Saturday, September 20, 2014

NFL picks - Week Three

Thankfully, I'm not a betting man.

It took more than two full weeks for me to notch win no. 10 in my spread picks. Thank you, Atlanta.

A very blurry picture is starting to come into focus. If last week's loss St. Louis wasn't confirmation, then Thursday night's demolition by the Falcons confirmed that the talented Buccaneers will likely finish last in the loaded NFC South. Again.

There are some surprises as well. The Buffalo Bills are 2-0, as is a Carolina Panthers team most people buried before the season began. Two 2013 playoff teams, New Orleans and Indianapolis, are both 0-2. Both teams face favorable match-ups in Week 3, with both heavily favored to notch their first win of the season.

All five friends of the Online Jargon are 1-1 heading in to the third week of the season. One is guaranteed to lose, as the Packers and Lions will clash in Detroit. Can the Ravens, Vikings and Bears grab another victory?

Let's get to the picks.

Atlanta (1-1) over Tampa Bay (0-2)
Line: Atlanta -6.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

Lovie Smith was brought in to Tampa to fix the damage inflicted by former coach Greg Schiano. Instead, the Bucs have slipped further from offseason playoff talk, hitting rock bottom on Thursday, trailing the Falcons 56-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Sell your Tampa Bay stock if you can.

San Diego (1-1) over Buffalo (2-0)
Line: Buffalo -2.5
Spread pick: San Diego

The Chargers will be without starting running back Ryan Mathews, which means they will have to beat Buffalo through the air. That shouldn't be a problem for Philip Rivers, who has thrown for 522 yards and four touchdowns already this season. San Diego has hung with the best the NFL has to offer, and will hand the Bills their first loss of the season.

Cincinnati (2-0) over Tennessee (1-1) 
Line: Cincinnati -6.5
Spread pick: Cincinnati

Question marks surrounded the Bengals after the offseason departures of coordinators Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer. Cincinnati has answered the bell, knocking off two good teams to start the 2014 season. Andy Dalton may not be Peyton Manning, but he's not Jake Locker, either.

Baltimore (1-1) over Cleveland (1-1)
Line: Baltimore -1.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

The Ravens looked awful during the first 30 minutes of the season, and looked fantastic during their most recent 60 minutes of action. This team likely falls somewhere in the middle, with a strong defense and an offense that must prove its worth. Cleveland will put up a fight - as they often do against Baltimore - but the Ravens grab their second division win of the year.

Dallas (1-1) over St. Louis (1-1)
Line: Dallas -0.5
Spread pick: Dallas

The Rams gave up 34 points to an offense led by Matt Cassel, and nearly lost to an offense led by Josh McCown. What's going to happen when Dallas' offense comes to town? The Rams lose.

Green Bay (1-1) over Detroit (1-1)
Line: Detroit -1.5
Spread pick: Green Bay

This may be the most surprising line of the week. Green Bay has looked pedestrian through two weeks, but Detroit looked equally as bland in a 24-7 loss to Carolina last week. The NFC North is a woeful division, and a Packers victory gives the defending division champs a leg up early in the season.

Indianapolis (0-2) over Jacksonville (0-2)
Line: Indianapolis -6.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

For a second, Jacksonville almost looked like a team on the rise. They must have remembered where they play. The Jags have been a mess since a fast start against Philadelphia, and it won't get easier against a Colts team beaten by a single score in games against the Broncos and Eagles.

New England (1-1) over Oakland (0-2)
Line: New England -14.5
Spread pick: New England

Oakland is racing Jacksonville to the no. 1 overall pick in next spring's NFL Draft. The Raiders are also a mess, but unlike the Jaguars, the Raiders will almost certainly have a new coach next season. Dennis Allen has been overmatched since coming to Oakland, much like his Raiders will be overmatched Sunday in Foxborough.

New Orleans (0-2) over Minnesota (1-1)
Line: New Orleans -10.5
Spread pick: New Orleans

If you listen closely, you can hear the chants coming from the Twin Cities. Ted-dy ... Ted-dy ... Ted-dy. They're going to get louder. A bright future is about to begin after the Vikings get thoroughly dominated in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this weekend.

Houston (2-0) over New York Giants (0-2)
Line: Houston -2.5
Spread pick: Houston

Until further notice, there is no reason to pick the Giants to win a football game. Eli Manning is impersonating an NFL quarterback as the remainder of New York's skill-position players go through the motions. Houston already tops last year's win total with a win at MetLife Stadium.

