• Blitz Picks 2015: Week Twelve

    What could be better than the annual traditions of turkey, family arguments, shopping and football on Thanksgiving? Of course it's the return of Brian and I doing this together for the first time in three weeks. We may even help you start those arguments around the table. That's the type of thing that is constant throughout the generations, going back much earlier than 1934. We hope you enjoy this more than your stomach likes that 4th serving of cranberry sauce.


    1) Assuming Peyton Manning misses another game or two, would replication of Osweiler's play against the Bears start a legitimate quarterback controversy in Denver?

    RG: I think it would. Brock Osweiler wasn't playing a great pass defense, but 20 for 27 for 250 yards and two scores is nothing to sniff at. Obviously, the young man was in a great situation on Sunday. He got support from the run game to tune of 170 yards and he had the #1 defense playing like a number one defense. Had he not tripped Ronnie Hillman on a 4th and 1 from the Chicago 2.5, Denver probably doesn't even need to hold the Bears on a late minute two-point try.

    For comparison, Peyton Manning has not had a completion percentage that high once this season. In fact, we have to go back to November 23 of 2014 to find a day as good as Osweiler's in that metric. Since that 39-36 win over Miami, Manning has 13 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Basically, a replication Osweiler's play from last Sunday constitutes better things than anything Manning has done in a year.

    There was a report that Manning would play next season, even if it wasn't for Denver. I believe it. Manning does not want to end his career with these memories. Unfortunately, his body has broken down enough over the last year or so that he might be powerless to stop it. A few screws and surgery during a lightning storm may not be enough anymore.

    BW: Manning’s stats have become weekly fodder for The Water Cooler, and in the comments last week, I mentioned this exact possibility. It was not that long ago that Colin Kaepernick earned a start against the Bears thanks to an Alex Smith injury, and played so well, he never gave up the job in leading the 49ers to a berth in the Super Bowl. While that was only Alex Smith and this is PEYTON MANNING, Smith was playing much better that season than Manning has in this season. After looking good on Sunday, unless Osweiler completely bombs against New England, the only logic behind giving Manning back his job is that ‘you can’t bench Peyton Manning’. Quite honestly, that’s a loser’s mentality. Many all-time great QBs have ended their career on the bench after trying to hang on for as long as possible. Manning has become a shell of himself, and if Brock Osweiler gives the Broncos a better chance to get to and move through the playoffs, then he needs to be the guy. That’s no disrespect to Manning’s career, it’s respect for the current crop of Broncos who deserve the QB that gives them the best shot of winning now.

    2) With the division almost wrapped up and louder MVP talk, will the Panthers treat the rest of the season like a Heisman campaign for Cam Newton?

    RG: Absolutely. I also fully support it. We have all heard the talk about Newton's numbers being dwarfed by the other quarterbacks in the discussion. The Washington pass defense was a nice beginning for what might be a streak of five games where he can total 18-20 touchdowns in the air. He has 20 touchdowns and nine picks so far this year. If he can finish the season for a 15-1 team with the number one seed and also find a way to total 35+ touchdowns and 13 interceptions, he has to coast to the MVP award.

    Plus, the schedule down the stretch is awesome for him. He faces Atlanta twice, Tampa Bay, New York (N), Dallas and..... New Orleans! Brian, you and I could throw a couple against the Saints this season. With two-thirds of the games being played in southern territory, it might even feel like his previous Heisman run. Look, when one is facing five defenses that have combined for 13,170 yards and 92 touchdowns allowed in the passing game, anybody has the right to feel confident.

    I've been critical of Newton in the past, but I am rooting for him now. His performance this season has been stellar and has a chance to be seen in an even greater light.

    BW: Absolutely the Panthers should go all-in on the Newton promotional campaign. The Panthers were in an NFC championship game in their 2nd season, and nearly won a Super Bowl over a decade ago, but now two decades into their existence, it finally feels like they have a chance to create a lasting identity. The defense is becoming devastating, but Cam Newton is the face of that burgeoning identity.

