Real and spectacular picks: Philly-style cheese
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 09, 2009
We're finally ahead of schedule here and have all our picks published in time for the Thursday night game, this week pitting Pittsburgh at Cleveland.
We'd like to give credit to our diligence, work ethic and concern for our readers.
But the truth is that we couldn't care less about you people and that the early picks are actually a sign of our football-loving gluttony. Some members of the CHFF crew are heading down to Philly Friday to attend the big Army-Navy game this weekend and to stuff our vast pieholes with enough cheesesteaks to sink a battleship.
If you can't be there yourself, you can fix up your own cheesesteaks at home, thanks to the recipe for the original cheesesteak provided to us by the gang at Pat's King of Cheesesteaks.
In the meantime, in our ongoing tribute to the cheesy music of the 1980s, we provide for you the decade's No. 1 act out of Philly: The Hooters. The group said that they named the band after that weird little instrument they play at the beginning of the song. But you, we and Teri Hatcher know that "hooters" refers to the round, firm, supple, real and very spectacular bosoms that give our life meaning.
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As we dive into our real and spectacular Week 14 picks, we're trying to recover from a rare losing week. We went just 9-7 straight up last week and an awful 5-11 against the spread. It was just our third losing week ATS against 10 winning efforts this season.
We're now 130-61 (.681) straight up this year and 108-83 ATS (.565). That's still pretty good.
Pittsburgh (-9.5) at Cleveland
The 2009 Browns have given the worst visual performance by a color since "Reds."
At the other end of the spectrum, Pittsburgh is once again giving us the limp title defense that differentiates the 21st-century Steelers from their 1970s dynastic counterparts. The 2009 season in Steel Town has been low-lighted by recent losses to the Chiefs and Raiders and by injury issues with its three best players: Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward.
The Steelers have enjoyed 12 straight wins over Cleveland, eight of them double-digit victories. We'll take a shot that even an ailing, teetering Pittsburgh team is able to keep alive the streak against what will go down as the worst team in Cleveland history – even worse than the Chris Palmer Browns when the franchise was reborn a decade ago.
Pittsburgh 20, Cleveland 7
New Orleans (-9.5) at Atlanta
The Saints suffered a not-unexpected letdown at Washington last week, in the wake of their defining win over the Patriots in Week 12. Yet they still muscled through a dramatic 33-30 victory – a win, as we noted in our Power Rankings, that they statistically had just a 1 percent chance of pulling out at one point.
The Falcons, meanwhile, have been a disaster against Quality competition this year, with an 0-5 record while getting outscored by an average of two touchdowns (19.2 to 33.2).
Only the Chiefs have been worse defensively than Atlanta against Quality Teams (33.6 PPG). And now the Falcons face a team that's on pace to produce the third-best offense in NFL history (36.7 PPG).
We expect a big New Orleans rebound against a very vulnerable defense.
New Orleans 34, Atlanta 20
Detroit at Baltimore (-12.5)
This game will suck, but it offers a gorgeous case study in statistical symmetry.
Joe Flacco has been, with his fellow sophomore Matt Ryan in Atlanta, one of the more disappointing players in football this year after his very solid rookie campaign.
The Ravens have put more weight on his shoulders, but it's yielded lesser results. In fact, through 12 games this year, his stat line looks almost exactly like his performance through all 16 games last year:
2009: 257 of 406 (63.3%), 2,881 yards, 7.1 YPA, 14 TD, 11 INT, 84.6 rating
2008: 257 of 428 (60.0%), 2,971 yards, 6.9 YPA, 14 TD, 12 INT, 80.3 rating.
But Flacco will get a big boost this week against a Lions team vying to challenge its 2007 and 2008 counterparts for the worst pass defense in NFL history.
The Lions completely remodeled their defense this year. In fact, virtually the entire secondary, and most of the defensive starters, weren't even on the team last year. But in one of the great statistical miracles in history, this completely revamped crew has put up nearly the same exact Defensive Passer Rating as the 2008 team that posted the highest DPR in history.
Here's a look at the performance of Detroit's pass defense performance through 12 games this year, compared with all 16 games last year:
2009: 292 of 419 (69.7%), 3,425 yards, 8.2 YPA, 28 TD, 8 INT, 108.5 rating
2008: 304 of 444 (68.5%), 3,903 yards, 8.8 YPA, 25 TD, 4 INT, 110.8 rating
That's amazing: Detroit faced 27.8 pass attempts per game last year. They face 34.9 pass attempts per game this year. Those numbers tell us that NFL teams have been studying the Cold, Hard Football Facts and the importance of Defensive Passer Rating and realized that the Lions pass defense was much worse last year than its yardage total indicated ... so opponents are passing against Detroit more than ever.
Yards allowed, as you but few "pundits" know, is a very, very bad way to measure pass defenses. Defensive Passer Rating is a very, very effective way to measure pass defenses.
It all spells good news for Flacco as he attempts to emerge from his second-year doldrums.
