Version 2.0

While the Vikes stumbled in Motown, the season picks up steam as we zoom into Week 2.

After encountering a speed bump last week in Motown, the Vikes will be looking to gain speed Sunday in a divisional bloodbath vs the Bears.

Last week: 4-2 ATS

Season to date: 4-2 ATS

Week 2 picks: (home team in CAPS)

Tennessee Titans and HOUSTON TEXANS OVER 43: Sure, the Texans were handed a gift due to an incorrect interpretation of a new rule designed to protect the long-snapper. But they were good enough to cash in and squeeze out a prime-time road win, no easy chore at this level. It’s the type of win that galvanizes a team early in the season. The revamped Titans are interesting, so expect something in the neighborhood of 27-17, just enough to push the number north and you into the winner’s circle.

Even his harshest critics can't deny Romo's toughness.

Even his harshest critics can’t deny Romo’s toughness.

Dallas Cowboys (+3) over KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: I picked Dallas to win the NFC East, and this is exactly the type of game they must grab if they have any intentions of reversing recent swoons. Can they handle prosperity after finally beating the Giants in Jerry’s new palace? KC rolled in a laugher last week vs hapless Jacksonville, so it’s tough to truly quantify any progress thus far under Andy Reid. While I think KC has the makings of a WC contender in the weaker AFC, this is a game Dallas scraps out. Barely. Will they commit to the run? Romo’s rib injury could be a blessing in disguise as they win the battle of the trenches. Fun game, roll with the ‘Boys.

New Orleans Saints (-3) over TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Alert! Alert! Franchise in distress! Anarchy on the horizon! If you think that’s a stretch, clearly you haven’t followed the early soap opera follies of Greg Schiano’s Bucs. The former franchise QB losing his captaincy after three years? The same QB reportedly missing a team picture? Players only meetings? A hideous loss to the Jets? Yup. Oh yeah, they’re playing the Saints who for the record, are back to being the Saints. Capitalize on a bad situation that appears destined to get worse. Saints, big.

Carolina Panthers and BUFFALO BILLS UNDER 44: The Panthers were game in a narrow home loss to Seattle last week while the Bills were pinched ostensibly at the gun by the Pats. Despite flashing in his debut, expect Doug Marrone to play it safe with rookie QB E.J. Manuel. That, coupled with a dearth of explosive weapons for Cam Newton to utilize,  should add up to a relatively low scoring game that keeps this one below the number.

Denver Broncos and NEW YORK GIANTS OVER 54.5: One Manning equals a lot of points, two Mannings equals a ton of points. The game plan? Lace up the Nike’s and air it out from the coin flip. Over!

CINCINNATI BENGALS (-6.5) over Pittsburgh Steelers: Ordinarily, I would be reticent to roll with such a high number in a divisional showdown, but the Bengals are by far the superior team. Forget history and pride, this is a mismatch. Treat it as such. The energy of the home opener coupled  with the sting of a tough loss in Chicago against a solid Bears team will have the jungle in a frenzy. Big Ben will be on the run all night behind a ravaged front five, and without much help in the backfield, a hungry and athletic Cincy defense will be salivating.

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And they’re (almost) off!

AFC East

Still the man, but for how much longer?

Still the man, but for how much longer?

1. New England Patriots (11-5) Brady’s arm, strong running game and elite coaching enables Pats to feast on shallow division once more.

2. Miami Dolphins (8-8) Improving, but porous O-line could derail season. Liked this team a lot more in July.

3. Buffalo Bills (5-11) You want to believe, but where’s the evidence?

4. New York Jets (4-12) The circus is already underway. Dig in, Jets fans. 

AFC North

Absolute beast, and only getting better.

Absolute beast, and only getting better.

1. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) Most talented roster in AFC must take the next step: playoff success. I’m confident they will.

2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) Proud champions will not go as quietly as some think.

3. Cleveland Browns (7-9) Ascending, but not fast enough. Still, the Brownies could catch a few quality teams napping.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-10) Descending, but proud. The logo stands for something, always has. Will it be enough to avoid the basement?

AFC South

Year 2 of the "Luck Era."

Year 2 of the “Luck Era.”

1. Houston Texans (11-5) Plenty of divisional wins in forecast, but how far can you truly ride Schaub? Not sold.

2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7) Luck’s efficiency improves, while the overall W/L record takes a baby step back.

3. Tennessee Titans (7-9) The absolute definition of irrelevant: good enough to avoid # 1 overall pick talk, nowhere near good enough to further the conversation toward anything pertinent.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14) Yikes. Hello, blackouts. Again.

