Friday, November 9, 2012

I Ching NFL Picks: Week 10

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:
My picks in bold. Lines taken from ESPN Pigskin Pick’em Game
This Week: 1-0 Last Week: 5-9
Season: 66-67

Sunday, November 11, 2012
1:00 PM EST
Giants @ Bengals +4.5
Hexagram 43: Breakthrough
The Bengals are mired in a four game losing streak after starting out 3-1. In an odd scheduling twist, they welcome a Manning brother as the visiting quarterback for the second week in a row. Eli’s Giants are in the midst of a bit of a slump themselves. Although they’ve won two out of their last three, they were a little lucky to win divisional matchups against the Redskins and Cowboys and failed to close a very winnable game last week.  Their quarterback has struggled in these recent games, especially in throwing the ball down the field, but stopping the big play has also been an issue. They have given up, by my rough count, six 40+ yard completions. They have been burnt deep by big receivers, like Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams of Tampa, and by fast receivers in Mike Wallace and Josh Gordon. Enter AJ Green: who happens to be very big and very fast. With Eli not playing at his best, I like the Bengals to break their losing streak at home on the back of a big game by Green.
Titans @ Dolphins -6.5
Hexagram 33: Retreat
Coming off a 51-20 loss to the Bears starting a young quarterback trying to come back from injury, the Titans probably would have liked to have their bye this week rather than next. Rather than a week off, they must travel to Miami to play a Dolphins team that is in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race at 4-4. It appears Jake Locker will be the starting quarterback for this game, which may spell more trouble for his twice separated non-throwing shoulder. There is potential for him to have success against Miami’s 30th ranked pass defense, but with Cameron Wake and the rest of a formidable pass rush chasing him, there is perhaps an equal chance Locker once again leaves the game early. With Tennessee wanting desperately to regroup over their bye and the Dolphins' stellar home record (three win and one overtime loss so far), I like Miami.
Lions @ Vikings +2.5
Hexagram 24: Turning Point
After the Vikings beat the Lions in Detroit Week 4, it seemed Minnesota had supplanted its divisional foe as the up and coming team in the NFC North. With that win, the Vikings improved to 3-1 while the Lions stood at 1-3. Since then, the victor of that contest has lost three games and won two, while the loser has won three and lost just one. Minnesota needs a big win to get their season back on track, but I don’t think they get it in this game. With Percy Harvin likely missing the game to injury, they will be without, almost literally, half their offense. Harvin and running back Adrian Peterson have both contributed around 1,000 total yards already this year, but no other single Viking has contributed even 300. With the Vikes missing their top, and only, receiving threat, the Lions will be able to focus on stopping AP and the running game, while daring Christian Ponder to beat them over the top. The sophomore quarterback has leaned heavily on his favorite target, but lacking his security blanket, he will have to throw the ball more vertically to his other receivers; something he has shown neither the ability nor inclination to do this far into the season.
Bills @ Patriots -11.5
Hexagram 9: Taming the Small 小畜
Giving away this many points is never an easy decision, but this is about the easiest it gets. The Pats are at home, off a bye week and put up 52 points and 580 total yards against the Bills the last time they played. A popular stat among NFL insiders is rushing attempts plus passes completed. Getting to 50 combined runs and completions means you have not only run a lot of plays, but had a high percentage of successful plays that kept your offense on the field, and this usually results in a win. In that game in Buffalo Week 4, New England had 40 rushing attempts and 22 completions for a grand total of 66 such plays. With the Bills’ continued struggles on run defense, I expect the Patriots to stick with this formula and again rack up staggering amounts of plays, yards and points.
Falcons @ Saints +2.5
Hexagram 62: Reaching Completion
Many keep expecting the Falcons to lose their first game, and those people have been wrong every week so far. I think Atlanta will lose a game this year, but not this one. The Saints, winners of three of their last four, are the next team in line to try to ruin the Falcons’ perfect season. The final score of their game against the Eagles last Monday looks pretty good, but watching that game, I felt New Orleans was far from dominant. In fact, if not for a couple critical mistakes by Vick and crew, a 99 yard TAINT being the most egregious, the Saints would have been playing from behind from the start, and that game would have played out much differently. Matt Ryan will be far less likely to give the Saints free points, and in a heads up match, Atlanta is the far better team. Drew Brees can still lead a dangerous offense, but the Falcons are the far more balanced team, and shall remain the team to beat in the NFC South.
