NFL Picks: Week 11 (updated x2)

Written by Football, Sports

Along with all your picks for Week 11’s NFL action, Zack Dennis counts down the worst coaching mistakes in football history. Hey, is that Marty Morninwheg?

UPDATE 2:  The line on the Houston game has moved down to 3.5, so I went ahead and took a longshot at hitting a middle – if Houston wins by 4 points, I’ll win $9.25.  If they win by more than 4 points, I’ll lose fifty cents.  If they win by less than three points or lose outright, I’ll lose twenty-five cents.  Sure do like those odds.

UPDATE:  Wow.  Anyone who witnessed the end of the LSU game against Ole Miss would most likely agree that even though my countdown was limited to NFL coaches, Les Miles’ blunders at managing the end of the game for LSU really belong at the very top of the list.  Unbelievable.

Miami surprised everyone on Thursday night, and since then there has only been minor movement in the lines.  Baltimore is getting another half point, though the computer’s bet amount only increased by less than fifty cents.  The Broncos announced that Chris Simms is starting, so the books have finally posted a line for that game (Denver +5).  My estimated spread on the game was off (I had it at +3) and that’s enough of a move to affect Gamblor’s bet by quite a bit.  Since I don’t have access to my data matrix via this computer, I can’t rerun the simulation.  I WILL run it on Monday and count it towards the season total, win or lose, but I won’t have an actual bet on that game.  I suspect that Gamblor would like to risk about $10 on the Broncos.

Last week was a tough one. The computer’s record overall was just fine at 8-7, but it missed its biggest bet of the year on a Dallas squad that normally waits until December to underachieve on such an epic level.  In my midseason summary last week I mentioned last week that the flip model was due for a major correction, and it accomplished that in one very expensive fell swoop.  The total losses for the week were $159 on a weighted win percentage of 31.3%, which means that without the Dallas loss, it actually would have been a profitable week (see a summary sheet here).  Much like Bill Belichick, Gamblor picked a spot where it thought the odds were in its favor, gambled, and came up short.

Most of the talk of the football world this week has been about the New England Patriots coach’s decision to send his offense back onto the field on fourth-and-two from his own thirty yard line instead of punting.  And you’d think that as someone who relies on cold hard statistics to make his gambling decisions, I would join the ranks of those who have defended Belichick’s decision as a wise percentage play that unfortunately didn’t pay off.  But I’m actually firmly in the camp of those who view Belichick’s decision as a the worst coaching mistake of his career.

(To watch this video, right-click and hit play)

flashfiller[kml_flashembed movie="http://earbuds.popdose.com/zack/Gambling/Manager.swf" width="360" height="240" wmode="transparent" play="false" loop="false"/]
flashfiller

I don’t buy all that crap about how the odds (based on previous attempts) of making the first down on 4th and 2 were better than the odds of stopping Manning from 70 (or 30) yards out.  In going for it on fourth down, Belichick made two huge mistakes.  The first was that he provided the wrong motivation to his offense.  Normally, in a fourth-down situation, the psychological motivation for the players is the prospect of succeeding. That’s why there’s a reasonably high rate of success.  Whether they’re deep in enemy territory and gambling or they’re behind and chasing a lead, failing doesn’t really change their situation much – there’s nothing to lose.  In the Colts game, the Patriots offense’s primary motivation was a fear of failure.  And as with any sport, when you start worrying about blowing it, you usually do.

