Archive for November, 2013

Thanksgiving Predictions, Storylines

Posted: 11/28/2013 by levcohen in Football

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! We have our traditional three games today, with Detroit, Dallas, and Baltimore hosting games against Green Bay, Oakland, and Pittsburgh. Over the past few years, there have been more blowouts than close games on Thanksgiving, and Vegas expects that trend to continue, with two favorites of at least a touchdown. Still, all six of these teams technically are in the playoff race, and in particular the two huge divisional matchups (Green Bay-Detroit, Baltimore-Pittsburgh), both between teams that hate each other, have big playoff implications. These six teams all have huge holes, some bigger than others, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Green Bay Packers (5-5-1, 5-6 against the spread) at Detroit Lions (6-5, 5-6):
Spread: Lions favored by 7
Over/under: 49
Key Storylines:

Packers left guard Josh Sitton blasts Lions defensive line, coaches: This is a new development, and it adds something to this game. It was already clear that these divisional rivals did not like each other, but Sitton furthered those feelings. Sitton went on his weekly radio show and said, “They go after quarterbacks. Their entire defense takes cheap shots all the time, that’s what they do, that’s who they are. They’re a bunch of dirtbags, or scumbags. I mean, that’s how they play.” He ended up blaming Jim Schwartz, the Lions head coach, and said he would never play for Schwartz. If this had been someone else, it wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But Sitton, an offensive lineman, will be competing against the same d-line that he bashed. Was it a great idea to rile them up before the game? We’ll see, but one thing I do think is likely is even quicker tempers.

Matt Flynn starts for the Packers: No, Aaron Rodgers will not be back for this Thanksgiving Day bout against his division rival. His coach has already ruled it out. That means a start for Matt Flynn in a hostile environment. Flynn is the third quarterback to start in the four games that Rodgers has been injured. He was a free agent just weeks ago. It seems that he has a comfort zone in Green Bay, but he isn’t a very skilled quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see if he holds up against a porous Detroit secondary.

Both teams on losing streaks, and in a very close NFC North: After the first slate of games in November, the Packers, Lions, and Chicago Bears were all 5-3. Green Bay had just lost Aaron Rodgers, but all three were playing relatively well. Since then, the three have combined for a 2-6-1 record, with Detroit’s only win in that time being at Chicago. Since that win, they’ve lost two straight, and Green Bay is 0-3-1 in its last four. So the question is: Can either of these teams snap out of their current losing streaks and take control of the NFC North playoff race? One team will win this game (please not another tie), but will we see a good football game between two good teams or a sloppy one?

My prediction: Lions- 28, Packers- 17.. The line is high, but I’m still willing to take the Lions. The Packers have been lost without Rodgers, and Detroit generally does better in these must-win games than they do otherwise.
Lions cover

Oakland Raiders (4-7, 6-5) at Dallas Cowboys (6-5, 8-3):
Line: Cowboys favored by 7.5
Over/under: 48
Key Storylines:

Can the Cowboys win a game they are supposed to win?: The Cowboys are 8-3 against the spread, but are just 3-2 when favored. So it’s clear that they thrive when they are underdogs. They have been favored by more than a touchdown just once, and they won but failed to cover against the Vikings. Can they win decisively here and further their chances at a playoff spot?

Will the Raiders try to play spoiler?: The Oakland Raiders were supposed to be one of the worst, if not the worst, teams in the NFL this year. They have been surprising many with their competent play, and are now a surprising 4-7 (and just one game out of the AFC wildcard race). But they are coming off a crushing loss against the Titans at home, so it remains to be same whether they will wilt and aim for a top 5 pick or continue to play hard and try to play spoiler. I hope it’s the second, because the Cowboys are ripe for an upset.

Cowboys defense: Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee is out again today, so they defense will be without their best defensive player again. This has been a bad defense, even giving up a record number of first downs to the Saints. But they were solid against the Giants last week, and it’ll be interesting to see whether they keep it up.

My prediction: Cowboys- 30, Raiders- 23
Raiders cover

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-6, 5-6) at Baltimore Ravens (5-6, 6-5):
Line: Ravens favored by 2.5
Over/under: 41
Key Storylines:

Will the game be decided by a field goal?: Nine of the last twelve games in this highly contested series have been decided by exactly three points. That is really incredible. We knew that the rivalry was fierce and close, but 75% of games being decided by three points? Will it happen again tonight?

Win or go home?: This could be described as an elimination game for the loser. A 5-7 record wouldn’t be impossible to rebound from (the second wild card will likely take nine wins, so the loser would have to win out to have a shot), but it would be pretty close. The winner, on the other hand, will probably be considered the favorite for the #6 seed with a 6-6 record.

Throwback?: A few years ago, this was the biggest rivalry in the NFL. Not only did these teams hate each other, but they were also two of the best teams in the NFL. It’s still a big rivalry, but as you can see by their records, neither is quite elite anymore. Even years ago when the teams were good, this series was scrappy and violent and I expect it to be so again. Maybe even more so, given that the teams will be fighting for a playoff spot, rather than just the division as they did a few years ago (when they had a wildcard to fall back on).

My prediction: Ravens- 22, Steelers- 17
Ravens cover

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Time for another short week 12 review and the NBA Week 4 Power Rankings.

This was another muddling week, but I think it’s safe to eliminate a few more teams from the playoff hunt (something I’ll be doing every week for the rest of the year). Oakland was 4-6 coming into their home game against 4-6 Tennessee, but lost the lead with 10 seconds left. At 4-7 now, they have no shot, with some tough games ahead of them and a multitude of, frankly, better teams a game ahead. So add Oakland to the eliminated teams.

