Saturday, November 30, 2013

Week 13 NFL Picks

I apologize for my absence the last couple of weeks.  The last picks column I wrote didn't go so well.  By "didn't go so well" I mean "I don't think I got a single pick right, and most of them weren't even close".  It destroyed my confidence, and I'm just now starting to get it back.
Also, since the Packers already played this week, I don't have to go through the motions of picking them to win, giving valid reasons they will do so, and then see them destroyed.  (This season has been rough.)

Great to see you this past week.  Wish we could do that more often.

To the picks.

Browns over Jaguars
Yikes.  Not a great game to start off with.

Colts over Titans
I would've felt better about this pick a couple weeks ago.  The Colts look terrible, and the Titans look slightly better than terrible.  I'll give the edge to the Colts here.  But, if they lose this game, I don't think I'll be able to trust them again this season.

Bears over Vikings
McCown has looked pretty good this season, which has been surprising.  I just keep waiting for him to turn back into a pumpkin, but he hasn't hit that point yet.  It certainly helps to have weapons like Forte, Marshall and Jeffrey, but I'll give McCown credit here.  He's been good.  They should roll the Vikings.

Jets over Dolphins
It'll be close and ugly, but the Jets will prevail at home.

Cardinals over Eagles
Foles has looked pretty good since becoming the starter, but he hasn't faced a defense this good yet (he's gone up against the Raiders, Packers and Redskins.  Not exactly a murderer's row).  The Cardinals' defense is legit.  He'll throw at least one interception.

Panthers over Bucs
Glad to see the Panthers finally realizing their potential and playing so well.  I would like to see them grab a couple decent receivers, but they're looking great this season.  With this being a division game (and with the Bucs playing better in recent weeks), I wouldn't be shocked if this were a close game.  But the Panthers should win this.

Patriots over Texans
Over by halftime.

Bills over Falcons
How far the Falcons have fallen.  I made this pick without batting an eye.  They'll be right back in the mix next season, but it's all over this year.

49ers over Rams
Glad to see Tavon Austin ripping up the last couple weeks.  That's exactly how I thought he'd look at season.  Took him a bit to get warmed up, but he looks unstoppable.  He'll have a couple big plays here, but it won't be enough to get the Rams a win.

Broncos over Chiefs
I was ready to take the Chiefs in this game, but then Hali and Houston got injured and have been ruled out for this game.  They had a hard time getting to Manning a couple weeks ago.  Without those guys, I just don't see them winning.  A shame, really.

Bengals over Chargers
For your sake, I hope this happens.  The defense will be able to slow the Chargers offense just enough, and the Bengals will be able to get just enough going on offense to win.

Giants over Redskins
It's not like the Giants have been playing great, it's just that they've been playing better than they were at the beginning of the season, and the Redskins are terrible.

Saints over Seahawks
Really excited for this game.  The Saints defense has been playing great this year.  The Seahawks will have a tough time getting anything going on offense.  It'll be close, but I see the Saints pulling this off.

Let's hope I get some of these right, or I may just go into hiding for the rest of the season.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Week 12 NFL Picks

Browns over Steelers- Rooting for the Browns over the Steelers because I'm less afraid of potentially seeing the Browns. The Steelers have been playing better as of late, but they couldn't really get much worse. I'm hoping they take a tumble on the road here.

Lions over Buccaneers- Detroit disappointed me last week by losing to the Steelers. They manage to get back on track against the """""streaking""""""" Bucs.

Packers over Vikings- Bart Star could suit up for QB in Green Bay and I'd still pick the Packers over the Vikings here.

Chiefs over Chargers- Whaddaya know, when the Chiefs needed Alex Smith to make some plays last week, he couldn't do it. I am SHOCKED. Outside of Denver again and a game against Indianapolis, the rest of this schedule is cake. They're still looking at 13 or 14 wins.

Rams over Bears- I'll take the Rams and that pass rust against Josh McCown on the road, please.

Panthers over Dolphins- Carolina won a tough one on Monday Night, and as a present, they get to beat the Dolphins to sleep.

Jets over Ravens- Another game where I'm picking based on what I need to happen. I'd much rather see the Jets again than to see the Ravens again. Geno won't turn it over 4 times again and hopefully the Jets can get the victory.

Texans over Jaguars- I don't care.

Raiders over Titans- Good grief. There are not a lot of good games today. Raiders win 1-0.

Cardinals over Colts- This might actually be a decent game. Cardinals are 4-1 at home, coming off three straight victories and have a top 10 defense. On the flip side, the Colts haven't played a good game from start to finish in over a month and still can't block anybody. I think Arizona gets the win here.

Cowboys over Giants- This one should be entertaining for all the wrong reasons.

Broncos over Patriots- Finally, a decent game. Surprisingly, the Bengals aren't out of the running for homefield advantage and a Denver win here helps us a bunch. The lone winning team that the Patriots have beat all season was the Saints, on that crazy last drive. They lost to the Bengals and Panthers, two teams with winning records, and split with the .500 Jets. I think Denver wins this one.

49ers over Redskins- Meh.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bengals vs. Browns: Five Things

Better late than never, right??? Nah??? Ok, fine.

Five good things: 

1. Defense. Again. 4 sacks. 4 forced turnovers. The Browns went 4/18 on third down and 1/4 on fourth down. 13 points allowed despite the Browns possessing the ball the majority of the game. Another marvelous showing from Mike Zimmer and crew.

2. Vincent Rey. Again. Rey followed up last weeks 15 tackle, 3 sack/1 INT performance with another doozy: 12 tackles, 1 TFL and a pass defensed. As Jason Campbell threw underneath plenty, 9/14 passes were completed on Rey in coverage but per PFF, those plays only yielded 4.3 YPA. If you caught it on him, you weren't getting far. I'm really hoping he stays in the starting lineup even after Rey Maualuga returns, because his coverage skills are welcome on this unit. He played a big hand in holding Jordan Cameron to six catches for 29 yards.

3. Vontaze Burfict.  His best performance of the year, which is really saying something for him. He did have an unnecessary roughness flag (which gave Cleveland a first and 2 at the goal line. They finished the drive with a FG), but I've learned to take the bad with the good. The "good" being 15 tackles, 1 TFL and a great play where he forced a fumble, recovered the fumble and took it in for the score below:

He still leads the league in tackles, won AFC Defensive Player of the week for his performance and it seems like he's getting better by the game.

