Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NFL 2011: Offensive Domination... and Week 3 Picks

Offense! ...... Offense!.... and more Offense!

That's been the theme over the past two weeks in the NFL. For purists like me, that's bad news. Where is the hard nosed defense oriented football that I love? Various theories are out there to try explain this historically high production of offense league-wide, ranging from: "rules being tailored favoring offenses over the last two decades", "pandering of QBs, allegedly for their safety (while other position players are dropping like flies with serious injuries on a weekly basis)" to "alleged increase in complexity and effective execution of offensive schemes".

While all the above reasons might be factors, I think the most obvious reason is probably the most impactful reason for this onslaught of offense that we are witnessing: The Lockout.

Typically, defenses, even on teams that have continuity in terms of player personnel and coaches, have a lot to work on in terms of getting on the same page. These days, no team plays their base defensive sets. More often than not, they have some kind of hybrid personal groupings and sets they use.

For example, the Chicago Bears have a base Tamp-2 Defensive scheme. But unless they are playing with a lead, you will hardly see them play their base, 2 deep safety scheme. Another example: the Packers. Dom Capers is supposed to be running a 3-4 defensive scheme. But their most common defensive alignment is a 2-4-5 scheme. Even in that scheme there are so many subtle variations in their defensive play call every snap.

In essence, the Defensive playbook has become almost as complicated as its offensive counterpart. The added complication to defenses is that all 11 players on the field should be on the same page. There is no one person on defense, unlike the QB in an offense, who will have control of the ball after the snap and can potentially dictate terms and/or cover for mistakes made by team mates. That makes it all the more imperative for the defensive players to spend some off-season down time on learning various nuances of their defense.

The lockout this past off-season, cut out all mini-camps and had a very very small duration of training camp before pre-season started. That time was barely enough for teams to install new schemes they usually add during a typical off-season, let alone brush up on nuances on the existing playbook. The lockout also took away so much practice time that helps in getting defensive players getting the feel for playing with their teammates; both new additions as well as, to a lesser yet noticeable extent, returning teammates. That's why, in my opinion defenses are lagging behind offenses in being prepared for the regular season. I blame that stupid lockout!

This theory will be proven right if the offensive production league-wide tapers down as we go deeper into the season, when defenses start getting used to playing their complicated schemes and teammates.

On to the Week 3 picks now...

San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals (-3)

The 49ers blew a great chance last week to take one game from a pretty good team at home, whose starting QB was out for more than quarter; and the niners had a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter! Now, they have to go on the road and face a feisty Bengals team with no superstar on it, but manage to keep games close and could do just enough to pull this one out.

Outright Win: Bengals
v/s the Spread: Bengals (-3)

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills  (+8.5)

Two undefeated teams! This would have been a legit narrative to describe this match up, except the Bills have not beaten the Patriots in their last 15 meetings. With the Patriots offense clicking like it is, with Brady at the helm, spreading the ball around to everyone on the offense but his linemen. I expect that trend to continue.

But I have to say the new Bills offense might prey on that Patriots secondary and keep this closer than most people think. I am shocked that Ryan Fitzpatrick is still so under-rated. The kid from Harvard is dealing it right now. Save me a seat on that Fitzpatrick bandwagon.

Outright Win:  Patriots
v/s the Spread: Patriots (-8.5)

Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints (-4)

The Texans offense seems to be as effective as expected. The surprise with this team is their new look defense under Wade Phillips. Can they keep this going? How better to test it than against an explosive Saints team that strives on its quick strike offense. I'd be surprised if this game does not turn into a shoot out.

Outright Win: Saints
v/s the Spread: Saints (-4)

Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns (-3)

The Dolphins, turns out, are not so hot on offense after all. The reason for their Week 1 offensive explosion seems to be mainly because of the leaky Patriots offense than Chad Henne taking a huge step forward. But, it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins will follow last year's trend of being stronger on the road than at home. I doubt it.

The Browns, on the other hand, had a huge win in Indianapolis last week. Granted, it was against a Manning-less Colts team, that looks clueless and real pathetic. Still, you cannot discount a Browns team getting a double digit margin victory on the road.

