Saturday, December 04, 2010

Week 13 NFL picks (part 1)

Friday Night = picks part 1: New Orleans Saints @ Cincinnati Bengals: My how the mighty have fallen. The Bengals started the season well, following up on a 2009 campaign that had gone much better than many expected. But now the Bengals seem to be floating adrift in a sea of mediocrity, with no hope of hitting land anytime soon. It's a pretty spectacular collapse if I'm honest. We start with that much maligned defense. I know I harp on about them every week, but corners Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall were looking like the best corner tandem in football last season. This year? They've sunk a long, long way. I can understand if they'd had a minor setback. It's very difficult to play at the level they did in 2009, let alone keep it up for multiple seasons. But they've just gone flat, along with the Bengals pass rush and run defense. That's before we even get started on the offense. Now first off, I still like Terrell Owens. I think all the people complaining lately about Owens need to get a grip on reality. He's an easy target for people to bitch about and that's what I think is happening. People are going for the easy kill shot. All this while conveniently overlooking the production that Owens has brought to the Bengals this year. Maybe it's time for more people to start asking questions about quarterback Carson Palmer. Or the offensive line. Or what happened to Cedric Benson? These are questions that I think are a lot more useful than crying because Owens missed a catch or because Chad Ochocinco said something on Twitter. What happened to the Bengals ground and pound style that worked so effectively last year? Why isn't Carson Palmer better utilising what is -- despite the image that the Bengals have -- probably one of the deepest receiving corps in terms of talent levels? All good questions, and all slightly moot in the face of their opposition. I may not always seem to be the biggest supporter of the Saints, but at heart they have a solid team. Maybe not spectacular, but solid. They should cruise this one. Saints win. Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions: The Lions have come along way since last year. Unfortunately that wasn't exactly hard given how terrible they were. A team that has come much further is the Chicago Bears. The offense has adapted. Over the course of eleven games they've gone from a "deep ball" mentality, to a slightly shorter ranged focus, with a view to helping Jay Cutler get the ball out of his hands quicker. Part of that is down to the offense line working it's collective butt off to improve from a protection stand point. They can even run block now, which is something they struggled mightily with through the early games of the season. And the defense is doing it's job. It's not particularly flashy or complex, it just does it's job. It still gives up points, but not in huge quantities. It gives up yards, but again not in huge chunks. They get after people now with the front four and the linebacking corps is settling into a firm routine. The Lions can only watch and admire from afar. Ndamukong Suh has been a superb acquisition and Kyle Vanden Bosch has been a leader for that defense. But that is two players. Two. The reality is that their secondary still has more in common with Swiss cheese than it does with twice baked bread. Offensively they've coped without Matthew Stafford, but there is a difference between "coping" and "succeeding". They still have no run game to speak of and so inevitably end up being one-dimensional. Against the Bears pass rush, that won't cut it. Bears win. San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers: 3-1 with Troy Smith at the helm, the 49ers now head north to take on the Packers. So make that 3-2 then. I just don't see a San Francisco win here, in any shape or form. The Packers would have to sink in dramatic fashion to the level of their opponents in order for my 49ers to have a shot. You can see it clearly up and down the respective rosters. When you look for example at the Packers linebackers, you see Clay Matthews, you see Desmond Bishop, you see the up and coming rookie Frank Zombo. You look at the 49ers linebackers and you see Patrick Willis... and not a whole lot else. And as well as Justin Smith has played at DE for the 49ers, there's been little support elsewhere. Unlike Green Bay, who've had guys like Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett putting on good shows week in and week out. The comparisons could go on all day. Look at Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and the rest of the Packers secondary compared to the 49ers secondary. San Francisco would kill just to get one or two of the players that the Packers have. On that note, I have to take the Packers. When you compare the quality of the defenses and offenses into the whole picture, you see a frightening mismatch that could turn into an ugly rout before the first half is even done. Packers win. Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs: Last time these two played, Denver came out of its shell and pulled off a big upset. I wouldn't bank on lightning striking twice. The Broncos have since then firmly holed themselves back up in that shell. The Chiefs on the other hand have been loosening up their wings a little lately and taking to the air. Receiver Dwayne Bowe is starting to look like the Dwayne Bowe everyone once thought he would be, if that makes sense. A big part of that is thanks to the running backs; Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. An equally big chunk is thanks to rookie tight end Tony Moeaki, who is now drawing progressively more and more attention away as defense's factor him into their game plans. Obviously QB Matt Cassel has his role in Bowe's success, though don't get too excited about him yet. Last but not least is that Chiefs defense that has kept their team in a number of tough games, smothering opponents at times which allows the offense to loosen up and work its magic. Occasionally the Chiefs seem to wander away from what is -- for them at least -- a winning formula. But look at it this way; at least they have a winning formula of some sort. The Broncos don't. Thus, Chiefs win. Cleveland Browns @ Miami Dolphins: Hmm (aye, one of them, it's getting serious now). You have to give credit to the Browns, their roster is not exactly an all star cast. In fact, it's quite hard to find any stars. But they've chugged