Thursday, October 30, 2014

NFL midseason review

Week Nine kicks off tonight in Charlotte, meaning we have reached the halfway point of the 2014 NFL season.

It's bittersweet, but the second half is shaping up to be one heck of a ride.

Sticking with tradition, I wrote a full-fledged season preview just before the Seahawks and Packers began the 2014 season in Seattle. Now that we're halfway home, let's take a look at the current standings, and how those picks are panning out.

(Apologies to the Bears, who look to the the unlucky winners of the Online Jargon Curse this season.)

AFC Division Leaders

North - Cincinnati
Preseason pick: Baltimore

If not for a pair of last-minute defensive breakdowns, the Ravens would be 7-1 and in firm control of the AFC North. Instead, Baltimore is 5-3, and Cincinnati holds the season tiebreaker thanks to a pair of victories over Baltimore. A tricky second half begins Sunday night, when the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh to battle the hated Steelers. It will be a fight to the end in the league's best division.

South - Indianapolis
Preseason pick: Indianapolis

Last Sunday wasn't pretty, but it was likely an outlier. Indianapolis had been very good prior to Sunday's lashing, only losing to the Broncos by a touchdown and the Eagles by a field goal. Games against New England and Dallas will test the Colts, but all signs point to another division title for Indy.

East - New England
Preseason pick: New England

Don't look now, but the Bills are lingering. New England has a brutal second-half schedule, with games against the Broncos, Colts, Lions, Packers and Chargers before finishing with each of the division's three other teams. Could a Week 17 game between the Pats and Bills really determine the AFC East?

West - Denver
Preseason pick: Denver

If anyone is going to catch the Broncos, they'll have plenty of chances - Denver still has four of its six divisional games remaining. San Diego and Kansas City will try, but in the end, the AFC West will belong to the Broncos.

NFC Division Leaders

North - Detroit
Preseason pick: Green Bay

The fate of the NFC North hinges on the health of some very important players. Aaron Rodgers will have to bounce back from a hamstring issue that held him back in last week's loss to New Orleans, while Calvin Johnson will have to return from a tricky high ankle sprain following Detroit's bye week. Detroit travels to Green Bay in Week 17, a game shaping up to be a de facto NFC North championship game.

South - Carolina
Preseason pick: New Orleans

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the worst division in pro football. Carolina and New Orleans have been disappointing in 2014, and that's the best thing anyone can say about any NFC South team. The Saints still have five home games remaining, but three are against the 49ers, Bengals and Ravens. This one is a toss-up.

East - Dallas
Preseason pick: Philadelphia

So this is what happens when all that talent on the Cowboys roster finally comes together. Dallas has been a wonderful story, but reality will come crashing through the hole in AT&T Stadium's roof. This is a Cowboys team led by an overmatched head coach, with the 19th-ranked DVOA defense, a banged-up quarterback, and an injury-prone running back. The Eagles need only wait for the division title to fall into their hands.

West - Arizona
Preseason pick: Seattle

The Cardinals will have to earn this year's NFC West title. Arizona hasn't yet played Seattle this year, and finishes the season in San Francisco. This team can do it, however. The Cardinals have been fantastic this season, and with the Seahawks and Niners looking anything but their dominant selves, it may be Arizona's turn to win the league's toughest division.

Wildcard Teams

AFC - San Diego and Buffalo
Preseason pick: Miami and Houston

Six teams at .500 or better currently sit outside the AFC playoff field. That number will almost certainly thin out, but it calls to the competitive level of the AFC playoff race. Thanks in no small part to a last-place schedule, the surprise team that sticks around this race could very well be the Buffalo Bills.

NFC - Philadelphia and Green Bay
Preseason pick: San Francisco and Chicago

Two good teams will miss the NFC playoffs. The second-place teams in the NFC East and North will compete with the two powerhouse teams that don't win the NFC West for only a pair of wildcard spots. Right now, it's Philly and Green Bay. That could, and likely will, change frequently between now and Dec. 28.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

NFL picks - Week Eight

Week Eight was supposed to be a big week.

