Monthly Archives: December 2010

Pick ‘Em Week 17

It’s a strange week of picks, given the NFL slate that features contenders with horses already in the barn. So we’ll go heavy on the bowls to compensate. Here are this week’s picks:
Note: Picks made on Wednesday 12/29

NCAA
Baylor -1.5 vs. Illinois
Oklahoma State -6 vs. Arizona
North Carolina -2 vs. Tennessee
South Florida +6 vs. Clemson
Notre Dame +3 vs. Miami
UCF +7 vs. Georgia
Florida State +3 vs. South Carolina
Michigan State +10 vs. Alabama
Florida -7 vs. Penn State
TCU -3 vs. Wisconsin
Virginia Tech +3.5 vs. Stanford
Ohio State -3.5 vs. Arkansas

NFL
Tampa Bay +8 vs. New Orleans
Indianapolis -10 vs. Tennessee
Washington +4 vs. N.Y. Giants
St. Louis -2.5 vs. Seattle

Last week: 2-2 college, 3-2 pro, 5-4 overall
(Note: 2 of last week’s picks carried over to this week)
Season: 46-58-2 college, 53-60-5 pro, 99-118-7 overall

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Suicide Pool Suggestions Week 17

IMG_0070

Image by vanamar via Flickr

David Garrard’s interceptions cost us our winning streak this week, but we’re prepped for a win to close the season. Here are this week’s picks.

1. Atlanta over Carolina – The Falcons lost on Monday night to the Saints, which did a huge favor to suicide pool pickers who have Atlanta in the bank. With a bye and home-field advantage hanging in the balance, the Falcons will take care of business against the two-win Panthers, division rivalry or not. This is a super-safe Week 17 option.

2. Indianapolis over Tennessee – The Titans have shown little fight over the final half of the season, and the Colts have a ton to play for here. Look for Indy to take care of business and clinch the AFC South crown with a win.

3. Detroit over Minnesota – If you need an off-the-radar pick, this is the place to go. Whether the Vikings use rookie Joe Webb or the falling-apart-at-the-seams Brett Favre, they’ll be underdogs against a Lions team that is sprinting to the finish line – especially on a short week after their Tuesday-night win. Detroit has won three straight and now returns home with a chance to leave their fans with a good taste in their mouths, and we believe they’ll get it done.

Trap to avoid – N.Y. Jets over Buffalo – In a week where many usual favorites may not play all out, the Jets are likely to be the biggest culprits. With Mark Sanchez hurting, the Jets need to pull back the reins, even if it means a loss to the Bills. You don’t want to bank your suicide-pool hopes on the Joe McKnights of the roster.

Results
Week 16 – L Jacksonville (vs. Washington)
Week 15 – W San Diego (vs. San Francisco)
Week 14 – W Pittsburgh (vs. Cincinnati)
Week 13 – W Philadelphia (vs. Houston)
Week 12 – W N.Y. Jets (vs. Cincinnati)
Week 11 – W Baltimore (at Carolina)
Week 10 – W Tampa Bay (vs. Carolina)
Week 9 – W Green Bay (vs. Dallas)
Week 8 – W Kansas City (vs. Buffalo)
Week 7 – L New Orleans (vs. Cleveland)
Week 6 – L Chicago (vs. Seattle)
Week 5 – L Houston (vs. N.Y. Giants)
Week 4 – L Tennessee (vs. Denver)
Week 3 – W Baltimore (over Cleveland)
Week 2 – W Oakland (over St. Louis)
Week 1 – W N.Y Giants (over Carolina)

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Football Relativity Week 16

Each week, we compare all 32 NFL teams using our Football Relativity tool. We’ll indicate as we go which teams are moving up and down from the Week 15 comparison.

Drew Brees celebrates against the Falcons

10 – Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers – The Falcons lost on Monday night to the Saints, but a three-point loss in a rivalry game is part of the business. Still, with a home win over lowly Carolina this week, Atlanta can lock up home-field advantage. The Patriots have already done that in the AFC, as they ran all over the Bills on Sunday. New England sits in the pole position for the Super Bowl right now. The Steelers controlled the Panthers on Thursday night and have a couple of extra days of rest to prepare to try to clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye.

9 – Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears (UP A LEVEL), New Orleans Saints – We discussed the Bears’ rise and the Ravens’ steady status in Rise/Sink/Float. The Saints won 17-14 in Atlanta on Monday night, which was a great win, but because of their difficulties running the ball we still don’t feel comfortable putting the Saints with the league’s very best.

