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Week 4: Upset Special

I want to put our regularly scheduled Q&A topics of discussion on hold in order to shine my spotlight where it belongs this week—on Marc Mondry.

Mondry provides the Last Man Standing section of this column. He is almost invariably right about his picks—and he is invariably perceptive, entertaining, and excellent at walking readers through the reasoning he uses to make his selections.

Last week, Mondry correctly predicted the Lions over the Redskins as his trap game of the week.

The Lions had lost 19 games in a row, so even though the Redskins have been struggling, my own response to Mondry’s trap selection was a profanity-laden barb to the following effect: “Albert Haynesworth could beat Detroit all by himself.”

Whenever a sports analyst wants to make a safe prediction, he advises us to watch for whichever team has the longest losing streak in sport X to beat their upcoming opponent. These predictions are safe because even if they are wrong, no one holds them against the analysts responsible for making them. The Lions have been so bad for so long that I wouldn’t have faulted Mondry for getting the Detroit pick wrong, so it might be easy for some readers to dismiss him for being right.

To dismiss Mondry’s prognosticatory prowess on such grounds, however, would be a mistake. Like his predecessor (Matthew Schiff), Mondry has an uncanny knack for spotting trap games week in and week out. He called the Jets over the Pats in Week 2 and the Raiders over the Chargers in Week 1. The Jets stunned us all by defeating the Pats 16-9, and even though the Raiders lost to San Diego, most of us were shocked by how well they played in the 24-20 loss. His upset picks during the selection process for Schiff’s replacement were a key factor in landing him a permanent spot in this column.

In his own section of this column, Mondry provides a link to what he wrote last week. I am probably like most readers in that I am usually too lazy to click on links that are supposed to provide support for claims, so for those of you who will not bother to follow Mondry’s link, here is what he wrote for last Thursday:

The Lions are not as bad as everyone might think. Detroit was beating the Vikes 10-0 during the second quarter and took a 3-point lead into halftime. (I can only imagine what choice words Brad Childress used in the locker room.) Minnesota flattened Detroit in the second half, but the Lions played an excellent half of football.

The Detroit defense may not be as bad as we initially thought. I am willing to give them a pass on the Week 1 debacle against the Saints because Brees & Co. did worse to the Philadelphia defense this week. That Eagles unit is no shabby defense, so if the Saints can put up 48 on them, they can score at will against nearly anyone.

That brings us to this week’s game against Minnesota. Detroit held AP under 100 yards rushing on the day and held the Viking offense to a total of 265 yards. That’s pretty good! Moreover, Minnesota only converted 3 out of 11 third downs. That’s pretty good defense too!

The offense is really what let Detroit down this week. The running game, surprisingly, was up to the challenge and did a serviceable job against a very strong Minnesota front 7. The problem was the 3 turnovers (two Matt Stafford interceptions, one Kevin Smith fumble), which allowed Minnesota to put points on the board fairly easily. The last two Minnesota TD drives started at the Detroit 27 and 16 yard lines, respectively. It’s not hard to put up points when your drive starts in the red zone.

Now a quick look at the Lions’ victim this week: the Washington Redskins. The Skins looked awful last week at home against the lowly Rams—and probably should have lost the game. Their defense is serviceable, and much upgraded from last year with the addition of Albert Haynesworth, but the offense is pitiful. They have the league’s second worst offense (just in front of the Rams), averaging just 13 points per game. And remember, that’s after playing the Rams (who lost to Seattle 0-28) last week!

Between the careful reasoning of that prediction and his earlier gutsy trap selections this season, Mondry has persuaded me that there really is an art—perhaps even a science—to picking upsets.

I was so pleased by Mondry’s picks that I wanted to ask the powers that be at FFToday so sponsor a special upset-picking contest in his honor.

The only problem is that I don’t really know of a structured way for scoring upset picks over the course of a season. I have seen analysts (in pre-game network segments) force themselves to choose one upset each week and track the results. But that doesn’t really get at what Mondry does because the analysts gravitate to the games with 1-point lines.

I have never seen an upset-picking contest that featured a mechanism for rewarding a person for taking a 10-point underdog more than someone who takes a 3-point underdog. I can’t help wondering if there is a way of tracking upset picks over the course of a season that is as addictive as Last Man Standing pools are.

If any readers of this column are willing to share the rules for such a contest with me, I would like to see what I can do about getting FFToday to sponsor such a contest either during the last 10 weeks of the 2009 season or for the whole of the 2010 season.

