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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tuesday's Gone: #NFL Predictions Review

Week 16 results: 9-7 wins (93-52 .641); 3-13 v. spread (52-93 .359)

Note: Pretty bizarre that my wins v. spread record is the exact opposite through Week 16 (started Week 7). Also, I renamed my weekly NFL Predictions Review 'Tuesday's Gone' for two reasons: I don't think anyone understood the vague 'Tuesday's Here' reference referring to the same song, and I almost never get the article out by Tuesday - so the former is more appropriate anyway. I digress...
 
Miami Dolphins 8-6 (-3) @ Buffalo Bills 5-9 (43): Dolphins 24-20 Bills 19-0
1:00 PM, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, NY (Weather: 100% Rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: The Bills could be in trouble Sunday with EJ Manuel and Stevie Johnson sidelined and RBs Jackson/Spiller banged up, but the heavy rain could arrive just in time. The Dolphins practiced in 80 degree weather all week just to end up playing in a storm that could bring heavy freezing rain throughout the game. Considering the weather and lack of fire power in the passing game I expect the Bills 4th-ranked run game to thrive. The Dolphins have been hot, winners of four of their last five, but the weather could spoil the party, especially considering their game plan could hinge on their 22nd-ranked run game (v. the Bill's 6th-ranked run defense). As much as these sign point to the Bills pulling off the upset, I think the Dolphins are too hot and have too much to lose to fall to the lowly Bills.

I talked of the weather having an effect on the game (or I should say the Dolphins), and I talked about the Bill’s having a chance to beat MIA at home, but I also said that I doubted it would happen considering the Dolphins were getting hot at the right time and couldn’t lose to the lowly Bills with no EJ Manuel and Stevie Johnson, especially with the playoffs in the balance, and even the possibility to tie New England for the division lead by the end of the regular season. Well the Bills won 19-0 despite all of that, holding MIA to a season low six first downs and 103 total yards on offense…on 52 plays. It was bad. MIA may have squandered their playoff hopes as well.

Minnesota Vikings 4-9-1 (+7.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals 9-5 (47.5): Bengals 27-20 Bengals 42-14
1:00 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: 60% Rain, low 60s)

Reasons: The Bengals are trying to fight off the surging Ravens, who have a tougher test v. the Patriots Sunday afternoon, for the AFC North title and should have no trouble against the unpredictable Vikings. Despite inexplicably putting up 48 points last week v. Philadelphia (therein might lie the answer) I can't see them repeating that v. one of the best defenses in the NFL (7th v. the pass; 5th v. the run; 6th scoring) on the road in the rain. The Bengals roll at home. 

The Bengals took care of business resoundingly on Sunday, scoring 14 points in each of the first three quarters, while their defense held the Bengals to 203 totals yards and 10 first downs on 48 plays, even scoring a TD on a Vincent Ray INT. Not much to report other than a pre-playoff tune up for CIN.

Indianapolis Colts 9-5 (+6.5) @ Kansas City 11-3 (44.5): Chiefs 30-24 Colts 23-7
1:00 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: 25% snow, mid-20s)

Reasons: The Colts haven't won two games in a row since they sandwiched their bye week between two wins weeks 7 & 9, and they've had more injuries to their line, which makes heading into a freezing cold, snowy Arrowhead Stadium a huge task. Unfortunately for the Colts what the Chiefs have lacked in  defense lately, due in part to their own injuries, they've made up for as an offensive juggernaut averaging 50.5 ppg over their last two wins after losing three straight (KC actually averaged 37 ppg over that 2-3 stretch). Both teams are fighting for playoff positioning and both teams play well at home (KC 5-2) and on the road (IND 4-3) so this should be a dogfight. I like the Chiefs at home, but the Colts to cover.

I knew the Colts would cover, but what almost no one figured was that they’d manhandle the Chiefs, who were trying to take back the division from the Broncos (although they had little chance of that to begin with)…at home. Wow. If you’re the KC Chiefs you’re doing some serious soul searching as the playoffs near, because this could be your Divisional Round playoff opponent; if you’re the Colts you’re pumped, because you just silenced the critics for the moment and proved you can beat a serious contender on the road, in one of the most hostile places in the NFL.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-10 (+5) @ St. Louis Rams 6-8 (43): Rams 24-20 Rams 23-13
1:00 PM, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO (Weather: Indoors)
 
Reasons: The Rams are a decent defense, albeit a banged up one, but the Bucs just aren't the good. Despite Mike Glennon and Vincent Jackson the Bucs have the worst passing game in the NFL, and Bobby Rainey isn't surprising anyone anymore, especially v. the Rams 12th-ranked run defense. The Rams aren't that great of an offensive team, and defense is the one thing TB isn't horrible at (ranked 15th v. the pass/run; 13th scoring), but the Rams are 4-3 at home while the Bucs are 1-5 on the road. And the Rams beat the Saints at home. I like the Rams.

