Friday, January 19, 2018

2017 NFL Conference Championship Picks

I know it's been repeated ad nauseam this week, but who would have thought that when the final four NFL teams square off, three of the starting quarterbacks had just one combined playoff start coming into the season. Although Tom Brady being among the last standing is of course no surprise, no one could see this coming from Nick Foles, Blake Bortles, and Case Keenum. Granted, they are being carried by arguably the three best defenses in the league, but a weird NFL season that saw scoring down across the board will still look weird with either of those NFC quarterbacks leading the charge on Super Bowl Sunday. Spoiler alert: the man on the AFC side will look familiar, though.

Last week: 2-1-1
Season total: 150-113-1

Patriots -7.5 versus Jaguars

Shocking, I know. I probably would have stuck with them at the inflated -9 the line opened at, so seeing it come down after concern over Brady's banged up hand is actually nice to see (although a teaser, possibly with the Over is probably the best bet of weekend). Consider me not worried about the GOAT playing injured with a Super Bowl berth on the line, especially at home against the still shaky Blake Bortles. You could be worried that a weak New England front seven can't contain Leonard Fournette, but they just held the similarly large and explosive Derrick Henry to 28 yards on 12 carries. And although I love Jacksonville's defense, that unit just gave up 42 points to Pittsburgh and allowed 37 (not counting the Bortles pick-six) a few weeks ago to San Francisco. Their few weak spots over the middle are likely to be exploited by Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis. I said at the beginning of the year that the Pats would win their third championship in four years like in '01-'04, and now I'll even double down on that by saying it actually will be in a repeat of SB XXXIX.


Eagles +3 versus Vikings

Minnesota has the amazing narrative of being on the verge of hosting its own Super Bowl after that miraculous ending following years of playoff torture, and there's so much to talk about with that. How there were four lead changes in the final 3:01 to play. How Marcus Williams ended his tremendous rookie season, which included a huge interception earlier in the game, with a total whiff due to concern over pass interference and became the new Rahim Moore with inexplicably no one else behind him. How there was a fleeting moment of thought that Stefon Diggs needed to get out of bounds with a second left in order to try for a field goal before realizing he had nothing but green in front of him to score the winning touchdown. Or how it seemed like that would result in a cover of my -5 pick until after all the chaos they chose to just kneel on the extra point attempt for a push (although I've seen that the line ended at a brutal -5.5 for late Vikings backers after it opened at -3.5). I get it; it would be fun for 'Sota to continue on for a fairy tale ending. But this is real life instead, and they're facing the old adage of being a dome team going outdoors for a night game. More importantly, I think Philadelphia's offensive line is superior overall and will do a better job blocking in a game featuring two fierce defensive fronts. Maybe Jay Ajayi's work through both the air and ground results in another long gain. Sometimes you just have a feeling that letdown is coming for a team, and in this case, I think older brother Mychal Kendricks comes out on top over his younger brother Eric on the Vikes.



Friday, January 12, 2018

2017 NFL Divisional Round Picks

Ouch. That's pretty much all I can say after going 0-4 last week due all of the underdogs covering the spread, including outright wins in both Saturday games. Maybe I overthought things like Andy Reid only giving Kareem Hunt -- the NFL's leading rusher and possible Rookie of the Year -- five carries after the first quarter despite holding a lead nearly the entire time. I'll keep things simple this week like I did during my hot close to the year instead.

Last week: 0-4
Season total: 148-112

Eagles +3 versus Falcons

I know Philly's offense is completely different with Nick Foles having to fill in for Carson Wentz, but come on. The #1 seed getting a field goal at home is taking things too far because their defensive front should be able to make up for any concerns about their inconsistent corners trying to contain Julio Jones.

Patriots -13.5 versus Titans

Although I'm still a bit in shock that Tennessee came all the way back and held onto that win last week, what I do know is that Bill Belichick won't get outcoached like that. If you want #narratives, you can count on the team getting fired up about Sam Wickhersham's report and wanting to prove any doubters wrong. You could also just take solace in the fact that Tom Brady will be relentless against this Tennessee pass defense.

