The Party, The Props, The Pick: The Super Bowl


I’m ending my standard post-Patriots loss, two-week moratorium that bans me from discussing football at this time every year.

I couldn’t stay retired for the Super Bowl. After all, things are looking up. I’m undefeated in football picks since January 19th!

Before we go all in on Super Bowl talk, there’s one other annual feeling I’m having right now…hope. Because there’s reason to hope the Patriots will be right back in the AFC Title game next year. This is where I mention they still have Brady & Belichick, have a suddenly solid defense if healthy, still play in a division with three mediocre opponents, etc.

And as we all know, things always play out in the NFL exactly how you expected it. Just check out my “silver lining” pep talk from this exact same time last season:

  • Having Wes Welker back next year would be huge, of course, but let’s not forget that the chances of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missing time with injuries in 2013 are very slim.
  • The running backs will only get better. Stevan Ridley is their best pure runner, but Shane Vereen was the surprise in the playoffs, establishing himself as a capable runner and receiver.
  • The offense is as good as it’s ever been, and there’s no reason to think it’ll slow down anytime soon.
  • There’s absolutely no indication that Tom Brady is slowing down. He was still a top-10 quarterback in every important category this year. If you think the Championship window is only open as long as Brady is playing at an elite level, I’d say we have at least three more seasons of opportunity.
  • The defense improved this year, and it’s young enough that you can expect more improvement next year. They were a top-10 defense in points allowed per game this season, they increased their takeaway-to-giveaway differential from +17 in 2011 to +25 in 2012, and they’re heading in the right direction in terms of yards allowed per game (from 31st-ranked in 2011 to 25th in 2012).


So we get this #1 vs #1 Super Bowl matchup and we’re all supposed to be happy. And normally, I would be. But for the second consecutive year, the NFL Championship will go to either a big Patriots rival or the completely unlikeable, yappy NFC West team.

I’m sorry to all the unbiased fans who just want an awesome Super Bowl, but I’m rooting for this game to go down as one of the most controversial in NFL history. The dream scenario is for Seattle to win at the last minute on a bogus call or non-call by the referees, thus securing another year with no Super Bowl for Manning, a Seahawk Championship that’s a complete joke, and the regular season’s most frustrating ongoing subplot—the referees as a group being completely inept—ruining the game and finally leading to an overhaul of the referee/rules/replay systems.

Basically I’m rooting for a repeat of week 3 of the 2012 NFL season. Seattle wins but not a single sports fan ever considers that win legitimate. Go Hawks!

(This always happens to me. If I’m not enjoying something, I try to ruin it for everyone else. It’s just like Christmas from 13 years ago when me and my brothers were getting fed up with the boring Yankee Swap that we did with my Dad’s side of the family every year. We weren’t enjoying it so we tried to ruin it by making the worst Christmas Caroling video in history and throwing it into the mix of gifts that year. My poor 14-year-old cousin “won” that gift and had to do everything in her power not to burst into tears. I’ll always feel like if we had just thrown a little more nudity into the video the Yankee Swap would have ended for good.)

Anyway, here are the few factors I’m juggling around in my head when trying to pick this game:

  • My head tells me to pick Denver. The Broncos have just been too good on offense all year and it just feels like their year.
  • My heart says Seattle just to keep another Title away from Manning.
  • Too many people appear to be picking Denver. It’s like we suddenly forgot that all year long we’ve said that the NFC’s best is still better than the AFC’s best.
  • But it turns out I’m watching the Super Bowl with a group that includes two guys who always seem to be around when Peyton does something extraordinary or when the Patriots shockingly bow out of the playoffs (These guys watched with me for the end of the perfect season in ’07, Peyton’s Super Bowl win in ’06, and the AFC Championship loss to Baltimore in 2012. I just have very bad memories with them.)

For that final factor mostly, I’m taking Denver to cover with a 29-24 win. My sports misery around these two “friends” continues.

Speaking of Super Bowl watching, I’ve only got one new rule to add to last year’s Super Bowl viewing party guidelines:

  • #7: Host should have a pool table, ping pong table or dartboard in a location where the participants have a clear view of a TV at all times. Some boring football between two teams I despise plus a 35-minute halftime. I need activities to get through these four hours.

