Week 13 NFL Picks: Thanksgiving Uncertainty

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Well that wasn’t so bad, was it? An 8-6 record against the spread in week 12!! Sure, it’s not nearly good enough to get me back above .500 by season’s end if I keep going at this rate, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. Unfortunately this week’s slate of games seems very tough to pick. There are almost no home underdogs that we can blindly back (13 of 16 games feature the home team as the favorite). Injuries to guys like Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler make it difficult to know what you’re getting out of certain teams. Teams that we were betting against with great success early in the year (Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, the Giants) have suddenly found their winning groove…but we’re still leery of when they’ll do yet another 180 and start to suck again. Even the newly announced suspensions in Seattle throw some doubt on the Seahawks’ chances to keep that home winning streak alive. I would just say that if you normally bet $100 on each of my picks, maybe drop it down to $50 per pick this week. Just to be safe.

Since last week’s “don’t think, just pick” strategy worked pretty well, I decided to take it one step further. I made all of the following picks while flying from Los Angeles to Boston on Tuesday night. That means even if I wanted to look up some key info about a matchup, I didn’t have a chance. It’s all instinct and the knowledge I’ve collected from the first 12 weeks that are driving these week 13 picks.

From a scheduling standpoint, you should have very low expectations of any week 13 recap that might come on Monday or Tuesday of next week. Thursday through Sunday of this week are shaping up to be the “rage a lot, sleep a little” kind of days that I’m now used to when I return to Massachusetts. Monday and Tuesday will likely be recovery days. And then there’s the little matter of me scheduling my flight back to LA to interrupt the afternoon games on Sunday. My actual focus on the games this weekend will probably be at an all-time low.

But that’s the price I pay for my family demanding me and my hilarious hijinks make an appearance for Thanksgiving.

Let’s go to the week 13 picks:

Green Bay @ Detroit (-6.5)

Incredible that we’ve come full circle on the Matt Flynn career. It was a game against Detroit almost two years ago where he went off for 480 yards and six touchdowns, which set events in motion for Seattle, then Oakland, to pay him big bucks to be their starter. So is Flynn poised to parlay another start against Detroit into yet another chance to be some desperate team’s starter next year? In a word….no. I just don’t see the short turnaround from playing Sunday to being ready for a Thursday afternoon game being a good thing for a guy like Flynn. As down as we all are on Detroit, I think they cover this line. The Lions get Thanksgiving started with a 34-24 win.

Oakland @ Dallas (-9)

One thing to keep in mind is that these are still Thursday games, even if it’s a special Thursday. That doesn’t change the fact that most Thursday games seem to be ugly, closely-contested, unpredictable affairs. I can’t take the Cowboys to win by this many points. Give me Oakland to cover while Dallas takes the four-point win, 27-23.

Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (-3)

Cleveland finally ruined our ability to blindly pick the home team to win in these AFC North matchups by losing to Pittsburgh last week. But that’s because the Browns have now rounded into “let’s get the best possible draft pick since the playoffs are out of reach” mode. For this classic Steelers-Ravens matchup, I’m falling back on the home team wins model. And everyone’s saying that the winner of this game will have the inside track for the #6 seed in the AFC. That’ll be momentarily true, of course, but with the way the season has gone for all these 5-6 teams, couldn’t you see the team occupying that final AFC spot changing 56 more times between now and week 17? What’s going to be comical is when all the media types start telling us not to take whoever gets the #6 seed lightly because “as we’ve seen so many times in the past, it’s often an overlooked team who gets hot right as the playoffs start that goes on to win the Super Bowl.” And while that’s true, I think we already have that team and they’re in the NFC (San Francisco). Anyway, Baltimore covers and wins, 30-20.

Tennessee @ Indianapolis (-4)

This is the stay away game of all stay away games. I could see the Colts winning by 20. I could see the Colts losing by 20. I could see the Colts winning by three. I could see the Colts losing by three. I could see a tie. I could see Ryan Fitzpatrick leading Tennessee to an improbable win that pulls them to within one game of the AFC South lead. I could see Fitzy throwing up all over himself while throwing 5 interceptions. You just don’t know with these two teams. Tennessee started the season 3-1, then lost Jake Locker right as they entered the rough part of their schedule (Seattle, San Francisco), got him back temporarily, lost him again, and have clawed their way to 5-6. Indianapolis started the season looking sketchy as fuck, then rattled off wins against Seattle, San Francisco and Denver, and then proceeded to fall behind by at least two touchdowns in each of their next five games. Who are they? What I’m trying to say is…flip a coin. My coin flip resulted in a Tennessee cover. I think the Colts win by only three, 23-20.

Jacksonville @ Cleveland (-7)

Does Vegas set the line for this game thinking millions of people are still blindly betting against the Jaguars? Like we haven’t seen them win two road games in a row? That’s the only reason I can think for Cleveland giving so many points. If these teams played each other 100 times on a neutral field, I’m not even sure the Browns would come away with a 50/50 split. They’re bad. Is the line as high as it is because the Jags are from Florida and Cleveland in November is probably cold? Doesn’t matter to me. No way you can back the Browns giving a touchdown. Let’s take the Jaguars to get their third consecutive road victory with a 33-27 win.

Tampa Bay @ Carolina (-9)

I miss the good old days of five weeks ago when a game like this would have seen Carolina favored by only six or so. I made so much money off them during those glory weeks. But now the public is all over the Panthers, which means this line is inflated by at least a couple points. I’m taking the Bucs and the points…and you know what? I’m taking the Bucs to win outright, 28-23.

Chicago @ Minnesota (-1)

The Vikings just allowed Matt Flynn to rally the Packers back from a double-digit hole in the second half last week, right? But the Bears got killed by St. Louis while giving up a ton of rushing yards yet again. Which of these terrible teams will rise to the occasion? I don’t have a god damn clue. While the Bears may soon find themselves officially out of the playoff race, the Vikings are actually playing for something: They still have a great shot at getting the 1st pick in the 2014 draft (at which point they can boggle everyone’s minds by not taking a quarterback). I like the Vikings to tank…Bears win 29-17.

Arizona @ Philadelphia (-3)

I’m frustrated because Dallas and Philly could both be improving to two games over .500, and we were promised an NFC East that would never have a single team doing that well all year. The half point is roping me into taking the Cardinals on the road. I already went against them on the road when they were at Jacksonville a few weeks ago, and they made me look stupid. I don’t know that they can win this road game, but I know they can keep it close. Arizona covers, but Philly wins 30-27.

UPDATE: I wrote that paragraph when the line was Philly -3.5. Now that it’s come down a half point…I’m stumped. Let’s change it up: Philly covers with a 31-27 win.

Miami @ NY Jets (-1) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

This should be a three-point line. The Jets have only really gotten embarrassed on the road this year. They’re decent at home, and Miami is no better than decent whether they’re home or on the road. The Jets D going after that Miami offensive line should negate any awfulness from Geno Smith (I doubt Matt Simms is really going to get a start for the Jets). The Jets win 23-15.

New England (-9) @ Houston (CONFIDENCE PICK)

From a Patriots fan’s perspective, you couldn’t make this line high enough. After that Sunday night comeback over Denver, I’m ready to bet my life savings (currently $43.26) on the Pats to win out…and blowout a lot of the shitty teams left on the schedule. The Patriots will have the opposite of a letdown game this weekend…that’s just how they operate. Big big win for New England, 38-10.

Atlanta @ Buffalo (-3.5) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

If I was Arthur Blank (that’s the Falcons’ owner, for all your jerks who don’t take the time to learn every owner’s name), I would tell Mike Smith that this specific game will determine whether he keeps his job or not. This is the type of game that you don’t show up for if you’ve quit on your coach…in Canada, in the likely freezing weather, against a team that’s also not fighting for a playoff spot…just nothing to “get up” for in this one for Atlanta. If they play a good game, he keeps his job next year. If not, he’s free to seek employment from whichever team wants an ultra-conservative coach who looks like Ari Gold’s nemesis agent colleague from Entourage. I say he’s gone. Buffalo wins 30-10.

St. Louis @ San Francisco (-8.5) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

It’s very tough to gauge this 49ers team off of last game because the Redskins are really really terrible. I mentioned above that San Francisco may very well be that team this year who we don’t ever consider as a Super Bowl contender because they had a rough middle of the season and they’re being overshadowed by some other noteworthy teams in their conference (Seattle, New Orleans, Carolina). The defense is healthy, the offense got a healthy Vernon Davis back recently and it sounds like Michael Crabtree is playing in this game. The weapons are back, this game is at home and don’t forget it’s Kellen Clemens playing QB for St. Louis. Let’s take San Francisco to cover with a 32-20 win.

Denver (-5) @ Kansas City

The Patriots fan in me wants to create so many reasons why the Broncos will lose this game. The truth is neither of these teams is nearly as good as we thought in the first two months of the season. But the Chiefs are due for a bigger fall than the Broncos. The sudden injuries on defense hurt badly since getting pressure on Peyton Manning seems to be the only way to slow him down (other than the combination of epic winds and a god-like coaching performance from Bill Belichick). I’m taking Denver to cover, pretty much sealing up the AFC West title with a 31-17 win.

Cincinnati @ San Diego (-1.5)

It seems like the Bengals haven’t really felt the impact of losing Leon Hall and Geno Atkins yet. I’m sure they’ve lost at least one game since those guys went down (I’d look, but you know, plane), but I’m waiting for a big meltdown from this team. On the road against a potent offense seems like a good time. Or…is this typical San Diego setting me up. They stun everyone by winning a huge road game against the Chiefs. We base their next game off of that performance. But instead they revert to that crappy team we should have remembered all along. I’m torn. I’m leaning towards the team with the above average quarterback. San Diego wins 30-21.

