Thursday, September 27, 2007

Weak Fore NFL Picks

Every gambler, of course, likes a feeling of certainty, that what he or she is throwing their money on actually has a predictive quality. If you're gambling on coin flips, you've got real problems and a distinct lack of life; the goal is to get in a game where your mind or gut can give you an edge that counters the house's inherent advantages. (This is, of course, a complete bullpoop story, but there is no greater source of bullpoop stories than a casino.)

Every fan, of course, likes a feeling of uncertainty, especially when it comes at the expense of a high and mighty favorite. Neutral observers at an NCAA basketball tournament game will always pull for the underdog, and there's nothing duller than a game where you know from the opening whistle that the only way the favorite is losing is via an act of God.

So here, as in many things, the interest of the gambler conflicts with the interest of the fan, and there's even a little bit of animosity between the two camps. This is also, I suspect, something that will eventually cause the NFL to lose popularity... because with the rise of fantasy sports, we're *all* gamblers on some level. And the league has never been more random.

Take the Packers, for instance. Is this really a 3-0 team that's going to run roughshod over the NFC Central, and winners of 7 of their last 8 regular season games... or are they a prime candidate to come back to .500 fast? I've seen a lot of them, and they look to me like they have a weak OL, bad blitz pick up from young RBs, a QB who will keep each team in the game, and no good WRs not named Driver (and he doesn't exactly terrify you as a #1, either). And yet here they are, a road win away from a perfect first quarter of the season, on top of a division where it looks like they could run the table, assuming that the Grossman to Griese change doesn't completely invigorate the Bears.

I don't know, you don't know, they don't know. It's as close to a coin flip as you'll ever see in a sportsbook. And there are a half dozen more teams just like them.

One last word before we get to the picks -- I'm writing this while feverish. So if I finally break through the magic .500 mark this week, root for the illness to linger...

* * * * *

Packers covering (1.5) over VIKINGS
. Here's how random the NFL is this year: there are 9 road favorites, as opposed to five home, this week. Only four games have a 7-point spread. So in the first of way too many pick'em kinda picks, I'm going with the Pack, under the theory that Brett Favre's career hideousness indoors will be covered by his defense and his (shh) special teams. Besides, after last week's unwatchable Vikes game, it's hard to take them to win a boat-riding contest.

Houston covering (3) over ATLANTA
. Does anyone still care about the Falcons, and if not, why wouldn't you go with Byron Leftwich sooner, rather than later? In what basically amounts to a random game, I'm going with the mild vengeance of Matt Schwab overcoming the probable absence of Ahman Green. Besides, after DeAngelo Hall's meltdown last week, the Falcons have no one to stay within five yards of Andre Johnson.

New York Jets covering (3.5) over BUFFALO. Have Lee Evans' fantasy owners hung themselves yet? Keep a close eye on the rafters if the consensus top 10 WR who hasn't even been ownable yet this year doesn't get loose. In fairness to Evans, it's tough to shine when you might be the only good offensive player on the team. This will be one of those games that convinces Bear Fan that they traded the wrong RB. (The other of those games would be, well, the Bears game.)

CLEVELAND beating the spread (4) against the Ravens. Well, well, well, what do we have here, Ravens Fans? The beginning of a QB controversy, as it seems that Coach Ego feels his team has a better chance to win when Kyle Boller comes in late for Steve McNair. Long-time readers will note that I've thought the Ravens had a better chance to win with Boller than the broken-down McNair for weeks. Expect more of the same in this one, and maybe even a little Vengeance for ex-Raven Jamal Lewis, who might still be running for that big TD run he had against the Bengals two weeks ago. (We're not saying that Jamal has lost a step -- it's more like a foot -- but when he breaks one, his teams win the time of possession battle.)

St. Louis beating the spread (13) against DALLAS. The Rams are without Stephen Jackson, Marc Bulger is playing with broken ribs, the Cowboys are the clear class of the conference, and they're playing at home. Guess what? They aren't coached well enough to squash a team, even one with as little going for it as the Rams, flat. Expect a late cover and extended garbage time, but this Cowboy defense isn't quite good enough for this number.

