Archive for November, 2015

Week 12 Picks

Posted: 11/29/2015 by levcohen in Football

This week is characterized by the predicted closeness of most of these matchups. Including the three Thanksgiving games, just three out of the 16 games on week 12’s slate have spreads that are greater than 5 points (the first of the three big favorites, Green Bay, lost at home to the Bears. Sign of things to come?). And while this is due largely to a good number of even matchups this week and the fact that New England and Carolina both play (or played) supposedly tough (not in Carolina’s case, as it turned out) road games, it also has to do with the state of the NFL this season. I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating: there are really only four teams we can all agree are legitimately good in New England, Carolina, Arizona, and Cincinnati (the latter two are the two 4.5+ point favorites today). Kansas City, once the owners of a 1-5 record, might actually be the fifth best team in football. We can debate the merits of Seattle and Pittsburgh, of Green Bay and Denver, but it would be a real debate, because those teams have huge holes. The lack of consistently good teams might be common, but I can’t remember it being like this. I compared this year’s Week 11 Football Outsiders DVOA ratings with last years’ and discovered a few interesting things. The top four teams in football this year are all better than last year’s #2, but there are just 12 teams with a positive rating right now after there were 17 at this point last season. The most bizarre thing? Last year, 14 of the top 15 teams had winning record, with the 5-5 Bills serving as the outlier. 17 teams in total had winning records. This season, just seven of the top 15 are above .500, and just nine in total are above .500. That’s probably the weirdest thing about this season; just 28% of the league is better than .500 at this point, while a large segment (25%) is 5-5 and the remaining 47% is below .500. What does that mean? Probably what I started out by saying: there are a few really good teams this year, but the vast majority of the league is pretty mediocre, hence the conservative point spreads.

*= upset pick

New Orleans Saints (4-6, 4-5-1) at Houston Texans (5-5, 5-5):
Spread: Texans favored by 3
Over/under: 51
My prediction: This is tough for me because I’ve been picking against both of these teams pretty much all season long. This is is a really unpredictable game, as the Saints normally put up a lot of points while Houston has given up just 29 points in their last three games, all wins, after holding an opponent under 20 points just once in their first seven games. In the end, I trust Houston’s defense and New Orleans’s lack of defense just a bit more than Drew Brees, especially since the Saints are on the road. Texans win 31-24.
Texans cover
Over

Minnesota Vikings (7-3, 8-2) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4, 4-6):*
Spread: Falcons favored by 2
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: This one is pretty simple for me. I just think the Vikings are a better all-around team than the struggling Falcons. They should rebound from a disappointing home loss against Green Bay to take them back atop the NFC North in what is an important game for both NFC playoff hopefuls. Vikings win 23-17.
Vikings cover
Under

St. Louis Rams (4-6, 4-5-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-2, 8-1-1):
Spread: Bengals favored by 10.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: This looks like a lopsided matchup. The Rams are hapless, especially on the road, while the Bengals are great at home. But while I’ll pick the Bengals to win handily, there are two reasons that I’m wary to lock them up. The first is that they are the Andy Dalton Bengals, the same team that has blown a number of seemingly easy games over the past few years (see: Texans, MNF this year). The second is that the Rams have already beaten the Seahawks and Cardinals this year, and they’ve shown the ability to upset great teams recently. I’ll take the Bengals 27-10, but Cincinnati needs to be careful.
Bengals cover
Under

San Diego Chargers (2-8, 3-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6, 6-4):
Spread: Jaguars favored by 5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars: Favorites. That’s not something we normally see, but it’s happened for the second straight time, both because the Jags have improved and because they have played two-win teams in consecutive weeks. And just because it doesn’t seem right that the Jags are being given this much credit, this game has to be close, right? The Chargers stink; their only win in their last nine games was a three point victory over the Browns. But you don’t have to be good to keep a game with the Jaguars close, which is why I’m going to take Jacksonville 27-24.
Jaguars cover
Over

Miami Dolphins (4-6, 4-6) at New York Jets (5-5, 4-5-1):
Spread: Jets favored by 4.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Neither of these teams is any good, but I can’t pick a team that only beat the current iteration of the Eagles to win by a point (as the Dolphins did immediately before Philadelphia got thrashed by Tampa and Detroit). Then again, the Jets lost to the Eagles, but that was before they had totally quit on their coach and their season. In all seriousness, I trust the Jets to take care of business here after losing four of five. Jets win 20-14.
Jets cover
Under

Oakland Raiders (4-6, 5-5) at Tennessee Titans (2-8, 4-6):*
Spread: Raiders favored by 1
Over/under: 45
My prediction: I have lost all confidence in the Raiders, especially since they are 0-3 against the spread as a favorite. The Titans are capable of scoring against terrible defenses, as evidenced by the 34 points they put up against New Orleans. Besides, when two terrible teams play each other… take the home team. Titans win 23-20.
Titans cover
Under

Buffalo Bills (5-5, 5-4-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-5, 5-5):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 4.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: These teams are both pretty good and legitimate AFC playoff contenders. In fact, along with the Steelers, I think they should be considered the favorites to win the AFC wild cards. The Bills have been excellent on the road this season, going 3-2 straight up and 3-1-1 against the spread. But I can’t pick against the Chiefs right now, not after they’ve won four straight by an average of 23 points, including wins against Pittsburgh, Denver, Detroit (which seems a bit better after three straight Lions wins), and San Diego (by 30). I don’t know how they’re doing it, but I think they’ll keep doing it here. Chiefs win 19-13.
Chiefs cover
Under

