Week 17 NFL Recap: And Then There Were 12

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Another fantastic day is in the books for the NFL. Our wallets might have taken a big hit in 2013, but the unpredictability of the NFL season provided the best start-to-finish drama in the history of the league.

It started with the league’s other 31 teams and fan bases taking a big nervous gulp on September 5th, when the Denver Broncos put up 49 points, via SEVEN Peyton Manning touchdown passes, on opening night.

It ended with the league’s other 31 teams and fan bases bursting into laughter on December 29th, when the Dallas Cowboys, via a back-breaking Kyle Orton interception, choked away the NFL’s final playoff spot.

It was a season-long emotional roller coaster for the common football fan.

And week 17 was a microcosm of the whole thing:

In the AFC:

  • Baltimore and Miami, in what turned out to essentially be “win and you’re in” games, both screamed loud enough for the whole world to hear, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
  • The Ravens were gift-wrapped a game in which Andy Dalton threw FOUR interceptions. But not to be outdone, Joe Flacco threw his own handful of picks (only three) and the Ravens’ putrid offense could only muster up nine points off those four Dalton turnovers. A spectacular 222 yards of offense for the Ravens in a must-win game.
  • Meanwhile down in Miami, the Dolphins were busy giving up 374 yards to the Jets, aka the team ranked 27th in offense according to Football Outsiders. In fact, they let Geno Smith finish the game with a QBR of 90.7. His QBR for the year is 35.9. Oh, and Ryan Tannehill joined in on the interception fun from that other game. He had three of them himself.
  • After Pittsburgh took care of business against Cleveland, they got to watch in horror as Kansas City’s backups pissed away a 24-14 4th quarter lead in San Diego. A Chiefs win would send the Steelers to the playoffs. A Chargers win would send them to the playoffs while knocking out Pittsburgh. This was set up for a dramatic ending that everyone would remember for both the Steelers and Chargers rising from the dead and for the final AFC playoff spot being decided on a final play in an outstanding game…And then the refs provided one very important moment that we absolutely needed in week 17 if you were going to dub this a microcosm of the entire season. The refs blew Kansas City’s 41-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation by not calling San Diego for an illegal formation. The error, confirmed by the NFL, would have given Ryan Succop a 35-yard-field goal attempt, instead of the 41-yarder he ultimately missed.
  • Obscure field goal formation penalty that alters a game and a team’s season. Sound familiar, Patriots fans?
  • So the Chargers get into the playoffs in a somewhat controversial way. They’re 8-8, and while no one expects them to do much, I will say they are easily the most entertaining choice out of those four AFC wildcard contenders. Maybe Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, a throwback Antonio Gates and the combo of Ryan Mathews & Danny Woodhead can get hot and make a game out of it in Cincinnati this weekend.
  • Nothing else too dramatic in the AFC on Sunday. As Denver (#1), New England (2), Cincinnati (3), Indianapolis (4) and Kansas City (5) all maintained the same seed that they entered the day with.
  • The attention in the AFC is going to be devoted to Denver & New England, due to them getting the byes and the Brady-Manning rivalry, as well as to Kansas City because of the franchise’s immediate turnaround under Andy Reid and the intrigue over how well they’ve played all year. But I want to spend a minute addressing the other two division winners who might get overlooked.
  • Indianapolis: Don’t bank on them in the playoffs just because they’ve won their last three games in blowout fashion (25-3 over Houston, 23-7 at Kansas City, and 30-10 over Jacksonville this past Sunday). Remember that those opponents are two awful teams and one that was resigned to its #5 seed fate and probably didn’t give 100%. No, if you’re going to back Indy in January, it’s going to be because they’re battled-tested (six regular games vs playoff teams) and seem to play up to their competition (4-2 in those six games). And if they get past the visiting Chiefs in the wildcard round, they’ll face a team they already beat this year…the Denver Broncos.
  • Cincinnati: Here’s your case for picking Cincy to win it all. They are 2013’s version of the 2012 Ravens. AFC North team with a solid defense that people wrote off because of injuries (Leon Hall and Geno Atkins = Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, etc). They have a young QB who no one has faith in, and who constantly is the butt of jokes from other teams’ fans (Dalton = Flacco). They’re a team that didn’t impress much during the regular season and that is largely being overlooked as the playoffs begin.
  • The difference is that Cincy has even more offensive talent than last year’s Baltimore team.
  • And remember that there was absolutely no indication heading into last year’s playoffs that Flacco was about to put up 11 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions during a four-game Super Bowl run (working against this comparison is that Dalton has looked far worse this year than Flacco did last year).
  • I doubt I’m going to pick the Bengals or Colts to be that longshot team that gets hot and wins it all, but they’ve each got at least a little case to be made.
  • I was watching Peyton Manning shamelessly pad his passing stats against Oakland when Andrew Siciliano, DirecTV’s Red Zone Channel host, told us, “Call it what it is. The greatest quarterback season in the history of the NFL.”
  • And it’s so true. I’m just glad the stars have realigned back to the good old days when Manning is breaking every regular season record while the entire world greases his pole, and Brady and the Patriots are back to winning ugly, getting lucky and being discounted by the national media.
  • Another sign that glory days might have returned for New England? Brady threw a pass in the 4th quarter that was intended for #45, Williams….Who? Apparently D.J. Williams. Unrecognizable players popping up in key spots = another Patriots Championship Days Staple.
  • Amazingly, LeGarrette Blount is now in the “can’t afford to lose him” conversation for the rest of the year. Just like we drew it up when we penciled the Patriots in for 12 wins and a run to the Super Bowl.
  • One AFC-related gambling note: If you didn’t run to your computer to lock in “Oakland +3 2nd half,” during halftime of the Raiders-Broncos game, then you must hate money. Manning had just broken Drew Brees’ single season passing yards record and added four more passing touchdowns to his collection. The Broncos were up 31-0. Me and my 10 closest friends could have outscored the Broncos in the 2nd half.

In the NFC:

  • Not nearly as chaotic in this conference as a late Carolina push against Atlanta, then a New Orleans blowout of Tampa Bay and an easy Seattle win over St. Louis locked the Panthers into the #2 seed, the Saints into the #6 seed and the 49ers into the #5 seed.
  • But I’d like to take a moment to offer a respectful, professional golf clap to the 2013 Arizona Cardinals. After the 2012 disaster known as “Kolb, Skelton, Hoyer and Lindley try to play QB,” the Cardinals put up a fine season with a serviceable Carson Palmer, a hidden running back gem in Andre Ellington and a nasty defense. Ten wins will get you into the playoffs more often than not, but it wasn’t meant to be this year. Thanks for single handedly making a few NFC teams push themselves through the final week due to your constant nipping at their heels.
  • If you got on the Arizona bandwagon around midseason, you were handsomely rewarded from a betting standpoint. They covered eight of their final nine games of the season. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed them so much. I often picked them as my most confident bet of the week.
  • Kind of couldn’t have asked for a better game then Green Bay-Chicago. There was a ref screw job alert when a Bears player got called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty after trying to pull up on a hit against Aaron Rodgers, only he had to use his arms to break his fall and lightly touched the Green Bay QB. There was also player ineptitude when Rodgers fumbled in the 2nd quarter, only all 22 players on the field thought it was an incomplete pass so everyone awkwardly stood around while the ball was sitting still on the ground and the refs refused to blow a whistle. Of course the Packers finally recognized the situation and promptly scored.
  • These are the kinds of plays that determine divisions when your division is full of hot steaming garbage.
  • For Green Bay’s troubles, they’ll draw San Francisco in the opening round of the playoffs…an opponent that causes Aaron Rodgers to angrily mumble under his breath for three straight hours while Mike McCarthy self-induces a coma to avoid making a game-changing mistake and Dom Capers sits in the coach’s box repeatedly shitting himself.
  • And for our third referee screw job reference of the blog, let’s turn to Al Michaels at Cowboy Stadium:
  • “So the Cowboys get screwed on that situation,” said Michaels when a clock glitch turned into a Dallas penalty with five minutes left in the 4th quarter in the division-deciding game against Philly. Gotta love how the refs did not let week 17 go by without altering the course of events for the 2013 playoffs.
  • Another great NFC game, this time decided by ages-old rule that states, “Whichever man lines up behind center for the Dallas Cowboys shall lose games in the most ball-busting fashion possible…it does not matter if his name is Tony Romo or something goofy like Orton.”

So there you have it, folks. Twelve playoff teams’ hopes and dreams on the line over the next 34 days, and eleven bitter disappointments guaranteed.

We’ll be back with separate AFC & NFC playoff previews later in the week. And I might just dig through the archives to find my best and worst predictions from the 2013 preseason.

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Week 17 NFL Picks: All The Insanity of the NFL Season Packed into One Week

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While working off Wednesday’s helpings of pork pie, turducken, mashed potatoes with gravy, broccoli casserole, chocolate cake, ice cream and roughly a dozen jack & cokes by going on a four-mile run Thursday morning, my brother and I tried to talk through every NFL week 17 and playoff scenario…which games could be meaningless on Sunday if a certain outcome happens earlier in the day, if Team X and Team Y both win, who gets the better seed, which matchups in round 1 of the playoffs are possible, in which scenarios would there be a road favorite in that wildcard round, etc, etc, etc.

Problem is, we didn’t come close to covering everything during that 40-minute run. There’s that much chaos going on as we head into the final week of the regular season.

The easiest way to sum up just how unknown things are after 16 weeks of football: There are still 18 teams that could end up in the playoffs, and only one is locked into a specific seed (Kansas City will be the AFC’s #5 seed). While eight teams have clinched spots in general, many of those teams could significantly improve or hurt their seeding depending on how this weekend plays out.

This Sunday is NOT a day to have even the tiniest of distractions pop up unexpectedly (Get the dog walked, get the fridge stocked, get the bed pan/bucket positioned next to the couch, get the girlfriend/wife out of the house…this is the real deal).

Speaking of how life is totally unfair (oh, we weren’t?), did you know that my girlfriend Julie is 27-20-1 against the spread since she started making picks three weeks ago? That’s better than a 57% win rate. Meanwhile I went 21-26-1 over that same time (44.6%), and I’m something like 95-140-5 against the spread for the season.

Effing A, man.

