huge stat game for Terrell Owens.

– Jaguars over Dolphins: Unlike the Chiefs, Jacksonville was not able to sell their game out, so most of Florida will not be able to see this game.  It seems appalling that a Jaguars team that looks very probable for a playoff spot has not had a single sellout this season.  The Jaguars have to be considered one of the season’s biggest surprises, and one of the reasons has actually been a quietly productive season for David Garrard.  The Jags have had success controlling things with Maurice Jones-Drew, and Garrard doesn’t turn it over in key situations.  Miami has played well at times this year, getting their biggest win last week against New England.  I believe they might have a future star in Chad Henne, but I sense a letdown for them this week after their win against the Patriots.  This could go either way, but my gut says Jacksonville, so I’ll take the Jags.

– Patriots over Panthers: New England has been in a funk of late, particularly late in games.  It is a puzzling attribute for a Bill Belichick team, but the Patriots are still in control of the AFC East at 7-5, and they do benefit from a friendly schedule down the stretch.  The interesting subplot to this game is that Tom Brady is listed as questionable on the injury report, but of course he will play.  Brady has had an up and down season (I know because he killed my fantasy team and is a large reason why I missed the playoffs), but he is still Tom Brady, and thus I expect he will play well when the pressure is on should the Pats win the division as expected.  The other subplot is that three Patriots players, including Randy Moss, were sent home from practice earlier this week due to a late arrival.  I don’t expect that to be an issue on game day, but it does show that things are tense right now at Patriots headquarters.  The Patriots shouldn’t have any trouble with this game at home. being that Carolina is a shell of the team that went 12-4 last year.

– Jets over Buccaneers: This is another one of the, ahem, not so exciting games on the Sunday slate.  Mark Sanchez has been declared out (and he is apparently not happy about it), so Kellen Clemens will be under center for New York.  That means expect a lot of Thomas Jones for the Jets.  The Buccaneers meanwhile are hoping that Josh Freeman doesn’t have another five pick game like he had against the Panthers.  It wouldn’t entirely surprise me if Tampa found a way to win this one at home but the Jets are very much alive in the AFC, not only for the wild card but also the division.  I think that motivation will carry the day for the Jets, and they will win a snoozer.

– Vikings over Bengals: One of the best games of the week for sure.  This will be a chance for Cincinnati to make a big time statement that they are indeed for real in the AFC, while Minnesota is eager to put last week’s ugly loss to Arizona out of their mind.  If this game was in Cincy, I would go with the Bengals, but I don’t like their odds of winning in the Metrodome.  I think Adrian Peterson will bounce back with a bigger game than last week, while Brett Favre is likely to respond with a big effort as well.  I do think the Bengals will be able to put some points on the board themselves, but in the end I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up with the Vikings on the carpet of the dome.  Minnesota wins a thriller.

– Ravens over Lions: Baltimore needs to win out to have any chance at the postseason.  They’ll win this one very easily, especially being that Daunte Culpepper is likely to start for the Lions in place of the injured Matthew Stafford.  The Ravens defense may not be what it once was, but do you really think they won’t shut down the Lions at home in December?  Baltimore in a rout.

– Texans over Seahawks: Houston is once again in the position of playing games in December that don’t matter, owing to the fact that they’ve blown several winnable games at the end.  I’m not sure if Gary Kubiak will be back as coach next season, but there don’t seem to be any indicators for change in Houston anytime soon.  There is still enough talent there for them to win a home game that they’re supposed to, and I suspect they’ll find a way to beat the Seahawks.  Seattle has shown a spark at times this season, but their inconsistency doesn’t really lend itself to winning on the road.  Houston wins.

– Colts over Broncos: I really want to pick my Broncos in a major upset, but the smart of my brain says that while I do expect this to be a competitive game, Peyton Manning will likely find a way to get the job done at home at the end of the game.  I do think this will not be like the past where Denver has gotten blown out every time they square off against Manning.  Denver an for 245 yards last week in their thrashing of the Chiefs, the Broncos should be able to have some success running the ball, and if they don’t turn it over they might even have a chance to control the clock.  The Colts have been involved in a number of close games this season, so it is even possible that the defense might be able to generate some pressure on Manning and contain the running game.  In the end however, Manning is Manning, and history says he will find a way to win it for Indy in the end.  My pick is Colts 27-21, but I will not shed any tears at all if I’m wrong.  Even with a loss, Denver’s playoff position looks good with home games against Oakland and Kansas City still remaining.

