Thursday, December 19, 2013

Week 16 NFL Picks: Run Through The Tape

Like This, Only Without Triumph
I've never been the kind of fan that's OK when my team loses, even when it seemingly makes sense for their long-term development. The differences between draft picks can be stark and unforgiving, but they can also keep you from overhyped twerps who never pan our, or ensure that you get get the smaller / slower / smarter guy who is actually much better at, you know, playing football. Seattle won enough games to have no shot at Ryan Tannenhill, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler in the 2012 draft, and that just meant that they wound up paying Russell Wilson less money and feasting on his draft slight motivation. Even in fantasy, I'm the kind of moron that wants to finish seventh rather than tenth, and will fist pump when his kicker (Justin Tucker!) has the game for the ages that helps make these minor dreams achievable. It is, I dare say, the right way to be, even if the right way to be means you spend a ton of time behaving like a chump.

So it goes in the pickery, where the dream of getting back to .500 would be so much closer if it weren't for things like last week's garbage time work by the Panthers and Cardinals, who left the back door open to turn what should have been a much better week into meh. But the goal of being a guy who just loses on the vig is alive.

And with that... on to the picks!

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MIAMI (-3) at Buffalo

It should matter more that EJ Manuel and Stevie Johnson are both likely to miss this game; the former with yet another injury, and the latter due to the tragic loss of his mother. But the plain and simple is that Thad Lewis and Robert Woods might produce similar or better numbers, since they both have earlier this year. Still, you have to give the Fish the edge from the depth loss, along with the fact that they bested the not so very mighty Patriots last week to put themselves in contention for, well, even the division. Such is the impossible to figure AFC this year. Buffalo will look like the better team for big chunks of this game, and home field in December is not to be denied in this series. Oh, and the weather is supposed to be in the low 40s, raining, with 25 mph winds. So look for ugly, but also look for the team that cares more to win it.

Dolphins 16, Bills 12

Minnesota at CINCINNATI (-7)

The Vikes come in after a home upset, probably will get back RB Adrian Peterson, and face a Bengals team that got slapped hard by the Steelers when they could have put themselves in the chase for a first round bye. But it's hard to see how they'll get strong QB play on the road, in the elements, against a Bengals secondary that probably won't have four starters lost to injury. Their own backfield is still beat up, and against the Bengal WRs, one of the best units in the NFL, that's a problem. Besides, getting that 2nd seed means you avoid the Ravens, in all likelihood, in Round 1... and that's something the Bengals have to want to avoid.

Bengals 34, Vikings 20

Indianapolis at KANSAS CITY (+7)

Theoretically, both teams have something to play for. Kansas City needs to win out and have Denver stumble to vault from 5 to 1 in the AFC standings. The Colts are have a chance at a bye if Cincy and the Pats stumble, and in the AFC this year, stumbling is the rule, rather than the exception. But this Colts team is secretly terrible, just 4-5 outside of their pancake division, and only +19 in points differential. On the road against a Chiefs team that has put the hammer down on crud teams all year, they aren't winning, or covering. I can't wait to bet against them as a home underdog on Wild Card Weekend.

Chiefs 34, Colts 20

TAMPA (+5) at St. Louis

This Rams team has weeks where it looks like they've turned the corner on defense and have a strong running game... but even when they do that, they are surprisingly close to disaster. In last week's win at home against the Saints, they win by 10, but benefit from two misses from finally released Saints K Garrett Hartley, which means that even in their best win of their year, they weren't that far from spitting the bit. Against a Bucs' team that has always defended the run fairly well, and don't tend to turn the ball over, they'll play this game too tight to justify the spread.

Rams 24, Bucs 23

CLEVELAND (+2.5) at NY Jets

Do the Jets care enough to make yet another effort in meaningless games to try to keep Rex Ryan? For the sake of their fans, you'd like to hope not, and otherwise, this game is as random as it comes. I like the road team because I think they are less likely to give the game away on turnovers, and because WR Josh Gordon's recent run of stat dominance has to find itself on the winning side of a game once or twice, if only by accident. Oh, and the early forecast calls for temps in the mid '60s, with winds gusting to 22, and the chance of thunderstorms. Three days before Christmas. God is not amused with what we've done with the planet, or what the Jets do to the eyes.

