Coinage!

The race for the "Big Apple" should yield plenty of twists and turns. Buckle in!

The race for the “Big Apple” should yield plenty of twists and turns. Buckle in!

ARIZONA CARDINALS: (5-11) 2013 O/U: 5.5 Will a brutal division offset a new head coach, new philosophy and new QB? Close call. I watched Carson Palmer up close with the Raiders, and the former #1 pick can still spin it. Larry Fitzgerald, enjoy your respite from your recent tortured past. Good enough to win more than 5.5 games? Yes. Good enough to matter from late November on? No. Verdict: OVER.

ATLANTA FALCONS: (13-3) 2013 O/U: 10 Previous playoff failures aside, Matt Ryan is entering a stretch in his career that will produce gaudy stats and plenty of wins. Enjoy the ride, Atlanta. This team is loaded, and SHOULD have been in New Orleans playing Baltimore last February for the Lombardi Trophy. Verdict: OVER.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: (10-6) 2013 O/U: 8.5 Speaking of Baltimore, congrats to a great organization and terrific fan base on an amazing run towards glory. Now, hold on to that feeling when things go awry this season, because they will. Too many injuries and other defections to overcome. Verdict: UNDER

BUFFALO BILLS: (6-10) 2013 O/U: 6.5 The Bills last winning season came in 2004. The perpetual rebuild continues: new HC, new QB’s, etc. I’m rolling Missouri-style when it comes to this team: SHOW ME. They’re intriguing, but until they actually crack thru, I’m not buying anything Bills related. Verdict: UNDER, but close and by all accounts, they’re slowly emerging from the abyss. SHOW ME. 

CAROLINA PANTHERS: (7-9) 2013 O/U: 7 I’m a Cam Newton fan, period. Verdict: Over, 8-8.

CHICAGO BEARS: (10-6) 2013 O/U 8.5 Jay Cutler, meet Marc Trestman. You’re going to like this guy, trust me. Verdict: OVER

CINCINNATI BENGALS: (10-6) 2013 O/U 8.5 On paper, Cincy has as much balance as anyone in the league. Vertical weapons at TE should make life easier for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to connect on some quick strikes. Tough early schedule gives me pause, but this team is still ascending, and they were pretty good last season. Verdict: OVER.

CLEVELAND BROWNS:  (5-11) 2013 O/U 6 See, Buffalo Bills. Verdict: UNDER, but improving.

DALLAS COWBOYS:  (8-8) 2013 O/U: 8.5 New contract, new play-caller…same old Tony Romo? Tough division, and given RG III’s injury and questions for Big Blue on defense, I’m expecting a revival in Big D. Verdict: OVER, but tread lightly.

DENVER BRONCOS: (13-3) 2013 O/U: 11.5 Peyton Manning + Wes Welker + Oakland + San Diego = wins. Verdict: OVER.

DETROIT LIONS: (4-12) 2013 O/U 8 Better balance for Matthew Stafford with Reggie Bush on the scene, allowing more methodical drives, which in theory, should keep the defense off the field more than last season. Last year was a disaster, but clearly, this team has the talent to win double figures. Verdict: OVER, barely. 9-7, 10-6 feels right for this squad. 

Leader of the Pack.

Leader of the Pack.

GREEN BAY PACKERS: (11-5) 2013 O/U: 10.5 Are they getting better or are they beginning to level out? Tough call. This is one I’d probably stay away from given the conflict between my brain and my eyes. The last time I watched this team play, they couldn’t tackle a QB. Granted a very, very fast QB, but a QB nonetheless. They were shredded at the ‘Stick, yet my brain says Aaron Rodgers will once again dominate the regular season. Verdict: Over, with sincere hesitation. Translation: stay away.

