Initially, when the National Football League announced that replacement referees would be used to start the season, I wasn’t phased. It’s not like the regular referees are amazing. Remember when Ed Hochuli cost the San Diego Chargers a playoff spot because he ruled a Jay Cutler fumble an incompletion, a ruling the couldn’t be challenged at the time? It can’t be that hard to an officiate an NFL game.
Enter the scab refs. Enter GoldenGate.
This past week’s Monday Night Football tilt between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks was brutal to watch (that is if you didn’t have the Hawks (+9) and the UNDER (52) in a two-team tease). Both offenses looked horrendous, there were a myriad of poor calls, and in the second half, the game moved at snail’s pace. Then, with eight seconds left on the clock, the unthinkable happened.
It was fourth-and-10, and Seattle was down five points on the Green Bay 25-yard line. Russell Wilson, who evidently called the wrong play in the huddle, took the snap, rolled to the right, turned around and rolled to his left, and then tossed a prayer to the back of the end zone.
Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings and Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate were battling for the ball on the ground. While they wrestled for the ball, two replacement referees stood over them looking at each other. Then, in a brief moment of absolute hilarity, one of them signaled “touchback” while the other signaled “touchdown.”
Seattle fans, with eyes for only one of the two officials, erupted.
Chaos ensued, the play was reviewed (and miraculously upheld), and nearly 20 minutes later when the PAT was completed, the game was finally over. Unsurprisingly, Twitter exploded, SportsCenter earned its highest rating in 17 years, and we now have the regular referees back in uniform.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the coaches, players, and fans would’ve never respected the replacement referees. But it took a monumental, once-in-a-decade play to wake up the owners and get the issue resolved. Thankfully (for the league, sorry Green Bay), the national nightmare is over, but it wont be long before we remember how average the “real” referees are.
Especially if there’s another crazy, game-ending, dual possession intertouchdownception.
Over the first three weeks of the season, including the Browns and Ravens game on Thursday Night Football, underdogs are 29-18-2 against the spread (ATS), home dogs are 12-6 ATS, and teams favored by a touchdown or more are 4-8-2 ATS. These trends feel solid, but that doesn’t mean we won't deviate from them in certain games.
Seattle @ St. Louis (+2.5)
The Rams are 2-1 ATS (1-0 at home, winning outright against Washington) and are a terrible Sam Bradford pick-six away from possibly being 3-0. The Seahawks are also 2-1 ATS, but without that terrible call on Monday night, they would be 1-2.
Seattle’s offense really concerns me. Wilson ranks 32nd in yards per attempt (5.8), 29th in yards per completion (10.1), and 31st in yards per game (144.7). All those poor passing statistics don’t mean the Seahawks are running the ball well either — Marshawn Lynch ranks 21st in yards per attempt with just 4.2.
The Seahawks defense is very, very good, but not invincible. They’re going to give up some points here and there. Wilson needs to be able to string together a few drives and extend leads, even if that means just getting into field goal territory. Turning around and handing the ball to Lynch 24 times per game isn’t going to work every game. Seattle has to be able to throw the ball a little bit.
Jeff Fisher has injected a little life into the St. Louis franchise, and I think we’re going to pick this scrappy little team a bunch this year. Minus Bradford’s horrific pick-six last week (did I mention Bradford threw a stupid, awful, untimely pick-six last week???), the third-year quarterback looks good and is on pace to set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns. More importantly, the Rams defense is quick up front and hard-hitting in the back, which will give Russell and the Seahawks fits if all they’re going to do is run the ball.
Fantasy: None of the Seahawks receivers should be started. Not even Golden Tate
Carolina @ Atlanta (-7)
The Panthers will have had nine days to prepare for the Falcons come game day, but if they had nine months to prepare I still wouldn’t take them unless they were getting seven and a hook.
Cam Newton has looked a lot like the rookie quarterback who threw for 1,658 yards, 10 touchdowns, and eight interceptions in the second half of last season. Through two games, the self-proclaimed Superman is throwing for 266 yards per game, but has only two touchdowns and five interceptions. The red zone interception he threw against the Giants on Thursday Night Football was pathetic, but not as pathetic as Carolina’s run defense.
The naked eye tells you that running back Andre Brown ran great in his first-career start. The following two plays I detail will affirm how poor the Panthers are on defense.
Combine poor tackling and nonexistent finishing with a sulking, underperforming quarterback, and you have a four-win football team.
Last week, Atlanta flew across the country after a tough Monday Night Football game and housed the Chargers. They should have no problem dismantling the Panthers in the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
Fantasy: Michael Turner hasn’t looked great, so after he torches Carolina this Sunday, sell high.
San Francisco @ New York Jets (+4)
New England (-4) @ Buffalo
After some early week betting, both of these lines moved in favor of our picks. The Jets opened as 2.5-point dogs and the Patriots as 6-point favorites, so we’ll gladly snag the extra points.
