Archive for October, 2016

Week 8 Picks

Posted: 10/30/2016 by levcohen in Football

It’s the first week of BYEageddon, with six teams off. When you throw in the three primetime games and the London game, we’re left with just nine games in the traditional 1:00 and 4:00 slots, down from a high of 13. We’re only getting two late afternoon games, although luckily both of them seem likely to be close, well-played contests. Actually, the only really good team off this week is the Steelers, as they’re joined by the Rams, Dolphins, Giants, Niners, and Ravens. Given that another two bad teams — the Jets and Browns — are playing each other and that two more — the Titans and Jags — already played, we’re actually getting more good matchups than we have been in recent weeks. And there isn’t a single spread that’s even as large as a touchdown. I’m excited!

*- upset pick

Kansas City Chiefs (4-2, 2-4 against the spread) at Indianapolis Colts (3-4, 3-3-1):*
Spread: Chiefs favored by 3
Over/under: 50
My prediction: It was pretty surprising that the Colts managed to put together a great offensive game last week given the paucity of passing game options they had. Three of their top four options — Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, and Dwayne Allen — were out of the lineup, but Andrew Luck still managed to put up 353 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. It’s a testament to Luck’s ability to make stuff happen when he has time to throw. This week, Moncrief and Dorsett are both returning, which should give them an extra bit of explosiveness against a Kansas City pass rush that’s sorely missing the injured Justin Houston. The Colts are going to score their fair share of points in this game, as Luck has averaged 279 yards, two touchdowns, and less than an interception at home in his career. But KC’s run-heavy offense is also going to be able to find holes against Indy’s #31 defense and especially against a run defense that’s allowing 4.7 yards per tote. It’ll be a high-scoring game, and I happen to trust Andrew Luck in high-scoring games. Give me the Colts in a mild upset. Colts win 31-27.
Colts cover

Oakland Raiders (5-2, 4-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3, 3-3):
Spread: Raiders favored by 2
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: The Raiders are rolling on the road, as they’re 4-0 straight up and against the spread away from Oakland. Somehow, I just don’t think that’s sustainable. They’ve won a lot of close games despite playing some pretty bad defense. I know they looked really good against the Jaguars, but that was the Jaguars. I still think they’re a better team than the Bucs, who have won two in a row but have done so against teams that are a combined 2-11 (Carolina and San Francisco). The Raiders also have the cornerbacks to slow down Mike Evans, who’s fifth in the NFL in yards per game. David Amerson and Sean Smith rate as PFF’s fourth and 17th ranked cornerbacks, and the Raiders have been solid against opposing top receivers. I’m hesitantly picking the Raiders 24-20.
Raiders cover

Seattle Seahawks (4-1-1, 3-3) at New Orleans Saints (2-4, 3-3):*
Spread: Seahawks favored by 1.5
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: This feels like the perfect setup for a Saints win. They’re playing against a team that just played about the most brutal five quarters you could imagine, and they’re playing at home. I’ll be interested to see how the Saints play against a really good defense, because the best defense they played in their first six games was probably San Diego’s or New York’s. I trust Drew Brees at home, and we have to remember that Russell Wilson is playing hurt. Saints win 27-23.
Saints cover

Detroit Lions (4-3, 4-2-1) at Houston Texans (4-3, 3-3-1):
Spread: Texans favored by 2
Over/under: 47
My prediction: I really want to take the Lions here, because I’ve been saying that they’re a good team all season and just now am feeling vindicated, but I recognize that this is such a trap game for bettors. Most of the public money is on Detroit, simply because they’ve won three consecutive home games and because the Texans looked terrible in Denver. But Detroit’s defense is not Denver’s defense, and I think Brock Osweiler and company can get back on track here. The Texans are 4-0 at home, all against mediocre opposition, and 0-3 on the road against tough opponents. I’d be all over Detroit if the Texans were four point favorites, which they would have been before last week, but I can’t take them now. Texans win 21-17.
Texans cover

New York Jets (2-5, 3-4) at Cleveland Browns (0-7, 3-4):
Spread: Jets favored by 2.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: This seems like about as good of an opportunity as the Browns are going to get to pick up their first win of the season. I hope it happens. I’m not going to pick it to happen. Jets win 26-21.
Jets cover

New England Patriots (6-1, 6-1) at Buffalo Bills (4-3, 4-3):- Lock
Spread: Patriots favored by 6
Over/under: 48
My prediction: LeSean McCoy is so important to Buffalo’s offense. LeSean McCoy is not going to play today. The New England Patriots are looking to exact revenge on a team that shut them out at home. I like the Pats. Patriots win 31-14.
Patriots cover