As has been the case for these past three weeks, Julie and I will both be making picks in this column. But if she continues to pick circles around me through the playoffs, there’s a very realistic chance that the 2014 football picks blog will be retitled, “Julie Makes Everyone Rich Without Even Knowing What She’s Doing…And, Yes, Ross Watches From The Sidelines So He Doesn’t Screw Things Up.”

Here’s your weekly reminder that Julie’s comments are in quotes and my unnecessary additions are in parentheses.

Here are the week 17 picks:

Carolina (-7) @ Atlanta

Playoff Implications: Carolina is in no matter what. Atlanta is out no matter what. But a Panthers’ win would lock up the NFC South and guarantee them no worse than the #2 seed. If Seattle loses and San Francisco wins later in the day, Carolina would end up as the #1 seed as long as they win.

Julie’s Pick: Carolina because Atlanta never wins.

Ross’s Pick: With my season picking against the spread already ruined, would it be so outrageous if I base my week 17 picks entirely on what I want to happen rather than on what I think will happen? I didn’t think so. In that case, I’m taking Carolina to win big. It just so happens that I placed a preseason bet on the Panthers to win the Super Bowl at 40/1 odds. Obviously it’s in my best interest for them to get the #1 or #2 seed. Carolina wins 33-13.

Houston @ Tennessee (-7)

Playoff Implications: None. Even if you combine these teams’ wins, they’d still only be on the periphery of making the playoffs. But Houston can lock up the #1 pick in the 2014 draft with a loss.

Julie’s Pick: “What happened to Houston last week?” (They lost.) “Tragically though?” (Uh, yeah, I guess.) “Houston’s due for a pick-me-up. I’ll pick them.”

Ross’s Pick: Tennessee’s 2-5 home record tells me I shouldn’t be giving them an edge just because they’re at home. Two bad teams…Houston looks like it’s all but quit on the season…but this is one of those games where everyone picks the Titans and Houston randomly competes (or even stranger, wins). I’m taking Houston to cover with a 27-24 win.

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-7)

Playoff Implications: The 4-11 Browns are obviously out (so much for that preseason epiphany I had that they’d sneakily win the AFC North), but amazingly the Steelers can still get in. They need to win and then need a ton of help: Baltimore, Miami and San Diego would all need to lose. I read one article this week that said Pittsburgh had a 2.6% chance to get this final AFC playoff spot. Based on the season we’ve just endured, you just know the Steelers are sneaking in.

Julie’s Pick: “I have to go back to Cleveland. I haven’t picked them in a few weeks. And I don’t like Pittsburgh very much because they seem so mean…they have such angry uniforms.”

Ross’s Pick: Regardless of the unintentional comedy that’ll come from Pittsburgh getting into the playoffs, which I always root for, I’d likely be taking them in this game anyway because Cleveland has been terrible during its current six-game losing streak (not counting their one-point loss in New England). But I just think we’re getting the most bizarre situation possible out of this #6 AFC playoff spot. The Steelers cover with a 41-10 win.

Washington @ NY Giants (-3.5)

Playoff Implications: None, obviously. The Redskins can get the #1 draft pick if they lose and Houston wins.

Julie’s Pick: “Uh, I feel like Washington has to eventually come through for me. I’m gonna pick Washington because I don’t wanna miss the week where they finally win. I’m stuck with them now.”

Ross’s Pick: What a horrible season for Washington fans. The 3-12 record is atrocious, the RGIII/Mike Shanahan drama is weird and embarrassing, but the 0-5 record against the division might be the worst of all. No division takes as much pride in its hatred for each other like the NFC East does. The Redskins have had plenty of disappointing years in the past decade, but they always get a nice lift when they knock off Dallas or Philly to hurt that team’s playoff chances. This year…0-for-the-division. Gross. Obviously they finish it off by going 0-6 against the division. I gotta take the Giants to cover with a 30-20 win.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-6)

Playoff Implications: Cincinnati could be the #2, #3 or #4 seed in the AFC. To get that first round bye, they’d need to win and New England would have to lose. If Cincy loses, they fall to the #4 spot if Indianapolis wins. For Baltimore, Christ, it’s complicated. Step 1 is Baltimore winning. If they win and San Diego loses, they’re in (regardless of what Pittsburgh and Miami do). But if the Ravens win, Miami wins and San Diego wins, they’re out. And if all four teams fighting for that final spot lose, the Ravens would get in.

Julie’s Pick: “Baltimore definitely because I didn’t get to pick them last week (since they were playing New England), and I really like their coach.”

Ross’s Pick: My head tells me Baltimore ends up winning. No NFL head coach is more conservative than Marvin Lewis. Even though the #2 seed is possibly on the line, you just know he’s going to take the cautious route and play conservative while giving some guys a little rest. It’s just the way he operates. But…the combination of the Ravens being so inept (see: their offense doing absolutely nothing in a home game against a terrible Patriot defense one week ago), and my rooting interest of chaos being introduced into this final week, I’m picking Cincinnati to win…The Ravens cover, but the Bengals win 13-9. 

Jacksonville @ Indianapolis (-11)

Playoff Implications: None for the Jaguars. Indianapolis is currently the #4 seed and could get the #2 or #3 seed still. The #2 seed would happen if they win and both New England and Cincy lose. The #3 seed’s in play with their win and just a Cincy loss.

Julie’s Pick: “Ooooh, Indy’s been on a hot streak so I’m gonna go with them.”

Ross’s Pick: While it’s unlikely the Colts jump up enough to get a first round bye, they have to play this game as if it’s a possibility since the Patriots don’t play until later in the day. But I just don’t have enough faith in this team to think they’ll continue to win big and cover a spread this large. I say Indy wins but doesn’t cover, 24-17.

NY Jets @ Miami (-6)

Playoff Implications: None for the Jets. Miami gets in with a win plus a Baltimore loss, or a win and a San Diego win (weird as that sounds).

Julie’s Pick: “Miami. They’re probably still riding high from that win over the Patriots and there’s still a lot of people in town for the holidays.”

Ross’s Pick: The Jets have lost their last four road games by a combined 89 points. They lost a home game to this Miami team by 20 less than a month ago while the Jets were still playing for a theoretical playoff spot. The Dolphins have everything to play for, including capping off a stunning resurrection after the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito fiasco (aka “the media’s latest example of premature ejaculation”). But I’m banking on craziness so I think the Jets pull this off with a shocking 22-21 win. By the way, does Rex Ryan have a case to keep his job if he goes 8-8 with a team led by a quarterback who might actually be worse than Mark Sanchez?

Detroit @ Minnesota (-3)

Playoff Implications: None, zilch, nada. And we don’t even have a Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson record breaking watch to make us flip to this game on Sunday.

Julie’s Pick: “I kinda lost a little faith in Minnesota last week.” (Does that make her the only person who still had faith in Minnesota up until last week?) “But I know they’re gonna win if I don’t pick them…soooo, Minnesota.”

Ross’s Pick: If there’s a team that can rival the Redskins’ quittingness at this point in the season, it would be Detroit. The wheels could come totally off now. Ndamukong Suh might murder someone. There’s no ceiling on how low the Lions could sink. I’ve got Minnesota with a 30-13 win.

Green Bay (-2.5) @ Chicago

Playoff Implications: Finally, something simple. The winner takes the NFC North and gets in. The loser is out. If Chicago wins, they could end up as either the #3 or #4 seed. If Green Bay wins, they’ll be the #4 seed.

Julie’s Pick: “Chicago for sure. I just like them.”

Ross’s Pick: Hmm…Do you bank on Aaron Rodgers coming back without much rust after two months off? Maybe the bigger question is could Chicago even win this game if Rodgers wasn’t playing? I’m only slightly exaggerating. How can you have faith in a team that no-showed in a nationally-televised game last week with a chance to clinch the division? But it’s not like Green Bay was setting the world on fire when Rodgers was healthy. While this seems like another instance of the Bears getting screwed…all set up to take the division and they happen to draw the week where an Aaron-Rodgers-dying-to-play comes back…I have a somewhat monetary interest in Chicago. I’ll take the Bears with a 26-23 win.

Buffalo @ New England (-9)

Playoff Implications: Buffalo’s playing for next season. The Patriots could know they are at worst getting the #2 seed before this game even kicks off (by way of the Cincinnati and Indy results), but they’ll still be motivated because the #1 seed is theoretically on the line. They get home field throughout the playoffs if they win and Denver loses.

Julie’s Pick: “I’ll just take the Patriots. I can’t really bet against the home team.”

Ross’s Pick: Let this be your first warning that in some of these afternoon games, you might have to deal with the team you picked looking up at the scoreboard, seeing how the team they’re jockeying for position against is doing, and then pulling all of its starters. For instance, what if New England’s up 17-3 at halftime, sees that Denver is up 35-0 in Oakland, and then sits Tom Brady and the rest of the important players for the second half? How pissed are you going to be if you backed the Patriots? But it’s also very tough to make picks and bets based on these longshot hypotheticals. This feels like a game where New England’s crowd helps carry them to a big win. I’m taking the Patriots to win 30-17.

Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-13)

Playoff Implications: Of course none for Tampa. The Saints could walk into this game knowing they can’t possibly win the NFC South and get a bye (if Carolina wins earlier in the day), but they’ll still have to play a real game because if they lose and Arizona wins, they’ll miss the playoffs. So if the Saints win, they’re in, with their seeding being determined by the Panthers’ outcome.

Julie’s Pick: (Responding to the large spread…) “Pssh, no. I’ll take Tampa. New Orleans isn’t even consistent enough for me to bet them at -3.”

Ross’s Pick: The only team New Orleans hasn’t really blown out at home this year is San Francisco. That’s completely understandable. For as respectable as the Bucs have played over the past seven weeks, you gotta think the Saints are up for this one and can win by two touchdowns…but this blog is all about wish fulfillment. And my wish is for the Cardinals to make the playoffs. So let’s go with the shocker of all shockers. Tampa knocks off the Saints with a 20-17 win.

Denver (-12.5) @ Oakland

Playoff Implications: None for Oakland. A Denver win gives them the #1 seed. A Denver loss and a New England win gives the Broncos the #2 seed. A Denver loss and a New England loss still gives Denver the #1 seed.

Julie’s Pick: “Denver might win but I don’t think they’re gonna cover. They’ve had like three big spreads in a row. And that’s too many. So I’m saying Oakland.”