Steelers -7 versus Jaguars

I will not take Blake Bortles in a road playoff game. I will not take Blake Bortles in a road playoff game. I will not take Blake Bortles in a road playoff game.

Oh, sorry I just have to keep repeating that to myself as I go back and forth on my pick. I don't want to pick on Blake, whom I've rooted for in past years on here, but he looked about as bad as you could have feared in that first playoff game as Jacksonville somehow didn't cover despite only allowing 3 points at home. I know Pittsburgh's defense has looked bad without Ryan Shazier and that Leonard Fournette ran all over them at Heinz in a game that prompted Ben Roethlisberger to (mostly) joke about retiring, but you know who else knows all that? Mike Tomlin and the Steelers coaching staff, who may not always be perfect but have shown over the years that they are pretty darn good. Joe Haden's absence in the secondary was arguably just as important during that rough defensive stretch, so having him back along with Antonio Brown on offense should carry the Steel Curtain into a rematch with the Pats.

Vikings -5 versus Saints

I don't like line moving up over the course of the week, but there's no way I'm going against Minnesota here. Both teams may have change a lot since the first edition of this game back in the first Monday Night Football game of the season, especially in the backfields with Sam Bradford, Dalvin Cook, and Adrian Peterson no long participating, but one things has remained constant: the Vikings defense is tremendous. I'm not sure there's any clear weakness New Orleans can exploit, and you could tell in last week's game how much the late injury bug has taken its toll on Sean Payton's unit. Going against Drew Brees in Case Keenum's first playoff game is a concern, but there's a reason the latter will be getting a nice pay day and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will likely get another head coaching job, possibly from the same team.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

2017 NFL Wild Card Picks

So close. That's all I could help but think when the dust cleared and I finished one game back of first place in my 38 person picks pool last week. Probably like the Ravens and their fans replaying that wild Bengals touchdown on 4th and 12 (!), I just kept thinking about if just one thing had gone differently, whether it be the hapless Broncos being able to beat the Chiefs backups in Mile High, news about David Fales taking almost all of the snaps at quarterback for the Dolphins being more widespread, or me not changing a pick or two at the last minute due to injury reports like the Packers in Week 4, then I would have either won outright or tied for the top price. Even though I still received a handsome reward for being runner up, it's hard to get the taste out of your mouth knowing you were that close, but alas. I'll just heed the words of noted philosopher Elsa and "Let it go" as the calendar flips to a new year and move on to the next phase of the NFL season. I'll need a clear head because some might say that these are the picks that separate the cream of the crop...Not anyone on this site, but, you know, some people.

(PS since the picks pool is finished on CBS Sports, I'll be using the current odds on VegasInsider.com)

(PPS before fully moving on to the postseason, I did want to look back to the regular season one final time to point out that my over/under picks for win totals before the season were a solid 21-11)

Last week: 11-5
Season total: 148-108

Chiefs -8.5 versus Titans

Kansas City hasn't given up more than 20 points at home all year en route to a 6-2 record in Arrow Head, so the question is will they approach 29 points themselves? Well, they've averaged 28.6 in the five games since offensive coordinator Matt Nagy started calling plays rather than Andy Reid, and if you take out last week's exhibition with Patrick Maholmes and the backups, that numbers is exactly 29 points per game. Throw in the fact that Tennessee ranks 24th in DVOA against the pass and is facing this year's version of Alex Smith that finally isn't afraid to let it loose down the field like he's always been capable of, and I think you have the recipe for success. The Chiefs' #32 ranked run defense DVOA facing Derrick Henry with a full workload is a bit scary, but I like KC to go ahead early and keep some separation to hopefully take the running game out of it. Let the track race between Tyreek Hill and Adoree' Jackson begin!

