Saturday, October 31, 2015

The exit strategy

The signs were there in July.

Barely two months from wrapping up a dominant 2014-15 Barclays Premier League title season, Chelsea took the field for the International Champions Cup. The opening match against New York Red Bulls was sure to be a tune-up for the continued success of west London's top side.

Nobody bothered telling the Red Bulls. Despite playing a side full of MLS also-rans, New York scored four second-half goals en route to a 4-2 victory over the defending English champions.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho dismissed the loss, standing defiant despite watching his Blues fall to a team of players that couldn't crack an MLS starting lineup.

"You are speaking with the manager of the best team in England," Mourinho said after the match. "We don't have fragilities."

"We play ten times against Red Bulls, we win nine," Mourinho continued. "The second half was a disaster, but I'm not worried."

Maybe he should have been.

Chelsea would not earn an outright victory until Aug. 23. The Blues managed exhibition victories over Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona in penalties, but dropped three of their next four contests.

The results haven't improved. Chelsea have record just five victories in 16 matches across all competitions this season. The Blues have lost twice as much, in two months, as they did all of last season.

Once upon a time, Stamford Bridge was the definition of a fortress. Chelsea lost once in Mourinho's first 99 home matches. They've lost three times at Stamford Bridge already this year.

No defending Premier League champion has ever started as poorly as Chelsea have this year. In fact, the 11 points Chelsea earned through 10 games was the team's worst start ever in the Premiership. It only got worse when Chelsea suffered a 3-1 home loss to Liverpool Saturday afternoon.

Poor results aren't the only problem facing one of Europe's best club teams. Eden Hazard, the reigning FWA Footballer of the Year and PFA Players' Player of the Year, has been unable to make an impact so far. There are rumblings of tension between Hazard and Mourinho, which have led to rumors of a transfer bid from Spanish giants Real Madrid.

Cesc Fabregas, who was sublime throughout last season's title-winning campaign, has been invisible on offense and a liability on defense. Diego Costa has lost his finishing boots. John Terry and Gary Cahill have been awful in central defense. Worst of all may be Nemanja Matic, who looked like the best defensive midfielder in the world last season. Matic has been a wreck throughout the campaign, culminating in his deplorable pair of first-half yellow cards in Chelsea's Oct. 24 loss to West Ham.

Players are certainly responsible for poor performance, but it is the manager's responsibility to correct poor form and rotate the squad as needed. Mourinho has done neither.

Instead, the self-proclaimed "Special One" has made a habit out of blaming officials, bad luck, and the English Football Association.

Mourinho's temperamental immaturity reached its zenith Saturday afternoon, when Chelsea's manager responded to post-match questions with, "I have nothing to say."

Team owner Roman Abramovich may share Mourinho's sentiment come Sunday. Abramovich has shown his willingness to make managerial changes, sacking five different managers in his 12 years as Chelsea owner.

Abramovich issued his first-ever vote of confidence in early-October, stating his faith in Mourinho's ability to reverse Chelsea's downward spiral. That vote of confidence came before Chelsea dropped three straight contests, allowing six goals in that span. That vote of confidence came before Mourinho was sent off at halftime of Chelsea's 2-1 loss to West Ham, before Mourinho was punished by the FA for repeated unsportsmanlike behavior.

Jose Mourinho is a smart man, and despite what he tells the media, Mourinho likely knows the ice beneath his feet is growing thinner by the day. The myriad puzzle pieces that make up Chelsea's historic fall from grace put together a picture of organizational disarray, and the blame for that loss of control lies squarely at the feet of the manager.

Speculation on Mourinho's future will continue until the Portuguese leaves SW6 for the second time in his career. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when Mourinho will depart, it is hard to imagine Mourinho patrolling the touch line when Chelsea open the 2016-17 season next August.

Should a caretaker be needed, another familiar face is reportedly ready to head to west London. When asked if he would be interested in stepping in for a departed Mourinho, Guus Hiddink did nothing to silence the rumor mill.

"Top-class football is always attractive," Hiddink, who served as Chelsea's caretaker manager in 2009, told Voetbal International. "We'll see. We just have to wait now."

Hiddink is a great candidate to stop the bleeding Mourinho is incapable of curtailing. Hiddink won the FA Cup in his first run as Chelsea caretaker, and can hold court until next summer, when the biggest fish in European football management may hit the open market.

Before hiring Mourinho in 2013, Abramovich made a serious run at former Barcelona, and current Bayern Munich, manager Pep Guardiola. Abramovich was unable to lure Guardiola to west London in 2013, but may have a second chance next summer. Guardiola's contract at Bayern expires after this season, and Guardiola has left the proverbial window open for a departure from the German capitol.

Abramovich must do whatever is necessary to bring Guardiola to England. Abramovich wants Chelsea to be a global power, mentioned in the same breath as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United.

Guardiola is the man to do that. In his six full seasons with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola has never finished worse than second in the league, while winning three domestic cups and two Champions League titles.

Abramovich has the money to purchase virtually any player on the planet. He needs the right manager to make Chelsea a European super club.

Pep Guardiola is that man. Regardless of when Mourinho makes his inevitable departure from Stamford Bridge, Guardiola should be the man to permanently replace the so-called Special One.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

NFL picks - Week Six

Numbers never lie.

I've always been fascinated with statistics, because they always tell the real story. Stats aren't affected by media bias, and they can't be persuaded. They are an unfettered window into a league whose narrative is painted in myriad shades by countless so-called experts.

The 2015 season is finally old enough for the stats to mean something. Peyton Manning's 77.3 quarterback rating is incredibly relevant, despite Denver's undefeated record. Likewise, Andy Dalton's 115.6 quarterback rating, a mark higher than everyone not named Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, is also incredibly relevant.

Manning, Dalton, Brady and Rodgers will all try to remain undefeated this week. Cam Newton will join that quartet in working to ensure Matt Ryan's Falcons will be the only team to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten this week.

Let's get to the picks.