Alternatively, if any readers are willing to devise the rules for such a contest, I would be willing to run those rules past my colleagues here. Please be advised, however, that a successful rule set will be very easy to explain and a cinch to keep track of (much in the same way that you can explain the rules for LMS in a few sentences and track the results for thousands of participants with a simple spreadsheet).

We’ll see if anyone is able to help me out in next week’s column. We will resume our Q&A discussion of advisory boards for fantasy leagues once I have had a chance to assess the viability of a season-spanning upset-picking contest.

For now, the important thing is to let Mondry gloat.

Last Man Standing - (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

Quick Review of Last Week

I sat in a sports bar just outside Washington, D.C. this Sunday watching the Lions beat my division rival Redskins on the big screen, surrounded by angry Washington fans. My goodness it was glorious! I had a smile plastered on my face for no less than six hours. Not only did the Redskins suffer a massive embarrassment, but I nailed the upset pick of the season.

You heard it here first.

Detroit broke a 19-game losing streak this weekend, appropriately by putting up 19 points on the Skins. They only ended up winning by 5, and Washington had a shot to come back in the final seconds, but if you watched the game you know it wasn’t that close. Detroit took a 12-point lead on the Redskins after failing to convert a 2-point conversion with just a couple of minutes left in the game. The Lions then went into the prevent defense (the “Let’s depart from our strategy that has won us the game for 57 minutes and give up a touchdown!” defense) and let the Redskins walk right down the field—twice.

Nevertheless, Detroit took a 10-0 lead into halftime—and dominated for 56 minutes. Washington could barely move the ball, only scoring when Santana Moss made a reception and ran 40 additional yards for the TD. It’s going to be a long season for Redskins fans.

Other Games

Pittsburgh losing to Cincinnati – I can’t argue with the Pittsburgh pick too much. I only mention this game to highlight the importance of picking teams at home when possible. The Bengals are a division rival of the Steelers. Always be careful about divisional games, but if you do pick them, pick the favorite when they are at home. You know the Steelers are going to play the Bengals at Heinz field; pick them then!

Reader’s Week 3 Picks

Great week of picks guys! Out of 42 picks submitted this week, only TWO were wrong. (Washington, Pittsburgh)

 Top Prognosticators - Week 3
Player Picks Overall Win % Point Differential
Mark Den Adel BAL, GB, PHI 9/9 100 159
Scott Goldschmidt GB, PHI, CHI 9/9 100 134
Keith Bielory BAL, NYG, SD 8/9 89 112
Justin Leone NYG, DAL, GB 8/9 89 111
Marc Mondry NYG, DAL, BAL 8/9 89 111
Supernewper BAL, SD, CHI 8/9 89 107
Dave Zucker BAL, SD, NYG 8/9 89 107
Paul Moore PHI, BAL, DAL 8/9 89 117
Joshua Shields BAL, WAS, PHI 7/9 78 95
Matthew Schiff NYG, SD, MIN 7/9 78 63

Remember to email your picks to me by noon on Sunday.

Trap Game: New York Jets over New Orleans

What do the Jets have to do to get some respect? I just don’t get it. I already highlighted last week just how good Darelle Revis is. That perspective only got stronger this week, with Revis shutting down Justin Gage (4-37-0). It only helps my case that the receivers Revis shut down in Weeks 1 & 2, Andre Johnson (4-86-0) and Randy Moss (10-116-0), were back to their usual levels of productivity in Week 3.

In three weeks, Revis has allowed the opposing team’s #1 WRs to COMBINE for 12 catches and 96 yards.

The Jets as a whole just look awesome. They demolish the Texans, pull off a feat against Tom Brady’s Patriots not managed in 6 years, and then go out and beat the Titans, putting up 24 points against a team that matches up against them very well on defense.

Here’s my thought process: The Jets start 3-0 and head down to the bayou to face a team that has a habit of crushing bad teams and losing to good ones, so of course they will be favored, right?


Okay, it must just be that their opponent is also 3-0 and the game is away, but they can’t possibly be an underdog by more than a field goal, can they?

Wrong again! Try two field goals; that’s closer.

The Jets are a six-and-a-half point dog to the Saints this week. If last week for the Saints had been business as usual (you know, putting up 45+ points on the board), maybe, maybe I could understand the 6.5 point line. On the other hand, did you watch the New Orleans game last week?

