Sunday, December 26, 2010

Week 16 Pick: Raiders +3 vs. Colts

Well after Comcastgate last weekend, I won't be able to get back to .500 for the season. Disappointing, but hopefully things will still break favorably down the stretch. To try and bounce back from last week's loss, I'm going with the Raiders +3 at home against Indy. Here's why:

1. Raiders will control this game on the ground.

The Raiders are 2nd in the NFL in yards per game on the ground, and they also rush for the 2nd best per-carry average at a healthy 4.7 YPC. On the other hand, the Colts have surrendered the 5th most rushing yards in the league, and they also yield a healthy 4.7 YPC. These stats are not misleading in the aggregate, as the Raiders' ground game appears to be peaking at the right time. They absolutely destroyed the Broncos' rushing defense last week, which was typical of their ground dominance over the past 2 months. Moreover, the Colts have struggled against even mediocre rushing teams like the Cowboys; I don't see them patching up their undersized and injury-riddled defensive front this week. It's true that they stacked the box on over 40% of the Jags' offensive snaps last week, effectively shutting down the Jags' powerful run game. But that game seems like an outlier, and I don't think people should overreact to that one performance. The Raiders have run the ball well against all different types of fronts, and I think they'll have substantial success there on Sunday. 

On the flip side, the Colts offense isn't powerful enough -- like it has been in years past -- to take huge leads and nullify the opposing ground game. For one, their own running game, notwithstanding one good game by Donald Brown last week, has been non-existent, which in turn has nullified Manning's play action fakes. In addition, they've now lost Austin Collie -- arguably their most effective receiver -- for the season. The Colts have admittedly won two in a row, but one was a narrow, pretty lucky win against Jacksonville, and the other came over a spiraling and decimated Titans' club. This is not the same Colts' team we remember; they'll struggle to overcome the Raiders' ball-control offensive gameplan.

2. This is a perfect opportunity to deploy contrarian logic.

I've written about the contrarian theory of betting before: the theory posits that popular conceptions about the NFL are usually wrong, and that therefore smart prognosticators pick against the crowd. This week, nearly 80% of the action is on the Colts. In games like that this year, the team receiving fewer bets has a record of approximately 60% against the spread. Nor is this a statistical anomaly, as shown in a nice writeup on the theory in the WSJ this week -- since 2003, the more popular a team is, the worse it performs against the spread. And the person who popularized the theory and runs the great website said this week that Oakland presents a perfect opportunity for bettors to utilize the insight of the contrarian logic. Indeed, Indy is a historically successful team who looked good last week (a week in which everything that hadn't been going well for them went well); both factors may lead many bettors to foolishly take them this week.

Moreover, Oakland is getting 3 points. Millman points to research this week showing that home dogs in weeks 15-17 cover about 60% of the time. I like that trend to continue here; this is a cross-country road trip for an Indy team that has always played better on turf.

The counter-argument is simple: Peyton Manning is a formidable QB whom I don't like picking against. But I think he has the worst team around him in quite a while, and while many people's first instinct may be to take the Colts, I like the Raiders getting the points.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Upon Further Review: Cowboys win, but don't cover, 33-30

Thanks a lot, Comcast. Because of my non-existent Internet last week, I was unable to put together a well-researched prediction, and now I'm paying the price.  The Cowboys won the game 33-30, but failed to cover the 7 point spread. The most frustrating part of it was that the Boys looked like they had this game well in hand, leading by 20 points midway through the third quarter. But then Rex Grossman went to work, ultimately throwing for 322 yards and 4 TDs. How the Cowboys allowed him to throw it so prolifically escapes me, given that the Skins mounted no credible rushing attack (only 14 attempts). But the Dallas secondary looked quite poor, especially after Gerald Sensabough went down with an injury. Not only that, but the Cowboys reverted to some of their stupid, penalty-inflicted habits characteristic of the Wade Phillips era. The result was a narrow 3-point win in what should have been an easy cover.


1. As a commenter implored me, stop picking the Cowboys. The stats are undeniable: they are now 0-3 ATS when I pick them, yet I am 2-0 when I pick against them (the commenter forgot this game from last year).  On the one hand, I know more about the Cowboys than any other team in the league; I follow them more closely, and I feel more attuned to their strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, emotion might very well cloud impartial judgment when it comes to predicting their games -- this week I think I gravitated to it because my internet was out and it was the game with which I was already most familiar.

I hate to make a strict rule forbidding any picks of the Cowboys anymore (as I basically have already done for the Seahawks and Chiefs this season), but I should certainly not knee-jerk focus on the Cowboys like I did this week.

2. Beware the backup QB. I thought that the Redskins were in shambles -- the Shanahans had lost the team, they were forced to jettison their expensive and celebrated veteran QB, and they were coming off a brutal loss, courtesy of a bobbled snap on a PAT. But Grossman played pretty well, appearing to energize the sorry Redskins. I've said before that picking heavy favorites playing against backup QBs can  be risky (witness the 14-point favorite Pats barely escaping Johnny Flynn last week). It's hard to say exactly why the Boys blew the lead like they did -- maybe they're just bad, or maybe the game demonstrated their resilience in winning a close one -- but they did appear to coast for a while in the second half, thinking that they had sealed things up.

3. The Hilton 100 theory went only 1-1. The Cowboys (at -6) amassed the most picks, followed closely by the Bears over the Vikings. The Cowboys obviously did not cover, missing by 3, while the Bears dominated the Vikings by 26. The theory now moves to 12-4, with a still impressive average margin of victory. Too bad it couldn't have come through for the Boys this week, since BadNFL really needed it.

I'm wishing that I had picked the Jets +6 @ Pittsburgh instead. I think that Troy Polamalu may be the most valuable player in the league, and I've really hated the way that the Steelers' offense looked. That game was the most picked game, by a wide margin, among Hilton top contestants, and it's one that I was strongly considering taking. Oh well.

4. East Coast Travel Theory is validated: the Cardinals had to travel for an early game at Carolina, whom I've said (and most agree) is now the worst team in the league. The Cardinals easily failed to cover that game, losing by a touchdown, and most analysts agree that they essentially self-destructed against a team that's generally even worse than they are. Interesting.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Week 15 Pick: Cowboys -7 vs. Redskins

Unfortunately, the Internet is down at BadNFL HQ, thanks to the despicable incompetence of Comcast. Because of that, my research has been seriously abbreviated this week, and unfortunately this post will also have to be short. I don't love taking Dallas again, but the Redskins seem like they're an absolute mess, and they're starting Rex Grossman. The Cowboys should win by more than 7.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Upon Further Review: Jags Cover 38-31

Another nice win for BadNFL, although I must admit that it was a nerve-wracking cover. The Jags ultimately won the game by 7, enough to cover, but it was hardly the type of comfortable blowout that BadNFL fans enjoyed last week. My pick, which was largely premised on the Raiders' struggles when traveling east, may have been right for the wrong reasons, as the Raiders actually came roaring out of the gate strong only to blow the lead late. In fact, many game recaps are crediting Maurice Jones-Drew's halftime speech with rallying the lethargic Jags and propelling them to an impressive second-half comeback. And comeback they did, scoring 31 second-half points and demonstrating impressive resolve in fending off a late Raiders' charge.

