Sunday, September 29, 2013

NFL Picks - Week 4

Season Record: 31-18

I had an ugly 9-7 record last week with huge misses with the Giants, Niners, and Steelers getting housed.  The Atlanta-Miami game met expectations, and Cincinnati showed a lot of fight, scoring 20 unanswered points on the Packers.  We’re only three weeks in, but it’s pretty clear how this season is going to go for a lot of teams. 

The good – Seattle, Denver, New Orleans
The bad – Jacksonville, NY Giants, Minnesota, Pittsburgh

Seattle and Denver look like the clear leaders of their conferences, and if New Orleans’ defense is for real, they’re definitely in the discussion.  Jacksonville is clearly the worst team in the league, the Giants are a horrible mess on both sides of the ball, Minnesota looks lost, and Pittsburgh is far removed from being a championship contender.

What will we learn this week?

Cardinals @ Bucs
Even though I’m glad to see the Freeman era end, I don’t believe Mike Glennon is the answer either.  He gets his first chance to prove me wrong today.  Both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are questionable.  Their absences would make the Bucs virtually weaponless in the passing game.  Doug Martin will be called on a lot regardless.  Arizona doesn’t put a ton of pressure on the passer (5 sacks through 3 games), so that should work well in the rookie’s favor.  The Bucs are a couple of stupid plays from being 2-1, so their 0-3 isn’t as ugly as the rest of the league’s winless teams.  I expect the Bucs defense to be stout and help the rookie not have to get into a TD matching contest.  Assuming, Jackson or Williams plays, look for Mike Sullivan to make use of Glennon’s arm with a few deep balls.  Bucs by 10.   

Ravens @ Bills
This is a big game for BaltimoreBuffalo is really beat up on defense and ranks near the bottom of the league in yards allowed despite having faced teams that haven’t exactly lit it up against other teams so far (New England 19th, Carolina 25th, and Jets 12th in yards per game).  Baltimore is near the bottom of the league in that category thanks to that stinker against the Browns and the defense and special teams scoring last week against Houston.  With Ray Rice reportedly ready to go, I’ll take the champs to win the time of possession and the battle on the scoreboard. 

Bengals @ Browns
I like the Bengals, but I don’t like that they’re without Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Reggie Nelson in this one.  Even if Terence Newman is able to handle Josh Gordon, the Bengals don’t have an answer for Jordan Cameron.  Cincinnati was able to come back with 20 unanswered points to beat Green Bay last week, and I think they’re going to need that kind of focused effort to win this one.  I’m taking Cincinnati, but I don’t feel great about it.  The favored team has won only one of the last twelve matchups between these two. 

Bears @ Lions
Chicago enters this one as the undefeated division leaders, but Detroit is a late TD at Arizona away from being 3-0 themselves.  The Lions will miss Nate Burleson, but Reggie Bush looks ready to go this week.  Look for both he and Joique Bell to see a ton of touches.  The Bears still score defensive TDs, but overall, the Lions are playing better defense so far.  Matthew Stafford has thrown 5 TDs and 2 INTs in his two home matchups against the Bears, so he hasn’t exactly imploded against the opportunistic defense.  I’ll take the home team to even things up in the division.

Giants @ Chiefs
I can’t come up with a reason to take the Giants in this one.  They can’t run the ball or protect Eli.  That’s definitely not going to get any easier against the Chiefs in Arrowhead.  To me it’s as easy as this – KC leads’ the NFL with a +9 turnover differential, and the Giants are the game’s worst at -9.  Those numbers will surely even out as the season progresses, but I don’t foresee an instant turnaround by both teams.  The Giants can’t stop the run (27th most yards per game) and were lit up by DeAngelo Williams for 120 yards on 23 carries (5.2 avg).  If they had trouble containing Williams, they’re really going to struggle with Jamaal Charles.  Look for another boring Alex Smith-led win and a lot of dirt on the back of Eli’s jersey. 

Steelers @ Vikings
Flip a coin.  Both of these teams stink so far.  Pittsburgh can’t run the ball or allow Roethlisberger to set his feet for more than two seconds.  Minnesota couldn’t hold onto a lead if it came with handles.  Both defenses are giving up far too many points.  I’m taking the Steelers simply because I believe in Ben more than Christian. 

Colts @ Jaguars
If the Colts were playing just about any other team this week, I might think they’d be in store for a letdown.  That won’t matter here, as the Colts should be able to get a good audition from Trent Richardson this week with Ahmad Bradshaw sidelined.  It will probably be boring and one of the lower scoring games of the week, but the Colts get the W. 

Seahawks @ Texans
I’m sure they’ll lose eventually, but I can’t go against the Seahawks just because they’re on the road at the Texans.  After basically walking through their week one win at Carolina, over the last 8 quarters of Seattle football, there has been no question as to who was the dominant team on the field.  Like San Francisco, Houston likes to establish the run, and aside from some Kaepernick runs, the Niners were shut down.  Schaub isn’t Kaepernick.   Houston got housed at Baltimore last week, and didn’t look dominant in beating San Diego or Tennessee.  They’ll need to be dominant against Seattle, and I can’t see it happening.  If this is going to be a special season for Seattle, they have to win games like this.  The best team in the NFL moves to 4-0.

Jets @ Titans
Jake Locker played well in a loss at Houston and shined in last week’s win against San Diego, but I don’t think he’ll be consistent enough in the passing game to beat a strong Jets defense.  New York likes to run the ball, and I think they’ll be able to do so successfully against Tennessee.  If Geno Smith can quit throwing the ball to the other team (6 INTs so far), I like New York’s chances of winning an ugly road game.

Eagles @ Broncos
After two home stinkers, how eager will the Eagles be to run the fast paced offense at Mile High?  Unless Peyton Manning just has such an un-Peyton game, I don’t see Philly having a chance.  The Broncos offense is in midseason form and is pretty much unstoppable.  Philly’s defense will be outclassed in this one.  If you like points, you should see a lot of them here.  Denver scores 40. 