Teams such as the Falcons, Saints and Bears have fallen well short of high preseason expectations, making their games against the Lions, Packers and Patriots, respectively, not nearly as attractive on paper as we may have first thought.

Seattle and Carolina both enter the week at .500. Some may consider that a plus for a Panthers team that entered the season with low expectations, and most consider Seattle's 3-3 start a disappointment.

It's quickly becoming time to step up or step out of the way.

Let's get to the picks.

Denver (5-1) over San Diego (5-2)
Line: Denver -7.5
Spread pick: San Diego 

Injuries to San Diego's secondary are going to catch up to the Chargers in a hurry. Thursday night was proof. The Bolts should enter Week 13 at 7-3 or 8-2, but the aforementioned secondary must be healthy and effective. San Diego finishes the season at Baltimore, v. New England, v. Denver, at San Francisco and at Kansas City.

Detroit (5-2) over Atlanta (2-5)
Line: Detroit -3.5
Spread pick: Detroit

Can the Detroit Lions really be 6-2? With the league's top-rated defense and a match-up with the porous Falcons defense, the Lions remain atop the NFC North. Detroit's offense will likely be without Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush again Sunday morning, so wins against lesser competition without their stars will be even more valuable with games against Arizona, New England and Green Bay still ahead.

Buffalo (4-3) over New York Jets (1-6)
Line: New York -2.5
Spread pick: Buffalo

I'm sorry - why are the Jets favored in this game? The Bills certainly aren't the poster children for explosive offense, but Kyle Orton and Sammy Watkins are better than anything New York has on its current roster.

New England (5-2) over Chicago (3-4)
Line: New England -6.5
Spread pick: New England

The Bears are a mess. The defense hasn't been as bad as expected, but the offense is slowly falling apart around running back Matt Forte. Chicago could use a galvanizing victory, but it isn't coming this weekend.

Baltimore (5-2) over Cincinnati (3-2-1)
Line: Cincinnati -1.5
Spread pick: Baltimore 

If you ask oddsmakers, the Ravens aren't as good as a team that is 1-2-1 against teams above .500. Baltimore is one of five teams, along with Denver, Indianapolis, Seattle and Green Bay, who rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive DVOA. Only one team - the 6-1 Denver Broncos - ranks ahead of the Ravens in overall DVOA. Sooner or later, people will stop sleeping on the Baltimore Ravens.

Houston (3-4) over Tennessee (2-5)
Line: Houston -0.5
Spread pick: Houston

Sunday's match-up between Zach Mettenberger and Ryan Fitzpatrick won't be confused for Thursday's Rivers-versus-Manning battle. Look for defense to rule in this one. With no. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney returning to the league's 15th-ranked DVOA defense, the Texans roll to victory in Nashville.

Kansas City (3-3) over St. Louis (2-4)
Line: Kansas City -6.5
Spread pick: Kansas City 

Brett Favre may believe in Austin Davis, but he's atop a short list. The Rams' defense has wildly underperformed this season, and with nothing to speak of at wide receiver, St. Louis will struggle to remain consistently competitive all year.

Miami (3-3) over Jacksonville (1-6)
Line: Miami -5.5
Spread pick: Miami

Rookie quarterbacks struggle. It's a fact of life. Blake Bortles has struggled, but he's also shown much more promise than most rookies do in the first half of their inaugural NFL campaign. Bortles will help keep the Jags competitive in most games, but the cupboard is just too bare in Jacksonville to expect wins over quality teams like the Dolphins.

Tampa Bay (1-5) over Minnesota (2-5) 
Line: Tampa Bay -2.5
Spread pick: Tampa Bay

According to the league's DVOA rankings, both the Vikings and Buccaneers have performed worse than the winless Oakland Raiders. Ouch. Minnesota's defense has been pedestrian at best, failing to break 20 points in all of their five losses, and failing to break double digits in three of those five games. Tampa can score thanks to Mike Glennon's arm, and will do just enough to win Sunday.

