Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Week 4 Pick: Steelers -1 vs. Ravens

I hope I'm not a week too late jumping on the bandwagon. I loved the Steelers heading into the season, and
I strongly considered picking the Steelers in week 2 (+6 @ Titans) and last week (-4 @ Bucs), but both times was dissuaded  by their crappy QB situation. I also pondered picking against the Ravens both the last two weeks when they failed to cover. Not again. Thus, while I strongly looked at Rams +1 and Miami +1 this week, I love the Steelers. Here's why:

1. The Ravens will struggle mightily to score points.

As loyal readers of this blog know, I am no Joe Flacco fan. As I pointed out here, he struggles to throw the ball vertically (despite great natural arm strength) and holds the ball way too long -- as typified by this horrible sack-fumble. The general public -- and the pundits -- seem to continue to be high on Flacco, despite his pitiful 66.3 QB rating. While it is true that he's coming off a good day, I can't emphasize enough that it was against the Browns, a team that decided it was smart to play Boldin in single coverage with a below-average corner for most of the game. On top of that,  Flacco's best throw of the day was on a horribly busted coverage.

He's not going to get those same opportunities this week. In 2 road games this year, Flacco has put up a total of 20 points. And while I admit that one of those games was against the Jets, their defense hasn't been all that great of late. Flacco has not performed well historically against the Steelers; he's 1-4 against them. That one win was last year, in which he did have a decent day on the way to 20 points, but of course the Steelers were missing Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith. Polamalu is, I think, the best defensive player in the NFL;  his versatility is the linchpin of Dick LeBeau's defense, and the Steelers are a totally different team without him. In addition, Aaron Smith is a very solid and underrated DE in that 3-4 scheme. Flacco is not going to have the same success this week that he had in that 1 home win last year.

And make no mistake, the Steelers' defense is playing at a dominant level right now. They have beaten three teams who are all 2-1 and who have lost only to the Steelers. They are executing LeBeau's game plan to perfection and generating pressure even when their superb pair of OLBs don't get to the QB. In short, I expect Flacco to have a fairly miserable day. And while Ray Rice has had success in the past against the Steelers, he's banged up, and his success in the past against the Steelers has stemmed from bouncing the ball outside, something significantly complicated by the return of Aaron Smith. While I think he'll give the Steelers' rush defense their stiffest test of late, that defense has been simply suffocating -- a trend I expect to continue.

2. The Steelers will generate plenty of yardage on the ground.

Here's something most people find surprising: the Ravens are yielding a healthy 4.7 yards per rush attempt this year. Peyton Hillis just ran right through them last week. And the Steelers are well-situated to exploit the Ravens' porous rush defense. The Steelers call the most rushes of any team in the league, and Mendenhall looks fantastic thus far. The return of Max Starks, coupled with steady improvement by the rest of the line, has given Mendenhall plenty of holes through which to run. I think the success on the ground enables the Steelers to score enough to win this week.

Of course, the Ravens will likely take their scouts' advice and deploy 8-man fronts to slow down the Pittsburgh ground game. After all, they're starting Charlie Batch! The thing is, Batch was actually decent last week. I especially liked Batch's ability to make adjustments after getting picked off early (by the solid Aqib Talib). No, I don't necessarily expect him to throw for 3 TD's again, since he's not playing the Bucs again. \But I also think prognosticators err when they equate this Ravens' secondary with those of the past. Look at the QB's they've played against: the inconsistent Mark Sanchez on a day when he never even attempted to throw the ball downfield, Carson Palmer -- who is having an abysmal year, and Seneca Wallace. And Wallace played pretty decently against the Ravens' secondary. Don't forget, the Ravens were losing 14-17 in the 4th quarter against a bad Browns team. While Batch is obviously nothing to write home about, I think he could have some success against the Ravens if they load up against the run. At bottom, the Ravens' pass defense was bad heading into the year, and I think the poor quality of QB's they've faced thus far have masked their deficiencies. In other words, it's a perfect time to bet against them.


I'm  a little worried that the Steelers will rest on their laurels now that they've secured a winning sans-Ben record. And the media coverage of Roethlisberger's return is already heating up. But I think that this team has been playing with a chip on its shoulder, and I suspect that continues this week. They seem inspired by Batch, and there's certainly no love lost between these heated AFC North rivals.

