Archive for October, 2014

Thursday Night Prediction/ Week 8 Review

Posted: 10/30/2014 by levcohen in Football

With the basketball season back in full swing, this is probably a better way to write my posts. Rather than making a review on Tuesday or Wednesday and then a short TNF prediction on Thursday, I’ll likely combine them from here on out. I also don’t want to give my terrible picks a full review post, so the Thursday night game is a good way to distract people. Let’s start with the pick.

This is a game that means a whole lot to the two teams involved (even moreso than most games) but absolutely nothing to the rest of the league. And while that’s hard to believe for a game this early in the season (we are about halfway through the regular season, and I’ll revise my preseason standings predictions soon in another post), that’s not an exaggeration. Neither the Saints nor the Panthers is going to be a factor in the wildcard race, as they already have four losses apiece. But this isn’t a matchup between cellar-dwellers. In fact, barring a drastic second-half improvement from Atlanta, one of these two sub-.500 teams is going to win the NFC South. So not only does this game mean nothing to teams outside the NFC South, it also doesn’t matter to Atlanta and Tampa Bay, both of whom are headed for top-10 picks. That doesn’t make it a bad game, because it should be entertaining. It’s a matchup between a Carolina team that looks to turn its season around after going 1-4-1 in their last six games and a New Orleans team that’s coming off a blowout win over Green Bay but is 0-4 on the road. Simply put, it’s pivotal for both teams to reverse bad trends.

New Orleans Saints (3-4, 3-4 against the spread) at Carolina Panthers (3-4-1, 5-3):
Spread: Saints favored by 3
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: This spread has unsurprisingly seen a massive shift towards the more popular Saints after starting at Carolina -2.5. All signs point to a New Orleans win. Their offense is miles better than Carolina’s, and they are coming off the aforementioned blowout win against the Packers. With that said, this is the Saints on the road. The narrative that they can’t win on the road might have been overblown in the past, but it sure hasn’t been this season, as the Saints are 0-4 on the road with losses to the 2-6 Falcons, 4-3 Browns, 6-2 Cowboys (by 21), and 6-2 Lions. So they’ve lost to worse teams than Carolina on the road. Still, while the road stats are worrying, I’m still going to pick the better team here. It hasn’t worked out this year, but in the long run talent usually wins out. One thing is for sure: while the Saints-Panthers matchups were games between two elite teams last year, this year neither of them is any better than average. Saints win 30-23.
Saints cover

My five takeaways from last week:

  • Denver’s the best team in the league… by far. Last week I wrote that a few teams were separating themselves in the AFC. I was wrong. The Broncos are lapping the rest of the NFL right now. According to Football Outsiders, they now have a 30% chance of winning the Super Bowl. Nobody else has better than a 10% chance. The offense is elite, and the defense is too.
  • Not all 400+ yard passing games are created equally. On the one hand, you have Ben Roethlisberger (40-49 for 522 yards and six touchdowns), who had one of the best games anyone’s ever had. On the other hand, you have Nick Foles, who racked up 411 yards on 62 attempts (6.6 yards per attempt), missed some easy throws, and threw two costly interceptions in a loss. Foles probably could have thrown for 600 yards had he taken the opportunities awarded to him by a porous Arizona pass defense.
  • The AFC North is going to be a dogfight. Last week, it felt as if Baltimore was pulling away. This week? Not so much. The Bengals beat the Ravens for the second time, while the Steelers and Browns also won. The Bengals now lead the division at 4-2-1, while the Ravens and Steelers are 5-3 and the Browns are 4-3.
  • The Packers got their butts whipped in the second half and fell a game behind the Lions, but they should be fine. The game was tied 16-16 at halftime, and the Packers were in the redzone with a chance to take the lead when Aaron Rodgers tweaked his hamstring. Rodgers remained in the game but wasn’t the same, and Green Bay lost by 21 points. They have a BYE this week and, assuming Rodgers comes back strong, they should still be favored to take the division.
  • The Chiefs and Chargers are going to battle to the end for a wild card spot. Kansas City looks really good, while the Chargers are a half game ahead at 5-3 and have the superior quarterback in Philip Rivers. The two games between these teams are going to be fun to watch. Neither team is likely to end within a couple games of Denver in the AFC West, but both have a legitimate shot at a wild card spot.

I went 2-2 on upset picks, moving to 12-17 on the season. That’s not too bad. I lost my lock of the week again, moving to 5-3. When your locks are losing, you know something is going wrong.

10-5 straight up.. 76-44-1 total
5-10 against the spread.. 56-63-1 total. The bad teams really didn’t help me here, as three I picked to cover in a loss (Jets, Jaguars, Raiders) all failed to do so. Those three teams along with Tampa are the worst in football.
8-7 over/under.. 49-70-2 total


NBA Standings and Award Predictions

Posted: 10/29/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

It’s snuck up on me and probably a lot of other people, but the NBA season started last night. It’s a really hectic part of the sports year, with the NFL, World Series, NHL, and NBA all happening, so I haven’t really been paying much attention to basketball. That’s why I was surprised to see a marquee matchup last night between the Mavericks and Spurs (the Spurs won by a point) that actually mattered. So with the season starting, I’ll mix in some basketball posts, with power rankings and stuff like that. I would do awards predictions, but they really aren’t all that intriguing; LeBron James is probably going to win the MVP, one of three or four (Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Serge Ibaka) PF/centers will win DPOY, Jabari Parker will likely win ROY, and someone who is young and super talented will win Most Improved Player. For the record, here are my picks for a few award races:
1. LeBron James- Duh. But actually, with KD injured, this is LeBron’s award to lose. He’s probably going to have his minutes restricted throughout the season, but as long as he stays healthy and plays 35 minutes per game, this award should be his.

