In an inversion of last week's performance, we saw our picks get off to a rough start Sunday morning, only to be vindicated by a sensational run through the afternoon and primetime games. After an 11-5 week, these Winners picks have you ahead of all but 0.6% of the prognosticating population and we've continued to extend our lead over the pros in Vegas to a comfortable eight games. I hope you all rolled with me on Carolina last week...
Here are my picks for your Week 15 NFL games.
Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles
The stripeheads have had a very strange season and frankly I haven't thought much of them as a whole. And after giving away their game against the Cowboys last week, I shouldn't really have a lot of faith in them now. The thing about the Bengals' up-and-down year is that they've managed to scrape out a winning record and, to my surprise, currently rank 9th in Weighted DVOA. Plus, they're playing the unbalanced Jenga stack of a team that is the Eagles.
THE PICK: BENGALS
New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons
Guys, it's time to stop considering Atlanta an elite team, and I'm not just saying that because they got handled by the Panthers last week. Atlanta has ridden a number of close wins and an unusually high fumble recovery rate to a very fragilely supported 11-2 record. Vegas likes them by a point and a half this week, and that's likely because the gambling public is looking at that record and seeing no reason to think the NFC's best record would falter in a home game. In fact, the population density of New York is probably only thing keeping the line so close.
Here's why I'm laying the Giants to not only cover but win outright: The Giants have played a much tougher schedule (15th) than the Falcons (32nd) and their SOV is good for 6th in the NFL, to Atlanta's 21st. Frankly put, the Giants have played more good teams and done better against them than the Falcons have; and while that may simply be a product of scheduling, consider that NYG ranks in the top ten in every team phase of DVOA, while ATL ranks in the top ten in none of them.
THE PICK: GIANTS
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
The Bears are still a pretty good team, but right now the Packers are lethal. Winners of seven of their last eight, Aaron Rodgers' crew is bringing the league's 4th best offense and ninth best defense into Soldier Field and while Chicago still ranks first in defense, the last few weeks have seen their defensive DVOA plummet from its previously meteoric heights and their offense has sunk to 26th. That ain't gonna be enough on Sunday.
THE PICK: PACKERS
Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns
One of the toughest things about writing this article is having to post it so early in the week, limiting my knowledge on the availability of players. My thought is that if Robert Griffin III plays, the Redskins will win. Vegas is laying Browns here, probably trying to cash in on the early-week uncertainty as to RGIII's availability. I'd take the 'Skins right now before Griffin is declared healthy enough and this line shoots back the other way.
And yes, I f***ing hate how Mike Shanahan is roping me back in.
THE PICK: REDSKINS
Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams
You guys ready to live in an NFC West where the Rams have a winning record heading into Week 16? Well, you better be. They've been getting their game tight and as mind-napalmed I am by the season Adrian Peterson is having, we've seen first hand how even superhuman efforst by AP aren't enough to win. Not with this Percy-Harvin-less passing game.
THE PICK: RAMS
Jacksonville Jaguars at Miami Dolphins
You know my rule by now: Bad teams? Home team.
I expect Jaguars to cover the seven points, though.
THE PICK: DOLPHINS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
This might be my toughest pick of the week. Vegas loves New Orleans and I think a lot of the reason that they're taking the Saints in this one is the lingering perception that's been built over the last five years that New Orleans is a really good team and the perception that the Bucs aren't. The Bucs have leveraged that perception into an 8-3-2 against-the-spread record, which is the best in the NFL while the Saints are a mere 6-7 ATS.
Frankly, I don't think either team is particularly good, but I think the Buccaneers are good enough (14th in DVOA) to beat New Orleans and their insistence on "establishing" a power running game instead of making their best play-makers a priority.
THE PICK: BUCS
Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore has scuffled to a 9-4 record as much as any team (besides the 2012 Colts) possibly could. Baltimore have too many ugly losses this season (Eagles, Texans by 30, Charlie Batch, and blowing a bird-in-hand against the Redskins) to be considered a good team and two of those four craters came in the last two weeks. Even a bunch of their wins have been gross.
