Thursday, October 27, 2016

NFL Week 8 Picks: In A Post-Good World

Here's a fun fact: the NFL isn't just having a bad year on the ratings (down +10%, for a host of reasons), but probably a worse one on the field. The best teams don't compare to best teams from past years, there wasn't a team that got out of October without a loss, and it just seems like the refs respond to every play with a flurry of flags.

Maybe all of this shakes out in time as we move into the meat of the schedule, and thin teams fall off and well-coached squads take their advantage, but the same forces were in play for past years. Really good teams should have showed their mettle by now, and with the possible exception of New England with Tim Brady, maybe we just don't have them this year. (I blame the presidential election. For everything.)

This isn't, by the way, a good reason why the ratings are down. More mediocrity means that more teams are in contention later, and when those teams are in big markets, that matters. Los Angeles has a team now, and that should matter to the ratings. It hasn't.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Jacksonville at TENNESSEE (-3)

Is there anything worse than the AFC South? No, expect Color Rush Uniforms, and also football on Thursday night. In case you were wondering why the NFL's ratings are down, this game is everything in microcosm. I'll take the home dregs over the road dregs, under the theory that they will turn it over less, and not watch.

Titans 24, Jaguars 20

Washington at CINCINNATI (-3) (UK Game)

I've got sneaky confidence in this game, for more than a few reasons. First, CB Josh Norman and TE Jordan Reed are both shaky following concussion protocols, and while either, both or neither might play, I doubt they'll be at 100%. The Bengals found their run game mojo last week against the Factory of Sadness, and you can run on DC, too, and QB Andy Dalton to WR AJ Green could be a lot again here.

Bengals 34, Racial Slurs 20

KANSAS CITY (-2.5) at Indianapolis

The Chiefs defense is starting to look like its projected self, and while QB Andrew Luck will get his numbers regardless, I think he does it from behind, and can't convert enough in the red zone, either.

Chiefs 31, Colts 26

OAKLAND (+1.5) at Tampa

Raiders have been a better road than home team this year, and Tampa can't handle prosperity. Raider defense might be starting to figure things out, too.

Raiders 24, Bucs 20

SEATTLE (-2.5) at New Orleans

The Seahawks are on the road, with a shorter week, and look like they have no offensive linemen of note after last week's trainwreck tie in Arizona. But the Saint defense can do miraculous things, and I just don't trust Sean Payton to do what he needs to do in this game -- trust his running game and win ugly.

Seahawks 26, Saints 20

DETROIT (+2.5) at Houston

Say this for QB Matthew Stafford; he might be playing the best football of his career, and he's been doing it ever since the OC switch to Joe Bob Cooter in mid-season last year. Against the checkdown stylings of So Not Going To Make it QB Brock Oswiler, I think the road team wins, and Texans HC Bill O'Brien is that much closer to QB Carousel. Again.

Lions 27, Texans 21

NY JETS (-3) at Cleveland

One of these games has to be the Browns' week, right? And by week, I mean a game where they get to use the same QB for the entire game. Well, maybe not, as the Jets can play very physical run defense, and the Browns are in extreme trouble when they can't run the ball. Oh, and it also doesn't help when CB Joe Haden isn't 100%, either.

Jets 31, Browns 20

NEW ENGLAND (-6.5) at Buffalo

Patriot Vengeance comes with a side order of RB LeSean McCoy injury woes, and while I hate laying this many points in the Thunderdome level of white trash insanity that is the Buffalo home crowd, it's not as if the Patriots are new to this. It'll be a grind early, then easy late, because the Bills just aren't healthy enough on offense to compete. Honestly, the WRs weren't good enough at the start of the season, and that was two WR1s ago.

Patriots 27, Bills 17

ARIZONA (+3) at Carolina

Feels like an elimination game for two of the biggest disappointments in a year filled with disappointments... and while the Cards seem like they'd be DOA in a road game after that SNF tiebortion, I think the Panther DB woes just wipe that out. But honestly, I'm just rooting for another tie. That would rule.

