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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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Sunday, September 29, 2013
1:00 PM EST
Ravens -3.5 @ Bills
Hexagram 14: Great Possession
To score the ball, you must possess the ball. The time of possession battle is one of the more overlooked aspects of the game, but two teams this year are showing just how important it is. Buffalo, very similarly to the more heralded team in Philadelphia, hired a head coach from the college ranks prior to the season, installed a high tempo offensive strategy designed to get off a lot of plays quickly and have subsequently struggled to keep hold of the rock early in the season. Both squads are borderline historic in the amount of time their defenses have been on the field. Through three games, the Eagles and Bills are the bottom two in the league in terms of time of possession at 24:25 (PHI) and 24:47 (BUF) average minutes per game. These marks are nearly three full minutes less than the 2012 Titans’ league worst 27:24. If these numbers held for an entire season, they represent the two lowest TOP totals in the last ten years. The Ravens offense has yet to find rhythm in their quest to defend their title, but if this trend holds, they will have plenty of time on the field in Upstate New York to figure it out.
Bears @ Lions -2.5
Hexagram 18: Decay
Chicago enters this divisional contest at 3-0, but they seem to be perhaps the least convincing of the remaining undefeateds. After opening with a win at home against a strong Bengals team, the Bears have struggled a bit more in victories over seriously flawed opponents (Vikings and Steelers). They somehow allowed 30 points to a Christian Ponder-led Minnesota team and needed a touchdown pass in the last ten seconds to get the win in that one. The final score in Pittsburgh last week looks like a much better result, but the 40-23 tally was largely a result of the Steelers’ five turnovers and the Bears defense turning two of those directly into touchdowns. More troubling from this game is that Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 400 yards on Chicago, the revamped offensive line had their worse game to date yielding a season high two sacks and five hits on Jay Cutler and they lost defensive tackle Henry Melton for the season. In losing Melton, the Bears will be lacking their best run stopper and inside pass rush threat on the defensive line. The offensive line’s job won’t get any easier with Detroit’s massive and talented defensive line on deck. That secondary that got scorched by Big Ben will be severely tested again by the Stafford to Megatron connection. The wheels are about to come off the Bears’ young undefeated campaign.
Bengals -4.5 @ Browns
Hexagram 12: Standstill
The Browns not only gave up on their former first round pick running back last week, but also appeared to have given up hope on their running game period. In their game against Minnesota last Sunday, in which they never trailed by more than seven points, they called 57 passing plays against just 15 runs. New starter Brian Hoyer handled this heavy lifting well and Cleveland went on to win the game, but the sledding should be much tougher against their instate rival. The Bengals have some injury issues in their secondary, but even at their current state are more formidable than the purple clad one Hoyer faced last week. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 75.7 passer rating against Cincinnati, and their talented tigers on the d-line will be a stiff challenge for a Browns team that has allowed a league high 14 sacks already. I foresee the Browns’ new heavy passing attack meeting serious resistance in game two of the Hoyer era.
Colts @ Jaguars +8.5
Hexagram 49: Revolution
Things look pretty bleak for the Jaguars right about now. They are 0-3, averaging less than ten points a game and lost a game last week by 28 points in which they were 20 point underdogs. They are bad. Something drastic will have to happen to change the fortunes of this team. I don’t see any revolutionary changes on the horizon, but there are reasons to believe Jacksonville will be more competitive in this game. Like what, you ask? Well, they are returning home after spending two weeks on the west coast on an extended road trip. They get their nominal starter at quarterback back with the return of Blaine Gabbert, who, by the way, is 3-1 in his career against Indianapolis. Speaking of Indy, they are coming off a huge road win in San Francisco and could be due for a letdown. In their opener, the Colts needed a late go ahead touchdown to get a narrow win over the hapless Raiders, so they may have a tendency to play down to their competition. I would still pick the Colts straight up, but I think this is too many points to give a home team playing a divisional rival.
