Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rambling Gambler: Pick Six Week SEVENTEEN

Ramblings and Gambling
By Erik Laurinovics, for The Football ERA
It's the last week of the regular season... Oh, sweet mercy! Tuesday's (TNF?) game provided the upset of the year with Joe Webb's Vikings shocking the Eagles. While the Minnesota defense deserves most of the credit, a win is a win and to me, this is truly the biggest surprise of the season. Naturally, it was one of my picks. The list of amazing losses this year grows long and I have to admit that I'm looking forward to put this season behind me. I'm hoping that the playoffs won't have any correlation to my regular season performance. Despite the difficulty of wagering in a season like this one, it's hard not to admire some of the football we've witnessed this year... Bradford gets the Rams back into playoff contention, the Chargers get swept by the Raiders and miss the playoffs, Vick becoming a MVP candidate, more turnover in the QB position than any time in recent memory, and two game postponements... and that's just to name a few! Though we may be a bit numbed from the repetitiveness of unbelievable events this year, I believe this will go down as a season to remember. Though sports-bettors (myself included) may disagree with that assessment, it's hard to argue the fact that it's been a very exciting season for fans.
Anyway, we've got a few meaningless games this week, so I'm not expecting much in the shocking upset department... but if one happens, well... I wouldn't be surprised.
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas last week and has a Happy New Year this weekend!
Week 16 Recap
Dallas -6.5 over ARIZONA: Meltdown followed by injury from Kitna. Kitna was never entirely successful as a starting quarterback, and this was an example of why. Also proves that apparently you need to have a winning record to qualify for the "any good team against the NFC West" theory.
PHILADELPHIA -14.5 over Minnesota: Upset of the year.
Houston -2.5 over DENVER: Someone in Houston needs to be fired. I know the secondary is awful, but blowing that lead against the Tebow-led Broncos? Really?
San Diego -7.5 over CINCINNATI: The Bengals looked like a whole new offense without T-Ocho. The defense has performed well when healthy this season, and this win over the Chargers shows the potential that this team squandered. Cincy is definitely up there in the "most disappointing team of the year" discussion.
TAMPA BAY -6 over Seattle: This one was easy. Seattle is awful, but somehow one win away from a playoff spot. The NFC West is terrible.
Baltimore -3.5 over CLEVELAND: Ray Lewis delivered. Hillis was stuffed and after giving up an early TD, the defense stuffed Cleveland all game long.
2010 Overall Record: 35-59-2
Week 17 Picks
HOUSTON +1.5 over Jacksonville
Ok, Houston likes to blow leads, but a point and a half home-underdog against Jacksonville, minus Garrard and quite possibly MJD? That's a little harsh. The Jags offense is closer to a preseason level at this point. There is a huge discrepancy between the Texans and Jags on the offensive side of the ball.  The Jags are 4th rushing, but were without MJD last week and they were only able to gain 71 yards on the ground, 39 of which were from Garrard, who will be out this week. Don't expect much from the run game. The Jags are also a poor passing offense, ranked 26th overall. Not much room for backup QB Trent Edwards to do worse, but he isn't going to do any better. The Texans are pretty much the exact opposite, finishing the season with the 5th ranked overall offense (6th passing, 10th rushing).
Defensively, we know Houston is miserable (29th overall), but lets not forget that the Jags aren't exactly defensive juggernauts either, ranking 25th overall. There really isn't a clear winner on this side of the ball, which is why it seems like the Texans will prevail this week. This line seems a little bit angry that the Texans blew it against the Broncos, but the Broncos have some semblance of an offense, even with Tebow starting. The Jaguars don't have the same caliber of weapons available to them this week. Losing to Washington all but extinguished their playoff hopes, and Houston will finish the job.
GREEN BAY -10 over Chicago
It can be dangerous to bet on a game that's meaningless for one team. The line is a bit inflated (this would not be a 10 point spread if Chicago hadn't clinched the #2 seed or better) and it's difficult to predict how long a coach will keep his starters in. Though head coach Lovie Smith is promising to play his starters and play to win, I don't see it happening. This game only means something if both Atlanta and New Orleans lose in the morning. If that happens, don't make this bet. Otherwise, how do the Bears justify leaving Cutler in the game? The o-line has been leaky all season long, giving up a league-leading 50 sacks through 15 games. Would you put your starting QB behind that line in a game that didn't matter? Cutler may play a quarter or even a half, but I doubt he, or other key starters, will play much into the second half. The Packers are in the exact opposite position, needing a win to clinch a playoff spot. NFL analysts like to talk about players or teams that are "hungry"... Saying the Packers are "hungry" or "hungrier" than the Bears would be an understatement. The Packers are more like a jungle cat that has gone a few weeks with out a meal, and the Bears are more like any average person 20 minutes after Thanksgiving dinner. Don't let Lovie's rhetoric scare you... As soon as Atlanta or New Orleans wins, this game is over.