HOUSTON TEXANS: (12-4) 2013 O/U: 10.5 Plenty of horses, but last season’s swoon should be reason for slight concern as the Texans dropped 3/4 to close out the regular season. Are you truly a Matt Schaub believer? I’m not. Verdict: UNDER, but close. 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: (11-5) 2013 O/U: 8.5 Seamless transition for Andrew Luck, who never stopped winning after leaving beautiful Palo Alto. However, there were more than a few charitable bounces that Indy cashed in. What happens if they bounce the other way this season? Are they good enough to close the gap. If it’s my money, I’m leaning towards no. Verdict: UNDER.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: (2-14) 2013 O/U: 5 Would you risk a penny on any team with real, legitimate QB concerns? Of course not. Verdict: UNDER, as the Blaine Gabbert “era” officially ends.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: (2-14) 2013 O/U: 7.5 Plenty of talent for Andy Reid, and Alex Smith should stabilize the circus that emerged under center last season. How bad was Matt Cassel? Wow. As long as they don’t ask Smith to shoulder too much, the Chiefs should be much improved. I watched Smith mature with my own eyes in the Bay Area, and while I recognize some obvious physical limitations, he’s smart and tough. Exactly what this franchise needs right now. Verdict: OVER, Wild-Card threat in AFC.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: (7-9) 2013 O/U 8 Very, very tough call. All summer I’ve positioned Miami as a Wild-Card threat in the AFC, but O-line issues might be too big to overcome. One thing working for Miami (aside from a fair amount of talent) is the dearth of talent in their own division. They should bag enough wins to push the number past 8. I’m sticking with my instincts here. Verdict: OVER

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: (10-6) 2013 O/U: 7.5 I could be wrong, but the 2012 Vikes felt and looked like a team that somehow stumbled upon 10 wins. While that might be unfair and a 2.5 drop in wins represents a radical twist, I think they are “capable” enough to do just that. Verdict: UNDER, not sold at all. 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: (12-4) 2013 O/U: 11 I’ll just save everyone the trouble: it’s over. The league has changed quite a bit since ’05, the last time the Pats hoisted the big one. Respect Brady immensely, and they should once again win the division, but the erosion is obvious. Why is everyone so afraid to say it? Prediction: UNDER, 10-6.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: (7-9) 2013 O/U: 9 They won 7 games without Sean Payton, which means they’ll win at least 2 more with Sean Payton. Love the fact that it’s an even 9. I like this play quite a bit. Prediction: OVER.

NEW YORK GIANTS: (9-7) 2013 O/U: 9 I like the fact that the 9 stands alone here as .5 would probably force me to go the other way. Terrific coaching, team pride and QB play should push the number north of 9. If not, a push looks more likely than a loss here. This team always bounces back under Coughlin. Right? Verdict: OVER. I think.

NEW YORK JETS: (6-10) 2013 O/U: 6.5 I like the Jets defense quite a bit and if Chris Ivory stays healthy, along with Bilal Powell they should be able to run the ball with enough efficiency to surprise a few teams. The sooner Mark Sanchez disappears, the better. Is Geno Smith the real deal? Regardless, an overall dearth of talent at the skill positions makes this offense pedestrian, at best. Verdict: OVER, BARELY (or complete implosion)

OAKLAND RAIDERS: (4-12) 2013 O/U: 5.5 GM Reggie McKenzie is gutting the roster, and understandably so. Things are real bad in Oakland. By deleting bloated contracts and underachieving, lazy veterans the cupboards will slowly fill with hungry, viable NFL talent. The question is, will Dennis Allen be around to enjoy the fruits of his GM’s purge? My gut says no. This team is terrible.  Al Davis was lost for a decade, and it shows. Verdict: UNDER

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: (4-12) 2013 O/U: 7.5 By early October, Chip Kelly will be reaching into his own pocket, hoping to book Bowling Green for a layup win. Tough camp for Philly as injuries and Riley Cooper’s stupidity have dominated the NovaCare Complex. Who’s playing QB, by the way? Verdict: UNDER

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: (8-8) 2013 O/U: 9 I want to respect the logo, they’ve earned it. The Raven’s stumble could open the door for a revival in Pittsburgh, and at the very least, inspires enough to lay a little wood on the Steel Dawgs. Verdict: OVER, barely.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: (7-9) 2013 O/U: 7.5 What the heck happened to Phillip Rivers’ career? He should rebound, but not enough to invest any real coin in the Bolts. Tough call. Verdict: UNDER

Less posing minus Crabtree?

Less posing minus Crabtree?

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: (11-4-1) 2013 O/U: 11 They’ll miss Crabtree and Dashon Goldson, but Jim Harbaugh is a brilliant head coach, and he has a great locker room. This team loves football, and has strong interior play on both sides of the ball. Love Kaepernick, but Boldin’s odometer is running high and the division is getting better. They desperately need a young WR to emerge. Verdict: UNDER, but a playoff lock and viable threat for the title. 10-6 sounds right.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: (11-5) 2013 O/U: 10.5 Last time Seattle played the 49ers, they beat them to a bloody pulp. It’s the kind of loss that empowers one franchise and possibly raises question for another. Another playoff lock, I think they edge out SF for the division by a game. Verdict: OVER, legit.