– Titans over Rams: Tennessee played hard last week in Indy, although they ended up coming up short.  The defining sequence in the game was when the Titans ailed to score on a 1st and goal from the one, ultimately turning it over on downs.  Had Tennessee punched it in the end zone there, the game might have ended up coming down to the wire.  As it is, the Titans do still have very slim playoff hopes, but they must win out to have any chance.  Their schedule might just allow them to do that, especially this game against the hapless Rams.  Tennessee should win this one pretty comfortably.

– Raiders over Redskins: These teams have both actually been playing much better as of late, with the Redskins nearly pulling off a big time upset last week against New Orleans, while the Raiders have bumped off the Bengals and Steelers in recent weeks.  The change to Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback has really benefited the Raiders, and their offense actually seems to have an identity now.  For Washington, their defense has actually played well at times, and they could win a game like this, but I like the Raiders to win in the Black Hole.

– Cowboys over Chargers: Minor upset alert.  San Diego has won seven straight, and they are playing terrific football, while Dallas seems to be about ready to start another December swoon, so this pick may seem like a big surprise, but I don’t think the Cowboys are done just yet.  The key for the Cowboys is Tony Romo, and I just don’t think he is going to allow another season to slip away willingly.  The Cowboys also know that another loss would seriously jeopardize their position in the NFC East, so they should be in desperation mode for this one at home.  San Diego is playing very well, but they did show a few vulnerabilities last week against Cleveland, most notably not showing a killer instinct and letting them back in the game.  This should be a very entertaining game, and I like Dallas in a close one.

– Packers over Bears: Green Bay did not really look like a playoff team in their win against Baltimore last week.  Sure they won, but they committed a boatload of penalties, and sustained several turnovers that nearly allowed the Ravens to get back in it.  Still, they are in a good position right now for one of the wild card spots in the NFC, and they are looking at a very winnable game Sunday at Soldier Field.  Chicago did finally get a win last week, but it was against the Rams, and looking at the numbers it doesn’t appear that Jay Cutler was spectacular.  Cutler threw four picks in the first meeting with the Packers back in week one, so he will be keen to avoid a repeat, but in the end Green Bay has more to play for they should win this one, although it could be close.  The big question in Chicago could be, is Lovie Smith in trouble?

– Saints over Falcons: Atlanta is still unlikely to have Matt Ryan, meaning they are stuck with Chris Redman.  They are also likely to not have Michael Turner, which means they won’t have a running game to speak of.  This is a very bad combination when you are about to face the undefeated Saints, who have an offense that can’t seem to be stopped.  The Falcons even showed last week that home field advantage isn’t much help, being that they lost 34-7 to the Eagles last week at the Georgia Dome.  New Orleans got lucky last week and they know it, so expect them to come out guns blazing in this one.  Drew Brees should have another monster day, and I don’t expect this game to be close for very long.

– Eagles over Giants: The Sunday night game should be a good one, as both teams are coming off big wins last week.  Philadelphia destroyed the Giants in the first meeting, so the New York crowd and the Giants players will be fired up for this one.  I still think the Giants have more flaws than they did in September, and I still think Eli Manning is not himself.  Philadelphia is coming off a perfect game in every phase, and they know the Giants very well.  Even on the road, I like the Eagles to get some big plays in the passing game, and it’s even possible that we may see more of Michael Vick now that he proved he can be productive.  This should be close and hard hitting, but I like Philly to win this game on the road and and keep the pressure on the Cowboys.

– Cardinals over 49ers: Seems like an odd choice for a Monday night game, but it could be entertaining.  Last week’s strong performance for Arizona seemed to really come out of nowhere, but they shut down the Vikings in absolutely every way, including holding Adrian Peterson to just 19 yards rushing.  If Arizona keeps playing like that, I guarantee you no one (including the Saints) wants to see them in January.  The Cardinals last week looked every bit like the NFC champion from a year ago, and it could be a sign of things to come.  Regardless, they’ve about sewn up the NFC West, and I don’t expect much of a challenge from San Francisco in this one, although the Niners do play much better at home than on the road.  Still, I like Arizona to win this one without too much difficulty.

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Week 13 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 4, 2009

Off to a good start this week.  I am not surprised that the Jets managed to win last night, for they have a lot more to play for than Buffalo.  I also think the Bills are handing opposing teams a free gift every time they move a “home” game to Toronto.   I’ll admit I didn’t watch the game (went to the Nuggets-Heat contest instead), but from what I saw of the highlights, it looked like there was a lot of Jets green in the stands.  I’m not saying the Bills would have won had the game been in Buffalo, but I think they would have had a better chance.  I realize the Bills are getting money from the city of Toronto to play one game there a year, but this is a horrible idea, just as I think the London game is a really bad idea (especially for the team giving up the home game).   If the NFL wants games at neutral sites, they need to extend the regular season to 17 games, and have the extra game be a neutral game for every team.   Besides, the Bills should not be penalizing their fans by taking away a home game, particularly one against a division rival that would prove to be key.  It’s bad enough for fans of teams who lose a home game for London, but Bills fans are really getting the raw end of the deal when their team is surrendering a home game voluntarily.  I don’t think it is a coincidence the Bills are now 0-2 in Toronto “home” games.  At any rate, on to the picks, with last night’s correct pick factored in. 

