Week 3 NFL Picks & The 2 Teams Screwing Everyone

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I don’t mean to come off as a know-it-all, but I definitely know where most of us have gone wrong through the first two weeks of the NFL season, especially when it comes to picking point spread winners.

Here are the four teams from each conference that we all thought would be the best going into the season, along with their against the spread record through two weeks:

AFC

  • Pittsburgh (2-0)
  • New England (2-0)
  • Denver (2-0)
  • Cincinnati (0-2)

NFC

  • Arizona (1-1)
  • Carolina (1-1)
  • Seattle (0-2)
  • Green Bay (0-2)

Using the results of my 15-person CBS Pick ‘Em league, anyone wanna guess which two teams have screwed people over the most so far?

If you said Seattle & Green Bay…Congratulations! You’re either still feeling the sting from these teams’ terrible performances, or you know how to answer a really easy question that’s slanted towards getting a specific response.

In week 1, 13 of 15 people in my league picked Seattle to cover against the Dolphins. In week 2, all 15 of us picked them to cover against the Rams on the road (including 7 people who had Seattle as their #1 or #2 weighted game for the weekend).

For the Packers, it was 11 of 15 people backing them in week 1 when they fell just a point shy of covering in Jacksonville. And in week 2, 14 people took them on the road against the Vikings.

So while the NFL overall doesn’t feel particularly crazy or any less predictable than it’s been in years past, these two perennial Super Bowl contenders have already screwed you three or four different ways on the young season.

As you’ll see in my picks, it’s time to stay away from these teams until they show us they’re not just living on past reputation. Let’s take a look at the week 3 picks.

Houston (-1.5) at New England | over/under 40.5

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 20, Houston 17

The Bets: Under (50.5) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

Holy shit, the Patriots are underdogs at home! Can someone find out the last time that happened, not including week 17’s in years where the Patriots were already locked into their playoff seed?

It’s very, very, VERY difficult to pick against Belichick, at home, giving less than a field goal, on a short week (for the other coaching staff)…especially when they are playing just a very good team, not a great team. Don’t get me wrong, the Texans are deserving of their 2-0 record, but it’s not like they’ve looked like world beaters.

While I think I’ll have better options that don’t cause me to secretly root against my team scoring lots of points, you could talk me into the teased under. Last year with a healthy Brady & Gronk, the Patriots went on the road and beat Houston 27-6. I see a similar amount of points being scored on Thursday night.

Arizona (-4.5) at Buffalo | over/under 47

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 24, Buffalo 17

The Bets: Arizona (-4.5)

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: SuperContest with Arizona (-4.5)

I’m actually a little surprised that this line has hung tight at 4.5 all week. I really thought money would pour in on Arizona. After all, the public loves the Cardinals, especially after their week 2 demolishing of Tampa. And the public knows the Bills have looked terrible, the ownership has been meeting with players behind the coach’s back, and that they just fired their offensive coordinator after week 2.

Considering I’m into an Arizona bet, I’m glad the line hasn’t gone up, but still confused.

Oakland at Tennessee (-1) | over/under 47

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 23, Oakland 21

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

So the Raiders have given up 306 rushing yards on 55 carries (5.6 yards per carry) through two games. The Titans just ripped off 140 yards on 23 carries (6.1 yards per carry) in Detroit last week.

This Raiders team is plenty flawed, but it’s tough to figure out if Tennessee can really take advantage of that. The Titans went out and won their game last week, but in a more real way, the Titans watched the Lions give the game away with SEVENTEEN penalties, several of them negating scoring plays.

If you’re sane, you stay away from this game.

Washington at NY Giants (-4.5) | over/under 46.5

The Pick: Washington

The Score: NY Giants 26, Washington 22

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

At some point I’m going to have to decide if “backing the Redskins” is a hill I’m willing to die on. But in week 3, I remain undeterred. The NFC East continues to be synonymous with mediocrity. So regardless of the 0-2 / 2-0 records at play here, the right spread is Giants -3. Gimme some more Washington and keep your snarky comments to yourselves.

Cleveland at Miami (-10) | over/under 42

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Miami 26, Cleveland 20

The Bets: Over (31.5) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

You couldn’t pay me enough to make a bet on this point spread. That’s right. If you gave me a free bet on either side of this–I keep the profits but take on none of the risk–I would politely decline. But c’mon, you know I’m picking against Ryan Tannehill as a gigantic favorite.

More importantly: Tease this over down to 31.5. I promise you that Miami will get to ~26 themselves. Even a Browns team starting Cody Kessler (with Charlie Whitehurst looming over everything) will probably scratch & claw its way to seven points.

Baltimore (-1) at Jacksonville | over/under 47

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 24, Jacksonville 21

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

So a 2-0 team that’s an annual playoff contender is only favored by 1 against an 0-2 team that’s perennially at the bottom of the league standings? Would that be because the Ravens are winning in really ugly fashion (which is almost always their recipe for success) while the public still has a half-chub for the Jaguars? Cool. I’ll take Baltimore.

Detroit at Green Bay (-8) | over/under 48

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Green Bay 25, Detroit 21

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: SuperContest with Detroit (+8)

I definitely want to pick against Green Bay because I don’t think they can beat many teams by eight points right now, but I have to at least pause and consider the fact that the Packers haven’t played a home game yet. That could cure some of the offensive problems.

In 2015, this would have been a safe spot to tease Green Bay down to -2 and pre-spend the winnings, but they’re sketchy as hell right now. I’ll stay away from a betting standpoint, and I’ll certainly be prepared to hate the Lions after they screw up this pick.

Denver at Cincinnati (-3.5) | over/under 41

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 24, Denver 20

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: SuperContest with Cincinnati (-3.5)

The Broncos have to take their show on the road for the first time this season, meaning at least a slightly worse defense, Trevor Siemian dealing with crowd noise, and maybe the refs don’t make 100% of the favorable calls go in Denver’s favor.

I loved Cincy earlier in the week when it was -3, but the extra half point is terrifying. The Bengals need this game so much more than the Broncos (if Pittsburgh moves to 3-0 and Cincy falls to 1-2, say goodbye to the division). That’s the tiebreaker for me.

Minnesota at Carolina (-7) | over/under 43

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 27, Minnesota 10

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: SuperContest with Carolina (-7) / Carolina is my #3 Survivor option

This is crazy. If you told me four weeks ago that the Vikings would be playing in Carolina with Sam Bradford as its starting quarterback, Adrian Peterson not on the field and they lost their starting left tackle after week 2, I would tell you that Carolina should be favored by 13 and that I’d be making a sizeable wager on the Panthers.

Now, is there a chance that the Vikings are only 2-0 because they beat a terrible Titans team and an underachieving Packers team and we’re about to see them get absolutely smoked by the first good opponent they face? Yes. That could definitely happen. And in fact, I’m basing my pick on this exact scenario playing out on Sunday. 

Remember, the Vikings were only able to put up 17 points at home against Green Bay last week. They should be even worse on the road.

Los Angeles at Tampa Bay (-5.5) | over/under 42

The Pick: Los Angeles

The Score: Tampa Bay 23, Los Angeles 19

The Bets: Under (52) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

I don’t think the Rams’ offensive woes get cured in any way this coming Sunday, but I do think their defense will make life somewhat difficult for Jameis Winston and the Bucs’ offensive line. Another game where you just throw your hands up and keep your money in your wallet.

San Francisco at Seattle (-9) | over/under 40

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Seattle 21, San Francisco 18

The Bets: Under (50) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

A sane person could talk themselves into either side of this spread. Seattle certainly hasn’t earned the respect to be backed while laying so many points. But you can also see how this could be the game that gets them on track. If they were going to shut down a team and dominate, this would be one you could picture it happening to.

Ultimately, it’s too big of a spread to take a really bad-looking Seahawks team. Last year (and even in week 1 this year), I would have been all over Seattle in a 3-way tease where they go to a +1, but I feel like I don’t even know this current installment of that obnoxious team from the Northwest.

Love me some under teased in this game though. Get on it.

NY Jets at Kansas City (-3) | over/under 43

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: Kansas City 24, NY Jets 23

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

Sorry, Jets. I’m not getting tricked into thinking what we saw against the sinking Bills is going to be a regular occurrence. I don’t think the offense does nearly as well against decent teams like the Chiefs.

San Diego at Indianapolis (-3) | over/under 52

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 29, San Diego 17

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

 

I had this whole paragraph ready about how I can see the Chargers winning a close game, and how incredibly embarrassing that would be for the Colts. And also how I was loving the teased over from a betting standpoint. But as I thought more & more about the Chargers and their injuries, and heard that even Antonio Gates might be out this week, I had to change courses quickly.

Even Philip Rivers teams have a point of no return with injuries, and I think this is the game where the spare tires fall off for the San Diego offense.

Already looking forward to Chuck Pagano crying in the locker room after this win and telling his team it was the most important game of their lives. Can’t wait.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Philadelphia | over/under 46

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 34, Philadelphia 17

The Bets: Pittsburgh (-3.5)

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: SuperContest with Pittsburgh (-3.5) / Pittsburgh is my #1 Survivor option

The Steelers might be my favorite pick this week. I said it on the Teasy Money Podcast (check it out on iTunes!) and I’ll say it again: I think the Steelers are about to show us exactly what happens when an awesome team faces a team that isn’t nearly as good as their 2-0 start makes it look.

Chicago at Dallas (-7) | over/under 44.5

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 24, Chicago 16

The Bets: Dallas (-1 or +3) in a 2-way or 3-way teaser / Under 55.5 in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: Dallas is my #2 Survivor option

I’ve got the under hitting by 4.5 points so I’m clearly liking that. Brian Hoyer isn’t a good quarterback, but he is a guy who can probably move the ball reasonably well when equipped with Jeffrey-White-Royal as his receivers. I don’t think Dallas really wants to get into a high-scoring game with anyone right now. Watch them run on the Bears over and over and over.

Atlanta at New Orleans (-3) | over/under 53.5

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: New Orleans 30, Atlanta 28

The Bets: Over (43.5) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool: No

Sure, I’ll keep going with the teased over (43.5 in this case) in New Orleans until it proves me wrong.

A couple facts about games in New Orleans:

  • In 2015, the average total points per game was 64.
  • This includes an astonishing five games that had more than 62 points.
  • In 2014, the total points per game was a more modest 52.25.
  • But since we’re talking about the teased over of 43.5, here’s how many of the last 17 games played in New Orleans went under that total: 1.

Don’t be an idiot. And don’t be scared that I lost you a bunch of money last week by assuring you the Giants/Saints over would hit. This is definitely happening. (Unless the Thursday night & Sunday night games are especially thrilling. Then all bets are off because the NFL is contractually obligated to never have all three of its PrimeTime games be awesome in a single week.)

If you’re into tracking season-long stats, here’s what I’ve got for you:

  • Favorites are 13-18-1 against the spread
  • The point total has landed on Over 16 times, Under 14 times, and Pushed 1 time
  • I’m 17-15 against the spread with my picks

Enjoy week 3.

Week 2 NFL Picks: Beware the Abundance of Heavy Favorites

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My intro to the Week 2 picks is purely self-promotion. Shameless, unadulterated self-promotion. I know you greatly enjoy reading my picks every week, but if that’s the only interaction you have with my incredible football insight, you’re missing out big time. You need to be listening to the Teasy Money weekly podcast where me & my cohosts go through all the upcoming games and identify our favorite bets. This is your behind-the-scenes look at how 2.5 gambling pros come to their rock solid conclusions every week before placing their winning bets.

You can actually subscribe to the Teasy Money podcast on iTunes and never miss a new episode. I think you can also subscribe on SoundCloud.

But the most important thing you can do is follow the Teasy Money twitter handle: @TeasyMoneyNFL, or my twitter handle: @rossgariepy, or my podcast partner’s twitter handle: @matysugs. This is where you’ll get updated on Friday & Saturday every week about our final bets, SuperContest picks, and other general bullshit that we find interesting about the NFL.

And yes, we made a solid profit in week 1. So saddle up and get ready for the awesome ride that awaits you as long as you’re willing to put 100% of your faith in us.

Here are the week 2 picks.

NY Jets (-1) at Buffalo | over/under 40.5

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 33, Buffalo 16

The Bets: NY Jets -1

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: SuperContest with Jets (-1)

I’m on the Jets in this one. Just think the Jets offense will easily move the ball on a defense as mediocre (at least with current players missing) as Buffalo. And Sammy Watkins is…what is he? On the verge of being IR’d, but now toughing it out on short rest? Not buying it. How is Buffalo going to score any points?

I’ve actually already placed a bet on this one.

San Francisco at Carolina (-14) | over/under 45.5

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 26, San Francisco 10

The Bets: Carolina (-4) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: Carolina’s a Survivor Pool option

Obvious part of a 3-team teaser. I feel like Carolina revealed their true selves last Thursday in Denver. Their offense will have games of looking like one of the better units in the league against mediocre defenses, and their defense will only get exposed by teams that have multiple really good offensive weapons.

Do not be fooled by San Francisco’s Monday night game. And definitely don’t forget Carolina has extra rest with their game being on Thursday and the 49ers playing on Monday.

Dallas at Washington (-3) | over/under 45

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 26, Dallas 20

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

Based on Washington’s preferred defensive philosophy that was on display this past Monday, they’re going to have their Pro Bowl cornerback make sure Dallas’ #2 wide receiver, Terrance Williams, doesn’t have a huge day–kind of fail at that too actually–and then let Dez Bryant go off for 130 yards and a couple touchdowns, all the while paying no attention to Ezekiel Elliott, who will be ripping off big gains every couple plays.

Throw in an embarrassing number of offensive penalties and a seemingly-impossible amount of bad luck with any kind of 50/50 bounce of the football, and you get that shitshow that the Skins “displayed” on Monday.

No, they’ll be better. Almost have to be. I’m sticking with my preseason feeling that Washington’s a 10-game winner and Dallas is crap.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (-3) | over/under 48.5

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Pittsburgh 28, Cincinnati 27

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: SuperContest with Cincinnati (+3)

Wish I had a cool stat about these two division rivals having played five games in a row decided by a field goal or less, but apparently it’s not like that. In the last six games between the Steelers and Bengals, only one has been decided by four or less. But I’m picking Cincy still because this matchup should be even tighter than a 3-point win.

I like watching Pittsburgh’s offense operating, and it’s obviously fun watching perfect pass & catch between Roethlisberger & Brown, but I’m not buying the Steelers as the infallible team/offense that everyone came into the season expecting, and has only had their opinion reinforced after week 1.

New Orleans at NY Giants (-4.5) | over/under 53

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 28, NY Giants 26

The Bets: Over (43) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

As has been the case for a couple years running now, you already don’t wanna try to nail down either of these teams in terms of consistency and what level they’ll play at. So I’m leaving the spread alone. But doesn’t this feel like a shootout in the making? I’ll definitely be putting the over into a 3-way teaser.

Taking the Saints with the points because three seems like a more appropriate number for this game.

Miami at New England (-6.5) | over/under 42.5

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 30, Miami 10

The Bets: New England (-0.5) in a 2-way teaser / New England (+3.5) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: SuperContest with New Engand (-6.5), New England’s a Survivor Pool option

I know I’m setting myself up for a gigantic disappointment, but I have that feeling in my body this week. That sneaky over-excited feeling that precedes a game with all the makings of a blowout.

While both teams are traveling back to the East Coast after games out West, at least the Patriots got to go home and stay home. Miami had to jump right back on a plane a few days later. (I’m assuming they went back to Miami in between, but who knows?)

And yeah, I could see certain teams having a huge letdown if they were the Patriots coming off such a big win in week 1. But Bill Belichick doesn’t really allow letdowns to happen, and I’m sure plenty of people reminded Jimmy Garoppolo this week that it was only one game.

