Archive for December, 2015

Week 14 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 12/17/2015 by levcohen in Football

Week 14 was largely much of the same, with the best teams in the league continuing to separate themselves from everyone else (Arizona edged out the 8-5 Vikings, while Seattle, New England, and Carolina all won in blowouts) with one major exception. Cincinnati. The Bengals saw a change from the status quo, losing to the rising Steelers 33-20 and much more importantly losing quarterback Andy Dalton to a broken thumb. Dalton has his skeptics, but this is unarguably a disastrous injury. He was (is) in the midst of his best season yet, completing 66% of his passes while throwing for 25 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. He’s ranked third in the league in Football Outsider’s DYAR (overall value), second in DVOA (value per play), and third in QBR among quarterbacks. His replacement is AJ McCarron, the former Alabama standout who was drafted in the fifth round in 2014. McCarron was ok against the Steelers, but turned the ball over twice and couldn’t keep up with Ben Roethlisberger. He’s accurate and should be fine, but he’s no Dalton, and the Bengals are going to need Dalton back by the playoffs if they want to win their first playoff game in forever.

I’m eliminating Atlanta (boy are they brutal. Could they be the worst team in football?), Buffalo (they’re two games behind the Jets and Steelers in the wild card race), which means I’ve knocked out half the league. Still left: 3 NFC East teams, 2 AFC South teams, and Pittsburgh-New York, which looks like it’s going to come down to the wire for the second AFC wild card spot. One team from each of those three groups will make the playoffs; everyone else is pretty much in, although I could see the Vikings continuing their recent slide against tough opposition.

Eliminated teams: Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Dallas, Baltimore, San Diego, St. Louis, New Orleans, Miami, Oakland, Atlanta, Buffalo

  • I know the Rams just beat the Lions, but really, Jeff Fisher’s getting another year as head coach?? I understand that no other team would keep Fisher employed and that owner Stan Kroenke is paying no attention to the team as he tries to move it to LA, but still… Fisher’s 25-35-1 in his St. Louis tenure, and his teams have gotten worse every year. Worse still, it seems like this team has a lot of talent, and Fisher still can’t do anything with it. The offense is abysmal, with Todd Gurley serving as the diamond in the rough. The defense should be dominant, and it ranks seventh in DVOA, but it’s not good enough to carry the carcass that is the Nick Foles-Case Keenum led offense.
  • Five sacks seems pretty good, doesn’t it? Wrong. It’s absolutely ridiculous, and it’s what Khalil Mack did last week in Oakland’s upset win in Denver. But guess what? This is nothing good for Mack, who has been great ever since being drafted fifth overall in the 2014 draft. Behind Josh Norman and J.J. Watt, Mack might be the best defensive player in football at this point.
  • Either Tom Brady or Cam Newton will win the MVP, but why not Russell Wilson? His offensive line is the third-worst pass-protecting o-line in the league, he’s lost Jimmy Graham and Marshawn Lynch, and he’s throwing passes to Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. His slow start (and his team’s) will leave him out of the race, but in the last four games, he’s completed 75% of his passes while averaging 293 passing yards per game (on fewer than 30 attempts) and throwing for 16 touchdowns against zero interceptions. If that’s not an MVP stretch, I don’t know what is. The Seahawks have quickly gone from being a zone-read, run-heavy team to having a high-powered spread offense. They’ll be able to go either way with Lynch back in the playoffs, and that could be the difference in their quest to win another Super Bowl.
  • Could the Jags still win the AFC South?? After demolishing the Colts, they’re just a game out in the division, and their two rivals are currently without their starting quarterbacks. I still think they’re out of the race, since Indy and Houston play each other this week, but I also wouldn’t have thought that they’d be a game out at this point in the season.
  • I know it’s an unpopular opinion since they’re currently on a seven game winning streak, but I don’t think the Chiefs are any more than a solid team taking advantage of an easy schedule. Nothing about their team really excites me, and I think they’ll have some offensive troubles come playoffs, especially if they play the Bengals or Broncos in the first round. As it stands now, they seem likely to capture the five seed and will thus be favored in round one over the AFC South champion, but even if they win that game, I don’t think they’ll get past round two. Pittsburgh seems like the much better bet for a Super Bowl run among the wild card hopefuls.

9-7 straight up… 118-76
8-8 against the spread… 93-92-9
12-4 over/under… 100-90-6

Upset picks:
1-3… 22-28

Lock of the Week:
1-0… 11-3

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7, 7-6) at St. Louis Rams (5-8, 5-7-1):*
Spread: Rams favored by 1
Over/under: 41
My prediction: For me, this hinges on one thing: Todd Gurley. If Gurley has a big day, the Rams will win the game, because the Buccaneers won’t be able to play from behind against St. Louis’s solid defense. If he doesn’t, though, the Rams are similarly screwed, because it’ll mean that Case Keenum will have to throw the ball. And the Bucs might not be good (they aren’t), but if they do one thing well, it’s stop the run; they’re fifth in rush defense DVOA. Buccaneers win 20-13.
Buccaneers cover
Under

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Week 14 Picks

Posted: 12/13/2015 by levcohen in Football

Week 14 is the first week of the fantasy playoffs in most leagues, which means that it’s going to be a very nerve-racking week for the millions of fantasy football players around the world. From an NFL standpoint, it also means we’ve officially reached the stretch run of the regular season. Seven teams seem all but certain to make the playoffs, which leaves five spots that are at all up for grabs. The best games of the week look to be Pittsburgh-Cincinnati (always a good rivalry and with real stakes, as the Bengals need to win to maintain a good chance at a BYE and the Steelers would like a win to boost their playoff hopes), New England-Houston on Sunday Night Football (will the Patriots end their two game losing streak? Can the Texans hold serve in the AFC South?), and Philly-Buffalo (LeSean McCoy revenge game, both teams need a win to boost their playoff hopes).

