NFL Week 9 picks: Giants to edge the Colts?
Completely unacceptable. One week removed from what was a solid 9-6 performance against the spread, we laid an egg.
What makes matters worse is the second-guessing. It is one thing to consistently swing and miss on games that featured teams with which we have struggled – the Raiders and Browns to name a few – but it's even worse when the right teams were penciled in and then changed. We constantly preach about bounce-back teams and had the Texans and Falcons circled under these parameters, then inexplicably switched out for what eventually became 'over-thinking'.
We strayed from our rules and methods and got burned.
We don't mind taking our lumps with trends that tend to deliver – the Dolphins and Patriots were largely considered two of the 'easiest picks' last week, and we can accept these losses when the Steelers beat the spread – what is unacceptable is noticing these plays and ignoring them. Evidence of this is that we even openly admitted we were walking into a trap in Carolina by taking the heavily favored – by popularity, not points – Seahawks. We lost. Of course we did. We knew what was down this road yet we went in anyway.
The week was not without its benefits, however, and the biggest result of our poor picks was that a pattern formed for the first time in weeks. After what had been a relatively calm few weeks of games – in terms of trends – Week 8 finally tipped the scales in the direction of the favorites, as they went a collective 9-6 against the spread. Also, for the second time in three weeks, as mentioned earlier, the 'obvious teams' avoided their 'trap game' pitfalls.
It won't happen two weeks in a row.
In fact, this column tends to heavily lean on underdogs and undervalued picks, and when we get crushed, it's evidence that the week, as a whole, had a strong current against us.
It also means that the tide will roll back in and we will be ready to ride it forward.
Furthermore, we actually noted in last week's column that Week 8 was to be approached with hesitation as no definitive direction had been claimed by the previous few weeks. Still, 'hesitation' should not have been met by a huge swing-and-miss. For that, we humbly apologize. It is nearly impossible to go perfect in any week, but what we provided was unacceptable.
As confident as we can be considering the beating we just received, we remain convinced that, based off the strong forces we saw at play in Week 8, Week 9 should revert back to catch off-guard those who become complacent with the easy-to-read results. Keep in mind, the moment that it seems someone has 'figured out' the National Football League is the very instant where the carpet is yanked from beneath their feet.
With that, we dive headfirst into the pool of underdogs, expecting to have the large majority rise to the top.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team and an asterisk denotes one of the week's most confident picks.
*Confidence Picks: 2-5 (Season: 24-24)
All Picks Against Spread: 5-10 (Season: 60-60-1)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6.5) at Cleveland Browns
The Browns bounced back nicely after their loss in Jacksonville to beat the Raiders in Week 8, and now face another weak opponent when they host the lowly Buccaneers. Adding intrigue to this matchup is that the Buccaneers were the busiest team at the NFL Trade Deadline on Tuesday, having two of their best players – Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson – rumored to be involved in a number of trades while actually dealing linebacker Jonathan Casillas and safety Mark Barron.
The Buccaneers suffered one of the worst losses of Week 8 when they blew a late lead to the Vikings en route to fumbling away the game on the first play in overtime. Days later, they traded away two of their defenders in what looks to the world like a firesale. All this and they aren't even getting a touchdown worth of points? Something is fishy.
The Browns prove this column wrong basically every week, but when so many arrows point to the 'obvious pick,' we tend to stay away. Browns win, but only by a field goal as the Buccaneers beat the spread.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+11.5) at Cincinnati Bengals
At a dismal 1-7, the Jaguars are easily one of the worst teams in the National Football League. They rank at or near the bottom in almost every statistical category and their only win came against Cleveland, at home, after the Browns had just completed an emotional victory over their rivals from Pittsburgh.
Surprisingly, considering how terrible the Jaguars appear on paper, they have quietly improved over the second half of their first eight games. Their defense had allowed an average of 38 points per game, with at least 33 allowed in each of their first four games. Since then, the latter four has topped off at 27 points allowed – last week against the Dolphins – for an average of 16.5 points per game allowed. It is no stretch to say Jacksonville has improved. At least, a little.
