Friday, October 30, 2009

Update: Do Vegas Insiders Read BadNFL?

Haha well unfortunately, the answer is undoubtedly a resounding no. But at least one sharp's reasoning is eerily reminiscent of BadNFL's arguments this week. As relayed through ESPN's indispensable Chad Millman, the line in the Eagles/Giants game has shifted from an opening line of Eagles -2 to the current line of Giants -1. Why has this line shifted so much, resulting in a rare change of the favorite? Millman's source explains:
Sevransky says: "There are four factors in relation to this line move: The injury to Brian Westbrook, which is the primary reason. The second is, situationally, the Giants have lost two in a row, while Philly bounced back last week, and bettors feel this is a more important game for the Giants. Three is the classic: The team that plays on Monday night has less time to prepare. There is some thought out there that Philly didn't play that well last Monday despite the easy win and that the Eagles aren't that good. And four, in this series, there has been no home-field advantage."
Hmm. Injury to Westbrook, the psychology of the Giants' bounce back, the Eagles' uneven and overrated performance last week, and the lack of a home-field advantage in this series? Sounds awfully familiar. The only factor I didn't mention was the Eagles' short week; however, I've yet to see any convincing statistics that suggests that the short week matters at all, and until I see some data on the subject, I'm hesitant to premise a bet on the somewhat intuitive yet absolutist and abstract theory that teams play worse after Monday night games. Still, the other factors identified above suggest to me that this is a sound bet, and evidence of the shift in the line described in this post further bolsters the argument.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Week 8 Pick: Giants (even) over Eagles

Oh, how times have changed. Before the season, the Giants and Eagles were both generally considered to be among the top 4 teams in football. Now, both of these former powerhouses are somewhat down on their luck, leading many to question whether the NFC East is considerably overrated. Still, this game features a intriguing match-up of two teams with high preseason expectations that hate each other. I also think the Giants are a great bet to win the game, making the even line enticing. Here's why:

1. The Eagles are struggling on offense, and provide a prime opportunity for the Giants to get their pass rush back on track.

The Eagles have fallen back to the pack statistically on offense, now ranking below average in both total YPG and in Advanced NFL Stats' offensive efficiency. This below-average ranking might even be generous in light of the Eagles' creampuff schedule, since excepting the Saints the Eagles' remaining 5 opponents have won a total of 7 games. As I wrote earlier, the Eagles offense generally thrives on beating up on bad teams. But in the only game against a team with a winning record this year, the Eagles were disastrous in a 26 point loss. And of course, let's not forget about the putrid and unforgivable performance they turned in at Oakland a few weeks ago. In other words, this Eagles offense has not been very good so far this year. Moreover, specifics of the match-up bode well for the Giants' chances.

The number one reason I like the Giants this week is that McNabb has struggled mightily against the blitz. He has evinced little confidence against pressure packages, looking indecisive and taking a large number of sacks against teams like the pitiful Raiders. Partly because of McNabb's struggles--and partly due to a makeshift offensive line--the Eagles should be vulnerable to a Giants' pass rush that is quite talented. Their recent struggles notwithstanding, the Giants have the exact same pieces that led a near consensus of analysts to proclaim their pass rush the most fearsome in the league. And they have run into two quarterbacks of late in Brees and Warner that are both playing well and get rid of the ball extremely quickly. McNabb does not; thus his eye-opening struggles against the blitz this year. Plus, the Giants' pass rushers have had significant success against the Eagles in the past; after all, it was the Eagles and Winston "Turnstyle" Justice who practically made Osi Umenyiora's career on Sunday night a few years ago by allowing him an incredible 6 sacks.

Additionally, McNabb's poor mechanics have been leading to significant inaccuracy of late. True, the overall stats look OK, and the Eagles did generate 27 points last week. But, despite the OK final score, the Eagles turned in an uneven performance. That game said more about the pathetic state of the Redskins and their emasculated figurehead coach than it did about the Eagles. And what we learned is that the Eagles can win in an unconvincing fashion over one of the worst teams in the NFL. Not only that, but the Eagles have not played a single good team since week 2. Thus, this week will serve as a great test of the "Danger of Four" principle that BadNFL invented in the wake of the Eagles/Raiders debacle: my theory is that it has been so long (over 4 weeks) since the Eagles have played a good team that they will struggle to adjust to the level of play against a good team.

And make no mistake, the Giants still have a good defense, ranking 1st overall and 2nd against the pass. If they have a weakness, it's their rush defense, but we all know that Andy Reid will never commit to the run. While this line is undoubtedly so low because betters have the image of Brees carving up the Giants' secondary fresh in mind, I think the Giants match up much better against the Eagles. Breaking down the film of the Giants/Saints game, the thing that surprised me was how decent the coverage was on many plays. But it didn't matter, as Brees made perfect throws to his big physical WRs who out-muscled the Giants' DBs for the ball. The Eagles' WRs are the polar opposite, relying on the speedy but diminutive DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to generate big plays. The Giants should be able to contain the Eagles' attack better than they did the Saints.

2. The Giants are undervalued and are a good bet to fix what ails them this week.

There's no question that the Giants have lost some of their luster in recent weeks. They played a sloppy, mostly uninspired game last week against the Cardinals. But I'm still convinced that the Giants are a Super Bowl-caliber team, albeit not a dominant one, and I think they are likely to rebound in a major way this week.

This game means a ton to the Giants. Ever since McNabb's phonecall antics last year in the playoffs against the Giants, they have had this game marked on the calendar. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Giants have been looking forward to this game more than any other on their schedule. They are also somewhat flying below the radar for the first time since early 2007, which is a place that both Coughlin and the players are most comfortable. While I do admit that such psychological factors can be overrated sometimes, intensity and dedication would go far to cure what has recently ailed the Giants. The loss to the Cardinals was particularly noticeable for uncharacteristic Giants' mistakes and lack of execution, something that an intense and hate-filled week can help cure. Importantly, the Giants' peripheral statistics are still solid, especially their offensive line and their YPA on offense. In light of the recent losses, they seem like they've hit bottom and will start demonstrating again why 2 weeks ago many analysts considered them an elite team. In essence, it's the reverse of what plagued the Eagles in Oakland; the Giants have played two tough teams in a row and now play an opponent who a) is not as good as those they've been playing and b) they venomously despise. Such is the stuff of which inspired performances are made.

THE COUNTER-ARGUMENT: The Eagles won 2/3 from the Giants last year, and knocked them out of the playoffs. What will be different?

Brian Westbrook. It is difficult to overstate how much trouble Westbrook has given the Giants over the years. He was the difference in the Eagles' week-14 win last year, and the Giants' biggest offseason move was designed with him specifically in mind. I doubt Westbrook will play this week, given that he suffered a nasty concussion last Monday night. Andy Reid is of course claiming that Westbrook will be a gametime decision, but Reid has been notoriously cagey about injuries in the past, and the most credible medical prognosis I've read strongly suggests that it would be a terrible idea for Westbrook to play so soon after such a severe concusion. Without Westbrook's dual-threat capabilities available, the Eagles will likely become predictably one-dimensional, enabling the Giants defense to get back on track.