Browns 22, Jets 15

DALLAS (-2.5) at Washington

WR Dez Bryant wore a mic for last week, which makes all the sense in the world, doesn't it? And in the video, we learned that Dez is superstitious, likes to yell like a pro wrestler, has about 50 yards in his vocabulary, curses as much as you might expect, and stays silent when he leaves the field early. All in all, disappointing; I was so hoping for crying, blubbering, and other evidence that he's got more than a little un-medicated retarded tween in him. As always, football players should be seen and not heard.

But back to the game at hand, the case study of why NFL fans should never wish for hands-on ownership... does God love us enough to give us a SNF game that's a possible division clincher? Probably not, given the utter circus that's going on in the District. Usually this game is too bitter of a rivalry to make the records matter that much, and the Dallas defense is just historically bad... but so is DC's, and Dallas is the only team on the field with actual NFL starting level talent at WR. Look for Dallas to bounce back from their horrifying loss -- they are good at that sort of thing, honestly, it's part and parcel of being a .500 team that keeps sucking their battered spouse fan base back in -- and for the terrible weather to help, since it will keep QB Tony Romo from checking into more disaster INTs with a lead. Oh, and neither is going to, or can, tackle worth a damn. It will be close enough to keep the crowd shots from being an utter embarrassment, at least.

Cowboys 34, Washington 27

New Orleans at CAROLINA (-3)

I feel like such a sucker in this pick. I feel like the Saints have been playing possum for the better part of a month, and will race out to a 24-point lead by the second quarter, with TE Jimmy Graham suddenly hale and hearty and QB Cam Newton going back to 2012's sulk and turnover routine, with the Panthers then making a too little too late comeback. But then there's what your eyes have been telling you, and, well, Carolina's just been better for much of the year, and the Saints are 3-4 on the road, while Carolina is 6-1 at home. And the weather looks like the same warm rain and wind that the rest of the Eastern seaboard is going to get, and that can't be good for the Saints' air-dependent offense. It hasn't been a good final month for Saints Fan.

Panthers 24, Saints 19

Tennessee at JACKSONVILLE (+5.5)

Do we really need to have to think about these teams? Well, I suppose, but man alive, I'd like not to. The fact that someone out there is going to make money in fantasy from the efforts of anyone involved in this game is reason enough to hate the fake game. Anyway, give me the home team with the coach that seems to still have his team caring, and if you choose to watch this game, seek help.

Jaguars 24, Titans 20

DENVER (-10.5) at Houston

If you can find any evidence that anyone in Houston is still trying, you are better than me. At least they'll get a good QB prospect out of this year. Look for Bronco Fan (and, let's face it, Colt Fan who never stopped being Manning Fan) to fill the stands in one of the worst cities in America, and for the Bronco defense to delude themselves into thinking they are rounding into shape just in time for the playoffs. (They aren't, but hey, it's pretty to think so.) Peyton Manning's stat season for the ages continues. Oh, and Texan Fan gets one more chance to boo the hell out of Matt Schaub, since Case Keenum is hurt. That'll be fun.

Broncos 41, Texans 20

NY Giants at DETROIT (-9.5)

Could the Giants be having such a poor year that they'd think about a new QB? Probably not, but if I were a fan of this laundry, I wouldn't mind seeing some snaps in Garbage Time this year go to rookie Ryan Nassib, the relatively intriguing draft pick from Syracuse who honestly can't do a worse job than Eli Manning and his 16/25 TD to INT ratio this season. Eli doesn't seem old at 32, and he's certainly been as durable as any QB in the NFL during his career, but the 36 sacks -- most in his career, with two games still to go -- do not speak to a man that needs more snaps right now.

This week, NY gets a Detroit team that lost at home despite not giving up a touchdown, on a 61-yard figgie in the final minute, with their own QB turning into a turnover machine. The Lions have something to play for, vastly superior talent on both sides of the ball, and might outscore the Giants on defense. Especially if Big Blue can't run the ball, and outside of blizzards, people haven't ran well on Detroit this year. I'm predicting ugliness here.

Lions 34, Giants 13

Arizona at SEATTLE (-10.5)

It's the special doom for the Cardinals that if the Panthers beat the Saints, the Seahawks will still need this game to clinch home field... because HC Pete Carroll has shown a past history of calling off the dogs in games he does not need, or when he's got a big lead. But since the Panthers are going to win at home, so will the Seahawks, who might cover the spread with their backups at home anyway, given how well they play there. Arizona has had a fun year and would be more than good enough to win half of the divisions in the NFL (AFC East, NFC East, NFC North, AFC South), but they've got the bad fortune of being in the hands-down best division in football. And in visiting Seattle, they're going to run into their old turnover issues and have all kinds of short field problems.

