Watch Out For the Falcons: Week 15 NFL Picks
Here’s what I wrote about the Atlants Falcons before last night’s game against Jacksonville:
Meanwhile, the Falcons are in great position to snag a wild card spot and on paper they should be a juggernaut, yet they continue to be less than inspiring. Matt Ryan has certainly held up his end of the bargain and Julio Jones has been a gamebreaker when healthy, but Roddy White has been inconsistent, and Michael Turner is having his least productive year in a Falcons uniform. On the defensive side of the ball the Falcons have been much better, Atlanta has arguably the best cornerback tandem in the NFL in Dunta Robinson and Morgan Grimes and John Abraham remains a threat in the pass rush. I personally think the Falcons are a team on the verge of breaking out, especially if they can get both White and Jones working at the same time. Falcons cover.
Leaving aside the fact that I inexplicably referred to Brent Grimes as Morgan (mea culpa) the Falcons abused the Jaguars like an old rental car in a 41-14 demolishing. Granted the Jaguars suck as a team, but they do have the fourth best defense in football according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Hanging 41 points on the Jaguars is no small accomplishment. Roddy White exploded for 135 receiving yards and Julio Jones added 85 of his own and Matt Ryan had a 137 QB rating. At the same time, the Falcons defense was suffocating, as John Abraham recorded 3.5 sacks and Ray Edwards added .5 of a sack himself. The upshot of all of this is that teams like the Giants and 49ers should be terrified at the prospect of facing the Falcons in a Wild Card playoff game.
People have been sleeping on the Falcons for a couple of reasons. They lost their first game of the season to the Bears — who turned out to be a pretty good team before their two best offensive players got hurt — and remained mediocre through the first half of the season. Julio Jones, whom the Falcons surrendered a bounty of draft picks to get, struggled with injuries and normal rookie growing pains. At the same time, the normally steady Roddy White caught a case of the dropsies, and the Falcons’ offense, who White likened to the Greatest Show on Turf in the preseason, looked like another over-hyped blunder. All this lead idiot sportswriters, led of course by Gregg Easterbrook, to imagine a rivalry between Jones and White despite a lack of evidence for that assertion.
In recent weeks, however, everything has gelled for Atlanta. There are still some concerns for the Falcons, Micheal Turner has shown the effects of years of abuse this season, however, when White and Jones are on, (to say nothing of the underrated Harry Douglas) there may not be a team in the NFL capable of covering them (Ryan says the Packers, I’m not sold) other than the Falcons themselves. As a Giants’ fan I’m terrified of the prospect of Aaron Ross attempting to cover either White or Jones in a playoff game.
This week’s picks follow after the jump. As always they are written in conjunction with my friend Ryan.
Week 14: 8-8
Week 14: 9-7
Ryan: Last week we noticed that we both had the season numbers messed up – our records didn’t add up to the total amount of games played. Personally, I blame Thursday Night Football because sometimes we incorporated that game into our season stats and sometimes we didn’t. I swear at some point I will spend like 90 minutes reconciling the records but unfortunately that time has not yet come.
Cowboys (-7) @ Buccaneers
Ryan: The Bucs are really, really bad. Like, lost seven in a row and outscored 79-33 by the Panthers and Jaguars (combined record in games not against Tampa: 6-18) bad. Josh Freeman has regressed immensely this season; last year he threw 25 touchdowns and six interceptions and his quarterback rating was 95.9. So far this year, he has 12 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and a 72.5 QB rating; Freeman is ranked 27th in QB rating, behind Christian Ponder, Colt McCoy, Matt Cassel, and Tarvaris Jackson. No bueno.
I think the Dallas has a big bounceback game this week, perhaps with a fourth quarter lead so big that even they can’t blow it. Cowboys cover.
Asif: I love saying, “I told you so,” so allow me to say this about the Bucs, “I TOLD YOU SO” *hip thrusts for embellishment, throws out lower back*
Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey seems to be on a personal mission to prove that icing the kicker does indeed work, despite the mountain of statistical evidence that it doesn’t. Between Bailey, the rise of Tim Tebow, and the St. Louis Cardinals’ winning the World Series it’s been a bad year for those of us in the Statistocracy. As much as I wonder if the Cowboys have the mental fortitude to come back from two epic choke jobs–and yes, the Giants game was a choke; Tony Romo botched a throw that would have sealed the game, DeMarcus Ware lined up offsides twice on the final NY drive, and Orlando Scandrick committed a holding penalty in the red zone. While all of these were self inflicted, I can’t in good conscience pick a team that just gave up 41 points to the Jaguars. Dallas covers.
