Friday, October 2, 2009

Week 4 Pick: Marquee Game

There's really only one legitimate choice for Marquee game, and that is:

Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings

Over/Under: 45
Line: Vikings by 3 1/2

My Thoughts
This game is a Monday Night Football producer's wet dream. Brett Favre playing against the Packers is the only fair choice for Marquee game. The only way this gets any juicier would be if it were in Green Bay (which happens later in the year). However, despite the high profile this game brings with it, there are only a few major storylines to follow.

Both teams bring (objectively) very good quarterbacks, with receivers capable of big plays. I think the receiver edge goes to the Packers, where Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Jordy Nelson can all stretch the field. Giving Aaron Rodgers time to hit these talented targets will be key, and I think nearly impossible. Antwan Odom destroyed the Packers' offensive line; does anyone really think Jared Allen can't do something similar? The Pack are likely to get off a few big plays, but Rodgers will spend a large part of the game running for his life.

Speaking of running, that's how this game will be won or lost. Both teams sport top flight corners and safeties, so the passing games will be limited on both sides. This will be a duel between Ryan Grant and Adrian Peterson. Care to guess who I give the edge in that one? Not former Giant Ryan Grant, that's for sure. I expect this game to be a good old fashioned NFC North slugfest, with the better running team pulling away late. I'll take the Vikings just barely covering that spread.

Vikings 27
Packers 24

I'm riding a 3 week roll on these picks. I'm a little nervous about some of this week's choices, so that may bring my rockin' 7-0 record back down to earth. Looks like a monster slate of games, so enjoy it!


Week 4 Pick: Most Interesting Watch

My "Most Interesting" pick for Week 4 is really the runner-up for Marquee Game, which I think makes it an interesting watch on its own. I won't waste your time building it up, so I chose:

New York Jets @ New Orleans Saints

Over/Under: 45
Line: Saints by 7

My Thoughts
What makes this game so exciting is the fact that the NFL's highest ranked offense is squaring off against the league's best defense. Rex Ryan's blitzing madness facing off against the cerebral mastery of Drew Brees? Yes, please!

The Bills, amazingly, were able to slow down the Saints' high-flying attack last week, so it will be interesting to see how the Jets fare. Darrelle Revis is an excellent corner, and can expect to be left one-on-one with Marques Colston all day. That's a match-up Revis should win much of the time. However, Lito Sheppard is out, leaving the Jets a little thin in the secondary. More of a workload will be placed on Dwight Lowery, and this is a huge challenge for him. If Colston is neutralized, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Robert Meacham, and Jeremy Shockey just might be too much for the depleted Jets to handle.

The key here is how well New York can pressure Brees. He's a smart, mobile, and accurate quarterback, so Ryan will have be be very creative in his pressures to throw him off. Rex has the brains for it; Jets fans better hope he has the players to pull it off. Of course, the Saints proved that if you take away their great passing game, they can play the ground game very well. I don't see that being particularly effective against the very good Jets defense.

All this, and I haven't even talked about the much-improved New Orleans defense against Mark Sanchez and the New York offense. The Saints have a whole new defensive mentality under Gregg Williams, and have been playing much better than in previous years. Williams loves to blitz his players, and they will rely on this to get after the rookie Sanchez. However, supported by an effective run game, Sanchez has shown great poise and accuracy. I think the Jets offense is good enough to hang around in this game, and even to give them a real chance to win. I see this game being very close, but I think the Saints just prove to be too much. They'll win outright, but look for the Jets to cover the spread.

Saints 28
Jets 24

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Week 4 Pick: Upset

A reasonable person could argue that my pick doesn't really count as an upset. So I'm kinda cheating this week. I saw 3 games that could all qualify as bona fide Marquee games, so I picked the one I thought most ripe for an upset as this pick. Of course, the game I'm referring to is:

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

Over/Under: 44 1/2
Line: Patriots by 2

My Thoughts
This is likely to be a monster of a game. The Patriots were finally able to get their offense in sync last week, so they should be ready for the challenge. Rex Ryan's Jets defense gave Tom Brady fits, and the Ravens are better and have done it for longer. It's a great offense against a great defense, which I expect will make for entertaining television.

However, I think this game will be decided on the other side. The fate of this match up lies in who wins the battle between Baltimore's offense and New England's defense. The Pats are banged up, inexperienced, or flat-out old all over the place. The Ravens have been on fire this year, ranking second in the AFC in total offense, and scoring over 30 points per game. These ain't your mama's Ravens, and this game is exactly the stage for them to establish themselves as a conference powerhouse.

