Sunday, October 14, 2012

I Ching NFL Picks: Week 6

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 to pick games:
My picks in bold. Lines taken from ESPN Pigskin Pick’em Game

Sunday, October 14 2012
1:00 PM EST
Raiders @ Falcons -8.5
Hexagram 46: Rising Upward 
We begin with the biggest mismatch on paper for this week’s slate. A West Coast team traveling east for their equivalent of a 10AM kickoff against an undefeated host. The Raiders are giving up over 30 points a game, and the Falcons offense is scoring just a shade less than 30 points per game. I’m picking Atlanta to keep soaring high above the rest of the league, beating down Oakland to push their win total up another notch.
Bengals @ Browns +2.5
Hexagram 40: Deliverance
I feel genuinely sorry for any Browns fans out there. They have played and lost five games, but were right there in each game until the very end. It is terrible to watch your team go 0-5, but it is even more infuriating to be competitive in every game yet always come up just short. As a Redskins fan, I speak from a place of empathy, not sympathy. There are reasons to hold out hope though, Cleveland. Your pair of rookies, quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, have both exceeded expectations, and your team has played their best ball against some of the NFL’s elite, including the Giants and Ravens.
I think the return of Joe Haden pushes the Browns over the top and they get their first win. A month ago these teams met in Cincinnati and the Browns fought back against big deficits to make the game interesting multiple times, before coming up short. Every time they seemed like they were going to even the game up, Andy Dalton came through with a big play in the passing game to break the backs and spirits of the opposing team, not dissimilar from what he did to the Redskins following week. With Haden back though, the home team should be able to limit the big plays in the passing game that killed their chances of winning the first meeting. Cleveland fans are delivered from the ignominy of losing, for at least this one week.
Rams @ Dolphins -3.5  
Hexagram 50: The Vessel
The walls are closing in around him, and Steven Jackson isn't all that elusive anymore. He’s averaging 3.5 yards per carry and is facing a run defense this week that has been by far the best in the league so far. Miami is giving up just 2.7 yards per carry, a full half yard better than the three teams tied for second place, and have not allowed 100 yards rushing in a game yet in this young season. They have played pretty well at home and they have the defense to contain Jackson and the rest of the St. Louis offense. In what could be a low scoring game, considering the two young quarterbacks against two of the best pass rushes in the game, I think the Dolphins will score enough to win and cover.
Colts @ Jets -3.5
Hexagram 34: Great Strength 大壮
The Colts are this week’s super popular upset pick that I just can’t get onboard with. Granted, the Jets have not been able to do anything consistently well on offense. Quarterback Mark Sanchez, he of the 48% completion percentage, six picks and 66.6 passer rating (if that's not a sign that it's time for Tebow, I don't know what is), has played so poorly that most fans accept the inevitability of the backup being the starter at some point in the near future. Even their dependable, solid run game they used to count on has been missing this year. Whether the problem is the ineptitude of the backs or regression of the offensive line, their running attack has been bad. Their 3.2 yards per carry is among the bottom three in the league.
As everyone sits back and waits for this team’s eventual collapse, it’s easy to forget they still have one of the most talented rosters in the league. Even after the Revis injury, their pass defense has been very good. Antonio Cromartie has stepped up as much as anybody, shutting out Andre Johnson last Monday night. Furthermore, injuries will keep the Colts from being able to exploit the Jets’ biggest weaknesses. Without top pass rusher Robert Mathis they won’t be able to rattle Sanchez like they want, and they will miss halfback Donald Brown against the poor run defense of New York. Brown’s replacement rookie Vick Ballard is more of a plodder and their offense will miss the explosivity of their starter’s gamebreaking speed.
All in all, I think the Jets are the stronger team in the trenches and that is where this game will be decided.  
Lions @ Eagles -5.5
Hexagram 35: Progress
The 1-3 Lions visit the 3-2 Eagles desperate for a win after a terrible start for a team with such high expectations and aspirations.  I don’t buy the gulf in quality between these two teams that their records or this point spread would seem to indicate. Consider that the Eagles have accrued a -19 total point differential over their five games while the Lions are -14 in their opening four, and you begin to see two teams that are pretty even. In a game that could quickly turn into a shootout, I’ll take the team that is probably much better than the early returns indicate, coming off a bye and getting more points than they probably should.
Chiefs @ Buccaneers -3.5
Hexagram 38: Running Counter To
