NFL Week 5 Picks Against The Spread

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Well that was quick. Just a week after many of us wondered what would take the place of Breaking Bad in our post-football Sunday night TV schedule, we have an answer. No, not Homeland or Eastbound & Down (though I will eventually catch up on both shows). And no, the answer is definitely not “turn the TV off and spend quality time with the family.”

The answer, it turns out, is more football. What a power move by Roger Goodell. He saw an opening in our collective schedules and attention spans, and he filled it.

Sure, it looks like the best he could come up with this week is San Diego at Oakland, which probably won’t be an aesthetically pleasing experience, but now we can legitimately watch 14 hours of non-stop football this Sunday. Man, that feels good to type. (In case this news flew under the radar for you, this game got moved from 4:25pm EST to 11:35pm EST because of a “scheduling conflict” with the Oakland A’s.)

And you know Goodell’s not done, either. Next week I fully expect a statement from the NFL saying they’re moving the Patriots/Saints game to a 10:30pm EST kickoff out of respect for the unfortunate New England fans who have tickets to both the Pats game and game 2 of the ALCS at Fenway on Sunday. And on and on it’ll go because Roger knows we will watch football whenever he decides to show it.

Did you know that exactly one football team shares its stadium with a baseball team? You’re telling me someone couldn’t have thought ahead to October and the one stadium that might cause a scheduling conflict? They couldn’t have planned for this? That’s ridiculous. And how long does it really take to get the field ready for football? Because they already would have had a minimum of 15 hours after the A’s game ended to get everything in order if they kept the football game at its original time.

But why am I complaining? Someone’s ineptitude is leading to more football. Fine by me.

Speaking of Bay Area football, did you know that Jim Harbaugh openly talked about jizz in a news conference last week? I’ll spare you the potential embarrassment of your wife, girlfriend or mom finding “Jim Harbaugh jizz” in your google search history and provide you the link HERE. I’ve got nothing more on that. I just thought it was a must-mention because how often does a person mention jizz in a non-jizzy context?

One more random Bay Area football tidbit you ask? Fine, here it is. Remember when we thought Matt Flynn’s life couldn’t get any worse after losing out on starting jobs that were catered to him in back-to-back years? Well he’s now officially the Raiders’ third string QB, behind Terrelle Pryor, and…..drum roll please, Matthew McGloin! Who? Matthew McGloin, an undrafted rookie out of Penn State who’s obviously never taken an NFL snap. In one sense Flynn’s life isn’t so bad because he’s getting paid a guaranteed $6.5 million over the next two years. But in another sense, the guy’s NFL career is effectively over, right? I guess being Aaron Rodgers’ understudy for four years doesn’t guarantee you a successful career like being Tom Brady’s understudy does.

Jesus Christ, why is there so much random news out of the two northern California teams this week. Last one for real. San Francisco defensive back Donte Whitner is apparently dropping the “W” in his last name so it reads “Hitner” because he’s so sick and tired of being fined for dangerous hits. Have you ever heard of two things less correlated with one another than him changing his name and the discipline he receives from the league? Personally I would have gone full heal and changed it to “Hitler”. Or maybe something completely dorky like swapping the “T” and the “N” so it would be Whinter, and then he could say he’s the guy who puts the game on ice or something. I don’t know, just spitballing here. Anyway, the guy sounds like a major douche.

If Sunday’s football schedule looks strangely amazing, that’s because it is. You can make the case that four of the worst teams in football are on byes (Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington…combined record = 2-14) while two other semi-uninteresting teams are playing on Thursday (Buffalo at Cleveland) and one more hideous team plays on Monday night (the Jets). Taking out seven of the least interesting teams from Sunday’s slate seems like goodness for us. I’m willing to say there are 8.5 very interesting games on Sunday.

Let’s get on to the money-making for the weekend. If you were waiting for me to have a good week before starting to back my bets, welcome to the start of your gambling season. I went 9-5-1 last week, bringing my season total to….24-35-4. Baby steps.