Redskins @ Raiders
Washington can’t possibly lose this one right?  They’d be 0-4 heading into their bye week with a road trip to Dallas next on the schedule.  Can’t happen right?  Wrong.  If Terrelle Pryor plays, I like Oakland to win.  They got beat pretty bad on MNF against the Broncos, but the Raiders never gave up.  If RGIII gets off to another slow start, it could be too late once again.  With Washington unable to stop anyone, they can’t be eager to go up against the versatile Pryor.  The DC sports talk airwaves will be on fire Monday morning.   

Cowboys @ Chargers
This is where Dallas usually gives you a stinker – off a strong home win against a team they should beat with a chance to get some separation within the division.  The Chargers have played three three-point games, so they’re staying in ball games.  I like them to do more than stay in this one.  Philip Rivers is off to a hot start (8 TD, 1 INT), and Dallas has surrendered a combined 7 TDs to Alex Smith, Eli, and Bradford.  I think Rivers will be the better QB in this one, and the Chargers win by, yes, 3 points. 

Patriots @ Falcons
New England is a very fortunate 3-0 so far.  Both the Bills and Jets had their chances to knock them off, and the Bucs game was a lot closer than the score indicated.  Danny Amendola isn’t ready yet, and it doesn’t appear that Gronk is ready to go either.  Atlanta is 1-2 but was a last minute TD from beating a Miami team whose bandwagon everyone is stumbling over themselves to get on.  I like the Falcons to get right at home and make some big plays against the Patriots. 

Dolphins @ Saints
In what should be the season’s best MNF game so far, I believe Drew Brees and company will put up just enough points to outdo the upstart Dolphins.  He had an impressive 342 yards and 3 TDs in last week’s win over Arizona that I thought might have been setting up as a bit of a trap.  They’re rolling on defense too, holding all opponents to 17 or fewer points so far.  Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins earn more respect and fans in this one, but the Saints will be the undefeated of the two come Tuesday. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

NFL Picks - Week 4 - Thursday Edition - Will San Fran Rebound?

49ers @ Rams

Short and sweet here.  The Niners are coming off a brutal home beating by the Colts, their second loss in a row.  Jim Harbaugh’s team has not lost three games in a row under his watch.  Even without Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and Nnamdi Asomugha on defense, I have a terribly hard time seeing this team drop a third straight. 

The Rams didn’t lose to the Niners last year, beating them once and tying them in their other meeting, so another upset isn’t entirely out of the question.  But given how bad the Rams have been at putting up points the last two weeks (in non-garbage time), I can’t see them replicating what the Colts did last week.  Look for San Francisco to go with a very run heavy approach against a St. Louis team that gave up 175 yards to DeMarco Murray last week.  I’m expecting a low scoring, fairly boring Thursday contest.

Niners 24
Rams 16

Sunday, September 22, 2013

NFL Picks - Week 3

Season Record: 22-11

That KC win makes me 3-0 on Thursdays, and if I can toot my own horn even more, I’d day I was pretty accurate with how it would play out.  The entire trifecta didn’t dominate, but Justin Houston totaled a whopping 4.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 4 TFL, and 2 passes defended.  Wow!  Also, Shady did get his, and Dog Killer did in fact have multiple turnovers.  The Chiefs did slow the game and feature Charles and Smith on the ground (31 combined carries for 124 yards). 

I went 12-4 last week, and two of those losses were upset picks that I whiffed on completely (Rams @ Falcons and Giants v. Broncos).  11 of last week’s games were decided by 8 points or less, and I think you’ll see that become a trend as we continue through the season.  Here are this week’s picks:

Bucs @ Patriots
New England is fortunate to be 2-0 at this point and don’t come close to resembling the team I think they’ll be at the end of the year.  Tom Brady and his receivers are having communication issues, leading to a 36 combined points through two games.  They scored 34 in last year’s season opener at TennesseeTampa Bay is an unlucky 0-2.  After literally giving the Jets the opening week win, they crumbled in crunch time and surrendered a late game winner to the Saints.  I’m leery of the Patriots, especially against this Bucs defense, but I simply can’t count on the Bucs to win tough games as long as Josh Freeman continues to look this poor under center.  The Bucs’ defense does their job, but the Patriots win a close one late. 

Packers @ Bengals
Even considering that the home team Bengals have the better defense, I can’t see Andy Dalton matching scores with Aaron Rodgers.  Dalton should be able to make more plays against Green Bay than he did against Chicago on MNF, but I don’t think it will be enough.  Rodgers rolled through the Redskins last night and could have lit them up even more if the game wasn’t so far out of hand.  I like Cincinnati’s pass defense, but the Packers have too many options.  Rodgers will throw 4 TDs.  Expect a final total in the 60s. 

Rams @ Cowboys
I’m hoping to get a better picture of how good the Cowboys are in this game.  The helped-by-turnovers win against the Giants and the coming-up-short-late loss in KC have me conflicted.  They still can’t run the ball or protect Romo and fall short when it counts.  The Rams got behind early at Atlanta but showed a lot of fight until the final whistle.  The main question I have with them is whether or not they can score when it counts, and that should be the key in this one.  I’m rolling with Romo to put up enough points at home to earn a hard fought, close victory. 

Chargers @ Titans
This one could be interesting.  The Chargers are off a big win at Philly, and the Titans nearly toppled the Texans on the road.  Philip Rivers is off to a hot start, throwing 7 TDs through the first two games, but he’s facing a Tennessee defense that virtually shutout Pittsburgh and picked off Matt Schaub twice (one for a pick 6).  I still don’t have any confidence in Jake Locker.  We all know this is now a passing league, but through two games, Chris Johnson has as many rushing attempts as Locker has passing attempts.  Philly moved the ball on San Diego, and so did the Texans once they woke up in that opener.  I think the Titans get another solid defensive performance and just enough points out of the offense to win by 3 or less. 