    It is tough to quantify exactly how effective Newton is as a QB. We’re still a people that prefer our QBs to work almost exclusively from the pocket. We want our QBs to fill the role of the prototypical passer. We’re uncomfortable with QBs that don’t look the part within the pocket. Included among these people are the coaches and GMs who will draft QBs for their passing ability mixed with their athleticism, and instead of catering to the strengths of their newly-minted QB, will try to fit the square peg into the round hole and take away their athleticism. I give credit to the Carolina coaching staff for allowing Newton to use all of his talents from the very beginning. He’s not the most refined passer, but he’s clearly improving in that regard each year. Add in his mobility, leadership, and decision-making, and what more could Carolina possibly ask from their QB? This is a team whose best outside weapon was lost for the year in training camp. Newton is currently rolling with the very good Greg Olsen at TE, and Philly Brown, Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery, and Devin Funchess on the outside. How many other QBs could excel with that selection of weaponry?

    I was not a fan of Newton at Auburn by a longshot. I was not a fan of his coming out of the draft, and never thought he’d amount to anything as a pro. Not only was I wrong, but over the past couple of years, he’s become one of my favorite players in the league. My son, whose football fandom has suddenly taken off over the past month, recognizes Newton as his favorite player, or at least his favorite non-Steeler. He’s starting to get into Madden, and he’ll go with the Panthers much more than any other team, including Pittsburgh. For the first time, Carolina has a player with national appeal who can make Panther jerseys a popular staple around the country. They would be doing their entire organization a disservice if they didn’t treat the rest of this season like a glorified Heisman campaign.

    RG: I have to admit that I love that you managed to call the Panthers receivers "weaponry."

    3) With Romo back, could Dallas accidentally win the division by just playing the spoiler role?

    RG: Time to play the schedule game. I took the overall rankings of the teams according to PFF and then got an average composite score in remaining schedule strength. I also looked at divisional records and conference records. My conclusion: The NFC East does have a bit of a dark horse for the division title, but it is not the Cowboys (though, they DO still have a chance).

    With the Giants leading the group at 5-5, we know that the teams are mediocre (It's these types of great insights that keep me around here). Still, the Cowboys probably have to go 5-1 and also win their tie-breakers against Philly, New York and Washington to do it. Also, no one can go better than 3-3 for that to even be possible. So, here are the composite schedule rankings (hardest to easiest):

    1. Dallas 15.8
    2. New York 15.83
    3. Philadelphia 16.83
    4. Washington 17.6

    Dallas has the hardest remaining schedule because they still have to face the Packers (8) and the Panthers (2). New York has to face Philly (7) and Carolina. Philly, which based on their own ranking, is the largest disappointment. Not only do the Eagles face the best team (New England), they also play the third-ranked team (Arizona).

    Dallas also has the toughest hill to climb in conference record since they sit at 2-5. Philly is 3-5 and New York is 3-4. Amazingly, Washington is 4-3 in the conference. It turns out that Washington is the team that can fulfill their own destiny. They pull down these composites on their own because the Skins are ranked 28th. However, that positive record against the conference means that even if the teams beat themselves up enough to all finish 3-3 in the division, Washington can gain the edge by winning in Chicago.

    Of course, Dallas could still pull it off by sweeping the Redskins in their upcoming match-ups while also upsetting the Packers and the Panthers, getting them to 4-2 and 6-5. That would leave Washington at a maximum of 3-3 in the division despite finishing 7-5 in the conference.

    So, Washington seems to be the real dark horse that can actually control what happens the most. However, with all this bad football left to play, the edge has to go with the team that already leads. The Giants can get to 4-2 in the division if they manage to beat Washington and the "we've checked out on Chip" Eagles.

    Unfortunately, I think I have to put the Cowboys as the third-most likely to win the division.

    BW: It is quite amazing, and a true indictment of the NFC East that we are even able to have this conversation. There is absolutely no way that a team that has suffered through a 7 game losing streak should still be in a division race, and while they’re on the fringe at best, they are still in the division race. The Cowboys have the biggest upside in the division, but it is really difficult to envision them realistically being able to make a run for all the reasons you’ve mentioned.