2. Stephen Curry- As you’ll see later, I have the Warriors taking a huge step forward this year. Curry’s the team’s star, and he’s the one who will be heaped with the most praise. I think he’ll have a similar season to the one he had last year, but with a slight uptick in three point efficiency. I think he’ll average 25 and nine assists, which should be good for second.

3. Anthony Davis- He had an amazing opening game, and could win this award if the Pelicans take the step forward some are predicting. I still think they finish just outside the playoffs, so he’ll have to be happy with third.

4. Blake Griffin- I have the Clippers as the #1 seed in the West, and with Chris Paul likely to deal with injury issues throughout the season again, Griffin’s going to be the star on this team.

5. John Wall- There’s a dropoff after #4, with Wall and Russell Westbrook as the two players I considered. While Westbrook is sure to shoulder a heavier load with Durant out, I think Wall is going to explode this year as the Wizards improve.

1. Joakim Noah (anchor of a stingy Bulls’ D)
2. Marc Gasol
3. Serge Ibaka
4. Anthony Davis
5. Omer Asik (made a move to New Orleans, where he will combine with Davis to form a fierce defensive frontcourt)

1. Jabari Parker (could average 20 points in his rookie year, but he’ll have more valleys and fewer peaks than some are predicting)
2. Nerlens Noel (has the advantage of playing on the awful 76ers ala Michael Carter-Williams in 2013 and also has had a year to get acclimated to the NBA. He could post a double-double with a few blocks per game and take the award)
3. Elfrid Payton (arguably the top rookie point guard, he should rack up minutes and assists on a young Orlando team. Don’t think he’ll score enough to win this award, though)
4. Marcus Smart (this is contingent on the Celtics’ trading Rajon Rondo. I think a trade will happen, and Smart will get big minutes at point guard when it does. He’s also more NBA-ready than some of his colleagues, given that he spent more than one season in college)
5. Andrew Wiggins (should play a lot on Minnesota and is a good defender, but his offense is still developing)

Sixth Man:
1. Taj Gibson
2. Greg Monroe (if the Pistons move him to the bench, which they should)
3. Isaiah Thomas (now a bench player on Phoenix, but he’ll still get plenty of minutes and score more than any other sixth man. This is a guy who averaged more than 20 points per game last year)
4. Jamal Crawford (last year’s winner, Crawford just keeps putting up numbers even as he gets deeper into his 30s)

Most Improved:
1. Reggie Jackson (will get more minutes with Durant injured, and quickly developed into a quality player last season. Is now the best player on the Thunder behind the big three)
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (we all know about the Greek Freak. He’s a beast)
3. Kawhi Leonard (this could be his breakout season. 2013 Anthony Davis-esque)
4. Tony Wroten (think he has a big year on a Philadelphia team that really really needs help)

1st team All-NBA:
G Stephen Curry
G John Wall
F LeBron James
F Anthony Davis
C Marc Gasol

2nd team:
G Russell Westbrook
G James Harden
F Kawhi Leonard
F Blake Griffin
C Joakim Noah

3rd team:
G Derrick Rose
G Dwyane Wade
F Carmelo Anthony
F LaMarcus Aldridge
C Al Jefferson

Consider that my awards post, because I’m not writing another one. I just don’t find picking them that enthralling, with the possible exception of the All-NBA teams, which require a bit more thought. I had to leave Chris Bosh and Kevin Love off, but don’t think I didn’t think about including them. Same goes for Chris Paul (again, I think injuries cost him a bunch of games this year), Goran Dragic, and Tony Parker. The moral of the story: there are a lot of very good NBA players.

Anyway, now it’s time to get to the stuff that really matters: standings predictions. I’ll start with the Eastern conference and then move out West to the conference that features more than five or six teams that actually want to and can win this year.

Eastern Conference:

1. Chicago Bulls (61-21): Surprise! I’m bullish on Chicago this year for a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, Derrick Rose is back, and this time I think he’s back for good. I don’t think he’ll be the same as he was in his MVP year, but he’ll be good enough. The Bulls also swap Carlos Boozer for Pau Gasol and add Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic to last year’s team. They are a great defensive team and very deep in the frontcourt, and I think they’ll pummel a defensively poor Cleveland team who will take a little while to gel.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (59-23): I think this will be nearly identical to the 2010-11 season (the first in the Big 3 era), when the Miami Heat struggled at first and ended up at 58-24, four games behind the 62-20 Bulls. This Cleveland team is arguably better than that Heat team was, though, which makes me less confident in my pick of 23 losses. My best guess is that either Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving misses some time due to injury and the Cavs end with 59 wins. The lack of big man depth is disconcerting, with brittle Anderson Varejao starting and nobody backing him up.

3. Washington Wizards (50-32): The Wizards look really good all around this season, to the extent that I’d peg them at 52 wins if not for Bradley Beal’s injury, which could keep him out months. The starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene, and Marcin Gortat is a perfect blend, while Otto Porter could provide a boost off the bench in his second season. This is a team that has potential to make the East a three team race and not a two team race.

4. Charlotte Hornets (47-35): I can’t believe I have Charlotte in the top four, but here we are. I really like this team, both because they have a very strong defense and because I like what they did in the offseason. They lost Josh McRoberts, an underrated playmaker at power forward, but they can replace him with Marvin Williams at the beginning of the season and then whichever of Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh realizes his potential first. I have high hopes for Zeller, a 2013 top-five pick. They also added Lance Stephenson and have the high-scoring combination of Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson returning alongside defensive stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and playmaker Gerald Henderson. This is a team with a lot of talent, and I think they get homecourt advantage in the first round.

