The Crystal Ball - Super Bowl

January 29th, 2014

The conference round was generally well played and left us with the top two seeds facing each other in the Super Bowl. We went 2 – 0 straight up and are 8 – 2 for the playoffs. Unfortunately though the picks against the spread went the opposite direction and so we are now 3 – 5 – 2 there and doomed to finish under average.

We have the two top teams in each conference playing for the Super Bowl which oddly is quite unusual. This is only the second time it has happened since the NFL went to four team divisions in 2001 (The first time was 2009, New Orleans and Indianapolis). Indeed overall number one seeds have not done well in the Super Bowl with only one number one seed has beaten a lower seeded team in that time frame (2003 Patriots). Obviously we will have a number one seed win a Super Bowl this year, but which one. I certainly have a prediction but this is a game that really looks to be a coin toss.

The Super Bowl

This is classically seen as strength against strength matchup; the Seattle Seahawks number one defense against the Bronco number one offense and the most effective NFL offense to ever take the field. The game looks on paper to be potentially a very good game. But there are a number of subplots here and we will look at a few of them.

The Seattle offense has a strongly conservative theme. They play classic field position running the ball and using zone-read and going with the occasional short pass. They use this to set up a few deep pass big play opportunities in every game. Having Harvin back on the field for this game is a very important feature of the offense and special teams. His durability is obviously a question and his lack of playing time begs the question of what kind of football shape is he in.

Denver’s offense is incredibly prolific and efficient. It obviously runs off of Peyton Manning’s abilities to read defenses and get the offense into good plays. His decision making is quick and his release keeps most pass rushes at bay. The weapons in the passing game are plentiful and particularly potent, there are no weak spots that a defense can afford to take lightly and putting extra defensive backs simply makes the running game more effective. The offense can put points up in bunches and also mount long multi-play drives.

The Denver defense has gotten bad reviews but they have been very effective against the run, tied with Seattle over the regular season. The pass defense has been statistically poor but it is characteristic of most teams that score points like Denver has to have to defend more pass plays than average. Still there is an exploitable weakness in their pass coverage.

The Seattle defense is a group without any notable weaknesses. It boasts the best defense secondary assembled in some time. The pass rush can be successful because the coverage is so good that quarterbacks have to hold the ball longer. They are disruptive and led the NFL in turnover advantage which makes all the difference in a close game.

The weather impact has been much discussed but it really is not clear that anything really favors one team over the other. The biggest advantage that weather would bring would be if there was high wind which impacts the passing game for Denver and would have no substantial impact on the Seattle running game. Snow or even sleet would impact receivers but also defensive backs and the offensive player knows where his route is supposed to go. Weather may slightly favor Seattle’s game, but not as much as most think.

The Denver defense will have to game plan for Harvin’s particular abilities which is going to weaken the amount of help they can provide against the running game. The Seahawks have to contend with Peyton Manning and this is the problem in trying to call a winner in a game like this. The Seahawks are the healthier team and at this point in the season is the better team. They should win this game, the problem is that Peyton Manning can raise the level of everyone else on the offense and carry Denver playing at the top of his game, particularly late in a close game. (Seattle cannot expect to get to get the same end of game result from Manning as they did last week.) The Seattle defense has to stop Manning from being able to play at that level, if they can Seahawks win 24 – 21.

The Crystal Ball - Conference Championship

January 15th, 2014

The divisional round turned out pretty much according to script as our picks went 4 – 0 straight up and am now 6 – 2 for the playoffs and even went 2 – 1 – 1 against the spread which brings us to exactly average at 3 – 3 – 2 so far. There are four teams left and only three games in the playoffs and for all the surprises of the season none of these teams are a surprise. This would have been my prediction prior to week one (though perhaps not my expectation). The final four teams here have the most combined wins that we have seen in several years, The conference finals have the look of classic games these could really go either way and will probably depend on a turnover of special teams conversion. Sadly very few games that should be classic games actually turn out that way. Still the hope is there and the games have some very interesting themes.

The playoffs seem to have ended up with a greater reliance on defensive play rather than offensive play. The defense is perhaps over emphasized here because football games are more often lost than won. Offensive mistakes result in turnovers, extra possessions, momentum shifting penalties and sometimes just badly conceived plays. Defensive errors tend to be more difficult to spot; and even when they give up big plays those errors are often credited to the opposing offense.

Conference Round

New England at Denver – New England has redefined itself over the course of the season (and over the past decade). Certainly the personnel underwent a change some designed and some obviously not, this made the offense very much a work in progress at the start of the season but they were somewhat protected by playing in a weaker division. They survived some early scares because of an uncertain offense because their defense was actually reasonably solid. Injuries however hit some key components, notably the loss of Wilfork undermined the run defense and middle pressure in the pass defense. Various offensive injuries made the receiving corps a revolving group and chemistry with receivers was an illusion.

At this point the defense has had others step up and is playing well. The defense is a bit thin in terms of depth but they have some quality in the back seven that makes this a solid group that has improved as the season progressed. The defensive scheme is very flexible and the game plans are well constructed.

The offense has been up and down and the scheme has changed over the season. They do not have much in the way of a big play threat but they are fairly balanced. The running game in particular has emerged as a force and it is likely they will want to emphasize that this week to control the tempo of the game and keep Peyton on the sideline.

Denver has had its own share of issues and injuries to deal with, the defense was undercut by a fax machine in the preseason and injuries and suspension at various times up to and including last week. Peyton Manning and Denver had a season for the offensive record book. While the offense has gotten a lot of the headlines the offensive line has been somewhat makeshift and key receivers have been in and out of the lineup due to injury. Manning has also been troubled with some ankle issues that affected his play a bit mid-season though no one seems to be talking about it now.

The defense is better than it might appear to be statistically but it has had problems with consistency at various times. It has been more vulnerable to big plays than most other defenses but that may be a function that they have been in many games where the opposition was behind and playing with some degree of desperation.

The offense can score from anywhere and the weapons that they can put on the field at one time will stretch almost any defense. Manning has a quick release and can read a defense as well as (or more likely better than) anyone who has ever played the game. Merely having those weapons offensively does not mean that there are more than a handful of NFL quarterbacks who could effectively use them.