Moreover, this game is in Philadelphia. These Giants earned their reputation as a superlative road team during their wild card run to the Lombardi Trophy in 2007, but more specifically, they always play well in Philly. As a case in point, they lost their 2 home games to the Eagles last year but salvaged a win in their only match-up on the road. They also won at Philly in 2007, 2006, and 2005. That stat was pretty shocking to me, but it's true that it all adds up to this: Eli Manning has never lost in Philadelphia. It seems that going out on the road, escaping the NY crowds and the home media, to a place that the Manning-era Giants always play well, is a perfect recipe for busting out of their mini-slump. Because I think the Giants are also a structurally sounder team and that they will be more motivated in this game, they seem like a good bet to win. I wouldn't be shocked if the weekend money pushes the Giants into giving points by kickoff. As such, I'm going to pick them at even money.

Check back next week to see how it went.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Upon Further Review: Colts Cover, 42-6

Well, that felt good. The Colts disposed of the Rams by 36 points, making the 13.5 spread look pretty ill-advised in retrospect. Let's examine why, upon further review, the Colts made BadNFL look so good last week:

1. Manning led an efficient passing attack.

Well this was no shock, given that pretty much every pundit, including BadNFL, predicted that Manning would play well against the Rams' struggling pass defense. But that he did, throwing for an efficient 235 yards and 3 TDs. If anything, I'm surprised that Manning threw for under 300 yards, averaging a solid but not overwhelming 6.9 YPA. But Manning played quite well within the system of the offense, as he always does, and as usual generated lots of points and few negative plays. Like the Colts have been doing all year, they used solid protection schemes and quick releases so that the Rams' pass rush barely sniffed Manning in the pocket. And, as only Manning (and increasingly Brees) does, he distributed the ball around his offense quite democratically, leading to 5 players with at least 3 receptions.

The Colts' running game was also better than it has been, putting up 152 yards and 2 TDs for a little over 6 YPC. The overall numebrs can be misleading, as Addai--the main RB--generated a below average 3.4 YPC. But the Colts running game was still effective, for 3 reasons. First, they stuck with it, and despite a pedestrian average on most of their runs, they were able to generate the type of balance (25 rushes) that Philly infamously lacked last week in their deplorable loss to Oakland. Second, they broke off some big runs from their secondary backs, as Brown and Simpson combined for 93 yards on 5 carries. Third, they were effective running it on 3rd and short; so even if Addai wasn't particularly effective overall, he was able to move the chains consistently and give Manning and the Colts' bevy of WRs a fresh set of downs. And the Colts, as they have been all year, were lethal in the redzone. Essentially, they complemented their aerial attack enough so that Manning could put up fewer than 300 yards yet still win comfortably.

2. The Colts' defense, while proving vulnerable on the ground, generated enough negative plays to turn a lead into a blowout.

People are finally starting to take notice of the Colts' improved defense. They're playing loose, they're making progress every week as they get healthier, and they are turning into a defense--much like I've observed of the Saints'--that plays quite well from ahead. To be sure, they were pretty helpless to stop Rams' RB Steven Jackson--who ran for 134 yards--for most of the game. But it's difficult to commit to the running game when you're behind early, and that's exactly what happened. Ultimately, there seemed to be 2 related reasons why the Rams' fell so far behind that they essentially had to abandon the running game. First, the Rams could not sustain drives; even though Jackson was quite effective busting out 10+ yard runs, they were only 4/13 on 3rd down and 0/2 on 4th down (compared to the Colts' efficient 66% 3rd down conversion rate). Second, whenever Bulger dropped back to pass, bad things happen. The Colts, because of their big early lead, were able to pin back their ears and generate significant pressure with their front 4, harassing Bulger into long sacks and turnovers. In sum, the Colts continued their pattern of playing elite pass defense and run defense that is passable enough given the situation of the game.


1. The Colts will cover lines like this against bad teams. Come on Vegas, 13.5 was way too low for this game, and almost everyone seemed to know it. If you look at the Colts' performance in the last 4 weeks, their mindblowing (and increasing) margins of victory jump out at you. Moreover, this is just business as usual for the Colts; they have started 6-0 for the 4th time in 5 seasons, and they just easily dispose of bad teams. The Rams have been blown out in every loss save two (Redskins and Jags), and they are last by far in the NFL in point differential. In a year that has been defined so far by heavy favorites covering, -13.5 was not an intelligent line. And while the trap game is obviously a worry, I feel pretty comfortable that I correctly diagnosed the Colts' low propensity for the trap game this week; the Colts mentally avoided the Eagles' fate, and as such, the huge gap in talent between the teams ended up being the story of the game.

2. Watch for explosive passing offenses against poor passing defenses. One of the reasons that a similarly tempting Eagles line against Oakland didn't work out was that the Eagles didn't exploit the Raiders' biggest weakness (run defense). But in both of the cases where BadNFL has predicted the Colts to cover the spread against a poor pass defense, it has really paid off big time. I think there are 3 teams that are safely in this category now: the Colts, the Saints, and the Pats. If they play a team with a bottom 5 pass defense, there is no excuse for the line to be under 14, and if it is, it should be a easy pick. Here's the thing about this year: parity is dead. Unless the lines start reflecting that, Vegas is going to continue to suffer.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Week 7 Pick: Colts -13.5 @ Rams

I'll admit readers might think, upon reading the subject line of this week's post, that BadNFL has lost it. After all, didn't I just pick a heavy favorite on the road last week, a pick that failed miserably? The answer to both questions is yes. Yet I think that this pick avoids some of the pitfalls that may have plagued the Eagles last week, and thus I'm going with the Colts as a heavy favorite on the road. Here's why:

1. The Colts have a juggernaut offense playing a terrible defense.

Manning and the Colts are leading the NFL in passing offense. Manning is on pace to break the all time NFL accuracy record. He is by all accounts leading the MVP race right now, and his performance this year is demonstrating that he is one of the very best QBs to have ever played the game. As I noted in my review of BadNFL's last successful Colts prediction, it's difficult to bet against Manning right now. And now he's facing the Rams, who have an abysmal pass defense. Not only that, but the Rams just traded their most seasoned and effective linebacker, leaving them even more exposed against the Colts' formidable TE Dallas Clark. One of BadNFL's lessons learned from week 5 was that explosive passing offenses matched up against terrible pass defenses is a recipe for a blowout. This game appears to be that sort of recipe.

