Oddly Enough

NFL analysis, handicapping, opinion and reportage.
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Denver -2.5 vs. Seattle (48)

There is a lot of appeal in laying less than a field goal with the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. It is sound decision-making. Denver supporters are on solid ground.

Nevertheless, I’m siding with the underdog Seahawks. 

Here’s my reasoning:

  • The Seahawks’ defense can hold its own against the Broncos’ offense. In fact, Seattle’s defense might just have the edge. I see Denver’s receiving corps having problems working open initially against Seattle’s secondary, which will allow Seattle’s pressure to get to Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
  • The versatility of the Seahawks’ offense is a little underrated. Think of the ways Seattle can attack in the ground game. They can play straight-ahead power football with Marshawn Lynch. They have Russell Wilson keep the ball on read-option plays. Moreover, they can now get Percy Harvin involved on end-arounds, etc. It’s difficult for me to believe Denver will completely shut down the Seattle ground game, and that’s going to open up passing-game opportunities for Wilson.
  • The Broncos’ injuries will finally catch up with them. The Broncos will enter the Super Bowl without two blue-chip players (OLB Von Miller, OLT Ryan Clady) and four other capable starters (CB Chris Harris, DE Derek Wolfe, DT Kevin Vickerson, S Rahim Moore). The Broncos have overcome that talent drain largely on the strength of their offense. However, now they are facing an elite defense. Points will be tougher to come by, and their margin for error will be quite slim. 

To me, the Seahawks are the best team in football. And when that team is an underdog … well, I’ve had more difficult handicapping decisions. I may not be right about Super Bowl XLVIII, but I have a strong opinion, and that isn’t always the case.

Pick: Seattle (+2.5)

Predicted score: Seahawks 31, Broncos 20.

Last week: 1-1 / Season: 31-43-4

Two-hundred dollars of failed Super Bowl halftime show future-book bets, 1995-2005:

—   Coolio featuring L.V., $10 at 500-1, 1995.*

—   Seven Mary Three: $5 at 2,000-1, 1996.

—   Savage Garden, $10 at 1,000-1, 1997.

—   Silkk the Shocker, $5 at $10,000-1, 1998.**

—   Sixpence None the Richer, $20 at 1,000-1, 1999.

—   Santana (featuring Rob Thomas), $50 at 50-1, 2000.***

—   Lifehouse, $40 at 500-1, 2001.****

—   Michelle Branch, $20 at 750-1, 2002. *****

—   Chingy, $20 at 1,200-1, 2003.

—   Hoobastank, $10 at 1,500-1, 2004. ******

—   Up With People, $10 at $500-1, 2005. *******

* — (cracks knuckles) This is called getting your money in with the best hand, friends.

** — Fun fact: my first-ever drink was Surge and Southern Comfort. 

*** — I got Santana AND Rob Thomas for 50-1. No regrets.

**** — Was kind of reeling from the bad beat from the previous year.

***** — [null set]

****** — It was them or Petey Pablo.

******* — Worth a shot.

Picks are bolded:

New England +5 at DENVER — Let’s begin with this piece of advice: if you like the Patriots, don’t settle for plus-5 unless that’s best you can do. Frankly, I’d rather not take five, but that’s the prevailing number, and as I try to balance getting these picks up sooner than later with the current market prices … well, sometimes I have to publish a number I don’t love. There’s a +6 at a major Nevada book, so keep that in mind.

Anyways, I like the Patriots to keep this close, and they have a real shot at the outright upset. In my view, the Broncos’ defensive injuries leave them quite vulnerable in this matchup. I’m not convinced the Broncos can slow the Patriots’ passing game, which could leave them challenged to stop the run, too. My take? The absences of Von Miller and Chris Harris will loom large at times for Denver. 

Granted, New England is without tight end Rob Gronkowski for this matchup, which is a major negative. Nevertheless, the Patriots are as resourceful and as flexible as they come on offense in today’s NFL. They have adjusted, and they have thrived. I’ll take the points.