Last week: 11-5   Season: 119-56

– Patriots over Dolphins: I do think this will be a very competitive game and I do pause slightly.  Miami played tough in the first meeting on the road and was within a touchdown.  The Patriots looked lost and confused last week for the first time that I can remember in the Belichick-Brady era.  I do think Miami will be fired up for this one at home knowing they can’t afford any more slip ups if they want to stay in the race, but they have just not shown enough consistency to tell me they can win a game like this.  Last week in Buffalo is a great example, being that they completely melted down in the fourth quarter and turned a winnable game into a runaway for the other team.  I think in the end the Patriots are not likely to be that awful two weeks in a row, and I like them on the road in a close one. 

– Bengals over Lions: Cedric Benson is back for Cincy, so really the only drama here is how many carries he will cede to Larry Johnson.  The Bengals believe it or not would have a first round bye if the season ended today, and they may end up getting it if they win the games they are supposed to down the stretch.  This is definitely one of them, and I don’t think Detroit poses any threat on the road at this point.  I don’t expect this to be a close game. 

– Chargers over Browns: San Diego has a one game lead over Denver with five to play, so the Chargers know they need to take care of business in games they should win, like this one.  The Browns are the front runner right now for the distinction of worst team in the NFL, and they are starting to separate themselves in that regard.  Brady Quinn continues to show that he not anything resembling a starter in the NFL.  Meanwhile Philip Rivers is on fire and the Chargers are really clicking on all cylinders.  This is another game that won’t be close.

– Steelers over Raiders: Our parade of blowouts continues.  Ben Roethlisberger is back, but it’s not as if Pittsburgh will need him being that the Raiders are beyond awful whenever they play on the road.  The Steelers are sitting on the cusp of a wild card spot, and the way their schedule sets up I have a feeling they’re going to end up making the playoffs.  If they can get Troy Polamalu back, they could be very dangerous in the playoffs even if they are on the road (although let’s be honest, there are no road games for the Steelers being that there are seas of terrible towels everywhere they go).  A repeat of 2005, when the Steelers won three road games en route to the Super Bowl?  The rest of the AFC hopes not.   Regardless, they’ll get this one very easily.

– Jaguars over Texans:  I really don’t know what to make of either of these teams.  Houston has talent at every position.  They have good coaches.  They just can’t seem to finish off games and get wins.  Jacksonville is an enigma too in that they win when it is unexpected and they fall flat on their faces when they are a favorite.  This matchup is such a toss up that I can’t even figure out who the favorite is supposed to be.  Reports of a hobbled Maurice Jones-Drew do make me slightly hesitant to pick the home team here, but I don’t see any way he sits out.  Jacksonville seems more in the race right now than Houston, and thus I think they have more to play for.  Jags win.

– Colts over Titans: This is a very intriguing game indeed, and if it was in Nashville I would probably go the other way.  Tennessee has won five straight after an 0-6 start and has the look of a team that is not slowing down.  They do need to keep winning if they want realistic hopes of a playoff spot, but this is also by far the toughest game remaining on their schedule.  The Titans have historically done well against the Colts, but this year’s Indy team is not out of a game even if they are down three scores, as they have proven in multiple games this season.  The Colts have already clinched the AFC South, but they won’t take the foot off the gas until home field advantage is secured, and maybe not as long as their undefeated.  This should be a thriller, but I like the Colts at home in this one.

– Broncos over Chiefs: This is not an easy game for Denver considering this is still a fairly nasty rivalry.  The Broncos have also not played well at Arrowhead, managing to get blown out there last year when the Chiefs had an awful 2-14 season.  Denver in December has been particularly bad in KC, going 1-16 lifetime.  The Chiefs also have played relatively well at home this year, shocking the Steelers two weeks ago and also taking Dallas to overtime.  I think the Broncos are well aware of the potential slip ups, and thus are taking this game very seriously.  Denver also has a real advantage in that the Chiefs don’t run the ball well, which has been Denver’s downfall in this matchup in recent years.  This game also has a very interesting subplot with Josh McDaniels coaching against Matt Cassel, whom he tried to acquire in the offseason after last year’s 11-5 run with the Patriots together.  This could be an ugly low scoring game, but I think the Broncos find a way to win this one, 17-13.

