Week 10 means over half the season is officially behind us. It also means the first game is Thursday night, so I don’t have the luxury of lying around and putting off writing my picks to the last minute as usual. So, let’s get to work.
Lines are taken from the ESPN Pig Skin Pick ‘Em Game and my picks are in BOLD.
Last Week 7-7
Thursday 8:20 PM EST
Raiders @ Chargers -6.5
Hexagram 54: The Maiden’s Return. This hexagram portends change to another form, return to yourself to your place of belonging, restoration and reversion. It is also about the unleashing of potential energy into kinetic, like a girl blooming into womanhood. After last season, now Raiders’ quarterback Carson Palmer made it clear that he would rather retire than put on the orange and black stripes again. Cincinnati owner Mike Brown responded by locking Palmer up on the shelf like a modern day Rapunzel. Only two possible first round picks could set him free and now he is the starter for one of the three teams tied atop the AFC West. In a brief cameo days after being acquired and his first start last week, he has already thrown six interceptions. Despite all the mistakes, Palmer made some top notch throws last week showing he still has some touch and some zip left on his ball, as shown on the sublime back shoulder fade touchdown to Jacoby Ford. I think he shakes off the rust on our opening Thursday night game, and wins a big game on the road that will go a long way to deciding the AFC West for the Raiders.
Sunday 1:00 PM EST
Saints @ Falcons +0.5
Hexagram 42: Increasing. This game is a big opportunity for the Falcons. They are just a half game behind the Saints for the NFC South lead, are on a three game win streak, look like the more complete, balanced team, and get to host their rivals on Sunday. Everything seems to be going their way, but I don’t think this game will. This hexagram is about superabundance, pouring in more past full and strengthening your position. This is speaking to the Saints’ offense. They have gained the most total yards and scored the most total points thus far. These games are usually close affairs; the last four meetings over the last two years were all decided by a touchdown or less. I like the Saints in a shootout.
Bills @ Cowboys -5.5
Hexagram 23: Stripping. Stripping in this context refers to peeling, uncovering and reducing a situation to its fundamental elements, but here’s one funny quote from the I Ching: “Stripping implies a Stripper indeed.” If that’s not a reference to the Cowboys, then I don’t know what is. Stripping away the jokes and the Bills’ high-powered offense, and my hatred for Dallas, I don’t think Buffalo can stop the running game of the ‘Boys right now. Just about everybody (except the Redskins, who rushed for just 26 yards in their game against the Bills, thus inflating the Bills run defense stats, although they are still 20th in the league in that category) has been able to run on them and Demarco Murray is running like a man possessed. The decisiveness and power with which he runs is a treat to watch, and his line seems excited to block for him. The yards have come easy for the rookie, over 500 total and almost 7 yards per attempt, but the touchdowns, just one, have been more elusive since he became the starter. I expect all his hard running to be well rewarded with several trips to pay dirt this Sunday.
Steelers @ Bengals +3.5
Hexagram 36: Concealed Brightness. Two of the top defenses in football will meet Sunday in a battle to stay on top of the AFC North. In a season where very few teams have been able to separate themselves from the rest of the field, I think the Steelers are the best team that people aren’t talking much about. These are secretly two of the hottest teams in the NFL, with the Bengals winners of 5 straight, and the Steelers would have a 5 game winning streak of their own if not for the late game heroics of Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith last Sunday night. The Steelers have won 6 of the last 8 games in Cincinnati, have a defense to match the Bengals and as well as far more firepower on offense. After this game, the so called experts will have to start putting Pittsburgh back into the Super Bowl contender conversation.
Rams @ Browns -2.5
Hexagram 9: Small Accumulating. The sky looks pregnant with clouds, but still no rain comes. Hexagram 9 describes a situation where the greater goal is far out of reach, and the fruits of your labor seem fruitless. However, small incremental successes are possible and needed to progress eventually to the next level. The frustration inherent in this outlook is familiar to fans of both teams I'm sure, but only the Rams seem to be taken steps in the right direction. The Browns have been regressing for some time now, losing 4 out of 5 after starting the season 2-1. The Rams on the other hand, were absolutely putrid their first 5 weeks, but have a upset of the Saints and a heartbreaking overtime loss, where they had the winning field goal blocked at the end of regulation, to Arizona last week. During this stretch, Chris Long, Robert Quinn and the young Spagnola defense has finally come to life. Shutting down the pass is the only thing the Browns do well, first in the league giving up just 165 yards through the air per contest. Cornerback Joe Haden has something to do with that, but a bigger reason is the fact that they have been so easy to run against of late. I expect this trend to continue and for SJax to have a huge day in a Rams win.