Arizona Cardinals (3-3-1, 3-4) at Carolina Panthers (1-5, 1-5):
Spread: Panthers favored by 2.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: This is about as extreme a difference in rest between two teams as I could imagine. The Cardinals just played a tough 75 minutes of football on Sunday Night Football. The Panthers just had a week off. I haven’t been impressed with either team, but the Panthers should come out strong in a game they must win. Panthers win 30-23.
Panthers cover

San Diego Chargers (3-4, 5-2) at Denver Broncos (5-2, 5-2):*
Spread: Broncos favored by 3.5
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: If this game feels all too familiar, that’s because it happened just two weeks ago. The Chargers won that game 21-13 and then followed that up with a huge 33-30 win in Atlanta. Guess what? The Chargers are a good football team. Of course, so are the Broncos, who just throttled the Texans and are so tough to beat at home. If anybody can solve their defense, though, it may well be Philip Rivers and his precision short passing game. Look for the Chargers to win the time of possession battle and the game. Chargers win 23-17.
Chargers cover

Green Bay Packers (4-2, 3-2-1) at Atlanta Falcons (4-3, 5-2):
Spread: Falcons favored by 3
Over/under: 51
My prediction: I was not at all impressed by the Packers last week, even as they romped to a win over Chicago. And I know that Atlanta just lost at home to the Chargers, but, as bizarre as it is to say right now, the Chargers are a better team than the Packers. Julio Jones and the Falcons should have an easy time with Green Bay’s mediocre pass defense, and the Packers are too one dimensional offensively to keep up with the Falcons. Falcons win 31-21.
Falcons cover

Philadelphia Eagles (4-2, 4-2) at Dallas Cowboys (5-1, 5-1):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 5.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: This spread seems kind of high, doesn’t it? The matchup between Dallas’s offense and Philadelphia’s defense is as good as it gets, with Philly’s defense playing at a really high level and Dallas’s offense (and particularly their running game) playing at an absurdly efficient pace. Ezekiel Elliot is on pace to have perhaps the best season by a rookie running back ever, and it seems sustainable behind a dominant offensive line. The Cowboys will score their points, which means the matchup will hinge on whether or not Carson Wentz can put his recent struggles behind him and make plays down the stretch. I think he’ll be fine, but it may be asking too much to expect him to win this game on the road against what might be the best team in the NFC. Cowboys win 23-20.
Eagles cover

Minnesota Vikings (5-1, 5-1) at Chicago Bears (1-6, 1-6):
Spread: Vikings favored by 4.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: I made the mistake of picking the Bears to keep it close against the Packers last week. I knew the Bears were a terrible football team, but I did it anyway. I’m not going to do it again, even against a very beatable 5-1 Vikings team. Vikings win 24-10.
Vikings cover

Upset picks:
Chargers over Broncos
Saints over Seahawks
Colts over Chiefs

Patriots over Bills


London Game Pick

Posted: 10/30/2016 by levcohen in Football

Guess what?? There’s another London game this week! It’s the final game across the pond this season and the third of four overseas, with Houston and Oakland set to play in Mexico City on November 21st. This might well be the best game of the three, although that wouldn’t really be saying much…

Washington Redskins (4-3, 4-3 against the spread) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4, 2-5):
Spread: Bengals favored by 3
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: It’s hard for me to think of two more average teams than this year’s Cincinnati and Washington squads, at least through seven games. But hey, getting even two mediocre teams in London is a coup for the NFL. The Bengals have wins against the Browns, Dolphins, and Jets with losses to the Steelers, Broncos, Cowboys, and Patriots, exactly what you would expect out of a mediocre team. The Redskins have beaten the Giants, Browns, Ravens and Eagles and lost to the Cowboys, Steelers, and Lions. With the exception, perhaps, of the win over Philly, again exactly what you might expect. These teams rank 15th (Washington) and 18th (Cincinnati) in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. You get the idea. The Redskins are getting back top target Jordan Reed, a monster tight end who has had a number of concussions in his short career. They also will have the services of Josh Norman, who was concussed last week but recovered in time to travel to London. And those two ‘Skins might well be the difference in the game. The Bengals have a receiver you might have heard of named A.J. Green. Norman will probably shadow him and at least limit him a little bit, which is all you can really hope for. The Bengals, meanwhile, rank 28th in DVOA against opposing tight ends, suggesting that Reed might play a pivotal role in his first game back. I think this is a coin flip game, so I’m definitely going to take the Redskins to cover the spread. I’m going to pick the Bengals to win, because I have more confidence in Andy Dalton in a close game than I do in Kirk Cousins and because Cincy’s run game seems to be waking up while Washington’s #1 running back Matt Jones will miss the game. Bengals win 24-23.
Redskins cover

