Sunday, November 27, 2011

NFL 2011: Week 12 picks

After an ugly 7-9 Week 10, I rebounded a bit last week to go 8-6. Still not great, but certainly not embarrassing, and I'm off to a good start this week, getting all three Thanksgiving games right. (You can find our picks/analyses of Thursday's games here.) And yet I still don't feel confident at all. This is a truly baffling NFL season.

Allow me to say once again, though, that the challenges of pick'em are exceeded by the challenges of fantasy. I used to do multiple leagues, but for the past few years I've done just one, a hardcore league that goes back at least to 2003, though there were earlier versions of the league before that. We have our own scoring system that a friend and I developed, it's a 2-QB, PPR (points-per-reception), IDP (individual defensive player) league, and we use a bunch of categories for offence, defence, and special teams.

And I'd like to think I know a thing or two not just about the NFL but about fantasy football. But where I win our baseball league year after year, a similarly hardcore league with many of the same managers, success in our football league eludes me. I won in 2003 and was second in 2004, but in the six years since have finished third four times and seventh twice. Meanwhile, my wife, the one "girl" in the league (yes, I'm married to a woman who likes football, is a Steelers fan, and plays fantasy football -- honestly, what more can you ask for?), was the 2008 champion and followed that up with a second-place finish in 2009. We have ten teams and two divisions this year. I'm third in my division and sixth overall (and you need to finish in the top six to make the playoffs). My wife is first in our division and second overall, three games ahead of me. She's clinched a playoff spot and may get a first-round bye. Meanwhile, I'm barely hanging on.

Okay, okay, no one likes to hear about other people's fantasy teams, let alone their fantasy problems. My point, though, is that fantasy football is even more unpredictable than real football. Sometimes you just don't know where anyone is on the depth chart. Anyone with a Redskins running back knows this. But the bigger problem this year is injuries, and it's a problem both in real and in fantasy football. Take the Chiefs, for example, who play host to my Steelers tonight. They lost Jamaal Charles, one of the best RBs in the league and a top-5 fantasy pick, in the first game of the season. They've also lost Eric Berry, one of the top safeties in the league, Tony Moeaki, an up-and-coming TE, and, more recently, QB Matt Cassel, hardly a stud but still a decent player. They've lost badly to some good teams (41-7 to Buffalo in Week 1, 48-3 to Detroit in Week 2, 31-3 to a rising Miami team in Week 9, 34-3 to New England last week), beaten some bad teams (Minnesota and Indianapolis), and generally been inconsistent. Their two-game stretch in Weeks 7 and 8 was impressive (28-0 over Oakland, 23-20 over San Diego, though the Chargers only lost that game because of a Rivers fumble at the end -- remember?), but they're on a three-game losing streak and will soon be turning the ball over to Kyle Orton. There's still some talent there, and they benefit from being in the horrible AFC West, but all those injuries? They may win a game or two here and there, and maybe they'll ride Arrowhead to a win tonight, but it's hard to overcome so many injuries.

Just as it will be hard for me to overcome the injury to Adrian Peterson, my first-round pick and anchor of my fantasy offence. He's out today, forcing me to play a gimpy Beanie Wells in his place. This is a weak I have to win. It's not looking good. I started the Lions' Kevin Smith in my other RB spot, hoping that he'd pick up right where he left off in Week 10 and put up some solid numbers on Thanksgiving against the Pack. Well, he did... right up until he was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury. So much for that. Once the game starts, as you know, you can't take a guy out of your starting lineup. He's locked in. Smith ended up with 8.7 points. He was on place for three times that. Thankfully, I have Terrell Suggs as one of my IDPs. He put up three sacks, a forced fumble, and, in my league, a whopping 25 points (huge for an IDP). Now I need to count on Big Ben, Matt Ryan, Mike Wallace, Darren Sproles, and, yes, Beanie, among others, to put up big numbers today and tomorrow. Can they? Of course. But fantasy football can be baffling, too, and this just many not be my year. Again.

Alright, on to the picks... I've got them ready and will post them shortly. Stay tuned.

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 (not counting this week's three Thanksgiving games):

Last week

RKB: 12-2 (plus upset) = 14 points
The Kid: 11-3 (plus upset) = 13 points
MJWS: 8-6 = 8 points

Like I said, a better week for me, but well back of Richard and The Kid for the second week in a row. Basically, I think I got a little too cute with my picks.

Season to date

RKB: 109-51 (7 upsets right, 2 locks wrong) = 119 points
MJWS: 105-55 (4 upsets right, 3 locks wrong) = 107 points
The Kid: 97-63 (4 upsets right, 4 locks wrong) = 97 points

There's no denying it, Richard can pick upsets.

Here are this week's games (along with Thursday's Green Bay at Detroit, Miami at Dallas, and San Francisco at Baltimore):

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

Stickings Pickings

Picks: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Carolina, St. Louis, N.Y. Jets, Houston, Chicago, Washington, New England, San Diego, Pittsburgh, New Orleans.

