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Posts Tagged ‘NFL picks’

Week 5 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 7, 2010

Last week: 8-6   Season: 34-28

It was without saying that the big news this week is the trade that sent Randy Moss back to Minnesota.  The Patriots have a bye this week, so it remains to be seen how this will affect them, but something tells me that Brady and company will be just fine.  They destroyed the Dolphins on Monday night when Moss didn’t get a single ball thrown his way.  New England has a way of plugging in a random season ticket holder at receiver and plugging right along, so something tells me they’ll make it work with what they have.  I think this also really benefits the Vikings, giving Brett Favre a deep threat that he hasn’t had during the first three games.  It will be a bit of an adjustment to see Moss back in purple, but his presence should really help the Vikings in the NFC North race.  Now on to the picks:

– Jaguars over Bills: Jacksonville picked up a monster win last week against the Colts, one of its biggest wins in team history.  For all the talk of David Garrard not being the answer at quarterback, he keeps managing to make plays with his feet and has been very adept at making throws in the red zone.  Maurice Jones-Drew broke out with two touchdowns last week, and I think he has a very favorable matchup for another big day against the Bills.  Buffalo’s defense has not come close to stopping anybody, so it will be interesting to see if the Jaguars can keep up their surprising offensive play from last week.  The Bills are very much a mess and while they do have the home field, it hasn’t helped them much so far.  I like the Jags to keep up the momentum from last week’s big win. 

– Ravens over Broncos: The Broncos have traditionally not played well in Baltimore.  In fact, they’ve never won there in the Ravens’ existence.  To boot, the Broncos have averaged just nine points in their four trips to Maryland.  The Ravens gave an impressive performance in their comeback win against the Steelers last week, and their defense is playing as well as it ever has.  What will be fun to watch is Denver’s top ranked pass offense against Baltimore’s top ranked pass defense.  The Broncos’ inability to run the ball is what will doom them in this game, because it’s unrealistic to expect that Kyle Orton will be able to pass for 350 yards against a defense as good as the Ravens.  This could be closer than previous meetings, but I still like Baltimore to win at home.

– Bengals over Buccaneers: Cincinnati is a somewhat perplexing team.  They have talent all over the place on both sides of the ball, but have yet to really put something together consistently at every position for an entire game.  Still, Terrell Owens showed last week he can still play, and he and Ochocinco will be a very potent combo by year’s end.  The defense is still the strength of the team, and that will be enough at home against a Buccaneers team that pulled two wins out of nowhere but is rapidly falling to Earth.  This might not be close.

– Falcons over Browns: Roddy White may well have saved Atlanta’s season with his hustle in the final minute last week, chasing down Nate Clements and allowing the Falcons to retain possession and set up the winning field goal.  I think the Falcons are very much a playoff team, and if they are going to show it they need to be able to win games like this on the road against teams they should beat.  Cleveland got a nice win last week, and they running the ball with surprising effectiveness, so they should be able to make it a competitive game.  I think Atlanta simply has more playmakers and that should be the difference, but this should be interesting.

– Texans over Giants: Both teams are coming off wins, and in the Giants’ case their defense was dominant.  They will have a much harder test stopping the high octane Texans’ offense, especially with Andre Johnson coming back.  The Houston defense also gets a tremendous shot in the arm with the return of linebacker Brian Cushing, who returns from a four game suspension.  The Texans currently reside in the first place in the AFC South, which is certainly unfamiliar territory with the Colts’ dominance, but to stay there they need to defend their home field.  I think they will do it thanks to some big plays on offense.  The Giants should be able to get some running success with Ahmad Bradshaw, but I just don’t think they’ll be able to keep up.

– Colts over Chiefs: It is very hard to process the fact that the Chiefs are the lone unbeaten team remaining in the league.  Their defense and special teams play has been terrific, but I still have long term doubts about the offense as long as it is led by Matt Cassel.  I also think they are crazy not to make Jamaal Charles the feature back when he is so much better in virtually every way than Thomas Jones.  The Colts on the other hand are coming off a rare loss, and generally they will not lose two in a row even if they were playing an all-star team.  I think Peyton Manning will have a monster day and the Chiefs will get a slap of reality.  This is my eliminator selection for this week.

– Cowboys over Titans: The Cowboys have had the bye week to figure things out, and I sense a big winning streak coming.  The defense was outstanding in their last game before the bye, and I think the offense has too many playmakers not to break out eventually.  Chris Johnson has been completely shut down in two of the Titans’ four games this season, and it’s no coincidence those are the two games they didn’t win.  The Titans need Johnson to be effective, and this will be another tough matchup for the highly touted running back.   I think the Cowboys defense will be able to contain him and the offense will score more than enough to win. 

– Chargers over Raiders: I think it’s more than likely we’ll have blackout number three in the Bay Area.  The Raiders drew just 32,000 fans for their last home game, and there is no reason to think they’ll get any more coming off a loss.  San Diego has played extremely well at home and has been awful on the road, so this will be an opportunity for them to make a road statement.  The Raiders are always a tough team to figure out because you never know when they are going to play with effort and when they’re going to mail it in.  I think they might show up for this one, and the running of Darren McFadden will keep them in it, but  there is no way San Diego should lose this game if they play as they should. 

– Packers over Redskins: This should be a highly entertaining game.  The Redskins are still trying to find an identity, especially with Clinton Portis being shelved for 4-6 weeks due to injury.  Ryan Torain ran hard in last week’s win over the Eagles, but the Packers have one of the best run defenses in football so this will definitely be a bigger challenge.  The Packers’ are a threat to score 30 points every week thanks to the potent passing game, so it will be up to the Redskins to keep up.  Santana Moss got shut out last week, and that certainly won’t happen again, but even so I just don’t see Donovan McNabb keeping up with Aaron Rodgers. 

– Panthers over Bears: Jay Cutler is out with a concussion, but it doesn’t matter who is back there as awful as their offensive line was last week, allowing a staggering 10 first half sacks.  Given that the Bears offense is guaranteed to struggle with Todd Collins under center, it will be up to the defense to win a low scoring game.  I think the Panthers will control the clock with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and they aren’t going to ask Jimmy Clausen to do much in this game.  This game might well end up 6-3 and you have my sympathies if you’re stuck with it.  I pick the Panthers in what amounts to a coin flip since they are the home team. 

– Lions over Rams: St. Louis has won two in a row and finds themselves in first place in what is easily the NFL’s worst division.  While the Rams have proven they can play at home, we all know the road is a different deal, even if the road destination is the Motor City.  I thought the Lions showed incredibly well at Lambeau Field last week, and I think the home field may be enough to turn things in their favor against a team they certainly should be able to compete with.  Jahvid Best is making many other teams wish that they drafted him in April.  I think Detroit gets the home win, in a game that could quietly be one of the more entertaining offerings of the week.

