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My pick in bold. Lines taken from ESPN Pigskin Pick’em Game- finished 2012 in top 3% of entrants against the spread
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Sunday, October 13th, 2013
1:00 PM EST
Bengals -7.5 @ Bills
Hexagram 27: The Gaping Maw
The pass rush of the Cincinnati Bengals got off to a bit of a slow start, tallying just two sacks in their first two games, but the defensive line is now starting to play up to their immense talent. They have taken down the opposing passer 11 times in the three contests since. This uptick in pressure has coincided with the reemergence of star defensive tackle Geno Atkins. After establishing himself last season as a dominant force on the inside against the run and rushing the quarterback (12.5 sacks in 2012), Atkins opened this season by being about as invisible as a 300 pound man can be, failing to even register a single tackle in two of the first three games. Part of his slow start can be attributed to more attention and game planning being geared toward him due to his heightened profile, but for the Bengals defense to be at their best, they need Geno to be his usual disruptive self. He has been much closer to his 2012 form the last two times out, making eight total tackles, two and a half sacks, two tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits. The Bills offensive line seems unlikely to slow him down as they have already struggled this year with strong, athletic interior defensive linemen. In their loss to the New York Jets, they conceded two of their eight sacks and five further hits on their quarterback to defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, a player of similar size and ability to the Bengals’ stud. There is probably no good defense to play for young quarterback making his first start for the team, but Geno and the Bengals have to represent one of the worst imaginable possible matchups. I don’t foresee the Thad Lewis era in Buffalo being anymore of a hit than“Tuel Time” was.
Lions @ Browns +2.5
Hexagram 46: Ascending
Cleveland’s chances to extend their improbable three game winning streak will get a serious boost if Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson misses his second straight game. Missing Megatron, the Lions offense looked like a shadow of themselves in their loss last week in Green Bay. After quarterback Matt Stafford averaged over 315 yards per game over the first quarter of the season, the Lions passing game accounted for just 222 yards against the Packers. They also came into that game averaging over 30 points per game and had scored at least 20 in all four games to that point, but were able to score just nine in game number five. If Johnson doesn’t play, it may be the big player receiver on the other team that makes the biggest impact. The Browns’ run has been inspired in no small part by the return of receiver Josh Gordon. The Baylor product has provided Cleveland with a legitimate deep threat as he has recorded a reception over 30 yards in every game since his return. Detroit has been susceptible to getting beat deep, their 11 completions allowed over 25 yards rank near the bottom of the league, and Gordon could be in for another big day if the Lions don’t pay special attention to where he is on the field.
Packers @ Ravens +3.5
Hexagram 24: Turning Point
Baltimore experienced a sort of Super Bowl hangover through the season’s first quarter. They stand at 3-2, but the blowout loss to Denver in the season’s opener and Joe Flacco’s five interception performance in their other defeat stick out much more than any of their three wins. This point spread, the second time they’ve been underdogs at home, indicates that most think something is still missing from last year’s champs, but I think this is the game that perception starts to change. This has less to do with the Ravens’ improving significantly or adding a piece that pushes them over the top and more to do with how their relative strengths and weaknesses matchup against the Pack. The offensive line was such a major concern that they made a rare in season trade to shore up their left tackle position. New acquisition Eugene Monroe represents an immediate upgrade and he will likely have an opportunity here to get adjusted against a Green Bay pass rush that has been mostly toothless in the past when Clay Matthews is out of the lineup. Another worrying problem they’ve had is Joe Flacco throwing to the wrong team in the games they have lost. The Super MVP has thrown seven interceptions in their two losses (both road games) against just one pick in their three wins. The Packers defense has yet to come up with many big plays and have been particularly uncharacteristic in the lack of interceptions (just 2) so far. The Pack have failed on their first two road games against 2012 playoff qualifiers and based on how these teams stack up, I think they will fall to 0-3 on the year away from Lambeau while the Ravens will be deemed as “back” due to their first win over quality competition.
Raiders @ Chiefs -9.5
Hexagram 49: Molting
The most astounding part of Kansas City’s transformation is that they have managed to turn it around with mostly the exact same players. A lot of their talent has come by virtue of drafting near the top of the draft for several years and they were likely anyway to improve some just by virtue of regressing (progressing?) to the mean, but the core of this 5-0 team is the essentially the same group of guys who experienced victory just twice in sixteen games last year. Quarterback is the position where an upgrade can change a team’s fortunes most dramatically, but Alex Smith, while being a steady guy who takes care of the ball and won’t lose you the game, has never been a guy who makes a big individual impact on his own. Thus, much of the credit must be given to the coaching staff for implementing better strategy and putting their gifted players in good position to succeed at their jobs. Much has been written of Andy Reid’s work with Alex Smith and the offense, but the biggest differences are in the other two phases of the game. New coordinators on defense and special teams have inspired their units to be among the best in the league. Bob Sutton, hired to run the defense, brought with him experience working at the college level and a decade plus of working under one of the most innovative defensive minds of the game in the Jets’ Rex Ryan. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub came with an impressive pedigree as well as his Chicago teams finished in the top three in the special teams rankings for eight straight years under his tutelage. His Chiefs edition is currently in familiar position for him, ranked 2nd in special teams for Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) statistic. Sutton’s unit (ranked 1st in defensive DVOA) will be tested by the Terrelle Pryor and the Raiders’ running game, which has averaged over 135 yards per game on the ground over the four games Pryor has played. Fortunately for KC, they have a pair of fast outside linebackers that can both pressure and contain the young Oakland qb, and the coach to put them in the right position to do so. I expect the Sutton-led defense to once again lead the charge and for the Chiefs’ metamorphosis from also rans to run the table? to continue.