ST. LOUIS RAMS: (7-8-1) 2013 O/U: 7.5 Ignore the sub-500 mark from 2012 for a moment, as it doesn’t tell the entire story. This team improved as the year progressed, and oh yeah, by the way, also had the best divisional record: 4-1-1. Sam Bradford remains the key, but Fisher will have this team ready to roll after laying the foundation last season. Ascending. Verdict: OVER.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: (7-9) 2013 O/U: 7.5 Interesting offseason for Tampa, as Greg Schiano and ownership drew a line in the sand for Josh Freeman: it’s time. I like Freeman, always have, and think he responds nicely. Improved field position courtesy of a revamped secondary will help. I’m buying the Bucs. Verdict: OVER, and playoffs.

TENNESSEE TITANS: (6-10)  2013 O/U: 6.5 Aggressive play by Tennessee in FA tilts the needle in the right direction, and given the small bump in wins, I’m inclined to roll the dice and push the number to 7, possibly 8. They’re not as bad as most people position them to be. Verdict: OVER, barely.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: (10-6) 2013: 8.5 RG III is great for football, and like everyone else, I’m rooting for a quick and full recovery for the second year star from Baylor. That knee, however, has been problematic for quite some time. When it comes to green, I’m rolling with my head over emotion and sentiment and I’m simply not convinced he’ll hold up for the  duration of the season. Plenty of holes on the roster. Verdict: UNDER

*Team record from 2012 in ( ), followed by updated Vegas Over/Under projected win totals in ’13.

***If you take this too seriously, you’re insane.

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BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 6.0

Only a matter of time kids…

Riding high after consecutive 4-2 weeks ATS, pushing my season record above the break even point for the first time in ’12.

Lucky for you, I plan on staying there.

Was considering an additional play of over/under 2.5 K’s for A-Rod tonight, but quite frankly, I’m not even sure if he plays. Sit him, Joe!

Good luck, and remember: never up, never in.

Last week: 4-2

Season to date: 15-13-1

Week 6 picks: (home team in CAPS)

Cincinnati Bengals -2 over CLEVELAND BROWNS: The relatively small number is simply too inviting to pass up given the current state of the Browns defense. Cleveland ranks 29th in total yards allowed per game (423) and have been lit up to the tune of nearly 30 points per game. After tripping vs Miami, Andy Dalton and AJ Green absolutely need to cash in, and they’ll do just that, on the road.

NEW YORK JETS -3 over Indianapolis Colts: Despite heavy criticism, I rode Gang Green last week against the Houston Texans, and was rewarded nicely on the national stage. This week, I’m flipping to a different chapter from the same psychological playbook as the Jets extend their season with a win at home. While the Jets lack the talent to win the division, some proud holdovers remain from recent back to back AFC Championship Game teams. The Colts conversely, are rebuilding and understandably emotionally spent after fighting so hard last week for their ailing head coach. New York wins ugly, covering the 3 spot in the process. 

Redemption?

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers -6.5 over New York Giants: Last season, the better team represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Giants were more diverse and explosive on offense and pounced on the Niners offensive limitations (and uncharacteristic mistakes). The script has changed. The 49ers run the ball with great proficiency and Alex Smith continues to evolve with more weapons on the perimeter. Colin Kaepernick is a dangerous wrinkle for Jim Harbaugh, while the defense handles the rest. Mix in a some O-line issues for the Giants and Hakeem Nicks’ injury, and the Giants fall hard Sunday in the Bay. Revenge.

Denver Broncos and SAN DIEGO CHARGERS over 49.5: Both teams allow a fair amount of yards and are vulnerable to the big play, which strongly appeals to the over in what should be a fun shootout between Manning and Rivers. Cha-ching!

ATLANTA FALCONS -9 over Oakland Raiders: For most teams, the bye week is a terrific opportunity to regenerate  and reposition for a lengthy stretch run. For the Raiders, it was merely a brief respite from getting pummeled. The Raiders have a lot of work to do, and it doesn’t get any easier here. The comfy confines of the Georgia Dome along with a fast track makes this a nightmare for an Oakland secondary pieced together with spit and tape. If Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hartline had their way in Week 2 (35-13 Miami win), what happens here? Laying 9 points is always unsettling, but in this case, it shouldn’t be. Mismatch.