Atlanta (5-0) over New Orleans (1-4)
Line: Atlanta -3.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

Turnovers will submarine your efforts to win, no matter how good or bad your record. That is what happened Thursday to the previously undefeated Falcons, who were hurt by three poorly timed turnovers.

Cincinnati (5-0) over Buffalo (3-2)
Line: Cincinnati -2.5
Spread pick: Cincinnati

The absence of Tyrod Taylor, who currently ranks seventh in the league in quarterback rating, will hurt a Bills offense already hindered by injuries to running backs LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams. The Bengals, meanwhile, spent the last four weeks beating teams that finished last season with at least nine victories. This one won't be a beauty, but the Bengals will leave upstate New York with their undefeated record intact.

Chicago (2-3) over Detroit (0-5)
Line: Detroit -2.5
Spread pick: Chicago

Jay Cutler is often considered one of the league's most reckless quarterbacks, while Matthew Stafford is considered a gunslinger who makes the extra play for his team. But what do the stats say?

Cutler: 86 starts, 46-40 record, 61.4 pct. completion percentage, 232.7 yards per game, 135 touchdowns, 96 interceptions, 84.3 QB rating.
Stafford: 82 starts, 35-47 record, 59.9 pct. completion percentage, 279.5 yards per game, 137 touchdowns, 93 interceptions, 83.1 QB rating.

Cutler has a better record and completion percentage than Stafford, and has also won in the postseason. Cutler has fewer passing yards than Stafford, but that is due, in large part, to the presence of perennial Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte.

Despite very different reputations, Cutler and Stafford are very similar players. The difference, however, is Cutler's record as a starter. It will be Cutler and the Bears who walk out with the victory.

Denver (5-0) over Cleveland (2-3)
Line: Denver -4.5
Spread pick: Denver

It's hard to believe, but the numbers don't lie: Peyton Manning is leading the NFL's least-effective offense. Denver rates 32nd in offensive DVOA and 30th in total yards per game. The Broncos defense still comfortably leads the league in defensive DVOA and total yards allowed per game. Cleveland's offense has been surprisingly competent in recent weeks, but new-found competence isn't going to be enough to beat the league's best defense.

Tennessee (1-3) over Miami (1-3) 
Line: Tennessee -2.5
Spread pick: Tennessee

The numbers aren't kind to Miami. The 'Fins rank near the bottom of the league in multiple offensive and defensive categories, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill 31st in quarterback rating in a year he was supposed to join the league's upper echelon of signal callers. Rookie Marcus Mariota has been better than expected early on, leading a once-moribund offense to a certain modicum of success. A solid defense, paired with Mariota's play, will lead the Titans to victory.

Minnesota (2-2) over Kansas City (1-4)
Line: Minnesota -3.5
Spread pick: Minnesota

If you know what happened to the Chiefs' defense, you may want to let Andy Reid know. Kansas City sported one of the league's best defenses last season, but that same unit has been abysmal this year. The Chiefs are average against the run, but Adrian Peterson is rested and ready to continue his recent run of success.

New York Jets (3-1) over Washington (2-3) 
Line: New York -5.5
Spread pick: New York

Washington's defense has been anything but impressive this year. New York's elite defense is rested and ready to get back to action. Kirk Cousins is one of the most turnover-prone quarterbacks in the league, and New York's offense will be all too eager to take advantage of Cousins' inevitable mistakes.

Arizona (4-1) over Pittsburgh (3-2)
Line: Arizona -3.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Michael Vick is starting to get a better feel for the Steelers offense, but his very low ceiling is going to hold Pittsburgh back in a game in which they'll need to score plenty of points. Arizona leads the league in points per game, and Carson Palmer's 13 touchdown passes are the league's top mark.

Jacksonville (1-4) over Houston (1-4) 
Line: Houston -0.5
Spread pick: Jacksonville

J.J. Watt may miss Sunday's game due to illness, which should make Texans fans feel queasy. Watt is once again the lone bright spot on a dim season in Houston. Blake Bortles and the Jags have shown improvement this season, currently ranked 18th in offensive DVOA. Houston's defense ranks 26th in defensive DVOA with Watt on the field, and if the league's best defensive player spends Sunday afternoon on the sideline, the Jags may cruise.

Seattle (2-3) over Carolina (4-0)
Line: Seattle -6.5
Spread pick: Seattle

The Seahawks have allowed 10 points in two home games this season. Carolina may be undefeated, but the Panthers don't have the offensive firepower to overcome Seattle's defense at CenturyLink Field.

Green Bay (5-0) over San Diego (2-3)
Line: Green Bay -9.5
Spread pick: San Diego

The Packers have the league's best DVOA pass defense, but the quarterbacks they've faced ranked 17th, fourth, 15th, 22nd and 25th in my preseason quarterback power ranking. The outlier, Russell Wilson, has never been known to put up big passing numbers. Up next is Philip Rivers, who is tied for second in passing yards per game, fifth in completion percentage, and sixth in quarterback rating. Green Bay's defense will bend, but San Diego's 22nd-ranked defense won't do enough to earn the upset victory.

Baltimore (1-4) over San Francisco (1-4)
Line: Baltimore -2.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

Neither team's offense has impressed this season. At least Baltimore has a good reason. The Ravens have once again been decimated by injuries this season, with receivers Steve Smith, Sr., Breshad Perriman and Michael Campanaro, as well as tight ends Crockett Gillmore and Dennis Pitta, already missing time this year. Colin Kaepernick has been a disaster this year, failing to utilize Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, and new arrival Torrey Smith, leading San Francisco to the bottom of the league in pass offense.

New England (4-0) over Indianapolis (3-2)
Line: New England -7.5
Spread pick: New England

There isn't evidence to make an unbiased outsider believe the Patriots can't walk into Lucas Oil Stadium and control the Colts. Tom Brady has been as good as ever, Dion Lewis has been a revelation, and New England's defense ranks in the top 10 pass DVOA and points allowed per game. Andrew Luck may play in this game, but he'll need help from Indy's other key players to keep this one close.

