Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Ching NFL Picks: Week Four 2012

This Week: 0-1 Last Week: 8-8 Season Record: 25-24
My picks in bold. Lines taken from ESPN Pigskin Pick’em Game (still top 10% of all entries)
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 PM EST
Panthers @ Falcons -7.5
Hexagram 10: Marching On
The path is laid out before the Dirty Birds. All they must do is walk it. The spread seems a little low for an undefeated home team against a 1-2 opponent. I  This line isn’t bigger due to a combination of factors, including the Panthers having ten days to prepare for this game, it is a divisional matchup, which are usually more competitive no matter what two teams are playing and the fact that the presumptive best team in the league has lost in each of the first three weeks of this season (Packers, Patriots, 49ers). But I don’t see this trend repeating in Atlanta on Sunday. Matt Ryan has put up great numbers in leading a more open Falcons offense (eight touchdown passes to just one interception) and he’s done that against much better defenses than what Carolina will bring Sunday. After watching the Panthers get picked apart and pushed around by the Giants last week, I can’t imagine a scenario where that defense is able to slow down the potent Atlanta attack.
Patriots @ Bills +3.5
Hexagram 43: Separation
One of these teams will breakthrough and realize their full potential, while the other will be confronted with the sobering reality that there is still a lot of work to be done. With both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller banged up and questionable to play, I think the Bills will be the latter of the two teams. After watching their game last week, it was apparent to me that the Buffalo offense is heavily dependent on their playmaking running backs. Tashard Choice ran hard in their stead, but he mostly just got the yards the line blocked for, and their passing game didn’t look as good after Spiller left with an injury. Both him and Jackson have the ability to make big plays whenever they touch the ball, and defenses have to respect that and be aware of where they are on the field at all times. Lacking their special talent, the offense sputtered against a solid but not great Browns defense. If they had a just a healthy Jackson OR Spiller, I might feel differently about this game, but lacking that, I don’t think they will be able to score enough points to keep up with a pissed off Patriot team that must feel they got robbed last week.
Vikings @ Lions -6.5
Hexagram 4: Youthful Folly
Success is a fickle mistress, but one that infatuates all, young quarterbacks especially. The Vikings are a popular upset pick this week after knocking off the Niners last week, but not one that I’m rushing to jump on board with. The defense and Christian Ponder particularly played well in their unexpected win, but when a team chooses to go with an inexperienced quarterback they have to take the growing pains along with the brilliant flashes. I think Minnesota will be believing their own hype a little bit, and stumble against a Lions team that is also very talented, but built completely differently than the team they most recently beat. They allowed big plays in the passing game their first two games against the Jaguars and Colts, and neither of those teams has players close to Matt Stafford or Calvin Johnson in terms of ability. I’m picking the Lions to bounce back at home in a big way.
Chargers @ Chiefs +0.5
Hexagram 41: Diminishing
Throw out all the bells and whistles. This divisional contest will be reduced to its simplest elements and the team that can control their rival physically will emerge triumphant. Down early, on the road, the Chiefs looked doomed to start their season 0-3. Trailing by 18 points in the 3rd quarter, it would have been easy and understandable for them to resort to a pass heavy attack. Instead, they chose not to abandon the run game and rather put their comeback chances in the hands of their best player. After the Saints scored to extend the lead to 18, the Chiefs went to running back Jamaal Charles on 24 of their last 50 offensive plays. He finished the game with 33 carries and six catches on eight targets en route to 288 total yards and a touchdown.
I doubt he’ll get close to 40 touches again in this game, but if the Chiefs want to win this year, they will have to continue to get the ball in Charles’ hands as much as possible. Kansas City’s strategy should be to lean on the running game, which is top ranked in the league, and work the play action pass off of it. This is exactly what I expect them to do against San Diego, a defense that made Michael Turner look like he had visited the fountain of youth (or at least doctors in Germany) last week, and I expect another heavy dose of Jamaal Charles to give the Chiefs the edge in a big divisional game at home.
Seahawks @ Rams +2.5
Hexagram13Doppelganger 同人
In a game where I see the two teams as relatively even and very similar, take the one getting points at home. Home underdogs were 6-1 against the spread last week. The home teams overall through three weeks are 26-22. Whether this increased home advantage will continue and is a product of the insane parity of the NFL or if it was a result of inferior replacement refs getting sucked in by the home crowd will soon be seen. Also consider that Seattle is on a short week after playing Monday night, and have to be mentally and spiritually drained after having to apologize for their absurd win all week. Coming into a hostile environment and playing against a team with a fearsome pass rush, I see the Russell Wilson looking like a rookie in this game and struggling to put up points, while the Rams do just enough to come away with a win at home.
49ers @ Jets +3.5
Hexagram 47: Exhaustion
Another home dog playing against a team that mirrors them in terms of style; so, Jets upset special this week, right? Not for me, anyway. I think they have been gotten really lucky to be 2-1 right now and with their defensive lynchpin Darrelle Revis now out for the season, I think it’s all going to start unraveling for the Jets. This starts today with the 49ers. Coming in off a loss, Jim Harbaugh’s team will be angry and prepared for this game, and while they are not much flashier on offense, they will find ways to pick on the Jets’ weaknesses. The only way I see the Jets winning is if Tim Tebow figures prominently in the outcome, because when supernatural beings play in human affairs, the outcome is impossible to predict.
Titans @ Texans -12.5
Hexagram 3: Sprouting
The Titans were maybe the most surprising of the road underdog wins last week, with their crazy 44-41 overtime win over the Lions. After two rough outings to start the season, the young Titans offense seems to be coming to life. I think that Houston will be able to run the ball plenty on the Titans (last in the league against the run), and they will probably coast to another win, but this is actually one of the reasons I like Tennessee to cover the spread. If the Texans get up early, their offense will probably look even more conservative than usual, while their defense will use prevent to try to keep everything in front of them. If this happens, it will open up space for Jake Locker to make plays and I think that this young, dynamic offense can score enough points to keep it close.