The Browns look like they have phoned it in and are looking ahead to drafting a quarterback in next year’s draft. They were never a factor against Pittsburgh, and those two teams, owners of the same 4-6 record coming into the game, are heading opposite directions. The one good thing that came out of this game for Cleveland was Josh Gordon. Gordon, who has always had terrific talent, exploded for 237 yards and a touchdown on 14 catches.

In the NFC, I pleaded for a simpler NFC East, and I got it. The Cowboys kept pace with the Eagles, improving to 6-5, and in doing so effectively eliminated the 4-7 Giants. After four consecutive wins, the Giants could really have gotten back into it with a win, but their margin of error was so small that this probably eliminates them.

And that’s it. So three more teams are gone for the race, but each race is still so muddled.

As for my picks, I went 7-7 against the spread, with a couple of really solid picks. I had the Titans winning 23-20 and was just one point off the 23-19 final score. I had the Chargers upsetting the Chiefs, which not many people saw coming (to be honest, I didn’t see it coming either, but I do hate those Chiefs). I did have my clunkers. The Bears-Rams and Vikings-Packers (which ended as a tie) were among them.

Overall, I went 7-6-1 straight up, with the Packer tie.

As for over/under, I had my best week in a while, going 9-4-1. I had a chance at 10-4 or 11-3, but the Giants-Cowboys pushed and the Broncos couldn’t stop the Patriots in the second half.

I went 2-2 on my upset picks, moving to 18-27, and got my lock of the week right (the 49ers won convincingly in Washington on Monday Night.. Washington is a mess), moving to 10-2 on those picks.

Now for the week 4 power rankings…

1. San Antonio Spurs, 13-1 (1): The Spurs are absolutely steamrolling their opposition. They have won their last eight games by an average of 20 points (not a typo), and have a +12 point differential. They also just have one player, Tony Parker, averaging more than 12 points per game. Tim Duncan has been atrocious by his standards, as has Manu Ginobili. Nobody on the roster is playing to his potential, which makes their start even more incredible. They don’t just find a way to get things done, but they kill teams while not playing their best.

2. Indiana Pacers, 13-1 (2): After a loss to the Bulls, the Pacers are back rolling, with four consecutive wins. The teams they beat weren’t exactly world beaters, but that will be the case in many of the Pacers games. With at most four really competitive teams in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers will cruise.

3. Miami Heat, 11-3 (3): None of the top three teams lost last week, so they will stay on top, and right now it looks like they might be forming their own tier. There are other great teams directly below Miami, but I think these three are a rung ahead because of their maturity. They were three of the four teams in the Conference Finals last year, and both finals participants. Miami could easily be 14-0 if they want, but they are resting their stars more. LeBron James is averaging just 35 minutes per game, five full minutes below his career average. Dwyane Wade has missed three games. Chris Bosh is averaging 28 minutes per game, five minutes below last season’s number and a full eight below his career average. So the Heat are resting their studs. And they are still a comfortable 11-3.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder, 9-3 (6): The Thunder have played just two games since my last ranking, but they were two great ones, as they beat the Clippers by 14 and took care of business against the Jazz, winning by a comfortable 22. It’s same old, same old for OKC. It’s the Russ and KD show, although neither has been as efficient or good as they were last year. That will come. Serge Ibaka, on the other hand, looks like he has taken a step forward, averaging career highs in points and rebounds and consistently getting double doubles. OKC still sorely misses James Harden, but Ibaka is playing well.

5. Portland Trailblazers, 13-2 (9): The Blazers, despite my being cautious about moving them up last week, have just kept winning and winning and winning, and I can’t help but move them up at least this high. Their marquee win was at Golden State, and they are doing what a top team is supposed to be doing; winning.

6. Los Angeles Clippers, 10-5 (7): We haven’t really learned anything new about the Clippers, good or bad. They’ll be in this range the whole season barring an injury, and that Chris Paul dude is great. He might be leading the MVP race right now.

7. Houston Rockets, 10-5 (10): The Rockets aren’t title contenders, or they aren’t yet. But they are certainly a terrific team, even with an angry Omer Asik and a banged up James Harden.

8. Golden State Warriors, 8-6 (5): An 0-3 week for the Warriors, who got more bad news when hearing that Andre Iguodala is out indefinitely (probably around 10 games). Luckily, they do have Harrison Barnes coming off the bench, and Barnes has already answered the call by picking things up of late. The Warriors will be worse without Iguodala, but they still have the pieces to stay near the middle of the muddled Western Conference playoff race.

9. Denver Nuggets, 7-6 (17): What can I say? After an 0-3 start, the Nuggets have been hot, and have deserved a two week swing from 28 to 9. I don’t like teams fluctuating in my rankings that wildly, but the Nuggets have forced my hand. I’m still skeptical of their long term prospects, but as long as they keep playing at this pace they should be fine, especially since they will get Danilo Gallinari back at some point. Ty Lawson is having a career year (averaging 21 points and 9 assists with his usual blinding speed). He does need some secondary scoring, and that should come when Gallinari does.

10. Dallas Mavericks, 9-6 (12): The Mavericks were on a roll, moving to a 9-4 record that would place them seventh in these rankings. But then they dropped back to back games in a home and home against, not coincidentally, the team right above them. I still love Dallas’s chances, with Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ells meshing well, but they aren’t a top tier team.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves, 8-8 (8): Could I have jumped on the Timberwolves bandwagon too early? I was certainly very bullish on Minnesota at the beginning of the season, and expected them to be a mainstay inside the top 10 of my rankings. But now, just four weeks into the season, they have dropped outside the top 10 and are now outside the playoffs in the West. There are a few problems. One is that their point guard, Ricky Rubio, sort of looks like a poor-man’s Rajon Rondo. He can’t even reach double digits in scoring most games, which really destroys spacing. They have also gotten almost nothing from their bench, and are relying on Kevin Love and Kevin Martin for a large portion of their scoring. That is ok, until one of them gets hurt. And they both have injury histories.

