Archive for November, 2016

Primetime Game Previews

Posted: 11/27/2016 by levcohen in Football

It’s hard for me to think of a game between 7-3 teams that I’d be less excited for than Denver-Kansas City tonight. There’s a reason these teams ranked 15th (Denver) and 28th (KC) in my watchability rankings. Sure, if you look at the standings and think about all of the playoff implications that this game has (winner has a good chance to end up with a BYE, loser is probably more likely than not to miss out on a playoff spot to Miami or Buffalo), you can get yourself excited about this game. But I’m betting that it’s not going to be as entertaining as, say, the 35-32 Oakland-Carolina game that just ended (those two teams, by the way, rank #1 and #10 in my watchability rankings). Anyway, let’s get to that game and the Monday Night Football game that might just spell the end of Green Bay’s season the day after Carolina and Arizona were both all-but-eliminated.

Kansas City Chiefs (7-3, 4-6) at Denver Broncos (7-3, 7-3):
Spread: Broncos favored by 3.5
Over/under: 40
My prediction: The last time we saw the Broncos, they won on a very lucky two-point conversion return against the Saints. Given that both the Raiders and Dolphins have kept winning, that win now looks a lot more important than it once did. So does this game generally, as the Chiefs stumbled last week against Tampa Bay to snap their five game winning streak. Kansas City has really been struggling on offense, with just 56 points in their last three games, none of which has been against a defense that ranks higher than 13th in DVOA. This was once a team that controlled the clock and wore down opposing defenses, but in the last two weeks they’ve held the ball for just 24:45 per game and been out-gained by 184 yards. They’re going to have to get off the schneid at some point, but it’s unlikely to be this week. Jeremy Maclin is still out, which means that Travis Kelce is the lone real passing-game weapon against the best pass defense in the NFL. Spencer Ware’s a good running back who’ll be used as a workhorse tonight, but he’s not good enough to carry the team. Neither is Alex Smith, although he too has his moments. The offense has its work cut out for it in Denver against a rested defense with Aqib Talib and Derek Wolfe healthy again.

Denver’s offense has had its fair share of problems, although they’ve been pretty solid at home. They’ve been unable to run the ball effectively since C.J. Anderson got hurt, but I expect that to change this week against DVOA’s #21 run defense. Trevor Siemian doesn’t need to do much to win this game, and he’s decent when he doesn’t need to do much. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are much better weapons than anything the Chiefs have on the other side of the ball. And while the Chiefs have Justin Houston back, they’ll be hurt by the injury to Dee Ford, who’s tied for first in the NFL with 10 sacks. Playing at home with what I’d consider a better all-around team, the Broncos should win this one. Broncos win 23-13.
Broncos cover
Under

Green Bay Packers (4-6, 4-5-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-5, 5-5):
Spread: Eagles favored by 3.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: This spread is stupid! The Eagles are the much better team, so how on earth are they only giving 3.5 points? I’ll tell you how: people still trust Aaron Rodgers and the Packers enough to bet on them in a must-win game against a 5-5 team. Maybe those people are right to trust Rodgers, who ranks second in the NFL with 25 touchdown passes, but they’re wrong to trust the rest of the team. Rodgers is averaging just 6.73 yards per attempt because his arm is also Green Bay’s run game. He’s shockingly still the only Packer with a rushing touchdown this year (he has three), and Ty Montgomery, a wide receiver, is their leading active rusher behind Rodgers with 145 yards (Rodgers has 259). They’re actually averaging 4.6 yards per carry, so maybe it’s more about the play-calling and less about the running back talent, but the fact is the offense relies far too heavily upon Rodgers. As for the defense, well, if you watched their game against the Redskins last week, you know how bad it is. They hemorrhaged 515 yards and 42 points against the Redskins a week after giving up 446 yards and 47 points against the Titans. They’re now giving up 38.25 points per game in their last four games, all losses.

The people who like the Packers in this game are also wrong to underestimate the Eagles, especially in Lincoln Financial Field. Yes, they’re 5-5, but they have a +55 point differential and rank second in DVOA. They give up a lot of big plays, and will probably give up a few big ones to Rodgers, but they also make a lot of huge defensive and special teams plays, which might be a factor against a Green Bay team that ranks 27th in special teams DVOA. Carson Wentz hasn’t been great, but he’s likely to have a strong game against Green Bay’s poor excuse for a secondary. And the Eagles are 4-0 at home this year with comfortable wins over Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Atlanta, all of whom happen to be better than the Packers. I like the Eagles in this one. Eagles wins 31-20.
Eagles cover
Over

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Week 12 Picks (Excluding Primetime Games)

Posted: 11/27/2016 by levcohen in Football

After a few weeks of exciting games and a Thanksgiving slate of three good, meaningful contests, it was only a matter of time before we got a drop-off in the schedule. That step down comes today, a day with eight early games but few particularly intriguing ones. Even the game of the day, which is KC-Denver on Sunday Night Football, is a matchup between two good teams who aren’t particularly fun to watch. There will still be exciting games with playoff implications, but expect a lot more slop this week than we’ve seen in the past few weeks.
*= upset pick

Tennessee Titans (5-6, 4-7) at Chicago Bears (2-8, 3-7):
Spread: Titans favored by 6
Over/under: 42
My prediction: It’s Matt Barkley time, hence the 5-6 Titans giving six points on the road. I’m tempted to take the Bears, but I’ve seen Matt Barkley play, and no number of points is going to make me forget how bad he is. Titans win 26-10.
Titans cover
Under

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8, 4-6) at Buffalo Bills (5-5, 6-4):
Spread: Bills favored by 8.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: The Jaguars are quite bad. But they’ve managed to lose their last three games by just a single score, and I’m not sure the Bills are good enough to trust -8.5, even at home against the Jaguars. The thing to watch here is Sammy Watkins’s return from injury for the Bills. If Watkins is at his best, the Bills could still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs with a strong end of season run. Bills win 30-23.
Jaguars cover
Over

Cincinnati Bengals (3-6-1, 2-8) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5, 3-7):
Spread: Ravens favored by 3.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: This is going to be an ugly team between two desperate teams without much offensive talent. The Bengals will be without A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, while the Ravens still haven’t found much of a running game and have gotten inconsistent play from Joe Flacco. This is a tossup, but I’ll take the Ravens at home because their kicker is much more reliable. Ravens win 20-17.
Bengals cover
Under

Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1, 3-7) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4, 6-4):
Spread: Falcons favored by 4
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: Everything I’ve seen from the Cardinals suggests that they aren’t a very good team, especially offensively (25th in DVOA). Meanwhile, the rested Falcons are second in offensive DVOA and is getting running back Tevin Coleman back to bolster the backfield. I don’t expect the Falcons to have one of their offensive explosions against a good Arizona defense, but they should win comfortably. Falcons win 27-20.
Falcons cover
Under