In doing so, the Jags exposed the Raiders' poor rush defense. The Jags' ground game continued to impress, generating 200+ yards for the 3rd week in a row and even deploying several sophisticated option plays that yielded significant positive yardage. Many analysts have pinned responsibility directly on the Raiders' defense, which continues to be vulnerable to committed rushing attacks. And in my defense, I predicted that this game would be decided in the trenches, and that the Jags' two-pronged attack would prevail over the Raiders' overexposed defense. Fortunately, the strength of that rushing attack was enough to overcome a superb day for Jason Campbell and a subpar day, YPA-wise (albeit with 3 TDs), for Gerrard.

At the end of the day, the Raiders surged back to tie the game with under two minutes left, thanks to an incredible run by the streaking Darren McFadden. But luckily, the Jags got a nice kick return, and on their first play from scrimmage (as a 3-point non-cover is looking exceedingly likely), MJD busted a 30-yard gamewinning TD. It may not have been the prettiest victory, but I'll take it.


1. What happened to the East Coast Travel theory? It's hard to say. Of course even a sound theory will fail to explain every single game, so it's possible that the Raiders' fast start here was simply an outlier. But looking back on it, there may be some other explanations. Some have pointed out that Tom Cable implemented a substantial schedule change regarding the road trip leading up to this game, and that the change may have helped the Raiders' biological clocks adjust. Of course, pointing to such a change seems like a simplistic explanation, given that other coaches have no doubt thought of such a stratagem before.

On the other hand, maybe this was a trap game for the Jags as they looked ahead to a huge division clash with Indy next week. BadNFL has obviously struggled with the concept of trap games, and I'm hestiant to blame the Jags' early struggles on the looming Colts, but it's a possibility.

Instead, maybe the East Coast travel factor weighs more heavily in games early in the season. I could see teams like the Raiders learning to adjust to the travel by the time December rolls around. That's one thing I intend to look into in the offseason -- a comprehensive analysis of East Coast travel, broken down by month and type of opponent.

Finally, it's possible that the Travel Theory did pay dividends after all. While logic would suggest that it would impact the beginning of games, as players' feel sluggishness commensurate with the time of day, it's also possible that the effects begin to catch up to players in a major way in the second half. That seemed to be what happened here, as the Raiders' defense completely wilted down the stretch.

2. The Seahawks continue to frustrate -- BadNFL fans undoubtedly noticed the 49ers absolutely waxing the Seahawks this last week. Yes, these were the same teams that played week 1, when BadNFL picked the 9ers -3. And it was primarily those same players, plus stud 49ers' RB Frank Gore, that participated in the Week 1 disgraceful Seahawks' blowout. Very aggravating.

3. Hilton 100 theory hits big again -- the only qualifying pick was Giants -3 @ Vikings, which shifted to -4 once the game moved to Ford Field in the wake of the Metrodome's collapse.  Either way, the Giants easily covered, winning 21-3. Hilton 100 picks now have a record of 12-3, with a vast majority of those 12 being double-digit covers. Wow.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Update: Public, but not Hilton Contestants, Like the Pick

I suspected that the Hilton Contestants might like the Jaguars this week, but they garnered only 55 picks, vs. 64 for the Raiders. Although surprising, I'm not that worried about it, since I've explained before that I think the Hilton Contest results are probative only when a game amasses a huge number (100+) of picks. Indeed, I've lacked support of the Hilton prediction market before, and it worked out well.

More troubling is the market data about the money coming in on the Jags. The public has stuck steadfastly with the Jags at just over 60% -- not a huge number but not that reassuring for a contrarian theorist -- even though the line has been moving steadily in the other direction, from Jags -5 down to Jags -4. This would suggest that there is some serious sharp money, placed by a small number of betters, coming in against the prevailing wisdom. Some analysts track this type of "smart money" and have noted that it tends to portend a result disfavorable to the public. I'm not sure what these bettors are thinking; it must be that the Jags' pythagorian W-L is worse than the Raiders'. I definitely sympathize with the perspective that the Jags' are overrated. However, they seem like the type of team who can exploit the Raiders' EST woes. We'll see.

The one entry in the Hilton 100 club this week is the Giants -2.5 @ Vikings. Although that line has now moved to -3, I tend to like it. It's also got a healthy margin of 89. Given that the Hilton 100 entries have gone 11-3 over a significant span, the Giants are probably a pretty good pick this week. But I'm sticking with the Jags. 

Week 14 Pick: Jags -4 vs. Raiders

We're officially entering the stretch run now, and BadNFL really needs to get its act together to try and preserve some modicum of respectability for this season. This week, I'm picking a team I have yet to pick even once: the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here's why:

1. Raiders are playing an early game on the East Coast.

This theory, bandied about by some prognosticators (like Simmons here), posits that West Coast teams struggle playing road games at 1:00 EST (10 PST). The reasoning is pretty simple: the players' biological clocks are out-of-sync for a 10:00 AM start, and they accordingly tend to play the sluggish way that their bodies feel (the same phenomenon tends to benefit West Coast home teams at night). It's an intuitively appealing theory. Do the stats back it up? One look at the stats answers resoundingly in the affirmative: in 2007, teams from the Pacific or Mountain time zones were 4-16 when playing in the Eastern Time Zone, and 18 of those 20 games had early start times. That included some really bad losses -- fully 50% of the 4 wins picked up by the awful pre-Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons that year were in early home games against traveling west coasters.