Gang Green is certainly a worse team without Darrelle Revis. According to ESPN AFC East blogger and Jets beat writer Rich Cimini, this season, with Revis (88 snaps), opponents have a 54 percent completion rate, 5.4 yards per attempt, one touchdown, and four interceptions. Without Revis (111 snaps), opponents have a 62 percent completion rate, 7.6 yards per attempt, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Without Revis, the Jets are forced to play more zone, blitz less often, and trust Kyle Wilson, a pure nickelback, to cover split ends. Not good, not good, and not good.
The Niners aren’t the type of team to exploit Revis’ absence. Alex Smith ranks 26th in passing yards per game (213.7), and played very poorly from behind last week in Minnesota. The big problem for the Jets will be tight end Vernon Davis. Davis has an astounding 41 catches for 705 yards and nine touchdowns in his last eight games played, and he’ll certainly give Jets safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell troubles on Sunday.
I think this game is ugly, and ugly games are usually good for home dogs getting more than a field goal.
As for the Patriots, it’s time to bring it all together. Tom Brady has looked a bit average in the first three weeks of the season, and I just don’t see that continuing, especially against a division rival. The Bills expect Fred Jackson to return on Sunday, but C.J. Spiller’s status is uncertain and there’s a reason that Tashard Choice was released in the middle of 2011.
Hint: He’s not very good.
Fantasy: If you can somehow snag Aaron Hernandez, go for it. Reports from New England say he’s walking without a limp, and I have no issue carrying two tight ends if you can play one in the FLEX position.
Tennessee (+12) @ Houston
I hate this pick. I want nothing to do with this game unless you’re teasing the Texans so they’re less than a touchdown favorite. Prior to Week 3, I said that I would be picking against Houston when they’re favored by a touchdown or more because they don’t stretch the field.
And then they stretched the field against Denver. Multiple times.
Will they do it again? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that it’s hard to make money if you consistently lay double-digit points in the NFL, so we’re just going to take the points and close our eyes.
Fantasy: Chris Johnson has been removed from ESPN’s “undroppable list” this week. Enough said.
Minnesota @ Detroit (-4.5)
This line opened at seven points, and all the sharp money came in on the Vikings. This isn’t a surprise — all the sharps were on Minnesota last week, and they handled San Francisco.
The Lions, who were fortunate to take the Titans into overtime because of Titus Young’s Hail Mary catch, are 1-2 (0-3 ATS). They look bad, especially in the secondary, but there was one very positive thing to come out of their Week 3 loss — Mikel Leshoure may be the running back they so desperately need. Leshoure isn’t a speed demon (he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash prior to his Achilles injury), he’s not going to blow defenders up in one-on-one situations, but he’s no Shonn Greene — he can put his foot in the ground and make a few plays.
More importantly, Leshoure can catch the ball out of the backfield, making him a dependable three-down back. If Detroit can establish a solid running game, their offense is going to take off. Stafford needs the protection, the offensive line needs to run block once in a while, and the defense needs to stay off the field for a little bit.
Christian Ponder has looked great and the Vikings defense is very formidable, but this just feels like a must-win game for Detroit if they expect to compete for the NFC North crown or even a wildcard spot.
Fantasy: This isn’t a great matchup for Leshoure, but he’s a very interesting player going forward. Last week, in an 80-point overtime affair, Kevin Smith had as many touches as I had on my couch — zero.
San Diego @ Kansas City (+1)
Arrowhead Stadium is a house of horrors for the San Diego Super Chargers. Because 2005, the Bolts have only won two games on the road against the Chiefs, and last year, Philipp Rivers had the “worst day ever” in Arrowhead on Monday Night Football.
Kansas City is a strange team. They didn’t show up in Week 1, they didn’t show up in Week 2, and then in Week 3, down 24-6 against the Saints in the Superdome, they decided to turn it on. Jamaal Charles ripped off a 91-yard touchdown run, and then the Chiefs scored five more consecutive times, including a safety against Drew Brees.
It would’ve been very easy for the Chiefs to lay down while trailing three scores, but they didn’t. They roared back and won outright. That’s very impressive.
I would be much more confident had this line not shifted from 2.5 points, but I believe in the Chiefs defense, their offensive line, Mr. Charles, and the power of Arrowhead.
Fantasy: If you drafted Peyton Hillis as a handcuff, you obviously don’t plan on dropping him, but if you drafted him as an upside play, you may be fed up. I think you should hold on to him for a little longer. The Chiefs don’t want Charles touching the ball 39 times per game coming off of a knee injury.
Miami @ Arizona (-5.5)
Listen. Can you hear that? It’s getting louder. Hear it?
That’s the sound of me ripping up my Cardinals UNDER 7 wins ticket. The Bird Gang defense is for real, and if Ryan Williams can replicate what he did last Sunday, their offense could get rolling, as well. That’s scary.