Giants @ Chiefs -4.5
Hexagram 59: Dissolution
As bad as the Giants have looked so far, it could be even worse if this game plays out how it looks on paper. New York has given up 11 sacks, tied for 2nd worst in the league. The Kansas City defense leads the NFL with 15 sacks through three games. The G-Men’s nine interceptions and thirteen total giveaways are the most of any team, while the Chiefs are the best around in terms of turnover margin, forcing nine takeaways and still without a giveaway of their own. Run defense is one place where the Chiefs can be hurt, allowing 124 rushing yards per game, but the Giants don’t seem in position to take advantage of this with their league worst rushing attack getting them just 44.3 yards per game. This could be one of those odd games where Eli and the Giants break out when least expected, but with this game being played in raucous Arrowhead and the competency Andy Reid and Alex Smith have brought to KC compared to the general disarray presently reigning in NYC, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Steelers vs. Vikings +0.5 (In London, England)
Hexagram 9: Power of the Small
The casual Londoner American football fan (and yes, there are some) is probably going to this game to see Adrian Peterson versus the USA’s version of Big Ben. It’s the stars that will attract the fans to this odd spectacle, but the influence of less obvious factors will decide this game. For instance, the Steelers have the third most giveaways in the league with nine while the Vikings defense is tied for the second most takeaways with ten. The Vikings also have a matchup of strength vs. weakness in their pass rushers taking on the shaky Pittsburgh line. The biggest “small” factor though may be jet lag. While Minnesota went across the pond early in the week to get adjusted and participate in the NFL’s international dog and pony show, Coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers opted to treat this as they would any other road game and arrive on Friday. Transoceanic flights can wreak havoc on the system under normal conditions. Tryingto tackle AP a couple days after such a trip would not be fun.
Cardinals +2.5 @ Buccaneers
Hexagram 41: Decrease
The pertinent question here is could rookie quarterback Mike Glennon be any worse than the man he is replacing? It’s hard to imagine that’s possible considering Josh Freeman’s 45.7% completion percentage in 2013. The thinking here is that if Glennon offers any kind of upgrade, then it could make a big difference for a Bucs team that is a couple plays going the other way from being 3-0. Unfortunately for them, I don’t think this is likely. While Freeman was most certainly not playing his best ball, he still commanded a certain respect from defenses because of his deep ball, his big play receivers on the outside and his history of past competence. Glennon was considered a project coming out of college; a guy with the arm and height of a franchise quarterback, but who still had to work on his accuracy and command of an offense. I think Arizona will stack the box against running back Doug Martin and dare the rookie to beat them. They have the defense to make Glennon’s debut miserable and just enough offense to get this win on the road.
Seahawks @ Texans +2.5
Hexagram 5: Waiting/ Nourishment
The Seahawks are a dominant team at home. There is no question about that. However, to this point, they have yet to prove they are an elite team when playing away from the CLink. They are just 6-10 as the road team over the last two regular seasons. Everyone remembers the tear Russell Wilson and the Seahawks went on to close the season, but lost in the hype is the fact that they lost their first five away games in 2012. They’ve been nothing short of dominant in their last two home wins, but they just barely did enough to get the win in Carolina Week 1. The ‘Hawks are a very good team, but to be different from their past teams that were always good at home and average on the road, they have to prove that they can maintain their high level of play lacking the home field advantage. The Texans haven’t looked great through three games, but they have a very good defense, were a playoff team last year and are getting points at home. I think the Seattle bandwagon hits a slight bump in the road in Houston.
4:05 PM EST
Jets @ Titans -3.5
Hexagram 19: Approaching the Great
Barring a tie, one of these two largely overlooked teams will be 3-1 through a quarter of the season. It’s difficult to separate these Jets and Titans. Both have very tough defenses that have started the year on fire. Both have physically talented if inconsistent young quarterbacks. Both feature conservative, run heavy offenses and will seek to outgrind their opponent. I like the Titans because it’s usually smart to bet against a rookie quarterback facing a good defense on the road. Last week, Tennessee welcomed in a red hot Chargers offense that had scored 61 points in their first two games. They were held to just 17 in a win for the home side. I expect them to ground the Jets in a similar fashion and take a step forward as contenders.