8 – Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs (UP A LEVEL), New York Jets (DOWN A LEVEL), Philadelphia Eagles (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Packers got a huge win against the Giants to seize control of their playoff destiny. The Pack still faces a tough game against the Bears this week, but the fact that they’re in the playoff hunt after losing so many players to injury is a tribute. The Colts won in Oakland and now seek to sew up the AFC South and win double-digit games once again. The Jets lost in Chicago, and while that wasn’t a big problem, the arrow on the Jets is pointed the wrong way this year. The Chiefs secured the AFC West title, which was a great accomplishment. They’re playing well enough now to be threats to win a wild-card round game. The Eagles lost their chance at a bye by losing a Tuesday-night home game to the lowly Vikings. If Michael Vick is off, as he was Tuesday night, the Eagles suddenly become very beatable.

7 – New York Giants (DOWN A LEVEL), San Diego Chargers (DOWN A LEVEL) – Both the Giants and Chargers saw their playoff hopes plummet because of disappointing losses. The Giants lost 45-17 in Green Bay and now need a Packers loss to the Bears to have a shot of making the postseason. The Chargers have no shot, as their loss in Cincinnati gave the division to the Chiefs once and for all. Both of these teams have talent, but they have been far too inconsistent and mistake-prone. Now it has cost them playoff berths.

6 – Jacksonville Jaguars (DOWN A LEVEL), Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – We discussed the Jaguars’ decline in Rise/Sink/Float. The Raiders are 7-8, but they have a chance to run the table in the AFC West with a win against the Chiefs this week. (The Chiefs have clinched all they can.) The Buccaneers romped over the Seahawks in the Battle of 1976 and still have playoff hopes against the Saints this week. It would be a big step up in class for them to take down a playoff team in the season finale.

5 – St. Louis Rams (UP A LEVEL) – The Rams took care of business against the 49ers to set up an NFC West showdown in Week 17 in Seattle. The Rams aren’t a perfect team, but they’re young and growing, and those are good traits. A few more pieces, and the Rams shouldn’t be struggling to get to 8 wins in 2011.

4 – Dallas Cowboys (DOWN A LEVEL), Detroit Lions (UP A LEVEL), Miami Dolphins (DOWN A LEVEL), Minnesota Vikings (UP A LEVEL), Washington Redskins – The Cowboys fell victim to a missed extra point, while the Dolphins fell victim to another home game. Both teams have talent but haven’t played to it. The Redskins got a road win in Jacksonville, and Rex Grossman established even more of a case to enter 2011 as a starter. (Redskins fans, start your shuddering now.) The Lions won their third straight and are building momentum toward a playoff push in 2011. The Vikings won on the road, getting a spark from rookie QB Joe Webb for an upset win. That win may be enough to cement Leslie Frazier’s job for 2011.

3 – Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals (UP A LEVEL), Cleveland Browns (DOWN A LEVEL), Denver Broncos (UP A LEVEL), Houston Texans (DOWN A LEVEL), San Francisco 49ers (DOWN A LEVEL), Seattle Seahawks (DOWN A LEVEL), Tennessee Titans (DOWN A LEVEL) – This is the vast expanse of mediocrity. Amazingly, the Seahawks are on this level yet still have a chance to make the playoffs if they beat the Rams. Some of these teams have shown sparks at times, and some (Denver and Cincinnati, especially) are showing spark right now. But none are good.

2 – Arizona Cardinals (UP A LEVEL) – We move the Cardinals up as a reward for their 27-26 win over the Cowboys on Christmas night. That Christmas present doesn’t change our long-term view of Arizona’s season.

1 – Carolina Panthers – Lost to the Steelers; now on the clock. (13 losses equals 13 words.)

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FR: Biggest What Ifs of 2010

Mike Vick with Philadelphia

Image via Wikipedia

Each year, we look back at the NFL season and wonder what if? Let’s compare the biggest what ifs of the 2010 NFL season.

Feel free to add your own ideas via comment, and then we’ll include them in the comparison.

10 – What if the Eagles had stuck with Kevin Kolb as their starting QB? – After trading Donovan McNabb in the offseason, the Eagles anointed Kevin Kolb as their new starter. But Kolb was injured in the season opener, and Michael Vick played well in relief (albeit in a 27-20 loss to the Packers). Vick started in Week 2 against Detroit and played well, but Andy Reid said that Kolb would return as the starter when healthy. But after watching film, Reid reversed course, naming Vick the permanent starter. Vick has gone on to have an MVP-caliber season in leading the Eagles to the NFC East title, while Kolb went 2-1 starting for an injured Vick in the middle of the season. Given the Eagles’ young and sometimes porous D, it’s hard to imagine Philly as much better than 8-8 had Kolb gotten his job back in Week 3. Instead, they’re Super Bowl contenders.