To be sure, the raw stats reflect the skewed ineptitude of the Western teams in general. But although each coach is certainly different in his ability to prepare his team for an early start on the East Coast, almost without exception all West Coast teams have had significantly losing records in travel to the East Coast in recent years. Pat Kirwan ran the stats a few years ago and found:
Since 2003, when the Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks travel to the Eastern time zone for a 1 p.m. game, they have a combined record of 19-59 -- a winning percentage of .243. When you look at games played at 4 p.m. or at night, the West Coast teams are 3-5 (.375 percentage).
I don't think most people fully realize this degree of futility suffered by traveling West Coast teams. I know the AFC and particularly NFC West have been terrible, but a .243 winning percentage?! That suggests that the early start time theory really has some juice, irrespective of the basic talent disparities between the teams involved. Kirwan further spoke to several of the coaches involved, who
 all felt it is a real issue, even though it's hard to put a finger on why it happens. They all mentioned a "sluggish" feeling, especially early in games. Anyone can dig up a game like Seattle's 42-0 win at Philadelphia in 2005 and say it's all hogwash, but the numbers over time suggest something different.
It's certainly not just true for bad teams. In 2009, the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals -- two playoff teams who went a combined 17-15, were 0-9 in games played east of the Mississippi River. And the same theory seems applicable to the Raiders. They've played two early road games this season (@ Ten in week 1 and @ Pit in Week 11) and been blown out in both by a combined score of 73-16. They seem to fit the pattern nicely, and I expect it to continue this week.

2. The Raiders are coming off a major win against a divisional rival.

The Raiders just played perhaps their best game in several years, manhandling the Chargers and doling them their first December loss in the Philip Rivers era. This 15-point win, which was never close, felt like a blowout for most of the game. I thus like the Raiders to regress back to normal this week. In recent weeks, I've remarked several times that teams coming off blowout wins seem to lack fire the following week. I also noted something similar in my preseason preview, arguing that teams emerging from cathartic, "now we've arrived" wins tend to dramatically underperform soon thereafter. Well, here we have that situation, and the trend seems to have been borne out by the Raiders' performance this season. They previously had only 1 win over a team with a winning record at the time (against the divisional rival Chiefs), and they followed it up by a 32-point thrashing by the Steelers.

Such inconsistency fits the mold of the Raiders' season in general, as wide fluctuations in quality of play have defined their season thus far. Thus, when ESPN bloggers proclaim the dominance of the Raiders' ground game, it makes me wonder how that rushing attack will look the week afterward. Particularly when the Raiders already have a reason -- the aforementioned time zone issue -- to play with less than exacting intensity.

3. The Jags will have success on the ground.

There seems little doubt that this game will be decided in the trenches. Indeed, neither the Jags or the Raiders pass the ball particularly well, while both have statistically impressive rushing attacks. I think the Jags will do what they do better than the Raiders -- the Jags have been remarkable at minimizing 3 and outs and controlling the time of possession, and the emergence of Rashad Jennings has given them a 1-2 pitch with MJD that is approaching elite level. Moreover, the Raiders are 23rd in rushing defense, which is not only bad but also artificially inflated by a great (21 yard) performance against San Diego last week that was somewhat anomalous. I thus expect the Jags to do what they did to Tennessee last week -- dominate on the ground and impose their will against a sluggish team.


The Jags have undoubtedly benefited from some lucky wins this year (the Mike Thomas Hail Mary and the 75-yard late game MJD screen pass come to mind). And I did just finish writing about the need to stay away from teams that have recently benefited from a spate of lucky wins. After all, the Jags probably aren't as good as their record, given their -43 point differential.

But in recent weeks, the Jags have looked like a legitimate team, not just a lucky one. And they certainly have shown they know how to blow out sluggish teams (see their whooping of the Wade Philips-era Cowboys). Ultimately, I think that the Jags are a mediocre team that plays fairly well at home, and that the Raiders' travel struggles will continue this week. I thought this line would be closer to 7 than to 4, and as such, the Jags will cover.

Upon Further Review: Pats Cover 45-3

It feels good to be on the right side of a blowout for once. The Pats annihilated the Jets in a game that was as lopsided as some of the previous BadNFL blowout losses, dominating them 45-3. Tom Brady strengthened his position in the MVP race and threw for a whopping 11 YPA. Conversely, the Sanchize looked really bad -- he threw for less than 5 yards per attempt, barely completed 50% of his passes, and threw 3 INTs compared with 0 TDs. In other words, he looked as bad as I predicted he would the last time I (wrongly) predicted this match-up, and he gave the Jets absolutely no chance in this game.

Most of the reviews of this game note how dominating the Pats were in all phases of the game. Indeed, it was so bad that Rex Ryan stole a motivational ploy from Bill Belichick and buried the game ball afterward. In a game that lopsided, it's hard to pinpoint any one cause, but the loss of Jim Leonhard from the Jets secondary undoubtedly affected the Jets pass D -- particularly in the Jets' ability to defense the Pats various multiple-TE sets. Moreover, the vaunted Jets' pass rush, although getting to Brady a couple times early, never made much of an imprint on the game. And the Pats simply avoided throwing at Revis, exploiting the gaping holes all over the rest of the field.


1. Does Mark Sanchez struggle in cold-weather games? Remember, he's a USC kid who lacks ideal NFL arm strength and sometimes tends to obsessively focus on short-yardage throws. That tendency obviously did not manifest itself last time the Jets pounded the Pats at home in week 2. But it's now December, and the weather has begun affecting games like it hasn't so far this season. It certainly looked like the cold windy conditions negatively affected Sanchez in this game; he unquestionably had the worst game of any QB last week. This is a possible trend that bears watching.

2. Picking against teams that have recently enjoyed several lucky wins pays off. One of my main rationales for this pick was the series of lucky, dramatic comeback wins against mediocre teams that the Jets had enjoyed of late. At the time, that led most pundits to label them "resilient" and "tough" etc; in retrospect, maybe they were just getting lucky. And once they played a motivated, streaking team on the road, that luck ran out in a major way.

3. The Broncos continue to frustrate. They have now officially imploded and fired their coach, 3 weeks after administering an asskicking to the (3-0 since) Chiefs in Week 10. My contrary pick, readers will remember, was premised on an assessment that the Broncos were on the verge of collapse and the Chiefs were picking up steam down the stretch. All that appears to have been correct, but just not that week. The result of that one game continues to frustrate me, but the general assessment was right on.

4. The Hilton 100 club had only 1 entry last week: Bears -3.5 @ Lions. I didn't like that pick at all, since BadNFL is a big fan of the covering Lions, especially at home. Nonetheless, the pick barely hit, as the Bears won 24-20. The theory now moves to 11-3, with 2 of the losses (albeit one of its wins now) coming by 1 point.

Not everything about the Hilton Contest appears helpful, however. The most popular pick last week among the contest leaders? Jets +3.5. That obviously didn't work out; maybe those top contestants should have read their BadNFL a little more carefully.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Week 13 Pick: Pats -3.5 vs. Jets

This is a tough week for picking games. Initially, I liked the Browns +5, but then remembered that Jake Delhomme was still starting. Eventually, I settled instead on the Patriots. Essentially, I think that the Pats played remarkably poorly in their first meeting against the Jets, and they'll be at home this time and seem likely to play much better. The Jets also have been on an incredibly lucky streak -- excepting last week's win over the terrible Bengals -- winning 3 in a row in games they should have lost. That luck will run out this week, I think. The fact that this game's in Foxboro, the loss of defensive stalwart Jim Leonhard, and the Patriots' motivation to extract revenge after Brady's abysmal performance last time out all portend a substantial Pats victory.