Philadelphia (2-3) over New York Giants (3-2) 
Line: Philadelphia -3.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

The Giants need Odell Beckham, Jr., to be at 100 percent. Beckham is currently listed as questionable for Monday night's divisional tilt thanks to a hamstring injury suffered last week. Hamstring injuries tend to linger, and even if Beckham suits up this week, you have to wonder if he'll be healthy enough to be the game-breaker the Giants need him to be.

Last week: 8-6
Last week v. spread: 8-6
Season record: 47-30
Season record v. spread: 40-37

Sunday, October 11, 2015

NFL picks - Week Five

October tends to separate the contenders from the rest of the pack.

The league's best stake their claim to a spot among the elite by the time October rolls around. Teams still struggling through a 60-minute contest at this point of the season will likely continue to do so until the regular season comes to a close. Teams controlling each game and racking up a consistent stream of victories will also look to continue their positive trends.

Games in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Kansas City feature teams looking to shake off poor starts against opponents who were expected to bring up the rear of the league. A number of the league's remaining unbeatens will also face tests in their quest to remain undefeated.

Let's get to the picks.

Houston (1-3) over Indianapolis (2-2)
Line: Indianapolis -2.5
Spread pick: Houston

Thursday night's game was a rare instance when the Texans had an advantage, however slight, at quarterback. Brian Hoyer outplayed Colts backup Matt Hasselbeck, but Houston's running game let down the offense. This game was a major opportunity for the Texans, and they blew it. Bill O'Brien needs to right the ship in a hurry.

Atlanta (4-0) over Washington (2-2)
Line: Atlanta -7.5
Spread pick: Washington

Washington has been surprisingly competent this season, tallying early-season victories over the Rams and Eagles. Competent, however, won't be enough to knock off Atlanta's high-flying offense. Julio Jones is coming off his least productive game of the year, and while he is banged up, Jones will be happy to take advantage of a pedestrian Washington secondary.

Buffalo (2-2) over Tennessee (1-2)
Line: Buffalo -2.5
Spread pick: Buffalo

In what may be the surprise of the season, Buffalo's offense ranks higher in DVOA than its defense. Led by Tyrod Taylor and Karlos Williams, the Bills have already scored 30 or more points twice, while Taylor has broken the 270-yard passing mark in back-to-back contests. Rex Ryan's defense will make life difficult for rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, he;ping the Bills leave Nashville with the victory.

Kansas City (1-3) over Chicago (1-3)
Line: Kansas City -9.5
Spread pick: Chicago

2015 hasn't been kind to the Chiefs. Alex Smith is taking sacks at a near-record pace, and the once-powerful defense has come crashing to earth. The proper salve may very well be a game with the Bears, who have struggled more than the Chiefs this year. Chicago's loaded coaching staff has proven ineffective, as the Bears rank 27th in offensive DVOA and 31st in defensive DVOA.

Seattle (2-2) over Cincinnati (4-0)
Line: Cincinnati -1.5
Spread pick: Seattle

We can't possibly live in a world where Andy Dalton outduels the Seahawks defense. Regardless of the locale, Cincinnati has faced only one defense that ranks in the top half of the league in DVOA, and the Ravens have one of the sketchier secondaries in the league. Seattle, in all likelihood, has the best. Dalton simply doesn't have the talent to overcome the Legion of Boom.

Baltimore (1-3) over Cleveland (1-3) 
Line: Baltimore -6.5
Spread pick: Cleveland

The Ravens have run out of receivers. Cleveland has no quarterback. Sunday won't be pretty, but Baltimore's running game, which came back to life last week in Pittsburgh, will control the game and allow the Ravens to once again beat the Browns in Baltimore.

Green Bay (4-0) over St. Louis (2-2) 
Line: Green Bay -9.5
Spread pick: St. Louis

Green Bay hasn't really been challenged this season, and St. Louis' pedestrian offense - currently ranked 21st in DVOA - won't be the first to challenge the green and gold. Aaron Rodgers and company may have some problems with St. Louis' front four, but the Rams' secondary isn't up to the task of shutting down one of the league's best offenses.

Philadelphia (1-3) over New Orleans (1-3)
Line: Philadelphia -5.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

The Saints need to prove their once-powerful offense hasn't been neutered. Through three games, Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense has looked anything but is normal self. The Eagles haven't been impressive, either, but Philly will do enough Sunday to earn a much-needed victory.

Jacksonville (1-3) over Tampa Bay (1-3)
Line: Tampa Bay -2.5
Spread pick: Jacksonville

Both teams have been average on defense, but the Buccaneers have been downright deplorable on offense. Jameis Winston has done little to improve Tampa Bay's struggling offense, and the Bucs could certainly struggle against a Jaguars defense that makes a habit out of getting after opposing quarterbacks.

Arizona (3-1) over Detroit (0-4)
Line: Arizona -2.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Detroit rode one of the league's best defenses to a 10-6 record last season. With one of the league's worst units in 2015, it's no surprise to see the Lions struggling mightily through four games. Despite suffering their first loss of the season last week, the Cardinals rank in the top five of both offensive and defensive DVOA. The Cardinals should cruise to their fourth victory of the season Sunday afternoon.

New England (3-0) over Dallas (2-2)
Line: New England -9.5
Spread pick: New England

The Cowboys have been uninspiring all season, becoming even less impressive after injuries to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. The Patriots are rested and have looked as good as any team in the league thus far. This game won't be close.

Denver (4-0) over Oakland (2-2)
Line: Denver -5.5
Spread pick: Denver

Peyton Manning's run of dominance may finally be over, but Denver's defense has taken the reigns. The Broncos comfortably rank first in defensive DVOA, while also topping the league in overall yards allowed per game and passing yards allowed per contest. Derek Carr has been solid through Oakland's first four games, but he won't be ready to take down the league's best defense.