NY Giants (-1) @ Washington

We’re at the point of the season where it’s tough to care about certain matchups. A game featuring two teams essentially eliminated from playoff contention like this would be one of those matchups. You may think that Atlanta is the NFC team that most closely resembles the Houston Texans this year, but I’d contest that it’s the Redskins. I don’t feel like Atlanta fans are waiting to pounce on their team’s poor performance with boos and vitriol. But Washington fans have entered that zone…where if anything goes poorly during a home game, they jump all over it and send expletive-laden jeers down at their team. That’s a tough position for any team to be in because you just can’t ignore that. You go into a game knowing, for instance, that if RGIII throws a pick in the 1st quarter, the fans are going to go nuts (and maybe even chant for Kirk Cousins…yes, we’ve entered that zone with Washington). That’s why I’m picking the Giants to cover. Because the ‘Skins need to play almost perfect football to get the support of their fans. I’m not even a fan, and I’m still disappointed at how bad things have gotten in D.C. The Giants win 37-24.

New Orleans @ Seattle (-6) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Why is this line so high? Whenever there’s a game featuring two teams that would be pretty evenly-matched on a neutral field, the line is always -3 in favor of the home team. Well I feel pretty positive the Saints and Seahawks would be pretty much a PICK on a neutral field. So why the extra three points? No idea. And now that Brandon Browner is out, this secondary is thin. They’ll only be able to take away one weapon on the New Orleans offense. I think the Saints have lots of weapons to throw out there. The logical thing is to take the points but expect Seattle to win. But I hate the Seahawks so let’s go ahead and hand them their first home loss since the Truman administration. New Orleans wins 28-24.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 13 I’m taking:

  • 10 Favorites & 6 Underdogs
  • And all 6 of those happen to be Road Dogs

Good luck in week 13. I hope the Magical Thanksgiving Turkey brings you something awesome (for me, that would be a 13-3 or better week against the spread).

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Week 12 NFL Recap: I Promise It’s Not Exclusively About The Patriots

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Wow.

An unbiased blogger could write 5,000 words on that Sunday night game alone.

A hardcore Patriots ballwasher like myself could write 25,000 words. But I’ll try to limit it to a few hundred.

  • The Patriots have done fine over the past 12 years while only having a couple seasons where a single running back was really the featured, go-to back. This team doesn’t have to rely on Stevan Ridley so much that they should keep running him out there with his fumble issues. I agree with some people on Twitter who said it’s ineffective to punish Ridley by benching him for parts of the game after he fumbles. I say you stay away from him entirely unless the other guys—Vereen, Blount, Bolden—get hurt. If he hasn’t learned the proper way to hold ball at this point, it might never happen.
  • Any chance we can get a Patriots game in the near future that doesn’t cause our blood pressure to spike to dangerous levels at the end of the game?
  • Yes, I was one of the many people getting ready to crush the refs for the non-call on the obvious pass interference that should have been called in overtime against Quentin Jammer on that incompletion to Kenbrell Thompkins.
  • And I know it’s easy to pick on Brady for all the whining and tantrums he throws on the field, but at least the two times he’s done it the past two weeks it’s been completely justified.
  • If the Great Carolina Screwjob of 2013 didn’t happen, the Patriots would probably be controlling their own destiny for the #1 seed in the AFC.
  • Knowshon Moreno had 224 rushing yard. This helps prove my point that if the Patriots had to choose one dimension of their defense to be terrible and/or completely injured, it would be run D over pass D. The Patriots score enough points when fully healthy that teams aren’t going to beat them by running 40 times. That’s why Aqib Talib’s health continues to be the most important subplot to their Super Bowl hopes.
  • If you read my picks column last week, you know I was expecting my friend who passed away one year ago to pull an “Angels In The Outfield” and help the Patriots win. I was hoping for a Brady eight touchdown game so that it would be obvious higher powers were at work. Instead we get the most epic comeback in franchise history complete with wacky fumbles, mysterious clock malfunctioning issues and a ridiculously lucky bounce of the ball in overtime that won the game for New England. I’ll let you decide if the Patriots had some “help”.
  • And at the end of the game, Chris Collinsworth was calling it a miraculous win…just sayin’.

Whose Loss Was Worse? NFC North Version

I know technically Green Bay’s game ended in a tie, but let’s assume it was a loss because then I can write this section where I say all the NFC North contenders lost on Sunday and let’s figure out whose loss was the most pathetic.

  • The Packers played to a tie at home against the 2-8-1 Minnesota Vikings. But we know these four straight games without a win are almost entirely because Aaron Rodgers is out. If he comes back for Green Bay’s Thanksgiving game like people are speculating, they might still have a chance to make the playoffs. At 5-5-1, the Packers probably have to go 5-0 for a chance to get in. I don’t think that they’ll get it done.
  • The Bears lost by 21 at St. Louis, who came into the game with a 4-6 record. Three of Chicago’s final four games are on the road, where they’ve struggled this year. Nobody knows Jay Cutler’s status, and they might not be that much better with him healthy. That defense is bad, specifically the run defense that gave up 258 yards to the Rams on Sunday.
  • And then there’s Detroit, the team that seemingly looked like the cream of the crop in the North coming into week 12. They were the only team with a healthy #1 QB and they’ve beaten the Bears twice. But they lose at home to a two-win Tampa team? At 6-5, they’re going to have to win out to guarantee a division win. This loss was the worst of the three considering the health that Detroit has compared to its rivals.
  • The most obnoxious thing in all of sports is a tie in football. Now looking at standings, specifically Green Bay’s record compared to the other teams pushing for a wildcard spot, requires the tiniest amount of thought to compute where the Packers currently sit.

Let’s Talk Coaches, Shall We?

  • Is Greg Schiano playing himself out of the unemployment line? Five weeks ago did you think anything short of a miraculous Super Bowl run would save his job? Not saying he’ll definitely get another shot with this team, but he must be at least making the owner think twice about firing him.
  • Two teams who I think should fire their coaches in the offseason but most likely won’t are Dallas and Atlanta.
  • I’m not saying Dallas just because they almost blew a 15 point lead in New York yesterday. Their consistent 8-8ness and end of game meltdowns could be reason enough to get rid of Jason Garrett, but when you see two players fuck up something as fundamental as making sure to touch the opposing receiver at some point when he’s on the ground to end the play, it’s a solid proof point that the team isn’t being coached well enough (and it’s example #550 of them not being disciplined enough). It’s just time to make a change.
  • And here’s what I saw from Mike Smith on Thursday: With about three minutes left and the Falcons trailing by four, Smith decided to go for a 52 yard field goal from the New Orleans 35 yard line on 4th & 15. Regardless of the fact that the kicker missed it, you’re assuming you’ll get the ball back even though it’s Drew Brees playing quarterback for the other team…AND YOU’RE 2-8 SO WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE? It’s simply Mike Smith being conservative, play-it-safe Mike Smith, a philosophy that doesn’t seem to translate to Super Bowl success in these times. Look at how quickly things changed in Carolina when Ron Rivera grew a nutsack. When you have an offense designed for a high-scoring passing attack, you should have an aggressive mentality (regardless of that passing attack missing the indispensable Julio Jones right now). Time for Matt Ryan and company to try things out with a more aggressive coach.
  • As far as who will win Coach of the Year, here’s how I’m guessing it’s going to turn out (not necessarily how I’d vote): 1. Sean Payton, 2. Andy Reid, 3. Ron Rivera.

Keep The Current Playoff Format, Please

  • The NFL wants to add at least one more playoff team for each conference, and yet if the season ended today, the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Tennessee Titans would be in as the #6 seed. And they’d be taking on an Indianapolis team that’s been outscored by 57 points in their last six games. I think the playoffs have enough mediocre teams already (something Cincinnati seems to prove every year).

Let’s Empty Out The Notebook

  • By my count, only four of the 13 games that have been played so far this week have ended with one team winning by more than a touchdown. Nailbiters across the board in week 12, including two OT games and last-drive wins by San Diego, Dallas, Carolina and Tennessee. One of the best Sundays of football in a long time.
  • The NFL has officially been NBA’ified. Players and coaches yell for a flag after every play. Fans focus more on if a call or non-call was correct than on the actual game itself. Cam Newton was rewarded for flopping in a big way when he was lightly touched while running out of bounds with less than two minutes left in the 4th quarter. It seems like star treatment by the refs is a real thing after we watched Jason Campbell get hit similar (but worse) to how Drew Brees was hit by Ahmad Brooks in week 11 and no flag was thrown.
  • Kansas City finally joined the rest of the AFC contenders in suffering key injuries. They were easily the luckiest team from a health standpoint in the AFC to this point, but losing Tamba Hali and Justin Houston is huge. If those guys miss games, the Chiefs will be a weak wildcard team instead of a possible division winner.
  • I know Seattle’s happy with Russell Wilson, but part of me thinks their GM is already getting his sales pitch ready for Matt Flynn. I want to see Flynn signed to a three-year deal by Seattle in March, then see them trade him to Oakland in April of 2015, and then see him starting for Green Bay later that year. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
  • One of the announcers in the Jacksonville-Houston game said, “It becomes less of a big play than it already is.” I spent five minutes trying to figure out what that possibly means but my head started throbbing.
  • The “just use my instincts, no research” philosophy for making picks went OK this week. I’m 7-6 going into Monday’s game (only 3-2 in my confidence picks this week). It’s a good thing too because I was one more failed week away from going exclusively to either my girlfriend’s picks or a true coin flip for each game.
  • I believe underdogs were 10-3 against the spread this week. Incredible.

Due to Thanksgiving, the week 13 picks will probably come on Wednesday.

Week 12 NFL Picks: An All-Instincts Set of Picks

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Another week, another losing record against the spread. At this point with my season record being something like 20 games under .500 (refusing to actually go back and look), it’s time to try different things.

This week’s theme is: Don’t think, just do it. What it means is that I made all of my picks this week without visiting a single website to do any research. Every pick was based on either my instincts or knowledge I already have stored in my head. There was no visit to Football Outsiders, each team’s schedule, the NFL standings page or sites that would give me injury news on key players (this probably means there will be some major inaccuracies in this column). A typical picks column probably takes about five hours for me to research and write. This week’s picks took me less than an hour.

If I go 14-0 this week, I will feel like I wasted roughly 44 hours over the first 11 weeks of the season.

