Sunday, December 29, 2013

Week 17 Picks

Before I get to the picks, I'd like to point out that I have a post on this week's Packers/Bears tilt up over at Packer Update.  In the 7 years that site has been running, this is the first post written by someone other than the site's creator.  Needless to say, I'm extremely excited to have that up there.  I'm hoping the Packers beat the Bears and I can do another one for their playoff match-up.

And now that we're done with that bit of promotion...

We're here.  The last week of the season.  Football season always seems to fly by.
Your boys are sitting pretty.  Already in the playoffs.  Chance at the 2 seed.  Very exciting stuff.
My boys need to beat the Bears.  But Rodgers and Cobb are back, so I feel good about their chances.  With as frustrating a season as it has been, it's amazing that they're at this point.  Thank God for lousy divisions.

To the picks.

Panthers over Falcons
Disappointing season for the Falcons.  Terrific season for the Panthers.  If the Panthers win, they win the division and nab the 2 seed.  The Falcons will put up a bit of a fight, but it won't be enough.  Panthers cap off a great season with a win.

Bengals over Ravens
The Ravens got destroyed last week.  While it would be tempting to pick the same thing to happen here, I don't see it.  It'll be a close game, but the Bengals will pull it out.  Cross your fingers for a Patriots loss.

Titans over Texans
With a loss, the Texans lock up the #1 overall pick in the draft.

Jaguars over Colts
The Jags have been feisty this last half of the season, and the Colts don't have a ton to play for.  They're pretty much locked into their playoff spot.  I could see them resting some starters by halftime.  But not Trent Richardson.  They'll let that guy carry the ball 40 times for 60 yards.

Jets over Dolphins
This should be a hard-fought game.  The Dolphins are trying to make the playoffs.  Ryan is trying to get to 8-8 and get another season as head coach of the Jets (although, even if they get to 8-8, I think he's gone).  After last week's game (and Ryan coaching for his life), it's going to be tough for the Dolphins to win this.  Tannehill is already hobbled, and Ryan is going to bring plenty of pressure at that patchwork offensive line.  They won't get shut-out again, but I can't see them winning this.

Vikings over Lions
It would be fitting for the Lions to lose this game.  If they do, Schwartz is gone.  (Even if they win, I think he's gone.)  I'd like to thank the Lions' collapse for allowing the Packers to hang around this playoff race.

Redskins over Giants
I guess this looks right.

Steelers over Browns
The Steelers have an outside shot at the playoffs, so they'll throw the kitchen sink at the Browns this week.  The Browns have a good defense, but the Steelers have just enough offense to win here (something I didn't think I'd be saying early in the season).

Packers over Bears
I covered the "how" in the link at the top of this post.  Suffice it to say, having Rodgers back will make all the difference in the world, and will allow the Packers a lot of running room.  Packers win and enter the playoffs with Rodgers and Cobb, making them a terrifying match-up, regardless of their defense.

Broncos over Raiders
The Broncos still need this win (or a Patriots loss) to lock up the 1 seed.  Seeing as how the Patriots are playing at the same time, the Broncos need to win this game.  They'll be up comfortably by the time the fourth quarter starts and should be able to rest some of their starters.

Patriots over Bills
I'll be rooting for the Bills (so your Bengals can grab the 2 seed), but I think the Patriots will win this.

Saints over Bucs
The Bucs defense has been rounding into shape as the season has gone on, but this game is in New Orleans.  They need a win here to get into the playoffs.  They'll come out guns blazing.

Cardinals over 49ers
The Cardinals will do their part to get into the playoffs, but they also need the Saints to lose, which isn't happening.  That's kind of sad.  They've had a great season, and I genuinely enjoyed watching them this year.  Next year, fellas.

Chargers over Chiefs
The Chiefs are locked into their playoff seeding.  Their starters will likely sit after the first possession or so.

Seahawks over Rams
After the let-down last week, I can see the Seahawks wanting to come out and lay waste to Rams.  It won't be easy: the Rams defense is pretty good (the Seahawks won their week 8 meeting by a score of 14-9).  I see another low-scoring game, with the Seahawks winning by a score of 17-10 or something.

Eagles over Cowboys
With Romo.  Without Romo.  It won't matter too much.  The Cowboys defense is terrible, and the Eagles offense seems to improve with each passing week.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Eagles up by 14 at the half.

Week 17 NFL Picks

Last regular season Sunday of football for some time now. I am sad.

Panthers over Falcons- I'd love to say the Falcons would be able to play spoiler here, but I don't see it. They gave away last weeks game in San Francisco and a loss here would guarantee them a top 5 draft pick. The Panthers lock up the #2 seed here and get ready for a week off.

Bengals over Ravens- Turnovers gave this game away the last time we played, and it still took overtime for the Ravens to beat us in Baltimore. Coming off a 34 point beating by New England and a game where the kicker scored all the points, I have little faith in the Ravens offense. Joe Flacco will also be wearing a knee brace on his bum left knee for the second straight week. I'm hopeful that the pass rush shows up early to force him into some bad throws and we can control the clock enough to get the win. Also, congrats to AJ Green and Vontaze Burfict on well deserved Pro Bowl honors.

Titans over Texans- Since I have nothing, and I mean nothing to say about this game, isn't Houston the perfect spot for Bill O'Brien and Teddy Bridgewater? O'Brien worked as OC/QB coach for the Patriots and Bridgewater is the best QB in the draft. The Texans are in a weak division, still have a top 10 defense and some pieces on offense. Arian Foster and Andre Johnson aren't getting any younger, but I think they've got something left in the tank. Add Bridgewater to those two, re-sign Ben Tate and another year for DeAndre Hopkins and isn't that team a force in the AFC South for the next decade?

Colts over Jaguars- Indy is coming off a dominant performance in Kansas City so I expect them to easily clean up the Jags. They've outscored opponents 48-10 combined in the last two weeks, so an easy win here should send them into the playoffs with a bit of a hot streak after a long stretch of inconsistent play.

Dolphins over Jets- I know it's a "Be careful what you wish for", but I want the Dolphins to get the #6 seed. We had probably our worst game of the year in Miami, and still lost on an overtime safety. I think we'd clean them up if they came to Cincy and I want another crack at them.

