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My pick in bold. Lines taken from ESPN Pigskin Pick’em Game- finished 2012 in top 3% of entrants
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Thursday Pick: 1-0
Sunday, September 22, 2013
1:00 PM EST
Packers @ Bengals +2.5
Hexagram 4: Youthful Folly
I still have doubts about how far the Bengals can go with Andy Dalton at quarterback, but he doesn't seem to be affecting their performance in the regular season thus far. Their 1-1 record seems better considering their big home win on Monday Night against the Steelers and their loss coming on the road against Chicago in a very difficult place to play. The Packers come in riding high after their decimation of the Redskins, but they have showed some holes in their first two games. One of the most glaring is at the critical left tackle spot. Through two games, Aaron Rodgers has taken six sacks and eleven further hits. Rookie 4th round pick David Bakhtiari, forced into the lineup due to injury, has been the biggest culprit conceding multiple sacks to Rodger’s blindside in both games to premier pass rushers (Aldon Smith and Ryan Kerrigan). With Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins lurking on the right side of the Bengals defense, I expect the rook’s growing pains to continue and Green Bay’s offense to struggle as a result.
Browns @ Vikings -5.5
Hexagram 2: The Earth
In a game where the starting quarterbacks will be Brian Hoyer and Christian Ponder, I expect it to be decided on the ground. In such a situation, you have to take the team with Adrian Peterson over the team that just traded their franchise tailback for a future draft pick. Peterson has expressed frustration over being merely a great runner to start the season rather than his more usual phenomenal. Despite Cleveland’s underrated run defense (4th in the league currently), I fully expect All Day to recapture his ridiculous 2012 form in this one and run the Vikings to a big win.
Rams +3.5 @ Cowboys -3.5
Hexagram 17: Leading by Following
A successful organization starts at the top. Dallas’s dysfunction with their front office and coaching staff is well documented, but owner/ general manager Jerry Jones added a new log to the fire by suggesting that his team’s loss to the Chiefs last week wasn't all that surprising due to them being on the wrong side of the point spread. While it’s true the Vegas odds makers generally know what they’re doing better than most anyone, it’s new for a team owner to justify a loss based on outsiders’ opinion of the game. Unless Jerry had a big wager on the game (the Cowboys still covered), it’s hard to imagine a team with Super Bowl ambitions being satisfied with losing a close game to a team that was among the league’s worst a year ago. The Rams under Coach Jeff Fisher have issues of their own, but they seem to have a much more cohesive and united vision of what they want this team to be. In a game where both teams mirror the other’s strengths and weaknesses (both good at passing offense and run defense, bad at run offense and pass defense), I’ll take the team that benefits from more stability from their coach and front office and covers in a three point game either way.
Lions @ Redskins -1.5
Hexagram 8: Holding Together
Despair not, ye miserable Redskins fans. In truth, we should have seen this coming. With Robert Griffin III coming back from a serious injury, the 'Skins being the first guinea pig to face the new Chip Kelly Eagles in their first game and having to go to Lambeau for the second, a rough start was probably always in the cards. However, with the rest of the NFC East also limping out of the gates, the ‘Skins still have a chance to pull it together. As most in the media are already reading their eulogy, this is the game where they start to turn it around. As bad as Washington’s pass defense is, the Lions’ may not be much better. Detroit is ranked a middling 15th in passing yardage allowed, but their first two opponents were the Vikings and Cardinals, not exactly offensive juggernauts. Barring another disastrous first half, I think the Redskins resemble the NFC East champion team they were last year more than the pitiful outfit we have seen the last two games. Note that the Lions have been coming to DC to play the Redskins since the 1930s and have NEVER won there, a trend I expect to hold on Sunday.
Chargers @ Titans -3.5
Hexagram 57: The Wind
The wind is subtle, gentle even, but over time can have a great effect. I think this is a good analogy for this Tennessee team. They have no true superstars, excepting Chris Johnson who hasn't really played like one since 2009. They don’t have any obvious strengths that immediately stand out, nor a high powered offense that dazzles you. What they do have is a solid defense built on a strong secondary and deep defensive line and an offensive line that can control the line of scrimmage. The San Diego offense has been much better than expected, largely due to the renaissance of Phillip Rivers, but I don’t see that continuing in this game. The Chargers’ second straight visit to the East Coast coupled with facing a well constructed if unspectacular opponent leads to the Titans being the team to improve to 2-1.
Buccaneers @ Patriots -7.5
Hexagram 37: Family Rules
Early in the season when working with a small sample size, sometimes you have to throw out the early returns and just go on the history and the feeling of the two teams. I am aware of the Patriots’ (relative) offensive ineptitude through two weeks. I know Tampa has been one of the best pass defenses this young season. I know these teams played a common opponent to a similar final result. All of these factors would seem to indicate a close game between these two. I’m still not buying it. New England has had ten days to correct their troubles on offense and I think Brady and Belichick have extra motivation to prove the doubters wrong. I think this is a typical Foxboro blowout home win for the Pats.
Cardinals @ Saints -7.5
Hexagram 55: Abundance
New Orleans stands at 2-0, but they have got there in unusual fashion for your typical Saints. Drew Brees and the offense have put up only 39 points to this point, which would be one good game for them normally. The defense has made up for the lack of production by giving up just 31 points, including 17 to their high flying rival Falcons. A Saints team with a competent defense is a scary thought indeed. I think this is the game the offense breaks out with a decent but not great Arizona team visiting the Super Dome. If their offense can be as potent as they were in the recent past and the defense is even average, New Orleans has a great chance of making it back to the Super Bowl this season.
