Yes someone woke me up and announced that football season was here one month into the NFL Season. But being a classic OCD/Statistical Wonk/Under-Promise, Over-Deliver Type, I think predicting the outcomes of football games the first three weeks of the NFL Season is ludicrous.
I mean, you had the Flintstones (KC) at 3-0, right? Peter King of SI is loving himself for saying that Arian Foster would be the break out rusher of the year. Fair enough. He also predicted that Tim Tebow’s Week One stat line would involve five passes and a touchdown “based on information” he had within Dove Valley. Everyone says they know what’s going on with such abject certainty in the first month of the football season, and in reality, nobody knows anything. It’s why I love football and love the buffoonery that is football writing (so much, I have to partake). It reminds me of macroeconomics and the dreary economists that get paid large salaries to make hesitant predictions that are often wrong.
My take: pure smack. Who cares if a fan is offended? It’s not like you do this for a living. It’s just a game.
Week Four Predictions (Home Team Caps):
STEELERS over Ravens: as long as a Polamalu stays healthy, I don’t see why Pittsburgh won’t go 16-0. Again, scribes like King and Clayton assert that Joe Flacco with Anquan Boldin has something he has never had, this “playmaker” thing. Well, er… I think the Human Cheetah, who last week anticipated a diving running back in a goal line situation by preemptively vaulting the pile before the running back left the ground is a true “playmaker.” The Defensive Conservatism Postulate of the present NFL is that a defensive playmaker is more valuable than an offensive playmaker. In a game where field position and territory is key, saving territory has greater value statistically and emotionally than claiming territory quickly, which is how offensive playmakers do things. I’ll elaborate when I get to Chris Johnson.
Broncos over TITANS: this is my usual right brain pick where analysis, data, trends and everything else are thrown out the window in favor of blind loyalty and misplaced optimism. Okay, there is some data behind this: Kyle Orton (along with Jay Cutler) is statistically among the two best quarterbacks in the league. Tennessee has a poor secondary. Jeff Fisher blitzes too often and the Broncos narrowly lost an air war to the Blitzkrieg Himself last week by beating themselves. The Broncos cannot contain Chris Johnson, but they have enough leadership on their team to not let an 80 yard run devastate them. While Chris Johnson is an outstanding talent and by all definitions a “playmaker”, of greater value in winning games is a grind it out back that you can ride for a 14 play, back-breaking, time-eating drive.
Bengals over BROWNS: quoting Bill Simmons here… “God hates Cleveland.” Never forget this. I will not be making an Ochocinco Cereal Joke.
Lions over Packers: Just as God hates Cleveland, never forget, an idiot is writing this post. This pick is one part “that line is way too big” (Green Bay as 14.5 point favorites?), and one part that the Packers should be a shoo-in for the Super Bowl but having just committed 18 penalties in a week three game against a division rival… that’s the kind of thing a wildly-talented-but-going-nowhere team does. Now that I’m committed to that line of logic, Green Bay will probably blow out Detroit 59-0.
SAINTS over Panthers: Football goes a great way towards explaining American culture, especially scapegoat-driven American Politics. This game is a classic microcosm. The Saints at home can’t seal the deal and their kicker ganks defeat from sure victory with a less than 30 yard hook. Scapegoat! Then there is John Fox on the other sideline. Here is a guy who is a terrible manager but a great systems guy. Head coach is too much for him, but he will be back within a year as a hot shot coordinator. For now, he’s the problem, and not their terrible drafting that keeps trading away next year’s first round pick.
FALCONS over 49ers: Was there anything better in the late 80’s than Monday Night Football’s severe close up of Mike Singletary’s crazy stare into the backfield while steam poured out from his mask? Is there anything more pathetic than seeing him try and manage 100 other moving parts? It seems weird that one of the all-time best Mike-Linebackers in a 4-3 defense, the all-seeing defensive captain, would flail so badly in this capacity. This game has blowout written all over it. Let’s hope Troy Polamalu in 20 years knows his limits and stays away from head coaching.
