Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NFL picks week nine

After last week, I am 79-37 straight up overall, and 65-50-1 against the spread.

Washington at Atlanta (no line): This pick is more about the Falcons than it is about the Skins. Washington's season is over. It has been done for a long time, even when they were 2-2 they were still downright awful. The Falcons put up a seriously tough, spirited and impressive fight against the Saints this week, and I think they will take out the frustration of that too-close loss on the hapless Redskins. Or, they could be crushed and demoralized, and let the Skins get within ten points. Falcons, 33-10. Verdict (Falcons, 31-17). Yep. The Falcons won by 14 points. They must have been demoralized.

Baltimore (3) at Cincinnati: The Ravens knocked off the unbeaten Broncos, exposing both their offense and their defense as over-rated. But then, the Broncos were of course over-rated. The Bengals remain under-rated, having started the season 5-2 but not factoring into any discussions of the top-flight teams. Here's the thing though. The Bengals, who have been surprising and terrific, are just mediocre at home. Carson Palmer has been mediocre in Cincy. And I believe the Ravens are hungrier right now than are the Bengals. Ravens, 21-17. Verdict (Bengals, 17-7). Nope. The Bengals are hungrier. And they are under-rated. And the Ravens are over-rated. Maybe they really did deserve to lose those three earlier games.

Kansas City at Jacksonville (7): It is now the part of the season where team defense rankings and team offense rankings actually start to mean something. The Chiefs are third-last in the NFL in offense, and third-last in total defense. They have been coming on of late, but not enough to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are far better at home than they are on the road, and the Chiefs have been just dreadful away from KC. Jaguars, 21-17. Verdict (Jaguars, 24-21). Jacksonville is still not a good team. They may be 4-4 but they are inconsistent and they struggle to win games they should dominate. They need more than MJD.

Green Bay (10) at Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers are the last winless team in the NFL, and they deserve to be. They have been simply awful, all season long. And there is no respite in sight. The Packers pretty well kissed their chances at a division title goodbye with that loss this week to the Vikings, but I have to think they are one of the top contenders for a wild card berth in the NFC. They need this game, and they will destroy the hapless Bucs. Packers, 27-7. Verdict (Buccaneers, 38-28). Ummm...any given Sunday, right? At least I have the comfort of thinking this one might have knocked some people out of my eliminator pool!

Miami at New England (11): This is (seriously) a very tough call. The Dolphins are much better than their record indicates. The Dolphins have a very good run defense, although their pass defense has been suspect so far. Then again, they have played some very very good passing offenses. The Patriots are a great passing offense (#3), but they can't run the ball too well. Miami can. They are the third-ranked rushing offense in the whole NFL. If they can control the clock, and there's a good chance they can, they have a really good shot in this game. The Patriots are unbeaten at home, and likely to stay unbeaten at home, but this could easily be a trap game. Patriots, 24-21. Verdict (Patriots, 27-17). The Pats may have won by double digits, but it was closer than that. And although New England did a pretty darn good job of shutting down the wildcat, they still had way too much trouble with the Dolphins, who have had a really tough schedule and are still better than their record.

Houston at Indianapolis (9.5): The Colts had a real shock this week, as the Niners came very, very close to winning. Too close. I think Indianapolis had just about their worst game of the season, and although the Niners deserve a lot of credit for the way they played, it was more a bad game from Indy than a good game from San Fran. Now, Houston has been a team of ups and downs all season long. Luckily for them, those ups and downs have been coming within games of late, and the Texans have been able to win those games. Against the Colts, that will not be possible. Houston needs a full, 60-minute, hard effort to even keep this one close. I think they'll get it. And keep this one close. Like, within a touchdown. Colts, 27-21. Verdict (Colts, 20-17). Yeah, Houston's best effort isn't quite enough to knock off the Colts, missed kick or no. By the way - what was with Houston waiting at the 2:00 warning at the end of the first half? They don't run a play, when they clearly could have, letting the clock run down, taking the two-minute warning, and letting the Colts look at the video and ask for a challenge. Instead of going in for a TD, they lose the ball on a touchback. The most important play of the game, and the coaches screwed up bad. Just run a play!

Arizona at Chicago (3): What is up with the Cardinals? They beat the Giants convincingly, then lose to Carolina. Convincingly. I am convinced of nothing. They are 1-3 at home, 3-0 on the road. The Bears are 3-0 at home, 1-3 on the road. And what's up with the Bears? They have a winning record, but they have beaten only one good team all season - the Steelers in Week 2, when Pittsburgh was in disarray. I just don't think the Bears are good enough to hang with a good team. So if the good Arizona Cardinals show up this week, they will beat the Bears. I think they probably will. Cardinals, 32-25. Verdict (Cardinals 41-21). The good Cardinals showed up. And the Bears aren't good enough to hang with a good team. I think Chicago's season is over.