2. Indy's defense is underrated and improving and it should shut down the Rams anemic offense.

The Colts really impressed me in their last game against the run; they played tough and physical with excellent gap discipline. We all know that the Rams are going to be forced to rely on RB Steven Jackson in this game, since the Rams' struggling passing attack is no match for the Colts' stingy pass defense, which is the best in the NFL according to Football Outsiders' metrics. While the Colts have certainly struggled at times this year against the run, they primarily did so against great rushing teams like Miami. They have dramatically improved, totally stifling the run in their past 3 games, and they will undoubtedly stack the box against Jackson.

Moreover, they are getting a lot of players back healthy this week, including all-world safety Bob Sanders and both of their starting cornerbacks. That fact alone should give them a psychological and schematic boost, allowing their defense to continue the Colts pattern of dominating bad teams. But even if some of these players aren't at full strength, the Colts' depth renders their losses an almost non-issue; Bill Polian has constructed a squad from top to bottom that is better able to overcome adversity than almost any other team in the league. Additionally, the Colts will likely jump out to an early lead, allowing its lightning-fast pass rushers to go after Bulger, utilizing their overall defensive speed on the St. Louis turf. It's hard not to expect the Colts defense to squelch any signs of life from a Rams offense that is putting up a pathetic 9 points/game.


You might be suffering from a case of deja vu right now, wondering "didn't I read all the same things last week?" Explosive offense, a favorite that has dominated a lot of bad teams, a heavy favorite...aren't all these factors the same as last week? I've thought long and hard about this, and I think the answer is no.

First, I just have more confidence in the Colts than the Eagles. Manning is the type of leader and competitor that won't let his team come in unprepared or unfocused. We've seen this play out in the recent history of the Colts organization, as they are a team without a lot of wild fluctuations and ups and downs--they play consistent, focused football week in and week out. All signs are that their practices have been physical and intense this week without any signs of letting up. Further, the Manning-era Colts play very well after byes, particularly when they are on a winning streak heading into that bye. In 2007, they were 5-0 entering a week 6 bye, and won in week 7 by 22 points, and in 2006, they were similarly 5-0 and after their bye won by 14. In 2006, they were undefeated entering their bye and afterwards beat Tom Brady's Pats by 19. In essence, against a Rams team that has been blownout routinely this year, the Colts have a great chance of a huge win.

Second, the Rams have not had the sort of catalytic event that I hypothesized the Pierce comments may have had on the Raiders last week. Instead, the Rams nearly beat, but lost in OT, to a bad Jaguars team last week. But scouts who watched that game concluded that the Rams ability to play closely last week was more a sign of the Jags' incompetance than the Rams' improvement. I think after a close loss to a bad team, it'll be hard for the Rams to get genuinely inspired about playing the Colts, and they are more likely to be beaten pretty badly. The closest analogy I could find to last year was when the Rams blew a 4th quarter lead late to the Patriots and lost in a narrow defeat, but then turned around and lost by 21 to the Cardinals explosive passing offense. I think the same sort of dynamic will be at work this year, and that as such, the Colts avoid the weird confluence of events that doomed the Eagles last week. All the Colts need to do is win by 2 TDs to cover this spread. I think they do that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Upon Further Review: Eagles Lose 9-13

Yikes. So far this season, when BadNFL predictions miss, they miss in a big way. Despite what seemed like a very well-reasoned and popular prediction last week, the Eagles came nowhere near covering -14 against the Raiders, losing in what one Eagles' blogger called one of the "most astounding upsets of all time." To be honest, when I witnessed the Eagles imploding over here at BadNFL headquarters, I was at a total loss to explain it. Now that we've all had a few days to digest what happened, I'll now take a moment to examine, upon further review, why this bet turned out to be such a poor one.

1. The Raiders controlled the line of scrimmage, and the Eagles' coaching staff failed to counter Oakland's defensive aggressiveness.

The recap headline is almost as shocking as is the final score, declaring that the "Raiders dominate line of scrimmage." Indeed, the Raiders relentlessly went after McNabb in the pocket, amassing 6 sacks and constantly harassing the Eagles QB. Partly as a result of the pressure, and partly because of Oakland's conscientious 2-deep coverage, McNabb had little opportunity to kickstart the Eagles' preferred downfield passing attack. As such, the Eagles passing numbers were inadequate: McNabb completed less than half his passes, and the Eagles were a woeful 2 for 16 on 3rd down. LT Jason Peters's unfortunate 1st quarter injury certainly didn't help, but ultimately there is little excuse for such a shameful offensive performance through the air.

Given Oakland's aggressive, non-gap-conscious defensive schemes, one might have expected the Eagles to commit to the run. But, as nearly every NFL commentator has pointed out in the past few days, Andy Reid did no such thing. The Eagles drew up 46 passes and 14 runs, despite the fact that they ran the ball for a healthy 4.8 YPC. The failure to commit to the run is pretty much inexplicable, and Andy Reid is now under some pressure for that questionable piece of decisionmaking. But such weird offensive gameplanning is not a total shock, as Reid has endured intermittent repeating questions about his distaste for the run throughout his tenure as Eagles head coach. Yet nobody seemed to see it coming this week, and my breakdown of the Oakland defense was premised on the assumption that the Eagles could exploit Oakland's woes against the run game. They did not, and analyst Bucky Brooks flatly states to open his game breakdown that the Eagles' "failure to run the ball allowed the Raiders to pull off an unlikely upset." Thus, even though the Raiders were playing without their star cornerback, the Raiders shutdown the Eagles' vaunted passing attack.

2. There were a lot of ingredients in this recipe of Eagles incompetence, but more than Oakland playing well, the Eagles played an incredibly sloppy, mistake-saturated game. But fundamentally, the Eagles seemed unmotivated and unprepared. The Eagles' faithful are up in arms this week, claiming that they've seen this before, as McNabb's frantic miscalculations and Reid's lack of adaptations have sporadically but routinely characterized their tenure in Philadelphia. But there was something particularly abysmal about the Eagles' performance this week. Two missed field goals, shoddy offensive line plan, errant throws, lackluster defense--this game had it all. Ultimately, that's what it seemed this game was about: a total absence of focus and intensity on the part of the Eagles.


Of course the "trap game" phenomenon lingers on the consciousness whenever an aspiring blogger picks a big favorite. I even linked to an article in the "counter-argument" section of my prediction pointing out the potential dangers of a trap game. But of course neither that article nor I actually thought the Eagles would come out so flat. Why did they, and how might it help us look out for the dangers of the trap game in the future? Because remember, the Eagles had made a habit of destroying bad teams, both this season and previously.

The best explanation I've come up with is that the Eagles were mired in a series of games against bad opponents. The Eagles had played 3/4 of their games against terrible opponents, and perhaps more importantly, at the time of the Oakland game, it had been 4 weeks since their last game against a team with a winning record. My theory is that the Eagles had been conditioned, by recent experience, to think that Oakland would simply rollover. And why wouldn't they? Every analyst seemed to be predicting, like this one typically did, that all the Eagles needed to do was show up in order to totally blow the Raiders out of the water. They also claimed that the game was likely to be so one-sided that success would be measured by whether McNabb was still playing in the 4th quarter. The Eagles obviously subscribed to the same belief, and when Oakland came out with a modicum of intensity and displayed some moderate capacity for execution, the Eagles wilted and never even threatened a blowout.

