Sunday, October 02, 2011

NFL 2011: Week 4 picks

As far as I'm concerned, last week played out rather predictably. Hence my 13-3 record. Not too shabby. But, then, I got two big upsets right: Seattle over Arizona and Oakland over the Jets.

I got the Eagles-Giants game wrong, picking Philly, but, of course, the Eagles lost broken-handed Vick, who, had he played the whole game, might have been the difference between a loss and a win for a team that hasn't exactly looked steller so far this year, certainly not the Miami Heat-like superteam some thought they'd be with Nnamdi in the fold at CB and a Vick-driven offence that was supposedly as potent as any in the league.

Oh, and Eli didn't suck. I usually think he'll suck. I got that wrong.

As for my Steelers... honestly, don't get me started. That Sunday-nighter in Indy made me sick. Literally. My stomach was churning, my anxiety was making me woozy, and, while that Harrison strip-sack picked up and returned for a TD by Polamalu pulled me off the couch to jump and down, pump my fist in various directions, and grunt loudly approvingly, much to the amusement of my adult female cohabitant otherwise known as my wife (and fantasy football rival), my mood was in a sinkhole of despair. Really? We couldn't beat a struggling, Kerry Collins-led Colts team convincingly? No? Well, no. Not when we couldn't protect Ben from the ravages of Mathis and Freeney, not with an o-line patched together out of varying degrees of inadequacy. Something's wrong with the Steelers, something bigger than the o-line, but that's the place to start. I've defended the o-line in the past. After all, the Steelers have made the Super Bowl three times in the past six years, winning two. But this year... oh, it's just not good enough even for mediocrity, and the latest spate of injuries will only make a terrible situation worse.

And they've got to go up against a high-powered Texas squad with a solid pass rush of its own. Could be a long, long day.

I feel like throwing up.

You know, the way Pats fans must have felt watching golden boy Tom Brady throw four picks against the Bills. The Bills! The m@$#&%*$@#ing Bills!!! That won't happen every week, which is to say, the Bills got lucky, but there's no doubting they're better than advertised, or at least better than I expected. They'll fall back down to the middle before too long, but my "local" team (just down the QEW from Toronto) is certainly entertaining, and it's nice that Buffalonians finally have a decent football team to root for after so many years of craptastic badness.

Okay, to the picks.

As you may know, my associate editor Richard, a friend of ours nicknamed Comfortable Kid, and I are tracking our picks this year, with posts going up each Sunday at 11 am. We get one point for each correct pick, along with two bonus points if we get our Upset of the Week right. If we get our Lock of the Week wrong, we lose two points as a penalty. Below you'll find our picks, plus comments. First, though, here's how we're doing so far:

Last week

MJWS: 13-3 (plus upset) = 15 points
RKB: 11-5 (plus upset) = 13 points
The Kid: 9-7 (plus upset, minus lock) = 9 points

Season to date

MJWS: 35-13 (2 upsets right, 0 locks wrong) = 39 points
RKB: 31-17 (1 upsets right, 1 locks wrong) = 31 points
The Kid: 28-20 (1 upsets right, 2 locks wrong) = 26 points

Here are this week's games:

Carolina at Chicago
Buffalo at Cincinnati
Tennessee at Cleveland
Detroit at Dallas
Minnesota at Kansas City
Washington at St. Louis
San Francisco at Philadelphia
New Orleans at Jacksonville
Pittsburgh at Houston
N.Y. Giants at Arizona
Atlanta at Seattle
Denver at Green Bay
New England at Oakland
Miami at San Diego
N.Y. Jets at Baltimore
Indianapolis at Tampa Bay

Stickings' Pickings

Picks: Carolina, Buffalo, Tennessee, Detroit, Minnesota, Washington, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Houston, N.Y. Giants, Atlanta, Green Bay, New England, San Diego, Baltimore, Tampa Bay.

I'm not picking that may 'dogs this week, but, then, I just don't see that many 'dogs winning. Could New England lose in Oakland? Of course. Belichick is a defensive genius, I'll give him that, but even he can't overcome a lackluster secondary and zero pass rush. But this is the Raiders we're talking about. They put up big points against the Bills (unsurprisingly so) and Jets (somewhat surprisingly so, though the Jets are vulnerable against the run), and McFadden certainly has the talent to power them once again this week, but I suspect Belichick has already found a way to slow them down, just he did San Diego, more or less, a couple of weeks ago.

I must say, though, I'm not terribly comfortable with several of my picks:

-- Tennessee over Cleveland? Yes, but without Britt and with a CJ2K who hasn't exactly shown up yet this year, it's possible this is a low-scoring game favouring the home team.

-- Washington over St. Louis? Yes, but at some point Bradford and Co. are going to figure it out, no, what with supposed offensive genius (and Belichick protege) Josh McDaniels calling the shots. But the 'Skins have a really good pass defence and a not so really good rush defence, which means they should be able to shut down Bradford, and I just don't think the Rams' Steven Jackson is good enough (or healthy enough) to shoulder the load on his own. But do I trust Sexy Rexy? Nope.

-- Minnesota over Kansas City? Yes, but Donovan McNabb. Enough said. (Plus, KC's a tough place to play and the Vikes haven't shown they can play a whole game without disintegrating.

-- Tampa Bay over Indianapolis? Yes, but maybe Curtis Painter is good. Or maybe not.

Otherwise, surely Detroit is better than Dallas -- even in Dallas. Romo's still not healthy, as he showed last week with an incredibly awkward-looking throwing motion, and Detroit has the firepower on offence to destroy the Cowboys awful secondary.

And surely Baltimore should take care of business at home against the Jets. Then again, the Jets might be able to shut down Flacco, if not Rice, and Rex Ryan, like Belichick, may just find a way not to lose two in a row.