Week 7 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 10/27/2016 by levcohen in Football

It was fitting that last week start with a low-scoring snoozer and ended with another one. It was a week of low scoring games, featuring only seven (out of 15) that went over 41 combined points and the first 6-6 tie in NFL overtime history. It was also another week of dreary primetime games, with the tie joining the Packers’ win over the Matt Barkley (6/15, 81 yards, 2 INT)-led Bears and Denver’s obliteration of the Brock Osweiler (22/41, 131 yards)-led Texans. I will say that I enjoyed the Cardinals-Seahawks game more than most people seemed to have, because while it ended in a touchdown-less tie, I think it was actually a pretty well-played game, just one in which the defense had the clear upper hand. I don’t think I can eliminate anyone again this week. The fact that the AFC South is so bad that no team can be counted out and the strength and depth of the AFC West and NFC East really limit the number of teams who are already playing for next year.

Top tier: New England, Minnesota, Seattle, Dallas
Eliminated teams: Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, New Orleans, San Francisco, Miami, New York Jets

  • We treated London with another terrible game last week. The Giants and Rams were both 3-3 going in, but they were both awful last Sunday. The Rams took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, then saw quarterback Case Keenum throw four interceptions. Keenum’s stat line was bad, but he looked even worse. How long can the Rams — now 3-4 — wait until they have to plug #1 overall pick Jared Goff in at quarterback? I didn’t like LA’s chances going into the season and thus looked foolish after a 3-1 start, but now I think we’re starting to see how limited the offense is, especially when running back Todd Gurley (3 yards per carry this season) has nowhere to run. On the other side, the Giants went to 4-3, but they looked like the worst team in the NFC East. They’ll need improved play from Eli Manning if they want to make a playoff run.
  • Joe Flacco threw the ball 44 times. While that may seem weird for a quarterback who once led a run-first offense, it’s become commonplace this year. Flacco leads the league with 308 attempts, and nobody’s even close (Andrew Luck is #2 at 276). The problem is that he’s only averaging 5.96 yards per attempt and has thrown just five touchdown passes this year. When only 1.6% of your throws are going for touchdowns, you know your offense probably isn’t very good. Baltimore’s isn’t.
  • The Indianapolis Colts may well have the worst all-around roster in the AFC South, but I’m starting to think that they should be considered the favorites to win the division. I know that they’re 3-4 and 1-2 in the division, but they happen to have Andrew Luck, easily the best and most important player in the sorry division. We saw Houston on Monday. That team doesn’t look like it can string together two good drives, let alone do enough to win nine games (I know they’re 4-3, but I don’t know how). And we’ll see Tennessee and Jacksonville tonight, and I have a hunch that it might not be the most well-played game. Houston is still a game up in the division, but I like Indy’s chances.
  • The Browns might be the only winless team in the NFL, but I don’t think they’re the worst team in football. If you saw the Niners-Bucs game, you might agree with me. Playing at home against a mediocre-at-best Tampa team, I was encouraged to see San Francisco take a 14-0 lead into the second quarter. Less encouraging was the 34-3 romping that came afterwards. The game ended 34-17, sending the Niners to 1-6. Jacquizz Rodgers gashed the Niners for 154 yards, and they’ve now given up 1296 yards on the ground this year, 317 more than #31 Cleveland, on 5.1 yards per carry. It’s too bad that Cleveland doesn’t get to play San Fran. Now that’s a game I’d pay to see.
  • On the other side of the rushing defense spectrum are the Green Bay Packers. They’re holding opponents to 3.1 yards per carry and one touchdown all season, and that includes a 157 yard day by Ezekiel Elliot. In their other five games, they’ve given up just 240 yards on 104 carries (2.3 yards per carry). That’s a large reason that they’ve managed to start the season 4-2 despite getting alarmingly little from Aaron Rodgers and the offense.

Last week’s picks:
9-5-1 straight up… 58-48-1 for the season
10-5 against the spread… 54-48-5
7-7-1 over/under… 52-53-2

3-1-1 on upset picks… 12-14-1
1-0 on lock… 3-4.. Might just have to go against Cleveland every week.