SEATTLE (-3)*** vs. San Francisco — Count me in for the Seahawks at this relatively short price.

The 49ers are an outstanding underdog, but this is a tough spot. The Seahawks couldn’t have gotten more out of their divisional-round win vs. the Saints — their defense and special teams were excellent, and their offense made just enough plays to win. If Seattle’s offense improves, the home side will be tough to beat in one of the best conference title games from a sheer talent standpoint that I can remember.

The Seahawks have lost just three times this season, and they held a fourth-quarter lead in all of those defeats, including the Week 14 loss at San Francisco. I hold Seattle’s best game is the best any team can muster this season. Top to bottom, this is the NFL’s most skilled team.

*** — Yes, there are plenty of 3.5s out there. However, multiple big Nevada sports books are dealing Seattle -3 with added juice.

Picks: New England, Seattle.

Last week: 1-2-1 / Season: 30-42-4

Here’s an off-the-cuff by-conference list of the offenses in the best shape, on paper, for the next three seasons. The genesis of the list was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator job opening up. Here’s the idea: if I could coordinate any offense beginning in 2014, which would I pick? 

Quite obviously, the list is subjective.

The teams bolded are those that have a clear starter at quarterback in 2014. The players listed are the ones who immediately occurred to me as major assets. I first thought of skill-position players, so if I missed an obvious tackle or guard, my mistake.

Lastly, it seems to me that the NFC is in better shape from an offensive perspective. Even some of the bottom-of-the-list clubs have some potential.

Here goes:

AFC

1.    COLTS — ANDREW LUCK, T.Y. HILTON.

2.    BRONCOS — PEYTON MANNING, DEMARYIUS THOMAS.

3.    PATRIOTS — TOM BRADY.

4.    BENGALS — A.J. GREEN, GIOVANI BERNARD, DEPTH OF SKILL TALENT.

5.    CHARGERS — PHILIP RIVERS, KEENAN ALLEN, RYAN MATHEWS.

6.    RAVENS — JOE FLACCO, TORREY SMITH.

7.    STEELERS — BEN ROETHLISBERGER, ANTONIO BROWN, LeVEON BELL.

8.    DOLPHINS — RYAN TANNEHILL.

9.    CHIEFS — ALEX SMITH, JAMAAL CHARLES.

10. TEXANS — ANDRE JOHNSON, ARIAN FOSTER; AGE CONCERNS AT SKILL-SPOTS, MAJOR QB QUESTIONS.

11. BROWNS — JOSH GORDON.

12. TITANS — KENDALL WRIGHT.

13. BILLS — C.J. SPILLER.

14. JAGUARS — MAJOR QB QUESTIONS, BUT JUST A GENERAL BELIEF FRANCHISE GOING IN RIGHT DIRECTION.

15. RAIDERS — MAJOR QB QUESTIONS.

16. JETS — MAJOR QB QUESTIONS.

NFC

1.    PACKERS — AARON RODGERS, JORDY NELSON, RANDALL COBB, EDDIE LACY. 

2.    EAGLES — LESEAN MCCOY, DESEAN JACKSON, NICK FOLES, DEPTH OF SKILL TALENT.

3.    BEARS — JAY CUTLER, BRANDON MARSHALL, ALSHON JEFFERY, MATT FORTE.

4.    FALCONS — MATT RYAN, JULIO JONES.

5.    SEAHAWKS — RUSSELL WILSON, PERCY HARVIN, MARSHAWN LYNCH.

6.    49ERS — COLIN KAEPERNICK, VERNON DAVIS, MICHAEL CRABTREE, FRANK GORE.

