Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NFL Week 11 Picks: Don't Drive Angry

Like any long form piece of blogging, this column takes several days to write, and that time is not continuous. I don't get to lock myself away to the exclusion of all other pursuits and responsibilities. Whose fault is that? Yours, clearly. Had you merely told 1,000 of your closest friends about FTT, bought out all of my site T-shirts, or clicked on the PayPal button to donate a tithe-like portion of your income, I'd be much better at this, really. Bad Tooth Simmons gets to write best-selling books, and Big Daddy Drew Magary is now on a half dozen Web sites writing /door flies open, while I'm writing this on a subway as the guy next to me gets a pre-publication preview. It's just how the world keeps down a Philly Fan. Anyway, enough about your failures, and back to mine.

Last night as a continuing effort to educate my eldest daughter on somewhat advanced concepts through our entertainment choices (i.e., we don't watch the usual kiddie fare TV -- I'm much more inclined to put on a Marx Brothers DVD than Spongebob, not that there's anything really wrong with Spongebob), we watched "Groundhog Day." If you are somehow unfamiliar with this movie; shame on you and go rent it ASAP; it's the best thing Bill Murray and Harold Ramis ever did, which makes it a pretty great thing, really. Murray plays an amoral weather caster who is doomed to live the same day, over and over again, in Punxutawney PA for the Groundhog Day holiday. He's surrounded by good-natured hicks that he more or less despises. Eventually he goes through all stages of reconciliation with his curse, devotes himself to making other people's lives better, gets the girl and breaks the curse. It's one of my favorite movies on a lot of levels.

In the Blu-Ray commentary for the film, director Ramis talks about how different religious groups gravitated to the film, claiming it as their own; everyone from Hasidic Jews to Zen Buddhists. He also talks, rather gleefully, of how the groundhog bit Murray very badly in a scene in which the suicidally bored protagonist lets the quadruped drive a pick up truck. Ramis and Murray have worked together on a half dozen movies by now, and it's clear that Ramis thinks the world of Murray's talent and the sewer of his ego, so having him get a tetanus shot from handling an ill-tempered squirrel is just his idea of fun.

Let's just say that I'm seeing some parallels to my current job here. Especially as I take the same train that I take every day, and write in the same posture that I always use. And this guy is looking kind of squirrely, really. Nothing personal, buddy. Why not go back to staring at the ads for hair removal? Might help.

Anyway, last week was just brutal for this picks column. Favorites mailed it in, taking the home team coming off a bye was an absolute sinkhole, and every 50-50 ball went the wrong way. It was hardcore awful, and for a brief period of time I was wondering if we were going to get the bagel. The late games saved it from comedy, but we were still deep into debacle.

Meanwhile, I had my first 2-0 week all year in head to head fantasy leagues, keeping hopes of some suckout money alive. And in both matchups, I really wasn't expecting much.

But just to prove that life wasn't going to give me a pass, that was *just* the head to head teams. My roto points team pissed away another week, mostly because LaDanian Tomlinson was on my bench (finally), Cedric Benson got hurt, and the Patriots chose to take away Dallas Clark above all other priorities. (Thank the heavens that the Bills were getting Dick Jauron bounced with multiple TAInts, making my streaming defense pick of the Titans D the win of the week.)

The lesson, as always: I can't win. Especially since I am an Eagles fan in the relentlessly confusing Andy Reid Era, where every game is a lovely mix of Which Team Shows Up This Week... but at least we don't root for any of the truly terrible teams in the league.

So I can't lose, either. At least not until January. And if you are thinking that you've seen this Eagles season before, and if I'm thinking that I've seen this exact same close-but-no-money fantasy football season last year... well, hey. Don't drive angry. Or ride, I suppose.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

MIAMI at Carolina (-3)

Hoo boy! Is it another one of those classic NFL Network matchups, the ones with the awkward and overblown slo-mo promos that just define absurd hype? I can't get enough of those! This week's had Julius Peppers clebrating a tackle while the cult voice announcer said, "Here, Kitty, Kitty." That's because the Dolphins run the Wildcat offense a lot. Boy, where do these guys get their ideas?