– Saints over Cardinals: The Saints slaughtered Arizona last year in the playoffs, and that when the Cardinals still had Anquan Boldin and Kurt Warner.  Now, the Saints get an Arizona team that benched a woeful Derek Anderson this week and will start rookie Max Hall at quarterback.  It remains to be seen if the QB switch will actually help the Cardinals, but the Saints continue to show that they can score lots of points, and even though they are on the road, I think they will have enough to win this game.  The Cardinals are clearly not the same team they were last year, and the experienced Saints have more than enough to exploit that. 

– 49ers over Eagles: San Francisco has to be heartbroken by the way they lost week against Atlanta.  If Nate Clements simply ran out of bounds after his interception, the game would have been over.  Instead, he fumbled and the Falcons drove for the winning field goal.  The funny thing is they are still very in the division race even though they are 0-4 because the NFC West is so awful.  The Niners actually played very well in their last home night game, and I think the crowd will give them a lift.  The Eagles won’t have Michael Vick, who is out with a rib injury, and I just don’t think Kevin Kolb gives them the same oomph offensively.  I like San Francisco in the mini-upset.

– Vikings over Jets: For once it seems like the Monday night game is actually a good choice.  Randy Moss makes his Vikings debut and he will do so going against Darrelle Revis.  Three weeks ago, Moss made a spectacular one handed TD grab for the Patriots with Revis guarding him.  I think the Vikings will be fresh and motivated coming off the bye, and the Moss acquisition gives them some excitement as well.  The Jets have played well in each of their last three games, and I do think they will play well again at home with the Monday night home crowd, but the Vikings know they are already chasing the Packers.  I think Favre and Moss will mesh together immediately and it will open up Adrian Peterson and the running game.  I also sense a couple of turnovers for the Vikings’ defense.

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Conference Championship Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 22, 2010

Last week we had three blowouts and one very close game.  It tells you all you need to know about the NFL that the one close game was the one yours truly thought would be a blowout, and to boot it went the other way from my (and most people’s) selection.  I have to admit I thought there was a zero percent chance that the Jets would even stay close against the Chargers.  Maybe it’s time for me to give the Jets some credit, for I have really been slamming them the last two weeks for backing into the playoffs.  I also thought the Chargers were the clear choice for favorite in the AFC.  Maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think it’s more a reflection of how fantastic the NFL is and why it is the clear king among pro sports leagues.  As for the other games, we saw terrific performances from the three winning teams, and it shapes up for some great action on Sunday.  Now, on to the picks.

Last week: 2-2  Playoffs: 4-4

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts: I have to admit that perhaps I should be eating some crow regarding both of these teams.  I picked both to lose last week and in the Jets’ case I said they didn’t even deserve to be in the playoffs.  In the Colts’ case I thought they would suffer disastrous consequences from tanking the last two weeks of the season and voluntarily torching their perfect season.  Well, I was wrong in both cases, but it still doesn’t change the fact that one of the big reasons this is the AFC Championship Game matchup is because the Colts laid down in week 16, allowing the Jets to coast to a 29-15 win and thus allowing them to vault ahead of several other AFC contenders for tiebreakers.  If the Colts played to win, it stands to reason that the Jets would not have made the playoffs, and the Texans or Steelers or some other team would have made it instead.  We’ll of course never know how differently things might have unfolded, and thus here we are with a compelling AFC title game in Indy. 

Of course it is hard to read too much into the teams’ previous meeting in week 16, which the Colts treated like an August scrimmage and the Jets played all out to win, but there are some interesting numbers to crunch from that game:

– The Colts led just 9-3 at halftime, with their starters in for the entire half

– The Jets’ Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene combined to rush for 200 yards (granted some of that in the second half came against some Colts backups).  The Colts got just 62 combined yards from Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. 

– Peyton Manning was 11-14 when throwing to someone other than Reggie Wayne.  He completed three passes to Wayne in seven attempts, with Wayne being shielded by Darrelle Revis a majority of the time.

– Mark Sanchez threw for just 106 yards, which is very typical of his numbers throughout the season.

– The Colts’ special teams allowed a 106 yard kickoff return TD to Brad Smith to open the second half. 

– The Colts’ received just 44 passing yards from backup quarterback Cutris Painter in the second half, along with one interception and one fumble lost. 

Now, again all of this is with the asterisk that the Colts were openly making no attempt whatsoever to win this game.  For all we know, the Colts’ offensive game plan may have been vanilla and could resemble nothing of what they plan to do on Sunday.  It is however interesting to note that even when the Colts’ starters were in, it wasn’t as if they were lighting up the scoreboard.  Truth is, that’s been typical of a number of Colts games this season.  Indianapolis hasn’t been put 30 points on the board every time, and in fact has won a number of tight, low scoring games with running and defense, along with precision mistake free passing by Manning.  One thing I think that Colts should be wary of in this game however is the Jets’ ability to run the ball.  That clearly has not been a fluke in the playoffs.  Last week the Jets ran the ball effectively and controlled the clock, keeping Philip Rivers and company on the sideline for much of the game.  No doubt they will try to do the same and keep Manning standing on the sideline Sunday instead of on the field. 

While the quote-unquote sexier matchup in this game will be Colts offense against the Jets defense, I think this game will be decided based on what happens with the Jets offense against the Indy defense.  The Colts’ defense has been extremely underrated all season, and last week they did an unbelieveable job shutting down a Baltimore running game that had absolutely shredded the Patriots the week before.  They put Joe Flacco in a position where he needed to beat them and he couldn’t do it.  The Jets offense is very similar in that they need the running game to be effective because they don’t want to put Mark Sanchez in a position where he has to win the game through the air on the road.  While Sanchez has proved to be an effective game manager and has made timely throws when necessary, the Jets aren’t about to want to rely on a pass heavy attack if they don’t have to.  So I think the key to the game is how well the Colts defense can stop the Jets’ running game.  If the Jets run the ball as effectively as they have for the past month, they will have a great chance to win.  If they can’t, and it becomes Sanchez’ game to win or lose, then I think the Jets are in big trouble.  I’m going to be watching the battles up front with the Jets’ offensive line and Colts’ defensive line.  That is where the game is going to be won or lost for either side.

As for Manning and the Colts passing game, it is foolish to think they aren’t going to be able to move the ball through the air.  We know that Revis is going to be on Wayne most of the time, but Manning is smart enough to know when to pick his spots to go there, and it’s not as if the Colts don’t have other targets to throw to.  Heck, I’m convinced that the Colts could pick a random fan from row 11, plug him in at receiver, and Manning could manage to find him for four or five receptions.  Manning also will be handle the Jets’ exotic blitzes because he is able to get rid of the ball so quickly and accurately.  In fact, Manning seems to thrive when teams try to blitz him. 