Redskins @ Giants (-7)
Ryan: New theory: when your team comes really close to beating an elite opponent, it convinces the team that they can compete with anybody. Let’s call it the We Believe in Ourselves theory.
Everyone remembers this happening when the Giants lost in Week 17 to the Patriots in 2007. However, it’s sort of a footnote that this happened with the Packers last year. They were a 71-yard kickoff return by Patriots guard Dan Connolly away from beating the Patriots in Foxboro with Matt Flynn. During that game, a flip switched as the Packers realized that they could beat anybody and they haven’t lost since.
What we saw last week against the Cowboys was a Giants team that is getting hot and confident at precisely the right time. Eli Manning might be the second most worthy MVP candidate behind the historically brilliant Aaron Rodgers and Jason Pierre-Paul is coming on hard, real hard, as an elite pass rusher. I’ll let Asif tell you what happened when he tried to buy a JPP jersey on Monday morning.
Giants scare me from a Packers perspective. I’m 1-3 in my pick-blindly-against-the-Redskins resolution but that probably wouldn’t be the case if Tom Brady hadn’t thrown an awful interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter last week. Giants cover.
Asif: It’s hard to think of a Giants player who has become more popular faster than Jason Pierre-Paul. I woke up Monday morning with a compelling urge to buy a JPP jersey and went on NFLshop.com only to find that every other Giants fan apparently had the same idea and the only sizes lefter XL and XXL. Since I generally wear size S clothes, these jerseys were not an option.
Initial reaction to Giants’ selection of Pierre-Paul in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft was largely skeptical. I personally thought that the Giants had more pressing needs than DE and that the USF product was way too raw, and Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz (who should really stop making predictions about the Giants after calling them overrated throughout the 2007 playoffs) didn’t think too highly of JPP either. We were all wrong, though. He’s a beast who plays hard on every single play and he’s demonstrated the ability to make adjustments. The Cowboys spent much of Sunday’s game running to JPP’s side of the field to take advantage of his aggression in the pass-rush. By the fourth quarter he had made the appropriate shift and Dallas’s end runs were much less effective. I’ll sum up this rather long winded tribute by saying that I love Jason Pierre-Paul and I am now convinced that he’s going to be the best Giants DE since Michael Strahan.
The Redskins suck. Giants cover.
Packers (-14) @ Chiefs
Ryan: The only way the Packers don’t cover this spread is if they are up by three scores in the fourth quarter, pull their starters, and the Chiefs cover back door. Packers cover.
Asif: Rumors are floating that Chief’s GM Scott Pioli wants to replace the departed Todd Haley with Josh McDaniels in the offseason. This is like switching which testicle you have cancer in. Packers cover.
Saints (-7) @ Vikings
Ryan: Apparently Adrian Peterson has been practicing and should be good to go Sunday. That changes things around just a bit; the Vikings lost all four games that he fully or partially missed.
However, the Saints have won five in a row and have covered in all of them. They have also fixed their rushing defense problems; they’ve held their opponents to under 100 yards on the ground in each of the last three weeks. I see the Saints scoring at will in this dome game. Saints cover.
Asif: The Saints are more or less invincible inside domes and they’ve got way too much speed on offense for the Vikings to handle.
Apparently last week was the one week out of every year where I’m allowed to be right about stuff, because no sooner did I write about how awful Christian Ponder has been than did he get benched and Joe Webb looked infinity times better. Saints cover.
Seahawks @ Bears (-3.5)
Ryan: There are very few teams in the NFL (the Rams and Colts come to mind) that the Bears should be favored over right now. Chicago needs this game to have any semblance at keeping Wild Card hopes alive but I don’t know if this Bears team is capable.
The Seahawks are, sort of quietly, not that bad. They’ve won four out of five (admittedly, two of those came against the Rams). A big reason for their re-surgence has been the running game; Marshawn Lynch has been averaging 117.7 rush yards the past six games and has only been held under 100 in of them. Tarvaris Jackson has evolved into an adequate game manager (the ultimate backhanded compliment for a quarterback) before our very eyes! Watch me pick him on the road. Seahawks cover.
Asif: How do the Marshawn Lynch Skittles celebrations not draw flags? Don’t get me wrong I love them, but by NFL standards they do seem a bit excessive. Is it because the fans are the ones throwing the Skittles?
