2016 NFL Picks: Week 13
Last Week: 4-4-1
- Dallas Cowboys -4 at Minnesota Vikings
- Detroit Lions +5.5 at New Orleans Saints
- Kansas City Chiefs +4.5 at Atlanta Falcons
- Green Bay Packers -7 vs. Houston Texans
- Miami Dolphins +3.5 at Baltimore Ravens
- Oakland Raiders -3.5 vs. Buffalo Bills
- Washington Redskins +2.5 at Arizona Cardinals
- New York Giants +6 at Pittsburgh Steelers
- Carolina Panthers +7 at Seattle Seahawks
Ouch. I have to admit, that one stung a bit. Coming out of the early slate of games on Sunday we were 4-1-1, sitting at .500 for the first time all season. Disappointments from two of the three best teams in the league (New England and Seattle) left our fate in the hands of...the Philadelphia Eagles, of course! The same team I wrote this about just two weeks ago:
"Unfortunately, I can't pick for or against them (the Eagles) this week in Seattle because I'm now 1-7 picking Eagles' games this season, and even I learn eventually."
Philadelphia utterly failed to take advantage of a severely depleted Green Bay defense, so make that 1-8 picking for or against the Eagles this season. Maybe the lesson will stick a little longer this time. A boring and unproductive 4-4-1 week left us right back where we started going into week 12.
That's the bad news. The good news is that we didn't sink any further into the sub-.500 depths, and we have five weeks left to make the full-season results respectable and (hypothetically) profitable. To the picks!
Dallas Cowboys -4 at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota, in case you hadn't heard, is struggling to score points with Adrian Peterson on the sideline and Sam Bradford under center. As depressing as this is for Vikings fans (as a Bears fan, I know their pain), I like to think Bradford's return to mediocrity represents a glimmer of hope that this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year of 2016 might end with a semblance of normalcy. I'm taking my optimism where I can get it, for those of you who missed me drawing a blank on the latest politics podcast. Anyway, the Vikings have only been able to exceed 20 points with the help of turnovers, special teams, or both. Dallas ranks a solid 10th in special teams DVOA and has the second-fewest giveaways in the league. We've also seen Dallas take on two teams with similar defense-first profiles: Baltimore and Philadelphia. They won one game by 10 and the other by 6. The Cowboys should ride their league-best offense to an early lead, and the Vikings will struggle to catch up using their five-yards-or-less offensive strategy.
Post-game: ...or maybe they'll drive the length of the field in the last two minutes and spoil a cover. Jerks.
Detroit Lions +5.5 at New Orleans Saints
The Detroit Lions are now 7-4 despite a point differential of just +9 and DVOA ranks suggesting they can pass the ball pretty well but struggle to run or play any kind of defense. New Orleans has a similarly porous defense, but ranks 4th in offensive DVOA. So why am I picking the Lions to cover this spread in New Orleans? First, they haven't been blown out all year. Their defense ranks 31st in DVOA, but somehow two of their three worst defensive games came against the Colts and the Rams. They've been oddly stingy against good offenses, holding Washington to 20 points and Tennessee to 16. Secondly, the Lions have played the Saints well in recent seasons, winning 24-23 in Detroit in 2014 and 35-27 in New Orleans last year. I think this one will be high-scoring, but I'll be surprised if New Orleans can perform well enough on defense to prevent a Lions cover.
Kansas City Chiefs +4.5 at Atlanta Falcons
It was a surprise to me when Football Outsiders had the Falcons in the number one spot for total DVOA this week. I knew they were good on offense, but I thought their defense would land them a bit lower. What I didn't realize was that Atlanta ranks 7th in special teams DVOA, helping to offset their 24th-ranked defense. My pick here starts with questions about their ability to protect Matt Ryan. The Falcons have scored 30 or more points in all but three games this season; all three exceptions came against teams in the top 8 in adjusted sack rate. Kansas City ranks a middling 15th, but they've played most of the season without star pass rusher Justin Houston. If you watched Sunday Night Football last week (and played our drinking game responsibly enough to remember it), you probably noticed him racking up three sacks and a forced fumble. Atlanta is only 20th in adjusted sack rate allowed, so they might struggle to sustain drives against a healthy Chiefs defense. If they do, I like Kansas City and the points in this one.
