Saturday, December 8, 2012

I Ching NFL 2012 Picks: Week 14

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
Sunday, December 9th, 2012
1:00 PM EST
Rams @ Bills -3.5
Hexagram 60: Limitations
This matchup features two defenses trending up in recent weeks. Both teams have won two out of their last three games on the back of solid defenses efforts. St. Louis has forced five turnovers and sacked the opposing quarterback five times over their two game winning streak. Buffalo , whose defense has been particularly stout at home of late, has gotten a boost from a defensive line that is finally living up to its high billing. The d-line has provided six sacks in the last two home games (both wins) in which the Bills’ opponents were able to generate only 32 points. In a game with inconsistent quarterbacks facing underrated pass defenses, both teams will look to establish the running game. In a game I see as playing out as a close, low scoring and defensive contest, I like the Bills because of their superior running game and home field advantage.
Cowboys @ Bengals -3.5
Hexagram 58: Openness
Dallas ranks tenth in the league in giving up around 220 yards passing allowed per game, but this impressive number has not been indicative of their performance of late. After being in or near the top five all year, the Cowboys position has dwindled due to sub-par play the last month. In their last four games, they have given up nearly a thousand yards and nine touchdowns through the air despite playing mostly against rookie quarterbacks (Michael Vick started the first of the four, but Nick Foles played most of the game in relief after Vick’s injury). The 300 yards and four touchdowns by Robert Griffin III make up a big part of this, but they were victimized at times by lesser rookies Foles and Brandon Weeden as well during this stretch. There should be openings a plenty in the Dallas secondary for Andy Dalton to exploit, especially when looking toward favorite target AJ Green. Green has already eclipsed 1,000 yards and ten receiving touchdowns through twelve games. I like for him to add significantly to that against the Cowboys.
Chiefs @ Browns -5.5
Hexagram 16: Passion
It seems a little callous to take such a tragedy as the Javon Belcher episode into account when predicting game outcomes, but looking at a team objectively, it’s impossible to ignore. The Chiefs came out and played under unthinkable circumstances last Sunday, and got their second win of the season. This just a day after one of their players took his own life at their Arrowhead facilities. Belcher died a coward’s death and will not be remembered by any as a hero, but the sudden and traumatic death of a friend and teammate can still be something that brings together the Chiefs’ locker room. I think Kansas City will come out prepared and fired up to play, and with their opponents’ tendency for close games (five out the Browns’ last six games were decided by six points or less), I like the road team plus the points.
Titans @ Colts -5.5
Hexagram 39: Stumbling Block
The Colts have been the preeminent example this year of a team that rallies around an unfortunate event and is able to reach previously unthought of levels because of the dramatic spike in their chemistry. From Coach Pagano’s leukemia diagnosis, to ChuckStrong, to the bald cheerleaders, Indianapolis has played with emotional edge in most of their games, knowing that they have something more at stake than just another win or loss. While playing with this kind of passion can push a team up to levels beyond their collective talent, it is exhausting to play with this approach week in and week out. With the Colts sitting comfortably in the AFC Wildcard race at 8-4, their leader on the mend and expected to eventually rejoin the team, and following a wild walk off win in Detroit last week, I think they finally have a down game here. The Titans have been the most unpredictable team of the NFL this year. When they have been bad, they have been very bad, averaging just 13 points in their eight losses. In their four wins, though, they have scored 35 points per contest. The Tennessee formula so far this year has been two stinkers followed by an explosive performance. If you look at their 2012 schedule, they have followed this trend almost like clockwork. After losing their last two and failing to break 20 points in either, I say they are due for another unlikely outburst of points.
Bears @ Vikings +2.5
Hexagram 53: Gradual Progress
Despite their loss to Seattle last week, the Bears seem to be in good position to make a late season push. Jay Cutler has been sharp since returning from injury, throwing three touchdowns to one interception in his two games since coming back from his concussion induced absence. Matt Forte also appears to have gotten over his own injury problems, looking strong last week after hurting his ankle when these teams met two weeks ago. Adrian Peterson will continue to put up monstrous rushing totals in his unprecedented comeback season, but lacking wide receiver Percy Harvin, now lost for the season to IR, Minnesota does not have the playmakers on offense to compete with any team as talented and well balanced as Chicago.