    You’ve done a great job of laying out the numbers game. 5 wins seems to be the best case scenario, and that’s going to be a tough enough feat to accomplish on its own, especially considering matchups with Carolina, Green Bay, and a late-December road trip to Buffalo, in what will likely also be a very important game for the Bills. However, we also need to account the likelihood that the Cowboys are able to end the season with perfect health from this point forward. Considering that Romo is just coming back from a stay on IR, Dez Bryant missed a significant portion of the season, and the touches in the running game are basically exclusively going to Darren McFadden, there’s an awfully strong chance that the Cowboys’ injury woes are not finished. One more injury to any of those players, including McFadden, and the Cowboys are in huge trouble.

    This week will be telling. Handing the Panthers their first loss is essentially a must on Thanksgiving for the Cowboys to have a shot. If they lose, and the Giants beat the Redskins in Washington, the Cowboys will suddenly find themselves 3 back. Psychologically, that’s too big of a hole to dig out from at this stage in the season, especially without the benefit of a head-to-head matchup in front of them.

    BW: First, I feel compelled to let you know that this past week was one of the lower-scoring weeks I’ve seen in quite some time. It was the first time since 2000 that we’ve had a week without a 300 yard passer. If you had a bad week, or even a bad couple (week 10 was also weird), don’t overreact. Keep rolling with the guys who got you here, and you should be fine.

    Also, if you need a RB, Thomas Rawls and Javorius Allen should be on your waiver-wire radar. But with the trade season mostly in the rear-view mirror and rosters set for the stretch run, there is one often overlooked and discredited way for you to steal a few points. Unless you have one of the very top options at the position (Gostkowski, Hauschka, and that’s about it), it’s best to play the wire game with kickers. Thanks to the matchups, grabbing Nick Novak for this week, Cairo Santos next week, then rolling with Connor Barth in the playoffs is an easy way to gain a slight edge over simply rolling with whatever option you’re currently stuck with. Kickers are usually best left ignored, but at this time of year, and with 11 weeks-worth of stats at our disposal, if kickers are important enough to accumulate points on your team, then it’s worth taking them seriously. With all other teams likely to stay pat and not worry about playing the matchups, any slight advantage you can gain in that area could be the difference you need to make a run into and through your playoffs.


    Thursday, Nov. 26
    Eagles at Lions, 12:30 p.m.- I guess it is good to have the least interesting game of the day occur while people are still arriving at or driving to homes for the holiday. However, there is no way this game will be as bad as the one they played on Thanksgiving in 1968. That day, the 2-12 Eagles beat the Lions 12-0 with a singular field goal in each quarter. That barn-burner featured 338 total yards of offense. Greg Landry and Norm Snead combined for 13 completions. After a game more boring than grandpa’s 38th telling of that one story everyone has heard, it’s no wonder that the league waited 47 years to allow these two to face each on Thanksgiving. PICK: (DET 7-0)

    Panthers at Cowboys, 4:30 p.m.- BW: The numbers in this game are simple. The Panthers have won 100% of their games this year, while the Cowboys have won 100% of the games started by Tony Romo, and 0% of the games started by someone else. This one will be started by Romo, and thanks to that tidy 7-game losing streak following Romo’s injury, it’s essentially a must win if they harbor any hopes of winning the disappointing NFC East. The Cowboys are 29-17-1 in games played on Thanksgiving, while the Panthers are playing on Turkey Day for the first time. Carolina is getting better each week, and in the same spot last year, the Cowboys were blown out by Philly thanks in large part to a struggling Tony Romo. If Romo is still showing any signs of rust whatsoever, Thursday will be representing the beginning of the end for the Cowboys and their 2015 season. PICK: (DAL 4-3)

    Bears at Packers, 8:30 p.m.- Does anyone really think the Bears have a chance in this one? With Packers setting themselves up for a season sweep of the Vikings that would seal the division and the retirement of Brett Favre's jersey, it's hard to think that this is the game where Jay Cutler does better than his average of 2 interceptions per game against Green Bay. It feels even worse coming off a game where better plays from Cutler and better coaching by John Fox could have gotten Chicago into the playoff conversation. Let's be honest, the Bears probably lose this one even if they had beaten Denver. In truth, what should be one the best rivalries in football hasn't been one for over 30 years. The Bears dominated at first, but have been the laughing stock between the two for most of the last 22 years. It' truly a shame that these teams (cough, cough, The Bears) haven't been able to compete on the same level for so long. PICK: (GB 6-1)

