- The Season's Over -

Degenerate Gambler Weekly: Week 13 NFL Picks Against the Spread

December 1, 2011

Laurent Robinson

By Brian Spencer

How We Did Last Week

We stuffed ourselves silly on Thanksgiving and couldn’t recover in time to get last week’s picks up, but of course still turned them into the weekly pool. A strong 5-2 week looked like a surefire 6-1 week, but then the Steelers offense happened on MNF and they failed to cover 9.5 at the Chiefs, despite an anemic showing from Tyler Palko & Co. As for Week 11, it was our worst showing of the season by far: 1-6. Oops.

Best Bet

Dallas Cowboys (-4.5) at Arizona Cardinals: We usually feel really good about at least one game every week, if not two or three, but nothing really jumped out at us as a lock. This is the closest thing to it, with a streaking Cowboys team heading to the desert to take on a Cardinals team that’s represented themselves well enough as of late, but one we still have very little confidence in against a team that’s clicking like Dallas is.

Look for Laurent Robinson to extend his incredible touchdown streak to six games in a row, and for studly rookie RB DeMarco Murray to help salt away a double-digit win in the fourth quarter. PICK: Cowboys Cover

Strong Bets

Green Bay Packers (-6.5) at New York Giants: At first glance this feels like somewhat of a trap game and spread, but can’t overlook just how dismal the Giants have looked since their 24-20 upset of the New England Patriots a month ago. The loss to the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago was embarassing, but the blowout loss to the Saints was somehow even worse: the Giants defense basically packed it in midway through the third quarter. I’m also sore about that garbage touchdown they gifted to Mark Ingram, which handed Mr. Thell an inexplicable two-point win over me in fantasy football.

The Packers can’t keep this up forever (right?), but injuries are really taking a toll on the Giants right now, as is the losing and dimming playoff hopes. We can see this being close, but also see the Pack winning by at least a touchdown. PICK: Packers Cover

Norvball

Cincinnati Bengals (+7.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers: The season-ending (career-threatening?) injury to top CB Leon Hall is such a shame: this Bengals team has proven they’re legitimate playoff contenders, but the loss of Hall obviously hurts.

How about that A.J. Green? Head coach Marvin Lewis recently called him “the most impressive first-round pick he’s ever been around”, and it seems he leaps his way to big, acrobatic plays every week; if the guy had any basketball goals, I’m sure some NBA team would invite him to camp. He leads the team in receptions (44), receiving yards (745), and TDs (6), and pairs nicely with his rookie classmate QB Andy Dalton. This offense is going to give teams fits for years, especially once they find a young stud running back.

Anyway, with Troy Polamalu looking questionable (concussion symptoms), we’ll take the points in a key divisional matchup that could come down to the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh won the previous matchup by 7 points; we woudn’t be shocked if that margin of victory is reversed in Cincy’s favor. PICK: Bengals Cover

Just Trust Us

St. Louis Rams (+13.5) at San Francisco 49ers: The Rams are terrible and the 49ers are cruising on their backs of their imposing defense and serviceable offense. Still, 13.5 points seems rich for a 49ers offense near the bottom of the league in total yards per with 308. This is basically Colts/Pats Jr. (see below): it’s tough covering spreads like this. PICK: Rams Cover

San Diego Chargers (-2.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars: I know–we just refuse to learn our lesson with the Chargers. Classic Norvball on display in that last week’s overtime loss to the Broncos, wherein the Chargers, as usual, played not to lose, not to win. Nothing new on that front. It’s a small wonder that Norv wasn’t fired on Monday morning, especially since that loss, their sixth in a row, basically killed the season. I guess it’s just business as usual in San Diego.

The Jaguars, on the other hand, endured the exact opposite this week after their 20-13 loss to the Texans pushed their record to 3-8. Head coach Jack Del Rio was canned, a number of players were benched or cut (including WR Jason Hill), and their owner cut bait on this lifeless franchise and sold the team. Sadly, we’re still not sure which team is in more disarray, but like the Chargers to cover because… well… honestly, I have no fucking clue why we think they’ll cover. We just do. PICK: Chargers Cover

Indianapolis Colts (+21.5) at New England Patriots: We’ve only seen a small handful of 20+ point spreads in the last 11 years, so we had to get this one on here one way or the other just for fun. Look, the Pats should cover this, easily… but the margin of error on spreads like this is thin. An ill-timed, wacky turnover here, a fumble there, a dropped touchdown pass–it won’t take much.

Plus, as woeful as the Colts are in nearly every aspect of the game on both sides of the ball, let’s not forget the Pats defense has issues too. We expect a ball-control plan of attack by Indy to try, probably fruitlessly, to keep Brady & Co. off the field, so you never know. Oh, fuck, it’s probably a Pats blowout, but can’t resist what might be our only opportunity to root for the Colts all year. You just know this game (with the spread considered) will come down to one play with under 2 minutes to go. PICK: Colts Cover

New Orleans Saints (-7.5) vs. Detroit Lions: I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this, but our weekly picks are the result of intense discussions of all the games on the docket between me, my ETB colleague Andrew Thell, and our friend Chris. What’s my point? I’m the only reason the Saints are this low on the list: Andrew and Chris liked this game a lot more than I did, mostly because they aren’t hopeless lifelong Lions fans who can’t bear to bet against his team to lose in such a big game.

I actually like the Lions’ chances in this one, not only to cover but also to win. They could just as easily get blown out, which would make sense if you compare the Saints’ Week 12 demolition of the New York Giants with the Lions’ whimper of an effort against the Packers on Thanksgiving. Remember, however, that the NFL is wildly inconsistent from week to week, and if you’re betting with spreads I know you remember the Saints laying their fair share of puzzling clunkers (the Week 8 loss to the Rams stands out).

Still, the Saints are rolling and the Lions are reeling. The Saints are our pick, but go Lions! PICK: Saints Cover

Laurent Robinson & Norv Turner Photo Credits: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Dec. 1, 2011 at 8:29pm in ETB Articles, NFL

Degenerate Gambler Weekly: Week 11 NFL Picks Against the Spread

November 17, 2011

Rex Ryan

By Brian Spencer and Andrew Thell

How We Did Last Week

We pitched a 4-3 record for Week 10, striking out on our Panthers, Vikings, and Bills picks: all three were blown out. It happens. We move on, starting with the Thursday night tilt between the Jets and Broncos.

Best Bet

New York Jets (-4.5) at Denver Broncos: Kudos to Broncos head coach John Fox for adapting to the lack of NFL quarterbacking skills possessed by his starting quarterback, and to Tim Tebow for executing the plan. As you know by now, last week Denver ran the ball 55 times (55!) against the bumbling Kansas City Chiefs, while Tebow only attempted 8 passes (8!), completing 2 (2!). They won the game 17-10, and have now won 2 of Tebow’s 3 starts on the season. Well done, guys.

Excuse us if we’re not quite ready to jump on the Tebow Apologist bandwagon just yet, however. At some point some team is going to go back and watch the Lions/Broncos tape and figure out how to grind the Tebow-led Broncos offense to an ugly halt: stack the box and put your corners in press coverage. Dare them to drop back and throw. Absolutely commit to the run. It’s really not that complicated.

The Jets don’t strike us as a team that’s going to put up with the kind of shit Denver got away with against Kansas City, particularly coming off a humbling loss to the New England Patriots. We’ll be shocked–absolutely fucking shocked–if Denver has any sustained success moving the ball tonight. The only thing that will deep-six the Jets’ chances of covering are Sanchez turnovers and/or wildly ineffective play (a significant possibility), and/or special teams turnovers deep in their own territory.

