Archive for September, 2016

I almost forgot to do it, but here’s my prediction for tonight’s Thursday Night Football game. I’ll write up a review of Week 3 with my takeaways either tomorrow or Saturday.

Miami Dolphins (1-2, 1-2 against the spread) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-2, 0-3):
Spread: Bengals favored by 7.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: Let me make this clear: the Dolphins stink. They’re coming off a week in which they needed overtime to beat the woeful Browns at home. But should the Bengals really be laying more than a touchdown against anyone at this point? They’ve lost consecutive games, although the games came against Pittsburgh and Denver, much stronger opposition than Miami. Cincinnati’s run defense is very strong, thanks to Vincent Rey (second-best run-stop percentage among outside linebackers this year) and stud linemen Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Against a woeful run-blocking team without running back Arian Foster, the Dolphins are going to be very one-dimensional tonight. Can the Bengals stop the pass? Well, the Broncos destroyed them through the air, but the Dolphins are not the Broncos and I think last week was a bit fluky anyway. Besides, the Bengals rank first in the NFL in DVOA against #1 receivers, which means they’ve been getting roasted mainly be secondary options on teams deeper than Miami. On the other side of the ball, the Bengals should be able to move the chains between the 20s. The question is: can they get the ball to their playmakers (cough cough A.J. Green cough cough) in the redzone and make this a blowout? I still have faith in Cincinnati, so I’ll take them here in a must-win game. Bengals win 28-13.
Bengals cover
Under

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Week 3 Picks

Posted: 09/25/2016 by levcohen in Football

I was going to start this post by talking about the fact that the three most-favored teams this week are squads that are a combined 2-4 this year and haven’t played much inspiring football. Indeed, I think that’s an interesting fact, and it’s something that’s worth trying to exploit if you’re betting on Week 3. But I feel that it would be somewhat disingenuous for me to start this without acknowledging that the Patriots just made me look silly for the third consecutive week. I’m somewhat mad at myself for picking against the Pats in Week 1 on the road against a really good Arizona team, but I’d be willing to give myself a break on that one had I not locked up the Cardinals. But these last two weeks have been ridiculous. First, I picked a bad Miami team to triumph over New England in Foxborough, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Patriots had won seven straight over Miami at home by an average of 20 points. Then, I picked against the Pats at home AGAIN even though they were playing a shaky Houston offense that was coming off of a huge win over Kansas City and even though Bill Belichick was facing an old disciple (Bill O’Brien) with the advantage of a short week to prepare. Now, I’ve picked the Pats to go 0-3, and the Pats are 3-0. I’ll certainly pick New England to beat Buffalo next week, and if they do, they’ll get Tom Brady back with a 4-0 record. This team is going to be scary good when it’s fully healthy and un-suspended, and I hope I don’t make the mistake of picking against them again anytime soon. Anyway, with that out of the way, on to the rest of my Week 3 picks.

*- upset pick

Arizona Cardinals (1-1, 1-1 against the spread) at Buffalo Bills (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: I like the Cardinals on the road here for a number of reasons. The simplest one is that the Bills are officially a dumpster fire after firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the only coach on the team who could reasonably claim that this isn’t his fault. But looking at the specific matchup, this looks rather dire for the home squad. How do you beat Arizona’s talented defense? Well, like the Patriots did, with an accurate short passing game and a wide receiver like Julian Edelman who can expose whoever’s playing opposite Patrick Peterson. With Sammy Watkins very limited (if he’s playing at all), the Bills have officially zero of the ingredients needed to beat the Cards. Tyrod Taylor is an exciting player, but he’s not very accurate in the short passing game, and 157 of his 408 passing yards this season have come on two plays. Given Arizona’s corners and safeties, Taylor’s going to have a hard time finding any of his speedy receivers over the top. LeSean McCoy is going to get all of the work he can handle, but the Cards are very good against the run (3.7 yards per carry against New England and Tampa, two offenses that boast better running games than Buffalo). And Buffalo’s defense hemorrhaged plays down the field against the Jets, giving up 319 combined yards to New York’s top three receivers. Now, they face Carson Palmer’s big arm and the talented trio of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown. Floyd and Brown have struggled so far this year, but this could be the week that we see a breakout from one or both. This is just a terrible matchup for Buffalo. Cardinals win 31-10.
Cardinals cover
Under

Oakland Raiders (1-1, 1-1) at Tennessee Titans (1-1, 1-1):*
Spread: Raiders favored by 2
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: I was on board the Raiders bandwagon, but now I’m not so sure. Oakland’s defense has been terrible, giving up 69 points and 808 passing yards to New Orleans and Atlanta. They rank dead-last in defensive DVOA through two weeks and are the first team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to give up 500 yards of offense in their first two games. This is the week that we see how much of that is their defense and how much of it is the talented offenses of Atlanta and New Orleans, because Tennessee’s offense is about as low-octane as can be imagined. The Titans have scored 16 points in each of their two games, and they needed an Andre Johnson touchdown with about a minute left to edge past the Lions last week. I’m a fan of Marcus Mariota, though, and I really don’t think the Raiders should be road favorites given the way they’ve played the last two weeks. Give me the Titans 27-23 in a minor upset.
Titans cover
Over

Cleveland Browns (0-2, 1-1) at Miami Dolphins (0-2, 1-1):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 10
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: I can’t believe the Dolphins are favored by this much. There’s no chance I’m going to pick them to win by 10+, even against the Browns. Last week’s Browns were led by competent play from quarterback Josh McCown and a huge game from rookie receiver Corey Coleman, so as long as they can rely on those two…. Er, never mind. McCown somehow played three quarters with a broken collarbone, while Coleman broke his hand in practice, and it’s hard for wide receivers to, you know, catch with a broken hand. There’s almost nothing good I can say about the Browns, except that their run defense looks pretty good and gets a plum matchup against an Arian Foster-less Dolphins offense. I’m picking Cleveland to cover, but that’s because I have no confidence in the Ryan Tannehill-led Dolphins offense. Dolphins win 20-17. Don’t watch this game.
Browns cover
Under

Baltimore Ravens (2-0, 1-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2, 1-1):*
Spread: Ravens favored by 2.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: I think the Jaguars are a bad football team. They’re certainly very bad on the road. But guess what? The Ravens, coming off of wins over the mighty Browns and Bills, aren’t that great either, especially on the road. They got burned twice by Corey Coleman last week, and this time around they have the challenge of facing two big play targets in Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Whatever happens in this game, my advice is the same as it is for Miami-Cleveland: don’t watch it. Jaguars win 31-23.
Jaguars cover
Over

Detroit Lions (1-1, 1-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-1, 0-2):
Spread: Packers favored by 7
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: The Dolphins were the first uninspiring team to be favored by at least a touchdown. The Packers are the second. This team isn’t good! Correction: the offense isn’t good. The defense is actually pretty solid, but Green Bay’s offense is once again getting too much credit. Aaron Rodgers is a fantastic quarterback, but the offense around him just isn’t cutting it. Jordy Nelson is clearly still getting back on the same page with Rodgers, but the other passing game options have no excuse for being flat. In fact, Detroit’s offense is simply better than Green Bay’s, at least through two weeks. This could be a blowout, but I think that only happens if Eddie Lacy goes off in a big way. And while Green Bay’s coaches have been talking up Lacy, the Lions have been pretty solid against the run aside from one big play by DeMarco Murray. I know Detroit lost at home to Tennessee last week, but I’m still pretty fond of this Lions team, and I’m confident that they’ll keep it close in Lambeau. Packers win 24-20.
Lions cover
Under