Lions over Vikings- Lions come out firing on all cylinders here the week after they've been eliminated from the playoffs. I'm almost certain they win 35-7 or something along those lines. 52% completion percentage and 1 TD to 5 INTs for Matthew Stafford in the Lions last three games, all losses. The good news is that the extension Stafford signs in the offseason that pays him nearly $18 mill per season is about to kick in. So there's that.

Giants over Redskins- Eli Manning has three 20 INT seasons and two 25 INT seasons. A particularly awful game here could get him to the 30 INT mark. I've got my fingers crossed.

Steelers over Browns- Somehow the Steelers are still alive for the #6 seed talk and I want no part of them. I still have flashbacks from the last time Pittsburgh came into Cincy for a playoff game. I think they win here, but don't get the help they need from the Ravens/Chargers/Dolphins to slide into the postseason.

Packers over Bears- Don't care that he hasn't played since 11/4. Don't care that it's on the road. With the season on the line, this game gives us Rodgers vs. Cutler. I'll take Rodgers.

Broncos over Raiders- Denver still needs a win here to secure the top seed and they'll have no problem getting it. Wouldn't surprise me to see Manning dial up 4 or 5 more TDs to add to the record, and he'll easily pass Brees to grab the all time single season passing yardage record.

Bills over Patriots- I need this. I don't expect it, but I need it. If Cincy wins and the Bills prevail on the road, Cincy eases right into the #2 seed. The Bills stink on the road, are starting Thad Lewis, the Pats haven't lost at home and are still playing for a possible #1 seed so they will be going all out. Things are not in the Bengals favor, but there is a chance things work out for us.

Saints over Buccaneers- Well, that escalated quickly didn't it? The Saints seemed like a lock for homefield advantage less than a month ago. Then they lost three of four and now have to win to make it in as the #6 seed. They handle the Bucs here at home to make it back to the playoffs.

49ers over Cardinals- Carson Palmer at home with the season on the line. An Arizona win, and NO loss, gets the Cardinals in as a #6 seed. I've read this book before and see it ending with a three turnover day for Palmer and an early jump on vacation for Arizona.

Chiefs over Chargers- I didn't see much of the game, but if I didn't know any better, I'd think the Chiefs were sandbagging it against the Colts. They will probably face each other against next week as the 4/5 matchup and I imagine the Chiefs went vanilla with their playoff spot already secure. They turn it back up here to send the Chargers home for the year and prepare for another trip to Indy the following week.

Seahawks over Rams- A loss here and a win by SF could still knock the Seahawks from the top seed to #5. Eek. They handle business here. The Rams are another great candidate for Bridgewater. They are probably looking at the #2 pick, from the RG3 trade. I take Bridgewater, trade Bradford for whatever you can get and keep building but I have little faith St. Louis will do so. Bradford still has 2 years/$34 million (!) left on his contract, but I imagine someone would take on that deal and talk themselves into the fact that they were getting a former #1 overall pick that's still only 26.

Eagles over Cowboys- I hate that Romo is out for this one. He's a great player that takes way too much flack, but the opportunity to watch him in primetime with the division crown on the line would have been excellent. Of course this is a no win situation for Romo. If his team wins without him, the story is Orton's steady hand and veteran leadership helped Dallas more than Romo's gunslinging. If they lose, the story will be that the Cowboys lost three straight week 17 games with the playoffs on the line during the Tony Romo era. I almost feel bad for him. Then I remember the $100 million contract and beauty queen wife and I don't feel so bad.

Happy New Year and whatnot.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bengals vs. Vikings: Five Things

Five good things: 

1. Andy Dalton. Again. Dalton is back on another hot stretch completing over 64% of his passes and boosting a 11-1 TD-INT ratio in his last four games. He looked fantastic here, with his third best game of the season per PFF. 27/38, 366 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs. He had a passer rating of 144.9 on third down, converting seven such opportunities (including five that were 10+ yards). He went 12/19 on passes that traveled 10+ yards in the air. Just a fantastic day.

2. Pass blocking. Dalton dropped back 41 times and was pressured on only eight of them, and I'm willing to bet that half of those came late in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. Dalton, as with any decent QB, is a different type of player when he can relax in the pocket. He had all day to make his reads and looked dominant as a result of the line's great pass protection.

3. Vontaze Burfict/Vincent Rey. Love these guys. Burfict only had six tackles on the day, but two were for sacks. He did pick up a unnecessary roughness call on one of the sacks, but it looked to be a bogus call to me as he never came in contact with Cassel's helmet. Whatever. His greatest contribution came on the play below:

Check Burfict (#55, 25 yard line before the snap) running around like a mad man. He knew what play the Vikings were going to run and was making sure everyone knew it. Vinny Rey (#57, near the first down marker before the snap) takes heed and slides right into position to read Cassel's eyes and get the easiest pick six he'll ever have. Rey only had one tackle, but it was a sack/forced fumble on the opening drive of the game that lead to Cincy's first touchdown. Consider Vinny Rey was directly responsible for 14 Bengal points and wonder why he only played six snaps. Like I am.

4. AJ Green. AJ probably hasn't showed up on this list as many times as he should, because that's cheating. He's too good. He caught seven of the 12 passes thrown his way for 97 yards and 2 TDs. With one game left, Green is four catches and one TD short of new career highs in both. He's already set a career high in receiving yards with 1,365. 

5. Shawn Powell. In his first game as our new punter, Powell managed to avoid getting his jaw shattered and neck broken unlike his predecessor Kevin Huber. The good news was flowing aplenty on Sunday.

Five bad things: 

1. Dre Kirkpatrick. Dude. He is not good at football. Watch this 36 yard touchdown he gave up to Jarius Wright. Kirkpatrick is lined up across from Wright at the top of the screen, but not for long.

A solid double move by Wright for sure, but good grief man. He nearly shook Kirkpatrick out of bounds. And then there was this:

I couldn't find a GIF that showed everything that happened here. Basically, Kirkpatrick was so badly burned by Jerome Simpson, that any kind of decent throw would have been an easy six for the Vikings. Simpson has to stop and come back for the ball, just as Kirkpatrick and George Illoka get there. Kirkpatrick elbows Simpson in the head knocking him to the ground, in a BLATANT pass interference that somehow wasn't called. The pass hits Kirkpatrick in the helmet and bounces into the arms of a fallen Illoka. Kirkpatrick was only targeted three times (the other, an incomplete pass to Cordarrelle Patterson), but those were two of them: a touchdown and a touchdown that should have been. To his credit, he did look better tackling this week with a fantastic take down of Adrian Peterson in the open field. But his coverage skills need work pronto.