This game seems like a slam dunk for the Buccaneers. They are at home, coming off their bye week and they are facing their opponent’s backup quarterback in Brady Quinn. I feel this is a game that will run against normally sound logic. In theory, you should never trust a young quarterback making his first start in years on the road, but I like Quinn to have a good game here. The reasoning for this is simple; it’s hard to imagine him being any worse than knocked out starter Matt Cassel.
Cassel has thrown nine interceptions through the Chiefs first five games and his sub-Sanchez quarterback rating of 66.2 is 32nd highest out of the 33 qualifying quarterbacks. Last week, their defense and running game kept them in a tight contest with the Ravens despite the offense shooting itself in the foot with untimely turnovers again and again. Tampa Bay were gashed for over 150 rushing yards its last time out against the Redskins, and Kansas City and Jamaal Charles got that in the first half against Baltimore last week. If Quinn can simply hand the ball off to Charles safely, and throw two or less picks, then he will surpass what Cassel has done in terms of putting the Chiefs in position to win a game.  
Cowboys @ Ravens -3.5
Hexagram 53: Incremental Improvement
After their last outing, the Cowboys have nowhere to possibly go but up. They have had a week off to think about their five interception prime time meltdown last Monday. Fortunately for them, they had a week off to let those wounds heal and prepare for this game, which no one expects them to win despite the fact that they match up really well against these Ravens. Oddly enough, defense has been Dallas’ biggest strength, while the offense has been the more successful side of the ball in Baltimore. If DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys D can hold Flacco’s Wackos in check, then there are yards a plenty to be had against the Ravens defense. This is especially true on the ground. If the Cowboys come out of the bye determined to establish DeMarco Murray and the run game and play  solid defense, I think they will knock off the favorite Ravens.
4:05 PM EST
Bills @ Cardinals -4.5
Hexagram 20: Vantage Point
The desert is a peaceful place to visit. It’s quiet, you can see for some distance, the scant flora and fauna have adapted in interesting ways to fit their extreme home. It’s easy to forget as a tourist that this stillness can very easily kill. It has very little water, food, shelter or even shade; and a deficiency of just one of these things can be enough to seal your fate if you are out there long enough. This is how I envision the Bills’ trip to Arizona. Travelling cross country to take on one the NFL’s best, and meanest, defenses is no picnic in itself, but doing it without three of your starting offensive linemen? That’s rough. Exposed in the desert wastes, Buffalo will be reduced to nothing but bleach white bones sticking out of the sand.
Patriots @ Seahawks +3.5
Hexagram 2: The Receptive
The Seahawks have been underdogs for both games they have played at home this year, and have emerged from both victorious.  In these two games, the Seattle defense has been able to swallow up all the opposing offense had to throw at them, limiting Dallas to just seven points in Week 2 and allowing 12 points to Green Bay in the controversial Monday night game. These are not offenses that are playing at their best right now, but they are both still loaded with talent and were impressive defensive performances for the Seahawks.
The Patriots undoubtedly bring the biggest challenge yet for this defense into CenturyLink Field, but I think there is reason to believe they be equal to this test. Aside from the 12th Man and their great run defense, they have one more factor on their defense that will help them match up against New England as well as any other team can. The emergence of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, two rookies from last year whose excellent play has cemented their places in the starting lineup, has allowed Seattle stalwart corner Marcus Trufant to cover the slot position full time. He has been perhaps the league’s best at this role this season, and will need to continue his good play against the Patriots.  Whether it’s Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez or someone else, no one exploits the mismatches over the middle created by using the slot receiver to pick on lesser defenders like Tom Brady and the Pats do. However, very few teams have a player that brings the kind experience, speed and ability that Trufant does to the nickel corner spot.
The Patriots will have a much more difficult time keeping up their newfound running game against the run defense of the Seahawks, and if Trufant and crew can contain the passing game as well, another upset will be brewing like Starbucks in the great Pacific Northwest.
4:25 PM EST
Giants @ 49ers -5.5
Hexagram 58: The Wind 
In a rematch of the most recent NFC Championship game, I think the 49ers are in much better shape than the team that ended their dream of a Super Bowl last year. For one, they were arguably the better team last year, and only two fumbles on punt returns by Kyle Williams gave the Giants an opportunity to win the game. Failing another big turnover disadvantage, I think the 49ers would win if those two teams could play again.