Philadelphia (2-0) over Washington (1-1)
Line: Philadelphia -6.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

Believe it or not, Washington ranks first in defensive DVOA. That'll happen when you have 10 sacks against the hapless Jaguars. A banged-up DeSean Jackson leaves Kirk Cousins' receiving options limited. Philly's offensive line isn't 100 percent healthy, but the Eagles defense has played well, and will continue to do so this weekend.

Arizona (2-0) over San Francisco (1-1)
Line: San Francisco -2.5
Spread pick: Arizona

The NFL world is starting to realize something I've been saying for a long time: Colin Kaepernick is not an elite quarterback. San Francisco's skill position players are getting old, and their defense is thin. Arizona, on the other hand, has one of the best secondaries in football to go along with a strong front seven.

Despite the deactivations and/or suspensions of Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer and Adrian Peterson, 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald will likely start Sunday, despite his arrest for felony domestic violence.

Seattle (1-1) over Denver (2-0)
Line: Seattle -4.5
Spread pick: Denver

A supposedly upgraded Denver team has not looked impressive in back-to-back home victories. Their first trip away from Invesco Field will to be the home of the Super Bowl-champion Seahawks, a team that throttled the Broncos to win Super Bowl XLVIII. It won't be 43-8 again, but the result will be the same.

Miami (1-1) over Kansas City (0-2)
Line: Miami -4.5
Spread pick: Miami

Many expected a down year from the Chiefs. The team isn't proving anyone wrong, as Kansas City ranks in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive DVOA. A trip to Miami isn't going to be the cure to what ails the Chiefs.

Carolina (2-0) over Pittsburgh (1-1)
Line: Carolina -3.5
Spread pick: Carolina

Pittsburgh's offensive line has been laughable for the last couple of years, and 2014 is no different. This is about as bad a match-up as you can find for Pittsburgh's porous offensive line - Carolina's top-notch front four will control the line of scrimmage, and therefore, the game.

Chicago (1-1) over New York Jets (1-1)
Line: New York -2.5
Spread pick: Chicago

For all the flak the Bears get for having a terrible defense, they rank two spots higher (13th) than the Jets (15th) in defensive DVOA. New York gave up 346 passing yards last week while blowing a

Last week: 7-9
Last week v. spread: 4-12
Season record: 16-16
Season record v. spread: 9-23

Monday, September 15, 2014

Double standards: the NFL business model UPDATED

Being in charge of the country's most popular sports league comes with criticism. There will always be detractors, no matter how well you perform as league commissioner.

After these past couple of weeks, however, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell - a man nowhere near as popular as his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue - has just about run out of support.

Turn another corner, and you find another one of Goodell's athletes under criminal investigation.

The storm began with the Ray Rice domestic abuse case. Goodell came under fire from every direction. Rice's assault on then-fiance Janay Palmer was the league's most controversial criminal case since Michael Vick was arrested, and subsequently imprisoned, for his role in a dog fighting case in 2007.

That lasted about a week.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson recently turned himself in to Texas authorities after a warrant was issued for his arrest for charges of child abuse. Earlier today, news of a second case of child abuse against one of Peterson's sons - abuse that allegedly left a scar above the boy's eye - came against the All-Pro running back.

When Goodell took office, he aimed to take further control of the league's burgeoning behavioral issues. The term "protect the shield," made in reference to the NFL logo, became Goodell's de facto rallying cry.

Goodell made an example of players like Adam Jones and Donte' Stallworth. However, he punished star players, like Ben Roethlisberger and Ndamukong Suh, with less sever penalties. Eventually, the same came to be for Rice.

Peterson has yet to be punished by the league in any form. Before news of a second instance of abuse broke, the Vikings announced Peterson would be active for Sunday's game against the Saints.

The commissioner initially punished Rice with a two-game suspension, a suspension 50 percent shorter than the mandatory suspension for a first-offense violation of the league's substance abuse policy. When fans near and far expressed outrage, Goodell admitted he "didn't get it right," which led to the league's new domestic abuse policy.

News continued to break which painted Goodell and the league office in a terrible light. Video footage of Rice striking his then-fiance became public Sept. 8, meaning anyone with an Internet connection could see for themselves what happened in that casino elevator. Goodell claimed the league had never seen, or asked for, the video TMZ published Monday, a report that has been contested by multiple sources.

Is it better to look incompetent or indifferent? In this case, it simply doesn't matter - Goodell looks like a fool, and the National Football League isn't supposed to be run by a fool.

The problem, however, isn't just Roger Goodell. The problem extends to San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York, to Carolina Panthers president Danny Morrison, and to a section of the league's fanbase.

Ray Rice has been vilified for actions, and rightfully so. Rice should have been punished more severely than he was initially, and a league-wide backlash shouldn't have been the impetus for the more severe sanctions levied against Rice.