Kansas City at Houston (-2) | over/under 43.5

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 24, Kansas City 20

The Bets: Over (33.5) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

Forget about which of these teams you like more over the course of the year. For this particular week, the Texans seem to be in much better shape than the Chiefs, and they’re at home. Kansas City won in ridiculous comeback fashion in week 1, 100% due to the fact that the Chargers’ best offensive player went from destroying the KC defense in the 1st half to out with a torn ACL in the 2nd half. I was nervous about a defense without Justin Houston and a slowly-coming-along Tamba Hali, and it seems like for at least a little while, good teams can put up points on the Chiefs.

The Texans looked pretty much how I expected in their first test, a home win against Chicago. I like Houston giving less than a field goal, and I really like the over.

Tennessee at Detroit (-6) | over/under 47.5

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 27, Tennessee 14

The Bets: Detroit (PICK) in a two-way teaser / Detroit (+4) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: SuperContest with Detroit (-6), Detroit’s a Survivor Pool option

I have absolutely no feel for the total in this one. You could see the Lions scoring almost 47 on their own, but you definitely cannot put any faith in the Titans to pitch in with very much.

I do like the Lions to win by a touchdown, and I think they’ll establish in this game that they can beat up pretty good on the weaker teams of the NFL, especially at home.

Baltimore (-7) at Cleveland | over/under 42.5

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Baltimore 21, Cleveland 20

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

Every week there’s that early Sunday game that just doesn’t get shown on the Red Zone Channel. Buffalo at Baltimore was that game in week 1. So I have no idea what to make of the Ravens. But while I won’t touch this game from a betting standpoint, I can promise you I’m picking against the Ravens laying seven points on the road in a divisional game.

Seattle (-7) at Los Angeles | over/under 39

The Pick: Los Angeles

The Score: Los Angeles 19, Seattle 15

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

Fuck this game. I’m a little bitter about my awful Seahawks bet last week combined with me paying a large sum of auction money to own Russell Wilson in fantasy. Not happy with the current state of Seattle.

This line is just absurd. Had Seattle won last week by 35, I wouldn’t have expected them to be a full touchdown favorite in this game just as long as LA played a reasonably decent game in week 1. Obviously, they didn’t. So the public will be lining up to bury the Rams in this one.

Complete stayaway for me, but LA gets the nod in my pick ‘em leagues.

Tampa Bay at Arizona (-7) | over/under 50

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Arizona 29, Tampa Bay 24

The Bets: Over (44) in a 2-way tease, Over (40) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

Force me to make a pick, and I’m taking the Bucs. The offensive weapons they have should allow them to either keep it close throughout, or make a just-not-enough comeback in the 4th quarter if the Cardinals are playing a soft “keep everything in front of us” defense.

But it feels completely impossible to form a conclusion about Tampa Bay’s offense after they faced Atlanta’s mockery of a defense on Sunday.

Jacksonville at San Diego (-3) | over/under 47

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: San Diego 27, Jacksonville 24

The Bets: Over (37) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

The over in a 3-way teaser seems like a gimme. The Chargers being at home and facing an easier defense than they got in week 1 will compensate for the loss of Keenan Allen just fine. And the Jags are going to either put up points because they’re a good, competitive team, or because they’ll be down by 14+ points and will revert to last year’s garbage time champions.

As for the spread, I’ll take a push.

Atlanta at Oakland (-5) | over/under 50

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 28, Atlanta 14

The Bets: Under (60) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

I don’t think this is a slam dunk over. Atlanta put up 24 points (only two touchdowns) at home against a below average defense. Put them on the road against what should be at least an average defense, and there’s a real chance they don’t crack 17 points. So you have to rely on Oakland putting up 33+ in a game that could become uncompetitive.

Indianapolis at Denver (-6.5) | over/under 46.5

The Pick: Denver

The Score: 25, Indianapolis 16

The Bets: Denver (-0.5) in a 2-way teaser / Denver (+3.5) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: SuperContest with Denver (-6), Denver’s a Survivor Pool option

Listen, for the time being, Indy has a particularly generous defense and a one-dimensional offense. Denver, especially at home, should feast on those teams this year. Nothing the Colts can do should be able to confuse Trevor Siemian any more than Carolina was able to. And a team with three good cornerbacks and a great pass rush should create a long day for Andrew Luck.

In fact, the only thing the Colts do well on offense is throw deep. And what can you usually not do when you have an all-world pass rush coming at you snap after snap? Take the time to set up your deep routes and have the QB scan the field for the perfect matchup.

Also, Denver is on extra rest.

Green Bay (-3) at Minnesota | over/under 44

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Green Bay 23, Minnesota 20

The Bets: Under (54) in a 3-way teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

If you learn only one thing early on in this season, please let it be that the Vikings played in a lot of games that went under last year, and they’ll play in even more this year. That’s what you get when a team has a really good defense but an inept offense.

This is a game where I wait for the line to bump up to Minnesota +3.5, and I bet them. It feels like someone’s winning this game by three, and I’m positive that later in the week, the public will start sending money in on Green Bay. We will get this spread at Vikings +3.5.

Philadelphia at Chicago (-3) | over/under 43

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 28, Philadelphia 21

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

I’m reasonably confident that the Eagles will be as bad as I thought they’d be prior to week 1, but I’m not putting any weight behind this pick because I need to see Chicago do a little more before I put them in that “mediocre” category.

Those are your week 2 bets. Did I mention that you can check me out on Twitter (@TeasyMoneyNFL or @rossgariepy) later in the week for my finalized bets? And that there’s a podcast called Teasy Money that you can listen to?

Enjoy week 2.

Week 1 NFL Picks: It’s Finally Here!!

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I know you all have gotten really used to my weekly NFL picks column over the last few years, but I’m trying something slightly different in 2016. Of course I’m still going to make my best prediction on the point spread for every game. Don’t worry about that going away. But while I was racking up an incredible profit from football gambling last year, I realized my loyal readers were missing out on plenty of great advice. I wasn’t giving you my favorite teaser bets of the week. I wasn’t consistently telling you which point spread picks ranked higher for me than others each week. So that’s the change you’ll see this year.

On top of the normal picks and the ridiculously witty comments for each game, I’m also delivering my favorite bets (if any) and whether I’d consider a certain team for my Survivor Pool pick or my SuperContest picks (the SuperContest involves picking just five games against the spread each week).

As you can probably guess after seeing six articles posted by me in the last three days, I’m over-the-top excited for the start of football season.

Let’s kick things off with the week 1 picks:

Carolina (-3) at Denver | over/under 40.5

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 24, Denver 17

The Bets: Carolina -3

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: Yes to SuperContest with Carolina (-3)

I don’t see this going very well for Denver. At least in the beginning of the season, their offense should struggle to crack 20 points a game. Carolina scored less than 20 points on the road just once in 2015 (it happened to be their one loss, week 16 in Atlanta). And there was a road game in Seattle where the Panthers offense methodically marched down the field on three of their four scoring drives and patiently dismantled the Seahawk defense. So they can do it to an awesome defense.

I know we all want money down on the very first game, but for me this is either a stayaway, or 1 unit on the Panthers by 3.

Green Bay (-6) @ Jacksonville | over/under 48

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Green Bay 24, Jacksonville 21

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

Can’t Jacksonville at least keep this to a 3-point loss at home? They should be better all around, Green Bay may need to work off a little rust, and I’m reluctant to pick against a decent home team before we have any facts about this season.

But there’s really nothing you could do to get me to actually bet this game. Such a wildcard.

San Diego at Kansas City (-7) | over/under 44.5

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: Kansas City 23, San Diego 17

The Bets: Kansas City (-1) in a 2-team teaser / Kansas City (+3) in a 3-team teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: Kansas City #2 Survivor Pool Pick

I don’t love a divisional matchup in week 1 with a team favored by a touchdown, even if it is this particular matchup of a real contender against a (best case scenario) mediocre team. Did you know that the Chiefs’ defense has ranked in the top 5 in total sacks in each of Andy Reid’s three seasons as head coach? And the year before, when they went 4-12, they were dead last in sacks? I bring this up because Justin Houston is definitely not healthy, and Tamba Hali might not be healthy. I want to see what this defense looks like with a much weaker pass rush.

While the under feels like an OK play here, I’m only comfortable using KC in a teaser to get them to a -1 or better.

Oakland at New Orleans (-1) | over/under 51

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 31, Oakland 26

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

This game was always a stayaway in terms of the point spread, but I was ready to throw the over in a 3-team teaser. I’ve soured on that in the last two days. I have enough good options to avoid feeling terrible the moment I place a certain bet.

Cincinnati (-3) at NY Jets | over/under 41.5

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 24, Cincinnati 23

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

You can think the Jets are going to struggle to get to eight wins this year and still pick them to win this game. Those two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. Yes, the Jets’ ridiculous schedule will take its toll and there’s just no way Ryan Fitzpatrick is allowed to make the playoffs, apparently, but they will have some good games with an offense featuring Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Matt Forte. They also had a top 5 defense last year.

And I’m on record as being concerned about the Bengals missing Mohamed Sanu & Marvin Jones (on new teams), Tyler Eifert (injured) and Hue Jackson (coaching the Browns)…all of whom were significant contributors to Cincy’s offense the past couple years.

Minor concern that we walk away from this game staring at an A.J. Green stat line of 9 catches, 165 yards, 2 touchdowns…and realizing Darrelle Revis is getting a little old.

Cleveland at Philadelphia (-4) | over/under 41

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 17, Philadelphia 16

The Bets: Under (51) in a 3-team teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: Hell No

For those keeping score at home, it looks like Vegas is saying the public thinks Sam Bradford was only worth two more points than Carson Wentz.

I really liked Cleveland when it was Philly -6, but I could easily see one of those thrilling 9-6 wins for either team so I’ll stick with the Browns. It feels like futile work to really sit and think about how this game will play out. While both defenses are shitty enough to let up a lot of points, neither offense can come close to taking advantage. That’s why I’m throwing the point total into a teaser that gets the under to 51.

Minnesota (-2) at Tennessee | over/under 41

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 19, Minnesota 17

The Bets: Under (41) or even better, Under (51) as part of a 3-team teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

Does it feel like the Titans are constantly screwing up your Survivor Pool on the first week of the season? That’s because in 2013 they upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh and then in 2014 went into Kansas City and routed the Chiefs. Add in last year’s big win for Marcus Mariota facing off against Jameis Winston in week 1, and the Titans are very randomly 3-0 in their last three week 1 games. Do yourself a favor and leave Minnesota out of any straight up picks this weekend.

Jump in on this under because I promise you we aren’t going to be using the word “explosive” to describe either team’s offense any time soon.

Chicago at Houston (-6) | over/under 44

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Houston 23, Chicago 20

The Bets: Houston (PICK) in a 2-team teaser with KC

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: Houston #3 Survivor Pool Pick

I don’t doubt that Houston wins this game, so go ahead and use them in your Survivor Pool if you are trying to overthink things just a tiny bit. With the line increasing 2 points last week, probably because it’s being said that J.J. Watt will play, I’m grabbing the Bears. My assumption is that Watt won’t be nearly 100%, but Vegas knew it could count on an influx of Houston bets once that news broke regardless of the line.

There’s something especially difficult to figuring out the flow of this game. I initially liked the over after hearing how banged up Chicago’s defense is, but something feels off. Staying away on the point total.

Buffalo at Baltimore (-3) | over/under 44.5

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 24, Buffalo 20

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

I feel like Baltimore will win by either 3 or 4 and the total amount of points will be 44-46. So clearly I can’t touch this game.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-3) | over/under 47.5

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 21, Atlanta 20

The Bets: Tampa Bay +3, Under (48)

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: Yes to SuperContest with Tampa +3

I like this game a lot. First of all, I think Tampa Bay is simply a better team and they can win outright.

Second, I think Vegas knows the public still considers Atlanta to be a “high-scoring offense,” and the offensive pieces for the Bucs are probably making people think they’ll play in a lot of shootouts. The truth is, neither team is very explosive on offense. I love the under, and I’m happy to slot Tampa +3 into one of my favorite 5 picks this week.

Miami at Seattle (-10.5) | over/under 44

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 28, Miami 16

The Bets: Seattle (-10.5), Seattle (-0.5) in a 3-team teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: Seattle #1 Survivor Pool Pick & Yes to SuperContest with Seattle (-10.5)

This is the most obvious component of a 3-team teaser ever. Seattle just has to win for that to work out so go ahead and count it. I know every year there’s one major shock on opening weekend that fucks up everyone’s Survivor pick, Pick’Em leagues and teasers, but this isn’t it.

The total of 44 points seems right, so I wouldn’t mess around with that. But there’s no way Maimi, one of the five worst teams in football, comes in and seriously competes.

NY Giants (-1) at Dallas | over/under 46

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 24, Dallas 20

The Bets: NY Giants (-1)

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: Yes to SuperContest with NY Giants (-1)

The Giants win comfortably by 4 or 6 points. If you want to get the Giants in a 3-team tease that takes them to +9, I’m OK with that because there’s no way they don’t at least keep this a one-score game. And honestly, they should win.

Detroit at Indianapolis (-3.5) | over/under 51

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 30, Indianapolis 27 (OT)

The Bets: Detroit (+3.5), Over (41) in a 3-team teaser

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: Yes to SuperContest with Detroit +3.5

I’m still convinced that Indy is well below average, and they aren’t going to fare so well against real NFL teams. I also hear their defense is decimated from injuries this week. I always liked Detroit getting more than a field goal when looking at this game over the summer.

My bold prediction is that this game goes to overtime either at 24/24 or 27/27.

I don’t love the regular over, but I do like the teased over. And my podcast co-host and gambling partner is so in love with the over in this game that I basically don’t have a choice. I’ll be betting it in a teaser at least.

New England at Arizona (-6) | over/under 47

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 28, New England 20

The Bets: None

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

If I wasn’t a Patriots fan, this game would be a complete stayaway. No idea about Garoppolo, no idea if the Pats defense is going to be the top 5 unit they looked like in August.

Being a fan makes it even more of a stayaway for me.

The reason I’m picking the Cardinals when forced to pick is because I can easily envision a scenario where New England’s down 7 or 8 with two minutes left in the 4th, and Garoppolo stumbles through an attempt to lead a patented Tom Brady comeback against a blitzing-on-every-down defense. And he gives the game away with an interception or fumble. No crazy expectations should be coming out of the Boston media or fanbase this week.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Washington | over/under 50

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 26, Pittsburgh 24

The Bets: Washington (+3)

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

Listen, I’m particularly high on the Redskins this year. It feels like no one else sees this as an 11-win team like I do. So obviously I like them at home getting three points against a Steelers team starting the season short two huge offensive pieces from last year (Bryant & Bell).

Los Angeles (-3) at San Francisco | over/under 43.5

The Pick: Los Angeles

The Score: Los Angeles 17, San Francisco 14

The Bets: Under (43.5)

SuperContest or Survivor Pool Pick: No

Ummm….43.5 for the over/under? I think this game barely cracks 30, and I might be assuming too generous of an offensive output from both teams. I think I have to call the under my favorite bet of the entire week.

If all you East Coasters wake up on Tuesday morning, look at your phones and scream, “Dammit! I can’t believe I went to sleep before the end of that epic game!” then I’ve gotten something horribly wrong about these teams and I’ll retire from all things football.

 
Those are the 16 games. Check out the twitter handle @TeasyMoneyNFL for my finalized bets over the weekend. Enjoy week 1.

Too Many X-Factors in week 1 of the NFL Season: Be Careful Out there

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If you’re ever going to profit off the NFL, there are two traits you must have: Discipline and Patience.

We’ve been waiting since February 7th for the moment where week 1 is upon us and we can fire off a variety of ridiculous bets. I get it. I’ve been walking around with a week 1 boner for about a month now.