Before I jump into the picks, I want to address one oversight from my totally justified Patriots-Panthers rant from Tuesday’s column: The 49ers have almost as much of a claim to getting jobbed by the referees last week as the Patriots do. The Ahmad Brooks roughing the passer penalty when he tackled Drew Brees around the shoulder was outrageous. There were three marquee games in week 11. It was perfect timing for such good matchups because November is when the football season really feels like every game is of vital importance. I was looking forward to watching all three games and hoping they’d be memorable. Unfortunately the referees destroyed the joy in two of the three games (only the Broncos-Chiefs game was spared a controversial ending, but it was downright boring…so much for a good weekend of football). This week was the first time I’ve ever thought about reconsidering how much I really enjoy watching football.

In the words of the increasingly-looney Alex Rodriguez: “This is ridiculous!” (while slamming my hands on a table).

Let’s just get on to another week of failed picks and lost money:

New Orleans (-10) @ Atlanta

Atlanta is particularly horrible so even the fact that the Saints struggle on the road shouldn’t be enough to deter me from picking them to cover this very large spread. But the fact that it’s a Thursday night game is what’s really making me pick the Falcons to cover. New Orleans is coming off an intense, physical game against San Francisco, and we’ve already seen so many teams struggle with the quick turnaround on Thursdays. I like the Falcons to cover while the Saints take the road win, 30-24. 

Tampa Bay @ Detroit (-10)

The Bucs are on a roll! The Lions refuse to get on a roll! I feel like this game could see 147 failed trick plays because of the coaches involved. This line seems high based on the way Tampa Bay is currently playing. Tampa covers. Lions win 26-21.

Jacksonville @ Houston (-10) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

I want to make sure I fully understand this. Vegas made the Texans a 10-point favorite last week when they learned that Matty McGloin would be the starting QB for the visiting Raiders. Then Houston went out and got owned by those Raiders. And Vegas said, “Fuck it, let’s run it back…Houston by 10 again!”?? I guess we’re going with three heavy underdogs to start week 12. I say Jacksonville wins outright, 29-24.

Minnesota @ Green Bay (-5)

I meant to bring this up last week. I think the Vikings should treat the quarterback position like it’s a baseball pitching rotation & bullpen. Make one QB the starter. He gets to stay out there until he starts to have a meltdown or gets tired later in the game. Then they insert their middle reliever to be the bridge from starter to closer. The closer would be whichever QB is best at kneeling down and draining the clock because ideally your closer comes in when you have a lead and just need to end the game.

Anyway, as bad as I thought Christian Ponder would be coming into this year, I never thought the Vikings would have the most dysfunctional QB situation. Maybe it makes Minnesota fans feel better to know the rest of the country is genuinely enjoying the QB carousel and Leslie Frazier’s apparently strong motivation to lose his job.

None of those previous two paragraphs help me decide on this game because Mr. Scott Tolzien will be starting for Green Bay once again. I’m going with the Vikings to pull off the upset, making people even more aware of Aaron Rodgers’ irreplaceability. Minnesota wins 31-27.

Did I just pick four underdogs to start the week? Three of whom are on the road and all of whom are five-point or greater underdogs? I think I did. I’m sure that’ll work out perfectly.

San Diego @ Kansas City (-5) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Either the Chiefs respond to their first loss in a big way by crushing the Chargers at home (after all, this Charger defense might make the Kansas City offense look competent). Or they start to fall apart…still burned by the Denver game, already thinking about the week 13 Denver rematch. Taking a frisky San Diego team lightly. This game almost feels like a coin flip, but there’s one important aspect. Let’s say the Chiefs have a narrow lead late in the 4th quarter. Traditionally they play conservative and rely on field position and defense to wrap up the victory, but knowing that Peyton’s offense comes to town in week 13, I think Andy Reid gets a little more aggressive offensively in this game to prepare for the Broncos. Instead of holding onto a three-point lead, maybe he takes a chance and gets an extra touchdown. Sure, let’s go with that. Chiefs cover and win, 31-21.

Carolina (-4.5) @ Miami

It’s tough to predict this game because we don’t know if the referees are fixing games for the Panthers only when they’re at home or regardless of where they’re playing (I’m joking, relax). Listen, Ryan Tannehill has been hit a lot this year, and he’ll still be dealing with an offensive line comprised of mostly backups. I can’t wrap my head around why San Diego wasn’t able to beat the Dolphins last week, but it might be as simple as “The Chargers suck.” We know Carolina is a solid football team. The only way they don’t cover is if this turns into a letdown game after two HUGE wins the past two weeks. I can’t make a pick based on a team maybe having a letdown. Let’s go with a Carolina cover as they win 33-21.

Pittsburgh @ Cleveland (-1) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

If you read my picks regularly, you know I’m going with Cleveland. The streak of the home team winning these AFC North matchups is unbroken this year. This should actually be Cleveland -3, but people are getting roped back in by the Steelers. The Browns win 24-20.

Chicago @ St. Louis (-1)

Don’t see how the Rams are favored here. Josh McCown hasn’t looked any worse than Jay Cutler for the most part. In fact, is there a chance the Bears let Cutler sign with another team in the offseason because they think they have his much cheaper equivalent already on the roster? Probably not, but it’s fun to think about Cutler taking over for Carson Palmer in Arizona next year. The Bears win 38-28.

NY Jets @ Baltimore (-4)

Well, it’s an even-numbered week so the Jets should win. But their road record doesn’t inspire much confidence. But on the other side of the ball, the Ravens don’t inspire much confidence no matter where they’re playing. The Jets defense is probably going to hold up pretty well against the anemic Baltimore offense. I think the Jets’ season record after this week will look like this: W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W. That means the Jets cover and win, 16-12.

Tennessee @ Oakland (PICK)

I hear Matty McGloin is starting again for the Raiders even though Terrelle Pryor is healthy…Hmm…I’m going to predict that Oakland will be punished by souring on Pryor so quickly. The Titans win 30-13.

Indianapolis @ Arizona (-1) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Whereas the Colts don’t have any make or break games left to earn a playoff spot (because their division is really really terrible), this has make or break all over it for Arizona. They’re 6-4, right in the mix with teams like San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit and Carolina for a wildcard spot. To get to 10 wins, I think they’re going to need this game. Do you think Chuck Pagano takes it easy on Bruce Arians since Arians did such a good job of babysitting Indy last year while Pagano was undergoing treatment for cancer? Doesn’t really matter as I think a road game against such a good defense will be too much for the Colts. Arizona wins 28-20.

Dallas @ NY Giants (-3)

Sign me up for the Giants creeping even closer to the division lead. I’m hoping the three way tie between Philly, Dallas and the Giants for the division title comes down to at least the third tiebreaker (win-loss record in common games). There’s a reasonable chance all three teams finish with the same overall record and the same divisional record. Can’t wait. This is one of those games where I want to predict a push, but let’s go with a four-point win by the Giants, 24-20.

Denver (-2.5) @ New England (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Last time the Patriots felt boned/screwed/utterly perplexed by an end-of-game referee’s decision, they went on to win their next two games by a combined 34 points. I didn’t have to think that far back since the previous boning happened only five weeks ago. So that’s one reason why I think they take care of business on Sunday night.

Another reason: One of my high school friends passed away almost a year ago. Just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine who was also a good friend of his was trying to convince me that the deceased friend’s spirit had intervened in her life and communicated with her via a coupon to Banana Republic (long story to understand exactly what she was talking about). I laughed it off even as she told me others have felt this guy looking down on them over the past year. No more than 10 days later I had a dream that the Patriots lost to the Panthers 10-9 (didn’t exactly work out that way, but close enough) and I was pissed. But our new guardian angel came to me in the dream and told me not to worry, the Pats were going to take care of business in a big way sometime soon. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about how this friend died on November 24th last year. And I immediately figured out that the 24th falls on a Sunday this year. And I felt like he was telling me big things were coming for New England on that specific day….without even looking at the Patriots’ schedule, I just knew the Broncos game fell on the 24th.

That was the most roundabout way that anyone’s ever said they think someone up in heaven is going to affect a sporting event. I probably should have just said, “I have a friend who’s going to pull an ‘Angels In The Outfield’ for the Patriots this week.”

Hey, if Danny Amendola is suddenly leaping 14 feet in the air to make catches, and LeGarrette Blount is running through tacklers like he’s got another person pushing him down the field, just remember that I warned you. Patriots win 49-35.

Side Note: The part of the story I’m leaving out is that I woke up thinking Tom Brady would throw 8 touchdowns against Denver in this game. But no amount of heavenly intervention can make me predict that.

San Francisco (-6) @ Washington

I have no spiritual intervention story for you on this particular pick. I just think the Redskins are a really really crappy team. There should be red flags all over this game telling us to stay away from the 49ers. They haven’t looked the Super Bowl contender we all thought they’d be, and they’re coming off a long road trip to New Orleans last week. But I think the Redskins’ crappiness trumps the 9ers’ mediocrity and tough travel schedule. San Francisco covers with a 23-14 win.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 12 I’m picking:

  • 6 Favorites & 7 Underdogs
  • Of those 7 Underdogs, 2 are Home Dogs & 5 are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 12…hope the refs don’t fuck it up for everyone.

Week 11 NFL Recap: Packers Fans Will Understand Exactly How I Feel

patriots panthers

I went above and beyond the call of blogging duty to make sure I could author an incredible NFL recap from this weekend. There are very few reasons to miss the 10-hour window known as Sunday football…the birth of your child, that same child’s college graduation, a funeral, your triple bypass heart surgery.

And apparently your best friend’s 31st birthday celebration in Palm Springs. More specifically, a friend who will relentlessly guilt trip you if you don’t show up just because football is more important.

That’s where I was this weekend, and instead of simply missing most of the games on Sunday, I DVR’d the Red Zone Channel and plowed through over six hours of football when I finally got home. That meant I couldn’t check on my fantasy teams, my bets, my Pick ‘Em league failures or any other live sports news until I caught up on everything. That’s how important it is for me to see every possible NFL play over the course of each week.

And even though I started yet another job on Monday morning, I was determined to watch the Patriots-Panthers game and stay up late writing the recap blog so it would be ready to go before I left for work on Tuesday morning.

And, man, did I have some good material for you people (anyone think going into the weekend that we’d see seven out of the 30 teams have at least two people play quarterback at some point in their respective games?).

But I’m giving you none of my brilliant observations from week 11. And you can thank Clete Blakeman for that. Call it me boycotting the NFL for a few hours after the referees royally screwed my Patriots on Monday night.