Denver Broncos (2-0, 2-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-1, 0-2):
Spread: Bengals favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: I really don’t trust either offense in this game. Andy Dalton’s a fine quarterback, but he’s a lot better when he has a steady run game to rely on, and the Jeremy Hill-Giovani Bernard combination has been less than inspiring on the ground so far this year. Cincinnati’s best option offensively this week is probably to spread the Broncos out with three wide receivers, a tight end, and Bernard (the better receiver) in the backfield. Again, though, I don’t trust the offense, especially since tight end Tyler Eifert, the second option in the passing game, is still out with an injury. The Broncos have been much more convincing this year, but it’s hard to take a lot out of a 34-20 win over an Indianapolis team that’s been totally decimated by injuries. I was going to take Denver because they have a better defense, but then I realized that this game is in Cincinnati, a tough place to play (the Bengals are 19-4-1 in the last three seasons at home), and that this is also Trevor Siemian’s first career road game. I’ll take the Bengals, but that extra half-point is a little too tasty for me to pass up, so I’ll end up going with the underdog against the spread for the fifth consecutive game. Bengals win 21-20.
Broncos cover
Under

Minnesota Vikings (2-0, 2-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-1, 1-1):- Lock of the week
Spread: Panthers favored by 6
Over/under: 42
My prediction: I really like the Vikings, even without Adrian Peterson. But this is a really tough spot for them against a Panthers team that just put up 46 points against a San Francisco defense that shut out the Rams in Week 1. And guess what? I don’t trust Sam Bradford. I’ve seen too many inaccurate throws, too many panicked plays, and too many missed opportunities over the past handful of years to feel confident about predicting that Bradford will have success without his star running back in a hostile environment against a good pass rush. Picking the Vikings here might just be overthinking it. Lock. Panthers win 27-17.
Panthers cover
Over

Washington Redskins (0-2, 0-2) at New York Giants (2-0, 1-1):*
Spread: Giants favored by 3.5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: This is a scary game for the Giants. New York has long been a team that’s frustrated and confused fans (and bettors) during the regular season, and they continued that trend last week when they won but failed to put up enough points to cover the spread against the terrible New Orleans defense. Now, they get a desperate Redskins team that’s coming off of consecutive home losses and basically needs a win to keep its season alive (I know it’s Week 3, but I have a hard time believing that this team could start 0-3 and 0-2 in the division and then go on the make up a three game deficit). The Giants are clearly the more talented team, but sometimes I don’t trust my gut enough. I’m trusting my gut on this one. Redskins win 24-20.
Redskins cover
Under

Los Angeles Rams (1-1, 1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Buccaneers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: Yes, the Buccaneers just got absolutely demolished by the Cardinals, and yes, the Rams just beat the Seahawks. But LA’s win was more about Seattle’s struggles than any awakening by a team that had just gotten drilled by the Niners, while the Bucs may just have managed to throw people off of their scent with their huge loss in Arizona. This game will surely be a slog; the Rams have a tendency to make their games unwatchable, which is somewhat by design. The question, thus, is: can Jameis Winston play well — and mistake-free — enough to carry his team to victory? The game won’t be made easier by the fact that Jameis will be without talented running back Doug Martin, but I still have to trust Winston and his offense to score enough to knock off a team that’s scored nine points all season. Buccaneers win 23-13.
Buccaneers cover
Under

San Francisco 49ers (1-1, 1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1, 0-2):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 10
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: The Seahawks are the last of the three big and to this point unconvincing favorites. Their offense has been shambolic so far this year, with one total touchdown and an offensive line that can only be described as abysmal. I thought they’d have enough to slip past the Rams last week, but I was wrong. I still think they have enough to slip past San Francisco this week, especially since Russell Wilson is healthier now, but I can’t say I’m uber-confident. Seahawks win 20-14.
Niners cover
Under

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0, 2-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Steelers favored by 4
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: The Eagles have far and away the best DVOA in football through two weeks. They’ve won their two games by 19 and 15 points, and they’ve given up 24 points all season. Why, then, are they getting 4 points at home against the Steelers? Because their first two games came against Cleveland and Chicago, and because Pittsburgh is not Cleveland or Chicago. This Steelers team is gooood. It’s not just explosive on offense; the Steelers also rank 14th in defensive DVOA despite facing two decent offenses (Washington and Cincy) to start the season. I like Philadelphia’s defense, but the Eagles don’t have enough weapons to keep up with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Steelers win 26-17.
Steelers cover
Under

New York Jets (1-1, 2-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-1, 0-2):*
Spread: Chiefs favored by 3
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: It’s only Week 3, but this game feels like one that could end up being vital in determining a wild card spot in the AFC. And I like the Jets here, for many of the same reasons that I like Arizona in Buffalo. How do you beat the Jets? A better question might be: how did the Bills put up 31 points against the Jets? Well, their defense isn’t very good, but it’s particularly bad at defending deep passes. A.J. Green burned Darrelle Revis in Week 1, and the Jets got beaten by two more deep touchdowns last week. But if the Chiefs are terrible at one thing, it’s throwing the deep ball. Kansas City likes runs and short passes, which is bad news given that the Jets are very stout up front (115 total rush yards given up). I don’t think KC will be able to keep up with New York’s offense, especially since the Chiefs have looked mediocre defensively without Justin Houston. Jets win 24-20.
Jets cover
Over

San Diego Chargers (1-1, 2-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Colts favored by 1.5
Over/under: 51
My prediction: The Raiders have had the worst defense in the league through two weeks, but the Colts aren’t far behind. To be fair, they’re playing a bunch of second and third stringers with regulars injured, and they might get a boost this week from the return of stud cornerback Vontae Davis. But Davis can’t be expected to cover up for all of the holes in his return, and Philip Rivers is excellent when given the time to find open receivers. San Diego will be able to score. Of course, so will Indianapolis, which makes this a total tossup. Give me the home team in a shootout. Colts win 31-28.
Colts cover
Over

Chicago Bears (0-2, 0-2) at Dallas Cowboys (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 6.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Points might be hard to come by in this game, with Brian Hoyer set to start against Dak Prescott. The Bears may well be the second worst team in the NFL (or the worst, depending on whether you think Cleveland’s actually an NFL team), and now they’re without their quarterback. And unlike the Dolphins, who I don’t trust to capitalize on a great matchup, the Cowboys are just good enough to beat a bad team by a touchdown (see Week 2). Cowboys win 21-13.
Cowboys cover
Under

Atlanta Falcons (1-1, 1-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-2, 1-1):
Spread: Saints favored by 3
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: Last week, I wrote that my thought process for picking the Raiders to beat the Falcons was simple: the Raiders were the better team, and they were also the home team. That didn’t turn out too well, but I’m going back to it this week as the Falcons have another road game against a high-octane offense. I still don’t trust Atlanta, and at least the Saints showed last week that they have some semblance of a defense. That semblance will be enough to take them past the Falcons in a shootout. Saints win 35-28.
Saints cover
Over

Upset picks:
Tennessee over Oakland
Jacksonville over Baltimore
New York Jets over Kansas City
Washington over New York Giants