2. Jermaine Gresham. I've had enough of him. Yes he caught all three of the passes thrown his way for 49 yards and a TD, but he also lost a fumble after a nice catch and run. His second straight game with a lost fumble. He also added two more penalties to his resume'. He had a false start that turned 3rd and 4, into 3rd and 9 and later had a holding penalty that negated a first down catch by Gio Bernard. At first, I just wanted he and Eifert to switch roles, with Eifert taking the role as primary TE. Now I want Gresham gone. I'm sure he'll go to New England or Green Bay and turn into Antonio Gates but I don't care anymore. Check his numbers compared to Eifert:

It's not unreasonable to think that Eifert could surpass the numbers set by Gresham if he was #1 TE, right? To be fair, Gresham missed an entire game but Eifert caught one six yard pass before leaving this game with injury. Watching Gresham play is infuriating because the talent is there. He'll throw a nice block on somebody, then drop the pass coming his way the next snap. He'll catch a short pass and go 15 yards for the first down, then fumble because he was holding the ball out from his body. I don't get it and I'm tired of trying to get it.

3. Run blocking. The run game couldn't get a thing going against the 16th ranked rush defense. 37 rushes for 81 yards (2.2 YPC) and a TD. And it was worse for the running backs. BJGE had 12 rushes for 24 yards and a TD. Gio had 13 rushes for 20 yards. C Kyle Cook and T Andre Smith posted negative scores in the run blocking game, which is concerning as that is what they are "known" for. The second straight week the running game has failed to average 3 YPC as a whole. Not a good sign.

4. Defensive line. The defense hit Cassel six times and sacked him four times, but most of that was the work of Burfict/Rey. Margus Hunt, Wallace Gilberry and Michael Johnson rushed Cassel 72 times combined, but only forced four hurries. Minnesota's offensive line is 19th in the league in sacks allowed so this isn't exactly a stingy bunch they were going against. The ability to get to the quarterback at all is a good sign, as we haven't been able to do that in recent weeks but sending linebackers to do so is a bit worrying. Part of what made the Bengals defense so great was the ability to generate heat without blitzing linebackers. Obviously the absence of Geno Atkins changes things, but this unit has more than enough talent to generate more than enough pass rush.

5. Injuries. Back to rear it's ugly head. Burfict, Eifert and Andre Smith all left the game with injuries. James Harrison and Devon Still missed the game altogether with injuries. None of these appear to be long term injuries (praises due), but I'd like as many guys on the practice field as possible to work out any possible kinks heading into the postseason.

Week 17: Home against the Ravens.

1. For the second straight year, the Bengals face the Ravens in the last week of the season with a playoff spot on the line. Last year, it was the Bengals fighting for the postseason. This time, it's the Ravens. Baltimore sat their starters last year, as their #4 seed was already locked. The Bengals still have a fighting chance for the #2 seed and the Ravens are fighting for the #6 seed, so there will be no starters rested here.

2. The Bengals are 7-0 at home this season and have scored 40+ points in each of their last four games at home. The Ravens are 2-5 on the road this season. The game earlier this season saw the Bengals turn the ball over three times on the road, and get a hailmary TD to close the fourth quarter just to lose in OT. This was the worst I've seen Dalton play this season, numbers be damned. He's playing much better now.

3. The Ravens offense is 19th is pass yards/game and 28th in rush yards per game. The Bengals defense is sixth in both pass and rush yards per game. The defense had a great game in the first showdown this season and Vinny Rey had his 15 tackle, three sack, interception game here so I'm hopeful that he and the defense will be able to hold the Ravens in check. The Ravens offense has scored one touchdown in the last eight quarters so they aren't exactly firing on all cylinders.

4. The Bengals offense is 10th in pass yards/game and 21st in rush yards/game. The Ravens defense is 11th in pass yards/game and 9th in rush yards/game. The Bengals had 364 total yards against Baltimore last time, so moving the ball wasn't the problem. Holding onto it was, with three turnovers. I don't think we'll have that same issue this time around.

5. Sending the Ravens home for the year would be a big statement for this team. With a little luck from the Bills later on, they could wind up with the #2 seed for their efforts but it means nothing if they don't handle Baltimore first. The Ravens won't go down without a fight, but I think we're playing too well right now and get the victory for our 11th win. And hopefully not the last one of the season.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bengals vs. Steelers: Five Things

Better late than never and whatnot.

Five good things: 

1. Andy Dalton. Another good game for Dalton. 25/44 for 230 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs. Nothing mind blowing, but a very solid game for him considering the windy conditions in Pittsburgh and the lack of success he has had against Pittsburgh in the past. Those numbers include five drops from Bengals receivers. He also rushed four times for 20 yards: a 9 yard gain on 2nd and 10, a 2 yard sneak on 4th and 1, 4 yards on 2nd and 10 and a 5 yard run on 2nd and 20. The first three runs either converted first down or were converted on the next play. He really makes the game easier for himself when he's willing to take off, even for just a few yards.

2. Vontaze Burfict. The gawd. Another 12 tackles for him. Light work.

3. Pacman Jones. Five tackles, two for loss and an interception. Jones has filled in very nicely since Leon Hall went down, and was effectively the #1 corner for this game. Though he didn't cover him for the entire game, Antonio Brown didn't go crazy with our third best DB lining up across from him. Another solid game for Jones.

4. Tyler Eifert. Eifert caught all three of the passes thrown his way for 31 yards and a TD. He appeared to be splitting out as a WR more and finding himself matched up on Ryan Clark one on one. I wish we would have went to him more often with Clark lined up on him.

5. Kevin Huber. For not dying after this brutal hit below, and even being a good sport about it by changing his twitter avi to a picture of him getting his bell rung. (Can you tell that there weren't a lot of good things?)

Five bad things: 

1. Special Teams. Eek. A botched snap lead to a 1st and goal from the 1 for the Steelers and the "rout" was on. Huber picked up the ball and tried to get in the end zone for the safety, but was ruled down on the 1. Pittsburgh scored on the next play. If you take your offs of Huber getting obliterated in the GIF above, you'll see poor tackling by Shawn Williams on the way to Antonio Brown taking a punt 67 yards for a touchdown. Outside of a couple of nice kick returns by Brandon Tate, this was a terrible showing by our special teams.