Improved, as well, are the Cincinnati Bengals, recovering from their 27-0 loss in Indianapolis to knock off the division rival Baltimore Ravens in Week 8. Improving things further would also include a healthy A.J. Green recovering from injury but, at the time of this writing, his status remains questionable.
Cincinnati's win over Baltimore – highly controversial as it may have been – helps level off what was becoming a dangerous skid, and the Bengals should cruise to a victory against the Jaguars. Jacksonville, however, has become less of a pushover of late, losing only one of their past four games (three losses) by double digits. They beat the spread again, as Cincinnati wins by ten.
Arizona Cardinals (+4.5)* at Dallas Cowboys
Road games don't bother them – 2-1 this season with their only loss against the outstanding Broncos – expectations don't bother them – 4-2 against the spread – and teams with winning records don't bother them – 3-1 against teams over .500.
These are the 2014 Arizona Cardinals, and they continue to impress week after week.
A team that blitzes on nearly every play facing a banged up quarterback and getting over a field goal worth of points is an incredibly fortunate setup. Add in the fact that the underdog, in this case, is 6-1 overall, and you have a great opportunity to beat the spread, let alone win outright.
Arizona's aggressiveness on defense has been largely documented and was on full display when in their Week 8 victory over the Eagles, but what makes this gameplan even more interesting is the success rate. Or, the lack thereof. Instead, the value of their blitz-happy scheme is found in the impact on a given play.
The Cardinals have actually sacked the quarterback the second-fewest times in league this year – seven. Their sack percentage – the rate at which they record sacks versus passing plays faced – is the worst in the National Football League. Where they thrive is in creating turnovers – third in the league in interceptions. Translation: the Cardinals have mastered the blitz without even bringing the quarterback down. When teams resort to running the ball, the Cardinals step up there as well. Arizona allows the third fewest rushing yards per game.
The Cardinals are every bit a true contender this year, and the questionable health of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is a major concern for Sunday's game against this defense. Arizona wins on the road by six and beats the spread.
New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5)
For most of the week leading up to the divisional matchup between the Jets and Bills, there appeared to be an overwhelming belief that the Jets were going to win – no, crush – the Bills. About ten minutes before the game began, a sick feeling crept in. Why? Why are the Jets suddenly getting so much love? Is it because they have to win? Or because they are... better?
It became apparent as soon as the game began. This was a trap.
The Jets had no business being the favorite in the game. By the end of four quarters – one, really – they had no business being on the field, either.
Sunday in Kansas City will be brutal for the Jets. Yet again.
The Chiefs are now 4-3 and alive in the AFC West race after blowing out the Rams in Week 8. They are better than the Jets in every way and should win the game easily. We just explained that the Cardinals sack the quarterback at the lowest rate of any team in the league. Guess which team leads the league in that category?
The Kansas City Chiefs.
The only fear in this game is a possible late score to beat the spread by the Jets, but if the Chiefs go up by two touchdowns at any point in the game, it should be impossible for New York to keep up.
Admittedly, the change from Geno Smith to Michael Vick at quarterback is enough to rejuvenate the offense for a single game, but Vick looked so unwilling to throw the ball against the Bills that it is difficult to imagine that he finds success against the league's top-rated passing defense.
Kansas City blows the doors off the Jets by 21 and covers the large spread.
San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins (-1.5)*
It started at 2.5, then 2, and now sits at a single point and a half. The spread for the Chargers and Dolphins game continues to move based on the overwhelming majority of people backing the Chargers.
Well then. We'll take the Dolphins.
We will also take the Dolphins at 4-3 and largely being forgotten in the AFC East race. Passing up the Chargers on a two-game slide is admittedly dangerous as a rebound is due in the coming weeks, but San Diego is prone to go on streaks – both winning and losing. They have had a losing streak of at least three games in each of their past four seasons.