Fans cannot criticize Rice and the Baltimore Ravens organization while looking the other way as the 49ers and Panthers organizations chose to do the same. Fans of those teams openly panning Rice are the same blind hypocrites York and Morrison are.

San Francisco defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested August 31, charged with felony domestic abuse after his pregnant girlfriend was found with visible signs of physical abuse.

McDonald started San Francisco's first two games, and has not been suspended or fined by the league or the 49ers. In fact, York and head coach Jim Harbaugh remain steadfast in support of their decision to play McDonald, despite the visible signs of abuse present on McDonald's pregnant girlfriend.

How can the 49ers suspend play-by-play man Ted Robinson for his comments on Rice's domestic assault case, but take no action toward McDonald?

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was arrested on May 13 under suspicion of assault against a woman believed to be his girlfriend.

The woman in question accused Hardy of picking her up and throwing her to a bathroom floor, dragging her by the hair into a bedroom, choking her and threatening her life before throwing her into a collection of assault rifles.

Hardy was released from jail May 14. Hardy played well in Carolina's Week 1 victory over the Buccaneers, and was excused from practice last week to attend a court hearing regarding his assault case. Hardy was finally deactivated by Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, after the waterfall of criticism poured down on the organization for allowing Hardy to go unpunished.

Why haven't York, Morrison or Vikings owner Zygi Wilf been subject to the same criticism Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has?

Will Roger Goodell wait until a video comes to light before handing down punishment for McDonald or Hardy? Why are pictures of an abused child's wounds not enough to suspend Peterson?

Goodell is not capable of following his own standard of "protecting the shield." If anything, Goodell's flimsy policies have been a spotlight on his inability to adequately police the league he is paid a small fortune to run.

His players are punished more severely for marijuana use than they are for assaulting a woman or child. Goodell reacts instead of proactively acting. His punishments are based on public opinion and not the betterment of the league as a whole.

We as NFL fans were spoiled with Tagliabue, one of pro sport's most accomplished commissioners. Goodell is the antithesis of Tagliabue - ignorant, pompous, and comically stubborn. Goodell is a hypocrite of the most elite class.

There is no other recourse: Roger Goodell must be removed from his post as NFL Commissioner. He is an embarrassment to the league, and to America's most popular sport.

Unfortunately, greedy NFL owners probably won't see past the millions and millions of dollars Goodell makes them every year, despite the ill effect Goodell will continue to have on the league.

The day of the NFL's decline may be upon us. Roger Goodell will forever be remembered for being the man to drive the titanic NFL directly into an iceberg.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

NFL picks - Week Two

Week One is in the books, and it was quite a ride.

Jacksonville led the Eagles 17-0, only to lose 34-17. New England led 20-10 in Miami, only to lose 33-20. The Saints scored what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown with 1:20 left, only to see Falcons kicker Matt Bryant hit consecutive 50-plus-yard field goals to tie, and win, Atlanta's home opener.

Seventeen games are in the books as of press time, with 239 still to go before we get to the playoffs. This is going to be fun.

(Except for fantasy football. I hate fantasy football. After a combined 0-3 record last week, I've already quit the game a half dozen times.)

Let's get to the picks.

Pittsburgh (1-0) over Baltimore (0-1)
Line: Baltimore -2.5
Spread pick: Pittsburgh

I've never been happier to get a pick wrong. Baltimore looked great on Thursday night, dominating the division-rival Steelers in all facets of the game. If the Ravens had a reliable no. 1 running back, they might be a dark horse in the AFC title race.

Atlanta (1-0) over Cincinnati (1-0)
Line: Cincinnati -5.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

Joe Flacco and the Ravens racked up 423 yards on the supposedly vaunted Bengals defense. What happens when the Bengals have to face one of the league's elite passing attacks?

Buffalo (1-0) over Miami (1-0)
Line: Miami -0.5
Spread pick: Buffalo

Home openers are always special, but this one will be even sweeter. Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula recently became Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula. He then promised to keep the team in Buffalo, quelling concerns following overtures from other potential buyers who may have moved the team to Toronto. Ralph Wilson Stadium will be rocking. 

New Orleans (0-1) over Cleveland (0-1)
Line: New Orleans -6.5
Spread pick: New Orleans

So, you're telling me the Cleveland Fighting Hoyers are going to go toe-to-toe with Drew Brees and the Saints? Right. 

Tennessee (1-0) over Dallas (0-1)
Line; Tennessee -3.5
Spread pick: Tennessee

There is no nice way of saying this: The Dallas Cowboys are a disaster. I picked the Cowboys to finish last in the NFC East this year, but they looked absolutely terrible in last week's loss to the 49ers. If things don't turn around in a hurry, it's going to be a long season in Big D.

