Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Upon Further Review: Chargers Dominate 42-17

San Diego has been good to BadNFL this month. Odds-makers continue to underestimate the Bolts in December, and for the second time in three weeks, BadNFL jumped on the chance to pick the Chargers as December underdogs. It worked again, as San Diego dominated the Titans, 42-17. I have to admit I'm somewhat surprised, as the Titans had been red hot and were playing at home on a non-traditional short week, something that is usually a big advantage. I figured that San Diego would win, but not by this much. Turns out they simply dominated the game, as Philip Rivers (a clear #2 in the MVP vote, at this point) put up huge vertical passing numbers through the first 3 quarters. As I've pointed out numerous times, the Titans are not a good come from behind team, and this game was essentially over at halftime. Why? The Chargers' passing offense was explosive, and predictably Tennessee could not stop it. But their defense was also surprisingly effective, and has been playing quite well of late. More than well enough to dispatch the Titans.


1. I love the Chargers in December. I will keep picking them automatically when they are December underdogs, as long as Philip Rivers and Norv Turner are running the show. The logic has simply not been proven wrong yet, as Rivers stretched his December streak to 17 wins in a row. And don't look now, but San Diego has covered 7 of their last 10 games. I think they're the best team in the NFL right now, and if the Colts are favored in a potential match-up in the AFC Championship game against the Bolts, I'm definitely going with the Bolts.

2. Top 5 passing offenses vs. bottom 5 passing defenses. I said this was one of my keys to watch for, as I think these type of situations lend themselves well to blowouts. So it was particularly easy to pick when the Chargers were underdogs.

3. The adjustment period: when the Chargers lost stud NT Jamal Williams for the year, I really thought they'd have difficulty adjusting, since the NT is arguably the most important component of the 3-4 defense. Well turns out I was both right and wrong. Right in that it took the Chargers, and particularly their defense, several weeks to get back on track. But wrong in that they now appear to be fully recovered. That's a pattern to watch out for next year: fade a team for the couple of weeks right after they lose an important but unheralded defensive cog, but be ready to jump back on the bandwagon after a few weeks' adjustment period. One interesting note: this strategy would have worked well with the Pats and Jerod Mayo earlier in the year.

4. Bonus Lesson Learned: While the Saints' loss to Tampa Bay this week may have been surprising to most, it shouldn't have been. The previous two times a team, previously undefeated through Thanksgiving, lost for the first time (the 2005 Colts and the 1998 Broncos) after Thanksgiving, they also lost the next week. The Saints now make three. In other words, next time a team is undefeated through Thanksgiving, watch for their first loss. And bet against them the following week. (Caveat: not sure this applies to the Colts and their weird decision to bench Manning et. al.).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Week 16 Pick: Chargers +3 @ Titans

Merry Christmas eve! I hope everyone out there is with family and friends, sitting by the fire, sipping some egg nog, and gearing up for this week's BadNFL prediction! With no further ado, I like the Chargers +3 at the Titans. Here's why:

1. Explosive passing offense vs. porous pass defense

There's no two ways about it, Philip Rivers is playing at an MVP level. Granted, he probably won't win it because of Peyton Manning's historic year, but Rivers has been absolutely lights out this year; he leads the league in yards/attempt, he's third in passer rating, and he has a knack for exploiting his array of matchup-nightmare weapons at the right time. And now he faces the Titans' pass defense, which ranks as the second-worst in the NFL. And as Scouts Inc's Jeremy Green points out, Rivers' specialty is the deep vertical passing attack, something that both BadNFL readers and those who watched the Pats/Titans beatdown in the snow realize that Tennessee struggles with. Moreover, Tennessee's defense is banged up, as they just lost 2 of their 3 starting LBs, including their best cover LB in Keith Bullock. That should spell serious trouble for their ability to contain dynamic Charger TE Antonio Gates, still perhaps the most difficult match-up in the league. In other words, I love the Chargers' chances of putting up tons of points through the air.

Because of that, and the Chargers' corresponding likelihood of jumping out and getting a lead--they've outscored teams 140-53 in the 1st half this year--they may be able to somewhat contain Chris Johnson. The Colts this year have provided a blueprint on how to accomplish that, and I think the Chargers might actually have some similar success. Strikingly, Johnson runs for fewer than 3 yards-per-carry in the 2nd half of games this year. In other words, if the Chargers manage to obtain a lead at some point during the game, the Titans are going to be in trouble. And as BadNFL's week 7 Lesson Learned this year argued, explosive passing attacks against bottom-ranked pass defenses are particularly good candidates to generate big leads early or midway through the game, and when the team that's down relies mainly on the run, they can get in trouble.

