October 20, 2011
By Brian Spencer
How We Did Last Week
It was a good-not-great debut for Degenerate Gambler Weekly as ETB went 4-3 on our Week 6 picks against the spread. If you wagered an equal amount of
paycheck points across the board on all seven picks, you still came out on top.
The high point was the Jets clubbing the Dolphins 24-6 in a thrilling MNF matchup; as you recall, I predicted a 23-6 final score. MNF gets another clunker this week when the Baltimore Ravens, a team that around here we find mostly unwatchable, visit the Jacksonville Jaguars, who for some unbeknownst reason make two MNF appearances this year. Sunday night’s primetime game on the Fuddy-Duddy Network isn’t much better as the 14-point favorite New Orleans Saints host the Indianapolis Colts. Isn’t it time to put flex scheduling–for SNF and MNF–in play all season long to avoid this?
Despite going 4-3, we did miss our Best Bet (Saints didn’t cover and lost to the Bucs… booooo!) and one of our Strong Bets (Lions didn’t cover and lost to the 49ers… hissssss!). We’ve been in the film room all week, however, and promise to get that fixed for Week 7.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5) at Arizona Cardinals: Amazing what a decent left tackle can do for your offense, eh? After an uninspiring 2-2 start to the season in which Ben Roethlisberger looked every bit the part of Rob “Robo-Sack” Johnson behind a decimated offensive line, ex-LT Max Starks rejoined the team and helped shore up the Steelers’ most glaring weakness.
Let’s not pin their two-week offensive resurgence solely on Starks’ arrival, but Roethlisberger has clearly looked more comfortable (36-57, 428 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT) and the running game has taken off (11 carries, 107 yards for Jonathan Dwyer in Week 5; 23 carries, 146 yards, 1 TD for Rashard Mendenhall in Week 6) since then. This week the surging Steelers offense matches up with a mediocre-at-best Cardinals defense allowing just over 24 points and 258 passing yards/per. They’re also near the bottom of the league in total sacks (11) and interceptions (4).
You know things are bad when you lose by 24 points to the 1-5 Minnesota Vikings; you know they’re really bad when your starting quarterback is named Kevin Kolb, who in his past three games has a combined 61.4 QB Rating while tossing 5 picks and just 1 touchdown. The Cards are always tougher at home (read: luckier), but Kolb will struggle against the Steelers’ top-rated pass defense and strong pass rush.
The spread seems suspiciously low, which gives us pause, but we’re still confident everything adds up to a 10+ point win for the visitors. PICK: Steelers Cover
Green Bay Packers (-7.5) at Minnesota Vikings: Not only are the Packers the only undefeated team left in the NFL, they’re clearly the best one. Aaron Rodgers has been scary good and is well on his way to a career season, with 2,037 yards passing (70% completions), 17 TDs, 3 INTs, 2 rushing TDs, and a league-leading 122.4 QB Rating; by comparison, Tom Brady is second with 104.8. Wow.
The thankfully short-lived Donovan McNabb Era in Minnesota ends after just 6 games (even his mom couldn’t watch anymore), with jaunty first-round pick Christian Ponder taking over. He had over a month to watch McNabb get knocked around behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, so we presume he’s lobbying heavily for a game plan centered on Adrian Peterson getting 30+ carries.
The Vikings’ ferocious pass rush, perhaps the team’s lone saving grace in what’s already a forgettable season, figures to give the Packers’ O-line some fits, but not as many as the Packers’ well-rounded wrecking crew will deal to Ponder & Co. PICK: Packers Cover
Oakland Raiders (-3.5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs: A week after all-world punter Shane “I Want to Have Your Babies” Lechler was the best quarterback on the field for the Raiders (1-1, 35 yards, 1 TD on a fake field goal), the recently acquired and previously “retired” Carson Palmer projects to start ahead of warm body Kyle Boller.
Isn’t the dearth of playable quarterbacks in a quarterback-driven league amazing? The Raiders are more comfortable starting a guy who hasn’t played a snap of football since last season, and has been with the team less than a week, than one who’s been with them since last year… and, honestly, Palmer probably does give them a better chance to win than Boller does. There are some exceptions, but most teams are essentially fucked if their starter goes down because the guy behind him is more often than not incapable and a worst-case scenario.