There were two factors here that, in retrospect, might have served as warning signs. First, as previously mentioned, the Eagles hadn't played anyone in about a month. As such, perhaps their approach to the game had become so routinized by mediocrity that they came out on autopilot. Perhaps this observation, let's call it the "Danger of Four" rule (that teams struggle when it's been 4 weeks since playing a decent team) could also somewhat account for the Giants' dismal performance against New Orleans. Second, and this is more Eagles specific, but I should have known better when arguing that Andy Reid would exploit the Raiders' rush defense. Perhaps the Eagles struggle to cover against teams with decent pass defenses and terrible rush defenses.

Finally, there is a danger in relying on psychology when making picks, just because those of us who lack access to locker rooms have woefully imperfect tools for assessing the psychology of the teams involved. The Raiders certainly seemed like they were done before this game. But it's important, thinking back on this game, not to catch teams after they've reached rock bottom, but instead to catch them when they're on the way down. Perhaps last week the Antonio Pierce comments served as a cathartic moment for the Raiders; after all, they came out with an undeniable intensity, and afterward the Raiders claimed that the persistent and overwhelming criticism inspired them to play their best game of the season.

The lesson is this: you should beware betting on (1) a heavy favorite, (2) playing against a team that has already hit rock bottom, where there has (3) been some catalytic event (here the Pierce criticism) that might serve to inspire them, and (4) where that favorite has not played a good team in several weeks. While this seemed like a great bet, perhaps those are the warning signs that BadNFL should have heeded.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Week 6 Pick: Eagles -14 @ Raiders

In week 6, I'm going with my first huge favorite of the season. It pains me to write anything favorable about the despicable city of Philadelphia or their abomination of a football team, but when the Eagles are giving only 2 TD's to one of the worst football teams I have seen in my 20 years of following the NFL, it's just too much to resist. So all ye BadNFL faithful, say it with me now: E-A-G-L-E-S (or however that annoying Eagles song that their fans always sing in sports bars goes). Here's why:

1. Oakland will generate next to nothing on offense.

Most readers will find this statement rather obvious. First, JeMarcus Russell's struggles have been well-documented, and I scarcely need to repeat them here. Suffice it to say his numbers are pathetic, and his performance on tape is even worse. His decisionmaking and accuracy have been so atrocious that the the Raiders don't even let him throw the ball; his 13 pass attempts last week tied an NFL record for fewest pass attempts in NFL history in a 35+ point loss. The result is a one-dimensional team that is constantly far behind, attempting to climb back into games relying on its pitiful running game facing defenses who can stack the line with impunity. As a result, the Raiders very rarely get into the red zone, and when they do, they don't score because their quarterback is a joke. Their offense is on pace to shatter the franchise record for fewest points scored, and they're regressing rather than improving as the season goes on. I heard a telling stat on Simmons's podcast this week that nicely encapsulates the Raiders' total futility on offense: the current Raiders are the first team since 1960 to generate fewer than 200 yards on offense in 4 consecutive weeks.

Such futility does not bode well for the Raiders as they take on the Eagles' 3rd-ranked defense. Almost every story you read about this game contains some opening line about how these teams are heading in opposite directions. While this is true on both sides of the ball, the Eagles' defense is undoubtedly licking its chops at the prospect of facing the Raiders' mistake-prone offense. The Raiders' offensive line is in Bills' territory: it's injury-ravaged, confused, and vulnerable to a variety of pressure packages. Unfortunately for the Raiders' beleaguered O-Line, the Eagles lead the lead in blitz frequency and will undoubtedly subject Russell to relentless pressure. As a result, look for the Eagles to generate bountiful numbers of negative plays and turnovers. After all, the Raiders are 3rd-worst in the league in giveaways while the Eagles are 2nd in takeaways. Look for that trend to continue.

2. The Eagles have an explosive offense that loves to blow out bad teams.

Most previews of this game also make note of the Eagles' explosive offense. Such compliments are well-deserved, as McNabb played nearly a perfect game last week, utilizing his wide variety of weapons and moving the ball at will. Indeed, one of the most reassuring elements of the Eagles' offense is its balance; if teams try and take one weapon away, like speedy DeSean Jackson, the Eagles will punish them by focusing elsewhere. In fact, the breakout last week of Jeremy Maclin will make it more difficult for the Raiders to simply rely on their admittedly excellent CB Nnamdi Asomugha to shutdown Jackson. Expect McNabb and the Eagles formidable aerial attack to have success.

Granted, the Raiders appear to have a mediocre but not terrible pass defense, ranking 15th in yardage allowed through the air. But this stat is misleading. Their pass defense is giving up 7.7 yards per play, good for 28th in the league, and their overall yardage stats look non-terrible only because Oakland is so far behind in most games that teams are content to run the ball in the second half. While Andy Reid is famous for relying on a pass-heavy offense, he will likely also give a rested Westbrook some additional work in the second half of this game to protect what will likely be a big lead. The Eagles have run the ball successfully when the circumstances have dictated; Football Outsiders' advanced metrics have them near the top of the league in rushing DVOA on 3rd down, and the emergence of LeSean McCoy will enable Reid to rotate his backs to keep them fresh while still executing an aggressive offensive gameplan.

And the Eagles will certainly be aggressive. In fact, no team of this era has been consistently better at blowing out bad teams than the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb Eagles. The Eagles have won by well over 14 points in all 3 of their wins this year. Over the past 3 years, the Eagles are 3-1 against the spread when favored by 10+ points. They should have been favored by that amount last week, as they proved yet again that McNabb loves to annihilate bad teams. But even more tellingly, last year the Eagles averaged a whopping 24.6 point margin of victory in their 3 wins against teams that went 5-11 or worse. As I've detailed previously, teams with aggressive pass-centric offense and blitz-happy turnover generating defense provide a recipe for blowouts, and the Eagles have borne that theory out the past 2 years. Moreover, Oakland provides the perfect candidate to be blown out. They have lost by increasing margins each of the last 3 weeks--a factor that also led me to predict a Colts blowout of the Titans last week--and have only covered 3 of their last 11 games at home. They have historically shown limited ability to bounce back after a loss, given that, since 2006, they are 22-30 ATS in games after they fail to cover. The Raiders were completely dominated by the Giants last week, and the Eagles compare favorably to the Giants in most respects, particularly since Eli Manning only played the first half last week. I expect a similar blowout this week, and anything less than a 3-TD margin of victory would be a real surprise.