The beauty of me being an even-keeled person is that when I do finally go berzerk over something, I carry so much credibility. A lot of New England fans got fired up when the Patriots lost to the Jets a month ago on the new “no pushing your own teammate” rule. But not me. I felt like it was a correctly called rule that just seemed sketchy to call for the first time in NFL history on such a defining play. But either way the Patriots should have never been in that position.

And because of my measured approach to that situation, I feel that when I say, “The Patriots got absolutely, totally, ridiculously fucked on that final play of Monday’s game,” I will be taken seriously.

The funny thing is usually I see so many people on Twitter saying the Patriots and their fans are just being entitled crybabies. But not this time. 100% of the people I follow on Twitter and every member of the media on TV (non-Gerry Austin category) agree that Gronk got bear hugged illegally in the end zone.

The funniest part about the whole thing is that Patriots fans would have been bitching about a non-call after seeing the replay even if there was never a flag thrown. But one of the officials obviously saw the penalty and threw the flag. There’s no logical reason to overturn that call except that the refs as a group feared for their lives by their correct call handing the game to the visiting team in Carolina. I can’t think of any other reason for it.

And now this awful call will play a huge role in the playoff races. If the Patriots lose to Denver on Sunday, they’ll have almost no chance left at getting home field advantage throughout the playoffs and might even be in trouble for the #2 seed. If it comes down to a one game difference in their seeding, this will be just as bad as Green Bay getting the #3 seed instead of the #2 seed last year because of the Seattle fake hail mary play.

So thank you, Clete Blakeman and the rest of your officiating crew, for illegitimizing the 2013 NFL season.

Week 12 picks coming on Thursday, but who cares about picking games for a sham sporting league anyway.

Week 11 NFL Picks: The NFC Returns To Being A Dominatrix

old-man-crystal-ball

One thing that always fascinates me more than the average human about the NFL is the balance of power between the AFC and the NFC. I’m not exactly sure why that is. I guess it’s easy stimulation for me. The two conferences face each other every now and then throughout the regular season, but for the most part, we think of them as entirely separate entities. And it’s a fun exercise to try to compare the top teams from each conference. Which conference has more juggernauts? Which conference has the easier path to the playoffs? Does the AFC winner stand a chance in the Super Bowl against whoever comes out of the NFC? What’s the deal with the Pro Bowl again? They cancelled it? No? They moved it back a week? They used one of those Men In Black mind erasers to wipe our memories of any past Pro Bowl games? Cool.

Through the early part of this season, it looked like the AFC might be taking some of the power back. The NFC has been the better conference over the past couple years. But the AFC got off to a fast start in head-to-head matchups with their rivals in the NFC, and it looked like Kansas City, Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New England were all true contenders.

Fast forward to mid-November and now the NFC vs AFC matchup in 2013 is an even split, 23-23. So the NFC has certainly caught up over the past month. But does that mean the conferences are finally balanced?

Not really. According to Football Outsiders (which, in case you didn’t realize by now, is like the Bible to me in terms of ranking teams), five of the top 6 teams in the NFL come from the NFC, and if we go farther down the list, it gets even worse: 11 of the top 16 teams are from the NFC. And just like that it feels like 2010-2012 all over again.

While the best team in all of football is Denver (AFC), the rest of the top five goes: Seattle, Carolina, New Orleans and Chicago (all NFC). In fact, Football Outsiders claims that the 10th and 11th best NFC teams ( Philadelphia and St. Louis, ranked 15th & 16th overall) are only slightly worse than the 5th best AFC team (Indianapolis, ranked 14th overall).

And that’s where the big difference is between the two conferences. While the best of the NFC continue to look like true contenders, the best of the AFC (Denver excluded) looks pretty weak. The Chiefs are 9-0 but no one really buys that they’re very good. The Bengals look great for a couple weeks, then drop back-to-back games against non-playoff teams. The Colts took down some of the best teams in the NFL earlier this year, but have looked horrible against lesser teams like Oakland, Miami, Houston and most recently St. Louis. And the Patriots have enough injury concerns that I can totally understand why people won’t take them seriously even if they beat Carolina and Denver in their next two games.

And in case you weren’t convinced that quarterback play has a huge effect on how good a team is overall, I should probably let you know that 9 of the top 11 rated quarterbacks in the NFL right now are from NFC teams. C’mon, AFC, we’re getting friggen owned out there. This is embarrassing.

The point of all this useless info? I don’t really have one. There are four NFC vs AFC matchups this week, and I honestly can’t picture the AFC winning more than one of them.

The beat goes on, I guess.

Speaking of the beat going on, let’s jump into my week 11 picks!

(Remember my week 10 NFL recap where I said I’d start telling my readers which of my weekly picks I was most confident in? Well I’m actually following through with that this week. If you see the words “CONFIDENCE PICK” next to a matchup, that means it’s one of my five most confident picks this week.)

Indianapolis (-3) @ Tennessee

With Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm for the rest of Tennessee’s season, we know exactly what we’re getting: Many games of three touchdown passes cancelled out by three costly interceptions, frisky games at home and blow outs on the road. I think they’ll be pretty predictable. But I don’t have a friggen clue which direction this Indianapolis season is heading. Are they the team that seemingly solidified their contender status when they knocked off San Francisco, Seattle and Denver? Or are they the guys who played quit-on-your-coach football in three of their past four halves? As much as I want to believe Andrew Luck is one of those “don’t bet against him after a loss” level quarterbacks already, I can’t get past how bad they’ve looked since Reggie Wayne got hurt in week 7. Under normal circumstances I’d be backing the Colts blindly one last time this week. But nine times out of 10 this season, my instinct has been wrong on these 50/50 games. I’m picking Tennessee to cover and win, 29-23.

Side Note: Believe it or not, this is going to be the Colts’ 4th nationally-televised primetime game already this season. Another reason I’m choosing the Titans is to try to offset some of my natural bias. Whenever I see a lot of a certain team, and they’re doing well most of the time I see them, I tend to get overconfident in just how good they actually are. I think our exposure bias (if that’s a thing) might lead us to pick the Colts when there’s no real reason to do so. Sticking with the Titans.

Atlanta (-1.5) @ Tampa Bay (CONFIDENCE PICK)

One of four unwatchable games on the Sunday morning slate. Blacklist it from the Red Zone. Welcome to the Week 11 “don’t think, just do it” Pick. No need to study stats and analysis for this one. Two bottom five NFL teams, and the home team’s getting points? Take those points. Go Tampa Bay. They win 34-24.

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-1)

Unwatchable game #2. It doesn’t matter that the Jets are balls deep in the playoff race and that this is a key divisional game. We’re talking about two of the worst offenses in the league against two top-10 defenses. Could truly see a field goals only game. I’m once again basing this pick solely on the home team. Buffalo covers with a 18-9 win.

Side Note: How many high fives do you think Rex Ryan gave out around the Jets’ facility after they signed Ed Reed? You know he was just going around slapping people on the ass, saying things like, “Belichick always wanted this guy, and look who got him again!” The thing is, if Reed was even half the safety right now that Nate Ebner is, you know he’d be in New England at this very moment. If Belichick didn’t want him, and the Texans thought he was dead weight…yikes.

Detroit (-3) @ Pittsburgh (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Even though I picked Buffalo to cover in Pittsburgh last week and they got blown out, I’m actually happy that it happened. Because now we get another week of people thinking the Steelers aren’t a terrible team. The Lions have already won three road games this year, no worries about their ability to win away from Ford Field. There’s simply too big of a talent gap between these teams. Detroit is so obvious it hurts. Lions cover with a 38-27 win.

Side Note: The level of confidence I have in this pick is borderline dangerous. Someone should lock down my online betting account before I’m allowed to put myself into debt over this game.

Washington @ Philadelphia (-4.5)

It’s frustrating that two teams this bad are allowed to stay in the playoff race. Even more frustrating is that I can’t get a read on either team. It feels like the Redskins truly suck and the Eagles just kinda suck. But the Skins have played a slightly more difficult schedule, and this whole thing about the Eagles never being able to win at home is just too much fun. I’m going to predict the streak continues. Washington keeps the NFC East looking terrible with a 30-27 win over Philadelphia.

Baltimore @ Chicago (-3) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

This is a huge mismatch. The line is obviously low because Jay Cutler’s out, but this offense is almost QB-proof. Matt Flynn could probably get inserted into the Bears’ lineup and put up 300 yards and a couple touchdowns. Josh McCown has so many weapons to work with, he’s experienced…he won’t be that big of a drop off from Cutler. I see no reason the Bears won’t win by at least a touchdown. Chicago wins 31-20.

Side Note: Caution! The Bears have been one of the worst teams against the spread this year as they’ve only covered two of their nine games. Personally I’m of the mindset that this type of record will even itself out in the long run. But I wanted to give full disclosure that Chicago has been really really bad for bettors so far this year.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-6)

As I predicted before last weekend, the home team continues to win all games featuring two AFC North teams. So I feel good saying the Bengals are going to win. They’ve lost two straight games on the road, but they haven’t lost a home game yet this year. It feels like Cincinnati will be playing their third consecutive overtime game, but this time they’ll win, 25-22 (meaning Cleveland covers).

Oakland @ Houston (-7)

The Raiders may not win a road game this season, but that doesn’t mean a Houston team in shambles should be favored by a full touchdown against them. The Texans are now without Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and Ed Reed. Has any team lost more guys that were supposed to be key contributors going into the season? How does this line make any sense? Houston’s going to win by more than a touchdown? It’s one of those “sure it might happen, but you can’t possibly pick it” games. Our hands are tied with the Texans being such a heavy favorite. Oakland covers and wins, 23-20.

Arizona (-7) @ Jacksonville

I’d like to be the first to congratulate the Arizona Cardinals for improving to 6-4 after this game and officially being in playoff contention for the first time since 2009! But to completely legitimize this season with a playoff berth, they’re going to have to win two of these three games: home vs Indianapolis, @Philadelphia and @Tennessee. That’s the only way they get to 10 wins. I think they’ll fall just short. Meanwhile, getting to bet against Carson Palmer as a 7-point road favorite seems too good to be true. Maybe it’s just Vegas’s way of saying “thank you” to all its loyal gamblers? I’m taking Jacksonville because no one should be betting on Arizona with this large of a spread on the road. Arizona wins, but only by 4…27-23.