Detroit (1-0) over Carolina (1-0)
Line: Carolina -2.5
Spread pick: Detroit

Shutting down Tampa Bay's offense, with its new quarterback, banged-up running back and rookie wideout, is one thing. Stopping Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson is completely different. Carolina's front seven is tough, but those big guys can't cover Megatron.

Somehow, Greg Hardy will once again suit up for the Panthers, despite being arrested on charges of domestic violence.

New England (0-1) over Minnesota (1-0)
Line: New England -3.5
Spread pick: Minnesota

Minnesota's defense looked better than expected in last week's dominant victory over St. Louis, but the bar to clear wasn't very high - the Vikes finished 27th in defensive DVOA last season. Adrian Peterson will not play Sunday, meaning the Vikings must rely on Matt Cassel to lead them to victory. The Pats know how that feels.

Arizona (1-0) over New York Giants (0-1)
Line: New York -1.5
Spread pick: Arizona

It's easy to point to the early start on the East Coast, the home-field advantage, or Carson Palmer being Carson Palmer as reasons the Giants will win Sunday. But they won't win. Last week's debacle in Detroit looked liked a continuation of a disastrous 2013 season for the Giants. It might be time for an overhaul in New York.

Washington (0-1) over Jacksonville (0-1)
Line: Washington -5.5
Spread pick: Jacksonville

Jacksonville looked great in the season's first 30 minutes, but succumbed to old habits after halftime last week. Washington made NFL history last week by completing 75 percent of its passes and rushing for 125 yards or more in a losing effort. So much for that Jay Gruden offensive revolution.

Tampa Bay (0-1) over St. Louis (0-1)
Line: Tampa Bay -5.5
Spread pick: Tampa Bay

Let's not get carried away with last week's demolition of the Rams. The Vikings aren't as good as they looked, and the Rams aren't as bad as they played. Neither is Tampa Bay, whose defense should rebound nicely against the disaster that is the St. Louis quarterback situation.

Seattle (1-0) over San Diego (0-1)
Line: Seattle -5.5
Spread pick: Seattle

The best chance to beat the Seahawks is getting them away from CenturyLink Field. Unfortunately for the Chargers, they don't have enough defense to beat the Seahawks in or out of Seattle.

Denver (1-0) over Kansas City (0-1)
Line: Denver -13.5
Spread pick: Denver

A lot can change in the course of a year. In September 2013, the Chiefs were a chic pick for a playoff spot, and were the early stages of a 9-0 start. Fast forward to today, where Kansas City's stock is falling fast. Denver is too good, and easily handles the Chiefs.

Green Bay (0-1) over New York Jets (1-0)
Line: Green Bay -8.5
Spread pick: Green Bay

Dee Milliner may play in Sunday's game, but he can't cover all of Green Bay's receivers at the same time. While the Jets may find success running against the Packers' thin front seven, they won't be able to go shot-for-shot with Aaron Rodgers and company.

Houston (1-0) at Oakland (0-1)
Line: Houston -2.5
Spread pick: Houston

Where will Oakland's offense come from? With a rookie quarterback and a washed-up running back that only mustered 158 total yards last week, there just isn't much to be excited about in Oakland. The Texans can hide Ryan Fitzpatrick behind a running game that should flourish against the Raiders.

San Francisco (1-0) over Chicago (0-1)
Line: San Francisco -7.5
Spread pick: Chicago

Buffalo ran for 196 yards on 33 carries last week. That doesn't bode well for Chicago's defense. The running ability of Frank Gore, Colin Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde gives San Francisco the advantage, and put the Bears in a very precarious position.

Somehow, Ray McDonald will once again suit up for the 49ers, despite his arrest for felony domestic violence.

Indianapolis (0-1) over Philadelphia (1-0) 
Line: Indianapolis -2.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

While plenty of teams play better at home, the Colts really are a different team at Lucas Oil Stadium. After being blown out in the first half in Denver last week, Indianapolis came storming back to make a game of it. They won't spot the Eagles a similar advantage.

Last week: 9-7
Last week v. spread: 5-11
Season record: 9-7
Season record v. spread: 5-11

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Double standards: the NFL business model

Being in charge of the country's most popular sports league comes with criticism. There will always be detractors, no matter how well you perform as league commissioner.

After these past few days, however, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell - a man nowhere near as popular as his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue - is going to have a difficult time finding support.

In the wake of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case, Goodell has come under fire from every direction. Rice's assault on then-fiance Janay Palmer is the league's most controversial criminal case since Michael Vick was arrested, and subsequently imprisoned, for his role in a dog fighting case in 2007.