If you want to see what my first six suggestions were for a good Super Bowl party, here they are:

  • A TV larger than 42 inches
  • TV speakers that are turned up loud enough to drown out the conversation the six girls are having. You know, the girls who haven’t looked at the TV yet even though it’s the 2nd quarter, but they’re perfectly happy taking up all the good couch space? Those girls.
  • Snacking food available before, during and after the game. Personally I hate the Super Bowl commercials. So much build up for what boils down to the typical uninspiring ads. I use the commercial time for food and drink refills (bonus points if some of the snacking food was cooked using a smoker, a rotisserie or a deep fryer)
  • Speaking of drinks, you gotta have drink options. If my bets are going well, I’ll probably stick to beer and enjoy the memories of a successful Super Sunday. If my bets are tanking, I’ll need that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey on the rocks to forget this shitty day (But in all honesty if I’m winning my bets I’ll probably switch over to hard liquor eventually too).
  • Super Bowl Squares! You’re not a real Super Bowl party if you don’t do the squares. If you don’t have enough people to fill 100 squares before the game, you should have thought twice before hosting the party.
  • Someone to make ridiculous “in-game bets” against. The Super Bowl is so long, and sometimes boring. I always try to stand next to someone who will get on board with making $1 and $2 bets against me on random things like “Will Phil Simms use the phrase ‘penetrate the middle’ within the next five minutes?”

Boom. Perfect Super Bowl party.

This year’s host assured me that on top of the traditional squares, he’d also be posting prop bets on his wall in case anyone wants action. Well let’s see what I’m thinking about for prop bets:


  • MVP odds: Manning is 11/10. Those terrible odds would typically mean to stay far away, but actually, if you like Denver to win this game, you might as well take Manning with a +110 bet instead of the Broncos moneyline at -135. If Denver wins, there’s no way anyone else gets the MVP.
  • And Russell Wilson with 15/4 odds is pretty nice. A quarterback wins this thing 54% of the time historically, including seven times in the last eight Super Bowls. They’re giving us almost 4/1 odds for what could effectively be a coin flip.
  • But my favorite MVP bet is on Golden Tate at 33/1 odds. Wilson doesn’t put up huge numbers these days, so if one of the Seattle wide receivers can get loose for some game-changing plays, they’d have as good a shot as anyone to be named MVP. Wide Receiver is the only other position to win this award over the past 10 years. And you know a Denver WR isn’t winning this thing.
  • And hey, if I’m betting Tate for MVP, why not dive further in and throw some bills on Tate to have 7-8 receptions (9/1 odds) or 9+ receptions (20/1 odds)?
  • I’m a sucker for the crapshoot bet on which player scores the first touchdown of the game. This year I’m going with tight ends: Seventy-five cents each on Jacob Tamme (18/1) and Zach Miller (25/1).
  • Will Montee Ball score a TD in the game? Sure. Yes to that question is 5/2 odds, and although I don’t have any stats to back this up, it just feels like Ball has gotten more and more red zone touches as the season’s gone along. Call it a hunch.
  • I also randomly like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to have an interception. Yes is ay 7/2 odds.


  • Bet that I loved that’s no longer available: Will it snow during the game? Yes +200, No -300. I LOVED no two days ago but couldn’t pull the trigger. It’s not snowing on Sunday in Jersey.
  • How long will it take Renee Fleming to sing the National Anthem? Over 2:25 is +110, Under 2:25 is -150. For the pick, I’m bringing in middle brother Aaron, who fancies himself an expert on this sort of ridiculous prop bet: “First I have to figure out who’s singing.” (10 minutes later) “Never heard of her. I’m not sure she’s a real singer so I think I’m going with the over…maybe she’ll mess it up and have to start over.” (Not sure you want to side with a guy who’s pick is based on the off chance that there’s a total National Anthem meltdown.)
  • Even though the odds are bad, how about this no-brainer of a cross sport matchup: What will be higher? Gold Medals by the USA in the 2014 Olympics (+120 odds) or First Half Points by the Broncos (-150)…obviously the Broncos are scoring at least 14. The US winter olympics team has never won more than 10 gold medals in a given year. Go for this crazy cross sport bet that won’t be settled for weeks.
  • This last one ropes me in every single year: Will the game go to overtime? Yes is +550, No is -900. I’ve bet Yes on this for five years running. It’s gotta happen eventually. And maybe this rare #1 vs #1 matchup is the perfect time.

