Friends don't let friends drink and pontificate on pigskin.
That's our new motto because we got hammered last week -- and in more ways than one. It was certainly a rare off week for the Cold, Hard Football Facts real and spectacular picks (8-6 straight up; a dreadul 5-9 against the
Our excuse? Wanton drunkeness in Bavarian beer nirvana that must have clouded our analtyical abilities in a golden wheat beer haze, as the Chief Troll made his annual pilgrimage to Munich (200th anniversary of Oktoberfest and all).
His mission? Shoot some video for The Beer Traveler
and stare at huge jugs: the heaving bosom kind stuffed in those incredible male-fantasy-land Bavarian dirndls and that other kind filled with liters of lovely lager.
The jug in the photo? We know. It's not the kind you're used to seeing here. Sorry, Ms. Hatcher was busy this week. But that's three liters of fine Bavarian wheat beer, our fine-feathered friends, possessed by one very happy Potentate of Pigskin. And that was breakfast! Had it at Weihenstephan Brewery, the world's oldest, founded in 1040.
In any case, it's a bad excuse. We know. But it's our excuse. Next time we'll post a warning. Here's our week-by-week performance so far in 2010.
8-7 straight; 7-6 ATS
Week 2: 10-6 straight, 7-8 ATS
Week 3: 11-5 straight, 12-4 ATS
Week 4: 8-6 straight, 5-9 ATS
Year to date: 37-24 straight (.607), 31-27 ATS (.534)
Remember, even with last week's "performance," Uncle CHFF has been very good to you over the long haul. We've delivered 16 winning weeks ATS in 21 opportunities since the start of the 2009 season. And we don't pick and choose our spots, folks. We pick every game every week.
So pour that in your three-liter stein of wheat beer and pound it. And enjoy these fine Bavarian jugs while you're at it.
Jacksonville (-1.5) at Buffalo
Neither the Jaguars nor the Bills can pass the ball effectively. But they make up for it by failing to stop opposing passers, too.
As a result, we have the worst statistical match-up of the week, at least based upon Passer Rating Differential
, probably our most important indicator of success: the Jaguars are No. 26 on the list (-25.54); the Bills are dead last (-37.7).
Both teams have trouble getting after the quarterback: Jacksonville is No. 26 on our Defensive Hog Index, and 17th at forcing Negative Pass Plays. But they actually hold a sizable advantage over Buffalo in this indicator: the Bills, dead last in Passer Rating Differential, are also dead last on our Defensive Hog Index
, dead last at forcing Negative Pass Plays, and a triumphant – by their standards – 31st at getting off the field on third down.
It's a dramatic decline in performance for the Bills: it was just last year that they ranked No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating and were second in the NFL with 28 picks, thanks in large part to rookie Jairus Byrd's league-best (tied) nine INTs.
But Byrd, who suffered a groin injury at the end of the 2009 season and again over the summer, has not been the same player here in 2010 – and the Buffalo pass defense, the team's lone strength last year – has not been the same, either. The Bills are dead last – in yet another indicator – in Defensive Passer Rating so far this year (111.28) and, after 28 picks last year, are the only team this year that's yet to record a single pick.
The flawed Jaguars are just the type of team that Buffalo will beat before the end of the year. But the Bills right now are extraordinarily bad in so many areas it's hard to see it happening this week, especially after Jacksonville's uplifting win over Indy last week.
Jacksonville 23, Buffalo 17
Denver at Baltimore (-7.5)
Looks like skeevy old Uncle CHFF was right again on both counts. The Broncos are No. 3 right now in Passing Yards Per Attempt (despite suffering 11 sacks, among the most in the league), which means they're getting the ball down the field extremely effectively. Kyle Orton leads the NFL in passing yards (1,419) and he's eighth in passer rating (96.3).
Oh, and they've done it all after unloading "The Beast," wide receiver Brandon Marshall, over the summer.
