Friday, October 9, 2009

Week 5 Pick: Upset

Looking at the schedule, I found very few contendersfor a real upset special. There were a couple of close lines that I was curious about, but I got burned by that last week by my Ravens. So rather than pick the underdog with a close line, I'm going full-blown Upset this week with:

Houston Texans @ Arizona Cardinals

Over/Under: 50
Line: Cardinals by 5 1/2

My Thoughts:
Laying 5 1/2 points AT HOME against a struggling Houston team isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for the Cardinals. Arizona is coming off a bye week, so you have to think coach Ken Whisenhunt worked them pretty hard on the little things that cost them 2 of their first 3 games. The Cards looked muddled and inconsistent so far, while Houston has rebounded from a miserable start against the Jets to get their offense clicking and showing some real fight.

This is not one of those games which will be decided on the ground. Neither team runs the ball particularly well, and neither is exactly adept at stopping the run. No, much like the Colts/Cardinals Sunday Nighter of yesterweek, this should be an absolute air-show. If you like good wide receivers, tune in to this beast. Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, and Anquan Boldin are likely to put on a great show. Points will be plentiful, and the NFL Films highlight reels will be burning up after this one.

After a great postseason performance, Arizona's defense seems to have really come back to earth in 2009. They have been vulnerable to big passing plays, haven't been amazing run-stuffers, and just have generally underachieved. While they spent their bye week (hopefully) fixing problems, Houston's offense has been finding their rhythm against better defenses than Arizona's. The Texans' D, of course, isn't quite a wonder to write home about. They have been miserable against the run, which is moot against a Cardinals team with an aversion to running the football. Their secondary is decent and, when healthy, Dunta Robinson is a pretty good corner. I think Houston's D is up to the task, and the suddenly-mortal Cardinals are still unable to find their way.

Texans 34
Cardinals 28


Week 5 Pick: Blowout

I wish I was allowing myself to pick Giants games this year, as the 15 1/2 point spread is reeeeally tempting for my blowout pick. Also, the Eagles/Bucs spread of 15 points was enticing, but I found the line too high, therefore a little too easy. So my Blowout pick for Week 5 is:

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Detroit Lions

Over/Under: 44
Line: Steelers by 10 1/2

My Thoughts:
Yeah, it's not a huge stretch to call this one a blowout, but I don't think it's as much of a lock as the above-mentioned two. These aren't last year's Lions, as evidenced by that "1" in their win column. However, they are likely to be without Matt Stafford for this game, which completely torpedoes their chances of an actual upset. Detroit's offense isn't a disaster, even with Daunte Culpepper throwing the ball. They can run reasonably well, and have a respectable passing attack. All those statements mean nothing, though, in the face of a very good and very angry Pittsburgh Steelers defense. The Steelers D is a proud group that has not performed up to their own standards yet this year. You can bet they're looking at this Detroit game as a chance to get back to form. I expect they will.

The real weakness on this Lions team, in my opinion, is a porous defense that (much like last year) struggles against the run and is susceptible in the secondary. Louis Delmas will some day be a star Safety in this league, but asking that rookie to hold up against Pittsburgh's explosive vertical offense just isn't fair. The Lions have talented linebackers, and should thus be able to contain Rashard Mendenhall (or whoever Mike Tomlin hands the ball to). That's all well and good until you remember that this iteration of the Pittsburgh Steelers is not a team that lives and dies by their run game. Ben Roethelsberger likes to air the ball out, and has a number of capable receivers who will be a nightmare match up for the Detroit corners.

I think Detroit will put up a fight in this game, especially in a suddenly re-energized Ford Field. However, their defense will fail them spectacularly, giving up a lot of early points. I think Detroit's defense will stiffen as the game goes on, but it will be too late. A garbage time touchdown drive makes this game look closer than it really was.

Steelers 38
Lions 20

Last week: 3-1 straight up, 1-3 against the spread (ouch)
Overall: 14-1 straight up, 11-4 against the spread (still pretty good, not awesome though)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Brief Reminder

First off, thanks for reading the blog, guys. Almost 120 visits after just about a month is awesome. Remember, if you like what you're reading spread the word to people you think might be interested. I'd love to get some discussions going in the Comments.

