Thursday, November 13, 2014

NFL Week 11 Picks: Anticipation

Poor Sad Maniac
There's a marvelous Lewis Black routine, back when he had the fastball more often than he does now, about antici- pation, and how golfers and gamblers alike are slaves to it. The time between when we make the picks and the games are actually played is just the best, because we can see how it all might work out, how the shot will follow the line in our minds, how we'll flop the nuts and get multiple bluffers firing away, and so on, and so on.

And of course, it goes for more than gambling. Vacations are about the day or two before they actually begin. Halloween is the excitement of being in costume and getting candy, rather than the bloated nightmare of having consumed it. Thanksgiving is days off (well, it used to be, until capitalism ended it, and if you shop on Thanksgiving, please stop reading this blog and go jump off a bridge, seeing how you've already ruined what used to be the best holiday of the year) and football and food, not the days of leftovers and unfortunate relatives. Christmas is about everything under the tree when it's all wrapped and shiny, not the piles of crap it turns into later. And so on, and so on. The journey is so much better than the destination, to the point of the only sensible course is to always be on the move.

Which just sounds exhausting, of course. Unless you love the journey. And, well, I do. Especially after back to back weeks when I'm 18-8 ATS, and no longer just paying the vig for the year. Hell, one more week of this, and I can even start redeeming my entire sad history of prognostication. Happiness is in sight, kids. Lookit that purty destination!

And with that... on to the picks!

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Buffalo at MIAMI (-5.5)

Always a rough spot for the Bills, who have to take unseasonal weather, a long plane ride, a Dolphins team that just missed a major win in Detroit, and a Fin defense that might turn QB Kyle Orton into a pinata. The Bills are coming off their own defeat from the jaws of victory, having spit the bit late against the Chiefs at home.

Miami 27, Bills 17

MINNESOTA (+3) at Chicago

This isn't what gambling smart guys tell you to do, of course. Betting against a home dog with two straight 50-point blowouts, with the entire town looking to tar and feather everyone involved in the enterprise? That's the moment where bounce back happens, especially when you've got as much talent on offense as the Bears.

Except this: Minny's actually pretty good when QB Teddy Bridgewater isn't in a prone position, and the Bears aren't able to do that. And the purple defense is solid as well. Look for Bear Fan to turn toxic. Or, well, stay that way.

Vikings 30, Bears 24

Houston at CLEVELAND (-3)

Time to start taking the Browns seriously? Sure, now that RB Terrance West is giving shape to the RBBC, and the OL might be getting past the crippling loss of stalwart C Alex Mack. The defense has been good all along, and shh... WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron might show up and make the passing game tolerable, too. They are going to win the AFC North, and only partly because of the schedule. (Also, I'm really liking the opportunity to bet against new QB Ryan Malett in his first start, on the road, in front of a Cleveland crowd that's wide eyed and throaty in their first taste of real prosperity. Shame it's going to end in a first round playoff loss.)

Browns 26, Texans 17

SEATTLE (+1) at Kansas City

Gut check time for the Seahawks, who need a real road win in the worst way if they still harbor the dream of catching up with the Cardinals and making people come to their crib on the way to the Super Bowl. As for the Chiefs, they have a real home field edge, and a defense that might well and truly throttle the pedestrian Seahawks attack... but eventually RB Marshawn Lynch makes guys flinch. The game of the week if you like offensive players getting hurt.

Seahawks 24, Chiefs 20

Atlanta at CAROLINA (-1.5)

Does someone have to win the NFC South? Both of these clubs say no, and in a game that should count as community service, I like the Panthers to bounce back with a pass rush. Woof.

Panthers 20, Falcons 16

CINCINNATI (+7) at New Orleans

When last we left the Bengals, QB Andy Dalton was playing one of the worst games of his life in a desultory home loss to the Browns. He's going to lose again this week, but it's going to be a lot closer, because the Saints can't defend, and he'll have two useful RBs, instead of one. Also, the Saints are just meh.

Saints 31, Bengals 27

Tampa at WASHINGTON (-7)

A lot of points to float for the Slurs, but the Bucs rival the Bears for sheer excellence in quitting, especially on the road. QB Bob Griffin the Whatevs looked good before the bye in Minny, and his WRs are going to put up pinball numbers against the improv act that draws paychecks from Big Pewter. Remember, the first rule of improv is "Yes, And."

Slurs 34, Bucs 20

DENVER (-9.5) at St. Louis

Tempted to take the home dog to cover after their invigorating win in SF, not to mention their lead and fade act last week in Arizona? Well, um, no, because they just aren't that good, and the Broncos are the new secret America's Team of travelers, with a whole host of Peyton Manning loyalists making the run from Indy. The Rams are going to QB Whatever Sean Hill, count on Kenny Britt to be their best WR, think Tayvon Austin is more than a draft bust, and go RBBC when they have one decent back (Tre Mason). It's nice that they've found a pass rush again and all, but you need a whole lot more than that to stop this machine. Especially when Hill turns it over due to rust and pressure.