2. Dre Kirkpatrick. First career start for Kirkpatrick. He missed as many tackles as he made, four. Four of the five passes his way were completed for 47 yards and a TD. And on the first play of the game, he picked up a facemasking penalty. To his credit, on the touchdown play, Cincy rushed two guys which left Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown about eight seconds to hook up for the score. Still, not a good first start for Dre. 

3. Offensive line. A very disappointing showing by the offensive line. Going into the game, the Steelers were 24th in the league defending the run yet we could only muster 22 carries for 57 yards (2.6 YPC) and a TD. Dalton was also hit four times and sacked for the first time in four weeks. Credit to Dalton for getting rid of the ball quickly because the Steelers pass rush was in his face quite a bit more than the numbers will show. They also added three penalties (two false starts and a holding) for good measure.

4. Pass rush. The most concerning negative here. The Bengals were only able to generate one sack and two hits against Roethlisberger. It's no secret that it's tough to bring Roethlisberger down, but it felt like he had all day out there. That's three sacks total in the last three weeks for this unit. We'll need to ramp the pass rush up in the coming weeks, especially with our secondary depleted.

5. Receivers. The five aforementioned drops, plus a lost fumble by Jermaine Gresham. Dalton placed plenty of nice passes in windy conditions that the receivers just couldn't haul in. The Steelers were able to jar a couple loose with quick hits, but those catches have to be made when they're put on your hands.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Week 16 Picks

Hard to believe the season is almost over.  It's been slightly depressing and pretty stressful, but the Packers have a clear path to the playoffs: win and they're in.  You can't ask for more than that.

To the picks.

Dolphins over Bills
Miami is extremely inconsistent, but they have a ton of talent.  I think they'll close out the season strong and be a big sleeper team for next year.  The Bills feel like at least a year away from nabbing that designation for themselves.

Bengals over Vikings
The Vikings are a better team with Cassel at the helm, but they're still not a great team.  Bengals take care of business here.

Chiefs over Colts
The Colts won big over the Texans last week, but the Chiefs are a different animal.  This game will be over at halftime.

Bucs over Rams
This could go either way, but the Bucs defense is playing well and should be able to shut down the Rams pretty well.  Low-scoring game.

Browns over Jets
Cleveland is playing really well lately, and Jets have not been.  I know it's not always as easy as that, but it feels as easy as that right now.

Cowboys over Redskins
This should be a high-scoring game, but the Cowboys will emerge victorious, heading into a winner-take-all game against Philly next week.  I can't wait.

Panthers over Saints
After getting pasted by the Saints in New Orleans, the Panthers will return with a better defensive effort here and squeak out a win.

Titans over Jaguars

Broncos over Texans

Packers over Steelers
HUGE comeback win against the Cowboys last week.  I planned on doing a post on it this week and just ran out of time.  I was hoping Rodgers would be back this week, but, sadly, that's not happening.  Still, I believe the Flynn-led Packers can put up some points on the Steelers.  I hope they can, anyway.  The Steelers looked pretty good last week.

Lions over Giants
The Lions blew a huge opportunity by losing last week, but they should win here.  The Giants had a few games in the middle of the season where they looked decent, but those days are long gone.  The Lions will take out their frustrations from last week here.

Seahawks over Cardinals
A low-scoring game.  The Cardinals defense is pretty solid, so they should be able to hold the Seahawks offense down a bit.  But I don't believe the Cardinals will be able to do much on offense.

Chargers over Raiders
The Chargers have been pretty good all year.  They'll take care of business here.

Patriots over Ravens
The Ravens are playing better, but they needed a 61 yard field goal to barely get a win over a Lions team that wasn't playing that well.

Eagles over Bears
Shady might run for 300 yards against this defense.

49ers over Falcons
This is the Monday Night game.  It looks to be over by halftime.

Week 16 NFL Picks

"Five Things" for the Steelers game is behind schedule, but will be up sometime this week. So there's that. Pick time.

Dolphins over Bills- The Dolphins did us a solid last week beating the Patriots and we couldn't take advantage. I still hope they make the sixth seed, because I think we would win a rematch with him, should we get the sixth seed. They control their own destiny and get the victory here.

Bengals over Vikings- With the Vikings throwing up 48 points last week, our loss to Pittsburgh and AP coming back this week, I'm not as confident as I should be. I'm hopeful that our run defense makes Cassel put the ball in the air another 30+ times. The outside conditions in Cincy should also help, as he has made two of his last three starts in the Minnesota dome.

Chiefs over Colts- Indy whooped a terrible Texans team last week so I guess they're back on track and whatnot. I'm not buying it and I think this one gets ugly. Chiefs by three scores.

Rams over Bucs- I could absolutely see the Rams losing here after a very good win over the Saints last year. They'll beat the Bucs here but it will be a lot harder than it should be.

Jets over Browns- Smith! Campbell! The NFL on CBS!

Cowboys over Redskins- It's inevitable, right? Another one game showdown in week 17 with the Cowboys playoff chances on the line against a division rival has to happen right? I'm starting to feel bad for Cowboys fans. Me, a BENGALS fan.

Panthers over Saints- The Saints last five road games: loss to NE, loss to NYJ, 4 point win over ATL, crushed by Seattle, beaten soundly by NYJ. I think Carolina gets some revenge here for that 18 point loss to NO a couple of weeks ago. Big game here as the winner slides into the #2 seed, and the loser potentially slides to the #6 seed.

Jaguars over Titans- Because someone has to win, right?

Broncos over Texans- This seems like a 6 TD game for Peyton. Followed with plenty of stories about how he's ready to change his postseason story.

Lions over Giants- Damn Lions. I needed them to beat Baltimore last week and they couldn't outscore a field goal kicker on their home turf. Want them to lose this week as a result of last week, but the Giants are awful. Eli gets three picks closer to 30 interceptions this week.

Seahawks over Cardinals- I think the Seahawks flex one last time and lock up the #1 seed before resting up next week. Cardinals defense is tops in the league at stopping the run. Seattle is second in rushing yards. Ryan Fitzpatrick went for 400+ yards and 4 TDs last week against the Cards Tyrann Mathieu-less secondary. I think Wilson will be fine here, and use his legs to get a few timely first downs even if it doesn't mean big rushing numbers. I also feel like Carson Palmer has a real stinker of a game left. Fingers crossed.