4. Gio Bernard. Another solid showing for Gio in another game where he saw more snaps than BJGE. He turned his 14 touches into 86 yards, and somehow came out as the leading receiver for Cincy. Gio has 16 catches in the past three weeks, so I'm hoping that Jay Gruden will finally start making it a point to get him ball on more than just screens and swing passes.

5. Special Teams. 2 blocked punts, one returned for a touchdown. Nugent was perfect on the day. Kevin Huber had a great day punting. Great coverage on punts and kickoff returns. Dynamite showing here.

**Honorable Mention** Jason Campbell. In last weeks preview, I said that I hoped that Jason Campbell remembered that he was Jason Campbell. And sure enough, he did. He went 27/56 (56! Campbell threw the ball 56 times), for 248 yards with a TD and 3 picks. The TD was on a beautiful throw to Josh Gordon for a 74 yard score. And one of the picks came on a play that I thought should have been called a fumble and fumble recovery, instead of an interception, but he was terrible all the same. He did his usual checkdown supreme work as announcers that have clearly never watched Jason Campbell play football, kept noting how surprised they were that he kept checking down. In Campbells defense, that line is terrible. His running game didn't help him much and he was hit 10 times. Either way, I am thankful.

Five bad things:

1. Dalton. Again. 13/27, 93 yards, 3 TDS, 2 INTs, one returned for a touchdown. Enough already. Uncle! I give! Make this horrible Andy Dalton play stahp! His QBR of 3.7 is his lowest of the year. Normally, I think that stat is bunk but here I feel like it accurately shows Dalton's contribution to the game. The two picks were AWFUL passes by him and his three touchdowns were on short fields because of the play of the defense/special teams: 22 yards, 38 yards, 52 yards. He also had the benefit of a special teams TD and a defensive TD. Check out the pick six below:

You know how Joe Haden knew that ball was coming? 1, He's a very good cornerback. 2, It was telegraphed all the way. Dalton didn't look anywhere else. 3, He picked one off EXACTLY like that on the previous possession

2. Dalton to GreenI read this week that eight of Dalton's 15 interceptions this season have been on passes to Green, much like his two against Cleveland were. Green leads the league in targets and Dalton's woes are no secret, so that's not really a surprise. What gets me is HOW those interceptions come. Of those 15, I'd love to know how many were on out routes. I'd be willing to guess 10. Dalton consistently throws to the inside of his receiver, and floats them just enough to where guys can get a good jump on them the way Haden does above. I'm sick of his shit. 

3. Kirkpatrick. Roll Tide.

4. Offensive Line. The numbers won't show it, as the Browns only hit Dalton once and didn't sack him any, but the offensive line just didn't look good to me. 3 penalties and a running game that averaged 3.4 YPC tell a little bit of the story, but they just haven't looked cohesive lately. There were a number of times Dalton got rid of the ball just quickly enough to avoid being hit because a Browns defender got past his lineman with ease.

5. Receivers not named AJ Green. Again. Last week, I was unsure who to blame this one on. This week, it's going on Dalton. AJ Green had 2 catches for 7 yards, but at least he had a guy like Haden covering him. Eifert had one catch for 15 yards. Marvin Jones had one catch for nine yards. Hawkins had one catch for six yards. The longest pass of the day, a 25 yarder to Gio Bernard, was on a pass thrown by WR Mo Sanu (a beautiful pass, at that), not Dalton. This offense is in bad shape.

Week 12 Bye Week.

1. Not.

2. A.

3. Moment.

4. Too.

5. Soon.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Week 11 NFL Picks

Jets over Bills- The Jets are on the road, where they haven't fared well this season, but they are coming off of their bye week, and I like them to get the victory here. EJ Manuel is back for Buffalo, but he'll be without Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods here so he's in for a long day against that Jets defense.

Bears over Ravens- Seeing as we couldn't take care of business last week, I'll have to keep counting on the NFC North to do us solids and keep beating the Ravens/Browns/Steelers. We couldn't capitalize on the Ravens anemic offense, but I think the Bears will be able to do so/

Bengals over Browns- A loss here and things get murky for us. I think we remain undefeated at home this season and get the victory but it won't be pretty. Or necessarily easy.

Eagles over Redskins- I can't even talk about what a crummy division the NFC East is, because on the lowest of keys, the AFC North might be worse. The Eagles get their first home win of the season here as Nic Foles picks apart a weak Redskins defense.

Lions over Steelers- Again, I need the NFC North to help us close this out. Again, I think they come through and this one may get out of hand. Johnson/Bush go crazy here.

Falcons over Buccaneers- Ugh. This is the local game here meaning I'm going to have to work twice as hard to make sure I don't see a snap of it. Wish me luck.

Cardinals over Jaguars- Whaddaya know, it's looking like the Cardinals will be just bad enough to miss the playoffs, but not bad enough to luck themselves into an elite QB. More Carson Palmer in their future. More mediocrity.

Texans over Raiders- No Pryor for the Raiders makes this an easy choice for me. Case Keenum seemed to figure out that throwing the ball to your best receiver a lot yields good results. Go figure. He'll probably do it a lot here. It might work.

Chargers over Dolphins- Nope. Not picking the Dolphins to do much of anything for the rest of the season.

Saints over 49ers- One of what should be three very good games this week (Chiefs/Broncos, Pats/Panthers being the others). I'll take the Saints at home. Clearly Mark Ingram won't rush for another 10 YPC, but he's had enough of the Trent Richardson comparisons and I think he'll have another decent effort here. Those San Fran LBers are great, but I think Brees will be able to work them into matchups that favor the Saints and take advantage.

Giants over Packers- Because I don't trust Scott Tolzien on the road. Nothing more, nothing less.

Seahawks over Vikings- Seattle couldn't have scripted this any better. Slow start for their division rival. 9-1 ten weeks into the season. A game against a two win team before their bye week and a matchup against New Orleans looms. And it looks like they're getting Percy Harvin back this week. Six weeks plus the bye, sounds like just enough time to get him worked into the offense before the playoffs start.

