Sunday, September 14, 2014

NFL Picks: Week 2

Photo courtesy of NBC News
Week 1 was by far the worst week in my two years of making picks. So many horrible losses due to backdoor covers, flaws in logic, and just being plain wrong. Most of my losses were very infuriating after following the games throughout the day.

I nearly cried when only 11 seconds into overtime, Marques Colston fumbled away my chance at getting another win in what was already a brutal week for me. I understand that had the fumble not occurred, I would have lost the game anyway. Why? Because it's the NFL and this always happens; the Saints would have gotten into the red zone, stalled, kicked a field goal, then stopped the Falcons on the ensuing drive, winning the game but finding a way to anger me by failing to cover the line by half a point.

Still! There was a nonzero chance that Mark Ingram scored his third 3-yard touchdown of the game (because that's the only reason why he's still in the NFL) to put the game away, cover the spread, and give me some semblance of hope after beginning the week at 2-8. But Colston fumbled.

So yes, that means that in two straight games, Colston has screwed the Saints out of a chance to win. Remember the Divisional Playoffs last season? After scoring with 26 seconds left, and recovering an onside kick, Colston and the Saints actually had a chance to tie the game in Seattle.

In fact, all of that was captured in the article that I wrote the next week:
Despite Marques Colston literally throwing away any chance the Saints had to tie last week's game in Seattle, I must thank him for sealing a backdoor cover with his onside kick recovery. Had the Seahawks recovered that kick, the most likely would have at least kicked a field goal to ice the game, and win by a margin of 11 points, rather than 8. So thanks Colston, the entire state of Louisiana may have shunned you, but everyone who jumped on the Saints when the line shot up to 9.5 will love you forever.
Here's an amazing video that I just found, documenting Colston's horrible play in one of the most hilarious ways possible.

For whatever reason, the song fits perfectly. And I credit the creator of the video for not choosing to go with the old, played out, Yakety Sax route. 

The play in January didn't matter to me, but now that a bad Colston play has totally screwed me out of a win, I'm done with you Marques. 

You thought I was done ranting about my Week 1 losses? Think again, son (or daughter).

The Jacksonville Jaguars jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead in Philadelphia, led by two touchdowns by one of the better receivers in the history of The U, and Nick Foles looking completely worthless.

Just when I was beginning to pat myself on the back for taking the points, the Jags remembered that they are in fact, the Jags. They failed to the score in the second half, and the Eagles were up 24-17 with two minutes left. 

And that's when the backdoor cover insanity occurred. The Eagles kicked up field goal to go up by 10 points, which was okay with me because they were 10.5 point favorites, so I was getting giddy as the clock winded down. 

So, naturally, Fletcher Cox returned a Chad Henne strip sack for a 17-yard touchdown two plays into Jacksonville's ensuing possession. 

Yep, Derek Carr did in fact pull off a 1 point backdoor cover with 1:21 remaining, in an Eastern Time Zone, against Rex Ryan, in his NFL debut. Because, why not? Why the hell not? 

I was wrong for backing the Ravens. All signs pointed to a Bengals victory, so that was a bad pick by me. I'm okay with that loss, only because it meant that I was able to cheer when Steve Smith, Sr. stiff armed Pacman Jones into oblivion

Taking the Pats in Miami freaked me out, and I was proven wrong.

The title of this week's column probably should be "because, why not?" As in, why did Derek Anderson win in Tampa Bay while starting for the first time since he was completing 51.7% of his passes in Arizona in 2010? Because, why not? Why did Bobby Rainey fumble on Tampa's final possession while down 3 points with a chance to win the game and cover? Because, WHY NOT?

Why did Andrew Luck lead a senseless comeback, leading the Colts to a cover after being down 31-10 in the fourth quarter? Because, why not? Andrew Luck is a certified troll. His whole career to this point has been based off of leading a very mediocre Colts team to the playoffs each year, growing a great beard, randomly becoming a mixture of Peyton Manning and Joe Montana against the best teams in the league, randomly becoming a mixture of Jamarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf against the worst teams in the league, and pulling off annoying backdoor covers. 

Following a terrible performance last week, I got Week 2 off to a rip-roaring start with...a loss.

As always, I made my Thursday night pick on Twitter, (@WilliamBotchway). I cannot be blamed for that pick, as the Ravens were without Lardarius Webb again, and still stuck in my head is the fact that the favorite failed to cover the spread in both Ravens-Steelers games last year by a combined 1 point. (Of course I took the favorite in both games...because, why not?)

I'm now 0-2 in Thursday games, and 4-13 overall. I feel alright about my choices for this week, so let's get on with the show!

UPSET ALERT next to games in which I think the underdog will win outright, not just cover. Home team in CAPS.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

NFL Picks: Week 1

Photo courtesy of USA Today
I'm feeling great right now. There will be 13 football games on between the hours of 1 and 11:30 PM, and I'm now writing my picks column, which is always fun to do, and one of the highlights of my week.