You don't have much margin for error when the line is 14 points, and I guess there's a possibility that this could serve as a trap game for the Eagles and that they might not win by enough points to cover. But while this worries me a little bit, the line ultimately seems much too low. The story of this season thus far, both in actual football circles and in the gambling world, has been the death of parity. Indeed, the big favorites--undefeated teams against the dregs of the NFL--have been routinely covering this year. In most years, 14 points might have been a lot, but this year it seems like this line should have been at least 21 points. The first reason was explained above; the Eagles routinely blowout bad teams, like they did last week to Tampa Bay, where they jumped out to a huge lead and never let up.

But perhaps even more importantly, this Raiders team has psychologically and emotionally given up. Their body language reeks of apathy, the Giants were so shocked by their lack of intensity that their middle linebacker compared their game last week to a scrimmage, and analysts around the league are reporting that none of the Raiders care. Their front office is calling teams around the league pondering a firesale of all of their players, and the NFL is investigating their coach for assaulting an assistant coach. In other words, the entire organization is a mess. While there has been some speculation that Antonio Pierce's derogatory comments might fire them up for this week, instead it appears that the players just laughed it off. The team has given up, the head coach is plagued by a preposterous lack of credibility, and I simply can't see any reason they have for fighting a blowout. Once the Eagles get ahead, Oakland will crumble. And finally, given the fan outrage surrounding the Raiders, playing at home will hurt, not help them. Eagles win big.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Upon Further Review: Colts Cover 31-9

Ah, sweet validation. After a spectacularly unsuccessful prediction in week 4, BadNFL stormed back into the win column as the Colts decisively covered the 3.5 points, winning by a healthy 22 points. Let's go inside the game and explore the sweet nectar of victory this week.

1. Peyton Manning and the Colts passing attack did, in fact, shred the Titans porous pass defense.

The numbers themselves tell the story: Manning was 36/44 (82% accuracy) for 309 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 interception. Of course, had it not been for a pretty inexplicable late Reggie Wayne drop in the end zone, his stats would have been even better. Manning was particularly sublime on 3rd and 4th down, accruing a 127.4 passer rating on those crucial downs. But stats don't even really do justice to the beatdown administered by Manning and co., as the Colts dominated every phase of the game. Schematically, the Titans were a total mess; to compensate for their lack of depth and confidence, they tried to stay in their base defense against the Colts 3 WR packages, which involved putting a LB on Austin Collie. That obviously backfired, as the Colts' blossoming new version of Brandon Stokley put up 97 yards and 2 TDs. I was definitely surprised by the Titans' game plan, which also had the defense come out in deep cover-2 and invite Manning to hit the shorter underneath routes early in the game. That he did, and it didn't even curtail the Colts' vertical game, as Manning's QB rating was a ridiculous 145.8 on attempts over 10 yards. At one point, he completed 16 straight passes. I could throw a lot more numbers at you, but this game was not difficult to diagnose. The Colts threw the ball at will.

The Colts' aerial success was even more impressive given two factors: (1) a replacement start by lost-his-job LT Tony Ugoh, who struggled early in the game and (2) their pathetic running game. Ugoh's miscues and struggles with KVB for Tennessee led to a sloppy first quarter, and the Colts running game was non-existent throughout the game, which should have led the Titans to gear up their defense to stop the pass and exploit the anemic Ugoh. It didn't matter. Manning and the Colts still moved the ball with impunity.

2. The Colts' defense was impressive.

Jim Caldwell must be a BadNFL reader, because he appeared to follow the blueprint for success pretty well: get out to an early lead, and limit Chris Johnson's touches and home-run runs. The Colts' defense did even better than that. While they were staked to a 7-0 lead when the Colts (surprise!) scored Manning-to-Wayne on the first possession of the game, they toughened up and held the Titans after the Colts committed two uncharacteristic early turnovers. They proceeded to play well on defense the entire game, and their success can be summed up by this critical--and shocking--stat: Chris Johnson ran the ball only 9 times. His longest run was for 8 yards--on his 1st carry of the game--and afterward he was essentially a non-factor. The Colts demonstrated why they are a good team against fast shifty runners like Johnson, as they used their defensive speed to force him to run East-West and curtail the big play. As BadNFL noted before the game, Lendale White may have been a better option against the undersized speedy Colts defensive front, but the Titans, as they have been doing all year, underused White and never allowed him to make a sustained impact on the game. Finally, the Titans are simply not very good playing from behind. Kerry Collins was his normal statuesque self in the pocket, allowing the Colts dynamic duo of Freeney/Mathis to pressure and harass him all night long. Once the Colts generated a double digit lead, this game was essentially over.


1. The Titans are not good right now. If they get any more respect (doesn't that 3.5 line look ludicrous in retrospect?!) from the sportsbooks, bet against them! The Titans are beat down, banged up, and playing poorly in every phase of the game right now. They were playing at home, they knew that the Colts would rely heavily on the passing attack, and they were still shredded. In 5 weeks, the Titans have now allowed a 4 separate 300-yard passers. Remember that oh-so-vaunted David Garrard-led Jags passing attack that so thoroughly trounced the Titans in week 4? The Jags were shutout in Seattle this week, losing 41-0.

The Titans are schematically and psychologically out-of-sync. Until further notice, consider their season a dead one. If they are getting less than a TD against a good passing team at any time in the near future, jump on the favorite!

2. Watch for top passing attacks against inferior passing defenses, particularly ones that were good the year before. Although the Titans rushing defense has been pretty solid this year, their biggest weakness matched up precisely against the Colts' biggest strength. Such a discrepancy seems to be the stuff of which blowouts are made. And a blowout we had.

3. BadNFL. As wrong as I was in week 5, I have to say I nailed this one. For any of you who hopped aboard the BadNFL train this week, you likely rode it to the bank. Remember this for next year: after 4 games, we should feel comfortable saying, like the Tuna, that you are what you are, and if the books give teams too much credit to teams that were successful the year before, be prepared to exploit it.

Check back on Friday to see if I can replicate this week's success in Week 6!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Week 5 Pick: Colts -3.5 @ Titans

How does that old adage go? "Fool me once, shame on you. Try it again, and I'm going to bet big the other way." Or something like that. In any event, the Tennessee Titans have been on the mind over here at BadNFL, and ever since they roped me into an ill-advised pick last week, I have been eagerly awaiting their odds in week 5. And once I saw that they were getting only 3.5 points against the Colts, I thought they would provide a strong candidate for a week 5 pick. And I'm going to do precisely that, and so I say to my (5 or 6) readers: take the Colts in week 5. Why? Keep reading.