*= upset pick

Buffalo Bills (6-6, 6-5-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7, 5-7):*
Spread: Eagles favored by 1
Over/under: 48
My prediction: This is too easy. The Eagles are coming off an exhilarating win in New England, a game in which they didn’t actually play that well, reaffirming that they aren’t a very good team. With the DeMarco Murray stuff swirling around all week, there’s also now drama with this team, and, oh yeah, there’s also LeSean McCoy. Shady’s pissed at the way he was let go by Chip Kelly, and he’s going to take it out on a run defense that recently got demolished by Doug Martin. I think Philly’s going to need defense and/or special teams help again to have a shot at winning, and that’s just not something you can bank on. Bills win 24-20.
Bills cover
Under

San Francisco 49ers (4-8, 6-6) at Cleveland Browns (2-10, 4-8):*
Spread: Browns favored by 1.5
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Is Blaine Gabbert not terrible??? It seems like he might not be terrible! Gabbert’s coming off a great performance (or at least two great plays, a long run for the game-tying touchdown and a long pass for the game-winner) in an upset win over Chicago, and he now gets a plum matchup against the Browns, losers of seven straight. Please don’t watch this game, because these two teams are the worst in football per DVOA. But I still don’t trust Gabbert at all, and with Johnny Manziel returning for the Browns, maybe we’ll see some fight from them. Or maybe not. Niners win 23-20.
Niners cover
Over

Detroit Lions (4-8, 4-8) at St. Louis Rams (4-8, 4-7-1):
Spread: Lions favored by 3
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Yeah, stay away from this game too. Not picking the Rams after what I’ve seen from them recently. Lions win 27-13.
Lions cover
Under

New Orleans Saints (4-8, 5-6-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6, 7-5):
Spread: Bucs favored by 5.5
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: Why are all of these games so bad? There might be a bajillion points scored in this game, but I guess the Buccaneers will win as they still have something to play for while the Saints just lost their Super Bowl (a home game against the undefeated Panthers) and their running back Mark Ingram to a shoulder injury. Buccaneers win 35-24.
Buccaneers cover
Over

Tennessee Titans (3-9, 4-7-1) at New York Jets (7-5, 6-5-1):*
Spread: Jets favored by 8
Over/under: 43
My prediction: The Jets might win this game, but I think it’s going to be a lot closer than expected. The Titans are pretty pesky for a 3-9 team, while New York’s offense stalls often. The Titans are great against the run, which will turn the Jets into a pass-heavy offense. And do you really want Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing the ball 40 times? He’s had a good season, but I actually like Tennessee’s chances here, as they’ll shut down Chris Ivory and get enough production from their offense in an ugly game. Titans win 16-14.
Titans cover
Under

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5, 7-4-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-2, 10-1-1):*
Spread: Bengals favored by 2
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: Four upsets in six games? Why not? The first meeting between these teams was surprisingly low scoring (a 16-10 Bengals win in Pittsburgh), but that was in Ben Roethlisberger’s return from injury. Big Ben is back and humming on all cylinders now, and I think this is going to be a shootout. And in a shootout, I like Pittsburgh’s chances. Andy Dalton and Co. will have a good game, but not good enough to keep up with the high powered Steelers offense. Steelers win 34-30.
Steelers cover
Over

Indianapolis Colts (6-6, 6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8, 6-5-1):
Spread: Jaguars favored by 1.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: I thought this was going to be another upset pick and was shocked when I saw that the Jaguars were favored. I really like Jacksonville here, as the Colts just got hosed by the Steelers and will still be without Andrew Luck. Blake Bortles isn’t good, but he throws a good deep ball and leads a pretty solid offense. With receiver Allen Hurns back from a concussion, Bortles also now has all of his targets in place. I think the Jags will put up a lot of points, and while they can’t really stop anyone, Matt Hasselbeck will give them a great opportunity to play some solid defense. Jaguars win 26-21.
Jaguars cover
Over

San Diego Chargers (3-9, 4-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-5, 7-5):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 10.5
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: This game screams trap. The Chiefs have to be pretty happy with themselves right now after six straight wins and with everyone saying they’re a Super Bowl contender. Meanwhile, the Chargers are one of the most injury-riddled teams in NFL history. They’ve lost all of their top receivers, most of their top defensive players, a couple of offensive linemen, both tight ends for part of the season, a running back, and now Philip Rivers has the flu. All of that means that San Diego might be the worst team in football, and that means this is bound to be a close game. This is an Andy Reid-coached team, after all. Chiefs win 21-17.
Chargers cover
Under

Washington Redskins (5-7, 5-7) at Chicago Bears (5-7, 7-5):
Spread: Bears favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: This is another game between two below-average teams, and another tossup. The Redskins looked awful on Monday Night Football against the Tony Romo-less Cowboys, losing 19-16 at home. They clearly aren’t a good football team. I think the Bears are better, as their loss to the Niners, while bad, came after a nice 5-3 stretch. Bears win 27-17.
Bears cover
Over

