Sunday, September 23, 2012

I Ching NFL Football Preview: Week Three

This Week: 0-1 Last Week: 8-8 Season Record: 17-16
My picks in bold. Lines taken from ESPN Pigskin Pick’em Game
Read the introduction to my Week One Picks for more information on what the I Ching is, how it works and how I use it:
Sunday 1:00 EST
Rams @ Bears -7.5
Hexagram 32: Perseverance
When you invest a lot into getting a quarterback like Chicago’s Jay Cutler, you have to take the bad with the good at times. In their opening game, “Good Jay” showed up and the Bears rolled up 40 points en route to a victory. Last Thursday, “Bad Jay” reared his dickish head and made more of an impression on his offensive linemen’s self-confidence than on the game’s final score. Part of what makes Jay Cutler Jay Cutler, as Grantland’s Bill Barnwell explained after the loss to the Packers, ( is his tendency to be erratic and throw too many interceptions at time. This will never be ‘fixed,’ because they are products of the player he is and how he plays the game. With his elite arm strength and supreme confidence in himself, he will take risks and try to fit the ball into tight windows. When his team is struggling, he will take it upon his shoulders to make a big play to reenergize his teammates and keep them in the game. This kind of approach to the quarterback position coupled with Cutler’s talent will lead to a player that experiences extremely high highs and quite low lows. If you’re a Bears fan, you accept this, hope for more highs than lows and if you start getting too fed up with Jay then remember what it was like to have Rex Grossman as your quarterback. The Rams will be no easy task; free agent corner acquisition Cortland Finnegan has a pick in each of his first two games and is playing at an All-Pro level, while no one has yet been able to slow down the genetically modified pass rusher known as Chris Long. Still, when you have patience with Jay Cutler, you get rewarded for it occasionally, and at home coming off a full ten days of rest and preparation I like the Bears to win big.
Jets @ Dolphins +3.5
Hexagram 44: Meeting  
This game’s outcome will hinge largely on the running game. Neither team has an explosive passing offense, and the team that is able to establish their ground game, while slowing down their opponent’s will have the fast track to victory. This is even more paramount for the Dolphins than it is for the Jets. In Week One, Miami was not able to move the ground on the ball against a very stout Texans defense and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill struggled. The offense sputtered and the Dolphins got blown out. Last week, they were able to get Reggie Bush going, running wild all over the Raiders to the tune of 172 yards and two long touchdowns, and in turn, their young quarterback looked pretty good too after a dreadful debut. The Jets haven’t been great against the run so far (ranked just 22nd in the league), but Rex Ryan’s unit still has the pedigree, swagger and talent of the great defense they have been in recent years. If they are able to shut down Bush and the Miami running game, the Jets won’t need much from their offense to roll to victory.
Bills @ Browns +2.5
Hexagram 11: Pervading
Both of these offenses had break out games last week after getting stifled in the opener. This game also features two of the most exciting young running backs in the league in Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller and Cleveland’s rookie Trent Richardson. The forecast for this game points to openness and exchange and big plays could be plentiful for both teams. I feel Spiller has a much better chance to continue his extremely fast start, as Richardson will be running against a stout Bills’ defensive line. I like the matchup of CJ and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick against a still Haden-less Browns’ defense much better. If Cleveland can’t contain the passing game of their opponent, than Spiller could have his biggest game yet, which is saying something after the stat lines he’s put up thus far. With the signs pointing to an offensive contest, I’ll take the more explosive and balanced offense to win by enough on the road.
Buccaneers @ Cowboys -7.5   
Hexagram 15: Humbling
After their aerial assault on the Super Bowl champions in Week One, lots of people had the Cowboys as early favorites to usurp their opponents on top. After their potent attack was castrated in Seattle last week, many people are picking Tampa Bay for the upset here. However, this is the same Buccaneers’ secondary that gave up 500 yards to Eli Manning and couldn’t protect a lead they held for much of the game against those same Giants last week. I expected Romo to struggle last week against a very good secondary in the hardest place in the league for a road team to play. However, the Dallas offense is still very dangerous and coming home following a painful lesson on the road, I expect them to get back on track against Tampa.