Of course, we know it won’t be the same exact two teams playing, and it happens that San Francisco also has the team that improved more in the offseason. Alex Boone has turned the right guard spot, the offensive line’s biggest weakness from 2011, into a strength; while new receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, pilfered from New York in free agency, have made opposing defenses respect the deep pass even if they have hauled in very few such balls through five games. The Giants’ turnover in personnel has been almost all in house, with young players stepping up to fill voids left by departing players and injuries.
The biggest advantage in matchups the home team has in this game is their ground attack facing the run defense of the Big Blue. The 49ers’ ground game has been as pervading and unstoppable as the wind itself. It ranks first in the league with 6.1 yards per carry and almost 200 yards per game. The Giants’ 4.5 yards allowed per carry is 8th worst in the league and their usually dominant defensive line has yet to live up to their reputation this year. I think the Niners get their revenge in this game by running the ball around, through and over the New York football Giants.
Vikings @ Redskins -2.5
Hexagram 23: Stripping Away  
I may be the last person holding out, but I’m not ready to accept the fact that this Vikings team is for real. If you strip away their very impressive home victory over those 49ers, they are 3-1 against the Jaguars, Colts, Lions and Titans. Their offense has relied on the short passing game with the onus on the receivers, usually Percy Harvin, to make a play after the catch, and the Adrian Peterson led run game. While I’m sure AP wants revenge against the team that he suffered his traumatic knee injury against last year, Washington’s strength on defense has been stopping the run. To really take advantage of the Redskins’ shortcomings on D, you need to throw the ball down the field, which is something Minnesota hasn’t shown much inclination toward doing so far this year. Their young quarterback Christian Ponder has been a solid game manager for his team, but he is near the bottom of all quarterbacks in average yards per completion, yards per attempt and average distance the ball travels in the air for each throw.
Robert Griffin III will play, and will probably play at the level we saw through the first four games. If he is the dynamic RG3 he was in the opening month, then I expect the Redskins to put up some points and be in the game right down to the end, as they have been in every game. If Ponder is unable to stretch the field and hurt the Skins defense down the field, I think they will struggle to keep up. The Vikings seem due for a letdown game, and on the road against a Redskins team that I still think is a little better than their record indicates, I say the Vikings take a loss in this one.
8:20 PM EST
Packers @ Texans -3.5
Hexagram 49: Molting
Everyone involved in any way with the Green Bay Packers from the players to the fans have no doubt been left with a bad taste in their mouth five games into the 2012 season. They won 21 of 22 games dating from the end of the 2010 regular season, through their Super Bowl run, to the end of the 2011 regular season. Since then they have lost four out of six, starting with last year’s elimination from the playoffs up to the present. They were on the losing end of not only the final call of the replacement referee era that infamous Monday night in Seattle, but also of the “We have to win it for our cancer-stricken coach” game in Indy last week. That is two brutal road trips.
This is the week I think the Packers start to shed the bad luck, bad vibes, and bad mojo. The Texans are a very good team, but I’m not convinced they are the juggernaut they are being billed as. Just one of their fives wins (Denver) was over a playoff team from last year. The combined record of their opponents that they have jumped out to 5-0 against is 9-17. Somewhat hidden among all the concerns over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense is the fact that the Packers defense is much improved from last year. If the Packers offense wakes up like I think they will, then the Texans will have to make big plays in the passing game to keep up. That is something they haven’t had to do all year.
Monday, October 15th 2012
8:30 PM EST
Broncos @ Chargers -2.5
Hexagram 19: Approaching
Watching Peyton Manning the last two weeks has convinced me that he is still an elite quarterback in this league. His team fell short last week in New England, but the Broncos quarterback was not at fault. Some untimely fumbles and dropped passes put Denver in a hole early, and later killed the comeback Manning looked determined to lead. It seems to me Peyton is starting to get comfortable in that offense, but his backs and receivers haven’t quite adjusted to having him as their quarterback yet. Manning still has the command, the decision making and the accuracy, and the more this offense plays together the better it is going to get. I think we continue to see signs of progress Monday night and for Peyton to shine under the lights as brightly as he does in all his numerous commercials.  

This Week: 1-0            Last Week: 7-7
Season Record: 38-40

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