Spreads for the pool at our local watering hole are released on Tuesdays; since then Vegas has moved it to 6. We’d take that too. PICK: Jets Cover

***Friday Morning Update*** Really, Jets? Yesterday I predicted that the only way the Jets don’t handily take care of business is if Sanchez turned the ball over and played poorly, and/or if the Jets’ traditionally rock-solid special teams underperformed. Well, let’s see here:

+ On special teams, kicker Nick Folk missed two field goals (though one was a 61-yarder), Joe McKnight lost a fumble on a kickoff return, and Broncos return man Cassius Vaughn (great name) returned a kickoff 67 yards and nearly took it to the house. Broncos punter Dustin Colquitt also pinned the Jets deep inside their territory on 3 of his 8 punts. Not a great day for Mike Westhoff’s special teams crew.

+ As for Mark Sanchez, he’s a bum. Later calling his effort “embarassing”, Sanchez finished 24-40 for 252 yards (6.3 YPA), took 3 sacks, and threw a game-turning pick six INT to Broncos CB Andre Goodman. The stats don’t tell the whole story though: “Sanchise” routinely missed open receivers, including TE Dustin Keller for a wide-open would-be touchdown, and rushed his throws when under any sort of pressure.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer again orchestrated an excruciatingly conservative, predictable game plan that helped set this team up for defeat and a poor showing on offense. Credit Champ Bailey for doing a great job of sticking with Santonio Holmes, but that kid is a playmaker when given the opportunity: I can’t recall any plays last night designed to get Holmes open in the middle of the field, in space, on a crossing pattern 15+ yards down the field. It’s a real wonder that Schottenheimer is still with this team–he’s shown nothing and has clearly been the weak link on the Jets coaching staff for years now.

Despite the special teams foibles, this game would have been 20-3 Jets with a capable quarterback and offensive coordinator running the show. Yuck.

Strong Bets

Dallas Cowboys (-7.5) at Washington Redskins: Good times in Washington, eh? A week after Mike Shenanigans deemed rookie RB Roy Helu “the guy”, Ryan Torain gets the starting nod and the bulk of the carries, totaling 20 yards on 10 attempts; Helu ran 6 times for 41 yards, but who’s counting. News also leaked late in the week that desposed starter Rex Grossman was splitting first-team reps at quarterback with incumbent starter John Beck. Sure enough, Sexy Rexy got the start, was sacked thrice, picked twice, posted a 58.7 QB Rating, and the Redskins put up 9 points in a 20-9 loss to the then 1-7 Miami Dolphins. Kicker Graham Gano also missed two field goals.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys seem to be catching fire at just the right time, winning 3 of their past 4 by an average of just under 25 points/per. Save for two huge games looming against the New York Giants, they’re entering the patsy portion of their schedule, starting with this visit to Washington. We’ve seen nothing from the ‘Skins to suggest they can keep this game close. PICK: Cowboys Cover

Aaron Rodgers

New York Giants (-3.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles: You hate to take a big spread with the Giants because of their propensity to play down to their opponent, but 3.5 is too hard to pass up here. It looks extremely unlikely Michael Vick will suit up with the broken ribs this week, and even if he does he’s unlikely to be effective; the Iggles’ top WR, Jeremy Maclin, is also extremely iffy. That likely leaves Vince Young under center, a man who does not respond well to pressure–and the Giants can assuredly pressure the quarterback. On top of this, it’s a massive divisional game at home and Eli Manning is playing by far the best football of his career. PICK: Giants Cover

Just Trust Us

Green Bay Packers (-13.5) vs. Tampa Bay Bucs: On Monday we watched in agony as the Packers decimated the Vikings in every aspect of the game and easily put to bed our expectations that Minnesota would keep it close and cover the 13.5 spread. We wonder how much longer Green Bay can keep this up–and don’t forget that defense was struggling leading up to Monday night’s massacre–but this doesn’t feel like the week that the bubble bursts.

The Bucs are in shambles right now, and Lambeau Field isn’t exactly a friendly venue for struggling, warm-weather teams. After rooting for the Packers to slow things down against Minnesota, we’re looking forward to rooting for them to run it up instead.
PICK: Packers Cover

New England Patriots (-14.5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs: The reasoning behind this can be summed up in two words: Tyler Palko.

No, this is actually a rich spread and we like to avoid favorites in these situations, but New England is excellent at home and Bill Belichick has never shied away from pouring it on. Brady finally snapped out of his funk in the second half against the Jets last week, and the Chiefs are absolutely reeling after back-to-back embarrassing losses in Arrowhead to the Dolphins and Broncos. You also have to wonder how many more devastating injuries this team can take before they fold up camp and call it a season. I think zero is the answer.
PICK: Patriots Cover

Carolina Panthers (+7.5) at Detroit Lions: We like the Lions a lot better as a team and we expect them to win this game, but they’re having issues of their own right now. Detroit can’t seem to establish a balanced attack on offense, and opponents are pinning their ears back and going after Matthew Stafford. He’s looked rattled as a result, posting QB Ratings in the 46-86 range with yards per attempt under 6 in four of the last six games.

And while the Detroit front is excellent at bringing pressure into the backfield, the Panthers are a team that can make a team pay for being over aggressive with the extremely mobile Cam Newton at quarterback and talented Jonathan Stewart catching screens. This smells more like a 4-7 point victory, not an 8+ win. PICK: Panthers Cover

Buffalo Bills (+2.5) at Miami Dolphins: Come on now, the Dolphins are favorites all of the sudden? Yeah, they’ve won two in a row (against the abysmal Chiefs and Redskins) and they tend to play better at home, but this is still one of the worst teams in football.

Don’t overreact to the Bills recent losses to the strong defenses of the Jets and Cowboys. Say what you will about Buffalo and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s recent struggles (I for one don’t think he’s a long-term solution at quarterback), but there’s a lot more talent on the Buffalo side of the ball and I’ll take Fitz, Fred Jackson, and Chan Gailey over Matt Moore, Reggie Bush, and Tony Sparano any day of the week. With Stevie Johnson looking more and more likely to play, expect the cunning Gailey to make the necessary adjustments to right this ship on offense and the Bills to win outright. PICK: Bills Cover

Rex Ryan and Aaron Rodgers Photo Credits: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 17, 2011 at 5:51pm in ETB Articles, NFL

Degenerate Gambler Weekly: Week 10 NFL Picks Against the Spread

November 11, 2011

Arian Foster

By Brian Spencer

How We Did Last Week

We felt particularly confident about last week’s picks, and turns out we were right: 5-2. It looked like 6-1 until the Ravens scored a last-gasp touchdown to ruin the Steelers -3.5 (they led 20-16 with 8 seconds left); the other miss was picking the favored Kansas City Chiefs to cover 5.5 vs. the then-winless Miami Dolphins. The Chiefs instead took the day off.

We’re running a bit behind schedule this week, so here’s the quick-and-dirty picks for Week 10. Some tough spreads this time around with so many clunkers on the schedule, but after discussions into the wee hours of Thursday morning we’ve emerged with seven picks we feel pretty good about.

Best Bet

Houston Texans (-2.5) at Tampa Bay Bucs: Arian Foster and Ben Tate are both currently on pace to rush for over 1,000 yards, and have played major roles in getting the Texans off to their best start in franchise history. That’s despite losing Mario Williams for the season and Andre Johnson for the past 5 weeks (this week makes it 6).