I certainly don't anticipate another Steelers' blowout. But this line is so small that it's too hard to pass up. The Steelers have been the best team in the NFL thus far, while the Ravens are overrated. In fact, I think that after the Steelers expose the Ravens this week, there will be plenty of stories about how "the Ravens aren't who we thought they were" or about waiting for Ed Reed to get back. So picking against them now comes at the right time, because they're coming off a win, but one in which they really weren't that impressive. There are enough people out there saying that "a win is a win" that I think this line is kept artificially low. In fact, I employed virtually the same logic last year, successfully picking against the Ravens coming off a unimpressive win over the Browns.

Ultimately, using FO's DVOA metrics -- something I vowed to do more of this year -- the Steelers are ranked 3rd and the Ravens 18th. Plus, the Steelers are at home, a place where they've already knocked off a very good Atlanta team and where Flacco typically struggles. While I wouldn't be at all shocked if this game was decided by a field goal, I think that as long as the line is under 3, I'm taking the Steelers and feeling good about it. Pittsburgh covers.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Upon Further Review: Lions Lose 10-24

I'm one loss away from changing this site's name to AtrociousNFL. I simply couldn't pick my way out of a paper bag right now. What's weird is that, like I pointed out last week, I'm actually feeling pretty in tune with the NFL right now, given that of the 5 lines I circled to potentially pick (Titans +3, Cowboys +3, Falcons +3.5, Colts -5.5, and Lions +11.5), only 1 failed to cover. Of course, that one pick was the one I wrote up, and now I have to figure out what happened. Again.

As you know, the Vikings got their first win of the season at the Lions' expense, and the 14-point margin of victory was enough to cover the 11.5 spread. The game was frustrating because, in large part, the premise of the prediction looked accurate. Brett Favre again looked terrible -- he threw 2 more INTs, and almost as importantly had 2 more negated by stupid Lions' penalties. The Lions' defensive line played well, and they beat up on Favre. But the story of the game was simply Lions' mistakes. They botched a punt, blew a coverage (even Favre and the dysfunctional Vikings' offense can hit this), and threw some backbreaking interceptions. In other words, they played like the Lions' usually do on the road.


Not much. I knew that the Lions' were a risk, and were likely to implode and lose the game. But they should have covered this spread. They missed an easily makeable low-pressure FG that would have caused them to cover, and even more brutally, Shawn Hill threw not one, but two backbreaking goalline interceptions in the final 4 minutes -- either of which would have easily been enough to cover. Their phenom running back, Jahvid Best, was injured midway through the 2nd quarter. Adrian Peterson, whom Brad Childress usually has trouble sticking with, broke off an 80 yard run and singlehandedly willed the Vikings' offense to respectability.

In other words, this game really should have been closer. I guess the lesson is to beware betting on teams that are really bad. But that's obvious. It looked for most of this game like the Lions were going to cover, and they didn't, because of a combination of bad luck and idiotic mistakes. While I'm kicking myself for not picking the Colts -5.5 instead -- Peyton Manning is just so much less risky than the Lions -- I still like this bet and am rueful at my bad luck that it didn't cover. But there's no huge lesson learned here, I don't think: the Vikings still look bad and Detroit should have kept it close enough to cover.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Week 3 Pick: Lions +11.5 @ Vikings

Well it's hard to feel confident after starting off the season in such disappointing fashion. In any event, I'm taking the Lions. Here's why:

1. The Vikings are discombobulated on offense.
If you've watched the Vikings' first two games, you know what I mean. In week 1, Favre missed tons of open receivers against a mediocre Saints' defense. Then last week, he was simply awful, displaying legendarily poor decisionmaking and turning the ball over repeatedly.

Favre's public statements give me little confidence they'll get things turned around. He's old, he's not on the same page as his receivers, and their offensive line is a mess. I think Simmons was right on in his NFL preview this year; the Vikings had a magical season last  year but are primed for a major regression, and are in fact showing such a regression.

The team they most remind me of? The 2009 Tennessee Titans. Those Titans were coming off a magical and unexpected season, had an elite running back, but also had an older QB who had enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance the year before. And they also started 0-2, yet everyone (including me) kept insisting they would turn it around. They didn't, at least not until Vince Young provided them a spark.

In my notes after the game in which Tennessee was annihilated week 3 by a bad Jacksonville team, I laid out some principles to look for in the future. In particular, focus on the veteran QB primed for a return to reality (Kerry Collins and Favre), the offseason loss of a key player (Haynesworth and Sidney Rice/Chester Taylor), and a prior fantastic regular season but brutal playoff loss (obviously true of both). In short, I think Minnesota is in real trouble, and won't get it together for quite some time.