12. Memphis Grizzlies, 7-7 (11): The Grizzlies lost their stabilizing big man, and to be fair, their best player, for around two months. Marc Gasol is out, and that’s never a good thing for a very big man oriented Grizzlies team. Luckily for Memphis, Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis are competent big men and should keep the Grizzlies in it. Right now, they are looking at an uphill battle in a fierce Western Conference.

13. Phoenix Suns, 7-7 (13): The Suns have definitely fallen back to earth. They have lost five of their last seven after starting 5-2, and that included losing both sides of a home and home with the Sacramento Kings, which is pretty bad. They rebounded from those losses with wins against two mediocre East coast teams (Charlotte and Orlando), before being blown out by Miami. And they have been without electric point guard Eric Bledsoe for all five games since my last power rankings, so I’ll give them a bit of a pass.

14. Los Angeles Lakers, 7-7 (18): The Lakers are treading water, and Kobe could be back within a week or two. So things are looking up for the Lakers.

15. New Orleans Pelicans, 6-7 (15): It’s too bad that the Pelicans are in the Western Conference, because they usually get the job done against Eastern conference teams (they are just 3-5 against the West). Ryan Anderson has provided the Pellies a boost with his 19 points per game in four games, and Anthony Davis is still a beast. And I realize that my East vs. West split has gotten even wider. Indiana and Miami are the only two teams in this conference. Thirteen of the top fifteen are in the West, which is frightening.

16. Atlanta Hawks, 8-6 (14): With the Derrick Rose injury, the Hawks look like they are now the third best team in the Eastern conference. And some people thought this team would tank before the year. Their 1-3 record against the Western conference, while a small sample size, is telling. And they haven’t even faced the best of the West (losses to Dallas, the Lakers, and Denver with a win over Sacramento).

17. Toronto Raptors, 6-7 (16): My seemingly ridiculous ranking of the 4-7 Raptors was vindicated with back to back wins, as the Raptors are now the fourth and final team in the East who have scored more points than they have allowed. Right now, they lead the Atlantic division over higher profile teams like the Knicks and Nets, and they should easily make the playoffs.

18. Detroit Pistons, 6-8 (20): The Pistons have also turned it around a little, with back to back wins over cellar dwellars Brooklyn and Milwaukee. Brandon Jennings has clearly made a huge difference to the Pistons, as he is shockingly becoming a pass-first point guard, with eight and a half assists per game and three straight games with double digit assists. They have talent, with Jennings joining Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond to form a better core of four players than nearly any team in the East.

19. Washington Wizards, 5-8 (25): Last week at this time, the 2-7 Wizards were looking desperate. But since then, they, like Detroit, have finally started to show their talent, with three wins in their last four. John Wall is averaging 19 and 9, and Bradley Beal has boosted his scoring total from 14 points per game to a team-leading 21 this year.

20. Charlotte Bobcats, 7-8 (19): Nothing to say about the Bobcats.

21. Chicago Bulls, 6-7 (4): You might say it’s too dramatic of a drop, but it’s truly out of respect of Derrick Rose. With Rose shockingly out for the season again with a torn meniscus, the Bulls look demoralized, and I understand. They waited all of last year for Rose to get back. They even won a playoff series with hopes that D-Rose would return in the second round. He didn’t. But he was back at the start of this year, and the 6-3 Bulls were just starting to gain momentum. And then Rose tore his meniscus. Suddenly, his season is done, and the Bulls season might be done as well. Sure, they have enough talent to go .500, like they did last year. But wouldn’t you rather play for next year if you were a Bulls player or coach? I would pack it in. The Bulls have lost their first two games without Rose by 39 points to the Clippers and then by six points to the worst team in the NBA, the Jazz. When I put it that way, the Bulls could even be lower down, couldn’t they?

22. Orlando Magic, 4-9 (21): I don’t know what to say about the Magic. They almost moved into the “Too depressing to talk about” section, but I promised myself that would be limited to just the eight most depressing teams. The Magic did just get an exciting young player, Tobias Harris, back from injury, so there is some hope.

The Rest (too depressing to talk about). And in fact, these teams have been too depressing to talk about, as only one team, the Washington Wizards, got out of this bottom eight. The Brooklyn Nets take their place, and deservedly so, as name values only get you so far.

23. Boston Celtics, 6-10 (24)
24. Philadelphia 76ers, 6-9
25. Sacramento Kings, 4-9
26. Brooklyn Nets, 3-10
27. New York Knicks, 3-10
28. Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-10
29. Utah Jazz, 2-14
30. Milwaukee Bucks, 2-11

NFL Week 12 Predictions

Posted: 11/24/2013 by levcohen in Football

If nothing else, week 12 of the season should, and I say “should”, provide clarity, with possible “win or go home” games for a bunch of teams (of course, with the way the season is going, the losers of these games will probably go on to sweep the rest of their schedule). The most notable of these games are three between the glut of the AFC Wild Card race, which we went into earlier in the week. The three losers of these games will be facing a long battle back to the 9-7 it will realistically take to slide into the playoffs and be blown out in New England or Indianapolis. Bitter AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland will face off in Cleveland in a win or go home game, the 5-5 Jets (currently in the playoffs) will travel to Baltimore, and two underdogs in this wildcard race, Tennessee and Oakland, will face off for a chance to go to 5-6 and possibly tie for the wildcard lead. The other teams in this race- Miami and San Diego- face tough matchups, against streaking Carolina and 9-1 Kansas City, respectively.