Buffalo @ Cleveland (-4)

If this wasn’t a Thursday night game, I’d be so confident in the Browns it would border on overconfidence. The Bills aren’t good, and we won’t know until game time whether or not their top handful of defensive backs will play (not to mention C.J. Spiller is a game-time decision). And of course it’s important not to get too high on the Browns just yet because, after all, they’re the Browns. And these Thursday games have a way of being ugly, low-scoring affairs. But I’m still taking Cleveland to cover, winning 23-14. I’m pinning my hopes on those DBs for the Bills not playing, in which case Josh Gordon and Cameron Jordan will have a field day.

Side Note: If this was a Sunday game, I’d be taking Cleveland as my suicide pick. I like this team that much.

Kansas City (-3) at Tennessee

Here’s how much confidence I have in Ryan Fitzpatrick: When I was guessing the lines of each game earlier in the week, I predicted the Chiefs would be 10-point favorites, even though they’re on the road and facing a 3-1 Titans team. I’ll admit 10 is probably aggressive and I’m much more comfortable picking the Chiefs by a field goal. Their pass rush seems legit, and I’ve seen how Fitzpatrick operates under pressure from his time with the Bills. It’s not going to be pretty. If you want to make the case for the Titans, I guess you pin your hopes to the Chiefs not yet proving much on the road? They beat Jacksonville by 26 on the road in week 1, which doesn’t count as a real game, and then they beat the Eagles in Philly by 10 in week 3, but that was with the assistance of 73 Eagles turnovers. So we still don’t know about Kansas City on the road against a competitive team. But I’m not falling for it. Give me the Chiefs to win, 20-13.

Baltimore @ Miami (-3)

Miami’s loss to the Saints on Monday night was a blowout, but it wasn’t in the same vein as the way Jacksonville got destroyed by Seattle a couple weeks ago, or the way Jacksonville got pummeled by Indy last week (or the way Jacksonville will probably lose by triple digits in Denver 10 days from now). It was competitive for the Dolphins for a while, and better execution on one or two plays probably would have kept it close. But the Saints had too many dynamic offensive options (Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham specifically), and a pretty vicious pass rush on Ryan Tannehill. That’s how you’re beating Miami this year. So do the Ravens have those components? Yes and no. Defensively they still get after the QB pretty consistently and their run defense is top 10. But where the Saints are dynamic and dangerous on offense, the Ravens are…whatever the opposite of those words are. Inflexible and safe? This is a tough call, but I’m thinking Baltimore’s one of those teams just like the Giants, when you think you’ve got ‘em figured out, you don’t. Going against my gut here and picking Baltimore to cover and win, 31-27.

Jacksonville @ St. Louis (-11.5)

Here come the back-to-back weeks where you’ll be picking the Jaguars to cover despite how terrible they are. But while the Jags are openly bad, the Rams are in-the-closet bad. They just lost their last two games by a combined 48 points, including a Thursday nighter where every team keeps it close. A big part of me wants to take Jacksonville to win outright, and if Chad Henne was starting, I would. But I don’t have the balls to think Blaine Gabbert can pull out a win on the road. Of course Jacksonville covers, but the Rams win, 30-24.

Side Note: Two weeks ago I planned ahead for the Suicide Pool and I marked down St. Louis as my pick for this week. But now, no fucking way. Don’t blow it on what could be Jacksonville’s only win of the year.

New England @ Cincinnati (-2)

The beauty of what was happening with the Patriots this season is that I actually stopped caring two weeks ago when Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola would return. I know they’d be a huge help on offense, of course, but the defense was playing so well that it really didn’t matter what was happening with the receivers. That all changed when Vince Wilfork went down with the season-ending injury. Now we should be concerned about the D over the long term. Eventually the offense might have to pick up the slack. Is Cincy the team that bursts this fun, unexpected 4-0 bubble?

