Thursday, November 10, 2011

Week 10 NFL Picks: Countdown To Closeout

Last week, I finally hit a parley... and let me tell you, folks, short of the false dawn opening day weekend in St. Louis when I thought my Eagles were going to be a top 3 NFC team this year, it might have been the highlight of my year with the NFL. Between a fantasy team that can't stay healthy (poster child: Darren McFadden), the most gutless Eagles team of my lifetime, and a general sense that the league has gotten too big and too cocksure from its brinksmanship labor negotiations and rampant media cheerleading... well, happy moments have been few and far between. So cashing in on a ticket is a big win, really, even if the last mile of watching the Packers spit up an easy cover big lead in San Diego was like crawling over broken glass.

More than half of the NFL season has been played by now, and I am, for the first time in recent memory, actively looking forward to the end, if for no other reason than I'd like the time back. I'm not sure what I'll do with it; probably sleep. But still. This just hasn't been as much fun as it should be, or usually is.

Speaking of No Fun, this is the first week of the year in which the NFL inflicts mid-week games on everyone, which means that writers get free rein to pule about how awful it is to have to pick games this early. Well, um, shut up. Most games can be picked weeks, if not months. in advance, given the historical performances of home and road teams, a basic understanding of talent level, and a realization that styles make fights. Besides, if you can't take a little randomness in this coinflip exercise, you are probably taking gambling too seriously. No danger of that here... and with that, on to the picks!

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Oakland at SAN DIEGO (-7)

Oakland goes without McFadden again, and everyone in fantasy honkland will tell you this doesn't matter, because they've got Michael Bush. Well, Bush is fine and dandy and all... but he's no McFadden, especially in the passing game, where the Raiders need all the help that newbie QB Carson Palmer can get. It's just about time for the Chargers to make their annual pretender run to contention, and while this number is too high for comfort, I'm counting on QB Philip Rivers to finally have a bounceback game, and for the Raider run defense that was so accommodating to Tim Tebow and Willis McGahee last week to blow it for them again. The Raider Renaissance was short-lived, wasn't it?

Chargers 27, Raiders 17

NEW ORLEANS at Atlanta (+1)


Figuring the Saints out seems like advanced trig, but I think it all comes down to this: when they have to throw it 60 times a game, you can pretty much throw all predictability out the window, mostly because it will come down to whether or not QB Drew Brees is careful with the ball. This Atlanta team doesn't scare me in run defense, and the offense seems far too wrapped up in miracle plays to WR Julio Jones to win against a good team, even at home. Whether the Saints are a good team or not is the open question, but the legend of Matt Ryan, Home QB God, is one of those regress to the mean moments.

Saints 31, Falcons 23

PITTSBURGH at Cincinnati (+3)


But for a play or two here and there last week against the Ravens, we'd be talking about how the Steelers are the top seed in the AFC and rounding into shape coming down the stretch. But that final drive exists, and was in no way flukish; only Raven WR mistakes kept QB Joe Flacco from doing the deed with more ease. This week, that perversely does not help the surprising Bengals, who have won five in a row against suspect opposition. This week, they get an angry Steelers team that knows they can curb-stomp young skill players, and a Bengals defense that's been showing some holes after a promising start. It will be close, but the Steelers will cover.

Steelers 24, Bengals 20

ST LOUIS at Cleveland (-3)


St. Louis would have a 2-game winning streak if it weren't for a blocked field goal on the road last week in Arizona, and while Joshua Cribbs and the Browns STs can do some damage, counting on the 1/7th guys to win a game for you is not the way you bet. In a game of utter also-rans, give me the team with the WR and RB (Brandon Lloyd and Stephen Jackson) that are actually fantasy-relevant, rather than the utterly punchless Browns. Oh, and the Rams have also shown a semblance of a pass rush recently, too. The biggest shame, Cleveland Fan, is that your team has won enough games to miss all of the good QBs in next year's draft, since Colt McCoy's been exposed this year as a tragic noodle arm. (You also need to show RB Peyton Hillis the curb too, but you knew that already, right?)

Rams 24, Browns 16

BUFFALO at Dallas (-5.5)


You have to love the NFL: one game against the lockdown Jets defense having a solid game, and there's widespread whispers that the Bills' offense has run out of smoke and mirrors. Meanwhile, Dallas is supposed to be all sweetness and light now that RB DeMarco Murray has shown himself to be the second coming of Eric Dickerson. (Really, Jerruh? And we thought you only had eyes for perpetual pricktease Felix Jones.)

News flash, folks: it's still the Cowboys, who are short quality WRs with Miles Austin hurt, haven't defended the run well for several weeks, and are facing a Bills team that's down very well against the down NFC East this year. They aren't going to the playoffs, and Murray isn't going to Canton. I like Buffalo to win, not just cover.

Bills 26, Cowboys 24

Jacksonville at INDIANAPOLIS (+3)


It's hard to lose every game, folks. The Jags can win a game on defense but not any other way, and while the Colts are always a pu pu platter on rush defense, it's not as bad as you might have guessed this year, given the time of possession problems and short fields they've faced due to that trainwreck of an offense. Besides, with Miami winning a game last week, they've got margin for Luck error, so expect an actual effort.

Colts 20, Jaguars 16

Denver at KANSAS CITY (-3.5)


Good grief, what a pair of ridiculous teams. The Broncos got worked like a speedbag at home to the Lions, then turned around and won in Oakland. The Chiefs took out the Chargers in what could have been seen as a momentum builder, then spit the bit horribly last week against Miami. In a battle of two clubs that might have enough talent to contend if they merged (and I said if), give me the team that's at home, but with as little confidence as I can muster.