New York Giants (2-2) over San Francisco (1-3)
Line: New York -7.5
Spread pick: San Francisco

San Francisco has been one of the league's most impotent squads on offense and defense, ranking in the bottom five in offensive and defensive DVOA. The Giants certainly haven't been impressive thus far in 2015, but they've been competent, and competence is enough to beat San Francisco this season.

San Diego (2-2) over Pittsburgh (2-2)
Line: San Diego -3.5
Spread pick: San Diego

Last week's loss to Baltimore proved that the Steelers are a completely different team without Ben Roethlisberger. Michael Vick may be more comfortable in the Pittsburgh offense this week, but a one-dimensional offense isn't going to be enough to knock off Philip Rivers and the Chargers.

Last week: 10-5
Last week v. spread: 7-8
Season record: 39-24
Season record v. spread: 32-31

Saturday, October 3, 2015

NFL picks - Week Four

October brings a new kind of football.

Teams haven't established their identities in September, as starters and contributors come together to meet, exceed, or fall short of the preseason expectations thrust upon them by so-called experts nationwide.

Once the calendar turns to October, teams are starting to learn what, and who, they are. The news has been as expected in Foxborough, Denver and Green Bay, while fans in Miami, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Kansas City are growing uncomfortable.

There's a long way to go, but for teams looking to overcome poor starts, now is the time for action.

Let's get to the picks.

Baltimore (0-3) over Pittsburgh (2-1)
Line: Baltimore -2.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

A text I sent to one of my good friends prior to kickoff Thursday night summed up all you need to know about the mindset of Ravens fans everywhere: "If the Ravens can't beat 64-year-old Michael Vick, I'm giving up." Well, I almost gave up. Vick, who is actually 35, and the Steelers controlled most of the game, until Josh Scobee became prominently involved in proceedings. The Ravens may have lost their only reliable receiver, Steve Smith, after the 36-year-old veteran broke four bones in his back late Thursday night. Smith is currently listed as "week-to-week" by the team.

New York Jets (2-1) over Miami (1-2)
Line: New York -2.5
Spread pick: New York

Miami was supposed to challenge the Patriots atop the AFC East this season. Instead, the Dolphins have been one of the biggest disappointments in the league, and rumblings of a coaching change have already started. ProFootballTalk is reporting, via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, that Joe Philbin may be fired if the Dolphins suffer a lopsided loss in London. Ryan Tannehill, who was supposed to have a breakout season, has struggled. New York's elite defensive unit is not the elixir for Tannehill's woes.

Atlanta (3-0) over Houston (1-2)
Line: Atlanta -6.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

In case you haven't heard, Julio Jones is pretty good. Jones is currently on pace to break multiple NFL single-season records, and while he likely won't keep up his absurd pace, Jones is the league's best receiver and must be accounted for at all times. Like most teams, Houston doesn't have someone capable of shutting down Jones. J.J. Watt will make life difficult for Matt Ryan, as Watt is wont to do, but even Watt's defensive brilliance cannot make up for the void Houston has at quarterback.

Buffalo (2-1) over New York Giants (1-2)
Line: Buffalo -5.5
Spread pick: New York

Nobody is shocked to see Buffalo's defense succeed under Rex Ryan, but Tyrod Taylor has led one of the league's most surprising offenses to a great early run. LeSean McCoy will miss Sunday's contest, but that may be a blessing in disguise. Rookie Karlos Williams has run with purpose and looks like a future starter for the Bills. Buffalo's no-name offense will continue to do just enough to earn the victory.

Oakland (2-1) over Chicago (0-3)
Line: Oakland -2.5
Spread pick: Oakland

Is it better to have a healthy Jimmy Clausen or a banged-up Jay Cutler? Most would say neither, and in reality, that may be the correct answer. The Bears are a mess, and the Raiders, for a change, are the team trending upward. The combination of Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree give the Raiders their most potent offense in recent memory. That offense will take advantage of a depleted and defeated Bears defense.

Cincinnati (3-0) over Kansas City (1-2)
Line: Cincinnati -3.5
Spread pick: Cincinnati

Championships aren't won in September, but the Bengals sure looked like a contender so far. Cincinnati ranks in the top seven in offensive and defensive DVOA, offensive yards per game, passing yards per game, and rushing yards allowed per game. Kansas City's defense has been vulnerable all year, allowing at least 27 points in each of the Chiefs' three games thus far.

Indianapolis (1-2) over Jacksonville (1-2)
Line: Indianapolis -9.5
Spread pick: Jacksonville

This game becomes a lot more interesting if Andrew Luck doesn't start for the Colts. Indianapolis has been wildly underwhelming thus far in 2015, looking downright awful through three games. The Colts are often a completely different team at home, and Jacksonville hasn't proven they can control the opposition away from north Florida.

Philadelphia (1-2) over Washington (1-2)
Line: Philadelphia -3.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

Despite a fluky victory against St. Louis two weeks ago, Washington has looked inept on offense, as Kirk Cousins and Matt Jones have proven to be no better than former starters Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. Philadelphia's offense has been slipping down the proverbial hill since the Eagles left Atlanta Week 1, and need to use Sunday as an opportunity to get the offense back on track.

Carolina (3-0) over Tampa Bay (1-2) 
Line: Carolina -3.5
Spread pick: Carolina

The Panthers may not have looked dominant in their three victories this season, but winning in the NFL isn't often a beauty contest. If the league were, in a fact, a competition in attractiveness, the Buccaneers would be in dire straits. Jameis Winston was supposed to change the narrative in Tampa, but has done nothing of the sort. The Bucs defense has been equally disappointing, allowing 80 points in just three contests.

San Diego (1-2) over Cleveland (1-2) 
Line: San Diego -7.5
Spread pick: San Diego

Since Johnny Manziel ascended into the national spotlight in 2012, I have spent countless words, in various forms of media, deriding the former Heisman Trophy winner. For the first time in three years, however, I'm going to say something positive about Manziel: He's the better option at quarterback for Cleveland. Josh McCown has done nothing to continue as the Browns starter, but Mike Pettine continues to start the journeyman quarterback. Maybe another loss will change Pettine's mind.