Having those horses in the backfield is obviously fueling the strong start, but that pass defense is quietly turning into one of the league’s best: the Texans are currently second overall in passing yards allowed/per (182.6) and are tied for fourth overall in team interceptions (11).

Those two recipes for success are not good for the up-and-down Bucs. With DT Gerald McCoy on the shelf now for the rest of the year, Albert Haynesworth was brought in to help shore up a rush defense that’s been gashed over 132.4 yards/per and allowed 8 rushing TDs; we don’t think he’ll make much difference. On the other side of the ball, third-year QB Josh Freeman, as well as his second-year WR Mike Williams, have regressed. PICK: Texans Cover

Strong Bets

New England Patriots (+1.5) at New York Jets: This one’s a toss-up. We know the Jets always play the Pats tough, and that the Ryan Bros. consistently devise defensive game plans that limit Tom Brady’s effectiveness. Speaking of defense, the Patriots are allowing more total yards per (416) than anybody in the league. It’s tough to sweep the Jets, but we just can’t see the Pats losing three in a row. They need this one. Pick: Patriots Cover

Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers (-3.5) vs. Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson finally showed signs of life out of the Titans backfield last week, rushing for 64 yards (4.6 YPC, his best game total so far) and tacking on 46 receiving yards. He’s still only scored 1 TD on the season, however, but this could be the week he breaks on through: the Panthers allow 133 rushing yards/per (28th overall) and have already yielded 11 rushing scores (tied for worst). We’ve said this a few times now with Johnson, but if he can’t do it this week, when will he?

Regardless, the Jekyll-and-Hyde Titans’ bigger problem is figuring out how to control Cam Newton, Steve Smith, and the Panthers’ (at times) dynamic offense. All in all we like the Panthers at home more than we do the Titans on the road. PICK: Panthers Cover

Just Trust Us

Minnesota Vikings (+13.5) at Green Bay Packers: It’s NFC North Rivalry Weekend with the 6-2 Bears and 5-3 Lions squaring off in Chicago, and the unbeaten Packers hosting the 2-6 Vikings, who are coming off a bye. Minnesota hung tough in Week 7, with rookie QB Christian Ponder at the helm of a 33-27 loss in his first NFL start. We think it’ll be a similarly competitive affair, with a steady pounding of AP helping the Vikings control the clock and keep that almost unstoppable Packers offense off the field as much as possible. Speaking of unstoppable, look for Jared Allen to add two more sacks to what’s looking like a record-setting 2011 resume. PICK: Vikings Cover

St. Louis Rams (+2.5) at Cleveland Browns: We’re not going to watch a single minute of this game and don’t recommend you do either, unless your only other option is Jacksonville and Indianapolis. Or Washington and Miami. Ugh. Steven Jackson is the difference here as the Rams pick up a rare win. PICK: Rams Cover

Buffalo Bills (+5.5) at Dallas Cowboys: Somehow forgot to post this pick on Friday when this was published. Right, so… Bills didn’t cover.PICK: Bills Cover

Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5) at Indianapolis Colts: Like the Rams/Browns game, this game is for football masochists only. You have no reason to tune into this one unless you own Maurice Jones-Drew on your fantasy team. Don’t ask. Just bet. PICK: Jaguars Cover

Arian Foster & Cam Newton Photo Credits: Icon SMI

1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 11, 2011 at 4:34pm in ETB Articles, NFL

Degenerate Gambler Weekly: Week 9 NFL Picks Against the Spread

November 3, 2011

Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons

By Brian Spencer

How We Did Last Week

We went 4-3, and are still glaring in the direction of the Saints, last week’s Best Bet, for that shitshow in St. Louis. We also missed on the Browns, who got 9.5 points–they lost by 10–and the favored Chargers, who lost in overtime at Kansas City after Philip Rivers threw for 369 yards, but couldn’t find the endzone but threw 2 INTs, took 3 sacks, and lost a fumble.

Good times.

Having kicked this column off in Week 6, our record now stands at 11-10. Not so hot, but stick with us: we’ll help you earn back that dog food money yet.

Best Bet

Atlanta Falcons (-6.5) at Indianapolis Colts: Pass-rushing demons Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are the only factors that give us slight pause, particularly with Falcons’ starting LT Sam Baker out. What else do the Colts have going for them right now?

They’ve lost their last 3 games by an average of 27 points–okay, that includes that 55-point laugher against the Saints 2 weeks ago, but still–and they’re at or very close to the bottom of the league in most major offensive and defensive categories. Their coach is squarely on the hot seat. We’re not sure what kind of home-field advantage an 0-8 team has, either.

The Falcons have been underwhelming, and certainly not resembled the Super Bowl-contending team many predicted they would be, but they’re coming off two straight wins (and a bye, last week) and should have no trouble ramming Michael Turner down the Colts’ throats. We see no reason why the Falcons shouldn’t win this one by at least 10 points. PICK: Falcons Cover

Strong Bets

Green Bay Packers (-5.5) at San Diego Chargers: Following their frustrating performance and non-cover on Monday, I swore we wouldn’t pick the Chargers game this week, regardless of the spread. They’re too unpredictable, and already feel like that team that’s going to fuck you on a weekly basis, covering when you bet against them and not covering when you bet with them. There’s one wild card every year.

I’d be lying, then, if I said I was totally comfortable with this because I’m not. Yes, the Packers are clearly the NFL’s best team right now and just spent a week resting up on bye. They’re 4-0 on the road. On the other side, the Chargers have only had 5 days to focus on the Packers and are pretty banged up, particularly in the backfield with starter Ryan Matthews and third-stringer Curtis Brinkley both likely out. Mike Tolbert is expected to carry the load, but keep in mind he was out last week and isn’t 100% either.

They still have big-time playmakers, though, in WRs Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and TE Antonio Gates. You have to think Rivers is going to have a breakout game at some point, but then again, maybe not. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Packers should cover this, and we think they will cover this, but wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t.
Pick: Packers Cover

San Francisco 49ers Defense

Tennessee Titans (-3.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Just as we were suspicious of the low 3.5 points the Steelers were only favored by a few weeks ago in Arizona (they won by 12), we’re similarly leery that Vegas knows something we don’t here.

It’s fair to say that the 5-2 Bengals have enjoyed a fairly easy schedule thus far, with their wins coming against teams with a combined record of 12-25; take the Bills out and it’s 7-23. As we discussed last week, however, that defense is legit, ranked 4th overall in both points allowed and yards allowed, 2nd in rushing yards allowed, and 9th in passing yards allowed.

Rookie QB Andy Dalton is clicking with fellow rookie A.J. Green (33 receptions, 516 yards, 5 TDs), and though he’s not the league’s most exciting starting RB, Cedric Benson is back from a one-game suspension and is still an upgrade on backup Bernard Scott.

In short, this is much more complete team than the one Tennessee is fielding, and with two tough games apiece looming against the Steelers and Ravens, the Bengals know they need to take care of business against middling teams like the Titans. If they lose, it’ll be by a slim margin. PICK: Bengals Cover

San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) at Washington Redskins: Was anybody out there sad to see Mike Shanahan get shut out for the first time in his NFL head-coaching career last week? Didn’t think so. A week removed from an ugly 23-0 thrashing at the hands of the Buffalo Bills (9 sacks allowed, 2 turnovers, 178 total yards) and in the midst of a three-game slide, a visit by the brutally efficient 6-1 ‘Niners is, well, it’s not good.