The one element that people have been ignoring in Marion Barber’s big pile of fail from last week is that Barber is a former Cowboy. Apparently, in the Jason Garrett era there is some sort of taint that attaches itself to anyone who puts on a Cowboys uniform and compels them to do idiotic things at the end of football games*. I’m positively giddy about this development. Seattle covers.
*Ryan: Asif wrote this segment before the Sam Hurd stuff came out. I just hope Brian Urlacher is on the list of players he sold drugs to.
Asif: Nice to know that former Cowboys are also susceptible to my invented curse off the field.
Miami (PK) @ Buffalo
Ryan: I completely missed Eagles-Dolphins last week because it was shown on one of the TVs that wasn’t in my 180-degree, seven-screen vantage point. That being said, the Bills are terrible. They’ve dropped six in a row and showed no signs of life last week against the Chargers. Dolphins win.
Asif: Tony Sparano got fired this week. Did anyone notice? Miami covers.
Panthers @ Texans (-6.5)
Ryan: This line seems about two points too high. TJ Yates has shown himself to be capable of winning games for the Texans but I don’t know if he can beat this Panthers team by a touchdown or more. With Wade Philips out on medical leave, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Texans defense falters a little bit. This feels like it could be a statement game for Cam Newton as he and the Panthers seek to build some momentum headed into next season. Panthers cover.
Asif: Despite some surprising games early in the season, the Panthers have basically been who we thought they were, to quote Dennis Green. That said, even though TJ Yates has looked competent, I’m not confident picking this incarnation of the Texans to win by more than a field goal, especially now that they’ve sealed up a playoff spot. Panthers cover.
Titans (-7) @ Colts
Ryan: At 7-6, I’m fully ready to call the Titans what they are: brilliantly mediocre. The Colts, though, would LOVE to be mediocre (actually, considering it’s been pretty well-established that they were horrific this year on purpose that may not be the case). Titans cover.
Asif: Jake Locker looked really good in the Titans’ loss to the Saints last week. With his ability to pull down the ball and run he’s a bit reminiscent of Tim Tebow, only he doesn’t throw like a five-year old. In fact he’s got an absolute cannon, showing zip on passes off his back foot. The Titans are mediocre, but the future may be bright. On a semi-related note, the picture on Matt Hasselbeck’s ESPN player card shows him in a Seahawks’ jersey. Further proof that the AFC South is the least interesting division in football.
Last I checked the Colts still suck really bad. Titans cover.
Bengals (-6.5) @ Rams
Ryan: The Rams suck so bad that Nike should take their cleats away. In case you were wondering, I stole and adapted that joke from Celtic Pride, one of the great underrated movies of the 90s. Daniel Stern + Joe Pesci + Dan Aykroyd + Damon Wayans = comic gold. Bengals cover.
Asif: Speaking of Dan Aykroyd, he’s been on my TV quite a bit lately, appearing in commercials for Yankee Spirits, a liquor store in Attleboro, MA. My question is this… is Dan Aykroyd really that desperate for money, or is Yankee Spirits the most successful liquor store in New England. To be fair, I would drink a lot (more) too if I lived in Attleboro. Bengals cover.
Lions (-1.5) @ Raiders
Ryan: The Lions get NDonkey Kong Suh back this week which should be good for them as long as he refrains from STOMPING ON THE ARM OF FALLEN OPPOSING PLAYERS. I’m pretty sure that the Lions aren’t any good (as in I don’t think they have much of a chance to win a road playoff game) but I also don’t think that the Raiders are good enough to expose them. I’d expect Detroit to win this game. Lions cover.
Asif: The Lions haven’t looked terrible without the House of Spears, but having him back certainly won’t hurt them. In any case, the Raiders have been sucktastic recently and I don’t see any indication of that changing. Lions cover.
Patriots (-6) @ Broncos
Ryan: I’m sorry but this idea that Bill Belichick is just going to be able to “figure out” Tim Tebow and put the Kibosh on all of this nonsense is a little bit presumptuous considering some of the personnel that the Patriots are starting on defense. The last two weeks, New England has not exactly “figured out” Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman. The Patriots won those games but not in the dominating fashion that one would expect.
At some point, Tebow’s magical streak of luck is going to crap out. That might be this week. That being said, he doesn’t need to win this game for Denver to cover; the Broncos just need to keep the game close and their defense has proven to be more than capable throughout this stretch.