Outright Win: Browns
v/s the Spread: Browns (-3)

Denver Broncos at Tennessee Titans (-6.5)

The Broncos managed to pull off a close one against the Bengals last week. But, a loss to the Raiders and a close win against the Bengals, both at home, does not show the Broncos in bright light. Add to it that their WRs Lloyd and Eddie Royal are banged up. Hard to pick them on the road.

The Titans shocked the Ravens by shellacking them last week. How much of that was the complacency of the Ravens after their beat down of the Steelers the previous week? I can't wait to get it answered soon enough. Also, we'd have to keep an eye on the Matt Hasselbeck - Kenny Britt connection the rest of the season.

Outright Win: Titans
v/s the Spread: Titans (-6.5)

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (+3.5)

The Lions are favored in Minnesota for the first time in 30 years! Let's take a moment to digest that fact......... That's it! Whatever happens the rest of the way for the Lions, this one thing proves to me that they have arrived! There's not much to say about the Lions other than they seem explosive on offense and explosive on defense. But I'd like to see them play a true contender sometime before going all-in on them.

The Vikings have managed to blow big 4th quarter leads now two weeks in a row. McNaab hasn't had to throw a whole lot just because the Vikings have had the lead for the majority of both their games. Let's see what he has in his tank this week, they will be playing from behind for most of this game.

Outright Win: Lions
v/s the Spread: Lions (-3.5)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Carolina Panthers (-3.5)

The Jaguars just announced today that Blaine Gabbert is going to start this week over Luke McCown. This is more of a desperation move than a "Gabbert is ready to take over" stamp of approval. Del Rio knows his job is on the line and has to do something NOW to save his job, before its too late.

Boy, is Cam Newton impressive or what? We got to give major credit to the offensive coaches of the Panthers for putting Cam in spots to do what he does. They had so many max protection calls and let Steve Smith do his thing to the opposing secondary. Fairly simple you might think. But, it looks that easy because the rookie has the presence and feel for the NFL speed of play. There will be growing pains, but Panther fans should love what they see. He could be a keeper that so many franchises pine for.

Outright Win: Panthers
v/s the Spread: Panthers (-3.5)

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers (-14.5)

The Chiefs are BAD. If that wasn't clear .... THE CHIEFS ARE BAD!They have so many injuries on this team that it is not even funny. Well, at least not for Chiefs fans.

You would think the line on this game couldn't be high enough for the Chargers at home. But the Chargers are barely favored by over two TDs. The only reason that I can think of: the Norv Turner era. They find a way to make it hard on themselves in September. I am curious to see what they do this week to shoot themselves in their feet.

Outright Win: Chargers
v/s the Spread: Chargers (-14.5)

Baltimore Ravens at St Louis Rams (+4)

The Ravens are going to be mad! After letting all that momentum after beating the Steelers erode in a week, losing to a Titans team that lost to the ...wait for it... the Jaguars in Week 1. The Ravens are going to be real mad!

The Rams could potentially make a game out of this. Only if they don't get in their own way like they have been doing the last couple weeks. The injuries on their team does not help their cause either.

Outright Win: Ravens
v/s the Spread: Ravens (-4)

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.5)

The Falcons are lucky to have pulled that win at home last week against an Eagles team that finished the game with a guy called Kafka as their QB. Sounds familiar? Yes. This was exactly how they were piling up close wins one after another last week. I don't believe the Falcons are an elite team. But they are more than capable of grinding their way to wins in the regular season.

The Bucs lost both their games to the Falcons last year. Josh Freeman would love to get a win here and get that monkey off his back. Their MO should be to keep the game close and let Freeman take over in the 4th quarter, which he somehow manages to do, week after week.

Outright Win: Buccaneers
v/s the Spread: Buccaneers (-1.5)

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (+3.5)

A NFC West match-up? Yaaaaawn! The Cardinals should be able to beat a team with the worst offense in the league. Don't you think? Don't be surprised if they don't though. This is the NFC West.

Conspiracy Theory Watch: Pete Carrol is spear-heading the "Suck for Luck" campaign for Seattle.