Broncos over Chiefs- I'm tempted to say this one gets out of hand, but that Chiefs defense is too good. I think they force the Broncos offense into a couple of mistakes, but it won't be enough. It's going to come down to Alex Smith needing to make a big play or three, and I don't think he's able to do it on the road here.

Panthers over Patriots- The Pats are coming off a 55 point showing against the Steelers and the bye week here, so I'm tempted to pick them. The Ron Rivera-Bill Belichick matchup also doesn't bode well for Rivera, even if it seems he has been more willing to roll the dice on short yardage calls. But that Carolina defense is the real deal. They haven't allowed more than 15 points in over a month. I don't know if they keep that streak going here, but they won't give up too much to NE. The Patriots also have some injuries in their secondary that I think Steve Smith, Brandon Lafell and Greg Olson will be able to take advantage of. Cam is cooling off after a stretch of phenomenal play, but I think he's able to control clock possession with some timely scrambles to keep Brady and co off of the field. Panthers win.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bengals vs. Ravens: Five Things

Five good things: 

1. Defense. Outside of penalties (covered later), the defense did a very nice job against the Ravens. In 37 minutes of possession, the Ravens amassed 189 total yards and went 3/16 on third down conversions. Flacco was sacked five times, hit six times, threw two picks, lost a fumble and had a QB rating of 60. On the ground, the Ravens could only muster up 2.8 YPC. You can't ask for a much better showing here. Hats off to Mike Zimmer. 

2. Vincent Rey. Holy smokes. In place of the injured Rey Maualuga, Rey had a game for the ages: 15 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks, an interception and two more passes defensed. But there's more! Two of hits three sacks came on third down and he and Vontaze Burfict combined to allow 26 yards on only nine targets on the door. An outstanding game by a young guy that is playing himself into more snaps, even after Maualuga returns.

3. AJ Green.

Even outside of that fantastic play, Green had a great day. He caught 8 of the 15 targets thrown his way for 151 yards and a touchdown. After a couple of games where he didn't appear to be focused, with drops or other miscues, he looked great against Baltimore. Through 10 games, he leads the league in targets and receiving yards, is second in receptions and is tied for fifth in TDs. It's amazing where he ranks considering who is throwing to him compared to some of the other guys in this list.

4. Gio Bernard. The big news here is that Gio registered a season high 61 snaps, compared to the 28 for BJGE. Gio had 14 rushes for 48 yards and eight catches for 37 yards, with a TD. BJGE didn't have that bad of a day, but it's great to see Gio getting more snaps. I hope this trend continues.

5. We didn't lose anyone to a serious injury! This is a big deal after losing Atkins, Maualuga, Hall in the past couple of weeks. A few nicks and bruises, I'm sure, but I don't think anyone will miss serious time as a result of this game. Rejoice.

Five bad things: 

1. Andy Dalton. Boy oh boy oh boy. His numbers won't show it but this is the worst game I've seen him play this season. 24/51 for 274 yards with 2 TDs and 3 INTs. One of the interceptions was a fantastic play by Lardarius Webb to wrestle away a ball that, looked like a catch, from Marvin Jones. The other two were on Dalton. One hit a Ravens defender in the hands and popped right into the hands of another, and one was so bad I thought the Ravens defender was fielding a fair catch. He did have two touchdowns, one on the play above, and another where he threw the ball two yards and Gio did the rest of the work for the TD. The heavy wind was a factor for sure, but a number of Dalton's passes sailed high of their intended target, no matter which way the wind was blowing. He did have a couple of very nice rushes to get first downs, but for the second week in a row, Dalton has confirmed the doubts of every Bengal fan: That he's not the man for the job long term.

2. Penalties. 9/134 yards, to be exact. Again, the Ravens offense had 189 TOTAL yards and we gave Baltimore 134 yards. Unacceptable.

3. Offensive line. Again, the offensive line finds itself on the list of bad things. Again, Dalton had a bad game. Coincidence? Dalton was sacked five times and hit nine times, and those numbers look a little low. Ravens defenders made their way into the backfield for nine TFL. Elvis Dumervil has his way with Andrew Whitworth, with 2.5 sacks and 2 TFL on his own. Dalton is having his woes but if this offense is going to get back on track, it starts here.

4. Receivers not named AJ Green- Not completely sure if this should be Jay Gruden here, for play calling, or Dalton again for his inability to get other guys the ball, but somebody is going here damnit. With Jermaine Gresham out injured, I was hoping Tyler Eifert would have a monster day and ease into the #1 TE role going forward. He caught three of the ten passes thrown his way for 55 yards. Not a terrible day, but 40 of those yards came on one catch. Marvin Jones had one catch, on seven targets, for only two yards. That can't happen for someone playing as well as he he has been lately. Andrew Hawkins didn't have any targets on the day, only a single carry for -3 yards. Where he fumbled. Ugh.

5. Preparation. Some of this goes on the coaches, but a fair share has to go on the players as well. You have 10 days to prepare for a divisional rival in a game that could all but end their season. And promptly go down 17-0 by the half. This kind of stuff just doesn't seem like it happens to the Patriots, Packers, Seahawks, admittedly from the outside looking in. The injuries and weather were things you can't really plan for. Sloppy play on nearly every front and giving away 130 yards in penalties are. This team isn't ready to take the next step anywhere.

Week 11: Home against the Browns

1. Huge game for our playoff hopes. A loss here brings the Browns to within half a game of us for the lead, and they'd have the benefit of a season sweep. A win here pushes the lead to 2.5 games with only 5 games left in the season. Not an insurmountable lead, but Cleveland would have to play near flawless football.

2. In our week 4 meeting, the Browns defense looked legit but there were concerns about whether it would hold up. It has. They're fifth in the league in yards surrendered per game, tenth against the pass and seventh against the run. They're also tied for fourth in the league in sacks and seventh in interceptions.

3. Dalton had his second worst game of the year against that same Browns defense. He will have to bounce back with an outstanding game here. Joe Haden did a great job on Green the last time around, and if he can't get the rest of the receivers involved early, it will be a long day for the offense. I'm less than optimistic that our offense will have a good day here.

4. Which means we'll need the defense to come through. Again. Jason Campbell has been playing extremely well since he took over as Browns QB, but he's still Jason Campbell. I haven't forgotten that and I'm hoping that he soon remembers it.