RAMS over Seahawks: I went and looked, and the media love-affair with Pete Carroll is out of control. Does anyone realize that Sam Bradford is destined like Matt Stafford last year to break some historical curse for his team and that logically, this must happen at home against a team that should be midweight but is really a lamb in bad neon green clothing? Matt Stafford finally ended the Lions losing streak at home last year by embarrassing the Redskins. Last I checked, this game was being played in St. Louis, which is two time zones away from Seattle. Seattle is awesome (and lucky) at home. But I’m not sure Seattle could beat Alcorn State in Tacoma.
BILLS over Jets: I’m completely ignoring my brain on this one to say that the never-ending saga of nationally-focused-hyperbole that is the J-E-T-S will be given yet another week of life and controversy as they lose to the lowly, and heretofore, winless Buffalo Bills. Maybe it’s because Gregg Easterbrook is the special guest of Bills owner Ralph Wilson at the game, I don’t know, but after two emotional wins for the J-E-T-S, this is a classic trap game.
Colts over JAGUARS: After Week One, JAX 1-0, IND 0-1. In the last two weeks, David Gerrard has turned back into David Gerrard, and Peyton Manning’s defense has done just enough to help him turn into the character he plays in Madden 2011 so well. This is why I don’t make picks until Week Four when things start to make at least a little sense. On a side note, I think it would be fun if Jack Del Rio and John Fox could fight over a defensive coordinator job on the same team next year, specifically the Patriots whose defense is so atrocious they need two coordinators. It might be the last way Bellichek can game the system, dueling, hot-headed coordinators. Maybe he could throw-in Mike Singletary for the trifecta.
Texans over RAIDERS: Is there any possibility I could pick this game with my brain? None. I am the sort of Raider-Hater that plainly enjoys watching them lose in spectacular fashion. I am hoping the fumblitis that plagued Arian Foster at University of Tennessee decides to stay dormant another week. It’s always a logical pick when it’s based on pure hope one team’s eventual-choke-waiting-to-happen stays in the box, right?
CHARGERS over Cardinals: Phillip Rivers is back and he’s mad! Antonio Gates is unstoppable! Ken Whisenhunt looks like a football coach! This game is made for a Fox afternoon doubleheader viewed in 5% of US Markets. For the love of Eli Manning… San Diego would likely have won multiple Super Bowls with Eli as their quarterback and Phillip Rivers would have never survived the New York Media if that trade never happened. Talk about the luck of personality, Phillip ends up on the West Coast where despite proximity to 20 million people, they struggle to sell out home games, and the dumbest member of the Manning Family ends up in NYC and still earns a ring. Phillip Rivers and the entire San Diego Charger Organization’s Collective Aptitude for Immaturity cost them another win last week. They gave up two long kickoff returns for touchdowns and had plenty of time to beat Seattle in the Red Zone late. But error after error and whine after whine put them in a desperate fourth down situation and Phillip threw his second pick of the day to a rookie safety. Watch Phillip light up the Cardinals like he lit up the Jaguars, and then see if this team is still around in mid-January. My Charger Haiku of the Week Thunder and Bluster, Really signify nothing, coached by Norv Turner.
EAGLES over Redskins: Two Super Bowls 13 years ago apparently will entitle Mike Shanahan to a 5-11 season with this payroll and job security intact. Hey, it worked for Joe Gibbs, and his most recent Super Bowl was 15 years prior to his hire in DC. Mike Vick will again be electric, and again, it won’t matter, because the team he is playing is not that good or that interested in stopping him. His ten quarter parade of highlights came in garbage time with Green Bay and against Detroit and Jacksonville. It will be 14 quarters when he is praised by Costas and Dungy on Sunday Night. Let’s wait until Week 6 when he has Atlanta or Week 7 when he has to go to Tennessee. Until he plays someone meaningful, so what?