The NFC has a few make or break games as well. In the East, Dallas has a chance to send the Giants to their 7th loss and effectively eliminate them from the playoffs after winning five games in a row. But if the Giants can get a win at home, they’ll be tied with Dallas and just one game out, and could be considered a favorite for the NFC East.
And finally, the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions all have winnable games as they look to stay close to each other at the top of the NFC North, which looks like it will have only one playoff team (Carolina looks like a great bet for the first wildcard, and it’s tough to bet against the NFC West for the second wildcard).
So I have no idea what will happen in these games, but I do know that some clarity will be provided.

*= upset pick
BYE teams- Seattle (10-1), Philadelphia (6-5), Buffalo (4-7), Cincinnati (7-4)

Week 12 Predictions:

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6, 4-6 against the spread) at Cleveland Browns (4-6, 5-5):*
Line: Browns favored by 1
Over/under: 40
My prediction: Steelers- 21, Browns- 17.. When all else fails, go with the better QB. And Big Ben is certainly the best QB in this game, and probably the best among all of the teams the Steelers are competing with for the #6 seed (who is better? Joe Flacco? Phillip Rivers? I don’t think so). It should be a low scoring game, and expect to see catch machine Antonio Brown slowed down by Joe Haden, a CB who is quickly becoming the best cover corner in the NFL, but the Steelers should pull it out.
Steelers cover

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8, 4-6) at Detroit Lions (6-4, 5-5):
Line: Lions favored by 9.5
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: Lions- 28, Buccaneers- 24.. The Lions have been favored in nine of their ten games this year, but they have also been favored by no more than four points. So it’s clear that this is a groundbreaking line for them, and with Green Bay coming on Thanksgiving, it’s a classic letdown game. But the Lions haven’t lost two in a row all year, and they are home, so I’ll give them a win. It should be close.
Buccaneers cover

Minnesota Vikings (2-8, 4-6) at Green Bay Packers (5-5, 5-5):
Line: Packers favored by 4.5
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: Packers- 27, Vikings- 10.. This is a really odd game. If Aaron Rodgers were playing in this game, I think the Packers would be favored by 15 or 16 points, but with third stringer Scott Tolzien in the game, that number is obviously much lower. Still, though, the Packers have a better supporting cast than the Vikings, especially with Eddie Lacy playing like Adrian Peterson. Minnesota’s suddenly horrid defense has given up at least 23 points in each game this year and more than 30 points in six games. I think they’ll hold Green Bay under 30, but not by much.
Packers cover

San Diego Chargers (4-6, 5-4-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-1, 6-4):*
Line: Chiefs favored by 4
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Chargers- 24, Chiefs- 20.. Say what you want about the Chargers and it will probably be true, but they do come to play against good teams. They beat Indianapolis (7-3), Philadelphia (6-5), and Dallas (5-5), and played Denver tough, while losing to teams like Houston (2-8), Washington (3-7), Oakland (4-6), and Tennessee (4-6). And this is a classic letdown game for the Chiefs (who I hate, by the way) in a sandwich game between their two against Denver. It’s win or wait till next year for San Diego, and I think they win, even in Kansas City. I was hoping I’d get more points, though, as this spread looks shockingly low with a 9-1 team home against a 4-6 one.
Chargers cover

Chicago Bears (6-4, 2-7-1) at St. Louis Rams (4-6, 4-6):*
Line: Rams favored by 1
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Bears- 27, Rams- 20.. Zac Stacy is going to have a huge game here against the Bears porous run defense, but the Bears have more to play for at this point as they look to keep pace with the Lions at the top of the NFC North. I think it’s unlikely that all three NFC North competitors will win, but that’s what I’m predicting.
Bears cover

Carolina Panthers (7-3, 7-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-5, 5-5):
Line: Panthers favored by 4.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Panthers- 23, Dolphins- 17.. I wanted to lock this up, but then I remembered that we can fully trust the Panthers yet. It’s been a fun six games, but it’s only been six games.
Panthers cover

New York Jets (5-5, 5-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-6, 5-5):
Line: Ravens favored by 3.5
Over/under: 39
My prediction: Ravens- 24, Jets- 17..  I think this is the week that the Jets on-off streak ends, and it will end with their second consecutive loss. Let’s make this clear; the Ravens aren’t the team that won the Super Bowl last year. Not even close. But they should have enough to beat the Jets at home.
Ravens cover

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9, 2-8) at Houston Texans (2-8, 2-8):
Line: Texans favored by 10
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: Texans- 23, Jaguars- 16.. The Texans made it clear last week in their lackluster loss to Matt McGloin and the Raiders that they should not be favored by double figures. Even against the worst team in football. Go Jags!
Texans cover

Tennessee Titans (4-6, 5-4-1) at Oakland Raiders (4-6, 6-4):
Line: Titans favored by 1
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Titans- 23, Raiders- 20.. I have nothing to say about this game. Both these teams stink, but one will vault themselves back into the playoff race here.
Titans cover

Indianapolis Colts (7-3, 6-4) at Arizona Cardinals (6-4, 6-4):*
Line: Cardinals favored by 3
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Colts- 24, Cardinals- 20.. I really like the Cardinals, but this seems like such an obvious loss. The Colts had extra time to prepare after playing the Thursday night game last week, and it’s Andrew Luck against Carson Palmer. Give me the Colts.
Colts cover

Dallas Cowboys (5-5, 7-3) at New York Giants (4-6, 4-6):
Line: Giants favored by 1
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Giants- 31, Cowboys- 28.. I kind of want the Cowboys to win this game, if only because it will basically make the NFC East a two team race between Dallas and Philadelphia. But the Cowboys are a train wreck waiting to happen, and the Giants are on a run, so I think the confusing NFC East will get even more confusing.
Giants cover