Of course, it's possible that I'm merely repeating a mistake I've already made once this season. I still like that Pats pick week 2, however, and think that a lot of the same logic will be borne out this week. The Jets are touting their lucky late game wins as a sign of destiny; I think that it's a sign that they're not quite as good as their record indicates. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Lose 24-42

It's hard to climb back to .500 when you can't win two in a row. I actually felt pretty good about this pick, but the 2.5 point underdog Seahawks were blown out to the tune of 42-24 by the Chiefs. The Chiefs offense was basically unstoppable, as Cassel generated 7.28 YPA and threw for 4 TDs with no interceptions. Moreover, their top 2 running backs combined for a whopping 42 carries, which yielded 241 yards. They were also able to consistently convert on 3rd down and keep Seattle's defense on the field, and ended up dominating the time of possession.

Dwayne Bowe was the main reason they were so successful  on 3rd down; he was simply unstoppable, and seemingly all of his catches either resulted in 3rd down conversions or touchdowns. Seattle's failure to cover Bowe confounded logic. The film of his TD catches reveals that Seattle simply neglected to cover him, and they consistently refused to adjust their scheme to take him away. This failure was inexplicable given that Bowe has been on a torrid TD-catching streak and is rapidly emerging as a dominant WR. Indeed, Seattle made the Cassel-to-Bowe connection look unstoppable.

All that said, Seattle was in this game in the second half. They made some of the lucky plays that have characterized their home games, including a blocked FG and a blocked punt for a TD. In fact, at one point in the 2nd half they were down only 21-17 and were driving near midfield. But then, the wheels came off. Unlike last week, when a close game broke my way late, this week it broke even more dramatically the wrong way. As a result, the Seahawks came nowhere near covering.


1. Stay away from the Seahawks and the Chiefs this year. Ugh. Those two teams obviously continue to befuddle me. I entered the year thinking that the Seahawks were atrocious. They immediately proceeded to win by 25 points.  A few weeks later, I picked against them again, as they went on the road to Soldier field to play the (now 8-3 and coming off a convincing win over the Eagles) Bears. Of course, Seattle immediately won what I have little doubt will be their only road  game of the year. Then, I finally pick them at home to continue their winning ways, and they get blown out by a Chiefs team that had at that point only 1 road win -- a 2 point squeaker over Jake Delhomme. And what do they do? They get eviscerated by 18 points. In short, I can't win with this team, and I'm done with them for this year.

Of course, I'd also predicted that the Chiefs would dominate the bad Broncos (who have since lost 2 straight and appear to be imploding) in Denver 2 weeks ago. I was expecting to get the type of performance we got this week. Instead, they were blown out. Then I decide to pick against them, and they become the ones doing the blowing out. Very frustrating.

This seems to be the type of season where no trend sustains itself for long. I said in the aftermath of the last Chiefs' loss that I would beware teams coming off huge blowouts. Although that was 2 weeks ago, perhaps I should have heeded that advice this week. In this weird NFL season, the fact that the Chiefs lost huge on the road last time out probably should have suggested that they'd inexplicably play great this time around. 

Either way, Seattle by any statistical measure is quite bad. BadNFL will not be involved in any of their games for the rest of this season.

2. BadNFL's continued inability to make coherent use of home/road splits. I have now picked twice on the theory that one team was atrocious on the road, and both times that team has won. I don't know what it is; as one commenter pointed out,  Seattle's home wins have come over uniformly atrocious teams. Maybe that was a sign. It seems that by the time a home/road split deepens enough to where its noticeable, the team in question performs the opposite of expectations the following week.

3. The Hilton 100 theory: 2-0 this week, as the Vikings +2 and the Chargers +3 both covered. The Vikings game was pretty close, but the Chargers covered by 25 points. I'm wishing I had picked that Chargers game instead -- they historically match-up quite well against the Colts, and as I noted last year, the Chargers start to dominate at this time of year, and appear primed to do it again.

In any event, the Hilton 100 theory now moves to 10-3, with mostly dominating cover margins. It really does, at least of late, look like a freakishly accurate prediction market. Maybe I should just start piggybacking BadNFL on its results (although that in some ways defeats the point of the website). Hopefully I'll get it back on track next week.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Week 12 Pick: Seahawks +2.5 vs. Chiefs

BadNFL tries to continue its painful journey back to respectability this week by jumping on a game involving two teams who have screwed me this year -- the Chiefs (when I picked them) and the Seahawks twice (when I picked against them). I'm finally picking the Seahawks, so hopefully they'll continue their trend of winning handily in games that I pick. Here's why:

The game is at Qwest Field.

Pretty simple logic, really. Both of these teams have generally played well at home and poorly on the road. Specifically, the Chiefs are 1-4 in their 5 road games thus far this year, and their only win was a 2 point squeaker. Conversely, the Seahawks are 3-1 at home, with 3 pretty convincing wins and 1 bad loss to the Giants. Importantly, the Seahawks were quarterbacked by Charlie Whitehurst -- making his first career start -- in that loss. He will not be quarterbacking this game. If the pattern holds, the Chiefs will again turn in a lackluster performance, particularly since they are playing at Qwest Field -- one of the most hostile environments in the NFL. It's really a perfect storm: the Chiefs, who are perhaps more dependent on the Arrowhead advantage than any team in the NFL, going on the road to play in a venue that is traditionally the hardest on visiting teams. I rarely think that home-field advantage has decisive statistical relevance, but given the particular makeup of these two teams, I think that the venue takes on paramount importance.

I also think that the Seahawks match-up fairly well against the Chiefs' running game, which is their primary strength. Indeed, while the Seahawks' total run defense is above average at 13th in the NFL, their per-carry defense is very solid at 8th in the NFL (3.9 YPC). Not only that, but Hasselbeck has been playing well, and and thus there's a chance that the early home-field advantage could propel the Seahawks to a big early lead; if that happens, I think you'll see KC abandon the run, like they did in that ill-fated Denver game.


It's true that the Seahawks have suffered a lot of injuries, most noticeably to their starting nosetackle and best WR. There's a chance that the Seahawks will play worse this week than they have in their previous home games because of these injuries. But they have Hasselbeck back, which seems to distinguish this game from the only Seahawks' home loss of the year, and the Chiefs have been too lackluster on the road this year to justify this spread. The Chiefs are also 2-4 against the spread as favorites this year, and 0-2 outright in games in which they were road favorites. I expect that trend to continue.