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5, 6-4) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5, 5-5):*
Spread: Colts favored by 3
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: The Buccaneers are playing really well recently, and they have a fairly easy game against a Colts team that is without quarterback and leader Andrew Luck. Why not pick an upset here? Buccaneers win 28-24.
Buccaneers cover
Over

New York Giants (5-5, 6-3-1) at Washington Redskins (4-6, 4-6):
Spread: Giants favored by 1
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: The Giants have been pretty impressive recently, and I like Eli Manning and their offense here against a pedestrian Redskins’ defense. Washington has won their last four home games, but those were games against the Eagles, Rams, Buccaneers, and Saints. I think the Giants are slightly better than those teams. Giants win 31-27.
Giants cover
Over

Arizona Cardinals (8-2, 6-4) at San Francisco 49ers (3-7, 4-6):- Lock
Spread: Cardinals favored by 8
Over/under: 46
My prediction: The Cardinals are great, and the Niners might still be the worst team in football. I feel pretty confident about locking this one up and don’t expect the Cardinals to have a letdown against a divisional opponent. Cardinals win 30-14.
Cardinals cover
Under

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4, 6-3-1) at Seattle Seahawks (5-5, 3-6-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 3
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: These teams are very even. They’re ranked fifth (Seattle) and seventh in DVOA, and it’s set to be a very intriguing game, one I’m excited to watch. If I had any confidence in Seattle’s offensive line, I’d pick the Seahawks to win by multiple scores, since I think their defense will do a pretty good job against Pittsburgh’s offense. But I don’t, and the Steelers are 3-1 against the spread on the road. With that being said, I still just get the feeling that the Seahawks are going to win this game. Barely. Seahawks win 21-20.
Steelers cover
Under

New England Patriots (10-0, 5-3-2) at Denver Broncos (8-2, 5-5):
Spread: Patriots favored by 2
Over/under: 43
My prediction: This has all the makings of New England’s first loss. They’re on the road against the top defense in football, and they are suffering through serious injury concerns, both on the offensive line and with the skill-position group. But am I going to pick Brock Oswiler to beat Tom Brady here? I’m not. Patriots win 24-14.
Patriots cover
Under

Baltimore Ravens (3-7, 1-7-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-8, 4-6):
Spread: Browns favored by 3.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Um. Worst Monday Night Football game of all-time? Probably. ESPN probably didn’t think Baltimore would be 3-7 coming into this game. But they are, and they just lost their quarterback and running back to season-ending injuries. Luckily for them, they get to play a team that might just be as bad as they are this week. Unfortunately, they still won’t win. Browns win 27-20.
Browns cover
Over

Upset picks:
Buccaneers over Colts
Titans over Raiders
Vikings over Falcons

Lock of the week:
Cardinals over Niners

Thanksgiving Preview

Posted: 11/26/2015 by levcohen in Football

It’s Thanksgiving, which can only mean that it’s time for one of the best football days of the year. No matter what the games are, or their importance, Thanksgiving football is always special. So even though the Cowboys and Lions are both 3-7 this year, today’s games are still going to get incredible ratings. Here are my thoughts for the three games:

*= upset pick

Philadelphia Eagles (4-6, 4-6) at Detroit Lions (3-7, 3-7):
Spread: Lions favored by 2.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: I just wrote about the Eagles here, and once you read that, you’ll know who I’m going to pick here and that I don’t want to write much more about Philadelphia. The Lions, while still not good, have actually improved defensively over the last few weeks, holding Green Bay and Oakland, both of whom own solid offenses, to 16 and 13 points. I still think the Lions are one of the worst teams in football. Their offense is struggling, as Calvin Johnson is past his prime and Matthew Stafford is no better than an average quarterback. I said earlier that the Eagles had an exploitable run defense, but the Lions don’t have the running game to exploit said defense. And while the defense has improved, it’s still hard to forget that they gave up more than 30 points per game in their first eight games and still rank just 23rd in defensive DVOA. I’m talking myself into picking the Eagles… but of course I’m not going to. I expect a big game from Calvin Johnson and more floundering from Philadelphia in a 24-17 win for the Lions.
Lions cover
Under

Carolina Panthers (10-0, 8-2) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7, 3-7):*
Spread: Cowboys favored by 1
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Why are the Cowboys favored here? Look, I understand that their defense has improved and that Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are back. They are coming off a nice-and-easy 10 point win in Miami, in which Romo showed rust but the defense stifled the Dolphins. But the Panthers are no Dolphins. They’re 10-0, and despite having an offense full of nobodies (along with Cam Newton), they’ve scored at least 20 points in every game this season and 27+ in every game aside from the first two. Carolina is 4-0 against the spread as a road team, while the Cowboys are 1-4 against the spread at home and have been a below-average home team the past few seasons. You think Newton, the MVP Co-favorite (with Tom Brady) is going to let up here? I don’t. Newton has been clutch in the fourth quarter of close games all season long, going 18/28 for 256 yards and two touchdowns and carrying the ball six times for 43 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter of one-score games. He’s also enabled the run game to be as good as it is. I expect Newton, Greg Olsen, and company to gash the Cowboys’ defense a number of times.

