2016 NFL Picks: Week 9
Last Week: 4-1
- Dallas Cowboys -8 at Cleveland Browns
- Atlanta Falcons -3 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Denver Broncos +1 at Oakland Raiders
- Philadelphia Eagles +3 at New York Giants
- Carolina Panthers -3 at Los Angeles Rams
It took eight weeks, but I can finally breathe a little easier after my first successful week of 2016 NFL picks! We still have a long way to go before we have a winning record, and much further until we reach the 60% we're shooting for, but it seems possible for the first time in months. I probably won't make a habit of throwing in bonus picks on Sunday mornings...
...but it worked out this time around.
In case there are any stormclouds hoping to rain on my parade, I’ll admit to feeling a bit lucky for how the Cowboys-Eagles game played out. I picked Dallas -4.5 and was rewarded with a ten-point deficit early in the fourth quarter. Somehow Philadelphia fumbled the game out of their hands and into overtime, where Jason Garrett miraculously found the courage to go for it on 4th and 1 in overtime. He (and I) was rewarded with a game-winning (and spread-covering) touchdown just five plays later.
Of course, luck does factor into every pick every week, and I would counter those Negative Nancys by arguing that Dan Quinn's poor game management cost me the one loss we suffered in Week 8. Those of you who have watched a game with me know that if there's anything I enjoy more than drinking and critiquing Cris Collinsworth, it's criticizing the surprising abundance of poor coaching decisions on display every Sunday. Our friend Matt can attest to my fatalistic response to Coach Quinn’s decision to go for two after scoring a touchdown to close the gap to 21-19; I immediately predicted it would come back to bite both his team and my pick in the butt. Really, the decision to go for two is a simple one to make, and should fit one of these three situations:
- You believe you have at least a 48% chance to convert the attempt (NFL extra points are successful ~95.5% of the time)
- You need the additional point to reduce the number of scores necessary to extend the game (down 5 pending the attempt, down 10 pending the attempt, etc.)
- The additional point can increase the number of scores necessary for your opponent to extend the game (up 1 pending the attempt, up 4 pending the attempt)
Coaches rarely bank on the first scenario here, which is why two-point conversion attempts are so rare.. The second and third scenarios are both dependent on the game situation; you can only realistically calculate the number of remaining possessions late in the game.
Not to be deterred by simple "logic", Dan Quinn pounced on the opportunity to tie the game at 21 with four minutes remaining in the first half. It did not work. It also didn't take long for the downside of this "thought process" to reveal itself; after a Green Bay field goal and an Atlanta touchdown, Atlanta was up 25-24, and chose to kick an extra point to go up by two. Had he kicked the extra point both times, he likely would have found himself in the preferable situation of being up by a field goal. Instead, the Packers scored the next touchdown and Mike McCarthy intelligently proceeded to go for two in an attempt to extend the lead to 6 points (see scenario 3 above). This attempt succeeded because of Stupid Sexy Rodgers, and when the Falcons scored another touchdown, the ensuing extra point gave them a 33-32 edge. Good enough for a win, but not good enough for a cover. I probably lost your interest with so much blabbering, so I'll sum it up quickly:
- In the "normal" timeline, Atlanta does not go for two, takes a 27-24 lead, the Packers touchdown makes it 31-27, and the Falcons' final touchdown gives them a 34-31 win and me a push.
- In the "WHY DAN QUINN, WHY?!" timeline, the Atlanta coach's bizarre decision-making results in a Falcons win and a QQ loss.
I'm sure you all found this sequence of events as riveting and frustrating as I did. On to the picks!
Atlanta Falcons -3 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Yes, I know, this game already took place and the Falcons covered, so I'm off to a 1-0 start! I didn't watch any of it, but I'll detail my reasoning from earlier in the week and see how well it matches up.
As I've mentioned once or twice before, Jameis Winston is a turnover machine. This flaw will become increasingly exposed as the Falcons and their NFL-leading offense rack up points on Tampa's 20th-ranked defense. Atlanta's defense has struggled, but the Bucs are not equipped to take advantage with their 22nd-ranked offense. I see Atlanta getting out to an early lead and extending it with the help of a few turnovers before Tampa picks up some points in garbage time.
How did I do? Not bad! The Falcons made their way to a 19-point lead by the end of the third quarter, but they were aided more by Tampa Bay fumbles (2, 1 for Jameis) than interceptions (0). The Falcons extended their lead to 26 in the fourth quarter before Tampa scored two touchdowns to make it closer, but not close enough.
Dallas Cowboys -8 at Cleveland Browns
The Cowboys are better than the Browns in every phase of the game, but the bar isn't set high. Cleveland's "strength" is their special teams, which ranks 24th heading into this matchup. Instead of writing about all of the ways Dallas can win this game, I'll point out that Cleveland has only covered eight points four times this year, against the Ravens, Titans, Dolphins, and Jets. The Cowboys are a lot better than all of those teams, and it will show this Sunday.
Denver Broncos +1 at Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have been a very fun team to watch this season, both because their offense is clicking and because they find themselves in close games more than any other 6-2 team. For example, Oakland racked up 23 penalties for 200 yards in a win over Tampa Bay last week. 200 yards! You have to severely misinterpret the rules to so thoughtlessly put NFL referees at risk of Tommy John surgery. So far, such shenanigans and the 28th-ranked defense haven't hurt the Raiders, who are tied with the Broncos atop the AFC West. I don't think their +12 point differential (including games against the Titans, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Saints, and Ravens) bodes well heading into this matchup against the Broncos. The Raiders offense will struggle against Denver's 2nd-ranked defense, especially if they keep shooting themselves in the foot. On the other side of the ball, Trevor Siemian's competence will be enough to reach 20+ points and earn a narrow win. Sorry, Oakland: you rack disciprine.
Philadelphia Eagles +3 at New York Giants
The Eagles (first in total DVOA) travel to the creatively-named New Meadowlands to face division rival New York (17th in total DVOA). I've had the misfortune of watching the Giants a few times this year, and it has given me a glimpse into their playbook. Page 1 says "throw the ball to Odell Beckham, Jr. and hope he runs all the way to the end zone." Page 2 says "go back to page 1" and Page 3 is a doodle of the Helmet Catch. I don't like Jim Schwartz very much, but I think he's a good enough defensive coordinator to plan around such a mundane offense. Philadelphia also has advantages in defensive DVOA (1st vs. 10th) and special teams DVOA (1st vs. 14th), and only slightly trails in offensive DVOA (23rd vs. 19th). Why they're considered even is beyond me, so I'll take the three points.
Carolina Panthers -3 at Los Angeles Rams
The Panthers are essentially in must-win mode for the rest of the season, and the Rams just aren't good enough to keep this game close. The Panthers have lost games in myriad fashion this year, but the prevailing theme has been a young, struggling secondary. Case Keenum is not the man to take advantage of this weakness. Last time out, he led his team to a loss in London, averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt and adding four interceptions. Jared Goff continues to not see the playing field, so I'm not sure I expect the Rams to break ten points this week. Can Cam Newton and company rack up 20? I think so, especially with the extra possessions the generous Mr. Keenum will give them.
Happy weekend, everyone! The world didn't end when the Cubs won the World Series, so I can confidently say we'll see you next week!