As the majority of NFL teams reach the quarter mark of the season and take stock of their start to the season, I’m having a rethink about the format of the blog as I’m spending too much time writing up a 3.5-4k picks blog that is big enough that it is stopping me for watching coaching tape and writing about what I see. So I am going to comment on some of the themes from last week, anything that strikes me about the upcoming games, and finally a quicker run through the matchups plus our picks. Let’s not talk about how we both did last week.
The obvious theme that comes out of week four is presented to us by the rotten start the Dolphins have had to the season and the firing of their head coach Joe Philburn. There is more to a team winning than the quarterback or coach, in fact an American football team requires more players, more coaches, and more coordinated effort than any other sporting endeavour I can think of. From the players, to the coaching staff, behind the scenes personnel, and the front office, there are so many ways that a franchise can gain a competitive edge, but this also leaves a huge amount of room for dysfunction. I don’t want to pile on to the Dolphins too much, for the sake of Dan’s sanity as much as anything, but things are clearly not running harmoniously down in Miami.
It is unusual to fire NFL coaches mid-season as so much work is done before the start of the season, and there is so little time to work on new things once the season starts, that in most cases you just have to ride it out with an eye on developing young talent and what is coming up in the draft. However, Miami have too much talent and have invested too much into the short-term to let things slide any longer, and so Philburn had to go. I’ll leave the in depth dissection of Philburn’s tenure to fans of the Dolphins and the media, but the change in coach doesn’t necessarily mean a change in outcome. There were plenty of people impressed by Dan Campbell’s introductory press conference, but it was interesting to listen to Coach Reinebold on the Inside the Huddle podcast point out that despite what he proclaimed when questioned, Campbell will have an opinion on the defensive coaching having gone against them in practice all season, and so he is either not being as forthright as some would believe in that press conference, or he is not paying as much attention in practice as you would want. Either way he has leaped over both coordinators, which may not be that surprising given how they have been performing on both sides of the ball, but is not standard and it will be interesting how the new head coach goes for the rest of the season. The Dolphins seem to very much be under the Chinese curse of may you live in interesting times.
If you look wider, at team records across the league, you will see a lot teams that are familiar to us through offseason splashes in the last couple of years struggling whilst those teams often at the top tend to be quietly developing their teams through careful free agent transactions and the draft. There is no single way to build a football team, but it appears that if you are hearing too much about your team without having to search out information explicitly, then a rough season might be on the way.
With that said, it’s time to take a look at the upcoming games, passing quickly over the mess Dan and I made of our picks last week.
Gee: Week 4 6-9 Overall 32-31
Dan: Week 4 4-11 Overall 28-35
Colts @ Texans (+2.5)
The Texans have been a bad team so far, they’re not playing well on defence despite having Sirr JJ of Watt, and Head Coach Bill O’Brien really made a mockery of stating that Hoyer wouldn’t have a short leash by benching him after three quarters in the first game. This team are a living testament to the old saying that if you have two quarterbacks, then you don’t have one, and I’m not surprised that they only started scoring points against the Falcons last week when Hoyer started playing in garbage time, but apparently Mallet remains the starting quarterback.
This week they welcome a Colts team that did enough to win last week with a forty year old backup quarterback against a Jaguars team that can’t quite find a win, but I still don’t trust their defence or offensive line. With the quarterback questions surrounding the Colts I’m still trying to make up my mind as I go through this final edit, Dan has already changed his pick, and I’m reluctantly following suit given the Texans are at home, but I am not happy about it.
Gee’s Pick: Texans
Dan’s Pick: Texans
Scheduling note: Dan is away this week, so he has picked the Thursday night game, and will get the rest to me before Sunday so I can get them up on the blog.
Washington @ Falcons (-7.5)
That wasn’t exactly a more concise write up for the last game, but this on is easier. The Falcons are transformed this season, and even a slightly banged up Julio Jones couldn’t slow them down last week. The NFC East is something of a mess this season, but Washington do seem to be able to hang their hat on solid run offence and defence, and look to be finally heading in the right direction, but this is a step too far for them.
Gee’s Pick: Falcons
Bills @ Titans (+2.5)
The Titans finally are beginning to carve themselves an identity with a blitzing defence, and a rookie quarterback showing promise. Meanwhile the Bills are a confusing 2-2 as they switch between terrifying defence and picked apart. We always knew that the Bills offence could be hit and miss with a first year starter at quarterback, but the better quarterbacks seem to be finding something against Rex Ryan’s pressure schemes. In years to come this probably changes, but I’m not ready to back Marcus Mariota in this one yet.
Gee’s Pick: Bills
Bears @ Chiefs (-9.5)
I’m struggling to let go of my hope for the Chiefs. They have so much of what I enjoy, a great running back and a stunning pair of pass rushers. The problem is that a combination of offensive line play and Alex smith holding onto the ball on offence, plus a defence that is giving up to much in the passing game, means that they are not winning against the tough teams they’ve faced so far. However, whilst the Bears managed a win last week, I don’t expect them to give the Chiefs too many problems, but I’m not sure that the men in red will be blowing anybody out in the near future, even in front of their famously raucous fans at Arrowhead. I can’t quite believe I’m backing the Bears…
Gee’s Pick: Bears
Seahawks @ Bengals (-1.5)
Good teams win at home, so the cliché goes, but it has been a foundation of the Bengals recent playoff appearances. They are playing very well this year, although I’d like the pass coverage to improve a bit, but that is a bit picky given that they are still ranked 14th by Football Outsiders in pass defence. They welcome a Seattle team that have got back to 2-2 by the skin of their teeth, but whilst the defence is looking better with the return of Kam Chancellor, I’m not convinced by their offence, which is not running the ball at all well. If you only just beat the Lions with your famous home field advantage, I’m not backing you to win in the Bengals’ back garden.