2. The Lions are an improving club.

I love the Lions' defensive line. The arrival of Vanden Bosch and Suh have transformed this unit. It's true that Stafford is out again, but the Lions -- and particularly Jahvid Best -- have demonstrated an improving ability to put up points. They certainly did struggle to contain Vick last week, but I think they'll have a better chance against what is a pretty bad Vikings' offense. I think a good defensive line is the backbone for a good team, and I think the Lions' front-4 have a chance to be the story of this game.

But the real key is that this line is huge. I initially saw it and expected it to be around 6, and thought I might like the Lions even then. But +11.5 is a ton of points, especially with a bad 0-2 team who is probably taking this game for granted. Favre looks like he wants no part of playing, and I think the Vikings will act like it, which won't be good against a solid Lions squad that has suffered two narrow losses -- one of which inaugurated the "Calvin Johnson rule" -- in which they deserved better.


It's true, the Vikings have suffered close losses to the Saints and the Dolphins, both of whom certainly look better than the Lions. But they've also scored only 19 points in that time, and after looking at the film of both losses, I think they demonstrated more about the Vikings' shortcomings than the strengths of the other team.

It's entirely possible that the Vikings get things turned around this week. If they do, I will likely be writing next week about the bounceback game for Favre (and mournfully analogizing it to that Sanchez game this week) and about how the Lions never ever win in the Metrodome.

But I just hate everything I've seen from the Vikings this year, and while it's possible -- even probable -- that the Lions will blow it against them, 11.5 is just too many points to be giving for what has looked like an old, slow, injured, out-of-sync and poorly coached team. Lions cover.

Upon Further Review: Pats Lose 14-28

Yuck, what a terrible week 2. Cowboys played terribly and BadNFL moved to 0-2. Definitely did not see that coming. It was made even more disappointing because I wrote out a list of 5 games to pick, and I hit 4 out of 5, yet decided to write up the Pats for the blog, and it backfired. I now proceed to the unpleasant task of explaining why.

In short, Mark Sanchez outplayed Tom Brady. In fact, the Sanchize without a doubt played the best game of his career.  In contrast, Brady summed it up best when he said "we sucked." The Pats' offensive ineptitude was even more disappointing given that Revis was out with a pulled hamstring. But in spite of that, Moss had a limited impact and started dropping passes at an alarming rate. And Darius Butler was absolutely torched by a thus-far unimpressive Jets offense.

All in all, the Pats started off strong, but the Jets dominated the 2nd half. It was frustrating, because many of the basic tenets of the prediction were borne out: Joe Flacco struggled against the Bengals' defense (supporting the conclusion that the Jets' defensive performance wasn't that impressive week 1), and the Jets' off-the-field distractions continued to escalate. Nonetheless, the Patriots weren't able to capitalize on what I continue to think is an overrated Jets' defense, and it was in large part because Brady had a really bad day. Which I did not expect.


1. Pay more attention to home/road splits. I normally do not factor in homefield advantage that much, and because of the 3-point swing Vegas awards, I find myself taking road favorites quite a bit. In fact, I've done that 12 times out of the 18 picks I've made overall on this blog thus far. My picks have gone 5-7 in those games. Last week, I noted that Qwest Field was undoubtedly one of the factors that contributed to Seattle's surprising win over the 49ers week 1. I probably should have factored that in more here; after all, the Pats last year went 8-0 at home and 2-6 on the road. Maybe this Patriots team is one that really does disappoint away from Foxboro.

2. Is the Belichick defensive reputation no longer deserved? Maybe so; his defense certainly looked terrible last week, in both execution and scheme. I never thought they had a great defense, but to get carved up by Sanchez is just unforgivable.

3. Beware picking against a player coming off rock bottom. My arguments against the Jets were heavily premised on how historically atrocious Sanchez looked week 1. Maybe he was just due for the bounceback game. Indeed, this game reminded me of the shocking Oakland upset of Philly last year, when Oakland was rebounding from what was a laughably low point of their season. While I'm still surprised Sanchez rebounded, in the future those "rock bottom" moments will make me more wary.