Atlanta Falcons (6-6, 4-8) at Carolina Panthers (12-0, 9-3):- Lock
Spread: Panthers favored by 7.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: This is a great matchup for the Panthers, and it’s one they’ll get again in two weeks. The Falcons stink; they’ve played by far the easiest schedule in football this year and somehow have still lost six of their past seven after starting 5-0. Matt Ryan has regressed, and his top target, Julio Jones, will have to face Josh Norman, the best corner in football right now. Meanwhile, Devonta Freeman has to face a Panthers’ run defense that’s allowed 31 yards per game over the last five. On the other side of the ball, Greg Olsen, the focal point of Carolina’s offense, has a great matchup, as does Jonathan Stewart, as the Falcons have given up 345 yards on the ground over the last few weeks. Should be an easy Panthers win. Carolina wins 34-10.
Panthers cover
Under

Seattle Seahawks (7-5, 5-6-1) at Baltimore Ravens (4-8, 3-7-2):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 10.5
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: This spread is really, really high. Probably too high. But this is the second time Jimmy Clausen, formerly of the Bears, has played the Seahawks this year. The first time, he went 9/17 for 63 yards as the Bears had just 146 total yards and lost 26-0. Now that the Seahawks’ offense is really humming, I don’t think I can pick the Ravens to even keep it close. Seahawks win 31-13.
Seahawks cover
Over

Oakland Raiders (5-7, 6-6) at Denver Broncos (10-2, 7-5):
Spread: Broncos favored by 6.5
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: This spread seems a bit low. The Broncos have three straight wins with Brock Oswiler at quarterback, while the Raiders have lost four of five and have turned back into, well, the Raiders. The Raiders will struggle to put up points against the Broncos, who have the best defense in football. Oswiler won’t put up huge numbers, but he’ll game-manage Denver to victory again, which is all he really needs to do. Broncos win 23-13.
Broncos cover
Under

Dallas Cowboys (4-8, 4-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-4, 7-5):
Spread: Packers favored by 5.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Again, this spread seems low. Look, I know the Packers aren’t good right now. At all. But their playing the Cowboys, who improved to 1-7 without Tony Romo by the skin of their teeth… against the Redskins, who, even now, are clearly worse than the Packers. I don’t think Aaron Rodgers will get fully on track against a solid Dallas defense, which is why I’m hesitant to take the Packers in a rout. But I think it’s more likely than not that the Packers win by at least a touchdown. Packers win 24-13.
Packers cover
Under

New England Patriots (10-2, 5-5-2) at Houston Texans (6-6, 6-6):
Spread: Patriots favored by 5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: The Patriots won’t lose a third consecutive game. They just won’t. Rob Gronkowski has a chance of playing tonight, but I think the Pats win either way. Tom Brady is just too good, especially coming off of a lose or (gasp) back-to-back losses. Patriots win 27-20.
Patriots cover
Over

New York Giants (5-7, 6-5-1) at Miami Dolphins (5-7, 4-8):
Spread: Giants favored by 2
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: Meh. Another pretty bad Monday Night Football matchup. Neither of these teams is very good, but the Dolphins are much worse. I think this could be a pretty high scoring game, as the Dolphins and Giants rank 25th and 27th in defensive DVOA respectively. Odell Beckham will probably go off again, but so could Lamar Miller and/or receivers Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker for the Dolphins. Giants win 28-20.
Giants cover
Over

Upset picks:
Steelers over Bengals
Bills over Eagles
Niners over Browns
Titans over Jets

Lock of the week:
Panthers over Falcons

What’s Up With the Clips?

Posted: 12/12/2015 by levcohen in Basketball

The first quarter or so of the NBA season has been weird, with a lot of mediocre teams and only four I think that can really be considered to be very good teams in Golden State (although they belong in their own echelon), San Antonio, Cleveland, and Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, a bunch of other teams that were supposed to be really good haven’t been, especially in the Western Conference. Today, I’m focusing on one of those teams, the Clippers, winners of 56, 57, and 56 games the last three seasons but a team that’s on pace for just 48 wins despite seemingly improving their team this offseason. Are they really a worse team than they have been, or is this just a short blip that can be explained away by just calling it a small sample size?

14-10 is a record we might have expected from the Clippers in the (very) short period in which DeAndre Jordan looked set to go to Dallas. But Jordan infamously waffled and changed his mind, going back to LA and leaving the Mavericks empty-handed. But guess what? Until the Clips beat the sorry Brooklyn Nets by five points today, they and the Mavs had identical 13-10 records. That’s not something I would have expected, not after the moves LA made this offseason. For a 56-win team, these Clippers had a lot of room for improvement. They had a terrible bench last year and some lineups that just didn’t make sense. They responded this offseason by adding Paul Pierce (experience), Lance Stephenson (wing defender with length), Josh Smith (great small-ball big man who played great last postseason), and Wesley Johnson (solid backup wing). Heading into the season, some clear holes remained, but when you add those guys to the existing core of Jordan, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford while losing just Matt Barnes, one can only expect improvement.