And I think they do it. The Patriots are favored, but only because they're playing at home. The Ravens have steamrolled through the first three games, all of which were warm-ups for this challenge. This is the true test of how far Joe Flacco has come since last year's AFC Championship game, and I think the young guy is up to the task. I see plenty of points going up in this one, with the Ravens edging ahead on a late field goal.

Ravens 31
Patriots 28


Week 4 Pick: Blowout

I've decided to take a different strategy for picking my blowout this week. Rather than look for the highest point spreads, and picking which one is the most likely, I've looked at the more middle-of-the-road spreads, and picked one I think is primed for a blowout. So rather than pick, for example, Colts/Seahawks or Niners/Rams, or heck even Bears/Lions, I went with:

Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns

Over/Under: 38
Line: Bengals by 6

My Thoughts
Considering how abysmal the Browns have been so far, and how impressive the Bengals were against the Packers and Steelers, I think a 6 point line is a little low. A team led by Carson Palmer, with a re-energized defense, and sporting dynamic receivers and a solid run game is favored by less than a touchdown? I don't think so.

This is a division game, and those are always a little tricky to pick. Teams that stink (Cleveland) can usually muster up some decent play against a division foe, making the line kinda wobbly. The Browns, however, are a mess. You know you're in trouble when your best aspect is your special teams, specifically Josh Cribbs. The defense just plain isn't good, and the offense has been, in a word, catastrophic. Brady Quinn was miserable in 2.5 starts. Derek Anderson comes in for one half, and throws 3 picks. What's amazing is that this is basically the same team that went 10-6 two years ago. Why are they so bad now?

Two words: Eric Mangini. The guy can't coach for crap, and I can't wrap my head around why the Browns were so high on him. Being a Giants fan, I clearly remember Mangini being run out of town with torches and pitchforks, and yet Cleveland welcomed him like some kind of Messiah. How's that working out? Regarded as a defensive mastermind, his system is bland and ineffective. Absent any talented skill players, his offense is truly horrid to watch.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, seems to have gotten their act together. No longer a collection of thugs and miscreants, this talented team is finally playing at the level many thought they should have been for years. There is a ton of talent all over the offense, from Palmer to Johnson and Coles, heck even Cedric Benson has experienced a revival for the Bengals. The defense, under coordinator Mike Zimmer, has been much improved, and may even be called decent. The Bengals are on the rise, and are primed to be a force to be reckoned with at last.

I don't think the Browns can even try to keep this one close. Cincy's offense is way too much for the Browns' D, and the Bengals can handle whatever offense the Browns think they can muster. Cleveland should at least score, maybe on a Cribbs return, but they'll never even be in this one.

Bengals 28
Browns 10


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday Feature: If They Played in the NFL

For the next few weeks (maybe months), the Wednesday "let's-not-take-the-season-too-seriously" feature will focus on athletes in other sports, and what they're positions, strengths, and weaknesses would be if they played football. I will not be taking into account whether or not they previously played football in college, high school, YMCA summer camp, or anything like that. I will only be using players who are still active in their sport of choice. I'll gladly welcome suggestions in the Comments section.

For our inaugural "If They Played in the NFL" feature, I'll start with the most important position on the field: Quarterback.

Non-NFL Quarterback
Tim Lincecum, Starting Pitcher, San Francisco Giants
5'11" 170 lbs

It would be easy to second guess this decision based solely on Lincecum's measurables. However, I think he has a little Drew Brees in him, as the little QB who could. He may be small, but he uses every inch of his wiry frame to propel his fastball into the mid-90s. His motion is fairly compact, his wind-up quick, which would help him avoid sacks and pressure. The biggest contributor to this selection, however, was Lincecum's control. Sure, he's got a flamethrower of a right arm, but his ball placement is extremely accurate, and his off-speed pitches are very sneaky.

Lincecum's blazing ball speed and excellent placement call to mind a little bit of John Elway at his best. He could consistently hit receivers between defenders, rocketing the ball into some very tight spots. Tim Lincecum would likely throw a very long, accurate deep ball, making big plays a huge part of his offense. That arm strength and accuracy would make him a tempting target for the Raiders, but he would likely thrive best in Arizona (with excellent deep-threat receivers) or, obviously, New Orleans.

The only real knock on the kid is his size, which would make it easy for defenders to clog his passing lanes, making it difficult for him to find open receivers. He would probably work best out of the shotgun, where he could see the field better, or on designed roll-outs or bootlegs. Despite these (pun fully intended) shortcomings, Lincecum would likely be a very effective QB in the right system.