5. I really think we'll win this one to right the ship before things are too late, but I also thought we'd win the Dolphins game. And the Ravens game. This team is incredibly inconsistent and nothing would surprise me here. I could see things clicking and us winning 27-9. I could see us never getting it together and losing 21-16. I'm prepared for just about anything here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Victor Oladipo Experience

Here I'd like to take a look at what I've seen from Victor Oladipo a week or two into his NBA career. Spoiler alert: I love what I've seen.

I went back to take a look at my pre-draft chronicle on Oladipo, and it may be dated already. I said his worst case scenario was Avery Bradley. I think he's already a better overall player than Bradley. I said his most likely comparison was Tony Allen. I think he's already a better overall player than Allen. Why? Because you have to account for Oladipo at all times, in a way that you don't for Bradley/Allen. An opposing team can hid a weak link on Bradley/Allen because they don't have the type of offensive game to consistently take advantage of the mismatch. Victor does, even when he doesn't have the ball. Watch Oladipo here or here, and please note the excellent passing by Kyle O'Quinn on each. In my pre-draft piece on Oladipo, I wrote that he makes himself useful and that has proven to be true thus far in the NBA. Even without the ball, he's always on the move. He's not going to drift to a corner and take himself out of a play by being passive. And I haven't even touched on what he can do with the ball in his hands.

I don't know if Oladipo is capable of walking, because I don't think I've ever seen him do it. Whenever he is running as PG, he's always on the move and that's incredibly valuable because defenses have to account for him. From the time he receives the inbounds pass, he's on the go and you better keep up. Look at easy dunk he helped get for Moe Harkless here. He got the inbound pass and drifts to the right side of the court, where he catches Gerald Wallace watching the ball instead of the man he's defending, Harkless. He makes the quick pass to Harkless who cuts to the rim. You don't get those looks with Jameer Nelson for a couple of reasons. One, he walks the ball up the court. Two, even if he's booking it up the court, you know he's passing it because he can't finish in the paint. Defenders know that and defend him accordingly. Not the case with Oladipo because he has shown, he can and will finish above the rim once he gets into the paint and will challenge anyone under the rim.

That's the value he provides that won't show up on any box score. It's what makes Russell Westbrook so valuable to the Thunder. If you don't find Westbrook bringing the ball up the court and cut him off, he'll do things like this. That threat is what OKC misses most when Westbrook is out of the lineup. When he's out, Reggie Jackson walks the ball up the court, hands it to Kevin Durant and lets him set up the offense. Now, Durant is more than capable of operating like this but it makes things tougher because all eyes are focused on him. With Westbrook coming at you full speed, you don't have time to worry about Durant. By the time you've found KD, Westbrook is a foot inside the free throw line and taking off. With Westbrook initiating the offense, KD is free to move around to spots of the court where he finds it comfortable to score (for example, everywhere). While we don't have a player on our roster with the skills of KD, we do have plenty of guys that have/will benefit from the aggressive nature of Oladipo in transition, as well as in a halfcourt offense.

It hasn't all been positive though. Oladipo currently averages 4 turnovers per game, tied for sixth worst in the league. Just for fun, take a look at every guy that averages 4 or more turnovers per game this season: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, James Harden,  Eric Bledsoe, Josh Smith, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Monta Ellis, Jrue Holiday and JR Smith. LeBron just missed the mark at 3.9 TOPG. Not bad company considering Oladipo is learning to play PG for the first time in his life. Even the fact that Oladipo is averaging that many turnovers despite playing less minutes and having the ball in his hands than the other guys in the 4 TO range doesn't concern me too much. John Hollinger believes that rookies with high turnover rates usually go on to have much higher rates of improvement in following seasons.

The theory being, that these guys are turning the ball over so much because they are trying to make things happen. Ben McLemore is averaging less than a TOPG, but how much is the ball in his hands? How often is he putting the ball on the floor? How much is he creating for others? This isn't a knock on McLemore, just a look at the difference between how each of these rookies is being utilized. Oladipo is being trusted with the ball in his hands to create for himself and others. 4 turnovers a game isn't a guy getting his pocket picked at midcourt four straight times. Maybe it's trying to thread a needle to an open teammate and getting the pass deflected. Or going to the rim, not getting the benefit of the call and losing the ball. Or something like this play. But you can live with those type of turnovers. In following seasons, those passes will get a little more accurate and won't get stolen. You'll start to get those calls, and then turnovers turn into and-1's. And then plays like this happen.

Then there's the shot. He's currently shooting 41/33/61, albeit in a very limited sample size. His shooting motion does look good though, and he appears much more comfortable creating shots for himself off the dribble. During Summer League, he looked uneasy creating shots for himself and they seemed to come as a last resort. Now they come more naturally, maybe a little too naturally as he sometimes puts the ball up with a little more time on the shot clock than I'd like, but it's a learning process. His willingness to shoot ensures that defenders won't disregard him completely like Rondo, but he'll have to hit that jumper a little more to keep defenses honest. Take a look at his shot chart below:

The one thing that jumps out to me is his low percentage in the paint. It's very low for a guy of his size/athleticism, but I think that's him adjusting to NBA size under the rim. I think that's a lock to shoot up. Nothing else is too bad, again in an extremely limited sample size.

A couple of more quick notes on the Oladipo experience thus far:

-He's extremely fast, much faster than I had given him credit for. As a result, he sometimes runs himself right into harms way. He has to learn to pace and when to switch gears. I think this is something he'll learn as he gets more comfortable with the ball in his hand.

-He rebounds the ball extremely well. He ranks in the top 10 among all guards with 4.3 RPG, which is extremely impressive considering he's the only one on the list playing less than 30 MPG. While rebounding is far down the list on things a successful PG needs, it is a benefit for Oladipo because once he gets a defensive rebound, he's gone. He's always a threat to go coast to coast and finish the play a la Westbrook.

-His defense has been as good as advertised. He's done a very nice job defending shooting guards and point guards, sometimes during the same possession. His 6'9 wingspan is always at work, tipping passes away or interfering with passing lanes.