When Goodell took office, he aimed to take further control of the league's burgeoning behavioral issues. The term "protect the shield," made in reference to the NFL logo, became Goodell's de facto rallying cry.

Goodell made an example of players like Adam Jones and Donte' Stallworth. However, he punished star players, like Ben Roethlisberger and Ndamukong Suh, with less sever penalties. Eventually, the same came to be for Rice.

The commissioner initially punished Rice with a two-game suspension, a suspension 50 percent shorter than the mandatory suspension for a first-offense violation of the league's substance abuse policy. When fans near and far expressed outrage, Goodell admitted he "didn't get it right," which led to the league's new domestic abuse policy.

News continued to break earlier this week, painting Goodell and the league office in a terrible light. Video footage of Rice striking his then-fiance became public Sept. 8, meaning anyone with an Internet connection could see for themselves what happened in that casino elevator. Goodell claimed the league had never seen, or asked for, the video TMZ published Monday, a report that has been contested by multiple sources.

Is it better to look incompetent or indifferent? In this case, it simply doesn't matter - Goodell looks like a fool, and the National Football League isn't supposed to be run by a fool.

The problem, however, isn't just Roger Goodell. The problem extends to San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York, to Carolina Panthers president Danny Morrison, and to a section of the league's fanbase.

Ray Rice has been vilified for actions, and rightfully so. Rice should have been punished more severely than he was initially, and a league-wide backlash shouldn't have been the impetus for the more severe sanctions levied against Rice.

Fans cannot criticize Rice and the Baltimore Ravens organization while looking the other way as the 49ers and Panthers organizations choose to do the same. Fans of those teams openly panning Rice are the same blind hypocrites York and Morrison are.

San Francisco defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested August 31, charged with felony domestic abuse after his pregnant girlfriend was found with visible signs of physical abuse.

McDonald played in San Francisco's Week 1 victory over Dallas, and will likely suit up for the team this weekend as well. McDonald has not been suspended or fined by the league or the 49ers.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was arrested on May 13 under suspicion of assault against a woman believed to be his girlfriend.

The woman in question accused Hardy of picking her up and throwing her to a bathroom floor, dragging her by the hair into a bedroom, choking her and threatening her life before throwing her into a collection of assault rifles.

Hardy was released from jail May 14. He has not been suspended by the Panthers or the NFL, contributed to Carolina's Week 1 victory over the Buccaneers, and was excused from practice earlier this week to attend a court hearing regarding his assault case.

Why have McDonald and Hardy avoided punishment?

How can the 49ers suspend play-by-play man Ted Robinson for his comments on Rice's domestic assault case, but take no action toward McDonald?

Why haven't York and Morrison been subject to the same criticism Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has?

Will Roger Goodell wait until a video comes to light before handing down punishment for McDonald or Hardy?

Goodell is not capable of following his own standard of "protecting the shield." If anything, Goodell's flimsy policies have been a spotlight on his inability to adequately police the league he is paid a small fortune to run.

His players are punished more severely for marijuana use than they are for assaulting a woman. Goodell is reactionary, seeming to base his suspensions and punishments on public opinion and not the betterment of the league as a whole.

We as NFL fans were spoiled with Tagliabue, one of pro sport's most accomplished commissioners. Goodell needs to find a way to adequately police his players. If it takes a Player Conduct Committee, or an updated and comprehensive set of guidelines for player punishment, to fix what ails the league, Goodell must institute it as soon as possible.

If he cannot rectify this behavioral issue plaguing his league, Goodell needs to resign. It'd be the best thing he could to protect the shield.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

NFL picks - Week One

Why, hello. It's good to see you again.

It's been more than eight months since we gathered here to pick the NFL's weekly slate of games. And it's been a long time coming.

The season began Thursday night, when the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks looked every bit the part in a victory over the Green Bay Packers. Both teams now have a week and a half off before taking the field again, but luckily, we only have to wait about 18 hours for a full slate of football.

This season, you're going to see a lot of references to Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, or DVOA. If you're not familiar with the term and what exactly it means, check out this link: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/info/methods. It's a bit heady, but it's much better than going by the typical stats used here before.

Last season was my worst since I began writing a weekly picks column, but I posted my best playoff record (8-3) ever. It was a weird year. Here's to bouncing back.

Let's get to the picks.

Seattle over Green Bay
Line: Seattle -5.5
Spread pick: Green Bay

If the Seahawks play all season like they did Thursday night, everyone else is playing for second place. Green Bay must improve on a handful of backbreaking mental mistakes, and will have a great chance to do so when the Jets come to Lambeau Field next weekend.