On the other side of the ball, I really like this matchup for the Panthers. They can stick top corner Josh Norman, who’s been the best cover corner in football this year, on Dez Bryant, which should help throttle the passing game and enable the Panthers to focus on running back Darren McFadden, who has excelled since the Cowboys benched and subsequently released Joseph Randle. Romo is too good not to make some plays, so the Cowboys will score some points and keep it close, but I like the Panthers to win 27-23.
Panthers cover
Over

Chicago Bears (4-6, 6-4) at Green Bay Packers (7-3, 6-4):
Spread: Packers favored by 8
Over/under: 45
My prediction: The Packers just throttled the Vikings in Minnesota, but is that enough to convince me that they are back to being the Green Bay Packers after three consecutive losses? Not really, no. The offense still wasn’t clicking, although an overweight Eddie Lacy looked as good as he has all season. The Packers will score some points against an improving Chicago defense, but I don’t expect them to blow the game open early as they so often have done in the past at home. Meanwhile, I actually think the Bears are half-decent. After winning consecutive road games against San Diego and St. Louis, they kept their game against the Broncos close and was a two point conversion away from sending it to overtime. Had top playmakers Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte been available, they may well have won the game. Jeffery and Forte are back this week, and they will help aid Jay Cutler, who’s on pace to have the best season of his career. With all that said, can I pick Cutler’s Bears to beat the Packers at Lambeau and give new life to their playoff hopes? No, I can’t. Cutler is 1-12 in his career against the Packers with 15 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, and that history is just too much for me to ignore. Packers win 26-20.
Bears cover
Over

Week 11 Review

Posted: 11/26/2015 by levcohen in Football

Another week, another six examples of the NFL’s disappearing home field advantage. Away teams went 6-8 this week and actually outplayed their home opponents, going +15 on the day. A week after road teams went 11-3, it’s becoming clearer that home teams don’t have much of an advantage. The eye-test bears that out, too. Just watch the games and scan the crowds; you’ll see the astounding number of away fans in stadiums. Both due to the increasing ease with which people can travel and because tickets are easy to re-sell on services like StubHub, away fans are traveling well, and not only to nearby areas; the Chiefs fans were the majority last Sunday… in San Diego. On the season, home teams are still 88-72, which seems slightly worse than usual but not that different from normal, so I might be making much ado about nothing, but it really seems as if the difference is tangible. Anyway, I’m going to eliminate St. Louis, because the Rams, after an auspicious start to the season, can’t pass to save their lives and are now 4-6 after a loss to Baltimore. New Orleans and Oakland are nearing elimination, while I should probably un-eliminate KC and Tampa, but I’ll wait a week for that.

Eliminated teams: Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco, Kansas City, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Dallas, Baltimore, San Diego, St. Louis

Here are my takeaways from week 11:

  • The Eagles are really bad. Two weeks ago, they were coming off a win in Dallas and were 4-4 with three “easy” games leading to their showdown with Indianapolis. They were the NFC East favorites and were expected to go to 7-4. We all knew they weren’t playing well, but that didn’t matter; they were surely going to improve in these next few weeks, and they had the highest upside in the NFC East. How does that look now? Well, after blowing a home game against the terrible Dolphins and getting obliterated by Jameis Winston (who threw five touchdowns after coming into the week with 10 on the season) and Doug Martin, they are 4-6 and only still in the playoff hunt because of the total ineptitude of their division. Sam Bradford wasn’t playing well, and now he’s injured; Mark Sanchez will (gulp) probably start today. The team’s most effective runner, Ryan Mathews, is missing his second consecutive game with a concussion, while DeMarco Murray has been a disappointment, especially considering the amount of money the Eagles gave him. The defense, the team’s strength early in the season, has also fallen apart, especially against the run (Doug Martin, Darren McFadden, and Jonathan Stewart have run all over them in recent games). Chip Kelly seems to be on the way out, as his offseason moves have almost all backfired (the signings of Murray and Byron Maxwell were immediately – and accurately – criticized) and his signature offense has stalled in his third season with the Eagles. More and more, it’s looking like the much maligned Howie Roseman, who was relieved of his GM duties this offseason in favor of Kelly, was the main reason for Philadelphia’s moderate success the last two seasons.
  • I don’t know how it happened, but Andy Reid’s Chiefs have quickly changed from being a 1-5 team without their star player to a 5-5 squad that’s quickly becoming a factor in the AFC wild card race. The Chiefs have risen all the way to sixth in DVOA after four consecutive double-digit wins by an average of 23 points. Even without Jamaal Charles, their offense has gotten a lot better; Charcandrick West looks like he’s almost as good as Charles, and Spencer Ware tore up the Chargers on the ground after West was injured last week. But it’s the defense that’s been the bigger factor in KC’s turnaround. Since giving up more than 30 points in three consecutive weeks (against Denver, Green Bay, and Cincinnati), they’ve conceded just 12 points per game in their last six. Their schedule is also extremely light the rest of the way, with two games against Oakland, and one against Baltimore, Cleveland, San Diego, and Buffalo. If they beat the Bills this week, they could easily go 11-5, ending the season on a 10-game winning streak.
  • The Texans keep managing to win games, but I don’t really know how. They are now 5-5 after four wins in five games, but their only offensive threat is receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has incredibly managed to keep putting up great stat lines week after week. Without Arian Foster, the running game has been terrible, but the defense has supported the horrible offense to the tune of 29 points allowed in the last three weeks. J.J. Watt has been his normal incredible and disruptive self, and he’s picked up 7.5 sacks in the last four games. If he and the defense keeps this up, the Texans could find themselves in the playoffs, where I predict they’d be killed at home by the Steelers or Chiefs.
  • The Vikings lost handily at home to the Packers, but I still believe in them. I think they played fairly well in this game defensively, as Aaron Rodgers averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt (6.5 for the Vikings) and the Packers just 3.4 yards per carry (5.2 for the Vikings). Minnesota’s offense might be too Adrian Peterson-dependent, and the Vikings have a tough schedule to end the season, but I still think this is a solid playoff team with the potential to wreak havoc in the playoffs. The defense can be really good, and, should they face off against the Giants (or whomever wins the NFC East) in round one, I’d probably pick them to win. They might have lost in cold weather against the Packers, but I still think this is a team that will perform well in the cold in the playoffs.
  • Cardinals-Bengals was one of the games of the season, and I think Arizona’s three point home win proved that both of these teams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. I have slightly more confidence in Arizona and quarterback Andy Dalton, but the Bengals have also proven this season that they have a very explosive offense and a solid defense. These are two top-five teams.