Seattle (3-3) over Carolina (3-3-1)
Line: Seattle -4.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Which team is more likely to start 3-4? Not the defending champs.

Arizona (5-1) over Philadelphia (5-1)
Line: Arizona -2.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Neither quarterback has lit the world ablaze this season. Arizona's defense, while not the juggernaut it was in 2013, has been effective. Philly's defense can't really say the same. The Cardinals will force Nick Foles into enough mistakes to maintain control of the rugged NFC West.

Cleveland (3-3) over Oakland (0-6) 
Line: Cleveland -7.5
Spread pick: Oakland

Just when you think the Browns can contend, they go and lay an egg against the winless Jaguars. Can the Browns be victims of winless teams two weeks in a row? It's certainly possible. Give me the home-field advantage Cleveland will have, as well as the early start time for the west-coast Raiders, and the Browns hang on for win no. 4.

Indianapolis (5-2) over Pittsburgh (4-3)
Line: Indianapolis -2.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

The Colts are good. Really good. They haven't been beaten by more than a touchdown all season, and are 2-0 against the AFC North's two best teams. Sunday's victory over an inconsistent Steelers team keeps Indianapolis undefeated against the North, and just a step behind the AFC's top team, the Denver Broncos.

Green Bay (5-2) over New Orleans (2-4)
Line: New Orleans -1.5
Spread pick: Green Bay

Every year, one contender surprises us by having an awful campaign. It looks like New Orleans is the unfortunate winner of that accolade. The Saints' defense has been a disaster so far, ranking 32nd in defensive DVOA and 21st in yards allowed per game. That's not where you want to be when welcoming the NFC's hottest offense to town.

Dallas (6-1) over Washington (2-5)
Line: Dallas -9.5
Spread pick: Washington

Colt McCoy is 6-15 as a starting quarterback in the NFL. DeMarco Murray is having an MVP-caliber season, and Dez Bryant is one of the league's best wide receivers. Unfortunately for McCoy, Murray and Bryant play for Dallas. Washington will find a way to keep it close, but the Cowboys have a decided advantage and will continue their winning ways Monday night.

Last week: 8-7
Last week v. spread: 5-10
Season record: 64-41-1
Season record v. spread: 53-53

Sunday, October 19, 2014

NFL picks - Week Seven

Last week, it was good to be on the road. However, as the old saying goes, there's no place like home.

A whopping 12 home teams are favored this week's 15 games, with the combined record of home dogs at 1-15. Yikes.

We're living in a world where six teams could enter the work week with fewer than two victories. The Cleveland Browns could lead the AFC North while the Pittsburgh Steelers are in the cellar. The three best records in the league could belong to the Cowboys, Chargers and Cardinals.

The odd 2014 season is surely to get stranger. Let's get to the picks.

New England (4-2) over New York Jets (1-5)
Line: New England -9.5
Spread pick: New England

The addition of Percy Harvin looks fine on paper, but the Jets illustrated again Thursday night that they just don't have the type of team to compete. Geno Smith is nothing more than average, and the Jets will remain in neutral as long as Smith starts at quarterback.

Baltimore (4-2) over Atlanta (2-4)
Line: Baltimore -6.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

This game happens every year. The Ravens start playing really well, Joe Flacco puts together some good games, and I get entirely too much confidence in Baltimore. I'll take the Ravens again today - Atlanta's defense is a disaster - but it's going to closer than it should be.

Buffalo (3-3) over Minnesota (2-4)
Line: Buffalo -4.5
Spread pick: Buffalo

Last week's loss to Detroit reminded Vikings fans that Teddy Bridgewater is, in fact, a rookie. Bridgewater's poor performance can't solely be blamed on the rookie quarterback, and the receiver options in Minnesota are non-existent and the running back position isn't much better.

Chicago (3-3) over Miami (2-3)
Line: Chicago -3.5
Spread pick: Miami

Which Bears team is going to show up - the team that was blown out at home against Green Bay, or the team that went to Atlanta and beat the Falcons? I say it's more the latter than the former, and the Bears come out with a narrow victory over the hard-luck Dolphins.