Finally, I'm not worried that this home/road split argument is too obvious, because the line has moved steadily in the Chiefs' favor, and 75% of the public money now sits on the Chiefs. In other words, this looks like a great candidate for another successful contrarian bet. The Seahawks are off a bad loss to the Saints and the Chiefs are off a dominating home win against Arizona. Which makes it the perfect time to pick the Seahawks. Seattle covers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Upon Further Review: Ravens Cover 37-13

BadNFL continued its long arduous trek back to .500 with the Ravens' 37-13 defeat of the Panthers last weekend. Although the final score reveals that the Ravens covered the 11 point spread by a cool 13 points, this was not an easy cover. In fact, the Ravens lacked fire and focus early in the game, committing unseemly mistakes -- a muffed hand-off in the redzone comes to mind -- that kept the Panthers in the game. Flacco did little to dispel my fears that he remains significantly overrated, as he played an uneven game. Thus, the Panthers kept it close, and they were within 7 points late in the 4th quarter. As a result, the Ravens weren't nearly as impressive as the final score would seem to indicate. 

That said, the Ravens did surge late, courtesy of two back-to-back pick-6 interceptions by the two longtime stars of their defense, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. This is somewhat in line with my prediction, since the primary reason for picking the Ravens this week was the nearly unprecedented lack of experience of Brian St. Pierre. And BSP was pretty bad on the day, completing only 13 of 28 passes and throwing 2 INTs. Because of their opportunistic defense and the Panthers' general ineptitude, the Ravens were able to convert a relatively close game into a blowout late.


1. The Ravens certainly lacked focus and motivation in this one, perhaps confirming one of my biggest fears -- that big favorites against teams missing key offensive players tend to underperform. Or perhaps that is just typical of the Ravens, who have especially tended to play to the level of their competition this year. But luckily, the Panthers were so bad late that the pick still paid off.

2. I was right that the Panthers look atrocious. John Fox is a dead man walking on the sidelines, and the continuous roster shuffling has deprived them of any semblance of offensive rhythm. It's hard to see them winning any games right now; it's almost as hard to see them covering even significant spreads.

3. Hilton 100 theory pays off again -- the margin and absolute pick #s were extremely high for this game, and it obviously came through. It's now 8-3 ATS in the five weeks that I've tracked it, with a consistently high margin of victory ATS.

4. Blowouts: the Chiefs and the Redskins, who both were blown out in week 10, both won their games and easily covered this week. On the other hand, the Broncos, who delivered an unforeseen beating to the Chiefs last week, followed it up with a miserable performance. I'm starting to wonder what the stats are on teams following either blowout wins or losses -- because one potentially promising theory of prediction would rely on the "regression to the mean" theory and anticipate teams coming off blowout wins to fail to cover the following week, and vice versa. It's something I'll be following for the rest of the year.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Update: A Good Sign?

The Hilton contestants absolutely love BadNFL's pick this week. The Ravens received 124 picks, safely making them a member of the "Hilton 100," and they enjoyed a whopping +117 margin. The only game I've seen getting that type of a margin was the Giants at the Seahawks a few weeks back, a game in which the Giants covered by 4 TD's. Hopefully that bodes well for my pick this week. If the Hilton is truly to serve as a useful prediction market, it better.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Week 11 Pick: Ravens -11 @ Panthers

Somewhat surprisingly, my first double digit favorite pick of the year comes in week 11. I've had some success picking these before, but I've also had some spectacular failures. But this one just seems too ripe for the picking. The reason that I think the Ravens will cover is simple: the Panthers are sporting one of the most pathetic offenses I've ever seen. To be specific, they are starting a QB this week, named Brian St. Pierre, who was literally a stay-at-home dad at this time last week. He appears to have thrown a total of 5 passes in the last 7 years. And this is a passing attack that was already miserable; they generated a net sum at sixty-eight passing yards in their recent loss to the Saints.

Not only that, but the Panthers' top three running backs are all out this week. In short, they'll be lucky to put up more than 7 points for the game. It is true that the Ravens don't have a great secondary, but the Panthers are so woefully ill-suited to exploit the Ravens' weakness that I expect the Ravens to dominate this game.

Admittedly, the Ravens haven't blown out many teams this year -- in fact, they've won by a double digit margin in only 2 games. But they haven't played anyone as bad as the Panthers -- the team last in the NFL in point-differential and one that specializes in succumbing to the blowout. I think that the Ravens will be motivated coming off a tough road loss to the Falcons, and Ray Rice is chomping at the bit to redeem himself against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league. The Ravens should be able to win this one by 2 TD's at least.


This just seems like one of those games where there's no way anyone can even envision an argument for how the Panthers can win. And that scares me. In fact, last year one of my lessons learned in the wake of a failed Cardinals pick against the injury-depleted Lions was to shy away from huge favorites against teams missing their starting QB and RB. I'm not heeding my own advice this week, because the Panthers just seem so bad.
It seems like the only way the Panthers can stay in this game is through either some crazy series of special teams successes or creative wacky plays like wildcat formations, surprise flea-flickers, etc. But John Fox -- perhaps the league's most conservative coach -- never tries things like that. Fox's coaching style seems more suited for a solid front-runner like he had earlier this decade, not the young huge underdog that he has now. Without some weird turn of events, I just can't see the Panthers staying in this game. Ravens cover.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Lose 29-49

And just like that, the Chiefs bring BadNFL's three game winning streak to a screeching halt. This game perpetuates the trend of BadNFL predictions missing by a mile, as the favored Chiefs lost by 20. And it wasn't pretty; the Broncos jumped out to a huge 28-0 lead by way of 21 1st quarter points (after they had scored 7 first quarter points all season). The huge early lead for the Broncos totally negated the Chiefs' vaunted running game, which was my primary reason for picking the Chiefs. Indeed, the "dynamic" duo of Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles combined for an unsightly 44 yards on 18 carries.

Obviously, had I known that the Broncos would come roaring out of the gate on offense like that, I never would have picked the Chiefs. To be fair to myself, it was difficult to foresee -- the Broncos had their highest scoring game in 47 years, and many analysts referred to it as a "stunning" loss for the chiefs. The question is, why did it happen? Several theories have been bandied about: maybe it was the Elway pep talk he gave before the game,  maybe their quick passing attack surprised the Chiefs and put them on their heels, maybe it was the injuries to the Chiefs' underrated safeties. Or maybe the Chiefs just came out flat and played poorly, yet again, on the road. Others, including some friends of BadNFL, claimed that crazy things happen in divisional games like this -- although I looked up the stats, and the Broncos had been 0-4 under McDaniels in home games against the AFC West. This much is certain: pretty much nothing the Chiefs did, in any phase of the game, looked good. Things were going so bad that even the replay machine broke when the Chiefs tried to challenge a questionable call.