New Orleans over Atlanta
Line: Atlanta -1.5
Spread pick: New Orleans

How, exactly, are the Falcons favored in this one? The Saints are one of the league's true contenders, while Atlanta must prove last year's embarrassing 4-12 debacle was a fluke. It will be very hard for the Falcons to beat New Orleans' juggernaut offense with no pass rush and an inexperienced secondary.

Chicago over Buffalo
Line: Chicago -6.5
Spread pick: Chicago

There are no questions for the Bears on offense, but plenty queries must be answered by the Chicago defense. The Bears finished 25th in defensive DVOA last year, and despite adding Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, Chicago has a secondary few teams would envy.

Baltimore over Cincinnati
Line: Baltimore -2.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

The addition of a competent offensive coordinator (Gary Kubiak) and actual pro-caliber receivers (Dennis Pitta, Steve Smith, Owen Daniels) should cure what ailed the 8-8 Ravens last year. On the other side, Marvin Lewis must prove the loss of his coordinators won't sink his Bengals. Lewis won't like the answer.

Pittsburgh over Cleveland
Line: Pittsburgh -5.5
Spread pick: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh's coaches reportedly expect Johnny Manziel to play Sunday. That's bad news for the Browns. Manziel proved he isn't mature enough, on or off the field, to be ready for the spotlight that comes with being an NFL quarterback. Heinz Field is still one of the toughest places for visitors to play, and Cleveland's anemic offense will struggle. Mightily.

Kansas City over Tennessee
Line: Kansas City -6.5
Spread pick: Kansas City

Can Jake Locker stay healthy? Will the young Tennessee receives live up to their potential? Who will carry the ball for the Titans? There are too many questions on offense to believe the Titans can go into Arrowhead Stadium and score enough on Kansas City's tough defense to beat the Chiefs.

New York Jets over Oakland
Line: New York -4.5
Spread pick: New York

If you believe the hype, Geno Smith has improved greatly since the end of his rookie season. Unfortunately for the Jets, Smith's improvement can't stop the opposing team's passing game. New York's secondary has been decimated by injuries, but they get away with one this week, when rookie quarterback Derek Carr and his cast of also-rans at wideout travel cross-country for an early kickoff.

Minnesota over St. Louis
Line: St. Louis -6.5
Spread pick: Minnesota

Can an elite defensive line carry a team? Probably not, but we'll find out for sure this year. St. Louis' front four is stacked, and will cause problems for opposing offenses all season. Unfortunately for the Rams, there isn't much to speak of anywhere else on the roster. Minnesota is a chic pick to surprise people, and those supporters will be rewarded Sunday.

New England over Miami
Line: New England -3.5
Spread pick: New England

We've all become accustomed to New England having one of the league's most dangerous offenses. For the first time since their last Super Bowl championship, the Patriots may have one of the league's better defenses. Miami is trending up, but they won't have quite enough to knock off the AFC East titans.

Philadelphia over Jacksonville
Line: Philadelphia -11.5
Spread pick: Jacksonville

Philadelphia's explosive offense led the Eagles to the playoffs last season, but Chip Kelly must prove his offense can still be successful after opposing coaches have had a year to gameplan. Jacksonville's defense will put a fight, but won't carry the Jags to a season-opening victory.

Houston over Washington
Line: Houston -2.5
Spread pick: Houston

The media has sold us on the triumphant return of their darling quarterback, Robert Griffin III. I'm not buying it. Washington's offense was a mess last year. Houston's devastating defensive ends, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, will make Griffin's Sunday afternoon a long one.

San Francisco over Dallas 
Line: San Francisco -4.5
Spread pick: San Francisco

Dallas' defense was a mess last year - they gave up nearly 20 yards per game more than 31st-ranked Minnesota, and ranked 30th in defensive DVOA last year - and they'll be without DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and Jason Hatcher, among others. The 2014 Cowboys defense could be historically awful, and it all starts Sunday.

Tampa Bay over Carolina
Line: Carolina -1.5
Spread pick: Tampa Bay

The sexy regression pick this year is Carolina, and for good reason. The Panthers have no true no. 1 wide receiver, lost two starters on the offensive line, and Cam Newton is already banged up. Tampa Bay may have one of the better defenses in the league in 2014, and their ascent begins with an all-important division victory.

Denver over Indianapolis
Line: Denver -6.5
Spread pick: Denver

While the Colts may win another division title, their defense leaves plenty to be desired. That's really, really bad when you're playing Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Wes Welker is suspended, and Eric Decker is in New York, but Denver's offense won't fall far. The AFC's top offense looks the part Sunday night.

New York Giants over Detroit
Line: Detroit -4.5
Spread pick: New York

Can you name any of Detroit's starting defensive backs without looking up the Lions' depth chart? Neither could I, and that's very bad. Ben McAdoo's offense is designed much like the offensive scheme that rejuvenated Phillip Rivers' career last season. Paired with an improved defense, the Giants will do just enough to knock off the Lions.