GIANTS over Bears: This is the easiest pick of the day. The Giants are in total chaos and Jay Cutler is 3-0 and “thriving in Mike Martz’s system”. The national media clearly is bored by the Broncos and is using this weekend to rub that fact in as the ex-Bronco quarterback is on National TV for the 2nd straight week and the ex-Bronco “playmaker” is on national TV for the 2nd street week. Hey, thanks scheduling, we didn’t notice. New York is unraveling fast, but will keep it together primarily on the likelihood that a nationally televised Jay Cutler tank job is in the works. Nothing can reinvigorate false hope like a bunch of gift-wrapped Cutler darts to cornerbacks. There’s a reason he doesn’t stay hot for weeks at a time and there’s a reason Mike Martz never stays long in one place. Hey, what if Lovie Smith joined Del Rio, Fox and Singletary as a 4th Defensive Coordinator in New England next year? America has finally caught up with the NFL where job security has been understood as “one-week at a time” for decades.
DOLPHINS over Patriots: As far as the game is concerned, the New England defense cannot stop anyone, and Maui Jim Tony Sparano is not about to let his team of beef lose two straight nationally televised night games. Yes, in terms of who is coaching and the identity of a team, it matters more on the Dolphins’ sideline than on the Patriots’ sideline this week. This will be an 8-8 stink bomb year for the Pats. Maybe they rebound next year, as they did in 2003, but it is not just Brandon “The Beast” Marshal that will torment New England, but Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, and it makes me sick to say this, but even Chad Henne. Henne is a less sexy clone of Mark Sanchez and the Sanchize just picked apart the Pats two weeks ago. If Henne is competent, Brady can’t beat him. The reasons are multiple. Henne has a young quarterback’s best asset: a sound defense. But the real issue here is Brady. He is no longer the field general he once was. Maybe it’s the hair; maybe it’s West Coast living (it’s increasingly easy to dismiss the West Coast in all things NFL, isn’t it? There are no teams in LA, you always wait for the Chargers to choke, the Raiders rhyme with choke, the Seahawks were relevant one season in the last 20 and the Niner’s have not been the same since Steve Young retired a decade ago); maybe it’s the new long-term salary; maybe it’s that he really is not that great a person (gunfire at his wedding, crashing a “loaned” $100K Audi in a weird “is it or is it not sponsored by a kid’s charity” scandal); maybe it’s just that he’s like every other selfish athlete of my generation (or just a part of my generation)… but the point is, he is leading me to believe that his best years are behind him. As a died-in-the-wool Bronco fan, I’d like to point out he’s no John Elway. John single-handedly TANKED dozens of Monday Night games for the Broncos and three Super Bowls in his first 8 years. He did that himself. He suffered and he had himself, Dan Reeves and Wade Phillips to blame, but mostly, himself. Who did John become after he turned 30? How did he finish? A back-to-back Super Bowl winner in his 14th and 15th seasons. He literally rode off into the sunset, and what you remember by that exit is, “damn, every single week, a bad team was in the game at the very end and found ways to win because he willed them there”. Maybe it was Shanahan, because his last three years statistically, were three of his best. Elway was a jerk his first few years in Denver. He almost ran me over at Training Camp when I visited in ’86 as he was notorious for avoiding autograph seekers. He was known for $0.05 tips on $0.99 happy hour beers. But the point is, as he aged, he grew up. There was still talent late in the career, but it was leadership and brains that ultimately made him a Super Bowl winner. Now back to the Brady of Now: 33, and leadership and brains? Brady, like a lot of this generation, is living backwards. In his 30’s, he should be using his brain, not his brawn. He just narrowly escaped Ryan Fitzpatrick and Buffalo last week? That 2nd half of the J-E-T-S game was a sad performance. The point is, the Patriots have had this gutsy, young, fearless leader with great talent for ten years. Now they have a guy with talent. The league is filled with talent. It’s the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE as Phil Simms like to say. Talent is a mandate to be among the choice 1000 or so young men who get to play football professionally in America. What is scarce is leadership. The intangibles that make Tom Brady, “Tom Brady” have not been seen since they lost the 2007 Super Bowl. His talent has been on display, but not his intangibles. If he gets that back, the Pats can make the playoffs. Without… then call the dynasty officially dead.