Lock of the week:
Carolina over Minnesota

Week 2 Review, Thursday Night Football Preview

Posted: 09/22/2016 by levcohen in Football

After the amazing Week 1 we had, Week 2 was sure to be a letdown. Sure enough, the games were far less interesting, and not only because there were more blowouts. Five games ended up being decided by double digits, which was four more than last week but still not that many. But even most of the close games weren’t all that enthralling. Anyway, it’s been two weeks, and I’m ready to start the annual tradition of prematurely eliminating teams from playoff contention. Last year, I crossed off the Chiefs, who went on to win 10 straight games and make the playoffs. I’ll try to avoid another KC situation this year. I feel pretty safe about eliminating the following teams: Cleveland, Chicago, and Buffalo. All three teams are 0-2, and all are total messes. Cleveland is the first team to ever go five straight weeks without starting the same quarterback twice, with rookie QB Cody Kessler now taking over for the injured Josh McCown. Buffalo gave up 37 points to the Jets at home, putting the Bills two games behind the untouchable Patriots in the AFC East already. And the Bears just lost at home to a rookie quarterback and have perhaps the worst offense in the NFL. So yeah, I feel good about crossing those three off. Here are some other takeaways from Week 2:

  • Speaking of the Browns, they almost beat the Ravens last week. Cleveland went up 20-0, only to see an extra point be blocked and returned for two by the Ravens and then to give up 23 more points unanswered. This makes me nervous about Baltimore, as the Ravens barely beat the Bills at home before sneaking past the Browns. Their schedule remains plush for the next three weeks (Jacksonville, Oakland, Washington), but they’re going to need to take a big lead in the division if they want to have a chance at winning it, because their last four games feature trips to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and New England. The running game has been letting them down, and I don’t feel confident that the Ravens can hit .500 this year if they have to be a pass-first team.
  • Don’t panic about the Seahawks. I know it’s tempting to after two weeks in which Seattle has looked like a mess offensively (they have 15 points on the season with an offensive line that’s somehow even worse than expected), but we’ve seen this movie before. They started last year 2-4 and the year before 3-3, so while there may be some more rocky games in the immediate future, I think they’ll be just fine when they get running back Thomas Rawls and, more importantly, quarterback Russell Wilson healthy.
  • The Jaguars stink! Why did I pick the Jaguars last week when I knew they were terrible! After a 38-14 loss in San Diego against a team that’s already lost its two best passing-game weapons (Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead), the only reason I’m not eliminating the Jags is because they play in the AFC South, which makes them an important Texan injury away from having a chance.
  • Adrian Peterson’s out for months, but the Vikings’ offense will be fine because they have Sam Bradford… er, not really. Bradford had a good game on Sunday Night Football, but again, we’ve seen this movie before. The Vikings only scored 17 points, and that was with the Packers stacking the box against a healthy Peterson. Don’t overreact to one week of decent play from Bradford. If the Vikings make the playoffs this year, and I still think they can, it’ll be because they sneak in 2015 Texans style. In other words, with a suffocating defense, an offense that sometimes does enough in a bad division.
  • Ryan Tannehill’s numbers from Sunday’s game against New England (32/45, 389 yards, 2 TDs, 93.5 passer rating) are about as misleading as can be imagined. Here were the results of Miami’s first eight drives against New England: punt (3 and out), punt (3 and out), punt (3 and out), punt (3 and out), fumble (after two plays), interception, field goal, fumble. After that sequence, they went down 31-3 before putting up 21 meaningless points. Call this the ultimate Blake Bortles game for Ryan Tannehill.

Last week’s picks:
8-8 straight up… 19-13 for the season
8-7-1 against the spread… 19-11-2
10-6 over/under… 20-11-1

1-3 on upset picks… 4-5
1-0 on lock… 1-1

Best picks of the week:
Ravens 27, Browns 17… Actual result: Ravens 25, Browns 20
Vikings 21, Packers 17… Actual result: Vikings 17, Packers 14
Texans 24, Chiefs 17… Actual result: Texans 19, Chiefs 12

Worst picks:
Dolphins 17, Patriots 14… Actual result: Patriots 31, Dolphins 24 (I did it again!)
Giants 34, Saints 28… Actual result: Giants 16, Saints 13
Jaguars 27, Chargers 17… Actual result: Chargers 38, Jaguars 14

Houston Texans (2-0, 2-0) at New England Patriots (2-0, 2-0 against the spread):
Spread: Pick’em
Over/under: 40
My prediction: After New England beat Arizona in Week 1, I said I wouldn’t be fooled by the Patriots again. The next week, I picked the Dolphins to beat them in New England and was fooled for a second time. Is the third time the charm? Yes, the Pats are home again, but this time they have to start a rookie — Jacoby Brissett — at quarterback. Rob Gronkowski is coming back, but he’s returning to play against a really dominant Houston defense. The Texans are going to take away the run, which means Brissett is going to be faced with third-and-longs. Jimmy Garoppolo converted an extraordinary number of those plays, but something tells me that Brissett might struggle in clear passing situations. And if he gets hit hard and has to leave the game? Julian Edelman is the backup quarterback in this game. I don’t want to root for an injury, but wouldn’t it be incredible to see Edelman under center? As for Houston’s offense, I think it’ll be a struggle, but I’m more confident in their quarterback, balance, and weapons. One thing makes me nervous: the Texans are coming off of a huge win over Kansas City, the team that demolished them in last season’s playoffs. Could a letdown be coming against a rookie quarterback making his first start? On the other hand, they’re playing the Patriots in Foxborough. I expect them to show up. If they don’t, I’ll have been fooled by the Pats for a third consecutive week. Texans win 20-14.
Texans cover
Under

Week 2 Picks

Posted: 09/18/2016 by levcohen in Football

I guess it’s not surprising that, a week after a historically close slate of games, only one team (Carolina) is favored by more than a touchdown this week. How much of an aberration was Week 1? Well, I wouldn’t expect to see so many one and two point games this week, but it’s not an accident that games have become both higher-scoring and more exciting over the last few years. The NFL’s made a conscious effort to increase passing production, and a byproduct of that uptick in passing is that teams can now mount comebacks they would have had no chance of starting with the old rules. The league is moving closer to college football, which features huge swings from quarter to quarter and has score-friendly rules that allows teams to come back from 20+ point deficits in the fourth quarter fairly often. Now, none of this means anything specific for Week 2, but consider this a suggesting to keep the TV on even if a game seems out of hand.