5. Toronto Raptors (45-37): In this scenario, the Raptors would actually move into the top four by virtue of an Atlantic division championship, but I’m ranking the teams based on wins. This would be considered a step back for Toronto, and while I want them to improve on last year’s surprising season, I’m not sure they will. I don’t think Kyle Lowry will replicate the year he had last season and DeMar DeRozan also seems to have maxed out as a great scorer who gets to the line a lot but doesn’t really stretch the court. Jonas Valanciunas should have a big season, but I don’t think it’ll be enough for a 50-win season.

6. Atlanta Hawks (44-38): The Hawks are going to be better than people think this year. Remember, this is a team that made the playoffs last year even without star Al Horford, who was injured. When Horford was healthy, this team was the third best in the East behind just Miami and Indiana. Now, I’m not predicting more than 44 wins because I think trades could be forthcoming, but I really like the starting lineup of Jeff Teague (slasher), Kyle Korver (shooter), DeMarre Carroll (scrapper), Paul Millsap (averaged 18 and nine boards last year), and Horford (19 and eight). If they don’t make any moves, this Hawks team could be pretty good and might even make the second round of the playoffs.

7. Miami Heat (42-40): The Heat will obviously take a big step back following the departure of LeBron James, but I’m not sure many people have them falling as far as I do. That’s because I think people are looking at the “Big three” of Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and Chris Bosh, and they like what they’re seeing. In theory, I agree; those three are very talented and should be able to lead a team to the playoffs. But Wade and Deng are quickly becoming injury-prone, and Bosh hasn’t had a dominant season in the past five years. People are expecting him to return to his Raptors’ form, but he’s not in his mid-2os anymore. I’m skeptical that the three can stay healthy, and this season could easily turn sour if they don’t.

8. New York Knicks (39-43): The Knicks will somehow (somehow!) find their way into the playoffs this year. This isn’t a vote of confidence for Derek Fisher or the Knicks, but it is a vote of confidence for Carmelo Anthony. When I stacked the Knicks up with Brooklyn and Detroit, who I think will be the other two contenders for the eighth seed, I saw something in New York that I didn’t see in the others: a superstar. The Knicks also have enough expiring contracts to be a player in the trade market this winter. This is a possible location for Rondo, who would easily transform the Knicks into a top-six team in the East.

9. Detroit Pistons (37-45): This would constitute a big improvement on last season’s 29-win team, and I think they could improve even more if they make the right trade. It’s clear that Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond can’t play together. It’s still not clear why the Pistons signed Smith before last season, but that’s beside the point. Those three are all good players, and either Smith or Monroe should get traded. If the Pistons can get a guy like Rondo back, they’ll probably make the playoffs. If they end up keeping all three and starting Brandon Jennings at point guard, they’ll be the same dysfunctional mess they were last year. This team does have talent, though.

10. Brooklyn Nets (36-46): Meh. I don’t really see much in this Nets team, which is perhaps the reason I’m sticking them at 10th. Sure, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez is theoretically a good 1-2 punch, but Williams was bad last year and Lopez can’t stay healthy. I think this is also the year Joe Johnson takes a step back. I don’t really see a way this ends well.

11. Orlando Magic (28-54): After Brooklyn, there’s a group of five teams that simply doesn’t want to win yet. Orlando has some good young talent, but they don’t have a team identity and are thus basically left with a bunch of players that look good on their own but don’t mesh with their teammates. A 28-win season would actually be a five win improvement over last year, so I think this is a perfectly reasonable prediction.

12. Milwaukee Bucks (26-56): The Bucks could end up being slightly more watchable than people think. They have Jabari Parker and also should get bounce-back years from Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, OJ Mayo, and John Henson. Brandon Knight also returns with more help, and who could forget the Greek Freak, who can play all five positions and will be in the Most Improved conversation. They also have a new coach in Jason Kidd who likely has a chip on his shoulder. I almost talked myself into predicting more than 30 wins, but this is a team that won just 15 last year. I’m not going overboard.

13. Boston Celtics (23-59): If Rondo stays, this could be a 30-win team. I don’t think he stays, though, which means Boston is in all-out tank mode.

14. Indiana Pacers (19-63): This team just won’t be able to score. It’s that simple. I know Frank Vogel is a good coach, and I know they can probably have a half-decent defense, but they have no scorers. Last year’s team was pretty stagnant offensively, and that was a team with Paul George and Lance Stephenson. This year’s biggest playmakers are Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles. Wouldn’t be suprised to see David West get traded, either.

15. Philadelphia 76ers (12-70): This is a team that started Hollis Thompson, Tony Wroten, Chris Johnson, Nerlens Noel, and Henry Sims in their season opener. Their bench tonight consists of Malcolm Thomas, Brandon Davies, JaKarr Sampson, Alexey Shved, K.J. McDaniels, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Not good, and 12 wins might be a stretch.

Western Conference:

1. Los Angeles Clippers (58-24): It’s unlikely that it will take just 58 wins to win the West, but the Kevin Durant injury made it a lot more likely. I acknowledge that it’ll probably take at least 60 wins, but either way I think the Clippers are going to end on top. With Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and improved depth behind them, this to me is the best team in the conference talent wise. The wing defense is suspect, but that’s a position that’s easily addressable via trade. Expect the Clippers to be active in the trade market and get a guy that can help them in their push for first.

