Joe-Pinions: Sports

23 Oct 2010 – NFL Pick ’em, Week 7

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 23/10/2010

Picks for Week 7 of the 2010 NFL regular season:

Tennessee Titans vs. Philadelphia Eagles

The Titans return home after a Monday Night drubbing of division rival Jacksonville to face a Philadelphia Eagles squad that has many questions facing it.  Chief amongst the Eagles’ concerns is the question of who will be the starting quarterback, Kevin Kolb or Michael Vick?  Given two straight victories and a very strong performance last week, coach Andy Reid has decided to stay with the hot hand and keep Kolb in the starter’s role.  The Eagles are also short at wide receiver, with DeSean Jackson out after suffering a concussion last week against the Falcons.  For a pass-happy team like the Eagles, it will take effective adjustments by Coach Reed to overcome Jackson’s absence from the lineup.

Tennessee is also hurting, with starting quarterback Vince Young likely to be out due to injuries to his left knee and ankle.  Fortunately for the Titans, their offense isn’t designed to be as dependent on Young as it is on running back Chris Johnson.  The Eagles have to slow Johnson down and force the Titans to beat them with the pass.  At least the Titans have a good veteran backup in Kerry Collins.

So, who wins this between two teams sitting on 4-2 records?  Home field is an advantage, so in this game of well-matched opponents I’m picking the TITANS for the second week in a row.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals

In this all-NFC West matchup, the 3-2 Seahawks host the 3-2 Cardinals.

In all honesty, it’s difficult choosing between these two teams.  Both are teams in transition.  The Seahawks are in their first year under new head coach Pete Carroll, and while the offense still looks to be based (at least to some degree) on the West Coast Offense that former head coach Mike Holmgren installed during his tenure in Seattle, it’s not quite the same.  Coach Carroll is smart enough to not radically alter the offense in his first year at the helm.  Defensively, he’s also made only relatively minor tweaks.

The Cardinals are also a team in the midst of change.  Kurt Warner is gone at quarterback, Matt Leinart was sent packing, and so now Derek Anderson is at the controls of an offense that runs best with an accurate passer taking the snaps.  Unfortunately, Anderson is accurate only if he was chucking nuclear bombs at pin-sized targets; head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s air attack requires surgical laser strikes.  The Cardinals’ biggest playmaker, WR Larry Fitzgerald, has suffered as a consequence, with reduced production.

Somehow, though, the Cardinals are still able to eke out wins despite the incompatibility of its quarterback to the requirements of the coach’s offensive strategy and philosophy.

Will any of this matter in this match-up in Seattle, though?  The Seahawks enjoy one of the best home field advantages in the entire NFL, and I firmly believe this will be a decisive factor in the SEAHAWKS winning over the Cardinals.

Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders

In a game between two old and bitter rivals, records don’t matter.  Histories don’t matter.  Nothing matters except for the fact that you’re playing against a nemesis, and usually games like this bring out the best out of both teams.

And so the 2-4 Denver Broncos host the 2-4 Oakland Raiders.

The Broncos are in their second year under head coach Josh McDaniels, but so far success on the field has proven elusive.  Coach McDaniels is still molding this team’s roster so that it more closely fits his philosophies and strategy.  Almost unbelievably, he ostracized several of the Broncos’ leading players, including former QB Jay Cutler (traded to the Chicago Bears) and WR Brandon Marshall (eventually traded to the Miami Dolphins).  In 2009 alone, his first year at the helm, McDaniels cut, waived or traded an astonishing 28 players!  (Considering that a typical regular season game day roster is composed of 53 players, this truly is a staggering number.)  Obviously, after gutting the roster and essentially deliberately starting from scratch, the Broncos have no real expectations for 2010.

In contrast, the Raiders have simply just been another one of those NFL franchises that seems to navigate the unfriendly waters without a strong captain at the helm.  You get the sense that, in his heart of hearts, head coach Tom Cable wants to lead his team and take control of this rudderless ship, but since he works for Al Davis, the desire remains unfulfilled.  The Raiders’ run of nearly an entire decade of utter chaos and futility is unmatched in the league, facilitated as it has been by archaic philosophies both on and off the field of play.  Off the field, the team’s talent evaluators are still subservient to Al Davis’ over-reliance on the “measurables” of any prospect; they still chase after the strongest, the biggest, the fastest people available without apparently looking at whether or not these prospects are actually the best football players available.  Two of the team’s more recent first round draft picks, ex-starting QB Jamarcus Russell (who was cut before this season started) and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, are good examples of this flawed approach.  The team (over)paid these players for far more than what their actual production on the field actually merited.  On the field, the Raiders completely lack panache and sophistication on offense.