*- Upset pick

Cincinnati Bengals (1-0, 0-1 against the spread) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0, 1-0):*
Spread: Steelers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: The Steelers looked soooo good on Monday against the Redskins. In fact, they looked pretty much unstoppable, with the usual exploits from Antonio Brown and the offense (437 yards) complemented with a defense that shut down Washington’s offense when it counted. It’s no surprise that the majority of the public money on this game is flowing to the high-profile Steelers. But it’s never smart to overreact to a Week 1 performance, and I’m a little less impressed with Pittsburgh’s Week 1 performance than most people simply because I didn’t think the Redskins would be any good this season even before last week. Brown will have plenty of joy again this week, because there’s no way he can be stopped. But I expect Cincinnati’s defense to be a bit smarter about defending him. Doubling him up with a corner and a safety seems like an obvious idea, but on both of Brown’s touchdowns the ‘Skins had him single-covered. In Geno Atkins and Co., the Bengals also have more defensive talent than the Redskins and should be able to do a better job at getting pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and slowing down running back DeAngelo Williams. I envision a lower scoring game in this one, and I think the Bengals can pull it out to move to 2-0 in two tough road games. This is the game of the week. Bengals win 23-20.
Bengals cover
Under

Tennessee Titans (0-1, 0-1) at Detroit Lions (1-0, 1-0):
Spread: Lions favored by 6
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: My head says that the spread is too high. The Lions just took faced a really bad and injured Colts defense and still needed a game-winning field goal to emerge victorious. Meanwhile, the Titans squandered a chance to knock off the Shaun Hill-led Vikings, but people might be underestimating the talent of Minnesota’s defense. So yeah, my head says pick Tennessee to cover the spread. But my heart says that the Lions are clearly the better team, and that Tennessee’s run-heavy strategy may keep the score low but won’t ultimately keep the Titans in the game. I was leaning towards going with my heart, but then I realized that these are the Lions and they never make things easy for themselves. Lions win 24-20.
Titans cover
Under

Baltimore Ravens (1-0, 1-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Ravens favored by 5.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: I kind of like Josh McCown. Cleveland’s replacement for an injured (that was quick!) Robert Griffin III was sneaky-good at times last year and can actually throw the ball down the field, unlike most backup quarterbacks. Alas, McCown had no talent around him last year and has no talent around him this year. Baltimore didn’t look particularly good in their Week 1 win, which I’m thankful for because I believe it’s the only thing keeping this spread below a touchdown. After this week, Cleveland’s next two home games are against New England and the Jets, which makes me think it might be a while before they’re getting this few points at home. I’ll lay the points and go with the team I trust to make big plays. Ravens win 27-17.
Ravens cover
Over

Dallas Cowboys (0-1, 0-0-1) at Washington Redskins (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Redskins favored by 3
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: I said that I never thought the Redskins would be good this year. But I’m still surprised that they’re only giving three points at home against the Cowboys and rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who was decent (I guess) in Week 1 but showed that he has no capability of driving his team down the field when his running game isn’t working for him. The running backs will see more daylight against a Redskins front seven that got destroyed by DeAngelo Williams than they enjoyed against a rejuvenated Giants front, but I have more confidence in Kirk Cousins and Washington’s offense in a high-scoring game than I do in Dak Prescott. Redskins win 31-20.
Redskins cover
Over

New Orleans Saints (0-1, 0-1) at New York Giants (1-0, 0-0-1):
Spread: Giants favored by 4
Over/under: 54
My prediction: How high would the over/under have to be for me to be tempted to take the under? I think it’d have to be pushing 60 points. I’m still hammering the over on New Orleans’s games as long as they aren’t playing a dominant defense. And while I was encouraged by what I saw from the Giants defensively last week, they’re still far from a dominant defense. They were soft against intermediate passes, which wasn’t really a problem against the Cowboys but will absolutely be against Drew Brees and the Saints. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the Saints defense has no chance of stopping any offense right now, let alone one as good as New York’s. The injury to top cornerback Delvin Breaux cripples an already-atrocious defense, so another good offensive performance from New Orleans will be wasted. Giants win 34-28.
Giants cover
Over

San Francisco 49ers (1-0, 1-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-1, 0-1):– Lock of the week
Spread: Panthers favored by 13
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Sorry to be boring and take this game as my lock, but after losing my lock last week I need to keep it safe here. I was half-hoping that people would be convinced after San Francisco’s 28-0 win over the Rams in Week 1 that the Niners aren’t god-awful, but it turns out that people are smarter than that. The Niners still stink, and the Panthers showed in Week 1 that they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with again this season. They ended up losing in Denver, but this is obviously a much easier matchup for them. 13 feels like — and is — a lot, but I’m not going to be the person to pick against the Panthers here, certainly straight up but also against the spread. I know this contradicts what I said at the beginning of this post, but if the Panthers take an early two touchdown lead, it’ll be all over. Panthers win 31-10.
Panthers cover
Under

Miami Dolphins (0-1, 1-0) at New England Patriots (1-0, 1-0):*
Spread: Patriots favored by 6.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Classic inflated spread here. The Patriots are the second most popular team in the country, and they’re coming off of a huge, upset win in a Sunday Night Football game against a really good team. Now, they’re facing a team that lost in a low scoring yawner in Week 1. But I was actually fairly impressed by Miami in their loss to the Seahawks, at least defensively. The real reason I’m picking Miami, though, is because I can’t resist picking against the Pats again. Yeah, I know I said I’d learned my lesson after last week, but apparently I was wrong. Maybe this week will do that, but I’d be pretty mad at myself if I missed predicting a pretty obvious letdown game for a team with a first-year starting quarterback against one with Ndamukong Suh and a swarming defense. Dolphins win 17-14.
Dolphins cover
Under

Kansas City Chiefs (1-0, 0-1) at Houston Texans (1-0, 1-0):
Spread: Texans favored by 1
Over/under: 43
My prediction: In the first round of last year’s playoffs, the Chiefs beat the Texans 30-0 in Houston. What will make this week different? Well, I generally don’t like using a blowout last season (even late last season) to justify picking a similar result this year. The dynamics between one NFL season and the next are always so different and would be even if both team’s rosters were exactly the same. More to the point, they aren’t the same. Sean Smith led the Chiefs in tackles and had an interception in last year’s game, while Justin Houston was on the field and aided the pass-rush. This time around, Smith is gone and Houston is hurt, and the Chiefs had a hard time stopping the Chargers before Keenan Allen’s injury. Meanwhile, the Texans have made meaningful offensive improvements. Brock Oswiler might not be great, but he’s a better quarterback than Brian Hoyer, who was dismal in last year’s playoffs (15/34, 136 yards, four interceptions). Lamar Miller gives the team a talented running back who can take pressure off of the passing game, while Will Fuller makes things a lot easier for DeAndre Hopkins. The return of stalwart left tackle Duane Brown (missed last week) should also help, and I expect Hopkins to have a big game for an effective offense. The Texans have a really good defense, but we all know that by now. Texans win 24-17.
Texans cover
Under

Seattle Seahawks (1-0, 0-1) at Los Angeles Rams (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 6.5
Over/under: 37.5
My prediction: The Rams weren’t very good last week. In fact, they were atrocious. They have a horrific offense, and their hyped front-four got almost no pressure on Blaine Gabbert en route to a blowout loss at the hands of one of the worst teams in the NFL. And yet, there are legitimate reasons for Seahawks fans to worry about this game. First of all, their offensive line is still not full strength after looking shaky against the Dolphins and failing to provide many holes for the running game. If last week’s version of the Rams shows up, that won’t be an issue. But if the LA defense I expected before last week comes to play, Seattle could be in trouble, especially since they have a quarterback who normally relies on his mobility but is nursing an injury. The Seahawks should also be worried that the Rams are the type of team that lays an egg against a terrible opponent and then plays a great game the next week against a really good team. Luckily for Seattle, they can play a bad game and the Rams can play a good game with the Seahawks still coming out on top. That’s how anemic LA’s offense is. Seahawks win 17-13 in a game that’ll be very similar to the one Seattle played last week.
Rams cover
Under

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0, 1-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 7
Over/under: 50
My prediction: I’m disappointed that the spread is this high, but I didn’t think for a moment about picking the Buccaneers. I still have faith in Arizona’s talent, and I think they’ll respond in a big way to the loss last week. Tampa Bay won convincingly against Atlanta last week, but their defense still wasn’t all that good and Arizona is not Atlanta. The Cardinals really should have won last week, but they were sloppy and ended up needing to rely on a game-winning field goal attempt, which ultimately missed. I don’t think things will be as tight this week against a more forgiving defense that should allow the Cardinals to get things going both on the ground and through the air. Cardinals win 35-20 in a game that shows us more about Arizona than Tampa.
Cardinals cover
Over