2. San Antonio Spurs (57-25): I’m nervous to push the Spurs’ win total this far down from last season’s 62, because all the arguments against the Spurs are the same ones that were used last season. The star players will get rested, but they were last season, too. Everyone’s back from the championship team, with the Spurs counting on a breakout season from Kawhi Leonard that I think is coming (see above). I’m confident that the Spurs can win at least 57.

3. Golden State Warriors (56-26): I said it earlier in this post, and I’ll say it again: I think the Warriors are going to take a big step forward this year. Going from 51 to 56 wins is pretty big, but moving from sixth to third in the conference is even bigger. The defense has already proven that it’s pretty darn good, and new coach Steve Kerr should help the Splash Bros led offense improve on last year’s relatively disappointing numbers.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (54-28): If Kevin Durant hadn’t gotten injured, I would have had the Thunder finishing with 59 wins, as many games as they won last season. The KD injury obviously hurts, though, and in an unforgiving conference I fear it could cost them homecourt advantage. I have enough faith in Russell Westbrook to give the Thunder 54 wins, but they certainly didn’t help themselves this offseason when their biggest addition was Anthony Morrow. They are a Westbrook or Serge Ibaka injury away from the lottery.

5. Dallas Mavericks (54-28): I really like the Mavs’ roster. Think of it this way: it’s a 49-33 team with Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons added to the lineup and a revamped point-guard rotation of Raymond Felton, Jameer Nelson, and Devon Harris. Parsons himself is probably worth three wins, so 54 might even be conservative. The Mavericks look like a force to be reckoned with, which is incredible given that we thought the era was over after the Mavs failed to sign or trade for either Deron Williams or Dwight Howard before the 2012 or 2013 seasons.

6. Houston Rockets (52-30): The Rockets were all set to sign Chris Bosh this offseason. In fact, they were so sure they’d get Bosh that they let Chandler Parsons walk- to their Texas rivals, no less. But Bosh chose to stay with Miami and the Rockets took their consolation prize… Trevor Ariza. Ariza’s not bad, but he’s a step down from Parsons and certainly from Bosh. Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik are also gone, so this team is clearly worse than last season’s. This team should still be fine with James Harden and Dwight Howard healthy, but an injury to either would be devastating.

7. Memphis Grizzlies (50-32): It won’t be pretty, but the Grizzlies are likely going to win 50 games and make the playoffs again. They have a defense that is neck and neck with Chicago’s for the best in basketball. They have a frontcourt duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol that perfectly complements the defense-first styles of Mike Conley and Tony Allen. A little more scoring would be nice, but it’s not Memphis’s style.

8. Portland Trailblazers (48-34): The Trailblazers should make it back to the playoffs, but barely. They rely more heavily on their starting lineup than any other team, so you should expect Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Robin Lopez to play just as much as they did last year. And those five are unlikely to be as healthy as they were last year. Unless we see another huge step up from one of the starters, and that’s probably too much to ask for, regression is probably likely.

9. New Orleans Pelicans (45-37): This is the next step for NoLa. I don’t think they make the playoffs this year, but they are well on their way to becoming a consistent playoff team. A winning season must come first.

10. Phoenix Suns (43-39): I don’t see a repeat season for the Suns, who came shockingly close to a playoff spot last season. They are still a good team, but there are just too many good teams in this conference. Why can’t we move some of these teams into the Eastern conference so we can see them in the playoffs instead of teams like the Knicks, Hawks, and Heat?

11. Denver Nuggets (41-41): The Nuggets should be frisky this season, which would be a huge improvement over last year’s injury prone 36-46 team that was a major disappointment. They could even be a darkhorse playoff pick, but they don’t have the star power to make it in this conference. They’re always a tough team to beat in Denver, and I think they could win 28 home games. It’ll be tougher to find wins on the road, though.

12. Sacramento Kings (30-52): The Kings have some pieces, but I didn’t like what they did in the offseason. Instead of keeping Isaiah Thomas, they signed Darren Collison, who’s been on five teams in his young career. Instead of drafting Elfrid Payton, they went with Nik Stauskas just a year after they drafted another two-guard, Ben McLemore. DeMarcus Cousins is a beast, but he’s not exactly the ideal team leader. It’s a talented team, but one with too many question marks.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves (26-56): Even if they haven’t realized it yet, the Timberwolves are tanking this season. Yes, they have some solid veteran players, led by Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Nikola Pekovic. In the East, they might even challenge for a playoff spot. They aren’t in the East, though, and they are going to need more than Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to kick-start their rebuild. A top-five pick would help.

14. Los Angeles Lakers (25-57): The Julius Randle injury (he broke his leg in the season opener and is out for the season) is a killer. Randle wouldn’t have helped the Lakers make the playoffs this year, but he was their bright young talent. Now, his flame is extinguished for this season, and all that’s left is Kobe Bryant and a bunch of stat-chasers who can’t play defense for their lives. This isn’t the way Kobe saw himself ending his career.

15. Utah Jazz (23-59): Sort of like the Magic, this team has a bunch of young players but isn’t there yet. Another top pick is forthcoming.