The 49ers have rattled five consecutive wins, including three on the road against playoff-caliber teams (Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Detroit). We’ll never be fans of QB Alex Smith, but will give him some credit: he’s playing within himself and the offense’s modest game plan and not doing anything to put his team in a bad position. He is, indeed, right now the league’s best Game Manager. I know how depressing that sounds.

More importantly, that defense is dominating. Check out these per-game allowances: 15.3 points (1st), 73.4 rushing yards (1st), 3.5 rushing yards/attempt (4th), passing yards/attempt (12th). Good luck, John Beck. PICK: 49ers Cover

Just Trust Us

Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens trashed Pittsburgh in Week 1 to the tune of 35-7. Great win for them. A few fun facts though:

+ The Steelers turned the ball over seven times in that game. That won’t happen this time.
+ The Ravens were at home–this is a vastly different team on the road (See Week 7 at Jacksonville.)
+ The Steelers’ offensive line–really, their whole offense–was in shambles to start the season. It’s still not a dominant line, but the reintroduction of Max Starks at LT has worked wonders.
+ The Steelers are 6-1 since that opening day loss and are coming off an impressive 25-17 win over the New England Patriots.
+ Ravens QB Joe Flacco has a career 2-5 record against the Steelers; at PIT, his average QB Rating is 61.3.
+ REVENGE! BLOODY FUCKING REVENGE!
Pick: Steelers Cover

Kansas City Chiefs (-5.5) vs. Miami Dolphins: A few weeks ago I said that the KC Chiefs were terrible. Can I take it back? They’re not terrible. In fact, kudos to the Chiefs for bouncing back from a 0-3 start to win four in a row, including a huge (and improbable) overtime win Monday night over the San Diego Chargers. Considering all the injuries they’ve dealt with, and the fact that they’re still starting Matt Cassel at quarterback, being tied for first place in the up-for-grabs AFC West is impressive.

The Miami Dolphins, bless their little hearts, are still winless but have kept the final outcome close for two consecutive weeks, losing somewhat of a heartbreaker 20-17 on the road against the NY Giants last week, and feeling the wrath of Tebow’s God two weeks ago 18-15 against Denver. Couple that with a growing sense of desperation, and the 5.5 spread makes sense.

The Chiefs are playing with abundant confidence right now, though, and we all know that Arrowhead Stadium is up there with CenturyLink Field in Seattle and Ford Field in Detroit (this season, at least) as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. Rookie first-round WR Jonathan Baldwin finally broke out last week (5 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD): that’s a huge development for this offense if he can sustain relevance. PICK: Chiefs Cover

Dallas Cowboys (-12.5) vs. Seattle Seahawks: The Cowboys are clearly the better team here, but what have they done thus far in their 3-4 season to warrant a double-digit spread like this? Oh, they absolutely could blow out the Seahawks, who are 1-3 on the road and coming off a 22-point home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. They’re missing their top two corners, are near the bottom of the league in points per (15.6), and rank 31st overall in both team rushing yards/per (77.7) and total yards per (284).

There’s (a little) more to the story of the Seahawks’ thus-far forgettable season, though. Last week’s game against the Bengals was actually a close 5-point game with 4:50 left in the fourth quarter: late TDs from Brandon Tate (56-yard punt return TD) and Reggie Nelson (75-yard INT) blew things open. They also nearly upset the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4, and stunned the New York Giants on the road 36-25 a week later. The offense may be terrible overall, but they’re certainly much better with Tarvaris Jackson behind center: he’s thrown for 300+ yards in 2 of his past 3 games.

The Cowboys have been tough against the run (4th overall), but their best linebacker, Sean Lee, is out, as is starting CB Mike Jenkins. We think the Seahawks’ somewhat underrated defense and middling offense will make enough plays–or maybe it’s that the Cowboys won’t make enough plays–to keep the final score within 10 points. PICK: Seahawks Cover

Michael Turner and San Francisco 49ers Defense Photo Credits: Icon SMI

1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 3, 2011 at 5:35pm in ETB Articles, NFL

Degenerate Gambler Weekly: Week 8 NFL Picks Against the Spread

October 27, 2011

Drew Brees

By Brian Spencer

How We Did Last Week

Meh. It wasn’t a total disaster, but our 3-4 record for Week 7 was disappointing. We swung and missed on the favored Titans and Raiders covering–both were handily blown out–but few saw that coming.

What rankles us more is the Browns failing to cover -3.5 in the biggest Toilet Bowl game so far, a mind-numbing 6-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Most of our ire is directed at Seahawks DT Red Bryant, who not only blocked two Phil Dawson field-goal attempts but also prevented a third one late in the fourth quarter. From the good people at ProFootballTalk:

After the Seahawks sacked Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on third down with about a minute to go, Bryant head-butted Browns tight end Alex Smith. That personal foul got Bryant ejected and gave the Browns an automatic first down, and all they had to do was kneel down twice to run out the clock.

Idiot.

The Vikings’ inspired effort against the Green Bay Packers wasn’t good enough for a win, but 1.5 points good enough to cover the 7.5 spread in their 33-27 loss. We thought that one was in the bag, particularly with Aaron Rodgers shredding the Minny secondary and staking his team to a healthy 33-17 lead after three quarters. Hey, that’s football.

Best Bet

Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5) at Seattle Seahawks: The 2-4 Seahawks return to Seattle for just their third home game following that riveting loss at Cleveland… and they’re still in second place in the NFC West! Exciting! This team has a well-known (and earned) reputation for overachieving at home in what’s always a rowdy atmosphere, but we wonder if that home-field advantage is strong enough in this matchup against the streaking Cincinnati Bengals to warrant this low spread: they’re otherwise overmatched in almost every category.

The 4-2 Bengals look like a playoff team. Led by unglamorous-but-effective rookie QB Andy Dalton and explosive rookie WR A.J. Green, the Bengals offense is capable, though not unstoppable, but it’s their rock-solid defense that’ll largely determine the team’s fate going forward. They’re yielding just 18.5 points/per (4th overall), and are 5th overall in both passing and rushing yards allowed. That’s bad news for a stinky Seahawks offense putting up just 16.2 points and 262.8 total yards per. QB Tarvaris Jackson looks like he’ll return to the starting lineup, but he’s really not been much better than Charlie Whitehurst. Cringe.

The home-field advantage is not insignificant, but neither is Seattle’s loss of starting CBs Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond. Look for Dalton to hook up with Green for another score and for the Bengals DEF to cause a few key sacks and turnovers. PICK: Bengals Cover

Strong Bets

New Orleans Saints (-11.5) at St. Louis Rams: Heading into a tangle with a defense that’s giving up 28.5 points/per, the Saints are averaging a league-best 34.1 points/per, a number significantly aided by the 62 smackers they laid on the Colts in primetime last week. Coincidentally, the Colts defense is the only one that’s been more generous than the Rams’. Happy Late-October, Drew Brees.

Brees is again leading a prolific attack that’s 2nd in total yards, 2nd in passing yards, and 9th in rushing yards. New Orleans is relatively healthy on both sides of the ball (though rookie RB Mark Ingram is likely out), they’re motivated, and… enough about the Saints. This one’s about the winless Rams.