But when we have no recent results or stats to go on for these week 1 picks, we default back to the way teams played last season. That can be useful, of course, because a lot of players, coaches, schemes and talent remain similar to the recent past. But there are also huge changes, or maybe more appropriately said, there are huge unknowns for many of these teams going into the start of the new season.

It feels like this year more than other years we really need to take a wait-and-see approach to some of these unknowns

By my count, there are only four games in week 1 where there isn’t a huge blinking warning sign telling me to slow the fuck down and let the situation play out over a couple weeks before drawing a conclusion on a player or team. Here they are:

  • San Diego at Kansas City – Jamaal Charles’ slow-healing knee is a minor factor when considering this game. The Chiefs did just fine without him last year. Other than that, no crazy QB or coaching changes. No suspensions to deal with. Pretty much business as usual for these two AFC West teams.
  • Oakland at New Orleans – I can’t think of any monumental changes to these two teams compared to how they ended last year. Thinking Oakland is going to be a playoff team isn’t really an X factor.
  • Tampa Bay at Atlanta – Ditto for these NFC South rivals. Sure, Dirk Koetter is technically a brand new coach in Tampa, but he was the team’s offensive coordinator in 2015 so there’s actually good continuity there.
  • Miami at Seattle – The Dolphins also have a new head coach in Adam Gase, but I’m not expecting him to have a dramatic effect on such a lousy team, and certainly he won’t be a difference-maker in how badly the Dolphins will get slaughtered up in Seattle.

So those are the only four games where I feel I can judge who will win, by how many points, what will the over/under outcome be, etc, based on last year’s results and minor offseason roster changes.

The rest of these games? See for yourself:

  • Carolina @ Denver – Starting at quarterback for your defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos…2015 7th round pick Trevor Siemian?? X fucking factor!
  • Green Bay @ Jacksonville – Jordy Nelson returns to the Packers with zero preseason reps under his belt. Does he immediately cure the mediocre Green Bay offense? And what about this Jacksonville defense that has all sorts of shiny new toys? Overhyped or ready to make a huge first impression by shutting down Aaron Rodgers?
  • Cincinnati at NY Jets – Andy Dalton’s playing meaningful football for the first time since December 13th, but he has to do it without key pass catchers in Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Eifert. Oh, and offensive coordinator extraordinaire Hue Jackson is gone.
  • Cleveland at Philadelphia – All the X factors!! The new tandem of Robert Griffin and Hue Jackson try to lead the Browns to relevance while Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz look to do the same for Philly. It’s new head coach & QB vs new head coach & QB! And we don’t even know if either of these teams is trying to win, considering some of their offseason moves.
  • Minnesota @ Tennessee – Teddy Bridgewater is out for the year, you might have heard. And either Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford is going to try to replace him.
  • Chicago @ Houston – Super Bowl Champ Brock Osweiler tries to give the Texans the first bit of stability they’ve had at QB since 2012. Also, J.J. Watt and the Texans’ medical staff are saying he’s healthy after back surgery in the summer, but most medical experts are stunned and expect him to be far less than 100%. On the Chicago side, Kevin White should be lining up opposite Alshon Jeffrey for the first time ever.
  • Buffalo at Baltimore – Joe Flacco returns after tearing his ACL in late November (we’ve seen players struggle in their first year back off a major knee injury in the past). More importantly, the Bills’ defense is a complete unknown. The pedigree of Rex Ryan is still there, but they’re missing a handful of guys due to suspension (Marcell Dareus), injury (Reggie Ragland & Shaq Lawson) or being released (Manny Lawson). They also have the shitty Ryan brother in Rob trying to make a defense good for the first time in his career.
  • NY Giants at Dallas – Rookies Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott take center stage for the Cowboys. And Ben McAdoo gets his first gig as a head coach, taking over for Tom Coughlin in New York.
  • Detroit at Indianapolis – Matt Stafford’s first year in the NFL without Calvin Johnson picking up all the slack in the passing game. A full season of Jim Bob Cooter! And for Indy, Andrew Luck’s return to health combined with being the team under the most pressure to succeed early.
  • New England at Arizona – Future Hall of Famer Jimmy Garoppolo makes his first career start.
  • Pittsburgh at Washington – The Steelers start the year without Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant.
  • Los Angeles at San Francisco – For the Rams it’s a new location and the ridiculous promise from Jeff Fisher that “I’m not fucking going 7-9.” For San Francisco, it’s Blaine Gabbert as their best option at QB and Chip Kelly trying to save his joke of an NFL coaching career. And sure, you can throw Colin Kaepernick as a “distraction” into the mix if you want.

So tell me how you’re going to bet on all these games when we don’t have a friggen clue how any of these changes will play out. I’m all ears.

It’s a long season. There’s plenty of time for you to waste money on stupid bets. Don’t let it happen in week 1. (But check out my picks for week 1 coming out later today where I will, in fact, make some bet recommendations.)

NFL Playoff & Super Bowl Predictions

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Because I know you just couldn’t live without seeing our NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions before the season gets started on Thursday, guest blogger Neil & I bring you our postseason picks, comment free:

Neil’s Picks

NFC Playoffs

  1. Seattle
  2. Green Bay
  3. Carolina
  4. NY Giants
  5. Arizona
  6. Dallas

AFC Playoffs

  1. New England
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Kansas City
  4. Indianapolis
  5. Cincinnati
  6. San Diego

Conference Championship Picks

  • NFC = Seattle over Carolina
  • AFC = New England over Kansas City

Super Bowl Pick

  • New England 31, Seattle 17

 

Ross’ Picks

NFC Playoffs

  1. Seattle
  2. Carolina
  3. Washington
  4. Green Bay
  5. Arizona
  6. Detroit

AFC Playoffs

  1. New England
  2. Kansas City
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Tennessee
  5. Oakland
  6. Baltimore

Conference Championship Picks

  • NFC = Arizona over Washington
  • AFC = New England over Kansas City

Super Bowl Pick

  • New England 24, Arizona 20

My Gambling Nemesis: Guessing Each NFL Team’s Record (AFC)

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Earlier on Wednesday guest blogger Neil and I ran through our predictions for each team’s record in the NFC. Check it out HERE.

Later on we’ll have our playoff and Super Bowl predictions. But first, here are the win-loss predictions for the AFC.

Baltimore Ravens

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • This front office does not let this team stay down long; however, remember that doubling last year’s wins would still only be eight.

Ross Prediction: 9-7

  • I’ve been saying it since late last year…the 2015 Ravens were one of the unluckiest teams in recent memory. Nine of their 11 losses were by 8 points or less. Not a very difficult schedule and a return to health for Joe Flacco and other key pieces gets them right back into the annual playoff conversation.

Buffalo Bills

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • I’ve watched my brothers run a fantasy team together for the last 10 years, and it never dawned on me that you would ever do that sort of thing with an actual team

Ross Prediction: 6-10

  • While Rex Ryan always hovers around 8 wins, you gotta deduct points for Rob Ryan being on this coaching staff. He makes every team worse. Also, this defense looks to be in tatters to start the season.

Cincinnati Bengals

Neil Prediction: 9-7

  • Still in a bit of awe on how they blew last season’s playoff game.

Ross Prediction: 10-6

  • They’re probably due for some regular season bad luck, and they also lost their WR2, WR3 and offensive coordinator over the summer. Tyler Eifert and Vontaze Burfict are also out to start the season. Things could get off to a bumpy start in 2016.

Cleveland Browns

Neil Prediction: 4-12

  • See my Philly comment in the NFC version of this column.

Ross Prediction: 5-11

  • The Browns could get two picks in the top 5 of the 2017 Draft considering they have their own 1st round pick as well as Philly’s. That’s what their fanbase should be focused on for the next 7 months.

Denver Broncos

Neil Prediction: 9-7

  • I believe the defense is extremely good. I believe they are going to get the same level of QB play they got last year. I believe they cannot have the same horseshoe up their ass as they did last year.

Ross Prediction: 8-8

  • I really don’t think the Denver defense has the energy & stamina to carry the offense for another full season. And I’m not buying that a 2nd year 7th round pick who’s never played a meaningful snap in the NFL is automatically better than Peyton Manning’s 2015 rotting carcass.

Houston Texans

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • Why is everyone so sure they solved their QB issues?

Ross Prediction: 9-7

  • I think we’re going to find out that Brock Osweiler is the definition of “average QB,” and that’s probably good enough for the Texans. Their schedule is somewhat difficult and the NFL did them no favors giving them three games in which their opponent is coming off a bye.

Indianapolis Colts

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • Crappy team, crappy coach…but crappy division, a good QB, and they should have better injury luck than last year.

Ross Prediction: 7-9

  • Mark my words: This team is going into their week 10 bye with a 3-6 record at best. I’m excited to place a bet on Chuck Pagano to be the first coach fired regardless of him getting a contract extension in the offseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Neil Prediction: 7-9

  • Not buying the optimism.

Ross Prediction: 6-10

  • It just feels like all of these AFC South teams belong together in that 6-8 win range. And the Jacksonville hype train from the summer was far too wild for me. In trying to figure out the slotting of the Jaguars, Raiders and Bucs (see my comments in the NFC column), I think Jacksonville is most likely to be the one that is a complete wreck.

Kansas City Chiefs

Neil Prediction: 11-5

  • If they get their defensive players back and stay healthy, they’re one of the few teams that could give the Patriots a game in January.

Ross Prediction: 10-6

  • I think this is a 12-win team if fully healthy, but the uncertainty behind Justin Houston, Tamba Hali & Jamaal Charles (knee, knee & knee) makes me hesitate. Ten wins looks right.

Miami Dolphins

Neil Prediction: 7-9

  • I guess the plan here is to decide if you need a new QB after this season in order to be a serious contender sometime in the next decade?

Ross Prediction: 5-11

  • They play nine games against teams with a top 12 defense from last year. Opening at Seattle & at New England, closing with: at Baltimore, Arizona, at Jets, at Buffalo, New England. That’s called getting fucked in both ends. They only get to six wins if the Patriots are resting starters in week 17.

New England Patriots

Neil Prediction: 10-6

  • Ultimately, I think we are going to be happy with “four games fresher” Brady come January. Also, fuck you, Roger Goodell.

Ross Prediction: 11-5

  • This team has the talent of a 14-2 team, but they have to deal with the Brady sabbatical, a bunch of players coming back from injuries in 2015 and a brutal chunk of their schedule where they have five games against teams that ranked in the top 5 defensively last year. This will only be a “down year” in the wins column because of some weird circumstances.

NY Jets

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • I do not think we can expect Fitzy to play well two seasons in a row.

Ross Prediction: 7-9

  • It feels like they’ve got seven guaranteed losses on their impossible schedule, and you know they’ll drop a couple winnable games. They have talent on both sides of the ball, but only enough to get to nine wins in a perfect world (which they don’t get to live in this year).

Oakland Raiders

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • I would be more in on the hype if Khalil Mack could play QB too.

Ross Prediction: 10-6

  • I’ve got them losing a tiebreaker to the Chiefs for the division title but still sneaking into the playoffs as a Wildcard team. Of the Jacksonville/Tampa Bay/Oakland trifecta from last year, I think the Raiders are the most likely to actually take the step forward that everyone’s expecting. I’m sure they love the NFL scheduling them to have back-to-back East coast road games twice during the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Neil Prediction: 10-6

  • This is going to be a scary offense once they get rolling. I still don’t like the defense in January.

Ross Prediction: 9-7

  • They’ll be worse than last year because how can you be better when your 2nd best receiver is out for the season and your running back will miss three games? But a creampuff schedule will get them to 9 or 10 wins (assuming Roethlisberger starts at least 13 games).

San Diego Chargers

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • Sleeper alert! Philip Rivers is going to single handedly keep San Diego an NFL town.

Ross Prediction: 7-9

  • Just enough improvement from last year’s 4-12 record for the Chargers front office to once again have no clue whether or not Mike McCoy is worth keeping around as its head coach.

Tennessee Titans

Neil Prediction: 6-10

  • If they win the division, it wasn’t because they were a sleeper, it is because the division is a four-way coin flip, and the coin is made of feces.

Ross Prediction: 7-9

  • This will be a much better season from the Titans than everyone’s expecting…so much so that I felt compelled to bet on them at 8/1 odds to win the AFC South. But that was more because their division sucks and why not get such awesome odds when any of these teams could rise up and stumble their way to a 9-win division title?

Now you’ve got our rock solid predictions for all 32 teams. Coming up later, who makes the playoffs and which lucky teams get the honor of us jinxing them by putting them into our Super Bowl predictions.

My Gambling Nemesis: Guessing Each NFL Team’s Record (NFC)

nfl

You know the drill by now. Guest blogger Neil and I have been competing in our own version of “Closest to the Pin” for four years now, and it pains me to have to say that the guy who spends every waking moment thinking about football (me) has a 1-3 record in this contest. Apparently I suck at predicting each team’s win total prior to the start of the season, or there’s some advanced math involved that Neil has used to crack the code on this game.

The rules are simple. We each guess the record of every NFL team, and whoever is closest to the correct record on the majority of teams wins the bet. The wager for 2016 remains the same as the past three years: Whoever wins gets to pick eight alcoholic beverages for the loser to consume during a 12-hour period during our annual Vegas trip in March.

I know our buddies who join us every year for this trip like it better when I lose because it’s much more entertaining (like when I did my best Tom Cruise impression three years ago and jumped from couch to couch at the sportsbook proclaiming to anyone who would listen that I loved my girlfriend and was getting ready to propose to her). But I’m seriously sick of losing this bet.

Let’s begin with the NFC teams.

Arizona Cardinals

Neil Prediction: 10-6

  • I’m starting to get a tiny bit nervous about how much of their season hinges on an older QB with an injury history.

Ross Prediction: 11-5

  • You have to try really hard to find more than 5 games this team loses in 2016. Short of a devastating injury, which is foolish to base season-long predictions on, this team is a lock for the playoffs.

Atlanta Falcons

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • This feels like 11-5 or 5-11. Leaning towards the latter based on how last season ended.

Ross Prediction: 7-9

  • Even if you think they improved from last year (they didn’t), they play seven games against 2015 playoff teams. Check out their first eight games and you’ll quickly talk yourself out of any success for this team.

Carolina Panthers

Neil Prediction: 10-6

  • Probably not going 15-1 again, but we might not know how good or bad they are until the playoffs based on their division.

Ross Prediction: 11-5

  • I’m pretty sure I know Neil is thinking Carolina might miss the playoffs, so I can be pretty conservative with their win total and still get what I want. A five-game regression from last season seems like the worst case scenario.

Chicago Bears

Neil Prediction: 7-9

  • Who will be in the title hunt longer this fall: Bears or Cubs?

Ross Prediction: 8-8

  • These NFC North teams get a little bump this year because they face the NFC East and AFC South, possibly the league’s two worst divisions. There are reasons for optimism in Chicago, but it’s probably too much to ask them to be better than this.

Dallas Cowboys

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • The division is soft enough that 8-8 might get a playoff spot, and they might be able to get half those wins without Romo.

Ross Prediction: 6-10

  • There’s no doubt in my mind that Dak Prescott isn’t walking into this league and firing off 8-10 wins. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Tony Romo will be rushed back too early, get injured almost immediately and end up playing in less than three full games in 2016.

Detroit Lions

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • I actually think this team will surprise some people, but that probably means 8 wins.

Ross Prediction: 9-7

  • You’ll notice in my upcoming playoff predictions, I’m taking the Lions as the #6 seed in the NFC playoffs, but forced to make a specific prediction, I see them just above .500. They are better than most people are assuming, but I can’t picture them climbing up to 10 wins or more.

Green Bay Packers

Neil Prediction: 10-6

  • This team is probably slightly overrated, but no way to tell until the playoffs in their crappy division.

Ross Prediction: 11-5

  • I can actually see the path to 12 or 13 wins, but you gotta reserve a couple losses every year for the extremely subtle moments where Mike McCarthy proves he shouldn’t be an NFL head coach.