This game looks like a high level chess match. There will be a lot of early maneuvering to test elements of the opponent’s offense and defense and any flaw that exists will be exploited. The game pace is likely to be slowed down a bit. Turnovers could obviously turn this game strongly in one direction or another but all things being equal the depth of the Denver offense seems like it will prove to be too taxing for the Patriots, Broncos win 31 – 28.

San Francisco at Seattle – These are two teams working from a very similar blueprint, strong defense, and a good running game, field position and ball control are the essence of the game plans here. These teams are playing for the third time so there are not a lot of surprises to be had here.

The San Francisco defense is talented but does not have the same depth as this week’s opponent. This is a fundamentally sound group that is good technically. They play a fairly classic 4 -3 and the linebackers cover a lot of area. As a group they played very well last week against a similar sort of team on the road that portends well, particularly in running situations.

At this point in the season the San Francisco offense is healthier than it has been at almost any point. They can put three receivers on the field which greatly enhances their offensive potential by making them more balanced. This makes the running game more effective and gives the read option even more potential. They are the more explosive team and the better offense.

Seattle has one of the most talented defenses seen in some time; there really are no weaknesses in this group and plenty of stars. The secondary is particularly strong and covers well in man to man, the defensive line is deep and defends the run without much in the way of support.

The offense has been very conservative; the main weapon continues to be Lynch who seems to get stronger the more carries he gets. Percy Harvin was to be the wild card for this offense but he has been injured for most of the season. Other weapons in the receiving game tend to be inconsistent big plays offset by drops. Wilson is the key to making the offense go and he is very capable but he could stand to have some more weapons.

This game should be a defensive struggle down to the end but the reality is that with defenses this good the game will be decided on the basis of a turnover. Barring that this is a difficult game to call, Seattle has the best defense and San Francisco has the best offense, special teams are more or less equal. Home field advantage is a real benefit and that is the edge here, Seattle wins 20 – 17.

The Crystal Ball - Divisional Round

January 10th, 2014

Well the Wildcard round continued as the season did, bad times for favorites we were 2 -2 straight up and 1 – 2 – 1 against the spread. That was a good weekend of football and the games all had interesting points and some degree of controversy in clock management, officiating, and play calling.

The divisional round may not be quite as good as three of the games do not look to be nearly as competitive as the games in the wildcard round but we will see. This is the new NFL and every team has a chance as any given Sunday is any given weekend. The divisional round features teams three teams played each other in the regular season and in two of the games on the same field and of course, none of that really matters a lot.

Divisional Round

New Orleans at Seattle – New Orleans gets a rare (unique) road win during the playoffs, so that monkey is off of their backs. They were crushed 34 – 7 playing in Seattle five weeks ago in a game that was not as close as the score. But they have the best offense of the NFC teams in the playoffs at this point and that counts for something.

The issue will be getting that offensive potential translated to points. The matchup here is not good as the weak link offensively has been the line play and giving Brees time. They face the best defense in the NFL and the best defensive secondary which means that it will take time for receivers to work free. The offense can take over a game but against this opponent it will take a very good game plan and execution. New Orleans has that kind of capability which gives them a chance.

The defense has been a pleasant surprise all year playing better than expected and developing some young talent in the process. Still the talent is mostly on the offensive side of the ball but the defensive scheme is aggressive and generally well executed. Their performance last week against the Eagles running attack was very good but the challenge this week is quite different as they face a prototypical power running team that additionally has a mobile quarterback. An interesting challenge there are likely to be a lot of stacked defenses and run blitzes called up.

Seattle lacks a consistent big play threat, Harvin was supposed to have that role but his health has been a limiting factor. Wilson makes good decisions with the ball and Lynch is the kind of running back that intimidates defenses. The receiving corps has been a bit random good plays intertwined with undisciplined plays. The offensive line has been injured and out of synch much of the season. It is largely healthy at this point but still not playing to its talent level.

The best chance that the Saints have is to the get an early lead and force the tempo of the game while also taking the crowd out of it a bit. Look for them to take some early chances, particularly on defense; they should load up against the run and play to keep Wilson in the pocket to force him to try to beat them with his arm, hopefully generating a turnover or two in the process. For Seattle this is the same formula as always, keep the play calling flexible and let the defense control field position. They should win the battle of the lines on both side of the ball, Seahawks win 24 – 17.

Indianapolis at New England – The Colts had a comeback for the ages last week as the defense did their all too familiar Jeckyll and Hyde imitation and Andrew Luck continued to pull rabbits out of his hat (helmet, or some other part of his anatomy). This team has been difficult to predict, they seem to play above or below their talent level but never actually at it to appear average.

The offensive line play has been inconsistent at times; Luck takes a lot of hits and is under pressure almost constantly. He has great pocket awareness and is a threat to run which has made him very successful despite line issues. Indianapolis would like to (and often tries to) feature the running game with mixed results. Luck is their best player and most effective weapon which seems to be obvious to everyone not on the Colt’s coaching staff.

The defense seems to vacillate from average to terrible often in the same game. The pass rush is mostly one player and the coverage can be very bad as most of the starting cornerbacks are dealing with some kind of injury at this point.

New England has injury issues of their own. The offense has been breaking in new receivers pretty much all season and Brady has had a poor statistically poor season (for him). The running game has been shuffling backs around but has a deep rotation available there. This is not a good offensive team, they are methodical and patient and do what they have to do to get poi9nts but this is very different from other years for them.

The defense has also seen its share of injuries and it is not a particularly deep group to begin with. They do have some talent there that is playing well but the loss of Wilfork in particular has been a blow to their run defense.

This game will take some special play if Indianapolis is going to have a shot. They cannot afford to give up big plays with blown coverages which has been one of their hallmarks this year. They need to be efficient and above all take care of the ball; four turnovers this week (like most weeks) are not going to be survivable. Belichick will certainly scheme to take away Hilton as a receiver and the weapons available to the Colts are very limited after that and the extra week of preparation will be well used, Patriots win 24 – 20.