AFC West

Plenty of regular season wins, but plenty of January blemishes for Peyton.

Plenty of regular season wins and plenty of January blemishes for Peyton.

1. Denver Broncos (11-5) I like Denver, but not nearly as much as others. Good team, but far from dominant. Could be bumpy at points, particularly the first 5-6 weeks.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) Andy Reid slowly cleans up the stench from last season as Alex Smith dinks and dunks KC to a winning record. Barely.

3. San Diego Chargers (7-9) Crossroads for Rivers, which way will he turn? Very tough team to gauge. Show me.

4. Oakland Raiders (2-14) Pryor adds intrigue, but the trenches are pitiful. Overall dearth of talent leads to another coaching change in Oakland. This team is B-A-D.

NFC East

No greater unknown in the NFL. Is he ready?

No greater unknown in the NFL. Is he truly ready?

1. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) I’ve played this game before and been burned. But really, working in definitive terms, who’s better?

2. Washington Redskins (9-7) It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure.

3. New York Giants (8-8) Poor LB’er play and decaying pass rush will force Eli to win shootouts every week. He’s good, but he’s not that good. Let’s be honest: he was spotty last year.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (5-11) I believe in Chip Kelly, just not immediately.

NFC North

Will the leader of the Pack once again lead his team to a divisional crown?

Will the leader of the Pack once again lead his team to a divisional crown?

1. Green Bay Packers (10-6) Defense was sliced up at the ‘Stick last January. Good team, but not a lock for divisional supremacy. 

2. Chicago Bears (9-7) If Cutler clicks with his new HC, this division goes thru the Windy City.

3. Detroit Lions (8-8) Bush helps, but there’s something about this team…not sold.

4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10) Playoffs last season, this season, not so much.

NFC South

Truly elite?

Truly elite? I believe so. Matty “Ice” has arrived.

1. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) Class of an interesting division. Championship balance?

2.  New Orleans Saints (10-6) Welcome back, Sean Payton. Welcome back, playoffs.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) How will Freeman respond? Is Revis 100% healthy? Is Schiano the right man for this job? Lots of questions, are there enough answers? Could go either way.

4. Carolina Panthers (7-9) Exciting, but flawed.

NFC West

Flip a coin for divisional supremacy.

Flip a coin.

1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) Super Bowl talent, athleticism and depth. Best team in the NFC.

2. San Francisco 49ers (10-6) Second best team in football’s best division. Love Kaepernick, but he’ll miss Crabtree. Secondary issues, too.

3. St. Louis Rams (8-8) They’re coming, but in all probability, remain a year away. Still, buckle that chin strap when Fisher’s team rolls in.

4. Arizona Cardinals (6-10) With a little luck, the Cards might hang around into December. Can Patrick Peterson make an impact at WR? Bruce Arians inherits decent talent in the desert.

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.

Prove it!

Quick, name an NFL QB without pressure. Impossible. Whether it’s aging icons like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning or developing neophytes like Luck and and Wilson, when it comes to the shield, no one one’s safe from the unrelenting spotlight. Had a good season? Great, have a better one this year. Finally brought your franchise back to the playoffs? Terrific, now get to the conference championship.

In attempting to quantify the pressures certain QB’s face entering the ’13 season, I used one pretty simple gauge: which players could have the course of their careers permanently altered if they stumble badly beginning in September? With that in mind, I automatically disqualified last season’s rookie crop: Luck, RG III, Wilson and Tannehill are safe. Regardless of what this season yields, they’re already locked in as starters for the ’14 season.

Immediately, Tony Romo came to mind, but let’s face it: I could have written this piece three years ago with the same result. Even with all of his miscues, in Dallas, his armor is impenetrable. Win, lose or draw there never appears to be any real consequence for Romo, unless of course you count contract extensions. His head coach of course, is another story.

With all of the whispers coming from Tampa, it’s impossible not to study Josh Freeman. I believe in Freeman and expect his play to mute the groans and silence his critics, so I eliminated him.

Sure, I’d like to see Andy Dalton take another step forward, particularly with his deep routes, and with another weapon at TE, the microscope is out, to an extent. Is he merely very good, or is he a superstar? Either way, safe. The Jaguars simply drafted the wrong guy in Blaine Gabbert as did the Vikes with Christian Ponder, so I won’t waste anyone’s time there. Eli and Big Ben, multiple rings, safe regardless. Philip Rivers’ implosion the last two seasons is a head scratcher, but I attribute that to other factors and for the most part, exonerate the former NC State star. He still resonates enough, barely, for him to avoid the heat of this column.