Indianapolis (4-2) over Cincinnati (3-1-1)
Line: Indianapolis -2.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

It's tough to beat the Colts in Indianapolis. Cincinnati often struggles against top-notch talent. The Bengals' only victory over a team with a record above .500 was a Week 1 victory over Baltimore in which Cincinnati nearly blew a 16-0 halftime lead.

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

Until the Jaguars start showing they can play some semblance of defense, stay away. Cleveland, which surprisingly has the second-ranked DVOA offense in the league - cruises to victory, and remains in the AFC North title race.

New Orleans (2-3) over Detroit (4-2)
Line: Detroit -2.5
Spread pick: New Orleans

A limited Jimmy Graham limits New Orleans' high-powered offense. However, a limited Jimmy Graham is better than an absent Calvin Johnson. Add in the injury to Eric Ebron, and Detroit's offense will be a shell of what it normally is.

Green Bay (4-2) over Carolina (3-2-1)
Line: Green Bay -6.5
Spread pick: Carolina

Carolina's success hinges on Cam Newton's ability to control Green Bay's defense. Newton's ability to run cause problems for a defensive unit with a long history of struggles against mobile quarterbacks. If rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin suits up Sunday, the Packers' secondary could be in for a long day.

Washington (1-5) over Tennessee (2-4)
Line: Washington -4.5
Spread pick: Washington

Kirk Cousins certainly hasn't played like the guy Jay Gruden wants him to be, but he's better than Clipboard Jesus. Someone needs to get the Titans an NFL-caliber quarterback.

Seattle (3-2) over St. Louis (1-4)
Line: Seattle -6.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Was Percy Harvin's toxic personality weighing down the Super Bowl champs? We're going to find out. Doug Baldwin is Seattle's top receiving option, which isn't good, but the rest of the team is too good to lose in St. Louis.

San Diego (5-1) over Kansas City (2-3)
Line: San Diego -4.5
Spread pick: San Diego

Until further notice, this is Philip Rivers' world, and we're just living in it. The Bolts win as long as Rivers keeps playing like the league's Most Valuable Player.

New York Giants (3-3) over Dallas (5-1)
Line: Dallas -6.5
Spread pick: New York

I don't trust either team. Yes, the Cowboys are 5-1, but their defense lacks talent and their offense is dependent on an injury-prone running back. New York struggles when they shouldn't and succeeds when you expect the Giants to fail. Let's go with the upset.

Arizona (4-1) over Oakland (0-5)
Line: Arizona -3.5
Spread pick: Arizona

The Cardinals lead the best division in the league with Carson Palmer under center. Bruce Arians shouldn't only win Coach of the Year, he should win Coach of the Decade. Oakland keeps it close thanks to Arizona's poor pass defense, but the Cards hang on for the win.

Denver (4-1) over San Francisco (4-2)
Line: Denver -6.5
Spread pick: Denver

The Niners defense, ranked third in DVOA, is definitely going to get to Peyton Manning. They're going to have to, though, because San Francisco doesn't have enough good defensive backs to cover all of Denver's receivers.

Houston (3-3) over Pittsburgh (3-3)
Line: Pittsburgh -3.5
Spread pick: Houston

Call it my Gut Pick of the Week. There is really no good reason to expect the Texans to beat the Steelers in primetime, but I'm rolling with it.

Last week: 8-6-1
Last week v. spread: 8-7
Season record: 56-34-1
Season record v. spread: 48-43

Saturday, October 11, 2014

NFL picks - Week Six

It's good to be away from home this week.

Eight of the 15 road teams are favored this week, including three by more than a touchdown. The Bills, Browns and Giants could all finish this week with at least a share of their division lead. Denver, a team most thought would run away with the AFC West, may be out of first place once again this week.