Turns out that other players have actually stepped up (who'd have guessed it?) namely, another Brandon, Brandon Lloyd. The relatively anonymous NFL journeyman (four teams in eight years) has caught 25 passes for 454 yards (18.2 YPC) – all putting him on pace for what would easily be the most prolific year of his career (previous best: 48 catches, 733 yards).
Ahh, but not all is rosy for the 2-2 Broncos. They're an incredibly one-dimensional offense right now – dead last running the ball (a pathetic 2.18 YPA). Knowshon Moreno apparently will not play Sunday. But, based on the team's pathetic performance on the ground, it doesn't really matter either way.
The Baltimore run defense is not what it used to be (4.32 YPA, 21st). But it's still good enough to make life tough for a one-dimensional team. The Ravens are No. 1 in total defense (235.8 YPG), No. 1 in passing defense (119.0 YPG), No. 5 in scoring defense (13.8 PPG) and No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating, after allowing just 1 TD pass in their first four games.
Baltimore 20, Denver 16
Kansas City at Indianapolis (-8.5)
This is our Sports Illustrated Game of the Week
. Highlights: Romeo Crennel's incredible 6-0 record against Peyton Manning during his days as a New England assistant; the dramatic rise of Kansas City's Defensive Hog under his tutelage; and Manning's best season since 2004.
Indianapolis 26, Kansas City 20
Green Bay (-2.5) at Washington
Pop quiz: who has the more effective passing game, the Packers or the Redskins?
Most people, including us, would guess Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. But Donovan McNabb and the Redskins are actually fourth in the NFL right in now, with an average of 7.25 Passing Yards Per Attempt – two spots ahead of the Packers (71.4 YPA).
Rodgers boasts a much higher passer rating (96.3 vs. 84.7). But the passing improvement under McNabb in Washington has been immediate and dramatic (6.06 PYPA in 2009).
The problems for the Redskins, though, are on defense. They are 29th when it comes to forcing Negative Pass Plays (5.88%), 21st in Defensive Passer Rating and a humble 18th in scoring D (19.8 PPG).
It's the type of defense that Rodgers should be able to exploit in the wake of last week's highly effective (10.65 YPA) but mistake-prone (four Negative Pass Plays) effort against a bad Detroit defense.
Green Bay 28, Washington 24
St. Louis at Detroit (-3.5)
There's a Lions fan named Matt Kell who must write to us once a week to pile on the disorganization after yet another dispiriting Detroit defeat, while pining for better days ahead.
Some of it's quite funny: "Go Lions! ... And take your front office with you!" was one of his gems last week.
Here's what he wrote this week: "Hey, my Lions just set yet another record! With Sunday's loss at Green Bay, they have now lost 18 straight games to division opponents, dating back to November 22, 2007. This is the new record for consecutive divisional losses since the NFL went to a division format in 1967. The previous record of 17 was held by the 2004-07 Raiders.
"The Rams just ended their streak of 15 divisional losses, dating back to 2007. Other streaks of 15 losses are held by the 1995-97 Saints and the 1993-94 Redskins. The 1976-78 Buccaneers, the standard of futility in the 1970s, lost "only" nine straight division games, since they played each of their division opponents only once during their first two seasons.
"The record winless streak against division opponents is held by the 1967-70 Steelers with 20 (18 losses and two ties, with 11 straight losses from 1968-70).
"Three more losses, to the Bears, Packers and Vikings and we're the undisputed leader in divisional losses. Heck, this might be another 0-16 season!"
That's the spirit, Matt!
Life normally changes fast in the Not For Long League – well, unless you're a Lions fan like Matt. In which case life is just one painful spiritual imprisonment spent hoping for the sweet release of death.
The problem this year in Detroit has been back-up quarterback Shaun Hill, playing in place of the injured Matt Stafford. Hill has killed the Lions with two interceptions in each of his last three games – and one pick in one half of play in the crushing and controversial Week 1 loss to the Lions that set the tone for another season of misery in Motown.