San Francisco at Carolina – Carolina has a very good defense coupled with a very pedestrian offense. In week eleven they came back from a nine point deficit to win 10 – 9 at San Francisco. That game was a as much an offense stalemate as it was a defensive gem.

The Carolina offense is based on the running game and not much else. Steve Smith has been the long time passing threat in this offense but he has never had much in the way of help. He has gotten older and has lost a step and there is no big play threat in the passing game. Cam Newton has played well and is a threat by himself as both a passer and a rusher.

The Carolina defense is very good; the front seven are the best in the league. The secondary is average but the pass rush protects them to a large extent and the linebacker play has been particularly impressive. They will be facing a more complete team than in the prior meeting as their opponent has a healthy receiving corps so the task of keeping both pressure and containment will be much higher in this meeting.

San Francisco played their typical game last week, playing positional football and relying on the defense to keep them in the game. The passing game is much more effective with Crabtree available and that also opens up Davis but much of the damage is done when Kaepernick improvises as a runner. The read option game is not as effective as it was last year bt that in conjunction with the scrambles has made the offense much more effective now that there is a real passing game.

The San Francisco defense has been solid though perhaps not as dominating as it has been in the past few seasons. Good linebacker play is still the hallmark here but the secondary is not quite as good. They play very solid and disciplined ball which will be important in keeping Newton in the pocket.

The style of both these teams is to play conservative defensive games that run off of field position so turnovers can be fatal. Carolina has the better defense but not by much. The offenses are both limited but here San Francisco has a much clearer edge. This rates to be the most competitive of the divisional round games which means it probably won’t be, Forty-niners win 23 -20.

San Diego at Denver – San Diego won in Denver in week fifteen 27 – 20 in one of their best played games of the season. It was a classic game plan to beat a Peyton Manning led offense, keep him off of the field by running the ball, be highly efficient offensively and do not commit any turnovers. It worked but it does not always (ask Miami 2009). In order for this plan to work you have to face an average sort of Manning performance.

San Diego has a capable offense, the passing game is statistically the second most productive in the AFC and the running game has progressed as the season has gone on. The offensive line play has been somewhat inconsistent at times but that to has gotten better as the season has progressed. This is a solid offense; the injury to Matthews is a concern.

The defense has been a problem but the play has been better of late and the improvements have been in the linebacker play. The secondary is still suspect but they are no longer exposed as much as they were as the defensive pressure has gotten better. The challenge will be depth but if they can maintain ball control that might not be an issue

You may have heard that the Denver offense is pretty good. It is Manning centric which makes a lot of sense. The weapons here are probably the best that he has ever had; big plays can literally happen on any play. The return of Welker though is hard to overstate as he will be where Manning expects him to be a represents the ultimate safety outlet.

The defense here is suspect; injuries and inconsistent play have been an issue. The strength here, such that it is rests in the back seven. They do not have to make a lot of stops given the points that the offense can put up but they have to make critical stops.

Manning will sometimes start slowly after a layoff so the best chance will be if San Diego can start out and play from ahead, then they just have to hope that Manning will have an average game. Playing the Broncos multiple times is a difficult proposition, the chances of beating them with the same game plan twice is vanishingly small, Broncos win 34 – 27.

The Crystal Ball - Wildcard Round

January 1st, 2014

We ended the season with a 13– 3 straight up result last week bringing the final season record to 164 – 91 – 1. Against the spread we also closed on a very positive note going 10 – 6 which as noted last week results in our worst against the spread results ever 116 – 135 – 4 for the season but hopefully we have momentum going into next season (sure).

The playoffs should be interesting and there should be some surprises, as always. I think though that simply picking the winners is a challenge here as in at least three of the matchups both of the teams have clear paths to a win and in the fourth game the favorite has been somewhat turnover prone which is not especially reassuring. Good games to watch, picking is a bit of a turkey shoot The playoffs are a different season, it is not that the football is necessarily better but there is a greater intensity.

Wildcard Round

Kansas City at Indianapolis – Kansas City has a team that is talented and capable of winning but the defense will have to be able to generate some turnovers. That is possible but late in the season and against better quarterbacks it has been an issue. This is a group that will need to get pressure on the quarterback to try to create mistakes.

The offense is rather pedestrian and focuses on the running of Charles who is also their only real big play threat which gives the opponents a focal point. They are going to have to come up with alternative weapons and they do not have anyone who can stretch the field vertically (and that is not a strong point of the Reid offense). Still they will get a stacked box and will need to work around that.

Indianapolis runs a very conservative offense which will serve to keep their opponent in games when they should not be. They do have vertical weapons but tend to feature the running game unless playing from behind and the running game is nothing special. Still they tend to win close games and at home they should have an advantage.

The defense is difficult to figure out in that it seems to play up and down. They have been curiously good against better teams and they have been able to generate some big plays at the most opportune times. The lack of a vertical game should allow them to focus on trying to keep Charles contained.

Indianapolis won convincingly in Kansas City just two weeks ago, this is not likely to go as easily since it seems unlikely that the Chiefs are going to fumble six times (losing three) and throw an interception. This will likely be a close game to the end against two teams that are fairly evenly matched overall (Indianapolis the better offense, Kansas City the better defense); we will give the edge here to the home team, Colts win 24 – 21.

New Orleans at Philadelphia – New Orleans has been bad on the road as of late. The issue here has been primarily due to poor play along the play of the offensive line. The New Orleans offense is one dimensional, not a shock to anyone who has been paying attention the past few years. What has changed is that one of the best offensive lines in football has become mediocre or worse. They have no reliable running game and the pass rush is creating problems despite the fact that Brees has better pocket presence than just about anyone east of Denver.

The New Orleans defense has been a pleasant surprise; newcomers have helped but a more aggressive defensive scheme has had the greater effect. It is a group that takes risks, which means that they can give up big plays as a consequence.

Philadelphia has been on a hot streak lately which makes them somewhat of a Super Bowl longshot favorite given some of the recent results but that is a ways in the future and getting past this game is going to be the first of many challenges if that were to happen. The offense has been very effective both running and passing and the up tempo game has worked well.