In one of the few games Sunday that meant almost nothing, the Rams beat the Buccaneers as Glennon and Rainey continued their meteoric fall as quickly as they experienced their meteoric rise. Zack Stacy continued his breakout season rushing for 104 yards (although on 33 carries) and a TD, and the Rams continued their slight improvement trend, giving St. Louis fans everywhere Christmas hope for next season. I do mean slight – the Rams only managed 18 first downs and 277 totals yards (to TB’s 14/170) and committed 7 penalties for 85 yards, just enough to beat this sinking pirate ship.

Cleveland Browns 4-10 (+2) @ New York Jets 6-8 (40.5): Browns 21-20 Jets 24-13
1:00 PM, MetLife Stadium, New York, NY (Weather: 20% rain, high 60s)

Reasons: Two teams have never had higher statistical rankings and had worse records. To make matters funnier, despite having a top-10 defense and the 9th-ranked passing game, the Browns have lost eight of their last nine games. The Jets aren't much better, losers of four of their last five, while sporting the second-worst passing game in the league. The Jets still ball in the run game (9th ranked run offense; 3rd-ranked run defense), but it's produced few results. I actually like the Browns for the "upset", if that's what you call being 2-point underdogs on the road.

I’m beginning to learn my lesson about picking the Browns on the road – apparently you don’t do it. Despite the Brown’s high-ranking stout defense and the Jet’s literally laughable offense, the Jets beat the Browns at home to give Rex Ryan the impression he could be staying. I though the Jets -2.5 was way too high, even being at home, but I now understand that the Sharps basically consider the teams equal, perhaps giving the Browns the slight edge on defense, which I can appreciate, explaining the 0.5 point given to the Browns despite being on the road (i.e., assuming the two are relatively equal the home team generally gets 3 points). Despite being billed a defensive game the two teams combined for 705 yards (422 for NYJ). Geno Smith threw for 2 TDs and ran for one, while Jason Campbell threw two picks. Geno, meet your future.

Dallas Cowboys 7-7 (-3) @ Washington Natives 3-11 (53.5): Cowboys 27-24 Cowboys 24-23
1:00 PM, FedEx Field, Washington DC (Weather: 60% rain, low 70s)

Reasons: A game of Giants. Sorry, they're the other terrible team in this division. I though the Eagles were going to be by far the worst team in the NFC East and instead they're by far the best. Terrible foresight? No, the NFC is just that unpredictably bad. Never has so much collective talent been wasted on a division. The Natives are reeling and under normal circumstances you'd expect the Cowboys, who are fighting for their playoff lives, to roll. But these are the Cowboys, and besides rolling into town with the statistically worst defense in the NFL for yardage, they have Tony Romo, the best QB in the NFL for the first 56 minutes of a game, and the worst in the last four. However the Natives actually have THE worst defense in the NFL in terms of scoring, so who the hell knows with this game. Since the Natives are home I'll pick them to lose. You like that?

The Cowboys can't seem to win in undramatic fashion. Not only did the just barely beat downtrodden, but serious division rival, Washington Natives, but it took a late Romo TD to do it. Not only did Romo throw the game-winning TD with 1:08 left, but he was lost for the year to season-ending back surgery. 2013 can't seem to come a close quick enough, even with a win. Despite the drama surrounding both teams, they managed to play a pretty good game, holding to the bitter NFC East rivalry history. Nothing else to report.

New Orleans Saints 10-4 (+3) @ Carolina Panthers 10-4 (46.5): Panthers 24-20 Panthers 17-13
1:00 PM, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: 90% rain, mid-70s)

Reasons: One of the best match ups of Week 16, these two NFC South teams will square off for the divisional lead two weeks after playing in NO. The Saints took care of business at home during prime time, about the only time and place New Orleans makes it rain, and I expect Carolina to return the favor at their place. The Saints take care of the air, ranking 2nd in the NFL in passing and 3rd v. the pass, but they suck on the road (3-4; 20 ppg differential v. home games) and the Panthers ball. Carolina ranks 5th v. the run, 2nd v. the pass and has the 2nd-ranked scoring defense in the NFL by 0.3 ppg (Seattle 14.6). They can also run the ball (ranked 8th), something the Saints struggle against. This is an important game and Drew Brees is a HOF QB, but the Panthers should have this game.