Denver (3-0) over Minnesota (2-1)
Line: Denver -6.5
Spread pick: Denver

Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback Minnesota has had in years, but he's facing a tall task Sunday. The Broncos sport the league's best defense in DVOA, total yards and passing yards, and they'll likely stack the line to make Bridgewater beat them. Touchdown Teddy may be up to the task later on in his career, but he isn't there yet.

Green Bay (3-0) over San Francisco (1-2)
Line: Green Bay -9.5
Spread pick: San Francisco

Most expected the 49ers to struggle this season, and the Niners certainly haven't proven those skeptics wrong. San Francisco ranks 23rd in offensive yards per game and 29th in offensive DVOA, while coming in at 25th in defensive yards allowed per game and 30th in defensive DVOA. Those aren't the type of numbers that favor a team tasked with going blow-for-blow with Aaron Rodgers.

Arizona (3-0) over St. Louis (1-2) 
Line: Arizona -6.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Through three weeks, it's hard to argue that any team in the NFL has been more impressive than the Arizona Cardinals. Despite the departure of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Arizona still ranks among the defensive elite in the league. The bigger surprise, however, has been Arizona's offense, which ranks in the top five in overall offense and offensive DVOA. St. Louis may have the defensive talent to hang with Arizona, but the Rams' pedestrian offense will hold them back.

Dallas (2-1) over New Orleans (0-3) 
Line: New Orleans -4.5
Spread pick: Dallas

The Saints are faced with a question similar to the one posed to the Bears: Is it better to have a healthy back-up or a banged-up starter? The Saints have struggled with a healthy Brees, and Dallas' ball-control offense will gash the 31st-ranked DVOA defense en route to another Cowboys victory.

Seattle (1-2) over Detroit (0-3)
Line: Seattle -9.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Seattle's NFC North revenge tour continues Monday night, when the rudderless Lions make the trip out west. Don't expect another shutout by the Seahawks, but Detroit is going to struggle from the opening kick.

Last week: 14-2
Last week v. spread: 11-5
Season record: 29-19
Season record v. spread: 25-23

Sunday, September 27, 2015

NFL picks - Week Three

The wheels went flying off last weekend.

For the first time since Week Two of last season, I posted a sub-.500 record in non-spread picks. It was also the first time Week Three of the 2012 season in which I incorrectly picked 10 or more non-spread games.

Like some high-profile 0-2 teams, the Online Jargon will be looking to turn it around in Week Three. Seattle has the brightest outlook this weekend, as the two-time defending NFC champions return home. Kam Chancellor, who missed Seattle's first two games during a holdout, also returns to the Legion of Boom. A struggling Bears team without multiple offensive starters, including quarterback Jay Cutler, will be in for a long afternoon in the Pacific Northwest.

Indianapolis will have a tricky test against an upstart Titans team, but the Colts are expected to walk away with their first win of 2015.

The Eagles and Ravens, however, will be put to the test once again this weekend. Philadelphia travels to MetLife Stadium, where the Eagles will be 3.5-point underdogs to the 2-0 Jets. Baltimore kicks off the 2015 home slate with a visit from the 2-0 Bengals, a team that has impressed thus far.

Only one team in the modern era has started 0-3 and made the playoffs. It may be early for do-or-die games, but the aforementioned quartet must post victories if they would like to keep realistic postseason hopes alive.

Let's get to the picks.

New York Giants (0-2) over Washington (1-1)
Line: New York -3.5
Spread pick: New York

Washington already has a disadvantage at quarterback, but the team simply cannot afford to have their running game disappear like it did Thursday night. Eli Manning must look to improve New York's passing offense if the Giants want to rise above the mediocrity in the NFC East.

Atlanta (2-0) over Dallas (2-0)
Line: Atlanta -0.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

The loss of Dez Bryant was a bad enough loss for the Cowboys, but losing Tony Romo for half the season is going to be the albatross that drags Dallas out of contention. Atlanta still need to find a running game to go along with Julio Jones' searing early start. Doing so would elevate the Falcons into the top tier of the NFC.

Cincinnati (2-0) over Baltimore (0-2)
Line: Baltimore -2.5
Spread pick: Cincinnati

Terrell Suggs was the last of the old guard of Baltimore's defense, and, if last week was any indication, the Ravens are in trouble without their emotional leader. Cincinnati ranks in the top nine in both offensive and defensive DVOA, a challenge Baltimore's new-look defense will not be properly equipped to overcome.

Oakland (1-1) over Cleveland (1-1)
Line: Cleveland -3.5
Spread pick: Oakland

The offseason changes made by Johnny Manziel seemed to pay off, as the former Heisman Trophy winner led the Browns to a 28-14 victory in his first start of 2015. Manziel's efforts were for naught, however, as Josh McCown returns to the starting lineup for Cleveland. McCown is not the man to lead the Browns to victory, against the up-and-coming Raiders, or any of the other 30 NFL teams.

Indianapolis (0-2) over Tennessee (1-1)
Line: Indianapolis -3.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

Sooner or later, the Colts will straighten out their issues. An early-season favorite to contend for the Super Bowl, Indianapolis has struggled mightily with turnovers thus far in 2015. Tennessee's defense surprisingly ranks fourth in DVOA this season, but the Colts will have too much firepower, and too much desperation, to start this season 0-3.

Pittsburgh (1-1) over St. Louis (1-1)
Line: Pittsburgh -1.5
Spread pick: Pittsburgh

It's a mystery why the Rams aren't a better team. St. Louis has, arguably, the best defensive line in football, led by Aaron Donald, arguably the league's best defensive lineman not named J.J. Watt. Yet, the Rams will struggle stopping Pittsburgh's high-powered offense, which will be boosted by the return of Le'Veon Bell.