Stay tuned to see if I can stave off falling to an embarrassing 0-3.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Week 2 Pick: Pats -2.5 @ Jets

After a rough week 1, BadNFL returns to the match-up where it all started: Patriots @ Jets. Except this time, I'm taking the Patriots. Although I feel quite strongly about this pick, it does potentially pit two of my early season maxims against each other: the need not to overreact to week 1 (which I may be doing), and the need to pick against excessively hyped teams (which I hope I am doing). Regardless, I expect the Pats to win handily. Here's why:

1. The Pats' passing offense will have substantial success against the Jets' secondary.

The Patriots may have the best offense in the league this year. Their offense was nearly unstoppable week 1, as they returned to their high flying ways that remind of their famous 2007 season. Brady appears rejuvenated and much more confident in his knee -- two factors that have him returning to his MVP form. They simply overwhelmed the Bengals early in week 1, leading to a game that was never in doubt.

Of course, prognosticators should tread carefully when drawing grand lessons from week 1. But I'm convinced that the Patriots' week 1 success reflected structural improvements. Adding the two exciting young TEs into the system has given their offense a new look, and Brady has more weapons than ever. Remember, the Bengals were thought to be a stout defensive club; after all, they return virtually the same secondary that totally shut down the Ravens last year (the team that the Jets just "held" to 10 points). The ease with which the Pats' generated 38 points is thus quite impressive. But most importantly, Brady is now in year 2 of his recovery from knee surgery. I think the Pats' offense is back in a major way.

Readers are no doubt thinking to themselves "but you're picking against the best defense in the league." I admit that I've been a huge fan of the Jets' defense. But I think that the Pats will have some serious success through the air. It's true that the remarkable Darrelle Revis will likely lock up Randy Moss again. But Brady just has too many other weapons, most notably Wes Welker -- who was targeted 11 times (more than Moss) in week 1 and dominated the game. He, and the rest of the Patriots' weapons, are undoubtedly salivating at the prospect of exploiting the remainder of the Jets' secondary. Anquan Boldin absolutely abused Kyle Wilson in week 1, leading to an absurd 13.1 YPA allowed by the overmatched rookie. Antonio Cromartie, on the other hand, is a high risk high reward player -- who made a spectacular interception in week 1 but also gambled and lost several times. Put simply, he's the type of player that a smart veteran QB like Brady can exploit. And the Pats look as though they're gameplanning to do just that.

None of that will matter if the Jets are able to subject Brady to unrelenting pressure. But the Jets' blitz packages may be less effective this year. FO before the year noted that teams were likely to adjust to Rex Ryan's schemes more effectively this year, and week 1 bore that out: the Jets blitzes on key third downs were totally ineffective. Moreover, they've lost Kris Jenkins again, who is one of the top nose tackles in the league and the Jets' most important defensive player not named Revis. That will undoubtedly undermine their run defense, making it harder to gear up their famous zero-coverage blitzes.

The Jets' performance against Baltimore week 1 does nothing to reassure me. Critics might point out that they forced 3 turnovers and caused 2 Flacco fumbles. But the Jets' pressure largely derived from Flacco's incompetence, not defensive brilliance. Watch this first fumble: the Ravens' line executes a quick cut-block protection, clearly anticipating a 3-step drop. Yet Flacco stands like a statue in the pocket for a full 4 seconds, his eyes never straying from a singular target down the left side of the field. Yes, the Jets get to him and knock the ball loose. As any competent defense should.

This interception to Antonio Cromartie was similarly terrible. Maybe it was a route mix-up, or maybe it was simply atrocious decisionmaking by Flacco, but he flings the ball up for grabs, off his back foot, into triple coverage. There was nothing particularly special by the Jets' defense that sparked the miscue. 

Put simply, Flacco is the type of QB who will look bad against the Jets. He typically puts up bad vertical numbers, and he holds the ball too long. Tom Brady is the opposite of those two things. When he's healthy, as he seems now to be, he is adept at feeling the rush and adapting to blitzes. That spells trouble for the Jets' defense.

2. The Jets are poorly situated to exploit New England's primary vulnerability.

The concern about the Patriots heading into the season was their pass defense. Scouts, Inc. this week predicts a close Pats victory but points out that the Jets will attempt to exploit New England's somewhat soft secondary. Of course, Rex Ryan is already proclaiming the Jets' intention to throw more downfield in week 2.