Broncos @ Chiefs -3.5
Hexagram 41: Decreasing. In times of decreasing you must shed all unneccessary components to be at your slimmest and trimmest for the challenge at hand. Simplicity and Economy are key to succeeding in this situation. Sounds a lot like the Broncos playbook. Since their quarterback change, Denver's offense has gone from a typical pro style to an option spread attack. Coach John Fox has realized the strengths and limitations of his qb and strip anything from his game plan that does not accord with Tebow's skill set. Arrowhead is a tough place for any young quarterback to play, and they will have plenty of game tape on the Tebow/McGahee option attack to study, but Kansas City's ability to get pressure has been so anemic exempting outside linebacker Tamba Hali that I think the simple, yet streamlined run based Tebow led offense will run over the Chiefs.
Titans @ Panthers -2.5
Hexagram 3: Sprouting. The Titans are 4-4 and the Panthers are 2-6, so obviously the Titans are the better team right? I don't buy it. The Titans have their Week 2 upset over the Ravens to hang their hat on, but their other wins have come against the pre-Tebow era broncos, the Browns and Colts. The only other times besides the Ravens game that Tennessee has played against good competition they were blown out by the Steelers and Texans, and lost at home to the Bengals as well. Carolina likewise have their only wins against bad competition, the Redskins and Jaguars (who are responsible for the 4th Titans loss not mentioned) but they have shown the ability to raise their level of play to their opponents, evidenced by losing by 7 to the Packers, 5 to the Bears, and 3 to the Saints. I think Cam gets a win here at home, but he won’t be able to do it himself. The Titans are good against the pass, especially Cortland Finnegan who is having a career year on the field without all his usual shenanigans. They are much worse against the run, and have been especially gouged by it in the past month or so, giving up over 100 yards on the ground every week since their October 9th loss to the Steelers. This is where the Panthers can hurt the Titans, as they are 8th in league rushing the ball, but Cam Newton is taking too much of the burden on his shoulders and can’t continue to take hits at the rate he is now. The Panthers will have to figure out how best to utilize their two talented running backs, Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, for Cam’s exponential progress to continue.
Jaguars @ Colts +2.5
Hexagram 60: Limitations. These teams both have some serious limitations. The difference is that the Jaguars have things they do well, play strong defense and run the ball decently, that help hide their rookie quarterback and void of a passing game, which is last in the league. The Colts are pretty limited in everything they do. They don’t have a quarterback who can utilize their weapons on offense and they can’t build leads to force teams to pass and maximize the effectiveness of their impact pass rushers. However, if you’re going to take the Colts to win one game the rest of the year, assuming Peyton Manning doesn’t come back for the last few games and pull a couple wins out of his ass spitefully putting them outside of the Andrew Luck zone, in ‘I’m the quarterback in Indy bitches,’ style, which I think is a real possibility, then this has to be the game. Getting points at home against an offense that can't score either, I like the Colts to play within themselves and get their first and maybe only win, and if they lose 2-0, that’s still a cover.
Redskins @ Dolphins -3.5
Hexagram 20: Contemplation. This hexagram has a double meaning. Like a monument or fortress in the mountains, it is both a great vantage point to survey the surrounding area from and a visible point that can guide a traveler too. This is the duality of seeing and being seen. Well, the Dolphins saw John Beck for what he was long ago, it is apparent to me now and the only ones who refuse to see it are the Shannahans. He is a bad quarterback. The offense is not scoring points. Yes, Rex Grossman is not an ideal player to have as your franchise quarterback, but when he won three games for us this year while moving the ball and putting up points consistently. Yes, the turnovers cost us an even better opening record, but I say the adventure/ misadventure of what will Rex do next is much more entertaining than getting shut out by the Bills. Even going back to Miami, with a chance to prove the team that drafted him made a mistake by letting him go, I don't see Beck lighting it up and getting a revenge win. I just don’t think he has the ability to be starting quarterback in this league, and the Redskins will suffer for maintaining this belief as long as he remains the starter.
Cardinals @ Eagles -13.5
Hexagram 15: Humbling. The Eagles have done too much talking off the field and not enough with their play on it this year. The Cardinals getting almost two full touchdowns, despite the fact they only have one less win, is a bit absurd. I see another humbling experience coming for the Eagles. Arizona's defense has several young talented pieces like Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Daryl Washington, and that unit has been coming together and playing much better over the past few weeks. The Eagles might do enough to win and keep their playoff hopes alive for one more week, but this game will only reinforce how far they are from the super team they were proclaimed to be in the preseason. I’d say too bad Kevin Kolb probably won’t get to face off against his old team, but at this point I think Arizona’s chances might be better with John Skelton behind center, which is a scary proposition, because of his ability, and not because his name sounds like skeleton.