 Chargers @ Steelers -6.5
Hexagram 42: Increase
The Chargers have not won a game since their November 1st win over the Chiefs. They have not beaten a team other than the Chiefs since their September 16th win over the Titans back in Week 2. They played admirably at home the last two weeks, earning two narrow losses to the Ravens and Bengals for their efforts. Now the Bolts have to travel cross country to play an early game with the kickoff scheduled for 10 AM according to their west coast biological clocks. Their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, get their franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back, have the number one defense in the league once again and need this win to keep their hopes of winning the AFC North alive. I like the Steelers to win big in this one.
Eagles @ Buccaneers -7.5
Hexagram 63: Finished 既济
The Buccaneers’ top ranked rush defense is looked at a bit skeptically due to their dead last ranking against the pass. The logic is they have given up so few rushing yards at least in part because they haven’t been able to stop the pass and teams would rather not bother to test them on the ground. However, their 3.4 yards allowed per carry is also the league’s best, so there has to be some quality as well as quantity. The last two weeks in particular teams have stubbornly stuck with the run and Tampa Bay has held up; giving up 3.1 yards on 29 carries against the Broncos and 3.3 yards on 24 carries against the Falcons. They will be tested again this week as Philadelphia rookie Bryce Brown has burst onto the NFL scene with 342 yards and four scores on the ground in his first two starts. I think they will stand up to the test. The Eagles have looked done for a while now. They now have lost eight games in a row, and haven’t kept a game close enough to cover this generous spread in six weeks. I don’t see them turning the ship around this week on the road in Tampa.
Ravens @ Redskins +0.5
Hexagram 34: Great Strength 大壮
In past years, if the Redskins and Ravens were playing and I thought the game would be a physical, hard hitting contest that would be won by the team that is better at running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense, I would have been pretty worried. This year, the situation is much different. Baltimore uncharacteristically ranks 23rd in both rushing offense and defense. Meanwhile, Washington brings the number one rushing attack into this game, the first team to break 2,000 yards this season, and the 4th ranked run defense, allowing just 91.5 yards per game. The devastating RG3-led read option attack will be a constant threat to go the distance against a Ravens defense that lacks its customary speed and athleticism and has struggled to set the edge. Joe Flacco will have plenty of chances to make big plays against the ‘Skins’ porous secondary, but I think the home team and Robert will run over the Ravens to open their rivalry.
Falcons @ Panthers +3.5
Hexagram 37: The Family 家人
Carolina is still upset about the first time these teams met. In that game, the Panthers blew a 4th quarter lead along the way to losing by two points to the Falcons. There has been a lot of smack talk coming from the home team leading up to this game. Defensive end Greg Hardy proclaimed his team was the better of the two, and that “we owe them something,” among other things ( Obviously, the Panthers are pissed and whenever a home team feels slighted and has the “nobody believes in us” thing going on, they can be dangerous. In a divisional matchup, between two teams that already played one super close game this year, I like the pissed off home team getting the points. The fact that you win if the Falcons win by three is half the appeal here.
Jets @ Jaguars +2.5
Hexagram 56: The Wanderer
Tim Tebow, although listed on the injury report as questionable, will return to Jacksonville a visitor. A year ago, he was leading the Broncos on an improbable playoff push. However, he has yet to see significant playing time this year despite the putrid offense of the Jets. I don’t think Rex Ryan brought Tim to Florida to not play him. He saw what Greg McElroy could do last week and he has seen plenty of what Mark Sanchez brings to the table, so maybe this is the game Tebow is thrown out there. New York is at least mathematically still alive for the playoffs and maybe their best chances for the postseason lie in another magical Tebow run. No matter who is playing quarterback, three points may be enough in this one. The Jaguars are missing their best playmaker in receiver Cecil Shorts and the top three running backs on their depth chart as well. Against a good Jets defense, Chad Henne and his anonymous crew will struggle to get anything on the board.
