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Week 9 Picks

The number next to each team’s name is their statistically based ranking as described in my rankings post. The average score for each category is 100. The lowest overall score is 86.9 (Indy) and the highest is 111.9 (San Fran).

Miami 91.7 at Kansas City 95.3 [24-14, Chiefs] 5.4

Wow, Miami almost won two games in a row! In other news, nobody cares, they’re still 0-7. The good news is that St. Louis took a huge step back in the Luck Sweepstakes by beating New Orleans, meaning the Fins only have to worry about those lowly Colts. All you need to know about the Dolphins is that they are terrible at everything and I can’t in good conscience pick them to win a football game against anybody. KC isn’t exactly a powerhouse as we learned on Monday night, but you barely need to be competent to beat the Dolphins. Expect KC to throw a lot in this game, as Matt Cassell looked goodish on Monday Night and Miami has a gaping hole where their pass defense should be.

Atlanta 101.3 at Indianapolis 86.9 [31-10, Falcons] -6.6

You know what Indianapolis has done to impress me this season? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They’re so bad I can’t pick them against anybody, let alone a quality opponent like Atlanta. I have nothing to say about this game, so instead I’ll point out some statistical oddities in this matchup. Based on pass offense and run offense, you would think Atlanta’s offense would be terrible, but because of their excellent third down effeciency they stay on the field way more than an offense of their quality probably should. Is this sustainable? I would think not, but in the last 3 games their third down efficiency is actually higher than it was in the previous 4, so maybe it is.

Tampa Bay 97.9 at New Orleans 101.3 [31-24, Saints] 5.2

I have New Orleans in a bounce back win. Their offense is top notch. The key matchup in this game is the Saints’ elite passing attack against Tampa Bay’s subpar passing defense, which will allow the Saints to jump out to an early lead. This will force Tampa to use its lackluster passing offense against the Saints very solid pass defense. For that reason, if the Saints jump up early, this one could get out of hand. Tampa Bay is one of the more disappointing teams in my opinion, mostly because I thought they were going to be better than they’ve played this season, and Josh Freeman has been surprisingly bad in his third year after a great sophomore campaign.

NY Jets 101.1 at Buffalo 106.8 [20-17, Jets] 6.8

This will be a great game. On paper, Buffalo should actually win this game. Football games are not played on paper. My gut says the Jets win this game, because Rex Ryan’s Jets live for games like this and there’s a reason they’ve won four road playoff games as underdogs in the last two years. How the fuck did they beat Indy last year? I have no idea. And I get the feeling I’ll feel the exact same way after they steal one in Buffalo. Don’t get me wrong, I think Buffalo is the better team, but I have the Jets sneaking out a win. If I were betting I’d go with the better team at home, but I’m not betting, I’m just talking.

Seattle 97.4 at Dallas 100.5 [31-13, Cowboys] 5.0

Dallas is way better than they played against Philly. That was a disappointing loss for Dallas because it shades everybody’s perception of what has been a sneaky good team. The Seahawks are just bad. Their offense is just terrible. Tavaris Jackson has been alright I guess, but there’s not much to be excited about on offense, especially against a Dallas defense that is way better than they played against the Eagles and will be out to prove it. The numbers above highlight just how bad this matchup is for the Seahakws. All the Seahawks do is stop the run and they are bad at everything else, so the Cowboys should have no interest in running the ball. Instead, Dallas will use an explosive passing attack to exploit the Seahawks’ vulnerabity in pass coverage, and this game will not be close. A word of warning to the gamblers out there: you are not getting nearly enough value from a 12 point line to bet on this game.

Cleveland 95.8 at Houston 109.0 [27-7, Texans] 11.8

Cleveland is simply not as good as people think they are. They started 3-3 but beat some terrible teams, and their offense is truly terrible. Houston, on the other hand, is quite a bit better than everybody thinks they are. Well rounded does not quite do them justice, though it does describe them. A beter way to say it is that they are good at everything, and the one thing they’ve been worst at is running the ball. Well, they got Arian Foster back, and he is in the same form that won him a rushing title last year. This is a scary good football team that is well suited to dominate Cleveland on both sides of the ball this Sunday. If I were a gambling man I’d say Houston is a good bet no matter what the line happens to be, because they can’t make this line high enough.

