Wednesday, September 5, 2012

NFL Season 2012 Week One I Ching Picks


About this time last year, I started my first year of writing a NFL picks column. I wanted to test my knowledge of the NFL, work on my writing constantly with deadlines and maybe pick up a few readers while at it. Picking football games every week is a great way to do all three. After picking less than half the games correctly the first two weeks, I was looking for help. Enter the I Ching: the ancient text of divination that has been used for thousands of years to forecast the future for celebrities and Chinese emperors alike. In addition to my weekly preparation, I began to cast readings for each game using the I Ching. The next week I got ten games out of sixteen right, and went on to finish the regular season at 54% correct despite the rough opening. 

So, this year I decided to cast the coins from the start and see if this was a fluke, or had some value. A quick word on how the I Ching works: I throw three coins six times. Each round of three gives me one line of six that make up the reading. The first three lines and the last three lines correspond to a different trigram, each of which symbolizes an elemental force of nature: wind, water, mountain, fire, earth, swamp, thunder, sky. The combination of the two trigrams; the two elements interacting with each other, make up the hexagram which describes the nature of how this change will happen. Each of the 64 possible permutations has separate meanings and interpretations. All change in the I Ching and hence, Daoism, comes from the interplay of the two cosmic, fundamental forces of Yin and Yang. The relationship and ratio of the two opposite forces describes which way the forces are leaning, thus, the future conditions can be predicted. 

You may ask, how can a bunch of randomly flipped coins and fortune cookie-like messages from the distant past help predict NFL games? Even the most informed of football prognosticators struggle to consistently and accurately predict outcomes. The National Football League to me is the most complex system of major professional sports. In the NBA, only five guys are on the court for each team at a time and the team's are much more reliant on their stars' performances. Baseball to me seems like a series of 1v1 matchups between pitchers and hitters masquerading as a team sport. In both cases, advanced statistics and metrics are much more useful for guessing at future results. However, when you have 22 men running around a much larger field with violence everywhere, then there are many more interactions between players and these tools have less value. 

For instance, when a running back breaks a long run for a touchdown, it's hard to be sure who is the most responsible for the play. Was it a great individual effort on the run by the carrier? Was it great blocking? Poor tackling? Did the offensive coordinator call the perfect play against what the defense was doing? The answer is usually a combination of all these things and it's impossible to know from looking at a box score. Rather, you have to watch the game and get a feeling for how each team is playing. Determine for yourself who is initiating contact, who is not afraid and who is the aggressive party. Otherwise, how can you say whether someone made a great block, or if a defender was not hustling on the play? This leads to an abstractness and subjectivity in football analysis.  Opinions and predictions have to be interpreted through your general feeling of a team's vibes rather than just raw numbers. 

This is where the I Ching comes in. Through the coins, the oracle allows your subconscious to speak to you. The visual nature of the Chinese pictograms turns all the information in your brain and crystallizes it into images or scenarios; more similar to the language of dreams than the waking world. In the introduction to my translation, authors Rudolf Ritsema and Stephen Karcher put it like this: "(The I Ching) puts you back into what the ancients called the sea of the soul by giving advice on attitudes and actions that lead to the experience of imaginative meaning. Oracular consultation insists on the importance of imagination." There is a creative part to it that you as the observer must impart part of yourself into the analysis. 

The I Ching at the very minimum is a great way to focus all your thoughts and views together into a single cohesive image. At best, it could be a medium into other levels of conscious or even existence; a gambling hotline to the spirit world, if you will. And finally, it puts a unique element of myself into my picks, so you can avoid reading me spouting out the same statistics you hear from everyone else all week. Relax, leave your skeptic's hat at home, strap yourself in, and get ready for Week 1 picks of the 2012 NFL season brought to you by Sam and the I Ching.  


2011 Regular Season Record: 132-111*
Lines taken from ESPN Pig Skin Pick 'Em game
Follow my entry here http://games.espn.go.com/nfl-pigskin-pickem/en/entry?entryID=181280 
My BOLD picks are in BOLD