The defense has made strides over the second half of the season and is actually playing well at this point. It is also an aggressive defense that is scheme driven which does lead to giving up the occasional big play here as well.

These are rather similar teams in most respect; Philadelphia has the better running game. New Orleans has been through the playoffs before, they have experience edge both playing and coaching that Philadelphia does not and that could be a factor here. This is a game that could turn on one team getting out ahead and being able to dictate the tempo for their opponent. This should be an interesting story though the game in that case might not be all that close, still given home field advantage the Eagles win 35 – 31.

San Diego at Cincinnati – San Diego has a really bad defense and that tends to limit ones opportunities in the playoffs. The run defense is poor but the pass defense is also an issue, the secondary play has been erratic from day to day and they will have their hands full. They are not particularly effective at getting a pass rush which is not helpful either.

The offense has some nice weapons, the rookie Allen has provided a good downfield weapon and Gates has been steady as well. The best part of this offense has been the running game where Mathews has been very productive and Woodhead has been the best kept secret in the NFL as a change of pace back and receiver. The offensive line though has been unreliable

Cincinnati has been a team that has played very well at home and they have obvious talent. They have also tanked at odd times typically against lesser opponents and the quarterback play has been uneven at times. Green is an outstanding receiver and double teams are not always enough and the other receivers are adequate and usually facing single coverage. The running game is solid and the offensive line capable.

The defense is probably missing their two best players but they are still very good. This is a balanced group with no glaring weaknesses. The defensive line is strength and should have a decisive edge in this game to limit the run and create pressure.

Turnovers are a real key here as this is a game where Cincinnati has advantages on both sides of the ball but errors could cause them to lose this game. This could be a game where the field conditions are likely to be less than optimal which could set the stage for sloppy ball handling as well. The advantages here though are clearly to the home team, Bengals win 30 – 20.

San Francisco at Green Bay – Green Bay will have home field and likely bitterly cold weather for this game. Rodgers looked a bit rusty last week against a bad defense, he will need to start stronger in this game. The emergence of Lacy does give Green Bay a much more effective offense, play action finally means something but the offensive line will have its work cut out for it.

The Green Bay defense is not very good and with Matthews out their pass rush is pretty much gone as part of that. The rushing defense is going to have to do better than the 4.6 yards per carry they have been giving up over the season.

San Francisco has an offense that has gotten better as the season has progressed and the receiving corps has healed. They have been and still are a running team but when it is effective it opens up other options. The passing game is not known as being consistently effective but it can produce big plays.

The defense is solid, probably not quite as good as in previous seasons but still quite good. They have a clear edge and are capable of getting pressure in the passing game. The secondary is decent but the challenge will be covering all of the weapons that this opponent can put out in patterns.

San Francisco has the clear edge here but the Green Bay passing game has the potential to put up points in a hurry. If Green Bay can get an early lead over San Francisco they have a chance as San Francisco is not a quick scoring team. There is also a somewhat lesser chance that Green Bay could come back at the last minute but this will be a bit different than last week. The most likely result though is that San Francisco will simply control the clock and the defense will make the necessary plays, Forty-niners win 24 – 20.

The Crystal Ball - Week 17

December 27th, 2013

We went 11– 5 straight up last week bringing the season record to 151 – 88 – 1. Against the spread we were again below average also 7 – 9 which still leaves us at a miserable 106 – 129 – 4 for the season. This confirms that this will be the first time we have gone below average against the spread in a season unfortunately, ah well better luck next year. Week seventeen is always a difficult week in that some teams will have little or nothing to play for and other teams will simply not show up. This season it does appear that the rampant parity has left more teams with something to play for.

The standard disclaimer goes like this; these picks are for amusement value only. They are not to be confused with the recommended picks of the site. I participate in a pick ‘em league and these represent my picks for that league though I may modify my picks there as injury news updates come in later in the week. My “versus the spread” results are against the line at the time I made the pick; usually the a day or two prior to the first game being played.

Week 17

Carolina at Atlanta – Atlanta has had a difficult season and it is not likely to end well, they have been injured and are a bit healthier but not enough. Carolina needs this win to win the division, a first round bye, and an outside shot at home field advantage throughout so the focus is there, Panthers win 24 – 17.

Baltimore at Cincinnati – The Ravens have a decent defense but the offense has been hit and miss, the running game is non-existent and big plays in the passing game too rare. Cincinnati plays well at home and has a balanced attack; the defense is solid, Bengals win 28 – 20.

Jacksonville at Indianapolis – The Jaguars have played better the second half of the season but this is not a good team and they do not travel very well. Indianapolis has little to play for here, an outside chance of modestly improving seeding but it is a young team and needs the work, Colts win 21 – 14.

New York Jets at Miami – New York has had some problems putting two decent offensive games in a row together, the offense is too inconsistent. Miami is playing for a spot in the playoffs and have to win and get some help, the offensive line must protect better, Dolphins win 24 – 17.

Detroit at Minnesota – The Vikings are not a particularly good team though they tend to play better at home; they simply do not have much talent. Detroit has talent but lack discipline, they have an uncanny ability to lose critical games and win meaningless ones like this, Lions win 35 – 28.

Washington at New York Giants – Washington, like many teams playing badly, have been unlucky as well as inept, parts of the team are better than the whole. New York has a poor offensive line which has led to inconsistent offensive play; the pass rush has been more effective of late, Giants win 24 – 20.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh – The Browns have limited talent and this has been a rebuilding year that has shown some promise for the future, not so much this week. Pittsburgh has offensive line problems but the running game has gotten a bit better and the passing game is reasonable, Steelers win 24 – 14.

Houston at Tennessee – Houston has been beaten down and there is no reason to expect that to change at this late date as they are down another running back. Tennessee has had changes in the front office and everyone is auditioning for their jobs next season and need to step up, Titans win 28 – 20.