-I leave you with a couple more video links. These are full game highlights of Oladipo's games against the Spurs, NetsCavaliers and Pacers. I highly recommend them as they are wildly entertaining by showing the different ways Oladipo has created points for himself and others this year. They are also very brief, checking in at about 2 minutes a piece. Of course, highlights can make anyone look good, but there are plenty of things to be excited about.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Week 10 Picks

Packers over Eagles- Really enjoyed your look at Starks TD run from last weeks game. I remember watching that as it happened and thinking that it looked entirely too easy. I think a week of gameplanning and a steady diet of Starks/Lacy and a couple of throws by Wallace will be enough to keep the Eagles defense honest and control the clock.

Seahawks over Falcons- The Seahawks return to where their season ended last season and I don't think they show any mercy. I don't think Jackson/Rodgers will be able to get any daylight against the Seattle front seven and Richard Sherman gets to lineup across from a hobbled Roddy White or Harry Douglas. There's also word that Percy Harvin is coming back next week. I think Seattle is about to break that streak of close games and go on a big run.

Bears over Lions- Agreed, this should be a good one in whats going to be a very interesting race for the division crown. The Lions knock down Cutler a couple of times early as he shakes the rust off, but he pulls it together after the half to get a big win.

Titans over Jaguars- Jags fresh off a bye week where they've had plenty of time to prepare to lose by double digits.

Colts over Rams- I, too, enjoy watching the Colts this season. Luck is cool, but I'm focused on Trent Richardson. He's so bad at football, yet I can't look away.

Giants over Raiders- A win here puts the Giants back in the thick of the division race, especially if they get some help from the Cowboys and Eagles. Get the NFC East all the way outta here, please.

Bills over Steelers- The best thing about Polamalu being out of position is that the announcers say nothing about it. It never comes up. *Watches Polamalu creeps to the line just in time to watch a pass float over his head to a streaking tight end.* *Blames Steelers lack of pass rush*

Bengals over Ravens- Horrified isn't the word. First game without Geno and Dalton hasn't fared well historically against the Ravens. Then again, these are not the Ravens of the past two years. I think we get the win here, but it won't be pretty. I predict 3-5 minor cardiac episodes for myself during this game.

49ers over Panthers- This should be a great game. Both quarterbacks are entertaining to watch and playing good football right now. I'll take the 49ers at home, but I think it comes down to the wire. Kaepernick looks like he's running to score now, instead of running to slide the way he was during the first couple weeks of the season. Also, I read that Cam Newton just played his 40th NFL game and he has 79 total touchdowns. He's 24 years old.

Texans over Cardinals- I like to picture Wade Phillips hearing that Gary Kubiak is going to be out for a couple of games, and then passing out like Larry David when he realized that he's back in charge of a NFL team.

Broncos over Chargers- I like Manning after the bye week. And I'm sure the drug scene in San Diego is phenomenal so Von Miller should be ready to roll.

Saints over Cowboys- A shootout. I smell another crippling Romo interception here after an otherwise terrific game. Not to be outdone by Richardson, Mark Ingram is averaging 2.4 YPC this season! How is that possible?!?

Dolphins over Bucs- Wtf, we got two Thursday Night games this week?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Week 10 NFL Picks

Packers over Eagles
I covered the Packers in more detail in my last post, so there's no need to rehash it all here.  I wouldn't be shocked to see the Eagles win this game.  But the Packers should have Matthews back, and he'll be able to wreak havoc on defense.  Wallace will be better prepared for this game than he was for the last, so that'll help the offense.  And they should be able to run.

Falcons over Seahawks
The Seahawks have been struggling for a couple weeks now.  I know the Falcons have looked terrible, but I can see them turning it up a notch for this game and eking out a win at home.

Lions over Bears
This game could be a lot of fun.  Cutler should be back, which means there's a possibility for more big plays (both for the Bears and the Lions).  Megatron is on a tear, and Bush went nuts the last time these teams met.

Titans over Jaguars
At this point, I'm really just rooting for the Jaguars and Bucs to both go 0-16 this year.  I would really enjoy that.

Colts over Rams
I have loved watching the Colts this year.  Which is not something I have been able to say for over a decade now.

Giants over Raiders
I want to take the Raiders in this one.  But it's in New York, and they just got murdered by Nick Foles in Oakland last Sunday.  Victor Cruz could easily go for 200 yards in this one.

Bills over Steelers
EJ Manuel.  Thad Lewis.  Whoever.  That Steelers secondary looks terrible.
Here's a fun game to play when watching the Steelers (I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I may have.  Sorry): follow Polamalu.  He's out of position more often than not.  His aggressiveness was great when he still had his speed, but those days are gone.  These days, it seems like he's never where he's supposed to be.  Sure, he'll still make a big play from time to time, but those don't make up for the huge plays he gives up on a regular basis.

Bengals over Ravens
A long break after a heartbreaking loss.  They'll come out ready to destroy in this game.  They'll miss Atkins, but not so much in this one.  The Ravens just don't look very good.

Panthers over 49ers
I'm all in on the Panthers right now.  I love what they're doing on offense.  I love the aggressiveness of Rivera.  They're really going all-out right now.  Big fan.

Cardinals over Texans
I love Case Keenum.  Loved him in college.  Loved what he did against the Colts last week (in the first half, mainly).  But the Cardinals defense is terrific.  I believe he'll be very good.  But not this week.

Chargers over Broncos
The Chargers are sitting 4-4, but are looking better than they have for a couple years.  Plus, they seem to know how to get under Manning's skin.  This will be close, but I see the Chargers prevailing in the end.

Cowboys over Saints
The return of Ware to the Cowboys defense will be tremendously helpful with their secondary.  And they'll need it this week.  They'll need Ware to hit Brees early and often.  And he will.

Dolphins over Bucs
This is the Monday Night game?

