Saturday, November 3, 2012

I Ching NFL Picks: Week 9

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: 0-1 Last Week: 9-5
Season: 60-59
Sunday November 4, 2012
1:00 PM EST
Broncos @ Bengals +3.5
 Hexagram 56: The Wanderer
Peyton Manning leads his 4-3 Broncos into Cincinnati in the midst of his best stretch at quarterback since leaving Indianapolis. When he is at his best like this, old #18 represents a severe challenge for any opposing defense.  I don’t see the Bengals’ unit as up to this task. Their 233 passing yards allowed per game, doesn’t look terrible (ranked 16th in the league), but their middling rank doesn’t tell the whole story. While they have looked adept at shutting down younger quarterbacks, limiting the Jaguars to 143, the Redskins to 179 and the Dolphins to 211 passing yards, they have been hurt through the air by more prolific offenses. Taking out these three games, the Bengals passing yards per game jumps to almost 275, which would be much closer to the bottom of the league. I would also give Denver the advantage in defense and running game, aside from the massive chasm between the current forms of Manning vs. Andy Dalton. All signs point to a mismatch in favor of the road team in this one.
Lions @ Jaguars +3.5
Hexagram 2:  The Field
Detroit has not exactly been a model of consistency this season. One of the reasons they stand at 3-4 is because they have failed to build on their good performances and carry momentum into the following week. They have not only failed to win the next game following their first two wins, but have yet to score 20 points or more in two consecutive games thus far. Since I’m betting on this trend to continue, I have to take the field, or the team that’s not the Lions, even if that team happens to be the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags have actually had two good showings since their bye week, an overtime loss at Oakland and another loss in Green Bay where they gave the Packers more than anyone thought they would. I think they get a homecoming boast en route to their upset over the Lions.  

Ravens @ Browns +3.5
 Hexagram 59: Dissolution
The Ravens won on a Thursday night 23-16 when these two teams last met about a month ago. Since then, these teams have been trending in opposite directions. Baltimore has lost two key defenders for the season that played in that game in Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb. The Browns have gotten back their most important defender, Joe Haden, who missed that game due to suspension. The Ravens were lucky to escape with wins against the Chiefs and Cowboys and got demolished by the Texans prior to their bye. Cleveland has gotten their first two wins in the last three weeks and was a Josh Gordon drop away from being in excellent position to win the third game against the Colts. With the home field advantage shifting to the Browns for this one, I like their chances to continue to improve on their solid play of late.
Cardinals @ Packers -10.5
Hexagram 40: Scattering
Speaking of two teams that have gone in very different directions recently, here we have the Cardinals and Packers. Looking at this huge spread, it’s interesting to think of how different it would have been just four weeks ago. Going into Week 5, Arizona was standing at a perfect 4-0 while Green Bay was struggling out of the gate at just 2-2. In the four games from Week 5 and beyond though, the red birds have plummeted to the point of the leveling of their record and Aaron Rodgers has become the hottest quarterback on one of the NFL’s hottest teams. Despite all this, I think Cardinals matchup pretty well with the Packers and like their chances to keep this one close. Green Bay is coming off a game where they failed to cover another large point spread, they have little semblance of a competent running game, no pass rush outside of Clay Matthews to take advantage of the Cardinals poor O-line, and may be again without injured receiver Jordy Nelson, who was much missed in the passing game last week. All this should play right into the hands of Patrick Peterson and the 4th ranked Arizona pass defense.
Bears @ Titans +3.5
Hexagram 54: Wedding the Maiden
It’s time for people to accept Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler for what he is. Anyone still waiting for his mentality and maturity to catch up with his prototype size and cannon arm is missing a big part of what makes Jay Jay. Sometimes, Good Jay shows up and he is a fiery competitor; confident and capable of making any throw needed of him. Other times, his arrogance and total faith in his slingin’ leads him to try to force plays that aren’t there, which often results in interceptions, which often results in him pouting, berating teammates, and surly behavior in general. This is the Bad Jay rearing his ugly head.  The point is that he will never “grow up,” or fundamentally change, because the same physical and personality factors that make him so spectacular at some times are the same that make him so erratic at others. The Bears accept this, and have built a team that can beat anyone when Good Jay shows up while still having the defense and running game to keep them competitive even when Mr. Hyde shows up. The latter scenario has been the case in their last two games, eking out ugly wins against the Lions and Panthers despite getting less than 200 yards passing out of Cutler. Coming off a pair of bad outings and facing the 29th ranked Titans pass defense, I like the odds of Good Jay showing up in this one and having a big game. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears still have a great chance to win this game, and they’re ok with that.
