Thursday, December 5, 2013

NFL Week 14 Picks: In Defense Of People Who Are No Longer Paying Attention

Never Give A Jets Fan An Even Break
One of the ways in which the NFL has managed to take over the world (or, at least, the portion of the world that NFL fans care about) is that there is no portion of the NFL season that people well, ignore. Baseball has its late July, basketball has much of February, college basketball has everything before February, really. Even college football has that curious month-off head-scratcher moment to make sure that all of the teams are rusty as hell before the bowl games. But the NFL, with its unshakable combo of 6%+ of the season happening in usually 60 minutes of field time, with all of that concentrated in a single game... well, no one every takes a week off. Even when your club is on a bye, you are watching to see what happens in your division, your fantasy team, the seeding, and so on, and so on.

And, well, we probably shouldn't. And hey -- plenty of people have checked out. Aaron Hernandez, currently in a jail cell in Massachusetts, not employed by an NFL team since August? Started in 0.3% of ESPN fantasy leagues. Jermichael Finley, concussed since October with a career threatening injury? Nearly 15%. Michael Crabtree, probably the #1 WR for a playoff-bound Niner team? Unowned in 78% of leagues. And thank heaven those people exist, otherwise I'd probably finish last in my league and feel even worse about the hobby. Do the math: 2/3rds of the people who play fantasy football don't want to be reminded about it right now, because it's the betting equivalent of having someone rub your nose in fertilizer.

Want to go beyond nerdery? Half of the teams in the NFL live in the AFC, where five out of six spots are pretty much set in stone, and the sixth spot Will Not Matter. In the NFC, it's really looking like a bunch of teams who are competing for the privilege of getting pancaked by the Seahawks. There's a very real chance that nothing that happens this week will have any impact past Wild Card Weekend.

But we will, of course, watch... because even in the grisliest game between going nowhere teams, Josh Gordon might catch 250 yards of footballs, Adrian Peterson could crush a team between his inhuman thighs, and Geno Smith might redefine slapstick comedy as we know it, through the simple execution of throwing a football 20 yards away from an open WR. Seriously, how bad do you have to be to make QB play look worse than the Sanchize Era? And how much more fun have the Jets been to have those two era-shattering machines of tragicomedy taking the snaps, rather than some forgettable game manager that would have gotten them the first-round playoff beatdown they so desperately crave?

Here in the Greater Philadelphia region, we're still trying to come to grips with the fact that games when it's cold can matter again, and that we really should be rooting against the wild card leaders, even though the idea of two playoff teams from the NFC Least seems sacrilege. That's all Old Thinking, since the North is now worse so long as Aaron Rodgers is spectating and the Bear defense is bereft of healthy and good players... but we've been watching this season hard ad all. The idea that the games now have next to nothing to do with the games in September and October just seems wrong. Even though, well, they are not.

Which makes all of those past weeks of bad picks a case of bygones, right? Right. And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Houston at JACKSONVILLE (+3)

Don't look now, but the Jags, under rookie coach Gus Bradley, might be the best team in their division. No, seriously. Winners of three of their last four, defense seeming a wee bit frisky, RB Maurice Jones-Drew getting some reasonable all-around yards, and the team running into teams that have stopped trying. That describes the Texans, and any number of Terrible Night Football games, but take heart, Texans Fans... after three months of fan behavior that would lead the national media if anyone cared about bad behavior in Texas, you're going to lose your way into a top tier QB. Karma is a bitch. That does not exist.

Jaguars 24, Texans 20

Indianapolis at CINCINNATI (-6)


Hail to the Bengals, who have single-handedly kept the AFC North from becoming another comedy division by stiffening up on defense, limiting the amount of damage that streak-prone QB Andy Dalton can do, and won the coin flip games en route to a commanding lead in the division. This is not a coin flip game, because the Colts employ blocking sleds where an offensive line should be, and have more or less looked like lost little boys without WR Reggie Wayne. On the road, in the cold, against a team with a snarl, they are going to go down, and go down hard.

Bengals 27, Colts 17

Atlanta at GREEN BAY (-7)


I have to make this pick 3.5 days before game time, which is downright silly, since the line could easily move 3 to 4 points if QB Aaron Rodgers defies the injury reports and gets back in the lineup. Atlanta can definitely win if punchless Matt Flynn is back under center, the weather isn't bad, and WR Roddy White and RB Stephen Jackson's mirage game in the Toronto dome last week wasn't, well, a mirage. Too many ifs, and I have a hard time imagining Rodgers not bribing a half dozen guys to get in the game. And once he's in, he'll find opportunities be Quite Abundant against the weak Falcon secondary, and weaker pass rush. In the end analysis, I think Rodgers plays, so I'm taking the Pack.

Packers 31, Falcons 20

Cleveland at NEW ENGLAND (-13)


Another huge line for a Pats team that seems to get off on confounding the betting public, but as the Brownies are now on QBs that absolutely no one wants to see play, I'm going to have to lay the big line and hope. At least the Pats seems like they have an offense again.

Pats 27, Browns 10

OAKLAND (+2.5) at NY Jets


The only thing worse than having to pick this game would be having to watch it. I'll take the Raiders on more rest (remember, they blew a lead to Dallas on Thanksgiving Day) and having a QB that doesn't make you reconsider becoming a fan of another sport. Or blindness. Oh, and kudos to the Raiders for moving on to the next stage of RB Darren McFadden's career, where they injure him in practice, rather than waiting for the games. If only they had taken this step years ago, I could have sucked a little less in fantasy.