Also note the new poll, based on the ongoing Wednesday feature: If They Played in the NFL.

And speaking of "if you like what you're reading," please take a minute every now and then to click the ads. Just let the follow-up page load, and be on your way. I can make a tiny bit of money from that, so think of it as your way of giving back, without giving anything at all (except 30 seconds you'll never get back).

Thanks so much, everyone!


Wednesday Feature (Delayed): If They Played in the NFL

Sorry for the late post. We're breaking in a new cat here at the homestead, and she's taken up a lot of time. Anyway, here's a name that had been suggested quite a bit, so I'm excited to "tackle" this one:

Shaquille O'Neal
Center, Cleveland Cavaliers
7'1" 325lbs

Position: Left Tackle

Shaq had been suggested to me as a Defensive Tackle, which I thought about considerably. However, I have to put him at the ever-important left tackle spot for some very specific reasons. First, his weight is just about perfect for an NFL LT, though he's a little on the tall side (duh). Second, one of the most prized traits in left tackles is arm length, as longer arms allow him to keep pass rushers at a safe distance, increasing the length of their path to the QB. Shaq's arms, at over 7 feet tall, are plenty long to make even the likes of Dwight Freeney or Jared Allen work extra hard.

Another aspect of playing center in the NBA that translates well to NFL left tackle-dom is foot movement. Left tackles specialize in a move often called the "kick-slide," where they kick out of their stance to the left, then slide their right foot to shoulder-width, making their first step very wide without having both feet off the ground. Sounds a bit like guarding someone in basketball, doesn't it? Shaq is accustomed to having to keep his feet constantly moving and sliding to not get caught flat-footed in the paint. While not the dominant defender he used to be, O'Neal would definitely still have the athleticism to work against speed rushers in spurts.

Strength has always been a prime attribute for Shaquille O'Neal, and it would serve him well in the NFL. He has always had a great balance of upper- and lower-body strength which is essential for a left tackle. Powerful legs and proper weight distribution help a LT maintain proper leverage when combating a pass rush, and Shaq would likely excel at that.

The only real downside to Shaq protecting a QB's blindside is his attitude. When he's motivated, he's still one of the best centers in the business. However, Shaq has shown a penchant for losing focus and motivation if he doesn't feel sufficiently involved. It would be a challenge for Shaq to play second attention-fiddle to a quarterback, and he might lose his motivation by not being in the spotlight. He's also very egotistical, which could be a benefit at this position. A LT has to believe he can match any pass rusher lined up across from him, and Shaq always thinks he's the best. However, NFL offensive lines do not suffer diva personalities lightly, and Shaq would have to work extra hard to win over his team mates.

I think Shaquille O'Neal would be a very good, though not Pro Bowl, left tackle in the NFL. I'd expect him to excel at pass protection, though he's not likely to be a crushing run blocker (too much dirty work for Shaq!). If he kept his ego in check, he would be a solid contributor on an offensive line, and a complete crack-up at post-game press conferences.

Imagine last week's pick of Tim Lincecum with his blindside guarded by Shaq! Now we're on to something!!

Whaddya think? Disagree completely? Other suggestions (don't worry, Lebron James is already on my list)?


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Giants v Chiefs Recap

Games like these feel sort of like preseason games to me. You hope to work out some kinks, fix some things you haven't been doing well, and come out of it healthy. Well, that was almost true for this one. Let's get to it, shall we?


Eli Manning
20 of 34 for 292 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Not bad for a guy who wasn't supposed to have any weapons on offense this year. As I mentioned in an earlier post, GM Jerry Reese told Eli he had to step up not only his game, but his receivers' games as well. I think it's safe to say that Manning has answered that call. He has wavered between efficient and dominant through four games so far, and is making a strong case for another Pro Bowl. Here's hoping that Plantar Fasciitis isn't going to be a lingering problem.