I’ve never truly been a huge Matt Schaub fan, and while I’ve always gone against the grain and supported Jay Cutler, his talents alone will keep him around, somewhere, for a while. Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford, armed with new deals and lofty expectations, will invariably have to fend off a few detractors at certain points this season, same with Cam Newton in Carolina, who by the way, will deliver. As always, there’s a revolving door under center in Buffalo and Oakland, and while the Bills situation is less intriguing to me, I strongly considered Matt Flynn, before ultimately passing. We know Matt, you tossed 6 TD’s a few years ago in a meaningless game, cashed out and haven’t been heard from since. Wake me when he’s actually relevant, which quite frankly, will probably be never.

Aaron Rodgers remains the best all-around QB in football and until one of the kids fully ripens, that title appears safe for another few seasons. Is Drew Brees still a Hall of Fame QB, or will there be a trace of attrition? Can Matty Ice take the next step? I’ll keep an eye on Carson Palmer in Arizona, now that he’s finally paired with an elite WR again, and while they could surprise, there’s not enough happening in Tennessee or Cleveland to make me loook twice, not yet anyway.

Michael Vick could easily headline my short list of QB’s facing the most pressure entering September, but quite frankly, it’s 50/50 that he departs Lehigh’s campus with a starting job, so he gets a reprieve for now. That ship has sailed.

For a select few, it’s less about money and glory, and more about salvation. Can they regain the wheel of their career or veer off into a very undesirable exit on the NFL Freeway. It’s called Obscurity Avenue.

sam-bradford

Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: I like Bradford quite a bit. Talented kid, but there’s one very important stain on the former #1 overall pick’s resume: his W/L record. While the NFC West is now undeniably the strongest in football, for most of his career, it was irrefutably among the worst. Yet, entering his 4th season, Bradford’s career mark is a ghastly 15-26-1. While his TD/INT ratio is relatively solid, his overall efficiency lags behind many of his peers. Franchise QB’s connect on more than 60% of their pass attempts, plain and simple. The kid has the requisite tools, and he still has my support, but it’s time. He finally has the coach and a nice toy in 1st round stud Tavon Austin, plus with FA import Jake Long locking down his blind side, he’ll have time to throw. At the end of the day, QB’s are judged on how many games they win versus how many games they lose. He needs to start stuffing a more W’s in the left-hand column. Simply put, Bradford needs to prove that he’s not a bust. Will the real Sam Bradford stand up? Or perhaps, he already has?

Can Smith win without Harbaugh? We'll find out soon.

Can Smith win without Harbaugh? We’ll find out soon.

Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs: Since being drafted #1 overall by the 49ers in 2005, two Alex Smiths have emerged: Alex Smith without Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith with Jim Harbaugh and boy, they are two very, very different players. Without Harbaugh maniacally patrolling the sidelines, Smith’s first five seasons in the Bay yielded the following results: 2-5, 7-9, 2-5, 5-5 and 3-7. Following Dr. Jim’s rehabilitation, Smith rallied to win 19 of 25 games before having the plug pulled in favor of Colin Kaepernick last season. Yet, plenty of questions linger. Can Smith win without an elite defense? Remember, short fields equal fewer risks and fewer risks equate to fewer turnovers. What happens when he has to fling it 35-40 times on the road? He’s a smart kid, and a lot tougher than people give him credit for, but can he win without Harbaugh holding his hand? The training wheels are off, and Alex Smith needs to prove that he can play. I wouldn’t bet too much on Smith, personally. 

Fewer butt-encounters and more TD's must he on the menu for Sanchez to remain in New York.

Fewer butt-encounters and more TD’s must be on the menu for Sanchez to remain in New York.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: I have to admit, Sanchez tricked me. Looked the part, won a few games early, made some big throws on the road, in tough venues, in the playoffs. The problem with the former USC star, is that not a single part of his game is clearly above-average. His arm is solid strength, but he doesn’t have a blaster. At one point, his accuracy was developing nicely, but his mechanics dissolved and he now resembles a helpless pitcher aiming the ball. He’s a good athlete, but not nearly dynamic enough to actually have to game plan against outside of the pocket. But most disconcerting to the organization is his inability to lead other grown men, which at this level, is paramount. Santonio Holmes and others poisoned a winning culture, and Sanchez did nothing to stop it. At the end of the day, he’s an average QB with poor leadership skills. The Jets drafted Geno Smith for a reason and with Rex Ryan’s rope fraying to the core, Sanchez is out of chances. Stand up, put up and deliver, or get bounced from New York. Mark Sanchez needs to prove that he’s more substance than show. Simply stated, he needs to prove that he’s a starting QB in the NFL. My opinion? He trips early and stays on the canvas.