In any event, some pundits are proclaiming the Broncos' season re-energized. They certainly dominated this game, and the bet was nowhere close.


1. Don't just cite aggregate rushing statistics, but break down them game by game. It is true that the Broncos' rushing defense statics were ugly coming into the game, but in retrospect, they had been distorted by one atrocious loss against the Raiders. In fact, they'd had some decent games, especially when health had permitted them to play their 3-4 scheme of choice. That fact, combined with the fact that an early deficit can pretty much eliminate a ball control offensive strategy, should have inspired some caution about relying so heavily on the ground game match-up. After all, in my preseason preview, I noted some research showing that it is actually the match-up of pass offense vs. pass defense that matters much more in today's NFL.

2. Beware the team coming off the massive blowout. I just noted the statistical effect that the Oakland blowout had on my analysis, but I think that it may have also affected the psychology of the game. I need to do this statistical research next summer, but I wonder what teams' records are against the spread in the 3 or 4 weeks following huge blowouts. Probably pretty good. Far preferable is finding an overrated team who has had some ugly wins and not that bad losses -- which, combined with other factors, may be the sign that a dominating loss is on the horizon (the Skins' ugly loss to the Eagles on MNF this week is a good example).

On the other hand, the Chiefs had led some smart analysts, like FO's Aaron Schatz, to label them Super Bowl contenders. But then the wheels just totally came off. I obviously thought that the poor performance by the Chiefs in Oakland last week was an anomaly, but instead it looks now like it may have portended things to come. 

3. Detroit covered yet again. They are now 8-1 against the spread. Just sayin'.

4. The "Hilton 100" theory moves to 7-3 since I've begun tracking it. The top three picks -- the Rams +6 @ Niners, Vikings -1 @ Bears, and Bucs -6.5 vs. Panthers -- went 2-1 this week. The Rams +6 line looks like a miscalculation by oddsmakers in retrospect. I hated the Vikings line, but liked the Bucs line, and stayed away from it because it was getting so much public action. But of course, so were the Chiefs, and that didn't dissuade me. In retrospect, Bucs probably should have been the pick last week.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Week 10 Pick: Chiefs -1 @ Broncos

I'm really pushing my luck this week, as for the second straight week, I'm going with a pick that public money seems to love. Even so, I couldn't find a line I was quite as happy about, so despite the 75% of public money backing the Chiefs, I'm picking them to cover this spread. Here's why:

1. Chiefs should dominate the game on the ground.

This is, at least on paper, a dream match-up between the Chiefs' greatest strength and the Broncos' biggest weakness. The key to the Chiefs' surprising turnaround this year has been their superlative rushing attack; they rank 3rd in yards-per-carry and 1st overall in total yards rushing. On the other hand, the Broncos surrender the 2nd most yards per game on the ground, and they yield the 5th worst YPC for opposing running backs. There's little reason to think that the overall trends won't hold in this game; remember, last time these teams played, Jamaal Charles ran for 259 yards and 2 TDs. I expect the duo of Charles and the perennially underappreciated Thomas Jones to enjoy similar success this week.

If the Chiefs do dominate on the ground in the manner of which they are capable, they should win this game fairly easily. Indeed, the Broncos typically fare poorly against teams that control the game on the ground. Just look at the 20-point drubbing the Chiefs administered at Denver last time that Charles ran wild, or the Raiders' domination of the Broncos a few weeks ago behind DMC's career best day on the ground. Kansas City should again be able to control the time of possession and field position and put up plenty of points to beat the Broncos.

I have little faith that the Broncos' defense will step up their game and reverse these prevailing trends. Put simply, they're a total mess. Injuries have forced them to waffle between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense, despite not having the personnel to effectively run either scheme. In addition, D.J. Williams' DUI will likely deprive the Broncos one of their only playmakers on defense for this game. Moreover, I doubt the Broncos' coaching staff's ability to schematically compensate for their defensive shortcomings and take the Chiefs' ground game away. The Broncos have been gashed by all sorts of running games -- zone blocking attacks, outside speed, inside power -- and their staff has demonstrated no clue how to stop the pounding.

So this is not as simple as identifying one glaring flaw in the defense and applying a fix. And even if it was, the Broncos' players may be tuning out McDaniels' shrill and overbearing voice. Indeed, this has the trappings of a lost season in Denver, and the players may be just playing out the string. I'm not sure where leadership is going to come from within the organization, but at this point, it's reminding far too much of Dallas. In sum, ground game asymmetry is something that an in sync and respected coaching staff may be able to scheme around, but I don't see that happening in Denver.

It is true that the Broncos are coming off a bye, which is a factor in why the line is this low (Broncos are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 post-bye games), and perhaps a reason why the Broncos will be more prepared this week. But as Simmons pointed out this week, the bye historically exerts little influence on game outcomes, particularly with subpar coaches. Last year the Broncos' came out of their bye and lost by 21 points to the Ravens. This year, their bye comes on the heels of a loss to a bad 49ers team in London. In short, look for the Chiefs to conduct business as usual on the ground, at the expense of the Broncos' porous front-7.

2. The Chiefs are undervalued because of their fluky loss last weekend.

As most of you know, the Chiefs lost a heartbreaker last week in Oakland. I've discussed previously the role of recency bias in spread formulation, and there are those who have overreacted to he Chiefs' ugly failure to close out the Raiders last week. The line is this low in part because people will have a hard time overlooking the Chiefs' sloppy play last week. But I'm not all that worried about it.

The Chiefs lost for two basic reasons last week: penalties and poor special teams play. I think both are correctable, especially given that some of the calls were questionable and that special teams have been quite a strength for Kansas City this year. Moreover, the play of the game consisted of an long pass completion inexplicably going right through Brandon Flowers' hands.  I have faith in an outstanding Chiefs' coaching staff -- led by the fiery Todd Haley and perhaps the best pair of coordinators in football -- to use that game as a teaching moment and bounce back this week.

After all, the Chiefs' success has not been a statistical mirage this year; they are exhibiting few unsustainable statistical trends or runs of inexplicable luck to account for their victories. As such, I consider the Raiders' sloppiness last week more of an aberration than a burgeoning trend.

And even if the Chiefs were to play that sloppy again, I think they'll win anyway. The Raiders are displaying newfound swagger and poise in big moments, whereas the Broncos have consistently found ways to beat themselves. The Chiefs should be supremely motivated to bounce back from a bad game, particularly given their position in their division. In addition to their rushing attack analyzed above, I expect their young talented defense to be flying around the field. The way that the Raiders beat them -- exploiting their quarters coverages with deep straight-line speed -- is not something that plays well to Orton's weak arm and quick-throw offense.

