Here’s my fancy introduction for the week 5 picks:
In 2011, you could pretty much guess which teams made the playoffs by looking at who had the highest-scoring offenses. In the year of the 5,000-yard QBs, offense ruled as evidenced by nine of the 12 playoff teams ranking in the top 12 in points per game. In that same year, only five of those 12 teams ranked in the top 12 in points allowed per game.
Through four weeks of 2012, we’re seeing the exact opposite be true…here are the top 12 ranked defenses based on points allowed: Houston, Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, Minnesota, Atlanta, Green Bay, Denver, Philadelphia and Baltimore. In that group, there are seven of the eight division leaders plus San Francisco (3-1), Green Bay (should be 3-1), Chicago (3-1), Denver (2-2) and Seattle (2-2 but should be 1-3).
Is this a four-game anomaly or a trend that’s gonna last all year? Is defense important once again? While you consider that mind-blowing reversal, chew on these picks for week 5 (home team underlined):
St. Louis(+2) over Arizona: Considering I predicted the Cardinals to win exactly two games this year, I certainly never expected them to be favored on the road against anyone. Obviously my prediction is going to look horrible by the end of the season, but I’m sticking to my guns that Arizona is NOT A GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM. In three of the Cardinals’ four wins, their opponent had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win. They’re the luckiest team I’ve seen since the Rex Grossman-led 2006 Chicago Bears…who went all the way to the Super Bowl. Crap. Still, St. Louis at home is the superior team. Bet accordingly.
Philadelphia (+3.5) over Pittsburgh: Wait, isn’t Philadelphia the luckiest team we’ve seen in years? Am I starting to confuse luck with talent? Are my preseason projections for Arizona to be horrible and Philly to be only decent blinding me to what’s really going on? Well, I certainly think the Eagles are the more legit of the “lucky” teams. When it comes to Pittsburgh, I worry that they’re just starting their regular season now while everyone else has gotten four games under their belts and are rounding into midseason form. The Steelers had to play their first three games without several key contributors—Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall—and then they had a bye last week. While those three guys are now healthy and ready to go, I’m concerned that it’s going to take some time before this team resembles the Steelers of the past 10 years. If Pitt wins, it’ll be by three or less. I’m taking the Philly with the points.
Green Bay (-7) over Indianapolis: Can you imagine if these two teams had played each other last year? Green Bay was on its way to a 15-1 record while putting up 35 points per game. Indy was on its way to a 2-14 season, the number one pick in the draft, and averaged just over 15 points per game. What would the spread have been on the 2011 version of this game? 17? 21? The Colts aren’t that bad this year, and the Packers aren’t that good. But this is still a mismatch that’ll create an easy win for Green Bay. I’ll repeat what I said last week about the Packers: if they can’t win this game by double digits, it’s time to lower your expectations for the 2012 Green Bay Packers.
NY Giants (-9) over Cleveland: As far as suicide pools go, it’s certainly tempting to pick the 2-2 Giants at home against the 0-4 Browns. But I was able to scare myself out of doing that by simply remembering recent history. In week 5 last year, a bad Seattle team was on the road against the Giants. Out of 19 people in the suicide pool, 12 of us pick New York, and of course Seattle pulls out a 36-25 win. It was the same week of the season and a similar “easy home game” for the Giants. And add to that how schizophrenic the Giants are and you can see how easy it was for me not to pick them in suicide. However, I’m picking the Giants to cover nine points…the public thinks the Giants look sketchy and the Browns look competitive. Too many people are gonna go against New York here. Not me. When you inevitably take the Browns with the points, shoot me an email to let me know during which quarter of the game you remembered the QB matchup was Eli Manning vs Brandon Weeden.
Atlanta (-3) over Washington: Last week I gave a pep talk to 49ers fans who were down on their team after an unexpected loss in week 3 to Minnesota. Atlanta should have had an unexpected loss at home in week 4 to Carolina (saved by the unclutchness/questionable decision-making of Cam Newton and Ron Rivera). So as long as the Falcons treat that game as if it was an unforgivable loss, they should be super-motivated for their matchup with RGIII. And when I asked one of my two friends who loves the Redskins about his confidence level this week, he basically said, “I expect the Falcons to pass all over us all day long. Roddy White and Julio Jones will probably have career days.” Fair enough…three points seems too low for an elite team against such a bad defense, even on the road.
Cincinnati(-4) over Miami: Doesn’t it seem like the Dolphins’ M.O. this year is exactly what the New York Jets have been claiming to be for the past four years? Rely on the running game to carry the offense and keep the ball away from the other team, and have an impossible-to-run-against defense. They even have a QB who’s as effective as (or more than) the Jets’ franchise QB. Can the Dolphins ride this formula to back-to-back AFC Championship games like the Jets did? Sadly, they cannot. Mostly because they’re downright terrible against the pass. I’m tempted to say that the Dolphins will keep it close and probably lose by just a field goal, but I think Cincy at home will pass all over Miami and can hopefully win by a touchdown. (Warning: This game has Ryan Tannehill garbage time TD pass for the backdoor Dolphins cover written all over it.)