Browns @ Vikings
Following the trade of Trent Richardson to Indianapolis, the Browns signed Willis McGahee to be their primary ball carrier.  Oh, and Brian Hoyer is starting at QB this week too.  The football gods could throw a wrench in this one, but everything says the Vikings should win.  The Browns have struggled to generate any offense through two games and now run up against a Vikings team seething to get a win in their home opener.  Expect at least 30 carries by MVPeterson in this one. 

Cardinals @ Saints
New Orleans is off to a hot 2-0 start after beating division rivals Atlanta and Tampa Bay in weeks one and two.  They better not look past the visiting Cardinals in this one, because Carson Palmer has 575 yards through two games as the leader of an offense capable of putting up points of their own.  I don’t think they’ll pull off the upset, but New Orleans’ defense better not get off to a slow start.  Another close one.  Saints by 6. 

Lions @ Redskins
Wow Washington’s a mess.  Will their defense show up for the first time in three games?  Will RGIII finally start using his legs?  If the Redskins want to turn this season around before it gets out of hand, they’ve got to win this one.  They’ll then have Oakland on deck before a week 5 bye.  Detroit’s defense can still be scored on, so Washington should have plenty of chances to get that first win as long as their own defense doesn’t pull another no-show.  Calvin Johnson totals 200 yards receiving in a losing effort. 

Giants @ Panthers
Speaking of 0-2, this matchup features two more teams off to disappointing starts.  A week after giveaway day in Dallas, the Giants were thoroughly embarrassed at home against the Broncos.  Week 3 is too early for “must win” games, but another loss puts both of these teams in a really bad spot.  The Panthers would head into their bye winless with two road games to follow, while the Giants would be in the basement of their division with the Chiefs, Eagles, and Bears next on the schedule.  I think the key in this one will be the Giants passing game against the beat up and not very talented Panther secondary.  David Wilson and the running game will again struggle against an improved Panthers front seven, but Victor Cruz finds the endzone twice.  Giants win by 10. 

Texans @ Ravens
These teams were headed in vastly different directions at the end of last season, and although the Texans are the undefeated of these two squads after two weeks, I think I feel better about the Ravens.  Houston needed a lot of help from San Diego to win the first game and needed OT last week to beat TennesseeBaltimore hasn’t been pretty either, losing at Denver and struggling to outlast Cleveland, and as I type this they’re likely to be without Ray Rice.  I’m counting on the champs to pull one out with Marlon Brown catching the decisive TD.   

Falcons @ Dolphins
This is the most intriguing game of the week in my opinion.  You’ve got the respected Falcons heading south to face the 2-0 Dolphins.  Miami’s offseason expenditures are paying off so far, and they appear to be catching the Falcons at the right time.  Atlanta is banged up pretty good already.  Steven Jackson is out with a thigh injury, Roddy White is walking wounded, and Jeremy Trueblood starts at RT with Lamar Holmes moving to LT, making them worse at two spots up front.  Defensively, they lost Sean Weatherspoon and Kroy Biermann for the year last week, and Asante Samuel is questionable.  This would be a HUGE statement win for the Dolphins, and I think they’ll definitely be the more focused team Sunday.  If the Dolphins can keep Tony Gonzalez from beating them in the middle of the field, I like Ryan Tannehill’s chances of making enough plays against a reeling defense.  Miami moves to 3-0. 

Bills @ Jets
This is a tough one to pick.  I like the Jets front seven, but the Bills look to be jelling much better as a team in the early going.  It should be a slow one out of the gates, but I’m going to count on EJ Manuel carrying that momentum over from last week’s comeback win and make it two in a row.  Buffalo gets their first win at the Jets since ’09. 

Colts @ 49ers
I didn’t give Indy much of a chance to win this one before the Richardson trade, and while, I expect his acquisition to pay dividends this year, tomorrow won’t be one of those days.  Maybe the final score will be closer than the experts think, but I don’t see Jim Harbaugh’s squad dropping two in a row.  A loss here would be a bad bad bad bad thing.  Niners by 20. 

Jaguars @ Seahawks
I don’t talk point spreads much, but 18 points in a professional football game?!?!  The Jaguars own the title of worst team in the league so far, and facing the Seahawks isn’t going to help them shake that moniker.  Seattle faces tougher resistance in a Saturday walk through.  Seattle by 24. 

Bears @ Steelers
Pittsburgh has looked awful so far this year, and the Bears are on the upswing at 2-0.  The Bears are the pick right?  As bad as the Steelers have played, Chicago is a couple of plays from being winless themselves.  The Steelers can get right back on track by defending home field and winning at Minnesota before their week five bye.  I’m sure that’s their focus.  The Bears on the other hand have a division road game next week against the Lions.  I’ve seen this set up too often before.  The house is on the Bears, but the Steelers get the win.  Markus Wheaton scores his first TD as a pro, and the Steelers win a surprisingly high-scoring, entertaining Sunday capper. 

Raiders @ Broncos
If the Broncos could spank the Ravens and Giants that badly, how do you think the Raiders are going to fare?  If I’m not channel surfing by 10:30 I’ll be shocked.  Peyton and company move to 3-0 with a decisive win. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

NFL Picks - Week 3 - Thursday Edition - Reid's Return

Chiefs @ Eagles

Ok.  Week two went a little better.  2-0 so far in the Thursday night games, but this figures to be the closest one yet.  The big story in this one is Andy Reid’s return to Philadelphia.  Selfishly, I would have liked them to schedule this game at least another month from now, as week 3 seems a lot too soon to hype up Reid’s return.  Regardless, this one should be highly entertaining. 

Can Chip Kelly’s offense do a better job of controlling the ball this week after the Chargers, a team with zero ground game, held the ball for 40 minutes last week?  This will easily be Philly’s toughest test thus far.  KC held the Cowboys to just one TD last week after kicking around the Jags in week 1.  I think the trifecta of Dontari Poe, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston is going to play a huge part in this one.  How well the latter two control the edges will go a long way in dictating how successful the Eagles will be.  I think Shady McCoy will still get his, but Dog Killer will have multiple turnovers.  DeSean Jackson will get a boost if Brandon Flowers isn’t able to go in this one.   