Back-up QB
Mariano Rivera, Closing Pitcher, New York Yankees
I see MLB pitchers making very good QBs, with the skill sets being similar. Mo has been very good for a long time, and would make an excellent veteran backup for Lincecum, who could come in and run a similar offense should Tim get injured.

Agree? Disagree? Don't know who Tim Lincecum is? Make suggestions in the Comments section. I'll try to do as many of these as I can, as I think it's kind of a fun exercise.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Giants v Buccaneers Recap

This should be an easy one, not unlike the game. Why waste time talking about it? Here we go:


Ahmad Bradshaw
14 carries for 104 yards is an awfully good day for the backup RB. Watching the game, the Bucs simply had no answer for Bradshaw. He was too strong, too quick, and his vision was too good for them to contain him, even on limited touches. Well done, 44.

NYG Run Defense
I ripped this unit a new one last week. Clearly, they were listening, as they responded with an inspiring performance against what is a pretty good running team. Granted, Tampa Bay was playing from behind pretty much from kickoff, so they had to throw a lot. But limiting a team to 28 yards rushing, more than half of which resulted from one QB scramble in 4th quarter garbage time, is a dominating performance no matter how you look at it.

Terrell Thomas
That timely INT of his now means that each of the Giants three healthy cornerbacks has an interception, and we're only 3 games into the season. Throw in Kenny Phillips' (poor Kenny) 2 last week, and we have 5 INTs in 3 games. Remember when this secondary was a huge, glaring liability, and any team with at least a high school quarterback could just throw all over us? Those days are gone, kids. Welcome to balanced, dominant-at-all-3-levels defense.

Travis Beckum
Whatever. Everyone on the Giants deserves a Highlight for a 24-0 destruction of a conference opponent. I'll actually justify this seemingly (and actually) random choice by saying that we saw a brief glimpse of why the Giants drafted Beckum this April. In the fourth quarter, he caught a quick pass and turned upfield for a 7 yard game. Beckum looked very quick on that play, and it's easy to see that speed being a major mismatch against linebackers as the season wears on.

Byron Leftwich
Can I give a Lowlight to the entire Bucs squad? Just focusing on Lord Byron, though, going 7 of 22 for 28 yards with an interception is incredibly bad. A 4 yards-per-attempt average is just not NFL quality play. Leftwich looked slow (which he is), confused, and frustrated all day. He was rushed into every throw, was completely off-target, and made very few good decisions.

Derrick Ward
If you're gonna trash talk all week, Mr. Ward, you need to show up on game day. Gaining 2 yards on 5 carries is laughable, especially considering that Tampa Bay's offensive line actually pushes a pretty good run block. Bet you wish you were back in New York!

Aqib Talib
Eli Manning ate Talib for breakfast on Sunday. The Fox commentators really nailed it when they noted that Talib was always in position to make a play, he just never made one. He had great position on Sinorice Moss (Sinorice Moss!!!), and couldn't stop a 5'8" receiver from winning the jump ball. Are you kidding me? For a kid with major maturity and discipline problems, he needs to play a whole lot better of he's going to stay in the league.

Not a lot to make note of this game. It's noteworthy, I suppose, that the Giants haven't shut out an opponent on the road since 1983. That's a pretty cool thing, I guess.

The Giants need to fatten up on these kinds of games, as the schedule gets quite a bit harder in a few weeks. They need to treat the games against Kansas City and Oakland like training camp, and use them to fix some of the things that have been troubling them. A 5-0 start isn't a given, but it is necessary if they expect to end the season as NFC East champs again. There are too many hard games against good teams down the road to make up ground lost early in the year. Continuing this level of dominance will be a great confidence-builder as guys start to get healthy again.

Not to, you know, brag, but I did manage to go 4-0 on my Week 3 Picks. Yeah, Lions! I was 4-0 against the spread, as well. That puts me at 11-0 straight up, 10-1 against the spread. I'll try to take some bigger risks with the picks this week (like picking 3 dogs last week, one of which WAS THE LIONS wasn't a big risk).


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Night Update

I'll interrupt the Sunday Night Football game (surprisingly low scoring so far) to brag a little.

I took some chances this week on my picks, and am proud to mention that so far today I'm 3-0 straight up, 3-0 against the spread. Saints/Bills wasn't the blowout I expected, but they beat the spread. And how about those Lions?! I knew they'd come through for me if I picked 'em!

My last pick was the Colts over the Cardinals. Come on, Peyton! Don't let me down!