San Diego (-1.5) @ Miami (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Regardless of how this Miami turmoil ultimately shakes out, nobody is making out better than Ryan Tannehill. If he continues to look average or slightly below average, he’s got a ready-made excuse now that his offensive line is decimated. And if he somehow performs at a decent level, we’ll marvel at how hard he battled even though he’s getting knocked down 46 times a game. I still think he’s going to be garbage, but we’ll have to wait until next year to really find out.

Even though the Chargers burned me two weeks ago when they traveled east and couldn’t finish off the Redskins, I’m backing them for this particular east coast trip. I just can’t see the Dolphins turning things around in six days from that ugly Monday night performance. Give me San Diego to win 28-17.

Minnesota @ Seattle (-13)

This is the Seahawks’ fourth and final “lambs to the slaughter” game. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A certain caliber of visiting team goes into Seattle and becomes the football equivalent of helpless little lambs being viciously slaughtered. In week 3 it was Jacksonville. In week 6 it was a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Tennessee team. In week 9 it was Tampa Bay, though the Bucs put up a much better fight than the lambs usually do. And now it’s Minnesota. Due to the Vikings’ insistence on ruining as many QB careers as possible in one season, I’m taking the Seahawks to cover with a 42-17 win.

San Francisco @ New Orleans (-3) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Usually when I preface a pick with “this is one of those lines you don’t bother wasting time analyzing,” I’m talking about a matchup between equally terrible teams. But I’m using that same advice on two equally awesome teams this time. It’s a classic case of the home team most likely winning any time these teams are facing each other. So you gotta go with the Saints to cover. And the added upside by picking the Saints this week is that Vernon Davis could miss the game. He’s pretty much the difference between the 9ers losing by only a touchdown or the 9ers losing by 28 points. I’ve got Saints over 49ers, 33-23.

Green Bay @ NY Giants (-6)

Had a lengthy discussion yesterday about the state of the NFC East with my friend who’s a huge Washington fan. By lengthy, I mean 90 seconds, the largest amount of time anyone can possibly talk nonstop about the NFC East and not blow their brains out. I gave him plausible scenarios for how each of the four teams cold win the division. One-by-one he pondered each argument and then said, “yeah, but they’re awful” and dismissed that team. He did that four times. That’s the best way to sum up the state of the NFC East. He agreed with me that the most obnoxious scenario is the Giants winning the division. Their fans have shown a lot of restraint by remaining quiet during the Giants’ slow resurrection to NFC East relevance. They will be slightly insufferable if this works out for them.

Are any Packers fans out there starting to panic about the Aaron Rodgers era yet? I’m talking about panicking in a greedy way. Like saying, “Jesus, Rodgers could retire with only one Super Bowl title,” or, “I can’t believe after that start to his career, Rodgers never got to play in another Super Bowl.” Things just haven’t gone smoothly since that Championship in 2010-11. The season after that title run, the Packers went 15-1 just for a chance to implode against the Giants at Lambeau. No other 15-1 team has failed to win their first playoff game. Then last year was a strange one. They lost a key game in week 3 on that terrible non-interception call in Seattle, and they didn’t click on offense for most of the season. That debacle in Seattle forced the Packers to face San Francisco on the road in round 2 of the playoffs instead of Green Bay getting to host the 9ers. The Packers got embarrassed by Colin Kaepernick. And now in 2013, the Rodgers Era probably lets another year pass by without a 2nd title run. Even if A-Rodge comes back in time to get them a wildcard spot, they’d likely have to win games at New Orleans and at Seattle to get to the Super Bowl. No chance that’s happening. I guess this is my 2013 Green Bay Packers eulogy. Maybe year 4 of the title drought will be the one! Anyway, I’m picking the Giants to cover with a 34-20 win. I fear for Scott Tolzien’s body and psyche in this one.

Kansas City @ Denver (-8)

Denver has annihilated every team they’ve played at home this year…But I’m not giving more than a touchdown to a banged up Peyton Manning going against one of the league’s best pass rushes and overall pass defenses. This is a point too high. Kansas City covers as they lose to Denver 30-23.

New England @ Carolina (-1)

This game seems simple enough to me: If Carolina can run & field goal their way up and down the field, they’ll win. But if the Patriots offense cracks the code on this Panthers defense and suddenly Cam Newton finds himself in a shootout with Tom Brady, Patriots win. The run defense is a problem for New England, but it’s only a problem if an opponent commits to the run and follows through with it the entire game. As soon as they ditch that plan and Newton’s forced to throw the ball 30+ times, game over.

My pick for this game was always going to come down to whether or not Aqib Talib is playing. And unfortunately I’m going to have to turn in this column before we know if he’s officially playing on Sunday. My guess is that he will play. And my prediction is that Newton will have to win this game with his arm at some point, but a healthy New England secondary won’t let it happen. Pats escape with the win, 33-27.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 11 I’m taking:

  • 7 Favorites & 8 Underdogs
  • Of those 8 Dogs, 3 are Home Dogs & 5 are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 11 while I murder your whole f*cking family (I wrote that while a smiling lady & cute dog stood nearby so it doesn’t count as an actual threat).

Week 10 NFL Recap: Gambling Depression & Playoff Excitement

ihedigbo gail

And the season of frustration continues…

If you’ve been betting on the NFL games based on my weekly picks, then you know how bad it’s going for me. But even if you haven’t gone with my recommendations, you can probably sense this has been a rough season for me because I haven’t updated the blog with my against the spread record in about four weeks. My loyal readers will remember that last year while I was rolling to a 57% win rate for the season, I couldn’t give enough updates about my incredible record. Not so much this year.

But let’s quickly dig through the carnage:

  • Going into Monday night’s game, I’m 5-7-1 against the spread for week 10.
  • A particularly maddening week considering 3 losses (Detroit-Chicago, Carolina-San Francisco, Denver-San Diego) and the push (Houston-Arizona) hinged on one or two plays in terms of which team ultimately covered.
  • For the year, I’m now 62-79-5 against the spread, 17 games below .500, a 44% win rate.
  • In other words, now you know why I’m working three jobs. Income from two of them goes directly into the black hole known as my gambling account.
  • If I want to end the regular season with any sense of respectability, I pretty much need to hit on 62% of my picks each week for the final seven weeks.

Based on how the first 10 weeks have gone, I have very little faith in hitting that goal. But here’s the funny thing: Over the past seven weeks, I’ve actually made a profit on my football bets and I continue to nip at the heels of the people in 1st place in my Pick ‘Em leagues. How is this possible?

Because more than in any other year, I’ve been nailing my highest confidence picks. Yeah, a 5-8 week overall may look like shit, but if I’m putting huge bets on those five wins and only small bets on those eight losses, the net result is still profit.

In one of my Pick ‘Em leagues, we rank our top five confidence picks. You assign 7 points to the most confident pick, 5 to the next most confident, and then 3 points go to your third, fourth and fifth most confident picks for the week.

Since week 4, I am 21-14 on my confidence picks (a 60% win rate!), and I’ve gotten 6 of the 7 “most confident” picks correct.

In my 2013 reality where my cumulative picks absolutely suck, thank god I’m crushing the confidence picks. What this means for my readers is that when I do my weekly picks going forward, I will indicate which picks are my most confident. That way we can still win some money together. Deal?

We have a lot of random thoughts in the notebook today so let’s jump right in:

More Gambling Facts

  • The desperate gambler in me spent time on Sunday going through every NFL team’s against the spread record for the year, trying to find any possible edge for the season’s stretch run. Unfortunately 26 of the 32 teams have covered somewhere in the range of 40-60% of their games, not far enough away from a coin flip to confidently bet on or against them blindly.
  • The teams who have been the best against the spread this year? Dallas (7-3), San Francisco, Carolina, New Orleans, NY Jets, Kansas City, Oakland (all 6-3).
  • And the worst teams against the spread? Atlanta (2-7), Jacksonville (2-7), Houston (2-7), Tampa Bay (2-6), Chicago (2-6-1).

Fun With Playoffs

  • By my count, 12 NFC teams & 11 AFC teams are still technically in the playoff hunt.
  • That’s an incredible 72% of the entire league still thinking they might be playing football in January.
  • Six of the eight divisions have at least three teams fighting for playoff spots (only the NFC South and AFC South have less than three teams with playoff aspirations).
  • We always expect the wildcard spots to come down to the final couple weeks, but the incredible part about this season so far is that no team has come close to locking up its division yet.
  • Usually we get a couple divisions (I’m looking at you, AFC East) where some team has a four-game lead by now. But this year, no division leader has more than a 2.5-game lead. If you want to say Seattle probably has its division locked up, I won’t argue too hard against you. But that’s the only one.
  • Correction: You can also pencil the Colts in for the AFC South title. Forgot that Jake Locker was done for the season when I wrote that previous paragraph. Sorry, but a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Titans team is not overcoming a two-game deficit to Indianapolis.