I think this could well be a lower scoring game than many people expect, but that has been the norm for both of these teams during the course of the season.  The Colts have the home field edge, and that over the years has proven to be a big deal late in the playoffs.  I think the Jets will be able to stay in this game, but in the end there is a reason the Colts started 13-0, and last week they emphatically proved they are not rusty.  Indianapolis 20 NY Jets 10

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints: I think this will be the game of the year (at least until we may see a really dynamic Super Bowl matchup).  Both teams looked extremely impressive last week in rolling through their divisional round matchups.  I think the Vikings, as I’ve said all season long, are the most talented team in the NFL when they are clicking on all cylinders, and they showed why last week.  They got four touchdown passes from Brett Favre, they made big plays offensively, they sacked Tony Romo six times, put pressure on him countless other times, and in short they completely dominated both sides of the ball.  In particular, they won the battles up front, which is absolutely necessary to win this time of year.  As for the Saints, they woke up from a December long slumber and looked like the team they were the first three months of the season.  Drew Brees and the passing game were making big plays, Reggie Bush had a flashback to 2005 at USC, the defense smothered Kurt Warner and blanketed the Cardinals’ receivers, and the Saints’ even overcame the 70-yard touchdown they allowed on the first play of the game.  All told they gave a complete effort, and now the city of New Orleans is giddy with excitement, as the Superdome will host the first NFC Championship Game in its existence.  This alone is a big edge for the Saints, being that the Superdome is one of the few remaining actual home field advantages in the NFL (and that’s because it’s not a new stadium with zillions of luxury suites, but that’s another topic). 

I don’t think there is much question that lots of points are going to be put on the scoreboard by both teams.  Drew Brees and Brett Favre combined to throw a staggering 67 touchdown passes this season, and that number doesn’t include the seven they combined to throw for last week in the divisional round.  Both teams feature a dynamic group of receivers that can make plays in space and gain boatloads of yards after the catch.  So be ready for lots of big plays in the passing game thanks to two of the great quarterbacks in the league.  I think on paper it seems like the Vikings would have an edge on the ground with Adrian Peterson, but his numbers have slipped significantly in the second half of the season, and he hasn’t had a 100-yard game on the ground since November.  That said, he still rushed for over 1,300 yards on the season with 18 touchdowns, and he’s still Adrian Peterson, so it’s not as if the Vikings are completely helpless in this area.  The Saints have a quietly effective running game with Pierre Thomas, and if Reggie Bush continues to make big plays out of the backfield, screen passes to him are just as effective as running the ball. 

While the offenses no doubt have the spotlight in this game, the onus will be on the defenses to make things happen, and the game could well hinge on which defense is more effective.  I think the Minnesota front seven is downright scary with Jared Allen leading the way.  The Vikings all year have been a brick wall against opposing running games, and their ability to rush the passer is unmatched by any front seven in the league.  It will be a challenge for them to contain all the weapons in the Saints’ offense, particularly if Bush is making plays and lining up everywhere.  Drew Brees also has a quick release, so it could be hard for the Vikings to actually get to him.  The key for Minnesota is they need to be able to put pressure on Brees and not allow him time to find open receivers in space.  As for the Saints, they have struggled big time against the run in the second half of the season, but it will be interesting to see how that matchup unfolds on Sunday given the Vikings’ struggles to run the ball in the second half.  If Minnesota is able to get Peterson going, that will make it a big challenge for the Saints’ secondary to cover the receivers as well as make it difficult for the pass rush to get to Favre.  If the Saints are successful in shutting down the run, than it could lend to Favre trying to force plays down the field.  Darren Sharper is known for making big plays in big games, so don’t think he won’t be looking to try to pick off an errant Favre pass. 

I think it’s very possible the Vikings could regret that they didn’t get home field advantage and that they won’t get the game at the Metrodome.  Minnesota was undefeated in front of their home fans this season but suffered all four of their defeats on the road, including December road losses to non-playoff teams in Carolina and Chicago.  The Vikings in many ways have looked like two different teams all year: a dominant one at home and a so-so product on the road.  Other than their November win at Green Bay, the Vikings have no significant road wins they can claim this season.  The Saints have obviously been extremely tough in the Superdome, although they did lose to Dallas and Tampa Bay at home in December.  Minnesota also has a rather dubious conference title game history to contend with, specifically a rather embarrassing 41-0 road loss to the Giants in 2000, and a home loss to the Falcons two years earlier in which the Vikings were clear favorites.  The Saints meanwhile lost their only NFC title game appearance in 2006 in Chicago, and should benefit from the emotion of the crowd for their first ever NFC title game at home.

A lot of the numbers do point to New Orleans here, especially the home field edge.  I think in the end this will be a highly entertaining game where lots of points will be scored, but I also suspect we’ll see a big defensive play or two.  I think it will hinge on which defense does a better job getting to the quarterback as well as how well Minnesota can run the ball.  I think it will also be interesting to see which Brett Favre we see: the one who’s had a great year, or will we see a repeat of Favre two years ago, when costly interceptions allowed the Giants to win the NFC title game at Lambeau en route to a stunning Super Bowl victory?  Will the Saints secondary lure him into picks, or will Favre make good decisions and find his open receivers? 

This game almost seems too close to call, and to be honest I’m a little surprised at how most people are picking the Saints without hesitation, many cases in a runaway.  I know the Vikings have struggled on the road, but over the years it’s been proven in the playoffs that regular season history is irrelevant, because this is one game, and what happened previously has no bearing, especially the deeper you go in the playoffs.  I have a sense that Favre is going to show up big, and Brees will too.  I do think in the end the Vikings have a better defense especially up front, and I think Peterson will find holes to run through late in the game.  Minnesota 31 New Orleans 28

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Divisional Playoff Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 15, 2010

Last week: 2-2

Last week we had two blowouts, a game for the ages, and one boring game that could have easily gone the other way if the losing team didn’t sleepwalk through the contest on their home field.  Of the eight teams remaining, I would say more than half of them can make a realistic case for the Super Bowl.  This is often the most exciting round of the playoffs, and this year shouldn’t disappoint.  Games listed in chronological order of when they will take place. 

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints: This on paper has the makings of a repeat of last week’s aerial show between the Cardinals and Packers, in which Arizona won an overtime thriller 51-45.  Last week Kurt Warner had perhaps his best playoff game ever, and that includes his days with the Rams.  Warner’s performance was no impressive that he threw more touchdown passes (5) than incomplete passes (4).  Think about that for a moment.  He had more touchdown passes than incompletions, which is practically unheard of.  If Warner keeps playing like that, I’m not sure who the Cardinals would end up losing to.  Arizona’s offense also could get a lift this week with the return of Anquan Boldin, although Early Doucet was terrific filling in for Boldin (6 catches 77 yards 2 TDs) and Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston also had good numbers against the Packers.  The Cardinals also got good balance from Beanie Wells, who rushed for 91 yards on just 14 carries.  For those of you who are not math majors, that’s 6.5 yards per carry.  That proves that it’s not just passing that carried the Cardinals offense.  If they keep getting that kind of running game to go with it, they could end up proving to be very tough to beat indeed.  The flip side for the Cardinals is the defensive side of the ball.  Although they got two early turnovers against the Packers’ offense and ended up winning the game with a fumble return TD in overtime, they still surrendered 45 points and managed to blow a 31-10 lead that had been provided to them by the offense.  This does not bode well as they head on the road to face an offense that on the whole is more talented and has more big play potential than the Packers.  If the Cardinals are always going to need to score 40 points to win, eventually they will come up short, that’s just the way it is.