7.    COWBOYS — TONY ROMO, DEZ BRYANT, DEMARCO MURRAY, JASON WITTEN, TYRON SMITH. AGE A LOOMING CONCERN.

8.    PANTHERS — CAM NEWTON. SKILL-POSITION QUESTIONS, HOWEVER.

9.    SAINTS — DREW BREES, JIMMY GRAHAM. AGE AT SKILL POSITIONS, OL PLAY ISSUES TO WATCH.

10. LIONS — MATTHEW STAFFORD, CALVIN JOHNSON. NEED A LITTLE MORE PASS-CATCHING TALENT.

11. REDSKINS — ROBERT GRIFFIN III, TRENT WILLIAMS, PIERRE GARCON, ALFRED MORRIS, JORDAN REED. 

12. BUCCANEERS — MIKE GLENNON, VINCENT JACKSON, DOUG MARTIN.

13. VIKINGS — ADRIAN PETERSON, CORDARRELLE PATTERSON. MAJOR QB CONCERNS.

14. RAMS — TAVON AUSTIN, BUT MAJOR QB CONCERNS.

15. GIANTS — VICTOR CRUZ, BUT QB PLAY NOW A CONCERN. RB PLAY AN ISSUE, TOO.

16. CARDINALS — HAVE TO SOON REBUILD / RELOAD AT SKILL POSITIONS.

Picks are in bold:

New Orleans (+8) at Seattle: It comes down to this: I believe the Saints can get enough stops to keep this within the number. I’m not worried about their offense. Nor I am I worried about the weather. I do, however, concede that the Seahawks could make short work of these underdogs. But I’ll take the risk.

Indianapolis (+7) at New England: These Patriots are dogged, but they lack the brilliance of their recent predecessors. Only five of New England’s 12 victories were by more than seven points. A little of the value has been zapped out of the underdog, but I’ll take the points nonetheless.

San Francisco (-1) at Carolina: I’m not convinced the Panthers have the offensive punch needed to beat San Francisco a second time. I’m also convinced the Niners are one of the two or three most talented teams in the league, top to bottom.

San Diego at Denver (-9.5) — I just wonder if the Chargers are over the top. This is the second of back-to-back road games, and tailback Ryan Mathews is hurting. I don’t like laying this many points, but I think Denver is very likely to win.

Picks: New Orleans, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Denver.

Last week: 1-2-1 / Season: 29-40-3

Picks are bolded:

The Eagles (-2.5) have the skill and versatility to give any defense fits. The Saints’ stop unit is stronger than a season ago, but Philadelphia could simply prove too much for New Orleans. I’ll also take a shot on OVER 53.5 in Saints-Eagles. Though cold weather is forecast, the wind doesn’t look like it will affect the passing games.

— In their December 1 meeting with the Bengals, the Chargers (+7) committed three turnovers and were outgained by just 20 yards in a 17-10 loss. They can play Cincinnati tough in the rematch. The pressure is squarely on the Bengals, who have not played well in their last two playoff appearances.

— Finally, sign me up for the Packers (+3) in the wild-card weekend finale vs. San Francisco. Yes, the 49ers’ offense has given the Packers’ defense major problems in the last three meetings. Yes, the 49ers’ defense is stronger than the Packers’ defense. Nevertheless, I’m playing the Packers to move forward in Aaron Rodgers’ second start back in the lineup — and I’m playing against the 49ers delivering yet another outstanding performance against a blue-chip Green Bay squad. At some point, the 49ers will turn in a dull performance in one of these games. That’s my theory, at least. At the price, why not?

Point spread picks: Green Bay +3, Philadelphia -2.5, San Diego +7.

Total pick: Philadelphia-New Orleans OVER 53.5.

Last week: 3-1 / Season record: 28-38-2.

Selections are in BOLD:

PITTSBURGH -7 
vs. Cleveland — The Steelers are in good form. The Browns are not. The Steelers need the game to keep their postseason hopes alive. The Browns’ playoff hopes have long been gone.

N.Y. GIANTS -3.5 vs. Washington — In meaningless Week 17 games like this, the home team holds extra appeal. Washington has been playing out the string for weeks.

MINNESOTA -3 vs. Detroit — The Vikings have played hard for Leslie Frazier. The Lions are beaten-up. If Detroit delivers a great effort … well, it’s a few weeks late.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans OVER 47 — The Saints need the game, and I have a feeling the young Bucs will show well in their season finale.

Picks: Saints-Buccaneers OVER 47, Minnesota, N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh.