When a strong team doesn’t live up to expectations, you have to look at the star players first. Well, Blake Griffin clearly isn’t the problem; in his sixth season, he’s having his best year yet, as he’s putting up 24/9/5 and has posted a career-best 25.9 PER, seventh-best in the league. DeAndre, also, hasn’t really been the problem. He hasn’t necessarily taken a step forward from last year, but he’s rebounding, blocking, and scoring very efficiently from the field… while shooting 39% from the line. As expected. Now in his 11th year, 30-year-old Chris Paul might be a different story. He missed some time with a rib injury, and has looked tentative at times, which is worrisome considering that he’s usually such a fearless slasher. Paul is averaging 16.6 points and 8.4 assists per game, both of which are his lowest figures in his time in LA, and perhaps most frightening are his 1.7 steals per game, the lost number of his career. Steals are usually a great indication of how a guard is playing, as the best guards in the league generally also get a lot of steals. They’re also among the most important stats, because unlike blocks they almost always spring fastbreak opportunities and chances for easy points. As a result of all that, Paul’s 21.7 PER is the lowest of his career. As the team’s de facto leader, that should both be a worry and a glimmer of hope for the Clippers. On the one hand, it’s never a good sign when your star player and point guard suddenly looks a step slower. On the other hand, it’s a reason the Clips can point to for their 10 losses in 24 games, and Paul is usually a strong finisher. I’d expect some improvement from CP3 going forward, and if he were their only problem, the Clippers wouldn’t have much to worry about.

Unfortunately, there are other problems. It would be nice if, in the midst of their free agent signing spree, Doc Rivers and the Clippers had thought about maybe, uh, SIGNING A BACKUP POINT GUARD. Sorry, Doc, but your son Austin and his 297th ranked PER aren’t going to cut it. Seriously, a guard playing 23 minutes per game has to wander into more than 1.3 assists per game, right? There’s also the Lance Stephenson thing. There was hope that new scenery would help Lance return to his Indiana ways (out of control but somehow really productive), but instead, all we’ve seen is Charlotte return to their winning ways (meaning they’ve sandwiched two good seasons with the Lance year… take from that what you want) and Stephenson continue to struggle. He isn’t shooting as terribly from three this year, but he’s still putting up just five points and three rebounds per game in 18 minutes per contest. His PER is 9.4 (the average is 15), he’s scored in double-figures just three times all season, and as a result he’s played just 14 minutes per game in the last 15 games after averaging 22 a game in the first nine. So the Lance experiment hasn’t worked. How about the Josh Smith experiment? Well, we might know more about that if Rivers, er, actually played Smith. The versatile power forward is playing just 15.3 minutes per contest this year, way down from his 33.1 career average and 27.7 career-low (his rookie season). The results in those 15 minutes haven’t been good, but it would be helpful to see how Smith plays in more time (he’s played 20+ minutes just once this season). I’d also like to see how he plays with Griffin, since the two play just 4.5 minutes per game together. That leads me to my next complaint:  playing Blake and DeAndre together in crunch time, or more accurately playing DeAndre at all in crunch time. The guy can’t shoot free throws! Teams just hack Jordan, which is why he’s -1.1 points per fourth quarter while playing with Chris Paul (Smith, by the way is +.8 per game in fourth quarter minutes played with Paul). Why doesn’t Rivers go small-ball more often?

There are a couple of more guys I want to talk about. First of all, how the heck is Luc Richard Mbah a Moute starting games for this team? Mbah a Moute has started eight consecutive games for the Clippers, and he’s gone scoreless in two of those games. He’s taking two shots a game, is averaging 1.7 points per game, and has a 6.75 PER, 309th out of 326 qualifiers. I’m sorry, but the guy shouldn’t be anywhere near a basketball court right now, let alone in the starting lineup of a contender. Shouldn’t Paul Pierce be starting? Well, no, because somehow Pierce has been even worse. Pierce, who was very good last year for the Wizards, averaging 12 points per game in 26 minutes, has seemingly fallen off a cliff in his 18th year. His minutes have been slashed in half from November to December, and his 10 points today were more than he had scored in the previous six games combined. The stats are awful: four points per game, 29% from the field, 24% from three, 5.16 PER that ranks 321st of said 326 qualifiers. Maybe he’ll muster something special come playoffs, but he isn’t anyone they can rely on right now. I would suggest rolling out a lineup of Paul, Redick (who’s been perfectly fine this year, albeit not as good as he was last season), Wesley Johnson, Griffin, and Jordan while increasing Josh Smith’s minutes, decreasing Jamal Crawford’s, and closing out games with Paul, Redick, Johnson, Griffin, and Smith. I say give Johnson a chance; he’s a good three-point shooter and the lineup that I mentioned should start is +3.3 in 7.4 minutes per game in the 10 games they’ve played together this season, a clip that would be 20+ over a full game (the lineup I said should close games, by the way, has played just two minutes together all season).

This team has a lot of stuff to figure out, but the pieces are still there. This could still be a contender, but the pieces haven’t really meshed yet. If I were a Clippers fan, though, I wouldn’t be too worried about the record. They probably won’t approach 60 wins this year, but if they make some tweaks, they should head into the playoffs as a 3-5 seed with an opportunity to advance to at least the second round. The real question is still whether they can beat the Warriors or Spurs, and right now I think the answer is no, but I think that’s the case for anyone outside the top three in the West. If some injuries strike to other teams and the Clippers can get improvements from role players, a championship push can be made.

Week 13 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 12/10/2015 by levcohen in Football

Another week, another layer of separation between the league’s clear top eight teams and everyone else. Those eight teams are the Panthers, the Cardinals, the Bengals, the Seahawks, the Chiefs, the Patriots, the Broncos, and the Steelers. Of those teams, six reside in the AFC, and will hopefully compose the AFC’s entire playoff field. The Steelers still have some work to do to get in, but their 45-10 demolishing of the Colts definitely reminded me that they belong in the top quarter of the league, which is so much better than all the mediocre teams below. I’m eliminating the Raiders after their home loss against Kansas City, as they’re now two games out of a playoff spot with four to go and have the third toughest schedule to close out the season. Of the 18 teams I haven’t eliminated, 12 will make the playoffs, although the Buccaneers have a fighter’s chance to be the second team uncrossed off this season after Kansas City. Two more eliminations will come from the dreadful NFC East (Philly, New York, Washington), and another from the AFC South (Houston or Indianapolis), which leaves three. Right now, my guess is that the Falcons, Bills, and Jets will miss out, leaving a playoff field of the eight I mentioned above along with the NFC East winner, the AFC South winner, and Green Bay and Minnesota, the two flummoxing 8-4 NFC North teams.

Eliminated teams: Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Dallas, Baltimore, San Diego, St. Louis, New Orleans, Miami, Oakland

  • Remind me why we ever (ever!) doubted the Seahawks??? They always turn it around in the second half of the season, and guess what? They might be the best team in football. They just demolished the Vikings in Minnesota, and while the division is probably out of reach with the Cardinals holding serve at 10-2, they’ll likely have an easy game against an NFC East team in round one. And once they get to round two, watch out. Russell Wilson is playing amazingly right now, and he’s suddenly leading a high-powered offense that still has the benefit of playing with one of the best defenses in football.
  • What the heck has happened to Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons? Through five weeks, the Falcons were 5-0 and averaging 32.4 points per game as Ryan had a sub-90 passer rating just one. Since then, the Falcons are 1-6, as Ryan has gone over a 90 passer rating three times and the team has averaged 16.7 points a game. The worst thing is that their schedule has been really easy in that stretch. With two games against Carolina in the final four, I don’t see the Falcons winning more than eight games this year. So much for Dan Quinn winning Coach of the Year.
  • Those Steelers? Yeah, really good. I’m talking specifically about their passing game. In the last four weeks, since Ben Roethlisberger became himself again after missing time with a knee injury, they’ve scored at least 30 points every week, going 3-1 in that span. Without Le’Veon Bell, running back De’Angelo Williams has been playing well, but most of the onus has been on Big Ben. His response? 383 passing yards per game in the last four, with 43 attempts per game. He has a plethora of weapons in the passing game, led of course by the incredible Antonio Brown and supported by Martavis Bryant (who, by the way, is going to be a top-five receiver within a couple of years), Marcus Wheaton, and Williams, who’s caught 12 balls for 119 yards these last two weeks. This is a really high-powered offense, one nobody is going to want to face come playoff time.
  • If the 42-39 Tennessee win over Jacksonville is at all a harbinger of things to come, the AFC South might be getting better pretty quickly in the coming years. Andrew Luck will return to the elite ranks next year, while the Texans will still have J.J. Watt and not much else. But if Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles can play like they did on Sunday consistently, the Titans and Jaguars have legitimate things to look forward to, too.
  • The Rams have to have quit on their season. The last four weeks, they’ve lost to the Bears by 24, the Ravens by three, the Bengals by 24, and the Cardinals by 24. Actually, they haven’t quit on their season… they just have no offense. Teams know what to do against the Rams now; stack the box with eight or nine guys, keeping Todd Gurley in check and begging Nick Foles to beat them. The result? The awful Foles has averaged 39 attempts per game in his last three, and hasn’t averaged more than six yards per attempt since week eight. He’s thrown seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. The Sam Bradford trade didn’t look great from Philadelphia’s point of view for a while, but considering how poorly Foles has played, maybe it was the right move after all.

10-6 straight up… 109-69
6-9-1 against the spread… 85-84-9
10-6 over/under… 88-86-6

Upset picks:
1-3… 21-25

Lock of the Week:
1-0… 10-3

Minnesota Vikings (8-4, 9-3) at Arizona Cardinals (10-2, 7-5):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 10
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: This is a bummer. Less than a week ago, I was really excited for this game. But then three of Minnesota’s best defensive players (Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, and Harrison Smith) got injured, and the Vikings were absolutely obliterated by the Seahawks. I mean totally and completely destroyed. It was unwatchable. Meanwhile, the Cardinals beat the Rams in St. Louis 27-3, and it wasn’t even that close. They have a great passing game with Carson Palmer throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown, and David Johnson looks like a good replacement for the injured Chris Johnson. These teams are simply heading in the opposite directions. Is there any reason to take the Vikings to win the game? Maybe Adrian Peterson has a huge game, but I can’t really see it. On the other hand, they are 5-1 against the spread as a road team while the Cardinals are just 2-3 against the spread at home. But that isn’t enough for me to take the clearly inferior team coming off a punishing home loss. Cardinals win 27-14.
Cardinals cover
Under

Week 13 Picks

Posted: 12/06/2015 by levcohen in Football

After the two months of BYE weeks and the three Thursday games last week, we’re back to being able to enjoy a stacked Sunday schedule. Enjoy it while you can, because it’ll only be five weeks, but there are 14 games today, including nine 1:00 games. The majority of those games, of course, don’t look that appealing to watch on the surface, but when there are so many games in one day, there are definitely going to be some dandies. Seattle-Minnesota, Houston-Buffalo, and the night game, Indianapolis-Pittsburgh, look like the three best games on the schedule, but I’m sure the rest of the slate won’t disappoint.

