Saturday, December 1, 2012

I Ching NFL Picks: Week 13

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: 12-4
Season: 93-84
Sunday, December 2nd, 2012
1:00 PM EST
Jaguars @ Bills  -6.5
Hexagram 2: The Field
The Bills are undoubtedly disappointed to be 4-7 at this point in the season, but they can take some solace in the fact that four out of their last five games will be at home. Ok, one is in Toronto, but that’s close to home anyway. Although they are just 2-2 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the offense has consistently scored points at home, especially against mediocre to bad defenses. Buffalo is averaging 29 points a game in their own digs compared with just over 18 per game on the road. Jacksonville has looked like a much better team since Chad Henne took over behind center, but I don’t see their defense slowing down CJ Spiller and the Bills at home.
Seahawks @ Bears -4.5
Hexagram 38: Polarizing
It’s obvious that the Seahawks play better at home than away, even more so than other teams, but the disparity in their home vs. away performances has been staggering. At the C-Link, they are a perfect 5-0 despite facing three teams with winning records and a combined cumulative record of 30-25 for their home opponents. Away from Seattle, they have won just one game and lost the other five although their foes on the road have combined record of just 28-36-2. The Bears have struggled when playing really good teams, all of their three losses are to teams on the good side of .500, but they have taken care of business against everybody else. The Seahawks are a really good team at home, but on the road, they are much more akin to everybody else.  
Colts @ Lions -4.5
Hexagram 50: The Crucible
Andrew Luck ‘s rookie season has been a genuine trial by fire. Being a rookie quarterback in the NFL is hard enough, but also consider that the team he was tasked to lead won just two games the previous season, his immediate predecessor was the greatest player in franchise history AND he lost his head coach early in the season when Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with cancer. That is a rough introduction to the league. Yet, here Luck and the Colts are leading the pack in the AFC Wildcard three quarters of the way through. They have gotten there by winning close games, with six of their seven wins coming by a margin of a touchdown or less. The Lions, contrarily, have been on the wrong side of close games more often than not, going 3-5 in such contests. Indianapolis has been the more hard working, passionate, clutch and, yes, Luckier of the two teams, and they have deserved to get the breaks Detroit has not. I think Luck and the Colts pull out another close one and I love them getting points on the road.   
Vikings @ Packers -9.5
Hexagram 35: Prospering
The Vikings have managed to score over 20 points just twice in the last five games, something they accomplished four times in the first six games. The biggest difference in their offense is that they have been without wide receiver Percy Harvin for most of the last month. He is doubtful for this game and lacking a healthy Harvin, I don’t think Minnesota has the sufficient weaponry to keep up with the prosperous Packer passing attack.
Texans @ Titans +5.5
Hexagram 42: Abundance
Don’t look now, but the Texans defense that looked so dominant early in the season has given up a lot of points lately. The last two weeks, they had a combined 68 points scored on them by the Jaguars and Lions (or the Laguars, they’re like my favorite mythical animal), and Houston needed overtime in both cases to eke out the win.  This Titans offense has been more explosive with Jake Locker at QB and a revived CJ, who might get to 1.5K anyway, running the ball. I don’t see the Texans defense considerably improving on a second straight road trip, so it looks like another shoot-out is likely. In that situation, I like the home team getting the points.
Panthers @ Chiefs +3.5
Hexagram 25: The Unexpected 无妄
The Chiefs winning a game would certainly be unexpected, but I think they have a good chance in this one. Coach Romeo Crennel has employed a novel strategy down the stretch in trying to save his job. He has decided to put the ball in the hands of his most dangerous player. After being used somewhat erratically earlier in the season, dynamic running back Jamaal Charles has touched the ball at least 15 times in the last four games, the first such four game streak of 2012.  This hasn’t resulted in wins yet, but Charles, and the Kansas City team as a whole, played two of their best games to date recently in close losses to Pittsburgh and Denver. Against a terrible Panthers run defense that was run over by a rookie running back drafted in the 7th round last week, I think Jamaal Charles will have a big day and the Chiefs finally get win number two.