1. Peyton Manning and the Colts should have a field day on offense.

It would be an understatement to call the Titans pass defense "porous." They entered week 4 terrible, and words can barely do justice to how atrocious they were against Jacksonville. It wasn't just that they allowed the mediocre David Garrard-led Jacksonville aerial attack to generate more yards than it had in almost 2 years; it was the total absurdity of how open Jacksonville's crew of middling WRs were on nearly every play. This was not an aberration, as the Jags were able to expose serious structural deficiencies in the Tennessee secondary, primarily their lack of depth, Nick Harper's age-induced sluggishness, and a regression in field awareness by both their safeties. True, Cortland Finnegan has declared that he will return this week, but even if he plays, his hamstring injury is likely to linger--as he's still limited in practice--and he was playing terribly before the injury anyway. Thus, not surprisingly, the Titans have statistically the worst pass defense in the NFL.

On the flip side, the Colts have the best passing offense in the league. That's right, this game features the top passing offense against the worst passing defense, leading one to think that if Peyton has even an average day for him, they should statistically dominate the Titans. That being said, I expect him to have have more than an average day. Peyton is simply playing at a superhuman level right now; according to Football Outsiders' advanced opponent-adjusted metrics, he is on pace for the 2nd most productive and efficient season by a QB in the modern era. Of course we all know about his football IQ and legendary preparation, and he has been applying all his considerable talents to orchestrate a nearly unstoppable passing attack. The Titans will undoubtedly try to scheme to take away Manning's strengths, but this season has seen other teams try that and fail. The Colts passing offense appears to be historically in sync right now, no matter what other teams try, and there's little reason to think that the miserable Titans pass defense can change that.

Moreover, this game is at night. Simmons and Sal surmised this week that the Colts, and Manning specifically, always seem to play well at night. They're correct, as Manning's already lofty passer rating over his career jumps 15 points in night games. The entire team also seems to play well at night, on national TV; they've won 8 or their last 9 Monday Night Football games, and in this era where NBC's Sunday Night Football has essentially replaced the MNF of old as the biggest game of the week, I expect Peyton to be in top notch form. And that should be more than enough for him to feast on the Titans.

2. The Colts success through the air will set up their defense, creating the risk of blow out.

If the Colts generate an early lead with their passing attack, the game could get out of hand for the Titans very quickly. As last week demonstrated, the Titans offense is not well situated to play from behind, and an early deficit can force them away from their running game. And if they are placed in the position of having to air the ball out to make up a deficit, the Colts defense will make them pay. The Colts pass rush, led by the speedy Robert Mathis, has been extremely effective of late. Collins is an immobile quarterback who hangs around in the pocket, and at his age, it is unlikely he is going to play as well as he did in his somewhat fluky 2008. The Colts are likely to generate sacks and turnovers--for the Titans offense has been quite vulnerable to the negative play this year--and an early lead is likely to get bigger. The Colts struck early last week against the Seahawks, staking out an early lead that they never came close to relinquishing. If that happens again, the Titans will not likely even threaten to cover this spread.

Granted, one area in which the Titans seem to have an advantage is their running game against the Colts run defense. Even putting aside my previous point that they also appeared to match up well schematically against the Jags to set up their rushing game and yet failed to do so, the Colts might be more successful at stopping the Titans ground game than you think. Primarily, the Colts struggle with power rushes, but their Tampa-2 philosophy is actually quite effective at containing the home run long rush. As the Jags proved last week, the Colts can survive allowing Chris Johnson a moderately high YPC, as long as they limit his touches and prevent the home run. They are well situated to do just that. Moreover, Lendale White is having a terrible season, and his touches are down along with his effectiveness. Looking at the advanced metrics, he would appear to be a better fit against the speedy, undersized Colts front seven. But with his production non-existent so far, I'm more confident in the Colts ability to contain, even if not totally stifle, the Titans ground game. One final point: the Colts are improving every week, and they no longer look much like the team that opened the season with a 2 point win against the Jags. They are getting healthier every week, as LB Gary Brackett will probably return for this game---a great sign, given that Brackett is a key cog in the Colts run defense and particularly adept at diagnosing rushing schemes and controlling quicker RBs. If Bob Sanders were to return, which is possible, that would obviously be an additional huge boost to the Colts. These additions to an improving Colts rush defense that allowed only 73 yards combined the past two weeks should spell trouble for the Titans.

These match-ups, combined with the fact that the Colts are statistically the best team in the league right now in terms of estimated win percentage, lead one analyst's advanced metrics to give the Colts a 71% chance of winning this game, which also suggests that they are likely to possess at least a 7-point lead for a majority of the game. True, these statistical prediction engines are imprecise, and can't account for the large role played by luck and psychology, but it is worth noting that this system went 12-1-1 last week. ESPN's accuscore, a conservative system that doesn't tend to predict blowouts, also predicts a Colts win by 7+ points. From what I've seen on film of both of these teams, I similarly expect a sizable Colts victory.


The counter-argument proceeds from the assumption that there is a phenomenon in sports, one I've observed but have not been able to statistically document, that there are sometimes pairs of teams--usually division rivals--whose games are always close, irrespective of the surrounding context of the season. One example that looms large in my mind is the Giants and the Cowboys; the Giants are all by all accounts a much better team than the Cowboys, yet their week 2 match-up resulted in a 2-point Giants win, by far their narrowest of the season. Could the Colts and Titans form such a pair, whose games are always competitive, despite the surrounding circumstances or talent disparities?

Jeff Fisher and Peyton Manning seem to think so, noting that these teams always play each other tough. The Titans won last year in the only meeting involving the starters, and in 2007, they split their games with an average margin of victory of 3. But the most worrisome example of this phenomenon is almost freakish in its parallels to the present circumstance: in 2006, the 4-0 Colts (averaging 30+ points a game) played the 0-4 Titans in week 5, and eeked out a 14-13 win. Since even a FG victory won't suffice to cover this line, another close game would doom this bet.

However, the specific circumstances of this season militate against a repeat of 2006. Besides the glaring match-up problems facing the Titans detailed above, these Colts have generated a progressively larger margin of victory in all 4 of their games so far, which comports with assessments that the Colts are getting better at adapting to their personnel and scheme changes each week. In contrast, those 2006 Colts were coming off 7 and 3 point wins in their last 2 games, and they were moving in the opposite direction. And the Colts historically, when they get on winning streaks, tend to start blowing teams out. The last time the Colts started 4-0 was in 2007, and their wins in weeks 5-7 (before their streak was halted by that historic undefeated Pats team) were by an average margin of 21+ points. And in 2004, the last time that Peyton was playing at such a statistically incredible pace, the Colts beat the Titans by 14 and 27 in their two games.