San Francisco 111.9 at Washington 93.5 [27-7, 49ers] -9.3

San Francisco’s second straight soft opponent after a very tough opening slate that saw them start 5-1. The 49ers are every bit as good as their record says they are. They are not an explosive offense, but they don’t turn the ball over (under 1 per game) and find a way to punch the ball into the endzone. Their pass game is average, their run game is elite thanks to an excellent season from Frank Gore. Their pass defense is average, their run defense is elite, but what stands out is their defense’s ability to force turnovers, avoid touchdowns, and get off the field on third down. They are legit. Also, take a look at their schedule: they should win every game except a home game against Pittsburgh and a trip to Baltimore. They will be getting a bye pretty much no matter what. The 49ers should win this game with ease, Washington doesn’t have the offense to move the ball against them. ATTENTION GAMBLERS: The line is currently 49ers by 4. San Francisco should be giving 10 to Washington (at least). The 49ers are a lock. Please do yourself a favor and bet this game. You probably will not see better value all season.

Cincinnati 102.4 at Tennessee 96.0 [20-10, Bengals] -1.3

Cincinatti is a pretty good team. Maybe not as good as their 5-2 record, but they’ve taken care of business in all but one of their games (a 2 point loss to the pre-Tebow Broncos) and lost be 5 against an excellent 49ers team, holding San Fran to 13 points but only scoring 8 themselves. Cincinatti is quite good at punching the ball into the endzone on offense while avoiding turnovers, as well as keeping the ball out of the endzone and forcing turnovers on defense. Winning the touchdown and turnover battles have one them a bunch of games this season. That, and they stop the run, so don’t expect a break out day from Chris Johnson this week (or, as is looking more and more likely to be the case, ever). And they are facing a Tennessee team that at this point does not do much of anything well. Their passing attack was great when they still had Britt, but he’s done, and they haven’t really found a replacement. They are a long way from being in the same form as the Titans team that beat the Ravens in week 2, and I do not see them beating a quality Bengals team in week 9. Another nice value bet on Cincinnati, since Vegas currently thinks these teams are even and they are not (the line has Tennessee giving 3, and they should not be giving points to anybody except the Colts).

Denver 92.9 at Oakland 99.2 [17-14, Broncos] 6.2

This is a tale of terrible quarterbacks. Carson Palmer was awful in his first game with Oakland, which was to be expected. He’s had two weeks to learn the playoffs, but my expectations for him are extremely low, in this and all games. He was terrible last year. He was not worth what Oakland traded for him. But at least he’s not Tim Tebow, who looks so far to be one of the worst quarterbacks to ever start an NFL game. I like Tebow, he’s a wonderful human being and a good story. I just don’t think he can play quarterback, so I’m picking Oakland in a game that I would much rather gouge my eyes out than watch.

NY Giants 98.4 at New England 103.1 [38-31, Patriots] 5.3

The Giants found a win against Miami, but I came away from that game thinking less of them. They’re 5-2, but they have played the softest schedule in the NFL Their average opponent thus far had 2.14 wins through 8 weeks. 2.14 for teams that have played 7 or 8 games. Against that unimpressive slate, they had to steal wins against Arizona and Miami just to avoid starting 3-4. At 5-2, the Giants have shown me nothing. They’re barely average, and I have no faith that they’ll beat the first elite opponent they face.

New England, on the other hand, is a great team. Pittsburgh was better in week 8, but I don’t fault New England for losing that game. Pittsburgh is good at everything and has a great shot at making the playoffs. And don’t forget that they won the AFC last week. I am trying my hardest to talk my way around coming out and saying that I am picking the Pats over my Giants. It could be close, since the Giants are an elite passing team. The Pats just happen to be better at everything (except pass defense, but it’s not like the Giants are any good at that).

If the Giants find their identity and throw the ball on pretty much every down, they could come pretty close to keeping up with the Pats offense. Sadly, I don’t think they realize that they’re the worst running team in the league and should probably stop trying to run the ball. And if they stay stuck in their vision of what Giants football used to be, they will get blown out of this game.

For all you gamblers out there: as much as I just ripped the Giants for being overvalued, the Patriots are just as overvalued. Their defense is way too bad for the Pats to be an elite team. The Giants are not great, but they are explosive on offense and you just can’t bet on New England to cover 9 points against a good offense. By my numbers, you can see that the Pats have roughly the same advantage over the Giants pass defense as the Giants do over the Pats defense, and for two pass first teams that just smells like a shootout.