Prove it.

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 8.0

Maintaining Jedi-like focus during World Series nuttiness has proven difficult for many mere mortals in the Bay. Lucky for you, my middle name is Obi, nickname Wan.

Let’s blast Week 8, Solo-style, shall we?

Season to date: 23-18-1 ATS

Last week: 5-1 ATS

Week 8 picks: (home team in CAPS)

New Orleans Saints (+6) over DENVER BRONCOS: Work this sizable line to your favor and bank on a solid effort from a decaying but still proud team getting nearly a full TD. Strap in for a shootout in Mile High, and while there’s a pretty good chance the home team emerges with the “W,” Brees and the Saints keep it tight and secure a cover.

NEW YORK JETS (-2.5) over Miami Dolphins: Plenty of smack hitting the walls leading up to this one, which suits Rex Ryan’s squad just fine. New York rewarded me two weeks ago by blasting the Colts and also handled their business against the Pats, easily covering a double digit number. I like Ryan Tannehill, and Miami is improving, but the Jets get this one at the gun, and cover the number yet again.

ST. LOUIS RAMS (+7) over New England Patriots: I’m banking on the Giselle’s stumbling into some late-night, off-the-radar drug-feuled orgy bash in London tonight, which should lead to a tired and uncharacteristically sloppy Tommy B on Sunday. It’s the only way I’m able to rationalize this pick, quite frankly. Just a gut play, nothing more. Move along.

Carolina Panthers and CHICAGO BEARS UNDER 43.5: The Bears are very good, the Carolina Panthers are not. Even worse, their freakishly gifted QB has some serious body language and leadership issues. Not good. Bears put the squeeze down on D, keeping this one under en route to the win.

Just because.

DALLAS COWBOYS and New York Giants over 47.5: These games in Big D are always fun and usually involve plenty of  4th quarter fireworks. Unfortunately for Dallas, Eli is almost always the one holding the match and the fuse. This game has 50+ points written all over it. Roll with the over kids.

TENNESSEE TITANS (-3.5) over Indianapolis Colts: Soft Colts run defense + rejuvenated Chris Johnson = tough day for Indy on the road.

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 13.0

Wake up Santa, I have some winners for you!

Week 12: 3-3 ATS

Season to date: 31-27-1 ATS

Week 13:  (home team in CAPS)

New York Jets (-3) over WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Consecutive trips to the AFC Title game, without a single home playoff game? Yup, for whatever reason, these guys function best when things get dicey. It’s been a bumpy ride thus far, but they found their way last week, and in the process, buried the Bills. Rex Ryan’s club has always been solid on the road, and that trend continues here. Still don’t view them as a SB contender, but the late season push continues in D.C. Jets, easy.

Atlanta Falcons @ HOUSTON TEXANS, OVER 37.5: This number is simply way too low given the surplus of elite offensive weapons playing in this game, regardless of Houston’s QB situation. Free money.

Denver Broncos +1.5 over MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Funny thing about this Tebow character. He throws ducks on 7- yard curl patterns, but when someone has a step deep, suddenly his ball is tight and on point. Oh yeah, Denver’s D is legit, and minus a healthy Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder and Co. will be hard pressed to move the chains enough to win.

I'm officially rooting for this kid...

Dallas Cowboys @ ARIZONA CARDINALS, OVER 46: It’s December, which means the time is ticking on Tony Romo. Historically, anyway. Still, the NFC East is Dallas’ to lose, and the Cards simply lack the horses to slow them down. 34-17, ‘Boys.

San Diego Chargers (-3) over JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: This goes one of two ways: the Jags are either razor-sharp following the dismissal of HC Jack Del Rio, and ride that emotional wave to victory, or, they’re flat after a few lifeless practices, and the Chargers take advantage. I’ll bank on the latter happening. Take the ‘Bolts.

Green Bay Packers @ NEW YORK GIANTS, OVER 52: The Packers are really, really good while the Giants are really, really…12 weeks in, and I’m still not sure. Let’s place them somewhere between dangerous and disappointing. Should be a fun game, as the scoreboard gets a good workout from both sides. Much to Perry Fewell’s chagrin.