Packers over Steelers- The Steelers got up to beat us and I feel like they'll go ahead and mail it in for the rest of the season. The legend of Matt Flynn grows.

Chargers over Raiders- I wouldn't mind seeing the Chargers in the playoffs, if the alternative is the Ravens. Have you watched any of Matt McGloin? He's not terrible, and a bad showing aside I think he's looked very good for Oakland. I don't know if he's the answer for Oakland, or if Pryor is either, but I've been impressed by him.

Patriots over Ravens- Assuming we handle business against Minnesota, this is a win-win for us. If New England wins, we win the AFC North and secure a home playoff game. If Baltimore wins, we slide into the #2 seed but our week 17 game with Baltimore would determine the champion. There are still scenarios where we could find ourselves out of the playoffs altogether, so I'm hoping for a Patriots win to give us the division title.

Bears over Eagles- Only because I want to see Cowboys-Eagles for the division in week 17. For all the people that are surprised at how great Alshon Jeffrey has been, did they watch him in college at all? I don't mean to sound snobby, but anyone that watched him dominate at South Carolina with lackluster QBs knew he had this kind of potential. If I remember correctly, he had a terrible combine and showed up overweight, and still went second round. So this isn't like he was a 6th round gem that came out of nowhere.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Week 15 Picks

Getting close to the end of football season and that saddens me to no end. The picks must go on doe.

Redskins over Falcons- Skins have everything to play for and the Falcons have nothing to play for. I feel like the Shanahans will put Cousins in a great position to win by not asking too much of him. I can already see the "Redskins end season on 3 game winning streak. RG3 on the trade block?" stories. Washington also has every incentive to win and make the first rounder they send to St. Louis worse. The Falcons are doing all they can to get Jadaveon Clowney to the Peach State.

Bears over Browns- Cutler is back this week, but I was impressed by Josh McCown. Fun fact: Josh Gordon has 774 receiving yards and 5 TDs in the past four games. With Jason Campbell throwing to him. He has 1,400 yards in 11 games and is averaging almost 20 YPC. With Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer and Brandon Weeden throwing to him. He might be the greatest of all time is what I'm getting at here. Another big day here for him won't be enough.

Colts over Texans- This will be a close one. Not because of my faith in the Texans, but because of my lack of faith in the Colts. They haven't played a good four quarters in over a month. They have the division clinched so technically they could start going vanilla here in preparation for the playoffs, but they need all the quality reps they can get.

Dolphins over Patriots- Need a Dolphins win here to keep the Bengals hopes of a first round bye alive. The Patriots in their first week without Gronk (again), a trip to Miami where they've had some trouble in the past and the Dolphins fighting for the sixth seed means my hopes may not be too far off.

Eagles over Vikings- What stinky early games we have here. Eagles on a roll. Vikings without AP.

Seahawks over Giants- The only interesting thing about this game is seeing if Percy Harvin was going to suit up to get back on track. He's not and it sounds like he may be a couple of weeks away. So there's that.

49ers over Bucs- No idea what the Bucs are doing. They were in peak position to add Teddy Bridgewater to a core of Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Now they tryna win games and shit. San Francisco will set them straight.

Jaguars over Bills- Jaguars on a 3 game winning streak at home. Not gonna watch any part of this.

Chiefs over Raiders- Losing both games to Denver hurts them, but a win here would tie them with the Broncos at 11-3. An Andy Reid/Alex Smith led team is a couple of breaks away from a #1 seed. Go tell your mother you love her. The end is near.

Panthers over Jets- Panthers get back on track here after suffering a beating at the hands of the Saints. I said it earlier, but the thought of watching Cam Newton play is a lot more fun than actually watching him play. A good read here about how Cam is more or less doing what he's always done, only now he has a defense and a more aggressive head coach to work with.

Cowboys over Packers- Looks like Rodgers is at least another week away from returning. Can't pick your boys until he's back.

Cardinals over Titans- Hate seeing Tyrann Mathieu go down for the season after a great rookie campaign. The Cardinals get the win here and surprisingly keep pace in the NFC playoff picture.

Saints over Rams- The Rams are playing with house money. As is, they have two top ten picks in the upcoming draft and have a number of ways they can go with them. They can bring Bradford back, and use their plethora of picks to surround him with a great cast. They can move on from Bradford with a first round QB and still have another pick to help him out. Or they can make another RG3 like trade, trading the pick they have from the Redskins to a team looking to move up for Bridgewater and possibly get another first rounder or two. They're in a brutal division so they have to build wisely, but they're in great shape. They lose by 20 here though.

Bengals over Steelers- I hate us being the night game because everyone will be tuned in to see how much we stink, should we stink. I think we win this one but it will be a close one. The Steelers have always played us well, as most division rivals do. I'm hoping we can take advantage of the Steelers subpar run defense with our new found running game. I'm thinking a 24-14 victory. You know what's scarier than an Andy Reid/Alex Smith #1 seed team? A Marvin Lewis/Andy Dalton led one. Not out of the question just yet.

Lions over Ravens- Need a little more luck here. A Cincy win and a Ravens loss gives us the division. I also don't want to see the Ravens in the playoffs. Dolphins, Chargers, Jets, none of the other teams competing for the sixth seed scare me but Baltimore does. Of course, it may be moot if we can land a first round bye. Detroit is also fighting for the NFC North so this should be a decent Monday night game.

Week 15 Picks

Winding down to the end of the season.  Before the playoffs, I'm planning on looking at all of Dalton's interceptions for the year, but I haven't found time yet.

To the picks.

Falcons over Redskins
With Roddy White back, the Falcons are in better shape than they were early in the season.  That didn't stop them from losing to the Flynn-led Packers last week, though.  It'll be a close game, but the Falcons will end up winning this.  Although, if the Redskins win, I'm very much looking forward to the "Trade RGIII" talk that will inevitably follow.  Maybe your Bengals can just nab him and forget about Johnny Football.

Browns over Bears
It would make sense to finally have Cutler start, then have the Bears lose to the Browns.  But, really, the Bears defense is terrible this year, and the Browns offense has been respectable lately.  Checkdowns and run plays seem to hurt them, and that's what the Browns offense thrives on.  Doesn't matter who the QB is: the Bears will still lose this game.