The Saints were arguably the league’s best team during the first half of the season, but they arguably peaked during a Monday night thrashing of the Patriots in late November.  Since then, the Saints needed a furious rally to beat the porous Redskins, struggled to beat a non-playoff team in Atlanta, and then proceeded to lose its final three games (home against red hot Dallas, a stunner against awful Tampa Bay, and a throwaway at Carolina in which the starters didn’t play).  That means it has been a month and a half since the Saints have looked sharp, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  The good news for New Orleans is that everyone should be well rested and fresh, and they will enjoy what I think is the best home field advantage of the four teams that will be hosting this weekend.  The bad news for the Saints is rustiness could be a big problem, especially if they fall behind by a couple of scores early, which is possible given that the Cardinals are confident and not showing any sign of slowing down offensively.  The key for the Saints may be how well they can keep up with Arizona on the scoreboard, and I think that shouldn’t be a problem with Drew Brees at the controls and a set of receivers that may not have the sexiness of Arizona’s but is every bit as productive in Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Robert Meachem.  The Saints also showed during the year they can run the ball with Pierre Thomas, but they may also need improved play from Reggie Bush in order to reach the Super Bowl.  Defensively, the Saints’ struggled mightly against the run especially in the second half of the season.  These struggles weren’t as obvious during the first half of the year when the Saints had huge leads and opponents had to abandon the run altogether, but was evident when the Saints were in closer games late in the year.  Their secondary is outstanding, particularly Darren Sharper, so that could make the difference against the Cardinals passing game.

This should be another high scoring, entertaining affair.  This may not be your game if you like hard hitting and defense, but it will be definitely be the one to tune in to if you like points and fireworks.  I think it is quite the contrast between a team with momentum in its favor versus a team that could be rusty from inactivity but has had plenty of time off to heal injuries and get healthy.  I think a lot of times the team with momentum would have the big edge, but I think the combination of the home crowd and the bye has proven to be a very good track record in the NFL over the years.  In the Saints’ case I think they will get a tremendous boost of energy from their home crowd, and while both offenses should put up lots of points, I like the Saints on a hunch to pull this one out, maybe even by a few more points than people expect.   New Orleans 35 Arizona 24.

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts: This is a rematch of a game we saw in mid-November, which the Colts won in Baltimore 17-15.  The Ravens are going to need Saturday night’s rematch to unfold in similar fashion if they want to have a chance.  In the first meeting, the Ravens actually forced a pair of Peyton Manning interceptions, but they did allow the Colts’ signal caller to pass for more than 300 yards.  As high powered as the Colts’ offense can be though, holding them to 17 points can give you a great chance to win most of the time.  Offensively the Ravens had great success through the air themselves, and were able to generate over 350 yards of total offense.  What proved to be Baltimore’s downfall in November was they were 0 for 4 in the red zone and settled for five field goals overall.  If you want to beat Indy, you must score touchdowns.  It sounds obvious and simple, but if you can’t put the ball in the end zone, you’re not going to be able to keep up with Peyton Manning, period. 

There is a lot of pressure on the Colts to win this game for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they voluntarily torched their perfect season and shot at history in the interest of keeping players healthy.  While I have delved into this topic in several previous posts, I will again state that NFL history has proven that teams who rest players late in the season for multiple weeks when they’ve already clinched tend to lose in the playoffs, often in the first round.  This means the Colts will be dealing with the pressure of trying to prove that their actions were correct against numbers that say otherwise.  This is particularly true for the Colts, who are 0-3 in the Manning era in the divisional round when they’ve enjoyed a bye (1999, 2005 and 2007).  2005 in particular bears mention because the Colts had a 13-0 start that year just like this one, clinched several weeks early, sat Manning and other starters for the final two games, and lost at home to a physical and hot Pittsburgh team in the playoffs.  In that game the Colts got dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage and basically got punched in the mouth while looking extremely rusty and showing a complete lack of timing until they got it together too late in the second half.  The next year in 2006, the Colts were the three seed and therefore not in a position to rest players, and they were able to generate enough momentum to win the Super Bowl.  Long story short, if the Colts lose on Saturday, they will never hear the end of it from their fans and other naysayers who will say they botched the season by not going all out for the 19-0.  There is also pressure on Manning, who by all accounts could go down as the best quarterback of all-time, but with only one Super Bowl victory is looked as second fiddle to Tom Brady in many circles.  No doubt Manning is eager for another title to further solidify his credentials in NFL history.  This year’s Colts team does have the making of an elite team, for they’ve got great talent at receiver with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, they can run the ball much of the time and defensively they are able to get a pass rush with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  It is interesting to note though the Colts didn’t blow many teams out, and most of the time were able to pull out close games in the fourth quarter.  I think though that I do not see how the Colts are a slam dunk Super Bowl pick at all, simply because it has been a month since they have played hard in a meaningful game and also because while they are very good, they don’t seem to be head and shoulders above the other AFC contenders.

For the Ravens, they are coming off a demolition of New England on the road in which they forced three first quarter turnovers and had put 24 points on the board before many viewers had even turned on the television.  This has the look of other wild card teams from the past that have been able to make deep playoff runs: they can run the ball with Ray Rice, they don’t turn it over, and their defense, while not as spectacular as the 2000 team, is still very good and very physical.  Last week they were able to get all kinds of pressure on Tom Brady, so there is no reason to think they can’t pressure Manning.  Baltimore also is not afraid to play on the road.  Even though it’s only the second year of John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco, the Ravens are 3-1 on the road in the playoffs the past two years.  On Saturday, Baltimore is going to need a better game from Flacco than they got last week, but in that game Flacco didn’t have to do much.  It’s hard to imagine the Ravens will completely be able to rely on the ground against Indy, but if they can get balance, then they have a better chance to be effective.  Again it will boil down to red zone execution, and last week the Ravens were able to cash in their chances. 

I have a hunch that this game will be eerily similar to the 2005 Steelers-Colts playoff game.  I a lot of ways I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.  I sense that the Ravens, fired up and with momentum, will dominate the line of scrimmage at the beginning, putting pressure on Manning while he and the Colts’ receivers struggle to find long lost timing.  I also think the Ravens will be able to generate enough offense on the ground to put some points on the board.  Most importantly, I sense the Ravens’ defense will be able to pull a repeat of November and force a turnover or two.  I think this will not necessarily be a high scoring game, and that suits the Ravens just fine.  While I think Manning will be productive as usual, I just think the Colts made a huge mistake of epic proportions three weeks ago and it will bite them, while the Ravens are like a freight train charging through the station.  I know I’m alone on this one, for everyone else in the free world is already handing the Colts the Lombardi trophy, but I’m going with the upset on this one.  Baltimore 20 Indianapolis 17. 