Moreover, this Titans team appears psychologically dead. Last week appeared to be a must-win game for them, they came out lifeless and without passion. They continue to exhibit zero urgency, as if they don't even care that they are winless. I don't know if Fisher has lost this team, but this no longer appears to be the same Tennessee team that has gone 32-19 against the spread in a week after failing to cover; instead, it seems like the team that is 0-3 against the spread after a loss this year. And the Colts, once they get on a roll, tend to cover the spread pretty well; they are 13-8 ATS after 2 or more consecutive wins over the past 3 years. Given that they are playing the worst pass defense in the NFL, I expect that trend to continue, and I see a final score closer to Peter King's 31-16 prediction for this game. Ultimately, I think this line reflects the allure of the Titans' 13 win 2008 season. This version of the Titans is not as good, and I'm taking the Colts to cover.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Upon Further Review: Titans Lose 17-37

Bad NFL lived up to its name this week, as the Titans not only failed to cover, but they were annihilated 17-37. Essentially every prediction contained within Bad NFL's pick this week was proven incorrect, as this game was over by halftime. On the bright side, these sorts of games provide a unique opportunity to learn something, and thus Upon Further Review is a particularly must-read feature in these weeks where the prediction went wrong. Why did the Jaguars annihilate the Titans, and what lessons should we draw about predictions in the future?

1. The Titans pass defense was atrocious.

The Jags offense steamrolled the Titans pass defense, as they put up 37 points, scored on their first 6 drives, and routinely gashed the Titans secondary for explosive 20+ yard plays, allowing Garrard to put up 8.73 yards per attempt. The superlatives were free flowing after the game, with one Jags blogger noting that Garrard played his "best game in years," while a Jacksonville paper celebrated the Jags domination of the entire game. And why not? Garrard was brutally effective on deep passes, and afterward Garrard joked about how his WRs were so open all over the field that he could scarcely believe his eyes. He started off patiently hitting short throws, coupled with a couple of intermediate-to-deep seam routes to his TE Mercedes Lewis, and then in the early 2nd quarter, when the Jags basically put the game away, began hitting budding fantasy star Mike Sims-Walker, for whom the Titans had zero answer. The Jags ended up generating more yards than they had in almost 2 years.

To be fair, I was correct that the Titans would effectively take Maurice Jones-Drew out of the game, who rushed for a terrible 14 yards on 6 carries. But when I wrote that Garrard and the Jags mediocre WR corps were ill-suited to exploit the injuries in the Titans secondary, I was very wrong.

2. The Titans do not have an offense that can play from behind.

Chris Johnson wasn't bad at all, putting up 5+ yards per carry. The problem was two-fold, in that he a) failed to rip off one of his patented game-breaking long TD runs, and more importantly b) only ran the ball 16 times. The Jags, while not having a great run defense, are pretty fast on defense, and didn't allow Johnson to break off the big run. And fundamentally, once the Titans dug themselves a huge early hole, their best offensive weapon--and the reason I thought they would win this game--was rendered essentially irrelevant.

Once the game was put in Kerry Collins's hands, the Titans were essentially dead in the water. He overthrew open WRs consistently, and he continued the Titans trend of turning the ball over incessantly. They were never able to climb closer than 30-20, and ended up turning in one of their worst performances since they moved to Tennessee. The early deficit pretty much put the game away. I would write more, but this is not a difficult one to analyze; the Titans were dominated in every phase of the game.


1. Pay more attention to the "you are what you are" mantra. I made a big deal last week of the Titans talent and how good they have looked on film in their close losses. I was not alone: the conventional wisdom before the game noted how the Titans had a massive edge in talent, and they were supposed to be desperate coming in at 0-3. I was also blinded by the residual hangover of their success last year; after all, they had the 9th-rated pass defense and the 2nd overall defense in terms of points allowed in 2008.

But this is 2009, and at some point, results and not talent become what define you. These Titans just do not look very good. I stand firm behind the basic predicate of my pick this week that a primary vulnerability of betting lines is the overreaction to one good or bad game. But three games constitute a trend, not just a fluke, and the Titans, far from putting everything together, turned in their worst performance in years. They also came out very flat and without desperation.

Here are the parallels I might be looking for in the future, embodied by these three factors:
a) A team that has never won anything before in the playoffs: the Titans do not have any players left from that '99 Super Bowl losing team, so they have never been deep in the playoffs before. They don't have that experienced veteran core that really knows what it's like to win.

b) They are coming off a fantastic regular season but one that involved a brutal loss in their first playoff game.

c) They lost probably their most important player in Albert Haynesworth

d) They have an old QB that has had a mediocre career. Stats geeks will probably all tell you that Kerry Collins's 2008 season should have thrown up warning flags, as it's not like he's a Kurt Warner type that finally got into a good system. Instead, it looks like he just caught lightning in a bottle last year. It was a lot to expect him to repeat that performance, and he has not. He is not even playing like a good game manager anymore.

Perhaps those 4 factors do not suggest a team that is capable of bouncing back, even against what looked like a bad Jacksonville team. If it had been a normal 13-3 team that had gone on and had some success in the playoffs, maybe that would change things. But right now they do not at all look like a team that went 13-3, and I was clearly giving them too much credit carried over from last year. To be sure, the collapse of their defense has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the year, but as I started out this segment, you are what you are. Next time, with all due acknowledgment of the obvious truth that we should be hesitant to take too much from this one game, I will look more carefully at teams that are being overrated because of irrelevant success from the year before.

2. Mediocre passing beats bad pass defense.

I foolishly thought Garrard would be totally unable to exploit the Titans glaring weaknesses in the secondary. Of course, the most obvious counter-argument against this bet going in was the injuries to Finnegan and Fuller in the secondary. That argument should have been decisive; I erred in not scrutinizing the Titans depth and seeing how their rookie replacements would fare. Subconsciously, because I respect Jeff Fisher so much, I assumed that their replacement DBs would operate kind of like the Giants have this season, filling in seamlessly. They did not. Right now, the Titans secondary looks atrocious, and the Titans are looking like a poor pick to cover against any team that has a capable QB and smart WRs. I will be following the Titans lines for the next several weeks, looking for perhaps the oddsmakers and the public to make the same mistake I did in week 4.

Check back on Friday as Bad NFL tries to get back on track with a week 5 pick.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Uh Oh

As of right now, this Titans/Jags game is looking like it's going to be in the running for my stupidest pick of the year. Titans are down 17-3, their banged up pass defense is making Garrard look like a Pro Bowler, and BadNFL's reasoning is looking shaky at best, on both sides of the ball. Yikes.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Week 4 Pick: Titans -3 @ Jags

For the second consecutive week, I'm taking a road favorite, and this week, that favorite has a worse record than the home dog. But in a week with many intriguing lines, I think the Titans giving only 3 points at Jacksonville represents the best value on the board. Here's why:

1. This line reflects an overreaction to the Titan's brutal 0-3 start.

It's true that the Titans have not played well to date, and are one of the few 13 game winners in NFL history to start the next season 0-3. But I think the Titans are much better than their record indicates, and they will turn things around this week in Jacksonville. First, they have lost their 3 games by a combined 13 points. The Titans had the lead at some point in all of these games, and as Brian Baldinger pointed out on Playbook this week, the Titans are 4 negative plays away from being 3-0. Last week was particularly brutal, as two special teams fumbles almost singlehandedly dealt the Titans a loss. But I have faith that Jeff Fisher is correcting the Titans' deficiencies, and film study reveals the Titans addressing one weakness each week; for instance, their maligned pass defense bounced back from a torching at the hands of Matt Schaub to only allow 146 yards through the air last week. And now the Titans have resigned a veteran reliable returner to eliminate negative plays on special teams. In short, the Titans are a very talented team, probably the best 0-3 team of this decade, and they have have lost three games by a narrow margin, all stemming from very specific somewhat fluky turns of event in the 4th quarter that Fisher is addressing head on.

