Archive for September, 2015

Week 3 Predictions

Posted: 09/27/2015 by levcohen in Football

This is probably the worst slate of games we’ve had so far in the NFL season, and it isn’t really close. As evidenced by the three double-digit spreads (the first three of the season), there look to be a few blowouts in the horizon, and the only game between 2-0 teams comes between a lucky Falcons squad and a banged-up Cowboys team. The game of the week is probably Ravens-Bengals, both because it is a divisional rivalry and because the Ravens are at risk of falling to 0-3 for the first time in their history. That’s certainly the headline 1:00 game, and none of the later games really intrigue me, although Chiefs-Packers could turn into a heck of a Monday Night Football game if Kansas City’s defense shows up. Anyway, I think the theme of this week might be a return to normalcy; after we saw upsets galore last week, the favorites should turn it back around today.

*= upset pick

Atlanta Falcons (2-0, 2-0 ATS) at Dallas Cowboys (2-0, 1-1):
Spread: Falcons favored by 1
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: With Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys would probably be five or six point favorites in this game and the total would be over 50. But both studs are out, which means Dallas has to turn to Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys are going to have to get their running game going if they want to have any semblance of an offense against an improved Falcons defense, and I’m not sure it’s going to happen. I am sure that Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are going to show up, which is enough to make me pick the Falcons to surprisingly move to 3-0. Falcons win 23-16.
Falcons cover
Under

Indianapolis Colts (0-2, 0-2) at Tennessee Titans (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Colts favored by 3.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: Taking a bunch of road favorites isn’t usually a good idea, but I’m picking two right off the bat here. I don’t really think Tennessee has a great homefield advantage, and now is when Andrew Luck and the Colts are going to get things going. Colts win 31-17.
Colts cover
Over

Oakland Raiders (1-1, 1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1, 1-1):*
Spread: Browns favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: You know how I said taking road teams isn’t the best idea? Well, that doesn’t apply when the home team is starting Josh McCown at quarterback. Now, I’m already 0-2 on picking the Raiders, but I do believe in their offense. Everything I said about them when I picked them to beat Cincinnati in week one now applies after they hung 37 points on the Ravens. Raiders win 27-20.
Raiders cover
Over

Cincinnati Bengals (2-0, 2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Ravens favored by 2.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: The Ravens are 0-2 and just lost to the Raiders. I’m not panicking, but that’s not a great start. On the other hand, they are traditionally great at home and get their first home game of the season here. Meanwhile, the Bengals are usually poor on the road and need this game far less than Baltimore does. Add the fact that I think the Ravens are the better team and this becomes an easy pick. Ravens win 27-14.
Ravens cover
Under

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1, 1-1) at New England Patriots (2-0, 1-1):- Lock
Spread: Patriots favored by 14
Over/under: 49
My prediction: I don’t normally like taking 14 point favorites, but the Patriots are different in that they actively try to run up the score. The Jaguars don’t stand a chance. Hence the lock. Patriots win 37-14.
Patriots cover
Over

New Orleans Saints (0-2, 0-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Panthers favored by 10
Over/under: 43
My prediction: I don’t like the Saints minus Drew Brees. At all. They’re probably the worst team in football. I also don’t think the Panthers are good enough to be a 10 point home favorite against anyone, so I reluctantly have to take the points and Luke McCown (somehow, there’s a McCown who’s worse than Josh). Panthers win 24-17.
Saints cover
Under

Philadelphia Eagles (0-2, 0-2) at New York Jets (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Jets favored by 1.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: The Eagles are the biggest enigma in the NFL. They’ve played three terrible halves and one great one, and while at times they look like the Super Bowl contender they were made out to be, they usually look like a team that deserves to be 0-2. While I’m still optimistic about their long-term future, I can’t pick them against a Jets team that’s rolling right now. Jets win 23-20.
Jets cover
Under

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1, 1-1) at Houston Texans (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Texans favored by 6.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: I actually think these teams are very even, and thought for a while about picking the Bucs in an upset. But I still have some confidence in Houston’s defense, which is the only one of the four units in this game I trust. The Texans are going to have a tough time scoring again without Arian Foster, but their defense will lead them to a win in a close game. Texans win 20-17.
Buccaneers cover
Under

San Diego Chargers (1-1, 1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Vikings favored by 1
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: The Vikings are one of the teams I’ve hitched my wagon to this season, and I’m going to continue to do that here. I expect Adrian Peterson to run rampant against the Chargers again after putting up an NFL-record 297 yards on the ground the last time he played San Diego. The Chargers should still be a decent team, but not a good enough one to beat a solid Vikings team on the road. Vikings win 23-17.
Vikings cover
Under