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1, 1-0) at San Diego Chargers (0-1, 1-0):*
Spread: Chargers favored by 3
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: This is a tossup game between two bad teams coming off of two very different losses. Everything was going so well for the Chargers, who led Kansas City 21-3 at halftime and looked primed to pull off the road upset, but then both the game and stud receiver Keenan Allen’s ACL were blown. That can’t be easy to rebound from. Meanwhile, the Jaguars were actually better than I expected in a close home loss against the Packers. They didn’t play well, and I don’t think they can sniff .500 this year, but this is a really good spot for them this week. I certainly wouldn’t usually trust Blake Bortles on the road, but playing in San Diego is barely playing on the road. There are probably more Cowboys fans living in California than there are Chargers fans in the world. Now, the Jags aren’t the Cowboys, and I’m sure there won’t be too many Jacksonville fans at the game, but the Chargers have a notoriously weak homefield advantage. That, along with the fact that San Diego is poor enough defensively to have blown that huge lead last week, will be enough for the Jaguars to win this game. Jags win 27-17.
Jaguars cover
Under

Atlanta Falcons (0-1, 0-1) at Oakland Raiders (1-0, 1-0):
Spread: Raiders favored by 4
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: This one is simple for me: I think the Raiders are pretty good, I think the Falcons stink, and I know the Raiders are home. Raiders win 31-23.
Raiders cover
Over

Indianapolis Colts (0-1, 0-1) at Denver Broncos (1-0, 1-0):
Spread: Broncos favored by 6.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: My advice is to watch this game only when the Colts have the ball, because that’s when this game will be really interesting. The Broncos will score some points, but that’ll be more as a result of Indy’s atrocious defense than because they have a super talented offense. I think we can safely pencil in the Broncos for 20-27 points. The game, then, will be won or lost by Indianpolis’s offense. Can the Colts, whose offense looked so good in the second half against the Lions, perform against Denver’s terrifying defense? I’m leaning toward “no,” but I also have to remember to never count out Andrew Luck. The Colts always go down big, so they’ll go down big in the first half. But Luck will get hot just in time to bring his Colts all the way back into the game… and they’ll lose by a few points. Broncos win 26-23.
Broncos cover
Over

Green Bay Packers (1-0, 0-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0, 1-0):*
Spread: Packers favored by 2
Over/under: 43
My prediction: I like the Vikings here because I think their defense will be the single best unit on the field tonight. The Packers are solid on both sides of the ball, and I think they’ll eventually be more than solid on offense, but their offense is going to need time to gel, and their Week 1 performance didn’t fill me with confidence. They did enough to beat the Jaguars, but the Vikings are a different defensive beast. It must be said that Minnesota will be without both Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes — two key members of the defense — tonight, so my pick of the Vikings is slightly riskier than it otherwise would be. But I loved what I saw from this defense last week, and I think the offense will be good enough with Sam Bradford under center to knock off the Packers. Vikings win 21-17.
Vikings cover
Under

Philadelphia Eagles (1-0, 1-0) at Chicago Bears (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Bears favored by 3
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Carson Wentz was awesome last week, and so were the Eagles as a team. That’s why they ended last week with the second best DVOA in football. But their win came against the Cleveland Browns, barely an NFL squad. And a quarterback’s second career start is always a heck of a lot harder than his first. We’re very likely to see Wentz come back down to earth this week. This won’t be a blowout, though, because, although I’m not projecting a big game from Philadelphia’s offense, the Bears aren’t very good either. This is really a game I could see going either way, and since there were so many one point games last week, it would feel wrong to get through this post without picking a one point game. Bears win 24-23.
Eagles cover
Over

Upset picks:
Bengals over Steelers
Vikings over Packers
Jaguars over Chargers
Dolphins over Patriots

Lock of the week:
Panthers over Niners

Week 1 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 09/15/2016 by levcohen in Football

Until Monday, Week 1 was almost unbelievably exciting. There were four one-point and two two-point games (those six combined 1-2 point games are the most in any single week in the history of the NFL), and only one matchup ended with a spread of more than nine points (the Eagles over the Browns 29-10). Then came the two Monday Night Football games. First, the Steelers drubbed the Redskins 38-16. Then came San Francisco’s 28-0 win over the Rams, which was one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen. Let’s hope this week’s action is more like the first 14 games of the weekend than like the last two. Here are some takeaways from Week 1:

  • I’m going out on a limb here, but it looks to me like the Minnesota Vikings are the class of the NFC North… or will be when Sam Bradford is starting and relatively comfortable. The Vikings had an ugly-looking offense with Shaun Hill at quarterback in Tennessee, but their defense more than made up for it en route to a 25-16 victory. This came in a game in which Adrian Peterson averaged 1.6 yards per carry and didn’t have a run longer than nine yards. The defense might be dominant, which will make any gains the offense might make just the cherry on top. Meanwhile, the Packers were seriously pushed by a Jacksonville team I just don’t think is very good. They ended up holding on, but their offense still looks more like the 2015 version than the dominant previous iterations. That may change as Jordy Nelson gets healthier, but for now I think the Vikings are simply the better thing. These two teams play this week.
  • It wasn’t pretty, but the Texans reinforced by belief in their ability to win the dreadful AFC South. While all three of their division mates look seriously flawed and lost in Week 1, Houston came back to beat an admittedly-terrible Bears team by nine points. Their defense was dominant in the second half, and Brock Oswiler looked just good enough for the team to have a pretty good regular season. The best news was that rookie receiver Will Fuller had a huge week, catching five passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. Any Fuller success will just lessen the burden — and the defensive attention — on stud wideout DeAndre Hopkins.
  • Dak Prescott is not good! This is relieving for non-Cowboys fans. I know that a lot of people are still fawning over the rookie quarterback, but it took him 45 attempts to amass 227 yards and he showed a total inability to throw the ball down the field. Yes, he’s probably better than the quarterbacks Dallas threw out last year to replace an injured Tony Romo, and he might look better when (not if) rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot gets going, but people need to realize that he’s not the next Tom Brady. At best, he’ll be a good game-manager who can win his team games they should win. But he’s not at his best yet, which means the Cowboys should be (and probably are) counting down the days until Romo is healthy enough to play.
  • Antonio Brown is utterly unstoppable. For people who were wondering whether the Steelers could keep up their efficient offense even without Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell, wonder no more. As long as Brown and Ben Roethlisberger are healthy, the offense will be great. That should scare other teams, because Pittsburgh’s defense looked pretty solid on Monday too. I don’t think the defense will look as good against quarterbacks better than Kirk Cousins, but it’s certainly good enough to allow the Steelers to cruise to the playoffs.
  • Shame on me for locking up a team playing against the Patriots. I should have known better. Somehow, New England, legitimate underdogs for once, went into Arizona and knocked off a team that went 13-3 last year. And they did it without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, inarguably their two best and more important players. The Jets looked pretty good in Week 1, but they lost along with the Bills and Dolphins. It’s only been one week, but Jimmy Garoppolo and Co. already seem to have locked up the division. When Brady comes back after his four game suspension, he’ll be able to go on autopilot until the playoffs.