Colts over Texans
Hard to believe the Colts already clinched this division.  They should win here, but I have no faith in them heading into the playoffs.  It's easy to point at the loss of Reggie Wayne, but the defense has been terrible.  That's the main culprit in this slide.

Dolphins over Patriots
The Patriots are just short of weapons right now, especially with Thompkins and Dobson out for this game.  I could see them winning this (they seem to have a way of doing that), but it's unlikely at this point.

Eagles over Vikings
Xavier Rhodes is out, which means the Vikings would have a hard time winning.
Peterson and Gerhart are also out, which means the Vikings don't have a chance.

Seahawks over Giants
It's in New York, so I'm not expecting a blow-out.  There's a small chance that the Giants actually pull this out, but they would need uncharacteristically good defense, and a handful of big passing plays.  Judging by how they've played this year, it seems unlikely.  Still, something like 17-6 sounds about right.

49ers over Bucs
The 49ers are getting some weapons back (Crabtree hasn't looked great, but he'll look more comfortable with each passing game), and their defense is great.  They look scary heading down the stretch.

Bills over Jaguars
I guess this sounds right.

Packers over Cowboys
I have to believe they're going to win this, even if their chances seem slim.  Here is why they will win this:
The Cowboys defense is terrible, and Sean Lee is out for this game (it's not like they've been great while he's been in, but they've been better).  If the Packers roll with a run-heavy offense with a lot of quick-hit routes for passing (slants and crossing patterns across the middle), and a few shots deep, they should be able to move up and down the field pretty well.
However, it's not like the Packers defense has been terrific, so the Cowboys will likely put up quite a few points of their own.
Turnovers will be big.  You used to be able to count on a decent number of Romo interceptions, but he's been great this year, posting the lowest INT% of his career.  And the Packers have not had a ball-hawking defense this year.
It's hard not to look at this as a high-scoring contest between these teams.  And, since it's in Dallas, weather won't be a factor.  I know the Cowboys will likely pile up yardage and points and win this handily.  But I have to believe the Packers will find a way.  One play here or there could turn it around for them.  They're more than capable of doing that.
I wish Aaron Rodgers was back for this game.

Chiefs over Raiders
Another blow-out win for the Chiefs.

Panthers over Jets
The Panthers looked less-than-impressive in getting blown-out by the Saints on Monday night.  But this is a better team than they showed there, and they'll show that here.  Geno Smith with at least a couple picks.

Cardinals over Titans
Really bummed about Mathieu's injury.  He was having a great season.  Even without him, the Cardinals defense is legit, and should have no problem shutting down the Titans.

Saints over Rams
I could see this being a somewhat close game, but, in the end, the Saints will win by at least 10.

Bengals over Steelers
As you are well aware, the Bengals struggle with the Steelers.  Even their game earlier this year - in Cincinnati - was closer than it should have been.  It's about time the Bengals just destroyed them.

Ravens over Lions
The Ravens have looked pretty good as of late.  The Lions could certainly win this (they're inconsistent if nothing else), but I think the Ravens will pull it out late.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bengals vs. Colts: Five Things

Five good things: 

1. Offensive line. My lord, they looked excellent. Dalton dropped back 37 times, was pressured on only four and wasn't touched once. Not a sack, not a hit. The rushing game produced 155 yards on 35 carries (4.4 YPC, a number that is deceptively low as BJGE/Gio combined to average 5.1 YPC). The offensive line did whatever they liked with the Colts front seven. Backup turned starting LT Anthony Collins made NFL sack leader Robert Mathis a complete non-factor. Mathis had as many penalties (one offsides call) as he did tackles (one, a few yards downfield). This is the second straight week the team has rushed for 150+ yards and the third straight week that Dalton hasn't been sacked. The Bengals are 3-0 in that time and Dalton has 8 TD's to 3 TO's during that stretch. No coincidence. Outstanding work.

2. Andy Dalton. It's been some time since Dalton landed on this side of the ledger. Good to have him back. His work here won him AFC Offensive Player of the Week and it was well deserved. 24/35, 275 yards, 4 TDs (1 rushing). He wasn't exactly threading the needle through three defenders or tossing the ball 65 yards, but that's not his game (plus he didn't need to. Colts stink). He's at his best with quick reads, quicker releases and nice throws and he excelled at all three on Sunday. 42 points without the benefit of a turnover, spreading the ball around and 5/5 on red zone trips are all signs of a great day. Days like this are ones that give me hope for Dalton. Not that he'll put it together every game for the next 10 years and become Tom Brady. But that he can put it together and get hot for the 3-4 games it takes to win a Super Bowl. If it happened for Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, I won't rule out Dalton.

3. Jay Gruden. I gave Gruden the blame last week for guys not being involved in the offense last week, so I have to give him the credit here. The Bengals offense saw only three different receivers catch at least 3 passes in the previous two weeks. Five different receivers caught at least 3 passes in the Indy game alone. Gresham/Eifert combined for 8 catches, 61 yards and a TD after being seemingly forgotten about lately. Marvin Jones had 60 yards on the day, which exceeded his numbers from the past three weeks combined (23 yards). Again, just a great all around showing by the offense. Kudos to Gruden.

4. Gio Bernard. His best game as a pro. 12 carries for 99 yards. 4 catches for 49 yards. And he still had to watch from the sidelines as BJGE took two one yard carries into the end zone. Bernard has averaged a little under 14 touches per game this season, and is showing no signs of slowing down. I'm hoping Gruden has been slowly increasing his workload throughout the season to unleash some 20 touch games for Gio here late in the season.

5. Jermaine Gresham. Yeah, the offense sweeps this weeks good things. They were that good. Gresham surely did his part catching all five of the passes thrown his way for 41 yards and a TD. He also did his part in both parts of the blocking game, earning him one of the highest Pro Football Focus scores of his career.

If all five good things came from the offense, you can guess where this is going.

Five bad things: 

1. Trent Richardson. Now you know I'm usually the first one to sing DC Mike Zimmer's praises, but not today, bubba. Trent Richardson touched the ball 11 times for a season high 88 yards! This is unacceptable and I'd expect Zim to be on the hot seat about this. Richardson had an eight, EIGHT yard carry where I wanted to throw my computer out of the window. He also had five catches for 68 yards, including a 22 yarder that put the rumor to bed that his knees would burst into flames if he ran more than nine yards at a time. Just abysmal.

