Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Oh Thank Heaven: A Three Pack of Thanksgiving I Ching Week 12 NFL Picks

Lines are taken from the ESPN Pig Skin Pick ‘Em Game and my picks are in BOLD.
Last Week 6-8
Season: 86-74
Thursday 12:30 PM EST
Packers @ Lions +6.5
Hexagram 16: Enthusiasm. This reading tells of bubbling enthusiasm, and a great harvesting imminent. The Lions have not won a Thanksgiving Day game since the year 2000. However, the last time these two teams met on December 12th of last year, the Drew Stanton led Lions won 7-3, in no small part by knocking Aaron Rodgers out of the game with a concussion. That day the Lions defense sacked the Green Bay quarterbacks four times and hit Rodgers and backup Matt Flynn eight times total. This game is so easily forgotten already because after a loss to the Patriots the next week, the Packers haven’t lost again since through their Super Bowl run and this year’s 10-0 start.
I see another closer, lower scoring game than is expected tomorrow. Both teams excel at passing the ball, Green Bay’s 3rd ranked attack vs. Detroit’s 8th, but the Lions have been excellent defending against the pass this year too, at 5th in the league, while the Packers’ 31st ranking in the same category has allowed teams to rack up points and yards at will while trying to come back against them almost every week.
No small part of the Lions’ stellar rating against the pass is owed to their defensive line. Guys like Ndamukong Suh, emerging rookie Nick Fairley, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson and Cliff Avril have been able to supply a disruptive pass rush on their own without any extra blitzers needed. The defensive line will allow the Lions to play seven men in coverage every single play against the Packers if need be. For all Green Bay has done so well in their undefeated start, protecting their quarterback hasn’t particularly been one of them, as they have given up 25 sacks, tied for 9th most in the league.
The Packers have to lose at some point. In a Thanksgiving game against a rival that means more to the Lions and their fans than any game has in maybe 20 years, I think this is the week the Pack finally go down.
Thursday 4:15 PM EST
Dolphins @ Cowboys -6.5
Hexagram 32: Persevering. The elements present here are continuity and endurance. The team that continues on and constantly renews the way it has been following has the advantage in this scenario. As both teams are riding three game winning streaks, it would seem that this could apply to both teams. The Dolphins are on fire after an 0-7 start and with wins in 4 out of their last 5 the Cowboys sit in first place of the NFC East after a worrying 2-3 start to the season.
In the recent hot streaks, both teams have thrived by running the ball and stopping the run effectively. For the season, Dallas has the 10th ranked running offense and the 11th ranked defense against the run. Miami owns the 7th best run defense and the 15th best running game. However, I think the quality of the opponents both teams have faced during their winning streaks points towards an advantage for the Dolphins in this encounter.
The Cowboys have wins over the Rams, Seahawks, Bills and Redskins in this span. In the first of these three games, Cowboys rookie running back Demarco Murray ran for over eight yards a carry and the Cowboys dominated the games. Against the Redskins though, the only formidable run defense in the bunch (Seattle’s is ok but much not as good as they are at home when on the road, as they were against Dallas), Murray managed to get only an average of 2.9 yards on his 25 carries.
I think this Dolphins defense is closer to the Redskins than those other three. In their current streak, they are giving up less than 3 yards per carry, and that was coming against the Chiefs, Bills, and Redskins, all teams that like to run and at least the first two have been able to do it successfully this year. Plus, there’s always the element of Tony Romo in a nationally televised game having some major meltdown and buckling under the pressure in dramatic fashion, which is always fun.
Thursday 8:20 PM EST
49ers @ Ravens -3.5
Hexagram 6: Arguing. This is maybe the most applicable hexagram I could have picked for the first ever Harbaughwl. These two teams are mirror images of each other. Both have elite defenses and running games that do their best to hide the shortcoming s of their quarterbacks. Both teams have great records and bright playoff futures ahead of them coming into this game.
But if the defenses and the running games pretty much cancel each other out, I have to give the edge to Baltimore in almost every other area. First, you have a West Coast team traveling east during an abbreviated week, although it shouldn’t make as much of a difference because it is a night game. Also, of the two quarterbacks, only Joe Flacco has shown the ability to make big plays to lift up his team when need be. Alex Smith is enjoying his best season since being the overall number one pick of the draft, but his role has been more of a game manager and hasn’t been called upon to carry his team to a victory yet. Throw in Baltimore’s penchant for playing their best ball against good teams this year, as cited in this space last week before their win against the Bengals, and I think the Ravens win this game.
Plus, arguing entails conflict and claims being made against the other. In such a family affair, I have to go with the elder brother in these circumstances. On their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary no less, John will get to beat his brother Jim on one of the biggest stages to play out a sibling rivalry imaginable. As the oldest child of my family as well, I don’t see big brother losing this one in his home stadium against little bro.  

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