Ross’s Pick: Dialing up the wish fulfillment another time…Oakland rolls Denver by a score of 132-6. Oakland with the big cover!

San Francisco @ Arizona (PICK)

Playoff Implications: The 49ers are in the playoffs, but they could get the #1 seed in the NFC (with a win, a Seattle loss and a Carolina loss), the #2 seed (with a win and Seattle loss while Carolina wins) or they could end up as the #5 or #6 seed. Arizona can only get in as a wildcard and they’d need to win while New Orleans loses.

Julie’s Pick: “San Francisco won last week, right?” (Yes.) “Hmm…I think I’ll go Arizona. I don’t think I’ve ever picked them. Roll the dice.”

Ross’s Pick: Here we go Cardinals, Here we go. CLAP CLAP! Give me Arizona with a 32-18 win.

Kansas City @ San Diego (-9.5)

Playoff Implications: Kansas City is locked into the #5 AFC seed no matter what. San Diego can only get the #6 seed if they win while Miami and Baltimore both lose.

Julie’s Pick: “I’m gonna pick San Diego because…since they don’t have as much seasons like Kansas City, they won’t be thrown off by the holiday. Does that make sense?” (No, absolutely not.) “Like everyone’s not gonna have such Christmas hangovers there.” (Now it makes perfect sense.)

Ross’s Pick: Listen, there are a lot of stay-away games this weekend from a gambling perspective. When so many teams’ motivations to put out a 100% effort depend on how another team is performing in a separate game, you’ve got a recipe for a significant dent in your wallet. But nothing screams STAY AWAY like this game. Both teams could have nothing to play for. San Diego could have everything to play for. Kansas City might decide they don’t want a second AFC West rival in the playoffs and give a little more effort than we’re thinking. If this is a game you’re forced to pick before Sunday kicks off, I guess you go with the Chargers thinking either they’ll be playing a meaningful game, or even if they’re not, the Chiefs might rest enough key players that San Diego can still cover regardless of their playoff chances. I’ll reluctantly take the Chargers to cover with a 37-13 win.

St. Louis @ Seattle (-11)

Playoff Implications: None for St. Louis. If Seattle wins, they are the #1 NFC seed. If Seattle loses and San Francisco wins, the Seahawks would fall all the way to the #5 seed.

Julie’s Pick: “Seattle -11??? I’m starting to like St. Louis so I’m gonna pick them. I still think Pete Carroll has bad luck.”

Ross’s Pick: I know you’re expecting me to make up a ridiculous score that has the Rams crushing Seattle (due to my yet-to-be-identified reason for hating that team), but I’m not going to make it that ridiculous. Just a 77-0 shutout by the Rams that causes Seattle fans to panic.

Philadelphia (-7) @ Dallas

Playoff Implication: The NFC’s other “win and you’re in” game. The winner takes the NFC East. The loser is out. If Philadelphia wins, they’re guaranteed the #3 seed. If Dallas wins, they could end up as the #3 or #4 seed.

Julie’s Pick: “Philly’s another one of those teams I just don’t like betting on so I’m going with Dallas. They’ve been good to me in the past.”

Ross’s Pick: This column is being written before we officially know if Tony Romo can play on Sunday. Odds are he won’t be playing, but there’s still a sliver of a chance. Either way the likelihood of Dallas winning seems slim. Them and Chicago seem to be on a similar path of almost making the playoffs but ultimately putting their fans through a ton of agony (even though I picked Chicago I’m certain I’ll be getting that one wrong). Let’s just assume that Romo won’t be playing and Kyle Orton will be a disaster. Philly wins 34-17. And this somehow gives Jason Garrett another year of coaching because he has the no Romo in week 17 excuse???

My head hurts from trying to make picks while simultaneously getting inside the psyche of each team this week. Enjoy the end of the regular season chaos!

Week 16 NFL Picks: Feeling Extremely Emasculated By My Girlfriend’s Dominance

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I wasn’t lying when I said in my week 15 recap column that I’d be abstaining from making picks entirely in week 16 and just letting my girlfriend handle that responsibility. I really saw no reason to continue with the charade of me pretending to know what the fuck I’m talking about. But then the demands from my readers started rolling in. They don’t want me to make picks because they actually value my opinion. They want me to make picks so they can laugh all day on Sunday as they watch Julie out pick me for the second consecutive week. You’re a mean-spirited bunch of assholes, readers. But since it’s the season for giving, I’m going to give you what you want.

But first, a quick look at some interesting playoff scenarios for week 16 that hinge upon some teams playing the early games on Sunday and some teams playing late…

  • If Miami loses at Buffalo in the early time slot, the Patriots will be awarded the AFC East title before they even take the field in Baltimore. But they’d still have plenty to play for because no matter what happens with all the other AFC Division leaders (who also all play in the early games), a Patriots win against the Ravens would keep them in the running for a 1st round bye.
  • There’s really no early/late implications for the other AFC contenders as Denver, Kansas City and Indianapolis all play in the early slot. There’s one other AFC situation worth monitoring and I’ll get to that in a minute.
  • In the NFC, Arizona’s only realistic shot to get into the playoffs is for them to win their final two and then they’d need either Carolina to finish with 11 or less wins (while not winning its division), or the Saints to lose their final two. Regardless of what happens in that Saints/Panthers early game, the Cardinals will be playing for something in Seattle (as if that makes a difference in the probable outcome when a team plays in Seattle).
  • If the Lions and Packers both lose earlier in the day, Chicago can lock up the division with a win over Philadelphia in the Sunday night game.
  • What makes this so interesting is that Philly might actually consider resting some starters and throwing this game. Why?
  • Because if the Cowboys win early on Sunday, then regardless of what the Eagles do in that night game vs the Bears, the NFC East will be awarded to the winner of week 17’s Dallas-Philadelphia game.
  • This same situation potentially exists in the AFC…If Cincinnati loses at home to Minnesota, then regardless of their outcome vs New England, Baltimore will play the Bengals in Cincinnati for the AFC North title in week 17.
  • It’s not crazy to think both the Eagles and the Ravens would take their week 16 games lightly if they knew all that really mattered was the outcome of week 17. Strange shit, right?

If things break right this week, we could be seeing a handful of games in week 17 where the winner gets into the playoffs…Baltimore @ Cincinnati, Philadelphia @ Dallas, Green Bay @ Chicago, San Francisco @ Arizona.

Exciting stuff.

Let’s get to the week 16 picks (you’ll notice I spent almost no time on my picks since I suck at this game).

Also, Julie’s comments are in quotes, mine are in parentheses.

Miami (-3) @ Buffalo

Julie’s Pick: “I’m gonna go Buffalo. I never pick them and they’re a wildcard. Plus they got all that snow.”

Ross’s Pick: Buffalo covers…a combination of actually agreeing with Julie that the cold weather-snow combo could affect Miami, and as a Patriots fan, we could really use a Dolphins loss. Buffalo wins 34-24.

New Orleans @ Carolina (-3)

Julie’s Pick: “New Orleans has not been coming through for me. Carolina’s been coming on strong, right? But I’m going with New Orleans.” (I informed her Carolina lost to New Orleans two weeks ago.) “Oh, I’m going the other way then. Carolina, revenge game.

Ross’s Pick: While I think Carolina is just as good as New Orleans, no team should be allowed to go from obscurity to a top-two seed in the conference. So just because I feel like the Panthers need to earn their stripes, I think they lose this game and end up as the #5 seed. New Orleans wins 28-21.

Dallas (-3) @ Washington

Julie’s Pick: “I’m just so sick of betting on Washington! Ugh! How many in a row have they lost?” (Six.) “Oh, they gotta win then. I’m betting on Washington.”

Ross’s Pick: Two reasons I’m taking Dallas…the Redskins are the worst, and I want to see Dallas blow it at home in week 17 to Philly. Dallas wins 30-17.

Tampa Bay @ St. Louis (-5)

Julie’s Pick: (Immediately after I said “Tampa Bay” and before I said who they were playing, Julie screamed “NO!”) “I’ll take the Rams. They won last week, winning streak.

Ross’s Pick: The Rams have won five games by double digits and have lost five games by double digit. Strange season from them. I think they win another one by double digits. St. Louis wins 29-17.

Cleveland @ NY Jets (-2)

Julie’s Pick: (And she pulls the reversal this time! Immediately after I said “Cleveland” and before I said who they were playing, she screamed “YES!”) “Always Cleveland, never the Jets.”

Ross’s Pick: Jets at home. Sure. Jets cover and win, 6-2.

Indianapolis @ Kansas City (-7)

Julie’s Pick: “Who’s the quarterback for Indy?” (Andrew Luck.) (40 second pause) “What’s Kansas City’s lucky streak been like recently?” (I guess she means winning streak??) “They’ve both won two in a row?” (Wrong, but I love how she’s gaining confidence in her knowledge even if that knowledge is incorrect.) “Indy, Indy, Indy, Indy, Indy….I wanna say Indy, but I’m gonna go with Kansas City. They’re rolling…in the lucky dough.”

Ross’s Pick: I’m buying what Julie’s selling. Kansas City rolling in the lucky dough! Chiefs win 27-19.

Minnesota @ Cincinnati (-8)

Julie’s Pick: “I’m just now starting to like Minnesota. Let’s go with them.” (I mention Minnesota plays in a dome. This week she’s aware that domes are heated and now she’s worried.) “Oooooffff…The warm heated dome team outdoors…Cincinnati has the non-dome advantage, but no, I don’t wanna change my mind. Minnesota it is.”

Ross’s Pick: Too many points for Cincy to be favored by. Minnesota is randomly playing well lately. This is a game that the Bengals would lose traditionally, and since I want to see another “winner takes all” game next week, let’s go with a Minnesota cover and win, 17-13.

Denver (-10) @ Houston

Julie’s Pick: “I need an upset of the week, and I really want Texas to win.” (I call her ballsy for taking Denver to lose twice in a row. She remembers she did that last week..) “Oh, nevermind, Denver won’t do that again. I’m taking the Broncos.”

Ross’s Pick: I’d love to see the Broncos lose this game, obviously. And with Wes Welker out, maybe their offense will struggle as much as it did in week 15. But there’s no way they’re losing this game. Houston will cover, but Denver wins 33-24.