Los Angeles Rams

Neil Prediction: 7-9

  • This defense and run game deserve a better pass game. Also, can TMZ leak Jared Goff’s Wonderlic answers?

Ross Prediction: 5-11

  • They are a 6 or 7 win team, but are stuck in the NFC West and have to travel over 32,000 miles over the course of the season. By comparison, there are several teams that only have to travel 6,000 – 9,000 miles.

Minnesota Vikings

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • I wish there was a way to know what Minnesota’s record would have been this season with Bridgewater because I think it is going to end up the same without him.

Ross Prediction: 7-9

  • With a healthy Teddy Bridgewater, I would have only given the Vikings 8 wins. I was pretty down on them compared to the rest of the world prior to the injury. I think the season comes completely off the rails in November when they get 4 games in 18 days: Detroit, at Washington, Arizona, at Detroit.

New Orleans Saints

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • I wish this defense hadn’t been so bad last year. I would like them as a sleeper.

Ross Prediction: 7-9

  • Just like the last two years, Drew Brees and an above average passing offense drag this otherwise-awful team to enough wins to barely miss out on a top 10 draft pick.

NY Giants

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • My “nothing really horrible has happened with them this summer so they win the NFC East” team.

Ross Prediction: 9-7

  • What looked like a tough opening schedule got incredibly manageable over the last two weeks. The Giants start in Dallas (no Romo) and then play in Minnesota in week 4 (the Hill/Bradford experiment). If they sneak into the playoffs, I think the softening of that schedule is going to be the main reason why.

Philadelphia Eagles

Neil Prediction: 6-10

  • Their week 1 game with Cleveland may determine the top pick in the next draft.

Ross Prediction: 5-11

  • They’ll be the worst team in the NFC East, possibly by a longshot. Easy overall schedule is somewhat negated by the NFL dicking them good: weeks 5 & 6 are road games, and then they play 3 consecutive teams in weeks 7-9 who are all coming off their bye.

San Francisco 49ers

Neil Prediction: 5-11

  • How bad must Kaepernick be as a passer if he can’t start in Chip Kelly’s offense?

Ross Prediction: 4-12

  • “With the 1st pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select…” The schedule includes eight matchups against top 7 defenses from 2015, and weeks 10-17 feature five road games and three home games against New England, the Jets and Seattle. That would be impossible even for an NFL-caliber team.

Seattle Seahawks

Neil Prediction: 11-5

  • I know every year they lose a couple important pieces, but enough of the defensive studs are still around that I think they have one more run in them.

Ross Prediction: 12-4

  • I think they’ve learned to prioritize getting the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs, and I feel like I went through their worst case scenario on the schedule and see 11 wins as their absolute floor.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Neil Prediction: 8-8

  • Is this the NFC sleeper or is Jameis Winston one year away? Yeah, one year away but frisky.

Ross Prediction: 7-9

  • Possibly the hardest task we have going into this season is figuring out what to make of last year’s up-and-comers: Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay. In all likelihood, one of them will go on to make the playoffs, one will stagnate and have a similar season to last year, and one will be a wreck. Clearly I’m expecting some stagnation from Tampa.

Washington Redskins

Neil Prediction: 7-9

  • Their 1st place schedule means their extra games are against Arizona and Carolina, which keeps them out of the playoffs.

Ross Prediction: 9-7

  • I’m actually expecting 10 or more wins, but why go any higher if I know Neil’s going to take them for 8 wins or less? I really thought they were competent last year in a non-fluky way, and they’ve gone ahead and added Josh Norman and a few other complementary pieces. Cousins won’t be a perennial Pro Bowler, but I don’t think he’s a one-season wonder either.

Check back later on Wednesday for the AFC side of things.

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An Evolving Relationship with Football

 

I love the way the world brings me little reminders throughout the month of August that the NFL season is just around the corner.

First it was the always-surprising-but-shouldn’t-be increase in my DirecTV bill to account for the cool $270 the NFL will charge me over 6 monthly installments for access to 17 weeks of football.

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Next came the annual botching of something really basic by that same multi-billion dollar league that charges me out the ass for their games.

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And finally, there was no shortage of careers being altered and (fantasy) seasons being screwed up in the month of August by non-contact injuries to body parts that are less than 1.5 inches in diameter.

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Like it or not, the NFL has been beating down our door for the past six weeks, so it’s probably time to open the door and let it in (otherwise it might literally beat down the door, physically attack us, and then escape any jail time after it pays us off in exchange for our silence).

As much as I’ve grown more & more disenchanted with certain aspects of the NFL (more on that in a minute), the truth is, we need it in our lives. If I have to accidentally overhear the dialogue in my wife’s favorite movie, the Hallmark Channel presents The Convenient Groom, one more time, I might go off the deep end.

Oh, you wanted to hear the synopsis of The Convenient Groom, a real movie that you thought I made up? Here it is: “When a celebrity marriage counselor is left high and dry at the altar, her contractor steps in as the groom to help her save face.”

Boom. That was summertime at the Gariepy household.

If you think you’ve reached your breaking point with the NFL after years of blind loyalty to the league because now-a-days being a football fan feels dirtier than ever, just do what I do: Treat the league as your personal piggybank (kind of like how they treat us like their personal piggybanks).

In the past 20 years, I’ve evolved from being the naive teenager who pretended to be Isaac Bruce or Marvin Harrison whenever he caught a pass during our neighborhood football games (for whatever reason, those were the 2 guys I always pretended to be when laying out to catch one of my brother’s wobbly passes), to the college student who spent every Sunday at a bar rooting for his favorite team and players, to the dignified adult standing before you today saying that my relationship with the NFL has become purely transactional.

I’m treating the past 20 years like an investment or a college education on all things football. And now it’s time to get the return I’m owed from the slimy NFL.

While I’ve been making picks against the spread in this internet space for the past few years, I’m turning up the dial on the gambling-themed blog posts this year. I’m sure there will still be times when I talk generally about the latest news and results in the NFL, but for the most part, every bit of research I do, every moment I devote to watching the games, is with an eye towards how I can fund my extravagant lifestyle from gambling profit.

In fact, I recently launched a podcast with a couple friends where we plan to give you all the winning bets during every week of the NFL season, and you can find that podcast and subscribe to it either on iTunes or SoundCloud.

So before the NFL season officially kicks off on Thursday night, expect a flurry of activity from me that will be mostly geared towards some preseason bets you should make, a prediction around the exact record of each team (so you can hit your over/under win totals), and of course, the return of the weekly picks column including more bets than ever before!

Hope you’re ready for a fun 21 weeks. I am. It’s just that these days, fun = profitable when it comes to my enjoyment of the NFL.

 

 

 

Super Bowl Pick: Your Last Chance to Mutter “Friggin Idiot” About My Predictions for 7 Months

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When we’re deep into the NFL season and I find myself getting too pumped up about how awesome my weekly picks are, I like to go back and reread my words from the preseason, just to get humbled. It’s easy to get caught up in the picks from game to game, but even the best of us tend to be very wrong about what’s going to happen at the end of the season when we’re trying to guess at the beginning of the season.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, starting with the Broncos:

  • (Sep 4th, one week before the season) “We haven’t been this uncertain about Peyton Manning since…2012. In his first season in Denver…it took him a little while to look like classic Peyton, but he eventually got there. I think this year will probably be the same.”
  • (Sept 10th, week 1 picks) “[Manning] has no arm strength right now…and I couldn’t believe how this wasn’t a major story in August. Until further notice, I am not giving Manning the benefit of the doubt. He’s going to have to show me he’s still a good QB before I bet on him.”
  • (Oct 8th, week 5 picks) “When will the Broncos finally lose a game? As soon as their defense plays only OK for once, that’s when. The moment another team’s able to put up four touchdowns on Denver, it’s over.”

OK, not bad, Ross, not bad. In the span of one week, I went from “Manning will be fine” to “This guy is toast!” But I really did nail it when I said any team that can put up four touchdowns on Denver is likely to win. So can the Panthers do that? I guess you’ll have to keep reading because we’re not there yet.

And here’s what I had to say about Carolina early on:

  • (Sept 4th, one week before the season and in a column where I predicted a 6-10 record for the Panthers) “Cam Newton needed every bit of help he could get if the Panthers were going to be good this year. Losing Kelvin Benjamin is huge because Newton isn’t very good in the first place. He’s never finished in the top 10 in FootballOutsiders’ QB efficiency stats. And his numbers have gotten worse every season of his career. His running is the only thing that keeps him employed at this point.”
  • (Sept 10th, week 1 picks) “[The Panthers] could be less talented than the Jaguars when it’s all said and done.”

Yikes. Um, that makes me look like the worst. When it comes to sports predictions, there are misses and then there are MISSES. How could you have a worse prediction than saying the guy who ends up as the league MVP is barely hanging onto his NFL employment, and the team that is 17-1 might be less talented than Jacksonville?

Luckily those awful preseason predictions have no bearing on my Super Bowl pick. I’ve come around on the Panthers because how could I not at this point? As far as my picks go, I’m 5-4-1 against the spread in the playoffs, and that is right on par with how I did during the regular season: 126-122-8. Above average, but not above average enough.

[Speaking of picks and bets, be sure to check out my Super Bowl Prop Bets column from Thursday. Lots of potential bets for you to make on Sunday’s game.]

In terms of breaking down this game, it absolutely boils down to figuring out whether or not the Panthers will put up more than 24 points. We know with near certainty that the Broncos aren’t topping that number. They barely did all season long and Manning hasn’t looked any better in the playoffs.

But there’s a reason such a pedestrian offense went 12-4 and finds itself in the Super Bowl: The Denver defense dragged that offense all the way to the top of the mountain. The Broncos gave up at least 30 points just once all year. When DeMarcus Ware was in the lineup, Denver gave up 24 points or more just twice in 12 games. They weren’t as good without Ware as they let up 24 or more three times in six games when he was absent, but Ware happens to be playing on Sunday.

Denver isn’t your run-of-the-mill good defense. They’re a beast. They are 1st in the league in overall defensive efficiency, 1st against the pass and 4th against the rush. There are no holes here.

Having said all that, Vegas does have Carolina as a 6-point favorite and the majority of the money is still going towards the Panthers. There has to be a reason why so many people think this could be a touchdown or greater win for Ron Rivera and company. And it’s because they have a 17-1 team featuring the soon-to-be-crowned MVP and a vicious defense. They aren’t a fluke and they’ve dispatched the best competition the NFC had to offer rather easily so far in the postseason.

So if you ultimately pick Carolina, you’re being practical, presumably logical and you’re simply going where all the tangible data leads you. I can’t fault you for that and you’ll probably make a lot of money in the long run if you stick to that methodology.

You’re also not crazy if you back Carolina based on this principle: It’s Steph Curry’s world and we’re all just living in it.

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But for those who want to make the case for taking Denver, here’s everything I can possibly think up:

  • The well-known “Nobody Believes in Us” maxim is in full effect for Denver. They might have one of the best “Nobody Believes in Us” cases in Super Bowl history thanks to Manning.
  • The Panthers appeared to be celebrating their NFC Championship win like it was the Super Bowl. If either team is going to succumb to the “happy to be here” attitude or be guilty of celebrating too much too soon, it’ll be Carolina.
  • Along those lines, this Panthers team has zero Super Bowl experience so they’re prime candidates for getting caught up in the pageantry or being out of their routines. Denver was just in this game two years ago so I expect they approached this past week as being all business.
  • Traditionally stay-at-home pocket passers always win this game when facing a less traditional QB (except for Russell Wilson two years ago).
  • The Manning retirement storylines are at crazy, off-the-charts, epic proportions in this game. What a perfectly insufferable ending to a perfectly insufferable career a win would be.
  • If you’re a Patriots fan, you can just feel it in your bones.
  • And from a gambling standpoint, it’s still something like 70% of all bets on Carolina. I really like being on the same side as Vegas in this instance.

I’m going to stop just short of calling this a win for Denver, but I absolutely think on defense alone they can keep this really close (and I’m definitely betting the Denver moneyline just in case).

Carolina (-6) vs Denver

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Carolina 20, Denver 17

But that’s not even my favorite bet of the weekend. My favorite bet, by far, is going UNDER on the game total of 45. This is where you should bet the farm. One team can’t score and the other team, who can score a lot at times, is facing the best defense they’ve seen all year (aka the best defense in the league). What happens is that people like betting the over in general because it’s more fun to think about and root for a lot of scoring. In the Super Bowl this is even more true. People want this to be a high scoring game. But that doesn’t mean it will be. It just means Vegas gets to inflate the total a bit. I’ll be on the uninflated side.

Enjoy the Super Bowl and thanks for reading all year.

Super Bowl Props: Mike Carey, an Unlikely Earthquake and More

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All right, NFL, now I fully get it.

I understand just how made up the entire deflated footballs saga was last year. And no, it’s not because Roger Goodell just went public with the fact that the league–the same people who deemed slightly deflated balls tantamount to the “integrity of the game” and equated it to a player taking steroids–isn’t going to release any of the pressure readings from this season’s games (which 100% means the results showed that the Patriots did nothing wrong, by the way).

I understand the reasons behind a fully fabricated scandal not because of what Goodell said to the media this week, but because I am one of football’s biggest fans and I haven’t bothered to turn my TV to ESPN or the NFL Network in 10 days. I haven’t clicked on a single article about the Super Bowl or the two teams playing in it.

Now, you can definitely make the case that I’m scarred from the Broncos knocking off my Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and that could be a big reason I’m not spending my entire week going balls deep into all the Super Bowl coverage. But I’ll go out on a limb here: I don’t think fans of the Cowboys, Raiders, Lions, Jets, Eagles or about 24 other franchises are spending their downtime before the big game by reading about the big game.

But imagine if there was a full-blown scandal leading the hourly news cycle? Sign me up for that!

Never has it been more evident than these past 10 VERY BORING days that the NFL knew exactly what it was doing last year at this time. It’s just too bad that Cam Newton won’t do or say something stupid so the media can get some actual traction out of their attempts to portray him as a controversial figure. “But look at him! He’s….black!…and he…he dances, like A LOT!…and he…he looks like he belongs in the NBA!…he…c’mon!…somebody get offended by him! Pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaasssssssssseeeeeee!”

So yeah, if I’m running the NFL, I invent a big controversy every year immediately following the Conference Championship games. Anyway, it’s now Thursday. We’re less than 80 hours away from the game. Let’s dive into what really matters, the gambling.

Today I’ll cover the extensive prop bets for the game, and on Friday I’ll be back with my pick against the spread as well as the game total.

I’ll reiterate what I wrote last year. Even if you’re not into gambling in the true sense of the word (meaning you won’t be going to Vegas, contacting your favorite bookie or logging into your Bovada account to place bets), you can still have some fun with the Super Bowl Prop Bets. All you have to do is encourage the host of your Super Bowl party to create a Community Prop Bet game similar to this:

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Everyone writes down their guesses to each prop and whoever gets the most correct wins something. If nothing more, it’s a nice complement to the traditional Super Bowl squares since it causes people to pay attention to other aspects of the game besides the score. And of course you can create whatever props you want.

If you want to graduate from the kiddie pool of gambling and cannonball your way into the deep end with me, here are my extensive thoughts on Super Bowl Prop Bets. It would be poetic if I had 50 props for Super Bowl 50, but I don’t. That’s way too many. I have 22, aka “one for each point the Broncos will score if they play the game of their lives.” Let’s break these into categories: StayAways, Foolish Bets That I’ll Inevitably Make, Longshots that Don’t Feel So Long, Favorites, and Miscellaneous Panthers Stuff.