New York Giants (7-3, 5-4-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-11, 3-8):
Spread: Giants favored by 7
Over/under: 46
My prediction: Can the Giants blow out a team?? This is the week we find out. They haven’t won a single game this year by more than a touchdown despite playing some pretty bad teams. I said that would change last week against the Bears, and I’m going to say it’ll change this week against a winless Cleveland team that’s lost three straight by 15+. Giants win 27-14.
Giants cover
Under

Los Angeles Rams (4-6, 4-5-1) at New Orleans Saints (4-6, 6-4):- Lock
Spread: Saints favored by 8
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: The Saints are much, much more talented than the Rams. Just compare the two offenses. Drew Brees is Drew Brees, while Jared Goff is Jared Goff. Brees has Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, and Willie Snead to throw the ball to while Goff has Kenny Britt. The Saints are going to win the game, but I’ll be interested to see how many points they can put up against an LA defense that ranks ninth in DVOA and hasn’t given up more than 17 points in more than a month. Saints win 26-13.
Saints cover
Under

San Francisco 49ers (1-9, 2-8) at Miami Dolphins (6-4, 6-4):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 7
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Jay Ajayi meets the worst run defense in the NFL. I wonder who’s going to win that battle? I’ll be shocked if Ryan Tannehill throws for more than 250 yards, but he won’t need to. The Niners are really bad, especially on the road, where they’re 0-4 with an average loss of 17.5 points. Dolphins win 31-17.
Dolphins cover
Over

San Diego Chargers (4-6, 6-4) at Houston Texans (6-4, 5-4-1):
Spread: Chargers favored by 2.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: The Texans are 5-0 at home and have generally handled below-average teams. They also looked pretty decent in Mexico City in what was ultimately a loss to the Raiders. But I have a soft spot for Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who I still believe are a good team. They won’t be a playoff team, but they’ll be good enough today to hand Brock Osweiler his first home loss as a Texan. Chargers win 27-23.
Chargers cover
Over

Seattle Seahawks (7-2-1, 5-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5, 5-5):*
Spread: Seahawks favored by 5.5
Over/under: 46
My prediction: The Seahawks are undoubtedly a great team, but I think people might be underrating the importance of Earl Thomas to their defense. Thomas will miss the first game of his career after playing in 118 straight contests, and I think Jameis Winston will be able to take advantage of that injury with some big plays to Mike Evans in a victory. Buccaneers win 26-21.
Buccaneers cover
Over

Carolina Panthers (4-6, 2-7-1) at Oakland Raiders (8-2, 7-3):
Spread: Raiders favored by 3.5
Over/under: 49
My prediction: The Panthers are without Luke Kuechly, which is like the Seahawks being without Earl Thomas but much worse because Carolina lacks the defensive depth that Seattle has. I’m a bit surprised that the spread is so low, as I think the Raiders have proven over the last few weeks that their hot start wasn’t a fluke. They have talent all over the field on both sides of the ball, and they should be able to handle a Carolina team that looked shaky offensively against the Saints and barely held on after Kuechly left for a 23-20 win. Raiders take advantage of the absence of Kuechly and win 31-21.
Raiders cover
Over

New England Patriots (8-2, 8-2) at New York Jets (3-7, 4-6):
Spread: Patriots favored by 8
Over/under: 48
My prediction: As long as Tom Brady plays, as he’s expected to, the Patriots should have no trouble dispatching the Jets. Having Rob Gronkowski back would just be the cherry on top. Patriots win 28-17.
Patriots cover
Under

Picks for the primetime games coming later.

Upset pick:
Buccaneers over Seahawks

Lock:
Saints over Rams

Quick Week 11 Review

Posted: 11/26/2016 by levcohen in Football

It feels weird to do this after the three Thanksgiving games, but I never did a Week 11 review, and I think it’s worth doing after a week that really clarified the playoff race. Week 11 basically went the way it was predicted to, with just two upsets in 14 games, a stark difference from the hectic upsets of the previous few weeks (and a trend that continued on Thanksgiving, when all three favorites won). The fact that things went the way they were supposed to means there’s not as much to write about, hence this being a “quick” review. I’m keeping the top tier as is, with the Pats, Cowboys, and Seahawks continuing to roll and the Raiders doing enough against the Texans to remain atop the AFC West and in the top tier. With the loss to the Bills and the injuries to A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, I’m ready to eliminate the Bengals, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Surprisingly, the Packers, Cardinals, and Panthers, three Super Bowl contenders heading into the season, may be the next three teams that I eliminate. And I may well have been too early on the Miami front, as the Dolphins have won five in a row. I’m still not sure the Dolphins are good, as their point differential is just +2 and they barely escaped LA with a win, but they have a much easier schedule down the stretch than do the AFC West teams they’re battling for a wildcard.

Top tier: New England, Dallas, Seattle, Oakland
Eliminated teams: Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, New Orleans, San Francisco, Miami, New York Jets, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, San Diego, Cincinnati

  • I said last week rather reluctantly that the Chiefs are a very good team. After seeing their performance against the mediocre Buccaneers, can I take that back? KC’s defense is good, but their offense is soooo predictable and flat. Now, you might be saying: “Duh! Of course an offense led by Alex Smith is predictable and flat!” And I would agree with you, expect that last year a very similar offense finished sixth in DVOA last season and 12th the year before thanks largely to a tremendous rushing attack. This year, they rank 20th in offensive DVOA and the run game is 22nd. After Jamaal Charles got injured last year, there were a lot of snarky comments made about how the Chiefs’ rushing attack was fine without him. And that was true. But is it possible that we’re seeing the true extent of Charles’s value in his second straight injury-marred year? Spencer Ware is a very good running back, but he’s not Jamaal Charles, and it might take a fully healthy Jamaal Charles to get this offense going. Luckily for the Chiefs, they might get a fully healthy Jamaal Charles back if they make the playoffs. Unluckily for the Chiefs, they’re going to have to survive six more games without much of an offense.
  • The Seahawks are the best team in the NFL right now, and I’m not sure it’s close. A week after beating the Patriots in Foxborough, they soundly defeated the Eagles in running back Thomas Rawls’s return to action. If their run game is as strong as it was last week (and that’s no sure thing, especially with C.J. Prosise, who gashed the Eagles for a 72-yard touchdown, out with a shoulder injury), the offense is going to be tough to stop with a fully healthy Russell Wilson. And as soon as Earl Thomas returns from injury, the defense will be fine, too. They may be a bit vulnerable to a letdown this week in Tampa Bay without Thomas, the quarterback of their defense, but a loss in Tampa won’t throw me off their scent.
  • The Giants pulled of their most Giantsy win yet, an ugly 22-16 slugfest over the Bears. Playing at home against a two-win team with a quarterback who, it turns out, was playing with a possibly season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder, New York’s win wasn’t secured until Jay Cutler threw an interception with 1:19 left with the Bears in Giants territory. The Giants are now 7-3, and they still haven’t played a really impressive game. They’ll be 8-3 after playing the Browns this weekend, but, as I said last week, we won’t truly see how good this team is until Week 13 (at Pittsburgh) and beyond. For now, though, they’re in the driver’s seat regarding a wildcard, especially after the Redskins lost in Dallas on Thursday.