The 2014 NFL season has been a peculiar one already. Peyton Manning isn't even the best quarterback in his own division this season, as Philip Rivers is making an early case for the Most Valuable Player Award. Rivers has competition from J.J. Watt, who scored his third touchdown of the season in Thursday night's loss to Indianapolis. Watt would be the first defensive player to win the league's MVP award since Lawrence Taylor won it in 1986.

The wild ride continues. Let's get to the picks.

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

Houston has plenty of talent on the roster, but they're missing it at the one position that matters most. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't leading any team to the playoffs any time soon, including the Texans. The problem presents itself when Houston plays playoff teams, including the Andrew Luck-led Colts.

New England (3-2) over Buffalo (3-2)
Line: New England -3.5
Spread pick: Buffalo

Like last week, the first two games on this week's schedule present a lopsided match-up of the two men under center. Andrew Luck prevailed over Ryan Fitzpatrick, and no matter how good the defenses are, Tom Brady gives the Patriots an advantage over Kyle Orton. New England also has Stephen Gostkowski, who is more than capable of making a game-winning kick.

Cincinnati (3-1) over Carolina (3-2)
Line: Cincinnati -7.5
Spread pick: Carolina

Life is not going to be easy without A.J. Green, but the Bengals can control the damage. It starts Sunday against Carolina's 24th-ranked run defense. A heavy dose of Gio Bernard should help the Bengals control the clock, and the game, enough to hold off the Panthers. It won't get any easier, though, as Indianapolis and Baltimore come calling before the Bengals host Jacksonville Nov. 2.

Pittsburgh (3-2) over Cleveland (2-2)
Line: Cleveland -1.5
Spread pick: Pittsburgh

Last week, I said Pittsburgh's game against Jacksonville was a statement game for the Steelers. They made a statement, but it wasn't a very good one. Cleveland's defense has been a mess, however, and the Steelers will sneak out of Cleveland with a very important victory.

Denver (3-1) over New York Jets (1-4)
Line: Denver -8.5
Spread pick: Denver

The Broncos rank first in offensive DVOA, third in passing yards per game, and have one of the best passers in football history. The Jets really aren't capable of defending the pass, which is going to make it difficult to beat the Broncos. Or stay in the same building.

Minnesota (2-3) over Detroit (3-2)
Line: Detroit -1.5
Spread pick: Minnesota

The only healthy starter on Detroit's offense is quarterback Matthew Stafford. Reggie Bush is banged up, and superstar wideout Calvin Johnson will almost certainly miss this weekend's game. History tells us the Lions struggle mightily without Megatron.

Green Bay (3-2) over Miami (2-2)
Line: Green Bay -3.5
Spread pick: Green Bay

It's very easy to run on Green Bay's 32nd-ranked rush defense, and Miami's Knowshon Moreno looked like a world beater before going down with an elbow injury. Moreno returns this week, but his effectiveness is still in doubt. The Packers must make Ryan Tannehill beat them, which the former Texas A&M star likely cannot do.

Jacksonville (0-5) over Tennessee (1-4)
Line: Tennessee -6.5
Spread pick: Jacksonville

Jacksonville has been a mess this year, but that was expected. The Titans showed some promise early, but have been sinking in quicksand ever since. Rock bottom looks a lot like starting sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger, already the team's third starting quarterback this season, in a loss to the winless Jaguars.

Baltimore (3-2) over Tampa Bay (1-4)
Line: Baltimore -3.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

Each of Baltimore's two losses have been by a touchdown, and have come at the hands of the 3-1 Bengals and 4-2 Colts. Tampa Bay has been a disaster on defense, and is only just finding its offensive identity. Mike Glennon makes the Buccaneers competitive now, but only time will tell if he's the man to lead Tampa Bay into the future.

San Diego (4-1) over Oakland (0-4)
Line: San Diego -7.5
Spread pick: Oakland

Nothing either team has done in the last five weeks should make anyone think the Raiders will be competitive, or even win, Sunday's game against the Chargers. I have a gut feeling this one is closer than expected, though. Tony Sparano works in mysterious ways.