Buffalo at New England – Buffalo has had an up and down year, uneven quarterback play has been an issue as have various injuries. New England needs a win to confirm a first round bye and keep the chance for home field advantage throughout the playoffs alive, Patriots win 24 – 20.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans – The Buccaneers have not lived up to their talent level; they have made too many mistakes and not played with focus at times. New Orleans has an average defense but the offense has had some issues as pressure on Brees has increased; not an issue this week, Saints win 35 – 24.

San Francisco at Arizona – The Arizona defense has been playing as well as anyone but the offense takes chances and the matchups are poor this week. San Francisco has broadened their offensive game plan as receivers get healthy, but the result here will involve turnovers, Forty-niners win 24 – 21.

Denver at Oakland – The Oakland defense has been very bad as of late and this does not bode well for the week, the offense lacks big play ability. Denver is likely still playing for home field at this point and Manning rates to set a couple of more records in that case, Broncos win 35 – 24.

Kansas City at San Diego – The Chiefs are about the only team qualified for the playoffs that has nothing to play for, they just need to avoid injuries. San Diego might be playing for a chance to make the playoffs though likely not by the time this game starts, still the offense is good enough, Chargers win 28 – 20.

St Louis at Seattle – St Louis has been playing better offensively with their run based offense and a good front seven defensively but that is not a winning formula this week. Seattle is still looking for home field advantage and would like start another home winning streak, Seahawks win 28 – 14.

Green Bay at Chicago – Chicago has the worst defense in the league at this point in the season the offense is potent but streaky. Green Bay gets Rodgers back and he will give a lift to the team and Lacy will be the key offensively; the defense will need to make a stop or two, Packers win 31 – 27.

Philadelphia at Dallas – Dallas has a lot to overcome as the defense is bad and injured plus they will going to be without heir starting quarterback. Philadelphia has been capable of big offensive games particularly when they can get an early lead; the defense has been better of late, Eagles win 31 – 21.

The Crystal Ball - Week 16

December 20th, 2013

We went 9– 7 straight up last week bringing the season record to 129 – 78 – 1. Against the spread we were above average also 6 – 8 – 1 which still leaves us at a miserable 99 – 120 – 4 for the season. The Thursday games are no more and the playoff participant pool is still somewhat undecided but as recent history has demonstrated anyone who gets in seemingly has a chance.

The standard disclaimer goes like this; these picks are for amusement value only. They are not to be confused with the recommended picks of the site. I participate in a pick ‘em league and these represent my picks for that league though I may modify my picks there as injury news updates come in later in the week. My “versus the spread” results are against the line at the time I made the pick; usually the Tuesday prior to the games being played.

Week 16

Miami at Buffalo – Buffalo is a team that has been up and down a lot this season, there is talent offensively but the quarterback is learning on the job. Miami is coming off of a big win on a short week, that can be a difficult task for some teams but they have the clear talent edge, Dolphins win 24 – 20.

New Orleans at Carolina – The Saints face a tough matchup after a down week, the offensive line has to protect better and will have a challenge this week. Carolina will need to get off to a good start, they cannot afford to play catchup; they need to control tempo with the run, and Panthers win 28 - 24

Minnesota at Cincinnati – Minnesota managed a win last week without their normal running game setting the tone; the defensive secondary still has coverage issues. Cincinnati has not played up to the level of their talent, they have ample weapons and the defense is solid, Bengals win 28 – 21.

Denver at Houston – The Texans are limited at this point, the offensive line is not protecting or getting the running game going, the defense is not stopping the pass. Denver will not have two poor offensive games in a row, the defense needs to step up and make stops this week, Broncos win 38 – 24.

Tennessee at Jacksonville – Jacksonville has been playing with intensity; unfortunately they have been playing without a great deal of talent to support that. Tennessee has a good defense and some offensive talent as well though they have not always played to their level talent, Titans win 27 – 24.

Indianapolis at Kansas City – The Colts have clinched a playoff spot that likely has them playing against this team again in three weeks, the playbook will be limited. Kansas City has some of the same issues but they are the better team here and at home, Chiefs win 31 – 21.

Cleveland at New York Jets – New York has been working with a rookie quarterback and limited offensive talent pool; the defense is good but has limits. Cleveland has a generally solid defense; the offense has been working around Gordon which has given them a focus, Browns win 21 - 17

Tampa Bay at St Louis – The Buccaneers have been playing better though the offense has limited productivity, the defense is solid overall. St Louis has a similar pedigree they are playing at home and have slightly better of the matchups this week, Rams win 24 – 21.

Dallas at Washington – Washington has Cousins at quarterback and the initial results look promising at least for increasing his trade value. Dallas has been defensively terrible but they still control their destiny and need to play with better ball discipline and play-calling, Cowboys win 28 – 24.

New York Giants at Detroit – The Giants are a team that makes too many mistakes on both sides of the ball; they do not seem to be playing without purpose. Detroit has the defense to take advantage of a poor offensive line this week and the offense to exploit a poor secondary, Lions win 28 – 14.

Arizona at Seattle – Arizona has been playing better offensively but their line is still poor, while the defense is very good mobile quarterbacks are problematic. Seattle is playing good ball overall and at home are a force; their defensive line should dominate, Seahawks win 28 - 17

New England at Baltimore – The Ravens have a good pass rush and play well at home, the poor running game and offensive line play are concerning. New England has a number of injuries to deal with but the short passing game should serve them well if they avoid turnovers, Patriots win 27 – 21.

Pittsburgh at Green Bay – Green Bay generally has a poor defense and without Rodgers an average sort of offense. Pittsburgh has offensive line issues but should be able to generate some push; this could be a bad weather game which does not particularly favor either team, Pittsburgh wins 20 - 16.

Oakland at San Diego – The Raiders have an experiment going with revolving quarterbacks and a defense that can be porous on a good day. San Diego has a prolific offense and should be able to dominate if they can avoid turnovers; the defense can be soft, Chargers win 28 – 20.

Chicago at Philadelphia – Chicago can put up points and their receivers are going to be a match up nightmare but the defense has been miserable. Philadelphia defense reverted last week from average to terrible; the offense has to avoid turnovers Eagles win 31 – 27.

