Real and spectacular picks: Ducks and groupies
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 03, 2009
The NFL is so polarized right now, so divided between mighty heavyweights and low-life losers, that its disastrous Thursday night take, a 19-13 Jets win over the Bills in a lightly attended, largely ignored game from Canuckville, was overshadowed by the Pac-10 epic that sent Oregon to the Rose Bowl, a game the Ducks haven't won since 1917.
Jets-Bills produced 226 passing yards, 32 points and a disinterested malaise from the fans in the crowd. The Oregon State-Oregon Civil War produced 507 passing yards, 70 points, a crowd-surfing duck and a postgame celebration for the ages.
Hey, we told you yesterday which game would grab our attention last night. So we had fun.
Of course, we're also a little bitter that Week 13 of our Real and Spectacular picks got off to such a slow start: we picked the Bills to win 20-16. We were wrong. The game still sucked and we still had fun following the Civil War. But we were wrong.
Still, we've been on a roll lately: over the past three weeks, we've gone 33-13 straight up and a spectacular 32-14 against the spread.
Through Week 12, here's the 2009 performance of our Real and Spectacular picks:
- 121-54 (.691) straight up
- 103-72 (.589) ATS
We'll try to right the ship from Thursday night and produce our 11th week of winners in 13 opportunities this year.
Philadelphia (-4.5) at Atlanta
The Falcons present a very bad combination: a young quarterback struggling to live up to the promise of his rookie season paired with one of the league's worst pass defenses (Atlanta ranks 29th in Defensive Passer Rating, 94.2).
(Update: we originally thought Matt Ryan, who suffered a toe injury last week, would be healthy enough to play this week. But it looks like he's definitely out this week and Chris Redman will get the nod. In either case, the play at QB is a big question mark for the Falcons.)
Toss in some of the league's worst Defensive Hogs (30th) and an injured star running back (Michael Turner has a sprained ankle) and it's hard to find a reason for optimism for Atlanta as they fight to stay above .500 and stay in the playoff race.
If there is one hope, it's the remarkable inconsistency of the Eagles, a trend that has haunted this team for several years, even in their highly successful past decade. But hanging your hat on inconsistency is bound to yield inconsistent results.
We'll rely on Philly's superior offensive playmakers, superior Defensive Hogs (No. 3), super pass defense (No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating) and superior performance against Quality Teams: Atlanta has yet to beat a single team with a winning record (though Philly boasts just one Quality Win).
Philadelphia 23, Atlanta 17
Tampa Bay at Carolina (-6.5)
Don't want to spend a lot of time on this meeting of third-rate NFC clubs (a combined 5-17). But we'll probably get carried away, anyway. That's what we do when it comes to our beloved data. They're like children to us.
Carolina back-up QB Matt Moore, in for the injured Jake Delhomme, has started just three games in his career and those came two years ago at the end of his rookie year (his last start was a 31-23 win over Tampa in the 2007 finale). There's little reason for confidence there.
That makes Tampa rookie Josh Freeman, whose making his fifth consecutive start this week, the most experienced of the two passers. And he's actually performed quite well. With the exception of his three-INT effort against New Orleans and league's No. 1 pass defense (we saw what the Saints could do to a HOFer like Tom Brady Monday night), Freeman has performed quite well, with 6 TDs and just 2 INTs.
Carolina enjoys a huge advantage running the ball (4.83 YPA, third) against one of the league's worst run defenses (4.77 YPA, 30th). So the Panthers should be able to shove the ball down the throats of the Tampa D, much like a CHFF Troll forcing yet another savory mechancially detached chicken part down his throat on 10-cent wing night at Cronin's Publick House.
Carolina actually as a decent pass defense (ninth in DPR), but up-and-comer Freeman will play well, keeping it closer than the experts think.
Carolina 23, Tampa Bay 20
Dallas (-2.5) at N.Y. Giants
What's wrong with the Giants, a team that looked unbeatable back around Columbus Day?
Here's the way we look at it: the Giants are the Sweet, Sweet Connie Hamzy of the NFL: they're just too easy to score upon. In fact, they seem more than willing to let you have your way with them.
In fact, here's that famous tribute to the world's most famous groupie:
show video here
The Giants are dead last in Bendability, our measure of defensive efficiency. They've surrendered just 3,176 yards this year, but opponents have turned those meager 3,176 yards into 261 points. To put that into perspective, the Cardinals, a team hardly known for defensive proficiency, have been gashed for 4,041 yards. But Arizona's opponents have turned all those yards into just 217 points -- far below the number of points yielded by the Giants.
Remember, Bendability is a measure of team-wide defensive efficiency, not just the performance of the defensive unit itself. And what New York's dead-last ranking in Bendability tells us is that this is a team that has holes and inefficiencies in many areas, despite what's still considered a talented team.