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings: To me, this game is between the top two teams in the NFC (no offense to New Orleans), and it is a real shame that this isn’t the NFC championship game.  Nevertheless, this should be a fantastic game.   The Cowboys are playing as well as any team in the league right now, and they are playing with a confidence such that they are capable of running the table and winning the entire thing.  Dallas looked like they were in the midst of another late season swoon in early December, but now they have reeled off four wins in a row, including two straight against the division rival Eagles in which the Cowboys demolished them both times.  Their win last week was the first for the franchise in the playoffs since 1996, and it looks like it is more than enough to save Wade Phillips’ job for 2010.  Tony Romo continues to play lights out, and the receiving core, and in fact the entire locker room, is in much better shape since the departure of Terrell Owens in the offseason.  Miles Austin has emerged as one of the best receivers in all of football, and the Cowboys have been able to compliment that with a superb running game.  Last week was particularly impressive because they didn’t have Marion Barber, although they didn’t skip a beat with Felix Jones and Tashard Choice leading the way.  Most of all, they are dominating the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively.  The defense in particular has really caused problems for Donovan McNabb the past two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if DeMarcus Ware and company can keep the pressure going against the Vikings offensive line.  In short the Cowboys are red hot, have a ton of momentum, and don’t show many signs of slowing down.  They are peaking at the right time, which is always half the battle of winning in the playoffs.

The Vikings were my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, and they looked the part for the first three months of the season before they lost three of four (all on the road)  in December.  I still think they are the most talented team in the NFL if everything is clicking, and in actually they, unlike most of the other teams that enjoyed the bye, are trending up as they head into the playoffs, owing to their blowout win over the Giants in the final game.  It can even be argued that offensively they started to get it together the previous week against Chicago even though they lost the game.  Minnesota still has all the ingredients necessary to win: they can run the ball thanks to Adrian Peterson and a superb offensive line, they can compliment that with the pass thanks to Brett Favre and talented receivers, and their defensive front seven might be the best in football, led by Jared Allen, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams.  The secondary is also very good when everyone is on the same page, and the bye should in particular help Antoine Winfield get healthy.  The biggest issue facing the Vikings during the last month of the season was the drama between Brad Childress and Brett Favre, but that seems to have faded away, and the bye should be a benefit to Minnesota in that regard also.

I have really gone back and forth on this game.  The Cowboys are the league’s hottest team and that alone makes it tough to pick against them, plus they have all the momentum in their favor a team could ever want.  Minnesota is at home in the loud Metrodome and should get a lift from that, plus they’ve enjoyed the bye.  I think it is interesting how many people are picking Dallas simply because it’s not the Vikings are a pushover, and while they didn’t have a great December they did seem to have it together in the final game, albeit against the Giants.  I think Brett Favre’s postseason history also gives people pause, but he doesn’t have to do everything by himself this time.  In the end I decided I picked the Vikings to win it all in the preseason and I’m going to stick with them and not waffle.  As I said it is too bad this isn’t the NFC title game.  Minnesota 28 Dallas 24. 

New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers: This game on paper seems to be the biggest mismatch of the week to me, which generally means that whatever I’m thinking the game is sure to go the other way.  In any case, the Jets have to be one of the luckiest teams in NFL history.  They got two gimmie wins during the end of the regular season against teams who weren’t even attempting to win, and then last week they drew a Bengals team that wasn’t playing to anywhere near its capability in the playoffs.  Even if Shayne Graham had made the two chip shot field goals he missed, Cincinnati would have been in position to tie or take the lead with a drive at the end of the game.  This is not to say the Jets don’t deserve any credit, but let’s face it, this team backed into the playoffs on luck and they are very fortunate to still be alive and kicking.  They have won in spite of subpar numbers from Mark Sanchez at quarterback, although to his credit he has not turned the ball over and is simply taking what the hand he is dealt on running with it.  The Jets have also done an amazing job running the ball with Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, and their defense has been very stout against the run (although they did allow a couple of long runs to Cedric Benson last week), and they have been able to get pressure on opposing QBs (but really does Curtis Painter even count?).  I realize this sounds very much like sour grapes, but I just think the Jets got in the playoffs largely thanks to other teams tanking games and they have been very fortunate.  That doesn’t mean they don’t have talent to win, but I think now that they are about to face one of the league’s elite teams on the road, they are in for a very rude awakening indeed.

This year the Chargers have played to the capability many of us have expected from them the past few seasons.  Despite a 2-3 start and a three game deficit created a fast start from Denver, the Chargers ran away with the AFC West title thanks to an 11-game winning streak that is active heading into the playoffs.  We talk all the time about the importance of momentum heading into the playoffs, and there is no question the Chargers have it.  During their winning streak the Chargers were able to win road games in Dallas, Denver, Tennessee and against the New York Giants.  The Chargers have gotten elite play at quarterback from Philip Rivers, who have proven to be tough in the pocket and very accurate with his throws, and he has a stable of receivers to throw to, especially Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates (side note: Darrelle Revis, even as good as he is, can’t cover both of them).  They also have the ability to run the ball, even though LaDainian Tomlinson has slipped from previous years.  It is a big help for the Chargers that Darren Sproles has proven capable of taking a few carries and is also a terrific weapon out of the backfield.  In short, the Chargers have a quick strike ability to score at any time, and seem to put 30 points on the board right after they step off the bus.  Defensively, the Chargers have proven able to force turnovers and also hold opposing offenses out of the end zone. 

I think the Chargers are the team to beat in the AFC right now.  They have not had a bad game since October so there is no reason to expect one now.  I think the Jets have lived on luck for three weeks now and they about to run into a buzzsaw that could shred them in the first quarter if they aren’t careful.  Don’t think also that the Chargers don’t have plenty of bulletin board material, especially the part about Rex Ryan having already scheduled the Jets Super Bowl parade.  I think the Chargers roll so emphatically that the Jets finally get exposed as a lucky, overrated team.  San Diego 38 NY Jets 13.

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Wild Card Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 8, 2010

I do plan to break down the disaster that was the Broncos’ season soon.  Frankly it is still hard to fathom falling from 6-0 to 8-8, a collapse that is more painful in many ways than those of 2006 and 2008.  Thus I need a little more time to compose my thoughts on the season and the mess that it became, but I should be ready to post sometime next week.  In the meantime, I will never miss the NFL playoffs regardless of whether the Broncos are in it or not, and this weekend we have what I think are four very intriguing games, and I think you can make a good case for either team in all four contests.  This is further compounded by the fact that three of the four games are rematches of games we saw in week 17, which is just crazy.  I know it’s happened before where teams have met in the first round of the playoffs after squaring off in the season’s final game, but I never remember more than one meeting at a time, let alone three rematches in the same weekend.   Now on to our wild card selections. 

Last week: 12-4   Final regular season record: 169-85 (.665)   Hey, roughly two out of three games correct, not bad!