Week 8 Picks

Posted: 10/26/2014 by levcohen in Football

I write this post as my early game prediction (Falcons-Lions) starts looking worse than worse; as I start it, it’s 21-3 Falcons. Keep that in mind as I write these predictions and take them with a grain of salt. (Update: the Lions ended up winning 22-21, so I wasn’t so stupid). While next week there are six more teams on BYE, this week just two teams are off for the third consecutive week, which means there will be plenty of action. Besides the Giants and 49ers (and the Broncos, Chargers, Redskins, and Cowboys, all of whom played Thursday or will play tomorrow night), every team is playing this week. The best game? Before the year started, Green Bay-New Orleans would have been a marquee matchup, but with the Saints’ struggles it might not even be one of the best games in the week. Some games to pay attention to this week include Philadelphia-Arizona (a matchup of 5-1 teams), Baltimore-Cincy, and Indy-Pittsburgh. Let’s get to the picks, which will be a little hurried today since I’m in a rush.
BYE teams: 49ers (4-3), Giants (3-4)
*= upset pick

St. Louis Rams (2-4, 2-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-3, 4-2):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 7.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: The Chiefs are clearly the better team, but I think the Rams have the ability to keep this game close. This has 23-20 written all over it, so I’ll pick the Chiefs to win 23-20.
Chiefs cover

Houston Texans (3-4, 4-3) at Tennessee Titans (2-5, 2-4-1):
Spread: Texans favored by 3.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: I realize I’m picking a rookie quarterback in his first career game against J.J. Watt. This pick is more about Ryan Fitzpatrick playing as a road favorite than it is about Zach Mettenberger and Watt. Titans win 23-17… Actually, I just can’t pick Mettenberger to win this game against Watt and the Texans’ D, even at home. I’ll take the Texans to win 24-23 with the Titans covering.
Titans cover

Minnesota Vikings (2-5, 3-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5, 2-4):*
Spread: Buccaneers favored by 2.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: This is a classic game between two bad teams that can conceivably end a number of different ways. Could I see the Buccaneers blowing the Vikings out at home with the aid of two weeks off? Sure I could. I just think it’s less likely than the better team- Minnesota- against a Bucs team that has done nothing at home this year. Vikings win 26-21 in Teddy Bridgewater’s coming out party.
Vikings cover

Seattle Seahawks (3-3, 3-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-3-1, 4-3):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 6
Over/under: 45
My prediction: The spread really shouldn’t be 6. The Seahawks aren’t a good road team, and the Panthers are a decent if not playoff-worthy team. It should probably be closer to a pick’em than it is to a touchdown. With all that said, I’m rolling with the Seahawks again. I just can’t give up on them yet, so I’ll pick Seattle to win 31-17.
Seahawks cover

Baltimore Ravens (5-2, 4-2-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-2-1, 3-3):*
Spread: Ravens favored by 2.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Yes, the Ravens have looked really good this year, and yes, the Bengals have struggled of late. But remember when Cincinnati was 3-0 and a consensus top-5 team? I’m not so sure they can’t be that team, as long as they get their defense rolling and as long as Giovani Bernard can get the ground game going. At home here, I think the Bengals bounce back against a Baltimore team that is traditionally much better at home than they are on the road. Either way, it’s a pivotal AFC North battle. If the Ravens win, they look like they’ll be well on their way to winning the division. A Bengals win would be their second over Baltimore and would haul them back into the race. I like the Bengals 24-13 as their defense finally turns it around.
Bengals cover

Miami Dolphins (3-3, 3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6, 2-5):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 6.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: This is another game in which the spread is just too high. The Dolphins are playing well since their week five BYE as they were close to a win over Green Bay before destroying the Bears in Chicago. I just think this is going to be a letdown for the Dolphins, who have to play the Chargers next week. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have covered twice in a row and are steadily improving. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jaguars win this game straight up, but either way they should have enough to cover. Dolphins win 17-13.
Jaguars cover

Chicago Bears (3-4, 3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2, 3-4):*
Spread: Patriots favored by 5.5
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: This has upset written all over it. The Bears are coming off an embarrassing home loss but normally play better on the road, while the Patriots are seemingly en route to another easy AFC East division championship. New England is also pretty banged up right now, while the Bears’ offense is in must-perform territory after reportedly having some issues in the locker room after last week’s loss. I like the Bears 26-24 in an upset.
Bears cover

Buffalo Bills (4-3, 3-4) at New York Jets (1-6, 1-5-1):
Spread: Jets favored by 3
Over/under: 40
My prediction: People clearly aren’t buying the Bills’ 4-3 record, and neither am I. I actually think the Jets have played better of late, and Percy Harvin will play his first game with his new team. I really don’t see the Jets going to 1-7 here and the Bills will take a rightful loss. Jets win 20-13.
Jets cover

Philadelphia Eagles (5-1, 4-2) at Arizona Cardinals (5-1, 4-2):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 1
Over/under: 48
My prediction: The Cardinals should really be favored by more than one. Are they a better team than the Eagles? They sure have looked like it so far this season, and they’re playing at home, where they’ve had great success since Bruce Arians became head coach last season. It should be close, but I like the Cardinals by a touchdown. 30-23.
Cardinals cover

Oakland Raiders (0-6, 3-3) at Cleveland Browns (3-3, 3-1-2):
Spread: Browns favored by 6.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: In another game between bad games, the Browns should win but the Raiders have shown an ability to keep games close (hence their three covers and zero wins). I like the Browns 21-17.
Raiders cover

Indianapolis Colts (5-2, 6-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3, 3-4):
Spread: Colts favored by 4
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: The Colts have looked really, really good this season so I’m tempted to take them in a blowout. At the same time, they’ve won five in a row and could easily lose focus. I’ll take Indy because I think they are the superior team, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers pull off the win here. Colts win 27-24.
Steelers cover

Green Bay Packers (5-2, 4-2-1) at New Orleans Saints (2-4, 2-4):*
Spread: Saints favored by 2.5
Over/under: 54.5
My prediction: The Saints’ homefield advantage is getting way overrated here. How are they favored against a clearly superior Green Bay team? What would the spread be if this game was in Green Bay? Now, usually when there’s a spread that seems off, it ends up coming back to bite you, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints win this one. The Packers are the better team, though, and I’m more confident in picking them. Packers win 35-31.
Packers cover