While Miami's recent victories have lost some luster – their last three wins were against the Raiders, Bears, and Jaguars – San Diego hasn't exactly slain dragons lately – wins against the Jaguars, Jets, and Raiders before dropping two straight to the Chiefs and Broncos. San Diego is also 1-2 on the road against teams with winning records.
Miami has already played a few 'statement games' this year, but can't seem to consistently define itself as a legitimate contender. That changes on Sunday, as the Dolphins beat the Chargers by a field goal in what should be one of the closest games of the week, and cover the spread.
Washington Redskins at Minnesota Vikings (-1)
It seems like every week we find a completely meaningless game that is nearly impossible to predict, and we get it wrong. Both the Redskins and Vikings are terrible, yet have had impressive moments – Washington shocking Dallas and Minnesota blowing out teams in two of their three wins.
The Redskins have been playing better of late, anchored by a suddenly capable defense holding back-to-back opponents to only 17 points. They have won two straight games and, considering Minnesota scores the second-fewest points in the league, have the better matchup on paper.
Why, then, are we taking the Vikings?
With the recent revelation that Robert Griffin III is expected to start, it's dangerous to jump right back into the fire and expect an injury-prone scrambling quarterback to return to form immediately. More worrisome is the floating definition of what Griffin's true 'form' is. In the 13 games he started in 2013, Griffin was a dismal 3-10 with no rushing touchdowns and four separate games without a passing touchdown. Included in those 13 games is a loss in Minnesota.
Keep in mind that, even with the news that Griffin will start on Sunday, the spread only budged a hair, and Minnesota continues to be listed as the favorite. This appears to be a lovely setup for those jumping back on board with the RGIII-led Redskins.
Washington had a nice two-game run, but its emotional overtime victory against the Cowboys was the peak of their soon-to-be forgettable season. The Vikings coming home after two straight road games should be enough to give them the slight edge on Sunday. Minnesota wins by a field goal and narrowly covers the spread.
Philadelphia Eagles (-2) at Houston Texans
The Eagles are a truly impossible team to explain. In their first three games of the season, they overcame double-digit deficits to win all three. Both of their losses could be argued away by a single play in each game. Of course, Philadelphia is responsible for preventing such plays, but anywhere from 3-4 to 7-0 was actually realistic for the Eagles.
Houston continues to baffle, as well, losing three of its last four games but doing so by a touchdown or less. The Texans beat up on bad teams like the Titans, Raiders, and Redskins, but their biggest loss was to the 3-4 Giants.
At least one thing is clear: they cause turnovers and the Eagles lose them. But relying on takeaways is like living off home runs in baseball – they're game-changers when they happen, but leave teams high and dry when absent. As noted many times in this column, Houston's defense is still in the bottom-third for yards allowed. If the turnover differential lessens, the Texans will be in trouble against a top-5 offense in Philadelphia.
The Eagles win by four and cover.
St. Louis Rams (+10)* at San Francisco 49ers
A huge spread in a division game including a team that has already upset a heavy favorite. The conclusion of this one is simple: Rams beat the spread, 49ers beat the Rams.
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has already shown some creativity in division games, and the pesky Rams are very much a feast-or-famine team – three double-digit losses and four games within a touchdown of their opponent. They have a brutal schedule ahead – after the 49ers, the Rams play at Arizona, home against Denver, and at San Diego – and will almost certainly be eliminated from playoff contention by the end of the stretch.
Also considering that the 49ers have only won one of their past six games by double digits – of course, against these same Rams in St. Louis – San Francisco does not exactly have the recent track record of blowing teams out.
The 49ers win by a touchdown and St. Louis beats the spread, probably via a late score to pull to within 'reasonable striking distance.'
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (+3)
Only one other time this season have the New England Patriots been listed as underdogs for a game. They responded by blowing out the Cincinnati Bengals on national television. In what is easily one of the best regular season matchups of the year, the Patriots find themselves, again, on the receiving end of points.
