It’s another installment of The Ledger, the column that provides my take on every game I picked against the spread from the previous week’s NFL schedule.
For the first time all season, double-digit underdogs (Oakland, Cleveland, St. Louis) finally demonstrated the ability to play competitive football. Three of the four double-digit ‘dogs covered the spread this week, reversing a season-long trend that saw most double-digit favorites blowing out their opponents.
Week six was a mixed bag for me, as I went 7-7 to take my overall record to 54-36 on the season. For my original picks and insight, look here:
Now, let’s take a look to see what went right and what went wrong with my picks from week six.
Maybe this was a no-brainer rather than an upset.
As I alluded to last week, there’s quite a bit of speculation about 2010 swirling around the Redskins these days. It’s hard to focus on the moment when the owner, the coach, the quarterback, the running back, the star defensive acquisition, the media, and the fans are already looking past 2009 and wondering what’s to come.
Either way, neither of these teams is going anywhere in 2009. At least the Chiefs are building toward a future. The Redskins may have to blow things up and just start over. (1-0)
I should have followed my instinct on this one.
My original fear in picking the Bengals this week was that this felt like a classic “trap game.” I went with Cincinnati anyway because I believed they would control the time of possession, run the ball well with Cedric Benson, and force some bad decisions from Houston QB Matt Schaub.
As it turned out, Schaub threw for nearly 400 yards, the Texans controlled the clock by nearly 13 minutes, and Benson had only 44 yards rushing. Cincinnati also lost the turnover battle and played their worst game of the season. Plus, with defensive standout Antawn Odom out for the year, the Bengals lost more than a key conference game. (1-1)
Steelers 27, Browns 14 (Pittsburgh, -14)
Pittsburgh outgained the Browns 543-to-197 and had 28 first downs. The Steelers held the ball for 13 more minutes than Cleveland did. They even forced four Cleveland turnovers.
Alas, the Steelers committed four turnovers themselves, and the miscues helped keep the hapless Browns in the game until half-way through the third quarter. Pittsburgh made a gallant effort to cover the spread, but came up short when a fourth quarter scoring drive was stalled, leading to a field goal instead of a touchdown.
This game was a prime example of why it’s risky to bet on the favorites when they are giving double digits. For most of the year, it’s been a safe play. Not this week. (1-2)
The Vikings had this game won, it appeared, when they took a 27-10 lead on a Brett Favre TD pass to Vincent Shiancoe with about 10 minutes left to play in the game. However, Baltimore’s offense, led by Joe Flacco, became a quick-strike unit that surged ahead 31-30 with 3:37 left in the game
The Vikings drove 66 yards in 1:41, thanks in large part to a 58-yard pass from Brett Favre to Sidney Rice, setting up the game-winning field goal from Ryan Longwell.
However, Minnesota couldn’t cover, barring strange circumstances, so the outcome didn’t matter to me at that point.
The Ravens had a chance to win the game on a reasonable 44-yard field goal attempt as time expired. With the bet already lost, I wanted to see Steven Hauschka’s kick sail through the uprights to give the Ravens a well-earned victory. Instead, the Vikings went to 6-0, the Ravens lost their third straight, and my pick didn’t work out. (1-3)
In looking at the box score, one would have guessed the Jaguars had thrashed the Rams. They outgained St. Louis 492-to-262. The Jaguars had 33 first downs and held the ball for nearly 18 more minutes than the Rams did. Maurice Jones Drew scored three touchdowns.
However, the Jaguars nearly gave this game away. Leonard Little returned an errant David Garrard pass for a touchdown, and the Rams forced two other Jacksonville turnovers. It goes down as a loss for the Rams, but it’s their second near-upset of the season. They won’t go 0-16. (2-3)
I’m not surprised the Saints won, because I thought the Giants’ schedule leading up to this game was pretty soft. I am surprised at how the Saints thoroughly beat the Giants.
By jumping out to a big early lead, the Saints turned the Giants into a one-dimensional offense. The Giants had to shelve the running game and throw the ball. Last week, Eli Manning played well on his injured foot, but that was against the Raiders. This week, Manning struggled in the face of the Saints’ defense, and the Giants couldn’t mount a serious comeback.
I still believe the comparisons to the 2007 Patriots and the other great offensive teams of the last 30 years are a bit premature for New Orleans. However, this game spoke volumes about what the Saints are capable of. If they stay healthy, the Saints could march right into the Super Bowl. (3-3)
It’s official. Whatever the ultimate outcome for the Carolina Panthers is this season, the Jake Delhomme Era should end. The Buccaneers entered this game surrendering over 250 passing yards per game on average. Delhomme threw for 65 yards, and his lone touchdown pass was to Tanard Jackson who is a cornerback for Tampa Bay.
Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 262 yards rushing and three touchdowns, carrying the Panthers. The Buccaneers nearly pulled off the upset, thanks to the Jackson interception return and a kickoff return for a touchdown by Sammie Stroughter.
In fact, until the last minute of the game, the outcome was in doubt. However, DeAngelo Williams plunged for a one-yard touchdown with 29 seconds remaining though, giving the Panthers the win, and the cover, thankfully. (4-3)
With Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson unavailable for the Lions, Detroit was in trouble before the coin was flipped at Lambeau Field on Sunday. It also didn’t help matters that the Packers were rested from having their bye week, and motivated from having lost their last game prior to their bye.
