NFL Week 12: Predicting the Weekend Matchups
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From the time I was 10 (more years--decades, actually--than I want to admit), I have been in an NFL ranking poll.
Unlike those stupid numbers polls that are all based on luck, these allowed for skill. You pick the winner, and ranks them from most to least likely. If you win by one point or 50, you get whatever points you put on that team; if not, you don't.
There were only two problems I ever ran into in a poll like this:
When I saw a good matchup, I put fewer points on my winner than others. Often, that winner would squeak through and they would be awarded their 14 points and I would get only five.
That always frustrated me, as I thought they simply got lucky. But the reality is the rankings were not based on how close the game was, but who would win.
In the mid-80s, the Green Bay Packers would play the Chicago Bears close at home, but the Bears were winners and the Packers were not. No matter how close I knew it was going to be, I should have had 10-plus points on the Bears.
That kind of frustration leads me to the second problem I had with these polls:
My chances of being frustrated greatly outweighed my chances of being happy unless there were too few people in the pool to make it worth winning (not that we played for money or anything...that would be illegal!).
And lax rules ("Sure I'll take you at your word you didn't see the games with this late entry an hour after kickoff...") became necessary when there were Thursday games in order to get enough participation.
I could not live with that or who I became as I watched games for betting interests. But I do miss it, so I am going to outline my picks every week, ranked from most to least likely to win:
Eagles Over Texans
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The Philadelphia Eagles lost their first game that Michael Vick started and finished Sunday at Soldier Field. It will not be their last.
The Houston Texans won for the first time since their Week Seven bye, having lost the last three of those four games by no more than seven points. It may be their last win, as they face one other team with fewer wins than they have: the Denver Broncos at notoriously difficult Mile High Stadium.
With the Eagles being at home, needing to bounce back, the difference in talent level, and the lack of preparation time the Texans have for the most difficult offensive weapon in the league to contain, there is no way Philly loses this game.
Packers Over Niners
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San Francisco fans will get another chance to see what might have been as they face the quarterback they passed up on for Alex Smith for the third time. However, it should be noted that one never knows how much of a player's performance is nurture and how much is nature.
Green Bay fosters success with the environment they put their quarterbacks in. Aaron Rodgers spent three years learning the system and playing only in spots. The Niners threw an ill-prepared Smith in during his rookie year and changed offenses on him in each of his first four. Mike Nolan undermined him by making him play hurt and then questioning his toughness.
But whatever the reason, the Packers are vastly better at the most important position in football. On top of that, the Niners have lost their Pro Bowl running back, making their advantage in the running game less substantial. They have a solid defense, but not the exceptional one Green Bay possesses. They have won four of their last six, but the Packers have won four of five.
Moreover, Green Bay has more to play for as a likely playoff team on the outside looking in than San Francisco as a long-shot division winner. The game is in Green Bay. The Packers hold a seven-game winning streak over San Francisco and have taken 12 of the last 13.
The game may be close, but the winner will be the Packers.
Chargers Over Raiders
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This is the time of the year the San Diego Chargers put on their run, even if it is mostly because they face soft competition. The Oakland Raiders, frequent cellar-dwellers in the division, are part of that soft competition.
While the Chargers clearly have more holes than they have had in years past and the Raiders appear to be a better team, the reality is one knows how to win and another does not.
Division games tend to be close and rivalry games closer, but the Chargers are not losing this one at home when they can claim what they must feel is their birthright: AFC West champions for the fifth time in a row.
Seahawks Over Panthers
It always made me nervous in these pools putting 13-plus points on teams with losing records. It made me even more nervous doing so with a team that in a competitive division would probably have one or two fewer wins.
But the reality is the Carolina Panthers are clearly the worst team in football, ranking dead last in scoring, yards, and passing yards.
Only eight teams have given up more points, even though Carolina is often out of games by the fourth quarter and teams stop trying to score (also the reason they rank sixth in passing yardage defense).
In other words, I am not counting on the Seahawks to win, but the Panthers to lose.
Vikings Over Bills
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Sure, the Minnesota Vikings are not very good this year. Sure, the Buffalo Bills have been one play away from beating much better teams this year. But the point is they do not, and they will not win in Minnesota, either.
The Vikings are actually a pretty good home team because they are built for the turf. While they have just a 3-2 record there, all of those games were played under the disruptive Brad Childress regime, and for the short term, the talented roster should respond better, as they are more comfortable under Leslie Frazier.
Saints Over Bengals
New Orleans has gotten on track. Cincinnati's season was derailed months ago.
The Bengals may have won the division last season, but they did so in an off-year from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they caught a lot of teams off-guard because they were not expected to contend.
They have been nothing short of terrible this season, and the only surprise is that there have not been terrible sideline and locker room explosions from the plethora of self-centered and ill-reputed athletes in that locker room, testimony that Marvin Lewis deserves a job...somewhere else.
Chiefs Over Broncos
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The Denver Broncos absolutely annihilated the Kansas City Chiefs in Denver, leading to Todd Haley's infamous finger-point in place of the standard post-game handshake.
That event says two things:
1. The Broncos are capable of being remarkably better than the Kansas City Chiefs despite being four games behind them in the standings with five games to go.
2. The Kansas City Chiefs will be angry.
The latter, coupled with the venue being one very favourable for the Chiefs instead of for the Broncos, makes this game an easy call, even if not an easy win.
Colts Over Cowboys
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In the Old West, cowboys sat upon colts, broke them, and rode them for life. In the NFL, the Cowboys have not been above the Colts for over a decade.
Dallas is playing better under Jason Garrett, and the Colts are struggling a bit. But Indianapolis is at home, where they have only one loss and Dallas still has trouble finishing games.
The Cowboys also have nothing left to play for but pride while the Colts have a ninth consecutive playoff birth at stake...they will find a way to get the "W."