Baltimore 30, Detroit 16
Green Bay (-2.5) at Chicago
This is a great pigskin petri dish which we can examine to find the real Packers: the statistical juggernaut we see in our Quality Stats, or the team that lost to the Buccaneers and stood at 4-4 just a month ago.
A loss here and we can throw out our numbers as they relate to this team. A big win, which the numbers tell us is likely, and the Acme Packing Co. starts to look a little more interesting as a playoff spoiler.
Green Bay 28, Chicago 20
Seattle at Houston (-5.5)
Who cares? The Seahawks are probably the least notable team in football this year. Not good enough for anybody outside of Ballard to take notice, not bad enough, like the Rams, Browns or Lions, to serve as a national punchline.
We think the Seahawks should adopt the geoduck clam (pictured here in its massive glory) as their official mascot. That move would generate some attention around the country. Hey, you know what they say: there's no such thing as bad publicity.
The Texans, meanwhile, are disappointing everybody once again. They've lost four straight divisional games to ruin a promising 5-3 start and must now win out, including a season finale against the Patriots, just for the honor of the first winning season in franchhise history.
Houston 27, Seattle 17
Denver at Indianapolis (-6.5)
The Colts have owned this relationship in recent years – they've had "hand" as George Constanza called it. Indy has won four of the last five meetings, including two postseason clashes, by an average of 19.3 PPG.
Denver handled Indy pretty easily back in 2004, winning 33-14, and fought a close battle in 2006, falling 34-31. But those games were both in the Rockies.
The domes of Indy have spelled death for the Broncos. And we expect it will again, as the Colts set an NFL record with their 22nd consecutive regular-season victory.
Indianapolis 26, Denver 20
Miami at Jacksonville (-2.5)
Miami made every play go its way to eke out a dramatic win over the Patriots last week. They'll have an easier time against the Jaguars.
Jacksonville is good at one thing: running the football. They're fifth in the NFL with 4.63 YPA on the ground. But Miami is pretty good moving the football on the ground, too (4.54 YPA, eighth).
The big advantage for the Dolphins comes on the other side of the ball. Miami's Defensive Hogs are the fifth-best in the business and fourth best at both forcing Negative Pass Plays and getting off the field on third downs.
Jacksonville's Defensive Hogs are among the worst in the league: 26th overall and dead last at forcing opponents into Negative Pass Plays.
So the battle in the trenches definitely goes Miami's way.
Chad Henne will build on his promising effort against the Patriots and help produce a road win for the 'Fins, while David Garrard will find himself under pressure much of the day.
Miami 24, Jacksonville 17
Buffalo at Kansas City (pick)
As noted in our Week 14 Power Rankings, Buffalo's Defensive Hogs present one of the most curious paradoxes in CHFF history: they're No. 1 at forcing Negative Pass Plays (11.49% of opponent attempts end in a sack or INT) but they're dead last at stopping the run (4.93 YPA). The Chiefs, for their part, are bad everywhere on the defensive front.
Against most opponents, that inability to stop the run would be a huge problem for the Bills. But not against Kansas City, which is 30th in the NFL with an average of 3.64 YPA.
That creates a bad match-up for the Chiefs: they're also among the worst in the NFL passing the ball (4.67 Passing Yards Per Attempt) and now must go up against the best pass defense in the NFL: Buffalo is No. 1 with a 62.5 Defensive Passer Rating and tied for second with 21 picks.
Expect two long days for both offenses – but a little bit longer for the Chiefs.
Buffalo 6, Kansas City 5
Cincinnati at Minnesota (-6.5)
We never would have envisioned this at the start of the year, but Bengals-Vikings is the most compelling match-up of Week 14: Minnesota's high-profile offense (29.9 PPG, 2nd) against Cincy's surprising shut-down defense (15.6 PPG, 1st).
BrettFavre is off a very gunslinger-esque two-pick effort against the Cardinals that easily could have produced four INTs if not for Arizona's butter-skinned defenders. Even CHFF's resident Vikings suck-up and BrettFavre rumpswap, Colonel Comey, expressed concern with the quarterback's performance over a bowl of tasty Buffalo wings on Wednesday.
The Bengals, meanwhile, have played their best defense of the season over the last six games, surrendering 69 points (11.5 PPG). Surprisingly, only the Raiders have scored more than 13 points during this stretch (a 20-17 Oakland victory).
The Cincy defense is No. 1 in the NFL on third down (opponents are stopped 67.1% of the time), No. 4 on our Defensive Hog Index, No. 6 against the run (3.82 YPA) and No. 7 in Defensive Passer Rating.
The Vikings, meanwhile, have a huge hole in their pass defense, as we noted before the loss to the Cardinals (24th in Defensive Passer Rating).
Cincinnati 24, Minnesota 21
Carolina at New England (-13.5)
The Panthers should prove a tasty dose of Dr. Feelgood for the depressed Patriots, fresh off one of their worst losses of the decade.
Look at it this way: the Panthers needed five INTs last week merely to eke out a 16-6 home win against Tampa.