Tennessee (-5.5) @ Jacksonville

Julie’s Pick: “Jacksonville. Because everyone’s gonna be visiting their grandparents in Florida for the holidays.”

Ross’s Pick: I agree…not with her ridiculous logic, but with the pick. Jacksonville is too mediocre to be a 5.5 point underdog at home. Jacksonville gets the win 23-20.

Arizona @ Seattle (-10.5)

Julie’s Pick: “The obvious cold weather factor, but I’m tempted to make this my upset. Yeah, I’m doing it. I’m taking Arizona over Pete Carroll. I like him, but he has a little bit of bad luck it seems.”

Ross’s Pick: Go Cardinals!! Suck a giant [expletive deleted] Seattle!! I’m taking Arizona to cover, and they’re going to win 173-0.

NY Giants @ Detroit (-10)

Julie’s Pick: “OK, OK, this is the upset special. Giants win.”

Ross’s Pick: Detroit might be the most untrustworthy team in football these days. There’s no reason they should lose to the Giants, but maybe they don’t win by a lot. Let’s say Giants cover, but Detroit wins 34-31.

Oakland @ San Diego (-10)

Julie’s Pick: “Oakland’s lost two in a row, right?” (Four, actually.) “Oh I gotta pick Oakland then. They’re angry and playing in their home state, so some fans will be there.”

Ross’s Pick: San Diego could be eliminated from playoff contention before this game starts, right? That makes me nervous about them winning by 10, but then again, I could see a pissed off Chargers team still winning big. San Diego it is, 34-21.

Pittsburgh @ Green Bay (-2.5)

Julie’s Pick: (I made her pick before we knew what the line was.) “It doesn’t matter what the spread is because I’m picking against whoever plays Wisconsin. They got so lucky last week, and they’re still unstable, mentally.” (She’s picking Pittsburgh.)

Ross’s Pick: I’m lucky enough to be picking this game after knowing Aaron Rodgers is out again. And I just don’t think the Matt Flynn train can keep “rolling” like it has. He’s due for a clunker. This will be it. Pittsburgh wins 24-17.

New England @ Baltimore (-2)

Julie’s Pick: “I really like that Baltimore coach. He’s the nicer twin, right? I gotta go Patriots this week. They won’t lose two in a row.”

Ross’s Pick: Patriots win 73-6.

Chicago @ Philadelphia (-3)

Julie’s Pick: “Always Chicago.”

Ross’s Pick: Samesies, always Chicago. Bears win 20-14.

Atlanta @ San Francisco (-13)

Julie’s Pick: “So many big spreads. I have to go with San Francisco. …But a lot of people are leaving for the holidays so it might not be as big of a crowd.” (Then, a sudden epiphany.) “No, but it’s one of the last games at their park. They’re moving, right? That and the combination of people coming into town for the holidays, means San Francisco covers.”

Ross’s Pick: Yeah, San Francisco takes this game 30-13. They’re just too good at home against a shitty Falcons team.

By the way, you’re not getting confidence picks this week because I have ZERO confidence in anything I’m doing related to football right now.

Enjoy week 16.

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks (From What? I Couldn’t Tell You)

mr banks

I understand the holiday season is all about being thankful for your family & friends and giving to others, butttttttttttttttttttttttttt….what if instead of buying people Christmas gifts, I just spend that money on seeing all the potentially awesome movies that have recently come out or are coming out before the end of the month? Would that be OK? What if I spend the money on the movies but illegally video tape those movies and give copies of them to people as Christmas gifts?

Here’s the incomplete list, in no particular order, of movies that are being released in December that I’m interested in:

  • Out Of The Furnace
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • American Hustle
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  • Her
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Lone Survivor
  • Grudge Match

Just kidding on that last one. I don’t need to see a fake boxing match between two guys whose combined age is 137.

Of course I won’t be able to see all these new movies while they’re in the theater, but the ones I do see I’ll be certain to review so none of you readers accidentally see something terrible during this time of joy. You can bet your bottom dollar (who says that still?) that Anchorman and American Hustle reviews will be coming soon.

And that brings me to today’s review.

It’s tough to fairly rank Saving Mr. Banks because the memory of seeing that movie last weekend comes with the memory of my girlfriend and I having to walk three miles from the theater to our apartment at 12:30a.m. after the movie ended (that’s what happens when the theater is in an area with not a lot of foot traffic after midnight, your phone dies, and the buses are all shut down for the night).

Let me back up for a second because maybe some of you haven’t heard of this movie. It’s the story of the lengthy battle between Walt Disney and the author of Mary Poppins to get that diabetes-promoting nanny (spoonful of sugar? really?) onto the big screen. Wikipedia calls it a “historical comedy-drama” and doesn’t ever mention the movie being based on true events. I’m thinking the movie dramatizes the actual struggle between these main characters enough that they couldn’t market it as “the true story behind how Mary Poppins became a classic movie.”

The most basic way to describe the plot of the movie is this: An angry Australian woman who wrote the book Mary Poppins is playing hardball with Walt Disney as he bends over backwards to buy the rights from her. We see flashbacks to her childhood that show how she had to deal with an alcoholic father and a mother who tried to commit suicide. But we still dislike the adult version of this person because it makes no sense that her tough childhood would cause her to be such an asshole about this transaction. But then the screenwriter and musical composers of the film sing “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” in front of this woman and she suddenly gets up and dances and all ends well….or, more appropriately for a Disney movie, “they all lived happily ever after.”

The movie had many entertaining moments, most of them coming from the hilarious trio that comprised the aforementioned screenwriter and the composer brothers. But my biggest issue leaving the theater was that I would rather have watched the actual movie Mary Poppins than the only-somewhat-interesting backstory of how Walt Disney finally got his hands on that property.

You should see this movie if: You are a huge Disney fan (the person, Walt, or the company); Mary Poppins is one of your favorite movies of all-time; You are so obsessed with Mary Poppins that you’ll sit through a two-hour movie just to hear a couple of the songs from the original movie; you think any movie with Tom Hanks is worth seeing (exactly what drew me to this movie); you like unlikeable main characters.

You should not see this movie if: Slow-moving plots are not your thing; You need lots of action, drama or comedy in your movies; You hated Mary Poppins; You hate Disney (the person or the company); You hate Tom Hanks; You’re scared of kites and/or pears.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I give Saving Mr. Banks a 5.5 out of 10. The novelty of it being a sorta behind-the-scenes of the making of Mary Poppins was the only thing that made it interesting…and that carried the movie all the way to slightly above average.

It’s not entirely worthless, but in this holiday season of other awesome movies and other non-movie-watching priorities, I wouldn’t suggest rushing out to the theater to see it. And if you do see it and don’t have “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” in your head for the next 72 hours, then I’m extremely jealous of you.

Week 15 NFL Recap: No Untangling of the Playoff Clusterf*ck Just Yet

TonyChokeJob

Even in a week where 14 of the 16 NFL games looked like possible clunkers when you checked out the schedule in advance, we still got more than our share of entertainment.

The overarching theme to week 15 is something like “Nobody makes their move” or “Absolutely no part of the playoff cluster fuck gets settled.”

Consider:

  • Denver controlled its own destiny for the #1 seed in the AFC going into its Thursday night home game against the 6-7 Chargers. The Broncos had won 14 of its 15 home games by more than 16 points per game on average in the Peyton Manning era. They proceeded to get handled by San Diego in their final home game of 2013.
  • The Patriots held the torch of “AFC team that can control its own destiny for #1 in the conference” for all of 40 hours. New England’s very winnable loss in Miami meant that at least for the moment they were no longer in control of their own destiny for the #2 seed. And they technically don’t even have the division locked up. They could land in any of the six AFC playoff slots. But if Cincinnati were to lose on Sunday night…
  • And that’s exactly what Cincy did. Handed the rare Patriots and Broncos combo loss, the Bengals couldn’t even muster up the competitiveness to give a good effort against the a hated rival…all while sitting on the chance to leapfrog New England in the AFC standings. The Bengals are probably limited to the either the 2, 3 or 4 seed in the AFC now.
  • I famously picked against Kansas City and Indianapolis under the premise that neither team had much of anything to play for at this point. They proceeded to win their games by 25 and 22 points, respectively. But more importantly, Kansas City and Denver now have identical 11-3 records. Should Denver slip up in the next two weeks, the Chiefs would take AFC West pole position and be looking at a top seed.
  • Next week the Patriots are at 7-6 Baltimore and the Chiefs host 9-5 Indianapolis. The Broncos get to play a road game at 2-12 Houston while the Bengals host 4-9-1 Minnesota. Advantage to Denver and Cincy.
  • The only AFC contender that did anything significant this week was Miami beating the Patriots. A ton of pressure on Baltimore to get the road win in Detroit on Monday night to keep pace with the Dolphins for the #6 seed.
  • Over in the NFC another team that I didn’t think would get up for their game was Seattle. All they did was shut out the Giants 23-0 at the Meadowlands. In my defense, I couldn’t possibly have factored five Eli interceptions into my prediction. I should have factored in about three interceptions because that’s what we’ve come to expect from the 2013 version of Eli. But five?? Anyway, Seattle has a stranglehold on the #1 seed in the NFC with two home games remaining and a two game lead over the next closest team.
  • Looking at that two-horse race in the South, the Saints’ ugly kinda-sorta no-show in St. Louis put Carolina in the driver’s seat for the #2 seed in the conference. If the Panthers can handle New Orleans in Carolina next week, they’ll likely get that first round bye while the Saints play at the NFC North or East winner.
  • The top of the NFC standings is calm and orderly compared to the middle and bottom of that bracket.
  • In the NFC East, there are two teams vying for the division title, and they both suffered depressing losses on Sunday. Philly got its ass kicked by Minnesota (the Vikings came into the game as the 22nd ranked Team Offense according to Football Outsiders. They dropped 48 on the Eagles). Dallas suffered such an incredible meltdown that Jerry Jones would be totally justified firing the entire team and coaching staff even though they’re still right in the playoff hunt. The Cowboys were up 23 at halftime and still had a 12-point lead with less than eight minutes to go in the 4th. Of course two Tony Romo 4th quarter interceptions contributed to the meltdown in a big way.
  • And in the NFC North, there are three teams vying for the division title, and two of them already won this week with the Lions still to play on Monday night. The Bears are 8-6 and have Jay Cutler back. The Packers are 7-6-1 and I’d be shocked if Aaron Rodgers didn’t return for their week 16 game against Pittsburgh. And if the 7-6 Lions win on Monday, they’ll be in the driver’s seat with final games against the Giants and the Vikings (translation: two definite wins if you truly are a playoff team).
  • If the Lions lose on Monday, we could be seeing Green Bay at Chicago in week 17 for the title (with the loser missing out on the playoffs entirely). That would be an incredible game.
  • Nothing to report in the NFC wildcard race because Carolina, San Francisco and Arizona all won. That keeps the Panthers and 49ers in the lead for the two playoff spots, but the Cardinals lurk just one game back.
  • If Carolina loses to New Orleans next week, the Panthers’ final game of the season at Atlanta becomes extremely intriguing. Carolina losing these final two games would mean both the 49ers and Cardinals getting into the playoffs as long as they each win one of their final two games (9ers host Atlanta in week 16, and Arizona gets the 9ers at home in week 17, when San Francisco might not be playing for anything).
  • Crazy that a team like Carolina could finish as the #2 seed, a wildcard team or out of the playoffs entirely. No clarity at all for having played 14 games already.
  • It feels weird that only four teams have locked up playoff spots at this point in the season. Even weirder…only one team has clinched its division (Indy).

