Note: If you came looking for fantasy football recommendations, I don’t have anything for you. This season, Football Fantasy! here at Field Gulls will offer a recurring daydream considering the weekly football schedule from a perspective of entertaining narratives and wished-for results across the non-Seattle Seahawks landscape. Here, we welcome storylines and silliness to topple other interests from week to week as we deliver the lowdown on the rest of the league from the land of make believe. For more detailed explanation of the picks, look here.
At Football Fantasy! we love a counternarrative. 10 of the 14 games last week ended with a margin within one score, so of course this week there are five Vegas lines handicapped at nine points or more. Among the many, many paradoxes of professional football is that people will complain when there is too much parity and complain when there are too many blowouts. But like any abusive relationship, the NFL thrives by refusing to give us what we want. (That’s the inevitable bummer our 26-46 fond-finish percentage is here to chronicle.)
Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers
Philadelphia is 4-1 and about to finish a brutal stretch when the Eagles had to play four out of their opening six games on the road. Then they get three straight home games before a bye … before playing the next four out of five on the road! Next week, Philly will also finish its season series against the Washington Redskins a month before the first of its two matchups versus the Dallas Cowboys.
It’s a strangely imbalanced schedule for Doug Pederson’s squad, which thanks to the emergence of LeGarrette Blount also has featured the third-highest balance of running plays over the past three weeks. Since I last wrote about the Eagles rushing offense, when the team had 165 yards on the ground through two games and 61 of those yards belonged to Carson Wentz, Blount has exploded for 277 yards on 42 carries. That run support helped Wentz into the top 10 of QBR three straight times, where he’s now third overall on the season. For all these reasons, we should be cheering Carolina to shut down the run and force Pederson into a more one-dimensional gameplan Thursday night.
My choice: Panthers
Sharp pick: Philadelphia (+3)
Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons
Speaking of unbalanced schedules, the unlucky Dolphins are facing their fourth week of travel out of five games after their home opener got rescheduled to November and they were forced to play another home game in London. Last week Miami finally got to play in front of a South Florida crowd, where they took advantage of Matt Cassel—he of the 1.3 adjusted net yards per attempt in 2017—for its second win of the year. Now it’s back to the road against a Super Bowl contender coming off the bye. Best wishes for the Dolphins in hopes to keep the NFC playoff picture in check, but this may be the only double-digit spread I’ll give all season.
My choice: Dolphins
Sharp pick: Atlanta (-11.5)
Chicago Bears at Baltimore Ravens
Poor Chicago. The Bears have a good offensive line, excellent red zone production by a complementary pair of running backs, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, indeed the third-best red zone rate in football. But because they have no wide receivers and are in the muddle of one of dumbest-planned quarterback experiments in the league, they have to turn to brilliant shenanigans just to make two-point conversions to compete in games they end up losing anyway.
At least Chicago is off national TV again until mid-December.
My choice: Bears
Sharp pick: Baltimore (-6.5)
Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans
I liked Jabrill Peppers in this NFL draft. Although some questioned his coverage and fitness to play defensive back, Peppers has been a day-one starter for Cleveland at safety, only missing one snap all season, and actually been pretty decent on punt and kick returns so far in 2017. None of that means the Browns were justified in trading the 12th selection that became Deshaun Watson for the 25th pick Cleveland used on Peppers, plus the Texans’ first choice in 2018.
#Browns Hue Jackson: "DeShone Kizer's on our team, Deshaun Watson's on their team. We can't all the sudden flip 'em."— Keith Britton (@KeithBritton86) October 11, 2017
The only good news for the Browns is Houston’s catastrophic run of injuries on defense will give Kevin Hogan a chance to improve on his rather excellent second half against the New York Jets last week: 16 of 19 for two touchdowns, no sacks and an interception, plus 30 yards rushing. That better be the right sauce, because Cleveland’s next best chance to win may not be until at Chicago on Christmas Eve.
My choice: Browns
Sharp pick: Cleveland (+9.5)
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Mike Zimmer turned the Vikings around chiefly by improving its pass defense: Compared to three years under Leslie Frazier, ostensibly a pass defense specialist as a coordinator who nonetheless led Minnesota to two pass defense DVOA finishes in the 30s and never better than 24th, Zimmer improved the Vikings’ play against air attacks each of his first three seasons, ultimately guiding a top-10 unit in 2016. However, Aaron Rodgers has been virtually as excellent against Minnesota under Zimmer as he has against the rest of the league in that time:
The 13 to two touchdown to interception ratio is startlingly not far off Rodgers’s general pace during that period, so the biggest difference is really sack rate. The Vikings have got to Rodgers almost five times a game under Zimmer, more than double Rodgers’ usual rate. And Rodgers has never been among the leaders in avoiding sacks—the owner of the best career passer rating of all-time is just 19th among active quarterbacks in sack percentage (spare yourself from looking where Russell Wilson ranks)—but in 2017 even has the worst sack rate since he became a full-time starter, going down once every 11 dropbacks. Rodgers, a way more mobile passer, has been sacked in 2017 already as many times as Carson Palmer.
With Brian Bulaga playing hurt and David Bakhtiari still out, I’m excited about Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Jaleel Johnson going against that Packers offensive line.
My choice: Vikings
Sharp pick: Green Bay (-3)
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints
The Lions’ defense is third in the NFL at producing takeaways, with seven interceptions and four fumbles recovered already. New Orleans hasn’t turned the ball over all year. One of these teams is due for some regression starting Sunday. The last team to go the first four games without coughing it up was the 2013 Tennessee Titans, who started 3-1. Those Titans lost the ball three times in week 5 and then fell in six of the next eight games, with two or more turnovers in all but three of the final 12 contests to finish exactly average in that category overall. Like I said, regression to the mean.