Giants +1.5 @ Panthers
Hexagram 54: The Maiden
The 2013 New York Football Giants have been not unlike a pretty young woman up to this point in the season. They have been fickle, inconstant and wildly frustrating while also having moments that remind you of just how beautiful they can be. Pessimism abounds after their first two losses, but largely lost are the facts that they nearly beat the Cowboys despite six turnovers and were within one score of the mighty Broncos through three quarters before it all unraveled. Despite the 0-2 start, I still believe the Giants are a good football team, or at very least a better one than these Panthers.
Texans @ Ravens +2.5
Hexagram 46: Pushing Upward
With a lot of turnover on their roster, the Ravens probably expected a difficult start to the season despite being the reigning Super Bowl champs. This is a team designed for the long haul and I do expect them to get better over the course of the season as their new players, young and old, grow into their roles. Although Houston has opened the season with two straight wins, I don’t think they are still a team on the rise. Particularly concerning is their play on defense. After allowing just a shade over 20 points per game last year, Texans’ opponents have exceeded that number in each of the first two games. Considering these two opponents were not elite offensive teams (the Chargers and Titans) this is troubling. Home underdogs are 6-3 against the spread so far this year. You don’t often get the chance to take the defending Super Bowl winners getting points at home.
4:05 PM EST
Falcons +1.5 @ Dolphins
Hexagram 43: Breakthrough
In a match up of a great offense versus a very good, if not great, defense, I tend to give the advantage to the offense in today’s league. Even with Roddy White still ailing, I don’t think the ‘Phins can score enough to keep pace with the Dirty Birds. I have to keep checking to make sure it is Miami that is in reality the favorite. I don’t get it, especially because the ‘Phins haven’t enjoyed much of a home field boost in recent history. The Dolphins’ home record over the past three seasons is just 10-14. I still like their defense, but I think the quality of competition they have faced makes them looks a little better than they actually are. Miami has some definite studs on that side of the ball, but I don’t think they are enough to prevent Matt Ryan and Julio Jones from breaking out on a few big plays.
4:25 PM EST
Colts +10.5 @ 49ers
Hexagram 31: Stimulating Influence
Reinforcements have arrived in Indy. The Colts made a splash this week by sending a first round pick to the Browns for Trent Richardson, the number three overall pick in the 2012 draft. The new running back may not have a big impact this week with so little time to get acquainted with his new coaches, teammates and system, but the move undoubtedly sent a wave of excitement through the whole organization. To me, this is a vote of confidence from the front office. This is like them saying, we believe in this team. We’re going to make a trade to fill in a hole caused by injury because we think we can compete for a championship this year. San Francisco may win this contest, but I think this is way too many points to give a playoff team from a year ago irrelevant of who they’re playing. The Niners aren't without warts, especially on defense where letting players walk in free agency and missing other guys due to injury is testing their once seemingly bottomless well of depth. They stand just 23rd in run defense and most of that damage was done by a big, bruising, physical back last Sunday night in Seattle. Perhaps Richardson will be a big factor for his new team right away after all.
Bills +2.5 @ Jets
Hexagram 44: Meeting of Princes
Here we have a mirror match of dueling rookie quarterbacks. Both squads have a narrow loss to the Patriots and home win on their record. Both defenses have played well to start the season, so I think this game boils down to EJ Manuel vs. Geno Smith. Through their first two career games, the young Bill has been much better at taking care of the ball (Manuel has thrown just one interception against Geno’s four) and has more help at the skill positions than his counterpart. In what’s likely to be a close divisional game, I like the team with the steadier rookie quarterback at the helm and getting the points, too.
Jaguars @ Seahawks -19.5
Hexagram 64: Not yet at Bottom
Sunnier days must eventually be ahead for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Sun doesn't really come out much in Seattle. Most people are taking the visitors in this game based on the logic that this is way too many points to give because Jacksonville is still a professional football team. Are we sure about that? They definitely haven’t played like one so far. They got blown out at home in their opener by a Chiefs team coming off a two win season and lost to the widely assumed second worst team in Oakland last week. Is it really too many points when you think about how the ‘Hawks beat the 49ers by 26 last week at home, or how they won half of their home games by 20 or more last year, including a 57-0 thrashing of the Cardinals towards the end of the season when they were rolling? This game proves that I would never bet against the Seahawks at home, no matter the point spread.
8:30 PM EST
Bears -2.5 @ Steelers
Hexagram 52: Mountain
The Bears and Steelers have had chronic problems at protecting their franchise quarterbacks in recent years. While Ben Roethlisberger has a certain elusiveness and playmaking ability, neither he nor his Chicago opposite (who moves about as well as a mountain with an arm) have ever been known as a mobile quarterback. The winning team will be the one that gives its gunslinger a chance to stand still in the pocket and fire down field. That team is more likely to be the Bears. The pass rush of both teams has underwhelmed based on these teams’ standards, but each still has talented players on defense to get after the opposing qb. The difference is that the Bears have made steps to improve their offensive line, while Pittsburgh’s has regressed due to key injuries. So far this season, two out of three home dogs have covered, but this is the one out of the three this week that doesn't.
Monday, September 23, 2013
8:30 PM EST
Raiders @ Broncos -14.5
Hexagram 23: Fissure
Another huge point spread that still doesn’t reflect the gulf between these two teams. All the Broncos have done in the first two weeks is beat the last two Super Bowl winners by a combined forty points. It's pretty impressive when you say it like that. Both games were close for a time, but all it takes is a minute of weakness, or a team getting down on themselves, or a critical turnover, a singular lapse of focus and Peyton Manning can turn the game into a laugher in short order. He’s been like Great White when smelling blood in the water. A shark with a laser rocket arm. Scary but true.
Season Record: 12-21