Archive for October, 2015

Week 8 Picks

Posted: 10/31/2015 by levcohen in Football

The number of undefeated teams this late in the season is ridiculous. In some seasons, no team goes 4-0. Rarely do multiple go 6-0. This year, an unbelievable five teams are undefeated entering week eight, with the Patriots sitting at 7-0 following a Thursday Night Football win and the Broncos, Panthers, Packers, and Bengals at 6-0. Right about now, the focus inevitably shifts to whether any of these teams (multiple of them?) can go undefeated for the whole season. I still think it’s unlikely, and I’m writing about this now because I think two of the undefeated teams will go down this week. Barring a tie, one 6-0 team will definitely move to 6-1, as the Packers travel to Denver to face the Broncos on Sunday Night Football. That’s a very interesting game, one I’m very much looking forward to. Meanwhile, the Bengals have a tough road game against the Steelers in the other game of the week. Those are the two games I’m really looking forward to, although there are some others (Jets-Raiders, which probably would have been one of my picks for worst games of the season before the year started, is actually a very intriguing game) that I’m excited to see. Overall, though, the focus for this week is those unbeaten teams; we know most of them are good (still not sure about the Broncos), but how good? With some exceptions, these teams have won very few games against good opposition, which is going to have to start changing now if they want to stay undefeated.
BYE teams: Philadelphia, Washington, Buffalo, Jacksonville
*= upset pick

Detroit Lions (1-6, 1-6) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (2-5, 2-5) in London:
Spread: Chiefs favored by 3.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Have I been underrating the Chiefs these past few weeks? I have been puzzled by their lines in each of the past few games, thinking that the Chiefs have been given too much respect. But after a 16-10 loss in Minnesota in which they totally dominated the Vikings and a 23-13 win over Pittsburgh, I have to rethink my negativity. The defense is playing a lot better after being among the league’s worst early on, while the offense is able to move the ball even without Jamaal Charles. Against a Lions team that has no run game and no offensive line (and thus a beat up quarterback) along with very little semblance of a defense, give me the Chiefs 26-20.
Chiefs cover
Over

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4, 3-3) at Atlanta Falcons (6-1, 4-3):
Spread: Falcons favored by 7.5
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: Are the Falcons a good football team? They’re 6-1, but their last three games were an overtime win against Washington, a convincing loss in New Orleans, and a 10-7 win over the one-win Titans. I think the answer is no, they aren’t all that good. The Bucs aren’t either, as evidenced by the way they blew a 24-0 lead against Washington, but they should be frisky enough to stay within a touchdown throughout the game. Then again, I’m nervous about a huge Julio Jones game after a few weeks in which he hasn’t done much. Falcons win 27-24.
Buccaneers cover
Over

Arizona Cardinals (5-2, 4-3) at Cleveland Browns (2-5, 4-3):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 5.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: I think the Cardinals are really good and that their last two games, mediocre showings against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, have been blips on the radar. Meanwhile, the warning signs are evident for Cleveland. Quarterback Josh McCown is banged up, and Johnny Manziel might end up playing in this game. Gary Barnidge is the team’s best offensive player, but he has perhaps the toughest matchup imaginable, against Arizona’s crazy-good safety group. And the run game has its moments but is generally below-average. A pass-heavy attack with a banged-up quarterback against a blitz-heavy defense? No thanks. Cardinals win 24-13.
Cardinals cover
Under

San Francisco 49ers (2-5, 3-4) at St. Louis Rams (3-3, 3-3):- Lock
Spread: Rams favored by 8
Over/under: 39.5
My prediction: I would talk about Todd Gurley, but I think we all know how good he is at this point. Instead, let me point out that Colin Kaepernick is terrible with pressure in his face and that the Rams are quite good at pressuring opposing quarterbacks (meet Aaron Donald). Oh, the Niners are also pretty bad against the run. I’m going to lock up the Rams for the second consecutive week. Never thought I’d be saying that. Rams win 26-10.
Rams cover
Under

New York Giants (4-3, 4-3) at New Orleans Saints (3-4, 4-3):*
Spread: Saints favored by 3
Over/under: 49
My prediction: What have the Saints done? They’ve beaten the Colts and Falcons the past two weeks, two teams far overrated by the public. So of course they’re going to be overrated this week in their game against the Giants, who were demolished by the Eagles before looking bad in a close win over the Romo and Dez-less Cowboys. This is a very unpredictable game between two fairly unpredictable teams, but I’ll take the team I think is better, even on the road. Giants win 28-24.
Giants cover
Over

Minnesota Vikings (4-2, 5-1) at Chicago Bears (2-4, 3-3):*
Spread: Vikings favored by 1.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Some teams are just much better at home than they are on the road. I think Minnesota is one of those teams. They are 3-0 at home but just 1-2 on the road, including a blowout loss in San Francisco. Luckily for them, they are playing a Chicago team that’s bad in general but also at home. The Bears are probably one of three worst teams in the NFL, but so are the Lions, and that didn’t keep me from picking Detroit over Minnesota last week in a similar situation. Of course, that didn’t work out for me, but I think Minnesota is due for a slip-up here, while the Bears could be good off their BYE. Bears win 20-17.
Bears cover
Under

