This may seem obvious, but teams play better at home. So far in the 2012 season we've seen this fact more evidently than usual. A Freakonomics study last winter showed that between 2002 and 2011 home teams won approximately 57 percent of their games. What have we seen in 2012? Well:
- Home teams are 23-9 straight up, meaning they have won just under 75 percent of their games so far.
- Home teams are 19-13 against the spread, meaning they have won 59 percent of their games against the spread so far.
- Home underdogs are 7-1 against the spread, meaning they have won 87.5 percent of their games against the spread so far.
So why are home teams doing so well early in the season? Well, I have a two-sentence answer and a two-word answer. The two-sentence answer is that the NFL is cheap and hypocritical. It's hard to take them seriously when they talk about player safety and competitive balance when their actions completely contradict those notions.
The two-word answer: replacement refs.
I can't believe nobody thought of this early in the season. In fact, I can't believe I didn't think of this. Of course replacement refs are going to favor home teams, these guys don't have experience dealing with crowds of 60,000 people and guys like Santonio Holmes or Jim Harbaugh screaming in their ear.
The replacement refs may eventually learn how to do their jobs without letting home-field bias affect the outcome, but for now we can take advantage of a brief window of Vegas ignorance.
And when I say "we," I really mean "you." Why? Because there are a whopping 10 home underdogs this week, and despite the trend I've just unearthed, I only like a few of them.
So take my picks with a grain of salt this week. I just spent a whole page convincing you to take the home team and now I'm going to take several road teams. The good news is either way I'll be right.
Record for the Season: 14-18
Lock of the Week Record: 1-0
I was on the fence about this one for a while until I saw Bill Simmons' Week 2 Picks column, which reminded me of a very important fact. The Giants are 26-23 at home since the 2006 season and 32-17 on the road.
Remember how last week I predicted that Eli Manning would have one of his classic multiple interception games against a bad team at home? Well, Eli has really improved. He figured out how to streamline the process so that his three interceptions were thrown by halftime and he could spend the second half dominating Tampa's underwhelming secondary.
Just as last week had the potential for a classic Eli game, this one has the potential for a classic Manning game. Both Eli and Peyton love playing crappy defenses at night, particularly after a tough game on Sunday. Peyton does it at home, Eli does it on the road.
That's going to be the difference. Just like I knew Eli would screw up against Tampa, I know he'll rise to the occasion against Carolina. He's that predictable. Cam Newton isn't.
This is Cam Newton's first prime time game and he's going against the best pass rush in football, a quarterback who does this several times per year and an angry Tom Coughlin. Do you really want to put money on him pulling this one out?
So put aside injuries to Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and everyone else. This is where Eli Manning shines.
The Pick: Giants (+1).
Didn't we see this exact game two weeks ago? We all know how that one went.
Now that we got that out of the way I'd like to pat myself on the back. This is from my Week 2 Picks column:
"Meanwhile, doesn't this feel like a classic Jay Cutler game? He pulls you in with a marvelous performance against Indy, makes you believe that he's tamed the gunslinger within, and then throws four interceptions in a big night game against the Packers? It certainly looks that way to me, which is why I'm taking Green Bay."
... Well? Was I right or was I right? Between Eli's three interceptions, Cutler's four and Romo crapping the bed in Seattle I've developed a keen ability to predict when quarterbacks will randomly suck.
I'm so thrilled with this new development that I'm going to throw a new a pick into my picks column: the Jeff George memorial "which QB will randomly suck" pick. This week's pick? We'll get to him later. Now just know that it won't be Jay Cutler.
By the way, I am absolutely not sold on George as the namesake for this pick. Brett Favre got some consideration as well, and I'm definitely taking nominations.
The Pick: Bears (-7.5).
Week 1, 2011 49ers: upset win over tough divisional opponent.
Week 1, 2012 Buccaneers: upset win over tough divisional opponent.
Week 2, 2011 49ers: come from behind loss to an NFC East contender.
Week 2, 2012 Buccaneers: come from behind loss to an NFC East contender.
Week 3, 2011 49ers: upset road win.
Week 3, 2012 Buccaneers: upset road win.
That's right, I'm calling a road upset! The Harbaugh-Schiano similarities are getting eerie, right down to a controversial post-game handshake with a more seasoned coach.
Tampa Bay isn't nearly as good as San Francisco was last year, and I do think that Schiano's actions against the Giants were petty and classless, but the similarities between the 49ers and Bucs are pretty jarring.
Meanwhile, Jason Garrett is doing everything in his power to convince me that Norv Turner is no longer the worst coach with a potentially playoff-caliber roster. In the past two years he has frozen his own kicker, blown more games in the fourth quarter than I care to count and now wasted a chance to assert his team as the NFC East front-runner by going into Seattle woefully underprepared.