StayAways

Who will be MVP of Super Bowl 50

The Pick: No pick

  • It may seem a little counterproductive to list prop bets I’m not making, but there are a couple I particularly hate so let’s get through them first. Yes, I know QBs almost always win the MVP so this is actually a pretty predictable prop. But Vegas knows that too. So Cam Newton has -130 odds while Peyton Manning’s odds are +275. There’s not a lot of value there, and of course every couple years we get a random Malcolm Smith or Dexter Jackson winning the MVP. And good luck figuring out ahead of time exactly which random dude will win this if it’s not one of the QBs.

Will there be an earthquake during the game

The Pick: No pick

  • The only available bet you can make on this prop is “Yes” at 10/1 odds. I needed to highlight this prop because it’s ridiculous. What kind of maniac would bet yes here? First of all, 10/1 odds are HORRIBLE for the likelihood that this actually happens. If you & I were sitting in a bar and I said, “I’ll bet you that an earthquake doesn’t happen in the next three hours, but I’ll give you odds. What odds do you need for us to make that bet?” You would answer “10,000/1.”
  • Also, imagine an earthquake happens, and it’s apparent immediately that it’s a devastating one. How psychotic would you look if the rest of your Super Bowl party is in a sullen, quiet, sad mood and you’re walking around the place with your arms raised in celebratory fashion and letting out random “Woos”?

Foolish Bets That I’ll Inevitably Make

How long will it take Lady Gaga to sing the US National Anthem

The Pick: Under 2 minutes 20 seconds (-120)

  • I went and watched Lady Gaga’s only live performance of the Anthem that exists on YouTube and it was a loooong two minutes and 15 seconds. I will say, however, that she was singing it at a New York City Pride Rally and clearly played to the crowd, even changing words and pausing for applause a couple times. The Super Bowl is a big moment, but I can’t see her possibly dragging it out as long as she did in the video. This might be my favorite bet of all of them. She’s not touching 140 seconds on Sunday.

Will Mike Carey be wrong about a challenge

The Pick: Yes (+145)

  • I can’t contain my excitement that this bet actually exists! I’ve never been so pleased as I was the moment that I saw this prop on the Bovada site. Now, I know this is setting up to be one of those disappointing moments, you know, where I talk up just how historically awful Carey has been in lining up his opinion with the ultimate result of a challenge/review…and then he goes and nails his only chance in the Super Bowl. And I feel foolish for betting on such a silly thing. But I don’t care because making money off something as funny and predictable as this is too good to pass up.

Will Peyton Manning announce his retirement in the post game interview?

The Pick: No (-1000)

  • OK, OK, I’m not actually going to lay $1,000 just to win $100 on such a weird, subjective bet. But you know there’s a 0% chance he announces his retirement. First of all, he may not be retiring. Second, even if he is, he’s a company man through and through. Peyton will be a good boy for Roger Goodell and hold off an announcement for a couple weeks. That way the NFL can jump back up to the top of the headlines in late February when it’s usually quiet on the football front. Also, and maybe more importantly, I think Manning knows he might not look like a great teammate if he announces this right after the Broncos win because it’ll take the spotlight away from everyone else.

Longshots That Don’t Feel So Long

Which will be the Highest Scoring quarter

The Pick: 3rd Quarter (+400)

  • It has been in four of the past six Super Bowls, and if the 2nd half kickoff is returned for a touchdown this is pretty much a lock.

The First Turnover of the Game will be

The Pick: No Turnover in Game (+750)

  • Why not for those odds?

Who will record the most Receiving Yards in the game

The Pick: Emmanuel Sanders (+325)

  • I have no faith in any of the Panthers to win this prop. Between Demaryius Thomas and Sanders, Thomas is more likely to see a lot of Josh Norman in coverage, and Thomas is the one who seems to disappear a bit more often on the big stage.

Margin of Victory

The Pick: Denver to win by 1-6 points (+400)

  • Listen, you obviously have to think there’s a decent chance the Broncos can win this game outright if you’re making this bet. I happen to see a line of thinking where they win, and if they do, there’s a 0% chance it’s by way of a blowout. It feels like a reasonably logical leap from betting the pure Denver moneyline and only getting +180 odds.

Favorites

Highest Scoring Half

The Pick: 2nd Half & OT (-115)

  • When I looked back at the last 10 Super Bowls, I was a bit surprised to learn that the 1st half of these games isn’t always as low scoring as I had thought. But taking “2nd half” in this bet appears to pay off 67% of the time, and I think the particulars of these two teams will only help to give the beginning of this game a “poking & prodding & feeling out” vibe.

First Scoring Play of the Game

The Pick: Field Goal or Safety (+115)

  • If you’re expecting a low scoring game, like I am, this is a no-brainer. And rather than be a chump and bet on “will there be a safety in the game,” you’re getting some coverage on that prop along with the very likely scenario that a field goal is the first scoring play.

Total Successful Field Goals

The Pick: Over 3.5 (+110)

  • Boring, but easy!

Total Successful Field Goals – Denver Broncos

The Pick: Over 1.5 (-140)

  • The best offensive player on the Broncos is Brandon McManus. Denver also happens to have one of the worst red zone offenses in the league.

Longest Reception – Emmanuel Sanders

The Pick: Over 25.5 yards (-115)

  • In 11 games this year he has had a reception go for more than 25 yards. And Manning was his QB for seven of those games, in case you’re thinking it was only during the Osweiler Glory Days that this happened.

Longest Reception – Greg Olsen

The Pick: Over 22.5 yards (-115)

  • It happened 13 times in 18 games this year. Just playing the odds.

Total Sacks – DeMarcus Ware

The Pick: Under 0.5 (+150)

Total Sacks – Von Miller

The Pick: Under 0.5 (+150)

  • I’m taking both of these sack unders because I think Cam won’t get sacked more than once or twice and there’s a very good chance one of these Broncos pass rushers gets a big fat ZERO in the sack category. As long as one of them hits, I’ll turn a profit.

Miscellaneous Panthers Stuff

Total Touchdown Passes – Cam Newton

The Pick: Over 1.5 (-155)

  • I went deep in my research on the props for both QBs to hit their over or under totals on passing yards, attempts, completions and touchdown passes, and this was the only one that I feel really good about. Newton threw for two or more touchdowns in 11 of 18 games this year. It’s a pretty regular occurrence.

Longest Rush – Cam Newton

The Pick: Over 14.5 yards (-125)

  • Based on a smattering of quantitative data that probably doesn’t actually mean anything, I think Newton runs only a handful of times in this game but breaks off two or three big ones.

Exact Number of Touchdown Passes – Cam Newton

The Pick: 2 (+190)

  • Nothing more than a hunch, really.

Total Receptions – Corey Brown

The Pick: Over 2.5 (-150)

  • He’s gone over 2.5 receptions in eight of the 16 games he’s played in this year. But more importantly, he’s surpassed that total in five of his last six games. Hopefully it works out that Greg Olsen and Tedd Ginn Jr. get the bulk of Denver’s defensive attention.

Who will catch a Pass 1st – Greg Olsen (-175) or Ted Ginn Jr. (+145)

The Pick: Greg Olsen (-175)

  • C’mon. I’m betting on the guy who had 123 regular season targets with 12 catches on 14 targets in the playoffs so far over the guy who had 96 regular targets but only three so far in the entire playoffs.

If I were you, I’d put significant money on my “favorite” prop bets and a much smaller amount on all the others. A Super Bowl that could end with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms circle-jerking all over “the Sheriff” needs a little extra spice to be enjoyable. And these prop bets will do the trick.

Make sure to check back on Friday for my pick on the spread and the game total.

NFL Conference Championship Picks

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Last year I put this little man in my Conference Championship column to represent my sadness over the fact that we only had three football games left on the schedule. After that, it’s seven months of pretending to like college & professional basketball, baseball and the Olympics. Yuck.

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But this year the sad man represents a couple more things I’m feeling. One is the helplessness I feel as I realize we’re only two weeks away from Deflategate and the NFL’s ongoing appeal to force its way back into our lives. I hate to say it, but either the NFL will come out with some new headlines around Deflategate, or they’ll invent an entirely new off-the-field scandal to make sure they’re staying at the top of the sports headlines.

And finally, the hanging-his-head man is appropriate because that’s how I feel at the end of this week after refreshing the Bovada football page 20 times a day and never once seeing either of the lines for these upcoming games move off of a 3.5-point spread. I told myself early in the week that if either New England or Carolina goes down to a 3-point favorite, I’m betting the farm on them. But the lines stand firm.

And while you might be expecting one blowout and one close game this weekend because that’s what happened last year, it turns out the Conference Championship games are usually pretty tight. In the past 20 Conference Championship games, the margin of victory has been 10 points or less 16 times. There have only been two true blowouts since 2005: last year’s Patriots 45-7 win over the Colts and the Bears over the Saints 39-14 in the 2006 playoffs.

Even though it might be difficult to imagine a team led by a certain big-foreheaded quarterback to keep it close against the defending Champs this weekend, you can probably count on it. Let’s dive into the picks.

New England (-3.5) at Denver

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 27, Denver 22

  • First of all, I hope CBS budgeted for industrial strength cleaning supplies and an army of cleaning people to slop up the record-breaking amount of semen that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are going to spray all over the broadcast booth in Denver. Screw getting the Guinness World Record people to a stadium to measure noise, we need them at Mile High on Sunday to measure semen output. How many orgasms can two men have in three hours just from watching another man do his job? Tune into CBS on Sunday at 3 Eastern to find out!
  • In the eight games that Peyton Manning started and completed this year, the Denver offense averaged 19.4 points per game and less than two touchdowns in each contest.
  • Brandon McManus kicked a shitload of field goals for this team, it turns out.
  • The New England defense has given up an average of 18 points per game this season.
  • I’ve felt strongly all along that the Patriots are scoring 27 or 28 points, and I can’t ignore the fact that Manning’s offense only reached that total once this year.
  • The Patriots finally looked healthy last week and put up 27 points against a good defense while having to knock some of the rust off (Brady and Edelman took some time to get on the same page).
  • The New England offense is now healthy and has a game under its belt.
  • The Broncos may be able to run a little bit on the Patriots, but I can’t imagine Bill Belichick lets them run wild. Everyone knows if you stop their running backs, Denver isn’t cracking 20 points.
  • Basically, if you’re picking Denver, you’re saying, “I think the Broncos are going to play their absolute best game of the year.” It’s not impossible for that to happen, but it’s a much safer play to take the Patriots and know exactly the type of performance you’re getting.
  • I will say, however, that the Denver defense is legit. This team went 12-4 and earned the #1 seed with an offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league. Something dragged them to that top spot, and it wasn’t Gary Kubiak’s coaching or Brock Osweiler’s half-season cameo.
  • The reason I can’t pick the Patriots to win by more than a handful of points is because of the Broncos’ awesome defense and the fact that this is a road game. If this game was in New England, we would have to plan for a blowout.

Arizona at Carolina (-3.5)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 31, Arizona 24

  • Each team playing this weekend has won a single playoff game so far, but Carolina has to get the nod as the most impressive. They’re the only one who soundly dismantled a powerhouse team to get to this point. We weren’t wrong to think Seattle was one of the best teams in the league. I’d still put them right up at the top even after last week. And the Panthers went out and crushed them (until they took a nap in the 2nd half).
  • As I was typing this section, I had to take a break to check on a thought I had. I was pretty sure no underdog has won their game outright during the playoffs so far, and it turns out I was right. I suppose if you got Green Bay over Washington when the Packers were +1 that counts, but in my picks I had the Packers as a 1-point favorite. So yeah, the underdogs are 0-8 straight up in this postseason. WHICH SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF ME SINCE I’M TAKING BOTH FAVORITES THIS WEEKEND!
  • This is going to sound similar to my Patriots/Broncos logic, but I can’t take Arizona because I feel like they’d have to play their best game of the year while the Panthers simply have to play their typical, solid game. It’s less likely that the Cardinals have the game they need in order to win than the Panthers playing the game they need to play.
  • The Honey Badger being out scares me (huge in run-stopping support and possibly would have been able to slow down Greg Olsen). The Cardinals’ atrocious special teams scares me. Arizona’s struggles on offense against a mediocre Packers defense last week scares me. And Carson Palmer having no track record of performing well in huge games scares me.
  • If all of Bruce Arians’ super aggressive playcalling pays off + the Cardinals don’t royally screw up anything special teams related + Cam Newton plays his worst game of the year, then I think Arizona has a chance. But I can’t bet on all of that happening.

And if you just can’t pull the trigger on betting these games because the line on each is so perfectly set, here are some props for you to consider.

Patriots vs Broncos – Longest Made Field Goal of the Game

The Pick: over 46.5 yards (-115)

  • Because it’s in Denver in a game featuring two of the best kickers in football where the two offenses are going up against good defenses. This seems really easy.

Patriots vs Broncos – Will both teams make a 33-yard or longer field goal

The Pick: Yes (+120)

  • And they’re paying me an extra 20 cents on the dollar for this steal? Sign me up.

Tom Brady’s Longest Completion

The Pick: Under 41.5 yards (-115)

  • You don’t beat this Denver defense by throwing it long, and the Patriots don’t do that anyway.

Julian Edelman Total Receptions

The Pick: over 7 (-110)

  • I didn’t initially like this because they increased his total by one from last week’s game. But here are my Edelman stats: He has had seven or more receptions in 25 of his last 44 games dating back to the 2013 season. He has had more than seven receptions in five straight playoff games now. And he has exceeded that mark the last three times he’s faced Denver.

Will Peyton Manning throw an interception

The Pick: Yes (-250)

  • I don’t mind paying the juice on this certainty.

Will Peyton Manning throw more than 1.5 interceptions

The Pick: Yes (+225)

Ooh, I like this one so much better. Let’s go with this instead.

Carson Palmer’s Total Pass Attempts

The Pick: over 37.5 (-115)

How many times did the opposing quarterback attempt at least 38 passes against the Carolina defense this year? In 13 out of 17 games, that’s how many.

Enjoy the Conference Championship games!

Divisional Round Picks: Will Injuries Derail the NFL’s Best Weekend?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos

The first weekend of playoff football absolutely lived up to its Wildcard namesake. The results, the styles & quality of play, the postgame buzz…all over the board from game to game and all of it WILD.