Sam Bradford will likely sit again, which means the league’s worst offense, the only one averaging less than 10 points/per (9.3, to be precise), will again be led by A.J. Feeley. Get psyched, Rams fans! The question isn’t if the Rams can pull an upset here–they absolutely cannot–but whether they can cover that hefty 11.5 spread. Their last two games have been a 27-point loss to the Cowboys and a 21-point loss to the Packers, so here’s your answer.
PICK: Saints Cover

Tim Tebow

San Diego Chargers (-3.5) at Kansas City Chiefs: He can deny it all he wants, but something’s not right with San Diego’s bolt-thrower Philip Rivers. One of the league’s best and most consistent regular-season QBs for the past 3 years, Rivers has looked out of sorts from the get-go and is on track for a career-worst season through 6 games. He’s thrown more picks (9) than TDs (7), and based on what he saw in DirecTV’s “Short Cuts” version of last week’s Chargers/Jets game, my colleague Mr. Thell is convinced Rivers is hiding some sort of injury.

You’ll recall that the last time Rivers and the Chargers ventured to Arrowhead Stadium, in Week 1 last season, they left with an unexpected 21-14 loss to a Chiefs team that unexpectedly went on to the playoffs. Last year was last year, however, and though the Chargers’ four wins have come against teams with a combined 6-19 record–including a narrow 20-17 win over these Chiefs in Week 3–we have a hunch Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert are in for big games against a KC defense allowing 125.5 yards rushing/per; Matthews had 149 yards from scrimmage and 2 TDs in their first matchup. Beyond Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs offense simply has nothing to counter-punch with. PICK: Chargers Cover

Detroit Lions (-3.5) at Denver Broncos: You knew it was going to happen, right? (Of course you did, it was predicted in Corinthians 16:22.) You knew Tim Tebow, after logging 56 minutes of some of the worst quarterback play I’ve ever seen on a NFL field (4-14, 40 yards), would bounce back and comandeer a come-from-behind victory against the winless Miami Dolphins. There’s simply no way our Lord would let the bad guys win and fail to deliver the good guys into the victorious promised land.

Lost in the “excitement” of Denver’s 18-15 overtime over the putrid Dolphins is the fact that those were both very, very bad teams… and that the Dolphins were actually the better one, arguably by far, for all but the last 4 minutes of regulation. Fantasy production aside, Tebow was God awful (ahem), somehow actually worse than expected. At one point “he sailed one pass maybe 15 yards over the head of a wide-open receiver, prompting play-by-play guy Kevin Harlan to say softly, almost to himself, ‘But there’s no wind,’ as if ruminating over a Zen koan,” noted Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs. He was sacked 7 times.

There’s been a lot of media backlash against the 5-2 Detroit Lions this week following two straight home losses to playoff-contending teams, and that’s reflected in this paltry 3.5 spread (now down to 2.5). Let the suckers take Tebow’s Broncos: we’ll take the far better team that’s thus far 3-0 on the road, sports the NFL’s 9th-ranked pass defense, and will unleash the NFL’s best WR on an aging Broncos secondary. Expect another dominant performance from Megatron, regardless of who’s behind center. I smell a double-digit win for the visitors and 3 Tebow INTs. Pick: Lions Cover

Just Trust Us

San Francisco 49ers (-9.5) vs. Cleveland Browns: With Jim Harbaugh and his 5-1 49ers done jacking themselves off during the bye week after their impressive 25-19 win at Detroit in Week 6, they welcome an uninspiring Browns team whose offense littered Cleveland Browns Stadium with pellet-sized turds last week against the Seattle Seahawks. There’s just little to nothing to see on that side of the ball in Cleveland, save for promising WR Greg Little–somebody please get that guy a legitimate quarterback.

The Browns defense is another story. Led by unheralded CB Joe Haden, the Browns are surprisingly fielding the league’s top-ranked pass defense and are in the top 10 in points allowed. If they can contain a resurgent Frank Gore (393 yards rushing, 3 TDs in last 3 games) and force QB Alex Smith, quite possibly the league’s most accomplished checkdown artist, to try and make plays, they have a chance to keep it close. In a game pitting two teams who both rely heavily on their defenses to hide middling offenses, we’ll take the points in what figures to be a slugfest. Pick: Browns Cover

Houston Texans (-10.5) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: I can’t imagine what the ratings would have been for the second half of the Jags’ unwatchable 12-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football if not for fantasy football. Both defenses came to play, but that doesn’t excuse the brutal offensive performances, particularly on the Ravens’ side as 10.5-point favorites (7 first-half passing yards, no first downs until 5:26 left in the third quarter, 146 total yards).

Jacksonville travels to Houston as 10.5 dogs, again, to take on a 4-3 Texans team that thumped the directionless Tennessee Titans 41-7 on the road last week behind 219 yards combined rushing from Arian Foster and Ben Tate, arguably the best 1-2 backfield combo in the league. They figure to rely heavily on them again with WR Andre Johnson likely out or at best very limited, which will be a good test for an underrated Jags defense ranked 8th in points allowed and 10th against the run. They also don’t give up many passing plays over 20 yards, which doesn’t bode well for Texans QB Matt Schaub, who sports a career 1-5 record against Jacksonville.

Jaguars rookie QB Blaine Gabbert may have a future in this league, but we’ve seen enough through six games to know he doesn’t have much of a present, particularly with that piss-poor receiving corps and a mostly listless Marcedes Lewis. The recipe for Jags success, or at least for staying in the game, is a steady diet of the venerable Maurice Jones-Drew, who toted the rock 30 times against Baltimore and now has 22+ carries in 4 of 7 games. Amazing stat considering, as Mr. Thell pointed out last night over microbrews at Barcade, the man is coming off a serious knee surgery.

Despite all this–the strong defense, the elite running back, the shocking win over the Baltimore Ravens–the Jaguars are still a pretty bad 2-5 team that could walk in here and get blown out. We don’t think the Texans have two consecutive blow-out efforts in ‘em right now though. Pick: Jaguars Cover

Carolina Panthers (-3.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings: Mired on a 1-6 team struggling through a transistion (read: rebuilding) season, Vikings RB Adrian “All Day” Peterson has quietly pounded his way to the top of the league’s rushing pack with 712 yards (4.9 YPC) and 8 TDs. On the heels of a blockbuster performance against a stout Green Bay Packers’ run defense (24 carries for 175 yards, 1 TD), AP draws a hospitable Panthers unit ranked 29th overall against the run and one that’s allowed the most long-gainers and TDs to opposing RBs in the league. Any guesses as to the Vikings offensive game plan on Sunday?

Wins will continue to be hard to come by with a somewhat brutal schedule looming after next week’s bye: @ GB, OAK, @ ATL, DEN, @ DET, NO, @ WSH, CHI. Still, we don’t see Peterson, Jared Allen, and the rest of this team packing it in like some teams have. Rookie QB Christian Ponder will be one to watch as the season progresses; he’s already helped wash away the bad taste Donovan McNabb left in Vikings Nation’s collective mouth. (I know how that sounds; get your head out of the gutter.) PICK: Vikings Cover

Drew Brees & Tim Tebow Prayer Circle Photo Credits: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Oct. 27, 2011 at 1:29pm in ETB Articles, NFL

Degenerate Gambler Weekly: Week 7 NFL Picks Against the Spread

October 20, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers

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.

Best Bet

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

Strong Bets

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

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

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Oct. 20, 2011 at 2:20pm in ETB Articles, NFL

Degenerate Gambler Weekly: Week 6 NFL Picks Against the Spread

October 14, 2011

Darryl Gamble

By Brian Spencer

Hey, kids, look! Empty the Bench is back, and this time they’re gambling away their paychecks to degenerate low lifes and stinky Hacidics! Yay!