Like many of the teams struggling this year, the Raiders are deficient at quarterback.  Ex-Redskin Jason Campbell was brought in to replace Jamarcus Russell, but he appears to be completely burnt out and washed up.  His play lacks sparkle and fire; he looks like he’s just going through the motions, that he’s content to simply collect his paycheck.  That’s unacceptable for any quarterback at any level of football, so it’s no surprise that his backup, Bruce Gradkowski, has completely outplayed him.  Unfortunately, the gutsy Gradkowski suffered an injury a couple of weeks ago, and his availability for the game against the Broncos is questionable.

I can’t see how the BRONCOS are going to lose this game.  They’re at home, they’re playing a hated rival that’s dangerously unfocused and unsophisticated at the best of times.  It would be surprising to me if the Raiders escape Denver with a win.

Carolina Panthers vs. San Francisco 49ers

If the 49ers had lost their game against the Raiders last week, this would be a battle between two winless teams.  Instead, we have a team searching for its first win on the road playing against a team seeking its first win of the season (interestingly, this is the identical scenario to last week’s 49ers vs. Raiders game).

The Panthers are at home, but are playing with a very thin roster.  Injuries and pathetic play from key positions (WR and QB, respectively) have resulted in 0-5 record.  Coach John Fox is fighting for his coaching future in the NFL, and coming off a bye playing against an apparently bad team that may be distracted by an in-season overseas trip may just be what his team needs to get that elusive first win.  But troubles at quarterback, where erstwhile starter Matt Moore struggled mightily before Fox pulled him out and inserted highly-regarded rookie Jimmy Clausen, and a depleted receiving corps have resulted in the NFL’s most anemic offense.  However, they will most likely get top playmaker Steve Smith back this week.  The question is, with none of the team’s quarterbacks even managing to complete fifty percent of their passes for the season, will it matter that the team’s best wide receiver returns to the lineup?

Meanwhile, the 49ers are still very firmly in crisis mode despite the team’s denials.  The 2010 season was expected to mark the team’s long-awaited return to the playoffs, and some pundits (including me, I must confess) believed that if enough things broke right for them, the team could make a run deep into the playoffs; instead, the team’s big deficiencies in coaching and lackluster and mistake-laden play on both sides of the ball have resulted in a 1-5 record after six games.

Head coach Mike Singletary is a charismatic leader of men, but charisma is not enough to be a successful head coach in the NFL.  The very best coaches combine natural charisma and leadership with the ability to teach, and this is where the 49ers are hurting the most.  On offense, week in and week out we see the same kinds of mistakes happening.  We see holding penalties, breakdowns in communication between the quarterback and his skill position teammates, breakdowns in the quarterback’s protection resulting in sacks, hurries, fumbles, and a rattled quarterback, a lack of impact blocking from the offensive line…  And the defense suffers its share of lapses too, with broken coverages and disappointing mental mistakes during the heat of battle (Nate Clements’ lost fumble on an INT return against Atlanta is a wound still very fresh and bleeding in my mind).

Quarterback Alex Smith is derided by the fan base, but in my opinion the derision is not wholly well-deserved.  Smith is a victim of circumstances; I don’t doubt his effort and his sincere desire to live up to the mighty standard of quarterback play that is traditional in San Francisco.  But with so little consistency and continuity in his coaching…  let’s just say that I believe even Steve Young would not have become the same Steve Young we now know had he been in Smith’s cleats.

Regarding this particular game:  The 49ers are actually in a dangerous spot here.  They are playing a team coming off its bye, with its best player returning from injury as well.  The Niners won last week against a weak Raiders team, but did so unimpressively, and they are also preparing for an unusual overseas game in London next weekend against the Denver Broncos.  Between a rejuvenated opponent, the possibility of resting on their dubious laurels, and being distracted by the game in London, the 49ers are ripe for a loss against the Panthers.

Nevertheless, I’m picking the 49ers to win this road game.  Despite the 1-5 record after six games and all the reasons for why things have turned out the way they have, there is a reason why the Niners were thought of as the pre-season favorites to win the NFC West, and there is a reason why the Panthers were the consensus pick to finish either last or second-to-last in the NFC South.  The Panthers simply don’t have enough playmakers on the roster.  As long as the 49ers play with a minimum of mistakes, they should win this one.

NFL

14-10 after twenty four picks isn’t bad.  This week’s picks come from games that may not really represent the cream of the NFL, but they were difficult games to pick winners for.  Three of the four games feature teams with identical records, and the last features two teams separated by one game in the win column.  I think I’ll do well if I get half of this week’s picks right.

We’ll find out by Sunday evening how well these picks have gone.

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