St. Louis Rams + 3.5 over MIAMI DOLPHINS: As expected, Jeff Fisher’s team is growing more efficient in small increments and improving weekly. Very quietly the Rams are riding the wave of a hot streak winning 3 of 4, including consecutive division wins over Seattle and Arizona. Expect a low scoring game in South Beach decided by 3 points either way, which makes the extra .5 very appealing. Follow this line over the weekend, as a Money Line play could provide nice value if you like the Rams as much as I do here.

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 5.0

Admittedly, I was concerned.

For the first few weeks of the NFL season, I had about as much control over my picks as Jim Lehrer  had during Wednesday’s Presidential Debate: none.

I was in a slump, trying to mechanically fight my out of it, rather than simply trusting my instincts.

Lucky for you, the back of my baseball card is pretty good.

At the end of the day, you just have to tee it up, let ‘er fly, and deal with the consequences.

I’m back in the short stuff.

Last week: 4-2

Season to date: 11-12-1

Week 5 picks: (home team in CAPS)

Chicago Bears -4.5 over JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS After Monday’s beat down in Big D, the Bears roll into Jacksonville winners of 3 of  4 with a chance to cash in against a spotty team with an apathetic fan base. The Jags are dead last in sacks, getting to the QB just twice thus far. That means one thing: less pressure on Jay Cutler, ensuring that “Good” Jay shows up and leads the team to a relatively stress-free win.

Cleveland Browns +8.5 over NEW YORK GIANTS I’ve seen the Giants choke on this type of number numerous times over the past decade or so. The Giants are the better team and should find a way to pull it out in the end. However, the Cleveland’s defense, Trent Richardson and some key NYG injuries make it way too risky to lay a touchdown plus. Give me the Brownies to cover the number.

Legend vs. Legend

Denver Broncos and NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS over 51.5 Honestly, I’m far from convinced that Peyton Manning’s arm strength has returned  as much as so many talking heads yakked about this week. If they actually watched the game, rather than being fooled by the numbers, they would know that precious few of those 30 completions traveled very far in the air. The Broncs were aided by an embarrassing Raiders defense, making Peyton look better than he actually was. Still, these two iconic QB’s should find a way to shine enough to tilt the number over. Barely.

CINCINNATI BENGALS -3 over Miami Dolphins: Nice matchup of two very talented, young QB’s. Lucky for Andy Dalton, his WR’s are simply more advanced and explosive than Ryan Tannehill’s weapons. Add it all up, and the Bengals pick up win # 4 on the year. If you’re concerned with the cover, buying .5 point should quell those fears. With a small spread, take the better team at home every time.

NEW YORK JETS + 8 over Houston Texans: By no means am I fooled or leaning toward this pick with my heart. This one is pure business. The Jets are brutal, and it’s only going to get worse. Without Revis and Holmes (and a running game, and a natural pass rush, and an accurate QB and…) the season is absolutely over. However, every proud dog has his day, and with the entire nation watching, the Jets rally, ride emotion, and find a way to stick around and lose late. But they cover.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS and Buffalo Bills over 44.5: Bills have to be a bit demoralized after squandering a 21-7 home lead last week against the Pats, while the Niners are pumped to return to home turf after a lengthy two week roadie. The crowd will be howling and the defense greased up, which should lead to a few Ryan Fitzpatrick miscues. Short fields = points, while points = OVERS.

 

“Elite vs. Ideal”

A true draft anomaly: from bust to hero

I can’t necessarily pinpoint when, but somewhere along the way, we simply lost our way.

We lost our edge as sports fans. We compromised our principles and cashed out, succumbing to a barrage of mindless, useless and mostly scripted and contrived banter focused around two words: “elite” and “legacy.”

We lost our poise and focus and creativity.

In essence, we were brainwashed.

Well, some of us anyway.

Truthfully speaking, baseball’s steroids scandal forced us to evaluate, long-term, how some of the luminaries of the game would be remembered. Bonds and Clemens opened up the legacy dialogue, and that was more than acceptable. It fit. How would two titans of the game, both cheaters, be remembered? Legacy. Fair game.

The word was also quite popular during Phil Mickelson’s erratic yet riveting quest for his first major. How would a player with such undeniable skill and creativity around the green be viewed without a major on his mantle? I get it. I didn’t follow golf during Greg Norman’s reign, but I imagine the word was used in an effort to provide clarity and help quantify his peaks and valleys, especially at Augusta.