A game that features Peyton Manning and Tom Brady is such a treat that it is almost not worth picking the winner. These are two living legends, again, squaring off against one another for supremacy in the AFC.
Both teams enter play riding a four-game winning streak (Possible tie, anyone? Kidding.) after home victories. With such outstanding records and rankings, overall, basically every trend is at or near even. The only way to look at this game appears to be through the wealth of past performances we have seen between a team led by Manning and one led by Brady and Bill Belichick.
The Brady-Belichick team is 10-5 against Manning, including a 2-2 postseason split. Manning against the Belichick-led Patriots – including 2000 and 2008 without Brady under center – is still only 7-11 overall with a 63.2 completion percentage and 1.61 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions – 37 TDs to 23 INTs. Manning's illustrious career highlights an overall completion percentage of 65.6 and a touchdown to interception ratio of 2.31, so he takes a hit in both categories when facing Belichick.
In his entire career, when playing at least six games against an opponent, Manning has a regular season losing record against only two teams – Miami (5-7) and New England (6-12).
The Patriots come out on top in the game of the week with a field goal victory, beating the Broncos and the spread.
Oakland Raiders (+15) at Seattle Seahawks
When Oakland failed to beat the Browns last week, it basically guaranteed itself a winless season for at least another few weeks. After the Raiders lose in Seattle on Sunday, they will be facing the Denver Broncos. Ouch.
The Seahawks, despite recent struggles – make no mistake, they were relatively fortunate to escape Carolina with the win after how they played – are still a much better football team than the Raiders and are typically dominant at home. Oakland has no business being on the field with the Seahawks, but fifteen points is just too much for a team that desperately needs to win a game sometime this year.
Seattle blows out Oakland but the Raiders score late to back into a two touchdown loss and beat the spread.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (PK)
So, the Steelers are back, huh?
What, on earth, is there to make of anything we saw in Week 8 regarding the Ravens and Steelers? If Steve Smith Sr. doesn't get called for offensive pass interference, are the Ravens the favorites in the AFC North? We were confident the Steelers would beat the Colts, but no one saw a 51-point outburst coming.
Looking back at recent history is relatively useless as the AFC North is probably the most cannibalistic division in football. No one wins. No one loses. Everyone just battles to the death each year and someone stumbles out alive.
While the Ravens were almost the beneficiary of a ridiculous touchdown catch that would have surely beaten the Bengals, the fact remains that they trailed for most of the game and needed late scoring drives to eventually take the lead – one they would later relinquish. Pittsburgh, instead, has looked unstoppable since the wild last few minutes of the end of its first-half matchup against the Texans.
The Steelers are maddeningly inconsistent, but they have only lost three games all year, two of which are in the division. It is almost impossible to expect another sweep of division opponents in the AFC North – Cincinnati is now 2-0 against Baltimore this year – and Pittsburgh has a Thursday Night Football loss to avenge on Sunday night.
The Steelers win a typical AFC North bloodbath by a field goal and cover the 'pick-'em' spread.
Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants (+3.5)*
We have been burned many times by expecting the 'obvious pick' to lose, but the trend has been relatively favorable on night games – think of the Saints last week. Monday Night Football now features the biggest 'lock' of the week, as the Colts are overwhelmingly receiving support.
As always, we will go against this.
In Tom Coughlin's 18 full seasons as a head coach – dating back to his time with the newborn Jacksonville Jaguars – he is an outstanding 12-6 following a bye week. With the Giants, this record is an even better 7-3, and they have won their last six games following a bye. New York is also 5-2 in its last seven home primetime games, winning both Monday Night Football contests.
The Colts remain one of the most dangerous teams – especially offensively – but they proved to be far from perfect when they ran into the Steelers last week. They are an obvious bounce-back candidate after a loss, but the Giants' post-bye week success coupled with the suspiciously small spread makes New York the confidence pick.
The Giants win by four and beat the spread.
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