Look for the Chiefs to slow the game down and feature a lot of Jamaal Charles and some of Alex Smith on the ground.  Dwayne Bowe has yet to get loose, but you’ve got to like his chances this week given the way Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson, Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd, and Eddie Royal have already torched the Eagles secondary.  Philly is favored, but I think the Chiefs are the better football team.  They’re certainly the better defense, and as long as they don’t get in an early multi-score deficit, I like Reid’s chances of earning a homecoming win. 

Chiefs 30
Eagles 24

Sunday, September 15, 2013

NFL Picks - Week 2

9-7 isn’t how I had hoped to start.  It was just one week, but the Bucs, Bengals, and Browns were my early disappointments.  The Eagles are entertaining, the Bears look like an offensive team, and the Chiefs may actually give the Broncos a run for the AFC West.  What does this week have in store for us?

Rams @ Falcons
There’s no way the Falcons can start 0-2 right?  Wrong.  I know Matt Ryan always wins at home, but I trust St. Louis’ defense more right now.  I believe Sam Bradford and the Rams offense will get off to an early start and, surprisingly, control most of this game.

Panthers @ Bills
Carolina looked much improved defensively last week, even if Seattle was being vanilla.  They’re the better defense and the better offense. Cam outplays EJ.  Panthers win. 

Vikings @ Bears
Might this be the week 2 gotcha?  The Bears looked really good offensively last week against a strong Bengals defense, and the Vikings had trouble doing anything after MVPeterson took his first carry of the year to the house.  Hesitantly, I pick the Bears to win handily. 

Redskins @ Packers
I think we see a lot of points in this one.  The Packers faced a more potent versatile offense last week, so they should be well prepared for an obviously rusty RGIII.  Will a week of practice make a ton of difference?  Total game score will exceed 70.

Dolphins @ Colts
Indy barely survived what everyone figures will be a bad Oakland team last week at the same time the Dolphins were imposing their will on the Browns.  This would be an early statement game for Miami.  I’m going with the clearly better defense. 

Cowboys @ Chiefs
Maybe I’m crazy, but I wasn’t too impressed with the Cowboys last week.  The Giants literally gave them the game, yet the score was much closer than it should have been.  After getting knocked around by the Giants, Tony Romo heads to Arrowhead, never an easy place for a visitor, where he’ll be hunted by Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, and Dontari Poe.  Andy Reid knows the Cowboys.  Chiefs by 10. 

Chargers @ Eagles
I’d be really surprised if the Chargers pull off this win.  You know Chip Kelly is going to want to run even more plays than they did on MNF, and if Ben Tate (no disrespect; I like him) can average 6 yards a carry against San Diego, how much will Shady and Vick tally?  It’s an early east coast game for the Chargers, and I just think Kelly is going to have them running a lot more than they’d like that early in the day. 

Browns @ Ravens
Baltimore has beaten Cleveland ten straight times, so I’d say there’s some ownage going on here.  Joe Haden shut down Mike Wallace last week, and he’ll likely be locked on Torrey Smith.  I like Marlon Brown to have a big game on the other side, scoring twice.

Titans @ Texans
Something tells me that the Texans need to be careful in this one.  If they come out sloppy again, they might find it harder to come back on the Titans than the Chargers.  Closer than the experts think. 

Saints @ Bucs
Everything says the Bucs should lose this game.  Even with an improved defense, the Bucs will have a hard time matching scores with the Saints.  Doug Martin will have a lot more room to run, but in the end, Freeman won’t be able to make the necessary plays. 

Lions @ Cardinals
Great week one win by the Lions.  They won’t go to 2-0.  Carson Palmer and the Cardinals win an entertaining home opener 34-27. 

Jaguars @ Raiders
In what should easily be the league’s ugliest game of the week, I’m going to trust Terrell Pryor and Sebastian Janikowski to put the Jaguars in the early driver’s seat for the #1 pick. 

Broncos @ Giants
After that 7 touchdown performance in week 1, the Giants have no chance right?  Wrong.  This one reeks upset.  The Giants home dogs?  Victor Cruz celebrates multiple times again.  Giants by 4. 

49ers @ Seahawks
Can’t wait for this one.  Kaepernick v. Wilson.  Lynch v. Gore.  Elite defense v. Elite defense.  San Fran got blasted 42-13 the last time they visited Seattle, but that won’t happen again.  The 12th man will be in full effect Sunday night, and I think the Seahawks get the early leg up in the division on the Niners.

Steelers @ Bengals
I’m not sure how anyone can back the Steelers after that piss poor performance in their home opener against the Titans.  Nothing against Tennessee’s defense, but they’re not the Bengals.  I trust Cincinnati to play much better in their home opener than did Pittsburgh.  Bengals by 13.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

NFL Picks - Week 2 - Thursday Edition

Jets @ Patriots

Not a great week one for me (more on that Sunday), but I did get the Thursday game right.  Hey, I even got Demaryius Thomas’ 2 TDs right, but the game wasn’t as close as I thought it would be.  I think tonight’s game will be different.  If you’ve listened to five minutes of sports talk radio this week you are well aware that the Patriots lack offensive weapons.  They were already without Gronk and lost Shane Vereen last week for at least the next ten.  Danny Amendola is out at least this game and probably longer, and Zach Sudfeld probably isn’t playing tonight.  Who is?  Expect to see a lot of Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins through the air and Stevan Ridley on the ground.  They’d be wise to make use of Leon Washington in the Woodhead/Ridley role. 

The Patriots didn’t exactly shut down the Bills and their rookie QB last week, and I don’t expect them to shutout the Jets and their rookie QB.  New York doesn’t have many offensive weapons either, but that’s because they’re not any good; not because players are hurt.  I expect to see a close, low-scoring, relatively boring game tonight.  Bill Belichick knows that he doesn’t need to throw the kitchen sink at the Jets to beat them, and he wants his players to be as healthy as possible heading into the ten day break before their next game.  Thompkins, Leon, and Ridley score for the Patriots, and I predict the first in-game “Buff Fumble” reference will occur in the first seven minutes of the first quarter.  Geno Smith’s ability to extend drives with his legs will keep the Jets in this one. 