Here’s the rapidfire recap of each one:

  • Kansas City 30, Houston 0 – This was your run-of-the-mill blowout. The only reason I hesitate to write “absolute domination” is because the Chiefs only put up a measly six offensive points in the first half while being gifted four Brian Hoyer turnovers. And that was really the story. Hoyer had five turnovers so it never really mattered how the rest of the Texans performed. We laughed at Bill O’Brien for flip-flopping on his starting QB so often during the season, but he knew. He knew how truly bad Hoyer could be in any given game.
  • Pittsburgh 18, Cincinnati 16 – We had a pretty boring game through 40 minutes, but insanity began when Martavis Bryant completed his somersault touchdown catch with five minutes left in the 3rd quarter. You know what happened next: Gio Bernard fumbled, Ben Roethlisberger left the game with a shoulder injury, the Bengals scored 16 unanswered points to take the lead, Landry Jones threw what looked like a game-ending interception with 1:45 left in the 4th quarter, Jeremy Hill immediately gave the ball back to Pittsburgh with an unforgivable fumble, Roethlisberger returned and the only people on earth who didn’t realize he couldn’t throw the ball were the 11 guys playing defense for Cincy, Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones did “Bengals” things, and the Steelers kicked an easy game-winning field goal. I’m tired just from writing all that.
  • Seattle 10, Minnesota 9 – This must have been one of the least fun games to play in, ever. And as much as Vikings fans who were in attendance would have said they loved the whole thing if they had won, I don’t believe it. I was at the coldest game in Gillette Stadium history and it was a boring 17-14 win over the Titans (in January 2004). Freezing & boring is a horrible combo. Anyway, everything that went down in this game propelled a few active narratives forward: Seattle, and specifically Russell Wilson, pulled some lucky shit out of their asses (no wonder why Wilson is such a hardcore god believer), Adrian Peterson fumbled at the most obvious possible time, and Viking Nation got another impossible-to-believe punch to the gut.
  • Green Bay 35, Washington 18 – It’s always weird when a game that ended with such a blowout-looking score was as close as this one was in the 3rd quarter. Washington actually led 18-17 with 4:20 left in the 3rd. The Packers scored 18 unanswered points and got a huge performance from its collection of running backs, but the Skins will always wonder how this game would have played out if they didn’t leave five haunting points on the board in the 1st half. The missed extra point on their first touchdown was a minor culprit. The DeSean Jackson no-effort play on his reception at the goal line was the MAJOR game-changer. The way DeSean plays football makes you wonder how he’s not a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

OK, a few more notes on Wildcard Weekend:

  • It was a historic weekend because all four wildcard/road teams won. That’s never happened. Considering who the home teams were, it’s not the world’s biggest shocker
  • OK fine. Marvin Lewis doesn’t need to be fired just because he has an 0-7 playoff record or because his players are constantly out of control and do all the little things that lose games in January. But he does need to be fired because of the way his offense has performed in every one of their playoff appearances. Or I should say, the way they haven’t performed:
    • 2005: 26.3 points per game in regular season / 17 points in playoff game
    • 2009: 19.1 points per game in regular season / 14 points in playoff game
    • 2011: 21.5 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2012: 24.4 points per game in regular season / 9 points in playoff game
    • 2013: 26.9 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2014: 22.8 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2015: 26.2 points per game in regular season / 16 points in playoff game
  • Speaking of offense, Wildcard Weekend was pretty tough for all of them:
    • Three of four games easily hit the under point total that Vegas established.
    • Seven of eight quarterbacks were held under 230 yards passing. Kirk Cousins was the lone holdout. He ended up with 329 yards (and gave me my easiest prop bet win ever).
    • There were only three 100+ yard receivers across the entire weekend. Two of them were tight ends (Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed) and the other was the guy who always gets his yards, Antonio Brown.
    • No running back cracked 100 yards. Alfred Blue came damn close with 99. The next highest totals were Christine Michael (70 yards) and Spencer Ware (67 yards).
  • This is less of an observation and more of a question with no answer: Which timeslot during the Wildcard and Divisional Rounds would a fan prefer its team play in? The advantages to the first game of the weekend would be that you get it over with right away. You’re not stressing into Sunday like the fans of four other teams are. Your team also gets the most possible rest if they advance. The disadvantage with the Saturday afternoon slot is that when your team loses, the entire weekend is ruined. You aren’t enjoying any of those next three games because you’re sitting there stewing. And that’s the advantage of the Sunday late game. You get to enjoy all the other games and hold onto that excited/anticipation feeling for as long as possible. The darkhorse candidate would be the Saturday night timeslot. That way you get to enjoy one other game first while pacing around in anticipation during the day. And it’s the best time to justify getting absolutely plastered while your team plays. I think I’d choose Saturday night every time. What do you think?

Moving on to the Divisional Round, it would seem the NFL has some great football in store for us. Seven of the eight best teams in the league, according to FootballOutsiders.com, are still playing. Green Bay is the only team left that doesn’t fit into that discussion. You can find them occupying the 10th spot on that list. And there’s hope for actual points to be scored this weekend. The combination of no arctic temperatures at any of the hosting cities plus most of the remaining teams being in the top 10 in offensive efficiency should give us compelling games. Let’s keep our fingers crossed as we dive into the picks for the Divisional Round. For what it’s worth, I went 2-2 against the spread last week, which is an improvement from my Wildcard Round picks the past two years (0-4 against the spread last year and 1-3 the year before that). My best postseason ever against the spread was an 8-3 record three years ago. So I’ve gotta run the table on these final seven games to beat that. Easy enough.

One final note: Some back-of-the-napkin math tells me that in the past 8 years, only twice has the average margin of victory across the four Divisional Round games been LESS THAN 10 POINTS. But almost like clockwork, there appears to be one major blowout every year, two close games, and one game that finishes in that 7-14 point differential range. There have been many times where a single Divisional Round game has ended with the winning team outscoring the losing team by 21+ points. That seems to skew the numbers significantly. I know this isn’t really going out on a limb or anything, but you can probably bank on two extremely close games, one ridiculous blowout, and one middle-of-the-road game. Let’s see if it works out that way in my picks.

Kansas City at New England (-5)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: New England 23, Kansas City 20

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Kansas City 16th 6th 6th 7th 5th
New England 2nd 5th 12th 5th 6th

*All numbers in these tables are the league rankings according to FootballOutsiders.com’s DVOA and DYAR metrics.

  • Easily the biggest enigma remaining in the playoffs is the New England Patriots. The injuries, the way they closed out the season after that 10-0 start, the fact that every now & then a certain kind of team comes along that they continually struggle against and the Chiefs could easily fit that mold…all of it makes backing the Patriots a risky endeavor.
  • But it’s kind of impossible not to go with the 4-time Super Bowl Champs who are hosting this game after two weeks of rest and with the benefit of getting a handful of key players back from injury.
  • Even though Dion Lewis and Nate Solder are big losses for the Patriots who aren’t coming back this year, there’s reason to think a healthy Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman will do the trick for this offense. After Solder went on IR, the Patriots’ offense put up 34 points on Indy, 30 on the Jets and 36 on Miami before Edelman went down halfway through the Giants game. Even without Edelman, they put up some decent games until Vollmer went down in week 16. That’s when we saw the awful performances against the Jets and Dolphins.
  • Sure, the Chiefs are the #6 defense and have some studs going up against Brady, but the Patriots won games this year against the #5, #8 and #11 defenses, and they were handling the #1 Broncos pretty easily before a special teams disaster and a Gronk injury.
  • The fact that Vegas posted this game as a five-point spread tells you they don’t have a clue what to expect either. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots knocking the rust off so quickly that they go out and dominate from the opening kickoff.
  • And yet, the reason I’m so confident that New England pulls out the win is because they’re no longer the more injured team. Anyone who thinks Jeremy Maclin doesn’t have a significant knee injury is crazy. He’s not playing on Saturday. Spencer Ware, who had taken over as Kansas City’s lead rusher, didn’t practice Wednesday and is dealing with an ankle injury. Maybe key pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will be 100% for this game, but they sure didn’t look it against the Texans last week.
  • It’s difficult enough to beat the Patriots in Foxboro with a fully operational team. It doesn’t feel like the Chiefs are getting it done this weekend.
  • In terms of style and pace of the game, the more I looked into this matchup, the more it reminded me of last year’s Patriots-Ravens divisional game. The Chiefs are a lot like Baltimore, especially on defense. That makes me think New England’s run game will be non-existent and Brady will be throwing 45 passes. If Brady plays a good game and the receivers are as healthy as we think they are, New England’s advancing to its 5th consecutive AFC Championship Game (and 10th in 15 years).
  • Oh crap. As I’m writing this section on Thursday morning, I’m seeing that Gronk missed practice today and it’s his 2nd missed practice in the past three days. Crap crap crap.

Green Bay at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Arizona 26, Green Bay 21

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Green Bay 17th 11th 9th 17th 10th
Arizona 1st 4th 3rd 29th 3rd
  • The people who didn’t learn their lesson after taking Seattle -6 in last week’s game against Minnesota are the same people who are lining up to back Arizona -7 this week.
  • Just like Seattle dominated Minnesota in a regular season game, the Cardinals absolutely pummeled the Packers 38-8 in week 16. So I can understand the urge to quickly pick Arizona and move on.
  • But health was a big reason the Seattle-Minnesota game last week was so much closer, and health could come into play for Green Bay-Arizona. In that blowout loss just three weeks ago, the Packers were playing with several backup offensive linemen. That won’t be the case this time. And even though Tyrann Mathieu was out for the Cardinals during these teams’ regular season game, that doesn’t mean he’s not a huge loss. Many people had him ranked high on their Defensive Player of the Year list. You probably feel a lot more comfortable against Aaron Rodgers if you had the Honey Badger roaming the defensive side of the field this coming Saturday night.
  • If playoff experience counts for anything, the Packers get a big thumbs up over Arizona.
  • Did you know that between last year’s playoffs and last weekend there have been nine games where a team is favored by six or more points and the favorite has covered the spread only three times in that scenario? It’s important to note that the favorite has won the game outright in eight of those cases, but they’re typically not covering. My pick reflects this.
  • I know we need to peg one game as a blowout, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that later on.
  • I’m torn on this game because even though I know there are plenty of factors telling me it won’t be a blowout, I also compared the Packers to the Atlanta Falcons just a week ago. It really could be as simple as the subpar Redskins’ defense made the Packers look a lot better than they are. And we should probably look at Green Bay’s body of work over the course of the entire season rather than one playoff game.
  • But while Arizona outranks Green Bay in every meaningful category besides special teams, and certainly Bruce Arians could coach circles around Mike McCarthy even if Arians took whatever crazy shit that Chandler Jones was on the other night, I expect the mysterious power of Aaron Rodgers to at least get me the backdoor cover.
  • Arizona leads by 10-13 points for most of the second half, but Rodgers gets a late score to ruin the Cardinals’ cover.

Seattle at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 24, Seattle 17

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Seattle 3rd 2nd 4th 3rd 1st
Carolina 11th 8th 2nd 23rd 4th
  • Listen, I don’t really have any in-depth analysis for this game. It’s difficult to pick apart the Panthers since they went 15-1. You can’t do the whole “this is what happened in games they lost versus games they won” thing. And the Seahawks are the advanced stat champions of the regular season and obviously came on strong later in the year.
  • Both teams have awesome defenses, MVP-caliber quarterbacks, great running games and no-name wide receivers who get the job done. I don’t see where analysis is going to give you an edge.
  • But here’s what I do know: If you pick against a 15-1 team who’s playing at home after having two weeks of rest while their opponent was playing a bruising, freezing game a week ago, and that 15-1 team is only laying a field goal, you are certifiably insane.
  • Read my words carefully. I didn’t write “you’re going to be wrong if you bet on Seattle.” I simply said you’re a crazy person if you do. Even crazy people are right every once in a while.

Pittsburgh at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 30, Pittsburgh 9

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Pittsburgh 5th 3rd 11th 18th 7th
Denver 36th 25th 1st 14th 8th
  • One of my favorite things from last Sunday was people on twitter handing this Divisional Round win to both teams because of their quarterback situations. Half of twitter was saying, “Congrats on getting to the AFC Championship game, Denver. You get to play a Steelers team that might be without Roethlisberger and/or Brown.” And the other half was saying, “Congrats on getting to the AFC Championship game, Pittsburgh. You get ‘Playoff Manning’ in the Divisional Round.”
  • The craziest subplot of this game is how Peyton Manning will probably be the best quarterback on the field by a wide margin. Pittsburgh is either rolling out a significantly injured Ben Roethlisberger or a fully healthy Landry Jones.
  • If I could put a bet on Roethlisberger not playing in this game right now, I absolutely would. I think the Steelers are doing everything in their power to make Denver prepare for Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but neither of them are going to play.
  • If that’s the case, you’d have a Steelers team without its star QB, star receiver and best option at running back in Deangelo Williams.
  • You can think what you want about “Playoff Manning” & “2015 Manning” and the ineptitude of the Denver offense all season, but if those three guys are out for Pittsburgh, the Broncos are going to demolish them.
  • The deck would have been somewhat stacked against a fully healthy Pittsburgh team because they’re going into hostile territory where the home team is 28-4 during the last four regular seasons. And they are going up against the #1 defense in the league.
  • Yes, the Steelers beat Denver in week 15, but that game was in Pittsburgh and don’t forget the Broncos led by as much as 17 points at one point.
  • As compelling as the Steelers can be when they’re full strength, the two best AFC Championship matchups are Broncos-Patriots and Broncos-Chiefs.
  • If Roethlisberger makes a miraculous recovery, I see Denver winning by 3-7 points. If he doesn’t, Pittsburgh won’t crack double digits.

It’s a shame that a lot of my bullet points across three of the four games had to do with players being healthy or unhealthy, but that’s the reality of football in January. It would have been great to see most of these teams operating at 100%, but we play the hand we’re dealt.

And now we turn to my favorite prop bets of the week.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards this weekend?

The Pick: Demaryius Thomas (4/1), Emmanuel Sanders (5/1), Michael Floyd (12/1)

Yes, if you bet the same amount on each guy, you will make a profit as long as one of them has the most yards this weekend. Floyd is a great longshot because he has surpassed 100 receiving yards in five of his last seven full games. That’s some legitimate big game consistency right there. And yes, I know Peyton Manning’s noodle arm will be the appendage responsible for getting the ball to Thomas and Sanders. But they each had a handful of 100+ yard games during the season with Manning as their QB. And they happen to be facing the worst pass defense left in the playoffs. And if this game goes the way I think it’ll go, the Broncos are going to get a lot of offensive possessions. Even if they’re playing conservatively, I like one of these guys to win this title.

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

The Pick: David Johnson (+250)

Two reasons for this bet: 1) Johnson is facing a below average Packers run defense while the rest of the running backs will at least be facing above average defenses against the run. 2) The other options aren’t very appealing. There’s Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, but they split carries for the same team. Similarly, you could choose Ronnie Hillman or C.J. Anderson, but they share the backfield in Denver. Jonathan Stewart probably isn’t putting up a huge day on the Seattle run defense. And Eddie Lacy might not get a ton of opportunities if Arizona forces the Packers to play from behind and try to match their quick-striking offense all day. There are no other options on the board. Go with Johnson.

Tom Brady total pass attempts

The Pick: Over 41.5 (-115)

Tom Brady total completions

The Pick: Over 25 (-115)

Tom Brady total passing yards

The Pick: Over 290.5 (-115)

Get it all out there, folks. If you think the Patriots are going to win or even play a halfway decent offensive game, every one of these Brady props should hit. If you’d rather not spread your money out on all three but instead bet bigger on just one of them, I’d go with over 25 completions.

Will Tom Brady throw an interception?

The Pick: Yes (-145)

It makes sense that a guy who’s asked to throw the ball as much as he does every postseason would end up with a lot of interceptions. Brady has thrown at least one interception in four straight playoff games and eight of his last 10 postseason games going back to the 2011-12 season.

After the Divisional Round, we only have three football games remaining. If you’re trying to make money, the time is now.

Enjoy the Divisional Round.

Your Guide to the NFL Playoffs & Wildcard Picks

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Vegas has got me right where they want me. Every single time I’ve tried to make a decision on a game for this upcoming Wildcard Weekend, I’ve been this guy:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we dive into the 1st round picks, let’s get a high level view of the entire 12-team playoff field. By the way, is anyone else excited for Saturday so we can stop paying attention to the overload of stories about all the teams that didn’t make the playoffs?

It seems over the past 96 hours that the only football news I read/see/hear is related to the 24 teams that did not make the playoffs. The media is flooding us with stories on what the sad franchises of the NFL will do to try to turn things around. The 49ers, the Browns, the Dolphins, the Colts, the Giants. Maybe it’s just me, but once the regular season ends, I only want to talk about the playoffs. There are 12 teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy and there has to be a ton to pick apart and analyze about each of them. I know the media has to cover coaching changes and other end-of-season housekeeping stuff, but I hate that we don’t get any real playoff analysis in the meantime.

Let’s be better than that. I really don’t care what color wig Johnny Manziel might have been wearing in Vegas because I try not to obsess over the personal lives of guys who are going to be selling insurance in two years.

So what are my first impressions of this year’s playoff field? Glad you asked.