Darren Rovell tweeted that 90% of the action on Sportsbook has been on the Patriots for this game. I’d rather be with the casino than the public. Patriots win a close game but Broncos cover.
Asif: I came around to Tebow a couple of weeks ago and now I’m teetering on the verge of reversing my position again. Why you ask? This has a lot to do with it. Now that we’ve started comparing Republican Presidential candidates to Tebow, I think it’s safe to say that the whole thing has gone too far. This week’s Tebow Bowl does have a compelling Good (Tebow) vs. Evil (Belichick + Tom Brady and his philandering ways) storyline. I’m betting that much like in real life, evil will prevail. Patriots cover.
Jets @ Eagles (-3)
Ryan: I’ve fallen into the Eagles’ trap twice: after they beat the Cowboys 34-7 in Week 8 and after they beat the Giants 17-10 in Week 11. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I’m not getting fooled thrice. The sort of under-the-radar Jets cover.
Asif: The Jets have quietly (not a word we normally associate with the Jets) crept back into the playoff hunt. However, I’m still not buying them as actually good.
The Eagles have major spoiler potential over the next two weeks as they play the Jets and Cowboys. I’m thinking they try to salvage a little dignity. Philly covers.
Browns @ Cardinals (-7)
Ryan: Because you are dying to know, today I had laundry pile that was a little bit too big for one load. Being greedy, I tried to stuff it all into the laundry machine. When they finished washing, my clothes were SOAKED and as I’m writing this they’re still damp after two drying cycles, which means it’s now going to have cost me more time and more money than if I had just done two loads. Pigs get slaughtered. Update: They were dry after the third cycle. Holler!
Amidst all the outrage and calls for independent neurologists to be on the field after Colt McCoy’s concussion last week, nobody has pointed out that allowing McCoy to return to the game gave the Browns a much worse chance to win. Seneca Wallace had come in and thrown a beautiful 13-yard pass to Evan Moore to get to the Steelers 5-yard line. McCoy came back in, drew an intentional grounding penalty and then threw an AWFUL interception. Not that this outweighs the human health element of the story but it’s worth noting.
John Skelton wins football games. Cardinals cover.
Asif: Derp Bowl. JOHN SKELTON WINS FOOTBALL GAMES. Cardinals cover.
Ravens (-2.5) @ Chargers
Ryan: Similar to the Eagles resurgence that I’m not getting fooled by, I’m not buying into the Chargers. Philip Rivers had more protection and more open receivers the past two weeks but that is all going to change this week against Baltimore. The Ravens need to keep winning games to clinch a first round bye and should be sufficiently motivated for this game even though it isn’t against the Steelers. Ravens cover.
Asif: God clearly hates Chargers fans, which is why He always ensures that the Chargers disappoint them and why He put His greatest servant (Tebow) in their division to torment them. This season the best way to torment the residents of Southern California would be to allow the Chargers to win their last few games, saving Norv Turner and AJ Smith’s jobs. This is totally happening. Chargers cover.
Pittsburgh @ San Francisco (-3)
Ryan: I’m assuming that Ben Roethlisberger plays in this game even though almost nobody in the history of ever plays the week after a high ankle sprain. I remember Bill Barnwell tweeting this earlier in the season when Sam Bradford had the same injury but there’s no way I’m going to scroll through months of his Twitter feed to find it and link it. I swear it happened, though. Bradford ended up not playing.
49ers-Cardinals happened while I was watching the Packers DOMINATE the Raiders and Tim Tebow perform miracles (like praying that Marion Barber ran out of bounds and fumbled) against the Bears so I didn’t really get to see how the Cardinals came back. The 49ers were up 19-7 and I assumed that the game was over. I looked up a little while later and they had lost 21-19, proving once again that sometimes the NFL makes absolutely no sense.
As far as psyche going into the playoffs, this is a much bigger game for the 49ers. They desperately need to bounce back from the Cardinals loss in order to prove to themselves and the world that they are not frauds who peaked too early in the season. The veteran Steelers know they can win games in January even if they drop this one. 49ers cover.
Asif: I’m guessing Roethlisberger plays as well. Losing James Harrison for a game certainly takes some of the teeth out of the Steelers defense since Alex Smith won’t be living in constant fear of the giant psycopath with a burning desire to spear him helmet-to-helmet. As tempted as I am to pick the Steelers, because they are a demonstrably better team than the 49ers, I’m taking San Francisco to cover as a hedge against Ben not playing/being ineffective with limited mobility.