49ers @ Rams +7.5
Hexagram 51: Building Thunder
Niners’ coach Jim Harbaugh made a bold and controversial decision to go with second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick over former starter Alex Smith. Smith did little to lose his job, except get hurt and give Kapernick a chance, which he can’t be blamed for. The truth is though, I think this has been a long time coming. San Francisco only reluctantly brought Smith back during the offseason when it was obvious Peyton Manning wasn’t going to sign with them. Even before Smith’s concussion, Harbaugh has put Kaepernick on the field in certain situations. The veteran may provide the steadier hand, but I think his coach knows better than anyone the limitations of the offense when Alex is under center. Harbaugh is building to something greater; to a Super Bowl, the only goal ultimately. Watching the 49ers offense the last two weeks, it’s obvious that Kaepernick makes them much more dangerous and if he continues to play well and develop further, it will give them a higher ceiling as to what they can do as a team. After playing the Rams to a tie just three weeks ago, I think their improvement with Kaepernick as the starting quarterback will be evident in the rematch.
Patriots @ Dolphins +7.5
Hexagram 20: Viewing the Scenery
Look no farther than this: New England has scored 190 points in their last four games. That’s 47 points a game. The Pats are on one of those rolls where you just can’t pick against them. Take them, eat the points, sit back and enjoy the view.
Cardinals @ Jets -4.5
Hexagram 44: Showdown
Here is an odd matchup where the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two teams greatly parallel the other’s. Both are ranked in the top ten in defending against the pass, and in the bottom ten in defending the run. Each of these teams also will look to their running game first on offense due to their shortcomings at quarterback. While Arizona’s 3rd starting quarterback of the year, Ryan Lindley, has played about how you would expect a rookie 6th round pick to play in his first two pro outings, the Jets’  Mark Sanchez hasn’t been any better. Among quarterbacks who have started every game for their team, the Sanchize’s 75.6 passer rating is better than only that of rookies Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. In a game where points will come at a premium and the flow of play won’t be particularly aesthetically pleasing, I like the team that has the slightly tougher defense and is being spotted a fair number of points.
4:05 PM EST
Buccaneers @ Broncos -6.5
Hexagram 30: Radiance
Two prolific passing attacks in the midst of hot streaks face off in Denver. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has led the Bucs to a 5-2 stretch following a 1-3 start. He has thrown for an average of over 280 yards in these games last seven games. Peyton Manning has been even better of late, throwing for 293.5 yards a game during the Broncos’ six game winning streak. The biggest difference between these two teams is in their pass defenses. Tampa Bay is ranked last in the league against the pass, lost starting cornerback Eric Wright to substance abuse suspension after already trading his counterpart Aqib Talib, and have been forced to contemplate moving veteran Ronde Barber back to corner from his new free safety role, where he has been much more effective. While Peyton is likely licking his chops for this matchup, Freeman will have a much sterner challenge. Denver has Champ Bailey to shadow old AFC West rival Vincent Jackson and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller, who has harassed opposing quarterbacks to the tune of 14 sacks and four forced fumbles already this year, to provide the pass rush. The Broncos have won all of their past six by at least seven points, have the clear edge in terms of the defenses and the mile-high home field advantage to boot. 
4:25 PM EST
Browns @ Raiders -0.5
Hexagram 56: The Wanderer
The Raiders have been bad lately, even for them. They have lost four straight and are giving up over 40 points a game over this period. The Browns have the same 3-8 record that Oakland does, but have looked much different in getting there. Despite their terrible record, they have played competitive football in every time out. The only game they have lost by more than ten points was a Week 5 road tilt against the Giants where they jumped out to a 14-0 lead.  For comparisons sake, the Raiders have lost five such games by over ten points, including each of their last three. One Brown who should be salivating over the prospects of this game should be running back Trent Richardson. Over this four game losing streak, Oakland has given up an average of 182 rushing yards a game, including 251 to Doug Martin in the loss to Tampa Bay. To pile on, they will be lacking one of their best run defenders after suspending linebacker Rolando McClain. Look for Richardson to run wild as the Browns get consecutive wins for the first time this season.