Atlanta at San Francisco – The Falcons offense is getting a bit healthier though the offensive line play is poor but the defense is still ineffective. San Francisco is getting healthier at receiver and the defense will be able to get pressure defensively, Forty-niners win 28 – 13.

The Crystal Ball - Week 15

December 11th, 2013

We went 12 – 4 straight up last week bringing the season record to 129 – 78 – 1. Against the spread we were above average also 9– 7 which still leaves us at a miserable 93 – 112 – 3 for the season. There are a number of teams still in contention for playoff spots from which they will be eliminated in the first round most likely but everyone is hoping for that hot streak which gets to the Super Bowl and who knows it could always happen again. This year it does seem though that the Seahawks are a dominating team despite their loss last week; hard to see them not getting home field advantage and at least making it to the Super Bowl.

The standard disclaimer goes like this; these picks are for amusement value only. They are not to be confused with the recommended picks of the site. I participate in a pick ‘em league and these represent my picks for that league though I may modify my picks there as injury news updates come in later in the week. My “versus the spread” results are against the line at the time I made the pick; usually the Tuesday prior to the games being played.

Week 15

San Diego at Denver – San Diego has plenty of offensive potential but they have to score more points than their defense can give up a challenge for this week. Denver can score about as many points as anyone and to insure the one seed they have to keep winning, Broncos win 35 – 24.

Washington at Atlanta – The Redskins have not been playing up to the limited talent level they have, the defensive secondary has been an issue and is likely to be one again. Atlanta has a terrible defense but the offense with White back can be effective, Falcons win 28 – 20.

Chicago at Cleveland – Cleveland has a very good defense and an offense that largely consists of one very good receiver which makes this a close call. The Chicago defense is poor, the pass rush is just not effective but they do get turnovers, the offense has the weapons to get by, Bears win 24 – 20.

Houston at Indianapolis – The Texans have replaced the coach but the quarterback is the issue that needs clarity, the defense has been poor and needs to pick up. Indianapolis clearly misses Wayne and the defense has been inconsistent but Luck can be special when protected, Colts win 24 – 21.

Buffalo at Jacksonville – Buffalo has had the kind of season where they have shown promise and futility in part due to injury, a rookie quarterback, and lack of depth. Jacksonville is not a talented group but they have been playing with effort, the defense is a question, Jaguars win 21 - 20

New England at Miami – Patriot injuries keep mounting up the offense will be more restricted without Gronkowski and the defense will have issues covering multiple weapons. Miami has a talent edge at this point but will need to avoid turnovers and maintain discipline, Dolphins win 24 – 21.

Philadelphia at Minnesota – The Vikings are not a particularly talented team and without Peterson are going to struggle offensively more than usual. Philadelphia has been playing well offensively and the defense has stepped up over earlier efforts to become average, Eagles win 28 – 17,

Seattle at New York Giants – New York has been struggling this season as the line play has been an issue on both sides of the ball and secondary play is poor. Seattle is coming off of a difficult loss and is traveling which used to be an issue but should not be given the talent difference, Seahawks win 28 – 20.

San Francisco at Tampa Bay – The Buccaneers have been playing better and much of that is Glennon’s improvement though opponent quality has been a factor as well. San Francisco is traveling cross country cannot afford a letdown, having Crabtree back should open up the offense, Forty-niners win 24 – 20.

New York Jets at Carolina – The Jets have been erratic, quarterback play is a big part of that but they do have better receiving weapons available which might help. Carolina will need to bounce back but the defense should be able to bring pressure which is the key here, Panthers win 24 - 17

Kansas City at Oakland – Oakland has limited talent on both sides of the ball and have had injuries to various offensive skill players to work through. Kansas City is a good team that takes advantage of these types of talent mismatches and they have opened up the offense, Chiefs win 31 – 20.

Green Bay at Dallas – Green Bay looks to be without Rodgers for another game and the defense has been soft at the best of times. Dallas is an up and down team, last week was down but this week should be better weather and they should dominate the opponent’s secondary, Dallas wins 30 -20.

New Orleans at St Louis – St Louis has a solid running game and a good defense but they have limited big play ability and are sometimes undisciplined. New Orleans has a quality offense and a variety of weapons there, the defense has been better at home than on the road, Saints win 28 – 17.

Arizona at Tennessee – Tennessee is a decent defensive team with an offense that struggles maintaining drives as they are inconsistent both running and passing. The Arizona defense is very good and the offense is competent despite mediocre offensive line play, Cardinals win 20 – 14.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh – The Steelers have offensive line problems that limit the offense and a defense that has been less stalwart than the team is used to. Cincinnati has not played well on the road; the defense is good but the offensive play has been up and down, Bengals win 24 – 20.

Baltimore at Detroit – The Baltimore defense has been playing well, they can get pressure on the passer; the offense relies heavily on making big plays. Detroit has a big play offense as well and playing at home has the advantage but quarterback protection will have to be a priority, Lions win 28 – 24.

The Crystal Ball - Week 14

December 4th, 2013

We went 9 – 7 straight up last week bringing the season record to 117 – 74 – 1. Against the spread we were back below average though by the slimmest of margins time going 7– 8 – 1 which leave us at 84 – 105 – 3 for the season. Very few teams have been mathematically eliminated and only one team has actually clinched a playoff slot (Seattle) but that is about to change this week.

The standard disclaimer goes like this; these picks are for amusement value only. They are not to be confused with the recommended picks of the site. I participate in a pick ‘em league and these represent my picks for that league though I may modify my picks there as injury news updates come in later in the week. My “versus the spread” results are against the line at the time I made the pick; usually the Tuesday prior to the games being played.

Week 14

Houston at Jacksonville – Jacksonville has some recent wins and they are playing surprisingly well but this is still a bad team with a poor pass defense. Houston is certainly a disappointment but they had a good performance in a close loss, they have just enough this week, Texans win 28 – 24.

Minnesota at Baltimore – The Vikings have nothing beyond their running game and an inconsistent pass rush which is not going to be enough. Baltimore has a decent pass rush and the occasional deep pass big play; the offensive line needs to step up to balance the offense, Ravens win 21 – 13.