Lions @ Titans +3.5
Hexagram 30: Radiance
This game is just what the doctor ordered for the Lions offense. Coming off two subpar efforts compared to their lofty standards set last year, they get to play a team that has been shredded by Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers in their first two contests. I don’t think the Titans are as bad as they have shown thus far and I see Jake Locker having his best game of the season yet as well. His struggles with accuracy are well documented, but he has a bit of Jay Cutler in him as well in that his talent and willingness to take risks will lead to him having some very good games with the bad that come with it. However, if this game is the shootout that the blinding light of the trigram portends, then Tennessee ultimately will not be able to match the points Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson can put up when they are rolling.
Jaguars @ Colts -3.5
Hexagram 38: Separating
Conventional wisdom tells us that at least one of these teams should be half-decent. After the Titans’ disastrous start, one of these teams will most likely finish second in the AFC South. So, they can’t both be terrible, right? But, how do we tell who is less bad than the other? They have already played a common opponent to a very similar result. The Colts beat the Vikings at home by three points, while the Jaguars lost at Minnesota by a field goal in overtime. Both lost big to superior opponents in their other game. Both teams are starting young quarterbacks who both looked much better in their games against the Vikings then in their tougher matchup. The only clear difference I can see between these two teams is Maurice Jones-Drew. Mojo was a big reason the Jags were able to sweep the Colts last year, running for 283 yards in the two games combined. If MJD is able to match these performances from last year, I think it will make a bigger difference than any gap in quarterback quality between Andrew Luck and Blaine Gabbert.
49ers @ Vikings +7.5
Hexagram 7: The Leader
Two weeks into the season, the San Francisco 49ers appear to be far and above the most dominant team in the league. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh deserves a lot of credit for turning a franchise long mired in mediocrity into a perennial contender in the first two seasons on the job. I am most impressed with his salvaging of former first overall pick quarterback Alex Smith. Widely considered a bust after struggling to keep his job through five inconsistent seasons to begin his career, Harbaugh resurrected his career as Smith set career highs in quarterback rating, passing yards and total touchdowns in 2011. Today, he looks to have the confidence, mobility and solid decision that made him such a sought after commodity entering the NFL. I think the big difference between Harbaugh and Smith’s previous coaches are that the first is much more adept and willing to tailor his game plan to the strengths of his players, which gives them more comfort and confidence, while the previous ones miscasted Alex Smith into their own systems and expected him to grow to be a more conventional franchise quarterback that he was never meant to be. I think the 49er train will keep rolling today. The Vikings have put in a couple solid outings so far, but the disparity between the team they will play today and the two they started the season with is vast.
Chiefs @ Saints -8.5
Hexagram 27: Nourishment
Both of these teams are in dire need of sustenance. The Chiefs and Saints own a combined record of 0-4, which is even worse than it looks considering many thought these teams would be in the playoffs. I like the Chiefs in this game because they are getting a lot of points and, while both teams have looked pretty bad, I think the Saints’ problems are much more systematic with the “BountyGate” upheaval in their organization. Plus, the Chiefs have been here before. Last year, they also opened up the year by getting obliterated in their first few games, but bounced back to very nearly beat the Chargers, who were off to a hot start, in San Diego, and rolled off four straight victories afterwards. Look for Jamaal Charles to have a great game in a mouth watering matchup against the thus far porous Saint defense.
Bengals @ Redskins -3.5
Hexagram 46: The Well
Any other season, there’s no way I would pick the Redskins favored at home against a playoff team from the previous season this early. Robert Griffin III changes the equation for me somewhat. Last Sunday, he was forced to use his running ability probably more than the Shanahans wanted due to the constant pass rush applied by the Rams. The Bengals pass rush is comparatively toothless, and for the Redskins to win, they will have to let him do what he did so effectively in the win against the Saints; throw the ball downfield. In a matchup between the 29th and 31st ranked pass defenses in the league, there will be plenty of opportunities for both young quarterbacks. Cincinnati has struggled almost as much as Washington in stopping the pass, but the Redskins will have to be more aggressive to take advantage of this. How bad has the Bengals pass d been so far this year? Many were ready to label Browns’ rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden a bust after his first game against the Eagles after he threw four interceptions and completed just over a third of his passes for a paltry 118 yards and no touchdowns. Against the Bengals, he looked like a completely different QB throwing for 322 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks. It’s true that I’ve been having nightmares this week about Andy Dalton evading our Orakpo-less pass rush to extend plays and finding open receivers downfield, but I think the RGIII and the Skins can put up enough points of their own to get the season back on track.