BT’s “6 Pack of Picks” Version 6.0

Stop the madness!


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

Season to date: 18-11-1 ATS

Week 6: (home team in CAPS)

Expect a magical day at the Coliseum.

OAKLAND RAIDERS (-7) over Cleveland Browns: While the porous Raiders run defense should, in theory, prove the perfect tonic for Peyton Hillis’ early season struggles, this one’s all about Al. After an emotional last-second win last week in Houston, the Silver and Black return home for what could become, possibly, the most memorable Raiders game of all-time. Al Davis’ shadow looms that large in the Bay Area, and should fuel the home team early. If the emotions work in reverse, eventually, talent will take over, and from top to bottom, the Raiders are simply more talented. The key is to keep Josh Cribbs out of the end zone on special teams. If they do, the Raiders cruise by double figures, with McFadden making a run at two bills on the ground. Rest in peace, Al.

NEW YORK JETS (-7) over Miami Dolphins (Monday Night): The Jets have some potentially crippling deficiencies, including, for the first time during the Rex Ryan Era, a fractured locker room.

The wheels are loose, but they're not off yet.

Chemistry aside, their defense is quickly eroding and their offense has become very predictable. Still, after a three game roadie thru Oakland, Baltimore and New England, the Jets catch one of the worst teams at the perfect time. With Matt Moore subbing for the injured Chad Henne, expect Ryan to dial up blitzes and hand Mark Sanchez a short field all night. With the Bills showing no signs of slowing down, and the Pats still the Pats, the Jets are hardly a lock for the playoffs. Still, simply put, they are supposed to bludgeon Miami. And they will. Jets, BIG.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS/Jacksonville Jaguars OVER 40: The Steelers average 20.4 ppg, 23rd in football, while the Jags average an anemic 12 ppg, 31st in football. Based on the stats and the math, the play here is the under. However, the Steelers mind-boggling performance in Week 1 (35-7 loss to the Ravens) weighs down their point-per-game average significantly. Instead, they should come close to duplicating last week’s drubbing of the Titans, when they sniffed 40 points. Basically, you’re hoping for 10-13 points from the Jags, and expecting Pittsburgh to do the rest of the heavy lifting. Remember, it’s not that I love the Steelers this season. I don’t. Personally, I think they, like the Jets, are slipping from the “elite” radar. But I love them here. Make sense? Roll with over.

New Orleans Saints (-4.5) over TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Considering that the Saints lone loss came to the Packers, and they ARE 4-1, something still seems as if it’s missing. When you dig deeper into some of their games, they simply haven’t been overly impressive. Before pulling away from the Jags in Week 4, they were locked in a 14-10 death match in the 3 rd quarter, and followed that up with a narrow 3 point win last week versus Carolina. The Bucs, meanwhile, are still licking their wounds after being pummeled 48-3 in San Francisco last Sunday. File that in the “aberration” file. Still, this is a gut play, and my gut says the Saints are due for a double-figure win. It”s been a while. Lay the points.

St. Louis Rams @ GREEN BAY PACKERS OVER 48: Last season, one NFL team averaged 30 points per game, the Pats. So far in 2011, six teams are hanging the same amount on opponents, and no team is more prolific than the Packers. Basically, GB has turned the NFL into the SEC, averaging 35 points per game and doing so seemingly, without even breaking a sweat. Sure, the defense has a little work to do (allowed 23 points to Carolina and Denver), but with the Rams down to their FOURTH and FIFTH CB on the depth chart, this one gets ugly fast, as Aaron Rodgers threatens 500 yards in the air. Take the over.

Dallas Cowboys (+7) over NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: I know, I know, the Pats are simply too good, right? I’m not so sure about that. They have weaknesses, they just do a great job of masking them, and with the exception of the Bills, have yet to face a team capable of exploiting those deficiencies. Enter, Dallas. Coming off a well-timed bye, Tony Romo is expected to have his receiving corp in tact for the first time since Week 1. Mix in three new starters on the New England’s offensive line, and DeMarcus Ware and Co. should punish Brady, who was sacked a season-high 4 times last week versus the Jets. I expect Dallas to hang, and quite honestly, wouldn’t be surprised if they flat-out win. Buckle in, this is the game of the week, not Niners-Lions. ‘Boys reward your faith, and cover the number.

4-2 last week? Yup, you guessed it: pimpin' once more.


BT’s “6 Pack-of-Picks” Week 4

Your picks, are served!