Last week’s picks:
11-5 straight up
11-4-1 against the spread
10-5-1 over/under

3-2 on upset picks
0-1 on my lock

Best picks of the week:
Bengals 24, Jets 23…. Actual result: Bengals 23, Jets 22
Raiders 34, Saints 31…. Actual result: Raiders 35, Saints 34
Buccaneers 30, Falcons 27…. Actual result: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24
Texans 26, Bears 17…. Actual result: Texans 23, Bears 14

Worst picks:
Cardinals 30, Patriots 13…. Actual result: Patriots 23, Cardinals 21
Rams 28 (!), Niners 27…. Actual result: Niners 28, Rams 0
Titans 17, Vikings 13…. Actual result: Vikings 25, Titans 16

New York Jets (0-1, 1-0 against the spread) at Buffalo Bills (0-1, 0-1):
Spread: Pick ’em
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: Some sportsbooks have the Bills favored by a point, but the majority have it as a pick, so I can’t make this an upset pick. But I certainly like the Jets in this game. I was encouraged by their close Week 1 loss to Cincinnati and especially by their ability to get to the quarterback. They sacked Andy Dalton seven times, and that was without Sheldon Richardson, who’s back this week. Their defensive line is dominant, and this week they get to face an offensive line that’s far worse than Cincinnati’s. Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor was awful last week, throwing for just 111 yards, and he’ll face a lot more pressure this week. If I were New York’s defensive coordinator, the one thing I’d be worried about is the possibility for a big-play receiver to go off on a declining Darrelle Revis. A.J. Green did it last week, and I’d bet on Sammy Watkins to be able to do it this week… except that Watkins is still hobbled by a foot injury and is playing through significant pain. That really limits what Taylor and the Bills offense will be able to do against the strong Jets defense. On the other side of the ball, I was cautiously encouraged by what I saw from the Jets last week. Ryan Fitzpatrick looked fine, Matt Forte looked explosive, and they got a lot out of third receiver Quincy Enunwa. They’ll get a lot more from Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall going forward, which will only help the offense. The Jets are just the better team. Jets win 23-10.
Jets cover
Under

Week 1 Picks

Posted: 09/11/2016 by levcohen in Football

Opening week in the NFL is the worst. Every year, there are some really weird results in Week 1 that throw everyone off of the scent of some good teams and onto the scent of some bad ones. Last year, the prime example came in the second Monday Night Football game (there are two in Week 1), when San Francisco drubbed Minnesota 20-3 and out-gained them 395-248. The Rams also beat the Seahawks with a good performance from Nick Foles, the Titans put up 42 points on the road, and the Dolphins beat the Redskins in Washington. A lot of weird stuff happens in Week 1. The problem is that it won’t be entirely clear what’s weird and what isn’t until much later in the season. When the favored Eagles lost to the Falcons, for example, one might have thought that it was a fluky result. But it turned out that the Eagles just weren’t that good. So be on the lookout for weirdness in Week 1, but just know that you might not be looking at the right weirdness.

*- Upset pick

Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles:
Spread: Eagles favored by 3.5
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: I think people might be overreacting a bit to the Sam Bradford trade. This spread is down from an open of Philly -7.5, and while I agree that replacing Bradford with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz hurts their chances, I think the Eagles still have more than enough to beat the Browns. I expect a dominant performance from the front four and especially from Fletcher Cox, and I don’t think the Browns have the talent to take advantage of Philadelphia’s clear deficiencies at cornerback. Robert Griffin III is going to get hit a lot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he throws a few awful interceptions. On the other side of the ball, I expect a good performance from Eagles running back Ryan Mathews, who’s always good when he’s healthy. Wentz won’t be great in his first start, but he’ll be good enough. Eagles win 24-13.
Eagles cover
Under

Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars:
Spread: Packers favored by 5.5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: I mentioned this in my post about the Jags yesterday, but it’s worth repeating here: Since Gus Bradley was named head coach, they’ve played 17 games against eventual playoff teams. They’ve won zero of those games and covered the spread in only two of them (one of which was a ridiculous 26.5 point spread against the Broncos). I’m not sure anything’s changed. I actually think the Jags could have an effective, balanced game-plan against the Packers, but all of that goes out the window when Green Bay puts up 14 quick points. Garbage time points for Bortles and Co. will make the score seem respectable, but Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will win it pretty easily in Jordy Nelson’s first regular season back. I’m pretty excited to watch him match up against excellent rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey’s been talking smack, but it’s hard to imagine him keeping Nelson under wraps for the entire game. Packers win 31-20.
Packers cover
Over

Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens:
Spread: Ravens favored by 3
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Everything about this screams Ravens win to me. Tyrod Taylor returns to the place he was drafted, which may be exciting for him but certainly isn’t going to help him. The Bills are banged up on the defensive side of the ball, and the Ravens will be excited to prove that their 5-11 season last year was an aberration. Without Marcell Dareus and their top two picks (Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland), the Bills are going to have a hard time rushing the passer. And Joe Flacco is pretty good when he has the time to throw deep. I don’t think Buffalo’s defense is any good, and I don’t think their offense will be good in this one either, which makes this a pretty easy pick. Ravens win 27-10.
Ravens cover
Under

Chicago Bears at Houston Texans:
Spread: Texans favored by 5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: The Chicago Bears have one excellent offensive player, and that’s WR Alshon Jeffery. Unfortunately, the Texans have two great cover cornerbacks in Johnathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson, which will pretty much allow them to shut down the passing game. They also have J.J. Watt healthy and Jadeveon Clowney motivated in a contract year against a mediocre offensive line and a quarterback (Jay Cutler) who turns the ball over when he’s under pressure. I think the Texans are a pretty good team, and I think the Bears are a pretty bad team. If these two played in five weeks, I bet that the Texans would be favored by at least a touchdown. But it’s Week 1, and wonky stuff happens, which makes me wary since the Bears are sometimes capable of big things and Brock Oswiler could well self-combust in his first regular season action with Houston. I’m going to go with my gut, though, and pick Houston 26-17.
Texans cover
Under

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons:*
Spread: Falcons favored by 2.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: This game feels like a tossup to me. I happen to trust Tampa Bay’s defense a little more than Atlanta’s, but the Falcons are home. I think Jameis Winston could have a big game against a soft defense. This game may hinge on whether or not rookie corner Vernon Hargreaves can slow Julio Jones down. I don’t mean shut him down, because that’s not going to happen. But Julio is capable of 15 catch, 200 yard games, and the Falcons will probably win the game if he can do that. I liked Hargreaves in college, but then again he never faced Julio Jones in college. Jones will get his, but the Buccaneers will get a lot from Mike Evans and will have a more balanced attack. Buccaneers win 30-27.
Buccaneers cover
Over

Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans:*
Spread: Vikings favored by 2.5
Over/under: 40
My prediction: How about this for a new rule? Never take Shaun Hill as a road favorite. I have no confidence in Minnesota’s offense with Hill under center in a road game. This isn’t an endorsement of Tennessee, but I think even they can remember to stack the box with eight defenders against Adrian Peterson and limit his effectiveness. On the other side of the ball, it’ll certainly be a struggle for the Titans against a really strong Vikings defense. But they should have just enough to beat Shaun Hill at home. If they don’t, let’s just say they’re in for a really long season. I’ll be interested to see what kind of havoc Titans end Jurrell Casey can wreak on Minnesota’s backfield. Titans win 17-13.
Titans cover
Under

Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets:
Spread: Bengals favored by 2.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: I really like the Bengals this season, but this game makes me nervous. I expected them to be a small underdog on the road, but they’re favored by nearly a field goal against a pretty good Jets team. The Jets can pretty much take away their running game, which puts the onus on receiving back Giovani Bernard to have a big game and on A.J. Green to burn Darrelle Revis. Tight end Tyler Eifert is out, which really hurts since the Bengals would like to have all of their weapons firing on all cylinders against a pretty good defense. This feels like a good situation for New York’s offense, as the Jets have the balance to keep Cincy’s solid defense off balance. I’m not expecting huge things from Ryan Fitzpatrick, but I think Matt Forte will have a decent debut for the Jets and Brandon Marshall will do his normal Brandon Marshall things. It will take a Mike Nugent field goal at the end of the game for the Bengals to triumph over the Jets 24-23.
Jets cover
Over

Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints:*
Spread: Saints favored by 2.5
Over/under: 52
My prediction: The Raiders are clearly the better all-around team, but the Saints have been given the standard 2.5 points because they are thought of as being so dominant at home. But they haven’t been dominant at home recently. In fact, they are just 7-9 in the dome in the last two seasons. Derek Carr is in line for a big game, as last year he proved that he can burn bad defenses. Amari Cooper should have a big Week 1 en route to a big season, as the Saints don’t have the defensive options to stop both Cooper and Michael Crabtree. I do think New Orleans will be better defensively this season, but that won’t manifest itself against Oakland’s dominant offensive line in Week 1. The key matchup here is the dominant Kahlil Mack against New Orleans left tackle Terron Armstead, who’s pretty darn good in his own right. If Mack can disrupt New Orleans’s offense, this could be a blowout. If he just has an average game, this’ll be a shootout. I trust Armstead, so I’m opting for the latter. Raiders win 34-31.
Raiders cover
Over

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs:*
Spread: Chiefs favored by 7
Over/under: 45
My prediction: This is my big upset pick of the week. The Chiefs are clearly the better team, but weird stuff happens in Week 1, and Philip Rivers is a good enough quarterback to orchestrate a wild game winning drive in Kansas City. The Chiefs are still without Jamaal Charles, and the Chargers can place outstanding corner Jason Verrett on Jeremy Maclin. Rivers has also historically been really good as a road underdog, especially against divisional opposition. The Chargers got super unlucky last year, which is probably why the spread is so high, but I’m going to bet on Rivers to not only cover the spread but also take down the Chiefs. Chargers win 27-23.
Chargers cover
Over

Miami Dolphins at Seattle Seahawks:
Spread: Seahawks favored by 10.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: I’m very confident that the Seahawks are going to have another big year. I just don’t like that they’re favored by double-digits in Week 1. I mentioned yesterday that I expect a better season from Miami’s offense in Adam Gase’s first season as head coach. Ryan Tannehill should be respectable in this game, and I don’t think the Seahawks will torch Miami’s defense. The result will never be in question, but the matchup of Ndamukong Suh against Seattle’s undermanned offensive line should scare the Seahawks. Seahawks win 23-17.
Dolphins cover
Under

Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts:*
Spread: Colts favored by 3.5
Over/under: 51
My prediction: This is an easy one for me. I believe that the Lions are the better team, and more importantly they’re also the healthier team. The Colts are without two starting cornerbacks (Vontae Davis and Darius Butler) and are starting a guy they signed less than a month ago (Antonio Cromartie) at corner. That’s bad news, because I expect the Lions to go no-huddle early and often throughout the season and I expect them to have a lot of success through the air. Matthew Stafford’s a good quarterback, while Golden Tate and Marvin Jones are an underrated wide receiver combination. I think Theo Riddick’s going to have a big game catching the ball out of the backfield, and I think even Anquan Boldin might put up big numbers against Indy. Andrew Luck and the Colts will score, but they won’t be able to keep up with the Lions this week. Lions win 28-21.
Lions cover
Under

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys:
Spread: Giants favored by 1
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Dak Prescott may well be a good quarterback, but I’m not going to be the one to be fooled by his preseason and take his team to win against a solid team in Week 1. The Cowboys will be able to score, but that will be more because running back Ezekiel Elliot is going to have a nice game. The Giants just have the more reliable passing game, and they also have a much-improved defense that should be able to put pressure on Prescott. Giants win 28-23.
Giants cover
Over

New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals: – Lock of the week
Spread: Cardinals favored by 7
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Is picking against the Patriots as my lock advisable? Probably not. But I’m throwing caution to the wind and going with my head here. I believe that the Cardinals have the best all-around team in the NFL. I’m also positive that Tom Brady will not play in Week 1. This is the night game, which means Cards fans will be even more raucous. Jimmy Garoppolo may be good, but I’m not going to assume he’s good just because he’s a Patriots quarterback. Also, Gronk isn’t playing. That’s big. The Cardinals have lost just five home games in the last three seasons, and I don’t expect #6 to come tonight. Cardinals win 30-13.
Cardinals cover
Under

Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins:
Spread: Steelers favored by 3
Over/under: 50
My prediction: I’m disappointed that I have to give a field goal here, but I’m still going to stick to my guns here with the first Monday game and take the favored Steelers. Pittsburgh’s better on both sides of the ball than Washington, and I trust Ben Roethlisberger a lot more than I do Kirk Cousins. The matchup to watch is obviously Antonio Brown against Josh Norman. Brown should probably be favored to win that matchup. I actually think this game might be lower-scoring than expected, and if either defense has to make a stand late in the game, I’d be more confident in Pittsburgh’s D. Steelers win 26-20.
Steelers cover
Under

L.A. Rams at San Francisco 49ers:
Spread: Rams favored by 3
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: This is the classic “weird stuff happens in Week 1” game. The second Monday Night Football game is always weird, maybe because it starts so late. In fact, each of the last five games in this slot have been really strange. Sebastian Janikowski hit a 63-yard field goal as the Raiders beat the Broncos in Denver five years ago. Four seasons ago, the Raiders had three botched punts after an injury to long snapper Jon Condo. Three years ago, the Texans rallied from down 28-7 to beat the Chargers 31-28. In 2014, the Cardinals rallied from down 17-6 in the fourth quarter to beat the Chargers 18-17. Then came the Niners-Vikings debacle last season. What does all of that mean for this game? Well, that it’ll be weird. Even though they’re playing at home against Case Keenum, I still can’t pick the Niners straight up. I have to pick something weird, though, so I’ll make this a bizarrely high-scoring game. Rams win 28-27.
Niners cover
Over

Upset picks:
Lions over Colts
Chargers over Chiefs
Raiders over Saints
Buccaneers over Falcons
Titans over Vikings

Lock of the week:
Cardinals over Patriots

Abridged AFC East and North Previews

Posted: 09/10/2016 by levcohen in Football

I wish I had the time to do long write-ups on the two divisions I haven’t written about, but unfortunately the season starts in earnest tomorrow so I don’t have said time. I don’t want to neglect the AFC East or AFC North, so I’ll make my win-loss predictions, but the description will be much shorter than usual.