Same with Lebron for a few years, and to a lesser extent, before that, Kobe without Shaq.

In terms of the sweet science, before Mike Tyson completely lost his mind, enthusiasts of the ring established their own criteria developed over decades of watching championship tilts and hot prospects.

Long before sports radio cemented itself as a viable outlet, society has always turned other venues into their own, personal afternoon drive slot: bars, locker rooms and tailgates all fit the bill. It’s what men do. We did it as kids in the street and we do it at family BBQ’s as adults.

But what the hell is so hard about the word “elite?” Really, there is nothing nebulous about the term or what it represents.

e·lite or é·lite  (-lt-lt)

n. pl. elite or e·lites

1.

a. A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status: “In addition to notions of social equality there was much emphasis on the role of elites and of heroes within them” (Times Literary Supplement).

b. The best or most skilled members of a group: the football team’s elite.

Does that describe Alex Smith? Of course not.

When referencing the elites of any sport, their greatness should be undeniable; their talents rare and tantalizing; their production and accomplishments beyond question. To me, that is what the word “elite” has always represented.

But in this watered-down world of “every-kid-gets-a-trophy,” that list has been distorted. Scrubs gets paid like stars and stars are treated like Babe Ruth and Jim Brown. The actual superstars? The deserving ones are dissected like lab rats by Skip Bayless, their true greatness eventually diminished.

Which brings me to Alex Smith, and his remarkable journey from the QB grave yard: saved by Jim Harbaugh, and currently, one of the leaders on the NFL’s best team, the San Francisco 49ers.

Excluding the 2008 season, Alex Smith has led the 49ers to records of 2-5, 7-9, 2-5, 5-5, and 3-7 before last season’s 13-3 resurrection. I’m constantly reminded (now) by 49er fans that a QB should be judged ultimately by the scoreboard, not stats. After glancing at his career win totals, are you sure that’s how you want to begin your defense of Alex Smith?

I didn’t think so.

In 2005, the same year Smith was drafted # 1 overall our of Utah, Apple introduced the first IPod Shuffle. The IPod Shuffle! That’s a while ago, and while fans hate the fact the first 6 years of the Alex Smith Era were painful ones, it doesn’t change the fact that they actually occurred!

2005 NFL Draft

1. Alex Smith, 49ers

2. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins

3. Braylon Edwards, Browns

4. Cedric Benson, Bears

5. Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers

6. Pacman Jones, Titans

7. Troy Williamson, Vikings

8. Antrel Rolle, Cardinals

9. Carlos Rogers, Redskins

10. Mike Williams, Lions

Almost every name on that list is a bust, criminal, or retread, with the exception of Rolle and Rogers, and now Smith. Their careers have already been defined. In the very literal sense of the word, failures, at least on Sundays. And while Alex continues to rehabilitate his image, some numbers are undeniable. Last season, the 49ers ranked 31st in 3rd down conversions. A closer look at the breakdown paints an interesting picture:

1. Saints (56.7%)

2. Chargers

3. Packers

4. Steelers

5. Patriots

===========================================================

28. Bills

29. Cardinals

30. Broncos

31. 49ers (29.4%)

32. Rams

I don’t know about you, but if given the choice, I kind of like the Brees-Rivers-Rodgers-Roethliesberger-Brady aisle a whole lot better than the Fitzpatrick-Skelton/Kolb-Tebow-Smith-Bradford bin.

Last season, despite having an above average ground presence, the 49ers ranked 30th in red zone scoring percentage (TD’s only). Only one team in the NFL threw the ball less the entire season, and again, just looking at the numbers, Smith ranked 19th in total passing yards with 3,144. Pedestrian numbers, at best.

This season, Alex is off to a superb start, leading his team to a pair of high-profile wins (Packers, Lions) while completing 70.4% of his passes. He’s currently on pace for 32 TD’s, and has yet to throw a pick, which he hasn’t done, seemingly, in years. He has additional weapons at his disposal, and the offense is far more diverse and dangerous than it was a season ago. Barring injuries, the 49ers appear destined to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Who’s better? The Giants? Philly? Dallas? Saints? Please.

The point of this, really, is not to knock Alex Smith, but rather, to more accurately identify what he is at this stage of his career. And after watching him in person all of last season and the first two weeks this year, here’s my scouting report:

Tough, mobile, cerebral and his accuracy in the short to intermediate routes is good. His arm strength is average to slightly above average. He senses pressure well in the pocket, and has silenced, for the most part, his once happy feet. He’s learned to take control at the line of scrimmage, and his teammates love him.