Rams -6 versus Falcons

Out of all the games in this slate, this one probably has me the most nervous because Atlanta is the more experienced team that proved last year that they can go deep in the postseason, and despite being frustrating to go with against the spread, they did go 6-2 over the back half of the season. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman could take advantage of the DVOA's #22 run defense, and Julio Jones is always a threat to be the best player on the field. That being said, Todd Gurley was arguably the league's MVP this year and has tremendously improved his work in the passing game since he came into the league, totaling 64 catches for 788 yards and 6 touchdowns in just 15 games to make life easier for Jared Goff. Considering that Atlanta allowed the most receptions to running backs, this could be another big Gurley game, and as Mike Lombardi of The Ringer has point out throughout the year, they like to pour it on when they win. Seven of their 11 wins were by double digits, so they should cover this spread at home.

Jaguars -8.5 versus Bills

I just don't see how Buffalo can put up many points on the road against this elite defense. Not one Bill averaged even 50 receiving yards per game, and if you don't count the work Kelvin Benjamin did in Carolina, Charles Clay was the most "dangerous" presence with 558 yards, or 42.9 per game. Not exactly threatening for the likes of Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Aaron Colvin, Tashaun Gipson, and Barry Church. Feeding LeSean McCoy will seemingly be their only effective offense, but he's far from 100% with a sprained ankle. Meanwhile, you can expect DVOA's 31st ranked run defense to get a heavy dose of Leonard Fournette on the other side, so I'm not too concerned about needing to rely on Blake Bortles to lay such a high spread. Buffalo got their big "win" last week with the excitement of getting lucky in the four-way tiebreaker to end their long playoff drought, but now it's time to turn back into a pumpkin as midnight approaches on their season.

Saints -7 versus Panthers

You've probably heard the old adage "It's hard to beat an opponent three times" in reference to divisional rivals facing off again in the playoffs, but as I heard Bill Barnwell explain on Sportscenter this week, that's not actually the case. In the 16 cases that this scenario has occurred since 1990, a 3-0 sweep has been the result 11 times. Given that New Orleans not only won but dominated both matchups, I think that will become 12 out of 17 times. Cam Newton averaged just 175 yards passing in those two games compared to 210.9 against everyone else and had 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions compared to a 20:13 ratio otherwise. Carolina's linebacker trio of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson trying to contain Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in both phases of game will be fun to watch as that duo became the first pair of running backs on the same team to both total over 1,500 yards from scrimmage. The matchup that won't likely be as contested is James Bradberry Daryl Worley trying to stick with Michael Thomas as he averaged 6 catches for 78.5 yards and scored in both games.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 NFL Week 17 Picks

I can't imagine the roller coaster of emotions that people in Vegas went through to end Christmas weekend with that Raiders-Eagles game. Most were probably like my dad, who took Philly -8.5 in our picks pool, sadly disparaging the chances of a cover in the final minute with the game tied. I was mostly joking when I said they just needed to make the field goal and then make a return when Oakland inevitably has to do all the laterals on the last play just like Kansas City did against Washington on a similar Monday night in Week 4, BUT THEN IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED! However, the Vegas line had moved to -9 or even -10 late due to money coming in, so Doug Pederson's understandable but kind of pointless decision to take a knee on the extra point attempt rather than I guess risk any injuries ended up costing a bunch of late bettors money with just a 9 point win. Granted, it's a win or push that they really shouldn't have even been close to, but they must have went from despair to elation to "wait, wut?!"

That last one was my reaction to some of these lines because Week 17 is a crazy slate with teams having different agendas and holding players out for the final regular season game. I'll try to wade through the various situations quickly here, but not without purpose because another strong week got me even with the second place and just two behind the lead going into this finale.

Last week: 12-4
Season total: 137-103

Browns +13.5 at Steelers

Pittsburgh still as a chance at the #1 seed, but all indications seems like they will surprisingly rest their starters or at least limit them since the Patriots are highly unlikely to be upset by the Jets. The Steelers backups could certainly beat Cleveland at home again like last year's inexplicable overtime game that gifted Myles Garrett to the Browns, but I'm not counting on them to cover.

Lions -7.5 versus Packers

My lone loss in my straight up picks with friends last week, Detroit should bounce back against an undermanned Green Bay squad now that they're back at home.


Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017 NFL Week 16 Picks

If not for getting too cute last week with that dumb Browns pick, I'd be tied for second in my picks pool, but I won't let that take away from the Christmas cheer. Let's just focus on the fact that I'm still just three points out of first despite that mistake, instead. The stats are now 60-32 since Week 10, so here's to staying hot during this holiday season. Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!

Last week: 11-5
Season total: 125-99

Ravens -12.5 versus Colts

Let's just ignore the Colts franchise returning to Baltimore narrative since that clearly doesn't impact these games with the current teams, as evidenced by aforementioned Ravens in Cleveland game last week. The fact of the matter is that Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense has found their groove and are facing an undermanned Indianapolis secondary on a Colts team that seemingly falls apart every second half.

Vikings -2.5 at Packers

This is benefiting from the fact that CBS Sports doesn't update the lines after news happens during the week like Aaron Rodgers going back on IR because Green Bay was eliminated from the playoffs, but hey, I don't make the rules. If I'm going to suffer in fantasy football by losing the star QB I stashed just a week after Carson Wentz also went out, then so are the Packers! (It also doesn't hurt Minnesota's chances that their surprisingly steady passing game is facing the 26th ranked pass defense in terms of DVOA.)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

2017 NFL Week 15 Picks

First of all, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Jedi with its character struggles, misdirection, and ups and downs. Second, the Thursday win means I'm now 50-27 against the spread since Week 10. Here's to hoping I don't screw up whatever is working.

Last week: 9-7
Season total: 114-94

Lions -5.5 versus Bears

Admittedly, this line is slightly higher than I expected after Detroit had to squeak out a win in Chicago four weeks ago, but I like them to take care of business now they're at home and stay in the playoff hunt.

Chiefs +1.5 versus Chargers

This is really toss up since Kansas City won handily all the way back in Week 3, but LA has definitely been the better team of late. For as good as the Chargers are against the pass, though, they can be vulnerable on the ground against Kareem Hunt. Give me the home team here.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

2017 NFL Week 14 Picks

It wasn't pretty, but my Atlanta pick on Thursday broke my losing streak in prime time games. Let's hope that means my little hot streak (40-20 the last four weeks) will continue. When guessing what the lines would be to see how my feel for the week is, I actually nailed eight of them right on the money, so that either means I'll have a great week or am way overconfident in the favorites. Let's find out!

Last week: 10-6
Season total: 105-87

Vikings -2.5 at Panthers

Minnesota's steady offense should have a much easier time moving the ball against a Carolina squad that has begun to spring leaks in the secondary than Cam Newton will face on the other side. Especially with Devin Funchess banged up and Greg Olsen still working his way back, points will probably be at a premium at home.

Bengals -6.5 versus Bears

Missing Joe Mixon and a bunch of pieces on defense isn't encouraging, but Cincy has been playing well overall in recent weeks. And Chicago's defense has been banged up in its own right, so I'll side with the more experienced offense.

Packers -3.5 at Browns

I can see why some may consider this a trap game for Green Bay with the imminent return of Aaron Rodgers in time for tougher opponents coming up, but with the spread this low, I just can't side with Mr. 1-27, Hue Jackson. Him somehow winning the power struggle over head of football operations Sashi Brown is probably worse than Sam Hinkie's ousting with the 76ers. Even if the roster was lacking in certain areas, Brown has put together enough nice pieces to win more than one game out of 28, and new hire John Dorsey, who was hired suspiciously fast, is set to reap the rewards of the extra draft picks and cap space the franchise has going forward.

49ers +2.5 at Texans

It's overly simplistic to compare Jimmy Garoppolo and Trent Taylor to Tom Brady and either Wes Welker or Julian Edelman, but the GOAT's understudy certainly looked good in his first start with his new club and had quite the connection with his small slot receiver to get the W. Those two and Marquise Goodwin should also be able to take advantage of this Houston defense this week unless JD Clowney can prove to be a one man wrecking crew.