In other words, I like the fact that the Chiefs lost a game they probably shouldn't have last week. That's a great time to pick a team.


Admittedly, the Chiefs have struggled on the road this year. Their inability to close teams out on the road have led some Chiefs' blogs to pick against the Chiefs this week. While I would be much more comfortable with this pick were it in Arrowhead, the fact it's in Denver is not enough to sway me off this pick. First, the Chiefs have not played anyone this bad on the road -- indeed, their 4 road games have been a win at Cleveland, and for the most part narrow losses to the Colts, Texans, and Raiders. All 4 teams are significantly better than the Broncos. Moreover, last year the road team won both games between these two teams, with the Chiefs dominating by 20 at Denver. And the Denver homefield advantage has significantly eroded; they are 5-15 ATS in their past 20 home games. And just to put their struggles in perspective, since their very surprising and chimerical 6-0 start last year, the Broncos have lost 14 out of their last 18 games. In part because of that fact, one statistical projection system (Advanced NFL Stats, about which I've written here), projects that the Chiefs have a 65% chance of winning this game. I think that this system, which factors in the home/road splits, underestimates the disarray of the Broncos' team and locker room. Thus, although the road factor worries me, I think the quality differential between the two teams is too much to overcome. Chiefs cover.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Upon Further Review: Packers Cover 45-7

Well that may be the most correct I've ever been about a prediction. The Packers utterly annihilated the Cowboys. Philips was clearly at a complete loss, and the players expended very little effort. The game wasn't close; the Packers dominated in every phase.

As everyone now knows, the game caused Jerry to finally put Wade out of his misery. There's not much else to say, other than the 2010 Cowboys are perhaps the most pathetic team in NFL history. This was the easiest cover I can remember.


1. Sometimes teams are so psychologically broken that they fail to rebound even from rock bottom. The big concern I had entering the game was the laughably pathetic showing the Cowboys had made against Jacksonville the week before. But I explained at length my reasons for thinking that the miserable Boys would fail to improve on that effort, and they incredibly turned in an even worse performance than I expected.

One of the real tricks to assessing football teams is deciphering the true meaning of an extraordinarily poor performance coupled with player discontent. We saw it last week with Dallas, and they followed up with yet more ineptitude. But we also had it weeks 2 and 3 with the Giants, who were first pummeled on national TV by Eli's big brother and then taken advantage of by the Titans the following week. The media had begun to call for Coughlin's head, and players were openly grousing -- the team looked on the brink of collapse. Yet the Giants rallied, won five straight, and are now perhaps the NFC favorite to make the Super Bowl.

The situations are difficult to distinguish. Obviously one could say simply that Coughlin is a better coach than Philips. But I wonder if it that's simple; after all, the Giants imploded last year after a 5-0 start, and there was credible talk that Coughlin's hard-charging style had irretrievably alienated his players.

Upon reflection, there were ample warning signs that portended the Cowboys absolute collapse against the spread. Most prominent was the catalytic event of Romo's injury. I wrote last year in the wake of the Eagles' inexplicable loss to the woeful Raiders of the importance of catalytic events re-orienting the makeup of a team. There, it was Antonio Pierce's harsh criticism of the Raiders, whom his Giants had just destroyed. Here, we had the opposite type of event -- a team that was teetering on the edge of the abyss, laboring under the daunting weight of inflated expectations and its owner/GM's despicable and preening incompetence. When Romo went down, the team deflated, and I witnessed a disturbing lack of effort for the next game and a half. That was what inspired me to pick against them this week, and I'm glad I did so.

On the other hand, the Giants had flown under the radar somewhat heading into the season, and they had a coach with credibility born of Super Bowl success. They were down, but they weren't dead. Hopefully the comparison between the early-season Giants, the Eagles-Raiders, and the 2010 Cowboys will help BadNFL Nation in future weeks sniff out the teams that we should leave for dead, and the ones that we should expect to bounce back.

2. The "Hilton 100" theory suffered two losses this week. While the Giants, who were the runaway leaders in both pick quantity and margin, beat the spread by 28+ points, the Chiefs and Jets both failed to cover, albeit by 1 point each. Thus, the theory is now 6-2 in the last 3 weeks, with a spread differential of about 13 in wins and a loss differential of 1. Still pretty impressive. And as Millman grouses, only fluke plays prevented both losers from covering.

3. Finally, I noted that I was going to monitor the "situation vs. scouting" clash on display in the Colts-Eagles game. Well, the post-bye week Eagles won but failed to cover by 1 point. The excessive citation of the bye-week stat caused me concern, and perhaps for good reason. We heard so much that week about Andy Reid's post-bye week success that I think there was little value in relying on that particular stat. Who knows -- but when I look for situations in the future, I'm much more inclined to seek out those that receive less media attention.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Update: Hilton Contestants Not In Tune with BadNFL This Week

Well, unlike last week, in which my prediction comported with the consensus of Hilton contestants, this week, not too many contestants are on my side. In fact, the Cowboys at +7.5 received the 5th most votes and the 4th biggest margin. Moreover, among the contestants that are leading the field right now, the Cowboys at +7.5 received the most votes. Yikes.

I have little doubt why that's the case -- simply see the counter-argument noted in my prediction post. Cowboys sunk to rock bottom last week and the line overreacted -- or so the theory goes. I explained why I don't think that's applicable this week, but I admit that it's a powerful argument, particularly when the dumb public is betting the Packers so heavily.

On the other hand, we have 3 more candidates for our "Hilton 100" club, being led by the Giants at -5.5 (received a whopping 151 picks). The Giants also crushed the field in margin, with an absurd +123. I agree that that line seemed pretty solid, although when I looked by the time it was ready to do my post, it had shifted from Giants -5.5 to Giants -7; a shift that certainly would have dissuaded some of the contestants who picked them. The other two picks reaching triple digits were Kansas City +2.5 and Jets -4. Both games were difficult to call for me; I do think that KC will run the ball on Oakland, but they've been bad on the road. And as readers of this blog know, all Detroit does is cover spreads. This will be a real test for the Hilton 100 theory this week.

And here's hoping that all those top contestants were wrong about the Boys. I think they are.

Update: An interesting clash of situation vs. scouting

The two primary types of analysis in which handicappers engage is technical team analysis and situational analysis. The first focuses on the way that the teams are playing that season -- their yards/attempt stats, advanced metrics like DVOA, the quality of their special teams play, etc. (some call this "technical analysis"). The latter focuses on the two teams' situations -- how they match-up against the opposing team historically, how they do when coming off of a brutal loss, heading for a back-to-back road game, traveling from east to west coast, etc. Most good handicappers seem to focus on a blend between the two. This blog also tries to take both types of analysis into account, although obviously time limitations preclude me from being too sophisticated in the mathematical underpinnings of my technical analysis.