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1, 2-0) at St. Louis Rams (1-1, 1-1):*
Spread: Steelers favored by 1
Over/under: 49
My prediction: I know I locked the Rams up last week and watched them lose to the Redskins. But I’m still pretty confident in their prospects this season, and this is a very good matchup for them. Their offense should get going against Pittsburgh’s poor defense, while their front seven could stifle Le’Veon Bell in his return to action and pressure Big Ben into making at least a few mistakes. Rams win 26-20.
Rams cover
Under

San Francisco 49ers (1-1, 1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 6.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: This is a classic “public pumps the spread up too high because one team is playing over their heads” game. The Cardinals have been the best team in football this year, and people have noticed, which helps explain why the line is inching towards seven and 74% of wagerers are still betting on the Cards. And you know what? I don’t care. I really like this Arizona team, and I’m pessimistic about the 49ers, so I’m going to take the Cardinals while acknowledging that the spread is too high. Cardinals win 34-21.
Cardinals cover
Over

Buffalo Bills (1-1, 1-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-1, 1-1):*
Spread: Dolphins favored by 2
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: This is a total coin-flip game. The Bills look like the better team so far this season, as they have a positive point differential despite opening the season against Indianapolis and New England. Tyrod Taylor isn’t a great quarterback, but he’s serviceable, and he should be helped by a slowly improving LeSean McCoy, who’s coming off of a hamstring injury, and a defense that should get better now that it’s not facing Andrew Luck or Tom Brady. The Dolphins, on the other hand, have looked very unconvincing so far this season, barely beating the Redskins before falling to the Jaguars. I’ll take the team I trust more, and that’s Buffalo. Bills win 23-13.
Bills cover
Under

Chicago Bears (0-2, 0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 14.5
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: The Bears were already in for a rough game here, but now they are without quarterback Jay Cutler and top pass catcher Alshon Jeffery. What are the odds that they even hit double digits in Seattle with Jimmy Clausen at their quarterback? The Seahawks are a very flawed team right now, though, which makes me nervous to pick them given that they are favored by so much. Still, Jimmy Clausen. In Seattle. Seahawks win 26-7.
Seahawks cover
Under

Denver Broncos (2-0, 2-0) at Detroit Lions (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Broncos favored by 3
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I don’t think it’s too soon to call this a must-win game for the Lions, who are already two games behind the dominant Packers. Unfortunately, banged-up quarterback Matthew Stafford has to compete against the best defense in football. The Broncos have allowed just 487 yards across two games, and they also have seven sacks and two defensive touchdowns while getting consistent pressure on both Joe Flacco and Alex Smith. I could see another implosion from Stafford in prime time, while this could be the breakout week for Denver’s offense. Broncos win 27-20.
Broncos cover
Over

Kansas City Chiefs (1-1, 1-1) at Green Bay Packers (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Packers favored by 6.5
Over/under: 49
My prediction: As I hinted at before, I think this could be a lot closer than people expect. The Chiefs are a good team, and they have some of the elements necessary to keep a game with the Packers close. But this is Lambeau Field, Aaron Rodgers, and Monday Night Football. No way I’m picking the Chiefs. Packers win 28-24.
Chiefs cover
Over

Upset picks:
Bills over Dolphins
Rams over Steelers
Raiders over Browns

Lock of the week:
Patriots over Jaguars

I feel like this is a weirdly exciting year for award voting. In only one of the four major award races (both MVP races and both Cy Young’s) is the victor already clearly decided. Bryce Harper has a clear lead in the NL MVP race, and given his combination of geek-stats, traditional stats, and name cache, he’s not going to relinquish that lead. But the Cy Young race is a three-horse race, with Zack Greinke (18-3, 1.65 ERA, 5.5 Fangraphs WAR), Jake Arrieta (20-6, 1.88 ERA, 6.7 fWAR), and Clayton Kershaw (15-7, 2.25 ERA, 7.9 WAR) all boasting different strengths. And over in the AL, I think David Price is the likely winner, but nobody has been dominant. But today I’m going to write about the other race in the American League, the two-horse one between the established Mike Trout and the upstart (kind of?) Josh Donaldson.

It’s kind of weird to call a 24-year old the established guy in an MVP race, but that’s where we are with Trout. For the fourth consecutive year, he’s going to finish first or second in the MVP race. In that time, he has posted 37 WAR; Andrew McCutchen is second at 27.9. He’s most similar to Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Ken Griffey at the same age, and he’s been better than all of them. But this post isn’t about tooting Trout’s horn; we all know how great he is. This is about showing why he, and not Donaldson, the player with just the slightest bit more WAR, deserves the award this year. It starts with the fact that Trout has totally and completely carried a very flawed Angels team to relevance, to the point that they are within a game of a playoff spot as we enter the final week-and-change of the season. The Angels are ranked 20th in overall offensive value added per Fangraphs, but they’d be at least five spots lower without Trout. This is a team that, in the most important part of the season, is starting players like C.J. Cron, Carlos Perez, and Taylor Featherston. The player who was supposed to give Trout the most support is Albert “$240 million” Pujols, and Pujols has only been three runs above average. He has 37 homers, but he’s also hitting just .239 and has a .302 OBP. In September, when the Angels have needed him the most, Pujols is hitting .173 with a .590 OPS. And it’s not like anyone else has really stepped up. Besides Trout, no other Angel who has at least 50 plate appearances (there are 19 in total) has an OBP above .321. And you wonder why Trout has only driven in 88 runs, while Donaldson’s at 121.