Last week’s picks:
11-3 straight up… 93-66-2 for the season
7-7 against the spread… 83-72-6
9-5 over/under… 81-77-3

1-2 on upset picks… 17-21-1 (In a week full of upsets, I wish I had picked more)
1-0 on lock… 7-4

Best picks of the week:
Giants 23, Bears 10… Actual result: Giants 22, Bears 16
Raiders 26, Texans 17… Actual result: Raiders 27, Texans 20
Cowboys 21, Ravens 17… Actual result: Cowboys 27, Ravens 17
Steelers 27, Browns 13… Actual result: Steelers 24, Browns 9

Worst picks of the week:
Lions 30, Jaguars 27… Actual result: Lions 26, Jaguars 19
Titans 31, Colts 26… Actual result: Colts 24, Titans 17
Chiefs 24, Buccaneers 13… Actual result: Buccaneers 19, Chiefs 17

Thanksgiving Day Picks

Posted: 11/24/2016 by levcohen in Football

For the first time in a long time, all three Thanksgiving games have playoff ramifications for both teams — along with a host of others. That’s what happens when all six teams that are playing are at least .500. The nightcap lost a lot of luster when it became clear that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck would miss the game with a concussion, but that game still ranks second on FiveThirtyEight’s list of biggest “swing” games this week behind only Detroit-Minnesota, which also happens to be the first game today…

Minnesota Vikings (6-4, 6-4 against the spread) at Detroit Lions (6-4, 6-3-1):*
Spread: Lions favored by 2
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Minnesota’s crappy offense, meet Detroit’s crappy defense. The Vikings scored 30 points last week, but 14 of those points came on a pick-six by Xavier Rhodes and a kick return touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson. Sam Bradford has been sacked 18 times in the last five games, as the Vikings’ offensive line has gotten more and more banged up. To make matters worse, top target Stefon Diggs, who has 40 catches in the last four weeks, will miss this game, leaving Bradford with Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen, and Patterson as his top three targets. Against most defenses, this Vikings offense would have no chance. Luckily for Minnesota, though, the Lions rank 32nd in the league in defensive DVOA, although they’ve been better of late. When these two teams played each other less than three weeks ago, the Lions limited the Vikings to 16 points, but the Vikings out-gained and out-played Detroit. I think they can crack 20 points.
I also think Minnesota’s defense can shut down a Detroit offense that has slowed down considerably of late. Matthew Stafford’s a good quarterback, but the Vikings are going to get a lot of pressure on him and force some mistakes out of a quarterback who’s been known to make mistakes. And that’s what the Vikings feast on. Their offense’s main goal is to hold onto the ball and maybe score a touchdown or two. The defense has to make plays, as it did against the Cardinals last week to halt a four game losing streak. This could be an ugly game, but it’s sure to be a close one, as the two teams are pretty similar talent-wise and the Lions have played one-possession games each week this season. I’ll take Minnesota’s superior defense. Vikings win 20-17.
Vikings cover
Under

Washington Redskins (6-3-1, 7-3) at Dallas Cowboys (9-1, 9-1):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 6.5
Over/under: 52
My prediction: About 88 hours after getting off the field in Washington, the Redskins are going to have to play a game in Dallas against perhaps the best team in the NFL. The schedule-making algorithm is ruthless. Do the Redskins have a chance? Well, if they played like they did against the Packers, they can certainly keep it close. Even in a windy atmosphere that wasn’t exactly conducive to big passing numbers, Kirk Cousins threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns on 12.5 yards per attempt while Fat Rob Kelley ran for 137 yards and three more scores. I find it hard to believe that the Cowboys can slow down Washington’s explosive offense. On the other side, though, can the Redskins slow down Ezekiel Elliott? They held Zeke to 83 yards on 21 carries in Week 2, but that was before he really took off — his lowest total since is 92 yards. But after getting demolished in the running game early and often before their BYE, the Redskins have held their last two opponents to 70 yards on 31 carries. The problem is that Dallas’s run game is a different animal than Minnesota’s and Green Bay’s, two of the worst rushing games in the NFL. I expect Zeke to have a huge game and the Cowboys to dominate time of possession and win the game. Cowboys win 35-24.
Cowboys cover
Over

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5, 5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5, 5-4-1):
Spread: Steelers favored by 9
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: Ever wondered how much Andrew Luck means to the Colts? If so, this is the game to watch. Before Luck’s concussion was reported, the Steelers were favored by three, so it’s clear how much Vegas values the Indy QB. Luck’s backup is ex-Packer Scott Tolzien, who has thrown one pass since 2013. Tolzien has thrown 91 passes in his career, and only one of them has been a touchdown (five have been interceptions). This is not good news for an Indianapolis team that was just getting itself back into the AFC South title conversation. I thought everything might click for the Steelers last week against the Browns, but the offense didn’t look great in an unconvincing 24-9 win. I expect the offense to be a bit better today but the game plan to be similar. They’ll feed Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and win the time of possession battle. This might be a similar game to the one last week against Cleveland, with the Steelers capitalizing on a terrible opponent to win handily on the road. Steelers win 31-10.
Steelers cover
Under

Every so often, it’s fun to ignore the stats. The best way to understand what is happening and what will happen in a sporting event is through the statistics, but that doesn’t mean every conversation needs to be oriented around the stats. Today, I’m going to rank the NFL teams by watchability. I don’t have an algorithm or a rubric that I’ve used to grade each of the 32 teams; this is a totally unscientific ranking. But I think I’ve watched enough of each team to have a pretty good handle on how fun (or not) they are to watch. This is simply a ranking of how excited I am to be watching a team because of the pure entertainment that it provides. Without further ado…

#1: Oakland Raiders. Part of this is the novelty factor. When’s the last time the Raiders were good?? But this is also a team full of exciting players. Derek Carr has become a gunslinging quarterback, and he has two super fun receivers in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. There’s also Khalil Mack and, perhaps most importantly, Jack Del Rio, who has become one of the most daring coaches in the NFL. The fact that they made a game involving the Texans into a really intriguing contest in Week 11 speaks volumes.

