Joe-Pinions: Sports

16 Oct 2010 – NFL Pick ’em, Week 6

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 16/10/2010

On to our picks for Week 6!

New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens

This game promises to be one of the better games on the schedule for this week.

The Patriots traded away WR Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings, apparently having decided that team chemistry and harmony were far more important than the potential advantage of having one of the best deep threats in the NFL.  Some have suggested that the loss of Moss would lead to a corresponding drop in production for wideout Wes Welker.  I’m not sure if this will be the case, if only because 1) Tom Brady is excellent at pre-snap reads of defensive formations and post-snap diagnosis of coverages and 2) Brady has several options to throw the ball to.  In particular, I’ve been impressed with rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has been excellent in getting open (or, opposing defenses are still either underestimating his capabilities or don’t have enough scouting film on him to know how to best account for him on the field).  What the Patriots have lost most with Moss gone is the deadly vertical threat, but this may not matter so much since he hadn’t been productive for the Patriots so far this year anyway, with just nine receptions in four games.

New England’s biggest problem on offense is that they have a huge void in the running game.  Fred Taylor is out for this game with an injury, as is Kevin Faulk.  Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis is expected to have the lion’s share of th carries.

With New England’s running game assumed to be a lot less effective with Taylor unavailable and the vertical passing game expected to be scaled down, the Patriots are expected to run plenty of passing plays that stretch the field horizontally.  This may play into the hands the Baltimore Ravens’ defense.  With the lack of both a clear and present danger on the ground and a deadly vertical receiving threat, expect the Ravens to flood the field with their coverage, allowing their pass rushers to penetrate Tom Brady’s protection and forcing him to throw under duress.  Despite the absence of strong safety Ed Reed and the lack of any established stars amongst their perimeter defenders, the Ravens still have one of the league’s top defensive units.  The Patriots’ offense has lost its multi-dimensionality, at least until the team can somehow generate a significant output from its ground game.  If the Ravens only have to defend against one dimension of the opposing offense, they have the advantage.

On both sides of the ball, the Ravens simply look and feel like they have the more physical, more imposing team.  They can pound away with a strong running game spearheaded by RB Ray Rice, and QB Joe Flacco has been steady and solid at the controls of a passing game that’s still trying to establish itself.  Flacco himself is big and physical, as are his top receiving threats, Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and T.J. Houshmanzadeh.  Their size and strength advantage could overwhelm the more lightly-built Patriot secondary.  Defensively, the Ravens might be missing Ed Reed, but somehow they are still one of the top-ranked units in the NFL.  Ray Lewis leads this unit, and as such are a mean, nasty, yet intelligent group.  It will be interesting to watch Lewis and company match wits and brawn against one of the most intelligent quarterbacks in the game today.

I pick the RAVENS to win on the road in New England.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns

Ben Roethlisberger returns to the Steelers lineup as the prodigal son after enduring a four-game suspension (originally, the suspension was six games, but was reduced to four) for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, specifically for a tangle with the law in Milledgeville, GA.  Some pundits believed that the best the Steelers could do in Big Ben’s absence was to split the four games, citing the drop-off in quality at the quarterback position.  Instead, Pittsburgh did better than expected, emerging with a 3-1 record going into their Week 5 bye.  Now, fresh off the week off and with a healthy amount of practice, Roethlisberger seems to be ready to take the reins of a team many think is the strongest favorite to win the AFC this year.

Big Ben’s return will be helped by the fact that he and the Steelers are facing a Cleveland Browns in transition.  The Browns’ offense is still a work in progress, with serious questions at the quarterback position.  Team boss Mike Holmgren signed Jake Delhomme to the team during the offseason, as well as Seneca Wallace, but neither quarterback has proven to be the panacea the team and its fans have been desperate for.  Instead, rookie Colt McCoy will start.

The STEELERS win this home game big.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans

In some respects, these two teams superficially resemble each other.  For example, both Titans head coach Jeff Fisher and Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio spent their college years at USC.  Both teams seem to be built on similar general principles:  Strong, physical play on both sides of the ball; a dedication to the ground game; a conservative passing game that’s content to maintain possession of the ball; and a belief that defense wins the day.