2. The Chargers love December.

As I pointed out a few weeks ago in the Lock Of The Year Chargers +3.5 pick against Dallas in December, Philip Rivers and Norv Turner love December. In fact, Norv as the coach of the Chargers is 12-0 in the month, while Philip Rivers is 16-0. That is pretty incredible. The Chargers are also on a 9-game winning streak and are playing absolutely lights out football. The way things go for them in this month, close games and lucky bounces will end up in their favor. And Tennessee, for all its recent VY-inspired success, is only 1-8 ATS in games against teams with a winning record. In fact, they've only played one team--the Colts--of San Diego's caliber since VY took over, and they lost handily. While I'm not confident enough to predict a similarly sizable Chargers win, as Peter King's 24-22 or Jeremy Green's 24-20 seem closer to the mark, it surprises me that the Chargers are getting 3 points, and thus even a narrow Titans victory is acceptable.


The Chargers are forced to travel 3 timezones on short rest, to play a team that has been at home for 3 straight weeks. This is a serious concern, as the last team faced with similar circumstances--the Giants traveling to Denver on Thanksgiving--played a terrible and lifeless game. This is undoubtedly the reason the line has moved so far in the Titans' direction, as wise guys famously love to fade West Coast teams who are traveling to the East Coast. But the Chargers have shown great tenacity on the road this season, going a remarkable 6-1 so far. They also successfully traveled 2 timezones east on short rest earlier this year, resulting in a line-shattering 37-7 mauling of the Chiefs. But most importantly, the Chargers despise the Titans as few teams do, as they still blame the Titans' dirty play for the 2007 season-ending injury to Shawn Merriman. As a result, you can expect the Chargers to be fired up and emotional, perhaps countering the ill effects of playing on the road at Christmas.

And remember, it's the Chargers in December, and they're playing on Christmas, the quintessentially December day. They should at a minimum be able to keep this close, and thus I like them to cover.

Upon Further Review: Cards Win But Don't Cover, 31-24

This one was a bummer. The Cardinals jumped out to a 17-0 lead with relative ease, and looked poised to run it to 24-0, as they had the ball inside the 35 with 1:30 left in the 1st half. But some terrible clock management and a Warner sack/fumble snuffed out their drive, and from there the Cards went largely downhill. I thought that the Cards' underrated secondary would dominate Daunte Culpepper, and they largely did, as he went 6/12 with an INT. But the Lions were able to put up points in some unlikely ways, including a 101yard INT return and a 64 yard TD run by Maurice freaking Morris. The Cards managed to hold on, largely by relying on Beanie Wells and the ground game, but came up a TD short of covering the 13 point spread that I thought they'd cover.


Be very wary of huge double digit spreads when the underdog is missing a pair of higher-profile players (in this case starting QB Matthew Stafford and starting RB Kevin Jones). The temptation is just too strong for the favorite to lose focus and motivation, and that appears to be exactly what happened. With the Cardinals, a notoriously inconsistent and unpredictable team, that was probably too high of a risk to take, and BadNFL moves to 1-2 on the season when picking double digit favorites.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Week 15 Pick: Cardinals -13 @ Lions

I'm going to have to beg your indulgence for another week, as I'm going to post my pick with minimal analysis. The pick is Cardinals -13 @ Lions. The week following losses, the Cardinals are undefeated, and in their two road games following losses, they won by an average of 17 points. The Lions are terrible, and will be starting Maurice Morris and Daunte Culpepper. This one has blowout written all over it.

I'll be back with my typical long researched posts next week!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Upon Further Review: Chargers Win 20-17

Well that was easy. Not much to say here: the Cowboys found a way to lose, as usual in December. This week it was something old (another missed FG) and something new (inability to score the ball from the 1 yard line given 3 consecutive chances).

Romo managed to put up some nice meaningless yardage at the very end of the game, but couldn't convert when he had to. The defense held the Chargers to 20 points but couldn't get a stop when it mattered in the 4th quarter.

The difference in the game ended up being yet another missed FG by Nick Folk.

In other words: Cowboys in December baby. This was the easiest pick of the year.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Week 14 Pick: Chargers +3.5 @ Cowboys

I know this pick is delayed, but I had an exceedingly annoying exam on Friday and also feel like I have swine flu. As such, I'm not going to gather all the links and write up the detailed analysis that I normally do this week. Not only am I not feeling up to it, but there's no reason to, as this pick is just too easy.