Cardinals 24, Panthers 23

San Diego at DENVER (-5.5)

Some things to like about the Chargers, who broke through in Atlanta last week to finally win a close one, and have gotten massive push from rookie DE Joey Bosa. But the Bronco defense is going to be too much here, especially since the way to beat them is to run it effectively. And, well, they don't.

Broncos 26, Chargers 17

Green Bay at ATLANTA (-3)

Historically, this is the time in the NFL schedule when Green Bay puts it together, Atlanta falls apart after a good early start, and the NFC North falls into line. But having watched these teams this year, and seeing how the Packer offense has become one-dimensional and error-prone, with the Falcons also getting some actual pressure on the QB... well, I think it's time for a new script. One where Aaron Rodgers isn't, um, very relaxed. At all.

Falcons 31, Packers 23

PHILADELPHIA (+4.5) at Dallas

There are two competing narratives at work with the Eagles. The first is that they play well at home, and not so well on the road; this explains the big wins against Pittsburgh and Minnesota, and the big losses against Detroit and DC. The second is that they play to the level of the opponent, and that division games are always crazy tight, and Dallas doesn't really have a home field edge with their colossal egofest of a yard.

I'm not sure I go with either pattern, but I do think the Dallas defense isn't good enough to get off the field routinely, and that the Eagles can do enough on defense to keep it close all night. Also, pure gut? Carson Wentz will do more than Dak Prescott, and with Dez Bryant not 100%, we're in a game with no good WRs. Dallas will likely win with RB Ezekial Elliott doing damage, but running game wins tends to also be back door covers.

Cowboys 24, Eagles 20

MINNESOTA (-6) at Chicago

A get well game for the Vikings, who go on the road to face a toothless defense and a populace that will be spending all of their time on the Cubs. With reasons, really. Bears QB Jay Cutler returns to put up just enough numbers to convince someone that he should keep the job for yet another year, which is kind of the functional definition of insanity, really.

Vikings 27, Bears 20

Last week: 11-4

Year: 48-58-1

Career: 807-808-50

Joel Embiid Arrives

Lead On, Process
Tonight in South Philly, the Sixers finally got to use the signature pick of the Sam Hinkie Era. And while the numbers (20 and 7 with 2 blocks in 22 minutes, on 6 of 18 from the floor, 1 of 3 from the arc and 7 of 8 from the line, with four turnovers) for Joel Embiid were intriguing, the visuals were so much more.

Dude is just, well, chill. Against a top-tier defender in Steven Adams and a credible offensive big in Enes Kanter, he showed no fear, especially in post possessions where rookies just crap the bed and turn it over. Down 2 late, he commanded the ball, toyed with Adams, and sank the best jumper in the laundry for the better part of a decade like he was at the Y. On a night where he wasn't even all that hot.

Honestly, I know this is utter sacrilege, but he just looks like Hakeem Olajuwon. Size, handle, confidence, poise -- he's just unreal. He drew fouls on Adams like the Thunder big and borderline All-Star was just some scrub. With the game on the line, he went 90 feet in transition and got a chasedown block, and while the play ended with Kanter chipping in garbage, that doesn't say anything about the effort, instinct and ability. He made his teammates better, he filled the arena for a franchise that hasn't won a game in October and November in years (honestly), and his team led a likely top five seed from the West, with the possible MVP, for most of the game.

And yeah, the Sixers didn't close, and yeah, we'd all be over the moon if they somehow had done that. But it's hard to be too disappointed because the Thunder needed every inch of Russell Westbrook (32/12/9 on 11 of 21 from the floor, 9 of 11 from the line, and only two turnovers in 36 minutes; in other words, about as much efficiency as Russ can manage while still being Russ), and an overall "A" level game. OKC only turned it over 10 times tonight, were +10 in boards and +6 in turnovers, and still only took the lead late. If the laundry plays this well for the rest of the calendar, I think they are a playoff team. And, um, they should get a lot better. (With health, of course.)