Garrett is one crappy game away from getting the Turner treatment from me. He doesn't necessarily have to win this game, but he has to make sure the Cowboys don't get significantly outcoached again. That's a much taller order against Greg Schiano than it is against Pete Carroll, and that's why Tampa gets the nod here.
The pick: Buccaneers (+7).
Christian Ponder getting one score against the 49ers...
(Thinking to myself)...
Christian Ponder getting one score against the 49ers...
(Giddily realizing what this means)...
Christian Ponder getting one score against the 49ers!
Lock of the week. There's no way the Vikings cover. San Francisco by at least 20.
The Pick: 49ers (-7).
I don't know which of my preseason predictions was worse, comparing Jake Locker to Brett Favre or saying Chris Johnson would get back to form. Well...suffice it to say I was wrong.
I think the Titans are just terrible. I'm not particularly high on the Chargers, but they just blew the Titans out. The Patriots went into their house and destroyed them in Week 1, and then went on to lose at home to Arizona (I don't care who they beat, it'll be a cold day in hell before I believe in a Kevin Kolb-led team).
For all we know Detroit is really good. They could have just been blindsided by a sneaky good Rams team and then beaten up by the best team in the league.
Detroit is due for an offensive explosion. This feels like the type of game where Calvin Johnson catches three touchdowns and Detroit has 30 points by halftime. Yep, I'm taking another road team.
The Pick: Lions (-3.5).
This is a big test for Robert Griffin III. Everyone knows how good he is. The Bengals have two weeks of tape on him. If he puts up another awesome week we know he's for real. Then I get to auction him off to the highest bidder on all of my fantasy teams (yes I was smart enough to grab him as my backup, yay me).
Meanwhile this is just as big of a test for Cincinnati. They got destroyed by one of the best teams in the league and then beat up one of the worst teams. This is a real litmus test for them.
So why am I picking the Redskins? Because Marvin Lewis' game planning against an unconventional quarterback is like Christmas in September. I don't know how, but I know he'll find a way to screw it up.
Look out for Washington's home crowd on Sunday. Not only is it RG3's first home game, but it's the first game for the Redskins with any real hope for the future since...Steve Spurrier's debut in 2002? Earlier? It's been awhile since the Redskins were good.
There's too much good karma for the Redskins to blow this one.
The Pick: Redskins (-2).
As far as I'm concerned last week's game didn't happen. Darrelle Revis didn't play, Troy Polamalu didn't play, let's not waste time trying to figure out what would have happened if everyone was healthy.
Instead let's look at Week 1. The Jets blew out the Bills and looked like a genuinely above average team. Meanwhile the last time Ryan Tannehill played against a good defense he looked like Joey Harrington's worse cousin.
The Jets have won in Miami before without Darrelle Revis, I don't see why they can't do it again. It's not like Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson can't defend Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. Heck, with Tannehill throwing to them I feel pretty confident that I could cover either of them and I was a defensive tackle in high school.
Few teams are better at taking away what a team does best than the Jets. Once Reggie Bush is out of the equation the Jets won't have much trouble with the Dolphins.
The Pick: Jets (-2.5).
This is one of the games home-field advantage will really affect. The Chiefs are a legitimately terrible team.
You know what happens when legitimately terrible teams go on the road to play desperate teams in a dome? Disasters happen.
The Saints are the only 0-2 team in the NFC. Their schedule is only going to get harder. They HAVE to win this game.
The Saints are going to score a ton of points and the Chiefs aren't. That's a massive oversimplification, but who needs insightful analysis to say that Romeo Crennel is awful.
The Pick: Saints (-9.5).
The Bills got blown out by one good team and blew out one bad team. You know what that means? They're mediocre.
The Browns have Brandon Weeden as their starting quarterback. You know what that means? They're terrible.
I don't care about home-field advantage (an ironic sentiment I continue to push despite the words "respect home-field advantage" are in the title of this column) when a mediocre team is only giving three points to a terrible team.
Side note: The Bills struck gold with the Fred Jackson injury. This feels like Larry Johnson all over again. A very good back gets hurt, giving way to an amazing back. Spiller is one of the most explosive players in the league.
The Pick: Bills (-3).
Look at my logic for the Bills-Browns game. Same rule applies to Blaine Gabbert.
The Pick: Colts (-1.5).
Jeff George alert! Jeff George alert! My terrible quarterback clairvoyance never lies. Philip Rivers is due for a terrible game.
Bill Parcells once said that you are what your record says you are. I'm calling BS on that one. The Chargers won their first game because of a backup long snapper and their second because they might have been playing the worst team in the league.
Meanwhile Atlanta won their first game by going into Arrowhead and decimating the Chiefs, and then won their second by beating Peyton Manning at night, a virtually impossible task even with competent refs.
This is a classic Chargers game. As long as Norv Turner is coaching this team they'll never stop screwing up in September. I'm not buying this team as a contender until they beat a real team. Until then I'm assuming Norv Turner will find a way to blow this game.