Green Bay Packers -7 vs. Houston Texans
This pick is again more about Brock Osweiler than it is about the Texans or their opponent. After another stupendous outing against the Chargers (22/37, 246 yards, 0 TD/3 INT), Houston's QB of the future is dead last in DVOA among quarterbacks and tied with Ryan Fitzpatrick for last in passer rating. I don't want to give the Packers too much credit for winning as underdogs against Philadelphia, especially after I essentially guaranteed the outcome by picking the Eagles. Still, they're 10th in offensive DVOA and 23rd in defensive DVOA, playing at home against the league's 31st-ranked offense. I'm pretty sure Houston won't reach 17 points, and despite their struggles, Green Bay has scored at least 24 in each of their last six games. They also desperately need a win to keep pace with the Lions (seriously, 2016?) before heading into their game against Seattle next week.
Miami Dolphins +3.5 at Baltimore Ravens
The Dolphins are a better all-around team than the Ravens, ranking 9th in total DVOA to Baltimore's 13th. Baltimore has a better defense, but they've only averaged 18.3 points per game against non-Browns opponents this season. Miami's defense ranks 8th in DVOA, so I don't expect the Ravens to break out on offense this week. Assuming they don't, Miami should be able to at least cover this spread by achieving competence. Hmm...that might be asking too much of Ryan Tannehill. Either way, I wouldn't recommend watching this game unless you want to end up like the suckers who opened up the Ark of the Covenant.
Oakland Raiders -3.5 vs. Buffalo Bills
The Bills are 6-5 coming into this game, but I none of those six wins are particularly impressive; their only victim with a winning record is New England, who suited up their injured third-string quarterback in that game. Somehow, the Bills still only managed 16 points against the Patriots' 21st-ranked defense. In a rematch four weeks and one Tom-Brady-return-from-suspension later, they were drubbed 41-25 in a game best remembered for a flying phallus. I expect Oakland's league-best pass protecting offensive line to mitigate Buffalo's pass rush advantage and give Derek Carr time to do damage downfield. Buffalo can run the ball well, but if they're forced to throw, Khalil Mack and the Oakland defense should be able to wreak some havoc.
Washington Redskins +2.5 at Arizona Cardinals
It pains me to say this, but the Cardinals simply aren't good on offense this year. Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson are incredibly fun to watch, but Carson Palmer isn't reliably doing anything well. His offensive line also can't protect him, which is a scary thought against Washington's 7th-ranked pass rush. Arizona's defense is almost entirely responsible for the good parts of their 4-6-1 record, but Washington can both protect Kirk Cousins and run the football. I wish I had more optimism for Kat's Cards, but at least if I pick against them she can't get mad at me for jinxing them!
New York Giants +6 at Pittsburgh Steelers
Last week, I thought Green Bay was 2016's "monster under the bed" team. Mike Lombardi (a regular guest on my favorite podcast, The Bill Simmons Podcast) used that term to describe a team everyone expects to be scary until they finally muster the courage to check under the bed and learn there's nothing there. Of course, I picked the Eagles to check under the bed, so they promptly peed their pants and ran away, losing 27-13 in the process. Pittsburgh might be another "monster under the bed" candidate. After dropping 38 points on Washington in Week 1 and 43 on Kansas City in Week 4, they've only cracked 30 points once in the last six weeks despite games against the Colts, Browns, and Patriots. Part of that stems from Ben Roethlisberger's injury, but should we expect their offense to regain its stride this week against New York's 7th-ranked defense? Throw in Pittsburgh's 30th-ranked defense against No. 1 wide receivers (settle down, OBJ fantasy owners) and Eli Manning's refusal to let any game be easy (just ask the 2007 Patriots), and you have the makings of an upset.
Carolina Panthers +7 at Seattle Seahawks
It's entirely possible I'm overreacting to Seattle scoring just five points in Tampa Bay last week. The Seahawks will be home for this one, and some of their offensive linemen have had another week to get healthy. The Panthers resemble the Buccaneers in a few key ways, though: they have large targets in the passing game, strong interior and edge pass rushers (5th in adjusted sack rate), and an offense capable of extending drives. Carolina has also played Seattle six times in the last five seasons, winning two of those games outright and losing by five points or fewer in three others. If Luke Kuechly is back, Carolina should be able to keep this game within seven points.