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Not There Yet…and Week Five Picks…

…Thursday Night Football was once again ugly this week.  The New England Patriots did hold off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, 19-14.  But it was kind of a sloppy game.  A thousand penalties, including several real stupid ones by the Patriots.  Jameis Winston missing wide open receivers…actually Tom Brady did too.  The Patriots offensive line made the Tampa pass rush look like they still had Warren Sapp in his prime.  One sack all year, they had three the other night.  But it felt like 20, they way they were hitting Brady.  I am not sure how the Bucs officially got only 6 hits credited to the stat sheet.  Fumbles.  Dropped passes.  Dropped interceptions.  And lastly, but certainly not least, a virtuoso performance by Tampa kicker Nick Folk.  I guess once you’ve played for the Jets, that stink never really goes away.  May explain why David Harris has only played a handful of snaps for the Pats this year, despite their linebackers being putrid.  But I digress…

If you are a Patriot fan, you should be happy they got the win.  Short week, on the road, against what is supposed to be a good team, defense in disarray and all that.  I am happy for that.  But…if you are a Patriot fan, you cannot say that all the problems from the first 4 games have vanished.

The defense played better, no doubt.  But it appears they simplified it a little bit, though I didn’t study any game tape, I must admit.  And they almost coughed it up late.  Maybe they relaxed a bit at the end, who knows?  But they could have very well lost the game on the last drive.

The offensive line…I don’t even know what to say.  The same five guys are back from last year.  And everyone’s favorite assistant coach, Dante Scarnecchia, is still here.  So what happened?  I really don’t know.  But these guys are going to get Brady killed.  And maybe you can lay a little blame on Tom himself for holding on to the ball too long.  Or the wide receivers for not getting open.  Or on the absence of Julian Edelman, and in this game, Rob Gronkowski, who are Brady’s favorite security blankets.  Or on Josh McDaniels and the coaching staff, because they seemingly have run more downfield routes this year…partly due to the absence of Edelman, but also due to the arrival of Brandin Cooks.  Or TE Dwayne Allen, who apparently sucks at both blocking and receiving.  But you’ve all heard the stat, Brady has been sacked more times in five games already than in the 12 games he played last regular season.  Not good.

Plenty of work still to be done.  And I do think the Patriots will do it.  But it’s going to take some more time.  In any event, 3-2 is better than 2-3.  With the Jets up next.  Beautiful!

Now for the rest of Week Five:

Tennessee (-2.5) at Miami

Miami has scored 25 points in 3 games.  Tennessee is probably starting Matt Cassel.  I hate to pick the Dolphins again and lose, but I feel like I have no choice here.

Miami 20, Tennessee 13.

San Francisco at Indianapolis (-1.5) 

A lot of people have some interest in this game…ummmm…ok, no they don’t.  Indy is at home, is favored and has won one game this year.  But I’m looking for the winless 49ers to finally break through after a three close losses in a row.  Why?  I don’t have any idea.

San Francisco 21, Indianapolis 17.

Carolina at Detroit (-3.5)

Maybe I am in the minority, but I really cannot jump on the Lions bandwagon.  Jimmy Caldwell, for one.  Matthew Stafford for two.  Maybe I should…and will…give these guys some credit some day.  Just not yet.  Ok yes, wait.  This week I will.  Carolina is coming off a big road win in Foxborough.  That means they will probably not show up in Detroit.  I may be going against my better judgement here.  But I really don’t know about this one.

Detroit 24, Carolina 20.

Buffalo at Cincinnati (-3.5)

Buffalo has been better than they should be.  Cincinnati has been worse than they should be.  Things have a way of evening out over time.  Especially when those things concern two mediocre teams.

Cincinnati 27, Buffalo 20.

Los Angeles Chargers at New York Giants (-3.5)

Speaking of two mediocre teams, or “SHOULD” be mediocre teams.  Since that what they should be, though they both remain winless.  A tie perhaps?  Doubtful.  This is another toss of a coin.  When in doubt, take the points.  But I will say that even though both offenses have also sucked, a shootout here would not shock me.

New York Giants 31, Los Angeles Chargers 28.

Arizona at Philadelphia (-6.5) 

Arizona is fairly lucky to be 2-2.  They beat both the hapless Colts and 49ers by three in overtime.  And got smoked in their other two games against Detroit and Dallas.  It’s an every other week thing too.  This happens to be the week of the smokeshow.

Philadelphia 34, Arizona 17.

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh (-8.5) 

Speaking of smokeshows.  Look for Antonio Brown to be targeted early and often.  Despite all that talk about how he needs to grow up and stop the tantrums and all that.  The bottom line is that Big Ben WILL want to make him happy.  So he will get him the ball and shut him up.