Indianapolis at Cincinnati – Indianapolis is simply not as good as their record, losing Wayne has really hurt offensive consistency and the defense cannot get off the field. Cincinnati is an up and down team but they tend to play better against better competition, Bengals win 28 – 21.

Atlanta at Green Bay – The Falcons play much better offensively with a healthier White available but the offensive line is mediocre and the defense bad. Green Bay may not get Rodgers back this season and that will limit the offense; the weather might play in here as well, Packers win 24 – 21.

Cleveland at New England – Cleveland has a good defense and a good pass receiver which does not equate to having a good, or even adequate, team. New England has been starting slow and needs to get off to better starts though this week it should not matter, Patriots win 34 – 21.

Oakland at New York Jets – The Jets have been terrible on offense, painful to even watch and that has put a good defense on the field way too much. Oakland is also a team that has holes but their rookie quarterback is making some plays though the east coast trip is a worry, Raiders win 20 – 17.

Detroit at Philadelphia – Detroit has a good offense and the defensive line can be good when they play with discipline which makes them a difficult team to call. Philadelphia has been rolling offensively and Foles has been effective, the defense is still a work in progress, Eagles win 34 – 30.

Miami at Pittsburgh – The Steelers play well at home but the defense is marginal and the offensive line poor they lost their center to injury which limits the offense. Miami has been playing with better discipline and the offensive line play has improved somewhat, the defense is solid, Dolphins win 24 – 21.

Buffalo at Tampa Bay – Tampa Bay has been inconsistent offensively, injuries have not helped there; the defense has been capable but needs support. Buffalo has been inconsistent but they have been playing with effort which at this point of the season (with non-playoff teams) matters Bills win 21 – 17.

Kansas City at Washington – The Redskins have been inconsistent results from the offense and the defense front seven has been better the secondary is suspect. Kansas City has had a tough three game stand and needs to turn it around, the defense should reassert itself here, Chiefs win 27 – 20.

Tennessee at Denver – Tennessee has a solid defense but this matchup will be a challenge; the offense does not have the weapons to keep up. Denver might be subject to a letdown after their past four games but with Fox back coaching that seems highly unlikely, Denver wins 31 – 17.

St Louis at Arizona – The Rams have been playing better as the season progressed and they established the running game, the defense has been dependable, the schedule brutal. Arizona has a very good defense and an offense that is likely to produce a big play occasionally. 21 – 17.

New York Giants at San Diego – New York has been playing better defensively with the front seven; the offensive line has been blocking the run better but protection is an issue. San Diego has to win games with their offense and at times they can, this should be one of those weeks, Chargers win 28 -21.

Seattle at San Francisco – The Forty-niners are getting some receivers healthy but are losing offensive linemen; the defense is no longer dominating. Seattle is coming in off a short week and a win that puts them effectively three games up over the rest of the NFC, Seahawks win 24 – 21.

Carolina at New Orleans – Carolina has been on a long winning streak based on a very good defensive front seven, the question will be can the offense keep up. New Orleans gets a boost for playing at home but the offensive line will need to play better than last week (and likely will), Saints win 28 – 21.

Dallas at Chicago – The Bears defensive injuries have exposed a lack of depth there; the offense is decent but tends to be a bit streaky. Dallas has defensive issues as well and the offense can be inconsistent but they are marginally better on both sides of the ball, Cowboys win 23 – 20.

The Crystal Ball - Week 13

November 27th, 2013

Last week we were 8 – 5 – 1 straight up which brought us to 108 – 67 – 1 for the season. Against the spread we had our best week in some time going 10 – 4 but that still has us at 77 – 97 – 2 for the season. We are now at the three quarter point and there are no more bye weeks, 64 games remain before the playoffs and there is a lot left to be figured out. There are two games that look very much like they will determine the one seed positioning in each conference and Monday night football will be relevant.

The standard disclaimer goes like this; these picks are for amusement value only. They are not to be confused with the recommended picks of the site. I participate in a pick ‘em league and these represent my picks for that league though I may modify my picks there as injury news updates come in later in the week. My “versus the spread” results are against the line at the time I made the pick; usually the Tuesday prior to the games being played.

Week 13

Green Bay at Detroit – Green Bay has a bad defense particularly the defensive secondary and without Rodgers the offense is less explosive. Detroit has been inconsistent largely because their defensive secondary is terrible but the offense is explosive, Lions win 31 – 24.

Oakland at Dallas – The Raiders are a team that has been playing over its head most of the year, while the talent is lacking the effort has not been. Dallas has generally played well at home, the defense has been dinged up but the offense has plenty of weapons to compensate, Cowboys win 28 – 21.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore – Pittsburgh has a limited defense and has an offensive line that has been ineffective; they have some passing weapons if they have time. Baltimore has a very good pass rush which is the key this week; they make enough offensive plays, Ravens win 21 – 17.

Tampa Bay at Carolina – The Buccaneers have won their last three games and are playing closer to their talent level these days but a hard team to trust. Carolina has won their last seven games, the defensive front is very good though the offense has been a bit uneven, Panthers win 28 – 21.

Jacksonville at Cleveland – Jacksonville has two road wins but they still have the least talent in the NFL, the defense has been looking a bit better. Cleveland is still playing quarterback roulette, they have some talent; the defense is solid and should carry the day, Browns win 20 – 14.

Tennessee at Indianapolis – The Titans have offensive limitations, the line play has not opened up enough in the running game the passing game is inconsistent. Indianapolis has a good quarterback who keeps them in any game but the rest of the cast is inconsistent, Colts win 27 – 21.

New England at Houston – Houston has looked really bad offensively, injuries and poor offensive line play have left an injured defense on the field too long. New England has injury issues to overcome as well but they are the far better team this week, Patriots win 31 – 17.

Chicago at Minnesota – The Vikings have a running attack and not much else offensively, the defensive secondary is not inspiring confidence. Chicago has weathered the quarterback injury situation fairly well, big receivers help but the defense needs to stop someone eventually, Bears win 24 – 21.