And if it does go to overtime, I like the odds even better of the referees interjecting themselves in some bogus kind of way to ruin the ending. I can’t wait.

In the 2014 Super Bowl, I’m rooting for chaos to win the day.


Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street…A Scary Good Time

wolf of wall street

I’ve been sitting on this Wolf Of Wall Street blog review for a couple weeks because I have no idea where to rank it on my world-renowned Watchability Scale. Sometimes I think it’s a brilliant movie. Other times I think it’s terrible. But I’m probably going to play it safe and rank it somewhere in between those two extremes.

The best, yet vaguest, description I can give is that it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Since I saw it in early January and was fooling myself into thinking I’d start dieting for my New Year’s Resolution, I went into this movie telling myself I would only eat one Peanut M&M each time Leonardo DiCaprio’s character partakes in illegal drug activity. I ended up in the hospital after the first hour with what the doctors described as an aggressive case of chocolate poisoning.

For those who have seen Boiler Room, I can only imagine Wolf was dreamt up by someone watching that film while doing a bunch of cocaine and quaaludes. And then he decided, “What if the main character was as fucked up throughout the entire movie as I am right now?”

For those who haven’t seen Boiler Room, Wolf is a movie about an ambitious young stock broker, Jordan Belfort, who finds ridiculous success in the 1990s by participating and then running an illegal stock brokerage. He and his colleagues make such a crazy shit ton of money that they can afford to throw parties with booze, drugs, midgets and hookers almost nightly. And then the FBI starts investigating them and the whole damn thing unravels.

A few interesting notes from the different Wikipedia pages I explored in order to research this movie:

  • It’s categorized as a black comedy. The plot description I just gave you might not sound like there’s any humor, but trust me, this was one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.
  • It is now ranked atop all movies in terms of how many times the word “fuck” is used (unless you count a documentary named Fuck–A documentary on the word).
  • After you’ve seen this movie, you’ll think there’s no way in hell what you just saw actually happened. But my look into the real Jordan Belfort revealed that almost all of this insanity did take place, without much exaggeration by Martin Scorsese, the film’s director.

My biggest problem with the movie is its three-hour run time. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • 1st hour: Possibly the finest 60 minutes in movie history. Never laughed so hard.
  • 2nd hour: A solid story of your classic rise and fall of an extremely flawed characte (lots of similarities to Blow).
  • 3rd hour: Atrocious, heavy, slow and loooooooong, ultra-depressing.

So if you only have two free hours but really want to see this movie, go for it. You won’t miss a thing.

And that first 60 minutes, the funniest hour in movie history, is anchored by the single greatest scene in movie history (from a comedy standpoint). For those of you who have seen Wolf, I’m talking of course about the lunch date between Leo and Matthew McConaughey. There’s no way to explain what goes on except to say that McConaughey’s character baptizes DiCaprio/Belfort via an extremely strange ritual. These five minutes alone are worth the price of admission.

You should see this movie if: You want to see some of the funniest yet craziest shit any movie has ever tried to pull off; you (like me) have seen every movie Leo’s ever been in minus The Man In The Iron Mask; ditto for seeing every Scorsese movie; if you love McConaughey, even though he’s only in the movie’s first 45 minutes; you love films about excess, flawed characters and an epic crash & burn; you’re able to take serious subject matter lightly.

You should not see this movie if: Pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it? If the drug-fueled exploits of a womanizing criminal isn’t your cup of tea; if swear words, specifically FUCK, make you uncomfortable; more importantly, if copious amounts of breasts and vaginas on the big screen make you uncomfortable; if you don’t like to see bad people prosper; if you or someone you’re related to got jobbed by the real Jordan Belfort’s fake brokerage in the 90s; if you hate humor; if you’re a super serious person who can’t take a light approach to an immoral film.