The Giants also have trouble keeping good competition out of the end zone: they've surrendered a horrendous 31.6 PPG against Quality Teams, tied with the awful Chiefs for 31st in the NFL.
The Cowboys do not inspire confidence in anyone, despite their 8-3 record and their lead in the NFC East. They've scored just 38 points in their last three games. But they should have enough firepower to exploit the least-bendable, most brittle defense in football and a team that's just 1-5 in its last six outings.
Dallas 26, N.Y. Giants 23
St. Louis at Chicago (-8.5)
Everybody knows the Rams are one of the worst teams in football. The Bears, meanwhile, are at least defined by mediocrity on a good day.
But when it comes to the most critical battle in any game, the passing showdown, these two teams are near statistical equals: the Bears rank 25th in Passer Rating Differential, the Rams 27th.
The Rams, who have managed some close contests this year, will put up a fight against the mistake-prone, bumbling Bears.
Chicago 24, St. Louis 19
Detroit at Cincinnati (-12.5)
The Lions have trouble doing much of anything on offense, and it will look even worse against the surprising Bengals, who have been paced this year by the league's No. 1 scoring defense (15.8).
The Lions, meanwhile, field the league's worst defense (30.5 PPG). And with a league-low 111.8 Defensive Passer Rating, they're own pace to rewrite the record for worst pass defense in history they set just last year (110.8 DPR).
So the Lions got that going for them.
Cincinnati 24, Detroit 0
Tennessee at Indianapolis (-6.5)
Peyton Manning will have another big day against one of the league's worst pass defenses (99.2 DPR), much like he did in their first meeting this year, a 31-9 Indy victory.
But the Colts have been gutting out wins in recent weeks, while the Titans have been surging. Another great day from the explosive Chris Johnson against the average Indy run defense will allow the Titans to make a game of it.
Indianapolis 28, Tennessee 23
Houston at Jacksonville (pick)
Jacksonville's last three home games? Win by three over Buffalo. Win by three over Kansas City. Win by three over St. Louis.
O.K., they're all wins. But considering the low quality of the competition, it's not exactly an inspiring trend.
The Texans lost the first meeting of the year in Houston, but have been the better team in recent weeks, despite the consecutive losses to the Titans and Colts. Matt Schaub will have a very good day against one of the league's weaker pass defenses (Jags are 28th, with a 94.2 Defensive Passer Rating).
Houston 27, Jacksonville 23
Denver (-4.5) at Kansas City
The problem with the Chiefs is not necessarily that they're a bad team – at 3-8, they are – but that they've had such a tough schedule. In fact, they've faced a league high eight games against Quality Teams (tied with the Ravens and these Broncos).
With the exception of the lone Quality Win against the Steelers two weeks ago, it's been ugly, with the Chiefs being outscored nearly two to one in the other seven games against Quality competition (229-116).
The Broncos, meanwhile, appear to have recovered from their four-consecutive-loss disaster of a November with their 26-6 Turkey Day win over the Giants.
The Chiefs have proven incapable of stopping anybody through the air: they rank 30th in Defensive Passer Rating (94.3) and have picked off just seven passes. Only the Lions, and their worst-ever pass defense, have fewer INTs (six).
Look for Kyle Orton to gain some confidence against the defenseless Chiefs.
Denver 28, Kansas City 16
Oakland at Pittsburgh (-13.5)
The Raiders are the Griswolds of the NFL. They're dysfunctional at home, but they're even worse on the road.
"Look, kids, Big Ben, Heinz Field."
The Raiders are just 2-11 in their last 13 trips to the East, with the lone wins coming against the 1-15 Dolphins of 2007 and in the season finale last year against a Tampa club that was spinning out of control like a CHFF reader on New Year's Eve.
For Pittsburgh, they're clearly not as dominant defensively as they were last year in their Super Bowl season, but they still have the best run defense in the game (3.53 YPA), they have Big Ben back and apparently he and Hines Ward have cuddled and made up following the receiver's unusual verbal attack on his QB.
Kind of a douche move calling out the guy who's lifted you and your mates to two Super Bowls titles in the past five years. But at least he didn't chase him through the streets of Florida with a golf club.
Pittsburgh 28, Oakland 10
New Orleans (-9.5) at Washington
Did you see what the Saints did to the Patriots Monday night?
We did, too.
There's certainly the chance of a letdown after what might have been the biggest game in franchise history, and perhaps the greatest win in franchise history. The Saints have also underwhelmed on the road a couple times this year, including a five-point win at St. Louis, while being forced to overcome a huge deficit at Miami.
But when it comes down to the Cold, Hard Football Facts, the Saints right now are the most dominant team we've seen since we've been in business (since 2004), as measured by our Quality Stats. As noted Tuesday, New Orleans ranks No. 1 in seven of our nine Quality Stats. We've literally never seen anything like that on both sides of the ball, not even the 2007 Patriots.