Denver Broncos (9-1, 7-3) at New England Patriots (7-3, 5-5):
Line: Broncos favored by 1
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: Broncos- 28, Patriots- 24.. I’m utterly stumped. The Patriots are home dogs for the first time since 2005, and this would be a trap game for the Broncos if it weren’t Tom Brady and the Patriots they are playing. Tom Brady is 11-4 all time against Manning, and I think Manning will win one here in Wes Welker’s return to New England before possibly slipping up in Kansas City next week.
Broncos cover

San Francisco 49ers (6-4, 7-3) at Washington Redskins (3-7, 3-7):- Lock of the Week
Line: 49ers favored by 4.5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: 49ers- 26, Redskins- 20.. This is my lock because it is the last game on the schedule and I have no idea what else I would pick (I’m certainly not picking Detroit or Houston, the two teams that are favored by more than 4.5 points). The 49ers won’t lose a third game in a row.
49ers cover

Upset picks:
Steelers over Browns
Chargers over Chiefs
Bears over Rams
Colts over Cardinals

Lock of the week:
49ers over Redskins


Thursday Night Prediction

Posted: 11/20/2013 by levcohen in Football

It’s coming a day early, but I’ll be away tomorrow, so here is my Thursday Night Prediction:
I’ll just note that the line will probably change between now and then, probably up in the Saints favor

New Orleans Saints (8-2, 6-4 against the spread) at Atlanta Falcons (2-8, 2-8):
Line: Saints favored by 10
Over/under: 53
My prediction: Saints- 35, Falcons- 17.. This line is absurdly high (the Saints were favored by just 3.5 points at home in week one against the Falcons– this is basically a 13 point line swing when you add the home field advantage) but I’m still taking the Saints, because I think the Falcons are that bad. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons kept it close, though.

NFL Playoff Scenarios

Posted: 11/19/2013 by levcohen in Football

Time for the week 11 review and NBA Week 3 Power Rankings.

In the NFL, the season of weird continues. Just look at the AFC Playoff race. There are five teams (New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Denver) with at least 7 wins, and each have leads of at least two games. It’s safe to say that New England will win the AFC East, Cincinnati will win the AFC North, and Indianapolis will win the AFC South. One of Kansas City or Denver will win the AFC West, and the other will be the first wildcard. I can’t remember a time when there were so many playoff spots locked up at this point in the season, and I also can’t remember when the second wildcard race looked so dreary. Let’s take a look at the top contenders for that spot in the AFC:
The 5-5 Jets have the second worst point differential in the NFL (-80). They have lost games to Tennessee, Cincinnati, and Buffalo by a combined 88 points (nearly 30 a game). Those teams are a combined 15-17. The Jets are led by a quarterback, Geno Smith, who, among qualified QBs, ranks 34th of 36th in QBR (it is 25.8 out of 100). He is just ahead of Brandon Weeden and Josh Freeman, and behind Chad Henne and the other 32 qualified QBs in the NFL.

The 5-5 Dolphins were a trendy wildcard pick in the preseason (I had them making the playoffs), and they started off the season well, but then there was the Incognito-Martin fiasco and they were written off for dead. Now, though, they just beat the Chargers at home and are suddenly back in it.

There are an amazing 6 (6!) 4-6 teams in the AFC. That is 6 out of 16. Nearly 40%. And the Bills are 4-7. So almost half the teams in the AFC have exactly four wins. All, amazingly, are in the playoff race, even though all have been scoffed at and eliminated before by the vast majority. Those teams are: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, San Diego, Oakland, Tennessee, and Buffalo. None of these teams are good, but only two teams can be eliminated from the AFC playoff race: The Jaguars, and the Texans. That’s pretty amazing. Your guess is as good as mine here, but I’m going to try to put odds on which of the nine teams listed above (the Jets, the Dolphins, and the 7 four win teams) will make the playoffs. Here goes..

1. Baltimore Ravens: 20%.. I know the Ravens are a game behind and coming off a loss, but they look like they are rounding into form a little bit. Plus they are the Super Bowl Champs.

2. New York Jets: 17%.. The Jets are the classic Jekyll and Hyde team. They have kept up their won one, lost one streak and are now 5-5. They’ll probably finish 8-8, which might be enough

3. Miami Dolphins: 15%.. The other 5-5 team.. I don’t think they’ll make it, but they have good defense, so who knows?

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: 15%.. Is this 4-6 team also rounding into shape at the right time? They’ve won two straight, but still haven’t been impressive.

5. Cleveland Browns: 11%.. The loss to the Bengals was discouraging

6. Tennessee Titans: 10%.. The three point loss to the Colts on the heels of the loss to the Jaguars might well have ended their season.

7. San Diego Chargers: 6%.. A couple of weeks ago, the 4-4 Chargers were sitting pretty. But their defense is a disaster, as is their remaining schedule, as they have to play their divisional rivals (Chiefs and Broncos) what seems like every week for the rest of the year. Tough.

8. Oakland Raiders: 3%.. I can’t believe they are still in it
9. Buffalo Bills: 3%.. Same.

In the NFC, things are slightly more traditional. Even with the lackluster NFC East, it is easy to see that the NFC is the stronger conference. There are seven teams outside the East with records above .500, and that doesn’t include a Green Bay team that will be getting Aaron Rodgers back. Those eight will fight for five playoff spots. Three divisions and two wildcards. Seattle will be in the playoffs. As will New Orleans, either as a division winner or a wild card. The rest? I have no idea. Detroit has an easy schedule, but they are Detroit. Carolina has a leg up right now, but who knows with Cam Newton and Ron Rivera. San Francisco was a Super Bowl favorite coming into this season, but now they are 6-4. Chicago is hanging in there at 6-4. Green Bay, even if they are 5-6, will probably end at 10-6 somehow. And Arizona, pesky Arizona, is all of a sudden 6-4 and deadly at home.
Eliminated teams in the NFC have to be Minnesota, Washington, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and St. Louis. At least that is three more than the AFC, but that also means that 25 of the 32 teams still have legitimate playoff aspirations. Wow.
Here’s how I think the NFC playoff race will end:

NFC East: I have no idea (#4 seed with no wildcard)

NFC North:
1. Detroit Lions (10-6) (#3 seed)
2. Green Bay Packers (9-7)
3. Chicago Bears (9-7)

NFC South:
1. New Orleans Saints (12-4) (#2 seed)
2. Carolina Panthers (11-5) (#5 seed)

NFC West:
1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3) (#1 seed)
2. San Francisco 49ers (10-6) (#6)
3. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

So San Francisco in Detroit and Carolina in Philadelphia/Dallas/New York. Sounds like two road wins and then two divisional matchups (South vs. South and West vs. West) in the second round. Interesting.

And now a quick review of week 11:
My upset picks went 0-2, moving to 16-25
My lock of the week (Texans) failed miserably, as I moved to 9-2
I went 8-7 on my picks, moving to 95-66-1
I went 4-9-2 on spread.. just not my year (64-92-6)
8-7 on the over/under (84-77-1)

NBA Week 3 Power Rankings

Posted: 11/19/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

The last unbeaten team (the Pacers) have lost a game. It’s time for the week 3 rankings, with last week’s ranks in parentheses. One thing before we start: the West has 10 teams above .500, while the East has 4. It’s so lopsided, and I’m going to feel bad for the three or four good teams in the West that will miss the playoffs, because those same teams would be 4-6 seeds in the Eastern Conference. Oh well.

1. San Antonio Spurs, 9-1 (2): The Spurs, on the strength of their current seven game winning streak, edge the Pacers for the top spot. By the slimmest of margins. I put them here because of their track record and also because they’ve been getting a lot better recently; in their last four games, they’ve won by at least 9 (in Utah) and as many as 41 points (in New York). Their average victory in that span has been by 22 points. So to put it simply, old San Antonio is crushing teams. And the scary thing is that they haven’t really gelled yet. Watch out.

2. Indiana Pacers, 9-1 (1): The Pacers fall because of their blowout loss in Chicago, but that was their first loss of the year, so they’ll stay at #2. Roy Hibbert is beasting, averaging 4.6 blocks per game this year. Paul George has slowed down a little, but he is a superstar. The bench looks really tough and good. This Pacers team is well put together, and they are going to be a force to reckon with throughout this season.

3. Miami Heat, 7-3 (3): The Heat are just humming along, and will continue to do that. By the way, we knew LeBron James was good, but look at how efficient he has been this year. He is averaging 27 points per game on JUST 16 SHOTS, while shooting at a 62% clip. He is also shooting 52% from three. To put it simply, this is the best start to a season anyone, not just LeBron, has had. It’s time for people to recognize how much better he is this year even than the guy he was last year, who wasn’t too shabby. I also found Chris Bosh’s minutes per game (29) sort of interesting. That’s really low, especially since Ray Allen is getting 28, Mario Chalmers 27, Norris Cole 24, and five other players with at least 14 minutes per game. It’s just something to keep an eye on.

4. Chicago Bulls, 6-3 (8): Don’t say I didn’t tell you so. They’ve won five straight, and Derrick Rose is just starting to shake off the rust. As I said time and time again, the Bulls are fine, and recently they have looked better than fine, as their fifth win in this current streak was a win over the previously-unbeaten Pacers.

5. Golden State Warriors, 8-3 (6): Golden State won a huge matchup with Oklahoma City last week, and added three double digit wins (against Detroit and against Utah twice). Klay Thompson has truly broken out, with 21 points per game on 53% shooting and 3 and a half made threes per game. Steph Curry is averaging 20 and 9, David Lee is averaging 17 and 9 in just 30 minutes per game, and Andre Iguodala has vastly improved the defense. And they haven’t even gotten Harrison Barnes, who broke out in the playoffs last year, going yet. The only issue is Curry’s health.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder, 7-3 (5): The Thunder move down a spot for the second week in a row. They just haven’t really ramped it up yet, despite their 7-3 record. As long as Westbrook and Durant stay healthy (they are averaging their usual 52 points per game combined. It’s hard to lose like that), they’ll be fine.

7. Los Angeles Clippers, 7-4 (7): The Clippers picked up two huge home wins over the T-Wolves and Thunder, and have now beaten four of the West’s elite: Houston twice, OKC, Minnesota, and Golden State. No other team can boast that. We know they’ll win a lot of games, but the question is how they’ll do in a seven game playoff series with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, both terrible free throw shooters, playing crunch time.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves, 7-4 (4): Over the first three weeks of the season, the Timberwolves have fluctuated wildly in my rankings. They started at ten, moved up to four, and now are back down to eight. I think they’ll settle down in the 7-12 range soon, and I admit that I overreacted in moving them up to #4. With the electric trio of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Kevin Love, though, Minny won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

9. Portland Trailblazers, 9-2 (10): I’m not going to make the same mistake with Portland this week that I did with Minnesota last week, but let’s give them some credit. They are the third best team in the NBA right now by record, and have won seven games in a row, although most of those games were pretty easy wins, which is why I only moved them up one spot. The Aldridge-Lillard duo has been terrific, though.

10. Houston Rockets, 7-4 (12): Don’t say I didn’t tell you so. What started as an interesting while nonsensical idea: starting two immobile centers together, neither of whom can shoot, ended in disaster. Omer Asik likely won’t play another game with the Rockets, and it’s only a matter of time until they can find a trade for him. Until that happens, this team is in limbo, but they are playing pretty well for a team in limbo, with three wins in their past four. Those wins, though, were against Toronto, the Knicks, and the Nuggets, all disappointing or worse teams. And their loss in that stretch was against the Sixers. So while this is a good team, it won’t be a great one until they get Asik out of town.

