The Ledger returns following week eight, a week that was, for me anyway, rather unsuccessful compared to the rest of the 2009 season.
I went 5-8 on the week, recording my worst week of picks against the spread all season long. The poor showing put a dent into my solid overall record, which now stands at 68-48. I’m hoping to bounce back in week nine.
First though, a look back at the games I picked correctly, and the games I missed horribly on.
Ravens 30, Broncos 7 (Denver, +3.5)
The Ravens picked up a quality win, outscoring Denver 24-7 in the second half of this game to win comfortably. It marked the first time all season that the Broncos were outplayed in the second half of a game.
Lardarius Webb’s kickoff return for a touchdown that opened the second half gave the Ravens a 13-0 lead, and they never looked back from there.
This win should give the Ravens some confidence as they need to play extremely well down the stretch in order to make the playoffs. For Denver, this game should give their coaching staff plenty to go over with the team in preparation for their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers this week.
Two more key aspects to the Ravens’ win: they went 11-for-18 on third down conversions, allowing them to hold the football for longer, and they limited the Broncos to 200 yards of total offense.
Neither of those factors were results that I had expected prior to the game. (0-1)
Bears 30, Browns 6 (Chicago, -13.5)
If I were a Bears fan, I wouldn’t be overly joyous about this win. The Browns had five turnovers, which aided the Bears’ cause and sunk their chances, and their quarterback play rivals Oakland’s as the worst in the league.
Forte racked up two touchdowns and 90 yards on the ground, but he had 26 carries, and his longest run was just 12 yards. Against a poor defense like Cleveland’s those aren’t numbers to brag about.
Cutler wasn’t a big part of the game plan once the Bears took a big lead, but his stats for the day suggest he was mediocre when he was involved (225 yards passing, one interception). (1-1)
Texans 31, Bills 10 (Houston, -3.5)
Despite struggles on offense, the Bills led 10-9 entering the fourth quarter in this one. Houston seemed on the verge of proving, once again, that they are the most inconsistent team in the league.
However, the Texans scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to some timely Buffalo turnovers, as well as the emergence of backup running back Ryan Moats, who scored all three Texans’ touchdowns in the final quarter.
Moats stepped in for Steve Slaton, who seems to have fumbled one too many times for Houston head coach Gary Kubiak’s taste.
This was the sort of win the Texans needed, in my view, to solidify their status as a playoff contender at this point in the 2009 season.
Now 5-3, the Texans are in the mix for a wild card spot. Two of their next three games are against Indianapolis though, so how they fare in those games could determine their fate for 2009. (2-1)
Colts 18, 49ers 14 (San Francisco, +12.5)
As expected, the 49ers were in this game. They even had a realistic chance at winning. However, a TD pass from Indy RB Joseph Addai with roughly three minutes left in the game gave the Colts the winning points. Also, the 49ers had problems sustaining drives, converting only two of 10 third downs.
Unfortunately for San Francisco, losses like this one are becoming emblematic of their season; it’s the third close loss to a playoff-contending team (Minnesota, Houston, now Indianapolis) in the last five games.
The 49ers are close, but it seems that they are still developing into a quality team, rather than already being one. As Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree play more together, they, and their team as a whole, will improve.
Meanwhile, the Colts motor on. They’ve won 16 straight regular season games. I still wonder how they will fare in the coming weeks, when they play Houston twice, New England, Baltimore, Denver and the Jets.
Indy has survived thus far without a decent running attack. Can they continue to succeed without one? (3-1)
Dolphins 30, Jets 25 (NY Jets, -3)
I went against conventional wisdom (Miami presents the Jets with matchup difficulties) and went with my (rather sizeable) gut in picking the Jets. Advantage, conventional wisdom.
And yet, I don’t feel badly about being wrong with this pick, because Miami’s win defied conventional wisdom in the first place.
The Dolphins had only 104 yards of total offense. Their running backs, the main reason they beat the Jets earlier this season, were non-factors in this rematch (52 yards rushing). The Jets had nearly 400 yards of offense, and had the ball for nearly 10 more minutes than the Dolphins.
But Miami’s Ted Ginn, Jr. returned two third quarter kickoffs for touchdowns, and Jason Taylor returned a fumble 48 yards for a third quarter TD as well. It’s hard to account for these types of momentum swings, and the Jets never recovered. (3-2)
Eagles 40, Giants 17 (NY Giants, +1)
This was another instance where I picked against conventional wisdom and went with my gut. Outside of an early-season win at Dallas, the Giants hadn’t beaten anyone this year, and they were playing this game on the road with a quarterback who is nursing a sore foot.
I believed the Giants were incapable of losing three straight. I believed the Eagles’ win over the Giants in the playoffs would provide inspiration.
In other words, I went against the statistics. I went against the big-play Eagles, thinking the Giants could limit the Eagles’ big-play capability. I was sorely mistaken.
Conventional Wisdom 2, Andrew Zercie 0.
To their credit, Eagles’ coach Andy Reid compensated for not having Brian Westbrook by using bruising fullback Leonard Weaver to share the load at running back.