#2: Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson might be the most fun quarterback to watch in the NFL. The defense is full of colorful characters and great players, including but not limited to Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor (the field goal leaper himself), Bobby Wagner. The injury to running back C.J. Prosise, a pretty exciting player, was disappointing, but at least Seattle has Thomas Rawls back and running with a purpose. He seems like he runs harder than any other running back in the NFL, which is exciting in its own right. Then there are the Jimmy Graham one-handed catches, the Doug Baldwin nifty moves, and, of course, the Russell Wilson improvisations.

#3: San Diego Chargers. There’s a reason that the Chargers-Raiders game in Week 5 was so amazing. The Raiders ended up winning that game 34-31 in a back-and-forth affair. The Chargers had potential to be easily the most fun team in the NFL (and a playoff team) before top receiver Keenan Allen went down in Week 1 and Danny Woodhead got injured the next week. But Philip Rivers is still super fun to watch, with his unorthodox throws and his very emotional moments. Melvin Gordon has also made a bunch of amazing plays this year, and in Joey Bosa the Chargers have an emerging pass-rushing stud who’s had some great moments this season. Say what you want about the Chargers, but they always find a way to make games interesting, regardless of who they’re playing.

#4: Washington Redskins. Fat Rob Kelley is for real! Robert Kelley, who goes by the nickname Fat Rob, has made the Redskins even more watchable than they were before the undrafted rookie was named a starter a few weeks ago. There are plenty of other exciting players, including perhaps the deepest group of wide receivers in the NFL and maybe the best tight end. Did you see how Jordan Reed totally schooled a Green Bay defender last week?? Reed is a freak of nature and the staple of this offense. Jamison Crowder and DeSean Jackson are also fun, and so is the offensive line, which is huge and mauls teams. Did you see how many successful deep balls Kirk Cousins threw against the Packers?? A lot. On the defensive side of the ball, Josh Norman may seem annoying but he always makes things exciting and interesting against the opponent’s top receiver. And Ryan Kerrigan has returned from injury in style.

#5: Atlanta Falcons. There’s no better connection in football than Matt Ryan to Julio Jones. It’s unstoppable. It’s cruel. For a neutral fan, it’s special to watch. For the first time in awhile, though, it’s not the only thing the Falcons have going for them from a watchability standpoint (it’s still the headliner). Devonta Freeman is probably one of the more underrated running backs in the league from a talent standpoint and certainly from an excitement standpoint. The signing of center Alex Mack improved the team, and it also made the offense a lot cleaner and more fun to watch. Defense-wise, it’s always nice to watch a team that can get after the quarterback. The Falcons have been the furthest thing from that team for years, but the addition of Vic Beasley (9.5 sacks) has changed that.

#6: Miami Dolphins. Surprise! This is all Jay Ajayi, Jarvis Landry, and the defense. Ajayi has been one of the best running backs in football since he got the starting job (112 carries for 685 yards and four touchdowns in the last five games), but he’s also been one of the most exciting. He rips off big play after big play and is impossible to tackle in the open field. Landry hasn’t made one of his mind-numbing touchdown catch-and-runs this season, but he’s about as good after the catch as any receiver is. And love him or hate him, Ndamukong Suh makes the defense, which also has Cameron Wake, more exciting.

#7: Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have been floundering, but I still think they can bring it when they need to. Their game against Dallas two weeks ago might have been the most exciting game of the season, and they have all the pieces to rise higher on this list. Le’Veon Bell is, hands-down, a top-three running back excitement-wise. Likewise for Antonio Brown among receivers. Ben Roethlisberger has stretches in which he’s throwing defenders off of his back and dominating games. That’s fun. The defense is kind of “meh” and nondescript, so it’s on the offense to justify this ranking.

#8: New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees’s offenses are always fun. They’re especially fun when they have to play behind, as the Saints have had to do a lot this year. This year, Brees has three really good receivers to throw to in Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, and Willie Snead. He throws a great deep ball. But the reason the Saints rank in the top quarter of the league is that their defense is so bad that it’s capable of making teams like the Chiefs and Niners watchable. Bravo, Saints. To be fair, I do like watching Cameron Jordan play. That’s one defensive player I like. And Delvin Breaux was a fun shutdown-ish cornerback before he got injured.

#9: Dallas Cowboys. Dallas’s defense is even less exciting than Pittsburgh’s (although Sean Lee is a fun player to watch), but Ezekiel Elliott makes that a moot point. I hate the Cowboys, but even I can admit that Elliott running behind Dallas’s dominant offensive line is pretty darn fun. The hurdles may be dangerous, but they’re really exciting. Also, Dez. Annoying, but dominant, and dominant receivers = fun. I’m also ranking them ninth in anticipation for the entertainment that will be when Dak Prescott eventually has a bad game. It has to happen, right? And when it does, it’s going to be very, very watchable for every non-Cowboys fan.

#10: Carolina Panthers. The Panthers’ offense hasn’t been its 2015 self, which removes a lot of the watchability from this team. But they still have one of the more entertaining quarterbacks in the NFL in Cam Newton. Newton’s obviously at the center of everything the Panthers do on offense. Ted Ginn is also quietly entertaining, both positively and negatively. His muffed punts add excitement, as does his speed. His incredible touchdown catch against New Orleans doesn’t hurt. This ranking assumes that Luke Kuechly returns from his concussion in a few weeks. If Kuechly is out for the season, this ranking slumps into the low teens. That’s how much fun Kuechly makes watching this defense. He and Newton are two very watchable stars.

#11: Buffalo Bills. This isn’t a high-octane offense, but it’s still a fun one. LeSean McCoy is among the most captivating running backs in the NFL, and he forms a potent combination out of the backfield with lightning-quick Tyrod Taylor. When the offense is rolling, it’s efficient and deadly and the best rushing offense in the NFL. That’s worth a lot in my book. The defense is boom-or-bust, which is perfect for these rankings. They get a lot of sacks, give up a lot of big plays, and also happen to have Zach Brown and his 101 tackles (yeah, I still like Zach Brown).

#12: Indianapolis Colts. This is New Orleans-lite. The defense is bad enough to make the Jaguars and Bears exciting, while Andrew Luck is always fun to watch, especially when he has explosive receivers like T.Y. Hilton. The Ryan-Jones connection is the best in the NFL, but Luck-Hilton isn’t too far behind. By the way, Hilton’s really fast. I also love watching Frank Gore because I find it shocking that he’s still so consistent at this point in his career.