Degenerate Gambler Weekly is a new weekly ETB column–no, seriously, we’re going to follow through on this one… honest–in which we, your lovable NFL Sunday Degenerates, share the seven NFL picks we’ve made against the spread for our weekly pool at the local watering hole. Don’t worry, Mom, it’s just for points, not money: 100 points entrance fee and 11 points a week.

Why should you bother following and trusting our picks? Because most of the time we know our shit, even if we don’t always get into (not)witty nitty-gritty stat nerdom in our explanations of why these are our picks. Just trust us: we have a proven track record, which from here on out we’ll keep track of here. The last few weeks have been particularly good: 16-5 against the spread. Of course, that means these will all be wrong.

Okay, you get it. Welcome, my degenerate brethren, and may your wallets prosper with points.

Best Bet

New Orleans Saints (-4.5) at Tampa Bay Bucs: In a week without many spreads screaming “Bet on me!”, this one looks like the most likely gimme. The road team has won the past four matchups between these NFC South rivals: in fact, the past two games in Tampa have a combined score of 69-13 in the Saints’ favor. It’s a new year with different players, but we don’t have any reservations about the Saints’ ability to go into Tampa and stomp the Bucs… and stomp them they really should.

Though both defenses have been porous in allowing 25/per through five games, the Saints offense is averaging 14 points more than the Bucs mostly because, well, they employ a top-threeish QB named Drew Brees and a cadre of playmakers, while the Bucs have a good, solid young QB in Josh Freeman and a dearth of playmakers. This week that dearth gets deeper with leading rusher LeGarrette Blount joining DT Gerald McCoy on the inactive list.

The Bus are not as bad as the 48-3 thrashing they suffered last week in San Francisco, but not as good as their 3-2 record, which was padded with (narrow) wins over Donovan McNabb’s Minnesota Vikings and Curtis Painter’s Indianapolis Colts. The Saints are the Saints, and after trading scores with the Bucs early will pull away in the second half and win this one by double digits. PICK: Saints Cover

Strong Bets

Philadelphia Eagles (-2) at Washington Redskins: The ‘Skins are at the top of the NFC East standings, while the Eagles are buried at the bottom heading into their first matchup of the season: that’s football for you. Hey, we don’t like the Eagles anymore than you do, but despite their improvements across the board we’re not sold on the Redskins either.

Despite the festering warts (on Vick’s… sorry, couldn’t help it) that have marred the Iggles first quarter of the season–poor quarterback play, poor offensive line play, poor rushing defense, turnovers–this team still has more raw talent than the Redskins and, frankly, at 1-4 they need this game more than the Redskins do. Yes, the Redskins are 3-1, their defense is ranked third overall in the NFL in points allowed, they sport an eighth-ranked rushing attack, and they’re at home and rested coming off a bye. They’re also the Redskins.
PICK: Eagles Cover

Ndamukong Suh

Detroit Lions (-4) vs. San Francisco 49ers: Am I the only one who’s tired of hearing about Alex Smith as “game manager”? We’re now into the sixth fucking year of it for the former first-overall pick, who in the course of his sub-mediocre career has never thrown for more than 18 TD passes, never hit 3,000 yards passing, or finished with a QB Rating north of 82 points. Seriously, 49ers, enough already.

It’s nice that he’s off to a good start (104.1 QB Rating, 66% completion percentage, 7 TDs, 1 INT) and hasn’t yet earned his annual benching, but I just don’t buy it and, hence, don’t buy this San Francisco 49ers offense either, which is somehow averaging 28.4/per (7th in NFL). They’re due to come back down to earth before getting back to playing pattycake with the rest of the NFC West (the Rams, Seahawks, and Cardinals are a combined 3-11).

Raucous Ford Field seems like a likely place for it to happen. In the midst of a three-game homestand that began with a rowdy 24-13 win over the Chicago Bears on MNF, the undefeated Detroit Lions are playing as confidently as any team in the league. Their plan and personnel are clicking on both sides of the ball–and both sides have been tested by quality opponents. Only four teams are averaging more than their 31.8/per, and while the 49ers’ hard-nosed defense is definitely legit and rank second in the league in points allowed with 15.4/per, the Lions DEF is just three spots behind with 17.8.

Kudos to first-year HC Jim Harbaugh on the early returns, for coaching in and benefitting from the NFL’s worst division, and, of course, for massaging Alex Smith into an even duller and less-dynamic game manager than he was. Exciting. Wooooooo. Woooo!
PICK: Lions Cover

Oakland Raiders (-6.5) vs. Cleveland Browns: There might be nothing more exciting in the NFL than the Raiders’ kicking game. Sebastian Janikowski, who matched the NFL record for longest field goal in Week 1, and Shane Lechler, whose weekly punting exhibitions border on erotica, on the same team? Are you fucking kidding me? It’s not fair.

The Raiders return to Oakland for their first home game since Al Davis’ passing, so expect the atmosphere to be even more jacked up than usual. The 2-2 Browns are coming off a bye, but will be missing top CB Joe Haden and are trotting out a rush defense allowing nearly 125 yards on the ground per (though only 1 TD overall). That’s a problem Darren McFadden, the league’s leading rusher, is happy they have–he’ll exploit it, and the Raiders will roll.
PICK: Oakland Covers

Just Trust Us

New England Patriots (-6.5) vs. Dallas Cowboys: Say it with me: the Dallas Cowboys are not a great team, at least right now. I’m not interested in talking about the reasons why, or about Tony Romo, or the return of Miles Austin, or the underrated pass rush because, hell, you’re as tired of hearing about this perenially underachieving franchise as I am.

The Patriots, on the other hand, are a very good team in spite of their cringeworthy defense, though to be fair part of the reason they’re giving up a league-worst 433 passing yards/per (yikes) is Tom Brady and his league-best 366 yards/per. The ‘Boys will hang some points on the Pats, but we have little to no faith in their ability to keep up for four quarters and not shoot themselves in both feet. PICK: Patriots Cover

Cincinnati Bengals (-7) vs. Indianapolis Colts: I have trouble trusting the Bengals, but my other half on ETB has been a stalwart supporter the past few weeks. Loves their defense, cites the addition of difference-making rookie WR AJ Green (24 catches, 402 yards, 3 TDs in first five games), and this week points out something even I can’t dispute: they’re playing Curtis Painter’s Colts at home. PICK: Bengals Cover

New York Jets (-7) vs. Miami Dolphins: The winless Dolphins, who’ll debut the first episode of their new Sunday afternoon sitcom called Matt Moore, Starting Quarterback, have beaten the Jets three of the past four times they’ve met, including two consecutive wins in New York. The Jets have lost three consecutive games, haven’t been able to run the ball with disappointing Shonn Greene behind a meh offensive line (76.2/per, second worst in NFL), can’t rush the passer, and are starting to point fingers at each other. Just a hunch, but I see something like Jets 23, Dolphins 6. PICK: Jets Cover

Darryl Gamble and Ndamukong Suh Photo Credits: Icon SMI

1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Oct. 14, 2011 at 9:04pm in ETB Articles, NFL

Slim Pickings: The Top Seven NBA Unrestricted Free Agents in Summer of 2011

March 7, 2011

J.R. Smith
By Brian Spencer

For fans of those teams with ample cap space to throw at big-name free agents this summer, I’ve got three words for you: ugh, blech, and meh.