But that goes along well with the really friggen strange season we’ve seen. You’re not getting any more of a recap today because, well…..I just went 2-12-1 against the fucking spread. That’s why. My girlfriend (the one who isn’t sure if domes are heated or not and last watched a full football game when Ted Johnson was still employed by the Patriots) just ripped off an 8-6-1 week against the spread, and I fall to the rockiest of rock bottoms with 2-12-1??? I hate this so much. And I’ll probably not even bother including my picks for the week 16 preview. Julie seems to have the bets worth backing.

Julie’s picks coming up on Thursday. Enjoy Baltimore’s Last Stand vs Detroit’s Last Stand later tonight.

Week 15 NFL Picks: Running Back the Girlfriend’s Picks

old-man-crystal-ball

Last week we were treated to one of the best weekends of football in recent memory. Of course everyone has seen or heard about the frantic ending to many of the early games on Sunday, but by my count, there were also seven games in week 14 where both teams were fighting for their playoff lives or their playoff seeding. That’s an aggressive amount of relevant games.

Sadly that won’t be the case in week 15 as we have only three matchups that fall into that category: New England @ Miami, Green Bay @ Dallas and Baltimore @ Detroit. And even those games don’t feel too compelling. The silver lining is that sometimes the most boring-sounding Sundays turn into the craziest. Maybe it’ll be a week of upsets galore. Maybe we’ll see Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon or Alshon Jeffrey do something we’ve never seen before. Maybe 12 of the 32 quarterbacks will leave their games with injuries. Or maybe it’ll be a true calm before the storm. One last week of order before chaos ensues during the season’s final two weeks and into the playoffs.

Since I finally found a winning formula last week, I’m sticking with it this week. My girlfriend Julie didn’t quite outpick me in week 14 as I predicted. She went 9-7 against the spread while I went 10-6. When I asked her on Tuesday if she wanted to make picks again this week, she was unsure, so I taunted her Golden Tate style by saying how poorly she did last week and how much I own her in picks. She quickly agreed to make the week 15 picks.

(Side Note: Her comments are in the quotations while I add my own comments to her picks in parentheses.)

Let’s get to it:

San Diego @ Denver (-10.5)

Julie’s Pick: “This is my upset of the week. San Diego. (She comes out guns blazing!!) “No one would ever pick them because of the cold weather factor and the -10 spread.”

Ross’s Pick: Before you decide to take San Diego and the points, I should inform you that the smallest margin of victory for the Broncos at home this year is 10 points. Their other six home games have been wins by: 22, 16, 32, 16, 24 and 23 points. For this reason alone, I’m taking Denver to cover with a 41-27 win. (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Washington @ Atlanta (-7)

Julie’s Pick: “Oooh oooh oooh, and I know that the guy with the three initials…RG3!!…he’s out for the season. So maybe Atlanta…but wait, Washington’s backup is gonna be the next Tom Brady. I’m going with Washington.”

Ross’s Pick: For my money, the best outcome of this new quarterback arrangement in Washington would be for Kirk Cousins to suffer a season-ending injury this week. That would force Mike Shanahan to either reinstate RGIII as his starter or make an even bigger mockery of the most celebrated position in professional sports by starting Rex Grossman. We’re probably not lucky enough to see this happen. Instead the Redskins will continue their efforts to redefine the phrases “mailing it in” and “quitting on the team.” Atlanta covers with a 34-13 win.

San Francisco (-6) @ Tampa Bay

Julie’s Pick: “San Francisco won last week, right? And Tampa Bay won last week too, right? Then of course it’s Tampa Bay because they’re at home…and they’re on a high streak.”

Ross’s Pick: The backdoor cover feels like a lock in this game. This is probably a tough game for San Francisco to get up for. The Bucs aren’t half bad anymore. It feels like Tampa Bay covers but San Francisco wins 30-27.

Seattle (-7) @ NY Giants

Julie’s Pick: “Seattle because they won’t have liked that loss from last week. Boom. Seattle back on track.”

Ross’s Pick: The Seahawks don’t need this game at all. They finish with two home games and as long as they win those, they get the #1 seed. I think it’s impossible for them to play inspired football this week. The Giants get the win, 33-29.

Chicago (-1) @ Cleveland

Julie’s Pick: (She has an emotional breakdown because these are the two teams she always picks, apparently…but, you know, she’s been doing this for all of one weeks.) “Cleveland’s probably mad about that loss to the Patriots last week.” (45 second pause) “I’m gonna go with the Bears. It’s almost like Cleveland should have won last week, so you’d almost expect that they’re due for a win. But they’re gonna be too depressed. Chicago wins.” (I’m calling it now. “Team X is mad about last week’s outcome” is the new “Team X has the cold weather advantage” in Julie’s analysis.)

Ross’s Pick: The Bears finally fulfilled my lofty aspirations for them last week. I just can’t  pick against them after finally seeing them fire on all cylinders. If Cleveland takes away Alshon Jeffrey and the deep pass, the Bears will just lean heavily on Matt Forte, who’s having a sneaky awesome season. Chicago wins 31-24. (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Houston @ Indianapolis (-6)

Julie’s Pick: “Easy, Indy.” (I press her for a reason.) “Because that’s an obvious cold weather advantage.” (I tell her it’s in a dome.) “But is the dome heated?…” (Checkmate)

Ross’s Pick: I’m riding the “Indy has nothing to play for” theory. That’s the only reason I’m picking Houston to cover…and win! 33-30.

Buffalo (-2) @ Jacksonville

Julie’s Pick: “Jacksonville because -2 isn’t that much and Jacksonville has the home field advantage.”

Ross’s Pick: “This is as bad as Houston being favored by three at Jacksonville last week. The Jaguars aren’t terrible and these opponents kind of are. Jacksonville should be favored at home against any team that’s not at least .500 right now. I say the Jaguars get their fourth win in a row, 27-24. And don’t look now, but Jacksonville could finish the season 7-9 while putting up a 7-1 record in the second half of the year. Stunning, right? (CONFIDENCE PICK)

New England (-1.5) @ Miami

Julie’s Pick: (She tries to abstain for the second straight week.) (Then she makes our dog decide, and based on a slight movement of the dog’s foot at the exact right moment, Miami is the pick.)

Ross’s Pick: I’d also like to abstain. I just have no idea how the Patriots will come out in the post-Gronk world. If I wasn’t a jinx, I’d write about how something special seems to be going on with the Patriots this year. And that’s why I’d pick them. That’s my way of saying I’m taking New England to cover and win, 30-23.

Philadelphia (-5) @ Minnesota

Julie’s Pick: “Minnesota lost last week when they should have won, huh? Yeah, I’m picking them. They deserve one this week.”

Ross’s Pick: You can’t pick a Peterson-less Minnesota in this game. It’s just not smart. Toby Gerhart might be out too. Imagine getting to play against Matt Cassel while knowing he has absolutely no running threat to bail him out. I’ll take Philadelphia to win 37-23. (CONFIDENCE PICK)

NY Jets @ Carolina (-11)

Julie’s Pick: “Not the Jets. Nobody likes the Jets.” (Damn, it’s comments like those that make me think we can take this relationship from casual fling to something a little more serious.) “I’m picking Carolina.”

Ross’s Pick: This line could be 57 and I’d be taking Carolina. You just can’t trust Geno Smith on the road against a playoff-bound team that happens to have an incredible defense. Carolina wins big 38-15.

Kansas City (-5) @ Oakland

Julie’s Pick: “Oakland. Those fans are brutal and will get in your head. And they got killed last week. It can’t happen twice in a row.”

Ross’s Pick: As I mentioned in Tuesday’s recap column, beware of Kansas City for the rest of the regular season. They’ve got nothing to play for. The focus should be on keeping everyone healthy and working on any weaknesses that have been exposed this year. I’m assuming Jamaal Charles starts to get a lighter workload during this final stretch. The Raiders cover and win, 23-20.

Arizona (-3) @ Tennessee

Julie’s Pick: “Tennessee. They were so close to an upset last week that they’ll easily cover three this time.” (They lost by 23 points last week.)

Ross’s Pick: I still like the idea of Arizona nipping at the heels of the 49ers for a playoff spot, especially when there’s a potential huge game looming between them in week 17. I don’t love the Cardinals offense on the road against Tennessee, but I’m hoping their defense will balance things out. We’re in for a low-scoring game as Arizona gets the win 17-10.

New Orleans (-7) @ St. Louis

Julie’s Pick: “New Orleans. I just like picking them.” (Last week it was “New Orleans ‘cuz of Katrina.)

Ross’s Pick: One of those rare road games where I don’t worry about the Saints that much. It’s in a dome. The Rams have lost at home to several playoff teams this year. I worry about the backdoor cover a little, but I think the Saints know they need to keep winning to stay ahead of Carolina. Let’s go with a Saints win, 34-24.

Green Bay @ Dallas (-7)

Julie’s Pick: “Is Aaron Rodgers back?” (I inform her that he most likely isn’t…) “I’m gonna take Dallas then. They can take advantage of a team that lacks any stability right now.”