Here's what the Sixers' 3-headed center (Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes) did tonight: 34/13 with 6 blocks (and, um, 8 turnovers). Perhaps even more surprising, the PGs (Sergio Rodriguez, a revelation, and TJ McConnell, finally able to be the pure PG2 of his talent limit) gave them 12/6/16 with just one turnover, and I'm not cheating either of these numbers, because the centers and point guards all totalled out to 48 minutes.

So, um, why did they lose? Because the wings didn't do enough. Dario Saric was 5/7/2 in 27 minutes on 2 of 12 shooting, including a no fear 3-pointer late that lacked nothing in chutzpah, or smarts. Bob Covington and Nik Stauskas weren't horrible, but a team where the PGs gets 16 of 21 assists isn't a team that's moving the ball well enough across the board. Saric will have better nights.

All of this is quibbling, though. Joel Embiid played basketball tonight, and looked like a historic player. The rest of this, we'll figure out later.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Late and Nearly Pointless NBA Predictions

League Life
The regular season snuck up on me a bit this year, due to personal weirdness, so let's just get into it... you might be able to make some money from a Cavs-Warriors against the field bet this year, but there's no way you can predict anything but it. Mostly because we're going to need some injuries or instability from either franchise to get a slip to happen, and with the other waiting for them in June, I just don't see either losing focus for that long.

Cleveland will have the easiest road to the Finals, because the lEast is still a year or two away from True Interest. Boston still needs to find someone to give them a dollar for their shiny dimes. Toronto can only go so far with their guards that can only get worse, and weren't good enough at their peak. Milwaukee and Detroit are mildly intriguing, but not much more than that. Indy needs second-year C Myles Turner to be as good as borderline MVP candidate Paul George, and that may never happen; it would also be good if the backcourt becomes, say, as good as Toronto's. New York is always a mirage, Chicago is a blowup waiting to happen, Atlanta missed its window, and hey presto, we're suddenly talking about my Building Something Meaningful Sixers. If the rest of the conference consolidated and played the Cavs, you'd have a series. Until that happens, or LeBron James gets old, or someone young starts looking like the best player in baseball, James is in the Finals. Health permitting.

In the West, it's amazing how many top contenders got worse in the off-season, while the Warriors (maybe?) got better. OKC, you know about. San Antonio lost Tim Duncan, and he still mattered. Portland is intriguing, but health will make things complicated. The Clippers are always too thin because their management can't figure out the bench, and now we're into Houston (wow, the defense here is just, um, special), Dallas (is this the year the finally miss the playoffs?), Memphis (always tough, rarely dangerous), Utah (promising, but too young and brittle) and yeah, wow, this is a top-heavy league.

The Warriors aren't going to win 70+ again; they aren't going to be that lucky, there will be growing pains, and they are going to get no callas and everyone else's "A" game. The world hasn't decided that a great team are hissable heels like this since James led Miami, and that could also turn people like Draymond Green and Klay Thompson into mental cases. But if you have four of the best twelve players in the game *and* a bench that routinely turns their adversaries into pudding, the least you are going to is the Finals. Which team is in your highlight doesn't really matter.

But while the Association is top-heavy, it's far from weak to watch. New York's implosion will be spectacular as always. The Lakers have young talent and a clueless management, and I have no idea what to expect from them. Sacramento is a clown car of what the blue hell. Minnesota might be the most intriguing team in the league. New Orleans has bounce back written all over them, and anyone who isn't rooting for Jrue Holliday has no soul at all. Milwaukee has crazy length and intrigue, and I honestly can not wait to see what Joel Embiid can do, and all of the other young Sixer bigs. It's going to be a fascinating year, even if it ends with the 3rd straight LeBron v. Steph narrative, this team to decide which player est truly muy macho.

Hoop is back; life is good. And the first 10 to 20 games is going to teach us a lot that most people will miss. So dig in now, while the digging is good. It's going to be great.