along quite well and you get the sense now that they're one good draft away from becoming competitive in the AFC North. They have Peyton Hillis and they have Colt McCoy & Josh Cribbs (at least they will, when the later two get back from injury). A few more pieces and the Browns could be a name to watch. But as for this week against the Dolphins? Unfortunately Jake Delhomme is at the helm and we saw last week that the Browns almost lost to the Panthers as a result. That's a hell of a scare to be having. The Dolphins however won't be such an easy ride. Cameron Wake will be on a mission to put Delhomme on his back. Expect the Browns QB then to be in something of a rush to get the ball out of his hands... and probably straight into the hands of some waiting Dolphins. On offense Miami has the potential to turn the screw a bit tighter. Chad Henne is back in the starting line up which is a good thing. I still can't believe he was benched in the first place in favour of Chad Pennington. Still, Henne plus Brandon Marshall, plus Davone Bess, plus Anthony Fasano, plus a running game with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams healthy and active equals a long day for Cleveland. Dolphins win. Buffalo Bills @ Minnesota Vikings: I've been saying all along about Ryan Fitzpatrick and now people in the mainstream are finally catching up. He is a pretty good QB. With the emergence of Steve Johnson he now has a target to throw too as well. The defense in Buffalo is still, like my spelling and grammar on occasion, haphazard. But then at least they're not the Vikings. Now credit to Minnesota for winning last week. Against the Redskins. 17-13. A win is a win, but a win can also be of the convincing variety or it can be of the "wow, we only just scraped that one" variety. When you're scraping wins against the 2010 Redskins, that is not good news. Especially when the team you're playing next took the Steelers to overtime last week and really should have walked off with the win. A lot has also been made recently of the "new Head Coach" effect, after the success enjoyed by Jason Garrett in Dallas and then a victory in his first game for Leslie Frazier. That's all well and good, but it's hardly a consistent and dependable metric for success. Can we really rely on the Vikings pulling another win out of the bag based on the notion that they will play harder for this coach than they did for the last? I don't think we can. I think the Vikings are still a good team underneath, somewhere in there, but their season has been up and down for a reason and that's because they're just not playing good football. The Bills on the other hand have been. Week after week recently they've upped their game and each week they look just that little bit more impressive than the last. So, Bills win. Washington Redskins @ New York Giants: As you can probably imagine from the way I was bashing the Redskins in the last segment, I don't rate their chances much against the Giants. Which is pretty natural to be honest, given the strong showing by the Giants at times this year, coupled with an absolute lack of anything approaching stability from the Redskins. They simply look horrible. They don't defend very well. They don't pass very well. They don't run the ball very well. In fact, kick returns is just about the only thing that seems to keep them in games. For Donovan McNabb in particular it's been a shocking season. Philadelphia fans have been moaning for a long time now that far from McNabb being the hero who repeatedly took them to the playoffs, he was actually the villain that stopped a playoff caliber from pushing over the edge and winning the big one. His hope was to come to Washington and prove everyone wrong. Unfortunately he's so far proved the fans and media in Philadelphia right. His replacement Michael Vick is now leading what is arguably the most versatile and explosive offense in football, leaving Eagles fans wondering what could have been for all these years. McNabb meanwhile is striving onwards, trying to guide a boat that lacks a clear rudder or even oars, as it sails out to join the Bengals on the sea of forgettable mediocrity . I'm sure the Giants will be only two happy to give them a bump in the right direction. Their defensive line is playing to the standard that saw New York win a Super Bowl in 2007. If they can get after McNabb then they can cause Washington all kinds of problems that the Redskins don't seem to have answers for right now. On that note, I'm taking the Giants. Giants win. Jacksonville Jaguars @ Tennessee Titans: Honestly, I give up on the Titans. I know that teams are going to try and take away Chris Johnson. I know that the Titans offensive line doesn't always live up to it's potential and block consistently. But why do the Titans insist on just abandoning their running game off hand? It's almost like it was never a factor and that they merely run the ball every now and again as a novelty to see if it'll work. The history tells us that Chris Johnson can make a huge difference to the Titans offense. The history tells us that he has the potential to be a game changing player. And more importantly, the history tells us that the Titans in recent years have sucked at throwing the football. Whether it's Vince Young, Kerry Collins or Rusty Smith, the Titans just don't seem to be very good at passing. The addition of future hall of famer Randy Moss has done nothing to change that. The Jaguars on the other hand seem to be striking a sound balance between run and pass. They're getting Maurice Jones-Drew involved in their offense. They're using their tight ends to good effect. They're even giving the token carries to Rashad Jennings, a player who I've had my eye on since last year. More useful in terms of winning games is that the Jaguars are also starting to see some production from that defense. Now I'll admit that the AFC South hasn't exactly been the toughest division in football this year, but I don't want to take away too much from what the Jaguars have achieved. They're 6-5 on top of the division and there is potential in there. They're probably one of the more likely "one and done" teams if they make it to the playoffs, but at least they're not as bad this year as they were last. Credit to Jacksonville. Jaguars win. So that's your lot for today. I'll be back tomorrow to round of the final seven games of this weekends action, but until then, Have a great day everyone.

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