Anyway, we like this 4-2 Raiders team, particularly at home, though the visiting Chiefs have beaten them there three out of their past four matchups. Important fact about your 2011 Chiefs, though: they’re terrible. Despite Dwayne Bowe’s best efforts (23 catches, 420 yards, 4 TDs), the Jamaal Charles-less offense is averaging just 15.4 points/per (29th overall) and the defense, well, they’re the worst in the NFL in allowing an even 30/per. Don’t expect an against-the-grain performance this week. PICK: Raiders Cover
Carolina Panthers (-2.5) vs. Washington Redskins: He’s been a better fantasy player than real-life player so far (fourth-ranked QB based on ETB’s scoring), but Cam Newton has at least kept his otherwise poor Panthers in the game into the fourth quarter and given them a chance to win. Last week’s 31-17 loss at Atlanta represented their biggest end-game deficit: the other four losses have been by an average of 5.5 points.
Newton’s 9 interceptions in those 5 losses hasn’t helped, but he’s arguably made up for at least half of them with his ability to extend the play, turn negative yardage into positive gains, and connect with a rejuvenated Steve Smith (32 catches, 675 yards, 3 TDs). The real problem here is the Panthers’ anemic defense, which is yielding a generous 27.2 points/per (tied 29th overall) and a whopping 140 yards/per on the ground (31st) in the wake of starting MLB and leading tackler Jon Beason’s season-ending torn Achilles in Week 1. Michael Turner burned them for 139 yards and 2 TDs last week, and Matt Forte hung a career-best 205 yards on them in Week 4.
The Redskins, now led by QB John Beck, fortunately employ nobody nearly as explosive as Turner or Forte. Following a week of bye-week hype for Ryan Torain, he and the rest of the ‘Skins offense laid a vomitous turd on Fed Ex Field against the previously matchup-friendly Philadelphia Eagles. Aided by four Rex Grossman interceptions, Torain rushed 10 times for just 22 yards and Roy Helu 2 times for 6 yards; Beck was actually the most effective running threat with 2 carries for 14 yards and a score.
Beck is no worse than Grossman, and give the Redskins a (huge) advantage on defense, but Newton and Smith will concoct enough magic to win and cover what’s almost a pick-em spread at home. PICK: Panthers Cover
Just Trust Us
Miami Dolphins (-3.5) vs. Denver Broncos: Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! Forgive us our sins, oh Lord, and may we never again doubt the Mile High Messiah, who like Moses will soon divide the AFC West Ocean and lead his Broncos to the Blessed Land of Milk & Honey & Touchdowns. We faithfully put our fantasy fates and billfold contents in the saintly hands of Brother Tebow, dear Lord. Deliver us from failure, oh Lord, and may God bless those Broncos. PICK: Broncos Cover
Cleveland Browns (-3.5) vs. Seattle Seahawks: Two evenly matched teams in that they’re both in the league’s bottom half in points allowed, bottom third in scoring, and bottom tenth in watchability.
The Browns are sorting through issues with a 30th-ranked rushing “attack” that’s been hampered by an ineffective, unhealthy, and perhaps tuned-out Peyton Hillis (52.8 yards/per, 3.5 YPC). The Seahawks are right there with ‘em, averaging just 1.6 yards more per game than the Browns on the back of Marshawn Lynch, whose predictably poor season was somewhat disguised in Week 5 by an anamolous effort against a bumbling Giants defense (12 carries, 98 yards, 1 TD). Lynch has otherwise racked up 141 yards (2.7 YPC) and 1 TD in the ‘Hawks other games, but is still enjoying a free pass thanks to his beastly run in last year’s playoffs.
When two blah 2-3 teams collide with a toss-up spread like this one, logic usually says take the points. We’ll take the home team and the one not starting “Checkdown” Charlie Whitehurst at QB. PICK: Browns Cover
Tennessee Titans (-3.5) vs. Houston Texans: We’re not sure what to make of the Titans. They looked legit during a three-game win streak that included a 26-13 spanking of the Ravens at home, but were flattened in Week 5 at Pittsburgh 38-17. This week’s tilt with the division rival Houston Texans is the first of three consecutive post-bye home games that are all winnable, starting with this one against a Texans team missing two of its top impact players in WR Andre Johnson and DE/LB Mario Williams.
We’d feel more comfortable with -2.5 points, but don’t like what we’ve seen from the battered Texans the last 2 weeks and think Chris Johnson has a good shot at the breakout game we’ve been waiting for. PICK: Titans Cover
Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders Photo Credits: Icon SMI