St. Louis 91.2 at Arizona 96.0 [I don’t care. FINE, 20-14, Cardinals] 5.4

Ugh. I’m taking Arizona, but I hate both of these teams. Maybe St. Louis turned a corner against New Orleans last week. Or maybe that was their super bowl and they won’t show a damn thing for the rest of the year. Either way, this game could not be less relevant to me or anybody else in the NFL. Did you know that San Fran has a four game lead in the division and we’re only going into week 9? That’s crazy. By the way, from now on I will find a way to talk about the 49ers and 49ers only for all NFC West divisional games. Please, for your health and your sanity, avoid this game at all costs.

Green Bay 105.1 at San Diego 95.7 [35-21, Packers] -1.7

The 49ers stay at the top of my power rankings on the strength of eight weeks of stellar performance, but if the Packers and 49ers met 10 times, I think the Packers win 9 of them. They are the best team in the NFL, and the scary part is they’ve barely played like it and still come in at 3rd. The San Diego Chargers are not the team they have been in recent years, and not the team I expected them to be. They are mediocre, and Green Bay will go into their building and stomp them.

Baltimore 106.8 at Pittsburgh 103.5 [28-14, Steelers] 1.4

I can’t really claim to have a strong opinion about who will win the bi-annual Baltimore-Pittsburgh bloodbath. Pittsburgh has a much better offense, Baltimore has a much better defense. Baltimore won a shocking blowout in their first meeting, but I really wouldn’t be surprised if Pittsburgh blows them out this time around just to make up for it. Baltimore has also been more enigmatic than Pittsburgh this year, but they still have the best defense in the league. The Steelers have embraced a new pass the ball, stop the pass mentality that is completely new to them but perfect for the passing league the NFL has become, and a surprise win over the Pats showed that they are here to say. But you can throw on the Pats, and you can’t throw on the Ravens. I’m picking Pittsburgh, but I don’t feel good about it.

Chicago 104.4 at Philadelphia 103.2 [31-17, Eagles] 2.4

If there are two more enigmatic teams in the NFL than these two, I’d love to see them. Fine, you win New Orleans, you’re enigmatic too. Frankly, I have no idea what Bears team will show up, and I have no idea what Eagles team will show up. Still, as my rankings show this is a sneaky good game. Both teams are in the top 10, and both teams will be competing for that last wildcard spot in the NFC. Matt Forte is amazing and I expect him to run all over the Eagles. But when the Eagles offense is clicking and Michael Vick is playing well, they cannot be stopped. I expected Dallas to finish the Eagles off once and for all on Sunday night, and instead the Eagles blew them the fuck out and made everybody wonder if Philly is finally the elite team we expected them to be. That Philly team scared the hell out of me, and I’m picking them as long as they keep looking like that. The matchup that really put it over the edge for me in the Eagles favor is their league best rushing attack spearheaded dualy by Lesean McCoy and Michael Vick against a very suspect Bears rushing defense. Expect big games on the ground from both of those guys.

Last week: 9-4

Byes: Detroit, Minnesota, Carolina, Jacksonville.

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Week 9 Rankings

  1. San Francisco 111.9
  2. Detroit 109.9
  3. Houston 109.0
  4. Buffalo 106.8
  5. Baltimore 106.8
  6. Green Bay 105.1
  7. Chicago 104.4
  8. Pittsburgh 103.5
  9. Philadelphia 103.2
  10. New England 103.1
  11. Minnesota 102.8
  12. Cincinnati 102.4
  13. New Orleans 101.3
  14. Atlanta 101.3
  15. NY Jets 101.1
  16. Dallas 100.5
  17. Oakland 99.2
  18. NY Giants 98.4
  19. Tampa Bay 97.9
  20. Seattle 97.4
  21. Carolina 96.6
  22. Arizona 96.0
  23. Tennessee 96.0
  24. Jacksonville 95.9
  25. Cleveland 95.8
  26. San Diego 95.7
  27. Kansas City 95.3
  28. Washington 93.5
  29. Denver 92.9
  30. Miami 91.7
  31. St. Louis 91.2
  32. Indianapoli 86.9

The Formula

If you saw my post from last week, you will notice massive changes in the rankings that are due mostly to changes in my formula. I will not be linking to that because I have since added strength of schedule adjustments that make those rankings irrelevant and incomparable. The previous week rankings that you see above are based on a formula very similar to the one I used this week, with the only difference being that third down offense and defense had not been implemented yet. It is too late to go back and get those numbers for last week.