I had a great bounce-back season last year, finishing 132-119-5 in the regular season, and 138-124-5 overall.

And I've already gotten a great sign with my opening night pick, because I got absolutely demolished with my pick on Thursday. And that's what happened last year, so it looks like I'm in for a nice year.

As always with Thursday games, I tweeted my pick because there's no use in writing a full article to talk about one game. Here's the pick:

Follow me @WilliamBotchway for these picks and much more.

Now it's time for the rest of Week 1's pick. I'm pumped, so let's get on with it.

UPSET ALERT if I think the underdog will win outright, not just cover. Home team in CAPS.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: The Kitchen Sink

Photo courtesy of Forbes
Over the past few days I have been previewing every division in the league individually, followed by power rankings, which you can check out here.

First up, my full regular season standings. Each of my division previews are linked in the name of the division below:

AFC East
  1. New England Patriots 12-4
  2. New York Jets 9-7
  3. Miami Dolphins 7-9
  4. Buffalo Bills 4-12
AFC North
  1. Cincinnati Bengals 11-5
  2. Baltimore Ravens 10-6
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-8
  4. Cleveland Browns 7-9
AFC South
  1. Indianapolis Colts 9-7
  2. Houston Texans 8-8
  3. Tennessee Titans 5-11
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars 3-13
AFC West
  1. Denver Broncos 13-3
  2. San Diego Chargers 8-8
  3. Kansas City Chiefs 6-10
  4. Oakland Raiders 2-14
  1. Washington Professional Football Team 10-6
  2. Philadelphia Eagles 9-7
  3. Dallas Cowboys 6-10 (Win Division Record Tiebreaker over Giants.)
  4. New York Giants 6-10
NFC North
  1. Green Bay Packers 11-5
  2. Chicago Bears 10-6
  3. Detroit Lions 7-9 (Win Division Record Tiebreaker over Vikings)
  4. Minnesota Vikings 7-9
NFC South
  1. New Orleans Saints 11-5
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6
  3. Atlanta Falcons 7-9
  4. Carolina Panthers 5-11
NFC West
  1. Seattle Seahawks 12-4
  2. San Francisco 49ers 11-5
  3. Arizona Cardinals 6-10
  4. St. Louis Rams 5-11
Now here's the playoff picture:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: Power Rankings

Photo courtesy of ESPN
Read all of my NFL preview articles here

As a warning, the top part of these rankings is very NFC-heavy. Sort of like the Western Conference in the NBA, the NFC is loaded with great teams, and unfortunately, some of the better teams in the league wind up missing the playoffs, and/or have a record much worse than the team's actual talent would suggest. As seen in my division previews so far, and you will see again in my full preview tomorrow, some teams that I'm relatively high on will end up with lower win totals than you would expect based on their rankings. It is for that reason that I chose not to write down the team records in this article, so that all of these teams can be judged in a vacuum.

All of the rankings are based on how the team will look by the end of the year, and the beginning of the postseason. For example, the 49ers will not be as high as I have them for the entirety of the regular season, but when they get NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith back and performing at a high level, they'll be a better squad.
  1. Seattle Seahawks 
  2. San Francisco 49ers 
  3. Denver Broncos 
  4. New Orleans Saints 
  5. New England Patriots
  6. Green Bay Packers 
  7. Cincinnati Bengals 
  8. Baltimore Ravens
  9. Chicago Bears 
  10. Washington Professional Football Team 
  11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  12. Philadelphia Eagles 
  13. New York Jets 
  14. Miami Dolphins 
  15. Pittsburgh Steelers
  16. San Diego Chargers 
  17. Indianapolis Colts
  18. Atlanta Falcons 
  19. Cleveland Browns 
  20. Detroit Lions 
  21. Minnesota Vikings 
  22. Houston Texans 
  23. Arizona Cardinals
  24. New York Giants 
  25. Tennessee Titans 
  26. Kansas City Chiefs 
  27. Carolina Panthers 
  28. Dallas Cowboys 
  29. St. Louis Rams 
  30. Buffalo Bills 
  31. Jacksonville Jaguars 
  32. Oakland Raiders 
I wrote about all of these teams in my divisional previews, so for more information, go back and read all of those. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: NFC West

Photo courtesy of Raising Zona
This was easily the best division in football last year, but I think that they'll take a step back. The defending champs are going to be great again, and the 49ers are not far behind. As for the Cardinals and Rams, they will definitely be worse.

Photo courtesy of CBS Sports
Seattle Seahawks
2013 Record: 13-3
Yards Per Game: 339 (18th in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 26.1 (tied-8th in the NFL)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 273.6 (1st in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 14.4 (1st in the NFL)

The reigning World Champions once again look like one of the best teams in football. They lost Golden Tate and Sidney Rice, depleting the receiving corps, but Percy Harvin is an elite player when he's healthy, so his availability will be key.