Atlanta (2-3) over Chicago (2-3)
Line: Atlanta -3.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

Chicago's defense has been suspect all year, and will be without its two best players, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, Sunday afternoon. Julio Jones is having a breakout year, and should have another big game against the porous Bears secondary.

Seattle (3-1) over Dallas (4-1)
Line: Seattle -7.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Dallas has been on a tear in 2014, running DeMarco Murray all over the field while Tony Romo tosses the pigskin to Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Terrence Williams seemingly at will. That changes Sunday, when the 12th Man and the Legion of Boom puts a stop to the Cowboys' winning ways.

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

Statistically speaking, Arizona's pass defense has been horrendous. However, the Cardinals' highly touted defense still ranks 10th in defensive DVOA. Washington's record against teams with top-16 DVOA defenses? 0-4. It goes to 0-5 Sunday afternoon in the desert,

New York Giants (3-2) over Philadelphia (4-1)
Line: Philadelphia -2.5
Spread pick: New York

The criticism of Chip Kelly's offense turned out to be well-founded. Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy have been largely ineffective, showing no signs of improvement since breaking out last year. Eli Manning, on the other hand, has embraced Ben McAdoo's offense, and is leading a Giants resurgence.

San Francisco (3-2) over St. Louis (1-3)
Line: San Francisco -3.5
Spread pick: San Francisco

Austin Davis has been better than Sam Bradford, but the list of NFL quarterbacks that aren't better than Bradford is a short one. Davis makes the Rams competitive, but he's not the answer, and he won't fend off a San Francisco defense that has been getting better with every passing week.

Defensive end Ray McDonald will inexplicably suit up for San Francisco for the sixth consecutive week, despite his arrest for felony domestic abuse after being accused of beating his pregnant girlfriend in August.

Last week: 12-3
Last week v. spread: 12-3
Season record: 48-28
Season record v. spread: 40-36

Sunday, October 5, 2014

NFL picks - Week Five

Quarterback is the most important position in football. Teams are either looking for a franchise signal-caller or doing their all to protect the one they have.

The juxtaposition of starting quarterbacks this week will illustrate the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Thursday night's game was another example of how quickly a team can lose control of a game when their quarterback isn't capable of providing what is required.

There are a half dozen or so match-ups this week that will see one team with a decided advantage under center. Look for those advantages to lead to victory this Sunday.

Let's get to the picks.

Green Bay (2-2) over Minnesota (2-2)
Line: Green Bay -9.5
Spread pick: Green Bay

Listen to Aaron Rodgers; R-E-L-A-X. Thursday's victory wasn't the return of the elite Green Bay Packers, nor was it the burial of the Minnesota Vikings. Christian Ponder is a terrible NFL quarterback, the Vikings have no running game and very little to speak of on the perimeter. How were they going to come back from the early hole into which they fell?

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

If you're into betting, take the Falcons. This week marks the yearly tradition of my begrudging belief in the Giants coming to fruition before the G-Men invariably nosedive into the ground, making me look like a fool in the process. Eli Manning has the West Coast offense figured out, and the Giants suddenly look like a contender in the NFC East.

Detroit (3-1) over Buffalo (2-2)
Line: Detroit -7.5
Spread pick: Buffalo

Matthew Stafford may not be elite, but he's certainly better than Kyle Orton. We already knew Detroit's offense had the ability to be elite, but it's the Lions' defense - currently ranked first in yards allowed per game and second in defensive DVOA - that has led to another fast start. Defense keeps the Lions atop the NFC North this Sunday.

Carolina (2-2) over Chicago (2-2)
Line: Carolina -2.5
Spread pick: Carolina

Chicago's defense is deplorable. Until the Bears prove they can stop a league-average offense, they are not to be taken seriously. Kelvin Benjamin is going to give Chicago fits, and with a pair of banged-up wideouts, the Bears fall again this weekend.