Until Pierre Thomas came in at the beginning of the second half and absolutely dominated the tired Buffalo defense (and flashed the phenomenal talent I touted all pre-season), miracle man Drew Brees and the Saints offense really didn’t get anything going against a mediocre (at best) Bills defense. The lasting message from this week’s game: Drew Brees is mortal. The Bills shut him down.

If the Bills can do it, certainly the stellar Jets defense can do it. Look for a close game this week—significantly more so than expected, and a not unlikely Jets victory.

3. Indianapolis over Seattle

When I first looked at this week’s games, this was my #1 pick. However, with the news that Dwight Freeney will be out for at least a couple of weeks, this game gets downgraded to the third spot.

That said, a Seahawks team that is just starting to run the ball semi-effectively and is without Matt Hasselbeck is going to have a hard time beating the Colts. Admittedly, there is one small part of me that is a bit worried that Julius Jones could abuse the Indy run defense to the tune of 25 carries for 125+ yards.

Even if that happens, I cannot see Peyton Manning (in my opinion head and shoulders above any other QB in the league – yes I am ready for the influx of angry emails from Brady and Brees fans) losing to a team like the Seahawks. Heck, a couple weeks ago Miami trampled on the Colt defense for 45 minutes, and Peyton still found a way to A) win the game, and B) put up 27 points with less than fifteen minutes of offensive possession.

Do you have any faith in Seattle’s ability to shut down the Colt offense this week? I most certainly do not. I think the Seahawk rush defense is so suspect (allowing 139 yards/game) that I am starting Joey Addai AND Donald Brown this week on the same team!

Lastly, Indy is playing at home—in the dome. The Colts have not lost a game at Lucas Oil Stadium in over a year. Don’t expect that trend to snap this week.

2. New York Giants over Kansas City

The Giants absolutely slaughter greatly inferior teams. One of my pet peeves for years about the G-Men was that they didn’t win games they were supposed to win. No longer is that the case.

Last week, they handed the Buccaneers an embarrassing 24-0 loss—in Tampa Bay no less. The Bucs could not move the ball at all. They totaled 86 yards from scrimmage, and you wouldn’t need a second hand to count how many first downs they earned in the entire game. Byron Leftwich got benched; the Bucs’ leading rusher was their backup QB; and their leading WR was a guy named S. Shroughter. If you can tell me his first name without looking it up, I’ll let you write one of the game analyses next week. Honor code people; honor code!

This week the Giants head out to Kansas City to clobber the Chiefs, a team winless on the season because they simply cannot move the ball. Oakland held them to 10 points. Matt Cassel, as I explained in the pre-season, looks to be a product of the Patriots’ offensive system. In fairness, he doesn’t have a single player to throw the ball to, as Dwayne Bowe is already on the sidelines with an injured hamstring.

Short side note: This is the second time I am picking the Giants this season, and next week will almost certainly be the third and last time (they host Oakland). They play three terrible teams in these three weeks, and then the schedule gets significantly harder in the second half of the season. Don’t be afraid to pick them early and often this season.

1. Chicago over Detroit

No more miracles. I’m still gloating over Detroit’s win last week, but the magic is probably over, at least for now. Rather than hosting a pitiful Redskins team, the Lions head to Chicago to play the division rival Bears, a team that has played some pretty good football the last two weeks (beating both the Steelers and Seahawks).

Going into Chicago and beating a division rival away from home is probably a bit too much to ask from Detroit, especially after what had to be an emotional win last week. Moreover, Kevin Smith (who looked really good in limited time against Washington last week) seems unlikely to play and definitely won’t be at 100% for the game.

Defensively, Detroit has done a pretty good job stopping the run, containing Adrian Peterson and shutting down Clinton Portis (12-42-0). Certainly they have performed better than anyone expected against the run.

But what about the pass defense? The Detroit safeties are still learning and at times looked lost against the Redskins, a team without many weapons in the passing game. This inexperience (or simple ineptitude) shows in the statistics, as the Lions allow an average of 279 passing yards per game (after playing two teams in a row without strong passing attacks).

Chicago, a team that many (including myself) thought would run the ball a significant amount of the time, has shifted its offense with the arrival of Jay Cutler, focusing much more than expected on the passing game. This may not be the best decision given the talent in place at the skill positions in Chicago, but it certainly fits well against the Detroit defense.

The Bears should win handily at home.

That’s all ladies and gents. As always, make sure to email me your picks to me by noon on Sunday, and I’m always happy to chat football if you have questions!

For responses to this week's fantasy question please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.