Carolina at New Orleans (no line): The Saints are unstoppable. How do you beat this team? Well first, you have to score on every possession. (The Panthers were doing that this week against the Cardinals.) Second, you have to score touchdowns on every possession. Third, you can't turn the ball over. And fourth, you have to control the clock - long, tough, grinding drives that leave Drew Brees with no time to come back and score. So make sure you get your points less than 30 seconds before half time. How do you avoid turning the ball over? Don't throw it near Darren Sharper. Or the corners. In fact, just don't throw the ball. So the only way to beat the Saints is to run the ball, on every play, and get four yards every single time, and score TDs without throwing the ball. Do you see the Panthers doing that? Me either. Saints, 49-17. Verdict (Saints, 30-20). New Orleans survived another scare, and proved once again they can come back from a huge deficit in just one half. Or one quarter. Or two minutes.

Detroit at Seattle (10): Another fascinating game involving the Lions. Ugh. The Seahawks are awful, but they aren't quite Detroit awful. Yet. The Seahawks are ranked near the middle of the league in both offense and defense, and the Lions are near the bottom in both. After this game, Seattle could have a winning record at home! But they will still be garbage. Seattle, 20-13. Verdict (Seahawks, 32-20). The Seahawks really came back hard after the Lions leaped out to a giant lead early on. The Lions have the ability to do that. They just don't have the ability to hang on to that league. And Seattle now has a winning record at home.

San Diego at New York Giants (4.5): This really is the most interesting matchup of the week. The Giants were exposed by the Saints, and now all the other teams can see their defensive shortcomings. And they have taken advantage of those, for three straight games. If any team (other than New Orleans) has the firepower to exploit those weaknesses, it ought to be the Chargers. But they have not been able to put a huge effort together all season long. Both teams desperately need this game, but I just don't trust the Chargers to be able to game-plan as well as the Eagles or Cardinals or Saints. Giants, 24-22. Verdict (Chargers, 21-20). The Chargers were able to game-plan decently. But they relied on a virtually miraculous finish after throwing that pick and managing to hold the Giants to a field goal. Gotta be good to be lucky, and so forth.

Tennessee at San Francisco (4): The Titans throw in Vince Young, finally. And they win a game! Finally. And they win convincingly! Finally. Now, the Jaguars are pretty bad, and the game doesn't mean that much, but San Fran needs to win games like this one if they hope to be in playoff contention this season. The Titans are coming on, and they could be a handful, but the Niners should win this matchup in San Francisco. But it won't be easy. Niners, 21-20. Verdict (Titans, 34-27). Could the rumours be right? That the Titans will run the table and make the playoffs after starting 0-7? It is entirely possible. They proved they were tough today, and although the Niners looked tough for a while, they couldn't hold it together.

Dallas at Philadelphia (3): The Cowboys have won three straight, the Eagles two. Both teams are 5-2, both are 3-1 at home and 2-1 on the road. They are both 4-1 in their last five. They are 4-1 in conference and 1-1 out of conference. The Eagles are #10 in defense, Dallas is #2 on offense. The Cowboys are #22 in defense, the Eagles are #15 on offense. (15+10=25, 22+2=24.) There appears to be very little daylight separating these two teams. But look a little closer. Say, at the two losses. The Eagles were without Donovan McNabb when they lost to the best team in football, the Saints. Then they had that crazy blip where they lost a fluke to the Raiders. The Cowboys have lost to the Giants (who no longer look so impressive) and Denver (I would say the same thing about the Broncos). The Eagles beat Carolina by 28, Dallas beat them by 14. Philly beat Kansas City by 20, Dallas beat them by 6. Dallas beat Tampa Bay by 13, the Eagles beat them by 19. Dallas has beaten one good team - Atlanta, in Dallas. They will not beat another. Eagles, 35-18. Verdict (Cowboys, 20-16). Maybe I over-analyzed this one. Maybe the Cowboys are...actually good. When the Eagles get healthy again (IF they do), look out!

Pittsburgh (3) at Denver: The Broncos were exposed this week. Laid bare, as it were. I don't think they'll have a fall like the Giants have since being knocked out of the ranks of the unbeaten. After all, in the next few weeks they play San Diego and the Giants at home, and their other games come against Washington, Oakland and two against Kansas City. If it weren't for two road games against Philadelphia and Indianapolis, they'd have it really easy. They could still go 13-3. But they won't, because Pittsburgh is all of a sudden looking like the team that won the Super Bowl last year. And they are similar to the Ravens both on offense and defense. Similar enough, anyway, to watch this week's game tape, and find all the holes in that Broncos defense. And the Broncos offense. I'm calling it right now. The Broncos will finish the season 11-5 and their slide starts Monday night. Steelers, 24-20. Verdict (Steelers, 28-10). Well, it took a half, but the Steelers sure figured out how to exploit that Broncos defense. I don't know what adjustments they made, per se, but I imagine other teams will be looking at that game tape closely. The Broncos might be starting their slide just as the Chargers (finally, maybe) are coming together. Thank God I was right about this one, which salvaged my bad week a little bit.

I am now 8-5 this week straight up (87-42 overall), and 9-4 against the spread (74-54-1 overall).

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