Best picks of the week:
Patriots 27, Steelers 17… Actual result: Patriots 27, Steelers 16
Bengals 31, Browns 13… Actual result: Bengals 31, Browns 17
Chiefs 24, Saints 20… Actual result: Chiefs 27, Saints 21
Eagles 17, Vikings 13… Actual result: Eagles 21, Vikings 10

Worst picks of the week:
Jaguars 23, Raiders 17… Actual result: Raiders 33, Jaguars 16
Niners 23, Bucs 20… Actual result: Bucs 34, Niners 17
Ravens 24, Jets 20… Actual result: Jets 24, Ravens 16

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4, 3-3 against the spread) at Tennessee Titans (3-4, 2-5):
Spread: Titans favored by 3
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: This will probably be a terrible game to watch, and it’s also a terrible game to have to predict. I really have no idea which of these bad teams is going to play better tonight. I think this is going to be a low-scoring game, and I love this matchup for Tennessee’s defense. They’re among the league-leaders in sacks, and now they get to key in on Blake Bortles and the horrific Jacksonville offense. The Jags’ run game is easy to neutralize, putting Bortles in must-pass situations far too often. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a breakout week from Jacksonville receiver Allen Robinson, but it’ll ultimately come in a losing effort. Big game for DeMarco Murray in a 23-17 win.
Titans cover

World Series Preview

Posted: 10/24/2016 by levcohen in Baseball

One of the two longest active World Series droughts is about to be broken. Everyone knows about the Curse of the Billy Goat and that it’s been 108 years since the Cubs won it all. To give this a bit more context: a week before the Cubs won their last World Series, the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. Three weeks after they last won, William Howard Taft became president. It’s been a long time. A lesser known fact: the Indians own the second longest World Series drought. The last time they won was in 1948, when two of their best players were Larry Doby and Satchel Paige, which is notable because 1948 was the year they broke the Indians’ color barrier (and the year after Jackie Robinson’s debut). The Cubs are pretty clear favorites to end their drought, opening at -190 to win. Since I did a general analysis of each of these teams before the League Championship Series’, I’m going to look at some more specific matchups and things to watch.

  • The Cubs must get on top early, because the Indians are almost unbeatable when they jump out to an early lead. They’ve taken a lead in the first three innings five times this postseason, and they’re 5-0 in those five games. Otherwise, they’re 2-1. But that’s a super small sample size. How were they when jumping in front in the regular season? Well, including regular season play, the Indians have won 87.7% of the games in which they’ve led after three innings. That’s a 142 win pace. The average team wins 72.9% of the time when ahead after three. That’s a 118 win pace. So the Cubs need to score early. To do that, they’ll need to solve an Indians’ rotation that’s been bizarrely effective. Even without Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar (more on him in a minute), the rotation has given up just eight runs in the entire postseason. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin may each start two games, and Bauer in particular has looked shaky (even before he cut his finger on a drone). Chicago needs to capitalize on having huge starting pitching advantages after Corey Kluber pitches in Game 1, because otherwise they’re going to need to score runs against Andrew Miller.
  • The main reason for Cleveland’s extreme success when they take an early lead is obvious: their bullpen is dominant, and should continue to be dominant. In particular, Andrew Miller is dominant, and should continue to be dominant. Miller’s thrown exactly 172 pitches in the playoffs. 107 of those pitches have been sliders, and the other 65 have been fastballs. 32 of the pitches have been whiffed at, while five have ended in hits (three singles, two doubles). The result? 11.2 innings, five hits, two walks, 21 strikeouts, and no runs. You know who else has been pretty darn good? Cody Allen. Allen’s pitched in the same six playoff games as Miller (all wins). He’s thrown only 148 pitches and has gone only 7.2 innings, but he has also given up no runs and just five hits (three singles, two doubles). His curveball, in particular, has been devastating. He’s thrown it 63 times, and gotten 13 whiffs. In at bats ending with the curve, opponents are 1-12 with six strikeouts. I’m less confident in Allen than I am in Miller for two reasons. The first is simply that Miller is the better pitcher. The second is that the Cubs didn’t seem fooled by Clayton Kershaw’s curveball, so I’m not sure Allen will be able to rely as heavily upon the curve as his strikeout pitch as he has so far.
  • It seems likely that both Kyle Schwarber and Danny Salazar will be activated for the World Series. This isn’t getting much attention, but it could prove pivotal. Salazar’s addition, in particular, seems likely to have a pretty large impact. Remember, Salazar was a leading Cy Young candidate through June, when he began having arm trouble. Look at these splits:
    Salazar through June (15 starts): 6.2 innings per start, 10-3, 2.22 ERA, .569 OPS against
    Salazar from July 1 on (10 starts): 4.4 innings per start, 1-3, 7.36 ERA, .925 OPS against
    For a guy coming off a 3.45 ERA season, the second half swoon, which included two DL stints, has to be a result of an injury. It’s now been a month and a half since he last pitched, and the Indians surely wouldn’t bring him back if he weren’t fully healthy, right? It remains to be seen whether he makes a start (Game 4 would seem the most likely time) or whether he’s used in long relief (after a non-Kluber start). I’d wager on it being the latter. Three or four good innings in middle relief would be invaluable as a bridge between Bauer or Tomlin and Miller/Allen.
  • The Indians haven’t scored more than six runs in a game this postseason and are averaging just 3.4 runs per game. Meanwhile, the Cubs haven’t allowed more than six runs in a game and are giving up just three per game. I don’t think either of those things change in this series, because the Cubs have such a deep rotation and because Francisco Lindor (.924) is the only Cleveland regular with a playoff OPS above .681. That doesn’t mean the Indians can’t win the series. They’re 7-1 in the playoffs because they’ve shown the ability to jump to and maintain small leads. But if there’s a blowout game in this series, I think the Cubs will be on the winning side. It might actually not be the worst idea for the Indians to go into one game this series planning on withholding Miller and Allen unless they hold a late lead. So if it’s Game 4, and the Cubs are up 3-2 in the seventh inning, why not just bring in someone else, even though the game would still be within reach? The Indians have other talented relievers, and they won’t be able to throw out their two studs every night. This might be a good way to maximize the innings and impact the two can make.
  • Prediction: Coco Crisp and/or Rajai Davis will become huge factors in this series. Why? Because they’re fast (674 career combined regular season steals), and because Chicago pitchers cannot hold runners on. Everyone knows about Jon Lester’s refusal to throw over to first, but he isn’t the only one who’s had trouble. Lester, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey rank first, fourth, and seventh in stolen bases allowed since the start of 2013 (100, 80, 77 respectively). The Dodgers stole just 45 bases during the regular season, 27th in baseball. In six games against the Cubs, they stole nine bases without being caught. That includes three steals against Arrieta, two against Lester, and three against Aroldis Chapman. The Indians stole 134 bases this season, fourth in baseball, and have the two speedsters I noted above along with Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Jason Kipnis, each of whom stole at least 15 bases this season. This will be a factor.
  • DEFENSE. The Cubs have great arms and great bats, but they’re best at fielding. They were easily the best defensive team in baseball this season (82 defensive runs saved, with the Astros coming second with 51), and they make a ton of flashy and important defensive plays. The Indians are pretty good, too. Led by Lindor, their shortstop, they ranked fourth in ultimate zone rating behind the Cubs, Astros, and Angels. We might see some pretty low BABIPs (and averages) in this series.
  • Home runs will be the decider. With runs at a premium and both defenses playing well, which team can hit the ball out of the park more? I thought the Blue Jays would beat the Indians because of their power, but Cleveland out-homered Toronto 6-2 and out-scored them 12-8. And the Cubs have bashed 12 homers so far in the playoffs and given up just four. So both teams like hitting it out of the park, and both will need to do so in order to generate offense in this series.
  • A quick reminder: even though the Cubs finished the regular season with a better record than the Indians, Cleveland has home field advantage because the AL won the All-Star game. It’s a stupid rule, but I don’t expect it to be a deciding factor in who wins this series. The Cubs are good enough to win on the road, and they’ll win this series if they play their best baseball.