Anyway... all eyesores aside, two teams that run and run some more, and both coming off wins. Carolina had the bigger one, surprising the home off a bye Falcons (grr) with some actual competency from Jake Delhomme and the usual road-grading running game. Miami survived the suddenly frisky Bucs on a last-minute game-winning drive, proving that you just can not hope to contain Chad Henne all game. I'm just sorry that the NFLN promo didn't talk about Hanging Chads. That would have even worked before original Dolphins starting QB Chad Pennington got hurt, and leads us to the following question, which is nearly as compelling as this small market snorefest... why are the Dolphins cornering the market on QBs named Chad? Maybe that was NFLN's back up idea for this game.

Anyway, back to the gambling. The Dolphins will win, you won't see it, and the game will put coffee drinkers to sleep. But hey... WILDCAT! WILDCAT! WILDCAT! You can't say it enough! It's always exciting!

Dolphins 24, Panthers 17

PITTSBURGH at Kansas City (+10)

The first of two AFC games this week where a terrible team will get smacked around the head and shoulders by a conference heavyweight. Once upon a time the Chiefs were a tough team at home, but those days are long gone. Perhaps Chiefs Fan is thinking that last week's win in Oakland is one to grow on, but honestly, you beat JaMarcus Russell in what might have been (please, Lord, please) his final start in the NFL. The road win is too small. Throw it back.

The Steelers will probably be missing Troy Polamalu, which means the defense will be more susceptible to the pass than usual, and give up seven more points than they should. But the Chiefs have decided to be accommodating by having #1 WR Dwayne Bowe get nicked for a drug suspension (a diuretic). To be fair, if you had to play football for Todd Haley and live in Kansas City, you'd be on something, too. Something stronger than a diuretic. And the same should go for fans who have to watch an offense where the #1 WR is Chris Chambers.

Steelers 30, Chiefs 17

Atlanta at NEW YORK GIANTS (-0)

How much did the bye week help the G-Men? If they are back to their old selves (especially after watching Dallas and Philadelphia play keep away from prosperity last week), the division will be theirs once again, and with speed. They'll take a swing at it against the suddenly reeling Falcons, who will be missing RB Michael Turner at the worst possible time. Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood are reasonable backups and the road team will still run for yardage, but neither of them are the home run threat threat that the starter is.

The bigger problem is that the Falcons just don't defend the pass well enough, and the Giants actually have some reasonable weapons out there, between Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks. Eli Manning should provide some numbers, provided that it's not, you know, windy. He's not paid enough to be able to throw the ball well in wind.

Giants 27, Falcons 20

San Francisco at GREEN BAY (-7)

Will the real Green Bay defense please stand up? One week after blowing a game to a winless team with a rookie QB (Tampa Bay and Josh Freeman), they throw a near shutout at the Cowboys at home. Who the hell saw this coming? Charles Woodson, you owe us all an apology, really. Had this team had that defense all year, they would not be sucking Favre fumes in the worst year ever to be Packer Fan.

The Niners come in with extra rest following their Thursday night escape against the Bears, and this is another defense I can't figure out. Are you the meek little kittens that got their lunch money taken by the Falcons and Titans, or the raging turnover monsters that took down the Bears, Cardinals and Rams, the last of which was the fantasy point payoff of the year for a defense? Signs point to bullying against finesse teams and cowardice against the power ones, which means this matchup has promise for them... but Ryan Grant is actually pretty good, and playing in Lambeau tends to bring out the quit in a road team. Of course, predicting this Packers team is just insanity, but last week in Dallas convinced me. So it's time for them to spit the bit again... but Alex Smith is spit-proof. Or something.

Packers 27, Niners 17

WASHINGTON at Dallas (-11)

One of the bigger lines that you will ever see for a team that won last week against a team that lost, and I think it's too much. These division games are almost always close and nasty, and now that the Skins have finally started to get some production from the running game from Ladell Betts and even a little hope from young wideout Devin Thomas, there's more than a reasonable shot at a cover.

Besides, it's not as if the Cowboys have shown a tremendous advantage from playing in their new crib, and the 'Skins can defend. Besides, so long as the Cowboys are trying to force-feed Roy Williams the ball, things aren't going to end well for them.

Cowboys 24, Redskins 20

Cleveland at DETROIT (-0)

Well, Lions Fan, you're going to get to see a second win this year. I'm guaranteeing it. Lock it down, book it, salt it away and book the post-game spread, because you'll be eating without the taste of tears that you've become so used to.