Sunday 4:05 PM EST
Raiders @ Broncos -6.5
Hexagram 50: The Cauldron
Inside the fire, the real hero shines, but the straw man is engulfed in flames. This is how I see this game. Everyone wants to talk about if Peyton Manning’s arm strength is diminished and if so by how much, but to me he is still an elite quarterback. A lot more than just arm strength goes into making great quarterback, and Peyton still has all the leadership, decision making, intelligence, awareness and coolness in the clutch that made him the best.  The Raiders’ defense, who gave up 384 yards through the air to Ben Roethlisberger last week, is a welcome sight for the him and the Broncos. As their schedule gets a little easier ahead, I think Peyton starts to look a lot more like the quarterback we remember him being. It starts with a big performance today against Oakland.
Dolphins @ Cardinals -6.5
Hexagram 8: Comparing
In yet another matchup of teams that want to play the game a very similar way, I like the Cardinals. They share strengths and weaknesses with their opponent, but are a little better in every area and at home, riding a wave of good feelings. Both teams want to establish the run and play good defense to protect their young quarterbacks. Kevin Kolb is the QB is at least less likely to hurt his team’s chances to win than his counterpart Ryan Tannehill, especially considering that Arizona has the better defense as well. With Reggie Bush’s status uncertain, and Ryan Williams playing great last week, I even like the Red Birds’ running game better than I like Miami’s. Either team will be in trouble if they are behind early, neither is likely to have much success if forced to throw the ball to get back in the game. With all these little advantages and the home field, I think the Cardinals are much more likely to be the team protecting the lead rather than chasing it.
Bengals @ Jaguars +1.5
Hexagram 42: Increasing
There are far fewer home underdogs this week, but this is one that I like. The Jaguars have a great matchup with their powerful ground game against the Bengals 2nd to last ranked run defense. After holding out the entire preseason, Maurice Jones-Drew had to prove he was in game shape before the coaches would give him his usual role in the offense. They seemed satisfied last week, giving MJD 28 carries after averaging just 10.5 the first two games. As he gets the ball more, I think he will keep getting better. It was more the road paving blocking by the line than any individual efforts by Mojo that led to his 177 yard outing last week. The Jaguars have a better pass defense than the last couple opponents of the Bengals. If they can avoid giving up big plays to Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and the rest of the young, exciting Cincinnati attack, then their run game will control the ball and the clock on the way to a win at home for the Jaguars.
Sunday 4:25 PM EST
Saints @ Packers -7.5
Hexagram 20: The Temple
In a chess match of potent offenses, the one lacking their mastermind has no chance. All you Aaron Rodgers fantasy football owners, fret no longer. They have started slow, but have played against maybe three best defenses the NFC has to offer in San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle. Things will be much easier against a Saints defense that has given up at least 450 yards to each team they have faced thus far. The Packers no doubt feel that they had a win taken away from them last week, and I don’t expect them to give up another game they should win at home.
Redskins @ Buccaneers -2.5
Hexagram 40: Deliverance
My Redskins homerism aside, in the battle of the two worst pass defenses in the league, I think the Redskins have a significant advantage at the quarterback position. Robert Griffin III has been an absolute stud in terms of leadership, coolness in the clutch and fantasy numbers. Josh Freeman threw for just 110 yards last week and completed less than 50% of his passes albeit against a very good Dallas defense. Hopefully getting receiver Pierre Garcon back from injury will help RGIII stretch the field vertically, opening up his running lanes and the intermediate routes. If both teams can’t cover anyone and receivers are running free all day, I believe Griffin will do the better job throwing the ball accurately to his teammates, and delivering a second victory for the Skins.

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