Texans @ Buccaneers +3.5
Hexagram 51: Thunder Roars: When thunder crashes loud and violently close by, most people are afraid and instinctually flinch back, then soon forget the event ever happened. When the man who understands fear is presented a similar situation, he can stand calm in the midst of the storm. Furthermore, if he has conquered fear, he is able to center while chaos is going on all around him. Josh Freeman is the key here. While he has had a very inconsistent so far this season, but when he is in the zone late in the game, there are few as good as him even at this young stage of his career. His propensity for leading his team from behind over and over again shows the composure and confidence he exudes when under intense pressure. I foresee Josh Freeman adding another dramatic 4th quarter comeback to his resume.
Ravens @ Seahawks +7.5
Hexagram 55: Abundance. Strange things happen when teams go to Seattle, but I don't think the Ravens will overlook this game. After the offense rallied to come back and beat the Steelers, they will be determined to show that the ability they showed on offense was no fluke. The Seahawks defense has been pretty good all year, but last week they struggled despite keeping the game against the Cowboys relatively close. The plus was giving up only 23 points and keeping the game in hand most of the way. The minuses were they gave up over 120 to Demarco Murray, didn’t sack Tony Romo and only hit him twice all game. If they give Ray Rice that much room to run and Joe Flacco that much time to prove he isn't a terrible quarterback, it will be a sad day for all of the 12th men.
Lions @ Bears -2.5
Hexagram 11: Peace. Here the receptive forms the bottom of the hexagram while the creative forms the top. This forms harmony and optimal conditions. If both teams are firing on all cylinders, the game will favor the Lions. Calvin Johnson and the deep ball will exploit the Bears' troubles at safety and the Bears' line will have their hands full with the opposing defensive line. Chicago's offensive line has improved over the season, but they haven’t faced a unit like Detroit's yet. Coming off the bye week, there’s no reason to think the Lions won't be healthy and well prepared for this game. With the Packers refusing to lose, there will probably only be one wild card between these two teams and this game will go a long way in deciding it. If Detroit is going to make the leap to a contender this year, these are the types of games they have to show up for and play their best ball.
Giants @ 49ers -3.5
Hexagram 4: Inexperience Rearing. The 49ers might cruise to the one seed in the NFC, but that might not necessarily be a good thing for them. They're currently 7-1 and the hard part of their remaining schedule is the Giants, Ravens and Steelers. The rest of it is the Cardinals twice, the Rams twice and the Seahawks once. If they take care of business in their division that’s at least 12 wins and if they steal any of those other games they will most likely be sitting in pole position in the NFC. However, this current team, their rookie coach, and his quarterback have never faced the pressure of a big game in the NFL. This will be the closest thing yet Sunday. Alex Smith will have to face the deepest, scariest, and most talented defensive line in the NFL. Their defense will have to deal with a suddenly unanimously considered elite Eli Manning, who does have a tendency to step up his game in bigger situations, seen last week against the Pats, or the Super Bowl win against the Pats. The Giants have been there, know what it takes, and will put even more distance between them and the NFC East after this game.
Patriots @ Jets -1.5
Hexagram 59: Disperse. Bill Belicheck must have been having some serious déjà vu last weekend as he watched Eli Manning drive down the field in the final moments on the back of his receivers making unbelievable catch after unbelievable catch. Despite the fact that they could have very easily won that game, people are rushing to proclaim the Pats dynasty over. I'm not sure I would go that far, but this Pats team is missing something they had even earlier in the season. That attitude, that swagger that said, we can score on you anytime we want and there’s nothing you can do about it, has been lacking the past few weeks. After topping 30 points in all of their first 5 games (4-1) they have followed up with tallies of 20, 17 and 20 their last 3 games (1-2). They don't look like their usual juggernaut selves on offense, their defense is porous, and they lack any semblance of a running game. In short, I think the Jets can play their physical brand of football they’ve wisely gone back to in the previous couple games and hold New England down enough on offense to come away with a big win. The so called New England dynasty has been dispersing for some time. Weak drafts and players departing through trades and free agency has weakened the once seemingly endless pool of talent in Boston.
Vikings @ Packers -13.5
Hexagram 19: Noble Calling. Here the terrain provides for exceptional progress. This power, as all is, is cyclical, so it is best to derive maximum benefit from it while it lasts. The Packers dominance has to be temporary, but I can't say when it will end. Although they only beat the Vikings by 6 the last time they met, I expect the Packers at home will be determined to put in a better all around effort and focus on shutting down Adrian Peterson and the Vikings' attack. After that, all that’s left is Aaron Rodgers playing catch with his arsenal of play makers. Did you know that exempting throw aways, spikes, drops, and batted balls, Rodgers is completing over 80% of his passes? He might not have the most yards or touchdowns in the league, but there is no question to me who the MVP is halfway through the season. The Packers might eventually come back to Earth, but not this Monday night.