Washington Redskins (2-5, 2-5) at Dallas Cowboys (6-1, 5-2):- Lock
Spread: Cowboys favored by 10
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: I’m locking this because there’s simply no other game to lock, but I still don’t think the Cowboys deserve to be 10 point favorites. That’s not to say they haven’t looked great this year, because they have. All signs point to a blowout, but I don’t think it will happen. Cowboys win 28-24.
Cowboys cover

Upset picks:
Vikings over Buccaneers
Bengals over Ravens
Bears over Patriots
Packers over Saints

Lock of the week:
Cowboys over Redskins

Lions-Falcons Prediction

Posted: 10/25/2014 by levcohen in Football

This is a weird post. Then again, It’s not any weirder than a 9:30 AM EST football game. That’s what we’re getting tomorrow with Detroit-Atlanta in London, and because I don’t want to have to wake up early to do my whole post just because of that early game, I’m going to do it now. I get why the NFL put this game at 9:30, and I think it’ll be pretty fun. Just as the English Premier League has succeeded in the weekend AM hours in the US, so should this game. People like watching TV when they wake up and as they eat breakfast, especially on the weekend. And the NFL basically is giving people a quadruple-header; they can watch from 9:30 basically straight through to midnight. It’s heaven for fantasy football owners and hell for people who actually want to get stuff done. Anyway, on to the game itself.

You probably know by now how I feel about the Falcons. When people were raving about them in the preseason and after their rampage on Thursday Night Football over the Buccaneers, I wasn’t convinced, picking them to finish with a losing record before the season. That’s looking good right now, as the Falcons are 2-5 thanks mostly to their hurt offensive line and Swiss cheese defense. Then again, the Falcons are still in the playoff hunt, thanks mostly to their lackluster division. The Panthers lead at just 3-3-1, so the Falcons are just a game and a half out. In any other division, a 2-5 team would be at least three games out. Any way you slice it, though, this is a must-win game for Atlanta, which is pretty depressing given the offensive skill-position talent they have. It’s pretty hard to be a terrible football team when you have Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on your team, but having absolutely nothing else would do it.

On the other side, there’s the Detroit Lions. I was wrong about this team in the preseason, as I thought that new coach Jim Caldwell would be ineffective and an average defense wouldn’t be able to carry a team with a defense that was also pretty much average. In fact, I picked them to finish last in the NFC North. Instead, they’re 5-2 and doing very un-Lion like things. In the past, they blew games late and could never make the pivotal stop. This year, they have the best defense in football and pulled off an improbably comeback against Drew Brees and the Saints last week, culminating in a stop on the Saints’ last drive. They can’t take this game off though, as the Packers have matched them win for win and are currently tied at the top of the NFC North standings. Given that there are two one-loss NFC East teams and that there’s still a likelihood that a wild card team will come out of the West, there might not be a spot for the second place team in this division. These are the games the Lions have lost in the past, and, while they’d still be in the playoff mix at 5-3, this is a game they should win. They’re going to have to lean on their defense again, as Calvin Johnson will be limited at best and Reggie Bush is unlikely to play. Matthew Stafford has shown time and time again that he goes as Calvin goes, so this could be a poor game for him, even against Atlanta’s porous defense.

Detroit Lions (5-2, 4-3) vs. Atlanta Falcons (2-5, 2-5) in London:
Spread: Lions favored by 3.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: I was tempted to pick Atlanta here if only because I trust Matt Ryan more than I trust Matthew Stafford and the Lions are due for a letdown, but that Falcons’ o-line is really bad and the Lions can really get after the passer, so Ryan could get banged up here. I like the Lions 24-17.
Lions cover

This week’s Thursday Night Football game should be a good one: it’s 5-2 San Diego in Denver to face the 5-1 Broncos. I’d normally assume that a primetime game in Denver with Peyton Manning at quarterback would likely be a blowout, but I don’t think it will be here. The Chargers are a pretty good team themselves, and they’ve always caused Manning trouble, posting a respectable 6-7 record against the HOF-to be quarterback. This team, led by Philip Rivers, normally has the ball for a majority of the game (last week was the exception), and should keep Manning off the field enough to keep the game close.

San Diego Chargers (5-2, 5-2) at Denver Broncos (5-1, 3-3):
Spread: Broncos favored by 9
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: I like the Broncos in this one 30-23.
Chargers cover

It wasn’t until I started writing this post that I realized that I never reviewed week seven in the NFL. I’m going to do that now, albeit in a more limited fashion. I’ll list my five big takeaways of the week before recapping how I personally did with my picks. First, the takeaways:

  • The Baltimore Ravens are an elite team. I picked them to finish third in the AFC North before the season, but they’ve looked like not only the best team in the North but the third best in the entire AFC behind Denver and Indianapolis. The 29-7 win over the Falcons was Baltimore’s third blowout win in four games after 38-10 and 48-17 wins over the Panthers and Buccaneers. Their two losses, meanwhile, have come against the Bengals and Colts by a touchdown each. They are the AFC North favorite and have a good shot at a first round BYE.
  • The NFC South is really, really bad. This didn’t come out of the blue, because we knew they were bad before last week, but this bad? Besides the Falcons’ aforementioned loss, the Saints also imploded late against the Lions while the Panthers were blown out 38-17 by the Packers. The worst team in the division (arguably), the Bucs, had a BYE. This division now has a cumulative out-of-division record of 4-13. That’s a .235 win percentage, which is less than stellar. It should improve (could it get worse?), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 7-9 division winner (or 7-8-1 in the case of the Panthers).
  • The Colts are also an elite team. I think this is the week where the three best teams in the AFC- Denver, Indy, Baltimore- separated themselves while teams like New England, San Diego, and Cincinnati struggled. The Colts’ offense has been good, but we knew it would be heading into the year. The bigger surprise? The defense, which has the best third-down defense in football even sans-Robert Mathis. They’ve now won five in a row after starting the season 0-2. Maybe Andrew Luck should have been the one saying R-E-L-A-X, not Aaron Rodgers. Then again, the Packers are 4-0 since Rodgers’s proclamation, so that has worked out well also.
  • The NFC West is going to come down to the wire. I know the Cardinals are two games up in the loss column at 5-1, but I still wouldn’t consider them favorites to win the West. The 49ers are 4-3 despite a rash of injuries, but they aren’t favorites either, and I’ve been low on San Fran since before the season started. Does that mean I’m still favoring the team that has lost back to back games against the Cowboys and RAMS? Yes, it does. I could still see the Seahawks going 11-5 or 12-4 despite their “slow” 3-3 start. Remember, they’ve played the toughest schedule in football to this point, and it gets easier. This team is still a young one with a lot of talent, so although I don’t think they are the best team in football anymore, I do think they’ll win this division. It’s pretty much a dead heat between they and the Cardinals, though. Both should make the playoffs.
  • The NFC North race is looking like a good one. With the loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, the Bears are now 3-4 and two games out. That means this race is likely going to come down to the 5-2 Packers and Lions. The Packers look like the better team and have been scorching of late, but the Lions do have a head-to-head advantage. The difference could be week 17, when the Lions travel to Green Bay. A matchup between Detroit’s vicious and fantastic defense and Aaron Rodgers to decide the division would be pretty fun.

My upset picks went 1-3 (10-15 on the season), and two of those losses (Tennessee and Houston) were pretty painful. Meanwhile, I lost my lock for the second time this year (Seattle), moving to 6-2 on the year.

9-6 straight up.. 66-39-1 total
8-7 against the spread.. 51-53-1 total
6-8-1 over/under.. 41-63-2 total


A Quick World Series Prediction

Posted: 10/21/2014 by levcohen in Baseball

I’m going to make this quick, both because it’s late and because there’s already been enough coverage of the matchups, storylines, and everything else. I’ve picked against the Royals in the playoffs before (every time, to be exact) and I’m going to pick against them again here. The Giants just look too good right now, with a bullpen that nearly matches Kansas City’s and an offense that far exceeds the Royals’ underperforming offense. Madison Bumgarner gives the team a huge advantage every time he steps on the mound, and I think the Giants win both games he starts en route to a series win. It’s been a fun ride for Kansas City, but I think it ends just short of winning silverware. The Giants make it three straight even-year championships with a win in six games. Either way, it’s fun that both of these teams are wild card teams, which provides ample evidence against the idea that wild card teams are at a huge disadvantage because they have to play an extra game and likely get one fewer game out of their ace in the LDS.

Week Seven Picks

Posted: 10/19/2014 by levcohen in Football

It’s another busy week in the NFL, with just two teams (the Eagles and Buccaneers) out of action. The theme of this week has to be spreads between 3.5 and 6.5, as only one game has a spread larger than 6.5 with just a few under 3.5. That generally means Vegas doesn’t really know what to do with the games and whether to put them over or under the key points of -7 (touchdown favorite) and -3 (field goal favorite). In fact, the only spread less than a field goal is one that probably shouldn’t be, with the overrated Saints traveling to face the stingy Lions. It’s also a week without many marquee matchups, with the two best games being Cincinnati-Indianapolis and San Francisco-Denver. But in a week with this many moderate favorites, there are bound to be some upsets. And this might even be the week that either (or both?) winless teams win their first games; both have winnable home games in week seven.

Atlanta Falcons (2-4, 2-4) at Baltimore Ravens (4-2, 3-2-1):
Spread: Ravens favored by 6.5
Over/under: 50
My prediction: The Ravens have a much bigger homefield advantage than people realize, and have looked a lot better than people thought they might (their +67 point differential is second best in football). On the other hand, the Falcons have a terrible defense that has allowed more points per game than any team other than the putrid Jaguars and Buccaneers. The Falcons will have a chance in this game because they have a good passing attack, but I don’t like their chances against a resurgent Baltimore defense and a hot Joe Flacco. The Ravens could have a letdown with a big game in Cincinnati next week, but I’ll put my faith in John Harbaugh and Co. Ravens win 30-23.
Ravens cover

Tennessee Titans (2-4, 1-4-1) at Washington Redskins (1-5, 2-4):*
Spread: Redskins favored by 5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: I have little confidence in Tennessee. I have less in Washington. Titans win 24-20.
Titans cover

Seattle Seahawks (3-2, 3-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-4, 1-4):- Lock of the week
Spread: Seahawks favored by 7
Over/under: 43
My prediction: This feels like it’s going to be a blowout. The Seahawks are coming off a home loss, and the last time they lost at home they went on to beat the Rams 27-9 in a game that wasn’t even that close. This feels like it should be more of the same, and I’m confident enough in a Seattle bounceback to make this my lock. Seahawks win 30-10.
Seahawks cover

Cleveland Browns (3-2, 3-0-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6, 1-5):*
Spread: Browns favored by 4
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I’m back on the Jaguars’ bandwagon! Ok, I’m really not, but they are coming off a close loss in Tennessee and should be able to win this home game against a Browns team that is coming off a huge blowout win over the Steelers. This just feels like a game the Browns will lose. It should be close, but I like the Jaguars 23-17.
Jaguars cover