2. Defensive line. While the defensive line played reasonably well and did get in Luck's face a couple of times, they didn't sack him once. Luck was hit 27 times over the past month, and we only knocked him down four times. Part of this was due to Luck's legs and quick release, but the other half was our guys just not generating adequate pressure.

3. Poor tackling. 15 missed tackles on the day, according to PFF. Six on this play, according to me.

4. Injuries. Again. Terrence Newman sprained his MCL during the second half and will miss 1-3 games. George Illoka left with concussion like symptoms and is questionable for Sunday Night against Pittsburgh. That puts our starting corners at Pacman Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick. In addition to journeyman Chris Crocker lining up alongside Reggie Nelson at safety if Illoka can't go. LESS than ideal to say the least. To Jones' credit, he has filled in admirably since the loss of Leon Hall. And Kirkpatrick has played very well lately, with his first career sack, interception and setting a career high in tackles in each of the least three weeks. He's also made some nice plays on special teams, from hustling back to down punts or drawing penalties on the other team so I have a little faith in him. A little.

5. Box scores. If you only looked at the box score of this game, you'd see that Luck threw for 326 yards, 4 TDs and lead the team in rushing. That the Colts rushed for 5.3 YPC against the tough Bengals defense and that they simply ran out of time, as the Bengals played ball control by possessing the ball for nearly 38 minutes of the game.

WRONG. The Bengals completely dominated this one from the jump. Part of it was due to excellent execution from the offense and special teams. Part of it was that the Colts aren't a very good football team. The Bengals defense missed more tackles than they have all season, or this score could have gotten uglier. The Colts are lucky to have already clinched, because they've got some real kinks to work out on their team before the start of the playoffs.

Week 15: On the road against the Steelers.

1. With the Steelers 5-8 and coming off two straight losses, Cincinnati could put an end to their playoff hopes for the second straight season. I imagine that Marvin Lewis may have mentioned that this week in team meetings.

2. Not only are the Steelers coming off of two straight losses, they are two brutal losses. A two point loss on Thanksgiving to the Ravens in TiptoeGate and last week's hilarity as Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds just yards away from scoring the game winning TD. Of course, division games are always tough and this one will be as well, but the Steelers are dying to fall apart. There's been more subtle shots between Roethlisberger and Todd Haley, and the questions about next season have already begun.

3. The Steelers defense is seventh against pass yards per game and 24th against rush yards per game. I think this plays right into the hands of our new offensive line. Cincy rushed for 127 yards in a week two meeting against Pittsburgh, and I'm hopeful they'll be able to pick up 150 on the ground for the third straight week. The line also figures to get starter Kevin Zeitler back at guard. He dressed for the Colts game, but didn't play as Mike Pollak did a great job filling in.

4. The Steelers offense is seventh in pass yards per game and 31st in rush yards per game. I imagine those pass yards numbers are a bit skewed as a 5-8 team is probably playing a good bit of catch up, but it still worries me. Roethlisberger is quietly having another good year, Antonio Brown is fourth in the league in receiving yards and Heath Miller is back after missing the week two meeting. Our pass rush has just two sacks in the past two weeks, so I'm not even sure they'll be able to take advantage of Roethlisberger dropping back 40 times.

5. Another big game here. A win here and some luck in the Ravens-Lions game, and we could clinch the division. A little more luck with the Patriots heading down to Miami, and we could slide right into the #2 seed. I'm a little worried as this is the Sunday Night game and it will be in Pittsburgh. I still have nightmares of Dalton overthrowing EVERYONE, as he did in the first meeting with Pittsburgh. Still, Cincy came to Pittsburgh last year in week 15 and got a win to keep our playoff hopes alive. The 2012 Steelers were better than the 2013 Steelers. The 2013 Bengals are better than the 2012 Bengals. I think we pick up a close victory. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bengals vs. Chargers: Five Things

Just flew back from San Diego and boy, are my arms ti....fuck all that. San Diego is amazing. Go if you ever get the chance and if you can think of the reason why I left, tell me because I certainly don't know. The weather was amazing for the game and the crowd was surprisingly strong. Like 61,500 people strong. Of which, 61,000 were NOT, i repeat NOT fans of Phillip Rivers. On to the review.

Five good things: 

1. Vontaze Burfict. My favorite. 13 more tackles, to keep his lead as the NFL's leading tackler, and five of those came on gains of two yards or less. He was everywhere. He's much faster than I thought and he talks after every play. Loudly. He said something to Charger Johnnie Troutman after SD kicked the extra point to make it 17-10 late in the fourth quarter. Whatever it was made Troutman pick up a personal foul trying to swing on Burfict. The penalty lead to Cincy beginning the next drive on the 34, instead of the 20, which is big when we were just trying to kill clock and avoid giving the ball back to SD with great field position. Another great game by Burfict, especially after he wasn't expected to play after injuring an ankle in practice on Friday.

2. Reu Maualuga. Maualuga also looked good in his first game in over a month after returning from an injury. He did appear to blow the coverage that left Ladarius Green open for the Chargers lone TD, but he finished with 10 tackles and a sack. Maualuga is great at making plays directly in front of him. Don't make him run left, right or behind him though. To Zimmer's credit, he's putting Rey in positions to do just that, and getting the more versatile Vincent Rey in there on clear passing downs. To Maualuga's credit, he's improved on that because he was having trouble making plays right in front of him in past years.

3. Offensive line. The line looked great this week despite losing starting LG Clint Boling for the season with a torn ACL. Best wishes to Clint on a speedy recovery, but this may actually work in Cincy's favor. To adjust, LT Andrew Whitworth moved to LG (the position he was drafted at) and Anthony Collins (a better pass protector than run protector) came in to protect Dalton's blind side. With this lineup, Cincy rushed 38 times for 164 yards (4.3 YPC) and Dalton wasn't touched once. Not a sack, not a hit. This was also without starting RG Kevin Zeitler who missed the game with a foot injury, but figures to be back next week. 