The Saints are really proving to be a rather terrible team on the road relative to their gridlock clout at the home dome. They were essentially shut down again on the road, to the Carolina team they just destroyed at home merely two weeks ago. Brees was again mediocre on the road, throwing two INTs, but Cam Newton & Co. weren't much better v. the stout NO defense, as they only managed 222 total yards. It didn't really matter as the Carolina defense took care of business and proved they still belong in the conversation with the league's top defense, two weeks after giving up 31 to the same Saints. 

Tennessee Titans 5-9 (-5.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars 4-10 (44): Titans 27-20 Titans 20-16
1:00 PM, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: Fog, low 80s)

Reasons: This is an awful game. The Jaguars, much like the Cowboys on defense, are statistically the worst offense in the NFL yardage-wise, but unlike the Cowboys, they're actually the worst scoring offense as well (15.8 ppg, nearly 2 ppg worse than the next worst team - NYJ 17.6). That's a problem v. one of the better under-the-radar defenses in the league (ranked 10th v. the run), although the Jaguars have averaged 27 ppg their last three (2-1). The Jaguars are home and 4-2 their last six games, while the Titans are 1-6 in their last seven as their "super star" RB averages 3.7 ypc. Still, I like the Titans and big.

Neither of these teams are making the playoffs, and Chad Henne was the star of the game with 237 yards passing and two TDs, so this game wasn't worth really watching, let alone reviewing.

Denver Broncos 11-3 (-10.5) @ Houston Texans 2-12 (53): Broncos 34-21 Broncos 37-13
1:00 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Does anyone really give Houston a chance? Even if you point out their 2nd-ranked pass defense one could counter with Denver's top-ranked pass offense and the fact that Manning would be right at home in the cozy dome. Denver does have one of the worst pass defenses in the league (ranked 28th), but all that guarantees is that the Texans probably won't be shut out. These two teams average 38-18 scores on the season, so the 10.5 point spread is more than just the Texans at home, people must really be worried about the Welker effect. I'm obviously kidding, you could never have a 20-point spread, although this one should be. The only thing these two teams are equals in are the amount of points they give up - 26 ppg. The biggest difference is the Broncos average far more on offense...the Texans don't.

Peyton Manning threw four TDs Sunday, his 48th-51st, breaking the season record for passing TDs (50, Tom Brady, 2007). The Broncos now have four WRs with at least 10 TDs (including four with with 60+ yard TD receptions), and Manning only needs 266 passing yards to break the single season records (5,426, Drew Brees, 2011). The Broncos are also on pace to break the record for season points as well with 571 points through 15 games (589, Patriots, 2007). It's been a busy season for the team of All-Stars that John Elway miraculously put together. The Texans on the other hand wish the season ended two months ago.

New York Giants 5-9 (+9) @ Detroit Lions 7-7 (49): Lions 27-20 Giants 23-20
4:05 PM, Ford Field, Detroit, MI (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Giants have two hopes in this game: first, Detroit has the 23rd-ranked pass defense in the league, and their secondary is hobbled, something Eli Manning and this band of supposedly good WRs (sans a concussed Cruz, gone for the season) could thrive against; second, it's that time of year when the hyper-talented, arrogant Lions squander their playoffs chances, just as low character teams with poor coaching are expected to do. It's possible, but it's more likely the Lions take advantage of a decimated Giants team that's been left blaming the other side of the ball on their own team to explain this season. Eli Manning has gone from claiming elite status to vying as the league's worst QB, something he has to battle cross-town QB Geno Smith for. The Lions are 1-4 in their last five, but the Giants are only 2-3 in that stretch and have averaged only 16 ppg.

I mentioned the following in my pregame analysis: "...it's that time of year when the hyper-talented, arrogant Lions squander their playoffs chances, just as low character teams with poor coaching are expected to do. It's possible...". I thought the Lions would gather enough character at home, with their playoff lives in the balance, playing the tail-spinning Giants, and a totally lost Eli to pull off the win; nope. Costly turnovers, another returned for a TD, and bad overall play from the undisciplined Lions ended their season. At least the great fans of Detroit were treated to an some extra time. Then again that extra time coast them their season, so perhaps it isn't that great. Next week's games for each team will be the last for their respective coaches.