Last week: 2-2 / Season to date: 25-37-2.

Using Michael David Smith’s projected playoff matchups as my guide,  here are lines for four potential wild-card games.

In fact, let’s go a step further and place them in the order in which they would be played, too:

SATURDAY

Early game: CINCINNATI -6 vs. Miami

Primetime: PHILADELPHIA -3 vs. New Orleans

SUNDAY

Noon game: INDIANAPOLIS -2 vs. Kansas City

Afternoon game: GREEN BAY PK vs. San Francisco

Selections are in BOLD:

SEATTLE -10 vs. Arizona — I think Seattle’s this good. I really do.

JACKSONVILLE +5 vs. Tennessee — Titans come off a draining OT loss to Arizona and are hard to take at this price.

Indianapolis +7 at KANSAS CITY — I’m not convinced the Chiefs have the offensive punch needed to cover this sort of number against a solid Colts club.

Bears-Eagles UNDER 56 — Hypothetically, one or both teams could rest starters, depending upon how the early games play out. I typically wouldn’t mess with a game like this, but at this price, it’s worth a shot.

Picks: Indianapolis, Seattle, Jacksonville, Bears-Eagles UNDER.

Last week: 2-1-1 / Season to date: 23-35-2.

"You are what your record says you are” — Bill Parcells. —****

Here’s my record through 14 games: 21 wins, 34 losses, one push.

And here’s the thing: if you expect me to say the game cannot be beaten, you would be wrong.

It is possible to be a winning pro football handicapper. I’ve done it before, and hopefully, I’ll do it again.

I’m not going to hide behind false bravado and guarantee winning seasons going forward. The fact is, I’ve stunk this season, and when you don’t handicap well, you lose. I’m not going to blame the fates for my poor results.

I contend pro football handicapping is one of the great games in the casino. The house edge is material, but it can be overcome. Quite obviously, I haven’t done that this season, and I’d have been better off playing red or black were I to be betting on these games.

That’s humbling, but I still enjoy the handicapping process, and I am optimistic that results will be better. 

Anyways, onward and upward. Here are the Week 15 picks. Selections are bolded:

N.Y. Jets (+10) at Carolina

The rationale: The Panthers are 17th in scoring (22.9 ppg). The feeling here is the Jets can force enough punts and field goals to keep this within the number.

How I can lose: The Jets’ offense throws in an absolute clunker, which is quite possible.

Line note: Unfortunately for me, the line moved from 11 to 10 just before posing, so I’m grading myself at +10. Still, this is a play I like at the price.

Baltimore (+5.5) at Detroit

The rationale: I’m not sure there’s a great deal of difference between these teams, and the Ravens are in better form of late. Also, the Ravens have a nice edge on defense.

How I can lose: The Ravens have no answers for Calvin Johnson, and the Lions deliver a powerhouse performance, as they are quite capable of at Ford Field.

Line note: There are some plus-sixes out there, but it looks like 5.5 is widely available, so that’s what we’re using in the interest of fairness.

Green Bay (+6.5) at Dallas

The rationale: The Cowboys are giving up more yards per game than any other team. The Packers’ offense isn’t nearly as potent without Aaron Rodgers, but it can string enough drives together to keep this under the number.

How I can lose: The Packers’ offense falls apart, and the Cowboys’ defense steps up its play. Dallas has put together a few good defensive performances this season.

Buffalo at Jacksonville UNDER 43

The rationale: Both defenses have played fairly well of late, and neither offense has much punch.

How I can lose: The Bills’ offense, which has some upside, takes a step forward. That, or one team gets out to a big lead and the other club has to throw, which could lead to mistakes, which would lead to more points. Finally, I’m playing an UNDER in a season of OVERs, which may just be completely daffy.

The picks: GREEN BAY, BALTIMORE, N.Y. JETS, BUFFALO-JACKSONVILLE UNDER.

Season record: 21-34-1.

****  — The quote has been widely credited to Parcells. I couldn’t find the exact date he said it, alas.