11. Memphis Grizzlies, 6-5 (9): Despite putting together three straight wins, the Grizzlies drop two spots. I knew that this tough, experienced team would bounce back from a lackluster start, and they have, with three wins in three games of their California trip so far (against both LA teams and against Sacramento. The final game of their road trip is at Golden State tonight). These road results show that the Grizzlies aren’t going away any time soon, but they will have to play really well to make the playoffs again given the West’s deep stable of good teams.

12. Dallas Mavericks, 7-4 (11): The Mavs are going to be in the hunt all year. I keep saying the same thing over and over again, but it also holds true for Dirk’s Mavs team: they are going to have to play their hearts out if they want to make the playoffs, because the West is so good. If they were in the Atlantic division in the East, they could win 55 games. Legitimately.

13. Phoenix Suns, 5-4 (13): And with this, the top 13 teams remain unchanged, with just a shuffling between these 10 Western Conference teams and 3 Eastern Conference teams. They suffered two straight tough losses, by a combined three points against Portland and Brooklyn (a win over Portland would look really nice), but I don’t think it’s fair to say that the Suns are falling back to earth. Not yet, at least.

14. Atlanta Hawks, 6-4 (16): I really like this Hawks team, at least in the East. They were underrated coming into this season, but they are the type of team that will beat up on the bad teams, and there are a lot of them in this conference. Case in point: The Hawks are 6-3 against lousy teams this year, with just one game played against a team above .500 (a loss to Dallas). They’ll play more good teams, so they could fall a few spots, but expect more of the same.

15. New Orleans Pelicans, 4-6 (17): The Pelicans have had some underwhelming games, but their best player, Anthony Davis, singlehandedly gets them this #15 spot. I asked myself who would win a game between New Orleans and any non big 3 team in the East, and I legitimately said New Orleans (outside of a coin flip game against Atlanta).

16. Toronto Raptors, 4-7 (20): Nothing really to add with the Raptors, other than they are at least playing most teams tough. I can’t believe I have them as my #5 team in the Eastern Conference right now. Tough times.

17. Denver Nuggets, 4-6 (28): I really don’t like moving the Nuggets up so high, but I have to admit that they are playing close games, and winning some of them. They are coming off a two point loss in Oklahoma City (impressive) and an 11 point loss in Houston (less impressive). Before that, they won three straight games. Basically, I see Denver as the West’s version of Atlanta. They beat the bad teams, and lose to the good ones. Unfortunately for Denver, there are a lot more bad teams in the East than the West. Expect Denver to be closer to this range than the 25-30 they were in before.

18. Los Angeles Lakers, 5-7 (24): Huge amounts of good news coming from Lakers camp. LA is treading water, and Kobe Bryant is just weeks (or days, depending on who you ask) away from returning to the lineup. When he does, the Lakers won’t be perfect, but they’ll be a lot better, and probably around 13-15 in these rankings. Down to just two Western Conference teams left.

19. Charlotte Bobcats, 5-6 (19): They want to compete this year, and they could be a midlevel playoff team this year. They are getting what they wanted at least.

20. Detroit Pistons, 3-6 (15): For some reason, I’m still somewhat bullish on this Pistons team. I don’t think that “they’ll make the playoffs comfortably” as I did last week, and I keep trying to talk myself out of this team, but then I look at their roster and talk myself back into them. Oh well.

21. Orlando Magic, 4-6 (27): I don’t know why I’m moving them up so much, but they do have a +.2 point differential, the last team with a positive point differential (the #16-20 teams all had negative point differentials). So the Victor Oladipo led team is keeping things close, which is a good sign for their future.

22. Brooklyn Nets, 3-7 (14): The Nets still have time to turn it around, but their are now a lot of warning signs popping up on everyone’s radar. Deron Williams has been hurt, now Brook Lopez has been hurt. Jason Kidd is a first year coach who doesn’t really look at ease, and Kevin Garnett looks like he has lost 5 steps. With all that said, they still have a lot of talent, and I’ll be looking for any reason to move them up.

The Rest (too depressing to talk about):

23. New York Knicks, 4-7 (22)
24. Boston Celtics, 3-6
25. Washington Wizards, 2-7
26. Philadelphia 76ers, 5-7
27. Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-7
28. Sacramento Kings, 2-7 (29)
29. Milwaukee Bucks, 2-7
30. Utah Jazz, 1-11

Week 11 Predictions

Posted: 11/17/2013 by levcohen in Football

Week 11, with only two teams on BYE (Dallas and St. Louis), has the fullest slate of games in a while, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Three games are getting all the hype, as six teams who have had a lot of success this year and have Super Bowl aspirations face off against each other: San Francisco travels to New Orleans in a clash of arguably two of the three best teams in the NFC. Undefeated Kansas City heads to Denver in a possible decider of the AFC West division and the #1 seed. And on Monday Night Football, for the first time in what seems like forever, ESPN gets a great game with playoff implications, with 7-2 New England traveling to 6-3 Carolina, winners of five straight. Let’s get to the games.