San Diego Chargers (2-5, 2-5) at Baltimore Ravens (1-6, 1-5-1):
Spread: Ravens favored by 3.5
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: I don’t think either of these teams are as bad as their records say. The Ravens are 1-6 but haven’t lost a game by more than a score all season, while the Chargers are very close to being 4-3 right now. I trust the Ravens a bit more, though, because I think they are coached better and because I think their defense is bound to turn it around at some point. Ravens win 27-21.
Ravens cover
Under

Cincinnati Bengals (6-0, 5-0-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3, 5-1-1):
Spread: Steelers favored by 1
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: This feels like a great spot for the Steelers. They are about to start a stretch of three straight home games (followed by a BYE), which probably has them feeling pretty good. They are also getting their quarterback back, and Big Ben isn’t a bad addition to a team that already had a solid offense. Pittsburgh also just so happens to own three consecutive double-digit wins against the Bengals and a 21-8 record against their division opponents since 2000. I’m worried that the Bengals are going to play a great game coming off their BYE, but they are going to lose sometime soon, and I think this week is the spot that makes the most sense. Steelers win 31-24.
Steelers cover
Over

Tennessee Titans (1-5, 3-3) at Houston Texans (2-5, 2-5):*
Spread: Texans favored by 4
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: This line makes absolutely no sense to me. The Texans have no meaningful homefield advantage and just lost Arian Foster for the season. They are the worst team in the NFL right now, and the Titans aren’t as bad as their record says. Tennessee should be favored in this game, which makes it an easy upset pick. Titans win 23-17.
Titans cover
Under

New York Jets (4-2, 4-1-1) at Oakland Raiders (3-3, 3-3):
Spread: Jets favored by 3
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: This is a truly fascinating game, especially from the Raiders’ point of view. There’s no doubt that quarterback Derek Carr has been much improved this season, with his rating improving from 76.6 to 101 and his QBR from 38.2 to 60.2. Everything about his stats has been much better this season. But if you dig a bit deeper, there are reasons to be worried this week. Against terrible defenses like Baltimore, Cleveland, and San Diego, Carr has dominated, posting ratings over 100 each time. But in his two games against good defenses (Denver and Cincinnati), he’s completed 33/51 passes for 310 yards while throwing one touchdown and one pick. The Raiders scored a combined 23 points in those two games, and I don’t see any reason they’ll score more than 17 this week. Can they hold the Jets under 17? Probably not. Jets win 24-17.
Jets cover
Under

Seattle Seahawks (3-4, 2-4-1) at Dallas Cowboys (2-4, 1-5):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 4.5
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: The Cowboys have dropped four in a row since losing Tony Romo. The Seahawks just demolished a similarly-bad 49ers team but are still favored by just 4.5. I’ll take Seattle. Seahawks win 28-17.
Seahawks cover
Over

Green Bay Packers (6-0, 5-1) at Denver Broncos (6-0, 4-2):
Spread: Packers favored by 2.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: The Broncos are a great defensive team. Maybe all-time great. They are definitely going to shake Aaron Rodgers here, especially since the Packers lack a consistent run game at the moment. But at the same time, their offense is far worse than Green Bay’s defense, and I see no way they move the ball tomorrow unless Peyton Manning turns back into a good quarterback. The running game, the best way to move the ball against the Packers, sucks, and Manning isn’t much better. I have to take the Packers on the road here with the assumption that the Broncos didn’t fix anything offensively during their BYE week. Packers win 24-19.
Packers cover
Under

Indianapolis Colts (3-4, 2-5) at Carolina Panthers (6-0, 5-1):
Spread: Panthers favored by 7
Over/under: 47
My prediction: The Colts suck. The Panthers are good. The Panthers will win this football game. Unless the Colts hit on some big plays with T.Y. Hilton, which you could count on last season but not this year with Andrew Luck not looking himself, the Panthers will cover, too. They have a great run game and should be in enough short-yardage situations to move the ball against the Colts. Panthers win 31-20.
Panthers cover
Over

Upset picks:
Titans over Texans
Bears over Vikings
Giants over Saints

Lock of the week:
Rams over Niners

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Week 7 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 10/29/2015 by levcohen in Football

It feels like last week was an extremely sloppy week of football. Really, only the Seahawks, Rams, Dolphins, and Raiders put up complete efforts, and even Oakland let up in the fourth quarter, giving up 23 straight points. Other winners, like the Giants, Cardinals, and Panthers, won despite playing far from their best, as they each capitalized on errors from mistake-prone opponents. There were exciting games last week, but they were games like Washington-Tampa and Jacksonville-Buffalo, contests between two less-than-stellar teams that were won by the team that made a lot of mistakes instead of the one that made a ton of mistakes. A lot of this sloppiness had to do with the fact that some of the NFL’s best teams, from Cincinnati to Green Bay to Denver, sat out last week. But it does feel like there are more below-average teams than usual this team. How many good teams are there? Seven weeks into the season, I can come up with 10 teams I think are above-average; the five undefeated teams, the Cardinals, the Jets, the Seahawks, the Vikings, and the Steelers. There are a few other teams that might be good, like St. Louis and Miami, but there are far more that are probably bad. For example, it seems like the NFC East and especially the AFC South are wastelands. More on that in a second.