As lopsided as the score was, it could have been worse had it not for some penalties that stalled a couple Green Bay drives in field goal range. While the Lions were able to pressure Aaron Rodgers, sacking the Green Bay QB five times, the play of their backup QBs (Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton) ultimately led to their demise in this one. (5-3)
Raiders 13, Eagles 9 (Philadelphia, -14)
As I wrote at the top, it’s been an odd year for double-digit underdogs. In most cases, betting with the underdog is the safe play. This year that wasn’t the case, until this week.
Of all the upsets, I was most surprised by this outcome.
Zach Miller’s catch-and-run in the first quarter was the difference in the game. It was an 86-yard play that seemed to stun both the Eagles and Raiders.
Oakland’s secondary did a nice job denying the Eagles any deep passing plays, and the Eagles abandoned the run and tried to rely on short passes to advance the football and try to score.
The Raiders won in spite of JaMarcus Russell’s continued struggles. He threw two more interceptions and, outside of the big gain to Miller, was ineffective. (5-4)
After pounding the Jaguars last week, I believed the Seahawks were primed to reel off a few wins. Entering this game, the Cardinals were one of the worst passing defenses in the league. At the very worst, this game would be a shootout that came down to the final possession, or so I thought.
Instead, the Cardinals jumped all over the Seahawks, taking an early 14-0 lead. Arizona held the ball for over 40 minutes, despite rushing for only 62 yards, and Kurt Warner was masterful.
The much-maligned Cardinals defense allowed just 128 yards of offense (114 passing, 14 rushing). They’ve let teams rally on them all season long, turning blowouts into close contests, but they shut down Seattle in this one. (5-5)
Mark Sanchez looked every bit the overwhelmed rookie, as he threw five interceptions, negating a wonderful day by the Jets’ running backs. Thomas Jones racked up 210 yards on 22 carries, and Leon Washington had 99 yards on 15 carries. The Jets as a whole rushed for 310 yards, and lost the game. When the playoff picture comes into focus later in the season, Jets fans may look at this game as the one that puts them on the outside-looking-in.
It was remarkable for Buffalo to win the game with starting QB Trent Edwards knocked out in the first quarter. Buffalo took advantage of the Jets’ turnovers though, scoring 13 of their 16 points following miscues. (5-6)
Patriots 59, Titans 0 (Tennessee, +9.5)
Remember the Titans?
They’re a shell of their former selves now. And I think it’s worth wondering if this is the beginning of the end of Jeff Fisher’s days as coach. The Titans failed to develop Vince Young as a starting NFL quarterback. Tennessee doesn’t have a single play-making receiver on their roster. Their defense, since Albert Haynesworth and former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz left, has turned into 11 matadors. It’s amazing this team won 13 games last season.
Meanwhile, after leaving some points on the field against the Broncos last week, the Patriots made sure to score as much as they could. It’s as if they were trying to impress the BCS voters or something the way they rolled up 59 points on the Titans. Plus, there was a Laurence Maroney sighting! (5-7)
The Bears contained Michael Turner. They forced Matt Ryan to throw two interceptions and the Falcons were only able to gain 185 yards through the air. The Bears outgained the Falcons by 120 yards. Chicago should have won.
However, the Bears made too many of their own mistakes and all of them were seemingly inside the Falcons’ 10 yard line. Jay Cutler threw an interception from the Atlanta 9-yard line. Matt Forte coughed up the ball to the Falcons from the Atlanta 1-yard line. Then, on the Bears’ last drive, future Hall of Fame LT Orlando Pace made a rookie mistake, moving before the snap on 4th-and-1 from the Falcons’ five-yard line.
The Falcons did not play well at all, and they survived. The Bears need to get their running game going if they’re going to continue to contend for a playoff spot this season. Otherwise, they will watch the playoffs from the comforts of their respective living rooms. (6-7)
Broncos 34, Chargers 23 (Denver, +4)
The main thing that killed the Chargers’ chances in this game was the adjustments the Broncos made on defense after halftime.
After allowing 20 points and over 200 yards of offense to the Chargers in the first half, the Broncos limited San Diego to three second half points and 143 yards of total offense. Phillip Rivers was sacked five times, three times in the fourth quarter, and it seemed as if every time he was hit, the ball fell from his hands.
To the Chargers’ credit, they did a fair job on the Broncos’ running backs, holding them to a 3.1 yards-per-carry average and 101 yards. However, the Broncos played mistake-free football, they held the ball for much of the second half, and Kyle Orton made several key throws to keep drives alive.
Also, Eddie Royal returned a kick and a punt each for touchdowns in the first half, a week after coach Josh McDaniels was critical of the special teams.
Now, Denver is three games into the “difficult” portion of their schedule. They’re 3-0 as underdogs thus far in that stretch, with Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington, San Diego, then the NY Giants all ahead. I wonder how many more of those upcoming games will feature the Broncos as underdogs.
As for San Diego, let’s face it:
he Chargers are shadows of their former selves. LaDainian Tomlinson showed some flashes of his prime form, but he’s in no condition to be a featured back in the NFL any longer. Shawne Merriman hasn’t been a force on defense all season. The offensive line doesn’t open up running lanes. Plus, Norv Turner looks like a Dead Man Walking with all the big-name retreads laying in wait for a prime gig.
The glory days appear to be over in San Diego. Then again, was there ever any glory to be had? (7-7)