Like the free agency class 2 years ago, when Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars was thought to have landed two of the most-coveted guys available–Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, both busts–this year’s class is short on headliners. There are no true franchise changers: the top-tier players on the market will rather serve as quality, complimentary pieces of a bigger puzzle. In other words, teams looking to make a real splash this summer are better off doing so via trade.

That’s all good for these seven veterans, however, who right now stand to benefit the most from what’s an otherwise weak class: you can bet they’re going to collect rather handsome contracts. Note: this list does not include restricted free agents.

In alphabetical order:

Tyson Chandler, C, Dallas Mavericks: Seems like a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away when Chandler (2nd overall) and Eddy Curry (4th) were both drafted straight out of college to be the twin faces of the Chicago Bulls franchise. Those best-laid plans never quite panned out, obviously, but while Curry has eaten his way out of the league, Chandler has developed into a solid, reliable center who can counted on for 10 and 10, along with a blocked shot or two.

The keyword there is “solid”: what you see is what you’re going to get at this point, which is pretty much the case with all seven of these players, save for (maybe) J.R. Smith. With Caron Butler’s bloated $10.5 million dollar contract coming off the books, as well as DeShawn Stevenson’s $4.1 million, the Mavericks should have the funds to resign him if they so choose, but they already have a whopping $34.6 million over the next 4 years tied up in Brendan Haywood. I’d be surprised if he returns to Dallas. Through 57 games, Chandler is averaging 10.4 points, 9.4 boards, and 1.1 blocks.

Tim Duncan, C, San Antonio Spurs: You never know, but I can’t see Duncan actually leaving San Antonio. Can you imagine him wearing any other team’s jersey? I can’t. The more likely scenario is that Duncan exercises his ETO (Early-Termination Option) and resigns for another 2 or 3 seasons. He turns 35 in April, and though his minutes have been reduced to under 30 per for the first time ever to keep him fresh for the playoffs, this has statistically been the worst season of his career. I can’t see him walking away from the game just yet, but if the Spurs were to win it all this year, I think it’d be a perfect time to do so.

Nene Hilario, C, Denver Nuggets: He’s now stayed mostly healthy for three straight seasons, a span in which he’s averaged about 14.5 points (60% FG), 7.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1 block per. Not too shabby, and at 6-11 and 250 Nene can bang in the post with just about anybody. He also has an ETO and is expected to exercise it as the Nuggets re-evaluate and begin the post-Carmelo era in earnest. No telling where he’ll end up, but like Zach Randolph, below, the Detroit Pistons are one team with the available funds who will likely show interest.

Andrei Kirilenko, F, Utah Jazz: It’s going to be real interesting to see what happens with AK-47. With Jerry Sloan out of the picture, he might be amendable to staying in Utah–and the team might be more open to keeping him–but he’ll at least test the market and see what kind of offers are out there. He brings a little bit of everything to the table–scoring, rebounding, passing, shot-blocking, defense–but he’s always been a bit fragile and an off-and-on head case. A change of scenery could be as much of a good thing as much as a bad thing for Kirilenko; if he ends up leaving Utah it’s imperative he lands in a system that compliments his talents and is led by a strong coaching staff. There are definitely risks here.

Zach Randolph
Zach Randolph, FC, Memphis Grizzlies: If I were a NBA betting man, my money would be on Randolph heading back to Michigan, where he played his college ball at Michigan State, to join the frontcourt-depleted Pistons. On paper, it’s a good match–the team desperately needs a legit big to pair with possible franchise cornerstone Greg Monroe–just like on paper Randolph is an All-Star caliber power forward.

He’s been money in the bank for the past three seasons to average around 21 points on 48% FG, 12 boards, 2 assists, and 1 steal. The problem, however, is that Randolph is a liability on defense–he’s never averaged more than 0.5 blocks per in his 10-year career–and he’s been labeled a cancer more than a few times while playing for, well, all four teams he’s played for so far. This team has money to spend, a hole in the frontcourt starting lineup, and Dumars has long been rumored to have interest in Randolph.

It makes too much sense, but I’d be wary: he’ll be heading into his age 30 season, and given his history and the fact that this is probably his last big contract, you wonder how much he’s really going to add to a rebuilding franchise like Detroit’s during the life of what’ll probably be a 4- or 5-year deal.

J.R. Smith, G, Denver Nuggets: It’s time for both parties to shake hands and go their separate ways. Smith has had an… interesting run with the Nuggets over the past five seasons, finding his way into and out of and back into George Karl’s doghouse due to myriad problems, most of them tied to inconsistent effort and attitude. When he’s tuned in, Smith has the ability to put points up in bunches and elevate his game to a near-elite level; when he’s zoned out or otherwise uninterested, he’s a serious detriment to his team on both ends of the floor.

Still, he’s only going to be 25 years old when next season begins, and you wonder if maybe, just maybe, he’ll soon grow up, learn to reign himself in, and show more regular signs of maturity. The talent is there, though he’s always been a free-wheeling chucker (42% career FG). Can he ever be relied on to be a 30+ minute starter? No idea, and like Kirilenko it’s going to be real interesting to see where he ends up.

David West, F, New Orleans Hornets: Perenially underrated throughout his 8-year career, all of which has been spent with the Hornets franchise, West has an ETO and there’s no reason to believe he won’t exercise it and look for greener pastures. Chris Paul already has one foot out the door, and after that, it’s full-on rebuilding time: at age 31, that’s not an endeavor West wants any part of. Look for West to latch on with a veteran team looking to push themselves over the top or stay amongst the league’s elite. With the departure of Jeff Green, Oklahoma City seems like a great fit.

J.R. Smith and Zach Randolph Photos Credit: Icon SMI

5 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 7, 2011 at 8:22am in ETB Articles, NBA

The March Madness of NBA Fantasy Hoops

March 5, 2011

Gerald Henderson BobcatsBy Brian Spencer

You’d probably have better luck, say, placing a bet on college basketball back in November than predicting which NBA players would come out of nowhere in the season’s final month or two to become fantasy relevant. It happens every year: teams fall out of contention, look towards the future, and give as much burn to youngsters who’d previously been wallowing at the end of the bench in obscurity as they can handle. Throw in injuries to key regulars on said teams, and even more minutes open up for even more obscure players.

It doesn’t always pan out like this, but there’s a pretty simple formula that applies to these situations: minutes = stats. Some players, no matter how many minutes they’re getting, simply do not produce, but every year a number of these “nobodies” successfully translate their extended garbage time into a level of production that warrants fantasy attention. There’s a reason they weren’t playing earlier this year–they can often kill your percentages and turnovers–but they can provide a nice boost to the raw number cats (points, rebounds, steals, blocks).

As we go further down the rabbit hole these next few weeks, more players who fall into this distinguished category will surely emerge. Here’s just seven of them who are already there and are likely to be snatched up on waivers as speculative adds at some point, if they haven’t been already.

Samardo Samuels, F, Cleveland Cavaliers: With Antawn Jamison out for the season and the Cavs just trying to get through the remaining schedule while saving as much face as possible, this undrafted rookie from Louisville has recently found himself in the starting lineup after logging a total of 18 minutes through January 6. He made quite a splash, too, in that first start: 23 points (10-18 FG), 10 boards, and 3 assists. The 6-9 Samuels is likely in line for 25 – 32 minutes a night from here on out.