Minnesota (1-1) over San Diego (1-1) 
Line: Minnesota -2.5
Spread pick: Minnesota

In comments made after last week's victory over the Lions, Adrian Peterson said he still didn't feel like the player he was prior to his suspension. Peterson should be a focal point again this week, as few teams have the type of back who can dominate like Peterson. Pundits are quick to point out that Peterson nearly broke the single-game rushing record in his last match-up with San Diego, and while that type of output is unlikely, Peterson will help spearhead a Minnesota gameplan to control the clock and keep Philip Rivers on the sideline.

New England (2-0) over Jacksonville (1-1)
Line: New England -13.5
Spread pick: New England

Jacksonville isn't the doormat we're used to them being. The Jags rank 10th in defensive DVOA and 23rd in offensive DVOA, outpacing the Eagles and Colts in the latter category. However, they simply don't have an answer for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Jaguars fans shouldn't feel bad about that, however - few teams in the league can stop that pairing.

Carolina (2-0) over New Orleans (0-2) 
Line: Carolina -6.5
Spread pick: Carolina

Things are getting ugly in the Big Easy. Even with Drew Brees, the Saints' offense was impotent, ranking 28th in the league in offensive DVOA. Things only get worse Sunday, as Brees will miss his first game in a Saints uniform with a shoulder injury. The Panthers may have the league's worst receiving corps, but it's better to have no receivers than no quarterback.

New York Jets (2-0) over Philadelphia (0-2) 
Line: New York -2.5
Spread pick: New York

Philadelphia's offense was supposed to blow the doors off of opponents this season. Thus far, the Eagles haven't impressed anyone. The Eagles have one of the league's worst offenses through two games, and now they'll travel to New York to take on the league's second-rated defense. Chip Kelly may start peering back to the college ranks for potential job openings.

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

If you like offense, it might be best to avoid this one, as Tampa Bay and Houston sport two of the four worst statistical offenses in the NFL. The quarterback battle will be equally unappealing, but Jameis Winston may be in the more perilous position. J.J. Watt is lurking, and Tampa's porous offensive line is sure to leave the rookie quarterback in the dirt Sunday afternoon.

Arizona (2-0) over San Francisco (1-1)
Line: Arizona -6.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Bruce Arians has a special sort of magic on display in the desert. Despite starting a 35-year-old journeyman quarterback, an injury-plagued running back, and an aging superstar receiver, Arizona's offense has tallied 79 points in back-to-back double-digit victories. Ball control may help the 49ers slow down the Cardinals, but it won't be enough to hand Arizona its first loss of the season.

Miami (1-1) over Buffalo (1-1) 
Line: Miami -2.5
Spread pick: Miami

Both teams have solid defenses and running backs hampered by injury. In games like this, it's best to look at the quarterbacks each team will rely upon, and that advantage lies solidly in the hands of the Dolphins. Tyrod Taylor has been better than expected, but he isn't to the level Ryan Tannehill has already reached in his career. Neither will set the record books on fire Sunday. but Tannehill's superior talent will lead Miami to a hard-fought victory.

Seattle (0-2) over Chicago (0-2)
Line: Seattle -14.5
Spread pick: Seattle

The Seahawks are mad. The hangover of Super Bowl XLIX has spilled into 2015, as Seattle stumbled to an 0-2 start without their defense's leader, safety Kam Chancellor. This Sunday, the Seahawks return home, joined by the returning Chancellor. Chicago will be without Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery, evaporating any chance the Bears had at an upset. This one could get ugly.

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

Early talk surrounding the Broncos has been the downfall of Peyton Manning. This is a disservice to Denver's defense, which tops the league in DVOA and has been nothing short of impressive so far this season. Detroit's Matthew Stafford was pummeled last week by Minnesota's defense, and the beating Stafford takes will continue Sunday when Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware come to Ford Field.

Green Bay (2-0) over Kansas City (1-1)
Line: Green Bay -7.5
Spread pick: Kansas City

The best way to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers is to make the All-Pro quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket. Few teams in the league have the defense to do so, but Kansas City is one of them. The Chiefs will pressure Rodgers into some tight situations, but it won't be enough to lead a Kansas City upset.

Last week: 6-10
Last week v. spread: 6-10
Season record: 15-17
Season record v. spread: 14-18

Saturday, September 19, 2015

NFL picks - Week Two

Don't get cute.

This is the lesson learned from the first week of the 2015 NFL season. After picking two ridiculous upsets last week, I've come back down to earth, and will begin picking with logic instead of trying to outsmart myself.

It certainly wasn't intelligent to pick Jacksonville and Oakland in their respective games last week. While the Jags and Raiders were facing opponents who could be beaten, Jacksonville and Oakland still have a hill to climb before knocking off playoff contenders.

The season's second week already provides important games for teams that fell during opening weekend. Some teams, like Baltimore, should have an easy path this weekend. Others, like Seattle, will have a difficult time avoiding an 0-2 start.

Let's get to the picks.

Kansas City (1-0) over Denver (1-0)
Line: Kansas City -2.5
Spread pick: Kansas City

The Chiefs were poised to take Denver to overtime prior to a freak fumble by Jamaal Charles that was returned for a touchdown. It was a positive loss for Kansas City, if such a thing exists, but the Chiefs need to prove they can close a game if they hope to contend for a playoff spot in 2015.

Atlanta (1-0) over New York Giants (0-1)
Line: New York -2.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

Tony Romo and the Cowboys gifted New York a number of turnovers, and the Giants still couldn't pull off the victory. Julio Jones had a monster game last week, and New York simply doesn't have anyone capable of slowing down the former Alabama playmaker.

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

Rex Ryan has fallen back to old habits, blowing hot air about how his team is going to take down the Patriots. The problem? Ryan is 4-9 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Buffalo's defense is as good as any Ryan has had as head coach, but it's just not realistic to expect Tyrod Taylor to out-duel Tom Brady.

Arizona (1-0) at Chicago (0-1)
Line: Arizona -2.5
Spread pick: Arizona

New Orleans had plenty of success throwing the ball on Arizona's defense last week, which leaves the door open for Jay Cutler and the Bears. The Cardinals can hold their own on offense, though, which poses a significant problem for Chicago's defense. Carson Palmer may not be Aaron Rodgers, but he's more than capable of punishing the Bears.