Detroit still can't play pass defense, either, even though their No. 28 ranking in Defensive Passer Rating (97.85) represents a huge improvement over the record-setting poor performances of the past three years.
The Rams, meanwhile, have promising rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who's going down the normal rocky rookie road (6 TD, 6 INT, 72.3 passer rating), but provides hope for the future.
But the big statistical news out of St. Louis, the reason the Rams are 2-2 and a legit pick to win the awful NFC West, is that they have improved dramatically on defense since their horrible 1-15 season of 2009 (the lone win, of course, at Detroit).
St. Louis is an impressive No. 7 in Defensive Passer Rating (71.84) – just one spot behind the mighty Steelers. They're also a respectable No. 12 on our Defensive Hog Index, they're great at getting off the field on third down (fifth). Oh, and they're No. 4 in scoring defense (13.0 PPG).
It adds up to another defeat in Detroit – and another email from dispirited but good-humored Lions fans like Matt.
St. Louis 24, Detroit 20
Chicago (-3.5) at Carolina
Whatever happened to that Jake Delhomme guy? Oh, he's injured in Cleveland?
It's too bad. Even on crutches, the old INT-prone gunslinger would be a better option than what Carolina has fielded this season – with what is easily the worst passing attack in football.
The Panthers are No. 30 in Passing Yards Per Attempt (4.77), No. 30 in Passer Rating Differential
(-28.8), No. 32 in offensive passer rating (52.2) and, as a result, No. 32 in scoring (11.5 PPG).
On the bright side, rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen will not have the team's best receiving threat, Steve Smith, available this week. So the Panthers got that going for them.
The Bears, meanwhile, counter with one of the most prolific passing attacks in football – even after last week's 10-sack, three-point disaster at the Giants.
The superior passing team almost always wins, and Chicago is easily the superior passing team.
Chicago 24, Carolina 14
Tampa Bay at Cincinnati (-6.5)
Oh, you're still one of those thick-headed people who doubt the Cold, Hard Football Facts "receivers as hood ornaments
" law of pro football?
Maybe you should take a look at the Bengals. They've boasted one of the premier receivers of our time in Chad Ochocinco for a full decade now. They've even paired him with a high-profile former Pro Bowl quarterback, Carson Palmer, for most of that decade. But they've field just two teams with winning records in the Ochocinco Era.
This year, they've paired the great Ochocinco with the even greater Terrell Owens, one of the most prolific pass catchers by any measure in the history of the game. Most say TO is past his prime. But he's on pace for career year: 96 catches for 1,496 yards.
What's it all meant? These decorative hood ornaments have meant little, actually, as we try to tell you. The Bengals right now are as mediocre as it gets: 2-2, No. 14 in scoring offense (79 points) and No. 16 in scoring defense (78 points).
Tampa is not a great team by any measure. They eked out a win over Cleveland and crowned hapless Carolina before getting blown out at home by the Steelers, a defeat that emptied the Tampa bandwagon like a bomb scare.
However, the Bucs present a fairly good defensive challenge for a ho-hum Cincy offense. They're No. 4 in Defensive Passer Rating (66.07) and No. 6 in Passer Rating Differential
(+18.99). The evidence is not strong, though, as the Bucs have faced a series of bad quarterbacks.
But there's not a lot of evidence that Cincy – which scored 20 points the past two weeks against lousy Carolina and Cleveland clubs – can light up anybody, either.
Cincinnati 20, Tampa Bay 19
Atlanta (-3.5) at Cleveland
The Falcons have the NFL's best ball-hawking defense right now: a league-high eight INTs, seventh overall at forcing Negative Pass Plays (11.68%) and No. 9 in Defensive Passer Rating.
Those numbers spell trouble for a Cleveland team that has trouble finding the end zone (17.0 PPG, 24th) and is not even sure who will start on Sunday
. Seneca Wallace may get the nod again, or may get sent to clipboard duty if injured Week 1 starter Jake Delhomme is well enough to return.