Patriots 24
Jets 20

Sunday, September 8, 2013

NFL Picks - Week 1

Off to a good start with Denver’s Thursday night win over Baltimore.  Here are the rest of my picks for Week 1. 

Bucs @ Jets
They’ll blow it since I’m picking them, but aside from hosting the Raiders, I’m not sure I could have picked a better opener for the Bucs.  Geno Smith is nowhere near ready for prime time, and oh yeah, Darrelle Revis is back in town.  They’ll ignore him like the plague, but taking away half the field for an overmatched rookie QB is a tremendous edge for the Bucs. 

Patriots @ Bills
I’m really anxious to see this Patriots team in action.  In what should be one of the week’s higher scoring games, I think New England wins a close one.  These teams have played entertaining football against each other the last three years.  Last year’s two contest saw a total of 148 points scored.

Bengals @ Bears
My surprise team of ’13 gets it started with a road upset at Chicago.  I concede that they could easily lose this game, but I believe Cincinnati is a clearly superior team.  Defense travels, and they have one of the best in the business.  They force Jay Cutler into a couple of decisive miscues and turn them into points. 

Dolphins @ Browns
Miami has received a ton of hype for their offseason acquisitions, but I actually like Cleveland a little more at this point.  I think we’ll see a heavy dose of Trent Richardson against a defense I’m not loving.  Cleveland wins by double digits.

Vikings @ Lions
Not counting the playoffs, Minnesota won its last four games of ‘12, while the Lions lost their last nine.  It’s a new year, but I’m not sure a ton has changed.  MVPeterson totaled 273 rushing yards in his two games against Detroit last year, and in order to keep Johnson, Stafford, and Bush on the sidelines, he’s going to get fed a ton again.  I predict he gets at least 175 yards in this one. 

Raiders @ Colts
Oakland sucks, and Terrelle Pryor isn’t an NFL passer.  The Colts are going to get scored on a lot again this year, but I don’t think the Raiders have the goods to get it done.  Andrew Luck and company get a nice warm up for week two against the Dolphins.  Colts by 17. 

Falcons @ Saints
Since these two are the early favorites in the NFC South, this isn’t your standard season opener.  I still have a lot of questions about New Orleans’ defense, but having Sean Payton back is a free agent addition in itself.  The Falcons aren’t air tight on defense themselves, and having a limited (at best) Roddy White won’t help them keep up on the scoreboard.  Saints 31-24. 

Titans @ Steelers
As I’ve said, I’m down on the Steelers this year, but I’m even lower on the Titans.  This still isn’t a defense that Jake Locker wants to see, and I don’t think Ben Roethlisberger is going to have a ton of trouble finding Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, or Markus Wheaton.  I think this is going to be an ugly, low scoring game that has Tennessee in striking distance late but unable to convert when it counts. 

Seahawks @ Panthers
If I was to pick a “gotcha” of the week, it’s probably this game.  The Seahawks are going to win a lot this season and are clearly the more talented team in this matchup.  I can see Carolina turning a couple of early turnovers into scores and building a lead via the east-coast-travel curse, but as long as Seattle keeps their composure, they should be able to force enough mistakes themselves and emerge with a hard-fought victory. 

Chiefs @ Jaguars
Week one isn’t a “must win” for anyone, but if the Chiefs want to convince their fans that this is a new year, then they’ve got to beat the Jags.  I see a big day for Jamaal Charles and a rough one for MJD who gets smothered by a KC defense that doesn’t have to respect the pass against a limited Blaine Gabbert who was already limited because he’s Blaine Gabbert.

Cardinals @ Rams
I like Carson Palmer in this offense, but only three teams surrendered less passing TDs last season than the Rams.  I think this one matters more to the Rams since they’re on the road with tough ones at Atlanta and Dallas in weeks two and three. 

Packers @ 49ers
I think this is the best time for the Packers to try and get revenge against the Niners, the team that started and ended Green Bay’s season with losses.  There’s no Crabtree, and Colin Kaepernick is still trying to develop chemistry with his receivers.  Word is Dom Capers spent a Saturday or two this offseason scheming against the read option offense.  I expect Kaepernick to be a one-man-show early on, so if the Packers can avoid the early onslaught, I think the veteran visitors can hang in there.  The Packers get a couple more stops this time, and James Jones scores the winner in the fourth. 

Giants @ Cowboys
New York and Dallas met to kick off the ’12 season, and they’re meeting in week one again this year.  Dallas won last year’s opener 24-17, and I say they win again by the same score.  Jason Witten, who caught 18 passes the second time these teams met in ’12, scores twice. 

Eagles @ Redskins
This one should be entertaining.  You’ve got Chip Kelly’s new offense against the rehabilitated RGIII.  Washington was one of the higher scoring teams in the league last year, and I don’t think this disjointed defense has what it takes to slow and even slowed RGIII.  Points galore in this one.  I’ve got the Redskins winning a MNF thriller 34-31. 

Texans @ Chargers
This one shouldn’t be close, which tells me Houston is going to be sloppy and keep San Diego in this one.  I still can’t see Philip Rivers doing much of anything against this defense, so it will probably be a low scoring, uneventful week one wrap up that Houston has in hand nearly the whole time. 