Arizona over San Diego
Line: Arizona -3.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Arizona's defense has been depleted by injuries and free-agent departures, but one place the Cardinals remain strong is in the secondary. Patrick Peterson will lock down Keenan Allen, and with the potential return of Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona will pit strength versus strength. Carson Palmer is no Peyton Manning, but he'll do enough against San Diego's questionable defense to win Week One's final contest.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 NFL season preview

The Online Jargon Jinx lives on.

Last season marked the third season in a row that one of my two Super Bowl picks missed the playoffs altogether. In 2011, it was the Jets. The Eagles took honors in 2012, and last year, it was the Texans. Can I make it four in a row? I hope not.

The rich got richer this offseason, further tipping the balance toward the three or four heavyweights in the league. It's now or never for a couple contenders, most notably the Denver Broncos, who added DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib to an already loaded ro
ster.

San Francisco and Seattle are expected to battle for NFC West supremacy once again, while the NFC East, AFC North and NFC North should see interesting battles from top to bottom.

For the first time in 2014, let's get to the picks.

AFC Division Champs

North - Baltimore: Despite one of the worst rushing attacks in recent memory, no professional-caliber receivers outside of Torrey Smith, and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell sleeping through most of the season, the Ravens still finished 8-8. Enter a new offensive coordinator, pro receivers, the return of Dennis Pitta, and a younger defense, and Baltimore returns to the top of the AFC North in 2014.

South - Indianapolis: When you're in such a pitiful division, you don't necessarily need defense to come out on top. The Colts had better find some answers on defense and at running back, though - Houston is a quarterback away from taking control of the AFC South.

East - New England: Ladies and gentlemen, I present the annual "Who Else is Going to Win?" winner! Miami and New York have improved, but both teams have a long way to go before catching the AFC East juggernaut. The 2014 Patriots look to be the best New England squad we've seen quite some time.

West - Denver: The rich only got richer this offseason, adding perennial All-Pro players DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib to an already potent defense. Von Miller will be healthy after a 2013 season marred by injury. This is the team to beat in the AFC.

NFC Division Champs

North - Green Bay: As outlined in my final Preseason Primer piece, the Packers use their serviceable defense to outlast Bears and Chicago's piecemeal defense. With the Lions fading, and the Vikings in the early stages of a rebuild, the NFC North is a two-horse race.

South - New Orleans: Malcolm Jenkins left, so the Saints replaced him with ... Jairus Byrd. Paired with a healthy Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints now have one of the best safety combinations in football. An easy schedule (their slate is ninth-easiest in 2014) and a regressing division champion returns the Saints to the top of the NFC South.

East - Philadelphia: This isn't so much a vote of confidence in the Eagles as much as it is a non-vote of confidence in New York, Washington and Dallas. Consider Philadelphia the least-flawed in this quartet of deeply flawed teams.

West - Seattle: The champs' chief rival, San Francisco, will be without Aldon Smith, Navorro Bowman and, quite possibly, Ray McDonald for most of the season. The Niners are also starting Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver and Antoine Bethea in the secondary. And the Seahawks are also really, really good. Remember the Super Bowl last season?

Wildcard Teams

AFC: Miami and Houston
NFC: San Francisco and Chicago

Sleeper Teams

AFC: Jacksonville - I'm not saying the Jags are going to make the playoffs this season. There is a very good chance they won't ... but it isn't out of the question. Chad Henne has played fairly well, and Blake Bortles has played even better. Rookie Marquise Lee teams with Cecil Shorts, giving Jacksonville its first serviceable wide receiver duo since 1967. Head coach Gus Bradley brought a few former players to anchor his defense. The Jags probably won't be great, but they're going to give teams plenty of headaches.

NFC: Tampa Bay - Head three hours down I-75, and you find a team that could very well make the playoffs. Josh McCown's starting receivers, Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, are both 6'5", as is back-up tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. McCown did alright with a pair of big, physical receivers last year. Defensive guru Lovie Smith returns to Tampa, with a defensive unit that isn't short on talent. If the Bucs can catch a few breaks, a wildcard spot in the tumultuous NFC will be within reach.