There's only one problem: the Jets boast a pathetically inept passing attack. In week 1, the Jets put on their worst offensive performance in 30 years. The numbers are staggering: Sanchez was 10/21 for 74 yards, fewer than 4 yards/attempt. I absolutely abhor that I'm linking to anything that mentions Skip Bayless, but as this post points out, Sanchez only threw beyond 10 yards down the field 4 times all night! The Sanchize and the offense were so atrocious that, although the scoreboard rent 10-9, the game really never felt that close.

Some pundits have chalked up the Jets' struggles to the Ravens' superior defense. Admittedly, the Ravens have a good defense. But let's not go overboard: the Ravens' pass defense is nothing to write home about. Last year, the secondary actually performed quite poorly in most advanced metrics. The pass rush was also surprisingly anemic. Moreover, they were missing 2 of their 4 starters in the secondary last week, including their best player in Ed Reed. Despite this apparent weakness, the Jets were totally unable to exploit the Ravens' flaws.

I have little faith that they'll improve dramatically in week 2. Sanchez is not a veteran quarterback who knows how to bounce back from a bad loss; to the contrary, his confidence has to be shaken, and he's now preparing for a Bill Belichick defense on a short week. In addition, the young players in the NE secondary look much improved, and I think the Pats' pass defense, while not great, will be adequate. Certainly more than enough to stifle the uninspiring Sanchize.


As stated above, the Jets, as a putative super bowl contender, will no doubt be motivated to avoid going 0-2. But I wrote before the season that I thought the Jets overrated, and week 1 did nothing to shake my belief. Remember, the Jets barely snuck into the playoffs last year; they were 7-7 entering week 16, and needed a win over the Colts' second-stringers in week 17 even to make the postseason. And the main thing they did in the offseason was downgrade their offensive line and lose backfield depth.

But a more fundamental point is that the Jets are an overhyped and distraction-infested mess right now. Rex Ryan cultivated a Hard Knocks-enabled party atmosphere in the preseason (Cowboys' fans having painful 2008 flashbacks),  and they acted all offseason like they believed their own hype. They then proceeded to play like a distracted and sloppy team in week 1, a week that witnessed 125 yards of penalties and an overall lack of discipline. Maybe they'll spend this week getting focused? Nah, instead they appear to be focusing on some fiasco with a female TV reporter.

At the end of the day, one of my preseason convictions was that this is a passing league and that a big disparity in the quality of two passing offenses is a recipe for covering a big spread. This spread isn't even big, and it shouldn't be under a field goal. The last time the Pats played these Jets, they beat them by 17. Pats cover.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Upon Further Review: 49ers Spanked 6-31

Ouch. What a disappointing opening to the 2010 season for BadNFL. As some commenters have noted, this week 1 performance hearkened back to some of my worst weeks. After all, when BadNFL misses, it usually misses huge. And there's much left to be desired by my preseason analysis, as my instinct that the Raiders would start strong looked ridiculous after their atrocious and unexpected lack of improvement.

But that's not why we're here. We're here to discuss the Week 1 debacle that was the San Francisco 49ers. Alex Smith was the MVP of the game -- for the Seahawks. What people who simply look at the box score might not realize is that San Francisco started out quite strong. Hasselbeck threw an interception on the first play of the game, and the 49ers proceeded to march down the field with impressive efficiency. But then they (mainly Smith) proceeded to make the first of a slew of dumb errors. A touchdown overruled because the WR couldn't get his feet down, a series of blown 4th down opportunities, and some really terrible throws by Smith eviscerated the momentum that they came in with.

And despite the Niners' defensive dominance of the Seahawks in the first half, they entered halftime down, thanks to two absolutely brutal interceptions that led immediately to Seattle TD's (watch this pick 6 in which Smith overthrows his receiver by about 10 yards!). All in all, Smith's performance was at the bottom of the league in week 1, as his 1/12 performance on 3rd down was the cherry on top of his crap sundae. But it was his backbreakingly bad play over a crucial first half span that lost the game; his incompetence enabled Seattle to score 4 TDs in the span of 7 minutes, and just like that, the game was over.

By the second half, it was evident that the Niners had essentially given up. As a result, Hasselbeck actually looked pretty good, and their very shaky offensive line held up OK (the Niners only registered 1 sack). In other words, the prediction looks really stupid in retrospect.


1. The danger of an unproven QB and rookie offensive lines opening the season in a loud arena.

I know I previously acknowledged and then dismissed the "Qwest Field" argument. That appears to have been misguided. For those of you who missed the game, it's difficult to overestimate how out-of-sync the Niners were early in the game; they burned all 3 of their timeouts with 9 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, they didn't seem to have the right plays called, and in general nobody was on the same page. Early in the season, before teams are used to playing in real game environments, perhaps the loud environment was particularly impactful. Arrowhead seemed to have a similar effect on the Chargers last night.