*= upset pick

New York Jets (5-4, 6-3 against the spread) at Buffalo Bills (3-7, 5-5):
Line: Jets favored by 1
Over/under: 39.5
My prediction: Jets- 20, Bills- 17… This is going to be ugglly. The Jets have been the epitome of inconsistency, alternating wins and losses throughout this season. This would break that trend, and I’m hesitant to pick Geno Smith on the road, but then I remember that he is facing another rookie QB, E.J. Manuel, who is without his top two weapons, Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods. Scott Chandler is the top weapon this week. I have Scott Chandler on my fantasy team, so good luck to him, but that’s kind of sad.
Jets cover

Baltimore Ravens (4-5, 4-5) at Chicago Bears (5-4, 2-6-1):*
Line: Bears favored by 3
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Ravens- 24, Bears- 20.. If any defense can get Ray Rice going, it’s the Bears defense, who have been terrible against the run this year. With that being said, I’m not counting on Rice to win the game for the Ravens. I’m counting on the Bears pass defense, which by the way, is also terrible. This isn’t last year’s Bears.
Ravens cover

Cleveland Browns (4-5, 5-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (6-4, 5-4-1):
Line: Bengals favored by 4.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: Bengals- 27, Browns- 20.. The Browns are becoming a trendy upset pick, and I get it. The Bengals look shaky, and Cleveland is coming off their BYE with a competent quarterback. But the Bengals might just be the better team, and I like picking them at home. The upset chatter could easily be right, though.
Bengals cover

Washington Redskins (3-6, 3-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-5, 5-5):
Line: Eagles favored by 4
Over/under: 54
My prediction: Eagles- 30, Redskins- 27.. Eagles win, Redskins cover. I still feel the need to hedge my bets when it comes to the Eagles, despite their recent run.
Redskins cover

Detroit Lions (6-3, 5-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-6, 3-6):
Line: Lions favored by 3
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Lions- 24, Steelers- 17.. I just think that the Lions are the better team, even on the road, despite the Steelers’ storied history. There are rumors about Ben Roethlisberger wanting out of Pittsburgh, and of widespread coaching changes, and I think that will help lead to a Steeler loss.
Lions cover

Atlanta Falcons (2-7, 2-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8, 3-6):
Line: Buccaneers favored by 1
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Buccaneers- 20, Falcons- 10.. The Falcons are a mess. The Bucs, coming off their first win of the year, are slightly less of a mess. My advice: Don’t watch this game.
Buccaneers cover

Arizona Cardinals (5-4, 5-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8, 2-7):
Line: Cardinals favored by 9.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Cardinals- 24, Jaguars- 17.. The line is too high, but the Cardinals are the (much) better football team. Road team wins, but home team covers. By the way, would a 6-4 Cardinal team have a shot at the playoffs? They certainly would in the AFC, and would perhaps be the favorite, but the NFC is much tougher, and they’d probably have to beat out the 49ers, which is not a simple task.
Jaguars cover

Oakland Raiders (3-6, 5-4) at Houston Texans (2-7, 2-7):- Lock of the Week
Line: Texans favored by 10
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Texans- 31, Raiders- 13.. Terrelle Pryor is out. Matt McGloin, pride of Penn State, is the Raiders starting quarterback. Matt McGloin wasn’t even a good college QB, let alone NFL. That’s why I’m picking the Texans, with their seven game losing streak, as my lock of the week.
Texans cover

San Diego Chargers (4-5, 5-3-1) at Miami Dolphins (4-5, 4-5):
Line: Chargers favored by 1
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Chargers- 23, Dolphins- 19… The Dolphins are kind of a mess. The Chargers might be too, but the Dolphins are definitely more of a mess than San Diego.
Chargers cover

San Francisco 49ers (6-3, 6-3) at New Orleans Saints (7-2, 6-3):
Line: Saints favored by 3.5
Over/under: 50
My prediction: Saints- 31, 49ers- 21.. I wouldn’t pick any team +3.5 in New Orleans. Not even the Seahawks or Broncos. The Saints are just amazing at home, and I don’t see the 49ers stopping them. Not in the regular season, when it seems like Jim Harbaugh is just letting his players get ready for a playoff run while Sean Peyton’s Saints are gunning for the #1 seed in the NFC. And if they get it, they’ll be as likely as anyone to make the Super Bowl.
Saints cover

Green Bay Packers (5-4, 5-4) at New York Giants (3-6, 3-6):
Line: Giants favored by 3.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Giants- 19, Packers- 13.. This number came all the way down from Giants favored by 6, which is why I’m picking the Giants to win and cover. As much as it pains me. Because I think that if New York wins this game, they have a shot at making a run for the division.
Giants cover

Minnesota Vikings (2-7, 4-5) at Seattle Seahawks (9-1, 6-4):
Line: Seahawks favored by 13
Over/under: 46
My prediction: Seahawks- 31, Vikings- 10.. This is going to be alll Seahawks. Or it should be, although it’s possible that the Seahawks will take this win for granted (as they should). On the other hand, they do have a BYE coming up next week, so I think they’ll run up the score in this one.
Seahawks cover

Kansas City Chiefs (9-0, 6-3) at Denver Broncos (8-1, 6-3):
Line: Broncos favored by 7.5
Over/under: 49
My prediction: Broncos- 27, Chiefs- 20.. The half point hook over a touchdown is enough for me to take the still-undefeated Chiefs on the road. The Chiefs actually have the defense that has the best chance at rattling Peyton Manning. They have a great pass rush (Justin Houston and Tamba Hali have more sacks than any other pair of teammates in the NFL), and a deep and terrific secondary that can match up with Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, and Wes Welker. With that being said, this is the first real test for Kansas City, and I think they are competitive in this one but end up losing.
Chiefs cover

New England Patriots (7-2, 5-4) at Carolina Panthers (6-3, 6-3):*
Line: Panthers favored by 3
Over/under: 46
My prediction: Patriots- 27, Panthers- 17.. This was my thought process for this game: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady coming off of a BYE? Check. The Patriots as underdogs? Check. The Panthers coming off a huge win? Check. The Panthers with two huge matchups with the Saints coming up? Check. Belichick in November? Check. I feel pretty confident about this pick.

Upset picks:
Patriots over Panthers
Ravens over Bears

Lock of the Week:
Texans over Raiders