 
 

Calvin Johnson's would-be TD catch

 

9 – What if Calvin Johnson’s touchdown had counted in Week 1? – The Lions trailed the Bears 19-14, but Matthew Stafford led the team on a comeback that appeared to result in a 25-yard touchdown to Calvin Johnson in the game’s final minute. But thanks to a rule that receivers must complete the catch, when Johnson put the ball on the ground while standing up, the catch was overturned. The Lions lost the game, and Detroit ended up losing their first four games, three by one score or less. Had the Lions gotten a road win to start the season, our hunch is that they would have been able to build on that momentum to a better start. We see with Detroit’s current three-game winning streak that the talent is there. Chicago, meanwhile, started 3-0, winning all three games by one score or less. A Week 1 loss could have kept them from the NFC North championship season they’ve enjoyed. In fact, the hypothetical part of us wonders if these two teams would have switched places had the call gone the other way.

8 – What if the Patriots had kept Randy Moss? – Moss has been the biggest newsmaker in the NFL this season, starting with a postgame news conference after a season-opening win and then a series of transactions – a trade to Minnesota, a release by the Vikings, and a waiver claim in Tennessee. Through it all, Moss has done next to nothing on the field, with 27 catches for 315 yards and five touchdowns through Week 16. But what if the Patriots hadn’t dealt Moss after Week 4? The Patriots’ offense likely wouldn’t be humming along as well as it is with Deion Branch (Moss’ replacement), Wes Welker, rookie tight ends, and undrafted running backs. Our guess is that New England wouldn’t be the strong Super Bowl favorites that they currently are. And if Moss hadn’t been traded, the Vikings’ season might not have spiralled out of control the way it did. Perhaps Minnesota could be fighting for a winning record and Brad Childress could have at least lasted through the season. If Philly’s decision to go with Vick is prescient move No. 1 of the year, Bill Belichick’s choice to deal Moss was the second-best bit of preja vu all season.

DeAngelo Hall returns Tashard Choice's fumble

7 – What if A.J. Smith hadn’t let his ego get in the way in contract negotiations with Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson? – Andy added this suggestion about Smith, known around San Diego as the Lord of No Rings. Smith’s top two restricted free agents weren’t happy about not hitting the open market, and the Chargers took a super-hard line with them, reducing their tender offers in the offseason so that they would make far less than market value in 2010. McNeill missed five games before agreeing to a new contract, while Jackson stayed out (between his holdout and suspension) until Week 12. The Chargers started 2-3 without both players and never recovered from the slow start, falling behind the Chiefs and eventually losing the AFC West to K.C. While having McNeill and Jackson would have helped, the Chargers’ biggest issues were on special teams. But there’s no doubt that Smith’s hard-line, organization-uber-all approach cost the Chargers dearly this season.

6 – What if Dallas hadn’t gone for a score at the end of the first half in Week 1? – Dallas opened the season in Washington, and they trailed 3-0 late in the first half. When Dallas got the ball on its own 30 with 27 seconds left, Wade Phillips decided to go for a score. The Cowboys continued on the attack with four seconds left, but Tashard Choice was stripped of the ball by Lorenzo Alexander, and DeAngelo Hall returned the fumble for a 32-yard touchdown. Washington ended up winning the game 13-7, sending the Cowboys reeling. Dallas started the season 1-7 and Phillips was fired, and it’s hard to imagine things getting that bad had Dallas sat on the ball at the end of the first half and gone on to win the season opener.

5 – none

4 – What if Ryan Grant had not gotten hurt? – Grant, the Packers’  leading rusher for the last three seasons, suffered a season-ending ankle/leg injury in the season opener against Philadelphia. Since then, the Packers’ running game has suffered. The only two Packers who have averaged more than 3.7 yards per carry are Grant (8 carries, 45 yards) and QB Aaron Rodgers. While the Packers have fought through injuries to Grant and other key players, you have to wonder if their playoff future would still be in doubt in Week 17 had they had a consistent running game all season.