James Johnson, F, Toronto Raptors: The 16th overall pick of the draft just 2 years ago by the Chicago Bulls, Johnson was never able to make much of an impression in the Windy City and was sent to the Raptors in a trade deadline deal for a future second-round pick. The 17-45 Raptors have wasted no time seeing what they have in the 6-9 forward: he’s in the starting lineup, and in 5 games has averaged just under 27 minutes per. Fantasy wise, he’s chipping in modest (but useful) multi-category numbers: 9 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.8 blocks on 46% shooting.

Gerald Henderson, G, Charlotte Bobcats: A 2009 lottery pick out of Duke, the 6-5 Henderson struggled through spotty minutes in his rookie season, and looked to continue down that path this season, too, until trades and injuries forced him into a bigger role. His per-game minutes have been upped from about 13 the first few months to over 31 per in 8 games as the Cat’s starting shooting guard. He still hasn’t found his shooting touch (39%), though, and is averaging 10 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. For now, Henderson has the look of a mediocre career backup.

Shawne Williams, F, New York Knicks: After being cast off by the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, Williams’ uneventful 3-year NBA career has taken at least some root in New York. He started the season with 17 consecutive DNP – CDs, but has played in every game but 1 since, including 5 as a starter. Williams is still little more than streaming fodder, but that’s an upgrade in his case. Heading into the Knicks’ second-consecutive loss to the Cavs Friday night (ouch), Williams had logged nearly 30 minutes per in his last 2, averaging 12 points (58% FG), 5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, and 1 block.

Anthony Randolph, F, Minnesota Timberwolves: Randolph looked like one of the prime breakout candidates coming into the season, a too-perfect fit for Mike D’Antoni’s “score, then score some more” offensive system. Turns out this match was anything but perfect, with Randolph having just slightly more impact than teammate Eddy Curry before being traded to Minnesota.

After lounging on waivers for most of the season, Randolph was a hot speculative add in this, his first full week with the T’Wolves: with Darko Milicic out, he’s posted two solid games in a row, averaging 15.5 points, 6 boards, 1 steal, and 1 block. A few more efforts like this, and he’s a near-lock for 20 – 25 minutes per for the rest of the season.

Austin Daye, F, Detroit Pistons: The slinky second-year forward is another guy who, like Randolph, was likely taken late in your fantasy draft, then dropped after he flopped in the season’s first few weeks and spent the next few months in and out of the lineup. With the Pistons’ season in the toilet and many of the veterans acting like children, Daye has emerged from the fray, playing nearly 35 minutes per and averaging 15.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2 triples in the team’s last three games. His shooting (41%) remains a drag.

Damion James, GF, New Jersey Nets: After no floor time since December 9, the rookie from Texas is suddenly back in the starting lineup, putting up some useful stats, and given the arrival of Deron Williams just might be worth taking a flier on. In 4 games as a starter, James is pitching in some across-the-board production, averaging 9.2 points (67% FG), 5.5 boards, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.7 blocks.

Gerald Henderson Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Beat the college basketball odds this March when you sign up for the NCAA basketball picks offered by these experts.

2 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 5, 2011 at 2:32am in ETB Articles, NBA

What’s on Greg Monroe’s Shoulders? Oh, Just the Hopes of the Detroit Pistons Franchise

March 2, 2011

Greg Monroe Detroit PistonsBy Brian Spencer

There’s a been a big story brewing in Detroit the past few months, and it has nothing to do with the near team-wide turmoil that’s grabbed all the headlines and threatened to swallow the once-proud Pistons franchise whole. It doesn’t involve embattled head coach John Kuester, or apparent player protests by petulent, overpaid players, or public spats between player and coach, or idiot free-agent busts retweeting messages critical of Kuester. It doesn’t involve the ongoing struggle of Karen Davidson to unload her deceased husband’s franchise onto a willing buyer.

Forget all of that garbage. It’s background noise. Deafening noise this year, maybe, but ultimately insignificant. Flush all that silliness that has become the Pistons’ 2010-11 season down the toilet and forget the whole thing as quickly as possible.

Forget everything, that is, except for the lone positive to emerge from this disastrous trainwreck: rookie big man Greg Monroe. This kid is quietly turning into a legit post presence with each passing game, and has risen above the drama to turn in the type of credentials that should earn him serious NBA All-Rookie First Team honors–especially given the maelstrom of shit that’s been swirling around him all year. So far, Monroe has emerged as the best big man to emerge from the 2010 NBA Draft class.

The Big East’s Rookie of the Year as a Georgetown Hoya in ’09, Monroe was taken 7th overall by the Pistons and was the fourth big off the board behind Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, and Ekpe Udoh. Only 20 years old, Monroe was expected to endure a steep learning curve, and wasn’t necessarily being counted on for the type of minutes he’s playing now. Most observers expected growing pains, especially early on. Tolerance and patience were the keys, and I think the Pistons were onboard with that.

But then…

Back on November 9, Portland Trail Blazers TV analyst Mike Rice mercilessly tore into Monroe early in the broadcast of what turned out to be an embarassing 100-78 home loss for the Blazers at the hands of the Pistons. The unfair and off-base criticisms came out of nowhere and without much reason, with Rice deriding Monroe’s work ethic, claiming the Pistons were not happy with him and essentially wished they hadn’t drafted him, and basically writing him off as a bust a whopping 8 games into his NBA career. (Monroe incurred two DNP-CDs in the team’s first two games, so technically he was just 6 games in.)

Perhaps Rice let his personal bitterness over Greg Oden’s bust status boil over onto Monroe? Either way, I usually enjoy Blazers broadcasts but was embarassed for Rice that night. His mysterious diatribe sounded amateurish and uninformed, and just a few short months later, Monroe is making him eat every single one of those misguided words, and then some.

Since January 1, Monroe has been entrenched in the starting lineup and logged somewhere in the neighborhood of 34 minutes per in the past 29 games. During that stretch, he’s posted strong pers of 12.1 points (59% FG), 9 boards, 1.3 steals, and about 1 block, including double-doubles in 4 of his past 5 games (he missed the fifth by 1 rebound). You’d like to see more blocks from your 6-11 center, but that should come in time, along with more assists given his obvious talents as a passer.

Monroe has kept his head down, his nose clean, and his work ethic intact throughout this messy transition season for the Pistons and that, perhaps more than his statistical output, is what’s key here. Monroe is a quiet, humble guy by nature, but there’s a clear leadership vacuum in the locker room, and it’s going to become even more vacant next year when Tayshaun Prince is gone, Ben Wallace is probably gone, and (hopefully) Richard Hamilton’s situation has been somehow resolved and he’s gone too. As a Pistons fan, I’ll always appreciate those guys and what they brought to the city of Detroit, but pro sports is a cruel profession: it’s obviously time for them all to move on. It’s time for a change of the guard.

Can Monroe develop into the rock this franchise so desperately needs? They better hope so: the jury is still out on guys like Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko and their ability to lead, while pending restricted free-agent Rodney Stuckey has unfortunately not yet hinted at much of any ability to be a dependable cornerstone. If Monroe is a quiet guy, fine: maybe he can be the Pistons’ version of Tim Duncan, if not statistically than at least in stature.

That would take some time for a guy who won’t be able to legally drink until June, sure, but the focus is quickly and necessarily shifting in his direction. This franchise needs him badly. The talent, still very much in the development phase, is there–but whether he likes it or not, talent and production isn’t enough.

This team needs Greg Monroe to be a leader.

Greg Monroe Photo Credit: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 2, 2011 at 11:32am in ETB Articles, NBA

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