Raiders 20, Jets 12

DETROIT (+2.5) at Philadelphia


The road Lions are never a good bet, but my Eagles are running well in the red on luck right now. Between QB Nick Foles using his Get Out Of INT card in crunch time, to the team enjoying the best health in recent years, to the secondary getting away with clear DPI to close out a game... well, it's got to end sometime, right? And Detroit can beat anyone if they take care of the ball, and sometimes even when they don't. In the end, this one comes down to QB Matt Stafford being just a wee bit better than we'd like him to be, and the defense not being able to stop Megatron late.

Lions 27, Eagles 24

Miami at PITTSBURGH (-3)


Pure home field game, and extra rest, and the Steeler defense knowing what to do against a team starting street meat on the OL. The fact that the winner of this game will have momentum to get into the playoffs, and a reasonable chance of pulling off an upset against the always beatable Bengals, is proof enough that we should stop watching the AFC.

Steelers 27, Dolphins 20

Buffalo at TAMPA BAY (-3)


Pity poor Bills QB EJ Manuel, who had a fine win to add to his rookie resume, only to see WR Stevie Johnson and TE Scott Chandler put the ball on the ground in consecutive killshot drives. This week, they've got bounce-back potential, but Tampa's a rough place to play if you aren't used to heat in December, and the Bucs no longer suck. Pity, that. On many levels.

Bucs 23, Bills 13

KANSAS CITY (-3) at Washington


I don't get this line at all. Are we really ready to expect the Chiefs to lose their fourth in a row against a DC team that has nothing to play for, a historically awful secondary, and a coaching situation that seems to be circling the drain? Even their home field holds no terror, as DC Fan has long ago succumbed to the negativity that is life in a reality where Daniel Snyder is your owner. Andy Reid has generally owned DC over the years, too.

Oh, and if you really think that the future is still bright for this franchise so long as Bob Griffin is your QB, three questions... 1) Why do you think he's going to get healthier, and 2) What free agents are coming to Life With Snyder, and if not them, 3) how are you going to rebuild via the draft, when the Rams have all your picks? Last year was the high-water mark, you mooks. And will be until Snyder's dead and burned.

Chiefs 34, Washington 20

Minnesota at BALTIMORE (-7)


Just not seeing RB Adrian Peterson carrying the mail for another 150+ this week, especially since the Ravens are starting to see themselves in that One Hot Month And Everyone's Scared Of Us Again mode. I'm also expecting bad weather and Leslie Frazier being an idiot, which both seem like reasonable bets, really.

Ravens 23, Vikings 14

Tennessee at DENVER (-13)


This game has back door cover written all over... nothing, because QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is just the kind of turnover machine that could blow the game right out of the water early with short fields. And unlike earlier months, the Broncos look like they have finally figured out the Salt It Away Running Game, with rookie RB Montee Ball looking like the guy who wore his jersey in college. Also, QB Peyton Manning really wants to own the single-season TD record again, along with his traditional late-season rest game.

Broncos 45, Titans 24

St Louis at ARIZONA (-6)


Second straight week on the road against a nasty defense won't do much for the Rams' spirits, especially against a Cards' team that lost its path to the playoffs last week in a road game they really should have won. This one will be a good game for fans of dirt after the whistle, since it's a division game between two teams with actual defenses, but the Cards' weapons will eventually get separation.

Cardinals 26, Rams 17

NY Giants at SAN DIEGO (-3)


Coming out game for Charger TE LaDarius Green, a physical freak who has started to make the deep inner ball a thing again for Charger QB Philip Rivers. Against a Giants team that does not get consistent push from the DL or good work from the safetys, I see him breaking loose for triple figures and much highlight time, with the Charger running game delivering the coup de grace. There's also the fact that, well, the Giants are a pretty terrible football team, with a prematurely aging QB making way too many mistakes for comfort. (Shh. We want Big Blue to keep him for a good long obsolescence and excuse period.)

Chargers 31, Giants 20

SEATTLE (+2.5) at San Francisco


I haven't gotten a ton of things right this NFL season when it comes to prediction and fantasy work, but there is one thing I absolutely crushed: the sky-high value of Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Last week's immolation of the Saints at home showed just what he could do with his starting tackles back on the field, and his numbers in a run-first offense are just startling. Combine his wheels with his phenomenal deep ball accuracy, his eminently catchable ball (never harder than it has to be, and the Seahawks' ordinary WRs have dramatically low drop rates)... and then add his low draft status and easy to take salary, and you've got a guy who helps his team win all over the damned place. This week, he'll answer the ever-decreasing number of critics with a road win over the division rivals, locking down the #1 slot for Seahawks in their increasingly chalk run to northern New Jersey. Where they will lose in weather that will make the game a coin flip, in what will later be known as Roger Goodell's most nefarious plan yet to deny Seattle happiness. He's just that nefarious, folks.

Seahawks 27, Niners 17

Carolina at NEW ORLEANS (-3.5)


You have to love how badly the Saints looked last week; they actually got the line for a SNF game in their home yard down low again. Hell of an accomplishment, really. The Panthers have had a fine year, and HC Ron Rivera has stopped losing games for them by conservative chokery, but in a speed game in a sound stage, it's not going to go well for this offense, and eventually the defense won't be able to stop the relentless Saint offense. As badly as the Seahawks showed the difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2 last week, that's what the Saints will do for Tier 2 and Tier 3.

Saints 31, Panthers 20

DALLAS (NL) at Chicago


What a pancake schedule for the 'Boys. They get the annual NFL gift of a cake home game on Thanksgiving, then go to Chicago to visit a Bears' team that's circling the drain due to injuries, and can't stop anyone on the ground any more. They also seem likely to get back ILB Sean Lee, who makes them nearly competent. At least I have the consolation of knowing that they aren't going to add to their mark of playoff wins this century. In case you are counting, that's one. And holding. If this is America's Team, America should wake up and take offense already.

Cowboys 31, Bears 24

Last week: 10-6

Season: 83-93-8

Career: 451-465-37

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