Chiefs 24, Broncos 17

Washington at MIAMI (-4)


Are there two more depressed fan bases in the NFL? Probably not, but at least Fish Fan is coming off a blowout win where the players looked like they cared, having done the novel thing of not starting a drunken clubhouse cancer (CB Vontae Davis). Maybe that's what's wrong with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in Philly? Anyway, give me the Fish in this one, because the Skins' offense looks positively Hoying-esque right now, and QB Matt Moore has looked surprisingly competent for weeks now. Besides, the franchise isn't having a Fan Appreciation Day for some Redskin this week, are they?

Dolphins 20, Redskins 13

Arizona at PHILADELPHIA (NL)


You'd think there would be more outrage about the Eagles' loss on MNF to Chicago this week, seeing how it more or less took away any remaining margin of error for the most schizophrenic and gutless collection of egotists to ever wear the laundry... but honestly, I don't know anyone in the region that believes in this club, or even were fooled during the 2-game upswing. There's also this: for all of the magic plays, a solid core of Eagles fandom stopped caring about this team when they signed QB Michael Vick, for good or for ill. We love RB Shady McCoy, and the rest of the team is more or less in Show Me And You Won't Show Me Enough state; I can't remember a time in which the season seemed so disposable.

Anyway, they get a Cardinals team that's working with their #2 QB, has a #1 RB that isn't healthy enough to run outside, and doesn't usually travel well. If it's within 10 points on the fourth quarter, the Green "defense" will blow the game again, but it won't be. Count on a lot of stat-padding showboatery; it's what this team is good at. Not, per se, football.

Eagles 31, Cardinals 16

HOUSTON at Tampa Bay (+3)


Wow, Tampa, you actually are signing Albert Haynesworth, huh? Haven't quite noticed how his last two teams have dramatically underperformed, or that there's no reason to think he's got a damn thing left in the tank? Fat Albert won't help them against the best rushing attack in the game, and we know that once they fall behind, Tampa will forget about running the ball, then turn it over. The league is doing everything in its power to make you think the Texans are good.

Texans 27, Bucs 20

Tennessee at CAROLINA (-3.5)


Wow, RB Chris Johnson actually had a decent half last week; just one, mind you, just enough to keep the nominal starting job away from RB Javon Ringer. If you think any RB is getting paid ever again after Cop Speed's sudden wallet-inspired decrepitude, forget it... and the bigger problem for the Titans is that the lack of a consistent running game is starting to wear their defense out. On the road in Carolina against the fresh off the bye Panthers, I'm looking for a lot of Cam Newton, the biggest bargain in fantasy football this year.

Panthers 27, Titans 16

Baltimore at SEATTLE (+7)


The classic trap game for Baltimore, who comes off a huge win in Pittsburgh on quasi-short rest, then has to fly all the way to the Pacific Northwest to face a not-terrible Seahawks team. They'll have trouble keeping the Seahawks from moving the ball (QB Tarvaris Jackson has his moments at home, and RB Marshawn Lynch has been good for a month now), and spend too much time in the red zone not converting. I still think they win, but don't love their chances to cover, and it's not as if this team always shows up against lesser teams.

Ravens 24, Seahawks 20

DETROIT at Chicago (-3)


Hard to figure this game. You have to think the bye helped the Lions, and that the short week doesn't do much for the Bears. I'm also concerned that KR Devin Hester won't be 100%, and wonder if the crazy workload put on RB Matt Forte didn't have something to do with his two fumbles last week. Finally, I can't see the Bears keeping QB Jay Cutler clean for two straight games... but having said all of that, Detroit is a one-dimensional offense right now, and the Bears want revenge for that early season punking. I don't think this game is decided until the final gun, but in that final moment, give me Megatron.

Lions 23, Bears 20

New York Giants at SAN FRANCISCO (-3)


Team Unpredictable goes West to San Francisco, who can mathematically clinch the NFC West with a win. (OK, maybe not, but you don't really need to check the standings; it's theirs.) RB Frank Gore is banged up, but so is RB Ahmad Bradshaw. The Giants' defense played their best game last week against the Patriots, and QB Eli Manning is playing like a second-tier MVP candidate... but the Niners are exceptional against WRs, and Eli was a few dropped balls away from losing the game late, rather than win it. It's not time for the season-ending fade, but Giant Fan will still react the same.

Niners 20, Giants 16

New England at NEW YORK JETS (-1)


There's nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal or the Patriots coming off a loss... but this team just doesn't look right, and the Jets' defense is really rounding into shape now. God probably doesn't love us enough to give us a year without the Patriots going to the playoffs, but let me dream a little dream. There's also something tasty about the way the home team has been running the ball recently, too.

Jets 23, Patriots 20

MINNESOTA at Green Bay (-14)


The Pack is winning this game, but it's not as if Minny is devoid of hope here. RB Adrian Peterson usually comes up big in these games, they are coming off a bye, rookie QB Christian Ponder has given them a pulse, and the Packer defense is looking like they are more interested in making the highlight reel than getting off the field. For the Pack, a letdown game is when you only win by 10; this will be that kind of game.

Packers 31, Vikings 21

Last week: 8-6

Year to date: 64-60-4

Career: 469-465-21

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