*= upset pick

New York Jets (6-5, 5-5-1) at New York Giants (5-6, 6-4-1):* – Neutral site game
Spread: Jets favored by 2.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Both of these teams have been very inconsistent recently, and this game could go in a lot of different directions. The turning point, I think, might be Darrelle Revis’s concussion, which will keep the star cornerback out of his second consecutive game. Without Revis, Dolphins’ #1 receiver Jarvis Landry burned Antonio Cromartie and the Jets to the tune of 13 catches for 165 yards and a score. This week, Cromartie gets to face… Odell Beckham Jr., one of the best receivers in football. I expect a fifth consecutive 100+ yard game for Beckham and a bounce-back game from Eli Manning, who’s only played two good games in his last six and is due for a big game. Giants win 27-23.
Giants cover
Over

Arizona Cardinals (9-2, 6-5) at St. Louis Rams (4-7, 4-6-1):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 3.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: The Rams have lost four in a row, but they did beat the Cardinals in Arizona back in October, when the Cardinals were playing better than they are now. Todd Gurley had a huge game in that meeting, and he’s going to have to have another big game if the Rams want to have any chance of upsetting their division rivals again. Arizona has failed to cover three of their last five, but they’ve won all five of those games, and I think the Rams and their horrific offense are being given a little too much credit here. Cardinals win 21-14.
Cardinals cover
Under

Atlanta Falcons (6-5, 4-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6, 6-5):
Spread: Falcons favored by 1
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: They might have decent records, but make no mistake about it: these two teams are both pretty crappy. The Falcons have lost five of their last six despite being favored in every one of those six games. Meanwhile, the Bucs have also had a very easy schedule (third easiest to this point, while the Falcons have gone up against the easiest) and responded with limited success. So when both teams are bad, I’d normally take the one that’s home over the one that is 1-7 against the spread as a favorite. But you know what? I just have a weird feeling about the Falcons in this one. In the positive sense. Falcons win 24-20.
Falcons cover
Under

Seattle Seahawks (6-5, 4-6-1) at Minnesota Vikings (8-3, 9-2):*
Spread: Seahawks favored by 2.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: The Vikings are really good, especially at home. Since they got destroyed by the Niners in week one, the Vikings are 8-2 and 9-1 against the spread, and they’ve given up more than 23 points just once in that span. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have scored at least 29 points in three straight games, so this is a sneaky strength vs. strength game. And I’m going to take the Vikings, because I have more confidence in their defense at home than I do in Seattle’s offense. Plus, Adrian Peterson is always a good player to have on your side. Vikings win 20-16.
Vikings cover
Under

Houston Texans (6-5, 6-5) at Buffalo Bills (5-6, 5-5-1):
Spread: Bills favored by 3.5
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: The Texans have looked really good recently, especially defensively. But they’re going to drop a game sometime soon, and I think this will be that game. The Bills have the ninth ranked offense (by DVOA), and the Texans have the ninth ranked defense, so this should be a good, fair matchup. It’ll come down to the wire, but the Bills should end up on top. I don’t know why they’re getting the extra half point, though. Bills win 24-21.
Texans cover
Over

Baltimore Ravens (4-7, 2-7-2) at Miami Dolphins (4-7, 4-7):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 4
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: Bleh. Not a game I’m going to be watching. I don’t know why the Dolphins are being favored by four points against anyone, as they’ve looked really bad recently. Then again, Matt Schaub is Baltimore’s quarterback, so I guess it does make some sense. I’ll reluctantly take the Dolphins 24-17.
Dolphins cover
Under

Cincinnati Bengals (9-2, 9-1-1) at Cleveland Browns (2-9, 4-7):
Spread: Bengals favored by 7.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: I’m always nervous when Andy Dalton’s Bengals are giving this many points on the road. They’re going up against Austin Davis and the Browns, but there’s something about this Cincinnati team that scares me. Should it? Probably not; they’re 9-1-1 against the spread for a reason. But I still have my reservations. Bengals win 27-20.
Browns cover
Over

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7, 6-5) at Tennessee Titans (2-9, 4-7):*
Spread: Titans favored by 3
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: The Titans have been very close to a lot of wins; they’ve lost four games by three points or fewer. But after I picked them to win as one point home underdogs against Oakland and saw them cough up the lead, I’m not sure I like them enough to pick them as favorites. The Jaguars have a lot more offensive firepower and I expect that to be the difference in a close one. Jaguars win 24-21.
Jaguars cover
Over

San Francisco 49ers (3-8, 5-6) at Chicago Bears (5-6, 7-4):
Spread: Bears favored by 6.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Maybe the Bears don’t stink. They’ve won three of their past four games, all on the road, and their last two home games have been close losses against Denver and Minnesota, both good teams. They’re just 1-4 at home, but that shouldn’t matter against a dreadful Niners team that is 0-5 away from home. Bears win 31-14.
Bears cover
Over