Outright Win: Cardinals
v/s the Spread: Cardinals (-3.5)

Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts (+10.5)

At this point, any team would be favored against the Colts except maybe a handful of bottom feeders. The "old" Steelers defense should be fine for one more week, at least. Kerry Collins probably needs an entire season to get a grip of this offense. Or are the Colts also in the "Suck for Luck" game?

Outright Win: Steelers
v/s the Spread: Steelers (-10.5)

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (NL)

The Giants, and Eli in particular, seem to be more lucky than good. This NFC East game will have more of a revenge factor for the Giants because of how they blew their lead against the Eagles last year in Week 15 that essentially eliminated the Giants. So I expect them to be motivated for pay back. Unfortunately, the Eagles have had the Giants' number of late.

The Eagles though, have things to worry about of their own. Their 100 million dollar QB is banged up. (Which is why there is no betting line on this game). I expect doctors to clear Vick to play. The question is how effective will he be; and how susceptible will he be to more injuries playing at less than full speed?

Outright Win: Giants
v/s the Spread: N/A (will make pick when the line opens up)

Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (NL)

Another NFC East show down here. Too many uncertainties here, especially concerning the Cowboys. Miles Austin is out this week. Tony Romo and Felix Jones are doubtful to play too. (Again, which is why there is no betting line on this game either). Cowboys managed to pull off an over time win at San Fran.

And this just in: that Romo dude is one tough son of a gun.

Redskins are one of those surprising 2-0 teams. Rex Grossman is playing at a high level. But you cannot help but wonder, when bad Rex will show up. Still, the Redskins offense is based on their run game with Hightower and Roy Helu (who is being featured more and more every week). Solid defense keeps will keep them in most games.

Outright Win: Cowboys
v/s the Spread: N/A (will make pick when the line opens up)

Upset Special of the Week

New York Jets at Oakland Raiders (+3)

The 2-0 Jets are finally on the road. They have to travel out west and play the Raiders, who were almost 2-0, but for that silly defensive melt down in the 4th quarter against the Bills. The Raiders could be dangerous at home, especially if they can cut down on their dumb penalties. I expect Hue Jackson to emphasize that this week.

Am I the only one who thinks the Jets are in a little bit of trouble? Their defense is solid as always. But on offense, they are supposed to be this predominantly run-first team. But their run game seems ineffective. Will they hand over reigns to Mark Sanchez to take over? And is he capable of handling it? Too many questions.

Outright Win: Raiders
v/s the Spread: Raiders (+3)

Homer Pick of the Week

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (+3.5)

The Packers managed to get away with a win at Carolina last week after going down 13-0 in the first half. I guess, as a Packer fan, it is not too early to start worrying about this Packer defense. With so many offensive weapons and a soon to be elite QB under center in Aaron Rodgers, it might be okay to have a "bend but not break" defense. Unfortunately, this defense is a shade worse than that, allowing 400+ yards to both opposing QBs thus far. To add insult to injury, Nick Collins is lost for the season. Charlie Peprah, his replacement, has big shoes to fill.

Now, they have a rematch of last year's NFC Championship game; again at Soldier Field. The Packers, in the McCarthy era have had problems when playing the Bears. For some reason these two rivals play each other close almost every time. the Bears seem to know just how to stifle Rodgers and the Packer offense. But this time, the special teams advantage of the Bears might not be as much as an advantage as before with the new kick off rule. And the Packer punt coverage is way better that it was last season. Still, a small slip up in special teams, might make the difference between winning and losing this game. We're in for a close one here.

Outright Win: Packers
v/s the Spread: Packers (-3.5)

My 5 STAR Picks   (* Home team in CAPS)

Packers (-3.5) over BEARS
RAIDERS (+3) over Jets
BENGALS (-3) over 49ers
CHARGERS (-14.5) over Chiefs
Cardinals (-3.5) over SEAHAWKS

Last Week:
Outright Win Record: 11-5
v/s the Spread Record: 8-7-1

Year to Date:
Outright Win Record: 19-13
v/s the Spread Record: 17-13-2

5 STAR Picks:
Overall Record: 4-6

* Odds as per "Sportsbook" on 9/21/2011

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