Sorry that I wasn't able to get this posted last week. Last weekend was a really messed up situation for me in many ways.
In Week 8 I had only one game to call, which was the Steelers @ Saints. I got it wrong, and I'm delighted I did, because A) it hurt Pittsburgh, and B) it gave both my teams a better shot at the postseason. Unfortunately only one of them seems to have made any progress in that regard, and the other seems to be either dead outright or brain dead and subsisting only on life support. But hey we can still cheer for the big bad guys in our division to lose, right? And who knows, maybe if we're especially lucky the Cardiac Cats will come back and replace the current incarnation, which I've taken to calling the Fall-Down-Go-Boom Kitties. Right now we seem to play just badly enough to lose, but just good enough to keep it theoretically respectable. Except we can't actually win any of them. Right now we'd probably even lose to the Bills, because we'd find a way to screw the pooch in that game too. This really sucks.
And hey, maybe if we're lucky the Browns revival will cause Mikey the Moron to realize he's his team's own worst enemy and hire a GM or a qualified coach/GM who could do what he clearly cannot. While I don't expect it to be likely, what else has any shot of working? So no matter how much you may hate the Browns, at least in the short term their success is basically our only hope for it. So cheer for them to make some noise, and drink straight shooters to numb the pain if need be.
With my record now at 7-6, I need to start calling some games right again or I'm going to go in the hole. Not that it really matters... except of course for pride. This week all three division rivals have separate games. So I could be as bad as two games under .500 or as much as four over. I'm hoping for the latter of course.
Baltimore Ravens @ Atlanta Falcons
Man, who would have seen this coming? People are saying the Steelers vs Patriots is the game of the week, I think they are three days late and a hundred bucks short. This is the game of the week, and it's a real pity so few will get to see it.
The Falcons have a pretty average defense and a good but not great offense, yet they've got a planet-sized golden horseshoe wedged up their butts and have been winning games right and left by sheer luck. I mean, they were basically one play away from losing to the Saints, 49ers, Browns, Bengals, and even Tampa Bay now, yet they won all five of them. And the Baltimore Ravens have a pretty bad run defense these days (compared to the last few years at least, they're still 13th in the league), which nobody really expected, yet they have a top-10 pass defense despite their corners and until recently the lack of Ed Reed.
Digging in a bit deeper, the Falcons have the #5 run defense, but I think that's a bit more of a condemnation of who they've played than praise for how "awesome" they really are. Oh they're pretty good. I'd be delusional to pretend otherwise. But they aren't "you can't run on us, period" Steelers-lite or anything. They're giving up a full 35 more yards a game and a full 1.5 more yards per carry compared to the Steelers. No they aren't elite by any means. On the other hand, they're better than the Ravens, which sounds impressive until you note just how badly the Ravens have fallen off this year. Last year the Ravens gave up 3.4 YPC and this year they're almost a whole yard YPC worse at 4.2. And in pass defense, the Ravens are #9 at 206 yards a game, and the Falcons are 26 at 250.5 yards a game. Again this is partially a condemnation of who Atlanta has played, which includes some flat horrid opponents who had to pass like mad to try to catch up. But on the other hand, if Atlanta was truly that great they wouldn't have allowed those desperation passes to try to catch up to get so close to working in so many games either.
Basically this game is probably going to come down to whether Baltimore can find their run defense again. Matt Ryan is a pretty good QB, but he isn't Peyton Manning or Drew Brees or Tom Brady, he can't do it all with no "real" running game (as opposed to the short timing passes that all three of the above often substitute for it) at all. Their entire offense is predicated on setting up the pass by running the ball effectively, and if you shut down Michael Turner their game plan goes south almost as fast as one built by Bob Bratkowski. And it will also come down to whomever is covering (or not covering, as has been the case far too often this year) Tony Gonzales. That guy is good, but he's not unstoppable, yet for some reason nobody has put anybody really good on covering him yet this year, and he's caught 3rd down conversion after 3rd down conversion all year long. Well maybe that will finally change this week, because while Roddy White swears he'll play missing all the practices completely doesn't make him look healthy enough to be a serious factor. If Roddy can't play (or at least isn't himself) or the Ravens can shut down Turner, they've got a really good shot.