Packers Talk

I'll be posting my picks for this week tomorrow, but I wanted to say a few words about the Packers first, and look at a play from last week.
It's not a stretch to say that the Packers are going to miss Rodgers.  Even though he hasn't exactly set the world on fire this year, these are his stats through 7 games (I say 7 because he left after the first possession of the 8th game):
Completion: 66.9
Yards: 2,218
TD: 15
INT: 4
Yards per attempt: 8.8

Those are dynamite numbers (especially considering one of those interceptions was basically handed to a defender by Jermichael Finley).  They could be even better, but, with the running game being so good (Lacy has been amazing), they haven't needed him to put the offense on his back every game.
The Packers are absolutely going to miss him.  But, with the running game, they're in a better place to win without him than they have been in the past.  Plus, with Clay Matthews back this week, the defense should be vastly improved (the pass rush was virtually non-existent last week).
The upcoming schedule isn't really a murderer's row, either.  They're estimating 3 weeks until Rodgers is back, but the 4th game in that stretch is on a short week (Thanksgiving against the Lions), so he may not end up playing in that one.  Here are their next four opponents:
vs. Eagles
@ Giants
vs. Vikings
@ Lions

That's not a terrible schedule.  Obviously you'd like to have Rodgers for those, but it's not unrealistic to see them going 2-2 against that slate of games, which would put them at 7-5.  Here are their last 4:
vs. Falcons
@ Cowboys
vs. Steelers
@ Bears

Going 3-1 against that schedule (with Rodgers) isn't unrealistic.  That would leave them at 10-6, and a good chance to make the playoffs.
Seneca Wallace is not a good QB.  If I had any doubts, his performance against the Bears put those to bed.  But I believe in Mike McCarthy.  I believe that he can create a gameplan that will allow Wallace to succeed.  A run-heavy offense with a lot of play action and bootlegs.
They can still make the playoffs, but a lot hinges on these next 4 games.

Now I'd like to take a look at my favorite play from Monday night: Starks' 32 yard TD run at the end of the first quarter.  Let's look at the All-22.

A little context.  This is 1st and 10 with 3:45 left in the first quarter.  Wallace is in at QB, so this seems to be a pretty obvious running situation.  The Packers are in 20 personnel (2 RB, 0 TE, 3 WR), and are lined-up in an offset I-formation.  Boykin is the receiver at the bottom, White at the top, and Nelson in the slot.
Look at the Bears safeties.  In a running situation, they're playing extremely deep (the deepest safety is 19 yards deep, and he takes another step back at the snap).
It's worth noting that this is the first play after the Packers blocked a punt, so perhaps the Bears were thinking the Packers were going to take a shot downfield.  Not a terrible assumption if Rodgers is in the game, but it seems doubtful that Wallace is going to let it fly in that situation.  Honestly, I don't even know if Wallace can throw it that far.
In watching this play again, it appears as though Wallace makes a check at the line.  He saw those safeties sitting back and checked to a run.  A good check by Wallace, if that is actually the case.

This is immediately after the snap.  You can see the safety stepping back as Wallace extends to hand the ball off.  Something else to look at here.  At the snap, Starks slides a step to his right.  Not a juke, really (it looks like he's just putting himself in a position to take the handoff), but the two Bears linebackers in the middle read and react to that movement.  Here's a better shot of that.

This small movement gets two linebackers out of position, and gets them caught up in the mess of the advancing offensive line.  This play design leaves the rookie LT Bakhtiari alone with Julius Peppers.  Bakhtiari doesn't need to do much - don't let Peppers get a free run into the backfield - but he does it wonderfully.  I know Peppers is in his decline phase, but it's still pretty cool to see a rookie going solo against Peppers and winning.
Here's my favorite part of this play.  Kuhn is supposed to go through the hole on the left and seal off the inside.  He hits the hole before Starks, looks to block someone...and can't find anyone.  Between the linebackers getting themselves out of position and excellent blocking by the offensive line, Kuhn runs 17 yards downfield before he can find someone to hit.

At this point, Starks has the ball, Kuhn is desperately looking for someone to hit, and Peppers has been guided too far downfield to do anything (even then, Bakhtiari is staying with Peppers to make sure he can't do anything to get back into the play).  Look at the size of that hole to run through.  It's beautiful.

One more thing I'd like to point out about this play.  There was some excellent downfield blocking by the WR on this play, specifically Boykin.  As you may remember, he started at the bottom of the field, and he ran a long way to make a key block.

At this point, Starks is at the 25 and has a good view of the endzone.  The only guy currently in his way is the deep safety.  Boykin is at the 20.  At this point, he's in the process of turning his head to see who he can block.

He initiates the block at the 11 (he's getting ready to engage in this picture).  Without this block, it's doubtful that Starks gets to the endzone.  (Directly behind Starks - at the 15 - Kuhn has finally found his man to block.)

This is a great view of Boykin hitting that key block downfield.

It was a terrific play.  It was perfectly executed, and they got a little help from some Bears being out of position.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

10 First Week NBA Overreactions!

Because nothing but nothing is better than reactions based on small samples size!

1. Victor Oladipo is the next Dwyane Wade. 

Vic da Gawd is off to a great start in his NBA career. 14 PPG/5 RPG/ 4 APG and nearly 2 SPG in only 28 MPG is nothing to shake a stick at. Of course that shooting line of 44/30/67 and those 4.5 TOPG need work, but we're overreacting here baby. He's destined to be a star! Also, I've been watching these GIFs nonstop for the last 48 hours or so.

2. Speaking of rookies, Anthony Bennett is the worst #1 pick of all time.

Through his first four NBA games, Bennett has taken 15 shots from the field and made none of them. The good news is that he's averaging three rebounds and nearly two fouls per game. Hardly red flags for a guy that has also had questions about his conditioning. What makes this better is that Bennett is listed as a SF for Cleveland, which pulls him farther away from the basket so he can shoot and miss more shots. The good thing about this though, is that him playing SF allows him to be further away from the basket which diminishes one of his skills, rebounding. I'm just glad that the Cavaliers don't have an All Star center to work into the mix so there should be plenty of shots for Bennett going forward.

3.  The Heat are done and it's probably time to trade LeBron James for draft picks.

A 2-2 start for our two time defending champs? An aging Dwyane Wade already missing time due to injury? This can't bode well for what the Heat figured would be another 100 game season. I imagine Pat Riley will nip this one in the bud, so I'm looking for the Heat to be active in the trade market. I wouldn't mind Orlando kicking the tires on LeBron James.

4. Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie will run out on the court and start stealing the ball from his own players if they keep this up. This one isn't far fetched.

Hinkie did his best to strip this team of league ready talent in an attempt to strike lottery gold next summer. His "efforts" thus far have his team with the second best record in the conference. It won't be long until Hinkie goes Tonya Harding on Michael Carter-Williams and crew.