 
Sunday 9/9/12 1:00 PM EST
Colts @ Bears -10.5
Hexagram 46: Ascending : This offseason the Bears did everything they possibly could to push their team up to the next level. Adding Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush gives the Bears a big time target that quarterback Jay Cutler has had success with in their past and a first-class battering ram back to spell Matt Forte. The offense wasn’t too bad to begin with. In the ten games Cutler played before an injury ended his season, the Bears were 7-3 and scored 30 points or more in six of those games. There are concerns about the offensive line and the age and health of the defense, but Chicago has the potential to be dominant on both sides of the ball this year.
Andrew Luck is ascending in a different way, making his debut at the top level of football in this game. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult first game for a rookie quarterback. He's on the road, in Chicago, on a team with meager talent around him and against a defense with one of the best, fastest, biggest and scariest pass rushers in the game in Julius Peppers to chase him. I expect the number one overall pick to struggle in his first game and the Bears to win big.
Eagles @ Browns +8.5
Hexagram 64: Not Yet Crossing 未济: The image the I Ching gives here is of being on the verge, at the edge of imminent change, but the transformation is not yet forthcoming. The only proper course here is to wait for things to develop. I don’t see patience as one of the Eagles’ best traits. This Browns defense is much better than they get credit for. I don’t see Philadelphia coming into the Dog Pound opening day and blowing them out, which the line suggests. The Cleveland defensive unit was top ten in the league last year and second against the pass. It will not be an easy day for Michael Vick and if he tries to force the issue too much, it could compound his team’s problems. The Eagles’ defense is good as well, but only middle of the pack against the run, so expect to see a lot of rookie Trent Richardson running the ball if he’s healthy enough to go. I think this will be a close game that the Eagles will ultimately take, but if Vick tries to do too much and exposes himself to too much risk, turnover or taking hits wise, an upset very well may take place in God’s least favorite sports city. I mean it is 2012 right?
Rams @ Lions -8.5
Hexagram 14: Abundance 大有: With this Lions team, when things are going good they tend to go really good. Last year, over half of their ten wins were by more than a touchdown. The average margin of victory in those six blowout wins was almost 19 points a game. Matthew Stafford is coming off a 5,000 yard 41 TD season, and with a revolving door at the running back spot, I expect the Lions to come out throwing again this season. The Rams did sign free agent corner Cortland Finnegan to help shore up their secondary, but starting on the other side will be rookie Janoris Jenkins. The Lions can be run on, and I expect the game to be close for a while if the Rams feed Steven Jackson, but Detroit will score too many points in the end for St. Louis to keep up.
Patriots @ Titans +6.5
Hexagram 37: The Family 家人: As great as New England is and has been for the last decade now, they are not without flaws. Chief among these are their defense, which finished ranked 2nd to last in 2011, and their offensive line, where there has been some turnover in recent years and the new guys have yet to prove they are up to the task of protecting Mr. Brady. The I Ching reading here says the advantage goes to the inhabitants here and the home Titans are a team I like a ton this year. They won nine games last year, just outside of the playoffs, and will have a more dynamic offense this year with Jake Locker at quarterback, a healthy Kenny Britt (fingers crossed) and a seemingly rejuvenated Chris Johnson. I’m not sure the Titans win this game, but I'll take the team that had a winning record last year and is getting points at home.
Falcons @ Chiefs +0.5
Hexagram 22: Adorning: I think both of these teams will be fighting for playoffs late in the season, but I give the slight edge to Atlanta in this matchup. The oracle tells us that the side with the most impressive outward appearance will excel. This has to be the Falcons with all the talk this preseason of their new, more aggressive passing attack and all the hype around wide receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons were best last season when playing inferior teams going 9-2 against teams that didn’t make the playoffs. I think the Chiefs will have a strong defense and running game, and expect them to give the Falcons a good fight. But in a near straight “pick em” situation, you have to pick the team who appears to be glittering golden right now.
Jaguars @ Vikings -4.5  
Hexagram 49: Molting : To say that Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert had a rough rookie season would be a severe understatement. His finished dead last in quarterback rating among the 33 qualifying passers. That’s right, you read correctly; he had a worse season passing than Tim Tebow. However, I expect him to shed the husk of player he was last year and be reborn again. He showed some life in the preseason and showed good chemistry with rookie receiver Justin Blackmon. Now that Maurice Jones-Drew has ended his holdout and is back in the fold, defenses will have to pay attention to the 2011 NFL rushing champion first. This should result in lots of receivers running open in those terrible teal uniforms. Gabbert has the same great arm that made him a first round pick, and plus, bro’s got great flow. (http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/13987/blaine-gabbert) I think he will bounce back this year and it begins with a road win against the Vikings.
Redskins @ Saints -9.5
Hexagram 18: Corruption : The big story is the debut of Robert Griffin The Third, but it is more the state of the Saints that leads me to like the chances of my Redskins Sunday. The I Ching forecast paints a picture of corruption; something once great rotting away. The Saints will be fine in the long run, but I think the damage caused to their system from BountyGate to be more than just a minor speed bump. I expect this New Orleans team to be something less of the Saints squad of recent years. The chaos from the shuffling of personnel in the front office, coaching staff and lineup will not be able to be immediately settled. Furthermore, in the addition to all the suspensions this offseason, they are also installing a new defense and starting new players on the defense and offensive line. I think things like losing a head coach or an influential leader on the team (the Saints lost both) have much greater effect in a sport like football where intangibles factor so significantly into a team’s success or lack thereof. Elite quarterbacks like Drew Brees want consistency, continuity and comfort above all else in the offense around him, and thus, I think we will see a lesser version of the Saints offense, at least initially. The Redskins and RGIII will be able to move the ball and make plays against the Saints defense, and if the Washington defense can slow down Brees, Graham and crew at all, I like the Skins chances to cover the sizeable spread, if not steal a win in the Super Dome.
Bills @ Jets -3.5