    Sunday, Nov. 29
    Vikings at Falcons, 1 p.m.- Technically, the Falcons are still in the playoffs as the sixth seed. Both of these teams are worse than their record, but Atlanta is clearly the biggest apparition of the two teams. The Vikings are going through their streak with great fumble luck (7 of 10 recovered on offense and 4 of 5 on defense). This had allowed them to mitigate the damage from Peterson’s four fumbles and ride their legitimately good defense to wins while the Falcons are just another good offense in a league full of them. They just don’t have the horses on defense yet. Still, the Falcons may not want to make the playoffs anyway because of the fear of the boomerang effect. If an undermanned team makes the playoffs, the schedule for next year will be that much harder for a team that is just making the playoffs because of an incredibly underpowered slate. For re-building teams, wins are like crack.... only good in moderation. PICK: (MIN 7-0)

    Rams at Bengals, 1 p.m.- BW: After losing their last 2, the Bengals move back into the friendly confines of a 1 PM start at Paul Brown Stadium this week. For the Rams, it turns out they hold the health of their own players in equal regard to the competition’s, so at least they’re consistent. The Rams have announced that Case Keenum will start if he passes concussion protocol… or not, because what do they care (kidding… sorta)? Convention states that the Bengals win this matchup, but there is no annually disappointing team more obsessed with looking very good at random moments than the Rams. Following consecutive losses to the mediocre Bears at home and injury-ravaged Ravens, all but assuring Jeff Fisher of his 6th consecutive non-winning season, upsetting the rebounding Bengals would make little sense. That is exactly why this week is a potentially dangerous spot for Cincinnati. PICK: (CIN 7-0)

    Saints at Texans, 1 p.m.- This is a great test for just how bad the Saints defense is. If the Texans see a 300 yard, 3 touchdown game out of Brian Hoyer, then we know exactly how bad it is. I’m not sure if firing Rob Ryan mattered much, but if he was trying to make things better with his humor; it probably was the right move. In the three games before the firing, the Saints had allowed 14 passing touchdowns without an interception. There’s nothing funny about that. Okay, it's kind of funny. PICK: (HOU 5-2)

    Buccaneers at Colts, 1 p.m.- The talent level of Jameis Winston is starting to show. Despite playing for a coach who never really knew how to pick or develop quarterbacks, Winston has really come on lately. He has thrown just two interceptions during the last six games. In fact, those came in one game, so he hasn't thrown any in five of the last six. It is possible for him to finish with 25 touchdowns and 4,000 yards (on pace for 3,848) in his rookie season. I know that we are living in the era of passing offenses, but it is important to know that no rookie has ever done that. Russell Wilson managed to top 3,000 with 25+ touchdowns, but no one has touched 4,000. PICK: (IND 4-3)

    Chargers at Jaguars, 1 p.m.- BW: Philip Rivers is doing everything he can to keep the Chargers afloat, but at 2-8, they’re coming apart at the seams. That the Jaguars are 27th in point differential, just 2 spots ahead of the Chargers, yet are still firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt at 4-6 is a major indictment against the AFC South. However, the Jaguars do have an exciting young core on offense, and have every reason to believe that they’ll be able to stay in this thing to the end. The Jaguars are coming off back-to-back wins for the first time since winning 3 in a row in weeks 12-14 of the 2013 season. PICK: (SD 4-3)