Belichick’s second mistake, which has been well-documented, is that he sent a very clear message to his defense that he didn’t believe in them.  The Patriots defense had failed to stop the Colts on their previous two drives, but prior to that had been magnificent.  If the Patriots had punted and Peyton Manning had driven the Colts 70 yards in two minutes (as certainly was possible, and possibly even likely), the defense would have been heartbroken.  But they would have been forced to blame themselves, and would have been incredibly motivated to avenge the loss if and when they encounter the Colts again later on this season.  But by sending his defense such a clear message that he didn’t trust them, Belichick sowed the seeds of discord that are pure poison for any NFL team.  The Patriots’ defense will be happy to believe, as everyone else does, that they couldn’t possibly have stopped the Colts from scoring from thirty yards out with two full minutes on the clock.  They’ll blame the offense for setting them up to fail by their inability to convert on 4th and 2.  And in the eyes of the offense, blame lies with the defense, who ran out of gas in the fourth quarter and were letting the Colts score at will – forcing the offense to try to pick up their slack.  Belichick provided his disappointed players with fodder for resentment on both sides of the ball – and by enabling them to externalize the blame, he made it that much more difficult for them to face (and improve) their own deficiencies.

Of course, there are plenty of games remaining in the season for the Patriots to regain their mojo, and Belichick’s decision is far from the worst coaching mistake the NFL has ever seen.  Which brings me to this week’s feature, for which I have to give special thanks to my college friends Nick Wanzenried and Mike Trkay, who both deserve credit for making some great contributions.

The Top 5 Worst Coaching Decisions in NFL History:

5.  Dennis Green, Minnesota Vikings. Tied at 27-27 in the 1999 NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Vikings controlled the ball with thirty seconds remaining, facing third and three from their own thirty yard line.  Although he still had two timeouts, a terrific quarterback (Randall Cunningham), two talented wideouts (Randy Moss and Cris Carter), one of the finest kickers in NFL history (Gary Anderson), and a very enthusiastic Metrodome crowd cheering his players on, the Vikings head coach took the conservative route and instructed his quarterback to take a knee and kill the clock.  Although the Vikings had their hands on the ball twice in overtime, they were forced to punt both times and eventually Atlanta kicked a game-winning field goal to advance to the Superbowl.

4.  Marty Morninwheg, Detroit Lions. In a decision that was almost (but not quite) completely unprecedented in the history of football since the introduction of sudden death overtime, the Lions coach entered overtime against the Chicago Bears and won the coin toss but elected to kick off.  His reasoning was simple – but stupid – it was a windy day and he wanted to keep the wind at his back.  It was obviously a bad mistake, but made worse by the fact that his defense had given up 10 points in the last six minutes of the game and was exhausted from having been on the field for 23 of the previous 26 plays.  And to put some icing on the cake of his idiocy, he didn’t wasn’t even consistent in his shoddy reasoning.  He accepted a penalty which, if declined, would have left the Bears with 4th and 8 and the prospect of attempting a 52 yard field goal – into the very wind Morninwheg had given the ball away to avoid.  On the ensuing repeat of third down, the Bears managed to secure a first down, drove further downfield and scored the game-winning field goal, securing Morninwheg’s place in NFL infamy.

3.  Sam Rutigliano, Cleveland Browns. In the 1981 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the wild-card Oakland Raiders, the Browns fell behind 14-12 but managed to drive to the Raiders’ 13 yard line with less than a minute left in the game.  Instead of calling a nice, safe running play to get them centered between the hash marks, coach Rutligiano instructed his quarterback Brian Sipe to run the play “Red Right 88,” a crossing pattern and “throw it into Lake Erie” if he was faced with anything other than a wide open primary receiver.  Sipe failed to heed his coach, however, and attempted to force it to his secondary receiver in traffic.  The pass was intercepted, the Oakland Raiders won the game and eventually completed their Cinderella season with a victory over the Philadelpia Eagles in Superbowl XV.

2.  Bob Gibson, New York Giants. With just 20 seconds remaining on the clock, the New York Giants were just a single play away from defeating the Philadelpia Eagles 17-12 late in the 1978 season.  All the Giants needed to do was to kneel on the ball – a play that was considered by many coaches to be dishonorable but had been called by Gibson, the Giants’ offensive coordinator without hesitation on the previous play.  Instead of instructing quarterback Joe Pisarcik to take a second knee, Gibson called in a simple running play, a handoff to fullback Larry Csonka.  The play went horribly wrong, as the center snapped the ball early and the handoff went tumbling away from Csonka and was picked up by future coach Herman Edwards and returned for a 26 yard touchdown, securing a 19-17 victory for the Eagles.  Gibson was fired the following morning, the play was immortalized in NFL history as “The Miracle at the Meadowlands,” and the practice of killing the clock at the end of games to secure victory became thoroughly accepted throughout the league after this disaster.