– New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals: Last week the Jets demolished the Bengals 37-0.  I have read countless accounts from those who believe Saturday’s game will be more of the same.  I am going to come right and say that I disagree vehemently with those accounts.  Let’s be clear about something: Cincinnati made no attempt whatsoever to win that game.  Yes, they did play Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco during the first half, but the game plan was obviously very vanilla because the Bengals knew they would be playing the Jets again in a much more meaningful contest the next week and didn’t want to reveal anything that they were planning to do offensively.  The Jets knew they had to win in order to make the playoffs, so of course they came out guns blazing and went all out to win, even knowing they would see the Bengals again in the playoffs.  The Jets defense was outstanding, holding Cincinnati to an astounding seven yards of total offense in the first half, but again we can’t read anything into that because we know the Bengals weren’t trying. 

We also know that the Jets have not played against a team actually trying to win for two weeks now, because they got the benefit of the Colts waving the white flag in the third quarter the week before.  The week before the Colts game, the Jets looked listless in a 10-7 home loss to Atlanta, a team that will be watching the playoffs on television this year.  The two weeks prior to that the Jets beat Buffalo and Tampa Bay, two of the league’s dreads.  So really it has been awhile since the Jets have been presented with quality competition.  The Bengals meanwhile have dealt with the tragic death of receiver Chris Henry, but nearly stunned red hot San Diego on the road toward the end of the season.  The Jets are  clearly coming into the game with more momentum, and I am on record saying that does count for a lot, and the Bengals are coming in with none being that they tanked last week’s game, so from that standpoint the Jets do have an advantage there.  However I do think in this case the Bengals didn’t show all their cards and they will have something ready for the Saturday that the Jets may not be ready for.

Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since 1990, so the Bengals fans have been waiting for something to celebrate for a long time.  Paul Brown Stadium will be rocking, and that should give the home team a tremendous lift and boost of confidence.  This should not be underestimated as an important X fact0r in this game.  I know home field advantage doesn’t mean as much as it used to, but in this case I have a feeling the Bengals will benefit from the support of their crowd that is dying to enjoy playoff success.  As for the matchup, we have a rookie quarterback on the road in Mark Sanchez, and while the Jets have won five of six heading into the postseason, Sanchez’ numbers have not been that terrific (he only threw for 63 yards last week), while the Bengals have Carson Palmer, who is eager for a playoff performance that will make everyone forget his only other playoff appearance, in which he got hurt on the first series and the Bengals lost to Pittsburgh in 2005.  I also think the Bengals have considerably more talent at receiver, and while Mr. Ochocino could very well have a tough time with Derrelle Revis (the best corner in the NFL), I think Palmer will have no qualms about spreading the ball around to other targets.  Then, I have a feeling we’ll see a huge play from Ochocinco late in the game.  I know he has a tough matchup with Revis, but I don’t see any way Chad doesn’t show up in front of the home crowd on football’s biggest stage.  I think both teams are capable of running the ball well with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, but I give the Bengals an overall edge offensively because of the passing game. 

The bottom line on this game is frankly it wouldn’t be a shock if it went either way.  The Jets have the momentum, while the Bengals have the home field and the advantage of not revealing their game plan last week.  I think from a defensive standpoint, the Bengals will be much better prepared than last week having seen what the Jets will throw at them, and in particular Cincinnati will have a chance to come up with ways to contain Brad Smith.  Benson didn’t play last week, so he should be fresh and ready to go, allowing the Bengals a chance to control the clock with the running game.  I think both teams will put some points on the board, but I just think the Jets are way too cocky and overconfident.  (When your coach says you should be the Super Bowl favorite and you’re the five seed, that’s being way too overconfident).  I think the Jets are about to get punched in the mouth being that they are playing a real team trying to win for the first time in two weeks.  I also think the Bengals will be motivated to show up and will win a close one.  Cincinnati 27 NY Jets 24

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys: Last week the Cowboys shut the Eagles out 24-0 in a game where both teams were playing hard and trying to win, because the winner got the NFC East title and the right to have this game at home.  In the Eagles case, they blew a shot at a first round bye, so they are limping in, while the Cowboys are red hot, having won three in a row, including shutouts in each of their past two games.  Dallas in fact swept the regular season series against the Eagles, so a lot of cards are falling in Dallas’ direction heading into this one.  The Eagles have also been flashy at times this season but every once in awhile have been plagued by inconsistency.  Believe it or not the Cowboys have not won a playoff game since 1996, so patience could be wearing very thin in Big D if the Cowboys don’t win this one, leading to speculation that Wade Phillips might not be retained if they lose.  On the flip side the Eagles have experienced big time playoff success in the early rounds under Andy Reid, so winning a road game in the first round is old hat for them.

There is an adage that it tough to beat a team three times during the regular season, so that might be the biggest thing working against the Cowboys here.  I would be really surprised if we saw a repeat of what transpired in week 17 simply because the Eagles coaches are sure to make corrections and adjustments, and while the Cowboys do have the momentum coming in, it seems in this case that Dallas might be the team with more pressure on themselves here.  Before the week 17 game I expected offensive fireworks on both sides and that a fourth quarter turnover could well decide the game.  In spite of the blowout last week, I’m still expecting Saturday night’s game to be high scoring on both sides and a very entertaining affair.  We have good quarterback play on both sides with McNabb and Romo (who is playing the best football of his career), good receivers on both sides led by DeSean Jackson and Miles Austin, and a good running game from teams thanks to Marion Barber and the duo of Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. 

I think the difference in this game will be which defense is more up to the task of slowing down the other team’s offense.  That being the case I give the edge to the Cowboys because in the past they have succeeded in slowing down San Diego (holding them to 20 points, even though the didn’t win the game), the Saints and the Eagles.  The play of the front seven, led by DaMarcus Ware, has been particularly outstanding.  Philadelphia surrendered 24 points to a Denver team that struggled offensively much of the season, so it seems like they are a little more vulnerable there heading in.  I think the Eagles will show up better than last week, and they will make some big plays and put some points on the board, but in the end I think the Cowboys will be able to put up a few more points, and they will be lifted by a raucous crowd in the first playoff game at their new stadium.  Dallas 30 Philadelphia 24. 

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots: This is the only game of the weekend that is not a rematch of a week 17 contest, but they did square off in week four, with New England winning 27-21 in Foxboro.  This was a terrific game in which both teams had over 300 yards of total offense, and it ended with the Ravens driving in the final seconds and Joe Flacco missing a wide open Mark Clayton on fourth down.  The Patriots come into this game having suffered a devastating injury with the loss of Wes Welker last week.  The loss of Welker is huge for the Patriots because he is the league’s best slot receiver and creates lots of matchup problems for opposing defenses.  The encouraging thing for New England is that replacement Julian Edleman had over 100 yards receiving against Houston after Welker went down, so in typical fashion the Patriots may not skip much of a beat if Edleman continues to play well.  Reports also indicate that Tom Brady is playing through injured ribs, but Brady has played through pain before and played very well, so that injury is not near as much of a factor.  As for the Ravens, they still have an outstanding defense, although there have been games this year in which they have surrendered points against high scoring offenses (especially Minnesota and Green Bay).  Baltimore beat up on weak opponents in December (Detroit, Chicago and Oakland) so it will be interesting to see how they play against a step up in competition on Sunday.