I suppose we should want the Ravens to lose just because they're a division rival, but I'd rather they win the division than Pittsburgh, and it's going to come down to one of those two. Cheer for the Ravens and drink something stiff to ease the pain. A lot of people are calling this a blowout for the Falcons in their picks, but it's basically a pick-em game in the betting odds. But then last week Atlanta was an 8.5 point favorite and was one play away from losing the game. Truly the only reason I'm at all nervous about this pick is how many weeks in a row ESPN's top-ranked team has lost the next week. But that streak has to end eventually. I'm hoping it's this week. I'm going with Ravens 28, Falcons 21.
New York Jets @ Cleveland Browns
The Browns are getting some respect these days. Two games after being 14 point dogs to the Saints (whose butts they whipped) and one week after being 4.5 point dogs to the Patriots (whose butts they whipped as well), they are only 3 point dogs to the Jets. The Jets, the same team that needed overtime to beat the Detroit Lions last week? Hmm. Part of me wants to call the upset again. I wanted to call it last week as well, but I never got around to writing the column. Of course, last time I called for the Browns to pull off the upset they laid an egg.
Then again, the Jets are giving up only 219.8 passing yards a game, good for 18th in the league -- not great, but not horrid either. And their run defense is 2nd in YPC at 3.3, 4th in YPG at 87.4. Then again, they haven't faced a single elite running team all year long, save maybe the Dolphins (but even they aren't doing that good) and they certainly haven't faced Peyton Hillis yet. And the Browns offensive rankings have suffered greatly from the incompetence that preceded Colt McCoy. Granted he's not exactly the next Peyton Manning or anything, but he's played quite well, with a better YPG than either of the other two and significantly better YPA numbers. Add in the way he's had a flat out baptism by fire facing off against the Steelers and the Saints (as of now the #1 and #5 defenses in points, and #4 and #3 in overall yards) yet came out of both games looking quite decent speaks well of him.
What the heck. I'm not really confident in this pick, but I'm going for it anyway. If the Jets play like they did in Detroit last week, the Browns will kill them. Even if they have a good day, the Browns still have a chance. Let's go for Browns 17, Jets 16.
New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Wow, who do you cheer for in this game. Bill Bellicheat, author of Spygate, or the yammering buttnozzles who won't quit waving their six trophies in our face as if that answers every argument simply because their team won a bunch of games (at least three of them questionably). Decisions decisions. Worse yet, the game is on SNF, so unless we want to go to bed and actually get some sleep before the start of the work week (and who ever wants to do that?) we pretty much have no choice but to watch the game. Yuk. Can we cheer for a 0-0 tie with 56 total punts through five quarters? Yeah never mind that isn't going to happen. Anyway, we have a Patriots team that isn't that bad but isn't that great this year, which just got hammered by the Browns on Sunday, versus a Steelers team that barely escaped with a MNF win versus us. Advantage Patriots, actually, because though neither team came out completely healthy, the Steelers came out worse and will have one less day of rest to let their wounds heal.
As for raw numbers, the Steelers are #1 in rush defense by a huge margin, but the Patriots don't even bother trying to run the ball half the time anyway. So that negates a lot of their advantage here. And their pass defense has been pretty weak at #24 with 240 yards a game. Some of that, of course, is the fact that people know they can't run and are forced to try to pass. Some of that is facing some decent passing teams, including the Ravens, Saints, and us, of which two of those they lost. But some of that is that they really aren't an awesome pass defense. And this plays into the Patriots hands as well. Tom Brady, even with Wes Welker only 75% or so and no Randy Moss, is still a serious threat when he's facing a merely "average" pass defense.
The Steelers are 4.5 point favorites in this game, and the vast majority of the picks I have seen elsewhere are all picking the Steelers. I feel like being contrarian, just for kicks. I don't think the Patriots are as bad as the Browns made them look and I don't think the Steelers are as good as we made them look. Patriots 31, Steelers 24.