5. Derrick Rose came back too soon. 

Myself and many others begged, pleaded even, for Derrick Rose to take his time with his comeback. 2015 would be a best case scenario, but the season opener for 2016 should have been circled on his calendar. Instead, our former MVP is averaging a 14/4/4 on 29/27/90 shooting. He hasn't recorded a steal or block this season and has averaged nearly 6 TOPG. 12 more months of rehab would have prevented all of this.

6. The battle for MVP between Paul George and Chris Paul will come down to the final week.

George is averaging a 26/8/4 on 48/44/77 shooting for the first place Pacers. Paul is averaging a 27/4/13 on 52/38/97 shooting for the first place Clippers. Throw in the All NBA defense that both are known for and this one may come down to the wire.

7. A first round pick wouldn't be nearly enough if the Magic decide to trade Arron Afflalo.

Afflalo is off to a hot start this season averaging a 21/5/6 on 45/55/74 shooting. He looks much more comfortable being the primary option for a team, and it shows. He's more aggressive when he gets the ball, and it's leading to open shots for teammates. He's VERY available in case there are any NBA GMs reading this. VERY available.

8. The Suns will regret not giving an extension to Eric Bledsoe. 

Bledsoe reportedly wants $10 million per year in an extension before the season began. Now $10 mill might not be enough. While a shooting line of 41/22/79 isn't impressive, per game numbers of 22/6/9/2 are. With PG Goran Dragic out with a bum ankle, those numbers might hold steady.

9. The Bucks will regret giving one to Larry Sanders.

On the flipside, Sanders reached a 4 year/$44 million extension this summer and the Bucks may be having buyers remorse. Sanders is shooting 25% from the field for his 2 PPG, though his 3 RPG and 2 BPG are a nice touch. And there are already reports that Sanders is unhappy with his diminished playing time. So that's fun.

10. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson should be guarded at all times. Even on the bench. I don't know why a forward thinking coach hasn't thought of this yet.

I mean, it's not rocket science. Thompson is hitting 52% of his 6 three point attempts per game. Curry is hitting 50% of his 9 three point attempts per game. I'd keep a man on Thompson while he's on the bench and a hand in Curry's face while he's drinking his Gatorade. No question about it.

Bengals vs. Dolphins: 5 Things

Thanks for the kind words about the Bengals posts. They get tougher and tougher by the week as I keep waiting for the season to fall apart. On to the Dolphins game...reluctantly.

Five good things: 

1. Gio Bernard.  If a picture is worth 1000 words, this GIF has to be worth a couple hundred thousand words, no? This is actually in slow motion, true story. Honest. I wouldn't lie to ya. Please believe me.

2. Marvin Jones. Another solid outing by Jones as he solidifies his role as the #2 receiver on this team. Jones caught four of the seven passes thrown his way for 66 yards. He also had a 50 yard TD called back on a holding penalty by Jermaine Gresham. Jones caught a short pass and did most of the work after the catch on the non-TD. He's been excellent this last month.

3. Andrew Hawkins. The fastest man on the planet is back on the field after an ankle injury that was first thought to be season ending. Hawkins only had two targets here, catching one for 10 yards, but it was good to see him back on the field for the first time this season. He should have more than enough room to work in the slot with AJ Green and the aforementioned Jones working on the outside.

4. Adam Jones. I thought Adam Jones played another great game stepping in for the injured Leon Hall. Last week he had seven tackles and a 60 yard pick six. This week he held Brian Hartline to three catches for 39 yards, and was there to recover a fumble caused by Carlos Dunlap after a 41 yard run by Lamar Miller. Phenomenal play by Dunlap and Jones was right there to capitalize. He's played very well in Hall's absence.

5. Ravens stink. Not a lot of good things came from this game, so I gotta appreciate the little things. Baltimore was kind enough to lose to the Browns on Sunday which lets us keep a 2 game lead in the AFC North. With 10 days to prepare for a trip to Baltimore, and a home game the next week against Cleveland, we can all but clinch the division over the next two weeks. Whether we will or not is a different story.

Five bad things: 

Some tough cuts this week because there was some bad, bad stuff in this game.

1. Andy Dalton. Dalton followed up being named AFC offensive player of the month with three interceptions, one pick six, a lost fumble on a sack and a game losing safety. Oy. That sounds like a bad game, and trust me, it was, but all of the mistakes weren't on Dalton. PFF does a good job here breaking down the picks. The first throw wasn't a great throw by any means, but AJ Green put up absolutely no fight for it. More on him later. The second pick was all on Dalton. He put a pass behind Marvin Jones, and Brent Grimes jumped it perfectly and took it 94 yards the other way. A brutal play all around because a better pass by Dalton there and Jones likely scores to tie the game at 10. Instead, it made the game 17-3 in Miami's favor. The third pick was a beauty of a throw that bounced off the hands of Mo Sanu and right to a defender. Not Dalton's fault, but the box score knows no mercy. Even the game losing safety wasn't all on Dalton.

Now how in the world did Cameron Wake, of all people, get that clean of a look on Dalton? That gentleman diving at the heels of Wake as he levels Dalton? Kevin Zeitler who was responsible for blocking Wake. With Wake coming in that fast, Dalton had no time to run and putting a pass up for grabs under the shadow of his own goal post was no option either. Thus, the game ending safety. Dalton also had five passes dropped, and at least four that I can recall were placed right between the numbers of the receiver. I knew his 11 TD/2 INT run was unsustainable just like I know a four turnover, overtime safety game isn't sustainable. I'm not worried about Dalton. Yet.

2. AJ Green. A great day on the surface catching 11 of the 19 passes thrown his way for 128 yards. He also had a beauty of a catch to keep a drive going late in the game. But he dropped two passes put right in his hands. One on a third down and the other on a first down, and each would have been nice gains. He also put up zero effort on Dalton's first interception. The pass was thrown a hair too fair inside, but Green got outmuscled for it. If he cuts back strong for it, he might come down with the catch or at the least knock the pass down to avoid the interception. He also had a big drop last week on a perfectly thrown Dalton pass that ultimately didn't matter because we were up 75 or so points. His focus hasn't been where it needs to be for a team looking to take the next step.