But does Alex Smith make his teammates better, or has he finally been insulated by a great coaching staff and placed in a system where the defense sets the tone and offense is asked, merely, to be competent?

You see, in a lot of ways, we’ve been debating the wrong thing. It’s not about whether or not Alex Smith is elite. Who cares. For the record, in my opinion, he’s not, and he never will be. Too much has transpired in what was, until last year, a disappointing career. But right now, in 2012, he’s good.

And right now, he’s the absolutely perfect QB for what just might be, a perfect team.

After all these years, Alex Smith finally fits.

But after years of watching Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and Tom Brady carve up the AFC East, my definition of elite appears to be very, very different than some out here in the Bay.

And I’m perfectly fine with that.

The race is on!

EAST

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) Like a rough Saturday night, I’ll probably regret this pick in the morning, but it’s impossible to ignore their talent. I’m not a big Michael Vick fan, but with immense pressure on Andy Reid to win, I’ll give the edge to a man who’s battled adversity his entire life, and more times than not, found a way to survive the flames of fandom in Philly. They can beat you on the ground, in the air, and after last season, should be starving for redemption.   Add it all up, and they’re the top dog in the East when the smoke clears.

2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7) Pretty fitting that “America’s Team” mirrors America itself, given it’s volatile and underachieving ways the past few seasons. The one area they needed to shore up was CB, and they did, signing FA Brandon Carr away from the Chiefs and drafting LSU stud Morris Claiborne. I think they drop the opener to the Giants, but should bounce back with wins in Weeks 2-3 against Seattle and Tampa. It’s always an adventure in Big D, but this year, the road finds the playoffs.

3. New York Giants (9-7) Yes, Eli Manning is officially entrenched as one of the best QB’s in football, and while Cruz and Nicks remain great targets, quietly, the Giants will miss Mario Manningham, who had a TD reception in all 3 playoff games leading up to the SB. Their pass rush is fierce and they are very well-c0ached, but the talent base is a bit overrated. They clawed their way into the playoffs after losing 7 regular season games. I can’t completely ignore that.

4. Washington Redskins (7-9) Looking forward to watching RG III transition to the NFL, and for the most part, I expect a pretty smooth ride for the former Baylor star. While the secondary remains suspect (not a good thing in this division), Washington’s front 7 is stout. They remain a year or two away, but you better tie your laces before kickoff against this team, otherwise, they’ll pick off a few decent teams.

NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3) Think they learned their lesson by sitting Aaron Rodgers in the regular season finale? They were stale and flat against the Giants, and it destroyed their season. Not sure if 15 wins is realistic again, but the Packers are the team to beat in the NFC, even though the Lombardi Trophy rests comfortably in New Jersey. Can Rodgers blow past 50 TD’s this season?

2. Chicago Bears (11-5) Absolutely love the way this team looks on paper headed into the season. Michael Bush was a nice addition behind RB Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler have undeniable chemistry. This team is legit, and if healthy are a lock to win double digit games and make life miserable for someone come playoff time. DANGEROUS.

3. Detroit Lions (9-7) Personally, I’m not sold. They’ll flip the scoreboard with Stafford to Mega Tron, but the Lions are a little too one-dimensional to reside in the upper-tier of a monster division. They ranked 22nd against the pass last year and 23rd stopping the run. Mix in some immaturity and off-field chaos, and I’ll pass on the boys from Motown this season. Elite? Hardly.

4. Minnesota Vikings (4-12) Here’s a great idea: even though we pretty much suck, let’s rush Adrian Peterson back! I’m sorry, but sometimes an organization needs to protect a player from himself, and the Vikings are failing to do that with AP. To be fair, I was initially lukewarm on Christian Ponder, but am slowly becoming a fan. Bottom-line: this is no division to rebuild in.

SOUTH

1. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) Simply put, it’s time for Matt Ryan to erase the donut in the column entitled “playoff wins.” This team has terrific balance, combining vertical explosion with the ability to stop the run (6th overall last season) How they react to two new coordinators very well should determine whether Atlanta is merely good, or legitimately in the mix come mid/late January. I’m leaning towards the latter.

2. New Orleans Saints (9-7) Yes, Drew Brees is great, and yes, Drew Brees runs the huddle like a coach, but there is a fine line between having coaching characteristics and actually being a coach. Mix in suspensions and free agent defections and the Bayou will lack the energy of the last few football seasons. The window has shut, my friends.