So Trout has been given an enormous burden, thanks to the ineptitude of the front office to put a good team around him. How has he dealt with the pressure/focus? Well, after a swoon from the middle of August to the middle of September that saw him hit .235 and post “just” a 118 wRC+ (100 being average), Trout has slashed .354/.439/.813 in the last 13 games as he’s moved from second to third in the lineup. As a result, the Angels are 8-5 in that span, putting them in a position to snatch a playoff spot in the final week. Overall, it’s easy to say that Trout’s been disappointing compared to his 10 WAR seasons in 2012 and 2013, but if you just look at his stats in a vacuum, you can see his clear MVP case. He’s hitting .297/.398/.589 and with a good final nine games could reach the .300/.400/.600 marks that look so impressive. He leads the AL with a 171 wRC+, is fifth with a 13.2% walk rate, and he’s added value both on the bases and defensively. His 14 intentional walks are sixth in baseball, and Donaldson hasn’t even been IBB’d once. And that’s really the point: while Trout is hitting in front of Albert Pujols and David Murphy, Donaldson is hitting ahead of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. If he was knocked out of the lineup, the Blue Jays might still have the best offense in baseball. That’s not to say that Donaldson hasn’t had a tremendous year. He’s actually been more well-rounded than Trout, playing tremendous defense at third base and adding some runs on the bases too. Donaldson’s also hitting .301 and has 40 homers to go along with baseball’s most runs scored (118) and batted in (121), so there’s that. He’s also playing for the (likely) surprise AL East champions, which gives him another leg up over Trout, who plays for a team that is struggling to get into the playoffs. But his stats have been boosted by the fact that he plays in a superior hitters’ park and a much better lineup. If you put Trout in that lineup, what would his numbers look like?

I think Donaldson is probably going to win the MVP, because he has the better counting stats, plays for a better team, and is new enough to be an exciting player to vote for but established enough to be well known by all voters. But Trout, the superstar who is setting himself up to be one of the five best players of all-time, is again having the more valuable season. While playing on a far worse team, Trout has managed to continue to hit extremely well while dragging his flawed team to September relevancy and playing a far more demanding position. The Blue Jays have been the better team, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Trout has been the more valuable player.

Week 2 Review and TNF Prediction

Posted: 09/24/2015 by levcohen in Football

You want to see something weird? Just look at the list of 0-2 teams. In the AFC, only the Ravens, Texans, and Colts are without a win. Meanwhile, in the NFC the Giants, Eagles, Lions, Bears, Saints, and Seahawks are 0-2. What do those teams have in common? Aside from the Bears and arguably the Giants, they were all supposed to be at least decent teams. The favorites in anywhere between three and five divisions are 0-2. Meanwhile, teams like the Jaguars, Redskins, Buccaneers, Browns, and Raiders all notched wins last week, defying logic and everything about football that makes sense. In fact, underdogs went 9-7 straight up last week. What does all of that mean? Right now, I have no idea. Are the 0-2 teams really that bad? The Bears and Saints probably are, but I don’t think the rest of them are much worse than they seemed to be at the start of the year. The Colts and Eagles especially have played some pretty ugly football, but I expect them to turn it around. But the upsets last week should help ensure that we’re going to see some exciting football late in the season, with perhaps a few Cinderellas making the playoffs. Anyway, here are some specific thoughts about week two.