The Haves & The Have Nots

The playoff field is split almost evenly between the current crop of marquee teams, and a bunch of teams that are on the long-suffering list. Here’s the breakdown:

  • New England, Pittsburgh, Denver, Green Bay and Seattle represent annual success over the past five years, 10 years, even 20 years. Only three of the past 12 Super Bowls haven’t featured at least one of these teams. Going back a bit further, these five teams have 20 combined Super Bowl appearances in the past 20 years, with 11 combined Super Bowl wins to show for it. (They also have 17 Super Bowl wins overall, but now I’m just rubbing it in.)
  • So yeah, it’s safe to say these next seven teams will be getting all the love across the country from people who don’t have a dog in the fight.
  • Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Carolina, Arizona and Minnesota represent failure in the NFL. These six teams have combined for one Super Bowl win. That win belongs to the Chiefs way back in 1969. While the Panthers and Cardinals have both made a single Super Bowl appearance in the 21st century, the other four teams haven’t even been part of the festivities since 1988 (Bengals), 1976 (Vikings), 1969 (Chiefs), or in the case of Houston, forever.
  • The one team I haven’t touched yet is Washington. Historically, they fall into the once-proud franchise group. After all, they have three Super Bowl wins so it would seem they belong more in Group 1. But the last Lombardi Trophy came all the way back in 1991, and they haven’t even sniffed another once since then. On top of that, they have the distinction of being run by the worst owner in football. If you think the ‘Skins don’t belong in the “failure” group, make sure to read what I wrote about them a year ago.
  • As usual, the NFL can’t lose no matter who emerges as this year’s Champ. Either a tortured fan base gets its first trophy in a long time / forever, or one of the marquee (read: popular) franchises adds another to the trophy case.

But What About 2015?

The history of these 12 teams is nice and all, but what about how they’ve performed this year? Are we looking at a stacked group or a mediocre group? Is one conference noticeably better than the other conference overall? In certain areas? Let’s try to answer some of that stuff now. (All rankings in this section come from FootballOutsiders.com, where their DVOA and efficiency metrics are far better indicators for team & individual performance than traditional stats):

  • Of the 12 playoff teams, 10 of them rank in the top 12 in Team Efficiency. The eight best teams in the NFL all made the playoffs. The Jets (9th) and Bills (12th) are the two non-playoff teams to crack the top 12. Washington (15th) and Houston (18th) are the teams that got into the final 12 without being one of the 12 best teams. Green Bay (10th) and Minnesota (11th) complete that non-top-eight foursome.
  • So if you’re scoring at home, the best eight teams in football are, in order: Seattle, Cincinnati, Arizona, Carolina, Kansas City, New England, Pittsburgh and Denver.
  • While the AFC has five of the top eight teams, you can understand why Vegas has installed the NFC as 2.5-point favorites in the Super Bowl. They have three of the top four teams.
  • Furthermore the #1 team in football, Seattle, is light years ahead of everyone else. According to FootballOutsiders, the 2nd best team in the NFL, Cincinnati, is closer to the 7th ranked team (Pittsburgh) than they are to the Seahawks. The last time the #1 team had such a huge lead in DVOA was two years ago when Seattle won the Super Bowl. Just warning you.
  • On defense, only Minnesota (14th) and Washington (21st) rank outside the overall top 12. Denver is #1 in this category, followed by three NFC teams: Carolina, Arizona and Seattle.
  • On the offensive side, the AFC is unbalanced. They have four teams ranked in the top six, but then their final two teams, Houston and Denver, rank 24th and 25th respectively. Over in the NFC, all six teams are between 2nd (Seattle) and 16th (Minnesota) on offense.
  • As quarterbacks go, so go the offenses. The AFC has the 2nd (Tom Brady), 4th (Andy Dalton) and 5th (Ben Roethlisberger) best QBs. But they also have the 16th (Alex Smith), 20th (Brian Hoyer) and 36th (Peyton Manning) ranked guys.
  • If AJ McCarron had enough passes to qualify, he would be ranked 23rd, just behind Brock Osweiler.
  • The NFC’s QB ranks are: 1st (Carson Palmer), 3rd (Russell Wilson), 7th (Kirk Cousins), 11th (Cam Newton), 17th (Aaron Rodgers), and 21st (Teddy Bridgewater).
  • From a non-stats standpoint, it certainly seems like the AFC trumps the NFC in wide receivers / tight ends. The AFC will feature Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert while the NFC will feature…Larry Fitzgerald and DeSean Jackson? Even if you want to include Doug Baldwin and Greg Olsen in that mix, the AFC wins big time.
  • From a coaching standpoint, the playoffs feature only four coaches who are beyond reproach: Bill Belichick, Ron Rivera, Bruce Arians and Pete Carroll. Joke all you want about the way last year’s Super Bowl ended, but Carroll is solid with all decision making. And even though Arians and Rivera haven’t sniffed a Super Bowl, their track records in the regular season over the past couple years speak for themselves.
  • We also have some relative newcomers to the playoff coaching ranks. Bill O’Brien, Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden have 0 combined playoff games as head coaches while Gary Kubiak has a 2-2 record from his time with Houston.
  • And then there are the four enigmatic coaches. All of them have vast playoff experience and yet they are the four leading candidates to massively screw something up at the exact wrong moment. I’m talking of course about Marvin Lewis (0-6 playoff record), Andy Reid (10-10 playoff record including five NFC Championship game appearances), Mike Tomlin (5-4 playoff record with two Super Bowl appearances) and Mike McCarthy (7-6 playoff record with one Super Bowl appearance/win). I can’t stress enough how brutal the decision making and clock management of these four guys can be at times. Proceed very cautiously if making any sort of bets on their teams.

I don’t think we can attach a single title to this playoff group like “stacked” or “underwhelming.” I think we have a couple potential juggernauts, a couple punching bags, some awesome quarterback and receiver combinations and a handful of volatile coaches. It should be a lot of fun.

The Non-Bye Teams and The Picks

Now that we have a sense of the overall playoff field, let’s see if we can decide on the picks for each Wildcard game and maybe point out a couple burning questions / astute observations about each matchup. I’m sure we could find dozens of angles for every team, but let’s limit it so that you can finish reading this before J.J. Watt’s first sack on Saturday afternoon.

Kansas City (-3.5) at Houston

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 19, Houston 13

  1. There’s a narrative out there (that I might have helped create) that says Houston’s schedule was a piece of cake, and if you look at their nine wins, all but one or two are against awful teams. That’s true. But Kansas City also had an easy schedule. If we focus on the Chiefs’ 10-game win streak to end the season and Houston’s 7-2 record in its final nine games, it actually works out to this: Kansas City, on average, faced the equivalent of the St. Louis Rams (16th in DVOA) every week while Houston’s opponents averaged out to be as good as the Chicago Bears (19th in DVOA).
  2. The reason the Chiefs get a slight nod from me on how they closed out the season is threefold: 1) They won all 10 games while Houston lost a couple in December, 2) Their opponents were tougher, even if only slightly, and 3) Their average margin of victory on the road during the 10-game win streak was 20. The road is where they’ll be throughout the playoffs.
  3. When I guessed the line for this game five days ago, I thought the Chiefs would be closer to a 7-point favorite. Being that far off makes me nervous.
  4. But another thing greatly in KC’s favor is that they’re getting their best pass rusher back in Justin Houston (22 sacks in 2014) at the exact same time as the Texans play their first game without offensive tackle Duane Brown. THIS IS HUGE (even if the Justin Houston / Houston Texans thing is confusing).
  5. Another thing to keep in mind, especially in this age of massive injuries, is the QB situation. Alex Smith has proven to be very durable, almost never missing games during his time in Kansas City. Brian Hoyer, on the other hand, has been very breakable. He came back from a torn ACL suffered in 2014, but has sustained two concussions in the last two months. Whatever you do, DO NOT FORGET THAT BRANDON WEEDEN IS LURKING. One big hit to Hoyer and the Texans’ fate lies squarely on the shoulders of the former baseball player / Cleveland 1st round draft pick / Dallas backup.
  6. The only positive things I can think to say for Houston are:
    1. This just seems too easy. I hate not being able to think of a good reason why the Texans could win a home game.
    2. J.J. Watt might ruin your life if you bet against him. Seriously.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 27

  1. We all know the incredibly hilarious scenario that’s in play for the Bengals, right? Do I even need to say it? OK here it is. AJ McCarron will probably start the Bengals’ Wildcard game, and clearly you can see I’m picking Cincy to win. One week later when they play at New England, Andy Dalton could be ready to go. Of course Cincy has to start him. And of course there’s a good chance the Bengals lose. If their two games play out this way, three interesting things will happen: 1) Marvin Lewis will get a 30-year contract extension, 2) the “Dalton can’t win in the playoffs” narrative will be alive and well (stronger than ever actually), and 3) More than a couple idiot fans will be screaming for the Bengals to make McCarron the team’s starter in 2016. Sometimes a funny and almost-too-convenient narrative is nice to have because it saves me from doing any real analysis.
  2. One of the reasons this AFC North matchup on Wildcard Weekend is so intriguing is because of what happened during their two regular season meetings. In week 8, the Bengals won at Pittsburgh, 16-10, but Ben Roethlisberger was making his first start after rushing back from a sprained MCL and clearly wasn’t himself. It still took a late comeback by Cincinnati to get it done. Then in week 14, the Steelers won in Cincinnati, 33-20, but that was the game where Dalton broke his thumb in the first quarter and McCarron got shoved into action at QB. Still, the Steelers only put up two offensive touchdowns on the Cincy defense. So the Steelers will have their preferred guy at QB for this game, and the Bengals will have their backup who’s at least had several weeks to prepare and get to as good of a point as he can possibly be.
  3. But here’s the thing no one is talking about when discounting the Bengals because of McCarron and their yearly failures in the playoffs: This is by far the best all around team that Lewis has had in Cincy. In Dalton’s first four years, FootballOutsiders.com had the Bengals ranked 17th, 12th, 9th and 12th overall. This year they are the 2nd best team in football.
  4. I know the Steelers are the sexy pick. I know there’s talk of “the two #6 seeds are extra dangerous this year.” I get it. And I won’t tell you there’s no way Pittsburgh wins this game. But do not forget that Pitt went 3-3 on the road with a healthy Roethlisberger this year, that they just lost at Baltimore two weeks ago in a must-win game, and that DeAngelo Williams is probably out for this game. I know they didn’t skip a beat when Williams replaced Le’Veon Bell during the regular season, but how many game-changing running backs can they possibly have on the depth chart?
  5. As far as the coaching matchup goes in this one, we’re talking about an overly conservative coach in Marvin Lewis facing a schizophrenic wildcard in Mike Tomlin. Don’t rule out the possibility of Lewis seemingly frozen on the sideline while Tomlin uses all three of his timeouts and both challenges in a 30-second span.

Seattle (-6) at Minnesota

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 25, Minnesota 7

  1. During Seattle’s three-year dominant stretch leading into this season, one thing you could say was that they were at least slightly more beatable on the road. And sure enough, they got off to an 0-3 road start in 2015. But that feels like ancient history because they’ve won five straight away from CenturyLink Field. By the time this game kicks off, it’ll be almost exactly three months since their last road loss. That’s impressive even if they did struggle to put away Matt Cassel in Seattle’s 13-12 win at Dallas on November 1st.
  2. Each of these teams played nine games against common opponents in 2015 with the Vikings amassing a 6-3 record in those games compared to Seattle’s 5-4 record. But the game we might want to look at most closely from the regular season is when Seattle went into Minnesota on December 6th and absolutely demolished the Vikings, 38-7.
  3. In that game, Adrian Peterson was held to 18 yards on eight carries and the Vikings never even scored an offensive touchdown (Cordarrelle Patterson’s 101-yard kickoff return was the lone score for Minnesota). A key player at each level of the Vikings’ defense was either out for the game or injured during the game.
  4. The biggest thing the Vikings have going for them is that the defense is mostly back to full health.
  5. There’s also the issue of the weather in Minneapolis on Sunday. Frickin’ Freezing. If nothing more, maybe that slows the Seahawks’ suddenly high-flying offense down.
  6. But therein lies another problem. The Vikings tend to give up a ton of rushing yards when they lose. Seattle has been pounding the ball on the ground even while Russell Wilson puts up awesome passing stats. And Marshawn Lynch is due back this week.
  7. Sometimes a team that got crushed by an opponent in the regular season can flip the script in their playoff matchup (see: Patriots vs Jets, 2010). But this doesn’t feel like one of those times.

Green Bay (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 31, Green Bay 23

  1. The NFC East killed me this year. Not in the sense that I lost a ton of money on the teams in that division, but rather I lost the two bets I made with friends that severely eroded my street cred. The first bet was that Dallas would win the East. I gave my buddy even odds and the other three teams. I was that confident in the Cowboys. And then just the other day my friend who’s a diehard Washington fan reminded me that we also made a bet. If the Redskins’ pick landed in the top 10 in the 2016 Draft, he owed me a bottle of liquor of my choosing. If not, I owed him. They aren’t even drafting in the top 20!
  2. And all this Washington team has been doing is surprising us at every turn. Oh, they’re competitive within the putrid NFC East? Surprise. Oh, they might have a chance to edge out the Giants or Eagles for that elusive 7-9 division-winning record? Surprise. Wait a sec, they might get all the way to a respectable 9-7? Major surprise. And they’re facing Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the playoffs and they aren’t a massive underdog? Biggest friggen surprise of the year!
  3. If you think about this game long enough, it will fuck with your mind in a major way. Yes, the Rodgers that we have in our heads should beat this team. Yes, the Packers go to the playoffs every year and Washington’s recent history can’t even fetch the water for the Packers’ pedigree. But none of that really matters right now.
  4. The craziest thing in my mind that’s not immediately obvious to everyone is how similar the Packers are to this year’s Falcons. Atlanta started off 5-0 before limping to a 3-8 record the rest of the way, finishing 8-8. The Packers started off 6-0 and if the miracle Hail Mary in Detroit in week 13 doesn’t happen, they would have finished 3-6 for a 9-7 record. In the last 10 games of their season, they got blown out by good teams and struggled to put away the shittiest teams (except for Dallas). The sample size seems plenty big at this point. They aren’t a good football team.
  5. The only thing that scares me even a tiny bit about backing the Redskins is that they’re actually getting some respect (barely an underdog) and they seem a bit cocky about it (The “You Like That?” rally towels that will be given to every fan on Sunday seems like a bit much).
  6. Also, how can I be sure that Kirk Cousins doesn’t take a knee to end the game with his team trailing by one and being well within field goal range? You can’t tell me that type of mental meltdown isn’t at least in play a little bit on Sunday.

Don’t Forget The Props

Not convinced that you should back my game picks because my arguments weren’t very convincing? Fine, let’s look at some props that I’m zeroing in on for the weekend.

How many Wildcard Teams will win Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: 2 (+225 odds)

Based on my picks above, I obviously think Kansas City and Seattle are advancing. Might as well try to get a decent payday out of it. The lowest odds are for three Wildcard teams to advance (+175). I know it’s not going to be 0 or four of them winning. If you want some protection, you could also bet one Wildcard team to win (4/1 odds). You’ll still profit no matter which bet pays off.

Who will record the most Passing Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: Kirk Cousins (+450), AJ McCarron (8/1)

I’m going with two picks. The reason for Cousins is because the guy’s on fire right now. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in six of his past nine full games. While Green Bay’s pass defense ranks 6th overall, they could be playing without Sam Shields on Sunday. Most impressive of everything I looked at is how Washington is 6-1 in games where Cousins exceeds that 300 mark. If they haven’t figured out by now that Cousins should throw a lot when they want to win, someone should be fired.

The McCarron pick is more of a longshot, obviously. But Pittsburgh does have the 2nd worst pass defense of all the teams playing this weekend. The Steelers also have a great run defense, so here’s another team that should have to throw a lot to have success. When McCarron took over for Andy Dalton the last time these two teams met, he throw for 280 yards without playing the full game. A.J. Green happens to own the Steelers too. It’s worth a few bucks at least.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: A.J. Green (7/1)

Yes, Green only had four games of 100+ yards in 2015. And yes, his counterpart on the Steelers, Antonio Brown, looks like a much better option on the surface. After all, Brown had nine games of 100 or more yards and it probably would have been more if Roethlisberger played every game during the regular season. But Brown actually had pedestrian numbers in both games against the Bengals secondary. Green, on the other hand, had two of his best games of the year when facing the Steelers. In those two games, Cincy’s leading receiver combined for 17 catches for 250 yards. As I mentioned with my McCarron pick above, I think the Bengals will have to air the ball out pretty good if they want to win on Saturday night.