Philip Rivers is undefeated in December. Tony Romo and the Cowboys are anything but. Every year around this time, the Cowboys find ways to lose games that they should win. I thought maybe this year would be different and they'd snap out of it against the Giants, but after watching Brandon Jacobs lumber down the sideline for 70 yards and the Giants' middling return game generate its first punt return TD of the season to seal the win for the Giants, I realize I was wrong. Now they are playing a Chargers team that is not only better than them but always wins in December. This has led some analysts to write off the Cowboys in the division race, and I'm inclined to agree. Chargers simply should not be giving points in this game.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Upon Further Review: Redskins Cover 30-33!

Well that felt good; a great prediction (for once) by BadNFL. The Redskins came out determined; their offense looked great while the Saints looked flat, and the defense played well for extended stretches against Brees. But they still ended up losing. You have to feel sorry for the Redskins (I never thought I'd say that!). A fluky Saints' fumble return for a TD right off of a Redskins pick to close out the 1st half, and an inexplicable Suisham missed-FG from the 5 yardline with 2 minutes to go, and then a heartbreaking OT loss. Ouch. This was a game the Redskins should have won. But as they've been apt to do lately, they lost a game they should have won (while still covering).

I'm not sure if there are any lessons from this game, other than karma really seems to be on the Saints' side this year. While the Redskins strike me as a pretty solid team, they find ways to lose, and while they've been good bets to cover, I'm not sure how much longer they'll be able to keep fighting after suffering devastating losses week in and week out. But the larger lesson was that the BadNFL methodology was right on; the Saints really were due for a letdown after their emotional victory, and it showed, particularly early in the game. One thing to think about next time a situation like this (up and coming surprise team for the year, coming off an emotional home win against a traditional powerhouse, particularly on a short week, going out on the road to play a bad team) comes up: focus on the first-half line instead of the whole game. While the Redskins did ultimately cover the game line here, first half bets were able to reduce the amount of time Brees had to pull off the comeback.

But all in all, a very solid and well-reasoned prediction, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Update: BadNFL and the sharps think alike

According to Millman yesterday:
Same was true with the NFL's other undefeated team, the Saints. This was a classic sharp versus public matchup. All season, squares have been putting money on the Saints, ignoring the fact they've had a hard time covering against weak link teams. Meanwhile, the Redskins' D has made them a wise guy favorite this year (I've written that sentence about seven times since Thanksgiving) and they've covered the past several weeks. So, come Sunday, the books made bank from the loads of public money on the Saints, which far outweighed the sharp money won on the Redskins.
Too bad more of those squares don't read BadNFL; they would have known to steer clear of the Saints last weekend. Now if I can just break back over the .500 barrier and get a bonifide winning streak going! Upon Further Review coming later today, so stay tuned.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Week 13 Pick: Redskins +9.5 vs. Saints

Well I'm still in a foul mood from the Fins' unlikely melt down last week, and with law school exams approaching, there's nothing that could make me feel better than a nice stretch run here at BadNFL. So for the first time since my inaugural week 2, I'm taking an underdog. I know, my throngs of readers might think I'm crazy to pick against the undefeated Saints and their #1 ranked offense, so here are my reasons:

1. The Saints are due for a let down.

Everything about this game screams trap. As everyone in BadNFL Nation knows, New Orleans is coming off a emotional, statement win last week against the Pats on Monday Night Football. As a result, the media is now proclaiming them to have arrived, placing them unanimously at the top of power rankings, and proclaiming that Brees just played the best game in the history of the league. In other words, now seems like a perfect time for them to get complacent. History confirms this, as the Saints have a startling negative record ATS when they go out on the road after a big home win. Given the unique Katrina-infused emotion the Saints derive from their home crowd in the Superdome, and given the nearly perfect game they played last week, it's hard to see the Saints mustering up the emotion to play a team that most pundits wrote off a long time ago.

Two comparisons come to mind. One was this year, week 7: the Saints had just come off a statement win against the 5-0 (at the time) Giants, and they went out on the road to Miami. They proceeded to fall behind Miami 24-3 before mounting a furious comeback and ultimately winning by 12. True, this might not bode well for my pick, as a similar 12-point victory here would cover the spread. But for a number of reasons, I think this game is different. For one, the week 6 victory over the Giants simply cannot compare to the primetime domination over Belichick and Brady last week. Second, as those of you unfortunately enough to watch Miami/Buffalo last week can attest to, Miami is a truly horrendous 4th quarter team, and I frankly expect the Skins to play better. However, what won't change is the Saints' lackluster initial effort in this game.