Ross’s Pick: I wholeheartedly agree with Julie on this one. The Packers are 1-4-1 since Rodgers went down. They have no chance with Matt Flynn. Dallas covers, 31-17. But if Rodgers should end up playing, I’m calling this pick null and void.

Cincinnati (-3) @ Pittsburgh

Julie’s Pick: “I wanna say Cincinnati because I’ve never liked Pittsburgh, but I’m gonna say Pittsburgh.”

Ross’s Pick: “I know the Bengals aren’t locked into their playoff position yet, but I feel like ultra-conservative Marvin Lewis is going to treat the next three games as if it’s more important to stay healthy than to fight for the #2 seed. And for the most part, these AFC North games belong to the home team. So I’m going with Pittsburgh in a 27-20 win. (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Baltimore @ Detroit (-6)

Julie’s Pick: “Can you tell me how many underdogs and how many overdogs I’ve picked so far?” (Yep, overdogs. I can’t make this stuff up. I tell her it’s an even split.) “Then Detroit obviously because it’s unrealistic to think that many underdogs would win in a week.

Ross’s Pick: It’s impossible to trust Detroit at this point. They should have run away with the division as soon as Rodgers got injured. Instead they’re just 2-3 since that NFC North-altering moment. And Baltimore just won’t go away. I lack faith in both these teams so I’m going with the one that has a championship pedigree. Baltimore covers and wins, 30-28.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 15 Julie’s taking:

  • 7 Favorites & 9 Underdogs
  • Of those 9 Underdogs, 7 are Home Dogs & 2 are Road Dogs
And I’m taking:
  • 9 Favorites & 7 Underdogs
  • Of those 7 Underdogs, 5 are Home Dogs & 2 are Road Dogs
And finally, we have the same pick in 8 of 16 games.

Enjoy week 15!

Week 14 NFL Recap: The Floundering Four & Rooting For A Referee Mistake in the Super Bowl

gronk

We’ve got the next eight weeks to discuss the playoff teams. Today we lead off with possibly the craziest single subplot of the NFL season, and the one people are ignoring the most.

Four playoff teams from 2012, including two who won 12 or more games, currently boast the four worst records in the NFL. These epic free-fallers are Houston (2-11), Washington & Atlanta (both 3-10) and Minnesota (3-9-1).

Typically a handful of the previous year’s playoffs teams will miss the current year’s playoffs. But never have those teams all fallen to the very bottom of the league.

It’s simply stunning.

So what happened? Was their playoff appearance the anomaly or is their absence from this year’s playoffs the outlier? And how about the futures of each team’s head coach and starting quarterback? Let’s dive in.

Atlanta is probably in the best shape of these four teams. The Falcons have won 10 or more games in four of the past five seasons, and their implosions in the playoffs have become a yearly tradition. They were probably due to struggle a little and win only nine or 10 games in 2013, but the Julio Jones injury along with a few others absolutely short-circuited Atlanta’s season. But Matt Ryan will be fine at quarterback, and they still have good skill position players. I’m on record as saying Mike Smith will never get them to the Super Bowl, but you could do a lot worse than him. Even with the Falcons losing Tony Gonzalez after this season, I think they still contend for a wildcard spot next year and beyond. I’m going to say 2013 is the anomaly for Atlanta.

Washington would probably be next, but their value is almost 100% based on one player: Robert Griffin. He’s not even having a good year, but an average RGIII is a huge advantage over the teams that are starting the Matt Cassels and Case Keenums of the world. It seems like a known fact that Mike Shanahan won’t be back next year. As for the long term outlook, Redskins fans seem to be holding on tight to the notion that the $30 million they get next year toward the cap that they didn’t have this year due to violations will solve all the problems. But last time Dan Snyder had cap room like that, he bet big on Albert Haynesworth. So who knows. If RGIII comes back healthier in 2014 and they fix whatever management and player leadership problems seem to be bubbling to the surface, I think 2013 will go down as the anomaly during the Griffin Era. If he can’t stay healthy, then the 2012 playoff run will stick out as the outlier.

Houston steps up next with a roster full of names who should be better than an 11-game losing streak. One big problem is the injuries. No one could predict season-enders for Arian Foster and Brian Cushing. Matt Schaub’s midseason injury…no one can decide whether that actually hurt the Texans or helped them. There’s also a chance they were just extremely unlucky this year as eight of their 11 losses have come by a touchdown or less. Gary Kubiak’s already gone. It’ll be interesting to see if they use their high draft pick on a quarterback, or if they talk themselves into having Schaub and Keenum compete for the starting job in 2014. I don’t think they’re necessarily looking at a full rebuilding that will take three to five years because they have talent at several positions, but any time a team changes out its head coach and starting QB, you have to expect some struggles for a little while. I think worst case scenario for Houston is that they go back to being an annual 7-9 or 8-8 team, which means 2013 is somewhat of an anomaly.

And finally, those poor bastards up north, Minnesota. Truth be told, they were one of the top two candidates from last year’s playoff teams to miss this year’s postseason (Indy was the other one, and if they played in any division other than the AFC South, they’d probably be fighting for their playoff lives instead of being locked into the #4 seed). It’s not a complete anomaly that they made the playoffs last year, at least not in the same way a Buffalo Bills playoff appearance would be an anomaly. The Vikings have made the playoffs in four of the past nine years, but it’s not like they’ve been a true Super Bowl contender during that time (except for 2009 when Brett Favre brought them to the brink of the Super Bowl before devastatingly ripping them away from the brink with a classic Favre interception in the NFC Championship game). Besides that one Favre season, Minnesota’s had nothing in the way of quarterbacks over the last decade, and that feels like an understatement for 2013 when Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman have played hot potato with the starting QB position. If the Vikings do anything other than focus on finding a franchise QB during the offseason, every decision-maker in that organization should be exiled from our society. I don’t really know about Leslie Frazier as head coach, but if ownership is unsure about him at all, they might as well make a change after this season when the whole organization goes into rebuilding mode once again. But, hey, at least they’ll always have that tie in Green Bay. I think the Vikings are a long way off from competing. Let’s call the 2012 playoffs an anomaly, linked specifically to Adrian Peterson’s outlier of a career season that year.

Since it’s already Tuesday afternoon, let’s quickly empty out the week 14 notebook:

  • Starting with the Monday night game…You know that Chicago team that showed up last night? The one with two giant wide receivers who are practically uncoverable and the versatile running back who can play receiver almost as well as he plays runner? That’s the Chicago team that I’ve been betting on all year. Except only rarely have they shown up as this particular team, which helps me understand why I’ve lost so much this year. To me they seem like a more-talented version of the Patriots (except at QB). I’ll take Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey over any two WRs from the Patriots. And obviously Matt Forte is 100 times better than Stevan Ridley. Both defenses are awful against the run and suspect against the pass. What am I missing? Especially with no Gronk, this Chicago team does laps around New England from a talent standpoint. And yet, one team is fighting just to stay in the playoff mix and the other is still charging toward a 1st-round bye. I guess the difference is Brady/Belichick but also the weak AFC East.
  • From an objective standpoint Sunday morning’s games were collectively the craziest set of games in NFL history. But when your X factor, indispensible offensive weapon goes down for the year with a knee injury amidst all that amazing chaos, it’s impossible to feel good about an entertaining Sunday. That was seriously the most heart-breaking hour of excitement for Patriots fans. It would have been nice to have a few minutes to enjoy yet another come-from-behind win before remembering “Oh yeah, these guys barely cracked 20 points per game without Gronk, they’re fucked.”
  • But I will say, it’s the first Sunday of the season where I made the conscious decision to let my bladder burst, if it came to that, rather than miss a single play on the Red Zone Channel by using the bathroom.
  • We can feel sorry for ourselves that two entertaining players suffered season-ending injuries on the same day…Gronk and Tyrann Mathieu, or we can petition Spike TV to create a reality show around these guys rehabbing their ligament tears while living in the same apartment in a party town. I would kill to see Mathieu trying to lay low while recovering, staying on the straight & narrow, avoiding the temptations that got him into trouble in college, while Gronk parties night after night, bringing home a truck full of women and inadvertently enabling Mathieu to slip back into his old habits. I would watch that TV show.
  • In the “punishment does not fit the crime” category, I dare someone to convince me that tapping a quarterback on the helmet or knee is an equivalent offense to a kicker grabbing an opponent who’s running 20 miles per hour by the face mask and violently twisting it 180 degrees. Not only do both actions come with a 15 yard penalty, but the guy who taps the QB’s helmet is likely getting a bigger fine (if the kicker even gets fined at all). I thought of this when Saints punter Thomas Morstead almost ripped Tedd Ginn’s head off in this very manner to save a touchdown on Sunday night.
  • Speaking of the Saints, I might have underrated their chances at beating the Seahawks in a rematch at Seattle in my column last week. They’d obviously be an underdog, but even if the Sean Payton-Dres Brees offensive genius is a little overblown, they’re still the team most likely to be able to add a couple offensive wrinkles and put up 30 in Seattle. The Seahawks are probably going to average at least 30 points per game at home in the playoffs so I’d think the Saints would be a more likely candidate to match that score than someone like Carolina or San Francisco.
  • Since we’re talking playoffs…have you ever seen a team back into the playoffs quite like the Indianapolis Colts? They’re now 2-3 in their last five games (4-4 in their last eight), and look terrible every week. There’s probably not a less deserving playoff team.
  • So the Colts are pretty much locked into the #4 seed, and the Chiefs are almost guaranteed the #5 seed. That means they’ll be facing each other in the wildcard round of the playoffs, but more importantly, neither team has anything left to play for in the regular season. Keep that in mind when picking games that involve them. You don’t want to be the asshole who bets on the Chiefs and finds out too late that Chase Daniel is getting the start over Alex Smith.
  • The NFC North has become everything we ever wanted out of the NFC East: No one daring to keep their record more than one game above .500, the teams treating the division title like it’s an STD…really inspiring stuff coming out of that division.
  • I’ve been saying it all year, but it feels relevant to reiterate my stance on the current state of officiating: The NFL has been NBA’ified. Not only do the refs actually look incompetent more than they ever used to (prime examples this week were Jeff Triplette ruling BenJarvus Green-Ellis’s scamper into the end zone a touchdown even though his knee hit the ground well short of the plane, and Jerome Boger’s crew getting nearly every call wrong in the Patriots game, including the touch foul against Cleveland in the end zone on the Patriots’ game-winning drive), but the scrutiny around every single call is out of control. Fans expect a flag on every play. Players and coaches scream for a flag every time a play works against them. Multiple Vikings players were quoted after their loss to Baltimore as thinking the refs really boned them good, except no one could point to a specific call that went against them. They just thought the entire game was poorly officiated.
  • And I think we’re at a breaking point. With how many games have been determined by a disputed call or non-call at a crucial moment this year, you’ve got to think at least one of 11 playoff games is going to fall into this mess. I want to see some officiating reform because I think it stinks that the non-athletes on the field are determining games. Therefore I’m rooting for the Super Bowl to be determined on an atrocious penalty or non-call.
  • As far as the week 14 picks against the spread go, well it was a throwback to 2012 for me. 10-6 against the spread including 4-1 in my confidence picks. And Julie was no slouch either. She went 9-7 despite using the weather as literally the only determining factor in each pick. Should I run it back for week 15 with both mine and Julie’s picks? I know she’s a fan favorite, but I’ll have to see if she has time in her busy schedule.
  • Week 15 picks coming on Thursday.