4. Running game. It goes hand in hand with the aforementioned point, but I thought BJGE and Gio looked excellent, that almost crippling BJGE fumble late in the game aside. I was surprised to see that BJGE only averaged 4.6 YPC and Gio 4.1 YPC, because it seemed like they were each going for five yards a pop. Seven of BJGE's carries went for a first down or touchdown and Gio seemed like he was THIS close to going the distance on a couple of occasions. Dalton even had a very nifty 11 yard run to pick up a first down in the third quarter. A great day on the ground.

5. Special teams. P Kevin Huber, namely. Mike Nugent nailed a 46 yarder but Huber was named AFC special teams player of the week and he earned it. 4 punts, 222 yards, 55.5 YPP. Three punts went at least 50 yards, and he had a 75 yard beauty that was down inside the Chargers five yard line (after a great hustle by Dre Kirkpatrick). Even his shortest punt of the day, 38 yards, pinned SD inside the 20. With the offense struggling again, him flipping the field time and time again helped the defense put on another great showing.

Five bad things:

1. Andy Dalton, Sunday. I know, I know. I was surprised to see Dalton on this side of the ledger too. In my defense, he had an awful first half. His first pass nearly got AJ Green cut in half and he later threw an interception that looked like a punt. In his defense, he had a dynamite second half. 

Wait for it....

He completed almost 70% of his passes, had a QB rating over 130 and had threw great throws after halftime. The first was on a busted coverage that left AJ Green wide open. If you know Andy Dalton like I know Andy Dalton, then you know that any time he hits a wide open ANYBODY, it's a great throw. 21 yard touchdown. In the beginning of the fourth quarter on a 3rd and 2, he put a pass where only Fastest Man in the World Andrew Hawkins could get it. 

His defender hit the ground diving to knock away the pass and Hawkins took it 50 yards. Cincy got a FG out of the drive. On the first drive after the penalty that Burfict drew on Troutman, he dropped a dime into AJ Greens arms for a 28 yard gain and promptly ran out the remaining 4 minutes and change to get the win. 

2. Andy Dalton, going forward. Yes, just what the world has been clamoring for. MORE Andy Dalton talk. But as I mentioned early, the pieces around Dalton were working on Sunday. Offensive line looked great, running game was on point and Dalton wasn't touched. By my count, he hit the ground three times and all on his own accord (sliding after the 11 yard run, and two kneel downs at the end of the game). And he was still middling. Even with that great second half, he finished with a 14/23, 190 yard, 1 TD, 1 INT, 84 QB rating. As middling as middling gets. Against the Chargers and their 29th ranked defense. If there was game to come out firing on all cylinders and really get yourself going, it was this one. He'll have another chance next week against a weak Colts defense.

3. Jay Gruden. I think I have to start putting some of this blame on Jay Gruden. This is the third straight week where receivers outside of AJ Green haven't really made an impact. Some of that goes on Dalton for sure, but some of that has to go on the offensive coordinator. Dalton went 14/23, 190 yards on the day Green/Hawkins combined to catch 8/10 of those for 148 yards. That leaves 6/13 for 42 yards to Jones, Sanu, Gresham, Eifert, Bernard combined. Too much talent to be wasted like that. Gresham/Eifert caught one of the four passes thrown their way. Bernard and Green Ellis had the same amount of catches. After catching four passes in the loss to Miami, Marvin Jones has had four combined catches in the three games since then. Gruden has got to keep making adjustments that allow other guys to get the ball in space.

4. Turnovers. Green Ellis coughed one up in the fourth quarter at the SD 25 after converting the 3rd and 1. The defense saved his ass, and he did some fine running on the next drive to secure the victory but Jesus. SD got a field goal out of to cut the lead to 7, but it could have been worse. Then there was the throw below by Dalton, which was just abysmal. 

Eric Weddle looks like he's fielding a fair catch
5. Chargers fans not appreciating Phillip Rivers. I was shocked at how much disdain they had for Phillip Rivers. Even people wearing his jersey were quick to call him Phillip Rivers and blame him for the Chargers turnovers. I thought Rivers had a fine day, and was let down by his receivers. Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen each fumbled after picking up first downs after Rivers hit them in stride. The Chargers third turnover was counted as an interception on Rivers but I think it should have been another fumble lost by Gates. See below: 

To me, it looks like Gates caught it and then Kirkpatrick just took it from him (on a great play by him). Either way, it was ruled a pick, Chargers fans still don't like Rivers and I think up trade scenarios that involve bringing Rivers to Cincy.

Week 14: Home against the Colts

1. As it stands, this is the #3 seed Colts vs the #4 seed Bengals. This could be the difference between who gets to host the Ravens/Dolphins/Titans/Chargers/Steelers, and who gets to host the Chiefs. With both teams currently 8-4, this could decide who ends up where. Also, Cincy is only a game behind New England for the #2 seed and they hold the head to head tiebreaker. A big game, for certain.

2. The Colts have looked awful lately. Since beating Denver at home over a month ago, they had to overcome a 18 point deficit to beat a two win Texan team, lost by 30 at home to the Rams, came back from being down 14 to beat a Ryan Fitzpatrick lead Titans team, lost by 29 to the Cardinals and needed 5 Vinatieri FG's to overcome four Titans turnovers for a win at home. This is the time you want to play this team, if you have to. 

3. Cincy hasn't exactly been a juggernaut over their last five games, going 3-2 just like the Colts. But both of our losses came in overtime to teams fighting for playoff berths. And we've won two straight, and haven't lost a game at home yet this season.

4. The Colts have the 20th ranked offense in passing yards per game and rushing yards per game. This is not a good offensive team. Cincy is a top eight group against the run and the pass, per yards per game. The only things that really worry me are Luck's legs and the speed of T.Y. Hilton. I feel like we can keep Trent Richardson  and his 2.8 YPC in check. A TALL task indeed. Luck's fleet feet keep him from getting sacked a ton, but he gets hit plenty. There should be plenty of chances to rough him up. Count on at least one Vontaze Burfict where he clobbers Luck.

5.On the other side, the Colts defense is 17th against the pass and 28th against the rush. With Whitworth at LG and Zeitler back at RG, we should be able to run the ball right at Indy. Hopefully we can run the ball, control the clock and limit Dalton's chances to do something silly. Hopefully. LT Anthony Collins against Robert Mathis should be a good matchup, but I trust Collins in pass protection. He should be able to keep Mathis from living in the backfield. I feel pretty confident about this game as a whole, but nothing will surprise me here.