Sunday 4:05 PM EST
Eagles @ Cardinals +4.5
Hexagram 59: Dispersal
In this unlikely battle between 2-0 teams, the game will primarily come down to how Michael Vick fares against a very good Cardinals defense. While his team is undefeated and he has made many key plays in both comeback victories, he has also thrown six interceptions already and will be missing Jeremy Maclin for this game, who has been his favorite receiver so far this season. Beating this Arizona defense will be a tall order, and it doesn’t get much taller than Calais Campbell. The 6’8 300 pound defensive end has been a menace this season in not just pressuring the quarterback, but getting his hands up and using his size to disrupt passing lanes as well. Last week, a ball he deflected early in the game led to a rare Tom Brady interception that set the stage for the shocking upset. This could be even more troublesome for Vick, who is a bit shorter than your typical NFL quarterback anyway, listed at a generous 6’0. In this Bird Bowl out West, I’ll take the home team with the great defense and special teams getting the points, despite how inept their offense may be.
Falcons @ Chargers -2.5
Hexagram 58: Open Exchange
Another week, another game for the San Diego Chargers and probably another miss for me. I just can’t bring myself to like this year’s Bolts. I haven’t seen them any one or two things particularly well, and I am much more inclined to chalk their 2-0 start up to the Raiders and Titans being among the worst teams in the NFL rather than San Diego being one of the best.  In a game where I see both teams passing the ball quite a bit, the Falcons get the slight edge in offense and defense. Their defense is playing well and was able to confuse even Peyton Manning last Monday night with their variety of presnap looks and shifts. The Falcons also have the more gamebreaking players at the skill positions and I like their chances to light up the score board against the Chargers.
Sunday 4:25 PM EST
Texans @ Broncos +1.5
Hexagram3: Sprouting
Despite the interceptions last week, I wouldn’t bet on Peyton Manning having another bad game this week. In addition to what their new quarterback has brought to the team, the Broncos have a few things going in their favor heading into this game. Their defense and running game both looked good last week against Atlanta, they are home for this important game in the Mile High air, and they are underdogs against a team that has yet to show how good they are. The Texans can’t be blamed for anything they’ve done or haven’t done, they have taken care of business and soundly won their first two games. However, in the beat downs they administered to the Dolphins and Jaguars, they were never really challenged and were firmly in control in much of both contests. Going away from home and into a hostile environment to play another playoff contender will be a much bigger test for Houston.
Steelers @ Raiders +4.5
Hexagram 47: Oppression
The Raiders have done nothing yet this year to convince me they can win this game, but weird things happen when teams go into The Black Hole. Beyond me just loving home underdogs this year, the Raiders matchup pretty well with the Steelers. Pittsburgh lacks the offensive line or power running game to push Oakland around up front like the Dolphins did. Still missing James Harrison and Troy Polamalu hurts their defense, which has still played solid despite missing key players. Darren McFadden always has the potential for a big game and Carson Palmer will have opportunities downfield if his offensive line can keep him upright. In what might be my dumbest pick of the week if the Raiders turn in another stinker, I say the Steelers look old and tired after travelling across the country and lose a tough, physical game that they’ll wish they had back come season end.
Sunday 8:20 PM EST
Patriots @ Ravens -2.5  
Hexagram 1: Force
The awesome power of the universe both creates and destroys; giveths and taketh aways. The universe has given much to Tom Brady, but an injury last week took something away from him. Tight end Aaron Hernandez, who seems now to be the player who really made New England’s offense work, will be out with an ankle injury for this game and perhaps several more. After losing him against a very good Cardinals defense last week, Brady looked out of synch with his receivers and the only way they moved the ball consistently was in giving it to Steven Ridley on the ground. This Ravens defense are their normal excellent selves, and sans-Hernandez, the Patriots will struggle offensively in this game.
Monday 8:30 PM EST
Packers @ Seahawks +4.5
Hexagram 31: Conjoining  
There are lots of little things about this game that add up to me liking the Seahawks. I always like them at home, especially when they are getting points. They have a great secondary and are among the best in the league in shutting down the pass (in the league’s top five in average yards allowed per passing attempt), as they did last week to the Cowboys who came into the game flying high. The Packers haven’t shown any real ability or willingness to run the ball, and this will work to the benefit of Seattle’s pass rushers, most notably Chris Clemons, if Green Bay has to depend on the pass. Basically, the Seahawks are good at countering exactly what the Packers do best. While this was supposed to be Matt Flynn vs. his old team, rookie Russell Wilson will be the one to lead an upset in primetime that will put the rest of the league on notice.

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