This defense is by far the best and the deepest in the league. We all saw what they did to Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl, so I don't think I need to say much else.

The Seahawks look primed to repeat as champions this year, and it's going to be hard to pick anyone else to win the Lombardi Trophy.

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: AFC West

Photo courtesy of Barron Network
I see the AFC Champion Denver Broncos running away with this division. This is the widest gap between a division champ and second place that I see this year. There just isn't much to get excited about after Manning and Co.

Photo courtesy of The Denver Post
Denver Broncos
2013 Record: 13-3
Yards Per Game: 457.3 (1st in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 37.9 (1st in the NFL. By a wide margin.)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 356 (19th in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 24.9 (22nd in the NFL)

I don't need to say anything about Denver's offense other than: Peyton Manning is the quarterback.

The defense got a lot better this offseason by acquiring two players who are among the best at their respective positions in defensive end DeMarcus Ware, and safety T.J. Ward. Replacing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with Aqib Talib is a slight upgrade, but the other two moves were huge. Add in a full season from Von Miller, the Broncos defense should be one of the best in the league.

After being manhandled by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, the Broncos re-tooled and look poised to take home the Lombardi Trophy this season. And I'm not sure that anyone can stop them.

Monday, September 1, 2014

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: NFC South

Photo courtesy of Who Dat Dish
Last year's division winner will regress horribly, and the two cellar dwellers will be a lot better. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints (outside of the post-bounty scandal season) have been the one constant in this division year after year.

Photo courtesy of ESPN
Carolina Panthers
2013 Record: 12-4
Yards Per Game: 316.8 (26th in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 22.9 (18th in the NFL)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 301.2 (2nd in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 15.1 (2nd in the NFL)

After surprising many, and riding their great defense to a division title last season, the Carolina Panthers got a lot worse during the offseason, and will end up being among the worst teams in the NFL.

The offense was nothing special last year, and it should be a lot worse now. There was a bunch of turnover in the receiving corps, and most of it wasn't impressive. They drafted Kelvin Benjamin, which I liked, but signing Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant to be guys that play legitimate roles on this offense is worrisome.

Left tackle Jordan Gross retired this offseason, which is a problem for the 2014 Panthers, because they did not find a suitable replacement for him. Outside of Ryan Kalil in the middle, the offensive line is an issue.

As for the defense, the front seven is great, and everything else is horrible. I mentioned when previewing the AFC South that a great pass rush can make up for some deficiencies in the secondary, but that is not the case when the entire secondary is bad. As great as Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are at getting to the quarterback, the guys playing behind them will be victimized before they even get to the opposing signal caller.

I still think that Carolina has the best front seven in the NFL, but a weak secondary, a bad offense, and a strong conference will hold this team back for a year. There is enough talent currently on the team that even if they are terrible, whoever they take in the first round of the draft (probably a defensive back) could propel them back to the playoffs.

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: AFC South

Photo courtesy of Dynasty Nerds
This is the worst division in football, by far. I don't see any teams getting above 9 wins. Neither the Colts or Texans are spectacular, and the Jaguars and Titans are clearly bottom half teams in the league.

Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report
Indianapolis Colts
2013 Record: 11-5
Yards Per Game: 341.8 (15th in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 24.4 (tied-14th in the NFL)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 357.1 (20th in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 21 (9th in the NFL)

Now it's time for that point in the preseason where I get to hate on the Colts while trying to do everything possible to find a scenario in which they miss the playoffs, and secretly accepting the fact that they will continue to be the most annoying team in the NFL and be better than they should be.

The only reason why this team has gone 11-5 in each of the past two years has been a bunch of good luck and Luck being more than good.

We know what this offense is: Andrew Luck being Andrew Luck and throwing Andrew Luck passes to T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, whatever replacement level they decide will be their third wideout, whoever happens to be playing tight end (be it Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen, both of whom are pretty good), all while getting minimal help from the running backs and the offensive line.

Where this team will falter once again is on defense, especially without the best player on the defense, Robert Mathis, for the first four games of the year. He's pretty much the only player on the defense that interests me, unless I feel like talking about how bad Erik Walden is. Vontae Davis is a great cornerback at times, but tends to be inconsistent.

For the most part, the defense consists of average and below average players who will be playing important roles.

Because this is the worst division in football, the Colts will win it once again, by default. Until they improve their defense, Indianapolis will not be able to advance past the divisional round of the postseason.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: NFC North

Photo courtesy of Barron Network 
This is one of the most intriguing divisions in football, because all four teams have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. The NFC as a whole is very competitive conference, so attrition will cause some of these teams to have a worse record than they deserve. Overall, this will be the best division in the game according to my predictions.