Denver Broncos (9-2, 6-5) at San Diego Chargers (3-8, 4-7):
Spread: Broncos favored by 5.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Don’t let San Diego’s win in Jacksonville fool you; this is still a bad football team, especially defensively. The Chargers will have a lot more trouble moving the ball against the Broncos, while Brock Oswiler and especially Denver’s running game should have a great game against one of the softest defenses in the league. And remember: Chargers fans don’t show up to games, so the Broncos will probably have the vast majority of fans. All of this points to an easy road win. Broncos win 30-13.
Broncos cover
Under

Kansas City Chiefs (6-5, 6-5) at Oakland Raiders (5-6, 6-5):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 3
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: After five consecutive wins over some pretty tough competition, could this be the week that the Chiefs become complacent? Perhaps. It’s certainly happened before to Andy Reid-led teams, and I’m sure it will happen at some point over these final five games, all of which could be easy KC wins. But I don’t think it’ll happen here, with a playoff spot still far from assured and the Raiders just a game behind the Chiefs. Kansas City is the much better team, and should win easily if they play like they have been playing. Chiefs win 24-18.
Chiefs cover
Under

Philadelphia Eagles (4-7, 4-7) at New England Patriots (10-1, 5-4-2):
Spread: Patriots favored by 8
Over/under: 49
My prediction: After opening at Patriots -13, this spread moved more than any other this week, going as low as 7.5 before settling at 8. Normally, you would expect Patriots games, and especially Patriots home games against teams that have given up 45 points in consecutive games, to have spreads moving in the other direction as the public gets involved in the betting. But a lot of the “smart,” professional money is on the Eagles, because their quarterback is coming back from injury and because the Patriots are missing Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, among others. I’d like to think I’m smart, but I have to take the public’s side here. There’s no way I’m picking the Eagles to lose by fewer than eight points, at least until they show me something. Patriots win 34-24.
Patriots cover
Over

Carolina Panthers (11-0, 9-2) at New Orleans Saints (4-7, 4-6-1):
Spread: Panthers favored by 6
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: This is a little bit like the last game. The public is all over the team that’s dominated all season, but the spread is still inching down because there’s a legitimate reason to go with the underdog. In this case, that reason is simple: the Saints are getting more points at home than they have in the Drew Brees era, and they’re usually very good at home. And it’s true that they are 1-0 as home underdogs this year, with a victory over the then-overrated Falcons. But their last home game was a loss to the Titans. They’re 3-2 at home, but they haven’t had a true, resounding, Saints home win all year, and they’ll be without #2 receiver Willie Snead this week, which, along with Brandin Cooks’s matchup with Josh Norman, means that Brees will be bereft of weapons. Meanwhile, the Panthers have been great all season, but they’ve been even better in recent weeks. The Eagles and/or Saints might keep their respective games close, but I don’t expect either of them to win. Panthers win 35-20.
Panthers cover
Over

Indianapolis Colts (6-5, 6-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5, 6-4-1):- Lock
Spread: Steelers favored by 9
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: The Steelers are favored by 9? But Matt Hasselbeck, the 40-year old wonder, is 4-0 as a starter! This spread is so disrespectful to Hasselbeck and the Colts, who have covered six of their past seven spreads! I’m joking… kind of. Hasselbeck is playing well, all things considered, but the full-strength (besides Le’Veon Bell) Steelers are clearly the better team. And it’s the Steelers who really need to win this game, especially with games against Denver and Cincinnati coming up. I’m very confident in Big Ben and Pittsburgh here against Indy’s mediocre defense. Steelers win 28-17.
Steelers cover
Under

Dallas Cowboys (3-8, 3-8) at Washington Redskins (5-6, 5-6):*
Spread: Redskins favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: I’m going to take the Cowboys here. Why? Because this is the NFC East we’re talking about, and because I think the Redskins are still a really bad team. Dallas isn’t good either, but weird things happen in divisional games. Cowboys win 20-17.
Cowboys cover
Under

Upset picks:
Cowboys over Redskins
Jaguars over Titans
Giants over Jets
Vikings over Seahawks

Lock of the week:
Steelers over Colts

Week 12 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 12/03/2015 by levcohen in Football

For the most part, week 12 confirmed what we already knew. With the exception of Chicago’s win over the Packers, it wasn’t a surprised-filled week. I’ll give my takeaways from the week, but first I want to eliminate the Saints and Dolphins and put the Chiefs back in the race, because, after five straight wins, it’s become clear that I jumped the gun on the Chiefs elimination and that they are a pretty good football team. So I’ve now eliminated 13 teams, which is a sign that we’re getting closer and closer to the playoffs. I don’t anticipate needing to un-eliminate another team, but if I do, it’ll likely have to be the Bears or Buccaneers, who have lingered around after poor starts to the season.

Eliminated teams: Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Dallas, Baltimore, San Diego, St. Louis, New Orleans, Miami