Incredibly, both teams, along with their two other AFC South division co-habitants, are at 3-2 after five games.  What this means is that whoever wins this Monday Night Football game will have at least a share of the division lead.  In a division that looks to be one of the toughest in the NFL, this game’s significance becomes magnified exponentially.  Not all four teams can earn an AFC playoff berth.

I think both teams’ defenses are essentially equal to each other, so they cancel each other out as factors.  The offenses, then, will have to determine which team comes out on top.  While I like Titans RB Chris Johnson, I think that Jacksonville’s defense is good enough to keep him contained.  Not only that, but he is also going to be playing with a sore thigh, so this will further limit his production.  What this all means is that quarterback Vince Young will have to make the big plays.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, have the home field advantage.  While that really doesn’t seem to mean all that much in Jacksonville (the Jaguars have long had problems selling out their own home games on a consistent basis), the fact that this is a Monday Night Football game on home soil against a big division rival with at least a share of the division lead at stake will give the Jags a good push.  QB David Garrard is good at making the most of his opportunities to pass, while RB Maurice Jones-Drew is simply electric.

Don’t be surprised if this game comes down to the final possession.  Whoever has the ball last will likely win this game.

I see the TITANS pulling off the upset on the road.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders are winless on the road so far this year.

The San Francisco 49ers are simply winless.

Something has to give in this “Battle of the Bay.”

The Raiders revert to using Jason Campbell at quarterback since Bruce Gradkowski is hurt.  Campbell had looked indecisive in his stints as starter before Gradkowski replaced him in the starting lineup, so it will be interesting to see if he can regain some personal momentum and reclaim the starting QB position by merit rather than because of injury to his own replacement.  He will be helped by an ever-improving running game spearheaded by RBs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, as well as underrated TE Zach Miller.

Meanwhile, the 49ers desperately want – NEED – a win.  In their first five games, they have been blown out on the road in two of the most hostile settings in the entire NFL (Seattle and Kansas City); they have also lost three close games that they could have easily won, two of which were at home.  The 49ers have had several recurring themes in their games:  Uneven performances on both sides of the ball – neither the offense nor the defense have been consistently good for the entire game, even though they both enjoy stretches of outstanding play which hint at the potential they possess; an alarming propensity for making game-changing errors at critical parts of the game – miscues on defensive coverage, ill-timed lost fumbles or interceptions; and obvious signs that the players are losing their poise on the field when the pressure starts to ramp up.

On the field, the key to the 49ers’ success appears to be down in the trenches:  Line play on both sides of the ball has to improve.  Defensively speaking, the defensive line has to improve its performance.  On running plays, they have to soak up the blocks to allow LBs Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes, Manny Lawson, and Parys Haralson (and their relievers) to make the tackle.  Willis, in particular, has to remain unblocked as often as possible, as he is a game-changing force.  Unfortunately, the opposing offense recognizes Willis’ importance, and so devote specific blockers to account for him on every play.  On passing downs, they have to generate a solid pass rush to protect the secondary.  Pass rush pressure and sacks have to be generated with less reliance on dogs and blitzes, as these tend to compromise the integrity of the coverage structure.

Offensively, the O-line simply has to do a better job.  I think this is the 49ers’ unit that has under-performed the most.  They’ve not done a good enough job in run-blocking, and Frank Gore’s production has dropped off to a mere trickle compared to what we know he is capable of.  The pass protection has also been inconsistent.  Alex Smith is actually like ALL quarterbacks:  He performs best when he feels he is protected.  Unfortunately, he has yet to enjoy extended stints of good protection.  If the 49ers want to see improvements on offense and take full advantage of their very good skill position players, the offensive line’s play has to stop being so offensive.  The O-line has to improve its play.

So, who wins in this Northern California showdown?

Go 49ers!

NFL

After 20 games picked, my record currently stands at 11-9.  I had a bit of a slow start, but I’ve gone 7-1 in the last two weeks.

I’m hoping to go 4-0 this week, if only because that will mean that I hope my 49ers don’t break my heart and lose again.

We’ll find out what Week 6’s picks were right or wrong after Monday Night Football.

Play along if you want by registering your own picks from these games in the comments section.  It’ll be great fun to compare results.

See you after Monday night!

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