  • The people who thought the Arizona Cardinals were going to step back last year were wrong. After posting an 11-5 record which many people (including most of the smart statistically-oriented ones) thought flattered them, the Cardinals were expected to be worse this season, even though quarterback Carson Palmer was set to return. Guess what? They look pretty darn good so far. In fact, they have the seventh best DVOA through two weeks of any team since 1989. The six better ones went a combined 71-25, so that’s probably a good sign. I still don’t think the Cardinals, and specifically their top-ranked offense, are the best team in football; they’ve played two of the worst defenses and teams in football (Chicago and New Orleans) which helps explain why they’ve scored 79 points already. But this is a legitimate playoff team and at this point the likely NFC West champions.
  • Only four running backs ran for 100 yards last week, a number that just seems really low. And those four included backups Matt Jones and Giovani Bernard, which is even weirder. This just seems to be a continuation of the recent shift towards the passing game or at least to committees at running back. The Eagles were extremely bad (17 carries for seven yards), but they had company.
  • The Patriots are really in “f you” mode. Up 27-13, most teams would shift towards a more run-heavy approach in order to salt away the score. But Bill Belichick has never been averse to running up the score, and the Patriots attempted 24 pass plays against just five runs after that point (not including Tom Brady’s two kneeldowns). It almost came back to beat them, as they only won 40-32, but Brady’s fantasy owners were certainly happy. Through two weeks, he’s completed 69.2% of his passes while throwing for 754 yards and seven touchdowns against zero interceptions. If you own Brady, Julian Edelman, or Rob Gronkowski in fantasy, you’re in for quite a ride.
  • After a bad week one showing, the Vikings really turned things around last week in a 26-16 throttling of the Lions. Teddy Bridgewater was an efficient 14/18 while throwing for 153 yards and a touchdown, while Adrian Peterson ran for 134 yards and turned the Lions over three times. That’s their recipe for success, and I still think they are very possibly a playoff team.
  • If I had to pick between the Raiders, who upset the Ravens last week, and the Jaguars, who beat the Dolphins, I think I would pick Oakland. I was high on them before the season, simply because I think their offense has a chance to be pretty decent. The defense is still a problem, but with some improvement, they can get close to .500.

7-9 straight up… 17-15 total
9-7 against the spread… 15-16-18-7-1 over/under… 17-14-1

Upset picks: 2-2.. 4-4
Lock of the week: 0-1.. 1-1

Washington Redskins (1-1, 1-1 against the spread) at New York Giants (0-2, 1-1):
Spread: Giants favored by 3
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I know Washington defeated the Rams last week, but I’m still not very confident in the Cousins-led Redskins. They ran it surprisingly well against the Rams, carrying it 37 times for 182 yards, but now face a New York team who allowed the Falcons to run for just 56 yards on their 22 carries after allowing 80 yards on 23 carries against the Cowboys. Without as much success on the ground, the Redskins are going to have to turn to the air, and we all know what that means. Giants win 27-20.
Giants cover
Over

Week Two Predictions

Posted: 09/20/2015 by levcohen in Football

Let’s call this the week of early and important divisional showdowns. The Broncos already beat the Chiefs in an AFC West battle on Thursday (in a seemingly-rare great TNF game), and we have a lot of great divisional showdowns coming today. It seems weird to say this early in the season, but the divisional games especially mean a lot. The Chiefs might have just cost themselves a chance at the AFC West championship with their heartbreaking home loss to Denver in a game in which they outplayed their opponents. Key divisional matchups today include New England-Buffalo, Detroit-Minnesota, and, best of all, an early dose of Philly-Dallas. Oh, and while this might not be a divisional matchup, the Green Bay-Seattle game might also be pretty interesting to watch, given what happened in the NFC Championship game less than a year ago. It’s another week of toss-ups, with only the Saints being favored by more than a touchdown. So I will again have my work cut out for me.

*- upset pick

Houston Texans (0-1, 0-1 against the spread) at Carolina Panthers (1-0, 1-0):*
Spread: Panthers favored by 3
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Um, so it’s Ryan Mallett time in Houston. Already. We could kind of tell from HBO’s “Hard Knocks” that Brian Hoyer would have a short leash as the starter, but this short? It looks as if Hoyer’s starting tenure in Houston lasted all of three quarters. That’s not to say that he will again start later this season, because I think he will. Mallett is not very good, and Hoyer is at least mediocre. But we know that Houston coach Bill O’Brien is already desperate, which is less than ideal. Then again, the Panthers don’t look too great, either. They have a stagnant offense and a defense that will be without stud middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. They also will have to block against J.J. Watt with Michael Oher, probably the worst starting tackle in football. I think that will be the matchup that leads Houston to victory in a low scoring and nearly unwatchable game. Texans win 20-17.
Texans cover
Under

San Francisco 49ers (1-0, 1-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1, 1-0):
Spread: Steelers favored by 5.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: Let’s not overreact to one game. The Steelers lost, but only by a touchdown against the Super Bowl favorite Patriots. And the 49ers just hammered a team with a QB in Teddy Bridgewater who looked as if he had no idea what he was doing. I think the Steelers’ passing game will have a massive day in a fairly comfortable win. Steelers win 28-20.
Steelers cover
Over

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1, 0-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Saints favored by 8.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: After opening at 10.5, the spread has quickly been shaved by a couple of points simply because some people have quite rightfully little confidence in the Saints. Now, we all know the Saints are a better team than the trainwreck that is the Buccaneers. But I also know that you get in trouble when you pick mediocre teams to cover 8.5 points spreads, which I’ll take the points and the Bucs. Saints still win, though, 27-21.
Buccaneers cover
Over