Hexagram 7: Soldiers : Lots of experts out there are predicting a dismal season ahead for the New York Jets. The offense has a dearth of weapons, a quarterback controversy between two guys who both have major flaws and their usual high expectations seem hopeless to reach this time around. However, they also still have head coach Rex Ryan and one of the most disruptive defenses in the league. The I Ching hexagram points to a leader who marshals his men to duty and organizes chaos. Rex Ryan is the kind of coach that players love to play hard for, and I think the Jets will be better than currently perceived. I don’t love the Jets’ prospects and the Bills may still have the better record at season end, but I think Buffalo will be stifled by that awesome defense on the road in the opener.
Dolphins @ Texans -7.5
Hexagram 57: Penetrating : This hexagram is made up of two “Ground” or “Earth” trigrams on top of each other. Ground symbolizes foundation, support, strength coming up from the soil. This suits the Houston Texans. They love to run the ball, and even with their offense whole again, quarterback Matt Schuab and receiver Ander Johnson are starting the season without injury, I expect them to run and run some more on their opponents starting the Dolphins. Supremely talented running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate will have room to run behind their road paving offensive line, and the Texans should be able to control the flow of the game on the ground. Conversely, Miami’s rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill will struggle to gain any ground against a very good Houston defense.
Sunday 9/9/12 4:25 PM EST
49ers @ Packers -6.5
Hexagram 41: Diminishing : In a battle between the league’s best offense taking on the league’s best defense, the I Ching is telling us lessening, making smaller and decreasing is in the cards. If this is so, this will surely benefit the visiting team. Not only because they are being spotted points, but also because they are much more accustomed to playing low scoring, ground 'em out games.  San Francisco’s real strengths lie in their dominant offensive and defensive lines, with all their returning starters from last year’s stellar units. If they are able to control the line of scrimmage and keep the score down, they will be in good position to upset the Packers.
Seahawks @ Cardinals -1.5
Hexagram 50: The Cauldron : Very rarely do teams play each other twice in a row in the same place, but that’s just what will happen Sunday in Arizona. The Cardinals closed last season in Week 17 by beating the Seahawks at home by three in overtime. Two young quarterbacks will enter the cauldron in the desert as both will face severe challenges. Although John Skelton led his team to victory last time, I expect Seattle rookie Russell Wilson to be the quarterback to emerge triumphantly from his first set of trials. The Cardinals also have playmakers on both sides of the ball, but Seattle has more overall talent on defense and Arizona will struggle to protect Skelton. Russell Wilson should be an upgrade at quarterback since he beat out incumbent starter Tavaris Jackson in the preseason and his play making ability will prove the difference between these two teams.
Panthers @ Buccaneers +2.5
Hexagram 54: Wedding the Maiden 归妹:  Going into the 2011 season, if you had to choose one young quarterback to “marry” yourself to based on talent and production early in their career, it probably would have been Josh Freeman. He was coming off a sophomore season where he threw 25 touchdowns to only six interceptions and led the Bucs a winning record. However, he came crashing down to Earth last year. Newton is that hot commodity coming into 2012. Although he has not had the wins yet, his astronomical rookie statistical performance was unprecedented. Despite the warning against falling head over heels again standing on the other sideline, I think Cam is the real deal. Tampa Bay will be improved this year, but Carolina dominated the Bucs in both their meetings last year. Newton should be improved and I don’t see enough improvement in Tampa's team to overcome the apparent disparity shown in last year's results.
Sunday 9/9/12 8:20 PM EST
Steelers @ Broncos -1.5
Hexagram 3: Difficulty at the Beginning : There is arduous labor ahead, and growth is beginning, though slowly. Occasionally the I Ching provides answers that aren’t so subtle. The Broncos signing of Peyton Manning very well might lead them back to the playoffs, but I don’t think they put it all together right out the gate. Tim Tebow’s run first offense covered up for a mediocre offensive line, and Peyton’s surgically repaired neck will be put to the test by a still dangerous, although rapidly aging, Steelers’ defense. Also, I don’t think Manning has ever had a receiver as raw or undisciplined as Demaryius Thomas, and it will take some time and adjustment from both players for Peyton to take full advantage of his young receiver’s tremendous physical gifts. I’m not a big fan of the Steelers this year, but Denver’s defensive line and secondary are suspect, and I say Peyton Manning will begin his time with his second team with a loss. Then everyone will panic, a few weeks will go by, their old new quarterback will find his rhythm with his new teammates, and they’ll be right in the thick of the playoff hunt at the end of the season.
Monday 9/10/12 7:00 PM EST
Bengals @ Ravens -6.5
Hexagram 2: The Field : This reading describes facing a great primal power in an environment fraught with obstacles. This sounds like Andy Dalton’s Monday night to me. Although Baltimore will miss pass rusher extraordinaire Terrell Suggs, their defense will still be the havoc wreaking unit they annually are. In Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, I think the Ravens will have the best corner tandem in the league. Last year, Webb, coming off a season ending injury in 2010, was one of only two starting corners to not give up a touchdown reception all year and Smith finished his rookie season with strong play and has all the physical tools to become one of the league’s elite.
The Bengals, on the other hand, I fear may revert back to the “Bungals” this season. They are my pick to be the least likely playoff team from 2011 to make it back this year. They rode an easy schedule into the playoffs, not beating another playoff team all season, and needed several close wins over mediocre to bad teams to make it to nine wins. Andy Dalton and AJ Green have the talent, but with a more difficult schedule and much more defensive attention for Green looming and very little else in difference making players on the offense, I foresee a Freeman/ Mike Williams in 2011 type regression in their numbers this year. This team remind me a lot of the 2011 Buccaneers.
Monday 9/10/12 10:15 PM EST
Chargers @ Raiders +1.5
Hexagram 5: Staying the Course : Last year, the Raiders opened their season in the late Monday Night game and beat the Broncos behind a 150 yard rushing effort by Darren McFadden and a clinching record tying field goal from Sebastian Janikowski. McFadden is the real key to Oakland’s success this year. As long as he remains healthy, he will be both consistently productive and provide explosive plays with his unique combination of size, agility and game breaking speed. It appears that the Raiders are once again rebuilding and that the Chargers are gearing up for one last push, but since this is the AFC West you can’t count anyone out of contention. The San Diego defense was average last year, and much worse against the run than the pass. I expect the Raiders to run all over them, control the game on both lines of scrimmage. Oakland's strong defensive line against an iffy Chargers' offensive line is another favorable matchup for the silver and black. If Run DMC stays healthy for the whole season, which has never happened by the way, the Raiders may still be around and making noise in January.