Dolphins @ Colts +2.5
 Hexagram 13: Doppelgangers
 Coming into this game, the Dolphins and Colts have a lot in common. They both own better than anticipated records of 4-3 and both have gotten there because of, rather than despite, their starting rookie quarterbacks. While the Colts have the better quarterback so far in Andrew Luck, the Dolphins have a bigger edge up front on the offensive and defensive lines. It starts with pass rusher extraordinaire Cameron Wake. Indianapolis’ line hasn’t been outstanding to this point protecting Luck; their 18 sacks allowed is tied for 21st best, and they have yet to face someone that brings the speed, strength and tenacity in getting to the quarterback that Wake does. Besides the defensive end, guys like defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliali and offensive lineman Jake Long and Ritchie Incognito will also be giving the Colts headaches in the trenches. It’s worth noting that the Colts two worst performances of the year were blowout losses to Bears and Jets, both physical teams that were able to dominate Indy at the line of scrimmage.
Panthers @ Redskins -3.5
 Hexagram 36: Brightness Emerging
So here’s my RGIII/ Cam Newton rant: People will compare the careers of Griffin and Newton throughout probably the rest of their natural lives. One of the reasons they will always be measured against each other is because they are both black. That is not the only reason. They will also be compared because they were both high draft picks in consecutive years, won the Heisman trophy and use their running ability as a big part of their games. But, race is one thing that will link them together in the minds of many football fans. They will both be thought of as “black” quarterbacks. This is inevitable, but I don’t think it is inherently racist, nor an issue of right and wrong. I don’t find anything taboo at comparing the career arch of two young men just because they are both a particular race, but it is a lazy comparison. In fact, I think this whole thing has a lot to do with people thinking lazy. Stereotypes are the product of such idle analysis. The brain takes in new information and connects it to things that seen to relate to it. In a basic way, this is how we make sense out of the world around us. If we choose to cling to these shallow initial impressions as absolute fact, without investigating anything deeper for ourselves, then we will think and live in terms of stereotypes, interpreting the world around us based on the easiest and laziest of interpretations without any deeper probing or reflection. Furthermore, most people form a lot these perceptions based on what they see on TV, because it is their primary input for new ideas, and will parrot and regurgitate whatever they hear enough times. So if they hear all the talking heads on TV comparing RGIII and Cam and talking about whether it is appropriate and/ or racist to compare RGIII and Cam, then they will undoubtedly compare RGII and Cam and talk about whether it’s appropriate and/ or racist to compare RGIII and Cam. So, yes, this line of thinking is a bit ignorant and lazy, but it is also making a big issue out of a non-issue. They will be talked about together for a long time because they share certain links, but they should both be appreciated as individuals as well. One more thing they have in common now is the shared conference and geographic proximity of their teams. This could be the first battle of many to come; the beginning of a great rivalry with perhaps much more at stake in the future. They each have their own unique skills that make them special, so I would much rather sit back and enjoy the ride. All that said, through my ever burgundy and rose colored glasses, I think RGIII is better, so I’m taking the Redskins.
Bills @ Texans -10.5
Hexagram 1: Force
The Bills have had their problems stopping the run lately. They have gotten very little return on the draft picks and free agent mega millions they have invested in their defensive line. Their defense is ranked dead last in the league at stopping the run. Over their last four games, they have given up over 230 rushing yards per game. The Texans ground attack is one of the best power rushing games in the league, averaging over 140 yards per game. Suffice to say, I don’t see Mario Williams’ homecoming going well.