Detroit Lions (0-1, 0-1) at Minnesota Vikings (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Vikings favored by 2.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Can Adrian Peterson get going against a Lions’ run defense that was historically great last season but looked mediocre last week? That’s probably the key question in this game, since these teams are otherwise pretty even. I think the answer to that question is “yes,” and I’m going to pick the Vikings by a smidge. Vikings win 23-20.
Vikings cover
Under

Arizona Cardinals (1-0, 1-0) at Chicago Bears (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 1.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Maybe this is a trap, but I think the Cardinals should be favored by at least a field goal here. I thought they looked pretty good against the Saints, especially offensively, and the Bears will be without top weapon Alshon Jeffery. They might have to grind it out a bit, but I expect the Cardinals to win it fairly comfortably. Cardinals win 31-20.
Cardinals cover
Over

New England Patriots (1-0, 0-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-0, 1-0):*
Spread: Bills favored by 1
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Yeah, not willing to pick the Bills over the Patriots yet. Patriots win 23-20.
Patriots cover
Under

San Diego Chargers (1-0, 1-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-0, 1-0):*
Spread: Bengals favored by 3.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: Let’s just say I’m more confident in the Chargers following a comeback win over the Lions than I am in the Bengals after a blowout win against the Raiders. I think Philip Rivers will have another great week en route to another win. Chargers win 27-23.
Chargers cover
Over

Tennessee Titans (1-0, 1-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Titans favored by 1
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Ew. Nothing to say about this game, but I have to take the Titans because the Browns are really, really bad. I didn’t want to overreact to Marcus Mariota’s first start, but the Titans simply look like the better team here. Titans win 21-17.
Titans cover
Under

Atlanta Falcons (1-0, 1-0) at New York Giants (0-1, 1-0):*
Spread: Giants favored by 1.5
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: I was really impressed with the way the Falcons played in week one against the Eagles, while I think the Giants were lucky to even have a chance to beat the Cowboys. It’s always risky to pick a team like the Falcons on the road, but I’m going to do it here. Falcons win 28-24.
Falcons cover
Over

St. Louis Rams (1-0, 1-0) at Washington Redskins (0-1, 0-1):- Lock of the week
Spread: Rams favored by 3
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Did you watch week one? Yeah, I did too. I think the Rams might actually be really good. The Redskins? Not so much. They stayed in the game against the Dolphins, but that was more Miami’s ineptitude last week than anything else. Rams win 24-14. And let’s lock it up.
Rams cover
Under

Miami Dolphins (1-0, 1-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 6
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: I can’t take the Jaguars. Dolphins win 28-17.
Dolphins cover
Over

Baltimore Ravens (0-1, 0-1) at Oakland Raiders (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Ravens favored by 4
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: I also can’t take the Raiders, especially after last week. It might be a good idea to keep taking road teams (look how many I’ve taken this week), but this early in the season, I just tend to take the team I think is better. Ravens win 21-10.
Ravens cover
Under

Dallas Cowboys (1-0, 0-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Eagles favored by 6.5
Over/under: 54.5
My prediction: It’s weird that the Eagles are favored by this much even after they lost and the Cowboys won last week. But they turned it around in the second half, while the Cowboys were lucky to walk out with a victory and saw their best offensive player, Dez Bryant, go down with an injury. Still, I can’t bring myself to pick the Eagles to cover a spread this big against a pretty good Cowboys team. Eagles win 31-27.
Cowboys cover
Over

Seattle Seahawks (0-1, 0-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-0, 1-0):
Spread: Packers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: This is probably the game of the week, and it’s a really difficult one to predict. I think the Packers are the better team, but I also think the Seahawks are being written off way too quickly. I’ll take Green Bay to win 24-21 but the Seahawks to cover the spread.
Seahawks cover
Under

New York Jets (1-0, 1-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Colts favored by 7
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: The Colts’ start was worrying, but I’m not losing any hope yet. I also think the Jets are being extremely overrated after beating up the Browns, who are a really bad football team. I’ll take the Colts 28-14.
Colts cover
Under

Upset picks:
Texans over Panthers
Patriots over Bills
Falcons over Giants
Chargers over Bengals

Lock of the week:
Rams over Redskins

Ever imagine a league in which the Titans are alone atop the AFC South and the Seahawks are the only NFC West team with a loss? Well, that’s what week one does. It confuses, confounds, and frustrates. And making broad assumptions from week one play is nearly as bad as doing the same from preseason play. If you had an idea about a certain team before the season, it’s probably more likely to be accurate than whatever you saw from the team in week one. Maybe 85-90% of your opinion should still solely be what you thought before the first week. With all of that said, take these five takeaways from week one with a grain of salt.

