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.
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
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
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