2015 Week 9 NFL ATS Picks
Week 8 Review (Week 2-3, Season 21-18-1, All Time 167-143-3)
The most interesting part of Week 8 from my perspective were the two surprises in Denver and in Oakland. The biggest surprise in Denver wasn't that the Packers struggled against the Broncos' defense (I fully expected a defensive game), but rather that the Bronco's offense was able to move the ball so effectively. Their offensive line finally took 'the leap' and played at a professional level. That being said, it will be interesting to see how long Denver's offensive success continues. Manning's passing was effective because Denver's receivers were able to consistently beat Green Bay's linebackers on short slants over the middle. This success is schematic, which means teams should be able to game plan against it moving forward.
The Raiders surprised the Jets, and just about everyone watching, as they moved the ball at will against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Having picked the Jets myself, I too was surprised, but I was also left wondering whether the Raiders beat the Jets defense, or if the Jets really just beat themselves. The Jets seemed to develop a strong disposition against tackling right around the time when Fitzpatrick left the game. An alternative narrative that I would present for this game is that the Jets defense was so disheartened to have Geno Smith back in the line-up, that they simply lost their edge. For this reason, I'm not ready to downgrade the Jets, and I am definitely not ready to upgrade the Raiders.
Week 9 Picks
Pittsburgh -4 vs Oakland
If you read the recap, this pick should come as no surprise. I think the Raiders are being significantly overvalued after wins against a bad Chargers team and a Jets team that most definitely did not show up to play. Additionally, I think Pittsburgh is being undervalued after Big Ben looked predictably rusty in his first game back from injury. Playing into the Pittsburgh undervaluation is the LeVeon Bell injury. Bell is, at worst, the third best RB in the NFL, but I truly believe even the best RBs are replaceable--especially if your back-up is a former 1st team all-pro. I think an improved Steelers offense, coupled with their surprisingly good defense will lead them to victory over the Raiders.
Washington +14 (115) @ New England
Everyone knows that the Patriots have the best offense in the league. Most people probably also know that the 2015 Patriots Offense is keeping pace with the record setting 2007 Patriots Offense. So it should come as no surprise that the Patriots are favored by double digits week-in, week-out. But after seven straight wins, I have to imagine that the Patriots are beginning to become a bit overhyped. Last week's trouncing of the Dolphins put that hype over the edge. Fans and analyst aren't just expecting Patriot wins, they are expecting (and predicting) Patriot blowouts. Consistently winning by 20+ is not sustainable in the NFL, and I believe 14 points is too much for the Patriots to be laying against a below average, but competent and fiery Washington team. I still like New England to win, but I also think Washington has a great chance to cover.
Green Bay -2.5 @ Carolina
Last week against the Broncos, Green Bay's offense looked completely awful. The line held up ok, and Rodgers was magnificent at extending plays, but the receivers just couldn't get open. This isn't a new problem for Green Bay, and quite frankly, is one I should have seen coming last week. Without Jordy Nelson, the Packers have relied heavily on Cobb, a banged up Davante Adams, and a plodding James Jones. As a result, the Packers' passing offense has been statistically below average this season. Despite a below average passing attack, the Packers still managed an undefeated record heading into the Denver game because of a strong defense and great situational football. What Denver did to Green Bay wasn't a fluke, but it also isn't repeatable by teams not called the Denver Broncos. Carolina is very strong at CB1, but has relied on below average pieces to fill-in the rest of the secondary. Carolina may be able to swallow up Randall Cobb, but it is unlikely they can stop the Packers offense in aggregate.
I also think that the Packers might have a chance to control this game defensively. Yes, Carolina is an elite running team, and the Packers struggle against the run, but the strength of the Packers' secondary coupled with the lack of talented receivers on Carolina should allow the Packers to stack the box and run blitz consistently. I don't think Green Bay will beat Carolina handedly, but I do think it is a complete stretch to think that Carolina will be able to repeat what we saw in Denver last Sunday night.
Minnesota -1 vs St. Louis
This pick pains me more than any other I have made this year. Heading in to the season, St. Louis was one of my favorite teams to exceed expectations. Their absurd, and I mean truly absurd, level of talent across the defensive line is too much fun for a fan of football not to want to root for. After seeing the line for this game open at St. Louis plus a field goal, I thought I might be able to hop back on what had quickly become a very crowded Rams bandwagon. Then I turned on the tape and what I saw made me sell my stock completely on this team.
Defensively St. Louis is still very impressive, but they might actually be too good up front. Because the Rams have so many defensive linemen who can beat single blockers with a single move, they get constant penetration. However, they have a tendency to over-penetrate, which occasionally leaves big running lanes for opposing backs. In my opinion, the Rams are actually in need of a defensive lineman who can absorb blockers and clog holes. Additionally, I have concerns about the Rams' secondary. At the start of the year, I thought the young secondary that struggled at times last year would take a big step forward, but that simply hasn't been the case. The secondary gives up a lot of chunk yardage, which will be dangerous against a very talented Vikings receiving corps.
Offensively, St. Louis isn't impressive at all. Yes, Todd Gurley has been a revelation, but for all the 10+ yard runs he has, he has just as many runs for a loss due to bad run blocking. Negative runs are absolute drive killers and while Gurley gives the Rams "score from anywhere" potential, it's not realized enough to make them consistently good. The Rams passing attack is completely non existent, and really isn't even worth discussing.
The public theme for this game is that the Rams and Vikings are the same team, but that the Rams just do everything a bit better. I think it's actually the opposite. The Rams are better defensively, but Offensively there is no comparison. If Gurley is shut down, there is no hope to move the ball. If Peterson is shut down, the Vikings still have a reliable stable of talented receivers who can make plays. As much as it pains me to say it, I think Bridgewater makes just enough throws, and the Vikings get the win at home.