San Diego (1-0) over Cincinnati (1-0)
Line: Cincinnati -3.5
Spread pick: San Diego

The last time San Diego made the trip east to Cincy, the Bolts thumped the Bengals in the 2013-14 wildcard playoffs. This weekend's match-up should be a closer contest, but San Diego is the team with the advantage once again. Cincinnati may have the best offensive player on the field in A.J. Green, but the Chargers have the advantage under center.

Tennessee (1-0) over Cleveland (0-1)
Line: Tennessee -1.5
Spread pick: Tennessee 

After impressing in his first career start, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota will take on Johnny Manziel and Cleveland's thin front seven. The Browns have one of the league's better secondaries, but the porous rush defense will provide Mariota and the Titans enough wiggle room to jump to 2-0..

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

Sunday's game will be a big test for the new-look Detroit defense. Adrian Peterson will be especially motivated after a dud in his first game of the season, and the Lions will be looking to prove their defense is still tough after the departures of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Minnesota will look to prove themselves better than last week's showing in San Francisco, and will take an all-important divisional victory in the Vikings' home opener.

St. Louis (1-0) over Washington (0-1)
Line: St. Louis -3.5
Spread pick: St. Louis

As expected, Washington looked like a dumpster fire last week. The Rams exceeded expectations last Sunday, dominating the defending NFC champions up front on their way to an overtime victory over the Seahawks. St. Louis' front four will terrorize Washington's piecemeal offensive line Sunday afternoon, and the Rams will continue to take control over the NFC West.

New Orleans (0-1) over Tampa Bay (0-1)
Line: New Orleans -9.5
Spread pick: Tampa Bay

Last week was supposed to be the debut of the new-look Buccaneers, but the Bucs looked just as bad as they had throughout 2014. It looks like Jameis Winston is going to have some growing pains during his rookie campaign. Rob Ryan's defense isn't as talented as his twin brother's D, but Rob Ryan will put plenty of pressure on Tampa Bay's rookie quarterback.

Pittsburgh (0-1) over San Francisco (1-0) 
Line: Pittsburgh -6.5
Spread pick: Pittsburgh

San Francisco's offense was one-dimensional in last week's victory over Minnesota. While the Niners certainly could control the game on the ground and keep the Steelers offense on the sideline, Pittsburgh's coaching staff is smart enough to make Colin Kaepernick beat them. Kaepernick isn't capable of doing that.

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

Losing Luke Kuechly will hurt a defense that hasn't yet been tested this season. Carolina's subpar offensive line will have to figure out how to stop J.J. Watt. The Panthers may have an advantage at quarterback, but the rest of the cards fall in favor of the Texans.

Baltimore (0-1) over Oakland (0-1)
Line: Baltimore -6.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

Joe Flacco contributed next to nothing last weekend, and the Ravens still almost beat the Broncos in Denver. Baltimore's defense was dominant, however, and kept the Broncos in check most of the day. Nobody is going to confuse the Raiders' offense with Denver's, and the Ravens defense should control the game from the start to give Baltimore its first win of the season.

Miami (1-0) over Jacksonville (0-1)
Line: Miami -6.5
Spread pick: Miami

Blake Bortles and the Jaguars looked awful last week. The Dolphins certainly didn't crush Washington, but the 'Fins looked better as the game progressed and should cruise to victory against an overmatched Jacksonville defense.

Philadelphia (0-1) over Dallas (1-0) 
Line: Philadelphia -4.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

Philly dominated the Falcons in the second half last week, but Atlanta managed to hold off the hard-charging Eagles. Chip Kelly's team will be ready to go from the opening kick, and running back DeMarco Murray should have even more motivation to prove last season, which he spent in Dallas, wasn't a fluke.

Green Bay (1-0) over Seattle (0-1)
Line: Green Bay -3.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Aaron Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception at Lambeau Field since 2012. That's nearly incomprehensible. Though Mike McCarthy and the Packers won't say publicly that they're looking for revenge for last season's NFC title game, the fans in attendance Sunday night will be. Seattle's defense gives Rodgers fits each time they play, but it'll be the Packers who come out on top Sunday night.

Indianapolis (0-1) over New York Jets (1-0) 
Line: Indianapolis -6.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

The Colts struggled mightily against Buffalo's elite defense, and face a similarly difficult defensive test when the Jets come to Indianapolis Monday night. Andrew Luck was uncharacteristically inaccurate last Sunday, and the Luck-led Colts often perform much better at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Last week: 9-7
Last week v. spread: 8-8
Season record: 9-7
Season record v. spread: 8-8

Sunday, September 13, 2015

NFL picks - Week One

The wait is over.

The 2015 NFL season officially kicked off Thursday night in Foxborough, but the season truly begins this afternoon. Rivalries are renewed, rookies begin their NFL careers, and fantasy players across the nation root for players wearing jerseys of friends and foes alike.

Football is a wonderful thing, and for the first time this year, it's back in full force.

If you're new to the Online Jargon's weekly picks, there are a couple things to look out for when stopping by every weekend. There are a lot of references to various types of DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This is a brilliant statistical measurement created by the folks at In a nutshell, DVOA compares teams' stats and overall efficiency with the inclusion of things like game situation and opponent. There is a full explanation of DVOA at, if you're into that sort of thing.

Put on your jerseys, new and old. Fire up the grills, crank up the volume, and get ready for football.

Let's get to the picks.

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

Pittsburgh's defense is thin and inexperienced, but they didn't bother to make life difficult for Rob Gronkowski at any point Thursday night. A garbage-time touchdown made the season opener look closer than it was. The Steelers will need to make significant improvements if they plan to be competitive in the AFC North this year.

Indianapolis over Buffalo
Line: Indianapolis -2.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

Buffalo's defense is really good, and adding Rex Ryan to the mix puts the Bills in the discussion for the best defense in the league. Ryan's Bills may be able to limit the damage Andrew Luck will do, but it won't be enough to make up for an offense that will likely struggle to move the ball throughout the 2015 season.