Rams @ Texans -7.5
Hexagram 22: Grace
The only apparent connection between Matt Schaub and grace would be his recent fall from. The vultures are now circling the Texans quarterback after a month in which he became the first player ever to throw an interception returned by the defense for a touchdown in four consecutive games. He has been so bad at times that I have invented a new word to describe his play. The word is “impoorsive.” You couldn’t describe Schaub’s play as unimpressive. That would convey a sense of not making any impression on you at all and being blasé or uninteresting. This is not the case. It’s not impressive in the positive way, but it does make you take note of just how dreadful some of his decisions have been and this is kind of compelling in its own way. If you want a clearer definition of impoorsive, watch the flailing Schaub lob an intended screen pass right into the arms of maybe the best corner in the league to cheat his team out of a big upset win (http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-videos/0ap2000000257708/Matt-Schaub-s-pick-sixes-this-season). Or for a non-football example, the closest parallel I can think of are the “We Love Russia” Youtube compilations (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35XT2yWmdxo). In both cases, you watch because the fails are so cringing; painful to watch yet impossible to look away from. The closest synonym might be appalling, but there isn’t the same sense of disgust or aversion to it. Sure, the reaction is mainly to the epicness of the failures, but at the same time you also have to admire the balls it takes to throw into triple coverage or wakeboard on a flooded street behind a car or drive a vehicle on the highway that is missing some of its wheels. The consequences may be ghastly, but to even be in a situation to fail so badly, one must have the courage (or stupidity, there’s a fine line) to ignore all the potential risks of an action and just do it anyway. It’s bad, but it’s impressive in a way. Hence, impoorsive. As impoorsive as Schuab has been though, this is the kind of attitude a quarterback needs to have. The bad decisions must be managed of course, but a passer still need to have the will to put the ball in the air and give his playmakers a chance to make an impact. For better or worse, Schaub has at least done that and I foresee he will have much greater luck against a St. Louis outfit that allowed 136 yards, including a 67 yard touchdown reception, to Jacksonville receiver Justin Blackmon in his first game back from suspension.
Panthers @ Vikings -2.5
Hexagram 9: Taming the Insignificant
Sometimes, news from the football world reminds us just how unimportant football ultimately is. This week was such a case with the passing of Adrian Peterson’s young son. As a father of a young child myself, I ran through a gamut of emotions upon first hearing the news. I obviously felt revulsion to the action and to the assaulter who committed this vile crime of child abuse. I reflected for a moment how I would feel if I was in AP’s Nikes and felt a tremor of icy panic run down my spine. But after getting over the disgust and the self-concern, I mostly just felt deep, deep sympathy for this man in the midst of realizing every parent’s worst fear. Somehow, AP is going to play in this game. I don’t understand quite how he could do this, but we at times we need our work and we need our distractions to get through tough times. If he wants to go back to what he knows, what he is good at, what is meaningful to him, to honor his son's memory, than I will not judge him for that. The game here is of secondary importance compared to what already happened, but I wouldn’t bet against AP in such an emotionally charged atmosphere. Peterson will obviously be dedicating this game to his lost son, and I think it’s pretty certain he puts together a performance to make his little man proud, wherever he may be watching. I send all my thoughts, prayers and good energy to the Peterson family in this time of tragedy.
Steelers @ Jets -2.5
Hexagram 23: Falling Apart
With the parity of today’s National Football League, even the mightiest perennial contender can suddenly fall into mediocrity. Such seems to be the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the nine years since they drafted Ben Roethlisberger in the first round, they have made the playoffs six times, went to four conference championships, three Super Bowls and won two. It seems likely this will be the first time in the Big Ben era that the Steelers will fail to reach the postseason in two consecutive seasons considering their 8-8 record in 2012 and their 0-4 start to this season. The collapse may seem sudden, but the foundation has been creaking for some time now. The Steelers received the godsend of a franchise qb in the draft, but after those winning their Super Bowls, the compensation they had to give Roethlisberger hampered their salary cap flexibility. Pittsburgh rarely signs other teams’ free agents anyway, but the kind of cap space they had to devote to one guy also hurt their ability to resign the players on their own team with expiring contracts. To run a team this way and stay competitive year in and year out, the front office must nail every single draft to reinforce the depth and replace the guys they let walk. This has been one of the Steelers’ keys to their success for a long time, but their performance the last few years has paled to their historical record. I think the depth is depleted to some degree in Pittsburgh, and I think this big, athletic and physical Jets team will abuse them on the line of scrimmage.