The ten variables I used for the rankings are: passing offense, rushing offense, passing defense and rushing defense (all based on yards per play), giveaways, turnovers, touchdowns scored, touchdowns allowed (all on a per game basis), and third down offense and third down defense (as measured by conversion rate). The average score in each category is 100, and the score given for each team in a given category is based on the percent difference between what that team did and what the average team did in that category. For example, Green Bay’s 9.4 yards per pass is 39.4% better than average, so for that category they would get a 139.4 (as you can tell from how the scores worked out above, that is an absurd score, better than anybody else did at anything).

All categories are adjusted for how opponents have fared in the relevant category, so that passing offense is weighted by the quality of passing defenses faced, and so on. One last thing, the formula is very slightly biased in favor of pass defense, because this is a passing league and the teams that stop the pass have the best chance of beating the elite offenses from New England, Green Bay and Pittsburgh (the main reason I almost picked Pittsburgh over New England…and probably should have).

Points of Interest: Philly, Dallas, Green Bay, Minnesota, and the NY Giants

The biggest single game movement to note is Philly vs. Dallas. Dallas was a stellar third going into the week, while Philly at 2-4 was a well deserved 20th. Then Philly absolutely destroyed Dallas, and now Philly is 9th and Dallas has dropped all the way to 16th. And you know what? I’m fine with that. If Philly can do that to a good divisional opponent, they deserve to move up. Right now they’re 9th, which if I’m honest is totally fair. They won’t play like they did against Dallas every week, but I expect them to do enough to stay near the bottom of the top 10. And as for Dallas… if Dallas let’s that happen, they deserve to fall as far as they did. I still think Dallas is better than they played Sunday night, but they had a chance to show the country how good they really are, and instead showed just how bad they can be.

Now I ‘ll address some teams that you probably think are interestingly placed. I’ll start with Green Bay: I think they’re the best team in the league. Period. They would beat every team ahead of them at least 7 times out of ten. That said, I can see why the formula has them lower than you probably think they should be: they do just enough to win and that’s it. They’ll remain the top team in my brain until they actually lose a game they should win, but I don’t see that happening. To be honest, I expect the rankings to reflect their true quality more and more as the season goes on, I also expect them to finish around 14-2 and compete for the first overall seed in the NFC.

Minnesota is interesting. They are 2-6 and most people think they probably suck, but my formula has them as a top 10 team. In a crazy way this makes sense. Remember those first few weeks where they kept blowing big leads? Well they played pretty damn well to get them, against some quality opponents. They really are better than people think they are. I picked them to beat Carolina last week, a game pretty much nobody picked, and they proved me right. Call me crazy, but I think they’re good. Then again, I thought the same thing about Dallas going into the Dallas-Philly game, and we know how that worked out. Maybe the Vikes have a stinker in there somewhere (they certainly did in Chicago), but they played damn well against the Packers and damned well agains the Lions, and those are two of the best teams around. Look, do I think they’re one of the ten best teams in football? No, I do not. But I think they are in the top half of the league despite a 2-6 record. We will know a lot more about this team when they go to Green Bay after next week’s bye.

And finally, my New York football Giants. I continue to think that everybody else is wrong about them, that they are a league average team that has faced an abysmal schedule. They have faced two good teams and beaten both, but they have also lost to one bad one (the Seahawks) and one terrible one (the Redskins). They beat the Rams handily, as they should have, but needed miracles to win against Arizona and Miami. Those last two I find the most telling. Facing the softest schedule in the entire league (and it isn’t close) the Giants could just as easily be 3-4 as 5-2. They stole those games, and if they were a good team they wouldn’t need to steal those games, they’d just win them. Their defense is crap, their run game is crap. All they can do is throw. Don’t get me wrong, their pass game is great with Eli playing the best football of his career, but they have yet to embrace their new identity as the mid ’00s Colts: all passing, all the time, and great D-Ends to shut the door when they get leads. Until they accept their new identity, they will not beat any of the elite teams they face. And God knows they will be facing a lot of them: at New England, at San Francisco, home for Philly, at New Orleans, home for Green Bay, at Dallas. Then a nice break at home for Washington, before closing with an away game in their own stadium (@ NY Jets) and finally home for Dallas. Can they handle that slate and be in position to battle Dallas for a playoff spot in week 17? Time will tell, but my fear is no.