Greatest Roller Coaster Game Of The Year

  • Baltimore 20, Cincinnati 17
  • Any week 10 recap column really should start and end with the Dalton-to-Green (by way of Ihedigbo) hail mary.
  • Sunday’s early slate of games was looking like a giant letdown in terms of excitement (except for the Detroit-Chicago game)…the majority were blowouts or close games between two teams we weren’t interested in watching. And with the Ravens leading 17-0 at halftime, there was no reason to think this game would be any different. But then the Bengals slowly cut it to a one-score game (really slowly…it took them until midway through the 4th to get to the elusive double-digit mark in points scored).
  • But when Andy Dalton threw an interception to James Ihedigbo with 1:55 left, it was a fitting end to a boring game between two teams that don’t look like Super Bowl contenders. Dalton would be the goat, Ihedigbo to some extent would be the hero.
  • The Bengals would officially be delisted as a power in the AFC, and the Ravens would join the rest of its AFC North brethren as possible division winners.
  • Except a 3-and-out on the ensuing drive by Baltimore gave Cincy the ball back with 1:28 left at their own 40 yard line. Exactly 88 seconds later, Dalton heaved the ball 51 yards into the end zone where a group of Bengals and Ravens tipped the ball to Ihedigbo, who was standing a little bit behind the cluster of players, and he promptly tipped it high into the air as if he wanted to buy extra time in the hopes that someone would swoop in and catch it. A.J. Green did just that, grabbing the most inexplicable touchdown of the season to force overtime.
  • It was at that moment that the roller coaster did more roller coaster things. For the Bengals it meant a second chance to improve to 7-3 and re-establish itself as a player for a #2 seed in the conference. For the Ravens it was the potential end of their season. Dropping to 3-6 would pretty much render the rest of their schedule meaningless.
  • But the final twist of the roller coaster was in overtime…nothing dramatic. Just a Cincinnati drive that ended when Marvin Lewis chose not to kick a 50-yard field goal so instead Giovani Bernard lost 11 yards on a 4th down attempt. Then the Ravens kicked a game-winning field goal, quickly ripped the goat status off of Ihedigbo, and staved off playoff elimination for another week.
  • Not a very pretty game, but a wild roller coaster ride that just so happened to include the craziest play of the year.

Division Winner By Quarterback Attrition

  • So the Lions are in sole possession of 1st place in the NFC North. And they’ve certainly played well enough to be in that spot, but even Detroit fans have to admit that if the Lions go on to win the division, a big assist should be credited to the problems with the quarterbacks of the other three teams in the North.
  • The Vikings probably never had a chance this year, but the Ponder-Cassel-Freeman merry-go-round hasn’t helped.
  • The Bears looked like they had morphed into an offensive juggernaut just as recently as three weeks ago, but then Jay Cutler tore his groin, came back extremely early by playing on Sunday, and now has an ankle injury that forced him to exit his game early. No one knows if he’ll be able to play next week. Oh, and the Bears are two games behind Detroit now because the Lions swept the season series.
  • And then there’s Green Bay. Only one game behind the Lions and with the benefit of having beaten Detroit once already. But not only is Aaron Rodgers out for a few more weeks, the guy the Packers deemed as best suited to replace Rodgers is also out with an injury. So instead of Seneca Wallace, Green Bay will be starting Scott Tolzien next week.
  • Once again I’m not saying the Lions don’t deserve to be in the mix for the division title, but they probably don’t deserve to be the heavy favorite to win it either.

Football Makes No Sense (Week 10 Version)

  • If you had argued hard enough last week, you could have convinced me that Indianapolis isn’t quite as good as they’ve looked so far this year. You could even have convinced me that a Jeff Fisher-coached team would play hard no matter that their season is over and they’ve been forced to use their backup quarterback the rest of the year. Maybe you could have convinced me that the Colts wouldn’t totally dominate the Rams on Sunday.
  • But not even 100 of the best football minds and/or the best debaters could have made me think the 3-6 Rams would travel to 6-2 Indianapolis and cruise to a 38-8 win.
  • Football makes no sense.
  • Here’s how bad it was for the Colts on Sunday: I honestly thought they were going to set an unofficial record of their offense never once being shown on the Red Zone Channel. I’m not exaggerating when I say it took a few minutes into the 3rd quarter of that game before the RZC finally featured Andrew Luck and the Colts offense trying to put something together. No matter how horrific the game is (even some of the 9-6 final scores of years past), we always see every team’s offense in the red zone at least once during the first half of the games. Not Indy on Sunday.
  • One more note on this game: Jeff Fisher threw his challenge flag after the Colts finally scored a touchdown. Except as we all know by now (or at least we all should know), you can’t do that. Touchdowns are automatically reviewed. Coaches who throw the flag get penalized a timeout (or get assessed a 15-yard penalty if they are out of timeouts). Strangely enough, Fisher didn’t seem to know, the broadcasters never mentioned it, Andrew Siciliano, overseer of the Red Zone Channel, never mentioned it. Even the dozens of football writers, bloggers and analysts I follow on Twitter didn’t make much out of it. Am I the only one who still gets hot & bothered when coaches don’t remember this rule?

Fun With The Transitive Property

  • If Jacksonville just beat Tennessee by 2 points in week 10, and Tennessee beat St. Louis by 7 two weeks ago, and St. Louis destroyed Indianapolis by 30 yesterday, shouldn’t Jacksonville beat Indianapolis by about 39 or so when they play later this season?

The Opposite of Fun With the Incognito-Martin Situation

  • First of all, after reading THIS ARTICLE in which Terrelle Pryor shares his thoughts on locker room culture, I couldn’t help but think… Can we officially call Pryor the “Anti-JaMarcus Russell”? Russell was the 1st overall pick by Oakland who was supposed to be the team’s savior. Instead he sucked at football, got fat, had a substance abuse problem, was not a good locker room guy, and was out of the league within a couple years of being drafted, totally crushing the Raiders’ chances for the next few years. Then there’s Pryor…a guy who Oakland picked in a supplemental draft, was not supposed to be anyone’s savior, is making minimal money, was an afterthought because Matt Flynn was going to be the Raiders’ starting QB, and now he’s made football in Oakland fun again, seems to genuinely be a good leader and locker room guy, and looks like he’s actually cherishing his opportunity.
  • I heard Peter King report on “Football Night in America” that there was at least one contending team who would be interested in Richie Incognito if the Dolphins released him. I found myself repeatedly saying “Please don’t be the Patriots, please don’t be the Patriots.” And it’s not because I’ve formed an opinion where I think the guy is bad news. It’s just because the added distraction isn’t necessary. No need for another circus around the team during the stretch run (although a smaller part of me thinks, “If that’s what they need to solidify the O-line, giddy up!”).
  • I guess I’m throwing myself onto the “insensitive” side of the debate with this opinion: I personally think way too much media and public attention is being paid to this story. Remember when two Washington Wizards players actually brought guns into the locker room and threatened one another with them? We didn’t even spend half as much time and energy on that story as we have on this Dolphins story. Listen, I know this current situation is going to cost some people their jobs, and naughty words were said, and one guy is claiming to have a mental instability. But this is just way too much for a situation where no person was physically harmed. And the way in which the media decided to label the villains and victims of the story before having any real facts…it just bothers me that this is now going into week 3 of leading the news. Can we please focus on something interesting instead? Like maybe the amount of times Matt Flynn has been picked up and released over the past three months?

The Leftovers

  • It’s not going to happen, but if the Chiefs were to go 16-0, would that completely tarnish the accomplishments of the 2007 Patriots and 1972 Dolphins, the only two teams that have gone undefeated? It’s kind of a special accomplishment right now…only two teams have done it, both those teams capped off those seasons with Super Bowl appearances…
  • This Kansas City team doesn’t belong, and I’m sure we won’t have to worry about this much longer.
  • During the boredom of the early games on Sunday, I started wiping dog hair off my furniture. And I got to thinking: I use shed-control shampoo when I bathe my dog; I put fish oil in her food because it’s supposed to help with shedding; That food already includes “ingredients for a healthy shed-free coat; And I probably give her other things that help fight shedding. She still sheds a ton. If those products are all doing their jobs, does that mean my dog would have alopecia without them? If I stop using these products, will her entire coat spontaneously fall off?
  • Take it from someone who still gets flashbacks of the Pollard-to-Brady’s-knee hit from 2008, that hit Peyton Manning took on Sunday was almost identical, only Manning was turned slightly more away from the angle of the hit so his knee didn’t twist as much, and he also was lucky not to get his cleat stuck in the turf as he spun around. Otherwise it would have been goodbye to Denver’s season.
  • And hey, if you’re one of the five people out there who thinks Denver’s season could still be salvaged without Manning, then you must also admit that Manning is not the NFL’s MVP this year. You can’t have both.
  • THIS might have flown under your radar on Sunday. Worth noting the three football stadiums where throwing a football in the parking lot is a crime.
  • And finally, I’ll leave you with a peek behind the blogging curtain. Many times I get comments on the blog that are obvious SPAM. But every now and then I get a confusing comment that doesn’t look like SPAM but also doesn’t look like a real human wrote it. The one I got this morning was particularly…insane:

blog comment_11-11-13

Hope your week 10 was better than mine was. Week 11 picks coming on Thursday.

Week 10 NFL Picks: It’s Raining Chaos & Underdogs

old-man-crystal-ball

Looking at the betting lines on a Wednesday for the upcoming week’s NFL games is always a great litmus test for how chaotic things currently are throughout the league. Sometimes you get one or two games that still don’t have a line set as of Wednesday, and that’s pretty normal. Every once in a while you get the surprise three or four games without a line at the midweek point. That’s a little crazy. So what word should we use to describe this week? As of 2pm PST on Wednesday, seven of 14 games were without a line. SEVEN! Insanity, wildness, out-of-control, anarchy, epidemic, flabbergasting, jaw-dropping, irresponsible, perplexing…not sure any of those words do it justice.

And of course, injuries are usually the big reason for these line-holds. Although sometimes it’s a bullying controversy that not even the team involved can seem to make sense of. Needless to say, if Vegas can’t figure out how the week 10 games are going to turn out, how are we commoners supposed to do it? For the record, I was extremely tempted to flip a coin to determine each game this week. But the narcissistic side of me that thinks I can outsmart the rest of the world wouldn’t let that happen.

Random side note: If you’re in a Pick ‘Em league and it’s anything like the ones I do through CBSsports.com, then the lines for that league get set early in the week…like Tuesday morning. And they don’t move them no matter what. Once they’re set, they’re locked in. That often leads to some ridiculous-looking lines once we learn about injuries on Tuesday and Wednesday. For instance, in this week’s picks on CBSsports.com, the Packers are 9-point favorites over the Eagles, a line that was clearly set before the linemakers new about the Aaron Rodgers injury. In theory, this results in a free pick because who in their right mind will take Green Bay to win by 10 without Rodgers (maybe me? You’ll have to read on to find out). Always comical when this happens.

Let’s jump into the week 10 picks:

Washington (-3) @ Minnesota

This is the start of three nationally-televised primetime games for Washington over the next four weeks. Either the networks broadcasting these games are going to get a resurgent RGIII leading his team back into the playoff mix over the next month, or a still-not-100% RGIII leading his team to an underwhelming 1-3 record over that time. No doubt about it, the weight of this team is squarely on his shoulders. Remember that his 2012 rookie peers (Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson) are all locks to make the playoffs. I know Griffin’s the only one who suffered a major knee injury in the past 10 months, but that doesn’t change expectations.