Steve Smith
11 catches for 134 yards and 2 TDs
I think we can all stop wondering who the Giants go-to receiver is going to be. Though pegged to be only a possession receiver, Smith has emerged as a consistent threat in the red zone as well. He's been so good this year, people may have to stop referring to him as "the other Steve Smith."

Michael Boley
5 Tackles (4 for a loss), 1 sack, and 1 pass defense off his helmet
Now we see why the Giants really targeted this guy in free agency. His athleticism and football IQ have really amped up this defense. It seemed like Boley was everywhere on Sunday, and the analysts kept calling his name. Boley is a playmaker, and should be a big part of this defense going forward. After he recovers from his knee surgery of course (noticing a theme here?)

Brian Kehl
(another) fumble recovery, onside kick recovery
Continuing the trend of players who stood out and are now injured, Kehl has been a demon on special teams this year. In 4 games, he's recovered 2 fumbles on kick returns (this time on the opening kickoff). And you have to watch pretty closely, but his onside kick recovery was extremely well done. Succop sold it well, but Kehl reacted extremely quickly and got his hands on the ball. He might be the best non-starter on this team...when he gets back from his finger surgery.

Kevin Boss
Heads up play when he got up after an injury to line up for the spike. If Boss stayed down, there would have been a 10 second clock runoff because the Giants were out of time outs, and the half would have ended. Getting up with a screwed up ankle couldn't have been easy, but that just shows how well-coached this team is. Naturally, he's probably out this Sunday with that injury.

Hakeem Nicks
1 catch for 54 yards, 1 TD
One catch isn't much, but one has to remember that he's coming back from a foot injury (sound familiar?). Of course, that catch and run of his was a thing of beauty, and a nice reminder why the Giants dropped a first rounder on the receiver from North Carolina. Pre-draft reports often likened Nicks to Anquan Boldin, and that nifty, highlight-reel run down the sideline sure looked like Boldin in blue.


Lawrence Tynes
What is it with Giants kickers? Jay Feely misses 3 in Seattle 3 years ago, and now Tynes caught the bug? Frankly, I've see enough of this guy to know he doesn't really have an NFL leg, and his accuracy this year has been awful. The Giants brought in Matt Stover (formerly of the Ravens) for a tryout. They should just sign Stover (who I like anyway) and move on.

Kansas City Offensive Line
Coach Todd Haley called out this unit last week, specifically LT Brandon Albert, for their poor play thus far. Well, the NY Giants defense isn't exactly who you fine-tune your pass protection against. This group gave up 6 sacks, and did very little of note in the run game. It's not like there are no good players on this line, they just need to get it together. A few more games against the Raiders ought to help.

Mario Manningham
After "Super Mario" got off to a super start, he fizzled out of sight in this game. Several difficult but catchable balls bounced right off his hands, once into a waiting defender for a non-Eli interception. I hope he bounces back against the Raiders, as the Giants really have high hopes for this kid. Of course, Oakland's secondary is extremely good, so he better get in a lot of practice this week.

After next Sunday, the "easy" part of the schedule is over. The Giants have done exactly what they needed to: fatten up on bad teams. However, it worries me that they haven't exactly made these wins look easy, though that may just be them easing off the gas late in games they easily have won. However, Oakland's defense is better than advertised, so Eli and company need to be very careful with the ball.

Four weeks, and we're still waiting for the run game to pop. Jacobs has been effective, if unspectacular, and Bradshaw has been slightly more explosive. With our O-line playing well, and much more difficult games coming up, practice time is over. It's time for this unit to step up and play the way we know they can. Especially if Eli's foot is going to be a problem.

Perfect segue: these injuries are bordering on comical at this point. Every game, guys are going down. It feels like the 2009 Mets in helmets and pads. We've heard all summer about the great depth the Giants have, and we're seeing it. Backups and role players have been outstanding in these early weeks, but it's tough sledding after this, and we need to be getting guys back. A week 10 bye doesn't help, either.

By the way, my picks for Week 4 went 2-2, 1-3 against the spread. That brings the record to a much more reasonable level, so I can't brag anymore.