The key for the Ravens if they want a chance to win this game is they will need to run the ball to be effective, and I think they will be able to do that.  Ray Rice had 103 yards on just 11 carries in the week four meeting, so it is pretty obvious that Rice will be a big part of the Ravens’ game plan.  Baltimore also has to be encouraged by improved play of late from Willis McGahee over the past few weeks, so if they can get a balanced running game going with both backs, that could prove to be a devastating combo for opponents in the playoffs.  If the running game is working, it will take a lot of pressure off Joe Flacco and not put him in positions where he needs to be flashy and big up big numbers for the Ravens to win.  If the running game is stalled, the pressure may too much for Flacco to overcome.  Defensively, the Ravens are still very good, and as long as they still have Ray Lewis in the middle, I’m not going to say for sure that any team is guaranteed to light them up in the playoffs. 

New England is a good position for the simple reason that they have Brady, who has had more playoff success than anyone else in the NFL.  Even if he is playing hurt, Brady is still someone I would not want to see on the other sideline if I was a defensive coordinator.  Even without Welker, he still has plenty of weapons to throw to, including Randy Moss.  Moss took some heat last month for some bad games, but I think he will show up in the playoffs, especially since he knows the Patriots really need him without Welker.  The Patriots have defined playoff success for much of the decade, and during the playoffs have been virtually unbeatable at home.  For this reason alone it makes it very difficult to pick against Belichick and company, injuries or no injuries.  New England may have had their woes on the road this season, but they still proved to be very tough at Gillette Stadium, so it is clear that it is one of the more formidable home field advantages in the NFL.

I think this will be a game very similar to what transpired in week four, a back and forth affair with the lead changing hands several times.  I think the Ravens will have success on the ground and the Patriots will be able to move the ball through the air.  Any number of little things could end up deciding this game: a dropped ball, perhaps a fumble, maybe a decision on whether or not to go for it on 4th and 1.  This is a wild card game that has the feel of a later round matchup.  The stat that really surprised me is that the Ravens have never beaten New England, ever.  Baltimore is 0-5 against the Patriots.  I know the Patriots at home in the playoffs is about as safe a bet as there has been in the NFL playoffs, but something I can’t put a finger on doesn’t seem right about this year’s group.  I pick Baltimore in the upset not because of the Welker injury, but because I think the Ravens are a sleeping giant capable of bucking the trend of playoff road teams in Foxboro.  The Ravens won two playoff road games last year, so there is no reason they can’t do it again.  Baltimore 24 New England 20. 

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals: Another rematch of a blowout from week 17, with the Packers rolling 33-7.  The game last week was meaningless for both teams, but the Packers elected to play hard and try to win, while the Cardinals tanked the game, electing to rest their starters and hold back their game plan for the playoff rematch.  The game ended up being costly for Arizona in more ways than one, as the Cardinals lost receiver Anquan Boldin and star corner Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie with injuries.  Neither has been declared out for the playoff rematch on Sunday, but it’s safe to say that neither will be at 100 percent if they do play.  It will be interesting to see how Sunday’s game unfolds, because Green Bay looked like a very dangerous team last week, and the Packers have indeed been playing well throughout December, with their only loss coming on the last play in Pittsburgh.  The Cardinals have really been up and down all year, so for them it could depend on which team ends up showing up.  It’s hard to get a read on them last week considering Matt Leinart was in most of the game at quarterback.  In a way, the Cardinals are limping into the playoffs exactly the same way as last year, and we know they caught fire, so it’s possible that could happen again.

This has the potential to be a high scoring game considering the quick strike offensive ability of both teams.  As long as Kurt Warner is throwing to Larry Fitzgerald (and the Cardinals hope Boldin), the Cardinals have the opportunity for the big play at any time.  Aaron Rodgers has also had a tremendous season, and has done the unthinkable, which is make Packers fans forget about Brett Favre.  Rodgers has managed to buck the trend of replacing a legend quarterback, and for him to have experienced the success he has so far under those circumstances is nothing short of incredible.  While Greg Jennings and Donald Driver may not have the pizzazz of Fitzgerald and Boldin, they have been every bit as productive.  I think Green Bay does have a pretty big edge in terms of being able to run the football for the Cardinals have really struggled with Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, although Wells started to come on in the second half of the season.  Defensively, neither team jumps off the page, but whichever one can win the turnover battle will go a long way toward deciding this contest.

I think like the other week 17 rematches, we should definitely see a much more competitve game than we did last week.  I think the Cardinals have an advantage in terms of not having tipped their hand as far as strategy, but the Packers clearly have more momentum heading into the game and are definitely healthier.  I think Aaron Rodgers still feels like he has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, and while the Cardinals have much of the same group that made their Super Bowl run last season, they are going to need a dramatic kick in the rear to get jump started again this playoff year.  Also, it’s not the Cardinals have much of a home field advantage.  Phoenix is a city made up of people from other locations, especially in the winter, and legions of opposing fans are very common at University of Phoenix Stadium.  Factor in that the Cards have actually been a much better road team this year than at home, and that the Packers could well be the best non division winner still in the running in either conference, and I’ll take the Packers to win on the road in what feels like the biggest slam dunk of the weekend (My apologies to Mike McCarthy in advance for the jinx).   Green Bay 34 Arizona 21.

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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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Week 12 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 26, 2009

While I clearly misfired on last week’s upset special, several others occurred that no one saw coming.  That is life in the NFL.  It will be interesting to see how everything unfolds going forward, but I think we’re starting to see a clear separation of teams at the top.  That said, maybe some of the teams we thought were really bad are starting to get better.  The bottom line is no team is safe in this league in any given week.

Last week: 11-5  Season: 107-51

– Packers over Lions: Unfortunately the Thanksgiving holiday starts with its usual dud of a Lions game.  Detroit did show offensive spark last week, but Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are both unlikely to play against the Packers as of this writing.  Aaron Rodgers is starting to cut down on his sack total, and it’s paying big dividends.  Green Bay rolls so easily that you may want to check out some of the college hoops going on if you’re looking to avoid helping in the kitchen.

– Cowboys over Raiders: Dallas squeaked one out against the Redskins last week, while the Raiders pulled off their second major upset of the season.  However I don’t buy Oakland’s chances of winning on the road right now, especially in the Jones Mahal with a fired up Thanksgiving crowd.  I expect the Cowboys to have no trouble running the ball, and I think they’ll get enough big plays from Tony Romo to pull away relatively easily in the second half.