2013 NFL Predictions - Super Bowl Winner

1) New England Patriots
2) Denver Broncos
3) Cincinnati Bengals
4) Houston Texans
5) Baltimore Ravens
6) Kansas City Chiefs

Just Missed
7) Indianapolis Colts
8) Pittsburgh Steelers

1) Seattle
2) Green Bay
3) New Orleans
4) Washington
5) San Francisco
6) Atlanta

Just Missed
7) Dallas Cowboys
8) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Wild Card Round
Chiefs @ Bengals – Bengals                 Falcons @ Saints – Saints
Ravens @ Texans – Ravens                  49ers @ Redskins – 49ers

Division Round
Ravens @ Patriots – Patriots                49ers @ Seahawks – Seahawks
               Bengals @ Broncos – Bengals              Saints @ Packers – Packers

Conference Championships
Bengals @ Patriots – Patriots                Packers @ Seahawks – Packers

I believe the Patriots and Seahawks will be the league’s best regular season teams, but both won’t make it to the Super Bowl.  New England is able to advance, but karma helps Green Bay get redemption in Seattle

Patriots 31
Packers 27

MVP – Tom Brady

Belichick and Brady have their best year to date.
I believe they’re headed for a special season.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

2013 NFL Predictions - Best and Worst

As I’ve done in the past week-to-week, here are my initial rankings for the '13 season.

Elite Eight                                             Sloppy Six
1) Seattle Seahawks                             1) Oakland Raiders
2) New England Patriots                      2) New York Jets
3) Green Bay Packers                          3) Jacksonville Jaguars
4) San Francisco 49ers                         4) San Diego Chargers
5) Denver Broncos                               5) Tennessee Titans
6) Cincinnati Bengals                            6) Philadelphia Eagles
7) New Orleans Saints
8) Atlanta Falcons

My predictions as to the teams that will have the best and worst turnarounds from ’12:

Biggest Surprises                                  Biggest Busts

1) Kansas City Chiefs                          1) Minnesota Vikings
            ’12:  2-14                                             ’12:  10-6
            ’13:  8-8 (+6)                                       ’13:  6-10 (-4)

2) New Orleans Saints                         2) San Diego Chargers
            ’12: 7-9                                                ’12:  7-9
            ’13: 11-5 (+4)                                      ’13:  4-12 (-3)

3) Cleveland Browns                           3) Indianapolis Colts
            ’12:  5-11                                             ’12:  11-5
            ’13:  8-8 (+3)                                       ’13:  8-8 (-3)

2013 NFL Predictions - Award Winners

1) Tom Brady
2) Aaron Rodgers
3) Marshawn Lynch
4) Geno Atkins
5) Peyton Manning
6) Adrian Peterson
7) Drew Brees
8) JJ Watt
9) Colin Kaepernick
10) Calvin Johnson

Offensive POY
1) Marshawn Lynch
2) Tom Brady
3) Aaron Rodgers
4) Peyton Manning
5) Adrian Peterson
6) Drew Brees

Defensive POY
1) Geno Atkins
2) JJ Watt
3) Richard Sherman
4) Navorro Bowman
5) Justin Houston
6) Cameron Wake

Offensive ROY
1) DeAndre Hopkins
2) EJ Manuel
3) Le’Veon Bell
4) Eddie Lacy
5) Kenbrell Thompkins
6) Giovani Bernard

Defensive ROY
1) Datone Jones
2) Kenny Vaccaro
3) Arthur Brown
4) Alec Ogletree
5) Xavier Rhodes
6) Star Lotulelei

Comeback POY
1) Robert Griffin III
2) Darrelle Revis
3) Brian Cushing
4) Rob Gronkowski
5) Maurice Jones-Drew
6) Terrell Suggs

Coach of the Year
1) Andy Reid
2) Marvin Lewis
3) Mike Shanahan
4) Sean Payton
5) Bill Belichick
6) Mike McCarthy

League Leaders

Passing Yards
1) Drew Brees
2) Peyton Manning
3) Matt Ryan

Rushing Yards
1) Adrian Peterson
2) Marshawn Lynch
3) Alfred Morris

Receiving Yards
1) Calvin Johnson
2) Brandon Marshall
3) Dez Bryant

1) NaVorro Bowman
2) Lavonte David
3) James Laurinaitis

1) JJ Watt
2) Cameron Wake
3) Clay Matthews

1) Richard Sherman
2) Patrick Peterson
3) Devin McCourty

Friday, September 6, 2013

2013 NFL Predictions - All Talbuc Team

Here’s who I think stands out most this season.

First Team Offense
QB – Tom Brady
FB – Vonta Leach
RB – Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson
WR – Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, Dez Bryant
TE – Jimmy Graham
LT – Joe Thomas
LG – Evan Mathis
C – John Sullivan
RG – Marshal Yanda
RT – Anthony Davis

Second Team Offense
QB – Aaron Rodgers
FB – Marcel Reece
RB – Ray Rice, Doug Martin
WR – Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb
TE – Rob Gronkowski
LT – Matt Kalil
LG – Mike Iupati
C – Chris Myers
RG – Alex Boone
RT – Mitchell Schwartz

First Team Defense
DE – JJ Watt, Cameron Wake, DeMarcus Ware
DT – Geno Atkins, Haloti Ngata
ILB – Navorro Bowman, Patrick Willis
OLB – Clay Matthews, Tamba Hali, Terrell Suggs
CB – Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson
S – Earl Thomas, Morgan Burnett

Second Team Defense
DE – Justin Smith, Greg Hardy, Chris Long
DT – Henry Melton, Ndamukong Suh
ILB – James Laurinaitis, Derrick Johnson
OLB – Aldon Smith, Justin Houston, Lavonte David
CB – Darrelle Revis, Cortland Finnegan
S – Reshad Jones, Mark Barron

2013 NFL Predictions - NFC West

1) Seattle Seahawks

I picked these guys as an upset pick to win the division last year, and they were undoubtedly one of the more impressive teams in the league.  In what was thought to be a division of Niners and also-rans, the Seahawks made the playoffs and were a team no one wanted to play.  Guess what?  They better this year. 