Considering how well the experiment worked, and given how unbalanced the Eagles are on offense sometimes, Weaver could be featured more often in the coming weeks as Philadelphia seeks to maintain their lead in the NFC East over the Giants and Cowboys. (3-3)
Cowboys 38, Seahawks 17 (Dallas, -9.5)
There were no surprises. Dallas scored a lot of points, and the Seahawks couldn’t keep up. Seattle didn’t run the ball well, while Dallas was pretty good in that department. Matt Hasselbeck had a solid day, but Tony Romo was outstanding, for the most part.
Most importantly for Dallas is that they not only won, but they emerged with all their skill players on offense healthy heading into next week’s game at Philadelphia, which could wind up being one of the best shootouts of the season. (4-3)
Rams 17, Lions 10 (St. Louis, +4)
The best pass play of the game was credited to the kicker, instead of either team’s quarterback.
St. Louis kicker Josh Brown lofted a pass to tight end Daniel Fells off a fake field goal toward the end of the first half for the game’s first touchdown.
Steven Jackson ran well for the Rams, gaining nearly 150 yards on the ground and scoring his first touchdown of the season.
For the Lions, at least running back Kevin Smith made a heads-up play when he tackled the Rams’ James Butler for a safety after Butler scrambled out of the end zone following an interception. (5-3)
Titans 30, Jaguars 13 (Jacksonville, +3)
Perhaps Vince Young should have been given a chance to compete with Kerry Collins for the starting quarterback job in Tennessee during training camp.
Granted, he’s never proven to be as efficient (15-of-18 for 125 yards and a touchdown) as he was against the Jaguars this past week, but he has always been more talented than Kerry Collins. His play was a big reason the Titans won.
Chris Johnson’s 228 yards and two rushing touchdowns were huge as well.
Of course the main reason Tennessee beat Jacksonville was that the Jaguars decided that Maurice Jones-Drew only needed to touch the ball nine times in this game. He generated 173 yards of total offense on those nine touches. With more opportunities, who knows how successful he and his team could have been? (5-4)
Chargers 24, Raiders 16 (San Diego, -16.5)
I hate betting on double-digit favorites in general, but got caught up on the idea that the Chargers would have a big game to reinvigorate their fans, who are understandably annoyed with their team this season.
I forgot the key element a team needs to have in order to blow another team out: talent.
The Chargers have a few talented players but collectively, they are not an overly-talented bunch. They could have used a big win but, in reality, they are not capable of producing one. I should have known better. (5-5)
Panthers 34, Cardinals 21 (Arizona, -10)
Every week, the Cardinals take a calculated risk that Kurt Warner will be efficient and productive enough to overcome their problems in running the football.
Last season, the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl despite the inability to run the ball. This season, thanks to a strong defense and Warner’s play, the Cardinals seemed to be on track to win the NFC West.
This past week, however, Warner morphed into Jake Delhomme and turned the ball over six times. The Panthers ran the ball at will on the NFL’s stingiest run defense. The Cardinals looked about as bad as they have all season.
The Panthers finally decided to just run the ball down their opponents’ throats instead of letting Jake Delhomme decide their fate with his errant passes. This only took the Panthers seven games to figure out.
So following their best win of the season, at the Meadowlands against the Giants, the Cardinals play their worst game of the season. I have to say, I didn’t see this coming. (5-6)
Vikings 38, Packers 26 (Green Bay, -3)
Aaron Rodgers had a great game, especially in trying to rally the Packers from a 24-3 deficit. However, his offensive line left him exposed far too often, resulting in six sacks for the Vikings.
To Brett Favre’s credit, he played extremely well following a gaffe-filled loss at Pittsburgh the previous week. In what had to be an emotionally and physically draining game, he threw four touchdown passes and had no interceptions or fumbles lost.
Most importantly, as the Packers rallied, Favre and the Vikings kept scoring, keeping the game out of reach.
In picking the Packers, I expected Favre to repeat his performance against the Steelers. Instead, he proved me wrong and showed that he isn’t afraid to play well when the spotlight shines squarely on him. Good for him and Vikings fans, bad for the Packers and the rest of the NFL perhaps. (5-7)
Saints 35, Falcons 27 (New Orleans, -10)
Jason Elam’s field goal with 28 seconds left in the game gave the Falcons the ol’ backdoor cover. I hate when that happens.
Besides making me bitter and annoyed about gaining another loss on the week, Elam’s field goal also ended the Saints’ streak of double-digit wins as well.
Atlanta did a nice job of taking an early lead on the Saints, but New Orleans’ offense has yet to be contained this season. The comparisons of the Saints to the best offenses in NFL history are now fitting. If they continue to play this well the rest of the season, they could bring a Super Bowl title to New Orleans.
Meanwhile, it seems that Matt Ryan is going through an under-publicized sophomore slump. He’s had three straight games with two or more interceptions, and the Falcons are 1-2 in those contests.
Ryan’s performance bears watching the rest of the way. He’s on pace for 21 interceptions, which is Jay Cutler territory. (5-8)