  • I’m not ready to say the Titans are going to make a playoff team, but I can say that Marcus Mariota is good. Now, I always preferred Mariota to Winston and thought the Hawaiian would be a good quarterback, but I didn’t think he’d look this good this quickly. Put the numbers (13-16, 209 yards, 4 TD) aside for a second, because those numbers really flatter him. The Buccaneers defense was terrible, and everything went right this week. But it’s Mariota’s confidence that really struck me, along with the fact that coach Ken Whisenhunt, normally a stickler for a traditional drop-back passer, has designed a playbook tailor-made for Mariota. I don’t think the Russell Wilson comparisons are fair just yet, but I certainly see it trending that way.
  • The Broncos’ offense is in trouble, but their defense is going to keep them in games. The week one DVOA numbers are staggering; the Broncos finished 30th in offensive DVOA and first defensively, and it wasn’t close. They put constant pressure on Joe Flacco, holding the Ravens to 173 yards and zero offensive touchdowns while forcing two turnovers. This is a legitimate top-three defense, and when the offense gets going a little bit, which it will (although probably not to top-five levels that had been expected), Denver’s going to be a scary team to play.
  • The AFC East is going to be a fun time. All four teams won, including good wins for New England (against Pittsburgh) and Buffalo (Indianapolis). They all won by more than a touchdown. Their average margin of victory was 12 points. I still don’t like the Jets, but I must admit that it looks like all four might be good enough to be playing meaningful games in December. The Patriots are and will remain top dogs, but the next three spots are totally up for grabs. The Bills look the best last week and the Dolphins looked the worst, but I still favor the Dolphins to win a wild card. Can the Bills do the same, giving the division three playoff teams?
  • Rumors of San Francisco’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. It was easy to look at their horrible offseason and say they were done, but the running game, led by Carlos Hyde, looks very strong, and the passing game will have more dynamic weeks. The offense finished 5th in DVOA, thanks mostly to their 230 rushing yards. Meanwhile, the defense was pretty good too, holding Minnesota to three points and Adrian Peterson to just 31 yards. This defense, missing pieces and all, still has some talent, led by NaVorro Bowman, Eric Reid, and Antonie Bethea. I still don’t think the 49ers will be great this year, but .500? Definitely attainable, and I don’t think 3-13 is going to happen anytime soon.
  • The NFC South might be almost as bad this year as it was last season. The Buccaneers were terrible. The Saints’ defense might be the worst in football. The Panthers beat the Jaguars by 11, but they looked mediocre considering they had such a plush matchup. Carolina’s offense is going to be a major problem this year. The lone exception might be the Falcons, who won a nail-biter against the Eagles and showed an improved defense, at least in the first half. But this division can probably be won with a 9-7 record, if not worse.

10-6 straight up
6-9-1 against the spread
9-7 over/under

Upset picks: 2-2
Lock of the week: 1-0

Denver Broncos (1-0, 1-0 against the spread) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-0, 1-0):*
Spread: Chiefs favored by 3
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: These are both solid all-around teams, but this matchup really comes down to one thing: Peyton Manning. Is Manning done, or is he going to have a huge week? If the answer is something in between, as it usually is, I don’t know if the Broncos are going to have enough to beat the Chiefs, who have a good defense to go along with a suddenly-dynamic offense. Alex Smith had a great game last week, and hopefully Jamaal Charles can get more going on the ground this week even against a strong run defense. This was a tough one for me to pick, because while my gut is telling me to pick the Chiefs, I really want to avoid a week one overreaction. I liked the Broncos more a week ago, so I should probably like them more now. Give me Denver in a 23-20 game.
Broncos cover
Over

Week One Predictions

Posted: 09/13/2015 by levcohen in Football

Week one is so hard to predict. We’re coming off a four week preseason that’s done nothing but given us some serious misconceptions about certain teams and their strengths and weaknesses, and we really have no idea whether some teams will be great, terrible, or something in between. That’s why I normally like picking the underdogs in week one, although that’s certainly not a hard-and-fast rule (I picked the touchdown-favorite Patriots to cover on Thursday night in what ended in a push). And that’s also why this is the week I feel least confident about picking my “Lock of the Week” in. I’ll be able to write more most weeks, but time is not on my side this week, so this will be a quick post.