  • The Broncos are legitimate Super Bowl contenders again… as long as they continue to start Brock Oswiler at quarterback. They have the best defense in football, and will be even better on the defensive side of the ball when DeMarcus Ware returns from injury. All they need, then, is an offense that can score points at a respectable rate and hold onto the ball, something they weren’t doing with Peyton Manning at quarterback. In the two games that Oswiler has started, both wins, the Broncos have played more under center and consequently are running the ball a lot better, with C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman both tearing up the Bears and Patriots. And while Oswiler isn’t great, he’s good enough to make the Broncos a legitimate threat to knock off Cincinnati and/or New England and win the AFC.
  • It’ll be a shame if the Steelers miss the playoffs. Now sitting at 6-5 and missing the postseason due to a tiebreaker, Pittsburgh has games against Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Denver coming up before relatively easy matchups against Baltimore and Cleveland. They’ll need to win one or two of the next three if they want to have any real shot of making the playoffs, and neutral fans should be rooting for them, because they have the kind of offense that can make any game a shootout. I’d bet that the third seed would much rather be seeing a team like the Jets than Pittsburgh.
  • The Cardinals have really slumped recently and just lost running back Chris Johnson, but I still think they are the second best team in the NFC by a pretty wide margin. After blowing out four teams in the first five weeks, they’ve outscored their last six opponents by a combined 26 points, albeit against much tougher competition. With a fairly tough schedule to close the season, they might end up with four or five losses, but I’ll still believe in their balanced roster come playoffs, as long as they don’t sustain anymore substantial injuries.
  • Who is going to win the NFC East? A Giants win in Washington would have brought the division much more clarity, but it wasn’t to be; New York was stuck on zero points for most of the game before scoring a couple of touchdowns in garbage time. The 5-6 Redskins now lead the division despite being 0-5 on the road, while the 3-8 Cowboys think they still have a chance at winning the division. And guess what? They might be right. That’s how bad the NFC East is.
  • After a 20-10 win in Atlanta, the Vikings look primed to overcome their tough home loss against the Packers and win the NFC North. It might still come down to their week 17 game in Lambeau, but if Minnesota can win three of four against Seattle, Arizona, Chicago, and the Giants, they might not even need to win in week 17. Regardless of whether they win the division or enter the playoffs as a wild card winner, I think the Vikings have a good chance to make some noise in the postseason.

9-7 straight up… 99-63
9-7 against the spread… 79-75-8
7-9 over/under… 78-80-6

Upset picks:
2-2… 20-22

Lock of the Week:
1-0… 9-3

Green Bay Packers (7-4, 6-5) at Detroit Lions (4-7, 4-7):
Spread: Packers favored by 3
Over/under: 47
My prediction: This really comes down to whether or not I trust the Packers. Can I trust the Packers at this point, after four losses in five games? It’s tough, because Green Bay always bounces back, and this could well be the week they bounce back again. Even after three straight wins, I don’t think the Lions are very good; they beat the Packers, the Raiders at home by five, and they obliterated the Eagles, who would lose to a high school team right now. I’m reluctantly going to place my trust in Aaron Rodgers and the Packers again here, because this is a game they should really win. Packers win 26-20.
Packers cover
Under

There have been a number of prevailing themes and talking points in basketball over the last few years, from small-ball to midrange jumper aversion to the tanking debate (cough Sixers cough). Right up there with those talking points these past few years has been the Western Conference’s total domination of the Eastern Conference. Last year, seven WC teams won 60% of their games or more, compared with three EC teams. Since the 2003-04 season, at least one sub-.500 Eastern Conference team has made the playoffs in nine seasons, something that hasn’t come close to happening in the Western Conference in that time. Time after time, undeserving teams have made the playoffs as teams like the Thunder and Suns of the past few years have been left out of the playoffs despite winning 45+ games. The Western Conference hasn’t always had the very best team, thanks largely due to the fact that LeBron James has resided in the Eastern Conference for his whole career, but they always have most of the good teams. This season was supposed to be more of the same, if not even more extreme. The Spurs, Clippers, and Rockets made moves in free agency, Oklahoma City got healthy, Golden State returned its entire core from last season’s championship team, the Grizzlies looked as solid as usual, and the Pelicans were thought to have perhaps the best player in the entire conference in Anthony Davis. Those seven teams were supposed to be faced with an absolute dogfight throughout the season and postseason, and that was without even considering potential improvements from teams like the Jazz, Timberwolves, Suns, or Kings. Ironically, though, just as one WC team has clearly become the best in basketball, eclipsing even LeBron’s Cavs, the rest of the conference has seemingly taken a step back. About a quarter of the way through the regular season, only the Warriors and Spurs have fewer than seven losses. Only three teams are winning at least 60% of their games. The much maligned Eastern Conference? They have six such teams.

So the West has been worse than normal and the East better so far this season. Will that continue going forward? I believe that the divide between the winning percentage in the conferences will be smaller this year, because there are a number of Eastern Conference teams who, for a variety of reasons, are clearly better this season than they were last year (Indiana, Miami, Charlotte, Boston, Detroit). While there were five or six truly dreadful teams in the conference last year, I think only the Nets and the Sixers qualify as awful right now, although I’m risking putting too much stock into a relatively small sample size. But is the West really that much worse than they have been? To answer that question, I think I’m going to have to go from team to team. The main decliners to this point, strictly in terms of wins and losses, have been the Pelicans, the Blazers, the Rockets, and, to a lesser extent, the Clippers and Grizzlies. For the Blazers and Grizzlies, the regression makes total sense and was fairly predictable; Portland lost most of their team this offseason, and Memphis stood pat with their aging team while others got stronger. It’s New Orleans, LA, and Houston that are more interesting cases and are perhaps the keys to understanding what direction the Western Conference is going to head in. With that said, I’m going to write about each of those three teams going forward. For now, though, I’d just like to note that the Eastern Conference went 3-0 against the West tonight, with wins from three of the worst teams in the conference: Brooklyn, Orlando, and… Philadelphia? Yes, crazy things are happening this season, which means both that the EC might be better than the WC and that the Warriors might actually go undefeated.