3 – none

2 – none

1 – What if the Cardinals had kept Matt Leinart? – The Cardinals jettisoned Leinart, a former first-round pick, before the season after he lost the starting QB job to Derek Anderson. Leinart has settled in with a clipboard in Houston and has not played all season. But the Cardinals have had some of the worst QB play in the league from Anderson and rookies Max Hall and John Skelton. Arizona has somehow squeezed out five wins, in part because of its horrific division, but we have to wonder if Leinart had stuck around if he could have provided an upgrade, at least over Hall and Skelton, and kept Arizona in the NFC West race until Week 17.

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud Week 16

Each week, we sort through the box scores to determine what fantasy football performances we should applaud, and which are merely frauds. As always, we’ll give more details about what each verdict means as we break it down. Now that we’re at the end of the seasons, we’re only noting players who have a chance of starting in a Week 17 championship game or who emerged out of nowhere in Week 16.

Tim Tebow

Quarterbacks

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers – Freeman has emerged as a fantasy starter this year, and if you hadn’t noticed, Sunday’s five-TD performance against the Seahawks should have turned your head. He’s a top-10 fantasy quarterback both this year and next. Verdict: Applaud

Carson Palmer, Bengals – Palmer has had a solid fantasy season even though his on-field performance has been awful. But Sunday against the Chargers, he was truly good, throwing for 269 yards and four touchdowns while completing 16-of-21 passes. The fact that he put up such good numbers without Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens was surprising, but the truth is that the Bengals are on their way to another late-season rush that means nothing. So if you want to ride Palmer next week against Baltimore, go ahead. Verdict: Applaud

Stephen McGee, Cowboys – McGee was pressed into action when Jon Kitna was injured on Christmas night, and he performed fairly well with 111 yards on 11-of-17 passing and one touchdown without an interception. If Kitna misses Week 17, McGee qualifies as a desperation play in two-QB or incredibly deep leagues because of Dallas’ strong receiving corps. We could see a two-TD game out of him as a starter. Verdict: Applaud

Tim Tebow, Broncos – In his first home start, Tebow ran for a touchdown (his fifth of the season) and threw for one. But the surprising stat was that he was able to shred the Texans’ admittedly sorry pass defense for 308 yards. Because of his rushing threat, Tebow is a startable fantasy player right now. His value is pinned to getting that rushing touchdown, but if you’re desperate, Tebow the Hero is an option. Verdict: Applaud

Running backs

Marion Barber, Cowboys – Barber had missed three games before returning on Christmas with a 58-yard game that included a touchdown. Barber still falls behind Felix Jones on the carries list in Dallas, but Marion the Barbarian is more likely to find the end zone than Jones. His return makes Tashard Choice irrelevant in fantasy terms, but that doesn’t mean we can trust Barber as a starter against the Eagles next week. Verdict: A fraud

Correll Buckhalter, Broncos – Filling in for Knowshon Moreno, Buckhalter had both a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown. If Moreno is out next week, Buckhalter becomes a flex option, albeit one with some risk. Verdict: Applaud

Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets – Both Greene and Tomlinson scored touchdowns against the Bears. It was Greene’s second touchdown of the season (first since Week 5) and Tomlinson’s first rushing TD since Week 6. We noted a few weeks ago that Tomlinson has really been slowing down, and with the Jets clinching a playoff spot this week, you’d have to figure he gets a break next week vs. the Bills. Greene, meanwhile, had 70 rushing yards against the Bears and could be coming on. We’d much rather play Greene than Tomlinson next week, but it could be that the Jets give Joe McKnight a look to protect both guys. Avoid both next week. Verdict: A fraud for both

Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, Colts – The Colts brought Rhodes back off the UFL scrap heap two weeks ago, and this week Addai returned from a shoulder injury that had sidelined him for more than a month. Those two returns have made Donald Brown irrelevant for fantasy owners, and while Addai scored a touchdown against the Raiders, Rhodes was the leading rusher with 98 yards on 17 carries. It’s impossible to tell how this will play out next week, which means you can’t start any of them. But Rhodes is worth a claim if he’s available in your league, because he could qualify as a desperation play. Verdict: A fraud for Addai, Applaud for Rhodes

Wide receivers

Kenny Britt, Titans – Britt was having a huge season until a Week 8 injury sidelined him for nearly five games. But since his return, Britt has had four catches in every game, and he followed up Week 15’s 128-yard performance with a four-catch, 89-yard game with a touchdown against the Chiefs. Despite the Titans’ lethargic play, Britt is a must-start guy right now. Verdict: Applaud