Eliminated teams: Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco, Kansas City, Tennessee, Jacksonville

  • I’m starting to regret eliminating both Tennessee and Jacksonville from contention, because despite being 1-5 and 2-5 respectively, they both are lucky enough to play in the AFC South. The division is absolutely awful. The Colts lead things at 3-4, and they are 0-4 outside the division and 1-3 at home. As a whole, the division is 8-19 with a -152 point differential. Now that Arian Foster is (very unfortunately) out for the season with a torn Achilles’, the Texans are almost undoubtedly the worst team in football. The Colts, Titans, and Jags aren’t much better. Looking for the worst playoff team ever? It might come from this division this season.
  • The Steelers lost in Kansas City last week, but I think they’re fine at 4-3 with Ben Roethlisberger returning. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, and Martavis Bryant is quickly developing into a top receiver in the mold of Randy Moss (gulp). Seriously, though, he looks like Moss. With a home win over the Bengals this week, the Steelers could still make a run for the division.
  • Speaking of Antonio Brown, we might be seeing the next Antonio blooming in Minnesota. Stefon Diggs, a rookie fifth round pick out of Maryland, is slightly bigger than Brown, originally a sixth round pick, but shows the same excellent route-running ability. He scored a great touchdown last week and now has 19 catches for 324 yards in his first three NFL games. Diggs looks legit, and he’ll continue to be a huge boon to Teddy Bridgewater and Minnesota’s offense going forward, perhaps taking pressure off of Adrian Peterson, who has struggled to pick up the consistent yardage he is used to gaining. The 4-2 Vikings look like favorites to snag an NFC wildcard.
  • I know I already gushed about Todd Gurley a few weeks ago, but I’m confident a month into his career that he’s already the best running back in the NFL. He has the power of Adrian Peterson but 4.3 speed. He already has six runs of 20+ yards this season, and he’s averaging six yards a carry. The Rams still have no passing game, but Gurley and their strong defense could be enough to launch a strong playoff push.
  • Imagine how good Tom Brady would be if his offense was producing around him. Despite a very banged up offensive line (missing three starters) and a ton of drops last week from receivers, Brady still completed 34-54 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns while leading his team in rushing for the first time in his career and running for another touchdown. If Brandon LaFell can return to form after playing poorly in his first week back from injury, this offense could be scary-good.

10-4 straight up… 68-37 total
7-6-1 against the spread… 48-52-5
7-7 over/under… 53-50-2

Upset picks: 1-2.. 13-14.
Lock of the week: 1-0.. 5-2.

Miami Dolphins (3-3, 3-3) at New England Patriots (6-0, 3-2-1):
Spread: Patriots favored by 8
Over/under: 51
My prediction: Last week, the Patriots were favored by a touchdown at home against the Jets, a better team than the Dolphins. They won by a touchdown. The Dolphins might be the right pick here (big underdogs usually work out well against the spread), but I still see a lot of reasons to pick the Patriots. Tom Brady is perfect in Thursday games, and well-coached teams usually have the advantage on short weeks. Meanwhile, let’s not forget that the Dolphins started 1-3 before demolishing two AFC South teams in games that weren’t really professional football games. I just trust Brady more than the Dolphins. Patriots win 28-17.
Patriots cover
Under

Abridged Week 7 Picks

Posted: 10/24/2015 by levcohen in Football

I have limited time this week so will keep the explanation of my picks short, but the picks are still all going to be made. This is a pretty bad week for football, with three 6-0 teams on BYE.
BYE teams: Cincinnati, Denver, Chicago, Green Bay
*= upset pick

Buffalo Bills (3-3, 3-3) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5, 2-4) in London:
Spread: Bills favored by 4.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: E.J. Manuel against Blake Bortles? We truly do send our best to London. The Bills are the better all-around team, but this could end up being a coin-flip. I’ll take the Bills 24-14.
Bills cover
Under

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3, 2-3) at Washington Redskins (2-4, 3-3):
Spread: Redskins favored by 3.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: I think this is going to be a pretty close game, with the Redskins being the better team but the Buccaneers having the benefit of a BYE week. I’ll take the Redskins 24-21, but I truly have no idea about what will happen in this one.
Buccaneers cover
Over