Now, why am I so confident? Well, I saw both of these teams play last week, and (a) Calvin Johnson is starting to look like his old self, and (b) Great Googly Moogly, the Browns are unspeakably bad. For sixty point-free minutes against the Ravens, they gave the team absolutely nothing to worry about... and now their single interesting offensive weapon (Josh Cribbs) is now on the shelf. Oh, and they are on a short week after their MNF loss, and on the road.

There is also this: the Lions aren't coached by an epic and unmotivated dunderhead, and the Browns are. That's kind of a problem, really.

Lions 24, Browns 6

New Orleans at TAMPA BAY (+11)

The Saints are really starting to replicate the '07 Perfectriots season; start off fast and look like you are just going to outscore everyone, then shift gears and start having to win in other ways. The only real difference is that since they haven't really gotten to a run it up moment, and they've never won it all before, the world doesn't hate them. But the gambling public is starting to, because they have stopped covering these big point spreads.

For two straight weeks under Josh Freemen, the Bucs have given a better-regarded team all that they can handle, with the Packers getting taken out at home and the Dolphins needing a game-winning drive and field goal to close them out. This week, I think the Bucs score enough points to cover, and maybe even pull off the upset... because the Saints aren't going to win every game this year. As a matter of fact, they even are starting to look ready for it, especially so long as WR Marques Colston is sleeping through games.

Saints 31, Bucs 24

Buffalo at JACKSONVILLE (-8.5)

Breaking news as I write this is that Dick Jauron has finally gotten the axe in upstate New York, as the 3-6 Bills prepare to become the backdrop to another monster fantasy football day for Maurice Jones-Drew. According to the World Wide Lemur, Jauron never saw it coming, which surprises Bills Fan not at all, given the general amount of preparation exhibited by the team to date. He'll also get paid, which is a big deal for a franchise that's whoring itself out to a disinterested Toronto, and replaced by no-name defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

For the purposes of this column, I'm not seeing anything change right away; the Bills will continue to be a pedestrian offense with some interesting skill players that's betrayed by their offensive line. On defense, they've been routinely gashed by opposing name running backs, and with Jones-Drew on tap, that's really not going to get better. Finally, with both of their QBs showing their TAInts last week, there is really no good sign that they can cover, let alone win.

Jaguars 26, Bills 13

Seattle at MINNESOTA (-11)

The Viking Cupcake Tour continues, with a Seahawks team that has always been a road dog coming to town, and made even more cottony-soft by injuries to the offensive line and starting running back (Julius Jones). Last week at home against Detroit, the Vikings showed signs of looking fat, sloppy and complacent against the Lions, with multiple turnovers and questionable coaching decisions.

I'd love to go against them here, because I really do think Minnesota is starting to slide back to the norm; it's also telling that Adrian Peterson keeps putting the ball on the ground. But it's just too much to go with these dogs on the road, in a loud dome, against a team that goes 5-deep on players that can turn on the jets and make six from distance. It will worry me, but the Vikes should cover.

Vikings 34, Seahawks 20

INDIANAPOLIS at Baltimore (-0)

Never has an undefeated team won a huge night game to remain that way, and gotten less respect from Vegas, and I can't help but think that the gamblers have it right here. The Colts won thanks to the charity of Bill Belichick's defended but indefensible 4th down decision (put it this way: would anyone have argued for the merits of that call had the coach been Tom Cable? Mike Martz? Andy Reid? I rest my case) and their own furious comeback. but don't sleep on Lawrence Maroney fumbling for a touchback in the third. Had the man just held on or even fell down before the end zone, and you are looking at seven more Patriot points and early garbage time. The strip in that situation is just inexcusable, but it's also Maroney's career in a nutshell.

What happened to the Colts was something of a blueprint. Take away Dallas Clark and make the fading young WRs (Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie) beat you; it may happen, but it's going to happen a lot less than when Clark and Reggie Wayne do it. In last week's game, the Colts also lost RBs like popcorn, and they really don't need this game. Baltimore's kinda good, at home, and in the elements. So everything is pointing to a big solid cover for the Ravens, right? Not so fast.

The first point is that Baltimore comes off the short MNF week. The second is that you really don't want to overestimate the difficulty of that, seeing how they played the Cleveland Byes. The third point is that the Ravens defense really isn't what it used to be, specifically Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. And the fourth and final point is that Terrell Suggs, the Ravens' best pass rusher, will miss the game. Too much going against them. Oh, and that Manning guy. He's pretty good too.