– Cowboys over Giants: The Giants are a team that looks nothing like what they did in the first month of the season.  They have no running game owing to their top two running backs being injured, Eli Manning does not appear to be healthy or even remotely playing like himself, and the defense is not near as stingy as it was earlier in the year.  Even though this game is in the Meadowlands, New York has the look of a team that has already faded and will have a very difficult time turning things around in time to make the playoffs.  The Cowboys are coming off two wins at home against bad teams, so it will be interesting to see how they play in a tough division game on the road.  Dallas has historically flamed out in December, so the pressure in on for them to win.  Keep in the mind the Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game since 1996, and Wade Phillips may be out if they don’t win one this year.  That said, I think Dallas is the better team here, and I like them to win on the road.

– Eagles over Falcons: Things are quickly turning ugly in Atlanta, as Matt Ryan is out and Michael Turner is still very much hobbling.  The Falcons struggled to beat Tampa Bay at home with Chris Redman, and the Eagles present a much tougher test.  Philly will be without DeSean Jackson, but they still have plenty of other weapons, including LeSean McCoy, who has come out of nowhere this year to spell Brian Westbrook.  The other interesting thing about this game could be Michael Vick’s return to Altanta, but since he hasn’t been a big part of the Eagles’ offense, I don’t think he’ll be on the field more than a few plays and will not be a factor.  I like the Eagles to win this one and keep their playoff hopes alive.

– Saints over Redskins: The Saints sure looked impressive in every way last week in their dismantling of New England.  New Orleans has proven that they can score points almost at will, especially at home.  The defense is still somewhat inconsistent, but they have stepped up when they needed to.  I still think the Saints could be in trouble against an offense that can keep up with them, such as the Vikings or Colts, but Washington is definitely not in that category.  If the Saints don’t have a letdown following last week’s big win, they should coast here.  The Redskins have given great effort in recent weeks, but they won’t be able to keep pace with the Saints’ offense.  New Orleans may well become the second team in NFL history to go 16-0 and lose in the playoffs.

– Bears over Rams: Chicago has suffered a number of blowout losses this season, and it is pretty obvious that 4-7 is not what they had in mind when they traded for Jay Cutler.  They don’t have a first or second round pick next year, so their best hope may be that Matt Forte and Brian Urlacher return to health next year and Cutler matures in the offseason.  It will be interesting to see what happens if the Bears win a few games down the stretch.  If that happens does Lovie Smith return as coach?  In any case, even Chicago won’t have any trouble with this one at home, being that the Rams are starting a backup quarterback and have the look most games of a team that isn’t even playing hard.  Chicago wins an ugly one.

– Buccaneers over Panthers: This will also be a very ugly game indeed.  Jake Delhomme is out for the Panthers due to a finger injury, and that is why I am picking visiting Tampa Bay.  I realize that Panthers fans have called for Delhomme’s benching all year, but they will find out that Matt Moore is no improvement.  Carolina does have an ability to run the ball, but the lack of passing game has really curtailed that this year.  The Bucs meanwhile did nearly pull an upset in Atlanta this week, and I do like Josh Freeman’s potential.  This game won’t matter in the end, but I like Tampa to pull the upset.

– 49ers over Seahawks: Remind me next year to pass on T.J. Houshmanzadeh in my fantasy draft.  Seattle has clearly forgotten how to throw the football this year, and their running game hasn’t been much better.  San Francisco meanwhile keeps showing that they are a team that could break out at any time, and they did give an impressive defensive performance last week in completely shutting down Maurice Jones-Drew.  If things break right for San Francisco, they might be a player in the weak NFC, or at the very least they could spoil things for a number of teams down the stretch.  I like San Francisco to steal this one on the road, and they may do it without too much difficulty.

– Vikings over Cardinals: This could be a good Sunday nighter, but if Kurt Warner doesn’t play than it may not even be a competitive game.  Matt Leinart wasn’t horrible last week, but he didn’t exactly do much to help Arizona win the game either.  I still maintain that Minnesota is the best team in the NFL, and I am sticking with my preseason prediction of the Vikings winning it all.   They will have no trouble scoring points in this game via the ground or the air, and the defense has also been very solid.  If Warner is out, and the Cardinals can’t run the ball, they are in huge trouble even at home.  Even if Warner plays, I still like Minnesota to win this game.

– Packers over Ravens: The Monday nighter is interesting, and I am tempted to pick Baltimore on the road, but the Ravens are not consistent or reliable the way they’ve been in previous seasons.  The Ravens defense has had trouble against explosive offenses this year, and thus I think Aaron Rodgers could actually be in for a big night.  Baltimore’s offense also has slowed down in recent weeks after a hot start.  This should be an entertaining game and I do expect it to be close, but I like Green Bay to win this one at home with the night crowd behind them.

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