1.  Joe Gibbs, Washington Redskins. I absolutely hate it when coaches attempt to “ice” kickers by taking a timeout just prior to a game-ending field goal.  It doesn’t work, and it’s a goddamned waste of time.  In this countdown I’ve tried to give some consideration to the importance of the coaching mistakes rather than just simple ineptitude. And it’s hard to claim that a late-season game between the 5-6 Bills and the 5-6 Redskins in 2007 was particularly meaningful.  But Joe Gibbs manages to take the top spot this week based on sheer stupidity and the joy of karmic realignment.  Gibbs’ Redskins had a 16-14 lead over the Buffalo Bills with just seconds remaining on the clock in their first game after the tragic murder of defensive back Sean Taylor.  To throw off Buffalo’s kicker Rian Lindell in his attempt of a 52 yard field goal, Gibbs followed standard NFL operating procedure and called a timeout just before the snap – which seemed to be a smart choice, given that Lindell’s meaningless practice kick sailed through the uprights.  But when the Bills lined up for a second try, Gibbs decided to annoy everyone further by taking another timeout, to ice the kicker yet again.  But that’s against the rules.  It resulted in a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, an easy kick for Lindell, and a 17-16 victory for the Bills.  In my opinion, every single other entry on this countdown can be mitigated  by various explanations, some more contorted than others, but all at least marginally valid.  Gibbs’ decision was nothing short of pure idiocy, which is why it wins the day.

After last week, Gamblor had apparently decided to retreat into the relative tranquility of hedge bets on underdogs.  There’s only one bet on a favorite (Jacksonville) and there’s really not all that much money on the line this week.  A summary sheet is here and my thoughts are below.