While the final third of the movie is nearly unwatchable, I’m still giving Wolf of Wall Street a 7.5 out of 10 on the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS) because humor triumphs over boring tragedy in my opinion.

When I returned to work from Christmas break, several of my coworkers had seen both Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle. All of them agreed that Wolf was significantly better. Those people are certified morons. If you’re choosing which Oscar-nominated film to see this weekend between the two, please do yourself a favor and see American Hustle. But sometime shortly after that, go see Leo play the Big Bad Wolf.

NFL Championship Weekend Picks: Mailing It In With Random Thoughts


When I skipped out on writing the NFL recap blog earlier this week for absolutely no good reason, I intended to write a mega blog for the Championship Round to make up for it. Then a little thing called crazy startup software sales happened and the next thing I know it’s 11pm on Thursday and I have to be back at work in seven hours. And absolutely no blogging and no research is started yet. Should be another awesome set of picks from the world’s most misguided football prognosticator. I swear this whole “working” thing will be the death of me. I have a new plan: make a bunch of money over the next seven months (illegally, most likely), quit my job, and ponder my next move while I spend the entire 2014 football season unemployed.

When I’m forced to write quickly and carelessly, it’s the structure and creativity that go out the window. So here’s my brain dump of football thoughts.

Bright Green With Envy

I’m totally cherry picking a topic that Dan Patrick and his co-hosts talked about earlier this week on the Dan Patrick Show, but I’m very intrigued by this question: If you could become the head coach of any NFL franchise right now—and inherit every current attribute of that team such as roster, salaries, draft picks, ownership, stadium, location, fan base—which would you pick?

The guys on that radio show took roughly seven seconds to think it over and unanimously came to a decision: San Francisco or Seattle. I think they leaned slightly towards Seattle between the two, but they all agreed those two franchises are in the best shape for the next decade. And it’s tough to argue with that, right? The overall talent of both teams, the franchise QBs who are extremely cheap right now, the ownership that stays out of the way, the locations/modern stadiums (coming soon to the Bay Area)…there’s not much missing.

And the key really is the quarterbacks. Think about the opposite of that first question. Which franchise would you least want to take over as head coach for right now? Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland and Buffalo are the obvious ones. But how about New England and Denver? Who would want to commit to coaching there right now with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning sprinting towards their respective finish lines? You’d rather take your chances on a Detroit or even Miami because they might have franchise QBs locked up for the next handful of years.

Just an interesting twist to this weekend. One game features two of the best young teams in football who look like they’ll be the envy of the league for years to come. And the other game features two perennially great teams that are going to be toxic in a couple years when the two Hall of Fame QBs sail off to retirement.

For the record, if I was hammered at a bar and trying to impress people by being risky with my answer, I’d say St. Louis is the team I’d most want to coach…up & coming defense, 437 draft picks over the next three years thanks to the Redskins, Tavon Austin, a not-totally-a-bust-yet Sam Bradford, a great sports city and an owner who stays out of the football business (I have to assume since I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the owner of the Rams).

This Caused Me To Remember That Dichotomy Is A Word

Look at the differences between these two games on Sunday:

  • Young Guns / Old Balls
  • Blacks / Whites
  • Non-Super Bowl Winners / Super Bowl Winners
  • Mobile / Lost The Use Of Their Legs 6 Years Ago
  • Extremely Healthy Teams / Infirmary Central
  • Glorified Cheerleaders As Coaches / Old School Coaches
  • etc, etc, etc

Fun With Meaningless Numbers

Each team’s record against the spread this year:

  • San Francisco: 11-5-2 (2-4-2 against playoff teams)
  • Seattle: 11-6 (4-2 against playoff teams)
  • Denver: 10-7 (4-4 against playoff teams)
  • New England: 9-8 (3-2 against playoff teams)

Current Super Bowl Odds:

  • Seattle +200
  • Denver +210
  • San Francisco +275
  • New England +425

Bet I placed on Wednesday night: Exact Super Bowl Outcome – New England over San Francisco (10/1 odds)

Want to know how locked in I was last year at this time? After a 4-0 Divisional Round against the spread, I went 2-0 in the Championship Round while also predicting San Francisco to beat Atlanta 27-23, with the Falcons narrowly covering the 4.5 points. What happened? The 49ers won 28-24, with the Falcons narrowly covering the 4.5 points.