– Broncos over Giants: I know I’m probably picking with my heart more than my head here, but the Broncos cannot possibly get any more rock bottom than Sunday’s loss to San Diego.  A player’s only meeting called Tuesday by Brian Dawkins seems to have woken the players up.  You can tell in the comments leading up to this game that there seems to be a renewed attitude and vigor in the team.  It also seems clear that Kyle Orton will get the start, which he clearly should have against the Chargers.  Meanwhile, Ahmad Bradshaw will not play for the Giants, and Brandon Jacobs is really banged up as well.  Thus I think the Broncos will completely shut down the Giants running game, which will allow them to put some pressure on Eli Manning.  The deciding factor for me though is this will be Denver’s first home Thanksgiving game since 1963, and I think the team will get a tremendous lift from a fired up night game crowd.  I also think the Giants are at a tremendous disadvantage with the long travel and the short week.  Broncos win 21-13.

– Dolphins over Bills: The Dolphins proved last week that they can run the ball even with Ronnie Brown out for the year.  If Ricky Williams continues to play like that, Miami could be a interesting team to watch down the stretch.  The Bills finally had a Terrell Owens sighting last week, but otherwise let another winnable game slip away.  I think even in the wind and cold of upstate New York, I like the Miami running game to carry the Dolphins in this one.

– Panthers over Jets: Carolina has been a really tough team to figure all year long, but I like their running game on the road.  The Jets also have a solid running game with Thomas Jones, but Mark Sanchez has really struggled as of late (even more so than Jake Delhomme in my opinion).  This could end up being a very ugly game, but I like the Panthers to steal this one on the road.

– Bengals over Browns: Many times meetings between these two teams seem to take odd turns with unexpected results, but I don’t see that happening this time.  The lock of the week has got to be that Brady Quinn will absolutely not duplicate his performance of a week ago when he tossed 3 TDs against Detroit.  I think the Bengals looked past the Raiders last week, and they will not make that mistake two weeks in a row.  I think Cincinnati wins in a blowout.

– Texans over Colts: UPSET ALERT.  This is a very intriguing game in Houston, being that the Colts won a thriller in the first meeting.  Also, the Colts come in off several very fortunate wins while Houston has a short week to recover from a crushing loss.  Call this one a hunch, but I think the Texans are due.  There is way too much talent on that team for them not to be in the playoff discussion one of these years.  Houston has come very close against Indianapolis more than once and I think this is their chance to break out.  Peyton Manning is having a great year, but the Colts have undoubtedly caught quite a few breaks along the way so far.  Besides, I don’t think any team in this league is ever good enough to go through undefeated (even the Patriots couldn’t quite get it done in 07, even with a perfect regular season).

– Jaguars over 49ers: Jacksonville has very quietly muscled their way to the top of the wild card standings in the AFC.  They don’t score a lot of points, but as long as they have Maurice Jones-Drew I wouldn’t want to have to face them as a defensive coordinator.  Home field hasn’t been much help for the Niners in a long time, and while they always play hard, they don’t seem to have enough there to really compete on a week to week basis.  I think the Jaguars carry their momentum into a west coast road win.

– Cardinals over Titans.  There is huge caveat here.  I change this pick to the Titans if Kurt Warner doesn’t play.  As of right now, Warner says he is going to play after suffering a concussion last week, and if he does I like the Cardinals to keep their momentum going and stop Tennessee’s hot streak.  The Cardinals have proven that they can win on the road (in fact they’ve played better there than at home this year).  I will say that Vince Young seems like a completely new player and person and Chris Johnson is incredible, but if Warner plays I like the Cards.  If he doesn’t, than Tennessee will have a chance to roll with poor play from Matt Leinart.

– Chargers over Chiefs: I am still attempting to figure out how Kansas City beat Pittsburgh.  All I can figure is that any outcome is bound to happen once out of every 100 times.  As for the Chargers, they are starting to look scary good.  San Diego has rebounded to win five in a row and they show no signs of slowing down.  LaDainian Tomlinson is back to his old self, and that means the Chargers have once again been balanced on offense instead of completely relying on Philip Rivers.  The defense is also stepping up with key turnovers.  If San Diego is focused, they will win this one going away.

– Eagles over Redskins: Washington’s defense actually hasn’t been half bad recently.  They allowed just seven points to Dallas last week and they’ve actually kept the team in more games than not.  The problem for the Redskins has been the offense, and that will be enough to doom them against Philadelphia.  The Eagles are starting to show signs of life offensively, and while they have yet to meet preseason expectations, they are showing that they could be a player in the NFC East with a few breaks.  The Eagles already handled Washington once without any real difficulty, and I like them to do it again.

– Vikings over Bears: I think Minnesota is the best team in the NFL.  Keep in mind their one loss came in Pittsburgh thanks to two long fumble returns.  They have the running game, the passing game and the defense.  Last week against the Seahawks it was clear that the Vikings are incredibly difficult to even compete with when they are clicking on all cylinders.  I don’t see any way they slow down this week in the Metrodome against a Bears team that is needless to say limping in.  Chicago has lost three in a row and continues to be plagued by incredibly poor decisions by Jay Cutler.  Perhaps he can learn a thing or two Sunday by watching Brett Favre, who is having one of the best years in his career.  Minnesota wins easily.

– Falcons over Buccaneers: Atlanta suffered a rough overtime loss last week to the Giants, and now the Falcons are in a position where they can’t afford any missteps if they want to actually make the playoffs for the second straight year.  They have the pieces in place offensively, but defensively they’ve given up a ton of big plays.  That shouldn’t be a problem against Tampa Bay, who last week reverted to form after two weeks of playing better.  Atlanta may not have enough to quite be in it at the end, but they’ll get this one at home.

– Seahawks over Rams: St. Louis has given some good effort in recent weeks, but it won’t quite be enough without Marc Bulger, who will possibly miss the rest of the season.  Seattle has been really up and down, but I think they’ll have enough in this one (Watch for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who got shut down last week by the Vikings, to rebound with a big day).  This is a dud game, so my sympathy if you’re stuck with it.

– Ravens over Steelers: Minor upset alert in a good Sunday night matchup.  The Ravens have really underachieved this year, while Pittsburgh is still trying to figure out what happened in Kansas City last week.  I think the Ravens know that Pittsburgh beat them three times last year, and I think there is no way they allow the Steelers to beat them this time.  Baltimore’s nasty defense will tee off on Ben Roethlisberger early and often to test him after he left last week’s game with a concussion.  I expect a low scoring hard hitting game, and that gives the Ravens a chance to gain the edge with just one big turnover.  I think they’ll get it, and the win.

– Patriots over Saints: It doesn’t usually happen that the game of the week ends up the Monday nighter, but that’s what we have this time.  New Orleans certainly deserves a ton of credit for an outstanding season so far, and they certainly have an ability to light up the scoreboard quickly, but their defense has also given up its fair share of large point totals.  I think the Patriots have shown that they have an ability to put up big numbers even on the road, as indicated by their 34-point night in Indy two weeks ago.  If this game turns into a shootout as I suspect it will, I actually like New England’s defense to hold up a little better than New Orleans.  This is almost too close to call, but in the end I like New England in this one.

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