7-7 straight up… 90-56
5-6-3 against the spread… 70-68-8
5-8-1 over/under… 69-71-6

Upset picks:
0-4… 18-20

Lock of the Week:
1-0… 8-3

Week 11 Picks

Posted: 11/22/2015 by levcohen in Football

After last week’s craziness (road teams went 11-3, underdogs 10-4 straight up), this is a very important week in the grand scheme of things. While the top teams are always evolving, at this point I think there’s a pretty clear top echelon, composed of New England, Arizona, Carolina, and Pittsburgh with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger. After that, there’s a strong second tier, made up of good (I think) but flawed teams like Green Bay, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Seattle, and Denver. But once you get past those teams and perhaps a couple of others (the Jets and Bills, maybe the Chiefs), it’s a total crap-shoot. Only 11 of football’s 32 teams are over .500, with the Giants serving as the only .500 team and everyone else entering week 11 under .500. There’s a glut of 4-5 teams (11!), many of whom still have solid chances at making the playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see those 11 teams in action this week, and this is a week I’m very much excited for, as there are also some very important and good games later on (GB-Minnesota, Arizona-Cincinnati). And getting Tom Brady against Rex Ryan on Monday Night Football is never a good thing. It’ll be interesting to see whether this week provides any clarity after the craziness that commenced in week 10.

BYE teams: New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New York Giants
*= upset pick

Oakland Raiders (4-5, 5-4) at Detroit Lions (2-7, 2-7):*
Spread: Lions favored by 1
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: I noted a week or two ago that Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr is really good against bad defenses and pretty bad against good defenses. The anemic offensive effort last week against Minnesota’s stout defense, then, makes a lot of sense. So too will Carr roasting Detroit’s poor defense this week. Now, Oakland’s defense is pretty bad too, so I expect a lot of points here. But I still am confident that the Raiders are the better team, and the Lions are probably being over-hyped following their close win over the Packers, who (gasp) aren’t really that good. Raiders win 31-24.
Raiders cover
Over

Indianapolis Colts (4-5, 4-5) at Atlanta Falcons (6-3, 4-5):
Spread: Falcons favored by 3.5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: The Falcons are lucky that they have the easiest schedule in the league this year, because their schedule makes it likely that they’ll sneak into the playoffs despite playing very poor football over the last month. If Andrew Luck were playing in this game for the Colts, I’d take Indy fairly easily. He isn’t, though, which makes this more of a toss-up. And I’ll reluctantly take the home team in a game between two pretty crappy teams. I don’t think either team will have much trouble moving the ball between the 20’s, but I don’t expect to see a lot of touchdowns. Falcons win 22-19.
Colts cover
Under

New York Jets (5-4, 4-4-1) at Houston Texans (4-5, 4-5):
Spread: Jets favored by 4
Over/under: 40
My prediction: The Texans beat the Bengals on Monday, but that was mainly because the Bengals were absolutely atrocious. I still think Houston is bad, especially with backup T.J. Yates starting and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins likely to be a little banged up after missing two full days of practice. I just don’t know how the Texans are going to score against New York’s #4 DVOA defense. On the other side of the ball, I expect the Jets to have some success offensively, with Chris Ivory, Eric Decker, and Brandon Marshall leading the way while Ryan Fitzpatrick plays effectively just a week and a half after undergoing surgery. Jets win 24-13.
Jets cover
Under