Bengals @ Chargers +1.5
Hexagram 26: Restraining Greatness
Cincinnati has thrust themselves back into the thick of the playoff race with three straight wins while San Diego has wilted after a promising start, losingof six of their last seven. Despite the Chargers finding new and inventive ways to blow each game as only a Norv Turner coached team can, this team is still playing hard and have yet to quit on their season or coach as has been suggested. Everyone will remember the debacle of “4th and 29” from last week, but just the fact that they held the 9-2 Ravens to 13 points in regulation and played them hard all the way to overtime shows that this Bolts team is not mailing it in, and I think they will show it in this game. I really like how their defense matches up with the Bengals offense. Their tough run defense should be able to contain the steady but plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis, making Cincinnati’s attack one dimensional and putting the onus on quarterback Andy Dalton. The usual resolution to this problem would be just throwing it up to wide receiver phenom  AJ Green and letting him make the plays, but I don’t see this working either. San Diego free safety Eric Weddle is one of the best in the business at taking away the deep ball and Green will likely see a lot of double coverage with Weddle over the top. If the Chargers are able to frustrate the Bengals offense in this way, I think they can keep the score down and get a rare win at home.
Steelers @ Ravens -6.5
Hexagram 10: Treading
No matter how lopsided these teams appear to be, history suggests the final score will be close. In six out of their last seven meetings, the rivalry game was decided by exactly three points. Even when the Steelers are lacking Ben Roethlisberger, as they will be for this one, this has held true. One of these games from this sample saw Charlie Batch as the starting quarterback for Pittsburgh and in another it was Dennis Dixon. In both contests, the final difference between the teams was, you guessed it, three points.  I think the Steelers defense and running game will be able to keep it close, and the game will come down to a field goal that will swing this game one way or the other.
8:20 PM EST
Eagles @ Cowboys -9.5
Hexagram 34: Great Strength 大壮
Since their 15 point home loss to Dallas a few weeks ago, the situation for Philadelphia has progressively gotten worse. They will be without quarterback Michael Vick and running back Lesean McCoy again in this game, and there is little reason to believe that this is the week they end their losing streak, which currently stands at seven games. The Cowboys should be the much better prepared team for this game. They had a couple extra days off to get ready for this one after their Thanksgiving loss to the Redskins, and expect to get running back DeMarco Murray back from injury. With the Cowboys still clinging to their slim playoff hopes, Dallas should come out fired up for this one, and I think they will be too much for Nick Foles and the rest of the “B-gles.” Get it? B-gles, like the dog but also like the Eagles’ B-team? Ok, never mind. Let’s move on.
Monday, December 3rd, 2012
8:30 PM EST
Giants @ Redskins +2.5
Hexagram 11: Harmony
This hexagram is made from combination of the trigrams representing heaven and earth, producing harmony. One source describes this situation as “a time where heaven seems to be on earth.”  If the Redskins beat the Giants and finish their three game division stretch at 3-0, I will be feeling like the Kingdom of God is indeed close at hand. Aside from my own hopeful optimism, there are reasons to believe that Washington can win this game straight up. For one, they should have beaten the G-men the first time they played. Had there not been a blown coverage that gifted Victor Cruz and New York a late game winning touchdown, the ‘Skins may be undefeated in the division and fully in control of their own destiny. As painful as that play was, the season high four turnovers for Washington in that contest is what really prevented them from winning that game. The back breaking Cruz bomb will be what is remembered, but in a game where RGIII and crew ran for 248 yards and outgained Big Blue by almost 100 yards, the costly turnovers are what kept the game close and gave Eli Manning an opportunity to win it late. With the RGIII offense running on all cylinders and the turnovers in that game being the aberration rather than the norm this season, I like the Redskins to keep their push for the playoffs going at home on Monday Night Football.   

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