My choice: Lions
Sharp pick: Detroit (+5)
New England Patriots at New York Jets
Must be because they got burned by freak catches in two previous Super Bowls, but if you ask a Patriots fan about the famous showdown between New England and Seattle after the 2014 season, they act like they’re still as traumatized by Jermaine Kearse’s catch off his shins as Seahawks fans get by what happened two plays later. Two postgame trophy celebrations since evidently didn’t wash that terror out of their skulls, so it is up to our hero Chop Chop to grind his special kryptonite into a powder and force it up the noses of Bill Belichick and his mercenary army.
My choice: Jets
Sharp pick: New York (+9.5)
San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins
As I’ve said before I don’t have near the animosity toward the 49ers that some folks around here do. I’ve been a lifelong Jim Harbaugh fan, viewed Jerry Rice as my work ethic role model when I played football, and the first team I ever remember cheering in a Super Bowl was San Francisco—so they could beat John Elway.
However this edition of the 49ers I direly want to stamp out before they start growing. And I’m not even that scared of Kyle Shanahan—I just don’t like him. If anything it has more to do with revenge for what the Falcons did to Seattle in the playoffs last year than any worry over his developing San Francisco into a challenger. I think Jed York is highly unlikely to fire a head coach for the fourth straight year, but 0-16 might do it.
If I was really playing Fresh-level chess, you might say since I also believe Kirk Cousins a highly-overrated fumble machine I should want the Redskins to lose instead—increasing the chances Cousins opts to part ways with a listing Washington franchise to rejoin his former coordinator Shanahan on the 49ers—wasting tons of San Francisco’s cap room and dooming both coach and quarterback to the long knife. But I trust I won’t need that dramatic an angle for my preferred outcome.
My choice: Redskins
Sharp pick: San Francisco (+10)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals
Can you imagine the color of Bruce Arians’s face if his kicker had missed three short field goals like Nick Folk did in last week’s Tampa Bay loss to the Patriots?
I’m sure Arians wouldn’t been too accepting of Folk’s replacement Patrick Murray, who reportedly is relying on telepathy to lift his kicks through the uprights. Hey man, doesn’t bother me though. Remember, I’m the guy who once consulted a tarot reader who predicted the Seahawks’ loss to the Saints last year.
My choice: Buccaneers
Sharp pick: Tampa Bay (-2)
Los Angeles Rams at Jacksonville Jaguars
Three of the Jags’ four touchdowns over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week were plays Jacksonville can’t count on week to week—but Jacksonville doesn’t need its top-ranked pass defense to return two interceptions for scores against Jared Goff.
My choice: Jaguars
Sharp pick: Jacksonville (-2.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Much though I’d like to end Kansas City’s undefeated run, Andy Reid is quite capable of managing that himself—the Chiefs have had 5-0 or better spells in all four of Reid’s seasons in K.C.—nobody wants to give Ben Roethlisberger permission to feel more confident about himself.
My choice: Chiefs
Sharp pick: Pittsburgh (+4.5)
Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders
While the Raiders attempt to ghost ride their offense with nobody—I mean E.J. Manuel or possibly even a brokeback Derek Carr—under center, Marshawn Lynch has a legit opportunity to power the engine this week against the Chargers’ 26th-ranked defense against the run and former Seahawks Brandon Mebane and Korey Toomer. No really, L.A. is thin at linebacker with a chain of injuries to Jatavis Brown and Hayes Pullard, so Toomer has started two games already in 2017.
My choice: Raiders
Sharp pick: n/a (no line)
New York Giants at Denver Broncos
Years ago I made a series of chance encounters with a 19-year-old woman, all in different parts of the city all on the same day. The first time I saw her was when I cut through a graveyard on my way to work; I noticed she had on her feet some sort of padded hospital booties and she carried a colorful painted ukulele. Maybe she had broken out of the hospital, or maybe it was drugs or some herbal effect of the thistle infusion, but she had marker trails all over her scalp and she later told me, when I saw her the third time playing with some girls at a lemonade stand, about how Miley Cyrus used to come into her restaurant in Tennessee, and how she had to run away from her fiancé in L.A. because his gang family put a hit out on her, and how the CIA had been using her without her knowledge to gather information, and how she invited Barack Obama to a high school football game and how she had written 76 new Batman scripts that summer.
Oh—but the thistles! So the second time I ran into her I was busy breaking up the sidewalk with a sledgehammer when she walked by with a plastic bottle of Big Blue in her hand—it’s a soda like Big Red, but you know, blue flavored. But this bottle was shut tight, filled with water or something and a bunch of weeds and thistles. She said she was infusing the ingredients for their chemical properties—indeed she called it a bomb. The mixture was by now so fermented that the air in the bottle had expanded so she couldn’t twist the cap off.
Anyway, the Giants are also sometimes called Big Blue and that bottle represents the tension building up in their winless season. Something soon is going to happen to let the air out. I never saw that girl again, but Seattle plays New York next week. Let’s hope it blows up on Denver and not us.
My choice: Giants
Sharp pick: New York (+12)
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans
Bless the AFC South.
My choice: Titans
Sharp pick: n/a (no line)
On the year:
My choices (straight up): 26-46 (4-9 last week)
Sharp picks (against the spread): 37-31 (8-3 last week)