Chargers @ Buccaneers -3.5
Hexagram 42: Increase
The Buccaneers offense has been rolling lately. Yes, Doug Martin had an insane game last weekend, but the improvement of Josh Freeman and the passing game has been the bigger surprise. Since their Week 5 bye following  a loss to the Redskins, they have averaged 36 points a game en route to a 3-1 stretch. Over this span, Freeman has put up 314 yards passing per game after averaging under 200 yards per through the first four games. I guess his summer spent shedding lb’s playing the other football is paying off ( The 31 points the Chargers put up last week looks good at face, but the hapless Chiefs gave them 14 of those points on defensive touchdowns. The other 17 came off of three long drives by San Diego, but that game was played a lot closer than the final score would indicate. The Bolts actually lost the time of possession battle, despite the Chiefs getting very little out of their running game and playing catch up the whole game. Throw in a little revenge factor for wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who San Diego held in franchise tag purgatory for what seemed like a decade, and I foresee another offensive explosion for the Bucs at home.  
Broncos @ Panthers +3.5
Hexagram 14: Great Possession 大有
For all the fanfare that followed Peyton Manning around this off season, it seems that it was just about as big of a deal as the hyperbolic media made of it. That is another rare achievement added to Manning’s legacy. The Broncos certainly got the ultimate prize of the free agent class. Peyton came with some risks, and so his new team has done an admirable job of protecting its investment so far.  Denver’s ten sacks allowed are tied for the second lowest total in the league. The most important lineman to Manning has also been their best. Left tackle Ryan Clady has yet to yield a sack from his quarterback’s blindside through eight games. The one thing that impressed me about the Panthers last week was the ability of their front four to get pressure. Against the Redskins, they were able rush just the line and still get to the quarterback, while dropping everyone else back to limit the damage RGIII could do with his arm and legs should he escape. This approach is unlikely to work against the Broncos. Blocking guys like Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy is a challenge for any offensive line, but the Broncos have held their own against elite pass rushers this season. If the Panthers just rush four, Peyton’s line will give him time to pick apart Carolina’s weak secondary. If they decide they have to blitz to get pressure, it could be even worse. Either way, I don’t see the Panthers being able to do what they did so well last week to the same effect against a red hot Denver team.
Raiders @ Ravens -7.5
Hexagram 52: Binding
I am aware of the fact that the Ravens are 6-2, but I don’t think they are among the NFL’s best teams right now. Apologies to all my Baltimore friends, but I’m sure even they would agree with me that they haven’t really played an impressive all around game since their Week 3 win over New England. Since that game, they have won two close, ugly games against the Browns, got blown out by Houston, won a 9-6 field goal fest over the Chiefs and tried to give a game away to the Cowboys, only for Dallas to give it right back to them. There’s something to be said for winning games when you’re not at your best, but if they don’t start getting better it will be difficult for them turn on the switch down the stretch against tougher competition. Baltimore will probably pull out the win, as they usually do against inferior teams, but I am not convinced enough by them to bet that they’ll win by more than a touchdown.
4:05 PM EST
Jets @ Seahawks -6.5
Hexagram 61: Inner Truth 中孚
These two quarterbacks exemplify the complexities involved in being a successful NFL quarterback. The Jets’ Mark Sanchez was a high first round pick, won a Heisman trophy, and came out of a program  that was achieving unprecedented success in college (even though it officially never happened). For all that and the Latin lover good looks to boot, he still leaves you cold watching him play quarterback. Since coming into the league, he has inspired much more paranoia and revulsion in New York than any other positive feelings. Russell Wilson, on the other side, lacks all the accolades and measurables, but endears himself to his fans wherever he goes. He carries himself on the field with obvious charisma, composure and hustle, and it seems to make his team and coaches like him as much as the fans. Pete Carroll is absolutely smitten (DBJ Sanchize). NC State fans still talk glowingly of him and he left their team to go play baseball. It just shows you that prototypical arm, athleticism and size are not the most important things that make up an NFL quarterback. A quarterback’s teammates have to like him, and even care about him for the offense to really thrive. That only comes by the quarterback showing that he genuinely gives a crap about winning and about his guys and be willing to humble himself before the goals of the team. I’m not saying Mark Sanchez isn’t any of those things, but he definitely doesn’t wear it on his shoulder quite like Wilson does.  All that said, the Jets offense hasn’t done any one thing particularly well this year, I like the Seahawks’ quarterback much better than his bizarro twin counterpart and Seattle has covered every home game to date this season.