flashfiller

MIAMI DOLPHINS
at
CAROLINA PANTHERS
Gamblor’s Pick: Carolina (-3)
Bet Amount: None (Flip – 81%)
WHY I AGREE: Carolina looked great against Atlanta last week.  They’re 4-2 in their last 6 games (including their heartbreaking loss to a seemingly invincible Saints team) and all the pieces seem to fit now that Delhomme has stopped serving up Cajun-spiced turnovers.  I can’t seem to get a read on Miami at all.  They seem to consistently lose to stronger teams and dominate weaker ones, but which category do the Panthers fall into?  I think they’re a bit better, especially with how they’re playing right now, so that’s who I’m going with.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS
at
DALLAS COWBOYS
Gamblor’s Pick: Washington (+11)
Bet Amount: $27.59 (Hedge)
WHY IT’S WRONG: I’m tempted to pick Washington just out of spite, but I won’t.  Dallas played a terrible game against the Packers, but what happened the last time they came back home after a disappointing performance against an inferior foe (a 26-20 overtime win over Kansas City)?  They bounced back with a big win at home (a 37-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons).  Washington managed to pull off an improable win against the fading Broncos, but they do not have the horses to hang with the Cowboys.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
at
DETROIT LIONS
Gamblor’s Pick: Cleveland (+3.5)
Bet Amount: $19.54 (Hedge)
WHY IT’S WRONG: Detroit has an offense that can score points.  Cleveland doesn’t.  It’s that simple.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
at
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Gamblor’s Pick: San Francisco (+6.5)
Bet Amount: $5.37 (Hedge)
WHY I AGREE: Suddenly the Packers are good again?  I’m not buying it.  Aaron Roders was lucky to live through the Dallas game, and San Francisco’s pass rush will pick up where Dallas’ left off.  The 49ers have enough offense to keep this one close.  I feel like Green Bay will hand the ball over a few times in this contest, and San Francisco will take full advantage of it enough to cover this spread and possibly even win.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
at
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Gamblor’s Pick: Kansas City (+10)
Bet Amount: $11.69 (Hedge)
WHY I AGREE: Pittsburgh is a great team that has a good shot at going back to the Superbowl, but they have been a sucker bet this year.  They’re just 3-6 against the spread, and the two times they’ve been asked to cover large spreads (-11 at Detroit and -13.5 when hosting Cleveland) they’ve failed to do it.  I get the feeling that they’ll be up to their old tricks here.
ATLANTA FALCONS
at
NEW YORK GIANTS
Gamblor’s Pick: Atlanta (+6.5)
Bet Amount: $36.60 (Hedge)
WHY I AGREE: This seems like it should be the best matchup of the week.  After a hot start, both of these teams have cooled off substantially.  But 4 of the Giants’ 5 opening victories came against terrible teams.  Atlanta has played a tougher schedule.  But can they survive without Michael Turner’s contribution?  Previous performances say it’s a toss-up.  But I think the perception will lead to an inflated line in favor of the Giants, in which case it’s good value to go with Atlanta and take the points.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
at
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Gamblor’s Pick: Tampa Bay (+11)
Bet Amount: $8.62 (Hedge)
WHY IT’S WRONG: Only 11 points?  I know New Orleans’ defense is suffering from a lot of injuries, but come on.  Does Vegas really think that bettors are ready to give up on the Saints?  I’m not.
BUFFALO BILLS
at
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Gamblor’s Pick: Jacksonville (-8)
Bet Amount: $58.25 (Flip – 92%)
WHY IT’S WRONG: Jacksonville is really starting to come alive – they’re 5-2 in their last 7 games.  But they haven’t blown anyone out – they’ve only had one victory of greater than 7 points.  And they haven’t exactly been beating contenders, either.  Buffalo is certainly susceptible to blowouts, and seems to be imploding in a big way, but I feel like this spread is just a little too big.  I predict Buffalo will just barely cover this spread.  This spread was posted before Jauron was officially fired, by the way, so there’s little doubt that Vegas has got inside information on this one.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
at
BALTIMORE RAVENS
Gamblor’s Pick: Baltimore (+1)
Bet Amount: $25.87 (Hedge)
WHY I AGREE: In situations where there’s no spread, Gamblor considers the visiting team to be the underdog and goes with them in the case of a hedge bet.  The line opened at pick-em, and has since moved up to +1 (undoubtedly because nobody wants to bet against the Colts).  It’s hard to imagine the Colts losing to anyone, so getting them at just -1 seems like a good bet.  A little bit too good?  Not quite yet.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
at
MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Gamblor’s Pick: Seattle (+11)
Bet Amount: $24.72 (Hedge)