Fantasy: Beanie Wells has been placed on injured reserve. He won’t be back until November, and in the meantime, Williams will be the bell cow. He’s a FLEX play this week with high RB2 upside.
Oakland (+7) @ Denver
Listen. Can you hear that? It’s getting louder. Hear it?
That’s the sound of Broncos fans whispering about Tim Tebow. John Fox made a huge blunder last week when he told backup quarterback Brock Osweiler to warm up in case Denver needed to throw a last-second Hail Mary pass. We all know Peyton Manning’s arm strength is lacking, but there’s no need to shout it from the mountain tops, Coach Fox.
Until their quarterback can physically throw the ball more than 30 yards, it’s tough to lay a touchdown with Denver, even if Oakland’s secondary is very weak.
Side note: I’m setting the line at 1.5 field goal attempts of 60 yards or more from Sebastian Janikowski in this game, and I love the over.
Fantasy: With Darrius Heyward-Bey’s unfortunate head injury, Denarius Moore becomes the clear number one receiver in Oakland.
Cincinnati (-2.5) @ Jacksonville
Listen. Can you hear that? It's getting louder. Hear it?
That's me laughing because the Jaguars are getting less than a field goal against a playoff team. That Cecil Shorts touchdown was cool and all, but that doesn't mean Jacksonville is ready to rumble with the big boys.
Fantasy: If you drafted Maurice Jones-Drew, congratulations. If you drafted Justin Blackmon, welcome to dumpsville.
Washington @ Tampa Bay (-2.5)
For a brief moment, during the second half of last week’s Redskins game, I thought Navy was playing against Cincinnati. Robert Griffin III was running a variation of the triple option, and if the Shanahans continue to let RG3 get hit like that, he’s going to get injured. Very badly.
Washington refuses to let RG3 stretch the field, and despite trailing for the majority of the game against the Bengals, his yards per attempt were a measly 6.5.
On defense, the Redskins are a mess. Andy Dalton’s long touchdown passes to Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns would’ve never occurred had it not been for poor tackling, and on the first play of the game, Washington’s safeties didn’t stay home and A.J. Green flew by them for a 73-yard touchdown pass from fellow receiver Mohamed Sanu.
The Bucs haven’t played great, but they’ve been competitive in all three games and are 2-1 ATS. Had Eli Manning not exploded in the fourth quarter against them in Week 2, they’d be a perfect 3-0 ATS. Josh Freeman isn’t great, but he makes plays. Vincent Jackson stretches the field. And Doug Martin runs extremely hard, and is due for a breakout performance.
Somehow, Tampa Bay opened this game as a one-point underdog. If you grabbed them then, good for you, we like them as slight favorites at home.
Fantasy: If you can, sell high on RG3. He’s been terrific, and his rushing yards/touchdowns have made him one of the best players in fantasy through three weeks, but he’s really going to get killed if he keeps taking shot after shot.
New Orleans @ Green Bay (-7.5)
If the Rams, a 1-2 team playing very well, played the Packers in Green Bay this weekend, what would the line be? No less than -9.5, perhaps as high as -12.
The Saints, who are 0-3 and look infinitely worse than the Rams, are only 7.5-point dogs. Brees deserves a little bit of a bump, but he is historically worse on the road than he is at home in the dome.
Take away everything you know and love about New Orleans. Take away the passing records. Take away the Super Bowl win. Take away their fantasy implications. What do you have? A really bad football team with a horrific defense.
I’m not big on using “emotional” factors either, but Green Bay has to be livid after Monday Night’s debauchery. They played really bad on offense and were screwed by the replacement referees. If ever there was a time for them to make a statement game, it’d be now.
Fantasy: Speaking of selling high with RG3, if you could package RG3 and a receiver or a running back for Aaron Rodgers, I’d make that trade in a heartbeat.
New York Giants (+1.5) @ Philadelphia
Chicago (+3.5) @ Dallas
The Sunday Night Football game between the Giants and the Eagles is probably a stay-away game unless you grabbed Big Blue when they were 3.5-point dogs. I lean toward the Giants because Hakeem Nicks is healthy, Ahmad Bradshaw is active, and for some reason, Manning is really good on the road.
Since the start of last season, including the playoffs, the Giants are 8-3 ATS on the road.
While I was writing this week’s edition of the Pigskin Diaries, the Monday Night Football line moved half a point. The Bears opened as four-point dogs, the line moved to three, and it’s now settled right in the middle at 3.5. We’ll take the hook and hope that Chicago’s defense can keep Smokin’ Jay Cutler in the game.
Fantasy: Dez Bryant has been tremendously underwhelming, and looking at the tape, his effort is lacking, as well. Until this changes, Miles Austin will continue to be the better fantasy option.
Note: After this article was published, Hakeem Nicks was downgraded to DOUBTFUL.
All betting lines are courtesy of Covers.com, and are accurate as of Friday at 11:30 a.m. EDT.
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