A middling week last week. Two for four. Sort of like most diet and exercise plans I undertake: successful, if only in treading water.
In review, the Jets didn’t cover—winning by five and not seven, always the trouble with those bigger spreads: you only need to win by one, and in the NFL, that can sometimes be safer than trying to win by more.
As for the other loss, San Diego, I should’ve known better. Their coach is terrible and Rivers can only do so much, which leads me to one of the many lessons betting the NFL: beware the landmine.
San Diego’s a perfect example—they’re good enough to beat spreads as the underdog, bad enough not to cover as the favorite. Jacksonville’s becoming something similar: almost always the dog, but an offense that’s dangerous. Especially in garbage time (a trend you’ll notice this week).
Along with the Jags and Chargers, here are the other landmines so far this season:
- Kansas City, not going to make the playoffs, but good coach, defense, and ball managing quarterback Alex Smith make them a nightmare on either side of the spread. (Ha! He’s a ball manager.)
- Baltimore—a team that almost beat the Patriots in the playoffs last year: same quarterback, same coach. And to be fair they’ve lost some close games, but do you trust them after losing to San Francisco?
- New Orleans: I have no idea what to make of the Saints. For weeks I’ve been picking against them and losing, and then last week, they lose to the Titans—as bad a football team as there is in the league this year. Brees and Payton have found a way to rekindle the offense, and then Rob Ryan pisses those points away like a scared puppy.
- The NFC East minus Dallas. Bradford’s too much of a liability for the Eagles; the Deadskins are up and down (they almost covered against the Patriots)–not just from game to game, but quarter to quarter; and the Giants have looked alternately great and terrible on offense, for no apparent reason. I’d add the Pokes too, but until they get Tony Romo I think it’s safe to say they’re bad: go ahead and pick against them given a reasonable spread. When Matt Cassel throws for 300 yards and three touchdowns, you’ve just gotta win—but it’s not going to happen with Garrett wearing the headset. Make no mistake: he’s bad.
On the plus side, we got two wins with Carolina and Philly, so .500 it is. So far this year, ChuckingRocks is 16 for 30… hopefully we get a bit further over the top this week. To the picks!
Lock of the Week
Detroit at Green Bay (-11.5)
I hate this spread, but given what’s happened to Green Bay the past two weeks and how bad Detroit is, you still have to like this game. Why?
Because all signs point to a blowout by Green Bay. The Packers had a gut check the last two weeks, and they’re going have every reason to take it out on Detroit Sunday. What we saw against Carolina last week was conflict. Defensive players yelling at each other, a controversy at running back, Rodgers sacked five times…
But sometimes, conflict is good. Handled correctly, it brings out the best in people. Because conflict exposes weaknesses. Flaws–why Republicans should figure out how to answer tough questions (start with sane policy proposals–hint: rely on math and reason, not assholery) instead of whining about the media.
Sorry–I just can’t help it. Anyway, it’ll be a balmy 58 in Green Bay on Sunday, perfect weather to throw the ball all over the field (btw, that’s another thing to look at when betting: weather starts to matter more and more late in the year–important fantasy implications too) and the cheese-heads something to celebrate. And assuming they’ve used this week to deal with their issues, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Sure, the Lions are coming off a bye and some changes in the coaching staff, but they’re by far the statistically worst team in the league: 31st in scoring offense, 32nd in defense. That’s just horrific, and frankly, I don’t see how it changes.
I mean, is anyone really scared of this offense? Sure, they’ve got great options at all the ball handling positions, but the line doesn’t give Stafford time to throw–even if it’s a hissy fit–and I don’t think they could open a hole in a pair of fishnet stockings let alone an NFL defensive line.
Besides, how do you beat Green Bay? You force them to respect the run and then throw the ball down the field. You win time of possession and keep Rodgers off the field. I just don’t think Detroit can do that.
The real danger is the spread, which could be eclipsed easily in garbage time—or who knows, maybe it becomes a back and forth type of game where Green Bay’s always comfortably ahead, but never really pulls away by the 12 points they need to cover.
Like I said: hate the spread, but love the pick. Packers win by 13 with the help of a defensive touchdown.
Jacksonville at Baltimore (-5.5)
Yes, I’m aware I’m picking a game with two self-identified landmines, but I have good reason–actually, several: Baltimore’s coming off a bye, they have the better coach and quarterback, they’re at home, and if that wasn’t enough, they’re playing a Jaguar team that just got beat up by the very physical Jets.
So every factor is leaning Baltimore—and remember, the spread isn’t huge; all the Ravens have to do is win by a touchdown or two field goals. More good news for Baltimore: the Jaguars give up an average of almost 30 points a game, so scoring shouldn’t be a problem.
Again, is it possible Bortles and his receivers beat the spread in garbage time? Sure, but that would make it a pretty damned close game, and the stakes are too high for that: this is a must win game for Harbaugh and company. You can probably forget the playoffs either way, but losing to Jacksonville at home after a bye week would spell utter disaster. Baltimore wins by 10.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-4.5)
Well, this is officially the second time I’m casting my lot with Landry Jones—the first time was a bad loss to a reeling Chiefs team.
This game scares me for that reason, not to mention the fact that DeAngelo Williams—Bell’s heir at running back—is a little banged up (although it looks like he’ll play).
However, everything else points to this being a blowout for the Steelers. Cleveland has the worst run defense in the league and gives up an average of 27 points a game. That’s bad. Especially against one of the better running teams in the league.
But what would worry me more if I were Cleveland is that Pittsburgh is playing good defense. They have the 8th best scoring defense in the NFL (which is only three points per game worse than number one)—indeed, last week was the first time this year a team scored more than 24 points against them, and the 35 Oakland scored is more a reflection on how good that offense is than an indictment of the Steeler D.
Also, like the Jets last week against Jacksonville, or Carolina against Green Bay, I think coach Mike Tomlin knows his team has to have this one. The Steelers are 5-4 in a crowded race for an AFC Wild Card spot, competing with teams like the Jets, Bills, Raiders, Dolphins, Chiefs, Colts, and Texans. If they drop this one to the Browns, they’ll have to go on a hell of a run down a stretch in which they play the Seahawks, Colts, Bengals, Broncos, and Ravens, before getting the Browns again in week 17.
Pittsburgh wins by a touchdown.
Arizona (+3.5) at Seattle
I love this spread.
Ordinarily, it’d scare me that Seattle’s coming off a bye, but then, so is Arizona. The question, really, is whether the Seahawks can run the ball effectively, because as good as Russell Wilson is, their passing game is nothing more than glorified backyard football.
Well, guess what? Arizona has the fourth best rushing defense in the league, allowing only 90 yards a game.
So assuming that trend continues and the Cardinals are able to stuff the run, this will be a very tight game: Seattle with homefield advantage, Arizona with talent and scheme advantage. Thus, even if Seattle wins, it’s unlikely to be more than a field goal. And overall, make no mistake: Arizona’s the better team and they have a history of beating Seattle at home, where the Hawks are supposedly invincible.
Which is why I love this spread.
The variable that’s a little scary is the weather. It’ll be cold and rainy all day in Seattle, which makes it tough to throw, and at the same time, gives advantage to runners and offensive linemen who know where they’re going while the reactionary defense is prone to stumble and slip on the slick surface. Plus Seattle’s used to playing in the rain—Arizona is not—which is precisely why this is not my lock this week. If it’s pouring, Seattle has a distinct advantage, so it all depends on how much and when.
Evening forecasts call for less precipitation: Seattle wins on a late field goal, but the Cards cover.
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Good luck this week!