The Patriots will shut down one of the league's most ineffective passing attacks (58.5 passer rating, 31st; 5.27 YPA, 26th) while moving the ball easily against a Carolina defense that stops the pass well (6th in Defensive Passer Rating) but is vulnerable against the run (4.64 YPA, 30th).
New England 28, Carolina 14
N.Y. Jets (-3.5) at Tampa Bay
The Bucs are the Jets with a bad defense.
Both teams have mistake-prone quarterbacks. New York's Mark Sanchez has thrown 17 picks this year, with just 11 TDs and a measly 63.7 passer rating, while completing barely more than half his passes (53.2%).
Tampa's Josh Freeman, the NFL's most promising rookie quarterback this year, is fresh off a Sanchez-esque five-pick performance against the Panthers.
The difference is on defense: the Jets have been able to overcome the inept play of their rookie passer and win half their games thanks to a shutdown pass defense. The J-Men are third in the NFL with a 64.0 Defensive Passer Rating and have surrendered a league-low seven TD tosses.
The Bucs have no such luck on defense: they're 25th in Defensive Passer Rating (92.1) and have allowed 24 touchdowns through the air. Only the Titans and Lions have allowed more.
N.Y. Jets 23, Tampa Bay 16
St. Louis at Tennessee (-12.5)
Remember the last time you saw a 5-7 team that was a two-touchdown favorite?
Neither do we. But we'll buy, as Chris Johnson, the NFL's most prolific rushing attack (5.33 YPA) and the NFL's top-ranked Offensive Hogs dominate in the trenches and run wild over the NFL's worst Defensive Hogs and 28th-ranked unit against the run (4.59 YPA).
Tennessee 28, St. Louis 13
Washington (-1.5) at Oakland
Both quarterbacks had career days last week, which could make this a semi-interesting match-up, far more compelling than it looked to be just 10 days ago.
Oakland's Bruce Gradkowski produced the first 300-yard game (308), his first three-touchdown game and the highest passer rating (121.8) of his four-year career in last week's shocking 27-24 win over the Steelers.
Washington's Jason Campbell produced the most prolific day of his career (367 yards), his second three-touchdown game and one of the highest passer ratings (111.9) of his four-year career in last week's hard-fought 33-30 defeat against the mighty Saints pass defense.
Given the mirror-like emergence of these passers, Redskins-Raiders might produce their most interesting meeting since Super Bowl XVIII.
Too bad nobody will see it: the Raiders have averaged just 41,800 at the gate in their last five home games. That's AFL-era bad.
Oakland 23, Washington 20
San Diego at Dallas (-2.5)
We'll make this short and sweet:
The Chargers have not lost a December game since 2005, winning an NFL-record 15 straight games in the last month of the year.
The Cowboys rarely win in December – 5-9 under Tony Romo's stewardship, including 1-4 since last season.
Add in the fact that the Chargers are on a seven-game win streak and are growing ever-dominant in our Quality Stats, and we like the Chargers to forge the road upset against Dallas and the NFL's Sunshine Superman.
San Diego 27, Dallas 23
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants (-1.5)
The NFC East, the NFL's Glamour Division, always seems to offer pivotal games of national interest in December, and this year and this week is no exception.
The 8-4 Eagles played their best game of 2009 last week, pasting the Falcons, 34-7 and have now won three straight. The 7-5 Giants, meanwhile, pulled off their biggest win of the year, knocking off division-leader Dallas, 31-24, to stay alive in the race for the division title.
The Eagles boast one key advantage: they're tied with Green Bay for the No. 1 spot on our critical Defensive Hog Index and stand second in the league, forcing Negative Pass Plays on 11.45 percent of dropbacks. Philly is also No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating, and fourth in the league with 20 INTs this year.
That's a bad match-up for the Giants and one of the least accurate passers in the NFL. Eli Manning has completed just 59.4 percent of his passes – a number that doesn't cut the mustard in an era when the elite passers are completing nearly 70 percent of their throws.
The Giants are also struggling to stop opposing passers, as evidenced by their very bad 90.4 Defensive Passer Rating 22nd).
Look for the Eagles to win the passing battle and capture the key road victory in the NFC East.
Philadelphia 27, N.Y. Giants 23
Arizona (-2.5) at San Francisco
As goes Kurt Warner, so goes the Cardinals.
And right now CHFF favorite Old Man Warner is in the midst of one of those mind-boggling statistical streaks that not even Peyton Manning produces. As we noted in this week's Monday Morning Hangover, Warner was thrown 12 TDs against 0 picks with a spectacular 133.2 passer rating in his last four games.
In fact, he's just the second player in NFL history to post a passer rating of 120 or more in four straight weeks. The first was none other than Johnny Unitas, who accomplished the feat in 1965.
We know the 49ers won the first meeting in Arizona back in Week 1 (20-16). But these are two different teams right now. One is playing its best offensive football of the year. The other is struggling for offensive consistency.
Arizona 26, San Francisco 20
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