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

Chicago's new-look defense is going to start Alan Ball and Adrian Amos in the secondary against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. On purpose. The Bears defense is going to be solid thanks to Vic Fangio, who turned a group of no-names into one of the best defensive units while with the 49ers. It's going to take time for the Bears to adapt to Fangio's system, something that won't help them beat their arch rivals Sunday.

New York Jets over Cleveland
Line: New York -3.5
Spread pick: New York

Few teams loaded up on defense like the Jets did. The combination of new arrivals, including head coach Todd Bowles, gives New York one of the most interesting defenses in the NFL. Their first test is against arguably the worst offense in football. Browns fans, if there are indeed any left, may want to avert their eyes.

Kansas City over Houston 
Line: Houston -1.5
Spread pick: Kansas City

The Chiefs struggled mightily against the run last season, finishing 26th in defensive DVOA. While the Texans would be smart to attack Kansas City on the ground, especially with Dontari Poe less than 100 percent, Houston just won't have the personnel to do so. Alfred Blue averaged 3.1 yards per carry last season and didn't look much better in the preseason.

Seattle over St. Louis
Line: Seattle -3.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Nick Foles, Tre Mason, an offensive line starting two rookies, and an apathetic home crowd doesn't combine for a formula to succeed against the two-time defending NFC champions. Life will be a little different for the Legion of Boom without Kam Chancellor, but the Seahawks can use this trip to St. Louis to clean things up before a trip to Green Bay next week.

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

Washington's franchise is a tire fire in all aspects, from ownership on down to special teams. Their patchwork defense, which features a few guys you've heard of any plenty you haven't, is going to struggle all season long. Ryan Tannehill and company start their postseason push with a win over a hapless Washington squad.

Jacksonville over Carolina 
Line: Carolina -4.5
Spread pick: Jacksonville

Jacksonville's defense was better last season than most would think. The Jags ranked second in adjusted sack rate, ahead of everyone but the Bills. Gus Bradley has added Jared Odrick and Dan Skuta to that front seven, which will attack one of the league's most porous offensive lines. Cam Newton's quest for survival begins early, with an upset loss in north Florida.

San Diego over Detroit
Line: San Diego -2.5
Spread pick: San Diego

Losing three-quarters of your starting defensive tackle rotation isn't a great way to start an offseason, but in true Lions fashion, that's exactly what Detroit did. Haloti Ngata is a very good player, but he isn't as god as Ndamukong Suh. That will affect Detroit's defense from top to bottom. The Lions D should be good again this season, but not as the unit that finished third in defensive DVOA last year. Meanwhile, Philip Rivers will continue on as one of the league's most underappreciated passers, leading the Chargers to a season-opening win in what may be the team's final season in San Diego.

Arizona over New Orleans 
Line: Arizona -2.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Both teams enter Week One having undergone significant changes on one side of the ball, as Arizona's defense and New Orleans' offense will likely look much different than last season. Arizona lost defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to the Jets, and the Saints lost pretty much everyone with a recognizable name on offense. The Cardinals still have a very talented defense, as well as one of the league's top secondaries, and will use that to shut down New Orleans' new-look offense.

Oakland over Cincinnati
Line: Cincinnati -3.5
Spread pick: Oakland

Traveling west to enter the once-vaunted Black Hole hasn't been a very scary proposition as of late. Oakland has been a doormat for years, but an infusion of youth may have the Raiders trending in the right direction. Look for Derek Carr and Amari Cooper to have big games as the Raiders steal this one with a late field goal.

Denver over Baltimore
Line: Denver -4.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

For the first time since the beginning of the 2014 season, the Ravens are healthy at cornerback. Combined with their elite front seven, Baltimore's defense has all the firepower needed to take down Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The defense was never the issue, however. With rookie Breshad Perriman ruled out for Sunday's game, Joe Flacco will have Steve Smith and a cast of unknowns to combat Denver's defense, which ranked fourth in overall DVOA last season. Denver also replaced former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio with Wade Phillips, which could be considered an upgrade at the position.

Tampa Bay over Tennessee 
Line: Tampa Bay -3.5
Spread pick: Tennessee

This battle of the top two picks in the 2015 NFL draft will go to the man who has more weapons at his disposal. Tennessee's Marcus Mariota takes care of the football better than most at his position, but his counterpart, Jameis Winston, has Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins at his disposal. If all goes well during pre-game warm-ups, Winston will also have standout receiver Mike Evans. That is too much for Mariota and Tennessee's barren offense to overcome.

Dallas over New York Giants
Line: Dallas -5.5
Spread pick: Dallas

The Giants were average-or-worse across the board last season, save Odell Beckham, Jr., and did almost nothing to correct their issues. Somehow, the team entered the NFL draft with one safety on the roster, and although they drafted Landon Collins in the second round, the Giants are painfully thin in the secondary. In a division with the Cowboys and Eagles, that's a big problem.

Philadelphia over Atlanta
Line: Philadelphia -0.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

Atlanta's defense was abysmal in 2014, ranking dead last in overall team defense and defensive DVOA. The addition of former defensive coordinator, and new Falcons head coach, Dan Quinn will certainly help, as will the addition of Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn and O'Brien Schofield. However, the Falcons need to prove their worth on defense, and if the preseason was any indication, they're going to have their hands full with Philadelphia's fast-paced offense.

Minnesota over San Francisco
Line: San Francisco -2.5
Spread pick: Minnesota

Most people outside of San Francisco's fan base could probably name more 49ers that retired this offseason than players who will start on defense Monday night. Looking at San Francisco's depth chart isn't much more reassuring. The departure of a glut of important players, as well as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, quickly turned the Niners from one of the league's best defenses to one of the most unstable. Monday night's spotlight will be on the return of Adrian Peterson, but look for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to have another good game as Minnesota starts of the 2015 campaign with a big victory.