I write about this topic now because one game this weekend starkly demonstrates the clash between these two theories of game prediction: Colts @ Eagles. Many of the key stats and match-ups favor the resurgent Colts, and the Peyton Manning-led Colts have traditionally dominated Andy Reid's Eagles. But then there's this shocking stat: Andy Reid has won all 12 of the post-bye week games that he's coached, many by significant margins. It's true that when you parse the numbers of the teams that he's played, their records don't overwhelm. But that stat is impressive nonetheless, impressive enough to singlehandedly convince some prognosticators, like Bill Simmons, to pick the Eagles this week.

Colts +3 looked good to me initially, but the Andy Reid bye week stat caused me to back off and focus instead on the Packers/Boys. BadNFL will be following the game closely to see how the teams play and how the general media covers the interaction between the X's and O's and the overwhelming history of bye week success that surround this game. Perhaps we can learn something.

Week 9 Pick: Packers -7.5 vs. Cowboys

As we head into Week 9, this just looks too easy. I knew this was going to be the pick last Sunday afternoon, because let's face it: the Cowboys are an absolute disaster. I was kind of hoping I'd be able to find this line at -6.5, out of some naive hope that the people still thought that the Cowboys would get things together, but I'll have to settle for 7.5 Here's why:

1. The Cowboys -- particularly on defense -- are just going through the motions.

The Cowboys were blown out by a mediocre Jacksonville team last week. It wasn't just the trouncing on the scoreboard that perturbed me; it was the way that the Cowboys totally sacrificed their dignity. Put simply, the Cowboys didn't look like they were trying, and they looked like they really didn't want to be on the field. The team that marched out there last Sunday had no chance, and it's one that was so deflated that the players didn't care about -- and were helpless to stop -- the drubbing that was taking place.

I don't see that mentality letting up soon. Wade Phillips, as much as I've occasionally defended him in the past, is the lamest of ducks. And given that, it's obvious that accountability throughout the organization has simply vanished into the abyss of this disgraceful season. Part of it is that Wade himself is way too lax, part of it is that the players exploit his soft reputation, but the real explanation is that because everyone knows he's gone after the season, he's lost any remaining modicum of credibility in the locker room.

You can see the symptoms everywhere -- players criticizing the coaches' gameplanning, the Cowboys' talented pass rushers failing to generate any pressure on the QB,  and the coaches sticking with the stupifying and putrid Alan Ball at free safety. But most of all, you can see it in the body language on the field. The Cowboys don't care anymore, and the score has started to reflect that. As such, I expect the same sorry attitude on the field to continue, and if the Cowboys play anything close to how they did last week, it will be another blowout. Ever since Romo broke his clavicle, that's the way it's been.

2. The Packers are well-suited to exploit the Cowboys' weaknesses.

First and foremost, the Cowboys never play well at Lambeau field. This year, that trend will likely continue, primarily because of the Packers' defensive scheme. Don Capers, even though being forced to adjust to significant defensive injuries, has schemed up one of the most creative defensive systems in football. They might not have as many big name players as we're used to, but the varied defensive fronts, zone blitzes, and pre-snap movement has proved quite confusing to opposing offenses. The film last week of the Packers' shutout of the Jets is impressive indeed, as the Packers totally confused and shut down a talented Jets squad.

This spells particular trouble for the Cowboys, because creative defensive alignments traditionally give Dallas fits. This exact same defense all but shutout the Cowboys last year in Green Bay, and that Cowboys team had its starting quarterback and a lot more pride. In short, the Cowboys have a stupid and poorly coached offensive line that struggles with pre-snap movement, and with the ultra-stationary Jon Kitna in the pocket, things won't likely get better for them this week. The problem will only be compounded by the match-up between the injured and crappy Marc Colombo at RT and the frenetic NFL sack leader Clay Matthews at strong side OLB.

You might say the Cowboys will be able to run the ball against Green Bay to take the pressure off Kitna? Not a chance; the Jaguars ranked in the bottom 3rd of the league stopping the run, and the Cowboys got nothing against them. And although the Packers' rush defense has mediocre overall numbers, they've actually been pretty effective in stopping opposing running backs; it's the mobile QBs like Michael Vick that have tormented them. Since Kitna is obviously anything but mobile, I expect the Packers to easily handle the Cowboys' pitiful running game.

It is true that the Packers' offense has been quite inconsistent this year. But they've averaged 27.5 points a game at home, and the underachieving Cowboys' defense should be just the tonic they need to get going. The Packers have probably weathered the worst of the storm this year, and at 5-3 they possess a nice mixture of confident and motivated. Their film exhibits the opposite mindset from the Cowboys, as they are fiery, intense, and motivated. They should be able to win handily.


I have to admit that everything just seems too easy with this game. The entire nation saw the Cowboys embarrassed last week, and there's a decent chance that I'm hopping on the anti-Cowboys' bandwagon a week too late. Particularly worrisome is the sizable amount of public money coming in on the Packers, which both confirms my fears about a letdown game and further worries the contrarian theorist in me.

The game that I worry this might be scarily similar to? Last year's Raiders-Eagles game, heading into which everyone had written off the Raiders because of a similar laughter-inducing "they've totally given up on the season" type performance the week before. And I did note before the season that Year 1 -- and that Raiders' game in particular -- had taught us the perils of betting against a team that had just reached rock bottom.

I nonetheless love the Packers this week, because I think a couple of factors distinguish this game from games like those I discussed in my preseason preview. Primarily, I see little incentive for the Cowboys to rebound from the rock bottom performance, because, unlike Tom Cable (who is now leading that same Oakland squad back to respectability), Wade Phillips is a lame duck who has totally lost the locker room. Second, Oakland had few expectations heading into last year, which made it less devastating when they played poorly. Conversely, the Cowboys were horrifically overhyped this year, causing Romo's injury and the pathetic play to inflict particularly severe psychological wounds. Unlike the perpetually bad Raiders, I think these Cowboys are mentally regrouping for next year. Finally, the Raiders were at home, while the Cowboys have to travel to Lambeau, a place they never play well. I said early on this year that I need to pay more attention to home/road splits, and this is one circumstance in which the Packers' home mojo makes me less worried about a letdown.

Ultimately, I think that I am, like many sharps, surprised that this line isn't higher. I think the Cowboys might keep it close for a while, but once they fall behind, I see no sign that this team is capable of climbing back into it. Accordingly, I think the Packers might turn it into a laugher in the 4th quarter. I was going to take this game at anything under 10. Packers cover.