My prediction: I’m not going to get too cute here. The Cubs are the team with the better rotation, the better lineup, and the better defense. They don’t have Andrew Miller or Cody Allen, but Aroldis Chapman is a nice consolation prize. I kind of get the feeling that Josh Tomlin and/or Trevor Bauer is going to get bashed, and that Kluber might pull a Clayton Kershaw in the NLCS (really good once, pretty bad his other start). This time, it really is the Cubbies’ year. Cubs win in 6.

Week 7 Picks

Posted: 10/23/2016 by levcohen in Football

This is the last relatively full slate of games for about a month, as 20 teams go on hiatus over the next four weeks (six in Weeks 8 and 9, four in 10 and 11). We were robbed of what seemed set to be one of the best games of the regular season when Ben Roethlisberger hurt his knee. What would have been a marquee game with the Steelers favored by a couple of points is now predicted to be a blowout, as the visiting Patriots are favored by a touchdown. There are still some other games I’m excited about, though. I think San Diego-Atlanta is primed to be exciting and high scoring, with the 2-4 Chargers playing better than their record indicates and Philip Rivers always seeming to succeed against the Pete Carroll-style 4-3 defense. And we might finally get a (gulp) well-played primetime game, as Seattle travels to Arizona to face the improving Cardinals. The eight early games don’t promise as much intrigue, but there are eight of them, so at least there’ll always be something to watch.