I can tell you betting on the Pats for the rest of the year is going to go one of two ways. Either they really are that good of a team and we’re all going to profit off these spreads that have them as underdogs or slight favorites when facing decent teams, or they’re not that good and we’re going to struggle all year long trying to figure them out. For this week, I’m going with the more ideal (from a Pats fan standpoint) scenario and picking the Patriots to win, 27-23.

Seattle (-3) @ Indianapolis

The Seahawks’ offense has scored 28 total points in their two road wins this year. It’s no secret that they’re a very different team away from Seattle. But the Colts nearly lost to Oakland at home, then actually lost to Miami at home before winning big in back-to-back road games. Since one of those blowout wins was Jacksonville, I have no idea what to make of this team still. I can tell you that Indy’s run defense blows. So even if Russell Wilson and the pass game struggles, Marshawn Lynch might have a huge day. If this line was a half point higher, I’d definitely be taking the Colts. But it’s not so I’m not. Seattle covers and wins, 26-20.

Detroit @ Green Bay (-7)

I hate picking games early in the year when it involves a team that already had a bye. I feel like we know nothing about the Packers. They’re 1-2. They’ve played a good team, a decent team and a bad team. A fluky loss against that decent team, Cincinnati, is the difference between 2-1 and 1-2. But their pass defense seems to legitimately suck still. And very quietly, Detroit has turned into a possible contender. Their defense is finally playing well, their offense has more options than ever before under Matt Stafford, and the combination of Jim Schwartz and Ndamukong Suh surprisingly hasn’t cost the Lions any games yet. I fully expect Green Bay to win this game because it’s at home, they’ve had two weeks to prepare and they’re something like 15-1 against Detroit over the past eight years. But my very specific prediction for this game is that the Lions will hold a lead late in the 4th quarter, won’t be able to run out the clock, and the Packers will march down the field and win the game, 37-34…meaning Detroit covers.

New Orleans (-1) @ Chicago

I actually thought the Bears would be a slight favorite only because the Saints haven’t been tested on the road yet this year. Their one win away from the Superdome was against Tampa. Chicago, meanwhile, is 2-0 at home. What we’ve got in this game is a Saints offense that excels at passing and sucks at running going against a Bears defense that’s great against the run and bad against the pass. On the flip side, the Bears’ offensive running game is great and the Saints run defense is horrific. Hmm…

I’ve been resistant to jump on the Saints bandwagon, but if there’s one more seat available, I’ll gladly take it. I can’t get over the fact that Chicago squeaked out home wins against the Bengals and Vikings and now an offense that’s firing on all cylinders (can there be a “firing on more than all cylinders”?) is coming to town. I think Bears fans appropriately lower their expectations on this team after Sunday because the Saints win 31-24.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-3)

How in the hell is New York favored in this game, right? Well, because outside of beating up on the comatose Redskins in week 1, the Eagles have been nearly as bad as the Giants…or at least it appears that way. But to the Eagles’ credit, they have faced two of the better teams in the AFC (Kansas City and Denver) as well as a frisky AFC team (San Diego). As much as I’d like Eli Manning’s time as an effective QB to be over, I don’t think that’s the case. I’m always going to be slightly scared of the Giants’ ability to randomly put up a 450-yard passing game and 30+ points. But Chip Kelly will play to his team’s greatest strength in this game, running the ball over and over again. Or, I should say, he better play that way. Run all over the Giants and keep Manning’s time on the field to a minimum. Sounds like a foolproof game plan to me. Philadelphia wins a close one, 29-26.