Even though I’ve made plenty of decisions in this column, I’m definitely still freaking out. Proceed with caution. Remember that next week we get to bet on the cream of the crop, and we’ll have seen what the four teams advancing out of Wildcard Weekend looked like. It’s probably better to go wild with bets next week.

Enjoy Wildcard Weekend.

Week 17 NFL Picks: Don’t Bother Reading This

weeden

Since the week 17 lines aren’t perplexing enough—what with the complete unknown around which teams are resting players, which teams will try for 30 minutes and then rest players upon seeing certain scores around the league, which teams will be motivated to win or lose and for what reasons—I decided to really up the degree of difficulty with my picks.

I’ve been driving across the country since Tuesday morning. I’ve barely had a minute to check twitter or keep up with any relevant NFL news. I’m writing this column without internet access in the passenger seat of a rental car while traveling between Flagstaff, Arizona, and Los Angeles. (If you’re not up to speed on the situation my wife & I encountered when trying to fly out of Boston this past Tuesday, I suggest you read through my Twitter timeline @rossgariepy or search Twitter for #GariepyRoadTrip2015.)

This should go really really smoothly.

NY Jets (-3) at Buffalo

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 29, NY Jets 18

The Jets clinch an AFC Wildcard spot with a win. All they have to do is turn away the Bills, led by the former New York coach who would love nothing more than to keep the team that fired him a year ago out of the postseason. It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to take the Jets without a second thought considering the circumstances, but I think Rex, with a recent vote of confidence for next year from his owner, will pull out EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK to win this one. I think we finally see a Ryan Fitzpatrick meltdown combined with trickery such as Sammy Watkins throwing a touchdown to Tyrod Taylor.

New England (-10) at Miami

The Pick: Miami

The Score: New England 25, Miami 21

You know where having the internet available while writing this would come in handy? When trying to figure out which of the abundance of injured Patriots players are suiting up for action this weekend. Even with a hobbled offensive line, the Patriots should win by 10+ if—and only if—Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are participating. But I don’t have a clue about their status so I’m predicting a more conservative win for New England.

New Orleans at Atlanta (-5)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: Atlanta 23, New Orleans 20

Atlanta starts the year 5-0, I mentally cash my preseason ticket of “Atlanta over 8.5 wins.”

Atlanta goes 2-7 in the middle of the year, I mentally rip up that same ticket.

Atlanta takes down the undefeated Panthers to keep the bet in play with only the Saints left to beat…I don’t have a clue what to think. Let’s do an emotional hedge here and pick against them. I could still win the pick and the bet if the Falcons win by 3 or less.

Detroit at Chicago (PICK)

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 27, Chicago 10

Didn’t the Bears put most of their offensive players on IR this week? I think I saw that when I had two minutes of cell phone reception while driving through Elk City, Oklahoma.

Philadelphia at NY Giants (-3.5)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: NY Giants 12, Philadelphia 9

This game would only be exciting if Tom Coughlin accepted the head coaching job with the Eagles 1 hour before kickoff and coached Philly instead of the Giants, and then Odell Beckham headbutted Coughlin after an out-of-bounds play near his former head coach.

Washington at Dallas (-4)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 21, Washington 6

Washington rests everyone while Jason Garrett gets to use this game as evidence that his team never gave up despite a terrible season.

Also, I don’t know the mechanics of anything RG3 related right now in terms of him being on the active roster, etc, but shouldn’t Washington play him in this game as a final sendoff and a “thanks for the memories in 2012”? Oh, right. With their luck, he tears a knee ligament in the 3rd quarter and the Skins are on the hook for his huge salary in 2016. Nevermind.

Tennessee at Indianapolis (-6)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 17, Tennessee 7

I know there’s a good chance some guy that was on a different team’s practice squad just a week ago is starting at QB for Indy on Sunday, but I gotta go with the Colts because the Titans probably want to stay in position to pick 1st in the 2016 Draft pretty badly. More importantly, a meaningless 10-point win against the Titans in week 17 is a perfect recipe for the soon-to-be-fired Chuck Pagano to give a way too emotional postgame locker room speech that makes the entire country uncomfortable.

Jacksonville at Houston (-7)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 30, Jacksonville 21

A graduate from the University of Belichick, Bill O’Brien isn’t the type to scoreboard watch and pack it in during a meaningless second half after seeing that the Texans have officially clinched the AFC South.

Baltimore at Cincinnati (-9)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 24, Cincinnati 17

Going the exact opposite of the AFC South picks with the AFC North. Instead of both favorites who are still playing for something covering a pretty large spread, I like both underdogs in the North. Baltimore has been far better this year than their results, and I think they have fun making sure the Bengals don’t get a bye.

Pittsburgh (-11) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 24

Johnny Manziel plays just well enough to end the season that the Browns stand pat at the QB position in the offseason. And then Manziel goes on a legendary bender next Labor Day weekend and we all say, “That’s so Cleveland.”

Oakland at Kansas City (-7.5)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Kansas City 23, Oakland 17

The AFC West is very tough to project this week. The Chiefs are certainly motivated to win this game since they still have a shot to capture the division title, but what happens if they see the Broncos are up by 20 in the 3rd quarter? Then the smart play would be for Andy Reid to pull Alex Smith, Jeremy Maclin and others because their position is effectively locked in.

San Diego at Denver (-9)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 26, Denver 16

Likewise, the Broncos are highly incentivized to win their final game because it would lock up at least the #2 seed in the AFC. If they lose and the Chiefs win, they could fall to the 6th seed. But what happens if the Broncos are up 14 late in the game and see the Chiefs are about to lose? They might go conservative and let the Chargers tack on a late, meaningless touchdown. Who knows?

I’m predicting the Chargers to win outright for one reason and one reason only…the Brock Osweiler vs Peyton Manning debate would get turned waaaaaay up if Osweiler loses and doesn’t look great on Sunday.

Tampa Bay at Carolina (-11)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 33, Tampa Bay 17

Remember all those things I just said about the AFC West games? It’s exactly the same for the battle for the #1 seed in the NFC. A Carolina win locks up the top spot, but if they scoreboard watch and see Arizona on the verge of losing anyway, the Panthers probably pull all their key players in the 4th quarter. But I’m going to assume the Cardinals will be winning and the Panthers will have to keep their foot on the gas.

Seattle at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 29, Seattle 14

Bruce Arians doesn’t care about what the Panthers are doing. Bruce Arians only cares about winning every game by as many points as possible.

St. Louis (-3.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: St. Louis 19, San Francisco 16

Feels like a 3-point win for someone.

Minnesota at Green Bay (-3.5)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Green Bay 24, Minnesota 21

Also feels like a 3-point win for someone.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 5 Favorites, 10 Underdogs, 1 PICK
  • 4 Home Dogs, 6 Road Dogs
  • 9 Home Teams, 7 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 114-119-7 (8-8 in week 16)

Enjoy week 17. And in case it wasn’t clear in my intro, STAY THE EFF AWAY FROM THESE PICKS AND GAMBLING IN GENERAL THIS WEEK.

Week 16 NFL Picks: The Underdog Awakens

julio

“Help us, Julio Jones, you’re our only hope.”

-Princess Leia, if she was a football fan who didn’t want to see the Panthers go 16-0.

It’s Christmas week and that means three things for the NFL picks column: 1) I’m posting it on Wednesday evening because many of you will be out of the office on Thursday, or you’ll be at the office but not contributing to the growth of the American economy because you’ll be eating and drinking your way through your company’s holiday party, 2) Because I’m posting this a day early and it’s the weird time of the season when most teams are out of playoff contention, there are likely to be some game-swinging roster decisions between now & Sunday that make these picks useless, and 3) I don’t have the time for a fancy intro to the picks column, nor do you have the attention to read it.

Here are the week 16 picks.

San Diego at Oakland (-6)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 27, San Diego 11

This game is meaningless so any words I write about it will also be meaningless. Can the Raiders do what the Chargers just did to the Dolphins last week? Win BIG in what could be their final home game ever? Yes, I’m pretty sure they can.

Washington at Philadelphia (-3)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 28, Washington 23

Washington can actually clinch the NFC East this week. Think about that sentence for a second. Four months ago people like me were wondering who would get the 1st pick in the 2016 Draft, Washington or Cleveland. Amazing. If the ‘Skins win, it doesn’t matter what the Giants or any other NFC East team does the rest of the season. Kirk Cousins will be the starting quarterback for the NFC’s #4 seed. Buuuuut it just wouldn’t be right if this division didn’t come down to the final week.

And while I was initially rooting for Washington to occupy that automatic playoff spot, I gotta say, the idea of the Giants sneaking in, somehow knocking off the Seahawks in the Wildcard Round, and then matching up in another street fight with the Panthers in round 2 is too enticing not to root for.

San Francisco at Detroit (-10)

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Detroit 16, San Francisco 10

You know how many times the Lions have won a game by more than a touchdown this year? Once. This is just a ridiculous line and thankfully we’re at the point of the season where we can gloss over these games between two non-contenders. Next.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 19

The Steelers ballwashing is officially off the charts. Listening to the media and even the watercooler talk at your job, you’d think this team would have easily gone 16-0 if only they had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger all season. No one wants to face them in the playoffs, blah blah blah. Even my gambling partner in crime can’t contain himself. Every week I get a text to the effect of, “Let’s put it all on Pitt. No way they could ever not cover this.”

I’m sorry, but there’s something nerve-racking about backing this team by double digits on the road. It’s absolutely ridiculous that I’m picking a Mallett-led Ravens team against the greatest team in the world, but I am. Deal with it.

Dallas at Buffalo (-6)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 24, Buffalo 16

Strange happenings with Rex Ryan, right? Based on DVOA, the Bills have the 7th best offense in the league but the 4th worst defense. Can we really trust this team to handle Kellen Moore and the Cowboys by a touchdown? No, we can’t. And here’s the crazy thing: Buffalo’s downfall in 2015 can be directly attributed to their struggles against the NFC East. If they somehow lose this game outright, they will finish 0-4 against that lowly division. If they were even average against one of the league’s worst divisions, they’d still be fighting for a Wildcard spot.

Chicago at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 27, Tampa Bay 23

When two teams have absolutely nothing to play for–neither of these teams is making the playoffs nor can they jump into the top five picks of the 2016 Draft–I trust the team that’s better coached and has more experienced players. That would be Chicago by a longshot.

Carolina (-7) at Atlanta

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 22, Carolina 20

This is not a rational pick. This is: “I’ve been watching football closely for more than 20 years and it just feels like something insane is going to happen in this matchup.” Insane like a Cam Newton injury. Insane like Julio Jones somehow, some way going off for 320 receiving yards. Insane like the Panthers fumbling the ball 14 times or Tedd Ginn Jr. dropping 8 touchdown passes.

It’s also time for me to start hedging on my preseason bet of “will any team go 16-0?” I have it at 25/1 odds. That sounds like a moneyline underdog bet to me.

Cleveland at Kansas City (-13)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 10, Kansas City 9

OK, I jumped the gun several times this year by writing in previous weeks that “Cleveland’s going to find a way to screw up a potential #1 overall draft pick.” They still need help from Tennessee to get there anyway, but I do think this is the week where Browns fans scream at their team for winning an easily losable game.

Indianapolis at Miami (-1.5)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 17, Miami 10

It’s looking almost impossible for the Colts to win the AFC South. They need to win their final two and have the Texans go winless the rest of the way (unlikely since Houston faces Tennessee and Jacksonville). And Andrew Luck probably won’t be seen again the rest of the year. And Chuck Pagano, among others, are probably getting fired in early January. But despite all of that, the Colts are a far superior team compared to the Dolphins.

New England (-3.5) at NY Jets

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 9, New England 6

The Jets played the Patriots very close back in October in a road game. At that time, the Patriots had almost an entirely healthy team. The Jets play the Patriots close more often than anyone else. The Jets have a good defense. The Patriots are back down to Gronk and no-name receivers after Danny Amendola re-injured his knee last week. Oh, and for good measure, the Jets have the #1 rush defense in football.

I can’t imagine a scenario where the Patriots win this game.

Houston at Tennessee (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 34, Tennessee 14

And the most preposterous line of the week goes to…this game! I don’t care if it’s Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden or David Carr starting for the Texans at quarterback. This is such a disrespectful line. The Texans have played themselves into great position to claim the AFC South (and likely get trounced by the Chiefs or Steelers in the Wildcard Round), and yet Vegas has them as underdogs to the team that’s almost definitely going to finish with the worst record in football? And not even a small underdog! A 4.5-point dog! I wish nothing but bad fortune on anyone dumb enough to pick Tennessee this week.

Jacksonville at New Orleans (-3.5)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 47, New Orleans 42

Yawn. The Jags seem to do well as underdogs and seem to shit themselves when favored. Nothing to play for on either side. Drew Brees maybe sits this one out? This is my Stayaway Game of the week because…who the F cares?

Maybe two explosive offenses can treat us to a RedZone Christmas miracle? The kind of game where RedZone Channel is constantly cutting in to tell us both QBs have now gone over 400 yards on the afternoon?

Green Bay at Arizona (-4)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 27, Green Bay 17

It’s too bad the Packers suck. I think we all still remember that Aaron Rodgers vs Kurt Warner showdown in the 2009-10 playoffs when the Cardinals escaped with a 51-45 overtime win in Rodgers’ first career playoff game. It would be nice to get Rodgers vs Carson Palmer in January in a sort of “part 2,” but the Packers blow. It won’t happen. Or it’ll happen and it won’t be exciting in any way.

I hate the Tyrann Mathieu injury for the Cardinals. I think that really sinks their chances to win in Carolina in the NFC Championship game. But I don’t think it really affects the defense all that much against the Packers. And Green Bay simply can’t match points with the Cardinals right now.

St. Louis at Seattle (-14)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 37, St. Louis 13

I’m irrationally excited to bet against Seattle when they’re favored by 8 at either New York or Washington in the Wildcard Round. Please, Seahawks, keep beating the shittiest teams in the NFL by three touchdowns. I don’t want the rest of the world to even get an inkling that you might not be as good as you seem. Their five-game win streak: vs San Francisco, vs Pittsburgh (no Roethlisberger in the final 10 minutes), at Minnesota, at Baltimore, vs Cleveland.

Crap. I’ve said too much.

NY Giants at Minnesota (-6)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 33, Minnesota 14

As I write this sentence, the NFL hasn’t announced its decision on the Odell Beckham suspension (it’s 4:25pm Eastern on Wednesday so it should, in theory, happen any second). I’ve held off as long as possible. I’m going with the Giants either way.

Either the suspension will be upheld and the entire world will bet the Vikings because New York’s most important player is out, or the suspension will be overturned and this number will go down to something like Minnesota -4. And my dream scenario of seeing Beckham get ejected from the Giants-Panthers playoff game can only stay alive if the Giants win this week.

Cincinnati at Denver (-3.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 24, Cincinnati 7

Maybe I was a week early with the “this is the time of year when Marvin Lewis packs it in and gets conservative” comment. But the Bengals weren’t nearly as good as the final score indicated in their win in San Francisco last week. AJ McCarron against the Denver secondary on the road probably isn’t going to work out too well. I love Denver in this game. L-O-V-E. LOVE.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 5 Favorites, 11 Underdogs
  • 3 Home Dogs, 8 Road Dogs
  • 8 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 106-111-7 (6-10 in week 15)

Enjoy Week 16 and good luck with your in-laws this week.