Pittsburgh -6 over CLEVELAND
How fitting that Colt McCoy made his regular season debut against the Steelers and will finish against them as well. Pittsburgh won the first game 28-10 and Cleveland has been looking a bit worse every week for the past three. After losing consecutively to Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Baltimore, there doesn't seem to be any of the magic that we saw in earlier season upsets left. The offense has taken a step back as of late, with Delhomme and McCoy both having limited effectiveness. Peyton Hillis has been held to less than 60 yards rushing in 4 of his last 6 games, only managing to beat that mark against Carolina and Buffalo, two very poor run defenses.
Pittsburgh has been steady in recent weeks, going 3-2-1 ATS and 5-1 straight up. The Steelers need to win this game to clinch the division and a first round bye. They play at 10:00am along with the Ravens, so there is no chance that the Steelers will rest until this game is in hand. As the Steelers and Ravens both profile similarly, I expect this to play out very much like the Ravens-Browns matchup last week. Pittsburgh should control the game and win easily.
ATLANTA -14.5 over Carolina
The Falcons are fortunate to finish the season against the worst team in the league after failing to clinch the division last week against New Orleans. A win in this game locks up the top seed and a first round bye. Interestingly, the first game between these division foes was only three weeks ago in week 14. Atlanta dominated the game, rushing for 3 TDs and limiting the Panthers passing game to 107 yards. While the Panthers rushed for over 200 yards, they were only able to put up 10 points.
Not a whole lot has changed in the past few weeks, with both teams avoiding substantial injuries or roster changes. The game is in Atlanta this time, where the Falcons are 5-2 ATS this season. It's rare that division games are this close in schedule, but I'm not going to over-think this one. Look at the box-score from three weeks ago and try to find a reason the Falcons can't do that again at home. I'd also be more than willing to bet that the Panthers don't rush for 200 yards again. This game has all the makings of a blowout and the Falcons will cover.
NEW ORLEANS -9 over Tampa Bay
The money has been going on New Orleans so far, with the line moving up to 9 points on Wednesday. This may seem a little surprising given Tampa's recent performance and 9-6 overall record, but the real story on this one is that Tampa hasn't beaten a team with a winning record all season. They're 0-5 against opponents with a winning record and 2-3 ATS. Combine that with a Saints team that is looking more and more capable of defending their title, and you're left with a big line and the Saints favored. The teams last met back in week six, with the Saints winning 31-6.
Statistically, both teams are strong against the pass and weaker against the run, but the Saints did a very impressive job of shutting down Michael Turner last week, holding him to 48 yards on 17 attempts. If they can maintain that level of play and contain Tampa's run game, the Saints will run away with it. These two teams are fundamental opposites on offense, with the Saints depending on the pass and the Bucs needing to establish the run game; shutting down Blount will severely limit the Bucs. Tampa is going to have a very tough time moving the ball through the air, and that makes it tough to keep up with New Orleans. I like the Saints to cover 9 and they are a lock in a teaser.
St. Louis -2.5 over SEATTLE
Nothing like saving the best for last! Two quality teams battling for the division title and a playoff spot and a 2.5 point spread, sounds like a great game! If only. In reality, these are two teams definitely in the bottom third in the league. Somebody has to win the division, but whoever does will likely be a double-digit home-underdog on Wildcard weekend. There is one important stat in determining a winner for this one, and it's the number of wins; the Rams are 7-8 and the Seahawks are 6-9. I sincerely believe that the risk of a 7-9 team somehow "tainting" the post-season will get some strings pulled here. I fully expect some bad calls to go in the Rams favor and help them pull out the win. 8-8 isn't that bad, and the Chargers just did it a couple seasons ago. 7-9 has never happened before in the modern era and something just doesn't seem right about a losing team making the playoffs. The Rams will definitely have some "luck" on their side and should pull this one out. I figure since all of my research and analysis hasn't paid off much this season, we'll try one pick based off a conspiracy theory to see how it goes.

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