Gee’s Pick: Bengals
Browns @ Ravens (-6.5)
The Ravens haven’t managed the latest roster transition as well as we have come to expect, with a lack of depth at receiver and corner really costing them, but at least they ran the ball a bit better in Pittsburgh in a game they were determined, if a bit lucky to win. The Browns skill players are playing better than I was expecting, and Josh McCown has demonstrated over the last two weeks why he is starting, I’m just not sure what it established over the long term. I expect the Ravens to win, especially given the Browns run defence, but not by seven points or more, even with the Browns travelling to Baltimore
Gee’s Pick: Browns
Rams @ Packers (-9.5)
The Packers showed they could win another way, and still beat the 49ers by two touchdowns. The Rams defence has now managed to play well for two straight weeks, and if rookie running back Todd Gurly can show more flashes as they work him into the lineup then they might start to edge towards progress, but I don’t see them having any luck against the Packers in Green Bay. In fact, looking at the schedule I’m not sure the Packers will lose in Lambeau during the regular season.
Gee’s Pick: Packers
Saints @ Eagles (-5.5)
Oh what a holy mess the Eagles are in, but whilst some are enjoying their schadenfreude, I’m just finding it all a bit sad. I was hugely impressed by Kelly in interviews last year, but I did not like a number of his offseason moves, and once the regular season hit the limitations of attempting to beat someone by scheme in a professional setting are all too prevalent. That said, if their line was playing better then they might be able to run the ball better, which has always been the mainstay of this offence.
This week the Eagles welcome a Saints team that got a win last week with the return of Drew Brees. That said, they took overtime to do it and I’m really not impressed with the Saints defence so far. After a long game, and travelling, I have a feeling that they will not have enough to beat the Eagle in Philadelphia, I’m just not sure how close the game will be.
I don’t have a lot of faith in either team, particularly with these points, but I’m reluctantly picking the Eagles, but if you like a bet please stay away from this game!
Gee’s Pick: Eagles
Jaguars @ Buccaneers (-2.5)
The Buccaneers are going to struggle all year, they can’t rely on their defence, and famous Jameis does not look settled in the pro game, is looking down receiver and throwing too many interceptions. This is one of the games the Jaguars have to have circled, even if they are on the road. They are missing key players yet keeping themselves in games against similar level competition, but they can’t get over the hump. I have a feeling they might win this one though, and as I’m getting points as well…
Gee’s Pick: Jaguars
Cardinals @ Lions (+2.5)
The Lions played tougher on defence last week, and really should have won the game, but the offence is misfiring. There is a lot of disquiet about Matthew Stafford in Detroit, but with a ropey offensive line and no running game, the Lions aren’t exactly putting him in the best place to win. The problem is that he has never made good decisions, and this week he faces a Cardinals team that will be desperate to get back to winning ways after laying an egg against a division rival. I still believe in the Cardinals coaching staff and I’m backing them to get back to winning ways in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Cardinals
Patriots @ Cowboys (+9.5)
The Cowboys have a well coached defence, but they didn’t have the players before they started to get injured, and add to that an offence that has lost their starting quarterback and the receiver that stretches the field for them and you have a recipe for trouble. A visit from the Patriots is not what they need to get back on track, and the Cowboys must be kicking themselves for not getting a win in one of the last two weeks as I don’t see a way they will in this one. I’ll be interested to see if the early bye affects the Patriots later in the season, but I see nothing in this game that makes me worrying about the Patriots covering.
Gee’s Pick: Patriots
Broncos @ Raiders (+5.5)
The Raiders are officially an up and coming team in my book, but they are also young, which means they make mistakes and so they were unable to get a second straight win on the road last week. This week however, they welcome a Broncos team that are struggling on offence as they can’t run the ball consistently, and Peyton Manning threw two bad picks in their close win against the Vikings. The Broncos are a team that right now is relying on their defence, which I suspect means a series of tight games, and whilst I think they will win more than they lose, I think this is too many points to give to the Raiders.
Gee’s Pick: Raiders
That’s right folks, he just picked the Raiders against an unbeaten team with that defence, I’d better get back to watching coaching tape soon and rely on what I can see with my own two eyes.
49ers @ Giants (-7.5)
The Giants have a solid run defence, and an offence that seems to be coming together as the line play improves and Manning begins to get more timing with the receivers not named Beckham. The 49ers have played one of the toughest schedules in the league so far, and travelling across the country in this game won’t help. They are playing some tough defence in stretches, but are an absolute mess on offence and desperately need to run some bootleg and simpler concept pass plays for Kaepernick who has been a truly dreadful quarterback this season.
Gee’s Pick: Giants
Steelers @ Chargers (-3.5)
The Chargers always have a chance with Philip Rivers, but whilst there have been good signs from rookie running back Melvin Gordon, injuries on the offensive line have meant that Rivers is taking too many hits. More worryingly, the defence has not been good, and is particularly bad against the run. A ranking of 25th by defensive DVOA is not what you want when Le’Veon Bell is coming to town. The Steelers should have won the game last Thursday, with Michael Vick demonstrating his limitation, but doing enough to win if the clock management/kicking game had been better. It is not a good spot to be picking an underdog on the road, but they’ve had extra days to get over last week’s overtime and the extra half point sways me that this close game will result in a Steelers cover or win.
Gee’s Pick: Steelers