Eagles @ Buccaneers +1.5
Hexagram 64: Near Completion
Tampa Bay is 0-4, but it’s hard to imagine a better game for a winless team to play. They are at home and underdogs after a bye week likely facing the backup quarterback of the opposing team. I think Nick Foles played well against the Giants in relief last week, but I expect him to find much tougher sledding against a Bucs defense that features a run stuffing front seven and one of the best corners in the game. Their quarterback Mike Glennon wasn’t a starter to begin the year either, but he has the much more favorable matchup in the opposing defense. The Eagles defense is ranked in the bottom ten in the league in terms of yards per play at 5.9. Tampa should be able to control the ball on the ground with running back Doug Martin, perhaps even giving his rookie quarterback some easy throws to build confidence early in his career.
Jaguars +27.5 @ Broncos
Hexagram 10: Treading the Road
As the highest NFL point spread in recorded history would indicate, these teams could not be more diametrically opposed. Denver is 5-0 and has won their games by an average 18.2 points which represents the best point differential in the league. Jacksonville has yet to win a game and is worst in the same category losing their five games by an average of 22.4 points. Whereas everything has gone right for Peyton Manning and the Broncos, things have gone just as wrong for the Jags. The two sides of their revolving door of Gabbert and Henne at quarterback have been equally ineffective. They lost their second overall pick Luke Joeckel for the season just after trading the guy whose spot he was going to take at left tackle. Their eleven giveaways on offense and ten sacks for the defense both rank among the league’s worst. And yet, they have showed up and played hard every game this year. They had their best outing of the year last week in a two touchdown loss against the Rams. That doesn’t sound great, but what impressed me was how a team with every reason to roll over on the road fought back in the 4th quarter and closed it to one score. If not for the self-inflicted damage via turnovers, they very well could have won that game. Despite the ill fortune and current dearth of talent, I think Gus Bradley will be a good coach for this team in the long run, provided he gets that opportunity. If they keep coming out and fighting, the luck of the Jags will shift eventually. I mentioned in the Steelers game about the razor thin margins that separate the good teams from the average teams, or even great teams from good teams. I think this is true even for in this case, although Jax is definitely a few ticks below the Broncos. Nonetheless, it’s a safe prediction to say the Broncos will win, even win comfortably, however, I think the talent level between even the best and worst team is not as big as appears, and blowouts cannot be predicted with any certainty. That was a lot of words to write about the Jaguars. Long and arduous, just like their 2013 season so far, or their hike up to Mile High.
Titans +13.5 @ Seahawks
Hexagram 39: Obstruction
I know, it’s blasphemy to go against Seattle at home. I almost never ever do it. Usually Blank @ Seattle –blank is easy money, but I don’t like this matchup for them. Like the previous game, I’m pretty sure the home team will win, especially if it’s a close game and comes down to Russell Wilson vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick, but this is too many points to give this good of a defense. The Titans are a top ten defense in yards per game, have the 5th most sacks in the league and an emerging challenger to Richard Sherman’s best corner in the league championship belt in Alterraun Verner. Verner has contributed six turnovers on defense alone with his four picks and two fumbles recovered. The Seahawks offensive line is missing its two best starters, and the makeshift replacement line is currently ranked as the second worst in the league according to ProFootballFocus. They will have to deal with a deep and disruptive defensive line that is responsible for most of the team's sacks and one of Tennessee’s strengths. Seattle hasn’t delivered an explosive offensive performance outside of their big win over the aforementioned Jaguars, and I’m not convinced they will come out of their shells against this defense.
Saints +2.5 @ Patriots
Hexagram 20: Contemplation
In a beauty of a game like this, the viewer just gets to sit back and watch two masters at work. Drew Brees has been at the top of his game this year, leading his team out to an undefeated record, while his counterpart has been less than his usual greatness. I expect Tom Brady to snap out of his funk and get back to throwing touchdown passes eventually, but with Gronk still at least a week away and facing a much improved New Orleans defense, I’m not sure it will be this one. I’m taking the quarterback in better form, and possibly the better defense considering the state of the New England defensive line and getting the points as well.
Cardinals +11.5 @ 49ers
Hexagram 34: Great Strength
Cardinals too good of a defense. Too many points. Niners have been inconsistent on offense. See: TEN @ SEA.
Sunday Night and Monday Night games coming soon….
Last Week: 7-7