Broncos 45, Rams 20

San Francisco at NY GIANTS (+4)

Is there hope for Blue to turn around its year and close with something approaching honor? Well, for 2.5 quarters in Seattle last week, sure... but then the run defense went into the fetal position, and WR Odell Beckham's shoulders broke under the strain of carrying an offense. There's talent here, and the Niners are not exactly reliable or a road juggernaut. They are also going to miss LB Patrick Willis something terrible, and QB Colin Kaepernick isn't accurate enough to sustain patient winning football. I like Blue to pick up a quality win here, especially with full-service RB Rashad Jennings ready to return.

Giants 24, Niners 20

Oakland at SAN DIEGO (-10.5)

Could the Raiders go winless? It's getting closer and closer to likely, honestly. And it's not even that they are that bad (and yeah, they're bad), it's that the schedule is just brutal. Their remaining home games (just 3, thanks to the London problem) are the Chiefs, Niners and Bills, and they are on the road for this game, the Rams, Chiefs and Broncos. It's hard to see them being favored in any of their games, and I suspect less than half of them are going to fewer than a touchdown.

So will the Chargers come in sleeping on this, and let the Raides sniff a win and cover? Unlikely. This was just a 3-point win for the Chargers five weeks ago, and the Chargers come in off a bye, with their last outing as that 37-0 de-pantsing in Miami, the third loss in a row after a 5-1 start. With RB Ryan Mathews back in the fold, a week of rest, and all kinds of motivation, they'll hunt. A lot. Poor Raiders.

Chargers 34, Raiders 16

PHILADELPHIA (+6) at Green Bay

A marquee matchup between two teams that have appeared to be at the top of the NFC food chain, but with absolutely no margin for error. The Eagles are the current #3 seed, but have two games against Dallas that will decide the NFC East... and unless they pretty much run the table, including this game, they could easily be on the road for every playoff game. Green Bay doesn't even qualify for the playoffs if the season ends today, thanks to the absurdly hot start that the Lions have had. So both teams need the game, are healthy, and come in on nearly equal rest and relative bye weeks.

Green Bay is probably better, due to one simple fact: they score touchdowns in the red zone. I'm also legitimately terrified of what WR Jordy Nelson will do to CB Cary Williams, who is becomingly increasingly exposed as the weak point in what has been a very good defense. Green is definitely better on special teams, and is putting together a damned near historic year on those plays. Yellow's defense isn't that impressive, unless LB Clay Matthews moving to the middle really is the only thing holding them back from greatness. And then there's the matter at QB, where Aaron Rodgers... well, wipes the floor with Mark Sanchez.

So why take Green to cover? The number is just too high. Green now has the second most sacks in the NFL, and when you can get to Rodgers, good things can happen... and Yellow's OL is beat up. Yellow's defense, particularly on the ground, can be had. The special teams might swing a play. And Green hasn't been out of a game at any point this year. I still think the home team wins, but it's going to the wire.

Packers 34, Eagles 30

DETROIT (+2) at Arizona

The other big 4pm game this week has the top two surprise seeds in the NFL meet in Arizona, where QB2 Drew Stanton will try to keep Big Red rolling against a Lions team with a big record and a healthy WR Calvin Johnson. I don't really believe in either of these teams this much, and Detroit was lucky to escape from the Dolphins last week at home... but the step down from Carson Palmer to Stanton is significant, and Red isn't making enough plays in the running game to make this a game manager kind of game. Unless CB Patrick Patterson can win his matchup against Megatron, this one is going to the road team. And, well, Patterson hasn't been that good this year.

Lions 26, Cardinals 20

NEW ENGLAND (+3) at Indianapolis

The SNF game this week has the Patriots coming off a bye and going into the Indy Dome to face the rolling Colts, ina battle of two clubs that look awfully unstoppable when up against bad defense. Both also may be better on defense than expected, with the Pats locking up WRs with Darelle Revis, and the Colts showing more of a pass rush than they have in years. The home team has even had some win out of their running game, which might be a good moment for their opponents, given how much damage QB Andrew Luck tends to do.

In a game like this, I tend to go more for the single best force, and in this one, that's TE Rob Gronkowski, currently hale and hearty and working at best in the game levels. He's going to do a lot of damage in this game, and when that happens, it usually provokes cascade failure on defensive adjustment, as QB Tom Brady then moves down the route tree and gets others in the mix. In a shootout, I also like the Pats to avoid the critical turnover, which in this game might mean any turnover.

Patriots 42, Colts 38

PITTSBURGH (-5.5) at Tennessee

If you can figure out how the Steelers go from 12 passing TDs in two games, then go into a game against one of the NFL's worst secondaries and get shut out until garbage time... well, no, you can't figure that out, because it just Makes No Sense At All. What is more predictable and disappointing is that unless this defense gets a pass rush, especially with S Troy Polamalu on the sideline, it can be pushed all over the field. And that's the hope for the Titans, who could slog their way to a win here... but they are more likely to make enough mistakes to take bigger chances, and give Black and Yellow a shot at short fields. Which would mean redemption from last week's game that clearly never happened.

Steelers 27, Titans 20

Last week: 9-4

Year to date: 75-69-2

Career: 563-569-41

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