BYE teams: Dallas (5-1), Carolina (1-5)
*= upset pick

New Orleans Saints (2-3, 3-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-2, 2-3):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 6.5
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: On the surface, this seems like a game the Chiefs should easily win. Drew Brees is bad on the road, after all, and the Chiefs’ explosive run game should have no trouble running it down the throats of New Orleans’s #30 DVOA run defense. But while it’s entirely possible that this game goes like last week’s KC-Oakland game, when the Chiefs took an early lead and never looked back, I think the Saints’ offense and the weather (the game in Oakland was played in a torrential downpour) will keep that from happening. The Saints are 2-0 against the spread on the road this year, and they could succeed with a balanced offense that exploits KC’s #23 run defense. I think the Chiefs will win the game in the end, but they don’t have the explosive passing offense to tear apart the Saints’ defense in the same way that, say, the Falcons did. Chiefs win 24-20.
Saints cover

Minnesota Vikings (5-0, 5-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-2, 3-2):*
Spread: Vikings favored by 3
Over/under: 39
My prediction: Call me a homer, but this is shaping up to be a pretty decent matchup for the Eagles. Their defense might not be as good as it played in the first three games of the season, but it definitely isn’t as bad as it was last week, when it was shredded by Washington’s mediocre run game. This week, they’ll be able to key in on Minnesota’s rushing attack and leave the Vikings in third-and-long situations. Then, they can unleash their Fletcher Cox-led pass rush against a team that’s lost both starting tackles. The Vikings have looked great recently, but it’s easy to forget that they almost lost in Tennessee in Week 1 and have played just one road game since. Let’s see how their offense does in Philadelphia. On the other side of the ball, don’t expect a bundle of points from the Eagles, but they should get just enough to win. Eagles win 17-13.
Eagles cover

Indianapolis Colts (2-4, 2-3-1) at Tennessee Titans (3-3, 2-4):
Spread: Titans favored by 3.5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: It’s another marquee matchup between two great AFC South teams! In all seriousness, neither of these teams is any good, but the Titans are clearly better. Again, they’re still bad (0-3 against the spread at home, 26 points allowed to the Browns), but DeMarco Murray and Co. will have a lot of success against Indy’s defense. The Titans are also pretty good at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which is bad news for Andrew Luck, who has been sacked four more times than any other QB. Luck’s going to be without a lot of his top passing game options (Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen, Phillip Dorsett), leaving T.Y. Hilton to do pretty much everything by himself. Titans win 27-23.
Titans cover

Cleveland Browns (0-6, 3-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-4, 1-5):- Lock
Spread: Bengals favored by 11
Over/under: 47
My prediction: I expect the Bengals to break out in a big way this week in this plum matchup. I still think they’re a solid team, as their four losses have come against New England, Dallas, Denver, and Pittsburgh. Cleveland is, well, not in the same class as those other teams. Bengals win 31-13.
Bengals cover

Washington Redskins (4-2, 4-2) at Detroit Lions (3-3, 3-2-1):*
Spread: Redskins favored by 1
Over/under: 50
My prediction: I’ve been pretty high on the Lions for most of the season, and I don’t see any reason to change that now. Yes, their defense stinks, but Washington’s isn’t great either, and I trust Matthew Stafford more than I do Kirk Cousins to make big, difficult throws, especially with Jordan Reed still out. Lions win 31-24.
Lions cover

Oakland Raiders (4-2, 3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3, 3-2):
Spread: Jaguars favored by 2
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: This is an intriguing game because these were two of the biggest preseason darlings. The Raiders in particular were oft-mentioned Super Bowl darkhorse candidates, while the Jaguars were discussed as potential AFC South champs. I think it’s fair to say that neither team has really met those elevated expectations. Yes, the Raiders are 4-2, but their -11 point differential is more indicative of the way they’ve played this season. And the Jaguars have failed to seize on the opportunity their lackluster division has afforded them, sitting in third place and posting the worst point differential in the division. This is a tough spot for the Raiders, who had to travel across the country to play an early game, and the Jags have actually been good on the defensive side of the ball recently. The matchup to watch will come when the Raiders have the ball, because neither Jacksonville’s offense nor Oakland’s defense has been good all season. Jaguars win 23-17.
Jaguars cover

Buffalo Bills (4-2, 4-2) at Miami Dolphins (2-4, 2-4):*
Spread: Bills favored by 2.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: Can the Bills win their fifth game in a row for the first time since 2004? I’d be much more confident if LeSean McCoy were fully healthy. But McCoy, the key to Buffalo’s offense and an MVP candidate through six weeks, has an injured hamstring. He’s active, but he’s less than 100%, which will put all of the pressure on Tyrod Taylor to carry the offense against a solid Miami defense. It’s true that the Dolphins just lost their best defensive player (Reshad Jones), but I still think they have the ability on defense to slow down Taylor. And while I’m not a fan of their offense, I think it’ll do enough to pull off a mild upset (think Philly-Minnesota). Dolphins win 20-17.
Dolphins cover