Week 1: 4-2 ATS

Week 2: 4-1-1 ATS

Week 3: 3-3 ATS

Season to date: 11-6-1 ATS

Week 4: (home team in CAPS)

CLEVELAND BROWNS (PK) OVER Tennessee Titans: Perhaps Vegas knows something we don’t (entirely plausible), but this line jumped out immediately to me. Not only did I peg the Browns as a sleeper in the AFC over the summer, but so much of Tennessee’s early season success is a result of Kenny Britt’s explosion at wideout. With Britt lost for the season (torn ACL, MCL), Matt Hasselbeck becomes ordinary, which allows Cleveland to focus solely on Chris Johnson. Look for an emotional boost in the stands with the return of crowd favorite Peyton Hillis, and watch the Browns roll to their first 3-1 start in nearly a decade. Don’t expect a lot of points, but expect exactly what you should play: another win for the Dawg Pound.

He's back. Ride the "Rhino"

Buffalo Bills (-3) OVER CINCINNATI BENGALS: There’s no question the Bills have talent, we’re way past that. The next step, especially for a franchise with no recent winning pedigree, is to avoid reading the press clippings, stay the course and remain hungry. Following an emotional, inspiring win over the Pats, that’s not as easy as it seems. Still, given the apathy that’s already settled into the ‘Nati fan base (only 43,000 people showed up for their home opener vs. the Niners), the Bills have one advantage in that a road game takes on more of a neutral feel. Look for the Bills to pounce early lead, and settle into cruise mode somewhere near the middle of the 3rd quarter. The Bills 4-0? Absolutely.

Atlanta Falcons (-4) OVER SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: On the surface, it’s difficult  to pinpoint Atlanta’s early-season inconsistencies and erratic play given their overall talent base. However, upon deeper review, the offensive line jumps out as the main culprit. Matty “Ice” is melting under an avalanche of pressure up front, and it’s impacting the bottom line. “We are very disappointed with the way we have protected our quarterback in the first three ballgames,” Head Coach Mike Smith said. “We’ll have to look at what’s going wrong schematically as well as evaluate our personnel.” Translation: They better, otherwise the franchise QB will wind up on IR. Already sacked 13 times, Ryan has swallowed turf at least four times in each of the first three games. Not good for a team expected by many, to be playing into January. Seattle’s the perfect remedy, despite winning last week. They are still garbage. Treat them like such. Falcons roll.

Detroit Lions/DALLAS COWBOYS OVER 46: I like Tony Romo, always have. I also lived and worked in Detroit early in my career, so their revival takes on greater meaning for me knowing just how passionate and hungry their loyal fans are for a winner. Truth be told, I believe that both of these teams will make the playoffs, but there are a few variables that make this one tough to call: can Dallas snap the ball straight? Will Detroit handle prosperity well? Personally, I have no idea, however, with Stafford, Best, Johnson, Romo, Jones, Bryant and Witten on the field, points should come early and often. Roll with the over.

Still not a fan of Romo? Fine. But give the man credit: he always gets up.

New York Giants (-1) OVER ARIZONA CARDINALS: Cards receive a boost in the backfield with the return of Beanie Wells, but I’m not sure it’s enough to slow down Big Blue in the desert. Eli Manning is playing well, and brings his 104.3 QB rating back into the stadium of his greatest professional triumph: Super Bowl XLII. Doubt Victor Cruz ever duplicates what he did last week versus Philly, but with the return of Mario Manningham, he won’t have to. This is a matchup of NFC East (arguably, the best in football) vs. NFC West (undeniably, the worst in football) Don’t over-think this one. By installing the visiting G Men as favorites, it’s obvious Vegas didn’t. Generally, home field advantage is worth 3 points, yet the Giants are laying a point. They are flat-out telling you the Giants are better. They are. Side with Coughlin’s crew.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (-3) OVER New York Jets: Remove Rex Ryan and his booming voice from the equation for a moment, and what are you left with when evaluating the Jets?  A porous offensive line, a spotty run game, zero natural pass rush and really, at the end of the day, just one elite defender in Darrelle Revis. The Jets receive a lot of national run, and they deserve it with back-to-back AFC Title games on their resume. However, their LB’ers are slooooow, something Ray Rice, like McFadden, will expose this week. For the first time in years, I actually believe the Jets are regressing. I watched the film on the Raiders game from last Sunday, and quite frankly, it’s worse than I originally thought. Mix in some bad karma with Joe Willie and Rex exchanging barbs, and it just feels like the Jets are about to enter a bit of a chaotic phase.

The arrow appears to be pointing in the wrong direction for Gang Green.

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