Oh, and Atlanta is actually really good. They're not going to give this game away. That means San Diego will have to legitimately beat the Falcons, and I don't think they can do that.
The Pick: Falcons (+3).
"The Cardinals are never going to win anything until they find a real quarterback. It's that simple. They have weapons and a solid defense, but none of that matters without a passable quarterback. It doesn't have to be Peyton Manning, just someone who can keep them in games and make an occasional throw."
That was my preseason evaluation of the Cardinals. Well...consider this my tearful apology. It takes a big man to admit his mistake, and I am that big man. These Cardinals are legitimately good, and they're good without a quarterback.
I've never seen anything quite like this. It's not like the 49ers last year, at least Alex Smith played within the system and did what they needed. The Cardinals literally just went into New England and beat the Patriots without a quarterback.
It's amazing, it's like the Cardinals read my preview and decided to do this just to mess with me.
Speaking of messing with people, that's Philly's specialty. Nobody on the planet has any clue what to think of them. They're 2-0 and have beaten the Ravens, but they've lost three fumbles, six interceptions and needed a last second drive to beat Brandon Weeden.
The only possible label Philly has earned is as a team that can pull out games late. The irrefutable law of Andy Reid states that they're now going to get blown out. I'm taking Arizona.
The Pick: Cardinals (+4).
Any time you can lay 4.5 against a team that just lost by 22 to Ryan Tannehill you do it. I don't care what the circumstances are, you do it and you don't look back.
I don't care that the Steelers have a history of blowing at least one game to a bad team every year. I don't care about their injury issues or that this game is Oakland. This is another case of a good team playing a bad one. Don't overthink it, just do it. Oh, and that Tannehill thing. That counts too.
The Pick: Steelers (-4.5).
This is the first true barometer game of the AFC season, and after this one and Sunday night's clash in Baltimore we'll have a much better sense of how the top four shake out.
Personally I think Houston is the best team of the bunch. Once they get a lead it's nearly impossible to catch up because of their running game.
Unless you have Peyton Manning. Manning has owned the Texans throughout his entire career. Don't think that won't get in their heads if Manning drives the Broncos down the field and scores on the first drive.
Few teams are as well-equipped to beat Houston as Denver is simply because of a few key people. The Manning factor will obviously be big, but what about Jack Del Rio? He just spent the past several years in their division.
Even though the Shanahans no longer run the Broncos, you have to remember that Denver is where Houston's zone-blocking scheme was created. Some of the older defenders like Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams got to see it up close every day at practice.
The Broncos have a number of random advantages that will exist only against Houston. What helps against everyone is Denver's home field. The Broncos just don't lose very often in Denver when they have a good team.
I think the Texans are better than the Broncos, and I think if this game is played again it will be in Houston, but right now I like the Broncos to pull this one out at home.
The pick: Broncos (PK).
I hate to make this pick, because everything inside of me is telling me to go the other way.
How can I trust New England's offense without Aaron Hernandez after its showing against Arizona? How can I trust the defense considering they might have just played the two worst offenses in the NFL? And how satisfying would it be to see Bill Belichick under .500?
But the Patriots never lose twice in a row. It's happened three times in the past decade. Bill Belichick is too good at preparation, Tom Brady is too good at everything, and that roster is just too loaded for it to realistically happen.
Meanwhile the Philly game raised some real questions about Baltimore. After a brilliant performance against Cincinnati Joe Flacco was completely mediocre.
If you're mediocre against Bill Belichick you lose (unless your name is Kevin Kolb). I can't reasonably expect Brady and Belichick to lose to Flacco after losing a game last week.
By the way, I want to question something about the Ravens. Why do they always act so confidently against New England? They act like they own the Patriots, but in reality it's the other way around. They've beaten them once during the Harbaugh era and that was without Wes Welker.
The Pick: New England (+2.5).
Nope. You aren't fooling me, slow start. I'm not buying this.
Green Bay might have just played the two best teams in the NFC (excluding themselves), and certainly the two best defenses. I don't care what they've looked like, they're still the Packers.
This is a team that just went 15-1 and scored 17 zillion points last year. They're playing against a rookie quarterback. I don't care if they're playing in Seattle, hell I wouldn't care if they were playing on the surface of the sun, there is no location where the Seahawks magically become better than the Packers.
If you're a gambling line but don't want to take any chances just bet the Green Bay money line. There's a lot of money to be made here. Green Bay may have a slow start, they may give up a garbage time score to ruin the spread, but they will not lose this game.
One last note: In a column that was supposed to be about home-field advantage I took 11 road teams. If you trust me follow my advice, but if you trust the trends we've seen so far don't hesitate to go against my picks and follow the home team. You'll probably end up making a lot more than me.
The Pick: Packers (-3.5).