The Browns are also not sure if Peyton Hillis will play. He's listed as questionable with an injured thigh. No Hillis would be a big blow for Cleveland: the unknown third-year player has been one of the great statistical success stories of the year. He's rushed 66 times for 322 yards – an impressive 4.9 YPA – and is tied for the NFL lead with four rushing touchdowns in four games.
His absence decreases the likelihood that Cleveland can exploit Atlanta's great weakness, one of the league's worst run defenses (4.64 YPA, 26th).
Atlanta 21, Cleveland 20
N.Y. Giants at Houston (-3.5)
Giants-Texans is a fascinating statistical match-up.
New York is probably the most volatile team in football: 13-point home win in Week 1; 24-point road loss in Week 2; 19-point home loss in Week 3; 14-point home win in Week 4, against the previously unbeaten Bears.
That's four games decided by two touchdowns or more during a four-week period otherwise defined by some of the narrowest average scoring margins in NFL history.
Houston, meanwhile, is a statistical shipwreck in waiting – an entertaining but chintzy vessel with more holes in it than a game of Connect Four.
But it's been a wild ride, the kind where the driver turns around and says, "Hang on everybody, I saw this once on a cartoon and I'm gonna try it!"
Houston is No. 2 in total offense (415.5) and No. 4 in scoring offense (27.0 PPG). They've been lead by the 1-2 combo of Matt Schaub (8.0 YPA, 95.6 passer rating) and Arian Foster. The unheralded second-year running back has been spectacular: 85 carries for a league-best 537 yards, four TDs (tied No. 1), and an awesome Jim Brown-esque 6.3 YPA.
But the defense can do almost nothing right: they're No. 26 in scoring (25.5 PPG), No. 32 in total defense (408.0 YPG), No. 32 in passing defense (337.8 YPG), No. 31 in Defensive Passer Rating (107.8) and No. 26 at forcing Negative Pass Plays (6.36%).
It's not a recipe for long-term success, especially against New York.
The G-Men present a strong statistical match-up for Houston. They field the NFL's No. 2 defensive Hogs, they're fairly stout on run defense (3.78 YPA), they're great on third down (opponents convert just 1 of 3 attempts) and, after last week's 10-sack effort against Chicago, they're No. 1 at forcing Negative Pass Plays (17.65%).
Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been extraordinarily ordinary (yup, that's what we said) with an 81.2 passer rating. But Houston's defense can make even ordinary quarterbacks look extraordinary.
We predict the unpredictable Giants will show strong against flawed but highly entertaining Houston.
N.Y. Giants 24, Houston 23
New Orleans (-7.5) at Arizona
The Cardinals have faced two good quarterbacks this year: Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers. The results were disastrous: two losses and 41 points surrendered in each game.
And here's a newsflash: Drew Brees is a good quarterback. He's pretty close to the incredible pace we saw last year: 73.8 percent completions, 7 TD, 2 INT and a 102.4 passer rating.
Offensively, the 2010 season has been a disaster for Arizona, too, as the organization flounders here in the post-Kurt Warner Era, as you knew they would: the Cardinals are dead last in Passing Yards Per Attempt, an awful 4.2 yards for every dropback, and No. 29 in scoring 14.5 PPG. They do run the ball well, though, with an average of 5.35 YPA (third).
The Cardinals have eked out wins over the Rams and Raiders; and the Saints are clearly not, at least at this point, the statistical juggernaut we saw in 2009. They've also been locked in tight games all year – not one decided by more than five points – and they struggled to eke out a 25-22 win at San Francisco, their lone road game so far.
But with that said, this game has all the earmarks of an impending breakout performance by a talented quarterback and offensive team against a club that's not nearly as good as its 2-2 record would indicate.
New Orleans 30, Arizona 17
Tennessee at Dallas (-6.5)
There are several teams in football that are routinely overrated in the eyes of the public, merely because people love the team.