    Bills at Chiefs, 1 p.m.- I considered this one as the “most likely 0-0" game, but then I realized that the Chiefs are bound to have a great drive that ends in a field goal. The Chiefs score a touchdown on just 51% (22nd in the league) of their red zone drives, but that may not matter if their team play continues to be at the level it has been during the last four games. The Kansas City Chiefs aren’t just beating people, they are demolishing them. They have gone 4-0 while out-scoring teams by an average of 22.75 points. Plus, they are allowing just under 260 yards per game in those victories. Sure, two of those games were against dumpster fires, but the other wins were against the Steelers and the Broncos, two teams that have great chances to make the playoffs. The other reason that I did not make this game the “0-0" game is that I try to pick a legitimately bad football game. This one is a match-up that we may look back on in six weeks to see the effect on conference record in order to decide a playoff spot. A defensive game that can remind people about the AFL? Sign me up. PICK: (KC 4-3)

    Dolphins at Jets, 1 p.m.- So, I mentioned touchdown percentage on red zone drives above. I was surprised to see that the most efficient team this season has been the Jets at 72%. You could have given me 10 guesses on that one. These teams have split the season series in five straight seasons. The Jets won earlier this year, so my money is on the Dolphins. My favorite time period of this rivalry was 1989-1991 when two of my favorite kicker names of all-time faced off. For no reason at all, I just loved Pete Stoyanovich and Pat Leahy. PICK: (NYJ 6-1)

    Raiders at Titans, 1 p.m.- How funny is the AFC South? The Titans have a better chance to win their division than the Raiders do. Oakland, once a darling for playoff talk, has lost three straight. Losing to Pittsburgh on the road and Minnesota at home could be forgiven, but failing to beat the Lions proves that the Raiders still need plenty of growth. One big problem has been the decrease in production from Amari Cooper. For the first seven games, he had a 64% catch rate with 80.7 yards per game on 8.42 targets. In the three losses, he has dropped to fifty percent and 57 yards on 8.67 targets. PICK: (OAK 7-0)

    Giants at Redskins, 1 p.m.- As described above, this is a very important game for the NFC LEast crown. With some actual good play and from facing bad defenses, the Kirk Cousins Career Interception % Watch is on hiatus. He is now under 4.0 for his career and is down all the way to 3.8%. With Jameis Winston getting better, too, I guess I’ll just have to watch for all the times independent NFL physicians allow a concussed QB to throw an interception before starting to diagnose them. PICK: (NYG 6-1)

    Cardinals at 49ers, 4:05 p.m.- This is the type of game where the Cardinals are just hoping to get out of town without a bunch of injuries. Incredibly, the Niners offense has been a bit more spry under Blaine Gabbert than it was under Colin Kaepernick. It was the loss to Arizona where the former Niners QB threw 4 picks that began his downward spiral towards the bench. Gabbert is up a full yard on Kaepernick in YPA this season. PICK: (ARZ 7-0)

    Steelers at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m.- BW: This week marks the 4th career start for Ben Roethlisberger against the Seahawks (including the Super Bowl), but his first ever trip to CenturyLink Field, as the Steelers haven’t paid a visit to Seattle since 2003. Interestingly, the Seahawks have not scored a single regular season point against Pittsburgh in the decade since their loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XL, losing 24-0 in 2011 and 21-0 in 2007. Antonio Brown vs. Richard Sherman is reason alone to watch this game. Brown’s smaller size and quickness is what makes him a matchup nightmare for anyone, so it will be very interesting to see how Seattle chooses to defend him. On the other side of the ball, it looks like Marshawn Lynch will be missing this game, once again putting Thomas Rawls in the spotlight. The Steelers have been mostly very good against the run and with no specific go-to receiver on the outside for the Seahawks, this is a perfect week for them to try to attack early and often with Jimmy Graham. PICK: (SEA 6-1)

    Patriots at Broncos, 8:30 p.m.- Peyton Manning is supposed to rest another week or two, giving Brock Osweiler the start here. I am wondering if Denver’s usual deference to Manning will allow them to instill what I have to call The Steve Kerr rule. In this other league called the NBA, Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors have begun the season 16-0. All of those victories have counted towards his head coaching record even though he has been out after back surgery. At this point, Manning has to try anything to help his record against Tom Brady. PICK: (NE 4-3)