Matt Flynn came to town with ideas of replacing Tarvaris Jackson at QB but was outdone for the job by third round pick, Russell Wilson.  The former Wolfpack, former Badger won the starting job in camp and didn’t look back.  He was responsible for 30 total TDs and more than 3,500 yards but more importantly ran the read-option to perfection.  The guy has tremendous leader and the mental make up of a champion.  I’m a big fan.  All Marshawn Lynch did last year was run for a career high by almost 400 yards and prove to be a perfect fit in this offense.  He’ll again finish in the top 5 in rushing, and I think he has an award winning year.  One downer for the ’13 season is that new acquisition Percy Harvin was sidelined before the season even got underway.  The former Viking underwent hip surgery August 1 and is unlikely to suit up until midway through the regular season.  There’s a ton of potential for a ground game that can utilize Lynch, Wilson, Harvin, and rookie Christine Michael.  For now they’ll have to get by with Golden Tate and Sidney Rice at receiver.  The latter may be the de-facto #1, but the former has been getting a ton of hype this preseason.  Tate has a chance to get a lot of the touches earmarked for Harvin and make this dynamic offense even more explosive. 

Seattle has had one of the league’s top defenses for the last two years.  No one allowed fewer points in ’12 than these guys.  They’re likely to lead the league again considering their offseason haul.  Chris Clemons, the team’s leading pass rusher, went down in last year’s Wild Card game with a torn ACL and is questionable for week 1.  No problem.  All they did was go out and sign both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency.  Avril tallied 20.5 sacks the last two years, and Tampa chose to let Bennett walk after notching a career high 9.  When you add these pass rushers to behemoths like Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane, that’s going to spell trouble for a lot of professional passers.  I like two of their young linebackers.  Bobby Wagner notched a whopping 140 tackles as a rookie at MLB, and KJ Wright is one of the better all-round backers in the game.  That’s pretty solid so far, and I haven’t even mentioned the league’s best secondary.  Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner form the premier corner duo in the game.  They’re big, aggressive, physical, fast, and make plays on the football.  The fact that newly acquired Antoine Winfield, a solid slot guy even at 36, was cut for youngsters Walter Thurmond and Jeremy Lane tells you what Pete Carroll thinks of his young depth.  The safety pairing is as good as the one at corner.  Earl Thomas is the best young safety in the game, in my opinion, and strong safety Kam Chancellor makes Sherman and Browner look soft. 

I’m really high on this team, and given what they’ve accomplished this offseason along with their development and grown in ’12, I think they’ve got what it takes to finish ahead of the Niners. 

MVP – Marshawn Lynch
Breakout – Golden Tate
Disappointment – Sidney Rice

2) San Francisco 49ers

It was a great ride but not quite the finish the NFC champs were hoping for.  After a 12-4 regular season, the Niners appeared to be on the verge of another championship, but the Ravens had other plans.  Are the Niners up for another fight?

Not a lot of guys are getting more hype coming into the ’13 season than Niners QB Colin Kaepernick, and rightfully so.  No qualified passer had a higher yard per attempt average than Kaepernick, and only seven passers had a higher QB rating.  Oh, and did I mention the he’s one of the three most dangerous QBs on the move (along with Rodgers and RGIII)?  Last year Kaepernick had a yards per carry average nearly identical to RGIII’s and had just two fewer rushing scores in just over half as many carriers.  I expect quite the encounter this season.  Defenses have been gearing up to stop the read-option attack, and with the Niners being without Michael Crabtree for at least the majority of the year with an Achilles injury, Kaepernick is going to keep running.  Who will win out?  Frank Gore isn’t 106.  It just seems that way.  The model of consistently the last two years, Gore outdid his ’11 total by 1 yard.  I would like to see him becoming a bigger part of the passing game once again, and maybe that will happen given the situation at receiver.  The newly acquired Anquan Boldin figures to be Kaepernick’s security blanket, and with a lack of depth and experience at the position, the young QB will likely often look his way.  While Boldin is no longer an elite playmaker, there’s not a more reliable set of hands in the game.  After Boldin, the Niners are looking for anyone to step up.  Hopefully rookie Quinton Patton, my favorite receiver from this year’s draft, seizes the opportunity and makes a difference.  The Niners and Chiefs traded busts, so maybe Jim Harbaugh will get something out of Jon Baldwin that KC couldn’t.  Vernon Davis remains one of the best athletes in the league.  Although he and Kaepernick didn’t have that immediate bond you usually see from young QBs and their TE, I expect Davis to be a primary target in Crabtree’s offense.  Look for a big year from him.

I’m not sure these guys can thump their chests as the top unit in their own division, let alone the league, anymore.  Justin Smith may truly be the team’s most valuable player, an opinion that had a lot of validity as Aldon Smith really struggled down the stretch when Justin was sidelined.  The rest of the defense struggled as well, as opposing QBs had less difficulty against this group minus Justin.  He’s ready to go which is great news for everyone.  Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form the league’s top inside linebacker duo, and I’m not sure that’s even debatable.  They’re both sideline to sideline, physical defenders who don’t make mistakes.  I like Ray McDonald at end, but they’re going to miss NT Isaac Sopoaga at the nose.  As insurance (and proof of lesson learned last year) San Fran drafted both Tank Carradine and Corey Lemonier and signed Glenn Dorsey in free agency.  If you had to pick one area to distinguish between the Seahawks and Niners (other than the stud ILBs), it would be the weaknesses in San Fran’s secondary.  Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, and Nnamdi Asomugha don’t come close to Sherman, Browner, and Thurmond/Lane.  With Dashon Goldson leaving, the Niners turn to rookie Eric Reed to take his place at FS.  Donte Whitner returns at SS, but I worry, at least early on, how these two will function together with Reed being a rookie and Whitner no longer being at the top of his game.  If the Niners experience another loss up front, the repercussions could be much worse this year.

I’m in no way expecting these guys to fade off into the sunset, but I think they’ll take a back seat to Seattle within the division. 