3. Carolina Panthers (8-8) Raise your hand if you ever encountered an athlete like Cam Newton in the schoolyard growing up? Didn’t think so. Good God, what laboratory was this prodigy created in? Yes, he’s really that good. Here’s something else that’s pretty good in Carolina: the LB’ers. Still a year or two away, but you just know that eventually, Newton and Carolina will be hosting a few NFC Title games.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10) On one hand, I really like the addition of Vincent Jackson. Smart move getting Josh Freeman a sorely needed weapon. However, given Greg Schiano’s penchant for running the ball, I’m not sure how much they’ll actually utilize him. Seems like a strange fit, no? As for Freeman, the kid can play, and in my opinion, last season’s step back is a temporary trip, not a foreshadow of his career arch. Rebuilding.

WEST

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-6) The Niners were pretty damn good last year, and the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham should create better balance on offense. Defensively, this is the best unit in football, and special teams remains one of the elite units in football. There are very few holes, but for this team to take the next step, they’ll need better QB play and personally, I’m not sprinting to the window in Vegas to lay money on Alex Smith. The red zone and 3rd stats need to improve significantly. The real pressure begins now for # 11. The Niners could win the SB or regress significantly from 13 wins. I reside somewhere in the middle. 10 wins and capable of beating any team in football.

2. Seattle Seahawks (9-7) Personally, I thought Pete Carroll did a fantastic job last season, turning over a roster and improving greatly as the season progressed. The team that showed up at the ‘Stick for Week 1 was a shell of the inspired unit that finished the season. In December, Seattle knocked off Philly, St. Louis and Chicago in succession, lost by 2 points vs SF and lost in OT at Arizona. No one knows what to expect under center the first month of the season, but Seattle is definitely on the way up. Russell Wilson, please report to the front desk…

3. St. Louis Rams (8-8) Remember when the Rams were the trendy pick for many entering last season? Injuries quickly destroyed any chance for a semblance of a season, which lead to a change at the top: enter, Jeff Fisher. Absolutely love the hire. The Rams were actually picking CB’s up off the street last season, that’s how far down they were forced to reach on the depth chart. Impossible to compete that way. Still, Sam Bradford needs to reestablish himself as one of the premier young QB’s in the league. If he does, the arrow for this team is pointing north. They’ll be much, much better.

4. Arizona Cardinals (4-12) When your best player is a WR, yet, you begin the summer with an uninspiring and at times perplexing QB battle, you know things are rough. They remain athletic on defense, but this team is going nowhere, even in a division looking to define itself.

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 14.0

back on track, for the stretch run...

Week 13: 4-2 ATS

Season to date: 35-29-1

Week 14: (home team in CAPS)

GREEN BAY PACKERS (-11) over Oakland Raiders: The Packers rank 1st in scoring, while the Raider’s defense remains dangerously close to the bottom (27th) in PPG allowed. That, combined with a ridiculous amount of injuries for Hue Jackson’s team amounts to a very, very long day at Lambeau. Tough to even imagine Carson Palmer keeping Oakland within shouting distance. The march toward perfection continues–without much resistance from the Silver and Black.

NEW YORK JETS (-9) over Kansas City Chiefs: Who in their right mind willingly invests a dime in Tyler Palko? Exactly. The Jets, poised for a 3rd straight win, remain in the mix in the AFC despite an inconsistent season. Expect Gang Green to punish KC on the ground, setting up some big plays downfield for Mark Sanchez. Shonn Greene is coming off a career-best 3 TD’s in last week’s win at FedEx Field, and the porous defensive front for Todd Haley’ s team will get pushed around on the road. Lay ’em!

brought the jersey out west...

Buffalo Bills @ SAN DIEGO CHARGERS, OVER 47.5: Two teams going nowhere, but with plenty of offensive weapons on both sides to play with, expect a wide open, high-scoring game from the opening kick.

DENVER BRONCOS (-3.5) over Chicago Bears: #Tebow

San Francisco 49ers @ ARIZONA CARDINALS, OVER 40: Slowly but surely, the 49ers have opened the playbook a bit under Greg Roman,  and it’s paying dividends. They are no longer predictable, with Alex Smith developing chemistry with Michael Crabtree and gaining trust with HR hitter Kyle Williams. Red-zone efficiency will be an issue the rest of the season, but this number appears very, very attainable as the Cards contribute multiple TD’s to reach the number.