*= upset pick

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears:- Lock
Spread: Packers favored by 6
Over/under: 49
My prediction: I’m sorry to be boring, but I’m making the second biggest favorite of the week my lock. It’s Aaron Rodgers against what I think is a terrible team, after all. Packers win 31-20.
Packers cover
Over

Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans:*
Spread: Texans favored by 1
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: This game feels so familiar because it’s one of those week one games that I have no idea what will happen in. I’m almost certain that whomever I pick will end up losing, but I’ll go with the visitors here since the Texans are missing Arian Foster and are starting Brian Hoyer at quarterback. Chiefs win 20-16
Chiefs cover
Under

Cleveland Browns at New York Jets:
Spread: Jets favored by 3.5
Over/under: 39.5
My prediction: Here’s a matchup I really don’t want to see, especially in week one. I don’t particularly like either of these teams this season and was looking forward to picking against both. With that being said, the only thing I can logically do is split here. Jets win 20-17.
Browns cover
Under

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills:
Spread: Colts favored by 1
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Um, well the Bills are starting Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. It’s going to be interesting, especially against the Andrew Luck-led Colts. With that being said, I struggled a lot with this one, because I could really see Buffalo’s pass rush getting to Luck and their running game keeping the Colts off the field. But I’m not overthinking this, especially in week one. Give me the stronger team. Colts win 24-17.
Colts win
Under

Miami Dolphins at Washington Redskins:
Spread: Dolphins favored by 3.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: This is another upset I could see happening, but I could never bring myself to pick Washington in week one. I think the Dolphins will end up being a pretty good team, but they could look shaky at the beginning. Luckily, they are playing a mess of a team in the Redskins. Dolphins win 27-20.
Dolphins cover
Over

Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars:*
Spread: Panthers favored by 3
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: Go Jags! I feel like I’ve had a strange obsession with picking the Jaguars early in the season in previous years, and I’m keeping that up here. I also remember refusing to pick Jacksonville until they covered a spread, and I had to wait a long time. Hopefully that doesn’t happen again this season. Jaguars win 23-20.
Jaguars cover
Over

Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams:
Spread: Seahawks favored by 3.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: This is the biggest upset I thought about picking of the week, and it would be a pretty big one. The Seahawks are a very good football team, but the cracks are showing, as second-year undrafted free agent safety Dion Bailey is starting with Kam Chancellor still holding out. With the Legion of Boom set to be less-than-elite, I think it’s easy to see the Rams, without their top two running backs, having some success in the air and punishing Seattle’s offense en route to a low-scoring victory. But I just can’t do it. I have too much trust in Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, and the Seahawks to pick them to lose to a team with basically no offensive weapons. So Seattle is going to win and cover. Seahawks win 19-13.
Seahawks cover
Under

New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals:
Spread: Cardinals favored by 2.5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: I have to take the Cardinals in this one. The Saints are not usually very good away from home, and they’ll be without key defenders Keenan Lewis and Jairus Byrd for several weeks. Arizona should have no trouble moving the ball, and their defense should make enough stops to secure a victory in a close game between teams who will both be in the playoff hunt come December. Cardinals win 28-24.
Cardinals cover
Over

Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers:
Spread: Chargers favored by 3
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Meh. This is a game in which a lot of people are picking upsets, but I’m just higher on the Chargers than I am on the Lions. I could really see this one going either way, but give me the home team with the more solid offense. Chargers win 21-20.
Lions cover
Under

Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Spread: Buccaneers favored by 3
Over/under: 41
My prediction: In the battle of rookie quarterbacks, I’m surprised that the Buccaneers aren’t favored by more. Even with Mike Evans likely to sit out, I think the Bucs are clearly the better team, and I think they’ll win this game pretty handily. In fact, I almost made this my lock. Buccaneers win 23-14.
Buccaneers cover
Under

Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders:*
Spread: Bengals favored by 3
Over/under: 43
My prediction: First the Jaguars and now the Raiders??? Yup, it’s going to be a crazy week. I’m probably wrong about what will be crazy about it, but I’m pretty confident it will be crazy. Anyway, the Bengals are much better at home than on the road and the Raiders are going to be much improved this season. Amari Cooper should have a great first week in a winning effort. Raiders win 26-21.
Raiders cover
Over

Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos:
Spread: Broncos favored by 4.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: This is the game of the week, and I think it’s going to be a close game. But while I’m a big fan of Baltimore this year, I can’t pick against the Broncos at home at this point, especially since their defense looks very good. Broncos win 24-21.
Ravens cover
Under

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys:
Spread: Cowboys favored by 6.5
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: I understand why the Cowboys are favored by this much, but I don’t think they’re good enough to be getting nearly a touchdown in week one against a decent team. They also haven’t historically had much of a home field advantage, so I feel confident picking the Giants to cover. Cowboys win 31-27.
Giants cover
Over

Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons:-MNF
Spread: Eagles favored by 2.5
Over/under: 55
My prediction: This should be a super fun game to watch, with two high-scoring and exciting teams playing each other on Monday Night Football. It’s clear that the Eagles are the better team, but I thought it would be closer to a pick ’em given that it’s in Atlanta. I think both teams will play well in this game, and it will come down to the wire, and I have more confidence in the Eagles’ defense in a one-possession game. Eagles win 30-23.
Eagles cover
Under