Dallas, America's Team, is a classic example. They're poorly coached, they're highly inefficient on offense (No. 29 in Scoreability), they're struggling to run (3.48 YPA, 24th), they're struggling to stop the pass (91.2 Defensive Passer Rating), they're struggling to score points (18.0 PPG), they're struggling to win games (1-2) ... and they're 6.5-point favorites on Sunday.
The Titans, meanwhile, come to town with a decent offense (24.5 PPG, seventh), great efficiency (No. 2 in Scoreability, No. 12 in Bendability), a great road win over the NFC East under their belts (29-10 at Giants), a 10-point advantage over Dallas in Passer Rating Differential
and the best Defensive Hogs
in the biz.
We're calling bullsh*t on this game and on the 2010 Cowboys.
Tennessee 24, Dallas 21
San Diego (-6.5) at Oakland
We'll make this short and sweet: The NFL is all about winning the passing battles, right?
Well, the Chargers are No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating (58.1) and No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential
(+44.8). Oakland is No. 26 in Defensive Passer Rating (95.5) and No. 25 in Passer Rating Differential
(-25.2) – a stunning 70-point swing between the two teams in PRD.
The Chargers roll into Oakland and roll over the Raiders.
San Diego 31, Oakland 17
Philadelphia at San Francisco (-3.5)
With Michael Vick in the line-up, this is a lay-up for the Eagles. But Vick is not in the line-up. Instead, Kevin Kolb gets the nod again.
The drop-off is dramatic: Vick has posted an incredible 108.8 passer rating, while averaging 7.2 YPA on the ground (26 for 187). Kolb has posted a 71.1 passer rating, and one can't help but wonder why he was originally given the nod over Vick in the preseason.
So the Eagles offense clearly has not been the same with Kolb at the helm. However, San Francisco presents a soft cushion on which Kolb can land: No. 27 in Defensive Passer Rating (95.8) and No. 27 in scoring defense (25.8 PPG).
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia defense presents huge trouble for San Francisco, which (surprise!) fields a terrible offense under Alex Smith (13.0 PPG, 31st).
The Eagles counter that pathetic offense with the second-best pass defense in football (63.85 Defensive Passer Rating) and a unit that gets pressure on the quarterback as well as any team in football (13.14% Negative Pass Plays, fifth).
It's tough to travel cross country and win in the NFL. And San Francisco played tough at home against the defending champ Saints (25-22 loss) a couple weeks ago.
But the Eagles simply look too strong in too many ways to lose – no matter who's at quarterback.
Philadelphia 24, San Francisco 17
Minnesota at N.Y. Jets (-4.5)
The Vikings just lifted Randy Moss out of New England in a blockbuster midseason trade that dominated the news cycle this week. We could not be more tantalized by the potential here for disaster.
It's like the team just handed BrettFavre, the great mistake-prone gunslinger of our time, an open invitation to throw the ball up for grabs every other down.
Now these best new buds, in their first game together, go on the road to face one of the league's best defenses in a town where the gunslinger had a cup of coffee in 2008 (and proceeded to scald the organization with a league-high 22 picks).
The Jets are not close to the shutdown defense they fielded in 2009, when the dominated every defensive indicator, including our Quality Stats. They're No. 7 in scoring defense (15.2 PPG) and No. 11 in Defensive Passer Rating
But they're still pretty good, as evidenced by the fact that they're 3-1 and, in their best performance of the year, held the league's most explosive team to 14 points and held Moss to two catches for 38 yards (and one spectacular TD) even when he was paired with the great Tom Brady (No. 2 this year in passer rating, 109.0).
BrettFavre-to-Moss does not pose the same kind of threat and Brady-to-Moss. Plus, BrettFavre has already thrown six picks in just three games this season, and you can bet your three-liter jug of lager that he'll be tempted to try out his new deep-threat Randy Moss doll whenever possible, no matter how reckless the attempt may be.
Hell, this game has disaster written all over it. Our guess? BrettFavre throws two spectacular TDs to Moss – and a single-game record 11 interceptions.
N.Y. Jets 24, Minnesota 14