But ultimately, as FO put it, "every San Francisco projection in the world ends with, '...if Alex Smith can prove that he's at least a replacement-level NFL quarterback.' So far, no good." There's not much else to be said about that. I blew off discussing Alex Smith in my analysis of this game, and I'm paying for it.

2. Beware the hype.

This game almost seemed too easy. The sharps were all over the Niners in this game, and several pundits have labeled Seattle's upset week 1's "biggest surprise." In addition, as I observed earlier, the line had been moving in San Francisco's direction. But as a commenter pointed out, this maybe should have served as a warning sign. The Niners were a chic pick to win the division, they were a young confident team that finished well last year, and they had dominated the preseason. Yet they appeared overconfident and underprepared. Week 1 is about finding undervalued teams, and the Niners clearly were not that.

3. Where do we go from here? Don't freak out.

Week 1 results are notoriously difficult to gauge, if merely because our sample size is so small. The Niners were clearly unprepared, but it's important not to overreact to one week's results. I still think that the Seahawks are a bad team, and if they weren't playing the pathetic Broncos this week, I might pick against them again. After all, remember that they dominated week 1 last year before proceeding to have a miserable season. At BadNFL, we plan on sticking to our instincts and trying to bounce back next week, perhaps exploiting some typical week 2 overreaction along the way.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Update: Remember the Preseason

This long-awaited day -- my favorite day of the year -- is finally upon us. Let's remember articles like this one, from Yahoo Sports, arguing that the Jets and Cowboys aren't real contenders because the "preseason has revealed" their weaknesses. After the season, when I do my Year 2 Review, I'll be returning to this post as part of my project to assess whether or not the preseason really matters. Simmons argues that weeks 1 and 2 are the easiest to bet because you know as much as Vegas does. That may be true, although the linemakers have certainly broken down the preseason much more extensively than people like I have. We'll see if it ends up mattering.

In the meantime, real football is here, and there appear to be no significant new injury developments in the 49ers/Seahawks game. I can't wait!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Update: The Line is Really Moving

I didn't realize this until listening to this Simmons-Millman podcast after I already posted my prediction, but apparently the line in this Seattle and 49ers game has shifted dramatically, going from an opening of Seattle -1 to now 49ers -3. That obviously means that the action has been coming in heavy on the 49ers. While obviously I wish that the prediction could have been made when the line was at 49ers +1, this rapid movement suggests that I'm not alone in thinking that the Seahawks have been significantly overvalued to start the season. Time will tell, but I wouldn't be shocked if the line moves even further to -3.5 by Sunday.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Week One Pick: 49ers -3 @ Seahawks

And just like that, BadNFL's weekly predictions are back! The week one pick: San Francisco wins handily @ Seattle. Here's why:

1. San Francisco's swarming front 7 will decimate Seattle's depleted offensive line.

Seattle's offensive line is atrocious -- so bad, in fact, that it's approaching Bills territory. The line was already a question mark heading into the season, as their sheer lack of talent made the situation precarious to begin with. Indeed, the offensive line was undoubtedly one of the reasons why the Seahawks struggled so mightily on offense last year (their offensive DVOA was near the bottom of the league). And it has undoubtedly worsened over the past week or so. First, the Seahawks have ruled out Russell Okung, their high 1st round draft choice and presumptive starting LT, for the game. The loss of their left tackle, which as I've pointed out before is arguably the game's 2nd most important position, makes a bad situation even worse, particularly given the very shaky depth behind Okung.

Second, Alex Gibbs, the legendary godfather of the fabled Denver zone blocking scheme, abruptly resigned as offensive line coach last week. While Gibbs is not well known among the general public, his loss is potentially devastating, particularly coming so close to the start of the season. Besides robbing the Seahawks of his expertise, Gibbs' resignation further adds to the general chaos and instability of the situation -- two characteristics that contributed significantly to the lackluster line play last year.