As far as this game goes, I don’t know. Flip that coin. One warning I’ll give you is that the Redskins have the worst special teams in the NFL while the Vikings have one of the best. I’m taking the points. Minnesota wins 24-23.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-12)

Don’t think too hard about this one. Tennessee is good, but they aren’t “drop 45 points on the worst team in the NFL” good. The Titans probably run a ton in this game, try to make it go by as quickly as possible while avoiding injuries, and not worry about the score as long as they win. To me this has backdoor cover for Jacksonville written all over it. I’m grabbing the points but saying Tennessee wins 26-17.

Philadelphia @ Green Bay (-1)

Aaron Rodgers’ injury moved this line 8 points. I already told you it was initially a 9-point spread. And these Eagles just happen to have the NFL’s most recent 7-touchdown passer at quarterback. They’ve also won three in a row and four-of-five overall on the road in 2013. While Rodgers is certainly the story in Wisconsin, don’t sleep on Clay Matthews potentially returning for this game. The Packers will struggle against some mediocre teams without #12 under center, but this line came down too much. Green Bay at home should still be giving a field goal against almost every team with or without Rodgers. I say the Packers cover and win, 27-21.

Buffalo @ Pittsburgh (-3.5)

I bet there’s some stat floating around there that states: “Mike Tomlin-coached teams are 6-0 against the spread in games following a 20+ point loss.” I’m always seeing ridiculous stats like that. Like every time Bill Belichick or John Harbaugh are playing their first game after the bye and the broadcast talks about how they never lose those games. I understand you have to make the Steelers a favorite at home against a middling team like Buffalo no matter how awful they looked last week. But I’m not buying it. If this Bills team had been even remotely healthy in the first half of the season, I feel like they’d be the surprise 5-4 AFC East team, not the Jets. But EJ Manuel should be back, C.J. Spiller looks healthy and the defense is legitimately….decent. If Buffalo follows New England’s blueprint from last week—run the ball early and often—they should win this game. I’m saying they get it done, beating the Steelers 23-17.

Oakland @ NY Giants (-7)

Was allowing 49 points to a Philly team that couldn’t score an offensive touchdown the previous two weeks an aberration or the Raiders finally showing their true colors? Is it nosedive city from here or will they respond and go back to being that frisky team I loved through the first eight weeks of the season? I don’t know. But I do know I can’t in good faith pick the Giants to beat any team by more than a touchdown right now. This line feels like an overreaction to the Raiders’ no-show last week combined with the Giants being on extra rest after the bye week. I can’t pick Oakland to win, but I can pick them to cover. Giants win 27-23.

St. Louis @ Indianapolis (-10)

In a slightly bizarre twist, the Colts haven’t beaten anyone at home this year by more than six points. Their two blowout wins have both come on the road. But let’s assume that’s somewhat random and ignore it. The one area the Rams seem to be good at right now is their pass rush. But based on what I’ve seen from the Colts lately, protecting Andrew Luck isn’t the reason they struggle. It’s dropped passes. Dropped passes directly led to their week 6 loss in San Diego, and it was almost their downfall last week in Houston. I think Luck put his worst half of the season behind him at the start of the 3rd quarter last Sunday night. And I think the Colts roll to a cover and win, 34-17.

Seattle (-6) @ Atlanta

I need Seattle to lose one road game other than when they face the 49ers in week 14 or else my power rankings from Wednesday might look bad. Not saying this is the game they lose, but you can bet your ass that I’m going to bet against the Seahawks in this game and when they play at the Giants in December. Actually, I am saying this is the game they lose. Atlanta wins outright, 21-15.

Cincinnati (-1) @ Baltimore

The AFC North was one of those divisions that before the season you could have penciled in each team going 3-3 in divisional games, losing all their road games and winning all their home games. And you know what? That’s exactly what has happened so far. No road team has won against a division rival so far. Sometimes the simplest logic presents itself and a lazy slacker like me jumps all over it, regardless of the infinite additional factors that should be considered. Baltimore wins 33-27.

Detroit @ Chicago (PICK)

Oh, hey there, other division that we could also pencil in all the home teams to win their intra-division games. If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t get hurt in that Monday game, the home teams in these divisional matchups, not including Minnesota, would also have held serve through the first nine weeks of the season. And since I just ranked the Bears one spot ahead of the Lions in my power rankings, I should choose them to win at home. With or without Jay Cutler, I think Chicago gets it done with a 31-30 win. Yes, that would put the Lions on the losing end of the exact same outcome of their game against Dallas a couple weeks ago.

Carolina @ San Francisco (-6)

Carolina’s current four game win streak comes against opponents with a combined record of 6-27. San Francisco’s five game win streak comes against opponents who are 13-28. It would have been nice to learn something about either of these teams over the past month, but it’s basically been preseason games and scrimmages from a competitive standpoint. I think this line’s just a little low. No one knows how great Carolina has been more than me. I have a borderline obsession with them. But the 49ers are at home, getting healthy and feels like one of those teams that plays its best football in November and December. I think it can be a close game with San Francisco still covering. I say they do by a score of 33-25.

Houston @ Arizona (-3)

Hmm…I’m thinking about making this my most confident pick of the week. Did you know that the Cardinals have the best defense in all of football according to Football Outsiders? Did you know that three of Arizona’s four losses this year were @New Orleans, @San Francisco and home Seattle? This team beats the bad teams and can even beat some decent ones (they’ve got wins over Detroit and Carolina). I think Case Keenum has his toughest day as an NFL quarterback so far. The Cardinals cover and roll to a 27-13 victory.

Denver (-7) @ San Diego

Tough week for the Chargers. They lose an overtime game on the other side of the country that they probably should have won in regulation, have to fly all the way home and then start preparing for a Broncos team coming off their bye. Every time I want to simply pick against San Diego due to their lack of mental toughness, I have to remind myself that Norv Turner isn’t coaching this team anymore. I think the perfect medicine to help the Chargers get over that loss in Washington is having to focus on the toughest team they’ll face this season. I see San Diego getting up for this game in a big way. Call me crazy, but I like Philip Rivers and company to get an enormous win…let’s call it an overtime victory with San Diego winning 38-35.

Dallas @ New Orleans (-7)

It’s not a matter of who wins this game, but rather how badly do the Cowboys lose? Do they keep it relatively close? Or are they simply the best of the bad NFC teams and we’ll get to see the Saints embarrass them? New Orleans has won all their home games by an average of a lot this year. Their one previous primetime matchup in 2013 against a decent team ended up in a 21-point demolition of the Dolphins in week 4. Maybe it’s a little bit closer in this game, but not much. The Saints cover and win, 34-23.

Miami (-3) @ Tampa Bay

Talk about a stay-away game. If this had been a normal week, I’d love the Dolphins to ride that momentum from their Halloween night overtime win against Cincinnati and paste the Bucs. But this was not a normal week, as you may have heard. What will losing a second starter in two weeks from the offensive line do to this team? Maybe more importantly, what the hell were the Bucs doing up in Seattle last Sunday? Was that a sign of things to come, or was that simply a team throwing everything in their playbook at an unsuspecting opponent? I can’t figure this game out so I’m taking Tampa Bay with the points. The Bucs get their first win of the season by a score of 16-13. Just an incredible Monday Night Football matchup.

If you’re keeping score at home, in week 10 I’m picking:

  • 5 Favorites & 8 Underdogs (the Detroit-Chicago game is a PICK)
  • Of those 8 Dogs, 5 are Home Dogs & 3 are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 10 while I go slap your real mother across the face [laughter].

Week 9 NFL Non-Recap (Power Rankings Are Here!)

nfl power rankings

The week 9 recap is coming to you about 48 hours later than it usually does because my life is an absolute mess right now.

Instead of working no jobs, which is my preference, I’m now working two jobs and interviewing for more while trying to keep up with my writing schedule.

Instead of spending this past Sunday in the confines of my own home surrounded by TVs and nothing else, I was up in San Francisco…still watching football all day but not nearly as locked in and focused as I usually am.

And now that I don’t live in San Francisco, every time I return it’s an event. I party with my friends harder and stretch myself thinner than I normally would because I only have a couple nights to spend there. This past weekend also coincided with the going away party for one of my friends who’s moving back to the East Coast from the Bay Area. So there was even more beer chugging, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey swigging and general buffoonery than usual.

I guess “my life is an absolute mess” is the wrong way to say it. I think “I’m busy” is more appropriate. So that’s why you’re getting a late recap blog.

The sad part about the friend who’s leaving California is that he was the definition of “wildcard” when it comes to my sports gambling group of friends. He was the guy who’d burst into the man cave three minutes before kickoff on Sunday mornings with all 65 of his bets written down on a piece of a Triscuit box that he decided would make for a good piece of scrap paper. He was the guy who would make futures bets during our Vegas trip (picking the winner of the upcoming Super Bowl, college basketball & football national titles, World Series, etc) and then lose the bet slips in his apartment two months later. He was the guy who would make a bet on Sunday morning, not remembering that he made a bet during an Ambien stupor on Tuesday night that directly contradicts this new bet.

While the rest of us would plod away with small, conservative bets, just trying to grind out a little profit over the course of the NFL season, this guy would have weekly swings so drastic that if we were talking about a bank account instead of a gambling account, that bank would put a hold on all of his assets due to suspicious activity.

For a group of degenerate gamblers, he was the life of the party. He will be missed. And we will be holding tryouts for the rest of the football season for anyone who would like to take a stab at replacing him.

 

At this point in the week, I see no need to dig into the details of each individual week 9 game. Instead let’s take a step back and look at the season as a whole…the half that’s been played and the half that’s still to come. Let’s go team by team and try to figure out who’s in the best position for a Super Bowl run, who should just be happy to be in the playoff hunt, and who should be looking at the 2014 draft as the next relevant moment on their team’s schedule. Call it Power Rankings if you want. But unlike other power rankings, I’m putting a ton of stock in injuries and each team’s upcoming schedule. I’m trying to predict who will finish in the best position for that Super Bowl run.

In the interest of saving you time, the bottom 12 teams come with no explanation. These teams are already eliminated from playoff contention in my mind (which means at least one of them will definitely make it). And then from #20 through #1, I’ll try to give some reasoning on why this team is in the position it’s in. Here we go:

32 Jacksonville

31 Tampa Bay

30 Minnesota

29 St. Louis

28 Atlanta

27 Houston

26 Pittsburgh

25 NY Giants

24 Buffalo

23 Oakland

22 Cleveland

21 Philadelphia

 

20 Baltimore

You could argue some other teams deserve to be in the top 20 over the Ravens (Philly and Cleveland come to mind), but with five home games remaining (including the Jets, Steelers and Vikings in consecutive weeks) this team could still make a little run. They may also get the benefit of facing a Bengals team that’s locked into its playoff position in week 17. Marvin Lewis has a history of resting his starters. So despite their best efforts, the Ravens aren’t dead yet.

19 Miami

We all know the Dolphins aren’t making the playoffs at this point so let’s instead consider this now-realistic scenario that I would have never thought possible just one week ago: On Monday night, the Dolphins will travel to Tampa Bay for a nationally-televised game. But instead of Greg Schiano getting fired the following day after a loss, what if Miami loses and more stories continue to trickle out about the environment that Joe Philbin has allowed the Dolphins’ locker room to become, and HE GETS FIRED INSTEAD? That would be the biggest reversal of coaching fortunes I’ve ever seen. I’m now rooting for this to happen.

18 Tennessee

We won’t know anything about this team until they host the Colts in week 11. Since his return, Jake Locker has lost to San Francisco and beaten St. Louis. Now he gets Jacksonville at home in week 10. They will officially be in the playoff mix if they can beat Indy in two weeks.

17 San Diego

Just know this: For at least the past seven years, the team to finish dead last in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency rankings has not made the playoffs. And that’s where the Chargers sit right now. Not to mention they still face Denver twice, Kansas City twice, Cincinnati, the Giants, Oakland and Miami. They’ll need at least five wins in there to make the playoffs. When passing is your only weapon, things usually fall apart in November and December.

16 Washington

This seems aggressive for the Redskins, I agree. But when I look at all four NFC East teams’ remaining schedules, Washington actually has it pretty easy. They face two teams with a winning record (San Francisco, Kansas City) at home and don’t have any difficult road games. If they can win on Thursday at Minnesota and then 10 days later at Philly (where the Eagles still haven’t won a home game in approximately 17 years), they’re 5-5 and suddenly the playoffs become a possibility. It’s not probable, but it’s possible.

15 Dallas

Incredible that the “best team” in a division sits outside the top 12. The only reason I have the Cowboys ranked highest among its divisional brethren is because of the quarterback. Tony Romo is easily the best quarterback in the division and when everything else involved among the four teams is an absolute crapshoot, you gotta give the edge to the team with the most stability at that position. The Cowboys’ remaining schedule is not friendly: @New Orleans, @Giants, home Oakland, @Chicago, home Green Bay, @Washington and home Philly. I still think there’s a chance all four NFC East teams finish 7-9 (fingers crossed).

14 NY Jets

It makes me queasy to pencil the Jets in as a peripheral playoff team, but at 5-4, I can’t deny that they’re at least average. Aren’t the Jets essentially a less-disciplined version of the Chiefs? Very solid defense, tries to run the ball to avoid exposing its passing deficiencies, has a QB you’re unsure about if he has to lead the team to a big comeback. The only differences are the Jets lead the league in penalties, they have a -10 turnover differential compared to the Chiefs’ +15, and they’ve actually had a harder schedule. But the schedule softens for New York the rest of the way and it looks like 9-7 is very doable.

13 Arizona

Several weeks ago I predicted that the Cardinals would be 6-4 after week 11. Their next two games are home against Houston and @Jacksonville. Those are winnable games that would make me look like a genius. Whether this team can get to 9-7 and battle Carolina for the one up-for-grabs wildcard spot will all hinge on either beating Indianapolis at home or winning at Tennessee in week 16. And if the 49ers rest their starters in week 17, this Cardinals team could amazingly get to 10 wins. By the way, I’d rather be the #6 seed in the NFC and have to travel to Chicago, Detroit or Green Bay than be the #4 seed and “get” to host San Francisco or Seattle. That’s why the Cardinals are ranked higher than the best NFC East team.

12 Kansas City

Well since the 9-0 Chiefs are very likely to make the playoffs, I have no choice but to rank them in the top 12. But I’ll continue to patiently wait for their inevitable demise. Teams that can’t occasionally win a shootout or come back from a 14-point deficit should be very concerned. Some of the best defensive teams in 2012 (Seattle and San Francisco come to mind) had to get the offense going in the playoffs in order to advance. The same challenge will present itself to KC eventually (for instance, what if they get the #5 seed and travel to New England in the 1st or 2nd round of the playoffs). I have no faith in them.

Side Note: In 2012, I gave this exact same treatment to Baltimore. From about week 4 on, I constantly picked against them, noting how they weren’t very good and were getting luckier than any team. I bitched about their schedule being too easy and that they’d be one-and-done in the playoffs. So if you’re still looking for that Super Bowl bet, I’d go big on the Chiefs. My recent history almost guarantees that they win it all.

11 Green Bay

10 Detroit

9 Chicago

Let’s go ahead and group all these teams together since the fate of each of them depends on one man: Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay drops to the back of this pack because Rodgers is out probably a month. And let’s not forget they’re also missing key guys like Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Jermichael Finley. Oh, and the F word’s been floating around with this team…Flynn. As in Matt. As in “Matt Flynn might be the best option to start at QB while Rodgers is out.” They might be in serious trouble.

Chicago gets the nod over Detroit because their defense is better and the Lions lack that second reliable receiver that Alshon Jeffrey has become for the Bears.

8 Carolina

I don’t think the Panthers are a worse team than their NFC South rival who happens to be one spot ahead of them on these rankings. I just think their current situation is worse. They already have three losses and they have upcoming games at San Francisco, home New England and home & away New Orleans. Football Outsiders actually has Carolina ranked as the 3rd best team in all of football. My preseason Super Bowl bet on them has me irrationally invested in their success. I think they make the playoffs for the first time in the Ron Rivera-Cam Newton era. But the #6 seed would mean a likely trip to New Orleans for the inexperienced team. Don’t see them getting farther than that.

7 New Orleans

It’s no secret this team struggles on the road. And it really doesn’t feel like they’re getting home-field advantage in the NFC. If they’re the #3 seed, they’ll get to host one playoff game before going on the road for two possible games. I still don’t buy into the defense entirely, and it seems like every week an important offensive player is getting hurt. First it was Jimmy Graham, then Marques Colston and now Darren Sproles. If everything breaks right, they’re a contender. I just don’t see everything going their way.

6 Cincinnati

The Bengals are at a fork in the road. Now that we know they might be playing in the second worst division in football, it’s up to them to pull away from those sub-.500 lurkers or end up in a dog fight to see if they can beat out the Ravens or Browns for that elusive 9-7 division-winning record. The reason I stuck them a spot below New England, despite having beaten the Patriots already, is because of the two enormous defensive injuries that they haven’t had to really deal with yet. Leon Hall and Geno Atkins are out for the year and unless Andy Dalton plays the rest of the season like he did in the month of October, chances are they’re heading towards 10-6 and a 2nd round playoff game at Denver.

5 New England

As a devout Patriots fan, it was great seeing a healthy Gronk and Amendola doing what they’re supposed to do while Tom Brady finally looked like his usual self. That was fun. But it’s not the reason I’m so bullish on this team. The defense is the reason. Yes, the defense that lost Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly (Wilfork’s replacement) to season-ending injuries. And really it all rests on one player: Aqib Talib. I know the Pats are suddenly susceptible to the inside running game, but please tell me which team is going to march up and down the field ever-so slowly against New England by running for 4-5 yards at a time. This isn’t a league where a run-only team wins. You’ve gotta be able to throw, and if Talib’s healthy, this team is tough to throw on. And if that offense really is rounding into form, any team that wants to beat New England in January will have to throw a lot. Good luck to them.

4 Indianapolis

An astute observer will notice that the Colts have beaten the top three teams in my rankings, and yet here they sit at #4. Why? It’s not because I think their second half schedule’s tough or they’re due for much of a drop off (I see 11-5 as their worst case). It’s because they beat all those contenders with a healthy Reggie Wayne. I know they won in their first try without Wayne, but eventually they’re going to miss him. And once they do get to the playoffs, we’re talking about a very young team that has little to no experience playing multiple games in January/February. For that reason I have to put them as the worst of the final four.

3 Seattle

If I’m saying the NFC West juggernauts are the top teams in the conference, it would make sense to have the Seahawks ranked over the 49ers. But I’ve gone the opposite way. Seattle scares me just a tiny bit. They are very beatable on the road, and what the hell was their problem at home against Tampa Bay last week? Maybe they peaked a little early and we all just assumed they’d roll to the Super Bowl? I’ll admit that if they find a way to stay ahead of San Francisco for the division (and likely the top seed in the NFC), it’s going to be tough to beat them in January. But they won’t stay ahead of the 49ers because…

2 San Francisco

The 49ers are going to win the rest of their games! That’s right, a 13-game win streak to close out the season for San Francisco. If that happens, it’ll mean getting revenge on the Seahawks for their week 2 shellacking in San Francisco on December 8th, and a big road win in two weeks at New Orleans. The 49ers might sneaky be the best team in football. They’re getting fully healthy at the right time and they’ve just been flying under the radar, handling their business (if handling their business = winning each of their last five games by an average of 22.6 points).

1 Denver

They’re the best bet to be playing in February because they are relatively healthy compared to their closest contenders, they have more offensive weapons than almost any other team and their schedule is easy enough that 12-4 is their worst case scenario. They have road games against San Diego, New England and Kansas City coming up. Those are the only three possible losses. They’ll likely have the #1 seed in the AFC.

(Stands back, admires his work)

And that’s how you nail a power rankings column.

Week 10 picks coming up on Thursday.