Baltimore Ravens (3-3, 1-5) at New York Jets (1-5, 2-4):*
Spread: Jets favored by 2
Over/under: 40
My prediction: I know the Ravens aren’t very good. In fact, I knew it even when they were 3-0 and people were touting them as a possible AFC North champ. But I can’t believe Geno Smith is a favorite in his first start since 2014, when he went 3-10 as the starter. I’m going to pick the Ravens here, but it’s much more about my lack of trust in New York’s offense than it is anything else. Ravens win 23-20.
Ravens cover

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3, 2-3) at San Francisco 49ers (1-5, 1-5):
Spread: Niners favored by 1
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Since their bizarre, blowout win over the Rams in the first game of the season, the Niners have been atrocious. They’ve lost their last five games by a combined 86 points. The Buccaneers are also not a great team, especially without Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson, but on a neutral field they’ve obviously the better team. But what about in San Francisco? The Bucs are actually 2-1 on the road this season, while the Niners have looked hapless at home since that shocker against the Rams. But I just have a gut feeling that the Niners are going to pull this one out at home, even without top running back Carlos Hyde. Niners win 23-20.
Niners cover

San Diego Chargers (2-4, 4-2) at Atlanta Falcons (4-2, 5-1):
Spread: Falcons favored by 5.5
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: I know I just said that I finally believed in the Falcons, at least as a playoff team. But this is a tough matchup for them, simply because Philip Rivers has decimated Pete Carroll defenses. In four games since 2013 against Carroll’s Seahawks and Gus Bradley’s Jaguars, Rivers is 4-0 and has a passer rating above 110 each time. Now, he faces another Carroll disciple, Dan Quinn. I expect him to have another big, efficient game, but this time in a losing effort. The Falcons’ offense is just too good for San Diego’s shorthanded (top corner Jason Verrett is out) defense to control. Falcons win 31-27.
Chargers cover

New England Patriots (5-1, 5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2, 4-2):
Spread: Patriots favored by 7
Over/under: 49
My prediction: Tom Brady has destroyed the Steelers. Landry Jones is starting for the Steelers. Not a great setup for the Steelers. I’ve picked the Patriots to win but not cover twice in a row. I’ll pick them to cover this one, although I recognize that it could well be a close game. Patriots win 27-17.
Patriots cover

Seattle Seahawks (4-1, 2-3) at Arizona Cardinals (3-3, 3-3):*
Spread: Cardinals favored by 1
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: The Cardinals have won twice in a row by double-digits. But those wins have come against the Jets and 49ers, two of the worst teams in football. Seattle’s a different story, and the Cardinals still haven’t sorted out their passing game struggles and will likely be without #2 receiver John Brown. Seahawks win 21-17.
Seahawks cover

Houston Texans (4-2, 3-2-1) at Denver Broncos (4-2, 4-2):
Spread: Broncos favored by 8.5
Over/under: 39
My prediction: It’s Brock Osweiler’s return to Denver! In his first season with Houston, Osweiler has morphed into an MVP candidate, leading the Texans to a 4-2 record and validating the huge money Houston shelled out for him… er… The 4-2 part is accurate. The rest? Not so much. Osweiler’s been one of the worst quarterbacks in football, and now he travels to Denver to play one of the two best defenses in football (now that the Vikings D is amazing). The Broncos will win, and they’ll win big. Broncos win 27-14.
Broncos cover

Upset picks:
Seahawks over Cardinals
Ravens over Jets
Dolphins over Bills
Lions over Redskins
Eagles over Vikings

Bengals over Browns

Quick London Game Pick

Posted: 10/23/2016 by levcohen in Football

LA Rams (3-3, 3-3 ATS) at New York Giants (3-3, 3-3, 2-3-1):
Spread: Giants favored by 3
Over/under: 45
My prediction: I don’t trust either of these teams in the slightest. But I know that the best player on the field is going to be Odell Beckham. I messed up the Ravens-Giants game because I picked against Odell, and I don’t want to do that again. Giants win 28-21.
Giants cover

Week 6 Review, TNF Pick

Posted: 10/20/2016 by levcohen in Football

After they nearly defeated (and probably should have) the Seahawks in Seattle, it’s time to believe in the Falcons… to an extent. At this point, I’m willing to concede that Atlanta’s a pretty good team. I’m not willing to concede that they’re one of the elite teams in the NFL. I still think they’re a step behind the teams I have in my top tier this week, and it’ll take a few more consistent performances for them to climb into that tier. But at 4-2, they’re certainly the favorites in an NFC South without a top tier team. I’m not ready to eliminate the Panthers, even though they’re 1-5. If they lose again coming out of their BYE, the season will be over for Carolina. And the Chargers looked good again in their win over Denver. They’re 2-4 and play in a tough division, but they could still claw their way to a wild card spot. Pittsburgh and Denver are out of the top tier, with the injury to Ben Roethlisberger and Denver’s offensive struggles contributing to each team’s second loss. The Broncos were supposed to be pretty bad offensively this year, so this may just be regression to the norm for the Trevor Siemian-led offense. The Cowboys join the top tier after an impressive thrashing of Green Bay in Lambeau.