Week 14 NFL Picks: My Girlfriend Takes Over As I Pull A Stevan Ridley

old-man-crystal-ball

When my weekly picks dipped to nearly 20 games below .500 back in mid-October, I didn’t panic or throw in the towel. I didn’t walk away from my commitment to posting my picks every Thursday. I didn’t even make excuses.

Because I just knew my year was mirroring the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Tampa Bay Bucs…not nearly as pathetic as my record seemed, destined to turn it around and at least end up with a season that could be classified slightly above “hot garbage.”

But after a November with only one winning week, including a putrid 6-9-1 record in week 13, I’m starting to think my season will end up mirroring the Atlanta Falcons, or worse, the Houston Texans. I started off OK, nosedived almost immediately, tanked even worse at the halfway point, and have now apparently hit rock bottom. My only concern is that this might not be rock bottom. What if I have an 0-16 week on the horizon? Holy shit. That would potentially be the worst moment in my lifetime of following sports. If that happens, I’d maybe think about offing myself and leaving my life savings to my loyal readers as an attempt at reparations. Let’s not spend another second considering that possibility.

For week 14 I’ll be watching the majority of the games in my brother’s man cave in San Francisco. Does the change of scenery perhaps help snap me out of this funk? Doubtful, considering last time I visited San Francisco was week 9 and I put up a gaudy record of 4-9 against the spread.

Is there a hex-breaking dance I can invoke to end this awful year of picks?

Should I try a new strategy? The last two weeks was my trial run of “don’t think, just pick,” and while my cumulative record over that time was a non-disastrous 14-15-1, it’s still not good enough.

Should I go the opposite way and use no instincts? Instead relying purely on Football Outsider’s current DVOA rankings as if there’s no human element whatsoever in picking NFL winners.

In dire times like these, I always fall back on one mantra: What Would Belichick Do?

You may think I’m about to say, “He wouldn’t give up. He’d play til the final whistle. So that’s what I’m going to do.” But actually I’m going another way with this. After Belichick gave Stevan Ridley chance after chance to become a reliable (read: NON-FUMBLING) featured back in the Patriots offense, he was finally left with no choice but to distance Ridley from any situation that could allow him to impact the game. And it came to a climax last week when Ridley was mercifully deactivated against the Texans.

So you know what I’m doing for my week 14 picks? I’m benching myself. And just as Ridley spent that entire game at Houston on the sidelines carrying around a football while in street, I’ll be carrying around a printed out copy of the week 14 lines and will be studying them as I watch each game (in street clothes). Maybe I’ll learn the proper way to evaluate football teams.

But have no fear because I’m replacing myself in the starting lineup with someone who would have most definitely outpicked me had I given her a chance to do so over the course of the year. My girlfriend Julie will be making a pick for each game and providing the logic behind each pick.

(But you don’t think I can skip a week of picks entirely, right? After all, I still need to make picks against the spread for my Pick ‘Em Leagues. So my picks will be included below Julie’s, but I’ll warn you again…if choosing which picks to rely on, go with my girlfriend’s 100 times out of 100.)

Let’s get to the debut of “Julie Outpicks Her Degenerate Boyfriend Even Though She Hasn’t Watched More than 11 Minutes Of Football Since 2007.”

(Note: My comments/explanations on Julie’s picks are in parentheses. And many of her comments read as if she’s having a conversation with me more so than talking to the readers.)

(Note #2: When Julie says things like “I always pick [TEAM X],” she means she picks them in the giant $1 parlay that I let her do on my betting website every week. And since she’s never won any of those bets, you’d think maybe she’d change it up from the teams she always picks. But no.)

Houston (-3) @ Jacksonville

Julie’s Pick: “I’ll go Jacksonville based on the home team advantage. Maybe Uncle Mo will be in the house.” (That’s short for momentum, by the way…I should also note that she repeatedly referred to Houston as “Texas.”)

Ross’s Pick: Never seen a line make less sense than this one. Jacksonville should be favored by 3.5. Jags cover and win outright 36-27.

Kansas City (-3) @ Washington

Julie’ Pick: “Oh, Washington because it’s Werner’s team.” (Our college friend who’s a big Washington fan who probably suspects Julie’s just as big of a jinx as I am. At least now he can blame their 10th loss of the season on her instead of me.)

Ross’s Pick: Best news for Washington players in a long time: After this week, they only have one more home game for the rest of the season. That means only one more opportunity to disappoint their fans. Kansas City covers with a 27-17 win.

Minnesota @ Baltimore (-7)

Julie’s Pick: (She lets out a huge sigh at the mention of this game.) “Baltimore… Maryland… Hmm…I’m gonna go Minnesota because they both have the cold weather advantage and always an underdog wins, at least one, maybe more.” (I honestly have no clue what this means.)

Ross’s Pick: I guess technically Baltimore’s “on a roll” right now. And Matt Cassel’s starting for the Vikings. You know what? Wouldn’t it be just like the annoying Ravens to round into form in December and make people think they have another out-of-nowhere Super Bowl run in them? Disgusting, but I’m taking Baltimore to cover with a 28-17 win.

Cleveland @ New England (-11.5)

Julie’s Pick: “I abstain from the game with the home team always…and by home team, I mean the team that Ross roots for because he’ll be miserable or mad at me if I pick them and they lose. And if it was any other matchup you know I’d pick Cleveland because of Romeo Crennel.” (I did inform her more than a week ago that Romeo Crennel hasn’t been associated with the Browns organization in several years. Never stops her from citing his past employment there as a reason to love them.) “If forced, I’d pick the Patriots.”

Ross’s Pick: Jacksonville just handled the Browns in Cleveland, right? And we may see Alex Tanney, he of the zero NFL regular season career snaps. Fuck it, Patriots roll to a 42-17 win. (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Oakland @ NY Jets (-3)

Julie’s Pick: (She mimed puking motions at the mention of both teams.) “I gotta go with the Jets for the cold weather factor…and I hate Oakland.” (She lived in the Bay Area for six years. I shouldn’t have to tell her that it gets pretty cold there too, right?)

Ross’s Pick: All that “will Geno get benched” talk isn’t fooling me. As bad as the Jets are, the Raiders have quietly lost four of their last five, and they’re 1-5 on the road this year. I also made a preseason bet that the Raiders would finish with less than 5.5 wins so I need this. Jets win 20-10. (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Indianapolis @ Cincinnati (-6)

Julie’s Pick: “I always pick Cincinnati, but wait, how many games in a row have they won?” (I tell her I doubt that number is significant. Then I look it up and tell her two. Two wins in a row.) “Oh, then I definitely pick the other team…Who was the other team again? Colts? Yeah, I pick them.”

Ross’s Pick: Reggie Wayne appears to be almost as important of a player to his team as Aaron Rodgers is to the Packers. Didn’t think that was the case. Bengals cover and win 24-16.

Detroit @ Philadelphia (-3)

Julie’s Pick: “Toss up. I don’t really have a preference for either team. I guess the Eagles because of home field advantage.” (I informed her of the Eagles’ amazing failure rate at home over the past two years and she says…) “Definitely then. They’re due.”

Ross’s Pick: Rare game where I don’t think the three-point favorite covers, but still wins. I have such a soft spot for Detroit this year and I’m not sure why. The Lions cover but Philly pulls it out by the slimmest of margins, 34-33.

Miami @ Pittsburgh (-3)

Julie’s Pick: “Oooh, why are these all so close? Miami won last week, right?” (looooong pause) “I hate to say this again, but I’m going Pittsburgh, cold weather factor.” (I burst into laughter telling her no one has ever put as much stock into the “cold weather factor” as she has.)

Ross’s Pick: But in this case I do agree with her. Miami on the road in the Northeast in December feels like bad news. The Mike Wallace revenge game goes poorly for Mike Wallace. Pittsburgh wins 15-9.

Buffalo @ Tampa Bay (-3)

Julie’s Pick: “I like Tampa Bay. I always pick them.” (I thought she was going to introduce the not-often-cited “warm weather factor” into this pick.)

Ross’s Pick: Flip a coin. Two teams that are evenly matched. I’ll take the points. Bills win 24-23.

Atlanta @ Green Bay (-6.5)

Julie’s Pick: “Well I had that dream about Atlanta, remember?” (I tell her there’s a good chance Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play in this game…) “That changes everything…but I’ll go Green Bay because of my Wisconsin clan.” (Her group of friends in San Francisco, several of whom are actually from Minnesota.)

Ross’s Pick: If Rodgers doesn’t play, this line is too high (Matt Flynn should be spotted somewhere between 14-35 points against any NFL team). And if a rusty, nothing-to-play-for Rodgers does play, this line might still be too high. I’ll take Atlanta to cover and win outright 31-23.

Tennessee @ Denver (-13)

Julie’s Pick: “Whoaaaaa, 13, really? And Tennessee is what, the Titans? Hmm…I gotta go Tennessee. Token upset.” (I ask her if she means the Titans are going to win outright…) “Yes, that’s what upset means.”

Ross’s Pick: Since I don’t feel confident about either side of this spread, I’m defaulting to Julie’s pick. The Titans won’t win, but they’ll cover. Denver takes the 33-24 victory.