Miami at New York Jets – Miami has both talent and issues, the offensive line issues have led to a lot of hits on the quarterback and limited the effect of the talent. The Jets have had some horrible play from their rookie quarterback bur the defense is still capable, Jets win 21 – 20.

Arizona at Philadelphia – The Eagles have improved on both sides of the ball and are coming off of their bye week but the pass rush is still not a factor. Arizona has played well defensively and the offense has gotten better despite a poor offensive line; Palmer is effective if not pressured, Cardinals win 24 – 21.

Atlanta at Buffalo – Atlanta is in bad shape, poor offensive line play and a defense that is about as bad as there is at this point in the season, the weather could be a factor as well. Buffalo has a decent running game and the receivers have gotten healthier over the bye week, Bills win 24 – 17.

St Louis at San Francisco – The Rams have had a couple of good offensive performances against suspect defenses a different case this week. San Francisco has a very uneven offense the passing game can disappear but they are getting better the defense is solid, Forty-niners win 28 – 20.

Cincinnati at San Diego – San Diego is coming off of a big win but the defense is still terrible, they can win a shootout but that is not likely to be the case this week. Cincinnati is very good defensively and coming off of their bye week they should be offensively prepared, Bengals win 31 – 24.

Denver at Kansas City – The Chiefs look to be missing part of their pass rush if so success will depend on keeping up with the best offense in the NFL. Denver is an offensive powerhouse but the issue will be avoiding turnovers, injuries could be a problem here also, Broncos win 31 – 28.

New York Giants at Washington – New York is not a very good team as the offensive line play has been poor and the defense inconsistent. Washington has issues in the defensive secondary but the running game should allow them to control tempo, Redskins win 24 - 20

New Orleans at Seattle – Seattle is about defense and the secondary is missing critical pieces they are getting healthier on offense at the right time but is that enough. The Saints defense has exceeded expectations and the offense can score on play but cannot afford turnovers, Saints win 28 – 24.

The Crystal Ball - Week 12

November 20th, 2013

Last week had a number of upsets again and we were 8 – 6 straight up bringing us to 100 – 62 for the season thus far. Again we performed dreadfully against the spread as the week was 4 – 8 - 2 there for the week and a dismal 67 – 93 – 2 for the season. Rookie quarterbacks are expected to be inconsistent and they have been meeting expectations. It is not yet clear but this may be a record year for number of games started by backup quarterbacks which has also contributed to the randomness of the results. With six weeks to go a lot more can happen and probably will.

The standard disclaimer goes like this; these picks are for amusement value only. They are not to be confused with the recommended picks of the site. I participate in a pick ‘em league and these represent my picks for that league though I may modify my picks there as injury news updates come in later in the week. My “versus the spread” results are against the line at the time I made the pick; usually the Tuesday prior to the games being played.

Week 12

New Orleans at Atlanta – Atlanta is hurt on offense and simply bad on defense, the running game does not work and they have become one-dimensional. New Orleans offense has been working well, the surprise has been the defense which has been effective all season, Saints win 31 – 17.

New York Jets at Baltimore – The Jets are inconsistent, the rookie quarterback and lack of good offensive options is a big part of that. Baltimore can exert defensive pressure against the quarterback will be key, the offensive line will have their work cut out for them, Ravens win 24 – 21.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland – Pittsburgh seemed to get there offense going last week but the line is not very good and the defense is not getting better though. Cleveland has played very well at home and the defense is good, the offense can be erratic and will need to perform, Browns win 23 – 20.

Tampa Bay at Detroit – The Buccaneers won two in a row and they have a solid defense the offense is a bit less dependable and the overall discipline has been poor. Detroit will be at home and the offense can dominate though the defensive secondary is poor, Lions win 31 – 24.

Minnesota at Green Bay – Minnesota has a running game and very little else going for it offensively; the defensive secondary has been vulnerable. Green Bay has a soft defense but the defensive line can stop the run; the offense probably has enough this week, Packers win 24 – 20.

Jacksonville at Houston – The Jaguars are still losing with alacrity, the offense is limited and the defense does not cover or tackle well. Houston has had various injuries but much of the offensive problems have come out of poor line play which is less of an issue this week, Texans win 28 – 20.

San Diego at Kansas City – The San Diego defense has not been very good though the offense has weapons the offensive line is mediocre. Kansas City coming home off a loss are going to have the defense geared up, the offense can take advantage of the field position, Chiefs win 24 – 20.

Carolina at Miami – The Dolphins offensive line play has been an issue all season it limits their running game and Tannehill gets hit a lot. Carolina has a good defensive front seven which is a big matchup advantage; there is some concern of a letdown after two big games, Panthers win 23 – 17.

Chicago at St Louis – Chicago has a wretched defense who manage the occasional big play but that is nothing to bank on, the offense is decent regardless of quarterback. St Louis is coming off the bye week and the running game is working enough to control the tempo of the game, Rams win 28 – 24.

Indianapolis at Arizona – The Colts have been playing poorly to start games which is bound to backfire, their defense is suspect and special teams mediocre. Arizona has a very good defense, the offense is limited as the offensive line is soft but they may be just good enough this week, Cardinals win 24 – 21.

Tennessee at Oakland – Oakland has limited talent but have been playing hard an impressive display of effort but the cupboard is about empty. Tennessee has been up and down as the offense has been very sluggish and the defense average but extra days of preparation might be enough, Titans win 21 – 17.

Dallas at New York Giants – The Giants have been on a winning streak against some pretty soft opposition, the defense is still suspect and the offensive line mediocre. Dallas is coming off their bye week and will be a bit healthier but the defense will need to step up, Cowboys win 24 – 20.

Denver at New England – New England will need to be on top of their game but the secondary is beat up and the pass rush has been ineffective. Denver has a tough set of games but the offense that might be able to play through it but the defense will have to make plays as well, Denver wins 28 – 24.

San Francisco at Washington – The Redskins rely on the running game to set up everything which is why they can be explosive or implosive depending. San Francisco is limited offensively and may be more so given the injury to guard Iupati; their talent level is better than their opponent, Forty-niners win 24 – 21.