Cleveland (1-2) over Tennessee (1-3)
Line: Tennessee -2.5
Spread pick: Cleveland

Is Jake Locker really that much better than Clipboard Jesus? Is anyone going to watch this game outside of Cleveland and Nashville? Is anyone in Cleveland or Nashville going to bother watching this game?

Houston (3-1) over Dallas (3-1)
Line: Dallas -4.5
Spread pick: Houston

The theme of this week's games, as highlighted in the intro to this post, is quarterback play. As always, there is an exception, and this is it. Houston's J.J. Watt is firmly in the NFL Most Valuable Player discussion, and ends up being the difference in this battle of Texas' NFL teams.

Baltimore (3-1) over Indianapolis (2-2)
Line: Indianapolis -3.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

Talk all you want about Joe Flacco and the Ravens' supposedly pedestrian offense, but Baltimore ranks sixth in both offensive DVOA and yards per game.Winning in Indianapolis isn't easy, and the Colts have fought the league's best to the very end, but this game belongs to Baltimore.

Philadelphia (3-1) over St. Louis (1-2)
Line: Philadelphia -7.5
Spread pick: St. Louis

Philadelphia must prove last week's offensive debacle in San Francisco was an outlier. The Eagles must get their run game on track this week, as the Rams have allowed more than 150 rushing yards per game thus far in 2014.

New Orleans (1-3) over Tampa Bay (1-3)
Line: New Orleans -10.5
Spread pick: Tampa Bay

Almost anything that could go wrong has for the Saints, but it needs to end this weekend. New Orleans has one of the best home-field advantages in football, and there is no more time for excuses. Drew Brees is much better than Mike Glennon, and he'll prove it Sunday.

Pittsburgh (2-2) over Jacksonville (0-4)
Line: Pittsburgh -6.5
Spread pick: Pittsburgh

This is a statement game for Pittsburgh. After giving away last week's game at home against the Buccaneers, the Steelers need a convincing victory. Ben Roethlisberger must lead Pittsburgh to victory against the struggling Jaguars, and will do just that Sunday afternoon.

Denver (2-1) over Arizona (3-0)
Line: Denver -7.5
Spread pick: Arizona

The Cardinals are a fantastic team, and most people with an informed opinion say Bruce Arians is the frontrunner for the Coach of the Year award. However, this one comes down to quarterback play. Peyton Manning is the antithesis of Drew Stanton.

San Francisco (2-2) over Kansas City (2-2)
Line: San Francisco -7.5
Spread pick: San Francisco

Kansas City took advantage of New England's 23rd-ranked rush defense, as well as a raucous Arrowhead Stadium crowd, to pummel the Patriots on Monday Night Football last week. The Chiefs won't have either luxury Sunday, as they travel west to face the league's second-best run defense.

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

San Diego (3-1) over New York Jets (1-3)Line: San Diego -7.5
Spread pick: San Diego

The Jets have a fantastic run defense, but that isn't going to help them cover Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates and company. In a week filled with unbalanced quarterback match-ups, I'll take Philip Rivers over Geno Smith 10 times out of 10.

New England (2-2) over Cincinnati (3-0)
Line: New England -2.5
Spread pick: New England

In what world does Andy Dalton lead the Bengals into Foxborough in prime time to beat Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots? Unless and until it actually happens, I don't believe its possible.

Seattle (2-1) over Washington (1-3)
Line: Seattle -7.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Kirk Cousins struggled mightily against the Giants' secondary. New York's defense is nothing compared to a rested Seahawks defense. Cousins could be in for another long night in prime time.

Last week: 8-5
Last week v. spread: 10-3
Season record: 36-25
Season record v. spread: 28-33

Friday, September 26, 2014

NFL picks - Week Four

No intro this week, humanoids.

Let's get to the picks.

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

Is Kirk Cousins the real deal? Only time will tell. New York's corners will put the highly touted backup to the test, but Washington's offense - which has been red-hot lately - will do enough to outlast the error-prone Giants.

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

EJ Manuel isn't great away from Buffalo. He's worse when he's under pressure. Unfortunately for Manuel, he'll have to contend with all-world defensive end JJ Watt all afternoon on Sunday.