Want to know how locked out I am this year? My playoff record sits at 2-3-3, and it’s taking every ounce of my energy just to keep pace with my girlfriend, who is 3-2-3 against the spread.

Here’s a ridiculously useless tidbit: In both rounds of the playoffs, there was one game where I covered in my Pick ‘Em league, I pushed my blog pick, and I lost my actual bet. In the Wildcard Round, it was the Kansas City-Indianapolis line that fluctuated across a couple points. Last weekend it was the Saints-Seahawks game. Maybe it’s not meaningless. Maybe that means one of this weekend’s games will do the same thing.

Maybe I Overextended Myself A Bit?

By the time last Sunday arrived, I had bets on Carolina to win the Super Bowl (40/1 odds), Carolina vs New England exact Super Bowl matchup, Carolina vs the spread in their Round Two game, Carolina in a parlay for their Round Two game. I probably should have alerted everyone to this ridiculous confidence in the Panthers so you could have accordingly dumped your rainy day money on San Francisco.

This Seems Super Fair

This weekend’s referees are Gene Steratore (NFC) and Tony Corrente (AFC). And would you look at that…Corrente was the head referee for Peyton Manning’s two AFC Championship wins. Seems fair.

The Picks

New England @ Denver (-4)

I legitimately gasped when I heard last Sunday that this game opened with Denver as a seven-point favorite. There’s no logical reason to think this would be decided by more than three points. But any deep analysis on these two games is pointless. Four teams left. The four we expected at the beginning of the season. All of them have plenty of reasons to think they can win the Super Bowl. It’s impossible to make a truly educated guess on either of these games.

For Patriots fans who need some reassurance, just know that the Pats were 3-0 this year when I watched them in San Francisco. That’s where I’ll be this weekend. That’s as close to a guarantee as I’m willing to give.

For the Broncos to win, I think they simply need to play at at a very high level, which they’ve done about a dozen times this year. For the Patriots to win, I think someone random’s going to have to step up because the Broncos might be able to take away Julian Edelman and the run game. It just feels like Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson (if he plays) are going to need to make a major impact.

Unfortunately I have more faith in a good Denver showing than I do in a Thompkins or Dobson breakout performance. I’m taking Denver to win 36-33, but the Patriots will cover.

San Francisco @ Seattle (-3)

I liked San Francisco a whole lot better when it was 3.5 points. This seems like the game where I’ll win on San Francisco in Pick ‘Em (+3.5), push on my blog pick (+3) and lose on the bet I’ll probably make Sunday morning (+2.5 possibly).

It would be so like the NFL for all of the favorites to win in Round Two, roping everyone into betting on the favorites in Round Three only for the underdogs to win outright.

Actually, let’s go with that. I’m going for the 49ers-Patriots Super Bowl. San Francisco wins 26-24, and I’m going to change my original prediction and say Patriots win 34-28.

Based on how things have gone this year, I don’t at all mind going out on a losing note with these risky picks.

My Girlfriend’s Quick Picks

(Full Disclosure: I woke her up at 12:15a.m. when I was done writing this blog to get her picks. Somehow it didn’t feel like her heart was in it as much as normal.)

New England over Denver (-4): “Because the Broncos always used to win, and now the Patriots always win. So the Patriots are gonna win.”

San Francisco over Seattle (-3): “Because I really do think the Drew Bledsoe curse is on him…Pete Carroll.” (It’s OK to not know what the hell she’s talking about here. I don’t think she knows either.)

For Your Consideration: Prop Bets I Love This Weekend

Will either game go to Overtime? YES (+500)

That’s it. Bet the farm on overtime.

Enjoy the Silver Fox on Silver Fox & Young Buck on Young Buck action on Sunday!