Wildcard Playoffs
Baltimore over Houston
Miami over Indianapolis
Green Bay over Chicago
Philadelphia over San Francisco

Divisional Playoffs
New England over Baltimore
Denver over Miami
New Orleans over Green Bay
Seattle over Philadelphia

AFC Championship
New England over Denver

NFC Championship
Seattle over New Orleans

Super Bowl XLIX
Seattle over New England

Postseason Awards
NFL MVP: Drew Brees (QB, New Orleans)
Offensive Player of the Year: Peyton Manning (QB, Denver)
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt (DE, Houston)
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Brandin Cooks (WR, New Orleans)
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aaron Donald (DT, St. Louis)
Coach of the Year: Bill O'Brien (Houston)
Comeback Player of the Year: Julio Jones (WR, Atlanta)

Getcha' Resume Ready
Every year, it seems like half of the league's 32 teams hire a new head coach. While there likely won't be 16 new head coaches in 2015, here are a few who should probably make sure their resume is current.

Jeff Fisher, St. Louis - A poor offense can only shoulder so much of the blame. Fisher was brought to St. Louis to cure what ailed the Rams' pedestrian offense, but not much has changed. St. Louis has one of the league's toughest defenses, but even the league's best front four can't save the Rams. Look for a new QB and a new coach in St. Louis next season.

Rex Ryan, NY Jets - Now is the time for Rex Ryan. He's blown more smoke than any coach in recent memory, and backed it up with almost no substantiated success. Miss the playoffs again in 2014, and Ryan may join his brother, Rob, in the defensive coordinator ranks.

Dennis Allen, Oakland - Despite all outward appearances, the Raiders are not an expansion team. The need to clarify such standing is indicative of the painful state of affairs in Oakland. Allen isn't the answer, and unfortunately, GM Reggie McKenzie may not be around to hire Allen's successor.

Jason Garrett, Dallas - Will Jerry Jones finally pull the plug on Garrett, two years too late? It's all conjecture at this point. Garrett is a terrible leader and an average-at-best play-caller. Any coach who continues to throw his franchise quarterback under the bus has no business leading a team. For Tony Romo's sake, I hope 2014 is the final season both he and Garrett are in Big D.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 NFL Preseason Primer: Same as it ever was

A tie between the Packers and Bears? Fans in Green Bay and Chicago are already directing a condescending eye my way.

Fans of both teams might not want to admit it, but the Packers and Bears are very similar teams.

Both teams have top-notch offenses, but have question marks on defense. Both teams have been ravaged by injury over the past few seasons. Both teams brought once-prolific pass rushers into town via free agency, poaching the new additions from division rivals.

What separates these two teams? What makes one the 2014 NFC North champion and the other a wildcard team, or worse, a 10-6 playoff spectator, like last year's Arizona Cardinals?

Let's break it down.

Green Bay Packers
2013: 8-7-1, 1st in NFC North

Chicago Bears
2013: 8-8, 2nd in NFC North

Green Bay has a slightly better defense.

The Packers' defense is headlined by perennial All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews, who may play regularly behind the line of scrimmage regularly now that Green Bay has someone to rush the passer opposite Matthews.

That someone, of course, is former Chicago Bear Julius Peppers. Despite an average preseason effort, Peppers will have to be dealt with whenever the eight-time Pro Bowler is on the field.

Tramon Williams will line up opposite the vastly overpaid Sam Shields at corner, and the underrated Morgan Burnett may be joined by first-round pick Hasean Clinton-Dix as starting safeties.

There are unproved commodities in the secondary, but Williams, Burnett and Clinton-Dix could be quite the trio if they can repeat past successes and meet their potential.

Chicago's pass rush looks like a force to be reckoned with. Former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen now patrols the Midway, as does former Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston. Outside of Allen, Houston and Lance Briggs, though, the Bears just don't have much to speak of on defense.

Now, this is where it gets interesting ... and I draw a ton of heat.

Chicago has a better offense than Green Bay.

Now, there isn't a debate about the better quarterback. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best signal-callers in the league, and Jay Cutler isn't. We know this.

However, from top to bottom, the Bears are better.

Brandon Marshall is one of the three best wide receivers in the game, and the guys you might rank ahead of Marshall aren't named Jordy Nelson. Randall Cobb has all the potential in the world, but Alshon Jeffery realized his potential last season. Jeffery's 1,421 receiving yards in 2013 are just 300 yards behind Cobb's three-year career total.

And while Eddie Lacy may very well become one of the league's best running backs, Matt Forte is already one of them. Lacy will have to overcome the recent history of Alabama running backs to suffer serious sophomore slumps to do so - see: Ingram, Mark and Richardson, Trent.

For the sake of completion, we'll state the obvious: Robbie Gould is a much more reliable kicker than Mason Crosby.

With all of that being said, however, I defer to one of my favorite old-school football maxims: Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.

It's because of defense that Green Bay will celebrate its fourth consecutive NFC North title, while Chicago will finish behind the Packers for the fourth straight season.

The Picks: Both teams 10-6, Packers win division