Atlanta Falcons (5-1, 4-2) at Tennessee Titans (1-4, 2-3):
Spread: Falcons favored by 6
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: Yeah, I’m not taking a team led by Zach Mettenberger against a rested Falcons team that hasn’t played since last Thursday night. Falcons win 30-20.
Falcons cover
Over

New Orleans Saints (2-4, 3-3) at Indianapolis Colts (3-3, 2-4):
Spread: Colts favored by 4
Over/under: 52
My prediction: Sorry, I just don’t see it with the Saints. They beat the Falcons at home, but they haven’t played well all season. Meanwhile, I was impressed by the Colts in their losing effort against the Patriots, and with a healthy Andrew Luck they still have a chance at being decent. Colts win 34-24.
Colts cover
Over

Minnesota Vikings (3-2, 4-1) at Detroit Lions (1-5, 1-5):*
Spread: Vikings favored by 2
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Make it two straight for the Lions! I wasn’t impressed by the Vikings last week and think they are very beatable on the road. Lions win 23-20.
Lions cover
Under

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2, 5-0-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-5, 1-5):*
Spread: Chiefs favored by 3
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Do I have confidence in Landry Jones? Not exactly, but I do think Pittsburgh’s improved defense can help carry them to a win against a disinterested Chiefs team. Steelers win 24-17.
Steelers cover
Under

Cleveland Browns (2-4, 4-2) at St. Louis Rams (2-3, 2-3): – Lock
Spread: Rams favored by 6.5
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: I love the Rams coming off a BYE here against Josh McCown’s Browns. Rams win 27-13.
Rams cover
Under

Houston Texans (2-4, 2-4) at Miami Dolphins (2-3, 2-3):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 4.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I see a continued resurgence for the Dolphins here in a 23-14 win.
Dolphins cover
Under

New York Jets (4-1, 4-1) at New England Patriots (5-0, 3-2):
Spread: Patriots favored by 7.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: This line seems a bit high, especially with the Jets coming off a BYE. I still like the Pats, though, because why not? Patriots win 27-17.
Patriots cover
Under

Oakland Raiders (2-3, 2-3) at San Diego Chargers (2-4, 2-4):*
Spread: Chargers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: No good rationale here, but go Raiders! Raiders win 27-23.
Raiders cover
Over

Dallas Cowboys (2-3, 2-3) at New York Giants (3-3, 3-3):

Spread: Giants favored by 3

Over/under: 45

My prediction: Matt Cassel on the road? I’d take the Giants if the spread was 6 points. Giants win 27-17.

Giants cover

Under

Philadelphia Eagles (3-3, 3-3) at Carolina Panthers (5-0, 4-1):

Spread: Panthers favored by 3

Over/under: 45

My prediction: Why are the Panthers only getting three points at home? They are clearly better than the Eagles, which makes me think that this is one of these games Vegas nails after seemingly being way off base. Panthers win 23-13.

Panthers cover

Under

Baltimore Ravens (1-5, 0-5-1) at Arizona Cardinals (4-2, 4-2):

Spread: Cardinals favored by 10

Over/under: 49.5

My prediction: When the Cardinals win, they win big. And they are going to win this game. Cardinals win 35-21.

Cardinals cover

Over

Upset picks:

Raiders over Chargers

Lions over Vikings

Steelers over Chiefs

Lock of the week:

Rams over Browns

Week 6 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 10/22/2015 by levcohen in Football

Last week, it feels like a lot of outplayed teams ended up with fluky wins. In particular, the Vikings, Steelers, Broncos, Texans, and Packers all won while perhaps (in some cases definitely) being vastly outplayed by their opponents. That’ll be something to keep in mind looking forward and is a reminder that a team’s record or even point differential is not always a good representation of the way they’ve truly played. In my recap, I’ll focus on five of the teams with misleading records.

I’ll eliminate the Titans, who were thrashed at home against the Dolphins to fall to 1-4, and their division “rival” Jaguars (1-5, maybe the worst team in football). For those keeping score at home, that means just two teams are in the running in the putrid AFC South… and they both stink. Still, I have confidence that either Indy or Houston will be less bad than Tennessee and Jacksonville, which makes these eliminations acceptable.

Eliminated teams: Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco, Kansas City, Tennessee, Jacksonville

  • The Broncos have a great defense, but they also have the worst offense in football right now. Following a 26-23 overtime win against the Browns, they have the best defensive DVOA in football by a solid margin but an offense that is the worst by a longshot. The whole offense has been bad; the line has allowed a ton of pressure, Peyton Manning leads the league in interceptions and ranks 24th in QBR, top receiver Demaryius Thomas has struggled with drops, and the running game — 85 yards per game, 30th in football, and 3.6 yards per carry, 27th — has been awful. And if Manning has been bad with good temperature, how will he do in December? The 6-0 Broncos should probably be 4-2 right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended with four or five losses before losing early in the playoffs.
  • The Ravens have been bad, but they aren’t 1-5 bad. Thanks to a bunch of close losses (including one to San Francisco last week), they are already five games out in the AFC North, but they are still a solid all-around team. Justin Forsett leads a strong running game, while with Steve Smith in the lineup the passing game has been somewhat dangerous. The defense has been surprisingly leaky, but John Harbaugh is too good of a coach for that to continue. Remember, this is a team most people had winning the division before the year; they aren’t going to do that, but they have the potential to play at a much better clip going forward. Given the number of close games they have lost, I think they’ll turn things around at least somewhat and end with six or seven wins.
  • After a loss to the Panthers, people are freaking out about the Seahawks. The loss was at home, which is a tough pill to swallow, but the game was even and against a good team. 2-4 is a rough start, and the team certainly doesn’t look as good as it has these past few years, but the infrastructure is still in place, and Seattle has shown plenty of signs of being elite this season. They’ve blown a lot of leads recently, but at least they still have the ability to get those leads in the first place. I don’t think there’s any reason that they won’t start holding onto these wins and turning these heart-breaking losses into wins. With an easier schedule going forward, I think the Seahawks go 10-6 and have a chance at stealing the division with a couple of wins against the Cardinals.
  • The Eagles won last week, moving to 3-3, but they have in reality been far worse than an average team. They’ve played an easy schedule thus far and rank seventh in DVOA, but Football Outsiders really overrates them. They are like the Broncos in that they have a great defense, but Denver’s is better. And Sam Bradford has been inconsistent-at-best for an offense that lacks consistent receivers (Jordan Matthews drops everything in sight) and has a starting running back who’s putting up numbers about half as good as last season’s. With a tougher schedule moving forward and no improvement for Bradford or the offensive line in sight, the defense is going to have to continue carrying the team. That would be fine, except I don’t think the cornerbacks will be able to keep top receivers from burning them. 10-6 might still be attainable, but 6-10 is more likely if the Eagles keep playing this way.
  • The Cardinals are 4-2, but they might still be the best team in football. And since five teams are undefeated and two more have just one loss, 4-2 is misleading for a team that might be the best in football. They outplayed the Steelers in Pittsburgh last week (granted, Pittsburgh was without Ben Roethlisberger), but an inability to finish drives led them to a loss. I think they have an above average offense and a great defense, and that should be enough for 11 or 12 wins.

9-5 straight up… 58-33 total
5-9 against the spread… 41-46-4
7-6-1 over/under… 46-43-2

Upset picks: 2-2.. 12-12.
Lock of the week: 0-1.. 4-2. I got too cute.

Seattle Seahawks (2-4, 1-4-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-4, 3-3):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 7
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Since the Seahawks are coming off of some tough losses, this spread is surprisingly inflated. I guess people still don’t like what they see from San Francisco, and I don’t blame them. In what’s likely to be a low-scoring game (game between these two teams usually are), I definitely have more trust in Seattle’s defense, but I think the Niners are solid enough at home to keep this from being a blowout. Seahawks win 21-16.
Niners cover
Under

Week 6 Picks

Posted: 10/18/2015 by levcohen in Football

The past few weeks, I’ve written about how there seemed to be very few great on-paper matchups. I was going to do the same this week, but I realized that I’d have to do the same every week if I were to use the same criteria. Why? Because while there seem to be more great teams than usual this season, there also might be fewer good teams. I think there are five great teams in the NFL (New England, Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay, Arizona), a few more teams we know are at least pretty good (Pittsburgh, Seattle) and then a bunch of question marks. A few of those question marks will pop, and maybe I should write a post about those question marks in particular, because they are probably the most interesting teams in the NFL right now. But right now, using my old criteria of a good on-paper game I’d only call games featuring two of those seven teams worth circling on the schedule. With all of that said, I looked at this week’s 13 games (after Thursday Night) and decided that this week’s slate of games is, for a number of reasons, actually full of intriguing matchups. First of all, we’re spared the hardship of seeing the Saints (played Thursday), Romo-less Cowboys (BYE), Raiders (BYE), or Buccaneers (BYE). Second of all, the putrid teams who are playing this week are mostly playing each other. Jacksonville is playing Houston, Chicago is playing Detroit, Miami is playing Tennessee, and Baltimore is playing San Francisco. Aside from those four games, every single game is at least somewhat intriguing. Heck, all four of those games have spreads of 3.5 or fewer points, so even the bad teams will likely play close games. The best matchups this week? Probably Arizona-Pittsburgh, Cincinnati-Buffalo, and New England-Indianapolis simply because it’ll be fascinating to see how many points the Patriots score. I’m super excited for this week.
BYE teams- St. Louis, Dallas, Oakland, Tampa Bay
*= upset pick

Washington Redskins (2-3, 3-2 against the spread) at New York Jets (3-1, 3-1):*
Spread: Jets favored by 7
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: Are we sure the Jets are better than the Redskins? I mean, look at New York’s first four games. They’re 3-1, which looks great, but they’ve played one of the easiest schedules in football, destroying the Browns, Colts, and Dolphins (three bad teams at this point) while falling to the Eagles, who also happened to lose to Washington. The Jets have always lacked a great homefield advantage, and their one loss has come at home. They also have Ryan Fitzpatrick as their quarterback and an offense that I don’t think will be very effective against a surprisingly good Redskins defense. In a low scoring game, give me the Redskins in one of the biggest upsets (against the point spread) I’ll pick all year. Redskins win 20-17.
Redskins cover
Under

Arizona Cardinals (4-1, 4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2, 4-0-1):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 4.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: I really wish Ben Roethlisberger were playing in this game for the Steelers, because I think with Big Ben this could become one of the games of the season. With Michael Vick, though, I’m, er, less confident in the Steelers against a ferocious Cardinals team that has a +100 point differential through five games. The Steelers still have weapons in Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and the returning Martavis Bryant along with an improved defense, which is why I like them to make a run to the playoffs when Roethlisberger returns, but the Cardinals are a much better all-around team with Big Ben out. Cardinals win 31-16.
Cardinals cover
Over

Kansas City Chiefs (1-4, 1-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-2, 3-1):
Spread: Vikings favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: I looooove the Vikings here. They’re coming off a BYE, they’re playing a 1-4 team that just lost its best player, and they have looked very good at home this year. If this line were six points, I’d think about taking the Chiefs. But at 3.5? Vikings all day. I have a soft spot for the Vikings this year, and I’ll take Minnesota 27-13.
Vikings cover
Under

Cincinnati Bengals (5-0, 4-0-1) at Buffalo Bills (3-2, 3-2):*
Spread: Bengals favored by 3
Over/under: 43
My prediction: This is another game that would look very good if both teams had its starting quarterback. But the Bills will be without Tyrod Taylor, which means that E.J. Manuel will be tasked with knocking off one of the best teams in football. So is Buffalo screwed? Probably, but I’m taking them anyway! The Bengals are a great team, but I think they are going to slip up one of these weeks, and this feels like it could be the game in which Andy Dalton shows some of his flaws. Buffalo’s defense is really good, but their pass-rush hasn’t been as good as it was last year to this point. Could this be the week that they get some pressure on the opposing quarterback? It might be, although CIncinnati’s offensive line has been very good. I expect a close, back-and-forth affair that will end with a 21-20 Bills win.
Bills cover
Under

Chicago Bears (2-3, 2-3) at Detroit Lions (0-5, 1-4):
Spread: Lions favored by 4
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I think these teams are about even, and both of them are pretty bad. This is a pretty unpredictable matchup, with Matthew Stafford returning to the field after a second-half benching last week and the Bears coming off of two close wins against bad teams. I’ll hedge and take the Lions to win 27-24 with the Bears covering.
Bears cover
Over

Denver Broncos (5-0, 4-1) at Cleveland Browns (2-3, 3-2):
Spread: Broncos favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: The Broncos failed to cover for this first time last week, but I’m going to keep rolling with them this week. Their defense is really good, although it remains to be seen how they will respond to the loss of star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware. I’m still waiting for Peyton Manning (the worst QB in the NFL per Football Outsiders) and the last ranked offense to wake up, but they might not even need to against a Browns team that has looked solid but is still starting Josh McCown (and an injured one, at that). Broncos win 26-14.
Broncos cover
Under

Houston Texans (1-4, 1-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4, 2-3):
Spread: Jaguars favored by 2.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Who knows? Two bad teams here, but I have a bit more confidence in the Jaguars. Jaguars win 27-21.
Jaguars cover
Over

Miami Dolphins (1-3, 1-3) at Tennessee Titans (1-3, 2-2):*
Spread: Titans favored by 2
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: This is weirdly similar to the last matchup. Both of these teams are below-average, and the home team is again favored by less than a field goal. The difference here is that the Dolphins were actually supposed to be good before the season and now have a new head coach. I think some of their talent could show itself here with a new coach, leading to a 21-17 Dolphins win.
Dolphins cover
Under

Carolina Panthers (4-0, 3-1) at Seattle Seahawks (2-3, 1-3-1):- Lock of the Week
Spread: Seahawks favored by 7
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: It’s not often that you see a 2-3 team favored by a touchdown against an undefeated squad, but these are special circumstances; the Panthers have played the second easiest schedule in the league and have faced a quarterback murderer’s row of Blake Bortles, Ryan Mallett, Luke McCown, and Jameis Winston, while the Seahawks are coming off a close loss in Cincinnati in a game they should have won. I’m still not convinced that the Seahawks are all that great this year, and I’m sure I’ll pick against them plenty this season, but I like them here in a must-win situation at home against a team whose top receiver is Ted Ginn. This could be another Bears-style beat-down (the Seahawks won that one 26-0). Seattle’s the better team here, and they’ll show it in a 24-13 throttling. In fact, because I don’t want to be bland and pick one of the double-digit favorites as my lock, I’ll also lock up the Seahawks here.
Seahawks cover
Under

San Diego Chargers (2-3, 1-4) at Green Bay Packers (5-0, 5-0):
Spread: Packers favored by 10.5
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: It’s getting really difficult to pick against the Packers at home. Even when Aaron Rodgers isn’t at his best (he threw his first two picks at home in years last week), the Packers still cover at home, as they did in last week’s 24-10 victory. I have to think they’ll do so again against the Chargers, a team that’s looked really bad this year, especially defensively, which isn’t a good sign for a team heading to Lambeau to face the Packers. Packers win 31-17.
Packers cover
Under

Baltimore Ravens (1-4, 0-4-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-4, 2-3):*
Spread: Ravens favored by 2
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Are the Ravens really five points better than the Niners on a neutral field? I don’t think so. In fact, everything I’ve seen has indicated that the Niners are just as good (bad?), so I’ll take the Niners at home. Another game I won’t be watching, though. Niners win 26-20.
Niners cover
Over

New England Patriots (4-0, 3-1) at Indianapolis Colts (3-2, 1-4):
Spread: Patriots favored by 10
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: Is this spread four points too high? Probably. Will I feel stupid when a rejuvenated Andrew Luck leads the Colts to a backdoor cover against the Patriots? Most definitely. Is there any chance I’ll take the Colts in this game? Absolutely not. I think we all know Bill Belichick pretty well by now, and Bill Belichick likes running the score up on teams, especially against the Colts, his longtime rival. This game, though? We could see a new definition of “running up the score.” After the Colts blew the whistle on the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game in what turned into the Deflategate scandal (which was much less of a scandal than it was made out to be), you can be sure that Tom Brady and the Patriots will want their revenge. Oh, and since Luck was drafted by the Colts, the Patriots are 4-0 against them (two in the playoffs) and have outscored them.. wait for it… 189-73. I’m not picking against that team this week. Patriots win 41-21.
Patriots cover
Over

New York Giants (3-2, 3-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-3, 2-3):
Spread: Eagles favored by 5.5
Over/under: 50
My prediction: Uh, why are the Eagles giving so many points here? Sure, they beat up on the Saints last week, but it is well established that the Saints are not a good football team, especially on the road. The evidence still overwhelmingly states that the Eagles aren’t a good team right now. Meanwhile, the Giants could easily be walking into this game 5-0, with Eli Manning playing extremely well. I think the Giants have the better offense while the Eagles have the better defense, so home field could end up being the difference, but I don’t think Philly will win by more than four points. I really wanted to pick them here because I like their chances on Monday Night, but this spread is just too high. Eagles win 23-20.
Giants cover
Under

Upset picks:
Niners over Ravens
Dolphins over Titans
Bills over Bengals
Redskins over Jets

Lock of the week:
Seahawks over Panthers

Week 5 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 10/15/2015 by levcohen in Football

Week five was an exciting one, with three overtime games and three other games that basically ended in walk-off victories (the Bears’ win and both night the Sunday and Monday night games). I can’t remember the last time we had a better Sunday night-Monday night combination in terms of pure watch-ability, especially in games that didn’t look all that great on paper.

I’m going to eliminate the Chiefs (1-4, just lost Jamaal Charles)

Eliminated teams: Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco, Kansas City

Here are my takeaways from an exciting week of football:

  • The undefeated teams all remained undefeated, and it’s now getting kind of ridiculous. There are six unbeaten teams through five weeks, and Football Outsiders gives both New England and Green Bay legitimate chances of going undefeated. Some of them have to lose soon, but it seems as if there are more great teams this year than usual. The Patriots and Packers, both of whom won easily despite not playing their best offensively, look especially good, while the Bengals, Broncos and Falcons showed that they can win even when they aren’t playing their best.
  • The Eagles still have the highest potential in the NFC East. They whooped a bad Saints team but still didn’t really click on all cylinders until the second half. This team already has the best defense in the division, and they have the personnel to be just as good offensively, as long as their offensive line improves. Make no mistake about it: this team is still bad right now, and Chip Kelly still looks to have made a mess of the offseason. But the potential is there, especially if Sam Bradford can consistently play well.
  • The play worked, but I’m not sure Mike Tomlin made the right decision by giving Le’Veon Bell the ball with five seconds left down by three points. If Bell had gotten stopped at the one yard line, the Steelers would have lost the game, and it would have been the worst call of the season. I would have rolled Michael Vick out so he could run it in if he had an open lane or thrown it out of the endzone to give Pittsburgh the chance at a field goal. Anyway, Bell’s run (barely) worked, and I guess it’s always smart to give the ball to Bell, the best running back in the NFL. But without the benefit of hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have called that play.
  • Poor Jamaal Charles. For the second time in his career, the 29-year old tore his ACL. And everyone knew it immediately. It’s a terrible injury, but I think Charles can come back strong again, because he’s very athletic and responded very effectively after the first ACL tear. How can the Chiefs respond the rest of this season, though? Probably not well. They’re already 1-4, and Alex Smith doesn’t seem like the kind of quarterback who can put his team on his back..
  • Blake Bortles is showing signs that he isn’t terrible. Historically, quarterbacks who have been atrocious their first season haven’t gotten better. Bortles, with a 25.2 QBR and 11 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, qualified as atrocious last season after being drafted third overall. He was already being written off as another Jaguars bust, and probably for good reason. But he’s been much better this season, and he threw for 303 yards and four touchdowns against the Bucs last week (unfortunately, they still lost 38-31). His completion percentage is down this season, but he’s averaging three quarters of a yard more per attempt, has thrown 10 touchdowns to four interceptions, and has a 63.7 QBR, 12th in the NFL. The Jaguars might have found a franchise quarterback after all.

7-7 straight up… 49-28 total
4-8-2 against the spread (bad week)… 36-37-4
7-7 over/under… 39-37-1

Upset picks: 1-4.. 10-10.
Lock of the week: 1-0.. 4-1.

Atlanta Falcons (5-0, 4-1) at New Orleans Saints (1-4, 2-3):*
Spread: Falcons favored by 3.5
Over/under: 52
My prediction: This is a game I don’t really have a handle on. Thursday Night Football games are often weird, dome games are sometimes hard to predict, and division games are sometimes hard to predict. Those three things are all factors here, along with the fact that Julio Jones might be on a snap count for the Falcons. With the Saints at home and in a must-win situation, I expect a close game with the Saints edging out the Falcons on top. This just seems like it’s going to be the week that the Falcons finally lose their first game. Saints win 27-21.
Saints cover
Under

ALDS Game Fives; Who’s Going to Win?

Posted: 10/14/2015 by levcohen in Baseball

Both of my NL predictions looks pretty good right now, with the Cubs punching their ticket to the NLCS and Clayton Kershaw pitching the Dodgers to game five, where Zack Greinke will have a chance to beat the Mets at home and advance to the next round. Now it’s time to move to the AL, where both matchups are heading to a dramatic conclusion in game five. Will both favorites win at home? Or are we headed for an all-Texas, all-AL West ALCS?

After they dropped the first two games of their series with the Rangers, I have to say that I gave up hope on the Blue Jays, the World Series favorites entering the playoffs. But the Jays, the team with by far the best offense and run differential in baseball, are more resilient than I thought they were. They took games three and four in Arlington, which means they’ll have game five tonight in Toronto. And after winning two straight, I can’t pick against them here, right? Yes, the pitching matchup, Cole Hamels against Marcus Stroman, probably favors Texas. But the Jays scored 891 runs this season, 140 more than the Rangers. Their bats have also woken up a bit over the last two games, as they’ve scored 13 runs on 21 hits in the last two games. Surprisingly, it’s been the lesser-known bats who have carried the offense; with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki struggling, Ryan Goins, Chris Colabello, and Ben Revere have led the team in hitting. Possible MVP Josh Donaldson is playing well, but he’s the only one of the stars who is clicking offensively right now. That’s not a good thing for the Jays, but it’s also scary for any future opponents; this is a series they might be able to win despite being far from at their best, which is rare in the playoffs. Luckily for them, while Hamels is a good pitcher, he’s also left-handed, and the Blue Jays killed lefties this year, hitting .274/.354/.463 against them, far better than they hit against righties. Having Stroman on the mound is a bit worrying, as he missed most of the year with an elbow injury before returning in September. Stroman, though, has been excellent since his return, giving up just 25 hits and eight runs in 34 innings including a game two start. The bottom line is that I have more confidence in Toronto’s offense than I do in Texas’s, while I think Stroman could (but probably won’t) throw a gem. The Blue Jays will win this game 6-4.

The night game, the marquee matchup, is… Royals-Astros? Yep, that’s what we’re looking at tonight, and I love it. Having no Yankees or Red Sox in the playoffs is refreshing, and seeing either one of these long-suffering teams win it all would be great. One of them is going to get eliminated tonight, though, and I think the Royals will be that team. I’m not enamored of either Collin McHugh, Houston’s shaky starter, or Johnny Cueto, who’s been terrible since being traded to Kansas City, but I have more confidence in McHugh than I do in Cueto. And while I can rely on three guys in KC’s bullpen (Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, and Kelvin Herrera), the rest of the pen is a lot shakier than it was this time last season. Greg Holland is out and Ryan Madson has been bad, which means this really is a three man bullpen. The Astros also have a three man pen, but I think the difference might be Dallas Keuchel, the ace who has gotten the W in both Astros wins and could pitch an inning or two in relief. Because a couple of guys (Colby Rasmus, Carlos Correa, Chris Carter) with a lot of power are absolutely raking for the Astros, I also have a bit more confidence in their offense than I do in Houston’s. All of that means the Astros will pull off the upset against “ace” Johnny Cueto and head to the ALCS after a nail-biting 5-4 win.