Why the Ravens-Jaguars Game was a Thing of Beauty
It's not merely that the Jaguars covered the spread and knocked four more people out of one of my big-money Survivor Pools – though I was ecstatic about those things. It was also that this game symbolized the great unknowability of the NFL, when the underdog with a rookie quarterback – who incidentally does not pass the eye test – takes on a team with arguably the league's best defense and wins outright. The line in that game was Jaguars +8.5 though it migrated all the way up to 10 by kickoff, and that's because so much public money was coming in on Baltimore, i.e., everyone thought there was no way the Ravens wouldn't blow them out, let alone win the game. But if you watched the entire game – as I did (I skipped Game 5 of the World Series for it and missed Tony LaRussa's bullpen mismanagement and am not a bit sorry) – you'd see that the Jaguars were the better team that night. Often underdogs cover or win due to a couple fortuitous bounces, and we can say they got lucky, but the Jaguars held Joe Flacco to 3.6 YPA and Ray Rice to 3.5 YPC, and otherwise kicked the tar out of them.
There are a few ways to look at a genuine upset like this. One is to question whether the Ravens offense is in serious trouble and re-think their status as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Another is to wonder whether the Jaguars defense might be turning the corner and rethink their status as league doormats. You could also write off the result as anomalous and keep your prior assessments of these teams intact – it seems that's what the public is doing as the Ravens are 13-point favorites over Arizona this week, while the Jaguars are getting 10 points in Houston.
But whatever you make of it, this happened. To me, that's more important than how we process the fallout specifically because it gives us yet another example of what we all thought being wrong. We can look at the Vegas odds of the Ravens winning that game – 78 percent – and the result shouldn't surprise us as much as it does. But try to go back to your mindset before the game started and consider how hard it was to envision it. In fact, knowing there's a 22 percent chance of a huge upset taking place, but finding it almost impossible to imagine happening should tell us that there's some flaw in our brains, some processing distortion that sees certainty where there's only probability.
That's why these games are so useful – they remind us that the less likely possibility can also obtain. They guard us from the dangers of cavalier presumption and complacent thinking. They re-train our minds to focus on the the non-obvious, the uncertain and the mysterious. And that's where the real payout usually lies.
The Saints go into St. Louis this week, and Vegas has them as 90 percent favorites to win, by the way. I'll admit I can't see any way the Rams win this game, but I know that's a flaw in my thinking. I would not get on an airplane that had a 10 percent chance of going down, and I would not get on an airplane to Vegas (with a 1 in 10,000,000 chance of going down) and bet my life savings on the Saints moneyline, either. So I'm going take that possibilty seriously. Maybe I'll start Steven Jackson over a lesser player with a better matchup. Maybe I'll trade for Brandon Lloyd on the cheap. I'm not sure what opportunities I'll have to capitalize on resisting the lure of false certainty, but there are almost always some, and I'll be keeping my eye out for them.
The Joy of Scrub Production
I don't think there's any greater joy in fantasy football than having a total scrub you expected nothing from not only score a touchdown for you but have that touchdown be the difference in a high-stakes league. In the 14-team NFFC (with 9-man benches), I lost Jamaal Charles, and had Fred Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw on bye. There was almost nothing on the waiver wire, but I didn't want to take a zero, so I put in for a long list of players and wound up with John Kuhn. Kuhn caught a two-yard TD pass, and I won my game by five points.
Things to Take Away from Week 7
• Did anyone else have the Saints in Survivor and feel cheated? Usually, you get to enjoy at least *some* drama early in the game as your heavy favorite overcomes its opponent. But the Saints rolled so easily I stopped watching in the second quarter.
• Tim Tebow transcends scouting reports and statistical data. The joke is on us, and God really does want his team to win. But if you ask Tony Sparano why he went for two, he'll say the devil made him do it.
• I loved Corey Williams getting a personal foul penalty for throwing a forearm to Matt Ryan's head from the Lions' half-yard line. It resulted in half the distance to the goal, i.e., a penalty of one-quarter yard. That's a pretty good tradeoff. If I were the Lions I'd put 12 men on the field, interfere in the end zone, jump off sides and smack Ryan again. That said, if you made an infinite number of penalties it would in fact be a touchdown.
• The Chargers are beyond horrendous. From four neutral-zone infractions in the first half to Philip Rivers throwing checkdowns in bounds with no timeouts in the one-minute drill, to throwing a fourth-down pass out of bounds to end the game. If there's a way to give away a game, the Chargers will find it. If Norv Turner coached the '85 Bears, they'd have gone 10-6 and lost in the divisional round.
• Christian Ponder passes the eye test.
• How does Matthew Stafford average 5.7 YPA at home against the Falcons in a game where Calvin Johnson catches a 57-yard TD pass?
• The Rams did their best to establish themselves as the worst team in the league in the afternoon games, but the Colts would have none of it. It's important to have the proper credentials to get 2012's highly valuable No. 1 pick and not be accused of tanking.
• For those of you who like me drafted Jamaal Charles and Darren McFadden in multiple leagues (both in the NFFC), does it not infuriate you that they not only got hurt, but did so in the first quarter? In Charles' case, I had Fred Jackson on my bench. At least in this case, the byes made it so that I had nothing on the bench, either.
• Darrius Heyward-Bey had five catches for 89 yards in Sunday's blowout. At some point he might even be taken seriously, though I still doubt any of the writers that killed (bad word choice, perhaps) Al Davis for drafting him over Michael Crabtree are going to apologize.
• Who else reverse teased the CLE-SEA under down to 10? Colt McCoy simply cannot decide on a regular target. If he threw for 500 yards, I'm convinced no one wideout would break 100. Montario Hardesty could be a 100-yard rusher if he's able to handle a 45-carry workload.
• I would try to buy low on Chris Johnson, but you probably won't be able to. A player who so recently had a monster season, is still in his prime, is completely healthy and in no danger of losing his role will almost never be appropriately discounted.
Things to Look for in Week 8
• Tom Brady against Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh
• Dallas facing Philadelphia off the bye (Andy Reid is 12-0 after a bye).
• Whether the Jaguars defensive showing Monday night can be sustained against the Texans
• Whether Chris Johnson can finally get going in arguably the best matchup he'll have this season
• Whether Kansas City can beat San Diego and shockingly (after it's first two games) gain a share of first place in the AFC West
Beating the Book
Saints -14 at Rams
Anytime a team wins by 55, it's probably a good idea to sell them the following week. Moreover, 14 on the road is just a massive line (if you consider home field's worth roughly three points, that means this line would be 20 in New Orleans). The Saints are a good team, and the Rams are a doormat, but this is excessive. Back St. Louis who keeps it close. (And has a 10 percent chance of winning outright).
Saints 24 – 17
Last week we lost with the Cardinals to go 4-3 in this forum, 6-7 on the week and 51-48-4 overall. We were 10-7 in this forum last season and 40-27 over the four years of the column (we skipped Week 17 in 2007). From 1999-2010 we've gone 1565-1387 against the spread (53%, not including ties). The full article comes out Wednesday night.
Surviving Week 8
It was a pretty uneventful week – until Monday night. The Ravens took out about 10 percent of pools, and at this stage, every elimination starts to matter more.
Let's take a look at this week's slate:
|Team||Opponent||% Picked*||Vegas ML**||Vegas Odds|