Green Bay (1-2) over Chicago (2-1)
Line: Green Bay -0.5
Spread pick: Green Bay

Give the Packers a break. After starting the season in Seattle against the defending Super Bowl champions, they've had to face the Lions and Jets, two of the top 10 defenses in the league. The Bears ranks fourth in defensive DVOA, but have leaks left and right. Jared Allen is banged up, and the Chicago secondary is already without Charles Tillman. Look for Green Bay to get back on track.

Detroit (2-1) over New York Jets (1-2)
Line: Detroit -1.5
Spread pick: Detroit

It's a problem when you can't cover Calvin Johnson. It's a really big problem. It's a problem the Jets will have Sunday, as Dee Milliner will likely miss another game due to a quadriceps injury. Good luck to Antonio Allen and Darrin Walls.

Indianapolis (1-2) over Tennessee (1-2)
Line: Indianapolis -7.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

Andrew Luck is 24-14 as a starter, and has already thrown nine touchdown passes this season. Charlie Whitehurst hasn't started an NFL game in three years and has thrown regular-season three touchdown passes in his entire career. At least Whitehurst has the greatest nickname - Clipboard Jesus - in the NFL today.

Miami (1-2) over Oakland (0-3)
Line: Miami -4.5
Spread pick: Miami

If these two train wrecks can fill up Wembley Stadium, imagine what would happen if the NFL actually gave London a decent game. We won't have to wait long - Detroit and Atlanta clash in London Oct. 26.

Pittsburgh (2-1) over Tampa Bay (0-3)
Line: Pittsburgh -7.5
Spread pick: Tampa Bay

Gerald McCoy is expected to return to the starting lineup for the Buccaneers, as is first-team running back Doug Martin. While Martin's return won't turn too many heads, having McCoy in the middle of the Tampa Bay defense will be a huge boost. It still won't be enough, though.

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

Steve Smith isn't happy with his former team, and that's bad news for the Panthers. This game has been circled, highlighted and underlined in the Smith household since the day the schedule was released. Smith will have the Ravens more than ready Sunday afternoon.

San Diego (2-1) over Jacksonville (0-3)
Line: San Diego -13.5
Spread pick: San Diego

New year, same results in Jacksonville. The Jags are going to struggle to remain competitive throughout the 2014 season. Philip Rivers has been on a tear, and should have a field day against Jacksonville's porous secondary.

Atlanta (2-1) over Minnesota (1-2)
Line: Atlanta -3.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

It's Teddy Bridgewater's show now. With Matt Cassel out for the season, Bridgewater will have all the opportunity in the world to prove his worth under center. This isn't a bad thing for the Vikings, as Bridgewater's future seems bright. The road to that bright future, however, will likely be rocky.

San Francisco (1-2) over Philadelphia (3-0) 
Line: San Francisco -5.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

What is more likely to happen: The Eagles starting 4-0 and the Niners starting 1-3, or the San Francisco 49ers organization punishing Ray McDonald for his August arrest for felony domestic abuse? We know the latter isn't happening any time soon, but the former doesn't seem a safe bet, either. San Francisco wins with a field goal at the horn.

New Orleans (1-2) over Dallas (2-1)
Line: New Orleans -3.5
Spread pick: New Orleans

What is more likely to happen: The Cowboys starting 3-1 and the Saints starting 1-3, or both teams starting 2-2? Neither team is playing defense very well, but in close games, coaching is the edge. Sean Payton is one of the best coaches in the NFL and it's a miracle Jason Garrett is still a head coach at all.

New England (2-1) over Kansas City (1-2)
Line: New England -3.5
Spread pick: Kansas City

Who is the guy playing quarterback for the Patriots, and what did he do with Tom Brady? New England has been led not by its juggernaut offense, but by the league's top-rated defense. Some things may be different in New England, but the winning isn't.

Last week: 12-4
Last week v. spread: 9-7
Season record: 28-20
Season record v. spread: 18-30

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