Lock of the Week: Green Bay.

The Pack actually haven't been as explosive as I thought they'd be, even if they've put up a lot of points so far -- 42 against NO, 30 against CAR, 27 against CHI. That's a downward trajectory, of course, though also against progressively better defences (even if the Saints must be better than they've shown so far). The Broncos are just what they need, even if Denver's pass defence is actually a lot better than some might think. Rodgers should be able to put up 35+ points, while a surprisingly struggling Packers' D should be able to right the ship against Orton and a fairly pathetic Bronco's O.

Another option is Buffalo, which should beat Cincy. Should. But the Bengals, who have a decent defence while the offence is still trying to find itself with rookie Andy Dalton behind center, are at home, and at some point that unstoppable Bills offence is going to stall. It has to... right?

Upset of the Week: Carolina.

The Kid makes a good case for Seattle (also his upset pick last week) -- see below. They're at home, where they thrive, and the Falcons are on the road, where they struggle, and Seattle actually has a decent run defence (good enough to stop Michael Turner). But talent-wise, it's no contest. Matt Ryan has the weapons (if not Turner, then stud Roddy White, likely stud-to-be Julio Jones, and ex-stud but ageless Tony Gonzalez) and will find a way to use them.

Maybe Arizona? Sorry, Richard, but your Giants aren't that good, and they're travelling west this week to face... oh, right, the Cardinals. Ew. Sorry.

So, yes, the Panthers. Why the hell not? And by Panthers, of course, I mean one Panther, Cam Newton, who should recover from his first less-than-mindboggling NFL regular season game (one played in a hurricane, mind you) to lead Carolina over Chicago. This is a risky pick, though. Cam's on the road (where the Panthers lost to Arizona in Week 1) and is going up against the best defence he's faced so far (yes, better than the gross disappointment known as the Packers' D), a revved-up Bears unit that can force turnovers with the best of 'em. But, really, Jay Cutler? I saw him as sleeper coming into the year, but he's been mediocre at best so far, and often just plain awful. That may have to do with a receiving corps that ranks with the worst in the league (with the excepton of RB Matt Forte, of whom I have always been a big fan), but regardless it's hard to see the Bears putting up a lot of points, and that gives Newton an opening for the upset.

Barry's Tea Leaves

Picks: Chicago, Buffalo, Tennessee, Detroit, Minnesota, Washington, San Francisco, New Orleans, Houston, N.Y. Giants, Atlanta, Green Bay, New England, San Diego, Baltimore, Tampa Bay.

Lock of the Week: Green Bay.
Upset of the Week: San Francisco.

For Chicago vs. Carolina, Cam Newton is good, Chicago is not that bad, so the Bears should win, though it will be close. I have to pick Buffalo until they lose something, but Cincy's D is good. Another close one. Tennessee against Cleveland. I know Britt is gone, but Hasselbeck is playing well, so the Titans. I'm going with Detroit over Dallas. Yeah, Romo had a gutsy game, but they still had to settle for nothing but field goals. That's not the mark of a good team. I think the Texans will beat the Steelers, but not by much. I put a lot of stock in the fact that teams have to learn to have winning cultures, and the Texans aren't quite there. And the Steelers are about nothing but winning. Still, in a close one, I'm going with Texas.

I'm picking San Francisco over the Eagles as my upset of the week. SF has a good defence and I don't think Vick should be playing this week. Look for him to get knocked out of the game before the first half is over. Washington over St. Louis. The Redskins are not an elite team, but St. Louis sucks. Boy has Atlanta disappointed, but they are playing the Seahawks. Gotta give it to the Falcons. Green Bay and Denver? Let me think. Yeah, right. NE and Oakland? I heard a stat that NE has gone something like 28-2 after a loss over the past few years. I wouldn't want to be on a Belichick team after a loss. Oakland has looked okay but not okay enough to win here.

I'm not a Jets fan and I think Rex Ryan is so full of shit, but they are a good team. So is Baltimore. Edge to the Ravens.

Poor Indy. I guess Painter is starting and Tampa is winning.

NO over JAX, San Diego over Miami, and the Vikes over the "hapless Chiefs" without much need for thought. (Where else do you get to use a word like "hapless" but in sports. It's like the words "drubbing" and "bested.")

And finally to my Giants. They played some smart football against the Eagles, on both sides of the ball. They should win this game against Arizona and prove that they are for real, injuries and all.

Comfortable Kid

Picks: Chicago, Buffalo, Tennessee, Detroit, Minnesota, Washington, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Houston, N.Y. Giants, Seattle, Green Bay, New England, San Diego, Baltimore, Tampa Bay.

Lock of the Week: Green Bay.

I'm one for three on "locks" so far this year. Yikes. I was getting cute with good teams on the road and I will be shying away from making such decisions as we move forward. Green Bay's in Lambeau and they'll face a Denver team that has yet to define themselves. They can't run the football so they'll be unable to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. I think we'll see at least a double-digit win for the Packers, and with Ryan Grant out with a bummed kidney, look for James Starks to put up some numbers.

Upset of the Week: Seattle.

I think Michael and Richard would agree that this is a tough week to find an upset, but I'm going to roll with Seattle here. It's well known that Matt Ryan likes playing at home and in domes, so I think they turn more to the run here. With this in mind, it's important to note that the Seahawks are surprisingly good against the ground attack so far this season, holding opposing rushers to only 3.1 yards per carry -- that's good for 5th best in the NFL. If the Seahawks see some bounces go their way, I could see them taking this one down. 

(Photos: Young, old, and young at QB -- Carolina's Cam Newton, Tennessee's Matt Hasselbeck, and Atlanta's Matt Ryan.)

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