Carolina (-2) @ Arizona

The 1-2 Panthers favored on the road? That’s weird. Listen, I’m won’t pretend to know a ton about these two teams, but if you’re into the advanced stats that Football Outsiders provides, Carolina is sneaky good this year. And they’re coming off a bye. While the Cardinals are 2-2, remember that last week’s win was against the Mike Glennon-era Buccaneers. The only thing the Cardinals have excelled at so far in 2013 is defending the run. So can the Panthers win if they have to throw a lot? I’ll let you decide for yourself how meaningful this stat is: The Panthers are 4-14 over the past three years when Cam Newton has thrown the ball more than 30 times in a game. And when you consider that Patrick Peterson might be able to neutralize Steve Smith, what else does Carolina have? I know how bad Arizona is. I really do. But Carolina on the road against a superb run D? Not happening. Arizona wins 19-15.

Denver (-9) @ Dallas

No, Dallas, you do not get to be the first team that stops Denver from covering this season. I don’t care that your aerial attack is competent and the Broncos’ weakness is in its pass defense. If you don’t execute flawlessly the entire game, you’re cooked.

Seriously, when’s the last time you watched a Cowboys game and thought “flawless execution”? Let’s say it’s a semi-close game into the 3rd quarter and then a Cowboys’ drive stalls out. Denver takes over and suddenly they’re up 10 or 14 points. Now the pressure’s on Tony Romo and the offense to score on every single drive the rest of the game. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Eventually the Broncos’ scoring pace will slow down—just like New England’s did in November of 2007—but not in this game. Denver rolls to 5-0 behind a 38-24 road win.

Houston @ San Francisco (-7)

This line is too high. I actually think these two teams are very similar. Both have strong offensive lines, above average defenses and one issue on offense that’s keeping them from being a true Super Bowl contender. For the 49ers it’s the lack of healthy wide receivers, which leads to defenses focusing on Anquan Boldin and not having to worry about much else. For the Texans, it’s Matt Schaub. Not a specific part of his game. Just him in general. So while I think San Francisco wins this game, it won’t be by a touchdown. Give me Houston to cover but the 49ers to win, 24-20.

Side Note: Remember when I cried like a little baby earlier this week about having to make picks on Thursday before we have all the info on key injuries? Patrick Willis’ status is of prime importance going into this game. If he plays at 90% of his normal level, the 9ers will be fine. If he’s out, I could absolutely see the Texans pulling off the upset. He’s that important to San Francisco’s defense.

San Diego (-4) @ Oakland

Hey, it’s the trial run of the late late game. What will the ratings for this game be on the East Coast? 0.00? -3.5? I don’t know how ratings work but I know the lower it is, the worse it is. And I can’t imagine a single person in the eastern time zone staying up for this one.

It feels like the line’s one point too high, right? I know the Chargers are playing pretty well and are only two plays away from being 4-0 instead of 2-2. But I see a divisional road game against a sneaky OK quarterback in Terrelle Pryor, not to mention the weird time this game starts. I think this will look a lot like your typical Thursday night game. San Diego wins, but doesn’t cover, 20-17.

NY Jets @ Atlanta (-10)

The Falcons have not been a good team so far this year. Normally I’d jump all over a team getting 10 points against them, but I think I’ve got the Jets pegged this year. They’ll look good against any team that has a below average offense (their two wins are against Tampa Bay and Buffalo). The Jets’ defense is solid, but they can’t keep up with an offense that can score in the high 20s or above. The Falcons’ offense isn’t exactly soaring these days, but it’s good enough at home to win by at least a touchdown. When you factor in a rookie QB for the Jets playing on the road in a loud dome, with his two best WRs out (Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill), I just don’t see good things happening for New York. I might be kicking myself for thinking Atlanta’s competent enough to win by double digits, but I’m counting on the Jets to do lots of Jetsy things in this one. Atlanta wins 33-20.

Side Note: And here is my suicide pick for the week. Atlanta. As much as I wanted to hold onto them for their week 7 home game against Tampa Bay, I just don’t see a better option this week. The name of the game is survival and this pick seems to be the best bet this week.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 5 I’m taking:

  • 6 Favorites & 8 Underdogs
  • Of those 8 Underdogs, 2 of them are Home Dogs and 6 of them are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 5.

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