Top tier: New England, Minnesota, Seattle, Dallas
Eliminated teams: Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, New Orleans, San Francisco, Miami, New York Jets

  • The Patriots beat the Bengals 35-17 last week, but I don’t think that score was very indicative of the way the game was played. The Pats are really good offensively, but they still show some defensive holes. As for the 2-4 Bengals, they show glimpses of being a team that could win the AFC North, but they can’t convert in the red zone. Maybe Tyler Eifert’s imminent return will help, but time is running out for Cincinnati.
  • Are the Chiefs the best team in the AFC West? They’ve started slowly the last few years, but they looked tremendous against Oakland last week. Yes, Andy Reid’s teams always play super well in their first week after the BYE, and that’s not necessarily indicative of future success, but this team looks legit. They have a stellar running game, with Spencer Ware and Jamaal Charles serving as an explosive 1-2 combination. And their defense is going to get a big boost when All-Pro pass-rusher Justin Houston returns from the PUP list. They’re still in third place in the AFC West (behind the 4-2 Raiders and Broncos), but I think they’re the best all-around team in the division.
  • We got two more horrific primetime games. The Indy-Houston matchup was a terribly played game by two bad teams. Sure, the Texans’ two TD comeback in the last five minutes and subsequent overtime game-winning field goal were exciting, but the 55 minutes of dreck that came before that are minutes that I’m sure everyone would like to have back. And the Cardinals’ win over the hapless Jets was just a beatdown. Ratings are down in the NFL this year, and there’s been speculation that it’s because everyone’s keyed in on the election. That’s obviously the main reason games that coincided with the debates were relatively unwatched, but I think the ratings downturn has more to do with the fact that we haven’t really seen any great games so far this year. There have been some close ones, but I can’t remember a really well-played, close, playoff-atmosphere type game. Given that we’re six weeks into the season, that seems bizarre.
  • I’m not buying what the Dolphins are selling. Jay Ajayi tore up Pittsburgh for 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Miami was well on its way to winning even before Big Ben got injured. But that felt like a game that was more about what the Steelers did wrong than what the Dolphins did right. Ryan Tannehill was fine, but nothing about his performance seems like an indication that he can carry the Dolphins from a 1-4 start into relevance.
  • Hunter Henry is a future stud. Tight ends are generally terrible in their rookie seasons, just because the position is so much different and harder to play in the NFL than it is in college. But Henry’s been really good for the Chargers. He was pressed into action when Antonio Gates suffered a hamstring injury, but he looks like the tight end to watch in San Diego even with Gates healthy. He has 18 catches for 290 yards and three touchdowns in the last four weeks, and he’s going to be a future Pro Bowl tight end.

Last week’s picks:
10-5 straight up… 49-43 for the season
7-7-1 against the spread… 44-43-5
7-8 over/under… 45-46-1

2-1 on upset picks… 9-13
0-1 on lock… 2-4.. Yup. My upset picks are hitting at a higher percentage than my locks.

Best picks of the week:
Cowboys 26, Packers 20… Actual result: Cowboys 30, Packers 16
Titans 26, Browns 23… Actual result: Titans 28, Browns 26
Texans 26, Colts 17… Actual result: Texans 26, Colts 23

Worst picks of the week:
Steelers 35, Dolphins 20… Actual result: Dolphins 30, Steelers 15
Lions 26, Rams 17… Actual result: Lions 31, Rams 28
Panthers 35, Saints 28… Actual result: Saints 41, Panthers 38

Chicago Bears (1-5, 1-5 against the spread) at Green Bay Packers (3-2, 2-2-1):
Spread: Packers favored by 7.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: I think we know by now that the Packers aren’t very good. We also know that they’re much better than the Bears. Given that the Bears just lost at home against the Jaguars, I expected this spread to be closer to 10. Some positive touchdown regression might be in store for the Bears, who have moved the ball pretty well with Brian Hoyer at quarterback but have had a hard time getting into the end zone. I just can’t bring myself to pick the Packers to win by more than a touchdown against anyone right now (ok, Bears excluded), especially with Eddie Lacy heading to IR and being replaced by undrafted free agent and practice squad member Don Jackson. Packers win 24-21.
Bears cover