Thursday, November 14, 2013

NFL Week 11 Picks: The Championship Of Now

As If We Have Time For Captions
So there are six weeks left in the NFL season, and while we know who is really bad and isn't going to the playoffs, there's really much less in the way of knowing who is actually going good. Right now, your top 4 seeds are Seattle, New Orleans, Kansas City and New England... and I can tell all kinds of easy stories about half of those teams, especially on the AFC side, being one and done in the playoffs. If you believe in point differential, there are five dominant clubs (Seattle, New Orleans, Carolina, Kansas City and Denver), and I just made most of the people reading this say huh, really, Carolina? No matter how good a team looks, or how dominant they can look while pounding on a tomato can, everyone's just an injury or two away from a ruined year. And this is the time of the year when guys usually start dropping like flies.

It makes a man wonder, honestly, if there will ever be a true rebuilding effort again, especially with more and more young QBs being pro-ready from advanced college systems. After the triumvirate of Andrew Luck, Bob Griffin and Russell Wilson, no one wants to put up with a year or two of waiting/growth, and the idea of apprenticing with a clipboard is downright adorable in its naivete. There is no reason for Ram Fan to wonder about the future with Sam Bradford, or Viking Fan with Christian Ponder, or Dolphin Fan with Ryan Tannenhill, or Browns Fan with Brandon Weeden, or Jaguar Fan with Blaine Gabbert, or Titan Fan with Jake Locker. It's all over for all of them; they will be replaced and remanded, never to get the Serious Shot at the big chair again. And maybe it's not fair, and maybe someone would have had a quality career had he just gotten another 6 to 10 games with an extra weapon or lineman...

But, well, there's thing fair about pro football, and there isn't another position on the field where you get to be below league average for very long and keep the gig, regardless of when you were drafted, or what you did in college. This isn't baseball, where the lefty starting pitcher figures it all out in year four and has a ten-year career with many trips to the All Star Game and playoffs. In year four, you've either made the playoffs or you've made the bench.

So there's six weeks left to go, any number of teams that could turn the switch, and top teams that either aren't playing to earlier levels (Denver), have injury and road issues (Seattle), and might be just taking advantage of an easy schedule (Kansas City, Carolina, New England). Plenty of time left to do something big with the year, really. But not, alas, with the won-loss record. Despite being on the money side twice in the last three weeks.

And with that... on to the picks!

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INDIANAPOLIS (-3) at Tennessee

Wow, what an epic turdburger the Colts cooked up last week in St. Louis. From the opening turnover TAInt to the big yardage and red zone mistakes done all damned day by QB Andrew Luck, this was just a year's worth of bad all rolled up into one game. They single-handedly made WR Tayvon Austin professionally relevant, might have convinced Ram Fan that RB Zac Stacy is the real deal, and that hope may not be misplaced despite a a clear void at the QB position.

This week, they go play the suddenly schizo Titans, who are employing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to remind everyone why teams should not employ Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Colts are missing WR Reggie Wayne something fierce, but in a classic see-saw game, give me Luck to run away from the pass rush often enough to cover the number.

Colts 26, Titans 20

NY JETS (pick'em) at Buffalo


Is Bills QB EJ Manuel still hurt? He certainly played like it last week against the usually pliant Steelers, and RB CJ Spiller has been straight up murdering anyone with an interest in his career all year. Combine this with the recurring injury woes of WR1 Stevie Johnson, and this is just looking like one of those games where the Bills will only score with a short field, and won't get to 250 yards of total offense for the day. It's not as if the Jets are going to be a lot better, and if QB Geno Smith is in a giving mood, they could still blow this spot... but it's not as if the Bills are airtight on turnovers, either. We should flex this game to Thursday to make sure it's horrible.

Jets 20, Bills 13

Baltimore at CHICAGO (-3)


I give up, Baltimore. RB Ray Rice is moving like a dead man, your defense is gutless, you have one good WR and your QB will ride off his hot playoff month for the next decade. And yet you still win last week after your secondary decides to defend a Hail Mary as if everyone was on offense. This week, they go to Chicago to play the surprised Bears, who are still wondering how they didn't get past the Lions at home, with an early lead and a late comeback. They should win easily, even though this defense is so secretly beaten up, even Rice might show a pulse.

Bears 24, Ravens 16

CLEVELAND (+5.5) at Cincinnati


I should probably stay with the Bengals here and the home field, rather than ride the whipsaw, but this number just seems too high to me. There really weren't many worse players for any NFL team to lose than DT Geno Atkins, and while they've been getting good efforts so far, I just don't think it's going to last. Or, at the very least, cover. Plus, CB Joe Haden is good enough to make WR AJ Green less than utterly dominant, and that's not a good sign for the Bengal offense at all.

Bengals 24, Browns 20

Washington at PHILADELPHIA (-3.5)


The Eagles' home losing streak has to end sometime, right? Let's see it happen against a DC club that is just historically bad in the secondary, and man alive, is that not what you want to be against WR DeSean Jackson after two weeks when he hasn't been WR1. The defense has been doing good work in the red zone especially, getting a little lucky in special teams (kickers can miss against my laundry -- who knew?), and clearly aren't phased by the time of possession problem just yet. (Oh, and a small note to everyone who wants to talk about that... can we count, instead, the number of plays that a team runs? Because defending two plays in 30 seconds seems like it would be a lot harder on a defense than defending one.)