Wednesday 9/5/12 8:30 PM EST
Cowboys @ Giants -3.5 (Dallas won 24-7)

Hexagram 6: Arguing : The arguing between these rivals began well ahead of their opening day matchup.  Cowboys owner Jerry Jones started it by telling fans at training camp how badly he wanted his team to “beat the Giants asses,” to which New York linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka later responded, “"He should. I mean, the Giants have been whupping his ass for a long time." (http://www.foxsportssouthwest.com/08/30/12/Giants-Kiwanuka-fires-back-at-Jerry-Jone/msn_landing.html?blockID=782801)
This fits in nicely with our reading which describes a situation where conflict has broken out because one party demands justice from being slighted. This is certainly applicable to the New York Football Giants. All they did was win the Super Bowl last year, but it seems the media would much rather talk about Romo's window (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/09/03/tony-romo-is-tired-of-questions-about-windows), the Dez Rules (http://espn.go.com/dallas/nfl/story/_/id/8311136/semantics-aside-dez-bryant-rules-necessary) and Jerry Jones's "Glory Hole Days." (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvRrv30UAbM) This is a lot of hype around a team that lost four out of their last five games and missed the playoffs last year.
On the other side, there seems to be little post-Super Bowl hype or fanfare around the G-men going into this season. The Giants aren’t even favored to win the NFC East, the Eagles being the betting favorites over both of tonight’s combatants, but they several extremely talented players in the prime of their careers and are healthier right now than they have been in years. I expect the Giants to remind the league that they are defending champs and settle this silly argument with the Cowboys. The dominant defensive line of New York will overwhelm their Dallas adversaries across the line of scrimmage and Eli Manning will make enough of his typically inexplicable big plays to start the Giants' title defense off with a win at home.  



*note: did not pick Week 17 of 2011 due to issues outside my control. 

3 comments:

  1. 54% is horrible, you need to stick with picking a sport like ballet

    ReplyDelete
  2. If you think 54% is horrible and you could easily do better every week against the spread, then I suggest you move to Vegas, because you'll be guarenteed to make money. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete