The NFL Season Review: The World’s Smartest Brothers, Reviewing Preseason and MidSeason Predictions and Much More

What a season, huh? We shared some laughs (every time a quarterback decision was made by the Jets); we shared some tears (Chuck Pagano’s speech following Indy’s week 9 win, Rob Gronkowski’s unfortunate forearm injury while blocking on an extra point); and we shared a lot of confused head shakes (every time a replacement ref had to make a decision, every time Jim Schwartz had to make a decision, every time Christian Ponder threw the ball).

Rather than a week 17 review, this post is going to be filled with a smorgasbord (or smattering if you prefer) of tidbits from the entire regular season. I know it sucks that the regular season is over, but at the same time it’s nice to be able to stand back and look at the entire season instead of paying attention to just the previous week. And besides, week 17 really only ended up having three decent games—Minnesota over Green Bay, Indianapolis over Houston and Washington over Dallas.

As usual there is no rhyme or reason to the things I’m about to write. It’s simply a stream of consciousness that I think was important enough to post…some playoff stuff, some gambling stuff, some coaching stuff. Deal with it.

-I actually googled the term “genius sports gambling brothers” about 20 minutes ago to see if there were any famous brothers who were notoriously good sports bettors. Let me try to explain why. In the two season-long pick ’em leagues we’re in together, I finished in first place and Nkilla finished in second place overall. In one of them, the other brother, Pueto, finished third overall (he only participates in one of the two leagues). Pueto also won the suicide pool that we all partake in. Nkilla looks poised to win one of his two fantasy football leagues (where playoffs don’t begin until next week), and I won the fantasy football championship in another league. Even though Pueto did the worst out of the three of us against the spread this year overall, he always seems to have one week where he hits a huge parlay or two and profits more than me or Nkilla…Pueto did this in week 16 when he hit at least two parlays and made enough money to pay for his next seven years of sports gambling. I guess what I’m getting at is the three of us may have just had the single greatest gambling run in the history of the NFL by any three people, let alone brothers. So what do we do with this power? I guess we just keep gambling and winning, but it feels like there should be a higher purpose to this genetic gift.

-If you’re one of the few people who still gives a rat’s ass about my season record against the spread, it finished at 142-106-8. A 57% win rate that would have netted you $2,440 of profit if you had bet $100 on each of my picks. I’m mostly happy with that considering the rut I was in over the final quarter of the season. You can’t win ’em all, right?

-You know who can almost win them all? My dog Molly. She went 12-4 against the spread this year, and I’m thinking about letting her pick all 11 playoff games and putting her record up against mine to see whose picks I should rely on for the 2013 season.

-So yeah I had a great season with picks, bets, fantasy, blah, blah blah, but not everything I wrote came to be true. Chalk this up to the craziness that is the NFL.

-Even as recently as week 10 I put together a power rankings blog post that now looks like the work of a lunatic. Some of the lowlights:

  • Pittsburgh was #8 on my list. A 5-3 record at the time had me talking about the Steelers running the table and possibly getting a bye. At the very least I thought they’d be unseating Baltimore and getting a #3 or #4 seed.
  • The Giants were #4 on my list! At 6-3 I wrote that they had wrapped up the division in week 9. This might be the most unbelievable second half collapse in NFL history because at the time of my power rankings post, the other three teams in their division were 3-5 (Philly), 3-5 (Dallas) and 3-6 (Washington). I said that if they finished 8-8 “someone’s getting fired in New York by the end of week 17.” It was supposed to be a joke, and yet they almost went there with a 3-4.
  • Chicago was the #3 team in my rankings. These jokers were 7-1, and even though I cautioned “that their first half schedule was sneaky easy,” how could I ever have suspected they’d go 3-5 the rest of the way? I wrote that you should always be suspicious of a team who relies on their defense to score a large chunk of their team’s points, but I still had them penciled into one of the top two spots in the NFC.
  • As for teams who made the playoffs that I wasn’t giving any respect to at the time…I had Minnesota ranked 17th (5-4 at the time, but with Ponder playing horribly and a brutal second half schedule), and the Redskins and Bengals unranked (I already mentioned Washington was 3-6 at the time…Cincy was 3-5. Can’t believe the turnaround for both teams).

As for the preseason contest between Nkilla and I to see who could be closest to each team’s win total, well let’s just say I’ve got a day of changing diapers and getting spit up on to look forward to. Nkilla beat me 19-11-2 in our efforts to predict the exact record for all 32 teams. I owe him a full day of babysitting, but there’s always the opportunity to make his wife think I’m so irresponsible with a human life that she’ll never let him cash in on the bet. Here are some of the highlights from our preseason predictions and the accompanying comments:

  • Ross picks Buffalo to win 12 games and go 8-2 outside their division. Buffalo actually wins 6 games and goes 4-6 outside of the AFC East. 
  • Nkilla picks Cleveland to be frisky and win 5 games…Nailed it.
  • Ross picks a fully-healthy Peyton Manning and an improving Denver defense to win 10 games. Nkilla predicts a not-fully-healthy Manning and a regressing Denver defense to win only 8 games. I know I was off on the win total too, but my comments were a lot more accurate.
  • Ross predicts 4 wins from the Colts; Nkilla goes with 6 wins. I dare you to find someone who predicted them to do any better than that.
  • Ross picks Jacksonville to tie Arizona for the worst record in the NFL with only 2 wins. The only thing I got wrong was who they’d be tied with, but the Cardinals did actually play like a two-win team for most of the year.
  • Ross misses when he predicts the Jets to have the worst offense in football. They were way up at #28 in total offense. How stupid of me.
  • Nkilla wasn’t way off in predicting 7 wins from Arizona, but he did say they would have a good wide receiver and running back situation while playing in a weak division (going so far as to say “All four teams in the NFC West are going to win between 6 and 9 games.”).
  • Ross and Nkilla both hover right around the Bears’ actual win total (Ross guessed 11, Nkilla had 10), but we both chalked it up to the outstanding offense they were sure to have…nothing about their defense really.
  • Ross predicts 10 wins out of Philly even while mentioning “Vick’s pending injury.” Nkilla goes with 9 wins but says the Eagles will win the division.
  • Nkilla goes with only 8 wins for the 49ers, saying, “The 2012 49ers’ meltdown is going to be my second favorite meltdown, trailing only the Jets’ meltdown.” (In the “giving credit where credit is due department,” Nkilla also said, “My least favorite meltdown? The replacement officials blowing so many calls and being the lead story on every Monday football show for the first three weeks until the league’s forced to settle.”)
  • Ross insults all of Redskin Nation by predicting a 4-win season and saying, “…another year of my college roommate watching Sunday afternoon Wizards games in November instead of ‘Skins games.” In fairness, this looked like it was going to come true after week 9. Even Mike Shanahan thought so.

-You already know the playoffs will feature three rookies this year. But did you know you can actually break the 12 playoff QBs down into four categories with three guys in each?

  1. Former Super Bowl Winners (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers)
  2. Rookies (RGIII, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson)
  3. Second Year Quarterbacks (Drew Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder)
  4. The “Other” Guys (Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan)

-What was the point of my breaking those guys into four groups? I have no idea. Maybe we can make a game out of it and bet on which group will have the most combined fantasy points, or at least the most touchdowns over the course of the playoffs? Doesn’t seem fair to go with the Super Bowl Winners though.

-Let’s do one more categorical breakdown in this blog post. This one is all about coaches who might get fired between now and the NFL draft:

  1. Definitely Gone: Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur
  2. Probably Gone But His Boss Might Be Just Crazy Enough To Keep Him Around One More Year: Romeo Crennel, Ken Wisenhunt, Jim Schwartz, Chan Gailey
  3. Will Still Be Around Unless Someone Like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden Decide They’re Interested In His Job: Mike Munchak, Mike Mularkey, Ron Rivera, Dennis Allen
  4. Sticking Around But Gets The “I’m not mad at you, I’m just really disappointed in you” Speech From His Owner: Rex Ryan, Jason Garrett, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith

-Amazingly that’s 15 head coaches who could conceivably be looking for employment by February 1st. Can’t the owners of these 15 teams do a Yankee Swap situation where you pull a number from a hat, and whoever gets #1 selects his favorite coach from the group, but then #2 can choose to steal #1’s coach or select a different coach from the group? Would a TV show broadcasting this coaching version of the Yankee Swap get higher ratings than the Super Bowl? I say yes.

I’ll be back later in the week with the Round 1 picks for your gambling benefit.

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Week 17 Picks: Giving You Vague Analysis of Every Game to Protect Myself from My Brothers

There are only two ways to explain the debacle I experienced in week 16:

  1. Because I was doing my research and making picks only 20 hours before an eight-day vacation, I was understandably distracted and rushed through the weekly NFL matchups.
  2. My unsustainable good luck from the first three quarters of the season has been slipping back to the average for weeks and it was only a matter of time before I had a sub-.500 week against the spread.

Obviously I’m going to convince myself it was #1. Not only did I go 7-8-1 against the spread, but I also lost my stranglehold on 1st place in both of my season-long pick ’em leagues, AND I might have done irreparable damage to my online gambling account. The problem is that week 17 has just as bad of circumstances for me making picks. I’m rushing to get this post out before I leave Fitchburg in one hour (side note: didn’t get this post out before leaving Fitchburg so I’m now at a friend’s house in Boston ignoring him and his wife so I can get through this). I never got to watch much of the week 16 games because I had to pretend to be social at a party my Dad had that featured roughly 760 of our closest family and friends. I have no feel for football right now, and of course in week 17 it’s impossible to predict which teams are trying to win, which teams are trying to rest and which teams are trying to win but are so bad they constantly look like they’re trying to rest. Just like most fantasy football leagues don’t play games during week 17, I think it’s totally unfair for pick ’em leagues to include week 17. For instance, it’s Friday afternoon and the website I use to see the spreads has only 8 of 16 games with an open line currently. So 48 hours before kickoff, Vegas is confused enough about half of the games that they won’t even publish a spread.

But despite all of that, I should feel an obligation to post my picks. However, here’s the reason why I won’t give a definitive answer in this column about who I’m picking in each of the week 17 games: the two other guys at the top of the standings with me in my big pick ’em league are my brothers. If I post my picks, they will devise a scheme where they team up and go against my picks just enough that one of them beats me out in this league. How do I know they’ll do that? Because they attempted it last week (and it kind of worked), and because that’s what asshole older brothers do. So I will feel extremely exposed if I give my picks. Therefore, welcome to my “week 17 vague thoughts” blog post. I’ll post the line that my pick ’em league is using for each game and then I’ll give a quick thought or two on the game (while leaving you frustrated when I inevitably make a case for both teams winning each matchup).

Chicago @ Detroit (+3.5): So the once mighty 7-1 Bears now need to win this game and hope Minnesota loses to Green Bay in order to get into the playoffs. Of course Detroit is playing for nothing and they’ve looked that way for about 10 weeks. You’d think this would be easy for Chicago. No matter how good Calvin Johnson is, as we saw last week even if he goes off for 300 yards, the rest of the Lions team can’t get out of its own way. I’m leaning towards the Bears but wouldn’t it be just like Detroit to be down 10 with 90 seconds to go and give us one final garbage time backdoor cover?

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-3.5): Remember five games ago when I speculated that Rex Ryan would use every existing combination of Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow/Greg McElroy as his starter and backup QB over these final weeks? Turns out the only reason I was wrong was because they refuse to acknowledge that Tim Tebow is an NFL quarterback. So at least the Jets finally caught up to the rest of the American public when they figured that out. I honestly don’t want to see a single live play or highlight from this game on Sunday (along with several other games), but if I had to pick, I’d probably take the Jets with the points because neither team deserves to win by more than three.

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-7.5): I’m not sure I’d be taking Atlanta to cover 7.5 even if they had a real reason to play on Sunday. And despite what I read about the Falcons treating this like a midseason game and playing their starters the whole time, I don’t know how realistic that is. Isn’t it the Mike Smith M.O. to take his foot off the gas at the exact wrong time? If things start to go poorly for Atlanta in the first half, wouldn’t it make sense to pull starters and concede the game when it really does mean nothing? But shouldn’t I consider that the Falcons may still cover this spread with their backups since they’re playing a team that’s lost five-in-a-row including the last two by a combined 56 points?

Carolina @ New Orleans (-4.5): Another game that doesn’t need to be played on Sunday. Let’s not spend much time on this one. Carolina’s played well lately, but the Saints won their last home game 41-0. It seems like a lot of points to give if you’re backing New Orleans because these two teams might be pretty close from a talent standpoint. I’m starting to really enjoy writing these vague sentences and not having to choose a side yet.

Houston @ Indianapolis (+4.5): Finally a game that matters for both teams! Houston needs to win to ensure a bye…Indy needs to…wait Indy is locked into the #5 seed. But apparently Chuck Pagano will be coaching the Colts for the first time since September. And apparently everyone thinks his young team needs to give 100% even in a meaningless game because they could use the practice/experience. And apparently they want to beat their division rival who just handed them a loss a couple weeks ago. I do think both teams will go full throttle in this one. I’m weary on betting against a Pagano-inspired team at home against a division opponent. I think you can tell which way I’m leaning.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-4.5): And now for the other AFC South “battle.” Meaningless for everyone. Why are the Titans favored by this much? Why are the Titans favored at all? Is there any gambler in his right mind that would even put a dollar’s worth of confidence on either of these two teams?

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-6.5): I think DirecTV can create another channel for the final two weeks of the regular season where only meaningful games are shown. Call it the “Everyone Gives a Shit Red Zone Channel” (or something more clever). Because by my count this is now the fifth game out of the first seven that shouldn’t be shown on TV at all. Gotta feel bad for the Steelers at this point…seems like a year or two of rebuilding is on the horizon. You think I’m about to say that I’m predicting the Browns to win this game outright, right? I actually might convince myself that this veteran Steelers team gets motivated for one final divisional home game to end a shitty year.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-3.5): Does this game really matter? The Bengals are stuck in the #6 seed no matter what, and the Ravens can only be either the #3 or #4 seed. Since New England likely wins later in the day, the Ravens should prioritize health and trying out any possible quarterbacks of the future in this game over actually trying to win it. The big issue with this game is that these two teams could be playing each other again next week. I remember the Bengals resting everyone in week 17 a few years ago when they knew they’d be playing the Jets (that week’s opponent) in the first round. Then they got throttled in that opening round playoff game. I’m kinda liking Cincy to buck the trend and play a real game in this one.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-8.5): In case you haven’t heard, here’s where the Giants are at: they need a win and losses from Dallas, Chicago and Minnesota to sneak into the playoffs. Minnesota and Dallas play later in the day while Chicago plays early at the same time as the Giants. This all means the Giants will be trying to win, of course, but I’m skeptical at this point of their ability to beat anyone by so many points. This might be the hardest game to pick against the spread so far…

Arizona @ San Francisco (-15.5): Would you be surprised if I told you I actually found a 49ers fan who’s extremely unhappy that Colin Kaepernick is the starting quarterback? I assumed every 9ers fan was blindly following Jim Harbaugh and backing his decisions—much like Patriots fans do with Bill Belichick—but sure enough there’s at least one unhappy fan. I found him in New York. But he’s a generally unhappy person so I’m not sure if it’s an objective dislike of the benching Alex Smith move. This fan said San Francisco was a Super Bowl team with Smith at QB and that he’s perfectly capable of leading the 49ers to a comeback if they fall behind by two touchdowns (which is the biggest public criticism of Alex Smith the last two years). There’s no relevance to this story for the purposes of picking this game. I’m just trying to fill space while avoiding making the pick. This spread is extremely high, and future Pro Bowler Brian Hoyer is starting at QB for the Cardinals…Considering everyone in the Arizona organization is playing their last game ever for the team (except of course for Larry Fitzgerald who we should probably write a formal eulogy for right away) I might convince myself that they’ll put up a fight.

Kansas City @ Denver (-16.5): Wow, an even higher line than the Cardinals/49ers game! This is the AFC version of that game, almost exactly. Home team might be the best in the conference, playing for a potential bye. Road team is definitely the worst team in its conference with most players and coaches playing their final game in that specific uniform. What do you do with these two lines? Pick the underdog in both and hope to go 1-1?

Green Bay @ Minnesota (+3.5): Pretty simple scenarios for both teams. If Green Bay wins, they get the #2 seed in the NFC. If Minnesota wins, they get a wildcard spot (they could also get it if Dallas, the Giants and Chicago all lose, but that’s pretty improbable). This is a game that’s impossible picturing the Packers losing. But don’t forget that Adrian Peterson went off for 210 rushing yards in the week 13 game between these two teams.

Miami @ New England (-10.5): This is one of the impossible games to predict before Sunday because a lot of it depends on what Houston does in its early game. If Houston loses to Indy earlier in the day, the Pats go into this game knowing a win gets them a bye. If Houston wins, the Pats should feel pretty confident that they’re NOT getting a bye because there’s no way the Broncos are losing to Kansas City (the other scenario by which New England gets a bye). So why would I pick this game ahead of time when that Texans game makes all the difference in the world. This is a prime example of why pick ’em leagues should end after week 16.

Oakland @ San Diego (-7.5): Pass.

St. Louis @ Seattle (-10.5): Technically Seattle still has a chance to win the NFC West and get a bye, but realistically they should be focused on being healthy for their opening road game in the first round of the playoffs (they need the 49ers to lose to Arizona for the division, and that plus Green Bay losing to Minnesota for a bye). Feels like a game they really shouldn’t focus on running up the score, but we are talking about Pete Carroll, master of running up the score and not getting heat from the media about it.

Dallas @ Washington (-3.5): The Cowboys are 2-3 in prime-time games this year. I was hoping it was more like 1-4 so I could make the case that they’re a bad bet in prime-time. The bigger question is why are the Cowboys about to play in their sixth prime-time game of the year? Did we really need to see them on national TV this much? How can you pick against the Redskins at this point? They’ve done everything they’ve needed to do since their week 10 bye; they’ve done it when RGIII had to leave a game in the 4th quarter; they’ve done it when RGIII had to sit out an entire game. They might lose this game, but it would be weird if you picked against them at this point (Side note: If Chicago and Minnesota lose earlier in the day, the Redskins are automatically in the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game…so, yeah…if you make a bet on this game before Sunday night, bet it small, I guess?).

Week 16 NFL Picks: Handing out Christmas Gifts to My Readers, Molly’s Final Pick and More

As a Christmas gift to all my loyal readers, I’m giving you the guarantee of a better-than-.500 record with my week 16 picks. I actually don’t feel like I need to give you anything more than that because I’ve been giving and giving since September. I’ve given you a 126-90-6 season record against the spread. That’s good for a 58% clip (or a $2,700 profit if you’ve put $100 down on every pick I’ve made in this column). I’ve also given you access to a dog who just might be smarter than any human when it comes to knowing football. Molly is now 11-4 on the season (73%). But fine, you get one final gift: this amazing week 16 picks blog.

Before we get to the picks, a couple things:

1). Aren’t we living through the greatest example ever of how irrelevant running backs are to a team’s success? Think about Adrian Peterson over in Minnesota, arguably having the best year ever for a running back (he may end up having the second best year ever, but either way). And yet his team is struggling to keep pace for the playoffs. In all likelihood they won’t make the playoffs (final games against Houston and Green Bay). Compare that to the quarterback position for a second…can you imagine if a QB was on pace to break Drew Brees’ single-season passing yards record or Tom Brady’s touchdown record and yet his team wasn’t going to make the playoffs? That’s never going to happen. Not that we needed further proof of this concept, but I just think it’s incredible that even the best running back year can only carry a team so far (looks like 8 or 9 wins for Minnesota), but give me a record-breaking QB and it’s almost a lock for at least 10 wins (usually more) and a playoff berth. More on this later.

2). I had a dream last night that Jim Harbaugh was working the front desk at a hotel I was checking in to, just as a side job during the week in between coaching the 49ers. So this was during the season that he was handing me my room key and towels, and I asked him who he thought the MVP of the league was. He said, “Adrian Peterson’s gotta be #1, then Brady and Manning would be tied for #2…and then after that, I think Ryan Fitzpatrick.” RYAN FITZPATRICK??? Sorry, Harbaugh, but you just lost all credibility with me from now til eternity. What a joke of a coach. Ryan fucking Fitzpatrick…

Let’s get on to the week 16 picks (home team underlined):

Detroit (+4.5) over Atlanta: The key to these final weeks of the regular season is to not put too much stock in any one game. Just a couple weeks ago I would have jumped all over Detroit with this line because they were constantly playing in close games or making spirited comebacks that just barely fell short. Meanwhile Atlanta was consistently letting bad teams hang around. So last week Atlanta demolished the Giants and Detroit lost badly at Arizona. I think this line is a bit high because many people will only think about last week, not the entire season. Give me Detroit to lose by just two or three.

Tennessee (+12.5) over Green Bay: Obviously the Packers win this game, that’s not up for debate. But you gotta pause and really think about this line. Green Bay’s only won three games this year by more than 12 points (including only one time in their past seven wins). Whether it’s because of injuries or because they’re just a little off this year, they really aren’t blowing teams out. I know they’re getting healthier, but I’m falling back on something I wrote weeks ago: the Packers will continue to get a spread attached to them that’s just a couple points too high because they’re the Packers, and people will bet them blindly no matter what they’ve looked like all season. I like Tennessee to keep it just under the 12.5 (while telling reporters after the game that losing by 10 to Green Bay shows real progress on their season).

Houston (-9) over Minnesota: Sorry, gotta say a little more about Adrian Peterson here. Poor guy. He’s on the cusp of having the greatest year a running back’s ever had in NFL history, but all he’s really doing is hurting his peers’ chances of ever getting big paydays again. Think about it what I wrote at the beginning of this column. Peterson’s almost on pace to break the single season rushing record, and yet the Vikings probably aren’t going to make the playoffs. If you’re an NFL owner or GM and you see this happening, doesn’t it only further solidify the notion that top running back talent doesn’t translate to wins and playoff appearances? Why would I ever pay to acquire a top running back or to keep an incumbent Pro Bowl running back on my team if it’s not going to guarantee my team’s success? Wouldn’t I spend that money on a quarterback, tight ends, receivers and an offensive line? Not only will an elite quarterback get me to the playoffs, but great passing puts asses in my stadium’s seats. It’s too bad, but it’s just the reality. I think Arian Foster signed the last big running back contract for a long time. Anyway, about this game…even if Peterson alone can keep it close in Houston, you just know J.J. Watt vs Christian Ponder is going to equal at least seven points for the Texans, and that defensive score is what makes me comfortable with Houston as a big favorite.

St. Louis (+3) over Tampa Bay: A game between “boom or bust” (Tampa) and “slow and steady” (St. Louis). I say that because Tampa either puts up a ton of points and wins, or doesn’t and loses; and St. Louis seems to play in a lot of tight, low-scoring games. I like St. Louis because they’ve been playing better lately, and quite frankly Tampa’s four-game losing streak reminds me too much of last year when they completely quit on their coach and mailed in the final half of the season. Steven Jackson playing well, Sam Bradford playing well, Danny Amendola healthy…yeah I like the Rams.

Philadelphia (+6.5) over Washington: You’d think I would have learned not to pick Philly after last Thursday’s turnover fest against Cincinnati. But I just think the Redskins go conservative against a team they should easily beat. Bring RGIII along slowly, don’t show any new wrinkles that Dallas (their week 17 opponent) can study on film…that type of stuff. Meanwhile I think the Eagles are in “evaluation mode” even for a guy like LeSean McCoy who’s making his return from a concussion. No need for Philly to risk getting anyone hurt or putting Nick Foles in tough situations. Call it a hunch but I feel like we’re looking at a pretty boring 17-13 win for Washington.

Dallas (-3) over New Orleans: Holy shit. I had no idea Tony Romo was playing so well over the past seven games. Since the start of November, Romo has 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He’s completed over 70% of his passes and has had a QB Rating over 94 in five of those seven games. Why aren’t we hearing about this all over ESPN and the web? Oh, because Mark Sanchez wouldn’t be getting enough coverage if that happened? Got it. Seriously, if I was Romo, I’d be forcing my way on to every ESPN and NFL Network show and throwing my stats in every analyst’s face. It’s like he hasn’t been worth mentioning since his four interception game on Sunday night against the Giants in late October. Poor guy (apparently I’m throwing that phrase around a lot these days). Anyway, Romo’s playing awesome, we know Dez Bryant can be effective enough with his finger problem now, and the Saints aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home. I’m extremely confident in Dallas right now.

San Diego (+2.5) over NY Jets: I feel like I shouldn’t have to pick this game until Rex Ryan names his backup QB. Only with the Jets would the #2 quarterback be so critical to figuring out who wins a game. If you’re comparing the Jets’ and Chargers’ respective bodies of work this season, I guess you gotta give the edge to the Jets. At least they’ve beaten semi-respectable teams like the Colts, Rams and Dolphins. But the Chargers did just go on the road two weeks ago and beat up on Pittsburgh…and Greg McElroy is making his first career start for a team with a ton of locker room issues and distractions…fuck it, let’s go with the Chargers because somehow Philip Rivers will be the best quarterback on the field.

Carolina (-9) over Oakland: On the road this year, Oakland has lost by 22, 31, 3, 35 and 14 points. The fact that they only lost that game in Atlanta by 3 should automatically disqualify the Falcons from the playoffs. On the other side, Carolina is “streaking” (a two-game winning streak for them must feel like an undefeated season). I can’t picture Oakland showing up for this game. I cannot believe how comfortable I am taking the Panthers to win by double digits.

Buffalo (+4.5) over Miami: I was going to start this pick off by saying, “Even though only one game separates these two teams in the standings, the Dolphins are actually so much better than the Bills.” But now that I’ve done the research, I don’t think that’s true. Miami may be able to run the ball effectively and play solid defense, but if you pick them to cover the spread, did you know you’re backing a quarterback who has taken almost every meaningful snap for his team this year and somehow only has 10 touchdown passes? And it’s not like Ryan Tannehill hasn’t thrown the ball a lot…even if you include his five-attempt game against the Jets in week 8, he’s averaging over 30 attempts per game this year. And he has 10 touchdowns??? We might wanna slow down on thinking the Dolphins have found a franchise QB. It’s possible a quarterback will throw more touchdowns this week in a single game than Tannehill has thrown all year.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) over Cincinnati: As much as I hate to admit that Ben Roethlisberger’s a good quarterback, I totally agree with his attempt to sorta kinda call Todd Haley’s play calling out in the media after their loss to Dallas. The guy’s got two rings and somehow tricked a woman into marrying him only a few months after he forced himself on another girl. Dude’s good at what he does. Sometimes you just gotta back off and let him be good. I think the Steelers attempt to make a statement in this game, and I also noticed that Cincinnati struggles mightily against Pittsburgh traditionally. Part of me thinks Pitt wins only by three, but I’ll roll the dice on them covering the extra half point (This game could be called “The Who Gets To Go To New England In Round One And Get Destroyed By a Pissed Off Patriots Team Bowl”).

Molly Pick

I should have known that by the end of the year I’d be so irresponsible with picking Patriots games that I’d have to hand the reigns over to Molly. But these picks are supposed to be made without emotion, and Molly’s the only one in this apartment who can pick the New England game without emoting it up. She’s pretty locked in so I have faith (and I didn’t even tell her that I had a dream last night that the Patriots only won 30-23 this weekend). Let’s see what she decided:

Indianapolis (-7) over Kansas City: I was so close to picking the Chiefs to cover. Then I remembered that I’m starting Andrew Luck and Vick Ballard in my fantasy football championship game, and obviously I want them to do well. Sometimes it’s that simple (also how can you possibly back a team that just got shutout by the Oakland defense?).

Denver (-13) over Cleveland: If you’re taking Cleveland and looking for something to hang your hat on, you can feel good knowing they’ve lost by more than a touchdown only once on the road this season. I’m not one of those people looking to take Cleveland. Bad matchup against a team firing on all cylinders who can pretty much lock up the #2 seed with a win.

NY Giants (-3) over Baltimore: I think Baltimore is bad. I think the Giants are OK. And I think I really want all three NFC East contenders to go into week 17 with 9-6 records.

Chicago (-6) over Arizona: For as bad as the Bears have looked in the second half of the season, can we all just agree that their defense—not nearly as good as it once seemed—is going to make Arizona, and specifically Ryan Lindley, look horrible in this game? Sometimes I just go with the “this team’s been so bad and the pendulum of public opinion has swung so far in one direction that it has to start swinging back the other way” theory. This is one of those times. The Bears right the ship, if only for a day.

Seattle (+1) over San Francisco: What a game this should be. How much do these two teams resemble each other, right? First year starters at quarterback, top-of-the-league defenses, power running games, head coaches who are both former PAC-12 coaches and current assholes (not to mention both teams were lucky to beat the best team in football…I’m talking about New England, don’t get cute and say “oh you mean Green Bay?”). I suppose I’m giving the Seahawks the edge because they’re at home, but I actually have no confidence in picking this game. I would love a tie almost as much as I would love Richard Sherman going down with a career-ending injury.

Week 16 Stats:

-Home Teams: 9

-Road Teams: 7

-Favorites: 8

-Underdogs: 8

-Home Underdogs: 4

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 3

The First and Only College Football Blog You’ll Ever See on This Website: “The Dream” Picks All the Bowl Winners

As you may have seen, I’ve been known to write a football blog or two in my day. But everything I write covers the NFL. Why don’t I ever write about college football? Because I don’t give a damn about football players until they become whining, overpaid, entitled assholes. I don’t write about college football because I don’t know it very well. I’m the guy who thought USC stood for “University of South Carolina” as recently as three years ago.

But I understand that hundreds, no, thousands of people look to the WBFF blog as their #1 source for sporting information. So it gives me great pleasure to introduce a new guest blogger who’s going to provide all my readers with the winning picks in each college bowl game this season. We’ll refer to him by his preferred nickname, “The Dream.” I don’t wanna give away his real identity because I don’t want people going after him if he loses you all thousands of dollars over the next three weeks.

But I know that’s not going to happen anyway. You see, even though I know nothing about the college game, that doesn’t stop me from getting an itchy trigger finger when it comes to making bets every Saturday. So rather than blindly pick some winners every week like a woman picking her way through the March Madness brackets, “The Dream” has been my go-to guy for college locks. And I gotta tell you, this year he was something like 9-0-1 against the spread in his locks. The reason why there are only 10 games in that record is because he calls a lock only when he truly means it.

I’m really not exaggerating with how good he’s been (it’s been a nice piece of ongoing comedy to see him struggle so much in the weekly NFL pick ’em league we’re in together…such a genius with college, such a disaster with pro). It got to the point where I felt like someone was giving me a weekly allowance, deposited directly into my online gambling account during the 2012 college football season. And during this holiday season, I’m in the giving mood. Why hoard all of “The Dream’s” picks to myself like an Uncle Scrooge when I can spread the wealth among my readers, like a…hold on, searching google for the opposite of Scrooge…like a Fezziwig!

OK, get out your pen and paper or your ctrl + C. Here we go:

Games Already Played

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Nevada vs Arizona (-10)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Arizona 
  • Final Score: Arizona 49, Nevada 48
  • LOSS

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Toledo vs Utah St (-10.5)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Utah St.
  • Final Score: Utah St 41, Toledo 15
  • WIN

Those two games have already happened and I wanted to show my readers who The Dream picked in them. He’s 1-1, but I promise you he’s heating up.

Upcoming Games

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: BYU (-3) vs San Diego St

  • The Dream’s Pick: San Diego St

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl: Ball St vs UCF (-7)

  • The Dream’s Pick: UCF

R+L Carriers Bowl: East Carolina vs Louisiana-Lafayette (-6)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Louisiana-Lafayette

MAACO Bowl: Washington vs Boise St (-5)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Boise St

Sheraton Bowl: Fresno St (-12.5) vs SMU

  • The Dream’s Pick: Fresno St

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Western Kentucky (-5.5) vs Central Michigan

  • The Dream’s Pick: Central Michigan

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: San Jose St (-7) vs Bowling Green

  • The Dream’s Pick: San Jose St

Belk Bowl: Cincinnati (-7) vs Duke

  • The Dream’s Pick: Cincinnati

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl: Baylor vs UCLA (PK)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Baylor

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl: Ohio vs Louisiana-Monroe (-7)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Louisiana-Monroe

Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers vs Virginia Tech (-3)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Rutgers

Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl: Minnesota vs Texas Tech (-13)

  • The Dream’s Pick: No Pick. Let it be known that The Dream is so unsure about this game that he refuses to pick a winner. Be ware.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: Rice vs Air Force (-1)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Rice

Pinstripe Bowl: West Virginia (-4) vs Syracuse

  • The Dream’s Pick: West Virginia

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy vs Arizona St (-14.5)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Another no pick! I’m starting to wonder if The Dream created such a confusing spreadsheet for himself that he simply forgot to pick a couple games. Either way, this is apparently a stay-away.

Valero Alamo Bowl: Texas vs Oregon St (-2)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Oregon St

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: TCU (-3) vs Michigan St

  • The Dream’s Pick: Michigan St

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: NC State vs Vanderbilt (-7)

  • The Dream’s Pick: NC State

Hyundai Sun Bowl: USC (-10) vs Georgia Tech

  • The Dream’s Pick: USC

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa St vs Tulsa (PK)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Iowa St

Chick-fil-A Bowl: LSU (-4) vs Clemson

  • The Dream’s Pick: Clemson

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Mississippi St (-2) vs Northwestern

  • The Dream’s Pick: Northwestern

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Purdue vs Oklahoma St (-17)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Purdue

Outback Bowl: Southern Carolina (-5) vs Michigan

  • The Dream’s Pick: Southern Carolina (Let it be known that Michigan is The Dream’s favorite team, so you should feel extra good about this one if he was willing to pick against his alma mater.)

Capital One Bowl: Georgia (-10) vs Nebraska

  • The Dream’s Pick: Georgia

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs Stanford (-7)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Wisconsin

Discover Orange Bowl: Northern Illinois vs Florida St (-13)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Northern Illinois

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Louisville vs Florida (-13.5)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Florida

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Oregon (-9) vs Kansas St

  • The Dream’s Pick: Kansas St

AT&T Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M (-4.5) vs Oklahoma

  • The Dream’s Pick: Oklahoma

BBVA Compass Bowl: Pittsburgh vs Ole Miss (-3.5)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Ole Miss

GoDaddy.com Bowl: Kent St vs Arkansas St (-4)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Kent St

Discover BCS National Championship: Notre Dame vs Alabama (-10)

  • The Dream’s Pick: Notre Dame

 

So there you have it. The Dream has spoken. He selected 16 Favorites and 16 Underdogs.

But why weren’t there any locks in all those picks? Well I asked The Dream and he said he didn’t want to lock in any games just yet, especially because some of these games are still three weeks away. But he said he felt best about his Kansas St and Notre Dame picks. Do what you want with that info.

More Conversation Starters: The Song I Almost Sung to My 3rd Grade Crush, Unofficial Corn Dog-eating Record and More

After last week’s successful rollout of “My Answers to First Date Conversation Starters,” I’m pleased to bring you round two. For those of you wondering why I’m continuing this series of posts, you have the 16 people who viewed last week’s post to thank. For those of you who didn’t read that first installment, I’m basically making a grab for more page views by droning on about topics that you might bring up on a first date. Let’s get right on with it:

1). Name five songs to which you know all the lyrics.

  1. “Ice Ice Baby” (Vanilla Ice) – Learned all the lyrics to this one in 3rd grade with Matt Maguy because he was gonna help me sing it to Amber Donnelly. That was my grand plan for getting a 10-year-old girl to like me back then…sing “Ice Ice Baby” in the school parking lot with my best friend. Luckily we never went through with it.
  2. “The Star-Spangled Banner” (Francis Scott Key?) – No excuses not to know this one if you’re an American.
  3. “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” (Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg) – This song is now 20 years old and I think I’ve known every lyric since the beginning.
  4. “Send Me An Angel” (Real Life) – The best song from the best ’80s movie, Rad. If you haven’t seen Cru Jones do his bicycle boogie with Lori Loughlin to this song at the town dance, please go find a way to rent or buy Rad and watch it right now. Your appreciation for implausible, gravity-defying dance routines will be at an all-time high.
  5. “I’ll Make Love To You” (Boyz II Men) – I’m not sure how this happened, but this song has morphed into “the song everyone assumes Ross and his friends wanna sing whenever there’s a karaoke machine around.” I’m not denying it. But I just don’t remember ever telling anyone that this was my go-to karaoke jam.

2). What movies have made you cry, if any?

“Faith Rewarded: The Historic Season of the 2004 Boston Red Sox”…I’m dead serious. I wish I could tell you there were more movies that made me cry, but unlike certain people who cry at every sappy movie or even sappy commercials (“cough” my girlfriend, “cough cough” my sister-in-law), movies and TV shows just don’t get me like that.

3). What did you think was “cool” when you were around 8 years old? 

Serenading my crush with rap songs in the school parking lot.

4). What’s your biggest food-related triumph?

That’s a tough one. I’ve thrown up multiple times from eating too much ice cream or pulled pork, so it could possibly be one of those instances. But actually there was this time in Montreal when me and three high school friends were at one of the friend’s parent’s house and we decided to cook a 40-count package of corn dogs. These weren’t mini-dogs; they were full size. We at the whole thing between four of us. And I’m one of those people who always eats more than his allotted share when it comes to splitting food among a group. I must have had 12 or 13 corn dogs that day. I’ll let you make your own conclusions as to what kind of substances we were under the influence of at the time (I’ll give you a hint: the corn dog eating came right after we passed around a fake glow-in-the-dark ball while listening and dancing to techno music in this guy’s backyard).

5). Would you ever want to know the future? Why or why not?

I shouldn’t have to explain why my answer is Yes to this, but I will. You see, I post at least two blogs per week that talk exclusively about sports gambling. In the sports betting world, anyone who hits 60% of their bets is looked at as a genius. Imagine the fame, power and most importantly, money I would have if I knew the future? I could stop pretending like I want to make a living as a writer and simply gamble more. By the way, anyone who answers no to this question is a liar and an idiot. There are both admirable and selfish reasons for wanting to know the future, and not a single person in the world would decline that power.

6). Do you want children?

I only posted this question so I could ask my readers a follow up question. If I was on a first date and a woman asked me this question, how do you think she’d react after I gave her the five-minute breakdown of my “adopting a 17-year-old” theory that I blogged about a while back? Would she think I was joking or just psychotic? Also, how psychotic is it of someone to ask this question on a first date anyway? If she’s asking me about kids on date one, I’m happy to scare her off with my adoption scam.

7). What was your biggest accomplishment before you turned 13?

Accepting the fact that girls are not impressed by your ability to sing rap songs in the school parking lot while your best friend acts as your back-up dancer.

Those are all the questions I could handle for today. Assuming I get another 16 or so page views, I’ll be back with installment three soon.

Week 15 Review: Belichick Runs Up the Score against San Francisco, Technology Revolts Against Me and Much More

Why is this review coming so much later than usual? And why is it the smallest amount of words I’ve ever written for a review? And why is it likely the least interesting NFL weekly review a person could read? Because over the past three days, technology decided to rise up and take a stand against me.

On the Sunday with the most interesting slate of football games in recent memory, my WiFi decided to shit the bed about two hours before kickoff. And when I called my sorry excuse for an internet service provider (who’s supposed to be open for tech support all day on Sundays), I was presented with a recording that said, “If you’re calling on December 7th, tech support will be closed early, but please leave a message and they will call you back on December 8th.” Not very helpful to someone calling on December 16th. No internet means I was forced to watch football on only one screen Sunday morning! The humanity! Let’s just say for the first 14 weeks of the season, my computer has been essential to watching extra games, taking notes, reading all the experts’ twitter feeds, etc. I felt neutered without that stuff.

Of course things went from bad to worse on Monday when my MacBook charger decided it would no longer be doing its one and only job. But then I discovered Monday afternoon that if I held the charger’s wire at a specific angle, it would charge up my laptop. So for a while yesterday I decided I’d just live like that and avoid paying $80 for a new Mac charger. But then last night, after all retail stores were closed, the charger could not be manipulated to work any longer. Long story short, the Apple store near me doesn’t open until 10AM so I’ve had no computer access all morning. Oh, and just to add insult to injury, my microwave decided to make my breakfast colder this morning. Fucking electronics.

Anyway, I’m back in action with WiFi and a computer, but now I’m feeling the Christmas pinch where I have to get a million things done between today and Friday when I leave for Boston. Needless to say, football is going to take a little bit of a back seat over these next 10 days.

And maybe that’s just the thing I need to snap back to my winning ways for the upcoming weekend. Because week 15 was the exact opposite of week 14’s epic success. In the latest installment, I went only 8-8 in my picks (tied for the worst single-week record of the year), I let people make up some ground on my first place position in both Pick ‘Em leagues, and of course the Patriots lost in pretty miserable fashion.

-I’ve given myself a gag order on discussing that Patriots/49ers game, but I will say one thing: anyone saying that the Pats only caught up in the 2nd half because the 9ers went to a prevent-type of defense is fucking crazy. You think Jim Harbaugh is dumb enough to back off up 31-3 on the best offense in football? The 49ers won the game and deserve a lot of credit, but I’ve seen a lot of comments where people are saying “Sure the Pats put up 31 on the best D in the league, but it was only after Harbaugh called the dogs off and played less aggressively.” What the Pats did in the 2nd half was nearly as impressive as what the 9ers did over the entire game (as reflected by the score). I think it would be awesome to see a rematch in the Super Bowl, but how often do football fans get the exact matchup they wanted? Sadly we’ll probably see a Cincinnati/Minnesota title game.

-Are we done debating the MVP award? Because it’s 100% over. Adrian Peterson wins it. No quarterback is having that great of a season, and none of the QBs with the best numbers are leading their teams to a 14-2 or 15-1 record that usually makes someone an automatic favorite. Peterson continues to top himself, outproduce the rest of his own offense by a long shot and singlehandedly turn a three-win team into a peripheral playoff team. Let’s just save our breath and our internet space and stop discussing this please.

-And if we’re gonna stop wasting time discussing the MVP, can we now finally do the same with discussing Joe Flacco’s place in the QB hierarchy? He’s officially an average quarterback who won’t kill your season but won’t help it very much either. That’s it. He’s not a Pro Bowler and he’s certainly not elite. Think about his mediocre year while having weapons like Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice. That’s not the best group of offensive players in the league, but it’s better than guys like Andrew Luck, RGII and Russell Wilson have at their disposal, right? No excuses for Flacco (unless he’s using “I’m just not very good” as an excuse).

-I heard yesterday that the Packers are sticking with Mason Crosby as their kicker. He’s now missed 12 field goal attempts this year, including a miss in each of the last eight games. It’s actually worse than that…he’s attempted field goals in 11 of the team’s 14 games this year, and he’s missed at least one field goal in nine of them. His conversation rate is barely over 50% for the year. It almost feels like he’s trying to get fired, but Green Bay knows what he’s up to so they’re calling his bluff. Is that a good strategy for a team with Super Bowl aspirations? Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots has missed his fair share of kicks this year too, and it got me thinking on Sunday how comical it would be if the Packers and Patriots make it to the Super Bowl and neither coach is willing to go for a field goal. That would be awesome, right? Lots of 4th down attempts, maybe Rodgers or Brady getting a crack at a surprise drop kick. More likely, of course, is that one of these teams will fall short of the final game because of their kicker. I need to make friends with a Ravens fan before this happens so someone can explain to me how to handle that situation.

-It wasn’t just that I had an off week with my picks, it’s that a few of those picks never had a chance as early as halftime. Here’s how much six of my picks lost by: Giants (34), Rams (14), Jaguars (21), Bucs (41), Lions (28), Chargers (24). That’s a combined 162 points! (Or the equivalent of what the Seahawks have dropped on their last two opponents)

-I found this old article that John Clayton of ESPN.com posted on October 28, 2007, where he accuses Belichick of running up the score on opponents. He even lists a few of the specific plays in the 4th quarter of a Patriots/Redskins game as evidence of Belichick trying to embarrass the other team.  You know what I didn’t see in any of Clayton’s bullet points? A fake punt by the Patriots while leading by 30 points. But Pete Carroll does that to Buffalo on Sunday and all he has to say is “I shouldn’t have done that,” and no one thinks anything more of it. Even this season has seen more people try to accuse the Patriots of running up the score than the Seahawks, even after Seattle was running play-action up 58-0 two weeks ago and the fake punt this week. I’ll just never understand the media deciding the Patriots are bullies but other teams who do the same or worse are not.

-I’m actually surprised no one accused Belichick of running up the score when the Patriots put up 28 points as quickly as they did Sunday night. I imagined there would be articles written about how he should have just accepted the defeat earlier in the game instead of trying to embarrass the 49ers by making a comeback.

-In the 4th quarter of Sunday night’s game, the sideline reporter said that Alfonzo Dennard was out for the Patriots due to injury. I screamed at her to “tell us who the fuck is playing in his place,” and I think I actually scared Julie for the first time in our relationship. I’m not sure she realized the intensity in this apartment goes up a notch during December and January football. I believe she has made plans to be far away from me for the next seven Sundays.

Like I said, light week in terms of my reactions…Normal schedule for my other posts this week, but Christmas week might be light again. Enjoy the next 72 hours of sports psychologists trying to tell us that the problem with Mark Sanchez is all mental, and not that he actually sucks at quarterback.

Week 15 NFL Picks: Molly Picks the Biggest Game of Her Life, I Base Picks on the Transitive Property and Much More

What an easy week. I’m not talking about an easy week of making picks. I’m talking about an easy week to come up with an introduction. Week 15 pretty much writes its own introduction because there are so many important, compelling matchups. Out of the 16 games this weekend, there are only four with absolutely positively no intriguing playoff storylines (Jax/Mia, TB/New Orleans, Det/Az, KC/Oak). You can make the case that there are two others that essentially mean nothing (Car/SD, NYJ/Ten), but the Chargers and Jets are both holding onto very slim playoff chances. So that leaves 10 games.

Four of those 10 are important for only one of the teams involved (Cincinnati’s in a must-win at Philly, Washington’s in a must-win at Cleveland, Minnesota’s in a must-win at St. Louis, and Seattle wants to beat Buffalo to keep pace with the 49ers for a shot at the NFC West crown). Interesting how the four teams that still have something to play for in those games are all on the road.

This leaves us with six games where either both teams are going to the playoffs and are fighting for seeding, or one team is playoff bound and the other is still trying to earn its spot to play in January:

  • NY Giants @ Atlanta
  • Green Bay @ Chicago
  • Denver @ Baltimore
  • Indianapolis @ Houston
  • Pittsburgh @ Dallas
  • San Francisco @ New England

There’s not a bad game in that group. Good luck trying to keep up with six important games during the early part of Sunday.

Week 14 was very generous to me: With a 9-6-1 record against the spread, my season record improved to 118-84-6. Molly’s record is up to a mind-boggling 10-4 (which led to her getting a very important game to pick this week). I won both of my pick ’em leagues for the week, advanced to the semi-finals of my fantasy playoffs, and the Patriots put a stranglehold on the “best team in football” title. A very good week indeed.

Here’s what’s cooking in week 15 (home teams underlined):

Philadelphia (+5.5) over Cincinnati: It’s not that I think the Bengals are a bad team or anywhere nearly as inept as the Eagles have been all year. It’s just that when I look at who the Bengals have beaten this year, it’s not very impressive. During their three-game win streak in the early part of the season, they beat two rookies (guys who were making their 2nd and 3rd career NFL starts) and Jacksonville. Then in their more recent four-game win streak, they stunned the Giants (a great win, I’ll admit) before beating the three AFC West teams not named “Denver.” We’ve seen the short week turn these Thursday night games ugly for a lot of teams, and doesn’t it seem like young teams (especially young QBs) would suffer the most from a short week of practice (meaning even more ugliness in this game because it’s two young QBs)? (Fine, I forced myself to find arguments against Cincy because I have Bryce Brown going in my fantasy playoffs and don’t wanna have to root against him.)

Washington (+1) over Cleveland: Obviously the uncertainty around RGIII has made this line chaotic. The website I typically use still doesn’t have a line posted for this game. On other sites I saw the Browns favored by one earlier in the week. But let’s go with the most up-to-date line I could find, Washington (-1). The Browns are getting a lot of credit for turning their season around with five wins in their last eight games, and they deserve it. Suddenly you’re more likely to hear whispers about Pat Shurmur for Coach of the Year than about him being fired. But much like the Bengals, Cleveland has benefited from getting to play the non-competitive AFC West teams in three of those wins (and another one of their wins was against a Roethlisberger-less Steelers team). I just don’t think Washington’s a good matchup for them. The Redskins don’t defend the pass well, but the Browns don’t throw the ball that well. The Redskins have the best rushing offense in the league, and the Browns have a below average run defense. And Washington has just been on an absolute tear since their bye week…wins over three straight division opponents and then the Ravens. They deserve a ton of respect right now.

Houston (-9) over Indianapolis: Let’s break out the old transitive property from our fourth grade math days for this pick. If Tennessee and Indianapolis are evenly matched (as I said in last week’s blog and was totally backed up by the four-point game they played), and Houston has beaten Tennessee by 24 and 14 points this year, then Houston will beat Indianapolis by 14 points or more this week. I love simple math, and I love Houston in a bounceback game (In week 17, when Houston plays at Indy and Chuck Pagano is on the sidelines, I might think twice about such a large spread).

Jacksonville (+7) over Miami: More simplicity with this pick but no math involved. Miami shouldn’t be favored by a touchdown against anyone. The Jags are on the road, but not really. It’s not like they’re traveling outside their time zone or even their own state. Cecil Shorts is probably playing, and yes, he’s that important to Jacksonville.

Denver (-3) over Baltimore: I can’t find any reason to like the Ravens in this game. Peyton Manning carves up their defense, right? Am I missing something? The Broncos have already proven they can win on the road, and more importantly, on the East Coast when they handled Cincy and Carolina in back-to-back November games. For all the love that Baltimore and Joe Flacco gets for their home numbers, it’s actually not that impressive. Yeah, the Ravens have only lost one home game this year (to Charlie Batch!), but they also struggled at home against New England, Cleveland and Dallas. And Flacco’s numbers are better at home, but they’re still not very impressive (11 touchdowns in 6 games so far this year). I would have taken the Broncos even if they were giving six points.

St. Louis (-3) over Minnesota: I wanted to take Minnesota, write “At this point you just can’t bet against Adrian Peterson,” and move on. But I couldn’t. All the numbers favor St. Louis. It seems like there’s a reasonable chance the Rams could slow Peterson down, and then what do the Vikings do? Lean on their 32nd-ranked passing offense led by Christian “Can’t Crack 200 Yards” Ponder? (Seriously, he’s only exceeded 200 passing yards once in his last five games.) The Rams are balanced, the Rams are streaking and the Rams are actually really good at home.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) over New Orleans: There was a four-week run in November when the Bucs were averaging 35 points a game. In their current three-game losing streak, they haven’t been able to crack 23 points. What the hell happened? The two losses to Atlanta and Denver are explainable. They were finally facing playoff talent and two pretty good pass defenses. The loss to Philly last week? Inexplicable. Meanwhile the Saints have backslid after being 5-5 with their own three-game losing streak. In this game each quarterback can throw all over the defense, but only the Bucs will effectively run the ball. And suddenly, I have little faith in Drew Brees not turning the ball over. Give me Tampa in a close game.

NY Giants (+1) over Atlanta: Vegas is starting to correct the bloated Atlanta lines considering we all know they’re not as good as their record, but the Giants are simply the better team here. Of course I want the Giants to miss the playoffs, but I want them to do it in dramatic fashion—blowing a home game against the lowly Eagles in week 17 seems ideal. For now, they keep winning.

Green Bay (-3) over Chicago: I haven’t verified this, but I’m 99% sure that if the Packers win this game, they win the NFC North. Well, congrats to the 2012 NFC North Division Champion Green Bay Packers! I’ll lay the three points and feel good about a push being my worst case scenario. Meanwhile, did you know the Bears had a five-man kicking competition on Tuesday that resulted in Olindo Mare being named the new field goal kicker? Couldn’t someone have broadcasted that contest on TV or the web? I sat around all day on Tuesday bored out of my mind (I call those days “weekdays”) when I could have been watching kickers try to one up each other. I like to think it was a big game of HORSE, but I guess we’ll never know.

Detroit (-6.5) over Arizona: After last week’s oopsy in Seattle, I thought about how I would recap the game if I was an Arizona journalist trying to put the most positive possible spin on things. And here’s what I came up with:

“The Arizona quarterback tandem of John Skelton and Ryan Lindley were able to spread the wealth in Seattle as eight Cardinals players caught passes from the young gunslingers (including an incredible 1 catch, 2 yard contribution from Larry Fitzgerald). Lindley was particularly impressive in throwing no interceptions and completing nearly 50% of his passes. But in the end, even with the Cardinals limiting their turnovers to eight on the day, the Seahawks found a way to hold on and pick up a tough divisional win.”

Anyway, on principle alone, I cannot pick the Cardinals.

Seattle (-6) over Buffalo: Rumor has it that in 2016 the Bills and Seahawks are both moving north. The Bills to Toronto (where this game is being played) and the Seahawks to Vancouver. Good riddance. No, that’s not really a rumor except on my blog. I just have nothing to say about this game. Seattle is no longer playing like a team that can’t win on the road. And I have no faith in the Bills.

San Diego (-3) over Carolina: Remember a week ago when I made the argument that the AFC is just as good as the NFC this year? Well all someone had to do after the week 14 games was email me and say, “The Jets and the Chargers still have a semi-realistic shot to make the playoffs.” That’s enough to dispel every decent argument I made for the AFC being on equal ground. Amazing as it is, if the Chargers win out and the Steelers end up at 8-8 (while the Bengals lose their final three), I think San Diego would be in. That is some uncredible shit right there. Go Chargers!

Oakland (-3) over Kansas City: BIG game right here. Actually, it’s bigger than that. It’s a HUGE game. Both teams are on the cusp of getting the #1 pick in the 2013 draft. And both teams are just dying to take a not-nearly-sure-thing QB with that pick. If the Chiefs win, both teams would have three wins and all eyes would turn to the two-win Jaguars. But I don’t think the Chiefs are dumb enough to go out and win this game. Give me the Raiders and keep this game off the Red Zone Channel please.

Pittsburgh (-2) over Dallas: I don’t have a clue what happened to Pittsburgh last Sunday. That might be the most confusing outcome to any game so far this year. But Roethlisberger’s back and has now had two full weeks of practice. And honestly, just a week ago if you could have gotten Pitt at -2 for this game, you would have jumped all over it. And if you’re thinking of taking Dallas, answer this one question: How upset will you be with yourself if Dez Bryant’s hand forces him to leave the game in the 1st quarter? The Cowboys will be extremely short on weapons when that happens.

Molly Pick

I can’t be trusted to make a rational pick on San Francisco at New England. I should be picking the 49ers because to expect the Patriots to beat both the Texans and 9ers in the span of six days, each by more than a touchdown, is too much. But at the same time, the Patriots might just be impossible to keep up with right now. I’d be picking the Pats if it was up to me. But it’s not. I’m giving this game to Molly and her 10-4 season record:

Tennessee (-1.5) over NY Jets: Everyone’s marking this down as a W for the Jets just because it’s fun for people to think they can run the table and sneak into the playoffs. But they’ve barely beaten the Cardinals and the Jaguars in the past two weeks. Tennessee is bad, but I think this is the game where everyone snaps back to reality and remembers the Jets suck too. Plus they haven’t won three-in-a-row all year and I don’t think it starts now. Oh wait, I almost forgot to factor in the potential for Mark Sanchez to rise to the occasion under the Monday Night lights. Or will he shrink to the occasion? One way or another, this might be Sanchez’s last ever nationally-televised game as a starting QB.

Week 15 Stats:

-Home Teams: 6

-Road Teams: 10

-Favorites: 10

Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

-Road Underdogs: 5

-Road Favorites: 5

My Desperate Attempt to Extend the Date I’m on with my Readers: Conversation Starters (Bad Habits, Worst Costume and More)

To my loyal readers who don’t give a damn about football, I think it’s obvious that we have a problem. After months and months of us having so much to talk about, the well’s run dry. It’s like we’re on a first date, and the first six months of this blog was the part where I talk and talk and talk about anything under the sun. And you’re like the quiet girl on the date who doesn’t have much to say but thinks I’m hilarious and spends all her time laughing at my stories. And the last couple months has been the part where I’ve kinda run out of things to say, so I pull out my wallet and start showing you pictures of my kid (or in this case, my dog). But now we’ve exhausted that part too. I see you nodding and giving a polite smile whenever I talk about my dog, but I can tell you’re thinking “Will it seem obvious if I pretend to get an emergency phone call that forces me to cut this date short?” So instead of having this magical night end abruptly, I’m turning to a device that any desperate man who’s looking to get laid would turn to…the google search results to “conversation starters on a date.”

That’s right. I’m not below relying on someone else to provide me with topics of discussion. In fact, I feel like it’s the only shot you all have of reading non-football posts over the next two months. I’ll admit this is a risky road to travel. Rather than blog about noteworthy things I’m observing in my everyday life, I’ll be talking about past experiences/inner thoughts that might only pertain to me. And there’s a good chance you’ll hate me after reading some of these. But this blog needs page views and I have no better idea on how to generate them.

When you google “conversation starters on a date,” you inevitably get a mix of lame topics (where were you born? what do you do for exercise?), and outrageous topics (what animal besides humans do you think would make the best world leaders?). I’m going for the topics that are somewhere in the middle. I’ll limit it to just a few questions on this first post, and if it catches on, I’ll post a series of them over the coming weeks. Sound good? Great. Let’s roll.

1). Do you prefer the window seat or the aisle seat on a plane?

Starting with an easy one. This depends on the length of the trip and what my goals for the flight are. Usually if it’s a two-hour-or-less kind of flight, I’m taking the aisle seat because there’s a good chance the people in my row won’t be bothering me with repeated trips to the bathroom, and because I always wanna get off the plane as quickly as humanly possible. But if it’s a long flight, I’m all about the window. That way I can be in my own little world, not have any tiny bladder people asking me to move every hour and can use the window as a pillow and sleep the flight away. The only other reason I’d pick the aisle is if I know I’m going to be drinking heavily on the flight (i.e. any time I fly to Vegas). Because that’s when I turn into a tiny bladder person myself.

2). What’s the longest you’ve ever waited in line?

Originally I was thinking it was on one of our family trips to DisneyWorld when I was a kid and we waited FOREVER to get into the Indiana Jones show. But actually I once slept overnight in a line on the sidewalk next to Fenway Park to try to get Yankees/Red Sox tickets for the next day. I believe I was in line from 11PM until 10AM the next day. I remember having an incredible amount of adrenaline over the first three hours because it was such a cool thing to do. But when that faded, I decided it was one of the three worst ideas I’d ever had. I used a wine bottle as a pillow that night. And if memory serves, I believe me and my buddies got kicked out of that game in the fourth inning. So yeah, 11 hours of waiting in line to see one-third of a baseball game. Good times.

3). Do you prefer baths or showers?

I have absolutely no patience for baths.

4). What’s the habit you’re proudest of breaking?

Well I’m still working on some of the typical bad habits like biting my nails and picking my nose. And I still catch myself with my hand down my pants in public sometimes. Would love to break all those some day. I guess it would have to be going into a casino and spending every single dollar I have to my name. That was a pretty bad habit I had in college.

5). What’s the first thing you wash in the shower?

Legs. I’m a “start from the bottom and work my way up” kinda guy. Although I often wonder if I should wash my face first before the soap has all of my armpit and ball residue on it. But then I just remind myself that soap can’t possibly be dirty because it’s soap.

6). Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Jesus this got serious quickly. Listen, it was a Tuesday morning at like 9AM. Where do you think a freshman in college who had probably been out late the night before was? Asleep in my (or someone’s) bed. I was woken up by my brother calling from the West Coast to tell me to “stay out of tall buildings today.” I’m sure my first thought was “Does this get me out of classes for the day?” That call started a disturbing trend…whenever Neil wakes me up with an early morning phone call, it’s bad news (runner-up to the 9/11 news was him calling to tell me that the greatest Red Sox player of all time, Ted Williams, had died. I admit it’s a distant runner-up, but still…).

7). What was your best, or worst, Halloween costume?

I can actually answer best and worst with the same costume. It was senior year of high school. My friend Sam and I wanted to dress up in something outrageous for the party we were all going to. I believe we had just learned in religion class earlier that month what a partial birth abortion was. Naturally we decided to be partial birth abortion doctors. The execution of this plan was nothing more than wearing doctor scrubs, squirting some fake blood on ourselves and taping a sign to us that said “partial birth abortion doctors.” So I showed up to the party in all my glory, and I found Sam dressed in a poncho and sombrero. His explanation? “My girlfriend wouldn’t let me dress in our original costume idea.” Are you fucking kidding me, Sam? Do you know how insane it looks for one guy to be dressed as a partial birth abortion doctor? But it was too late for me to change it up. I just had to own that creepy costume, and I did. (Yes, you’re allowed to be disgusted with me right now. I’m pretty disgusted with myself.)

There I go doing all the talking again. This is the type of blog post where it would be really cool for my readers to respond with some of their answers to these questions. That way I don’t feel like the clueless guy on the date who can’t pick up on a signal that you’re bored out of your mind.

The Week 14 Not-Quite-A-Recap: Jinxing the Patriots (aka the Best Team in Football) & Reviewing Some Preseason Bets

There are a lot of ways a sports fan can jinx his team and look really stupid at the same time. The simplest way is to guarantee (via Twitter or your big fat stupid mouth) your team’s likely win in its upcoming game. No matter how much confidence you have, and no matter how good your team has been, it’s never a good idea to tell people that the opponent “has absolutely no chance of winning.” (This is also known as the “Great Gariepy Jinx of 2008” because on February 3rd, 2008, my brothers and I couldn’t have been more confident in the 18-0 Patriots destroying the lucky-to-be-there Giants in Super Bowl XLII…to the point where we repeatedly told our friends in the hours leading up to the game that “the Giants have absolutely no chance of winning this.”)

But there are more ridiculous and more complex ways to jinx the future fortunes of your team. And here’s the one I’d like to address now: The Making of Plans For Your Team’s Game That Isn’t Even Guaranteed to Happen. Here’s a perfect example: Let’s say hypothetically you were a huge Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan, and in 2010, when you saw that they were likely to get a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, you reserved a block of hotel rooms overlooking Main Street in Lawrence, Kansas, where the main campus of the school is located. And let’s say you booked those rooms for the weekend of the Final Four all because you wanted to be part of the on-campus festivities while the ‘Hawks were dancing their way into the National Championship game. Well, my friend, you shouldn’t be surprised that you jinxed the crap out of KU and they never made it past the 2nd round (losing in a HUGE upset to Northern Iowa).

Another example, similar but different, is when the 2001-02 Pittsburgh Steelers told all their family and friends to book their trips to New Orleans for the Super Bowl prior to hosting the Patriots in the AFC Championship. See, it’s not just the fans that can jinx things by planning too far ahead. Moronic athletes can do it too.

So whenever you get too high on your team early in their season and start wondering, “Gee, I wonder how much flights cost to San Antonio for the Final Four weekend,” or, “The Super Bowl is in Arizona this year. I bet if I book flights in September it’ll be a lot cheaper than waiting til the last minute,” take a deep breath, step back from your computer and realize that paying a few hundred dollars more by waiting until it’s guaranteed to happen for your team is a much better option than jinxing them and having to watch Indianapolis vs Chicago in person at the Super Bowl.

I bring this topic up because on November 25th I booked my flights for a trip to San Francisco over Super Bowl weekend. And during the 16 days since I made those plans, I’ve been telling people that “I’ll wanna watch that game with my brothers and friends who live in the Bay Area no matter who’s playing in it because that’s been my football-watching crew for the last seven years.” But secretly my thinking has been, “If the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl, I’m going to need to watch that game with my brothers because we have literally had a bottle of champagne sitting in a refrigerator since that fateful February day in 2008 where we were too ready to pop it before the game even started.” While in Boston at college, the Patriots won three Super Bowls, and yet somehow I found myself having to celebrate those wins with mostly non-Patriot fans. Since I moved to the West Coast and surrounded myself with only Patriot fans, we’ve had to witness two Super Bowl losses, a lost season because of the Tom Brady ACL and a couple of first-round playoff exits at the hands of the Jets and the Ravens. If the Patriots, make the Super Bowl, I need to be in San Francisco. So I made my plans accordingly.

The interesting thing is after last night’s win against Houston, I’m not at all nervous that my trip will be wasted on watching something like the Broncos vs the 49ers. I couldn’t feel better about the Patriots’ chances now.

(By the way, if you’re one of those people who isn’t superstitious and doesn’t believe in jinxing things, you live a way less stressful life than I do. I hate you.)

(And if you’re one of those people who thinks the Patriots are due for a letdown game against San Francisco this coming Sunday, you just don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.)

For those of you thinking that if you just got to the end of this intro, you’d be able to read a recap from all the week 14 games, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I don’t have much of a recap because this happened at a bar I went to on Sunday:

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So instead of a recap, I’m leaving you with an update on all of my preseason NFL bets. Some of them have a chance of coming through, but most of them are just hilariously ridiculous. Enjoy.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers – Under 10 wins (Even Money)

Well, they’re 7-6 right now, so unless they win their final three games, I’m golden. And actually the worst case scenario is a push and I’d get my money back. Not too upset with that. What I was thinking when I made the bet: I’d like to say that I saw a Roethlisberger injury coming when I made this bet in the preseason, but really I just thought their defense was getting old. The game that may have saved my bet was their most recent game, a complete no-show against an awful Chargers team at home. Their final three games are: at Dallas, home Cincinnati and home Cleveland. There’s a loss in there somewhere.

Buffalo Bills – Over 8 wins (-150)

The scenario for me on this bet is the exact opposite of the Steelers. I need Buffalo to win their final three games just to get the push and recoup my money. I can’t rule this out because their final three look like this: home vs Seattle (the Seahawks suck on the road), at Miami (a winnable game) and home vs the Jets (depending on how many of their three QBs the Jets decide to play that day, the Bills could win by either 7 or 70). But considering they only have five total wins and haven’t won three straight all year, I’m gonna count myself out on this one. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That the Bills were finally loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, and that a weak schedule that included four games each against the AFC South and NFC West would help them get to the playoffs. I didn’t consider that A). Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick were leading this team still, and B). The NFC West and AFC South wouldn’t be as bad as everyone expected.

Washington Redskins – Under 6.5 wins (Even Money)

In my defense, I didn’t realize Kirk Cousins was gonna be so good that he singlehandedly got the ‘Skins’ seventh win for them last weekend. If not for him, I still feel like I’d have a good shot to win this bet. What I was thinking when I made the bet: Since I’ve already officially lost it, I’m not putting much time into explaining this one…I thought it would be a few years until RGIII made a real impact, and I was sure Washington didn’t have a lot of talent around him. I still think that second part is true, but unfortunately Bobby Griffin is already playing like an MVP.

Cincinnati Bengals – Win AFC North Division (+400)

Technically this is still in play since the Bengals are only two games behind the division-leading Ravens. But realistically it’s done. Not only would Cincinnati have to win their final three games, getting them to 10-6, but they’d need Baltimore to lose their final three. Due to tiebreakers, if the Ravens also have 10 wins, they get the division. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That both the Ravens and Steelers would be taking major steps back this year, due to age and injury. I also viewed the Bengals as an up-and-comer, and the 4-to-1 odds felt like a value bet worth taking a shot on. Obviously, you should be seeing the pattern developing that I’m not great at predicting division winners before the season starts.

St. Louis Rams – Win NFC West Division (+900)

What can I say? The 9-to-1 odds were too enticing and I thought Jeff Fisher’s presence and Sam Bradford’s health could have an immediate impact on the Rams. What I was thinking when I made the bet:

  1. The 49ers were due for a letdown season after last year’s playoff run.
  2. Arizona was going to be a two-win team because their quarterbacks were the worst in football.
  3. The Seahawks were gonna be almost as bad as the Cardinals…they’d be lucky to get to 8 wins.

At lest I was almost right with one of those three predictions…

Chicago Bears – Win NFC North Division (+350)

What does it say about all of my preseason betting that this one is by far my best chance to win? So the Bears are a game behind Green Bay right now and they’ve lost to them already, but they do play the Packers again in week 15. The math is pretty simple: The Bears need to end the season with one more win than the Packers. Even if the Bears win the rematch against Green Bay and both teams end up with 10 wins, the tiebreaker still goes to the Packers. It’s unlikely, but if the Bears can run the table and the Packers lose two of three, the Bears win the North. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That Green Bay and Chicago had relatively equal chances to win the North so the +350 was great value. If you remember back to the preseason, I said several times that I thought the Bears were going to the Super Bowl (more on that in a minute). I honestly thought they’d have a top-five offense to go along with their always-solid defense and special teams. I forgot that you need a good offensive line and competent quarterback to have a top-five offense.

Atlanta Falcons – Win the Super Bowl (25/1 Odds)

Another line that was irresistible going into the season. What I was thinking when I made the bet: I thought the Falcons would easily win the NFC South and finally breakout as the top offensive team in the NFC. And if those things were true, how could you not love 25-to-1 odds?? Here’s the thing: they did win the South easily and they are one of the top offenses in the NFC. But I couldn’t feel worse about their chances in the playoffs. They’re in a tie with the Ravens as the luckiest team in the NFL by my count, and I really can’t see them making any noise in January. It’s a really weird feeling to have such good odds on the possible #1 seed, but already have mentally ripped up the bet ticket in my head.

The following bets were made some time during the season…

Chicago Bears – Win the Super Bowl (12/1 Odds) – Bet made on October 16th

I placed this bet after week 6, and obviously I wasn’t satisfied with just having the Bears to win their division. Chicago was on a bye in week 6, and across the NFC landscape the Falcons had moved to 6-0, the Giants had pummeled the 49ers in San Francisco and the Packers had just completed their Sunday Night rape fest at Houston. Apparently none of that was enough to deter me. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That the 4-1 Bears just might be the best team in the NFC. All four of their wins at that point had come by at least 17 points. Their only blemish was a 23-10 loss at Green Bay. Again, at a time where the Packers and Falcons were probably the favorites to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC, the Bears just felt like they were with a 12-to-1 shot. At the very least I thought they were a lock to make the playoffs (suddenly not a lock at all).

Cincinnati Bengals – Win AFC North Division (+800) – Bet made on October 17th

If this looks like a repeat, it’s because apparently my preseason bet of the Bengals to win the North wasn’t enough for me??? This bet also came after week 6, a week in which Cincinnati lost by 10 to a previously-winless Cleveland Browns team. The loss dropped Cincy to 3-3. What I was thinking when I made the bet: There’s a 90% chance I was drunk, stoned or drunk and stoned when I made this bet. I don’t have any justification for it. Let’s just move on.

Cleveland Browns – Win AFC North Division (+7500) – Bet made on October 17th

I’m seriously not making this bet up just to be funny. Apparently taking a flier on the Bengals wasn’t enough for me on that fateful afternoon of October 17th. The Browns were 1-5 (but on a one-game winning streak!), the Bengals were 3-3, the Steelers had lost to Tennessee the previous Thursday to fall to 2-3, but the Ravens had won a close game over Dallas that Sunday to move to 5-1. So what stupidity popped into my head to make me think the Browns could overcome a four-game deficit to Baltimore and win the division? What I was thinking when I made the bet: Again, I was probably under the influence of something, decided that the Ravens were weaker than their record showed (I was right about that), and 75-to-1 odds were just too good to pass up. Hey, at least the Browns have a shot to go 3-3 within their division…that’s something.

Washington Redskins – Win NFC East Division (+650) – Bet made on October 17th

OK, now I’m thinking there may have been a method to my madness on this day when I clearly had too much time on my hands. The Redskins were coming off a solid home win against Minnesota, and I was high on RGIII (as well as upwards of three actual drugs). The ‘Skins were 3-3, only one game behind the division-leading Giants. What I was thinking when I made the bet: I knew Washington had the Giants looming on the schedule the following week, and I convinced myself that if they beat New York, the odds would drop drastically since they’d be in a tie for 1st place. I made the bet, Washington immediately lost three-in-a-row, and their coach said something like, “The rest of the season is for evaluating who will be on the team next year.” I called my friends who are Washington fans and apologized for jinxing their team. And now suddenly, if the ‘Skins can gain just one game on New York over the final three, they’ll win the division. It feels like a Christmas Miracle, appropriately delivered by the Black Jesus.

Indianapolis Colts – Win the Super Bowl (66/1 Odds) – Bet made on November 11th

Call me crazy, but I feel better about this bet than I do about the Bears or the Falcons winning the Super Bowl. This bet was actually placed two minutes before the early games kicked off on the Sunday of week 10. The Colts had played the Thursday game that week, and by beating Jacksonville had moved to 6-3 on the season (while also being on a four-game win streak). What I was thinking when I made the bet: Much like that Redskins bet above, I probably realized that if the Colts were to follow up that week 10 performance with a win in New England the following week, their odds would drop significantly. So this was the right time for a small bet on them. I also started believing that “playing for Chuck” might carry Indy farther than their talent should allow them to go. But mostly I just started irrationally rooting for Andrew Luck because I had him on my fantasy team and wanted another reason to quietly hope they’d go to the Super Bowl. They’re not going to make it that far, most likely, but won’t I look like a genius if they do?

So it looks like out of the 12 bets I made, I have a decent chance to win three and an outside chance to win four more. Those are the kind of numbers that would get me fired if this was a real job.

Week 14 NFL Picks: Debunking the NFC Over AFC Myth, No One Wants to Win the North, Carolina’s Revenge and More

As someone who loyally supports an AFC team, I’m starting to get a bit of an inferiority complex when I look over at the NFC. After all, the NFC has won four of the last five Super Bowls—with two of those wins coming over my Patriots—and five of the past nine Pro Bowls! OK, I’m joking about the Pro Bowl relevance. But it’s been pretty common this year to hear NFL analysts talk about the dominant NFC. And I heard a bunch of talk last year from my friends about how the Patriots only made it to the Super Bowl because they were in a very weak AFC. More recently when I was exchanging emails the other day with a group of college friends about all of our teams potentially making the playoffs, one asshole replied “…I think the bigger story here is that if the Pats were in the NFC, they would almost certainly have been eliminated from playoff contention by now.” Obviously he was exaggerating, but I’m getting pretty fed up with this perception that the AFC is the NFC’s little brother. Having lived for nearly 30 years as a little brother, I can attest to the frustration that must be boiling over in all of the AFC teams. One minute the big brothers are making fun of you and locking you out of the house as a prank, and the next minute you’re bursting through the door with two Super Soakers locked and loaded and start unleashing hell on them (only to realize a few minutes later that water can’t hurt anyone and Mom and Dad are gonna be PISSED when they see what you’ve done to the living room).

But is the talent gap between the two conferences a reality or just perception? Other than waiting for the Super Bowl and hoping it matches up the best team from each conference, there’s a pretty limited set of data that can help us answer this question. When looking at the conferences from top to bottom, I guess the overall record in interconference play is the best indicator. You might be surprised to learn that after 13 weeks, the NFC has a four-game lead on the AFC. It’s a 27-23 record in favor of  the big brother. While the NFC jumped out to a dominating record earlier in the year—I think they had a 23-13 record against the AFC at one point—we can all agree that the current record barely favors them. And while it’s fun to look at this from the entirety of the NFL, who really cares about the outcome of Arizona against the Jets (an atrocity to organized sports that was played last week), or Carolina vs Kansas City? I also think it’s irrelevant to look at the record of the best NFC teams vs the bad AFC teams and vice versa. Of course we expect the 49ers to beat up on the Bills. So what about looking at the top seven teams from each conference and how they’ve fared against each other? Seven is a bit of an arbitrary number, but it includes all the likely playoff teams plus an extra team that’s still in contention. I’m happy to report that in all the interconference games played this year between the top seven in the NFC and the top seven in the AFC, it’s the AFC holding a slight lead with a 6-4 record. So suck…on…that, NFC!

Even an expert like me was fooled a few weeks ago into thinking the NFC was significantly better. When I released my Power Rankings after week 9, I had Houston at the top followed by four NFC teams (Atlanta, Chicago, NY Giants, San Francisco). But how quickly things change. Everyone seems to agree that Atlanta isn’t nearly as good as its record. The Bears have lost three of four and are suddenly in danger of missing the playoffs. If the Giants don’t turn things around quickly, they may have a similar record to the Jets by the end of the season. And the 49ers have suffered a tie and a loss to the Rams while also inserting a second-year quarterback with no experience since I wrote those Power Rankings. Meanwhile in the AFC, the Texans continue to be the team to beat, but the Broncos and Patriots have closed the gap and answered a lot of questions. If I was updating my Power Rankings, they’d now look like this:

  1. Houston
  2. Denver
  3. New England
  4. Green Bay
  5. San Francisco

The one thing I’m wiling to admit is that the NFC seems to have a more competitive bottom tier. Their worst teams are better than the AFC’s worst teams. So you can argue that the disparity at the bottom makes for inflated records of the AFC’s best teams. But it doesn’t matter because we just proved that the AFC’s best has more than held their ground against the NFC’s best.

For the first time in my life, I’m starting to feel a rivalry with an entire conference, not just a team or two that I hate. Usually when the Patriots get eliminated in the playoffs, I turn my allegiance to whatever NFC team has the best shot at knocking off the AFC in the Super Bowl (after all, how could I ever root for Indy, Pittsburgh or Baltimore to win a championship), but this year I’m not so sure that’ll be the case.

Maybe I’ve done enough with this argument to spark some debate and get my first comment on the blog in about four months. Maybe I haven’t. Either way let’s move on to the week 14 picks (home team underlined):

Denver (-10.5) over Oakland: [Editor’s Note: This was written and posted on Twitter before Thursday night’s game.] For those of you who are suspicious about this line, I went ahead and looked into all the numbers and stats for you. There is absolutely no piece of data out there that can convince you to take Oakland. We’re talking about one of the top three teams in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. And if that sounds all too familiar, it’s because in week 11, we all thought the same thing about Houston vs Jacksonville. That game went to overtime, and Houston was unable to cover the spread. Don’t think that’ll be the case with Denver on Thursday night. Why? I don’t know. I just know I refuse to pick Oakland again this year, especially against a team firing on all cylinders like the Broncos.

Pittsburgh (-7) over San Diego: This line is just annoyingly high enough to make me think about taking the Chargers. After all, we should expect the Steelers to bring Ben Roethlisberger back slowly, meaning they’ll try to run the ball as much as possible and focus more on keeping him healthy than on building a big lead. But the Chargers aren’t just bad at this point in the season; they’re decimated with injuries and bad. They’ve lost four straight road games, three of which came by seven or more points. I hate starting the week off by picking two big favorites. But these AFC West teams (not including Denver) are just so hard to pick. And it’s not like the Steelers need extra incentive right now. They’re fighting off the Bengals for a wildcard spot, and they still have a shot to overtake the Ravens in the North. Big time motivation to not fuck around with an inferior team like San Diego.

Tennessee (+6) over Indianapolis: Their records may be drastically different, but these two teams are a lot closer in terms of talent and stats than you may realize. The big difference that jumps out of course is at quarterback, where it seems the Colts have a huge advantage in Andrew Luck. But do they really? Over Luck’s past three games, he’s thrown seven interceptions and seven touchdowns. He hasn’t had a QB rating higher than 72 or a completion percentage higher than 54 in any of those three games either. It’s impossible to factor in how big of a boost Indy might get if Chuck Pagano shows up for the game (or makes a pre-game appearance in their locker room), but this Colts team is not as good as their record says, and eventually they’ll have to fall back to the below-average team they’re supposed to be. I’ll probably keep picking against them as long as they’re giving close to a touchdown, regardless of the opponent.

NY Jets (-3) over Jacksonville: Is it possible that the Jets, knowing their season is completely fucked, are just making moves based on what will generate the most buzz and attention toward themselves? If Rex Ryan had decided this week that Greg McElroy is his starting QB for the rest of the season and he had told the media that, the Jets would be boring over these final four games. If Rex had said weeks ago that Mark Sanchez is his starter the rest of the year, that would be boring too. So instead we get to all watch as the Jets play musical chairs with their three QBs. Would it surprise you at all if Sanchez gets pulled for Tim Tebow this week and then next Tuesday Rex names McElroy the week 15 starter while making Sanchez inactive, only to pull the old switcheroo in week 16 and make Tebow the starter with Sanchez the backup? Do you think Rex has banged out the complex math to know that he has exactly six starter-backup QB combinations? He’s right on pace…Sanchez-McElroy in week 13, Sanchez-Tebow this week, and then three more weeks to work with. Anyway…I’m picking the Jets because at least they do two things pretty well (running offense and passing defense) while the Jags do nothing well.

Minnesota (+3) over Chicago: Chicago’s really on the ropes right now…They’ve lost three out of four, their history-making defense has taken a big step back, star cornerback Tim Jennings is out at least one game and Brian Urlacher is out for the rest of the regular season. Of course I shouldn’t ignore that the one team they’ve beaten in the last four games is Minnesota. But the Vikings will have the best player on the field in Adrian Peterson on Sunday, and he did average six yards on 18 carries when these teams met two weeks ago. The problem was Minnesota fell behind 25-3 after the first half so Christian Ponder was forced to throw the ball 43 times. Speaking of Ponder, if he had managed to throw one less red zone interception against Green Bay last week, we’d probably be talking about how the Vikings are only one game back from the Bears for the NFC North lead. This would be such an easy Minnesota pick if the line was just a half-point higher (hopefully for you bettors out there it goes to 3.5 or 4 by game time). I’m taking them anyway and hoping the Bears continue their second annual second half slide.

Atlanta (-3.5) over Carolina: We all know the drill here. Atlanta’s a bad 11-1 team. They’ve been extremely lucky (7-1 record in games decided by one score). They don’t know how to put anyone away. Also, you might have seen that Carolina’s out for revenge (with Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy even wishing the dreaded stomach bug on the Falcons). But really, how much stock can you put into a 3-9 team trash-talking and making guarantees? I also think the pendulum has swung far enough in one direction for Atlanta—that they can’t blow anybody out, that they should really by something like 7-4, that you can count on a tight game no matter who they play—that it’s time it swung back the other way. If I’m a Falcons player, I’m saying “enough is enough” with the disrespect and I’m going into this game with the intention of burying the Panthers. This is probably the game that makes us all reconsider how easily we’re dismissing the Falcons as contenders (for the record, I still don’t like them against most of the other NFC playoff teams).

Molly Pick

In case you’re not watching the videos or keeping close tabs, I’ll let you know that Molly is tearing it up in her picks this year. She’s pretty much a lock at this point with a 9-4 season record. For this week, I couldn’t decide between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Clearly Tampa should win, but they’re 7.5-point favorites. That might be high. So I took the guessing out of it by handing the pick over to Molly. I tried to make sure she knew that Tampa is one of the best against the spread this season (8-3-1) and Philly is one of the worst (3-9). Let’s see what she decided on:

St. Louis (+3) over Buffalo: These two teams seem pretty evenly matched, right? One’s a little better on offense (Buffalo), and one’s a little better on defense (St. Louis). No distinct advantage for either team at quarterback. The Bills are 5-7; the Rams are 5-6-1. St. Louis can’t really win on the road; Buffalo doesn’t really have much of a home field advantage. In a year where the underdog is 20 games over .500 through 13 weeks, take the points when all else fails.

Cincinnati (-3) over Dallas: Hard to believe both these teams were left for dead after week 9 losses dropped them both to 3-5. The thinking is always that a team can’t lose more than six games if they want a shot at the playoffs. So it wasn’t crazy to count the Cowboys and Bengals out at that point. Since then Cincinnati has won four straight, and Dallas has gone 3-1. If the Cowboys lose, they’re out. The Cowboys are out (Side Note: If this line was even a half-point higher, I’d be taking Dallas).

Washington (-3) over Baltimore: Washington’s another team that was counted out after week 9, and they were an even worse 3-6 at the time. Suddenly with the NFC East looking like an exact replica of the NFC West from years past, it’s a wide open division. Baltimore’s last three games have looked like this: three-point win over Byron Leftwich at Pittsburgh, overtime win at San Diego due to a combination of a miracle play and a checked-out opponent, loss at home to Charlie Batch and the Steelers. That’s a three-week run that even the Chiefs would be embarrassed by. I think the Ravens finally won’t play a game that’s decided by three points…I think they get blown the F out and suddenly we’ll have a very interesting finish in the AFC North.

Kansas City (+6.5) over Cleveland: Just a miserable game to pick. Cleveland’s obviously the better team, but…6.5 points? I dunno, is it logical to think that after the Chiefs played an inspired game in the wake of last Saturday’s tragedy they’ve now had to deal with a full week of distractions, stress and a bunch of other things that have hurt their ability to focus on football? It’s definitely possible, but I’m taking the points. That’s a HUGE spread for a team like the Browns.

San Francisco (-10) over Miami: This is one of two switcheroos I’m pulling with my picks this week (“switcheroo” being defined as “a pick I switch at the last minute, after having written a whole justification about taking one team, doing a 180 and deciding on the other team”). You know what the 49ers do once every three or four games? Blow a team out. This week might be their last chance to have one of those games before the season ends. And since I have nothing more to contribute to these two teams, I’d like to make sure everyone’s now seen Jim Harbaugh’s guest appearance in Saved By the Bell, The New Class from years ago.

New Orleans (+5) over NY Giants: This is the other switcheroo. I had started to write out a paragraph about how the Saints haven’t beaten anyone good this year, and how the Giants would bounce back from their loss in Washington on Monday. I still think the Giants win, but I think the Saints can give us a backdoor cover (after losing two games last week to the backdoor cover—New England and Dallas—I will be on the lookout for them for the rest of my life). It’s supposed to be ugly weather in New Jersey on Sunday, and I think this game will be appropriately ugly.

Seattle (-10) over Arizona: So Seattle lost one of their two Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks because Brandon Browner decided to drop his PED appeal and start serving his four-game suspension this week. Luckily against Arizona, you only need one good cornerback, and it looks like Aqib Talib-wannabe Richard Sherman will still be in there for the Seahawks. I have no idea how the Cardinals will score any points in this game. If the ‘Hawks can just claw their way to 14 points, they’ll cover the spread. Call it a hunch, but I think they get it done.

Green Bay (-7) over Detroit: I’m torn for a bunch of reasons on this game. Because it’s a Sunday night prime time game, I wanted to write that Aaron Rodgers on national TV is turning into what Peyton Manning has always been under the spotlight. After all, Rodgers easily beat the Bears in week 2 in the Thursday night game and then demolished the Texans in week 6 in the Sunday night game. But the Packers also got blown out by the Giants just two weeks ago in that same Sunday night slot (and let’s not forget about the Monday nighter at Seattle in week 3…regardless of the referee debacle, Green Bay wasn’t all that impressive in that game). So the “Rodgers on national TV” argument carries no weight. What about the fact that Detroit’s lost four in a row? Well in that stretch they’ve lost by two, three, four and 10 points. Not exactly getting embarrassed or anything. And you can’t really say Green Bay is rounding into playoff form or anything. In their last three games, they beat the Lions by four, then got laughed back to Wisconsin in their big game with the Giants, and then beat the Vikings by nine, but probably only because Christian Ponder is so very bad. I’m gonna hate myself for this, but I’m giving Green Bay one last chance to impress me. Sunday night, in Green Bay, needing to win to stay in front in the North and in the chase for the #2 seed in the NFC. I’m ready to be impressed but prepared to be disappointed.

Houston (+4) over New England: I refuse to spend a lot of time thinking about this game because I’ll inevitably convince myself to pick the Patriots. Houston is the best team in the NFL at this point in the season. There’s no reason they should be a four-point underdog. The correct line on this game is New England -2 or -2.5. I’d be stunned if this game isn’t decided by a field goal. For the most part this year, the Texans have beat the bad teams by a lot and the good teams by a little. You can’t ask for more than that. By my count both teams have played four games against teams that are likely going to the playoffs this year. Houston is 3-1 in those games; the Patriots are 2-2. Earlier this season I wrote that New England and Baltimore might be the two most evenly-matched teams in the NFL…or at least among all the playoff teams they were. But now I’m thinking the Patriots and Texans are the two that are so close together. Again, this all points to a close game, one that New England doesn’t win by more than a field goal.

Stats for Week 14:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 7

-Road Favorites: 3

-Road Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

The Best NFL MVP Rankings You’ll Find on the Web

For several weeks my inbox has been bombarded with requests for me to write an NFL MVP rankings blog.** And why shouldn’t I write about that? It’s an easy subject to tackle and it’ll get me plenty of page views. But I’ve been putting it off because I have this sneaking suspicion that people don’t really care that much about the leading candidates for regular season MVP. In boring, individual-stat-focused sports like basketball and baseball, I can understand the MVP hype. But aren’t there so many more interesting things to talk about in football than a meaningless award?

I’d rather talk about the ever-changing “best team in football” because that title seems to jump around weekly. I’d rather talk about the four best AFC teams jockeying for playoff seeding in the final quarter of the season. I’d rather talk about three rookie quarterbacks with a legitimate shot to lead their teams to the playoffs. And I’d certainly rather talk about the “anything can happen in the playoffs” slogan being truer this year than it ever has before.

But fine, if it’ll stop clogging my inbox,** then let’s quickly run through my top five MVP candidates.

Oh, and in my opinion, the only position other than quarterback that has a chance to crash the MVP voting is running back. And for a running back to get any mention, he has to not only be one of the best at his position, but he also has to have a pretty bad quarterback on his team. Any running back on a team with a competent QB is disqualified because so much of the offense runs through that QB. There’s just no way the RB can be more valuable. Make sense? In other words, only running backs who carry their team in spite of constantly being sabotaged by their quarterback are qualified.

By the way, strange year in the MVP race. Neither team with the two best records in the NFL have a top-five MVP candidate. On Atlanta, Matt Ryan is probably in the top 10, but it would take a miracle for him to crack the top five. And go ahead and try to nominate an MVP candidate from Houston. On top of that, you can safely assume Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago and the Giants won’t have a player towards the top of the MVP voting. And all of those teams have a great shot at making the playoffs, maybe even getting one of the top two seeds in their respective conference. Of the guys on my top five list, two of them are in real danger of missing the playoffs…and I still think they’ve been good enough to win the award.

Before we jump in, let me just say that I hate doing this kind of list because any person who wants to argue long and hard enough could make the case that any of these top five are more deserving than the others. And you could probably even argue that none of my five should be in the overall top five. There is no one set of criteria to figure this out. You might value yards, touchdowns and passer rating over all else, and your buddy might decide whoever’s responsible for his team’s incredible wins increase from 2011 to 2012 is the winner. You’re both right, and you’re both wrong (until the actual winner is announced, at which time only one of you could be right, but both of you could still be wrong).

** – No one has actually been clogging my inbox. I think I got one request three weeks ago from a friend to rank my MVP candidates, but it just sounds so much better to say I’m getting overwhelmed with requests.

Let’s go in reverse order from 5th to 1st:

5). Peyton Manning: The elder Manning is #2 in the NFL in passer rating, touchdown passes and completion percentage. So why is he the lowest-ranked of the Holy Quarterbacking Triumvirate (you’ll see the other two members of the HQT in a second)? Quite simply, because he’s had the most defensive help and the healthiest receiving corps out of the three of them all year. Yes, he’s a HUUUUGE upgrade over Tim Tebow, but the defense alone might have carried this team to a .500 record. You can’t say that about the other teams who have representatives on this list. Another factor working against Manning: Denver’s divisional rivals currently rank 25th (San Diego), 29th (Oakland) and 31st (Kansas City) in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings. I’m not saying that’s his fault or anything, I’m just saying he basically got six extra bye weeks built into his 2012 schedule. What he can do to leapfrog the other four contenders and win the damn thing: Well, the fact that his name’s Peyton Manning and there’s a nice dramatic comeback narrative to attach to his 2012 stats is a good start. But I think he’d have to run the table in Denver’s final four games (getting them to 13-3 and possibly a first round bye in the playoffs), come very close to the 40-touchdown mark, and have a couple vintage “Peyton’s absolutely carrying this Broncos team today” moments.

4). Aaron Rodgers: Let’s quickly cover the reason why Rodgers isn’t number one: After leading the NFL in scoring last year, Green Bay is averaging a middle-of-the-pack 24.7 points per game this year. I’ve been saying all year that something’s wrong with their offense, and it’s true. They haven’t been as explosive nor as efficient as we’ve come to expect from a Rodgers-led group. In his defense, Rodgers has been missing key wideout Greg Jennings for most of the year, and for some reason Packers management decided running the ball wasn’t allowed in 2012. So it’s not all the quarterback’s fault. Rodgers might end up leading the league in passer rating for the second consecutive year, but I just can’t get over the drop-off in points per game. And if you look closely into his numbers, there are a few things that jump out at you, and not in the good way. He has 29 touchdowns, but 16 of them actually came over a four-game stretch. He threw only 13 touchdowns in his other eight games. He’s also had seven games this year (or 58% of his season to this point) with less than 240 passing yards. He had an amazing cluster of games in October, but everything else has been merely above average. A Pro Bowl season for sure, but not the MVP year we saw in 2011. What he can do to get back to the top by season’s end: Replicate his four-game stretch that began on September 30th and ended on October 21st over the final quarter of the season.

3). Tom Brady: When Brady won the MVP award in 2010, it was largely due to his incredible touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9:1 (that year, no other quarterback even had better than a 4:1 ratio). Well in 2012 if you’re willing to add his three rushing touchdowns to his passing totals (which I am because it helps my argument), he once again leads the league with a 7:1 TD-to-interception ratio. He leads the league’s best offense (the Patriots are averaging nearly seven points per game more than the next closest team) without having a fully healthy group of receivers together for more than one game this year. And if you’re the type of person who puts added importance on the second half of the season (see: Matt Ryan, Plummeting Stock) like me, all the Patriots have done since week 8 is average 42 points per game. They get better as the season goes on, and that’s largely because of the third member of the Holy Quarterbacking Triumvirate. Why isn’t he #1? A great complimentary running game and guys named Gronk and Welker to throw to. And also because he’s not having the type of season we’ll be talking about 10 years from now, like the next two guys are doing. How he can take over the top spot (aka his rightful place in life): Out of the three guys mentioned in these rankings so far, Brady has by far the toughest closing schedule. And that’s mostly due to his next two opponents. If Brady can put up Brady-like numbers in back-to-back games against Houston and San Francisco starting on Monday while leading the Patriots to the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs, he deserves the award.

2). Robert Griffin III (RGIII, Black Jesus, RG Three-sus, Bobby Three Sticks): First of all, before I launch into my reasons why he’s the most qualified MVP candidate at his position, I need to share a shocking discovery I made about RGIII. Did you know he was born in Okinawa, Japan? Does this make him the best Asian football player in history? At the very least he’s the greatest Japanese-born NFL player of all time, right? So weird, the guy barely looks Asian to me. Anyway, if you only look at pure passing statistics when comparing QBs, you might miss out on how important Lobert Gliffin has been to his team (Get it? I wrote his name like the stereotypical Asian would say it). Go ahead and add his 714 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns to his already-impressive passing stats and he measures up to any of the top QBs. Including his rushing TDs, he has a 5.75:1 touchdown to interception ratio, second in the NFL only to Tom Brady’s 7:1 rate. So why Griffin ahead of Brady? Because the Redskins’ defense is actually worse than the Patriots’. And because RGIII has been throwing primarily to Santana Moss, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson all season…not Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. And because Washington wasn’t even supposed to compete this year (some experts even had them winning only four games). The guy’s got a chance to throw for 3,500 yards, run for 1,000 yards, put up a combined 30-35 touchdowns and finish in the top three in passer rating. All while being a rookie with a TON of expectations and historical baggage being thrown on him from Washington fans. They have a not-so-slim chance at winning their division, and I’ll reiterate: That roster has no business doing anything better than 6-10 this year. RGIII might be the most important player in football already.How he can jump from #2 to that elusive top spot in my rankings: Well, the guy above him could just stumble down the stretch. That would be the easiest way. But also if he fulfills those projected numbers I mentioned above while leading the ‘Skins to their first playoff appearance in a long time, he’ll deserve something more than the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

1). Adrian Peterson: Are you supposed to take the “this guy wasn’t even supposed to be fully healthy until the final quarter of the season” factor into account when voting for the MVP? Fine, let’s throw out the Peyton-esque comeback storyline when evaluating the league’s best running back. We don’t need it because there are so many stats to support AP’s candidacy for this award. His 1,446 rushing yards lead the league by a long shot (next closest guy is over 300 yards behind him). He averages about 25 rushing yards per game more than the next best running back. For players who will get at least 200 touches this year, Peterson’s 6.2 yards per attempt easily lead all runners (next closest qualifier has a 4.9 average). His 17 runs of 20+ yards are six more than the next closest guy. Peterson’s in the midst of a six-game streak where he hasn’t run for less than 108 yards in a game. And he’s only had two games all year where he put up less than 100 total yards (those happen to be weeks 1 and 2, probably when he shouldn’t have even been playing at all).

You want more? Peterson is on pace to finish the year with 1,928 rushing yards. Only two people have topped that number in a single season since the start of 2002: Chris Johnson in 2009 (2,006 yards) and Jamal Lewis in 2003 (2,066 yards). In the two seasons prior to this one, with passing numbers way up, no one has topped 1,620 yards rushing. AP is on pace to obliterate that number. Over past 10 years, the top RBs who have at least 200 attempts generally have a yards per attempt average between 5 and 5.7. I already mentioned that Peterson is averaging 6.2. He’s not just having a great year, he’s having a historic year.

I can’t believe I just spent the first 300 words of the Adrian Peterson argument without mentioning the polar opposite to Peterson’s MVP year: Christian Ponder. This guy (dubbed a sleeper and “the next great thing” by some expert bloggers) ranks 25th in passer rating, 24th in passing yards, 32nd in yards per attempt and 21st in touchdown passes. What I’m trying to say is that opposing defenses can literally spend the full week of practice game-planning for Peterson and Peterson alone, and he’s still doing all those things I wrote in the previous paragraphs. Peterson is the sole reason why a Vikings team that finished 3-13 in 2011—and may have actually gotten worse at quarterback and wide receiver since then—has an outside shot at sneaking into the playoffs. What he can do to lose his top spot: Unfortunately, he just has to let nature take its course. It’s extremely difficult for a non-QB to win this award now, and with Minnesota fading towards 8-8 or 7-9, his contributions may start to get overlooked outside of the fantasy football world.

Honorable Mentions:

-Andrew Luck – Overall numbers aren’t great, but he’s taking 2011’s two-win team to the playoffs.

-Russell Wilson – Coming on strong as the important part of the season gets going.

-Matt Ryan – Somewhat a victim of our short memories, somewhat a victim of Atlanta looking bad in most of their 11 wins

-Jim Harbaugh – Name a single skill player on the 49ers that’s having an outstanding season. No one deserves a mention for MVP on that team, and yet they might end up with the #2 seed in the NFC. Someone has to be valuable for them.

Playoff Picture Coming into Focus, Peterson’s MVP Stock Rising And the Rest of the NFL’s Week 13 in Review

So here we are, exactly three-fourths of the way through the NFL season. My record against the spread is a sparkling 109-78-5, I’m in first place in both of my season-long Pick ‘Em leagues, I’m heading to the playoffs in one of my two fantasy leagues….and yet, I feel like I know nothing about the NFL. Or more accurately, I feel like I know nothing about what’s to come during the rest of the NFL regular season and playoffs. At different times throughout the season, we’ve heard that true NFL parity has finally arrived even while our eyes have told us that there are a handful of elite teams that are light years ahead of the rest of the league. On February 3rd are we going to see a Super Bowl Champ that barely made it to the playoffs—a 9-7 or 10-6 team that seems like an afterthought in early January? (like the 2011 and 2007 Giants or the 2010 Packers) Or are we more likely to see a team that’s basically been one of the best from the start of the season hoisting the Lombardi Trophy? (shades of the 2009 Saints, the 2008 Steelers or the 2004 Patriots)

But I’m getting too far ahead of myself talking about which Patriot team will be holding the Lombardi Trophy in February. Even though four teams have effectively locked up their division titles already, there’s still a ton to be decided in the final quarter of the season. By my count, in the NFC there are still three divisions up for grabs and seven teams fighting for the two wildcard spots. In the less-climactic AFC, there is still one undecided division and three teams vying for the two wildcard spots.

(By the way, you know how all season I’ve been clarifying what Seattle’s record should be every time I list their actual record? You know, because of the replacement ref debacle in week 3? Well that game is currently giving Seattle the tiebreaker over Washington for the 6th seed in the NFC. A lot of games to be played, but I’d be stunned if the Seahawks’ fake win over the Packers didn’t factor significantly into the final playoff picture.)

You can expect in these final four weeks I will be prioritizing my analysis to focus on playoff-contention teams more than the trash of the NFL. All that means is you’ll have to wait until the bottom of my posts to read all the fun jokes about the Jets, Ryan Lindley and Jim Schwartz’s brilliant coaching decisions.

By the way, if you’re looking to read a concise article about all the teams in the playoff hunt and what their finishing schedules look like, I find Grantland.com’s Bill Barnwell to be a pro at giving only the necessary information. You can read his playoff article from Monday HERE.

Let’s blast through the week 13 review so I can get back to surprising my girlfriend by taking down all of our Christmas decorations while she’s at work:

-Do you remember when the Falcons began the season 8-0 and players like Asante Samuel were fussing about the team not getting enough national respect? And then they went out in week 10 and promptly lost to the Saints? They followed that loss with three unconvincing wins: by four points at home against Arizona, by one point at Tampa Bay, and this past Thursday night by 10 points against those same Saints. How is a 10-point win against a division rival not convincing? When the quarterback of that division rival decides to throw five interceptions and you only score six points off of those turnovers. Yes, the final score is definitive, but anyone who watched that game knows that Atlanta played pretty bad after the first quarter.

-So Atlanta probably goes 13-3 at worst and gets the #1 seed in the NFC. But you know who this team looks exactly like? The 2003 Kansas City Chiefs. It’s OK if you don’t remember a thing about them; I’ll remind you. The ’03 Chiefs began the season 9-0, had a top-five offense, a below average defense and had absolutely no one expecting them to win a single playoff game even though they got a 1st round bye before hosting the Colts in the divisional round. Sound familiar? I know we’re still six weeks away from that divisional round, but would it surprise anyone if the Falcons were home underdogs if someone like Green Bay, Washington or the Giants were visiting Atlanta for that game? So, Atlanta, I’d say you’re getting exactly the amount of national respect that you deserve.

-Speaking of Drew Brees’ season-ruining game on Thursday, I’m glad I didn’t release my MVP standings last week because Brees would have no doubt been in the top 7. Now that he leads the league in interceptions, has only the 10th-best passer rating, and one could argue he singlehandedly ended the Saints’ season, I’d have to drop him out of the top 10 probably.

-Remember when I decided something was wrong with Green Bay’s offense? Let me quote from my Week 2 review post from way back on September 18th: Let me be the first to wonder if Green Bay’s offense is in a little bit of trouble through 1/8th of the regular season. They’re averaging 22.5 points so far, and I know it’s a tiny sample size, but we’re talking about a team in 2011 that went 15-1 while averaging 35 points per game…Just something to keep an eye on because if that offense takes a step back, their defense will have to play as good as it did against Chicago almost every week.” So they’ve raised their points per game from 22.5 to 24.7 over their past 10 games. That number puts them at 16th in the NFL in scoring, a few spots behind the Raiders and the Eagles. When I was watching the game on Sunday and saw Jordy Nelson leave in the 2nd quarter because of an injury, I decided that Green Bay has simply suffered too many injuries this year. It’s a good excuse for why they might be no better than a 5-seed in the playoffs, and it’s a good excuse for why Aaron Rodgers is having a slightly off year (except I know a certain quarterback whose best receivers from 2004-2006 were Troy Brown and Deion Branch, and his offense ranked in the top 10 in those years…just saying).

-The point I’m trying to make about Green Bay is two-fold: 1). Because of the injuries and the offense’s inability to fully click, they really shouldn’t be more than a three-point favorite against any team for the rest of the year. But because they are such a publicly-bet team every week, Vegas will continue to set the lines on their games accordingly. Expect them to be favored by about two or three points too many the rest of the way. 2). Aaron Rodgers will have to put together the greatest four-game stretch in football history to win the MVP Award.

-Sticking with the MVP topic for a minute, Minnesota’s opening drive of the 2nd half of their game against Green Bay was a prime example of why Adrian Peterson might be the NFL MVP. Here is the three-play sequence as described on espn.com’s play-by-play page for this game:

  • A.Peterson left end pushed ob at GB 12 for 48 yards
  • A.Peterson up the middle to GB 8 for 4 yards
  • C.Ponder pass short right intended for M.Jenkins INTERCEPTED by M.Burnett at GB -7. Touchback.

Sure, I might want to mention his 82-yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter or the fact that he ran for 210 total yards in this game when trying to argue for his MVP worth, but I think the juxtaposition between Peterson’s successes and Christian Ponder’s failures is even more telling. If the 6-6 Vikings somehow make the playoffs, Peterson is the MVP winner. I’m not saying he shouldn’t win it if they fall short of the playoffs, but the suspense would be gone if they can sneak in (which they won’t…still have games against Chicago, Houston and Green Bay).

-One more piece of supporting evidence for Mr. Peterson: With 9:39 left in the 3rd quarter, the Vikings had 273 total yards of offense. AP had 210 rushing yards at that point. Ponder was 5-of-13 for 36 yards and two interceptions at that point. The Vikings were only down by one. Case closed.

-Congrats to the Bears. You joined Carolina as the only teams to allow Seattle to win on the road this year. The Seahawks are the classic “nearly unbeatable at home, totally beatable on the road” team. The Bears might regret this loss not only because bloggers like me can justifiably lump them in with a team like the Panthers, but also because this could be the game that decides who gets a wildcard spot and who doesn’t…and now the Bears lose a tiebreaker with Seattle. This Chicago team was 7-1 just four weeks ago, and now they’re looking at the possibility of being 8-6 with two games to play. Classic Bears.

-So Tampa Bay did exactly what I thought they’d do…lose to a good team. I mentioned last week when picking Denver (-7) over the Bucs that Tampa hasn’t beaten a good team all year. At 6-6, they’ve given us such a precise blueprint for winnable games vs non-winnable games that I think we can look at their final four matchups and know with 100% certainty whether they’re making the playoffs or not. Let’s play this out: Week 14 home vs Philadelphia = WIN, Week 15 at New Orleans = WIN, Week 16 home vs St. Louis = WIN, Week 17 at Atlanta = LOSE if Atlanta is still trying, WIN if Atlanta has #1 seed locked up. So there you have it. Tampa can go 10-6 if they get some help from Atlanta in week 17. Unfortunately Tampa loses tiebreakers to Washington and Dallas (two other 6-6 teams) so even if they win their final four games, they don’t necessarily control their own destiny. I’ve solved absolutely nothing with this paragraph.

-If the payoff for having to endure the Ravens’ four-game winning streak while Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were out is watching them lose to Charlie Batch, I’ll take it. Finally the NFL’s luckiest team got only an average amount of luck and they lost to a 37-year-old quarterback who has no right being employed in the NFL. And finally the door is open for New England and Denver to leap over Baltimore in the AFC playoff seedings. If Atlanta is the NFC’s least-scary playoff team, then Baltimore might be the AFC’s. And if the Ravens fall to the 3rd or 4th spot in the AFC and have to play on the road after the wildcard round, their season is pretty much over.

-And, listen, I’m willing to give the Ravens credit for going 4-1 so far without Lewis and Webb, but only if the media stops acting like Lewis is a valuable asset to the Raven defense. You can’t have it both ways. In fact, why does Baltimore even want Lewis back for the playoffs? They’ve done just fine (or better) without him.

-Even though Pittsburgh and Cincinnati gained ground on Baltimore in the AFC North, it still appears the Ravens will win the division. That leaves the Steelers, the Bengals and the Colts battling for two wildcard spots. I’m predicting the Steelers and Colts will get to 10-6 and the Bengals will fall just short at 9-7.

-For Indianapolis, suddenly their week 16 game at Kansas City looms large. If they beat Tennessee at home in week 14 and lose their two games against Houston, the difference between 10 wins and a playoff spot and 9 wins and no playoffs is that game against the Chiefs. On paper that looks easy…the Chiefs are 2-10. But that’s absolutely a game that a young team with an inexperienced quarterback (who’s throwing way too many interceptions, by the way) could lose.

-By the way, I’m not at all concerned that the Patriots had to “sweat out” their win in Miami on Sunday. I’m now willing to admit that something about playing in Miami is difficult for the Patriots. We saw Tom Brady missing easy throws and forcing a pass that got intercepted; Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez dropping multiple balls; Stephen Gostkowski missing a makable field goal…But they still won by 10.

-Wait, I meant to say “they should have won by 10.” Depending on when you bet the Patriots last week, you got them anywhere between a 7.5-point favorite and a 9-point favorite. So I don’t have to tell you that the field goal Miami decided to kick on 2nd down with 31 seconds left in the game that took the score from 23-13 to 23-16 really fucked me over. And that’s the difficulty with picking a large-point favorite. You just can’t plan for that. The Patriots had a 16-play drive just before the field goal in question, and they had absolutely no motivation to score a touchdown. They played for their own field goal. And since the Dolphins needed both a field goal and a touchdown, it made sense for them to kick it first and try to recover an onsides kick. Such a wildcard at that point in the game. It seriously ruined my day.

-One more note on the Patriots/Dolphins game: Who was primarily covering Brandon Lloyd all day? Shouldn’t the Dolphins immediately give that guy a giant contract? He has to be the best cornerback in the NFL, right? Because no quarterback forces passes to a wide receiver quite like Brady does to Lloyd. All year long, that’s been the thing between those two guys. No matter how tightly Lloyd is covered, Brady always tries to jam at least a handful of passes in there. And yet in this game, Lloyd’s name wasn’t even mentioned until there was 12:29 left in the game and it was only because one of the announcers said, “Let’s see if they finally try to get Lloyd involved.” Don’t know who was covering him, don’t care, he’s the new Revis.

-Oops, last note on the Patriots (I mean it this time): I’m worried about Brandon Spikes…worried that he’s gonna turn into one of my least favorite players and then I’ll have to awkwardly cheer for him but secretly hate him. He already got suspended in 2010 for failing a PED test. And this season he’s been accused of being a dirty player by his opponents on a couple occasions. And now he’s on the verge of over-celebrating after meaningless pass defenses and tackles, like I saw him do when he broke up a 2nd down pass attempt by the Dolphins early in the 3rd quarter. He’s teetering on the edge of being a guy I’d absolutely hate if he was on any other team. Don’t go over the edge, Brandon.

Now for the quick notes on all the things that had no playoff implications:

-As brutal as the Dolphins’ backdoor cover was against the Patriots, Philly’s backdoor action on Sunday night in Dallas was even worse. Again, depending on when you made the bet, you got Dallas favored by anywhere from 8 to 10 points. So with the Cowboys clinging to a 4-point lead with about six minutes left, you were obviously as ecstatic as me to see Bryce Brown fumble and Morris Claiborne return it for a game-sealing Dallas touchdown. Cowboys up 11, game over, money in the bank. Until with 53 seconds left the Eagles decided to return a punt for a touchdown and ruin my life. Just some gut-wrenching gambling losses this week.

-Speaking of gut-wrenching, how would you like to have been a football fan who attended the Cardinals/Jets game on Sunday. Throughout the morning, I found myself constantly making notes about this game while giggling with a weird sense of pleasure. After all, the Jets are my most-hated non-Seattle-based team, and the Cardinals are one of the few teams to beat the Patriots this year. So imagine my delight when I saw the following things transpire in that game:

  • Mark Sanchez had been picked off three times by the beginning of the 2nd quarter, and yet, the score was still 0-0. That’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Arizona, right?
  • With nine minutes left in the 2nd quarter, Sanchez and Ryan Lindley had combined for 8 completions to their actual teammates and 4 completions to the other team’s defense.
  • At halftime, the Cardinals led 3-0. Any time you can see a half of football where the QBs are a combined 15-for-36 for 143 yards, you gotta be psyched about that.
  • Sanchez finally gets pulled for Greg McElroy with about four minutes left in the 3rd quarter. [Insert joke about what Sanchez was writing on his clipboard when McElroy threw the go-ahead touchdown…My joke would be something about Sanchez drawing a picture of his cock squirting semen all over Rex Ryan and McElroy, but I’m sure there’s been better jokes out there on the web.]
  • I made a note that Arizona was “entering Steelers in week 12 territory” by recovering four turnovers and only having six points to show for it.
  • And then we get these final stats: Ryan Lindley finishes 10-for-31 for 72 yards and 1 interception (an average of 2.3 yards per completion)…and somehow he wasn’t the quarterback who got benched.
  • Sanchez and Lindley’s combined stats for the game: 20-for-52, 169 yards, 4 interceptions, 0 touchdowns

-You can read plenty of articles breaking down the fight for the top seeds and playoff spots in both conferences, but what about the “fight” for the first overall pick in the 2013 draft? Right now Kansas City and Jacksonville are tied with 2-10 records. But don’t sleep on the three teams with 3-9 records either: Philadelphia, Carolina and Oakland. I think Carolina’s out of this race because they have too many winnable games left on their schedule ( San Diego, Oakland, New Orleans). Getting a fourth win would eliminate them. Oakland has a home game against the Chiefs and a road game against the Chargers, and I think they’ll win one of those, so they’re out too. That leaves three teams that I believe can all finish the season at 3-13. If someone wants to email me the info on how the tie is broken for who gets the top pick in that situation, I’d appreciate it. I just won’t spend the time researching it myself.

-I saw Silver Linings Playbook on Saturday night, and the biggest problem I had was the scenes outside of Lincoln Financial Field, where a way-too-happy Eagles crowd was tailgating before the games. I picture much more of a funeral-like atmosphere outside the stadium these days.

-When we were watching TV on Saturday night, that Clay Matthews Fathead commercial came on (the one where he shows us all the different Clay Matthews Fatheads he has in his house). When the commercial ended, Julie asked me in all seriousness, “Is that guy’s name Fat Head?” I told her not only is that not his actual name, but it’s not even his nickname…Except now it is.

-I started following Andrew Siciliano on Twitter this weekend. For those of you who don’t have DirecTV, he’s the guy who runs the Red Zone Channel anchor’s desk all Sunday long (DirecTV’s version of Scott Hanson, if you will). I noticed A-Sic was tweeting pretty consistently all morning and afternoon. How is he possibly doing that with eight football games all on at the same time? Is someone tweeting for him? Is he a genius robot? I live so close to the studio where he broadcasts from that I feel like I should be allowed to visit and watch him for a whole day to see how he does it. What a gifted individual.

-And finally, if you need statistical evidence to support just exciting, fascinating and incredible this NFL season has been, chew on this: There have been only 3 weeks out of 13 without at least one overtime game (Weeks 2, 5 and 9). There have been multiple overtime games in 7 of the 13 weeks. And there have been a total of 19 overtime games so far this season. (If you’re expecting me to say these are NFL records, I’m sorry disappoint you. I don’t have a clue if that’s the case or not.)