St. Louis @ Arizona (-6)

Julie’s Pick: “Yes, St. Louis. I like them.” (She blurted that out before I even told her who the Rams are facing in this game…so do what you want with that info.)

Ross’s Pick: This is the first time in like 10 weeks that I don’t have a great feel for how the Arizona game will go down. After realizing the Cardinals are 5-1 at home this year with their lone loss coming against Seattle, I’m going with Arizona to cover with a 26-13 win. (CONFIDENCE PICK)

NY Giants @ San Diego (-3)

Julie’s Pick: “San Diego because I love that city and they must be happy. They’re in better spirits than people from cold weather cities.”

Ross’s Pick: A matchup 10 years in the making…Eli…Philip…The 2004 Draft…Eli’s refusal to play in San Diego…If San Diegans cared about sports they’d show up and boo Eli. You get it. Sign me up for a San Diego win, 30-23. (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Seattle @ San Francisco (-3)

Julie’s Pick: “Seattle’s been a wild card this year, huh? You just never know if they’re going to win or not. All their games are up in the air…but my gut says Seattle. Let’s go with that one.” (5 second pause) “Does Kaepernick still play?” (She reconsiders.) “No, I never really liked him for some reason. I don’t know why. Did he ever do anything bad?” (Jesus, so many comments here. Do I break the news to her that no team has been more of a lock this year than Seattle? Do I make up a fictitious “Kaepernick is a child molester” story? So many ways I could go.)

Ross’s Pick: Seattle, I hate you. But I might not pick against you until you face the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks win 27-24.

Carolina @ New Orleans (-3.5)

Julie’s Pick: “New Orleans definitely…because of Katrina.”

Ross’s Pick: The Carolina bandwagon probably shouldn’t stop at a weigh station any time soon. But I look at this matchup as the home team having a significant edge. I’ll take the Saints to cover and win 31-24, setting the stage for the rematch in Carolina in week 16. (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Dallas @ Chicago (-1)

Julie’s Pick: “I always pick the Bears. DA BEARS.” (Yep, she threw in the famous SNL quote and then looked at me like I was supposed to applaud her for her detailed knowledge of the Bears.)

Ross’s Pick: My soft spot for the Bears is almost as soft as my soft spot for the Lions. Something about those NFC North teams. Give me a Bears win by a score of 29-21.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 14 Julie’s taking:

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

And I’m taking:

  • 10 Favorites & 6 Underdogs
  • Of those 6 Underdogs, 1 is a Home Dog & 5 are Road Dogs

We have the same pick for nine out of 16 games.

Good luck trying to make sense out of this cluster fuck. Enjoy week 14.

NFL Week 13 Recap: A Villain Is Born

richard sherman

I mentioned in my week 13 picks column that there was almost no chance of me actually writing something for the usual recap this week. I probably saw less football on Sunday than in any other week over the past five years. For the early games on Sunday, I went to a bar in Boston to watch the Patriots. One thing I’m not used to is having almost every TV in the bar tuned to the same game, as was the case this time. That was particularly annoying. When I booked my flights for Thanksgiving way back in May, I chose to fly out of Boston on Sunday at the exact wrong time…I spent the entire second half of the late games on Sunday waiting in a security line and deciding between McDonald’s or Sbarro’s for my disgusting dinner. And when I finally got back to my apartment well after midnight on Monday morning, I really didn’t have the mental strength or energy to watch the Sunday Night Game that I had DVR’d…an NFC East “classic” between the Giants and Redskins.

So you could understand my excitement throughout the day on Monday as I anticipated watching a football game in my natural environment later that night. And not just any football game…a legitimately good game that could easily be an NFC Championship preview.

Except New Orleans forgot they were supposed to be one half of that awesome matchup.

What a waste…I can guarantee this coming Thursday’s Houston @ Jacksonville tilt will be more exciting (after all, the 1st overall pick in the 2014 draft could be at stake).

But one huge positive did come from last night’s game: We officially have our villain for the 2013 playoffs.

It’s not just that Seattle is impossible to beat at home (they’ve outscored opponents by 19 points per game at CenturyLink Field this year). It’s that they’ve been almost impossible to beat anywhere. And it’s not just that my least favorite football player on the planet, Richard Sherman, is the biggest shit talker who’s never won anything. It’s that the entire team apparently falls into that category that LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers created about 10 years ago…that mentality of talking and acting like you’re the best without actually being the best (Golden Tate and Earl Thomas are the 2nd and 3rd biggest offenders on the team, respectively). And it’s not just that the entire football media is convinced that the NFL should award this year’s MVP to the Seattle fans. It’s that those fans actually believe they can alter a game significantly. And finally, it’s not just that Pete Carroll is an obnoxious sideline cheerleader (probably his biggest contribution as a coach). It’s that he’s a known scumbag who left his job at USC right before they were about to get slapped with a multi-year bowl ban. And that pompous grin that he wears on his face 24/7….fucking disgusting.

So maybe it was a good thing that the Seahawks have crushed almost every opponent this year. Maybe the general public will get behind my push for Seattle to be our honorary “most hated team” for the rest of the season…Or maybe people are so bitter at long term success that they’ll continue to pretend my Patriots are the common enemy (even though they quietly go about their business like they’re a team that hasn’t won anything yet…which, in my opinion, is the right way to operate).

But no matter how you feel about the Seahawks, one thing is undeniable: They will be playing football at home in January until they either lose or fly East for the Super Bowl. They guaranteed that with last night’s win. But I’ve been thinking all year long that eventually some team would trip them up at home. With remaining home games in the regular season against Arizona and St. Louis, it’s likely going to have to happen in the playoffs.

Now seems like a perfect time to check in on each potential opponent’s chances at knocking Seattle off their stupid throne at home in January:

7. Dallas – The most mentally weak team with easily the worst coach of all the NFC playoff teams and some particularly fragile offensive players (Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray)…combined with a quarterback who’s legendary meltdowns have followed him from 8-8 season to 8-8 season…against this Seattle team? HA! Let’s say the Cowboys squeak out a 9-7 record and face the Seahawks in the 2nd round, how high would they have to make the line for you to even think about backing Dallas? Thirty-three? Sixty-four?

6. Arizona – The poor Cardinals still have to go to Seattle later this season while battling for a wildcard spot. I wonder if they’ll even think making the playoffs was worth it if they end up drawing the Seahawks in the 2nd round. Carson Palmer in any road playoff game scares the shit out of me…and this wouldn’t be just any road game. A guy like Richard Sherman could, in theory, limit Larry Fitzgerald, and I just don’t see how the Cardinals keep up if he’s a non-factor all game. They wouldn’t win by nearly as much as in the fictitious matchup with Dallas, but it would be a major blowout if these two teams faced each other.

5. Philadelphia – I give the Eagles a slightly better chance than Dallas and Arizona because they have more weapons and a somewhat innovative offensive scheme. Maybe, just maybe, they get a little lucky and expose some Seattle defensive issues with their up-tempo style of play. It’s doubtful, but unlike those previous two teams, I wouldn’t give them a 0% chance of winning…maybe something like a 1.7% chance.

4. New Orleans – As a 13-point deficit quickly turned into a 27-point deficit for the Saints on Monday night, I tried to convince myself that the game was a little fluky. For example, Drew Brees’ fumble into the arms of a Seahawks’ defensive lineman that was returned for a touchdown, and the 60-yard completion to the tight end that New Orleans randomly forgot to account for. Those are things that probably won’t happen again should these teams face each other in the playoffs. But let’s have an honest talk for a second: Seattle beat the crap out of the Saints on Monday. I doubt there are many teams who have beaten the Sean Payton/Drew Brees combo twice in one season, but this particular group of trash talkers would probably get it done in a similar manner as what we just saw.

3. San Francisco – In a week where almost all of my predictions could best be described as “comical,” claiming that the 49ers were rounding into form was one of my few bright spots. If they can stay incredibly healthy for the rest of the regular season, I wouldn’t automatically bet my dog and girlfriend on Seattle if these teams face off in the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs. I would eventually bet them, but not immediately. Of course if Seattle goes down to San Francisco this coming week and pulls off a similar feat to Monday night’s effort (or something similar to their lopsided win against San Francisco earlier this year), then I will quickly change my tune on the 9ers having any chance whatsoever.

2. Detroit – The Lions may stumble to a 9-7 record and win their division due in large part to the unforeseen Matt Flynn era in Green Bay, and yet somehow I like their chances in Seattle over some of these likely 11 or 12-win teams? It’s all because of Calvin Johnson. Yes, the Seattle secondary is good. And yes, unfortunately Richard Sherman is good. But if he was ever going to struggle against a receiver, wouldn’t it be Johnson? I could see Mega giving Sherman trouble to the point that Sherman decides to commit pass interference every time the ball is thrown that way. And maybe the Reggie Bush/Joique Bell combination is just what the doctor ordered to balance out an offense against an aggressive defense like Seattle. And maybe I’m grasping at straws, but I’ll have you know Detroit is one of only three teams that’s beaten the Seahawks in Seattle’s past 21 games. Maybe Calvin goes off for 473 receiving yards and the Lions sneak by Seattle in overtime. Who knows.

1. Carolina – Our one true hope for ending the Seattle dominance before the Patriots get their chance in the Super Bowl. The Panthers are the best defensive team in football and one of the best running teams. Those seem like two areas you might want to be good at when going into such hostile territory. Maybe Carolina wouldn’t score a lot, but they have the best shot of any of these teams at slowing down Russell Wilson’s offense. They also might get the #2 seed in the NFC and have a chance to rest early in January. Oh, and there’s that little thing about them making a deal with the devil, as evidenced by an eight-game winning streak that included a should-have-been loss to New England in week 11. Maybe this is just their year. Maybe Cam Newton’s corny Superman gimmick will turn into a compelling storyline as the “super hero” finally knocks off the villain.

While it certainly seems unlikely that someone knocks off Seattle before the Super Bowl, just remember this: In 2011, the 9-7 New York Giants went into Green Bay and ripped apart the 15-1 Packers by a score of 37-20. Weird, crazy shit happens in the playoffs. And hoping for something completely unpredictable like that might be a better bet than thinking one of the legit NFC contenders can oust Seattle.

Week 14 picks coming on Thursday.