For extra fun, when DC has the ball, watch to see who gets WR Pierre Garcon, AKA their only NFL-caliber end. If I'm HC Chip Kelly, I send CB Brandon Boykin at him, but the money and rep says he'll go with CB Cary Williams. I'd rather win games than pay off a rep. And I think he wants a home win enough to make that move, and a host of others; after de-pantsing Mike Shanhan in Week One, he's going to know he's got to come up with something new to do it again.

Eagles 34, Washington 20

DETROIT (-2.5) at Pittsburgh


Not getting this line at all. Detroit is trying to lock down a better division than the one the Steelers are playing in, and have the best WR of their generation to go with a defense that has talent, it not discipline. Pittsburgh is ducking questions about their QB wanting to move on, and their secondary being too old to say with a plus passing game. I get that Heinz Field is a tough place to play and that the Lions aren't all that good, but they'll have enough to handle Yinz City.

Lions 27, Steelers 20

ATLANTA (-1) at Tampa


The Bucs Got Their Win! The Bucs Got Their Win! At home, on a Monday, against a team that dropped 40% of their starting OL to asshattery. This week, they host a Falcons team that just won't stop disappointing, mostly because they were never as good as they looked before, and now all of the good offensive players are hurt. Ah, but that's the rub, in that Tamps is done to 4th string RB, stiff rookie QB, and one good WR. This will be the football equivalent of cleaning a median, but eventually, Falcons QB Matt Ryan will help them pull away.

Falcons 27, Bucs 16

ARIZONA (-7) at Jacksonville


The Jags Got Their Win! The Jags Got Their Win! And, um, who the hell cares. Because they did it with fluky plays on defense, short fields for scores, and a lackluster running game that tells me that they aren't going to do that again any time soon. Arizona has a strong running game whenever they don't bother with RB Rashard Mendenhall, enough weapons in the passing game to convert in the red zone, and the good fortune to be playing a terrible team that's no longer desperate to win a game. Won't be pretty.

Cardinals 31, Jaguars 17

Oakland at HOUSTON (-7)


Hate the big number here, but QB Terrell Pryor playing gimpy is all kinds of trouble for a limited Raider offense, and QB Casey Keenum is going to do some things int he deep game. Oh, and Texans HC Gary Kubiak is coming back to coach this game, and that kind of Coach Aint' Dead mojo is usually worth 10 points or more in hustle plays.

Texans 31, Raiders 20

SAN DIEGO (-1) at Miami


Honestly, this isn't a moral thing, but I may not pick Miami to cover the spread in any game in the rest of their Go Away Schedule. Everybody knows the coach is DOA, that the organization is going to razed to the ground, and that they'll be lucky to escape deposition as soon as IncognitoGate gets in front of a jury. Even if the Dolphins were well coached -- and no, they are not -- they would not be able to focus past the train wreck. Look for the Chargers to start out running the ball, and for once, keep doing it.

Chargers 27, Dolphins 17

San Francisco at NEW ORLEANS (-3)


How many teams do the Saints have to stomp a mudhole into at home to convince you? I'm sold after nearly 2/3 of a thousand yards on offense, and the shocking development that RB Mark Ingram might not be completely useless. As for the Niners, the defense isn't as good as people think, and this offense is secretly sad. The Saints are starting to look like a #1 seed to me.

Saints 27, Niners 17

GREEN BAY (+5.5) at NY Giants


Big game for the Pack, who need to get a win to avoid sliding out of the playoff picture, and the Giants ares still hanging out at the periphery of a playoff race. But QB Eli Manning is still throwing TAInts, the Pack will be able to run the ball and move the sticks more than you might expect, and this number just strikes me as too big. Just like last week against the Raiders.

Giants 24, Packers 20

Minnesota at SEATTLE (-12)


WR Percy Harvin comes back just in time to see his old laundry, as if the Seahawks needed a fresh weapon to take care of this sad Viking club. Look for QB Tavaris Jackson to get garbage time, and the Seahawks to look like a top seed. It's not as if this is hard to do against the Vikes.

Seahawks 34, Vikings 10

KANSAS CITY (+8) at Denver


Just too big of a number. Yes, the Chiefs are paper tigers; yes, this offense doesn't have any plays of over 15 yards in them, especially with WR Dwayne Bowe coming off a pot arrest. But this is still Andy Reid off a bye, against a Broncos team that could not get off the field last week against the middling Charger running game, with QB Peyton Manning possibly hampered by injury. The way the Chiefs year is going, Manning will come up lame on the first snap from center.

Broncos 28, Chiefs 24

NEW ENGLAND (+1.5) at Carolina


If the coaches were swapped, I'd be happy with the Panthers +10... but, well, they aren't, and this game just has Belichick Mojo all over it, especially coming off a bye. HC Ron Rivera just inspires such, um, confidence. (And the fact that it took them all day to put away a Niner offense that was bereft of weapons and clue last week is also not a great sign.) Look for the Patriots to move the chains early in the passing game, and late on the ground.

Patriots 27, Panthers 24

Last week: 8-6

Year: 63-69-5

Career: 433-441-4

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