3. Offensive line. The Dolphins defense set up shop in the backfield with five tackles behind the line of scrimmage in addition to five sacks, including the one you see looping above. The team rushed 35 times for 163 yards (4.7 YPC), but that's a number inflated by a couple of great Bernard runs where he did a majority of the work himself. Dalton has to secure the ball better, but on his fumble, Cameron Wake blew right past Andre Smith for the strip and recovery. Just an all around bad showing here for a unit playing without Andrew Whitworth.

4. Tight ends. Good grief. Gresham and Eifert combined to catch six of the 11 passes thrown their way for a grand total of 47 yards. Gresham allowed three hurries in pass blocking, had a brutal second down drop and an unnecessary holding penalty on what should have been a 50 yard TD catch by Marvin Jones. Eifert was even less of a factor with three catches for 14 yards and a negative grade in protection according to PFF. Perhaps Andrew Hawkins being back on the field will lead the team to more sets with one TE, because the dual TE look hasn't been effective for a majority of the season.

5. Geno Atkins. I saved the worst for last. A week after I warned that injuries had been ravaging this team lately, we lose Geno the a torn ACL. Devastating. He's the best player on this team, the best at his position and one of the best players in the league. There is no replacing that. I'm hopeful that Mike Zimmer will be able to work his magic with last years second and third round picks, Devon Still and Brandon Thompson filling in for Atkins. I've read that we may even see some of rookie DE Margus Hunt in the middle. I wouldn't mind kicking the tires on a guy like Richard Seymour, but I trust that Zimmer will have the next man ready to step in for Geno. Here's to a speedy recovery to Atkins.

Week 10. On the road against the Ravens.

1. Huge game for the sake of the division. With 10 days to prepare for a Baltimore team that looked bad against the Browns, we could all but end their playoff hopes. A win here would put Cincy at 7-3 and the Ravens at 3-6, with one more game to close out the season in Cincinnati. A 3.5 game lead with only six games left could prove too much for the Ravens. Let's hope so.

2. Baltimore still has a top ten defensive unit, despite their poor record this year. Before the Dolphins game, I'd be confident that we could handle Suggs and crew long enough to keep Dalton on his feet to make some plays. After the showing in Miami, I'm not so sure especially if Whitworth misses another game.

3. The $120 million dollar man has lead this Ravens offense to 23rd in the league in yards per game. To his credit, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are averaging 2.7 YPC a piece this season so Dalton's cries of not having a decent running game will fall on deaf ears here. I did a double check when I read those numbers. It seems unreal that a talent like Ray Rice is averaging numbers that would make even Trent Richardson blush. 

4. Of course, the numbers and rankings are almost irrelevant in division games. Dalton has a career QB rating of 68 in four games against the Ravens with his lone victory coming when Baltimore rested their starters in week 17 last season. Hopefully, he can bounce back from an awful game here.

5. This game terrifies me because I can see Ray Rice getting on track with a big day here in our first game without Geno. A week and a half time to prepare will help, but I have my doubts here. Terrence Newman struggled with the speed of Mike Wallace last week, tackling him altogether to avoid being burned on a touchdown. This week he gets Torrey Smith. Joy.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Week 9 Picks

I love your Bengals posts.  One day, I'm planning on doing that with the Packers season.  I haven't really posted anything with All-22 film this year, so I'm planning on getting on that as well (I was going to take a look at Freeman's disastrous start against the Giants, because it made me laugh).  I've been slacking.  I know.

Before I get to the picks, it's worth mentioning something here that we've been chatting about the past couple days.  Action Bronson dropped Blue Chips 2 earlier this week, and it's tremendous.  I wasn't crazy about the first Blue Chips (even though I've loved everything else he has done), but this one is great.  It's available as a free download here.

To the picks:

Chiefs over Bills
The Bills looked feisty against the Saints last week, and still ended up losing 35-17.  I think they have some nice pieces in place, but still have a ways to go before they're a good team.  This game should be close, but, unless everything breaks their way, I can't see a way for them to win this.

Cowboys over Vikings
The Cowboys are doing just enough to make me feel good about my preseason pick for them winning the division, but just bad enough to where I don't feel very comfortable about it.  The Vikings, however, are horrible.  It doesn't matter who is starting at QB at this point.  As long as Peterson can be held somewhat in check, it's nearly impossible for the QB to beat you.

Titans over Rams
The Rams put up a fight against the Seahawks last week, but, in the end, they put their final hopes in the hands of Kellen Clemens.  Never a good choice.  This game will be ugly, but the Titans will come out on top.

Saints over Jets
This should be ugly.

Redskins over Chargers
I'm pretty excited about this one.  Should be a ton of offense.  If every Redskins game ends with one team scoring 40, I'll be a happy man.

Panthers over Falcons
I like the Falcons.  I really do.  I love Matt Ryan.  But it sucks when your offense is pretty much run around Ryan and three skill position players, and two of those guys have gone down (and Jackson - their big offseason addition - hasn't done well at all).  And paying a king's ransom for one of those guys hasn't helped their depth, either.  I hope they come back next season just as good as they have been.  But this looks like a lost season.  The offense has been terrible, and the Panthers defense has been terrific.  See you next year, Atlanta.

Raiders over Eagles
Who is starting today?  Barkley?  Jeepers.  They might score a TD today, though.  That would be cool.  What are the odds on the Eagles nabbing Mariota in the draft?

Seahawks over Bucs
For as formidable as the Seahawks look at times, there have been a handful of games this year where they look absolutely terrible.  It won't matter here, though.  The Bucs are awful, and this game is in Seattle.

Browns over Ravens
This game was close the last time around (Ravens won 14-6 in Baltimore).  I think the Browns will pull out another ugly, close game this time around.

Patriots over Steelers
It'll be close at the half, but the Patriots will pull away in the second half.  That seems to be their way lately.

Colts over Texans
The Texans window is closing entirely too fast.  Beyond the decline in QB play, their defense appears to be falling apart this year.  Who knew adding an over-the-hill Ed Reed wouldn't be the answer?

Packers over Bears
The Packers' defense has been better than the numbers have shown, and they're starting to get back some guys from early injuries.  The offense put together one of the better games I've seen last week against the Vikings (just a slow, steady, soul-sucking demolition).  And now they have a Bears team with a fading defense and an offense headed by Josh McCown.