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5, 5-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-5, 4-5):
Spread: Eagles favored by 6.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I don’t think the Eagles should be favored by this much over anyone at this point, and especially not against a Tampa Bay team that has shown some fight this season. I still think the Eagles win this game, but they won’t do it at all convincingly in Mark Sanchez’s first start of the season. With Sam Bradford and Ryan Mathews out, expect a heavy dose of DeMarco Murray, who could have his best game of the season this week. And while the Eagles will likely get roasted once or twice by Mike Evans or the returning Vincent Jackson, I expect them to have a solid all-around defensive game. This could be a blowout, but I don’t have enough confidence in Philadelphia to predict one. Eagles win 21-17.
Buccaneers cover
Under

Denver Broncos (7-2, 5-4) at Chicago Bears (4-5, 5-4):
Spread: Broncos favored by 2
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Guess what? Despite some strong showings recently, I still think the Bears are no better than mediocre. I also think that the Broncos have proven that they can win against lackluster opposition with their defense alone. People are overreacting to the Peyton Manning injury; the spread would probably be Broncos -5 or -6 with Manning in, despite the fact that Brock Oswiler is likely to perform at least as well as Manning has this season, when he’s been the worst quarterback in football. Plus, Alshon Jeffery is out this week, which robs Jay Cutler of his only real option in the passing game. With only Jeremy Langford to worry about since Matt Forte is also still out, I like the Broncos here. Broncos win 27-17.
Broncos cover
Over

St. Louis Rams (4-5, 4-5) at Baltimore Ravens (2-7, 1-7-1):*
Spread: Ravens favored by 3
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Newsflash: the Baltimore Ravens are bad. They just lost to the Jaguars. At home. Sure, they should have won the game and would have if not for some Elvis Dumervil stupidity, but the fact that it was even close says all you need to know about the Ravens. And while the Rams are starting Case Keenum at quarterback this week, which is a scary thought, I have more confidence in their running game and defense than I do in Baltimore’s. We’ll know exactly the way this game is going to go within the first few minutes; I think whichever team takes the first 7+ point lead will win the game fairly handily, since the Rams have proven adept at holding onto leads and atrocious at coming back from deficits. Rams win 23-14.
Rams cover
Under

Dallas Cowboys (2-7, 2-7) at Miami Dolphins (4-5, 4-5):*
Spread: Cowboys favored by 2.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: Should Dallas really be favored in Tony Romo’s return from injury? Or is this just the public making stupid bets on “America’s Team” in Romo’s return? Last time Romo returned from a long-term absence, he was very rusty in his return. And while the Dolphins aren’t good, they aren’t horrible, either. So give me the Dolphins! Wishful thinking? Maybe, because I can’t stand Dallas. Dolphins win 24-20.
Dolphins cover
Under

Washington Redskins (4-5, 4-5) at Carolina Panthers (9-0, 7-2):
Spread: Panthers favored by 7
Over/under: 44
My prediction: The Panthers are going to lose one of these weeks, but I said last week that I don’t buy that as an argument to pick against them, and that worked out for me as they won 27-10. I’ll pick them again here against a Washington team that is one of the hardest teams to predict in the NFL. Panthers win 27-14.
Panthers cover
Under

Kansas City Chiefs (4-5, 4-5) at San Diego Chargers (2-7, 3-6):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 3
Over/under: 45
My prediction: The Chiefs might be decent! I eliminated them after they fell to 1-5, but three wins later, they’re ninth in DVOA and entering a very tasty part of their schedule. Also, the Chargers are absolutely atrocious defensively, are really banged up, and have almost no homefield advantage to speak of. Chiefs win 31-21.
Chiefs cover
Over

San Francisco 49ers (3-6, 4-5) at Seattle Seahawks (4-5, 2-6-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 14
Over/under: 40
My prediction: The Seahawks are due for a blowout win. After their dispiriting loss to Arizona, they really need to kick-start any potential playoff push with a resounding win over perhaps the worst team in football. But while I think they’ll control this game, I’m not sure they have the offense to cover this spread. The Niners will keep it close-ish in a 23-13 Seattle win.
Niners cover
Under

Green Bay Packers (6-3, 5-4) at Minnesota Vikings (7-2, 8-1):*
Spread: Packers favored by 1
Over/under: 44
My prediction: 10 weeks in, the Vikings bandwagon is starting to fill up. But Green Bay is still the more popular team, which is the only possible explanation I can think of for the Packers being favored in this game despite being losers of three in a row (including a home loss to the Lions last week) and having a banged-up Aaron Rodgers. Minnesota’s great at home and the cold weather will suit their ground-and-pound style, so I like them as short home underdogs. Vikings win 24-21.
Vikings cover
Over

Cincinnati Bengals (8-1, 7-1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (7-2, 6-3):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 4
Over/under: 48
My prediction: That’s why it’s never safe to trust an Andy Dalton Bengals team. After starting the season with eight straight wins, we all thought they had turned the corner… and they lost at home against Houston. Ok, maybe I’m being too harsh. It’s one loss, and the Bengals are still one of the best teams in football by any metric. But they aren’t as good as the Cardinals, who in my eyes are one of the three best teams in the league. Any time the Cardinals are being favored by under a touchdown at home against someone other than the Patriots, Steelers, or Panthers, I’m taking Arizona. Cardinals win 31-24.
Cardinals cover
Over

Buffalo Bills (5-4, 5-4) at New England Patriots (9-0, 5-3-1):- Lock
Spread: Patriots favored by 7.5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: Injuries and all, I’m still very confident in the Patriots. And in Tom Brady in primetime. Patriots win 30-17.
Patriots cover
Under