Pittsburgh 38, Jacksonville 17.

New York Jets at Cleveland (-1.5)

Yikes!  Niners/Colts and Jets/Browns on the same Sunday??  Oh boy.

Cleveland 17, New York Jets 14.

Seattle at Los Angeles Rams (-2.5)

The Rams may well be for real.  But the Seahawks are not done.

Seattle 27, Los Angeles Rams 24.

Baltimore at Oakland (-3.5)

The Ravens have been abysmal the last two weeks.  But the Raiders are likely starting EJ Manuel.  ‘Nuff said.

Baltimore 24, Oakland 17.  

Green Bay at Dallas (-2.5)

I’m not feeling the Cowboys this year.  Still should be a pretty good squad.  But 13-3?  Nah.  Well, they would have to go 11-1 from here, so I suppose that is pretty obvious.  The Packers didn’t dominate out of the gates this year either.  Even though the game is in Dallas, I’m feeling the Pack here…with of course no real statistical evidence for me to back it up with.

Green Bay 34, Dallas 27.

Kansas City (-1.5) at Houston

Houston isn’t going to put 57 up on the Chiefs this week.  But the offense has found some rhythm for sure.  KC isn’t going to go undefeated.  They had a battle with Washington at home last week and managed to outlast the Redskins.  This game kind of looks like where they have a little bump in the road…on the road.

Houston 24, Kansas City 23.

Minnesota (-2.5) at Chicago 

Mitchell Trubisky may be better than Mike Glennon.  But that’s not saying much.  Sure, they’ve had a week and a half to get him ready for this game.  Well, to start this game.  They’ve had months to get him ready.  Anyway, throwing him in on a Monday Night Football game against a divisional opponent with a pretty good defense?  Not so sure about that.  Whether or not Sam Bradford comes back or if it is Case Keenum again under center for the Vikes.

Minnesota 24, Chicago 10.

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  1-0

Season (against the spread): 30-34

Season (straight up): 40-24

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Much better…

…we’re talking about both the New England Patriots’ performance last Sunday against New Orleans, as well as the Blowhard’s Week Two pick performance (did anyone notice we predicted the exact score & winner of the KC/Philly game?  No?  Not surprised…but it happened!).

Now, we don’t necessarily have to go back and entirely analyze the Pats game from four days ago.  But it was good to see the team get back to doing things that we know they are capable of doing.

However, I wouldn’t say all their problems are solved.  And that’s ok, because it is still September.  Plenty of time still to figure things out.  But it was disappointing to see the offense kind of sputter a bit in the second half against a historically bad Saints defense.  That’s one that stands out to me.  They should have put up 50 against that putrid outfit.

Of course, the injuries didn’t help.  Looked like Rex Burkhead was going to be a big part of the game plan.  He left early.  Phillip Dorsett was getting himself involved, then he left a little later.  No need to even talk about Gronk…we know he is an injury waiting to happen.  Every team has injuries and we will see what happens with these guys…including Danny Amendola and Dont’a Hightower, who of course did not play.  As well as Eric Rowe, who also left the game early.  But they seem to be hitting the Pats early this year.

More importantly, what is up with the playing time of Malcolm Butler and Alan Branch?  Is Butler already starting to be “phased out”, seeing that he won’t be here next year?  Is Branch causing problems somehow, as he has been wont to do in the past with other teams?  Curious dip in PT for these two.  And why did the team even sign David Harris when he has only played three snaps in the first two games…and the linebacking corps is suspect to begin with?

And where is Brandin Cooks?  The team dressed only 3 wide receivers and Dorsett eventually went down.  Plus, Burkhead apparently was going to play some receiver and he went down early.  And Cooks only had 2 catches (4 targets).  Seemed to me this was a game to get him involved more.

I won’t even start on Stephen Gostkowski.  3-3 on chip shot field goals, yes, but were any of them straight?  Another missed PAT and I’m not sure the other three made PAT’s were straight either.  And please recall that the game was played indoors.

Perhaps that is a little nitpicking for the second week of the season.  But they are all relevant talking points.  In any event, we are happy with the win, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

As for Week Three, here’s where we begin:

Los Angeles Rams (-2.5) at San Francisco

Another banner Thursday night game.  This could possibly be a worse matchup than Texans/Bengals last Thursday night.  Sure, the Rams have shown improvement from last year in their first two games of this season, but is anyone buying into them yet?  Sure, the Niners played the Seahawks close last week, but they have scored TWELVE points thus far this season.  Brian Hoyer is locking down that quarterbacking job at this point, I suppose that explains some things.