MVP – Colin Kaepernick
Breakout – Quinton Patton
Disappointment – Tarell Brown

3) St. Louis Rams

Jeff Fisher’s first year at the helm wasn’t a winning one, but it had to be considered a success.  Coming off an embarrassing 2-14 ’11 season, the Rams rebounded and looked like a team with some promising youth. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a fan, but Sam Bradford is entering a make-or-bend-forcibly season for me.  This will be his fourth year as a pro and second working with Brian Schottenheimer.  Yes, they’ve lost Steven Jackson, but I do like where their passing game stands.  Tavon Austin gets the publicity as the dynamic weapon, and rightfully so.  He’s of the rare Randall Cobb mold as a player who can beat you in multiple ways.  For this year at least, I’m higher on Chris Givens.  Last year Givens showed himself to be a very viable deep threat, and word is they’re varying his routes a bit more this year.  Look for big things from him.  I also love Austin’s college teammate, Stedman Bailey, and he’d be a solid #5 behind Austin Pettis and Brian Quick.  Lance Kendricks hasn’t broken out as a terribly threatening TE, so the Rams signed Jared Cook in free agency.  Cook’s been more hype than production to this point in his career, but this is definitely a more promising situation than he had in Tennessee.  Back to the running game, a trio of backs looks to fill the hole left by Jackson’s departure to Atlanta.  Daryl Richardson has first shot at being the man, and he wasn’t awful when called upon last season.  I just think his upside is limited.  The guy I seeing as having the most talent in this backfield is Isaiah Pead.  Pead struggled to make an impact in his first year and starts this one with a one game suspension.  He’s got to figure it out.

They don’t get nearly as much attention as division rivals San Francisco and Seattle, but St. Louis has some good things going on defense as well with young fixtures at each level.  Two of them are at defensive end where Chris Long and Robert Quinn combined for 22 sacks last season.  As good as Long has been the last three seasons, I’m excited to see how big a step Quinn takes in his third year.  This is a guy who was a #1 overall talent with a huge ceiling.  I’m also a fan of their third rusher, William Hayes, a guy they were wise to re-sign this offseason.  Michael Brockers got off to a slow start last year with that ankle injury, but he looks like another future star in the middle of the defensive line.  He’s healthy and should make this productive pass rush even more dangerous.  James Laurinaitis, the heart of the defense, has been one of the most reliable MLBs in the league in his four seasons with the Rams.  I’m anxious to see how their new WLB Alec Ogletree fares.  His talent is undeniable, as are his red flags, but if he figures it out, he’ll be a great compliment to Laurinaitis.  I can’t say I’m a fan of either of these two, but Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins were one of the stingiest pair of corners in the league last year.  Finnegan is a proven vet, and Jenkins acclimate himself well in year one.  Rookie TJ McDonald is their best safety, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

I like where these guys are headed, but unfortunately, they’ve got two Super Bowl contenders within their own division.  I think a winning record would be a great season.

MVP – Sam Bradford
Breakout – Chris Givens
Disappointment – Daryl Richardson

4) Arizona Cardinals

And lastly, a team that hasn’t been very relevant very often.  The ’12 season was yet another forgettable one for the Cardinals with their second five win season in three years.  How much hope is there for these guys in a division with the Hawks, Niners, and up-and-coming Rams? 

It’s a shame they’re in the NFC West because I think Arizona made strides this offseason.  They replaced Ken Whisenhunt with Bruce Arians, the guy who basically coached the Colts last year.  Thanks to the acquisition of Carson Palmer, Arians will be able to stretch the field as he likes to do.  Palmer is pretty much an afterthought at the QB position anymore, but I really like his fit in this offense.  He threw for over 4,000 yards last year in an awful Oakland offense but will have a future HOFer in Larry Fitzgerald and impressive youngster in Michael Floyd to with in Arizona.  Fitzgerald may have fallen off the radar a bit based on the lack of professional QB talent he’s had to work with the last couple of seasons.  Palmer’s the best passer he’s had since Warner in ’09.  Floyd figures to see quite the uptick in output this year due to Palmer’s addition as well as impressive camp that has him in the starting lineup.  Andre Roberts makes for a nice #3 receiver, and Rob Housler is a TE with upside.  The passing game looks good on paper.  The running game on the other hand gets an incomplete grade.  Rashard Mendenhall leaves Pittsburgh for the starting job in Arizona that he’s not getting much competition for based on Ryan Williams’ disappointing inability to get healthy.  Mendenhall isn’t Barry Sanders, but surely he’ll put up more than LaRod Stephens-Howling’s team leading 357 rushing yards last year.  They suffered a blow early on as first round pick and projected left guard Jonathan Cooper sustained a knee injury that may cost him his rookie season.  He was the marquee addition to an offensive line in need of big time help.

On defense there’s a bit of good, a bit of bad, and not much in between.  Patrick Peterson is one of the elite of the elite athletes in the game.  In addition to developing into a shutdown corner, he’s a highlight-making return man, and now is logging some snaps on offense.  The other corner spot isn’t so secure.  Jerraud Powers and Antoine Cason aren’t ideal starters.  Safety is lacking as well.  Yeremiah Bell and Rashad Johnson are uninspiring replacements for Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, two guys who weren’t exactly in their primes.  Tyrann Mathieu should be given every opportunity to get on the field at free safety and line up with his former LSU teammate Peterson.  Watch for him to make an impact in his first year.  With the switch at DC and in scheme, I look for bigger years from Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett.  Both figure to be freed up more in Todd Bowles’ aggressive defense, resulting in higher sack totals and more impact plays.  Unfortunately, they’re going to be without stud ILB Daryl Washington due to multiple off field issues.  Karlos Dansby returns to Arizona and will be counted on to pick up the slack in Washington’s absence.  I like Kevin Minter to see the most time next to Dansby inside.  A continuous problem for the Cardinals is a lack of sacks from their edge rushers.  Washington led the team in sacks last year with 9, while Sam Acho, Quentin Groves, and O’Brien Schofield combined for 12.  The lack of an edge rushing presence and talent at corner opposite Peterson will be the downfall of this defense.

Again, I like the strides these guys made, but they’re in the wrong division.  8-8 would have to be considered a very successful season.

MVP – Larry Fitzgerald
Breakout – Michael Floyd
Disappointment – Cornerback opposite Peterson

Division MVP – Marshawn Lynch
Division Breakout – Golden Tate
Division Disappointment – Daryl Richardson