4:25 PM EST
Cowboys -1.5 @ Chargers
Hexagram 54: Marrying the Maiden
It pains me to say this as a proud Redskin fan, but I think Tony Romo gets a bad rap. In his seven seasons as a starter, he has thrown 26 touchdowns or more in five of them. The only exceptions were his first year at the helm and the 2010 campaign when he was limited to just six games due to injury. He has never finished a season with a passing rating under 90.0, or a completion percentage under 60%. The horrific late game catastrophes stick in the memory, but those are pretty impressive numbers for anyone, much less an undrafted free agent that every team passed on multiple times. There is a chance that all those late game choke jobs were all individual flukes of bad luck and there is no reason to think that Romo is incapable of leading the Dallas deep into the postseason. There is also a chance that he accumulated some bad karma in a previous life and is forever doomed to fail when the stakes are highest and suffer throughout this life. The only hole in this theory is that he is a multimillionaire that plays sports for a living and spends his off seasons playing golf and dating pop stars. So, love him or hate him, he’s your man Cowgirls fans. He’ll never change his style or improve significantly, so all you can do is enjoy watching him light it up during the regular season and hope his luck in January starts to change. That, and be grateful you unearthed a franchise quarterback out of nowhere. Many teams would love to have that problem.
Eagles +11.5 @ Broncos
Hexagram 39: Obstruction
Something is fishy about this game. Denver has annihilated their first three opponents and looks to be the juggernaut of the league. With Philadelphia’s aforementioned lack of time on the ball, the only question left here seems to be how many points can Peyton Manning put up if he is on the field for 40 minutes? However, I think this game will play out much closer than most would think at first glance. The Broncos are still missing their best and most athletic defensive player in the suspended Von Miller, and they can be hurt by the speed the Eagles have at every position on offense. If Michael Vick can avoid the turnovers and big mistakes, I think Philadelphia will be able to move the ball. If they can sustain drives and run the ball on Denver, I think they can keep this game close.
Redskins -2.5 @ Raiders
Hexagram 53: Gradual Progress
Mock me if you wish, but I still believe in this Redskins team. They started about as near to the bottom as possible, but they have improved every week since. I thought they played pretty well as a whole last week. I think Detroit is a legitimately good team this year, and Washington was in that game until the end. If not for Robert Griffin III’s interception and fumble, both in Lions’ territory, or Aldrick Robinson’s drop of a sure touchdown, they easily score 30 points in that game and are in control in the 4th quarter. Now those are inexcusable mistakes, and fatal ones considering the razor thin margins on which NFL games are decided on, but the point is they are putting the guys in the right position and starting to look comfortable again. A game against Oakland is a great opportunity to work out the kinks. I think the Redskins win this game convincingly enough to restore some hope in their season’s prospects.
8:30 PM EST
Patriots +1.5 @ Falcons
Hexagram 38: Opposition
I am aware of the fact of how good Matt Ryan and the Falcons are at home. I know they barely ever lose in their dome. I know they need this game badly. The problem is I don’t think this Falcons team is all that good. They’ve had to shuffle their tackles because of injuries and the replacements have struggled to protect Ryan. The Atlanta defense is 25th against the pass and two of the three quarterbacks they’ve faced are Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill. Their passing game has become one dimensional lacking a healthy Roddy White. Time seems to be finally catching up with Tony G. Meanwhile, I see New England on the upswing. Tom Brady is getting more comfortable with his young receiving corps. Amendola and Gronk should return soon, although both are out for this one. They even got some production from the running game last week, gaining 156 yards against a very stout Tampa Bay run defense. The defense has been the saving grace for this team through their early offensive struggles. Their 12.3 points allowed per game is second best in the league. This will surely be their biggest test, but with Chandler Jones emerging as a premier pass rusher and the Patriot corners playing very well too, I like how they matchup against the Atlanta attack.
Monday, September 30, 2013
8:30 PM EST
Dolphins @ Saints -6.5
Hexagram 2: The Receptive
The biggest problem facing Miami, perhaps both figuratively and literally, is 6’7 tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham has been a nightmare to guard the first three games, no matter where he lines up on the field or who is covering him. He has split out wide, worked out of the slot and lined up as a traditional tight end. Linebackers and safeties have tried and failed to cover him, and we have even seen teams assign their top corner to him at times. Nothing yet has stopped the Brees to Graham connection and I don’t see that changing Monday night. The Dolphins have given up 225 yards and two touchdowns to opposing tight ends during their 3-0 start, and had particular trouble against the tall, athletic, former basketball playing Jordan Cameron. Cameron is a good young player, but he’s like Jimmy Graham-lite at his best.
Last Week: 9-7