#13: Detroit Lions. I like the Lions, although I don’t think they’re particularly good. Matthew Stafford is exciting and reminds me a bit of Philip Rivers in that he throws from a lot of crazy arm slots, has a strong arm, shows a lot of emotion, and likes spreading the ball around to a bunch of different receivers. It’s not a coincidence that Stafford’s best season has come after the retirement of Calvin Johnson. Sometimes force-feeding one guy is entertaining, but in the Lions’ case spreading the ball around has made for a more watchable team. The defense isn’t particularly good or exciting.

#14: New England Patriots. Ok. I’ve pushed the Patriots down far enough. They can’t really fall past here, simply because they have Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. I don’t think Brady’s among the most watchable QBs in the NFL, but he’s very watchable when he’s throwing to Rob Gronkowski. The return of Dion Lewis helps, as Lewis is almost as shifty as LeSean McCoy. A little LeGarrette Blount is fun, although 20 carries a game of LaGarrette Blount sometimes feels like too much.

#15: Denver Broncos. Defense, baby. Chris Harris and Von Miller are really fun. I find defensive beatdowns entertaining, and the Broncos are quite good at handing them out. Trevor Siemian is not especially watchable, but Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas help.

#16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 16th feels very apt for this mediocre team. There are parts of the team — especially Mike Evans and Gerald McCoy — that are very exciting. Jameis Winston also has his moments of exciting play. But all in all, it’s a mediocre team with a 5-5 record and as many boring games as fun ones.

#17: Tennessee Titans. Before last week, the Titans may have ranked a half-dozen spots higher. But their loss to the Colts was a yawner, especially compared to the exciting games they played in the prior few weeks. Marcus Mariota seems like he’s going to be a good quarterback, and he’s already an exciting one, especially in the red-zone, where he’s lights out. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are both exciting, and Perrish Cox is an exciting cornerback because he lets opposing receivers rack up huge yardage totals against him. And don’t sleep on Valentino Blake, the guy who has made some exciting, boneheaded plays recently.

#18: Philadelphia Eagles. The defense is super fun because it forces negative plays more often than any other team while also giving up more big plays than anyone other than the Packers. That’s what happens when you have a great defensive front and the worst group of cornerbacks in the NFL. If this were a defense-only watchability ranking, the Eagles would rank near the top. But it isn’t, and the offense is so boring that they’ve ended up in the bottom half. Sure, watching a rookie quarterback is interesting, and I think there’s little doubt that this offense has a bright (and exciting) future with Carson Wentz at the helm. But Wentz has so few weapons at his disposal that this offense really can only rely on short passes and bland route trees that their limited options can manage to run. This is the team that a receiver like Alshon Jeffery (a free agent after this year) would benefit the most from talent and watchability standpoints.

#19: Arizona Cardinals. Oh how the mighty have fallen. One of the most watchable teams in football last year has become a mediocre-at-best watch, thanks almost entirely to a terrible season from Carson Palmer. The Cardinals only rank this high because they have talented running back David Johnson and flashy defenders Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, all of whom would probably rank near the top of the league in watchability.

#20: Minnesota Vikings. Basically rinse and repeat what I said for the Eagles. This team racks up a lot of exciting defenses and special teams plays, including two D/ST touchdowns last week. Xavier Rhodes has become a shutdown corner and reached the highest speed in the NFL on his pick-six, while Cordarrelle Patterson is probably the best (and most exciting) kick returner in the NFL. But the offense is even less exciting than Philly’s because it doesn’t have a rookie QB who oozes with potential. Not only does the offense stink, but it also doesn’t turn the ball over much (just seven times this season). Turnovers make games exciting. The Vikings’ offense is very far from being exciting.

#21: New York Giants. In most aspects, I consider this to be among the most boring teams in the NFL. But they avoid the bottom quartile for two reasons. The first is that they always play close games, which at least makes the end of games watchable. The second is that they have Odell Beckham, who may well be the most exciting player in the NFL.

#22: Jacksonville Jaguars. Sometimes, an offense that only gets garbage time points is still an exciting offense. Or, maybe not exciting, but not totally boring. The Jaguars fall under that category, because they have a few skill position players (among them Allen Robinson) who can make some plays. I also enjoy watching Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue. And Blake Bortles’s horrific play is terrifying enough that it’s very watchable.

#23: Green Bay Packers. This is a shock. There’s no doubt that two years ago the Packers would have been the undisputed #1. Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, etc… What’s not to like? Well, the deep passes that powered this offense have disappeared, as has the running game. That leaves Rodgers with a short passing game and not much else. You know what’s not very exciting to watch? An offense exclusively oriented around short passes. The defense was never the reason that the Packers won a lot of games and were exciting doing so, and it’s not good enough now to pull the Packers out of the bottom third of the league in watchability.

#24: Cincinnati Bengals. For these rankings, let’s assume that A.J. Green will return in two weeks and thus weigh as about 60% of the full A.J. Green. 60% of A.J. Green is still a pretty darn exciting player. He’s the best offensive player on the bottom nine teams. The rest of the team? Not so exciting. Andy Dalton is average, and the defense is surprisingly bad and boring. The Bengals have played (and lost) a lot of dreary games.

#25: New York Jets. This is the second most watchable completely crappy team in the NFL (the Jaguars are first. San Fran, Cleveland, Chicago are the other completely crappy teams). I love watching Ryan Fitzpatrick throw interceptions! It’s really quite funny. As for the defense, it’s very watchable because it’s kind of fun to watch Darrelle Revis get burned time after time after years of locking down opposing wide receivers. I liked Darrelle Revis, but then he won a Super Bowl with the Patriots, so now I feel fine about rooting against him.

#26: San Francisco 49ers. Call me crazy, but I kind of like watching Colin Kaepernick run around and attempt to make plays for a team with no receivers. The up-tempo Chip Kelly offense also makes things interesting, mainly because it allows opponents to rack up a lot of points on San Fran’s terrible defense. I would tune in just to see how many rushing yards they give up.

#27: Houston Texans. They should be soooo much higher than this. They have so much skill-position talent, with Lamar Miller and DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. The J.J. Watt injury hurts, but the defense also has more than enough talent and personality (hello, Jadeveon Clowney) to be the foundation of a watchable team. But Brock Osweiler ruined everything by being bad at football. Why couldn’t Brock have ruined a team without the talent that Houston has?

#28: Kansas City Chiefs. So boring. The main reason I’m ranking them inside the top-28 is because cornerback Marcus Peters is a big play machine who has 13 interceptions in his 25 game career and two forced fumbles, including one that destroyed the Panthers’ playoff chances. The return of Justin Houston also helps, as does Dee Ford’s breakout, 1o-and-counting sack season. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the defense isn’t that boring. The offense is, though. Thanks, Alex Smith and Andy Reid.

#29: Cleveland Browns. A few weeks ago, the Browns actually would have ranked higher. Because while they were losing, they were losing in exciting fashion. Terrelle Pryor was doing cool things, Corey Coleman was making big plays, and Cody Kessler was showing promise. This was always a bad team, but it was an entertaining bad team. Now, the offense has disappeared and they just plain stink. Losing 35-10, 28-7, and 24-9, as the Browns have in their last three games, isn’t a good way to move up the watchability rankings.

#30: Baltimore Ravens. Two words: Justin. Tucker. The best kicker in the NFL. In a season of kicking blunders, what could be more exciting than watching a kicker actually execute well? Apparently, a lot of things. To be fair, Tucker isn’t the only thing the Ravens have going for them. Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith are intense, angry, exciting old guys. Mike Wallace is a fast guy. They’re great against the run. That’s all I’ve got.

#31: Chicago Bears. Jordan Howard’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry and has four 100+ yard games! By the way, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has five 100+ yard games. Jordan Howard was taken 146 picks later than Ezekiel Elliott in the 2016 draft. Take that, Cowboys. I couldn’t resist.

#32: Los Angeles Rams. It started with a 28-0 loss against San Francisco in which the Rams could have played 100 quarters and still wouldn’t have scored. Then came a 9-3 win over the Seahawks, one of two baseball-score wins for the Rams (they beat the Jets 9-6). Case Keenum wins the title of most boring quarterback, although the title is being challenged by #1 overall pick Jared Goff.

Looking ahead:
The best matchups of the week are:
#4 Washington (although they’ll be tired after going from the Sunday Night Football game to a Thursday afternoon game) at #9 Dallas
#1o Carolina at #1 Oakland
#2 Seattle at #16 Tampa Bay

The worst matchups of the week are:
#21 New York Giants at #29 Cleveland
#24 Cincinnati at #30 Baltimore
#17 Tennessee at #31 Chicago

Week 11 Picks

Posted: 11/20/2016 by levcohen in Football

Sometime before the Thanksgiving games, I’m going to rank each NFL team by how watchable they are. I mention this now because two teams that will rank very highly in those rankings happen to be on BYE this week. I’m talking, of course, about the San Diego Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons, two of the four teams to sit this week out. 7-3 Denver is also off, as are the 3-7 Jets. This week is also notable because it’s the last of four straight weeks with at least four teams on BYE. We’re treated to our first full slate of games since Week 3 next week (and there are a couple of doozies on the schedule) before two more teams get a break in Week 13. There are three games between winning teams this week, although one of them includes the Houston Texans, who are a joke of a winning team. But there are a bunch of other games between desperate teams, including Indy-Tennessee, Cincy-Buffalo, Arizona-Minnesota, Miami-LA, and Green Bay-Washington. When two desperate teams play each other, wonky things can happen. I expect wonky things to happen in Week 11.

BYE teams: San Diego, Atlanta, Denver, New York Jets
*= upset pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-5, 4-5 against the spread) at Cleveland Browns (0-10, 3-7):- Lock
Spread: Steelers favored by 8
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I thought last week would be Pittsburgh’s get-right game, with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger playing at home against a mediocre Dallas defense. But the Cowboys are really good, and the Steelers let Ezekiel Elliott run all over them. They won’t have that problem against the Browns. This is a game they absolutely must win, and it’s a game they will win. The Browns have lost five of their past seven by double digits. They’ll lose this one by at least eight. I’m locking it up, even though I know Big Ben is a lot better at home than he is on the road. The over/under is so low (it opened at 50) because the game is supposed to be played in inclement weather. Steelers win 27-13.
Steelers cover
Under

Baltimore Ravens (5-4, 3-6) at Dallas Cowboys (8-1, 8-1):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 7
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Strength against strength here. Dallas’s dominant offensive line meets Baltimore’s #1-by-far run defense. The Ravens have given up 642 rushing yards this season on 3.3 yards per carry, good for a DVOA of -46.1%, which means their run defense has been 46.1% better than average. To put that in perspective, last year’s #1 run defense, the Jets, had a -33.3% DVOA, which was the best run defense since the 2000 Ravens (-36.6%). But can what might be the best run defense of all-time shut down Ezekiel Elliott and Co.? I think they can. The problem is that Baltimore won’t be able to move the ball. The Ravens will make this a low-scoring game, but they won’t come up with enough offense to pull off a big upset. Cowboys win 21-17.
Ravens cover
Under

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-7, 4-5) at Detroit Lions (5-4, 5-3-1):
Spread: Lions favored by 6.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: I’ve liked the Lions all year, but I didn’t really expect them to hold a share of the NFC North lead in mid November. This game makes me nervous for their sake, because I think they might take the 2-7 Jags too lightly. Yes, the Jags are bad. But they aren’t Cleveland. They just lost to Kansas City (7-2) and Houston (6-3) by a combined eight points. Meanwhile, every game Detroit’s played this year has been a one-score game. I don’t trust them to pull away from the Jags, but I do trust them to win close games. Lions win 30-27.
Jaguars cover
Over

Tennessee Titans (5-5, 4-6) at Indianapolis Colts (4-5, 4-4-1):*
Spread: Colts favored by 2.5
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: Because the Colts were on BYE last week, both of these teams last played (and beat) the Packers. I think that says more about Green Bay than it does about either of these AFC South squads, but the two upset wins over the Pack have certainly kept each of these squads in the playoff race. I understand why the Colts are favored in this one. They’re the home team, they’re rested, and they have Andrew Luck with healthy weapons at his disposal. They’ve also won 10 straight against the Titans and 15 of 16. That’s an incredible streak, but it should end today, because the Titans are quite simply the better team. They’ve played three straight good games, with a tough loss in San Diego sandwiched by complete performances in wins over Jacksonville and Green Bay. Their offense is on fire, with 26+ points in six consecutive games. It shouldn’t slow down against the poor Indy defense. Titans win 31-26.
Titans cover
Over

Buffalo Bills (4-5, 5-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-5-1, 2-7):*
Spread: Bengals favored by 2.5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: If you watched the Monday Night Football game between the Bengals and Giants, you might have thought that New York has a ferocious pass rush. Indeed, they sacked Andy Dalton three times and pressured him numerous others. But the Giants entered that matchup ranked last in the NFL with 11 sacks this season. Cincy’s surprisingly shaky offensive line made them look a lot better than they are. You know who ranks first in the NFL in sacks? You guessed it: Buffalo, with 30. The team worst at protecting its QB goes against the team best at harassing opposing signal callers. Meanwhile, Cincy’s defense has gotten gashed early and often this season, especially against mobile quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor. I think the Bills are the better team, and this is also a great matchup for them. A.J. Green will be open for some big plays, but can Dalton buy the time to throw the deep ball? He couldn’t against the Giants, and I’m not sure he’ll be able to against the Bills, either. Bills win 24-20.
Bills cover
Under