4:05 PM EST
Buccaneers @ Raiders -1.5
Hexagram 58: Openness
Pirate Bowl 2012! How pumped are you? What other sport is great enough to have two pirate themed franchises playing against each other for the swashbuckling swagging rights? While the Buccaneers looked good in the win against the Vikings last week, I think this is a bad matchup for them. They are coming cross country for their second straight road game to play in the hostile environment that is the Black Hole. They have the 31st ranked pass defense and just traded their number one corner for draft picks. Carson Palmer is having a bit of a renaissance leading a top ten Oakland passing attack and his favorite target, Denarius Moore has scored a touchdown in three straight games. I expect the Raiders to chuck it all around the field against Tampa’s vulnerable secondary. Moore is your POG, Pirate of the Game, and the Silver and Black plunder the booty of the Bucs.
Vikings @ Seahawks -4.5
Hexagram 34: Great Strength
It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where this ends well for the Vikings. The Seahawks are 3-0 at home. They have taken down the Cowboys, Packers and Patriots at the C-Link. Christian Ponder has been at the head of a very horizontal Vikings passing game. Percy Harvin will make a couple sensational plays after the catch every game, but this team is incapable of coming from behind. Ponder wasn’t able to take advantage of either the Buccaneers or Redskins pass defense in two recent losses, despite those being two of the very worst units in the league. The Seahawks might have the best young secondary in the league, with four impact players early in their careers at all the starting spots. Minnesota will struggle to score points, but Seattle will need to make a couple big plays to make this a comfortable cover.
4:25 PM EST
Steelers @ Giants -3.5
 Hexagram 11: Harmony
It seems this is a new Giants team. I’ve been waiting all year for them to have a letdown game typical of them in recent years. The kind of game where they seem to have everything figured out heading in to it, then Eli throws three or four picks, and they walk away from it collectively scratching their heads. They shown symptoms of this, trailing in all three of their last home wins against the Buccaneers, Browns and Redskins, but were able to fight back and ultimately win each game. This year they seem much more consistent, more like the playoff Giants rather than the team scrambling to make the playoffs at the end of each year. They have answered some questions at cornerback and on the offensive line, they have one of the deepest, most talented rosters in football and are unlikely to put in an uninspired, blas√© performance in front of the post-Sandy home crowd. I think the new Giants show up in a big way for this game.  
8:20 PM EST
Cowboys @ Falcons -4.5
Hexagram 4: Consuming
After beating the “Andy Reid is undefeated off his bye week” hype in Philly last week, the Falcons now have to face “Tony Romo and the Cowboys have a history of upsetting unbeaten teams.” These kinds of trends are useful in looking at how they happened and if they provide any useful insight into this game, but blindly expecting this kind of thing to continue to perpetuate is another example of this lazy kind of thinking. The Falcons have still met every challenge along the way. Winning ugly games when you’re not on your best form is a sign of a great team, not a fraudulent one. I expect Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense to set a fast pace from the start, and for Tony Romo to be frustrated by Atlanta’s opportunistic, if not dominant, defense. The Falcons keep flying high, for at least one more week.
Monday November 5th,  2012
8:30 PM EST
Eagles @ Saints -3.5
 Hexagram 16: Provisioning
Things just keep getting worse and worse for the New Orleans Saints. The latest casualty to add to the list is the broken hand of running back Darren Sproles. The severity of the injury is not yet known, but he will be missing this game at very least. New Orleans is dead last in terms of rushing yards per game and have relied on Sproles’ short routes and screens out of the backfield to compensate. With tight end Jimmy Graham missing time due to injury, the versatile speed back has been Drew Brees’ most consistent and dangerous weapon in that offense this year. Even lacking Sproles, the offense is still in much better shape than their defense. At or near the bottom of the league in just about every major defensive statistical category, New Orleans is allowing over 30 points a game to opposing offenses. Michael Vick against this kind of defense looks like just the penicillin to end the Eagles’ three game losing streak. Philly has the advantage in defense and running game, while any advantage Drew Brees and the passing game gave the home team is marginalized by the loss of a dynamic element of that offense. Drew Brees is an amazing player, but this Saints team will have to find much better balance in order to get back to their winning ways.

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