Chicago covering (3) against DETROIT
. I'm kind of expecting a Bear Renaissance as Brian Griese seizes the job with actual competence, instead of brain-busting Rexosity. For the Lions, they come in with the NFL's highest ranked passing attack against a banged-up Bears secondary... but the thing about those stats is that they are filled with a lot of hot air and bad opponent defenses, because people rarely look at NFL numbers in context. The Bears will know what to do with Jesus Kitna, but the sure bet here is actually the over.

Oakland beating the spread (4) against MIAMI. This Raiders team is going to be playing close games all year long, because they actually can run block a bit now. I even like their chances for the upset against a frankly terrible Dolphins team. Finally, there's the very real chance of Culpepper Vengeance in this game. (What's with all the vengeance this week? Ah, what the hell, run with it.) Oh, and one last thing: this will be the ugliest game of the week, as neither team has much of an offense to speak of.

Seattle covering (2) against SAN FRANCISCO
. What's wrong with Alex Smith? Nothing that a home game against a bad defense wouldn't fix... but that isn't this week. Meanwhile for the Seabags, Matt Hasselbeck is quietly having one of the finest starts to the season in the conference, and he should be able to keep it going against a Niners defense that actually considers Michael Lewis at safety to be an upgrade. Keep an eye out for thwarted vengeance against Niner WR Darrell Jackson.

Tampa Bay beating the spread (3) as a road dog in CAROLINA
. I'm not sure about this line, really; it seems 100% wrong to me. Delhomme is probable, and David Carr against a smart veteran D doesn't sound like a good idea to me. Besides, the Bucs have been looking downright frisky, especially after treating Marc Bulger like a pinata last week.

Pittsburgh covering (6) against ARIZONA. This is one of those games were an AFC bully exerts its dominance, especially with the Steelers defense looking quite good so far this year. Expect more Kurt Warner sightings this week, but this will actually help Leinart's cause, as Brenda's Husband will do little more than the starter.

SAN DIEGO covering (11.5) against Kansas City
. In a colossal battle of coaching genius, I'm expecting LaDanian Tomlinson to silence the critics, even if it means he has to take over at QB by force. But the real Charger to watch in this game is Antonio Gates, who always seems to elevate his game in the weeks when Tony Gonzalez is on the other sideline.

(Am I really happy with taking Norv Turner and giving up 11.5? No, of course not. Am I really happy going against Herm Edwards in a road game? Of course. Ladies and gentlemen, the Resistable Force meets the Movable Object!)

INDIANPOLIS covering (9.5) against Denver
. In a shocking development, four weeks into the NFL season, the Broncos seem to be going into a committee situation at RB. How does that taste, Travis Henry owners? The lesson, as always: Mike Shanahan will gladly hurt his chances to win just to mess with fantasy football players. He's a bad, bad man. Meanwhile for the Colts, they are doing what they do -- win the games they're supposed to win, grind it out ugly more often than you'd expect, and go run out and hide from the rest of their division. In the long run, what winds up helping them here is that while Champ Bailey can limit one of their WRs, he's failed to clone myself for the other three.

Philadelphia covering (3) against the GIANTS. In a brave moment, I'm going to take the Eagles even though this means they'll likely choke the bit; I have not been able to pick a single game right for them this year, so why start now? In a battle between two teams that are trying to stay relevant near the Cowboy Menace, I'm always loving the edge the Birds have at coach. Besides, Derrick Ward is not Tiki Barber, so maybe the Eagles can finally play the Giants without getting ripped apart in the running game. (To be fair, Giants Fan has similar unhappy feelings about Brian Westbrook.)

New England covering (7) against CINCINNATI. WHAT? This is an OUTRAGE. How is the ONLY GOOD TEAM IN THE NFL only getting seven points on the road against a Bengals team that can't get defensive stops? Doesn't Las Vegas understand that the Patriots are going to go 19-0, with an average margin of victory over 20? Seriously, stop the season right now, give the Patriots their trophy, and maybe Coach Nixon won't have us all killed. And if you don't pick the Pats, remember, in the words of Our Friend Bill Simmons, YOU REALLY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. Oh, and if you don't watch the game, you're lying and hate sports and excellence and shouldn't watch football at all, so that Bill and his little friends can have more face time. More Bill in the monitor, please!

Last week: 5-8-3
Season to date: 18-24-6

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