Pigskin A Blanket: NFL Week 11 Picks
Point spreads, pigskin, and the pursuit of a profit: weekly football wagers from a wannabe wiseguy
While writing up Week 10 picks last week, as ridiculous as this will sound, few things in life seemed more important at the time. There was a winning streak to extend. There were profits to increase. There was a sense of pressure, for fear of looking like a fool if the picks turned out poorly.
Well, the winning streak came to an end, and the profit margin for the season shrunk, because the picks didn't deliver. And it doesn't mean anything.
While I was enveloped in point spreads and key players and passable prose, the world was being changed and countless lives turned upside down as a series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place in France. A resulting global state of unrest persists. So as the time arrives for Week 11 picks, a healthy dose of perspective is in order.
Breaking down football games is a blast. Watching picks become winners is even better, and I hope this post leads to a few opportunities to do just that on Sunday. But in the grand scheme of things, it's simply not as important as it so often feels. While former ESPN and current FOX Sports radio host Colin Cowherd is a polarizing figure among sports fans, I hope most would agree that he's spot on with his maxim, "love your life, like your sports."
With that in mind, enjoy this weekend's action. And regardless of the outcome, keep it in perspective.
St. Louis +3 at Baltimore
Westgate Las Vegas, an industry leader when it comes to advanced lines, pegged the Rams as a favorite over the Ravens in last week's look-ahead line. The move to St. Louis +3 is based almost entirely on the Rams' quarterback change, suggesting former starter Nick Foles is significantly better than new starter Case Keenum. Sources close to the team, however, say Keenum outplayed Foles throughout training camp and that St. Louis management made Foles the starter to begin the season in order to save face after trading for him during the offseason. With this information, the Rams do not appear to deserve the downgrade the market has given them by making the Ravens a substantial favorite.
At a field goal, the point spread has entered the neighborhood of last week's closing line for the Jaguars' visit to Baltimore. This implies Jacksonville is nearly St. Louis' equal, which couldn't be much farther from the truth. Keenum will set out to prove it with the insuppressible passion he brings with him from his days in Houston.
Minnesota Pick 'em vs. Green Bay
Vikings detractors are quick to point out that 7-2 Minnesota has yet to defeat an opponent with a winning record and is getting out-gained by its opponents on a yards-per-play basis. A closer look helps to explain why the Vikings have been undervalued to the tune of their current 8-0 run against the spread. While Minnesota's schedule has been weak to-date, the Vikings are a young and well-coached team showing the improvement necessary to offset the upcoming increase in competition. And while they're getting out-gained in terms of yards per play overall, they're actually out-gaining opponents in both yards per rush and yards per pass. Because the Adrian Peterson-led Vikings run more than they pass and their opponents pass more than they run against a stout defensive front, however, Minnesota's misleading overall yards per play ranking creates a unique misconception that many have failed to account for.
The Packers are also a quality team, of course, but their prolonged struggles of late have them looking exceptionally vulnerable by their standards. The Broncos rolled out the blueprint on how to defend Green Bay on Sunday Night three weeks ago by taking the focus off of receivers who can't get open and stacking the box to stop the run and pressure Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay is also dealing with a couple of issues that serve as distractions at best and underlying problems at worst. Talk has spread of Rodgers suffering from an injury, in addition to rumors of personal issues off the field. However misguided the relationship rumors may be, they can only take the Packers' focus off the task at hand.
In a game of pretty evenly matched teams, the Vikings should be a decisive favorite on the strength of a sizable home-field advantage in their biggest home game since the Brett Favre era.
Teaser: Carolina -1 vs. Washington, Denver +7.5 at Chicago
The Panthers may not be the most dynamic 9-0 team ever, but they've proven to be well above average. Washington, meanwhile, is undoubtedly a below-average team. Don't be fooled by the blowout win over the Saints last Sunday - there's a reason Rob Ryan is no longer employed in New Orleans. With a basic knowledge of where each team stands, the point spread of a touchdown seems light in that it hardly accounts for Carolina's home-field advantage.
Taking a closer look at the matchup, Washington allows the most yards per carry in the NFL and the Panthers lead the league in rushing attempts, setting things up nicely for Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton. Washington also comes in winless on the road. Such a favorable matchup may seem like a letdown spot for Carolina at first glance, but after last week's strong showing in Tennessee they've earned the benefit of the doubt. With the NFC's No. 1 seed within their grasp, the Panthers can be expected at the least to show up and win by more than a point.
As far as the Broncos are concerned, the knee-jerk reaction whenever a team goes from a starting QB to the backup is to assign a significant downgrade. The Steelers and Cowboys have reinforced that notion this season, but as with St. Louis, Denver's is a different case, as the QB they're losing isn't very good. With Peyton Manning ranking dead last among starting signal callers in passer rating and interception percentage, Brock Osweiler will be hard-pressed to play worse than his predecessor. If anything, Osweiler's surprising athleticism for his 6'7" frame adds a valuable element to the Broncos' offense.
The Bears, of course, have improved significantly as the season has progressed, and head coach John Fox and QB Jay Cutler should be expected to bring extra motivation to the field against their former team. This makes teasing Denver over a touchdown more favorable than playing against the slim spread. Additionally, the frigid forecast means points will likely be at a premium, making a Bears blowout an exceptionally tall task.
Without Manning making the trip to Chicago the Broncos will be missing some leadership on the sidelines, but on the bright side, they can take solace in knowing he'll be cheering them on in person when the Patriots head to Denver next week.
Pick of the Week: San Diego +3.5 vs. Kansas City
The Chargers are in a great spot this week. Teams off a bye, when facing opponents who played the previous week, are 16-4 against the spread this season. San Diego's bye couldn't have come at a much better time, as it enabled them to nurse a rash of injuries to key players and stew over a crushing Monday Night home loss to the Bears for two weeks. There's also the added motivation of revenge against a Chiefs team that knocked them out of the playoffs on the last day of the 2014 regular season.
Motivation might be an issue for the Chiefs, who enter their second straight road game after a huge win in Denver that said more about Peyton Manning than Kansas City's abilities, potentially creating a false sense of confidence.
Another key component to this game is the different mentality San Diego brings than most losing teams. With a strong QB at the helm in Philip Rivers, the team will continue to compete, refusing to tank for a better draft pick even when it appears to be by far their best long-term option.
Week 11 Record: 1-2-1
Picks of the Week: 6-3