Put simply, I don't expect the Seahawks to keep Matt Hasselbeck upright in the game, and because of that, I expect the Seahawks' offensive futility of the past few years to continue. The 49ers certainly have the athletic, young, and aggressive front-7 that should be able to exploit Seattle's ineptitude. Everyone knows that the 49ers defense began to break out last year under Mike Singletary, and I expect it to continue to improve this year. I think that the superb Patrick Willis will emerge as not only a shutdown MLB but also the stalwart leader that Singletary once was to the Bears; he looks to spearhead an emerging and potentially dominant defense. And particularly because Seattle is starting Justin Forsett in the backfield -- who qualifies as "quality depth" at best -- Seattle should become relatively one-dimensional and easy for the 49ers defense to tee off on.

Last year, when the 49ers defense roared out of the gate and surprised some people, they were able to easily blow out 2 bad divisional opponents early in the year (beating the Seahawks by 13 and the Rams by 35). I expect their defense to carve up Seattle's offensive line and generate a sizeable lead against another terrible NFC West opponent this week.

2. Seattle is a team in transition.

To be frank, I'm not a huge Pete Carroll fan. He obviously was not successful his last time around in the NFL, and I think the hoopla surrounding his move to Seattle will become a distracting headache. But more importantly, I'm not impressed with his approach to the season thus far. The front office has basically admitted -- amid squabbles with Carroll over personnel authority -- that this season is essentially an elongated audition for young players for the future. Because of all the offseason change and recent upheaval, Seattle's gameplan will likely be unusually simple, since the staff hasn't had time to install sophisticated packages or acclimate the players to the playbook. Even the quotes coming from Carroll seem to suggest bad mojo and a team that's already rebuilding -- something that will be particularly evident with their very young and very bad defense.

But here's the thing: they're rebuilding with a washed up and oft-injured QB. Most analysts agree that the Seahawks will be terrible this year, but that they're counting on Hasselbeck to try and get them close to .500. Of course, Hasselbeck has been atrocious in recent years, and at his age, he's unlikely to go anywhere but further down.

In short, the 9ers should win this division, and the Seahawks should finish near the bottom. If that's the case, I just don't see how this game will be as close as this line suggests.


Qwest Field is generally thought to generate a significant home field advantage. It certainly is very loud, and it might rattle some of the 49ers' younger players on offense. And admittedly, they beat the 49ers there last season. But that game was somewhat fluky -- Seattle won on a last second field goal, and the game was plagued by a lot of weird 49ers mistakes, epitomized by a botched reverse attempt on a punt return.

That said, the 49ers are a young team that has likely improved and learned from that game. Their young talent is really emerging, and they've upgraded their offensive line in the offseason. In general, the 49ers took care of business against their division last year, and I expect that general trend to continue -- while Alex Smith continues to improve -- against a bad Seattle team. Thus, Scouts' Inc.'s 24-17 prediction sounds more accurate (although I might have gone with a higher win differential) than the 3 point line. Seattle makes clear this week that they are a bottom feeder, and the Niners cover.

Looking Ahead

I unfortunately don't have time to write up a formal pick for the game tonight, but I fully expect the Saints to steamroll the Vikings tonight, easily covering the -5 line. I am professedly down on the Saints as a team this year, but I like them to win handily nonetheless. Primarily, I think the Saints will receive yet another Katrina-related emotional boost tonight; on the NFL Network right now, I'm watching them celebrate the city's championship, triggering memories of the Superdome's tragic role in Katrina, and the Saints are summoning that Who Dat mojo once more. I think that the emotional lift will propel them tonight.

I know, I know, BadNFL promised to limit its reliance on psychology this year. But this is one of the few circumstances where I feel that it's valid; the Saints have shown that they're one of those teams who can summon a special emotional edge in important Superdome moments (remember the first post-Katrina game? Still sends shivers through my spines, as did the Saints' dominance). Moreover, in the past 10 years, the Super Bowl champs are 10-0 in their opening games, and they perform especially well in Thursday night games like this one.

I also agree with Bill Simmons that the Vikings are primed for a regression this year. Too many injuries, Favre won't repeat his best season at age 40, and I think the loss of Chester Taylor is bigger than people think. The Saints, for all their flaws, were a team that really showed the ability to blow teams out, particularly early last year. I think they're going to cover this spread tonight.

I'm also betting that people will overvalue what I expect to be a good Saints' performance tonight; ignoring the temporary spike of the opening Superdome magic and the somewhat down nature of the Vikings, people will flock to the Saints' bandwagon. And then we'll see if BadNFL's preseason logic holds.

Regardless, I'm working on my actual pick for this week, and faithful readers can expect that sometime tomorrow!