East playoff teams: Cleveland, Toronto, Indiana, Boston, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Washington.

West playoff teams: Golden State, San Antonio, Memphis, LA Clippers, Portland, Utah, Minnesota, Houston.

Rookie of the year: Joel Embiid

MVP: LeBron James.

Finals: Golden State defeats Cleveland in six.

Enjoy the games, everybody!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Top 10 NFL Week 7 Ad Questions

Another Big Fan Of Ads
10) Can I drink non-Dr. Pepper products without the threat of home invasion?

9) Does buying a phone from AT&T cause idiotic internal monologues and walking into solid objects?

8) Will Visa be satisfied with anything less than 100% of the purchases at an NFL game, and if not, what measures are they willing to take?

7) How fast can the Best Buy marketing and advertising staff be strung up by their genitalia for starting holiday gifting a full week before Halloween?

6) Is Southwest the go-to airline for people who secretly hate their jobs, and as such, enjoy that level of, um, service?

5) Can someone check in on Peyton Manning, as he appears to be going more than a little insane in retirement, what with hiring cheerleaders and announcing the arrival of food?

4) How, exactly, does butt-dialing people help to sell car insurance?

3) Did the marketing team from Chevy pay full price for the emoji ad concept, or did they farm it out to someone's tween?

2) How did Subway get a season to cut a sandwich, and doesn't that speak to a certain lack of freshness?

1) If I buy a Pixel phone, will I be unable to comprehend how VR works, and become like a dog being shown a card trick?

The Eagles Win Different

Much Of Today's Game
Going into today's game with the Vikings, we knew two things, without any shade of doubt.

1) The Eagles, especially QB Carson Wentz, made good decisions and didn't turn the ball over.

2) The Vikings, especially QB Sam Bradford with a dominant defense, had the same tendency, but even more so.

So... both teams combined for turnovers on five straight possessions damn near immediately. With the QBs being primarily responsible for nearly all of it.

Some credit should be shown to the defenses in this game, who took advantage of the dearth of WR talent to just limit all play inside the hash marks and just grind it down, but still. I suppose the wind also had some impact, but we're talking about a day in which the QBs threw it 69 times for 362 yards, with 2 TDs, 3 INTS, and 7 (!) fumbles. I'm not sure I've ever seen a game like that before, honestly.

As for my laundry, a win is a win, and you had to like the world-class hurting that they laid on Bradford today. It's also nice to see the STs make as many plays as they did in the high times of the Kelly Era, with Josh Huff's kickoff return for touchdown, and the late fumble recovery off a mid-field punt, proving exceptionally meaningful. But it's hard to feel very good about a game where the offense goes 3 for 11 on third down, where nearly all of the penalties were on the offensive line, and where Wentz looked as skittish and rookie-not-ready as we've ever seen him. There wasn't a single offensive player, with the possible exception of Huff, who had what you'd call a particularly effective day, and the offensive line was the worst of the bunch.

On the defensive side of the ball, this game showed exactly why no one in the local market is pining for Bradford. Game manager is never a compliment for a QB, and Bradford's idea of management -- checkdown, checkdown, checkdown, even when the defense is absolutely begging you to take it on third and long -- is the definition of empty calorie football stats. He's not mobile, doesn't stretch the defense, has terrible body language when behind, and just looked like he had absolutely no interest in playing football by the end of this game. Minnesota is still 5-1 and in fine shape in the NFC North, but make no mistake about it; any team that has this guy taking the snaps has a hard cap on their offensive potential, and while you can obviously win that way (see, um, Denver last year), it's not exactly easy or pretty.

Next up is Dallas in Dallas, and just to make matters even more challenging, the Cowboys are coming off a bye. I don't expect them to win that game, but I also didn't expect them to win today, or against Pittsburgh before the bye. If they bring today's defense to that game, and WR Dez Bryant isn't 100%, maybe.

They'd also be well-advised to not bring whoever was in Wentz's jersey today, either.

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