So, acknowledging the risk of a letdown, we'll also bow to the almighty power of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
New Orleans 28, Washington 14
San Diego (-12.5) at Cleveland
One of the hottest teams in football vs. one of the worst teams we've ever seen.
The Chargers have won six straight, and they've been electric over the past three weeks, scoring 106 points (35.3 PPG).
The Browns, meanwhile, hold a rather ignominious streak, a mark so bad it's literally impossible to fathom in this era of high-scoring, space age offenses. With the exception of their game against the nearly-as-bad Lions two weeks ago (a 38-37 loss), the Browns have scored just six offensive touchdowns in their previous 16 games.
We're actually surprised that, here in the year of the double-digit spread, that the Chargers aren't favored by 20.
San Diego 36, Cleveland 6
Minnesota (-4.5) at Arizona
If the Vikings are going to lose again this year, this is the type of game in which they'll fall: a road game against a team with a potentially explosive offense and a bona-fide NFL gunslinger who's proven over the years that he can shoot up just about anybody.
After all, pass defense remains the one concern every Minnesota fan should have about their club, especially in league with so many sharp-shooters out their waiting to attack them (22nd in Defensive Passer Rating).
Of course, the gunslinger in question, Kurt Warner, was knocked silly last week against the Titans. He may or may not play this weekend. So we're going to straddle the fence until we get a definitive answer about Arizona's quarterbacking situation.
If Kurt Warner starts: Minnesota 27, Arizona 24
If Matt Leinart starts: Minnesota 30, Arizona 21
San Francisco at Seattle (pick)
Alex Smith has actually been playing fairly well in recent weeks (5 TD, 1 INT in his last two games), while the Seattle defense represents an easy obstacle to overcome. They're among the worst in the league with a 93.2 Defensive Passer Rating (26th) and their Defensive Hogs are no better than mediocre in any area.
The 49ers, meanwhile, are one of the toughest teams in football to run against (3.61 YPA, third) – not good news for a Seattle club that can't find a running game (3.87 YPA, 27th).
San Francisco makes the Seahawks one dimensional, moves to 4-0 in the division and keeps alive its playoff hopes for another week.
San Francisco 24, Seattle 17
New England (-5.5) at Miami
You know that spiteful rebound sex you used to have with new chicks back in your wild younger days, before you became the lethargic middle-aged slug that you are now? You know the story: one chick would dick you over, and then you'd really hammer it home on the next girl foolish enough to crawl into a compromising situation with you.
Well that's kind of what the Patriots do.
As we noted after the loss to the Colts two weeks ago, revenge games for the Patriots are one of the surest bets in football.
The Patriots have suffered nine defeats in the last three seasons since their last consecutive losses back in 2006 (hard to believe so few, consider the sky-is-falling hysteria in New England that seems to follow each rare defeat). Over that period, they've rebounded with angry-sex ferocity after all nine losses, winning by an average of 23.6 PPG.
The Patriots have also come to re-dominate this rivalry after struggling against Miami so many times, even in the Brady-Belichick Era. The Patriots have won four of the last five meetings, by an average of 17.5 PPG.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have shown no progress this year. They've stumbled from the lofty 11-5, division champ heights of 2008 and have stumbled here in 2009 since their highwater mark back on Oct. 4, when they smoked the Bills, 38-10. Since then, they have two narrow wins over the Jets (including a fluky victory), a two-point win over the Bucs and a seven-point win at Carolina. The were smoked by the struggling Bills last week, 31-14, thanks largely to three Chad Henne picks.
Tom Brady will return to his Hall of Fame form and the Patriots will win their third straight in Miami.
New England 28, Miami 20
Baltimore at Green Bay (-2.5)
The Packers are starting to live up to the standards you'd expect from a team that has possessed such lofty statistical rankings in our Quality Stats all year. They've won three straight since their embarrassing loss at Tampa a month ago, though only the 17-7 win over the Cowboys is a Quality Win.
The Ravens, meanwhile, still stop the run as well as anyone (3.54 YPA, second) and still have a top-10 pass defense (79.0 DPR, eighth).
But they've been merely mediocre across the board on offense, despite some early-season fireworks.
The Ravens have, however, faced perhaps the toughest schedule in football, tied for the league high with eight games against Quality Opponents (3-5). Their five losses have come against a who's who of NFL elite: New England, Indy, Minnesota and Cincinnati (twice).
Green Bay, meanwhile, presents a formidable obstacle, at least statistically. The Packers are No. 2 in our critical Defensive Hog Index, No. 2 in Passer Rating Differential (behind only New Orleans), No. 3 in Offensive Passer Rating (behind NO and Minny, ahead of Indy) and No. 4 in Defensive Passer Rating.
That's a tough team ... on paper. For one week, they channel all that statistical goodness for a win over a solid opponent.
Green Bay 23, Baltimore 17
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