Amazing turnaround at the 'Stick...

New York Giants (+3.5) over DALLAS COWBOYS: Speaking of the Cards, Dallas is still licking their wounds after last week’s brutal OT meltdown in Arizona. Expect the unexpected in this rivalry, which is why the Giants will probably win (and certainly keep it close in Big D) with the ‘Boys returning the favor in a few weeks at Met Life Stadium. Bottom line? I trust Eli more than I trust Romo. Roll with Big Blue.

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 11.0

Does anyone have a match?

Week 10: 2-4 ATS

Season to date: 28-24-1 ATS

Week 11:

Oakland Raiders (+1) over MINNESOTA VIKINGS: The Vikes starting corners are down, which means plenty of points from the rapidly-improving right wing of Carson Palmer. The indoor track also favors Oakland’s overall team speed. Hue’s Crew rolls on the road, keeping playoff hopes firmly intact.

Philadelphia Eagles @ NEW YORK GIANTS OVER 45: Tough to predict which Eagles team shows up from here on out. Still, Big Blue scores enough to  bridge the gap and cover the number.

CHICAGO BEARS -3.5 OVER San Diego Chargers: The Bears are red-hot, and the Chargers are tissue-paper soft. Toss in constant bickering between the QB and coach, on  the road, and well, you get the point. Bears.

Dallas ( -7) over WASHINGTON REDSKINS: DeMarco Murray.

Melt already, dammit!

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers -9.5 over Arizona Cardinals: Let down game? Not with Harbaugh the Great on the sidelines. Niners bury Skelton and Co. early.

CLEVELAND BROWNS -1.5 over Jacksonville Jaguars: Someone has to win, right? Lay it on the home team in this one.

Editor’s Note: I want to hate Tim Tebow with every fiber of my being after last night’s game, but quite frankly, I am afraid to. I’m not messing with that anymore!

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 8.0

Week 8

Week 1: 4-2 ATS

Week 2: 4-1-1 ATS

Week 3: 3-3 ATS

Week 4: 3-3 ATS

Week 5: 4-2 ATS

Week 6: 2-3-1 ATS

Week 7: 4-2 ATS

Season to date: 24-16-1 ATS

Week 8: (home team in CAPS)

BALTIMORE RAVENS (-12.5) over  Arizona Cardinals: Ray Lewis is angry. The Cardinals are bad. And soft. Advantage Ravens, big. I actually fear for Kevin Kolb’s safety.

Give the man some respect!

NEW YORK GIANTS (-9.5) over Miami Dolphins: Lost in the glow of the “Tim Tebow Show” last Sunday in Miami, this just in: Miami is brutal. Oh yeah, quietly, the Giants remain in the thick of things in the NFC, leading Philly and Dallas by a game for the top spot in the division. Eli Manning has been terrific, connecting for 11 TD’s against only 5 INT’s. His QB rating of 101.1 currently ranks top 5 in football. Miami is hopeless, and the Giants will step on them early and often. Destruction.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS  (-9) over Cleveland Browns: I went from not giving Jim Harbaugh’s crew enough credit early on, to perhaps giving them too much credit here. 9 points for the (at times) offensively-challenged Niners is dangerous, until you consider just how anemic the Browns have been lately. Peyton Hillis remains banged up, and the depth chart will get a test on Sunday, with injuries to WR and TE. This much I know: San Fran’s D is legit. Lay the points.

(Monday Night) San Diego Chargers @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS OVER 44: The Bolts average 24 points per game, and really, Phillip Rivers has been…bad. That’s not going to last very long, and this looks like a spot for him to bust out in a big way. Mix in Dwayne Bowe and his big play ability on the other side, and 44 points seems very, very attainable.

CAROLINA PANTHERS (-3.5) over Minnesota Vikings: Simply put, I don’t (yet) trust Christian Ponder away from the friendly confines of his home dome, and I trust him even less with a gimpy Adrian Peterson behind him. I do expect AP to suit up despite being limited in practice late in the week, but I don’t expect much on the stat sheet. Even in the NFL, needles only go so far. Jam with Cam!

Grab it!

Cincinnati Bengals (-3) over SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Few people know it, and even fewer people say it, but by every viable metric, Cincy has a top 10 defense: total points allowed, points per game against, total yards allowed, etc. Mix in the fact that Seattle simply can’t score (27th ppg), and I’ll take my chances. Even in Seattle, and the 12th man elements.

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