Colts 24, Ravens 20

ARIZONA at St. Louis (+9)

The annual homecoming game for Kurt Warner, who probably enjoys this game more than any other on the schedule. He gets to play in a dome with mostly neutral fans, against a team that can't defend or rush the passer, and stick the knife into his old laundry while building the statistical case that he's a Hall of Fame QB. He also gets to look at what his wife looks like now (judging from what has happened in the last decade, Brenda will be the hottest woman in the world by 2018), as opposed to what she looked like during his Ram days. If Tim Hightower or Beanie Wells would just turn into Marshall Faulk already, the man would not be able to call the plays at the line of scrimmage for the self-satisfied chuckling. I have to say, Captain Jebus, if this is what a life in faith gets you, I might have to rethink things. Kurt's God is bringing it.

On the other side of grace are the Rams, who actually put a scare into the Saints last week (another favorite that didn't cover, grr) before faltering. In another 1 to 2 years, this Rams team could be mediocre again, at least as long as Steven Jackson is having an utterly ridiculous MVP year for a 4-12 team. They've managed to start to cobble together some spare part wideouts (Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson) that have promise, the defense hasn't quit (a tremendously good sign), and they do actually seem to be getting better, week to week. But their God is not Kurt's God, and they also don't have anyone to stop Larry Fitzgerald, let alone a healthy and motivated Anquan Boldin, and a murderously effective Steve Breaston. The circus comes back to town for one week only, Ram Fan. Can't be a fun game for you.

Cardinals 34, Rams 17

New York Jets at NEW ENGLAND (-10.5)

Here is our second squash game, with the reeling Jets coming to Foxborough for the payback game of the year. Early in the season the Jets punched New England in the mouth so thoroughly that many were ready to anoint them as the new beasts of the East, despite the fact that this was following the exact same pattern as last year. And just to make sure that New England was in no danger of treating this as a trap game, their relentlessly arrogant coach had to break the Internets with last week's 4th and Fail call that led to the Colt collapse.

The Jets could stay in this one by running it 40 times, limiting their turnovers, and having Darrelle Revis eliminate Randy Moss -- you know, the same thing that you did in September. But with Mark "The Sanchise" Sanchez continuing to show Joey Harrington-esque ball control and accuracy issues, I'm not liking his chances.

Besides, Papa Bill is very, very angry, and will be taking out his Run It Up stick for this one. Jet Fan, maybe you want to schedule some yard work. Maybe some gutter cleaning.

Patriots 41, Jets 17

CINCINNATI at Oakland (+10)

Picking Bengals games this year has been a walk. You ignore the lineage, enjoy the fact that the rest of the world hasn't adapted yet to the New Cedric Benson, and watch the lucky covers come in early and the solid wins come in late. They are just a Brandon Stokely miracle from being 8-1 and breathing down the neck of the smoke and mirrors Colts for the #1 seed in the conference, despite a few injuries. They've have a good defense for the better part of a year now, and in the last month Carson Palmer has gone back to his pre-knee injury self, albeit with less exciting weapons at WR. It's the first good thing to happen to Ohio this millennium, I think.

This week, I am already hearing and reading how the Raiders are going to play one of their semi-annual good games and cover this big number. Benson is iffy for the game with a hip problem, and the Bengals have decided to give their fans heart failure by importing the execrable Larry Johnson to share the load. If Oakland has finally given up the JaRuss ghost, they might actually complete a pass to a WR, and now that RB Darren McFadden has killed every last fantasy team he's ever been on, it's time for him to rip off a huge game. The game is at home, the Bengals are going to sleep on it after sweeping the Steelers, and it's all Trap Gamey.

To which I say, thank you. Please keep betting against this Bengals team. I need all the help I can get with these picks.

Bengals 27, Raiders 13

SAN DIEGO at Denver (-0)

Astute readers of this blog will have clicked on Monday night's Enemies List, which is a feature I do for the good people over at NESW Sports. The temptation to lead off last week's list of odious sports figures with LaDanian Tomlinson was, frankly, off the charts. After going all-in with him for my roto auction team, I've gotten injuries and squat, and he looked for all the world like a completely spent figure, despite still being the only three-down back on the roster. Darren Sproles might not survive with a full workload, but Lord knows he was actually doing something with his touches, unlike the 30 going on 60 LdT.