Seahawks 31, Cardinals 17

Pittsburgh at GREEN BAY (-7)

The official end of hope for a Steeler team that was just all kinds of snakebit this year, and a continuing run of luck for the Pack that's starting to look Team Of Destiny-ish. Imagine Green Bay at home for, say, a reeling Saints team, with QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Randall Cobb spring-fresh, with the entire team riding the momentum of the absolute gift win against Dallas. They'd win and advance, then go take on the Panthers in their first playoff game under Cam Newton, which has got all kinds of Too Soon to it, right? (I'm seeing the Niners wipe out the NFC East survivor, by the way.) Then, they go to Seattle or even host a game against San Francisco, and the possibility that whoever wins *that* game is going to be just too decimated to advance. It's all reading out like a Giants Beat Patriots level run, isn't it?

Anyway, back to this game. Green Bay doesn't lose at home, Pittsburgh probably won't have anything to play for by 4pm, and I really do expect Rodgers and Cobb to show up like nothing's happened in the last three months. Which means that WR Jordy Nelson is going to go back to being a dominant WR1, and the Pack just became downright intriguing. Remember, it's not who is best all year, just who is best late...

Packers 31, Steelers 20

Oakland at SAN DIEGO (-10)

Remember earlier this year, when the Raiders smacked San Diego around in that middle of the night game and Terrelle Pryor looked like an NFL starter? The Chargers sure do, since that game is likely to keep them out of the playoffs, and they wants revenge. Against a secondary that's made Nick Foles and Alex Smith look like the best QBs in their generation for completing screen passes to RBs, I'm expecting a Charger rout, with all kinds of statty goodness for QB Philip Rivers, your secret fantasy QB MVP. I hate fantasy.

Chargers 38, Raiders 24

New England at BALTIMORE (-1)

Could the Patriots really fall all the way out of the playoff picture? It's still possible -- Miami and Baltimore have to win out, and they have to lose both -- but as they still have the utter gift of a Week 17 home game against the Bills, this game has the feel of a Not Gonna Try Real Hard moment for Brady and Company. And even if they were trying, this offense is middling and does not travel well, especially not with the bad weather likely this weekend.

I'll take the Ravens, who are kind of the AFC version of Green Bay... the team that's peaking at the right time and have all of that winning post-season experience to be afraid of. Oh, and there's also this... the Ravens are better on defense than they were a year ago, mostly because they don't have fossils at MLB and SS any more. That matters a lot in a game like this one. (Oh, and this is the week that K Justin Tucker finally misses. From 55, at the end of the half, into a 25 mph cross-wind, by a foot. Dude is amazing.)

Ravens 23, Patriots 20

CHICAGO (+2.5) at Philadelphia

There's really no good reason to pick my laundry this week. They get a resurgent Bears team that might have the best pair of WRs in the NFC, in a week where there isn't a good or healthy safety on the roster... and, um, the CBs might be worse. The smoke and mirrors defense got exposed last week by a QB and RB that isn't NFL caliber; this week, they play one of the best in Matt Forte, and the quixotic but talented Jay Cutler. Oh, and if Dallas wins their 1pm game, this one won't mean anything, and head coach Chip Kelly might be *highly* tempted to make sure that RB LeSean McCoy is good and rested for Dallas next week. As bad as the Bears are at stopping the run, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk aren't getting you a win in a game where your defense is going to give up 30+ points, to a team that needs the game when you do not. (Oh, and there's also this... the Eagles' home-field advantage, in a night game that does not matter, in miserable rain and wind, in a stadium they've spent much of the last two years looking like road kill? Will not exist.) It's all coming down to Dallas, as we've known for a long time, really. My preseason prediction of 8-8 is looking unfortunately good.

Bears 34, Eagles 30

Atlanta at SAN FRANCISCO (-12.5)

Wow, does ESPN need to get a flex deal written in their contract. This dog squash game of the week will be the last game ever played at Candlestick, and if you believe the horror stories told about Santa Clara's night parking issues, the last MNF game for the Niners for a very long time. I don't know about you, but I kind of like the idea of a team getting penalized for a new yard; it's novel, at least. As for this game, Atlanta has nothing to play for, stinks on slow road tracks, and San Francisco might need the game. Look for the defense to give them short fields early, the running game to pound it away late, and the telecast to be switched off by anyone who doesn't have fantasy interest by 11pm EST.

Last week: 8-7-1

Season: 100-107-9

Career: 468-479-38

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