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers:-MNF*
Spread: Vikings favored by 2.5
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: I love the Vikings this year, but this is a classic “everyone is too low on X team” game. The 49ers had a terrible offseason, while Minnesota had a positive one, but I still think the Niners should be slight favorites at this point in the season. This could end up being one of those games we’re all confused about at the end of the season, when the Vikings are closing in on a playoff spot. Niners win 23-17.
Niners cover
Under

Upset picks:
Niners over Vikings
Raiders over Bengals
Jaguars over Panthers
Chiefs over Texans

Lock of the week:
Packers over Bears

Rapid-Fire AFC South and West Previews

Posted: 09/13/2015 by levcohen in Football

In an ideal world, I would spill another 1,000-odd words on previewing the AFC South and AFC West. But this isn’t an ideal world, and I’ve come up against the scary thing people call time. So for these two divisions, I’m going to explain more quickly and efficiently why I think a team will play well or poorly. I don’t mind doing that for the AFC South, since it’s pretty much clear-cut, but it’s a bummer that I won’t be able to delve deep into the AFC West. Anyway, here we go.

Indianapolis Colts (12-4): The Colts were one of the three teams I picked to exceed expectations, and given that their over/under was 10.5, that’s already a pretty strong statement. Just to reiterate, I like them because they improved their offense and still have a great quarterback in Andrew Luck competing in what is otherwise by far the worst division in football.

Houston Texans (8-8): The subject of “Hard Knocks” will probably have a good defense, mostly because they have J.J. Watt, by far the most dominant player in the NFL. Watt is ridiculously good, and I expect the Texans to continue to have the best defense in the division. The offense is another thing. Brian Hoyer is the starting quarterback, and star running back Arian Foster will miss the first quarter of the season give-or-take a game. I just don’t think Houston has done enough this offseason to push them over the hump and into the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): The Jaguars haven’t been good in forever, and they aren’t going to be good this year. I’m not going to say that Blake Bortles is a bust, but that’s only because it’s just been one year. Everything we’ve seen so far from the #3 overall pick says he’s going to be the next big QB bust. The lack of quarterback or offensive line also lessens the success skill-position players like second round running back T.J. Yeldon and promising receiver Allen Robinson will have. This was the 31st ranked offense last year, and they won’t be much better this season. The defense is what should be what boosts this team from three wins to a more respectable five. Coach Gus Bradley is a former defensive coordinator, and it shows; he’s built a pretty solid defense in Jacksonville. But even if the defense is likely to jump into the teens, I don’t think it will be one of the best in the league, which will ensure that the Jaguars are again below-average. How long until Bradley, who seems to be doing good things in Jacksonville without results, gets fired?

Tennessee Titans (4-12): Look, I think Marcus Mariota can be a good quarterback. But he’s not going to be good this year, especially since he has almost no talent around him on the offense. I think the likelihood is very high that the Titans will again have one of the worst offenses in football, even as Mariota shows signs of competency. The defense is also very shaky, with both starting cornerbacks banged up and few overall improvements from a below-average unit last season. The Titans will likely win a few more games just because it’s hard for anyone to go 2-14 twice in a row and because Mariota is certainly an upgrade at quarterback, but they are still a while away from any sort of contention.

—–

Denver Broncos (10-6): The Broncos’ offense will go as Peyton Manning goes. That would normally be a good thing, but it looks like Manning could well fall off a cliff this season. There have already been reports of diminished arm strength, and combined with the poor display in last year’s playoffs and the rumors of retirement, the reports are very worrying. Luckily, the Broncos also happen to have a very good defense, one that could be dominant if a few things go their way. This was the fourth-best defense in football last year, and I think they’ll be just as good this season. So while I expect the offense to decline, a strong defense and some improvement from the special teams should keep them atop the division.

San Diego Chargers (8-8): If the defense is better, the Chargers could be a double-digit win team, but I’m not sure it will be much better than the 25th it finished in DVOA last season, since the starting defense is basically unchanged. Meanwhile, the Philip Rivers-led offense should continue to be good but not great. The Chargers will definitely be in the playoff hunt for most of the year, but I see their defense letting them down at the end of the season and San Diego going home unhappy.

Kansas City Chiefs (7-9): The Chiefs will probably be better than this. They have a solid all-around team, led by a stout run game and a good defense. But they are just so boring, at least most weeks. The passing game was really bad last year, as no receiver caught a touchdown pass all season. Kansas City has made an effort to change that, with the expensive addition of Jeremy Maclin and the development of tight end Travis Kelce, but I don’t think an Alex Smith-led passing game will ever be explosive. And the special teams, which finished third in football last year, won’t be as good as last season, giving the team an extra loss or two.

Oakland Raiders (6-10): The Raiders were the third team I said was underrated, so I won’t go in depth here. They won’t be good, but I don’t think they’ll be horrible, either.