Baltimore (-6) over Kansas City: This game was my weekly big miss when I guessed all the lines on Tuesday. I had Baltimore -12.5. Honestly this line couldn’t be high enough to get me to bet on the Chiefs. The only argument someone could make against picking the Ravens is that they seem to have one legitimate dud every year against a shitty team. Last year they lost 12-7 at Jacksonville in week 7. Could the dud come against a 1-3 team like KC this year? Of course it could, but it would be unwise to bet on it. I think Baltimore covers so easily that I also picked them in my suicide pool this week.
Carolina(-3) over Seattle: If you take away the Seahawks’ 27-7 win over Dallas in week 2, which seems to be the outlier, their other offensive outputs for the season are 16 points, 7 points and 13 points (I took the liberty of not including the fake TD they got in the Packers’ debacle). They’ve got three offensive touchdowns in those three games. Even if you include the Dallas game, they have five total offensive touchdowns on the season. In a road game this week, their defense won’t have the luxury of their 12th man/home crowd. As long as Carolina can put up 21 points, they’ll cover the spread. This is an easy pick against Seattle. And who knows? Maybe after they lose at Carolina people will stop considering them to be one of the decent NFC teams.
For Molly’s week 5 pick, I gave her the Chicago at Jacksonville game. Should I be worried about having predicted the Bears as a Super Bowl team if I’m repeatedly letting my dog pick whichever game involves them each week? Yes, I probably should. I just don’t know what to make of a Bears team favored by nearly a touchdown on the road when we have the distinct possibility of seeing Jay Cutler get sacked 14 times. Let’s check in with Molly for the pick:
You heard the dog: Jacksonville +6 is the pick.
New England(-7) over Denver: If you’re a Patriots fan, you just knew Aaron Hernandez was returning to the field much sooner than the original estimates suggested after he hurt his ankle in week 2. He just seems like a tough dude, and he’s definitely the type of guy who can’t handle sitting on the sidelines. This is great news for a Patriots’ offense that just dropped 52 on Buffalo. Whether Hernandez plays this week or not, it’s starting to feel like New England is ready to go on one of their patented eight-game winning streaks. If you agree with me, then you have to think the Patriots can cover seven points at home against a mediocre Broncos team. It might be high scoring like most of the media are predicting, but it feels like 41-27 is about right.
San Francisco(-10) over Buffalo: The 49ers beat the Jets 34-0 last week. And the Jets beat the Bills 48-28 in week 1. So a 50-point win by the 9ers against Buffalo seems about right. Right? No, but I do think San Francisco is looking forward to playing in front of their home crowd for the first time in three weeks. They’ll make life a living hell for Ryan “4 touchdowns but also 4 interceptions” Fitzpatrick. And it’s not like Alex Smith should have trouble moving the ball against the Bills’ defense. What am I missing here? I’m not scared of the 10 points because this seems like a big time mismatch.
Minnesota(-6) over Tennessee: Does the “Ross was absolutely right about Christian Ponder” train keep on chugging down the tracks this week? Or does a Tennessee team that seems to be in shambles surprise everyone and make this a close game? Well the Titans aren’t gonna be able to run on Minnesota so let’s put it this way: the only chance Tennessee has to pull off the upset is if Matt Hasselbeck pulls some crazy sorcery out of his ass. I’m talking multiple 65-yard touchdown passes to Jared Cook, or a ridiculous flee-flicker that actually fools the Vikings’ defense. If I’m Mike Munchak, I’m trying fake punts, fake field goals and surprise onsides kicks all day long because my team is just bad enough to play the “we have nothing to lose” card. But since none of that is likely to work, I’ll take the Vikings.
San Diego (+4) over New Orleans: Has anyone ever wasted a gift-wrapped career opportunity quite like Saints interim interim head coach Aaron Kromer? This guy is supposed to be the offensive line coach, and he literally has no other relevant credentials in professional football. So if he had been able to squeeze even two wins out of this miserable team over his six weeks of fake head coaching, he’d have a great case to make for becoming an offensive coordinator and eventually a head coach in the near future. But instead his team has gone 0-4 against opponents who are a combined 2-10 outside of their wins vs New Orleans. Unfortunately for Mr. Kromer the beat goes on this week as San Diego drops 35 on them. At least the Saints have that Drew Brees record-breaking TD ceremony to fall back on.
Wait one other thing: HOW THE FUCK IS THIS 0-4 SAINTS TEAM FAVORED AGAINST A 3-1 TEAM? AND HOW ARE THEY FAVORED BY 4 POINTS??? Hopefully the caps expressed my disgust with this line properly.
Houston (-9) over NY Jets: For my analysis on this game, I really just wanted to tape myself laughing the evilest of laughs. A Mr. Burns sadistic type laugh if you will. Because no one gets quite the hard-on that I get from watching the Jets be the laughing stock of the NFL. But what I actually want to do is revisit that play from last week where Santonio Holmes got hurt…because seriously, how are more people not talking about what a selfish play that was? If that same situation happened to a player on most of the other 31 teams, that guy would be cut immediately…because there’s no way he didn’t flip the ball to the defender on purpose. Like I said last week, it’s just a nice representation of what the New York Jets now stand for—selfish, incompetent and downright awful football. The Texans better not go easy on the Jets…I wanna see 80-yard bombs to Andre Johnson even after the Texans go up 31-3. I wanna see Mark Sanchez booed off the field. Then I wanna see Tim Tebow booed off the field (and would love it more than anything if he flipped off the crowd). I want Rex Ryan fired by week 8. I want it all for this Jets team…everything they deserve and more.