AFC North:

Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): The Bengals have made the playoffs five years in a row, and they’ve won double-digit games in each of the last four seasons. I don’t see why that would change this year, and I also don’t understand why the Steelers are favored to win this division. This was a 12-4 team last year, one that would have finished first in offensive DVOA (and maybe made a run to the Super Bowl?) had Andy Dalton not gotten injured at the end of the season. For a team that is supposedly defense-first, the offense is pretty darn good. The offensive line is likely the team’s strongest unit, with first team All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth anchoring a line that is young, talented, and, perhaps most importantly, composed entirely of holdovers from last season. Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill are a classic running back duo, with Hill providing the oomph and Bernard the versatility. A.J. Green is an elite receiver, Tyler Eifert is a great pass-catching tight end when healthy, and second round pick Tyler Boyd looked good in the preseason and could help replace the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Dalton probably won’t be as good as he was last season, and the team did lose some skill-position depth, so I wouldn’t expect a #1 DVOA-type season. But it’ll be good enough.

The defense is almost exactly the same as it was last year, or at least it will be when Vontaze Burfict returns from suspension in Week 4. Geno Atkins anchors the defensive line, and the Bengals are betting that the addition of Karlos Dansby will give the team another consistent linebacker to add to the corps. This has been a good-but-not-great defense for the last half-decade and shapes up to be the same again this year. Combine that with a very good offense and you get a clear playoff team.

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6): We know what we’re going to get from Pittsburgh’s offense. Even without the suspended Martavis Bryant, they have an enviable collection of skill-position talent, especially when Le’Veon Bell returns from suspension in Week 4. Bell is pretty clearly the best all-around running back in football, and his backup, D’Angelo Williams, is pretty darn good in his own right. Then there’s Antonio Brown, the no-doubt top receiver in the NFL. The offensive line is good, and then of course there’s Ben Roethlisberger, who’s been rated as “elite” (90+ rating) by Pro Football Focus in three of the last four years. If the Steelers had Byrant, they’d be even scarier on offense. As it is, they still have the most offensive talent in the league.

They’ll have to settle with a wild card because the defense is just mediocre. It was decent last year, thanks largely to a dominant rush defense, but there aren’t any free agent signings to speak of and the team’s early round draft picks (they took corners in the first two rounds) can’t be expected to add much in their rookie seasons. It’s a shallow defense, albeit one with talented players like Cameron Heyward, the incredible James Harrison (now 38 years old), and Jarvis Jones. The secondary has some holes, which might not be much of a problem in the regular season but surely will be come playoffs. I can understand why the Steelers are considered the second most likely team to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but I don’t think they have the talent up and down the roster that Cincinnati has.

Baltimore Ravens (8-8): The Ravens were decimated by injuries last year, with quarterback Joe Flacco, top running back Justin Forsett, top receiver Steve Smith, and top defender Terrell Suggs all missing significant time last season. They’ll certainly be better than 5-11 this season, but I don’t think they have great upside this season. Unfortunately, they still have the injury bug, with 10 players already on IR. They haven’t lost anyone huge, but their depth has already been compromised. Flacco will be Flacco, which is to say good enough to win games but only when his supporting cast is producing. There’s no elite running back, and the Ravens are planning on playing four different backs (Forsett, Terrance West, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon). It’s the same story with a deep but unspectacular receiving core that is depending on an amazing return from a torn Achilles’ by Steve Smith. The offensive line is good but nowhere near as good as it was in its heyday (during the Super Bowl year).

If the Ravens are a playoff team, it’ll be because they have an elite defense. Elvis Dumervil and Suggs can still really get after opposing quarterbacks. Unfortunately, Dumervil is out for Week 1 while Suggs is questionable. They should be solid at all three levels, but I don’t think they’ll be good enough to lead a playoff push. This is just an average team across the board, which means they can end up anywhere between 6-10 and 10-6 depending on injury luck.

Cleveland Browns (3-13): It’s a dumpster fire in Cleveland. Again. I’m not going to waste words or time on this team, which really lacks talent on both sides of the ball. RG3 is the QB. Until Josh Gordon returns from suspension, rookie Corey Coleman is the team’s only threat at receiver, with ex-Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor playing on the other side. Isaiah Crowell is perhaps the worst starting running back in the NFL. The offensive line still has perennially overlooked Joe Thomas (poor Joe Thomas!), but not much else. I can honestly say that I only recognized two of Cleveland’s defensive starters. One of them is Danny Shelton, last year’s first round draft pick who was average in his rookie year. The other one is Joe Haden, who was once an upper echelon cornerback but whose Pro Football Focus rating dropped from 78.4 to 33.1 (!) last season. There’s just very little talent on this team. I think Hue Jackson’s a good coach, which is why I don’t think they’ll go 0-16 (Brian Billick thinks so), but this is going to be a loooong rebuild. The one thing I’m looking forward to seeing is whether or not Josh Gordon is still the elite receiver he once was when he returns from more than a year off.

AFC East:

New England Patriots (11-5): I just don’t see this ending any other way than as follows: Tom Brady will miss four games, and maybe the Patriots will lose two or three of those games. Then, Brady will come back, and the Pats will stop losing games. They’ll feast on divisional opposition, just like they do every year, and they’ll win double-digit games. Their division championship will never really be in doubt. As much as it annoys me, that’s just how it is with the Brady-Belichick Patriots.

New York Jets (9-7)
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Buffalo Bills (6-10): 
After the Patriots, the other three teams have been pretty interchangeable over the last 15 years. I like the Jets the most, because I have more confidence in their defense than I have in any single unit that the Dolphins or Bills can put on the field. They were incredible against the run last year, and I don’t think that will change this year. It’s actually a pretty similar team to the squad that went 10-6 last year, with a small step back because I don’t think Ryan Fitzpatrick can replicate what he did last year and because they have a really tough schedule.

Then comes Miami, a 6-10 team last year that should be a bit better with a new coach (Adam Gase) and a scheme that should make things a lot easier for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The defense is led by Ndamukong Suh, who’s still a really good player (91.1 PFF grade). I expect Miami to be pretty mediocre on both sides of the ball, and their schedule is also really hard for a last place team, so they won’t quite crack .500. But I’m expecting a better overall season from Tannehill and the offense.

I could see things really falling apart for the Bills this year, especially defensively. It’s hard to imagine a Rex Ryan team being terrible defensively, but that’s exactly what the Bills were last season. They dropped from second to 24th in defensive DVOA, and now they’re without the suspended Marcell Dareus for four games. To make matter worse, they spent their first two picks on front-seven help… but now first round pick Shaq Lawson is out for at least six game and second rounder Reggie Ragland is out for the season. I think the secondary has some talent, but who’s going to rush the passer now? As for the offense, there are two players who pop out: LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins. Both of those guys are top tier talents at their positions, but the cupboard is pretty much bare otherwise. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was actually really good last year, but I’m not sure he can repeat what he did. Even if he does, will the defense be good enough for it to matter? I doubt it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan gets fired during the season.

 

I thought it would be interesting to end this post with my overall playoff predictions and top five pick predictions, with records taken from all of my division preview posts.

NFC:
1. Arizona Cardinals (13-3)
2. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
3. Carolina Panthers (10-6)
4. New York Giants (9-7)
5. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
6. New Orleans Saints (9-7) or Minnesota (9-7)

AFC:
1. New England Patriots (11-5)
2. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
4. Houston Texans (9-7)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
6. Oakland Raiders (10-6)

Top five picks:
1. San Francisco 49ers (3-13)
2. Cleveland Browns (3-13)
3. Chicago Bears (5-11)
4. Tennessee Titans (5-11)
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)