It’s a divisional battle, so maybe that’s something to grasp hold onto.  The color rush thing is kind of stupid, but if you like it then you can cling to that too.  But this sure smells like another Thursday night stinker.  Will I watch it though?  You bet!!

Los Angeles Rams 17, San Francisco 9.

Week (against the spread):  10-6

Week (straight up):  13-3

Season (against the spread):  16-15

Season (straight up): 22-9

NFL Picks…

…starting a new feature here at the Blowhard…picking NFL games.  Why?  Cuz it keeps me engaged and…everyone else does it!  Besides, it keeps my mind off the fact that both of my fantasy baseball teams are massively imploding in the first round of their respective playoffs and will leave me short of collecting the pot.  And, it takes me away from the fact that the Yankees are yet again whining about something.  This time about the Red Sox stealing signs.  Ok, so maybe the Sox were cheating a little by using technology when they shouldn’t have been.  But you can’t tell me that other teams, including, most assuredly, the Yankees, aren’t doing something similar.

Of course, all I can hear now is non-Sox/Pats fans saying that Boston is a bunch of cheaters and strip their titles and all that.  When really their biggest crime is being stupid enough to get caught.

But that’s a topic for another day.

Since the season opens tonight, it’s time to make the first pick.  I also want to issue a disclaimer:  I stink at gambling.  Sure, I have had success in various fantasy leagues over the years.  And I actually won a season long NFL picks pool several years ago with about 200 people in it.  A blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, as the saying goes…

But in general, picking against spreads?  Not my forte.  Ask a couple of buddies of mine from several years ago.  Used to watch 12 hours of football with them every Sunday at a local establishment back in the day.  They used to ask me who I “liked”.  I told them, they knew some…ummmm…”professionals” and then placed some “units” down on the team I did not like.  Good buddies, eh?!  But valid strategy, I do hate to admit.

Anyway, let’s get to it:

Kansas City at New England (-8.5)

Of course being a Patriots fan, I am hoping for a 45-10 win, or something along those lines.

But it’s not going to happen.

I expect the Pats to have a huge year of course, but there are still some holes…or perceived holes…on this team at the current time.  And it’s not just losing Julian Edelman.  Although Edelman is clutch, I think they can and will still score a boatload of points without him.

The Patriots often treat September as an “extension of the preseason”.  Of course they try to win, but now that the roster has been shaved to 53, it’s time to find out about some of the guys that are still on it.

In my mind, and in a lot of other people’s as well, the defensive front seven is a huge question mark.  Trey Flowers and Dont’a Hightower are the big names there.  But Flowers has done it for only one year…three quarters of a year pretty much.  And Dont’a is probably still on the mend and in all likelihood won’t play a full complement of snaps tonight.  Alan Branch is solid.  But the rest?  Who the hell knows?

Since no one expects Alex Smith to be throwing bombs downfield all night, the front 7 will be challenged by the likes of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt.  And Hunt is a rookie, so no one in New England surely knows what to expect.  It may take forever for the Chiefs to drive downfield.  But it will keep the ball away from Brady and the Pats offense.  And should keep this game close.

The Pats always keep games close…it seems anyway.  And despite all the pomp and circumstance in Foxborough tonight with celebrating the Super Bowl Championship last year and raising the banners and the crowd being fired up and all that, I still expect a close game.

Look to a couple of years ago on Opening Night the season after the Pats beat Seattle in the previous Super Bowl.  28-21 Pats over Steelers.  Sure, the game really wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.  I was there and never felt like Pittsburgh had a chance.  And the Steelers’ Antonio Brown scored with 2 seconds left to provide the final margin of victory.  But still…

One more area of concern for me is the Chiefs D, led by Justin Houston, against the Pats O-line.  Nate Solder hasn’t played much this preseason, is he ready to go?  The rest of the Pats OL is solid, but not necessarily spectacular.  So we will see.

At least the Patriots will have a faster running back out there, no matter who it is, instead of the plodding LeGarrette Blount.  And we can always count on Andy Reid completely mismanaging the clock.  But we also have to worry about Stephen Gostkowski shanking extra point and field goal attempts.

Ok, that’s enough.  The pick?

New England 30, Kansas City 23.  4 TDs, a FG and missed XP for the Pats.  2 TD’s and 3 FGs for KC.  Thus, a KC cover.  Feels about right.

Week (against the spread):  0-0

Week (straight up):  0-0

Season (against the spread):  0-0

Season (straight up):  0-0

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