Some ugly 1 pm games, and I'm going strictly with the favourites. I picked the Jets over the Bills -- and right now it's 7-7. Could go either way, but without Fred Jackson I'm just not sure how Buffalo puts up enough points. Not that the Jets can do much on offence these days -- have I mentioned that Sanchez is terrible? -- but they have the better D. Houston would be potential lock, but I need to see what Leinart can do. (And I picked up him as my third QB on my fantasy team. Seriously. He's not that bad.) Otherwise I'm just flipping from game to game. Cincy should be able to put away the Browns. Same with the ATL over Minny (without AP -- have I mentioned that?). Terrible games.

Things pick up at 4, and here I'm going 'dogs: The Bears don't have Cutler and may not have Hester (other than on returns), but Hanie proved in last year's NFC championship game against Green Bay that he can get things done when called upon to do so, and I just figure the Bears rally around their young QB and pull this out. Washington over Seattle? Whatever. Sexy Rexy played really well against Dallas last week and, while I'm hesitant to pick a bad east-coast team to win at Seattle (with maybe the best "12th man" in the league), I think the 'Skins have the better talent on both sides of the ball.

Okay, just those two 'dogs. New England has figured things out on D and should beat the Vick-less Iggles even on the road, with Brady tearing apart Philly's dream-team (it was thought in the pre-season) D, and I'm sticking with the disappointing Chargers to beat Tebow and the Broncos. Don't get me wrong. San Diego's not a good team. Certainly not what many were expecting it to be. The o-line is weak, Rivers is forcing things (and throwing a ton of INTs), the receiving corps is shallow (after V-Jax and the great but oft-injured Gates), neither Mathews nor Tolbert is a stud RB, and other than Weddle there's no one on the D who stands out as a star (just some has-been ex-stars like Spikes and maybe Jammer). I'm still not sold on Tebow, obviously (if you've read any of our football posts recently, you know where I stand on him, but see here), and that offence can't put many points up, but the D is solid now, particularly the Miller-Dumervil-led pass rush. Okay, this is a toss-up. I'll take the home team.

Steelers-Chiefs? See below.

Giants-Saints? Finally, a great matchup for MNF. The G-men can't run without Bradshaw, who's out again, and it what may turn into a bit of shootout I'll take Brees over the lesser Manning.

Lock of the Week: Pittsburgh.

I never feel good taking the Steelers as a lock. They have a way of playing down to the opposition, much like the Ravens. If they lose this one, though, I'll have bigger things to worry about than how I'm doing at pick'em.

Other possibilities: Cincinnati, Atlanta

Upset of the Week: Chicago or Washington.

Shall I flip a coin? Nah, I'll take the Bears.

Barry's Tea Leaves

Picks: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Arizona, N.Y. Jets, Houston, Chicago, Washington, New England, San Diego, Pittsburgh, N.Y. Giants.

Lock of the Week: Cincinnati. 

Upset of the Week: Miami.

Football is a sickness. I don't know why we put ourselves though the torture. My Giants absolutely sucked last week. The week before, they the played the surging 'Niners and looked good, albeit in a loss. Then they play the Eagles, without their star QB, and look like crap.

Terrible to admit, but when the Giants crash, which they seem to do frequently late each season, I can't watch. When they're playing well, I'm all over that, watching the NFL network around the clock. But when they start to lose, I can't even be near the game, any game. I'm starting the feel that dread coming on.

So why, you ask, would I pick them to beat New Orleans? Because it could happen, if they can run the ball just a little bit. And, besides, I'm not picking against the Giants. Fun is fun in a pick'em league, but my Giants and me? That's forever, pathetic as they so frequently are. 

Washington stayed close against Dallas and Seattle is not a good team, so the Redskins.

New England should be able to beat Philly, at least I hope so.

Atlanta vs. Minnesota could also be a closer game than some might think. Wouldn't be surprised if the Vikes pull it out. 

Cincy over Cleveland, and Houston over JAX, no doubt. Same with Jets over the Bills. The Jets are not a great team, but it's over for the Bills, though it was fun while it lasted. Tampa Bay over Tennessee, though I'm not sure why. Arizona over St. Louis in a "who cares" affair. Indy? Ugh. Chicago over Oakland, a matter of simple quality. San Diego over Tebow. Still not sold on the kid. You can't win consistently in the NFL if you can't throw from the pocket, but you can win some weird ones, I know. And Pitt over KC, sure.

Comfortable Kid

Picks: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Carolina, St. Louis, N.Y. Jets, Houston, Chicago, Seattle, New England, Denver, Pittsburgh, New Orleans.

Lock of the Week: Pittsburgh.

I can't see Tyler Palko being able to beat a Steelers defense that is coming off a bye week. Pittsburgh has to take this game down.

Upset of the Week: Denver.

San Diego is 4-6 and Tim Tebow has won three of his four games as a starter on the road to bring the Broncos to .500. I just don't think the Chargers are what we thought they should be this year. I'll take Denver to spoil another team's playoff hopes.

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