The other example is a more salient one: in week 14 of 2006, the Brees/Peyton-led Saints played the Cowboys with first place in the NFC at stake, and the Saints totally demolished them on national TV. The next week, the NFC Championship Game-bound Saints lost to the 5-11 Redskins. While this Saints team is certainly better than that one, the exact same dynamics were at work: a letdown against a bad but tough Redskins team, after an emotional victory. While I'm not saying the Redskins will win this game, I do think the Saints' inevitable let down will keep it close enough for the Redskins to cover.

2. The Redskins match-up pretty well in this game.

Sharps love the Redskins, because they play solid defense. Their pass defense is particularly effective, good for tops in the league. Brees historically struggles against the Redskins, as his QB rating of 53.5 in his 3 career games against them is his lowest against any opponent. In addition, the Saints have lost 10 of their last 13 against the Redskins. This match-up just doesn't appear to be good for Brees and the Saints.

Finally, the weather in this game is an important factor. In his career, Brees is 0-5 with a passer rating below 80 in games that kickoff in temperatures of below 45 degrees. And you guessed it, the weather is projected to be below 45 this weekend, with the accumulation of over an inch of snow tonight. Given those conditions, I think the Redskins' solid pass defense will shut down Brees and the Saints' aerial attack.

Finally, the Redskins get Albert Haynesworth back this week. I think he'll do wonders to boost their pass rush and help stop up the middle. Given that the Redskins' offense has been improving lately, and that the Saints have a real possibility of letting down, this game should be close.


Apparently, Saints DC Gregg Williams has a huge grudge against the Redskins stemming back from his time as DC there, and as such, will motivate the Saints to blow out the Redskins. Whatever. This is the type of speculation that it's very difficult to evaluate. Ultimately, every sign points to this being a trap game, and I don't think one assistant coach's pissing match with Redskins ownership will change that.

The real counter-argument is obviously that the Saints have the most explosive offense in the league and are much much better than the Redskins. That's true, and there's obviously a risk that the Saints, even if they play this close most of the way, open up a big enough lead at the very end to cover the spread. But talent alone does not win football games. The Saints are undoubtedly much better, but I don't love their match-up and they're due for a letdown. The Skins are getting a lot of points, and while I have been waiting for it to push up to +10 all week (and would obviously like it better there), +9.5 is still enough for me. Washington covers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Upon Further Review: Fins Lose 14-31

I can't believe I'm writing this, when the team I picked lost by 17 points, but the Dolphins really should have won this game. The Dolphins were ahead in the 4th quarter, and they should have closed out an inferior opponent. They did not, as Henne collapsed and threw 3 consecutive INTs in the final 3 minutes of the game, turning a prospective Dolphins' victory into a Bills' blowout. Most of my predictions about this game came true: the Dolphins' ground game was solid, and the Fins' accrued 5 sacks and numerous QB hits and hurries, including 2.5 sacks from Joey Porter. So why did the Fins blow it?

1. Their inability to close out games. The Dolphins have been terrible in the 4th quarter this year, and that trend obviously continued on Sunday. Of course, so had the Bills, which was the main reason I wasn't worried about the Fins before this game. But the Bills managed to put together an impressive drive (replete with the requisite observation by the announcer, seemingly made in every game about the team that BadNFL picked against, that "this is the best the Bills have looked all season") that tied the game, and then new coach Percy Fewell made the gutsy (I thought ill-advised) decision to have Ryan Lindell attempt a 56-yard field goal to give the Bills the lead. If he had missed, and he missed earlier from 44 yards, the Dolphins would have been set up with great field position to take the lead. But like every other gamble Fewell made on Sunday, that one paid off. And Henne was clearly not up to the challenge of playing from behind on the road late in that situation--even though he led a similar drive on national TV against the Jets litttle over a month ago.

2. They got too cute on the goalline. With the score tied 0-0, early in the 1st quarter, the Dolphins had the chance to pound the ball in on the ground from inside the 5. And why wouldn't they, given that the Bills' run defense is horrendous? Instead, the Dolphins decided to attempt a Ricky Williams pass out of the wildcat, and he threw a devastating and ugly INT in the end zone. That swung the momentum for the whole game, and gave the Bills, who I didn't think had a lot to play for entering the game, new life.


Be careful betting against new, young, energetic coaches who have replaced an tired and dour older coach. Pretty much every recap of this game mentions how energized the Bills are by new coach Percy Fewell. I thought that the swirling Shanahan rumors would undermine his credibility, but most reports have the players absolutely loving the coach and playing much harder for him. Particularly as contrasted to Dick Jauron, maybe he really is an effective coach for them. It's difficult to say, and I'm still surprised that this game didn't result in a decisive Dolphins' win, but in this case, it really appears that my "counterargument" that I discarded in my prediction came through and tanked the pick.