Arizona Cardinals 9-5 (+10.5) @ Seattle Seahawks 12-2 (43.5): Seahawks 28-20 Cardinals 17-10
4:05 PM, Century Bank Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: 70% rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: Vegas must be thinking one or both of two things: either Palmer and Fitzgerald's injuries are worse than reported, or they really have no faith in Palmer's ability to hold on to the ball, because even on the road in Seattle a 10.5 point spread is big for a solid 9-5 ARZ team with one of the best defenses in the NFL (1st-ranked run defense; 8th-ranked scoring defense). Seattle won at Arizona by 12 points Week 7, although that was a different ARZ team (3-3), but four of five of the Cardinals losses have come on the road and their lone other lose came at home - v. Seattle. Not good. Upon researching the 10.5-point spread actually seems legit, but I'm still taking them to cover. But certainly not win. Seattle exploits are well noted: they have the 5th-ranked scoring offense (27.1 ppg) they rank 2nd in rush offense, 10th in rush defense, have the #1 pass defense, the #1 scoring defense (14.6 ppg), and haven't lost at home in two years. (Last loss: 12/24/11...'twas the game before Xmas...oh uh)

How bizarre: The last time the Seahawks lost a game at home it was the game before Xmas two years ago, when they lost to the 49ers 19-17 on Xmas Eve (coincidentally the score of their last meeting with the 49ers Week 14). The Cardinals did exactly what I thought they had to do - and were certainly capable of - to beat the Seahawks at home, by deploying a fierce defense that would stifle an offense capable of laying eggs v. good defenses. The Seahawks have sputtered lately, going 1-2 in their last three after going 11-1 through their first 12, and now they've lost at home for the first time in 13 games. However, one of those losses came on the road v. a great 49ers teams, in which several Seahawks claimed the game was won on bad penalties, and losing 17-10 at home to break a two-year streak has got to set a serious fire in the bellies of the already hungry Seahawks, making them very dangerous as the playoffs approach. The Cardinals, on the other hand, might still miss the playoffs despite their incredible showing and 10-5 record.

Pittsburgh Steelers 6-8 (+2) @ Green Bay Packers 7-6-1 (45): Packers 24-21 Steelers 38-31
4:25 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: 100% snow, mid-20s)

Reasons: This should be fun - 100% chance of snow at game time for two teams seemingly built for it. Unfortunately the Steelers have trouble running the ball (ranked 31st), but the Packers aren't very good at stopping the run, either (ranked 25th). The Packers offense is ranked 7th in yardage in both running and passing and have the 12th-ranked scoring offense (25.2 ppg), but the Steeler's defense has come along lately and rank 8th v. the run, something that could be relied on in the weather. Both teams might be mathematically alive, but no one gives them a chance to even make the playoffs, let alone go anywhere in them. Still, these are two well-coached, proud, storied franchises so we can expect a battle.

A pretty evenly matched game for the most part, the Steelers went wild in the 3rd quarter turning a 21-17 Packers lead into a 31-21 lead, partly due to a Cortez Allen pick-six, in under four minutes. Both teams are going home and GB is foolishly contemplating playing Aaron Rodgers next week.

Oakland Raiders 4-10 (+10) @ San Diego Chargers 7-7 (50.5): Chargers 27-21 Chargers 26-13
4:25 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Sunny, mid-60s)

Reasons: The Raiders are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to the passing game (25th-ranked passing offense; 24th-ranked pass defense), while the Chargers have the 4th-ranked passing offense. So not only can't the Raiders stop the Chargers, they won't be able to keep up with them after the score. That could be the reasoning behind the 10-point spread, because the Chargers are only 3-3 at home, but the Raiders are 1-6 on the road, their only win coming on the road v. the hapless Texans. The Chargers are fighting to stay alive, while the Raiders are fighting for their, well, dignity, for the tenth year in a row. I like the Chargers, but not with those points, as the Chargers are actually a slightly worse team at home.

Nick Novak kept the Charger's playoff hopes alive by kicking four FGs, the longest from 48 yards, in this very uneventful formerly bitter (and exciting) rivalry. The Chargers continue their playoff plight.

New England Patriots 10-4 (+2.5) @ Baltimore Ravens 8-6 (45): Ravens 24-23
4:25 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD (Weather: 80% rain, low 70s)

Reasons: You read that correctly, the weather will be 70 degrees at game time on December 22nd in Baltimore, MD, but the warm temps will be overplayed by the driving rain. The Patriots are one of the worst teams in the league v. the run (ranked 31st), but fortunately for them the Ravens and Ray Rice are one of the worst running the ball (ranked 29th). I don't like this game. The Patriots are reeling in a way and struggle against the Ravens, their true rival at this point, who happen to be one of the hottest teams in the NFL at the right time. My Super Bowl predictions for the Ravens still holds strong, but I think they may make the playoffs, something I didn't see happening this year. I saw the Ravens continuing the curse of the defending Super Bowl teams not making the playoffs the following year. Even if the Patriots didn't struggle v. the Ravens, Tom Brady sure does as that goblin Terrell Suggs gets to him, both mentally and physically. I think the weather and the tough road match up make this a tough week for the Pats, and I had the Patriots losing this game before the season started (I predicted at the beginning of the season that the Patriots would lose to ATL, CIN, MIA away, BAL away). The Patriots lose, which comes at a critical time as the Dolphins surge.