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5, 4-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-2, 4-5):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 7
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Dating back to 1993, the Buccaneers have won four straight games in this storied rivalry (kidding). I’m sick of doubting the Chiefs. They’re a good football team. The Buccaneers aren’t a bad football teams, but they’re a “meh” football team. “Meh” football teams generally lose to good football teams. Especially to good football teams that play especially well at home. Chiefs win 24-13.
Chiefs cover
Under

Chicago Bears (2-7, 2-7) at New York Giants (6-3, 5-3-1):
Spread: Giants favored by 7
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: The fact that this spread is so low says everything you need to know about the New York Giants. The Bears were bad at the start of the season, and they’re even worse now. Their best offensive player, Alshon Jeffery, just got suspended for four games. Right guard Kyle Long is out for the year. Right tackle Bobby Massie will likely be out with a concussion. The Giants’ defensive line is starting to wake up, which is bad news for the banged-up Bears. Luckily for Chicago, the Giants haven’t won by more than five points in a game all season. Unluckily for Chicago, that will change this week. The Bears are decent defensively and should limit the Giants’ success, but Jay Cutler is sure to gift New York some good field position and is unlikely to lead many successful drives himself. The Bears are firmly in top-three pick contention. Giants win 23-10.
Giants cover
Under

Arizona Cardinals (4-4-1, 3-6) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4, 5-4):
Spread: Vikings favored by 2
Over/under: 40
My prediction: It’s been a rough season for these two teams, each of whom could really use a win this week to halt their diminishing playoff chances. The Vikings remain tied for first by virtue of their weak division, but they’ve now lost four straight games as their defense has declined from world class to just good, which is nowhere near good enough to lug the offense to victories. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were seen as legitimate Super Bowl contenders heading into this season after making the NFC Championship Game last season. And yet… they’re a 4-4-1 team with a brutal end to the season coming schedule-wise. Carson Palmer has really regressed after his career year last season, while David Johnson has struggled in the last few games as defenses realize that he’s their primary weapon. Larry Fitzgerald is still incredible, but the Cardinals need more than Fitz if they want to succeed against a talented Vikings defense. This may also be the week that Minnesota’s missing pass rush returns, as Arizona’s offensive line has looked shaky of late. It’s a tossup game, but the Vikings have been a lot better at home than on the road and the Cardinals are just 1-2 on the road (yup, five of their final seven are on the road). I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first of a bunch of losses down the stretch for the Cards. Vikings win 24-17.
Vikings cover
Over

Miami Dolphins (5-4, 5-4) at Los Angeles Rams (4-5, 4-4-1):*
Spread: Dolphins favored by 2
Over/under: 39.5
My prediction: I’m really not sold on the Dolphins just yet, even after four consecutive wins. They looked good in San Diego, although they were lucky to come away with a win. But this is their first road game against a tough defensive front since the Bengals dismantled them 22-7. Even after their win in San Diego, they’re just 1-3 on the road this season. Their offensive line is banged up, and LA has Aaron Donald, whose 95.3 PFF rating is the best in football at any position. This is going to be an ugly game, and the Rams, winners of two games in which they haven’t scored a touchdown, are used to playing ugly games. Jared Goff won’t look great, but he has a good chance to get a win in his NFL debut. Rams win 13-10.
Rams cover
Under

New England Patriots (7-2, 7-2) at San Francisco 49ers (1-8, 2-7):
Spread: Patriots favored by 12.5
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: The Patriots will obviously win this game pretty handily. It’s less about them being angry after a home loss to Seattle and more about them have a lot more talent than the woeful 49ers. I think this spread is inflated, so I’m hesitant about picking the Pats to cover, but I’m going to do it anyway because the Niners have lost five of their nine games by more than 12.5 and because the Patriots have won three of Tom Brady’s five starts by at least two touchdowns. Patriots win 35-21.
Patriots cover
Over

Philadelphia Eagles (5-4, 5-4) at Seattle Seahawks (6-2-1, 4-5):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 6.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: The Seahawks may well be the best team in football right now. They just went into Foxborough and beat the rested Patriots, and Russell Wilson is getting healthier and healthier. This is also a pretty bad matchup for their shaky offensive line. Last week, they were able to boss the line of scrimmage against a weak New England front. In Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Connor Barwin, and Vinny Curry, the Eagles have a lot of defensive linemen who get great penetration and pressure quarterbacks. They, along with two safeties (Rodney McLeod, Malcolm Jenkins) and two linebackers (Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham) who boss the middle of the field, are the reason that the Eagles have the #1 defensive DVOA in the NFL despite having perhaps the worst cornerbacks. If there’s any elite team that might be unable to expose Philly’s defensive weakness, it may be the Seahawks, because they don’t have the big, Julio Jones-style possession receivers who have dominated the Eagles all season. If there’s one area that the Eagles should be worried about, it’s the passing game to running backs. C.J. Prosise was terrific for the Seahawks last week, catching seven passes on seven targets for 87 yards, and the Eagles have not been great against the passing game to running backs. But I don’t expect the Seahawks to blast the Eagles’ defense like they did New England’s. The problem is that the Eagles won’t be doing anything on the other side of the ball. They just don’t have enough weapons in the passing game, and there’s only so much that Darren Sproles and Jordan Matthews can do, especially against Seattle’s defense in Seattle. It could be a close game, but the Seahawks will pull it out. Seahawks win 19-16.
Eagles cover
Under

Green Bay Packers (4-5, 4-4-1) at Washington Redskins (5-3-1, 6-3):
Spread: Redskins favored by 3
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: The Packers just aren’t good. I think it’s that simple. And the Redskins are pretty good, at 5-3-1 and #8 in DVOA. They’re at home and the better team and still only giving the standard three points. They have a lot of weapons, with DeSean Jackson returning and rejoining Jamison Crowder, Vernon Davis, Jordan Reed, and Pierre Garcon. Aaron Rodgers has some weapons, too, but he hasn’t been clicking with them and I don’t see why that would change this week. Redskins win 34-20.
Redskins cover
Over