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Green Bay Packers
2013 Record: 8-7-1
Yards Per Game: 400.2 (3rd in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 26.1 (tied-8th in the NFL)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 372.2 (25th in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 26.8 (tied-24th in the NFL)

The Packers made two free agent signings this offseason, as they continued their long-standing strategy of not worrying too much about using their cap space in free agency, and rather building their roster through the draft.

Even without Aaron Rodgers for most of eight games, the Packers wound up winning the division. That had more to do with the Lions and Bears failing down the stretch, but it also shows that the Pack were decent enough to stay afloat while Rodgers was out.

The offense could possibly be the best in the NFL, because obviously, Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers, and should most likely have both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb healthy for the majority of the season. Jarrett Boykin looked good out of the slot last year, even with the revolving door of Seneca Wallace, Matt Flynn, and Scott Tolzien throwing him the ball.

The running back should be very good as Eddie Lacy will be even better in his second year in the league. He should be one of the best running backs in the NFL this season, especially behind an offensive line that's pretty good, as I expect to see the Packers commit to the running game more often.

One of those free agent signings was Julius Peppers, a contract that I didn't really like at the time, but we'll see how he plays this season. B.J. Raji is wildly overrated, and I'm not so sure how much the Packers will miss him on the interior of their line.

The rest of the defense has a chance to be great, given that Clay Matthews is healthy, which is never a guarantee. Nick Perry, Brad Jones, and A.J. Hawk are decent linebackers next to Matthews, and the secondary is awesome. HaHa Clinton-Dix joins Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward, Tramon Williams, and Sam Shields in what will be one of the better defensive backfields in the game.

All in all, the Packers are primed and ready for another very good season, and should be one of the early favorites to win it all.

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: AFC North

Photo courtesy of Dynasty Nerds
In terms of competitiveness, the AFC North may be the best division in all of football. There are no amazing teams in this division, but none of the four teams can be considered bad. They're all going to finish with between 7 and 11 wins. Yes, that includes the Cleveland Browns.

Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report
Cincinnati Bengals
2013 Record: 11-5
Yards Per Game: 368.2 (10th in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 26.9 (tied-6th in the NFL)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 305.5 (3rd in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 19.1 (5th in the NFL)

I picked the Bengals to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and when the playoffs began, I hadn't seen anything to deter me from repeating that same prediction. Yes, major injuries on defense caused Cincy to be without they best defensive lineman, Geno Atkins, and their best defensive back, Leon Hall for the postseason. But they were missing those guys for most of the season, and still ended up with one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL.

I'm not worried about Andy Dalton. I'm not a believer in clutch, and as we've seen in the past with Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, average quarterbacks can have a big playoff run, taking their team farther than expected. And I know that the Jets didn't make the Super Bowl in 2009 or 2010, but they were ahead of the Colts at halftime and nearly came back to defeat the Steelers in each year, led by game manager extraordinaire Mark Sanchez.

The point is, you do not have to have an elite quarterback to win in the NFL, especially when that quarterbacks has a great collection of talent around him. A.J. Green is one of the best wideouts in the game, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are pretty good extra options, and tight end Tyler Eifert should have a big year because another receiver, Andrew Hawkins, left in free agency.

According to NFLSavant, the Bengals ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing attempts. Expect that ranking to jump to third or fourth this season under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

Jackson has coached many different position groups in his career, and even became a head coach for one season. I don't know if this exactly counts as an NFL coaching job, but he led the Oakland Raiders for a year before being senselessly fired by new General Manager Reggie McKenzie, after leading the team to an 8-8 record; their second in a row (yes, Tom Cable was fired after an 8-8 season the year prior, because logic is ignored in Oakland), and second non-losing season since 2003.

Other than to get myself worked up about how stupid the Raiders have been over the last few years, the point of that was to tell you that under Jackson, the Raiders had one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, led by Michael Bush, Darren McFadden, and Marcel Reece.

I love me some Marcel Reece, but the combination of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill is better than that crew he had to work with in Oakland. The Bengals will be able to run on just about everybody this season, and set up a lot of easy passes through play action.

Losing defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer should be a pretty big loss on defense, but I think that the talent is good enough to sustain themselves even without a great coach. Also, it's a chicken and egg situation where it's impossible to tell whether Zimmer made the defense much better than it should have been, or the defense was good enough on its own that it made Zimmer look like a genius.

What I do know is that Geno Atkins is an elite talent at defensive tackle, and having him play a full 16 game season should be huge for what was one of the best defenses in the NFL last year. They're also getting back cornerback Leon Hall, and drafted Darqueze Dennard in the first round to play corner.

They lost Michael Johnson to Tampa Bay, which shouldn't be a huge loss, so I expect more of the same from the Cincinnati defense this season.

Once again, I think they will be one of the better teams in the NFL this coming year.