Michael Crabtree, 49ers – Crabtree has had a disappointing season, garnering more than 61 receiving yards in just one game before his 122-yard performance against the Rams Sunday. Crabtree has talent, but the Smiths (Troy and Alex) at quarterback aren’t great, and so relying on him in any given week is just too much of a crapshoot. Verdict: A fraud

Johnny Knox, Bears – Knox has emerged as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver this year, and he’s nearly over the 1,000-yard mark on the season. More importantly for fantasy owners, Knox scored two long touchdowns against the Jets, giving him five on the season. Four of those five have come in the last five games, which means Knox has reached must-start status next week against Green Bay. And don’t worry about weather – Jay Cutler has thrown well in bad weather against the Vikings and Jets the last couple of weeks. Verdict: Applaud

Jordy Nelson, Packers – Nelson rode an 80-yard touchdown catch to a big day against the Giants. But you can’t rely on him to repeat his 124-yard performance, because he clearly falls behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones in the pecking order. Verdict: A fraud

Andre Roberts, Cardinals – Roberts, a rookie out of The Citadel, had just 15 catches on the season before his five-catch, 122-yard breakout against the Cowboys that included a 74-yard touchdown. But somehow, Roberts went off while Larry Fitzgerald had just one catch and Steve Breaston and Early Doucet had none. That has all the looks of a one-week fluke that fantasy owners should ignore. Verdict: A fraud

Jerome Simpson, Bengals – With Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco out, Simpson broke out with a six-catch, 124-yard day against the Chargers that included two touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if Simpson and Jordan Shipley are featured again next week as the Bengals figure out whether they can move on from the diva receivas in 2011. Verdict: Applaud

Tight ends

Jared Cook, Titans – Cook, the Titans’ No. 2 tight end, had 96 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. The Titans seem to want to get a better look at Cook and Craig Stevens right now, but Bo Scaife is healthy, which means you can’t rely on any of the Tennessee tight ends. Verdict: A fraud

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Rise/Sink/Float Week 16

Each week, we preview teams that are moving up and moving down in our weekly Football Relativity comparison. We’ll analyze all 32 teams on Tuesday.

Jay Cutler scores against the Jets. Photo via suntimes.com

Rise – Chicago Bears – The Bears didn’t just beat the Jets; they won in a shootout, 38-34. We knew the Bears could play defense, but seeing Jay Cutler perform as well as he did in inclement weather was a great sign for the future. The Bears are 11-4, and while that record might be a bit inflated by a softer schedule, the fact that the Monsters of the Midway have taken care of business at home against playoff teams like the Jets and Eagles shows they’re not paper tigers. If Chicago can clinch a first-round bye, they could be an interesting matchup against the No. 3 Eagles in the divisional round. It’s time to include the Bears on the second level of contenders.

Sink – Jacksonville Jaguars – Yes, Maurice Jones-Drew was out, but a true playoff contender like the Jags claimed to be simply can’t lose a home game against an also-ran like the Redskins. The 20-17 overtime loss was keyed by two David Garrard turnovers, including one that set up the Redskins’ first touchdown. Jacksonville’s run-first style works, but only if the Jaguars can avoid mistakes. But turnovers like that one are killers that the Jags aren’t good enough to overcome given their identity. Ultimately, that formula (which also cost the Jags a game against the Giants last month) is what will keep the Jaguars out of the playoffs.

Float – Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens clinched a playoff berth by winning 20-10 in Cleveland. While the Ravens aren’t a perfect team, they do a lot of things well. They can throw the ball with a strong group of targets, and they can run the ball with Ray Rice. When the defense plays well, or at least forces turnovers, the Ravens become very tough to beat. Of all the AFC teams, Baltimore is the one we see with the best chance to beat the Patriots in a one-game scenario. However, the Ravens will likely have to go the wild-card route to do it.

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Pick ’em Week 16

It seems as if our picking gene went on Christmas break early, because last week’s picks stunk. Hopefully this week will give us a better present…

*Note: Picks made Wednesday, Dec. 23

NCAA
Boise State -17 vs. Utah
Navy +3.5 vs. San Diego State
N.C. State +3 vs. West Virginia
Missouri -1 vs. Iowa
Baylor -1.5 vs. Illinois
Oklahoma State -6 vs. Arizona

NFL
Chicago -1 vs. N.Y. Jets
St. Louis -2 vs. San Francisco
Oakland +3 vs. Indianapolis
Tampa Bay -6 vs. Seattle
Atlanta -3 vs. New Orleans

Last week: 0-1 college, 1-5 pro, 1-6 overall
Season: 44-56-2 college, 50-58-5 pro, 94-114-7 overall

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