4:05 PM EST
Dolphins @ 49ers -10.5
Hexagram 5: Requirements
The Dolphins have been competitive in just about every game this season. Ten of their twelve games has resulted in a win or a loss by seven points or less. The only exceptions were blowout losses to the Texans and Titans. While they play just about anyone tough, I don’t think Miami has what it takes to compete with the true few elite of the NFL. Even in last week’s seven point loss to New England, the game never seemed seriously in doubt for the Patriots, and watching it, I don’t think the final score was indicative of how close it was. San Francisco is one of those top teams and they have put some beat downs on opposing teams this year, winning five games by ten or more. With the Dolphins throwing out a rookie making his first start to block NFL sack leader Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick getting more comfortable running the Niners’ offense, I like the home team to give the fish a beating.
4:25 PM EST
Saints @ Giants -5.5
Hexagram 59: Dispersion
The focus of this game will be Brees vs. Eli, but I think the Saints ability to run the ball will be the deciding factor. With New Orleans, the question isn’t so much their ability but their willingness to run the ball. During their three game winning streak last month, they averaged over 27 carries and 145 yards on the ground. Over their last two games, both losses, they have been right around their season average of twenty carries. Partly as a result, they have had their lowest two game scoring output of the season. After watching the Redskins run for over 200 yards on the Giants Monday night, the Saints would be wise to rediscover their running game for this one. If they can use their stable of talented running backs to keep their offense on the field, and Eli Manning on the sidelines, then the Giants offense will remain of sync and New Orleans will be in good position to pull the upset.
Cardinals @ Seahawks -10.5
Hexagram 33: Retreat
In what seems like an eternity ago, Arizona actually won the first matchup between these two in the desert back in Week 1. Since then, these teams have gone in dramatically different directions. The Seahawks are 5-0 at home this year and have covered the spread in each win. While their defense will take a hit due to the suspension of one starting corner, and the pending suspension of the other, their offense has been picking up the slack in recent weeks. Seattle has scored 20 points or more in five straight games now after reaching this modest total just twice in their first seven games. Considering their still stellar defense, and the Cardinals’ quarterback situation, one would assume that if blossoming rookie QB Russell Wilson can deliver around 20 points that should be sufficient for the win and cover.
8:20 PM EST
Lions @ Packers -6.5
Hexagram 28: Great Passing 大过
I think this game will come down to which team can make the big plays in the passing game, and oddly enough, I don’t think that team will be the Packers. It is the Lions who have the number one passing attack in the league. Matt Stafford has averaged 340 yards passing over their last three, and although they lost each of those games it was only by margins of four, three and two points.  As Calvin Johnson continues his assault on the record book, I think the Lions finally breakthrough, or at least come really close before blowing it again.
Monday, December 10th, 2012
8:30 PM EST
Texans @ Patriots -4.5
Hexagram 48: The Well
No running back has been as reliable, as explosive or as reliably explosive as the Texans’ Arian Foster. He has gone over 100 total yards in eight of twelve games, and scored a touchdown in every game but one. The Texans are getting the maximum out of the investment they made in giving Foster a new contract before the season and if his usage continues, Arian will have earned every penny. They will keep giving him the ball until it stops working. I don’t think they’ll be searching for an alternate strategy Monday night. The Patriots’ 9th ranking against the run looks good, but they have given up plenty of yards to good rushing attacks. The 260 yards New England allowed on the ground in two games against the Bills and 121 more given up to the Ravens show that they can be run against, if you have an elite back toting the rock. The Texans have one and are not afraid to keep going back to the well.  

***Last Week: 9-7
Season: 102-91
*Note: I did not pick Week 14’s Thursday night game due to illness. For the record, I had the Broncos, but didn’t get the pick in.

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