Upset picks:
Vikings over Packers
Dolphins over Cowboys
Raiders over Lions
Rams over Ravens

Lock of the week:
Patriots over Bills

Half of Week 10 Review, TNF Pick

Posted: 11/19/2015 by levcohen in Football, Uncategorized

Last week had all the makings of a crazy one. There were a lot of unpredictable games, with a ton of point spreads falling in the 4-6.5 “who the heck knows” range. Sure enough, the week was defined by its weirdness. Underdogs went 10-4 straight up and just three teams won at home. The Bengals, Broncos, and Packers in particular all disappointed in losses to mediocre teams. I have plenty of takeaways from this week, but I’ll post those when I have more time. For now, here’s my performance from last week, my team eliminations, and my Thursday Night Football pick.

I’m going to eliminate the Chargers,  Cowboys and Ravens after losses sent them to 2-7 records (the Chargers had a BYE, but I forgot to eliminate them last year) that tie for the worst in football. I’ve now eliminated 11 teams after 10 weeks, although I’m starting to second-guess my KC and Chicago eliminations.

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

8-6 straight up… 83-49
8-6 against the spread… 65-62-5
5-6-3 over/under… 64-63-5

Upset picks:
4-0… 18-16

Lock of the Week:
0-1… 7-3 (really Packers???)

Tennessee Titans (2-7, 4-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6, 5-4):
Spread: Jaguars favored by 3
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Does this game mean anything? You would think not, given that its participants are 2-7 and 3-6. In most games between teams with those records, the only thing on the line is a better draft picks. But these teams reside in the AFC South, the division that is co-led by the Colts, who are without their quarterback for at least the next few weeks, and the Texans, who lost their quarterback, looked terrible offensively, and still managed to knock off the previously-undefeated Bengals in Cincinnati. That’s football, folks. But the point is that the Jags in particular have a decent chance at making a run for the division (20.3%, per Football Outsiders), largely because they also have the easiest remaining schedule (their opponents the rest of the season have a combined 24-44 record). The Titans are in a much tougher position, but they too have a better shot than a 2-7 team normally would. So this game could have some importance.

The Jaguars just look like the better team at this point. They’ve played very well in their last three games, with a tough five point loss at the Jets book-ended by upset wins over the Bills and Ravens. Sure, their win last week was gift-wrapped by the most boneheaded of boneheaded mistakes by Baltimore’s Elvis Dumervil, but they played the Ravens to a draw nonetheless (not that that’s really something to be proud of). I’m not saying the Jags are good, but they have some offensive talent with Blake Bortles being surrounded by T.J. Yeldon, Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns, a trio of dynamic skill-position players.

I have no such optimism about Tennessee. They’ve scored more than 13 points in a game once in the last six, and that was against the Saints’ infamous defense, which is on pace to be one of the worst of all-time and was so bad that Rob Ryan was fired mid-season. Their defense is good, but with the exception of the wins over the Bucs and Saints, Marcus Mariota and his limited weapons just aren’t getting it done. Delanie Walker is a consistent tight end, but who else is there?? Antonio Andrews, who rushed the ball 11 times for eight yards? Sorry, I can’t pick the Titans, even against the road, where they are 2-2 straight up and against the spread. It’s scary to pick the Jags, especially after a fluky win, but I’ll take Jacksonville. Jags win 27-20.

Jaguars cover
Over

Week 10 Picks

Posted: 11/15/2015 by levcohen in Football

I don’t think I can remember a week in which the slate of good games has been balanced so heavily to the side of the later games. There are eight early games this week, and they vary from mediocre to unwatchable. I mean, seriously, what’s the best early game of the day? The Packers, Panthers, and Steelers are the only teams above .500 playing at 1:00, and they are playing against (gulp)… the 1-7 Lions, the 2-6 Titans, and the 2-7 Browns. The best game of the early afternoon might in fact be the Panthers-Titans game, because Carolina’s on the road and has to face a Tennessee offense that looked much better last week in Mike Mularkey’s first game as a head coach. And the most exciting game (high-scoring wise) is likely to be the New Orleans-Washington game, since neither defense can stop anything. But all of the really good and important games come later. There’s Minnesota-Oakland, a game between two underrated teams that could easily make the playoffs. There’s Kansas City-Denver, which could easily go either way depending on how the Broncos respond to their first loss. There’s Patriots-Giants, which might be the game of the week simply because New York is New England’s Kryptonite, as evidenced by their three consecutive wins over the Pats since 2007 (including two that just so happened to be in the Super Bowl). And at night, there’s Seattle-Arizona, which probably has the most importance in terms of playoff chances. As for the Monday Night game? Let’s just ignore that one.