Cincinnati Bengals (3-1-1, 3-2) at Indianapolis Colts (4-2, 5-1):
Spread: Colts favored by 3
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: The Bengals haven’t shown much in their past two games, and have another tough game in Indy without star receiver A.J. Green. Meanwhile, the Colts have the best offense in football, with more points than any other team in football (including the Patriots, who have played an extra game). This should be a close game, but I’ll take Andrew Luck over Andy Dalton in a close game any day of the week. Colts win 31-27.
Colts cover

Minnesota Vikings (2-4, 2-4) at Buffalo Bills (3-3, 3-3):
Spread: Bills favored by 6
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: I understand why the Vikings are six point underdogs; after their horrific 17-3 home loss to the Lions, it’s pretty hard to pick Minnesota. That’s why I’m not picking them to win this game, although I almost did. They should be able to cover this inflated spread, though, because the Bills aren’t all that good. In a game dominated by defenses, the Bills will win this one 17-14.
Vikings cover

Miami Dolphins (2-3, 2-3) at Chicago Bears (3-3, 3-3):
Spread: Bears favored by 3.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: The Bears are too inconsistent for me to pick them on a game to game basis. They are also 0-2 at home, with a disappointing loss to the Bills and a blowout at the hands of the Packers. I will pick them to win this one, but it’s going to be close. The Dolphins are coming off a tough last second loss against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers and should be able to keep this game fairly close. I’ll pick the Bears… but barely. 27-26 win, which would be the second straight heart-breaker for the Dolphins.
Dolphins cover

New Orleans Saints (2-3, 1-4) at Detroit Lions (4-2, 4-2):
Spread: Lions favored by 1.5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: This is a tough one. If I was going just on performance to date, the Lions would be the easy pick. It’s not that simple, though, as the Saints are coming off a BYE and have an elite quarterback in Drew Brees while the Lions are missing their best player, Calvin Johnson. Still, the Saints have been terrible on the road, and the Lions have been terrific defensively. I think the Lions’ D is going to be the best unit on the field today and that will be the difference in a 23-17 Lions win.
Lions cover

Carolina Panthers (3-2-1, 4-2) at Green Bay Packers (4-2, 3-2-1):
Spread: Packers favored by 6.5
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: The Packers are very good at home, especially with Aaron Rodgers. That’s why I’m going to pick them to win and cover a 6.5 point spread. This wasn’t an easy choice, though, because Carolina’s offense woke up against the Bengals last week in the 37-37 tie. Cam Newton looked terrific, and I think he’ll be able to do some damage against Green Bay’s defense. Rodgers will be too much in the end, though. Packers win 30-23.
Packers cover

Kansas City Chiefs (2-3, 3-2) at San Diego Chargers (5-1, 5-1):
Spread: Chargers favored by 3
Over/under: 45
My prediction: I’m surprised the spread in this game is only 3. Yes, the Chiefs are coming off a BYE, and yes, Andy Reid has historically been very good coming off a BYE. But the Chargers have been great- and I mean great- at home this year, with wins of 30-21 over Seattle, 33-14 over Jacksonville, and 31-0 over the Jets. I don’t think they’re going to win this game by that 20 point home average, but they should be favored by more than three. They do have the lead MVP candidate in Philip Rivers, after all. Chargers win 27-20.
Chargers cover

Arizona Cardinals (4-1, 3-2) at Oakland Raiders (0-5, 3-2):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 3.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: The Raiders have been competitive against good teams, with a 16-9 loss to the Patriots and a 31-28 loss to the Chargers. I don’t think they’ll have that same success against the Cardinals, though, because Arizona has been consistently good- their only loss was in Denver in a game third string quarterback Logan Thomas played the majority of. This is a dangerous game for the Cardinals because they have a tough game against the Eagles next week and this could be a trap game. I’ll pick the better team in Arizona, though. Cardinals 21-16.
Cardinals cover

New York Giants (3-3, 3-3) at Dallas Cowboys (5-1, 4-2):*
Spread: Cowboys favored by 5.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: This game has upset written all over it. The Cowboys are coming off a huge win in Seattle, while the Giants just got fleeced by the Eagles. The Cowboys are being anointed the best team in football, while people are already writing obituaries about the 3-3 Giants, who lost top receiver Victor Cruz to an upsetting knee injury last week. And I’m picking the Giants to win 24-20.
Giants cover

San Francisco 49ers (4-2, 4-2) at Denver Broncos (4-1, 2-3):
Spread: Broncos favored by 6.5
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: I could see this game going in a lot of different directions. This could easily turn into a blowout victory for the Broncos, or it could turn into a close game. That really depends on whether the 49ers can run the ball and keep Denver’s offense off the field. If they can, they should be able to keep it close, but if not, it could easily become a blowout. I don’t think the 49ers can stop Peyton Manning and Denver’s passing offense, but I do think their offense will have some success. I like the Broncos 24-20 with the 49ers covering the spread.
49ers cover

Houston Texans (3-3, 4-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3, 2-4):*
Spread: Steelers favored by 3
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Ew. This seems like a toss-up to me between two teams that aren’t good or bad enough to matter. I just feel a bit more confident in Houston than I do in Pittsburgh at this point, and a possible Jadeveon Clowney return could make a big impact. The Texans will basically be coming off a BYE, with a Thursday game followed 11 days later by a Monday night game. I like the Texans 26-20.
Texans cover

Upset picks:
Titans over Redskins
Texans over Steelers
Giants over Cowboys
Jaguars over Browns

Lock of the week:
Seahawks over Rams