Second, 2 of their 3 losses have come in very tough games. They opened at the Steelers, a notoriously difficult place to play, particularly during the only game this year in which Polamalu has played (and he was the best player on the field before going down), and lost by a FG in OT. They also lost by a TD on the road to a Jets team that some analysts have as an early Super Bowl pick. Close games against these teams are not the sign of a bad football team; they are a sign of a team working out some kinks that is also suffering some bad luck. Granted, I do have some sympathy to Parcells's old saying that "you are what you are," and that the all the talent in the world can't belie the Titans' crappy record. But after three close games against good teams, I'm not ready to throw in the towel on the Titans. After all, this is the same team that 3 years ago started 0-5 and recovered to win 8 of 10 games. Everyone from Keith Bullock to Titans bloggers is treating this game as a must-win, statement game. I expect Fisher to have them ready to play and start climbing out of the cellar.

2. The Jags present a uniquely enticing opportunity for the Titans to turn things around.

The Jags were a consensus last place team entering the season, squarely in rebuilding mode and expected to be one of the worst teams in football. Granted, they did win last week, and there is the inevitable attendant overreaction, with one commentator typically stating that the Jags "whole world has changed" as a result of that win. But of course, it has not. The Jags win in game 3 was in some ways the inverse of the Titans season, with a series of somewhat fluky plays in their favor, including a late Texans fumble at the 2 yard line and a questionable offensive pass interference call, proving decisive in the Jags narrow victory. The late bounces in their favor obscured a second half in which the Texans absolutely shredded the Jags defense. The game also demonstrated that the Jags have a poor pass offense and that their corners and outside LBers are struggling to adjust to their new 3-4 defense. Ultimately, I do give them credit for winning the game, but keep in mind that the Texans are a very young and inconsistent team, and that it was a game they should have dominated. That game was more about the Texans identity--a young, mistake prone albeit talented team--than the Jags. In fact, when you look at a comparison of the Titans and the Jags stats against the Texans this year, the Titans come out ahead in most categories--except in end result. And remember, I pointed out earlier that in the first quarter of the season, veteran gamblers prefer to rely on metrics like yardage instead of points or win-loss, because in the long-run it is a more accurate predictor of future success when the sample size is small. One win does not a team make, and this still appears to be a rebuilding, bad Jaguars team.

Moreover, the Titans match-up quite well with the Jags. Thus far, the Titans pass defense has been their most surprising weakness. Luckily, the Jags are ill-suited to exploit that weakness, as a combination of Garrard's weak arm and his middling WR corps has deprived the Jags of a vertical passing game. The Titans have primarily struggled in coverage against two specific WRs: Santonio Holmes and Andre Johnson. The Jags have nobody of that caliber that can present a similar threat. As such, they are likely to rely on Maurice Jones-Drew and the ground game.

But the Titans are well positioned to stymie this element of the Jags attack. The Titans rush D is very good, particularly up the middle, which is where Jones-Drew overwhelmingly likes to direct his runs. It is true that MJD is coming off a very solid game, but it is equally as true that said success was against a putrid Texans run defense on pace to set records in futility. If the Titans can maintain anything close to their stunning 1.1 YPC allowed on interior runs, they will have a very successful defensive day. But on the other side of the ball, the interior rushing game presents a truly lopsided match up, pitting the top interior rushing RB in the league in Chris Johnson against the 30th ranked interior rush defense. To repeat, the Jags biggest weakness matches up to the Titans greatest strength. Such is the recipe for offensive domination by the Titans.

Not surprisingly, the Titans have a successful history against Jacksonville, having won 4 of the last 5 from the Jags, including the last 2 in Jacksonville, outgaining them by an average of 100+ yards in those games. In those games they have run the ball well, and in the new 3-4 defense without Henderson/Stroud anchoring the run defense, there's no reason to think that the Titans approach--or the results--will change. They also get TE Bo Scaife back this week. Not only has he made a crucial game changing play against the Jags in the past, but he's Kerry Collins' security blanket against pressure packages. Given that the Jags will likely try to emulate some of the Jets schemes from last week--although undoubtedly not as effectively--his presence will be beneficial, both schematically and psychologically.

3. The Titans have every incentive to run up the margin of victory.

If you accept my premise that the Titans will win this game, you should also think that their victory will be decisive enough to cover this 3-point spread. In the 2 games that the Titans won last year following losses, they won by an average of 27 points, 2 of their most lopsided wins of the whole year. Perhaps more instructively, the last two times the Titans ended a multiple game losing streak, they won by an average of 13 points. I think the pattern repeats itself here, because the Titans recognize two crucial things: they need a killer instinct, and they have had terrible luck in close games this year. Thus, I expect the mentality to be "enough is enough" and to not allow the game to get close enough to where a dumb special teams fumble or other late 4th quarter meltdown can affect the outcome. History suggests that's how Fisher's teams bust out of losing streaks, and I think the pattern repeats itself here.

Conversely, the Jags are feeling good about themselves, but also don't sound very inspired or motivated to get better. The biggest story in Jacksonville this week was Del Rio publicly excoriating their QB for his radio show. The Jags are a mess, and I love to bet against a bad team coming off a somewhat lucky win, because there is a risk of complacency and a lower chance of the favorite blowing them off and suffering a trap game. Thus, the psychology of both sides suggests a larger margin of victory than is reflected by the line.


It's the Titans' injuries, particularly in the secondary, that primarily worry me about this bet. They have little depth, which makes Finnegan's and Fuller's injuries that much more damaging. Could Torry Holt and emerging fantasy player Mike Sims-Walker have big days? It's possible. But the Titans have a lot of talent elsewhere on defense, and as I said earlier, the Jags are illsuited to exploit this weakness. I also have faith in Jeff Fisher; he has not lost his locker room, and I expect him to scheme to compensate for his injuries in this game. The Jags are not the type of multidimensional explosive team that worries me in this situation.

Finally, this game opened as a pick em, rapidly moving to Titans -3, as a lot of smart money came in on the Titans. I certainly would feel more confident as a pick 'em, as Tennessee is not a team like the Saints that is generally more likely to blow teams out. But the early shift in the line confirms my feelings that the Titans are a good bet to win this game, and since the game is still only at -3, with a FG victory at least pushing, I think it still represents great value.