4:25 EST
Cowboys @ Eagles -1.5
Hexagram 62: Small Exceeding 小过
I made a resolution this week to stop picking team that kill themselves with turnovers. No matter how competitive they play at times, they rip your heart out every week with self inflicted errors. So no more Chiefs, no more Eagles, no more Cowboys.. Oh shit. As much as Dallas has shot themselves in the foot, Philly is in much worse shape with the disaster in New Orleans Monday night still fresh in mind. Their offensive line is in shambles and they will have to protect their everything prone, turnover machine quarterback Michael Vick against a great Dallas front seven.  The Cowboys have also been quite good at snatching defeat out of the lips of victory (victory can’t have jaws), but I think they are a decidedly better team than the Eagles right now. But that’s not saying much.
Rams @ 49ers -11.5
Hexagram 35: Progress
I really wanted to take the Rams here. It seems like an awful lot of points for an offense that isn’t exactly explosive to cover. It’s a divisional matchup, and despite the Patriots putting the torch to them last time out, I still think the Rams defense is better than advertised. But the more I thought about it, the 49ers are too good and have too many things going in their favor to pick against them. San Francisco is at home, coming off a bye, as are their opponents, but unlike the Rams, they didn’t have to fly to England for their last game. With a week off, there shouldn’t be any lingering effects, but such travel does take a lot out of your body and I would rather bet on the team that hasn’t left their time zone in weeks. Furthermore the offensive line of the Rams has been decimated by injuries and what’s left over of it will have their hands full with the 49ers front seven. If the Rams get down early and have to abandon the running game, it could get really bad really fast for quarterback Sam Bradford. It might not be pretty, but the 49ers will keep marching on to the NFC West crown.
8:20 PM EST
Texans @ Bears -1.5
Hexagram 60: Limitations
One shocking stat: The Texans point differential against the NFC is -18. Against the AFC it’s +118. Granted that first total comes from one game against the Green Bay Packers, but it is odd that the Texans have played only one game out of their conference at this point. In this matchup, I see the defenses as a push with maybe a slight edge to the Bears for their turnover creating. However, the Texans have the better offensive line and the player in the most dominant form in JJ Watt. It comes down to the quarterback play to me. Matt Schaub will be competent at running his offense, but I doubt he will create many big plays. The best case scenario may be he prevents the Bears defense from making game changing plays. Jay Cutler is, as ever, the wild card. He has very few limitations imposed on his play by his coordinator or physical attributes, and he makes the Bears ceiling higher because of how dynamic the offense can be when he is playing well. On the flip side, he also represents the much greater risk of sabotaging his team and hurting their chances to win. I think in the first marquee primetime matchup, it is the Bears offense that breaks the defensive stalemate.
Monday, November 12th, 2012
8:30 PM EST
Chiefs @ Steelers -12.5
Hexagram 13: Companionship 同人
I know I said I was going to stay away from the Chiefs, but I just can’t quit them. There are reasons to think that they might put up a fight in this game. The Steelers are pretty banged up. Their offense won’t be quite the same missing Antonio Brown and KC is decent in pass defense. Missing tackle Marcus Gilbert will hurt Pittsburgh’s ability to block Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. If the Chiefs can avoid the costly turnovers, granted, something they have yet to do for a whole game, then this is a team that can play anyone competitively. The Steelers look like they are back on track, but I say the defense and running game of Kansas City keeps this one close.

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