BYE teams: Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Diego, San Francisco

*= upset pick

Detroit Lions (1-7, 1-7) at Green Bay Packers (6-2, 5-3):- Lock of the Week
Spread: Packers favored by 10.5
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: A couple of weeks ago, I would have predicted this spread to be more than two touchdowns. But two Packers losses later, people are starting to cool on the team most said was the best in the NFC before the season. There’s no doubt that this Green Bay team has some serious issues, both offensively and defensively. Those issues, though, won’t show themselves against the dismal Lions, whose one win was by three points against the Bears. Honestly, I’m surprised the spread still isn’t in the two touchdown range, simply because the Lions are so bad. Packers win 31-14.
Packers cover
Under

Dallas Cowboys (2-6, 2-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5, 4-4):
Spread: Buccaneers favored by 1
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: I don’t want to spill too many words on this meaningless, terrible football game, so I’ll just stick to my normal philosophy and take the terrible team playing at home against the terrible team on the road. Buccaneers win 27-23.
Buccaneers cover
Over

Carolina Panthers (8-0, 6-2) at Tennessee Titans (2-6, 4-4):
Spread: Panthers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Trap game, Shmap game. Carolina’s due for a loss, they say. Maybe they aren’t as good as their 8-0 record indicates, but that doesn’t mean they’ll lose to the Titans. Tennessee’s offense looked good last week, but that was against the Saints, whose league-worst defense couldn’t stop a high school offense. Let’s see how they look against Carolina’s #2 unit. Panthers win 23-13.
Panthers cover
Under

Chicago Bears (3-5, 4-4) at St. Louis Rams (4-4, 4-4):
Spread: Rams favored by 7.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: It’s quite possible that the Bears aren’t as bad as I thought they were. They have three wins in their last five games, and their two losses have been by a combined six points. There’s a universe in which the Bears would be entering this game riding a five game winning streak. Of course, the Bears lost to the Lions in this universe, and they haven’t won a single game by more than three points. And guess what? The Rams might have trouble against good teams, but they they’ve handled their business against their last two mismatched opponents and are now 3-1 at home. I like the Rams in this one, although scoring might be an issue for their offense. Look for the Bears to play in another close game, though. Rams win 21-17.
Bears cover
Under

New Orleans Saints (4-5, 4-4-1) at Washington Redskins (3-5, 3-5):*
Spread: Saints favored by 1
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: Need I bring up my old adage again? In games between two terrible teams, take the home team. Washington it is. Redskins win 31-28.
Redskins cover
Over

Miami Dolphins (3-5, 3-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-4, 4-4):
Spread: Eagles favored by 5.5
Over/under: 49
My prediction: The Dolphins have succeeded offensively only in games in which they’ve been able to run the football (see: Houston, Jacksonville), while they’ve been hapless when Lamar Miller has been shut down on the ground (see: New England, Buffalo). In Philadelphia against the Eagles’ strong front-seven, I don’t think Miller’s going to have a lot of success on the ground. And with the game in Ryan Tannehill’s hands, I expect to see a couple of interceptions for Philadelphia’s ball-hawking secondary along with a handful of big plays. Those big plays won’t be enough to beat a slowly-improving Eagles offense that is now at least competent. Eagles win 31-20.
Eagles cover
Over

Cleveland Browns (2-7, 4-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4, 5-3-1):
Spread: Steelers favored by 6.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Landry Jones against Johnny Manziel? Let’s do it! I honestly have no idea how this game between backup quarterbacks will turn out. I do know one thing, though: when in doubt, pick against Cleveland, especially when they go up against Pittsburgh, who has lost to them all of four times since the turn of the century in 29 meetings. This feels like a game that’s won by a field goal, though. Steelers win 24-21.
Browns cover
Over

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6, 4-4) at Baltimore Ravens (2-6, 1-6-1):
Spread: Ravens favored by 5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: There are a lot of games in the 4-6.5 spread range, which usually means Vegas has no idea what’s going to happen. This is another of those games. I don’t really want to pick the Jaguars, but I don’t understand how Baltimore, a team that’s already been favored in six of its eight games, is getting so many points again. By the way, Baltimore’s record against the spread in games in which they have been favored? 0-5-1. They’ll win this game, but not convincingly. Ravens win 27-24.
Jaguars cover
Over

Minnesota Vikings (6-2, 7-1) at Oakland Raiders (4-4, 5-3):*
Spread: Raiders favored by 3
Over/under: 44
My prediction: I’ve been in Minnesota’s corner since before the season, so I’m very happy that they are 6-2. With that being said, they are far from a convincing 6-2, and weirdly will go from playing the easiest schedule to this point to the hardest from here on out. This is where we start finding out about the Vikings. If this game is low scoring, I like Minnesota’s chances, but I’m not sure their defense can slow down Oakland’s powerful offense. But Oakland just got gashed on the ground by DeAngelo Williams, and I think Adrian Peterson can do the same thing. Vikings win 23-20.
Vikings cover
Under

New England Patriots (8-0, 5-2-1) at New York Giants (5-4, 5-3-1):
Spread: Patriots favored by 7
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: It’s Kryptonite! The Patriots have to lose this game, right? The Giants have their number, and their offense played it’s worst game of the season, so the Giants will win in an upset… or not. Come on, guys. Don’t overthink this one. The Patriots haven’t won a game by fewer than seven points all season, and the Giants aren’t good enough defensively to be the first to stay within seven. Also, the Pats are in revenge mode this season because of Deflategate, so they might as well take some anger out on the Giants. Patriots win 35-24.
Patriots cover
Over

Kansas City Chiefs (3-5, 3-5) at Denver Broncos (7-1, 5-3):
Spread: Broncos favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: I love how quickly the Denver narratives have changed. In a matter of two games, they went from being “The Worst 6-0 Team Ever” to “WOW THEY JUST BEAT THE PACKERS THEY ARE 7-0 AND REALLY GOOD” to “They lost to the Colts? This is a very overrated 7-1 team.” And now they’re only being favored by 3.5 points at home against a team they beat by seven in KC. I think this is a good team, and I’m also loving them at home against a team that has lost its last three road games. Broncos win 24-13.
Broncos cover
Under

Arizona Cardinals (6-2, 5-3) at Seattle Seahawks (4-4, 2-5-1):*
Spread: Seahawks favored by 3
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: I think the Cardinals are significantly better than the Seahawks. I also think that the “12th Man” factor is being overrated, given that Seattle’s last two home games have consisted of a three point win over Detroit and a four point loss to the Panthers. It’s still scary to pick against the Seahawks, especially since this is around the time they have gotten really dominant each of the past three years, but I have to say I like the Cardinals here. Cardinals win 23-17.
Cardinals cover
Under

Houston Texans (3-5, 3-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-0, 7-0-1):
Spread: Bengals favored by 11
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Last week, the Bengals were favored by 13 against the Browns and won by 21. This week, they’re favored by 11 against the Texans. I think the Browns are better than the Texans, and I don’t want to pick the Texans with my sole backup being the fact that it could be a letdown week for Cincinnati with Arizona coming up next. Bengals win 27-10.
Bengals cover
Under

Upset picks:
Cardinals over Seahawks
Vikings over Raiders
Redskins over Saints

Lock of the week:
Packers over Lions

Week 9 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 11/12/2015 by levcohen in Uncategorized

Week nine served to further clarify things in a lot of ways, as I wasn’t surprised by much of what happened. In the last two weeks, I’ve seen enough to eliminate the Chargers. I’m close to crossing off Dallas, Miami, and Baltimore, but I’ll wait another week to do that.

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

Here are five takeaways from week 9:

    • Tyrod Taylor is really good, and a lot better than I thought. I picked the Dolphins to beat the Bills last week, discounting the fact that Taylor was returning from a two game absence. When Taylor got injured, the Bills were 3-2. They lost the two games he missed and didn’t look particularly good in either game. Sure enough, though, as soon as Taylor came back, the Bills rebounded. Taylor went 11/12 for 181 yards and a touchdown (most of which went to Sammy Watkins, who was coming back from injury himself) and added 10 carries for 44 yards as the Bills hung 33 points on the Dolphins. Granted, Taylor was helped by a great running game (or atrocious run defense), with LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams tearing the Ndamukong Suh-led defense to the tune of 25 carries for 224 yards and three touchdowns. But Taylor, who’s now looking like the best offseason signing of them all at his price, looked calm and composed as he led the Bills on four touchdown drives. Buffalo, now 4-4, has a reasonable chance of making the playoffs, but their schedule toughens up; it’s the third-hardest in football from here on out.
    • With Denver losing in Indianapolis, I think it’s now very fair to say that the remaining undefeated teams — 8-0 New England, Cincinnati, and Carolina — fully deserve their unblemished records. The teams rank first, third, and fourth in DVOA, and each of them has notched impressive wins. The Panthers have beaten Green Bay and Seattle, the Bengals have beaten the Raiders, Seahawks, and Steelers, and the Patriots have drubbed too many teams to count en route to a league-best +133 point differential. It’s looking more and more likely that we’ll have an undefeated team this season, especially since all three teams have reasonable schedules going forward. My prediction: the Patriots go 15-1 while the other two go 14-2.
    • The Raiders are legit. They lost in Pittsburgh by three points, but in doing so they showed that they have a real chance to make the playoffs. Their offense is top-10, with Derek Carr breaking out this season and having plenty of targets around him. Meanwhile, they have a below-average defense, but Kahlil Mack and Co. should improve at least a little down the stretch. At this point, their playoff chances are probably a coin flip.
    • The Eagles are still a confounding team, but it looks like their offense is slowly getting better. Sam Bradford has looked more comfortable in back-to-back competent efforts against the Panthers and Cowboys, while the running game has been one of the best in football since week three. Given their week division and their strong defense (although the loss of rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks, the DROY frontrunner, really hurts), the Birds have to be favored to win the NFC East. Now, they’re unlikely to do much in the playoffs, but they should be able to get that far.
    • It’s kind of creepy how, in many cases, backup players and especially running backs can fill in so well for injured stars. Just look at Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Kansas City, teams that lost Le’Veon Bell, Matt Forte, and Jamaal Charles, three of the best backs in football. All three teams have gotten great games out of their backups, who have looked almost as good as the injured stars. Maybe that tells us that successful running is more due to a good offensive line and system than anything else.

7-6 straight up… 75-43

9-4 against the spread… 57-56-5

6-7 over/under… 59-57-2

Upset picks:

1-2… 14-16

1-0… 6-2

Buffalo Bills (4-4, 4-4) at New York Jets (5-3, 4-3-1):*

Spread: Jets favored by 2.5

Over/under: 41.5

My prediction: total toss up here, but since I just talked up the Bills, I might as well defend them here. Bills win 20-17.

Bills cover

Under