Now they're gonna beat the #5 defense (vs BAL's #16 offense) and the #3 offense (to BAL's #19 defense) with a brand new offensive coordinator that has never been a play-caller at the NFL level? Right.
THE PICK: BRONCOS
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
How the hell does the team with the 28th-ranked DVOA and a quarterback leading the NFL in interceptions win nine of their first thirteen games? Because they play in the AFC in 2012. The Texans, on the other hand, are ranked 8th in DVOA, even after their evisceration in Foxboro on Monday. Their linebackers are a mess, but they're still one of the better teams in the league and their at home against a team whose record is propped up on balsa wood ramparts.
THE PICK: TEXANS
Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills
Per a text conversation I'm having with Davis at precisely this moment, the Seahawks have allowed only 39 "explosive" plays this year, good for 3rd in the NFL. A 3.0 EPA/G is phenomenal, but the Bills employ the league's greatest explosive-play weapon this year. Running back CJ Spiller has gained fifteen or more yards on 44% of his touches on the season. That means that whenever the ball is in his hands, he's nearly as likely to carve you up as not. Nobody does that. Nobody.
My point, in defending this as a tough pick, is that while Seattle has done very well at taking away an opponents best receiver (Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson, Steve Smith, Calvin Johnson, Brian Hartline, Percy Harvin,
Brandon Marshall, Fitzgerald again), they've struggled to contain the better running backs they've faced (Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush, Matt Forte) and Spiller represents as big of a threat as anyone else.
Fortunately for Seattle, not only are they the way better team, this isn't a true home game for the Bills and Buffalo has demonstrated that they're more than capable of out-ineptituding Spiller's chimeric running style, as evidenced by their 5-8 record.
THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
I... I just... I just don't know or care what to make of this one. Normally I say "Bad team? Home team." here but the home team isn't usually starting Ryan Lindley, hanging the best receiver in the world out to wilt, and crawling out of the wreckage-HOLE of a 58-point EMP BLAST.
THE PICK: LIONS
Carolina Panthers at San Diego Chargers
Two of the seemingly most inane head coaches, and two of the lame-duckiest, square off in this battle of individual-name-value-and-little-else squads. BT?HT.
THE PICK: CHARGERS
Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys
These two teams are the very worst in the NFL at intercepting passes this season, which makes this a very interesting case study in opposing tendencies. Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo are two of the most YOLO quarterbacks in the league and I want to see what happens when one or both of them has a particularly poor decision-making day against defenses that are the very least inclined to catch passes that weren't intended for them.
If Dez plays, I feel pretty good about the Cowboys at home, and I'm going to assume he battles through the finger injury in picking Dallas to win. Just know that this isn't a bet I'd actually place until minutes before game time when I heard Bryant's status.
THE PICK: COWBOYS
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
You guys know the drill by now.
THE PICK: RAIDERS
San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots
As you all know, I'm pretty bullish on the Niners, and I still think they're an excellent football team, but the Patriots at home in December is a beast that is just not of this world. The Pats have won 24 of their last 26 December home games and haven't lost a December home game against a non-divisional opponent since 1997. SINCE 1997!
This isn't one of those odd coincidences. These numbers are the product of Bill Belichick's and Tom Brady's unparalleled ability to use the first three-fourths of the season to master their roster before unleashing it upon the masses. The 49ers will probably be a (very fortunate for 'Hawks fans) speedbump on Sunday night.
THE PICK: PATRIOTS
New York Jets at Tennessee Titans
I guarantee you that the only reason this game got scheduled for Monday Night was in the desperate hope that the Jets big-top circus would have Tim Tebow starting by now. Well, he's not. And he's not because there's just simply no rational reason that starting Tim Tebow at QB is acceptable for any team.*
This game sucks. It just sucks and is so stupid.
*Except for you, Arizona.
THE PICK: TITANS
There you have 'em. Contact me on Twitter (link below) to tell me about where to send my 5%.
Jacson's 2012 record: 139-68-1 (.671)
Vegas' 2012 record: 130-75-3 (.634)