    Monday, Nov. 30
    Ravens at Browns, 8:30 p.m.- The Most Likely to Finish 0-0 Game of the Week. With the latest adventures of Johnny Highball, we are at least spared of hearing Jon Gruden find a way to excited about him and Shaun Hill in the same game. Either way, this probably begins the part of the year where we hilariously compare the quality of games between SNF and MNF. Is this the worst collection of wide receivers to appear on MNF during the last five years? If the Browns can't find a way to beat a team this depleted, the Browns quarterback of the bye week may not be the only one losing his job for Cleveland this season. PICK: (CLE 6-1)

    WRITER'S VETO: RG: We have had writers making guest appearances win, so I am willing to throw my hat back into the ring. I thought there was a lot of games to pick from this week, but the one I like most is to ride a rookie and his hot streak. The Colts are still not a good football team and I like the idea of Jameis Winston having another good game. The Bucs will beat the Colts.

    LAST WEEK: 10-4
    SEASON: 97-63 (60%)
    WRITER'S VETO: 2-4, 5 abstain
    UNANIMOUS: 28-13

    Comments 8 Comments
    1. iwatt's Avatar
      Brock Osweiler never had to play from behind. Until we see him doing that, let us remeber we awere at some point intrigued by high completion rates by: Cristian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Shaun Hill...

      Brock, if you remove the idiotic coverage fail on the TD to Demarius Thomas had: 19/26 for 202 yards. That's 7.76 YPA, not the 9.26 YPA he appears to have had. And that is against a defnse that couldn't stop the run. Whenver he was faced with obvious pass situations, he didn't succeed.

      The Pats are going to destroy them.

      The Bears have -10% chance of winning. It's Brett Favre night, and Jay Cutler is due fo a "Cutty is going to Cutty" games. Our anemic pass rush is slowed down by a nagging injury to McPhee, and Fat Eddie Lacy is going to run all over us.
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      Joseph Randle was arrested last night. So surprising.
    1. Amy's Avatar
      Marshawn Lynch underwent surgery today for a sports hernia. He is expected to miss at least three weeks, and he could miss the rest of season.

      Steadman Bailey of the Rams, and his cousin, were victims of a drive by shooting last night in Miami. He was hit twice in the head, but is out of surgery and is currently in the ICU unit. Two kids who were also in the car were not hit. His cousin was hit multiple time while shielding the kids.
    1. Amy's Avatar
      Golden Tate literally walks into the endzone. Very fun to see.
    1. Amy's Avatar
      Glover Quinn of the Lions and Nolan Carroll of the Eagles are both questionable to return.
    1. Amy's Avatar
      Nolan Carroll broke his ankle.
    1. Nancy's Avatar
      He’s not the most refined passer, but he’s clearly improving in that regard each year.
      Agree. He still thows it 2 feet over the receiver's head a few times a game, but this is really the biggest difference in his game this season. He's threading the needle, taking a little something off the ball occasionally, and throwing fewer truly boneheaded picks, and just making better, quicker decisions overall. The line play has improved greatly as well due in part to Cam's decisiveness.
      If the Panthers don't tank, I'd love to see Cam win MVP, but I will tell you right now that this is an average team without Norman, Davis, and Kuechly. The offense has improved gradually, but that defense wins games.
    1. Amy's Avatar
      Then and now. Here's the starting Pats offense from Super Bowl 49 and current status. It's both impressive and depressing:

      LT: Nate Solder (IR)
      LG: Ryan Wendell (IR)
      C: Bryan Stork (Active, playing center and guard)
      RG: Dan Connolly (Retired)
      RT: Sebastian Vollmer (Probable for Denver, concussion)

      QB: Tom Brady (Active)
      RB: Shane Vereen (Active for New York Giants)
      FB: James Develin (IR)

      WR1: Julian 'Jules' Edelmann (Broken foot, out for regular season)
      WR2: Brandon 'Jojo" LaFell (Active)
      WR3: Danny 'Danny' Amendola (Sprained knee, will miss Denver game).
      TE: Rob Gronkowski (Active)

      Yes, I know that it's 12 not 11. But fully half the starters of the Super Bowl game are out of action for us this season. It's brutal. But, even with that, I expect us to beat Denver (a loss would not shock me, however)