Week 4 2016 NFL Predictions: Is it Parity or Bad Football?

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With the close of this weekend, we will have reached the end of the first quarter of the 2016 National Football League schedule. The number of well-known pros that have been injured in just the first few weeks of the year, including Adrian Peterson, Robert Griffin III, J. J. Watt and Jamaal Charles (who is supposed to make his season debut this week), has been unprecedented, but it is also (along with the preseason injuries and suspensions) making many ask an important question – is it parity between the teams in the NFL or is it just bad football?

Back when he was the commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle didn’t like the fact that a handful of teams – like the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys or the Pittsburgh Steelers – dominated the pro football landscape. His thought was to see all teams finish as closely together as possible – hell, Rozelle thought that, in a perfect season, all the teams would finish 8-8 – something that Rozelle called “competitive balance” or parity. Over the years, there’s been situations where it has come close to that – recall the 2011 Seattle Seahawks, who won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. There’s also some occasions, though, when it is just bad football and the 2016 season may be one of those deals.

A look at the standings is an opening salvo for this discussion. At this time, only five teams – the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and two surprises, the Teddy Bridgewater-less Minnesota Vikings and the Carson Wentz rookie-led Philadelphia Eagles – are undefeated. On the other side of the spectrum, there are four teams – the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns – that haven’t won a game as of yet. Of particular interest, however, are the 11 teams that have only one win after three games this year (and a twelfth team, the Miami Dolphins, went to 1-3 with a loss on Thursday night). Of course, this does leave the 11 teams that are 2-1, but none of them have been particularly powerful in reaching that record.

While you mull those numbers, take a look at the NFC West, where the Los Angeles Rams and the Seahawks are tied atop the division with a 2-1 record, despite the fact that neither team is averaging more than 20 points a game (Rams are averaging 15.3 points, Seahawks 17.3) or the fact that the Seahawks pounded the Rams to start the season by the score of 28-0 and have done little since. This type of situation can also be seen in the AFC South (the Houston Texans atop the division despite averaging 14 points per game) and in the AFC North (the Ravens are averaging 19 points per game).

In an era when the offenses have carte blanche to do whatever they please with opposing defenses, quarterbacks are flinging the ball like it’s an Arena Football League game and the running backs have become an afterthought in the offense (the leading rusher in the league is the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount, who is averaging just under 100 yards a game; even the Atlanta FalconsDevonta Freeman, currently the fifth ranked running back in the NFL, is averaging less than 90 per contest (88.3), there should be some signs of dominance by teams (and maybe we’re seeing that with the Patriots). Instead, right now perhaps we’re watching the fruition of Rozelle’s “any given Sunday” dream, where parity is the rule and boring football becomes the norm.

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After this week, maybe some of these trends will be changed. But it will be a tough weekend for the prognosticators to find good value or good bets to take.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold.)

Seattle Seahawks vs. NEW YORK JETS (+2)

This is a game that could be greatly affected by two things. One, the weather conditions expected at game time – rain and wind on the Meadowlands plains – are going to favor the running game, admittedly a rarity for the 2016 NFL. In that parameter, the Jets have the player to keep an eye on. RB Matt Forte, no longer wanted by the Bears (and you know they wish they had kept him now), is the sixth ranked back in the NFL and, along with his pass catching abilities out of the backfield, provide headaches to an aggressive defense such as the ‘Hawks. Two, Seattle comes east for a 1PM game, traditionally believed (and statistically true) to be a detriment to the West Coast team.

The Seahawks aren’t aided by a gimpy QB Russell Wilson being under center, but that is offset by Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is having confidence issues and isn’t playing well. This could be like the Seahawks’ season opener – when they won 12-10 over Miami – at which point it’s a push. I can see, however, the Jets perhaps taking this one outright.

Carolina Panthers vs. ATLANTA FALCONS (+3)

This is a juxtaposition game, one where you would expect the two teams to be switched. The defending NFC champion Panthers have been in some doldrums to start the season, surprisingly getting manhandled at home by the Vikings last week. Teams seem to be focusing much of their attention on league MVP QB Cam Newton in particular, forcing him to make decisions that take the ball out of his hands and force someone else to beat them. The Falcons are flying high right now, scoring almost 35 points per game and sitting atop the division.

Most telling in this game will be whether the Panthers defense can come to life on the road. They’ve been a bit silent early in the season and, with the ‘Birds making the scoreboard look like a pinball machine, they are going to have to staunch QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and Freeman early and often. They’ll also have to hope that Newton will figure out what’s going on or they’ll be going two games back of Atlanta way too early in the season.

Tennessee Titans vs. HOUSTON TEXANS (-4); UNDER 40

You might wonder why I’m taking the Texans, who haven’t exactly stunned anyone to this point in the season and especially after losing their defensive superstar Watt for the season. While I do like QB Marcus Mariota and RB DeMarco Murray for the Titans, they still don’t have enough to overcome a Texans defense that will be looking to show that they are more than Watt. Don’t expect this to be an offensive juggernaut, though. Both teams are averaging 14 points per game, so a 17-10 win out of the Texans wouldn’t be abnormal.

New York Giants (+4.5) vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The Vikings should be one of those teams that is beginning to change minds, especially after losing so many key players so early in the season. They’ve been able to overcome those issues, though, even to the point of beating the defending NFC champions last week on their home turf.

Win this week and I’ll believe you.

The Giants have quietly put together a 2-1 record, QB Eli Manning is doing a quietly excellent job and the triumvirate of WRs Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and the rejuvenated Victor Cruz are quietly rambling all over the field making plays. The Giants ARE on the road this weekend so I don’t expect an outright win, but I do expect them to keep this game closer than the spread is saying.