And then my laundry comes to town, and I dutifully put him on the bench, because my laundry generally keeps RBs down, if for no other reason than the opponent will spend all day gleefully throwing to the TE. And what does this SOB do on my bench? Go off for two touchdowns and nearly 100 yards, just like it's old times, in a Chargers win. Maximum Fail. I hate you, Tomlinson.

And I'm going to hate him even more this week in Denver, where the reeling Broncos will try and fail to regain control of the division against the only other team in the division that plays football, rather than some vague approximation of it. Tomlinson will be back in my lineup, in all likelihood, which means he'll go back to one of those 10 carries for 18 yards days. The Broncos will lose anyway, because Chris Simms under center for Kyle Orton is making Bronco Fan even more appreciative of the Greatest Winner In Pro Football History and his neckbeard. And the real reason why will be that Antonio Gates will absolutely own Denver, because when you have Brian Dawkins covering big TEs at this point in his career, that is what happens.

Chargers 27, Broncos 20

PHILADELPHIA at Chicago (+3)

As I started writing this pick, the subway I was on decided to stall and then go to the entirely wrong destination due to "mechanical issues." Adding to the fun was that the last five minutes of the trip to the wrong station where spent nudging foot by foot up the platform, then waiting an extra five minutes for the doors to open. Meanwhile, the train we needed to take back to our original destination left in front of us.

I've been making this exact same commute for 2.5 years now, probably over a thousand trips in all, and this has never happened before. It is going to add at least an hour to my commute, if not more, and mean that my kids are going to be bent out of shape from not getting to see much of their Dad tonight. It sucks on every level, and there is nothing to be done but eat it.

Now, the question for the reader: did thinking about these two teams cause the train to malfunction? Because I would not put it past either of them, really.

Lost in the mess of San Diego was that Donovan McNabb played great, and I am hoping the defense will be a little less disjointed now that they've had an extra week to practice with replacement personnel. I still have hope for a playoff game, which is probably a bad thing to hope for, but what the hell... that is what we said about this time last year.

As for the Bears, they usually win this game against my laundry, and they are (much) better than, say, Oakland. Greg Olsen will have the usual big game that TEs have, but the Eagle secondary has caught interceptions this year.

In a close game, I'd count on Captain Andy doing something to blow this game. McNabb won't give him the chance. Nor will Cutler.

Eagles 34, Bears 24

Tennessee at HOUSTON (-5)

Wow, did this game look awful a few weeks ago. Now, it's just a bit intriguing, with Vince Young just a win or two away from full career recovery, such as it is, and the Titans defense waking up the echoes with two garbage time TAInts against the Buffalos last week.

They'll face a Texans team that was the last to the bye, and not nearly as dangerous as they were before Owen Daniels got hurt and Steve Slaton became Ryan Moats.

In general, I almost always like a home team coming off a bye against a team that played. Here, I am tempted to go against that and the point spread, if for no other reason than this Texans team is surprisingly gutless. Besides, Chris Johnson is terrifying. But the Texans started to show some proficiency in stopping the run in October, and Young is due to remind us why he lost his job in the first place.

Texans 27, Titans 16

Last week: 5-9-1

Year to date: 67-73-3


The Truth said...

When I first saw the Eagles/Bears line, I was ready to bet my house on the Eagles. The Bears are terrible everywhere - an All-PRO QB that has bears fans longing for the Sexy Rexy days, an old O-Line, no #1 or #2 receiver, a TE that doesn't want to block (and you thought NFL receivers were prima donnas), only one solid defensive backfield player and a D Line that doesn't get going until the 4th quarter.

However, I read this turd sandwich in the Chicago Tribune today. Philly is 0-7 in NBC night games. Now that takes some effort. So I will be passing on the big bet and turning in for what should be a giant train wreck on both sides of the ball.

And one more nugget to leave you with. After trading away the future for Cutler, Lovie Smith reiterated this week that "the Bears are first and foremost, still a running team." Enjoy the next two months Lovie - they should be your last with that statement.

DMtShooter said...

The reason why the Eagles are 0-7 on SNF is that those games are against good opponents, and hence, are tight games. They blow in tight games. I'm not super confident that they win this game, but if they do, it'll be by double digits.

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