Houston Texans (6-3, 5-3-1) vs. Oakland Raiders (7-2, 6-3):- In Mexico City
Spread: Raiders favored by 6
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: I keep talking about how the Texans are a bad football team. I have to back that up here by picking the Raiders to cover a six point spread coming off their BYE in Mexico. I’m nervous about it, because the Raiders could well look past the Texans and focus on their tough final six games, but hopefully they look at the Texans as a 6-3 team and not as the bad football team they are. If Oakland plays like they did against Denver in Week 9, they’ll win this game by 30 points. Raiders win 26-17.
Raiders cover
Under

Upset picks:
Rams over Dolphins
Bills over Bengals
Titans over Colts

Lock of the week:
Steelers over Browns

Week 10 Review, TNF Preview

Posted: 11/17/2016 by levcohen in Football

Now that was a fun week. There were two games last week — Pittsburgh vs. Dallas and New England vs. Seattle — that were better than any game in the first nine weeks of the season when considering both quality of play and excitement of game. Another game featured one of the biggest win-probability shifts imaginable. The Saints, down 23-17 against Denver, drove down the field and scored what should have been the go-ahead touchdown with 1:22 left in the game. After the touchdown but before the extra point, ESPN gave the Saints a 71.6% chance of winning the game. Then, the Broncos blocked the extra point and took advantage of the new rule that allows teams to return failed conversions for two points. With the help of his white shoes, Will Parks got away with (likely) stepping out of bounds and the Broncos took a 25-23 lead and were able to kneel their way to victory. That game wasn’t as well-played as the other two, but it also had huge playoff implications, with the Broncos getting a much needed win to stay within half a game of first place in the AFC West and the Saints missing a chance to move within a half game of first in the NFC South. Anyway, it was a great week, and ratings were unsurprisingly way up (I think I’d attribute that more to better play than to any post-election bounce).

It’s time to eliminate San Diego after another hard-luck loss, this one to the Dolphins. They’re 4-6 and three games behind the third place (and second wild card) Broncos in the brutal AFC West. They’ve played good football this year, but even 10-6 may not take them out of the AFC West cellar. I’ll be ready to cross off the Panthers if they lose against the Saints tonight. With their win in New England, Seattle resoundingly moves back into the top tier. I was just waiting to see Russell Wilson be Russell Wilson before moving them back up. Russell Wilson was Russell Wilson last week. The Patriots are fine, and still probably the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Top tier: New England, Dallas, Seattle, Oakland
Eliminated teams: Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, New Orleans, San Francisco, Miami, New York Jets, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, San Diego

Some other quick takeaways:

  • Sometimes, not much changes when a coordinator is replaced in the middle of the season (see: Jaguars, Jacksonville). That’s not the case with the Minnesota Vikings and specifically Stefon Diggs. In his first six games this season (he sat out one week), Diggs had 35 receptions. Since Pat Shurmer became the play-caller two weeks ago, he has 26 catches. With another 11 this week, he’ll break a record shared by Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall, and Tom Fears for most catches in a three game span with 37. Unfortunately for the Vikings, his catches have been less impactful (9.4 yards per catch) than they were in his first six games (13.3), and the Vikes have lost each of the past two, pushing their losing streak to four games.
  • What a way for Case Keenum to go out! One day before coach Jeff Fisher said that Keenum would remain the quarterback and three days before he (probably with pressure from higher up) reversed course and named Jared Goff the starter, Keenum tore up the Jets to the tune of… 17/30 for 165 yards. But hey, at least they beat the Bryce Petty-led Jets 9-6! Now the question is: how bad is Goff? Because given that Keenum held onto the job for nine games, he can’t be very good.
  • The Texans just keep doing it. Another week, another ugly win. Last week, I said they were the worst winning team through nine weeks. Now, they’re the worst winning team through 10 weeks. They were lucky to beat the pitiful Jags last week, as they were out-gained and needed a pick-six to win by three. Quarterback Brock Osweiler is looking like one of the worst free agent investments of all time. He went 14/27 for 99 yards, also known as worse than Case Keenum.
  • Speaking of not-good teams, it’s time to talk about the Arizona Cardinals. They just aren’t good!! Playing against the second worst team in football and one of the worst run defenses of all-time, stud running back David Johnson only managed 2.9 yards per carry. This against a team giving up 5.1 yards per carry this season. It took a game-winning field goal for the Cardinals to escape 23-20 at home. Now, their schedule gets a lot tougher. While their past schedule ranks 26th-toughest in the NFL per DVOA, they have the second hardest remaining schedule. This doesn’t seem like a playoff team, which is incredible given that their defense is great and their offense is full of skill-position talent (Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd).
  • I don’t know what this Giants team is. They’re 6-3 with a better defense than they’ve had in years and Odell Beckham Jr., but I don’t think they’ve played one impressive game of football this season. They’ll likely be 8-3 after games against Chicago and Cleveland, so we won’t really know what they’re capable of doing until they go to Pittsburgh in Week 13 and then end the season with three divisional games and one against the Lions. I don’t think they’re very good, but they’re definitely the best 6-3 team in the NFL (the Texans are the only other one).

Last week’s picks:
8-6 straight up… 82-63-2 for the season
8-6 against the spread… 76-65-6
7-6-1 over/under… 72-72-3

3-0 on upset picks… 16-19-1 (In a week full of upsets, I wish I had picked more)
1-0 on lock… 6-4

Best picks of the week:
Rams 13, Jets 10… Actual result: Rams 9, Jets 6
Broncos 24, Saints 21… Actual result: Broncos 25, Saints 23
Giants 26, Bengals 24… Actual result: Giants 21, Bengals 20
Ravens 23, Browns 13… Actual result: Ravens 28, Browns 7

Worst picks of the week:
Steelers 35, Cowboys 26… Actual result: Cowboys 35, Steelers 30
Packers 33, Titans 24… Actual result: Titans 47, Packers 25
Cardinals 41, Niners 17… Actual result: Cardinals 23, Niners 20

New Orleans Saints (4-5, 5-4) at Carolina Panthers (3-6, 2-6-1):
Spread: Panthers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 53
My prediction: These teams are coming off the two most devastating losses of Week 10. I already talked about New Orleans’s loss, but Carolina’s was almost as bad. They were up 17-3 going into the fourth quarter and lost 20-17 after Kelvin Benjamin fumbled in Panthers territory with 29 seconds left (talk about win-probability changes: the Panthers’ chances went from 61.6% before the fumble to 13.4% right after it). The winner of this game will be the team that rebounds better on a short week to their loss. Both of these teams are terrible against the pass, which means that both Cam Newton and Drew Brees should have ample opportunity to pad their stats and put up points. The difference, I think, might be that New Orleans’s top cornerback Delvin Breaux is out of the lineup, while Carolina’s top corner James Bradberry is back from injury. I’ll take Carolina 31-28.
Saints cover
Over