Last Week:  1-4
2016 Season Overall: 8-9-1

Another week that was abysmal and saved only by the Eagles thrashing of the Steelers…perhaps I should just bet them for the rest of the year? A two-week losing streak is bad enough. It is time to turn it around and get back on the positive side of the ledger.

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Week 2 2016 NFL Predictions: Don’t Fall for the Overreactions

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The first week of the National Football League season is in the books and what do we know? That’s the question that all the sports channels, whether they are on television, internet or radio, are trying to tell you. The problematic thing is that NO ONE knows anything about the NFL season at this point; to say that you KNOW anything after one week of playing either means you’ve got great insight into one team and/or you are out there breaking the legs of the players so that their season is over!

Consider this tidbit of information. Last week, the Jimmy Garoppolo-led New England Patriots went into the desert in Arizona and everyone thought they were going to be thrashed, especially after it was learned that TE Rob Gronkowski was also going to miss the game. The line was +6 and the Pats went out and blew it away, winning outright over the Cardinals.

Fast forward to this week. One of the Patriots’ arch rivals, the Miami Dolphins, are coming to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday. The Dolphins have just come off a tough road trip to Seattle, where they put their own hurt on the Legion of Boom before falling at the end 12-10. Do you think that the ‘Fins get any love for that effort? No, they are currently a -6.5 dog to the Pats.

This is what I mean when I say you shouldn’t fall for the overreactions. It is typical that it will happen in the early part of the season (personally have always believed that they shouldn’t do a college football ranking until at least the third week of the season – then you actually know who is a contender or a pretender…are you listening Florida State?) because…well, that’s what the talking heads are paid to do…talk. Look at the Bills on Thursday night, who started off as a -3 favorite against the Jets. By the time the game started, the line had swung over to the Jets being the favorite and giving a point.

Injuries can also explain some of the swings, but it shouldn’t be that much especially if there is a quality backup. Cleveland Browns QB Robert Griffin III went down in Week 1 with a shoulder injury that has put him on the IR. Enter Josh McCown, who has been a serviceable backup/starter with NINE NFL franchises, tossed 73 TDs in his career and generally will have earned his NFL pension by the time he hangs it up. To put it bluntly, McCown isn’t a dewy-eyed rookie and there’s no reason that their opponent this week, the Baltimore Ravens, should have moved from a -4 favorite to a -6 favorite, especially with the game being played in Cleveland.

The best thing to remember is don’t fall for the overreactions. Go through your usual research and impartially analyze the information at hand. That will keep you from making ill-advised bets on the whims of the overreactions.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7) vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Cardinals did not look like the same team that made the Final Four in the NFL last year. Perhaps it is another year of age on QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald, perhaps it was a defense that wasn’t ready for the Patriots. They certainly are going to have to improve on all aspects of the game (their second straight at home) if they are going to have an impact on the Bucs.

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Tampa Bay is much like the Cardinals except younger. QB Jameis Winston, RB Doug Martin and WR Mike Evans are coming together nicely and the defense, long the stalwart of the team, now doesn’t feel like it has to win every game. If the Buccaneers O-line can do the same job it did in Week 1, it could be another long afternoon for the Redbirds.

Atlanta Falcons vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (-4.5)

Again, we have a team that didn’t look very good playing at home last week (ironically against the Buccaneers) that is going to the West Coast. The Falcons are solid with QB Matt Ryan and RB Devonta Freeman, it is the defense that needs the work. Giving up four touchdown passes to Winston – who isn’t known as the second coming of Dan Fouts – is something that should have embarrassed the Dirty Birds.

It’s not going to get any easier for the Falcon defensive backs as they get another young stud of a quarterback in Derek Carr. With an arsenal that includes WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and RB Latavius Murray, Carr can basically pick apart nearly any defense. The Raider D is once again a formidable force, which should give the not-very-mobile Ryan some issues. The bookies aren’t giving any respect to the Silver and Black and they may regret it.

Green Bay Packers (-2) vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS; OVER 43.5

The Packers impress me this year that they will do just enough to get the job done and little more. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, they didn’t cover the spread but did pull out a four-point win. This is a very similar game in that the Pack doesn’t have to wow anyone, they just have to go in and pull out the victory. With veteran QB Aaron Rodgers, that shouldn’t be a problem with the array of talent behind him.

The Vikings…ah, what could have been. Although they went south last week and beat the Tennessee Titans, the team didn’t look like the powerhouse it would have been with QB Teddy Bridgewater (out for the season – knee injury) under center. The Vikings might be a surprise and get into the playoffs with a wild card, but they’re not going to beat the Pack in this game.

Philadelphia Eagles (+3) vs. CHICAGO BEARS

The Eagles were a bit of a surprise in Week 1 with their rookie QB Carson Wentz, but it was a win over the Browns (predicted to win four games this year). The test will come when they go on the road, many said…but they didn’t expect the Bears to be this dismal, never seriously in the game against the Houston Texans on the road last week. These aren’t the old “Monsters of the Midway” and the offense is QB Jay Cutler and whomever they can find to put around him. The Eagles should come out of this game with a 2-0 record, but I’ll settle for covering the three-point spread.

Last Week:  3-1-1
2016 Season Overall:  6-1-1

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The Titans failing to cover the spread against the Vikings (Tennessee +2.5, lost 25-16) and the push by the New York Giants over the Dallas Cowboys (Giants -1, won 20-19) were the only blemishes on what was otherwise a pretty good week (and good for you if you found the Giants in a “pick ‘em” as some odds makers had it). If you can go 3 for 5 (with one push) over the course of a season, you’re going to do pretty well. Let’s see if this week holds up to the scrutiny.