There are rare times in life when one decides to pick against their home team, and one of those rare times came last week when I picked the Ravens over the Patriots. My reasons were logical: the Ravens were hot, their defense was playing at a high level, they were fighting for their playoff lives, they’re one of the few teams that consistently play the Patriots well, they were home, and the Patriots were hurting. The Patriots were coming off a tough loss in Miami, their sixth tough game in six weeks, and had recently lost Red Zone nightmare Rob Gronkowski, the fifth Pro Bowler lost for this season this year. Boy was I wrong. The Patriots decimated the Ravens 41-7, leading 20-0 after the 3rd quarter, despite outgaining the Patriots by 58 yards. The Patriots capitalized on four BAL turnovers, scoring defensive TDs on two of them, and seriously diminished the Raven’s playoffs hopes. So sad.

Chicago Bears 8-6 (+3) @ Philadelphia Eagles 8-6 (56): Eagles 27-24 Eagles 54-11
8:30 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: 90% wintry mix, low 30s)

Reasons: Two historically gritty 8-6 teams playing in the snow, wind, and freezing rain battling for playoff spots as the season winds down. Could football fans ask for anything more? Despite being upset on the road last week to the surprising Vikings the Eagles come into Chicago one of the hottest teams in the NFL, winning five of their last six games while building one of the best offenses in the league (1st-ranked rush offense; 7th-ranked scoring offense; 10th-ranked passing offense). That could be trouble for the Bears, who struggle on defense (ranked last v. the run). The weather could be a factor and help the Eagles 31st-ranked passing defense v. the Bear's 5th-ranked passing game, but the weather is nothing these two teams aren't used to. No love for the guy from Santa Claus, IN.

Maybe Chip Kelly is on to something. It was the Chicago Bears, one of the worst defenses in the league (that doesn't sound right, so I'll rephrase: the 2013 Bears), but 54 points is 54 points. The Eagles have now averaged 39 ppg over their last three games and seemed poised for a serious playoff run, especially considering the week-to-week improvement of their defense. The suddenly stout unit surrendered only 18 first downs and 257 yards to a 3rd-ranked Bears offense averaging 27.8 ppg (coincidentally Philadelphia is ranked 2nd with 27.9 ppg), and only yielded 11 points. The Eagles continued to plow through opponents rushing for 289 yards on their way to 514 yards of total offense. These Eagles could be a dangerous playoff opponent.

Atlanta Falcons 4-10 (+12.5) @ San Francisco 49ers 10-4 (45.5): 49ers 27-17 49ers 34-24
Monday, 8:30 PM, Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA (Weather: Fog, mid-60s)

Reasons: This one seems pretty obvious: 49ers are home, have the 3rd-ranked scoring defense, the 4th-ranked passing defense, the 6th-ranked run defense, the 5th-ranked running game and average 25 ppg. The only thing they're bad at is passing (ranked 30th), but when Kaepernick flings it to Davis or Boldin, does it look like they struggle? On the other side the Falcons have the 8th-rank passing game and you'd never know it. Atlanta is 2-2 in their last four games (SF is 4-0), but those games have been separated by an average of 2.2 points, which tells me they were close to being 0-4 over that stretch. These Falcons are bad and these 49ers are good. The 12.5-point spread doesn't surprise me, but it's too much. Take a long look at Candlestick, it could be the last time.

Not to brag, but I had this game called exactly before two late scores, one by each team, sent the score soaring. A fourth quarter blitz by both teams, including a 21-point explosion by the 49ers, most notably the NaVorro Bowman pick-six to seal the game, countered the slower 10-3 first half in which the Falcons seemed determined to spoil the 49ers playoff seeding. This game was 27-24 49ers with the Falcons pressing before Pro-Bowler NaVorro stole the show and made sure the Falcons continued their season of disappointments. Despite out-gaining the 49ers, the 49ers out-rushed the Falcons 199-61, controlling the game when necessary, ultimately leaning on their defense to pull off the win, something the 49ers were designed to do. The 49ers win and Seahawks loss sets up an interesting scenario Sunday, potentially leading to some more playoff seeding shake-ups.

Stay tuned Sunday for Week 16 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis), the final regular season edition. 

Phaulkner

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