WHY IT’S WRONG: F the Seahawks.  I can blame them for every cent of my losses so far this season (so far betting on Seahawks games has cost me $80), so it’s probably fair to expect them to screw me yet again in this game.  They’re awful, and the Vikings should have a field day against them, and they probably will because the Seahawks know it will cost me money.
ARIZONA CARDINALS
at
SAINT LOUIS RAMS
Gamblor’s Pick: St. Louis (+9)
Bet Amount: $21.65 (Hedge)
WHY IT’S WRONG: St. Louis sure did a fine job keeping pace with the Saints last week, but I don’t think it’s symptomatic of any larger trend.  Their weaknesses haven’t been addressed yet, and the Cardinals are smart enough to have every defensive player focus on Steven Jackson and ignore every other possibility.  I’d love to be wrong about this one, but considering the Cardinals just beat up on the Seahawks who beat the Rams 28-0, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a blowout here.
NEW YORK JETS
at
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Gamblor’s Pick: New York Jets (+10.5)
Bet Amount: $13.80 (Hedge)
WHY I AGREE: The Jets should be feeling like their season is on the line here, and facing the hated Patriots, they should be able to produce a competitive effort.  Furthermore, as I mentioned above, Belichick’s defense is going to be falling into a spiral of self-fulfilling failure as they live up to their coach’s expectations.  The Jets already beat the Patriots once, and with the opportunity to close within a game of the Patriots (and gain a leg up in the tiebreaker, should it become relevant) they won’t show up flat to this contest.
CINCINNATI BENGALS
at
OAKLAND RAIDERS
Gamblor’s Pick: Oakland (+9.5)
Bet Amount: $16.10 (Hedge)
WHY I AGREE: How spectacularly incompetent is JaMarcus Russell?  Consider that as a quarterback, a large part of his job is taking several steps back, spotting a receiver, and throwing it to him.  It should be second nature to him.  He does this hundreds of times in practice, dozens of times in games each week, and he still can’t even come close to getting it right.  Imagine that throwing a pass is the equivalent to some simple mundane task from your own life…say, driving down to the convenience store to buy a gallon of milk.  If you approached this task the same way JaMarcus Russell approaches his NFL duties, by the time you successfully brought that carton of orange juice up to the register, you’d have dropped your keys down the sewer, slammed your fingers in the car door, burned out your parking brake and your clutch, and your car would be parked diagonally across three handicapped spaces with its high beams still on.  Would you have run over a fire hydrant on your way to the store?  Oh, you better believe you’d have run over a fire hydrant on your way to the store.   Rumor has it that JaMarcus won’t even start this week, which would give a huge boost to the Raiders offense – they’ll have their problems against Cincinnati’s defense, but with Cedric Benson out they should be able to slow the Bengals down enough to stay within the spread in this one.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
at
DENVER BRONCOS
Gamblor’s Pick: Denver (+3)
Bet Amount: $18.40 (Hedge)
WHY I AGREE: A month ago, an undefeated Denver team marched into San Diego as underdogs and stomped the Chargers 34-23.  And now, at home, they’re 3 point underdogs.  I don’t care if Orton sits, he’s really not that important.  This game, like the last, is about Respect.  The Broncos are a different team this year and Phil Rivers and the Chargers are certainly good but they’re also overrated – they’ve already used up three of their free victories against the Raiders and Chiefs while the Broncos have used up only one.  The public is going to leap all over San Diego with an expectation that last season will repeat itself, but it won’t.  Like I said, Denver is a completely different team this year.  Different coach, different quarterback, different mentality.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
at
CHICAGO BEARS
Gamblor’s Pick: Chicago (+3)
Bet Amount: $20.50 (Hedge)
WHY I AGREE: I’m hoping the Bears can turn their season around, starting here.  They probably won’t, but my girlfriend is from Chicago and I’ll take advantage of the opportunity to root wholeheartedly for the Bears here.
TENNESSEE TITANS
at
HOUSTON TEXANS
Gamblor’s Pick: Tennessee (+4.5)
Bet Amount: $4.22 (Hedge)
WHY IT’S WRONG: Welcome, back Houston.  Tennessee has put together a nice little run, but they’re too weak to stand up to the Texans.  I’m not yet sure whether I’ll round this one down or not.

flashfiller

Week

Zack

Gamblor

Weighted Wins

Weighted Picks

Weighted Win %

Profit

Win

Lose

Push

Win

Lose

Push

1

7

9

9

7

1339

1727

77.5%

$155.71

2

9

7

11

5

970

1292

75.1%

$98.97

3

9

7

6

10

607

1552

39.1%

-$61.75

4

8

6

5

9

288

963

29.9%

-$70.33

5

6

8

6

8

655

1217

53.8%

$15.46

6

7

7

8

6

625

1231

50.8%

-$10.53

7

8

4

1

3

9

1

246

1161

21.2%

-$127.43

8

3

10

9

7

709

1548

45.8%

-$34.43

9

7

6

10

3

1152

1609

71.6%

$119.67

10

7

8

8

7

660

2110

31.3%

-159.21

Total

71

72

1

72

71

1

7251

14410

50.3%

-$73.87

For legality purposes, this website does not promote or advocate gambling. This is solely for entertainment purposes only.