NFL Playoffs: Round Two Picks & What Each Team Is Playing For


Well now what the hell are we supposed to expect?

Can Round Two possibly top Round One? Would we need a triple overtime in one game and a team rallying from 75 points down in another game to restore proper order to the football world?

Typically the Divisional Round is the best weekend of football out of the entire season.

For whatever reason, this round always produces high-scoring games, unlikely overtimes and Mark Sanchez defying the odds (luckily we don’t have a quarterback left who would fit that mold of “player who has no business leading his team to a conference championship game” since the Chargers knocked Jason Garrett’s illegitimate son out of the playoffs last week).

In six of the past eight years, the eventual Super Bowl Champion went on the road and shocked a heavy favorite in this round (so, yeah, you might want to bet accordingly if San Diego, Indianapolis or New Orleans somehow live to see the next round).

What we get in this second round is the top four teams in the NFL, coming off a well-earned bye week, hosting teams that truly believe they can replicate all those past Champions who had to win four games to take home the Lombardi Trophy. And in many cases we get heavy favorites in this round because those top teams usually dominate at home (not to mention teams like this year’s Chargers always sneak by the first round and the experts think they’re due to get killed by the better seed).

But almost never do things work out for all the favorites. In fact, the last time all four home teams advanced from this round was 2004. No matter what your research and analysis tells you, I’d shy away from backing all four favorites this weekend.

Here’s a random fact for you: There are four teams remaining who also appeared in last year’s final eight, and each of them is the favorite in their respective game this weekend (Denver, New England, Seattle, San Francisco).

There are three other teams who at least have playoff experience. The Saints won a Super Bowl and have been a perennial playoff team under Sean Payton. While it’s been a couple years since the Chargers made the playoffs, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and others have plenty of experience in the postseason. And second year quarterback-coach combo Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano popped their playoff cherries last year.

That means the only true virgin remaining is Carolina (somewhere a vampire licks his lips and sets his GPS for Charlotte, North Carolina).

In the “cream of the crop” department, keep in mind that the top six teams in Football Outsider’s DVOA rankings are still in the playoffs. Two of this weekend’s matchups feature head-to-head battles between that cream: New Orleans @ Seattle and San Francisco @ Carolina. The only two teams that didn’t rank in the top six are San Diego 12th) and Indianapolis (13th).

So before Saturday arrives and the bitching & moaning about your picks, your bets or your team begins, take a moment to appreciate what we have here: Eight incredibly sexy football teams. If you wanted to argue that we have six sexy teams and then San Diego and Carolina, I wouldn’t fault you for it.

Let’s take a quick look at the story lines and what’s at stake for these remaining teams as they aim for a Championship:

Denver: Peyton Manning’s quest for a second Super Bowl. Another record-setting offense looking to go all the way. Putting to rest any debate around who’s season was better, 2013 Manning or 2007 Brady, by actually finishing the job. The Broncos overcoming a midseason temporary coaching change because of John Fox’s emergency heart surgery. John Elway becoming even more of a legend after his handpicked coach and quarterback validate his choices with a Super Bowl win. Manning and the offense winning it all with that defense. The Broncos definitively being able to say they got the better end of the Champ Bailey for Clinton Portis deal (just joking, that was never in question). Wes Welker getting his hands on the Lombardi Trophy that twice eluded him in New England. The entire fan base forgetting to show up to the victory parade because pot is legal in Colorado and the amount of gravity bong rips they’d probably all be taking over the 36 hours immediately following Super Bowl Sunday would reach dangerous levels.

New England: The legacy-cementing 4th Super Bowl win for Brady and Belichick. Patriots fans finally having that 4th one to end the debate around who’s the best QB and best coach of all time. Belichick’s finest work as a coach paying off in the biggest way. Another argument forever ending if this particular team wins: How much does a coach really matter in the grand scheme of things? The “next man up” philosophy is more than just a company line, but the media would beat us over the head with it throughout the month of February. The look Belichick would give an over aggressive reporter who brings up Aaron Hernandez in the post-Super Bowl press conference. Gronk somehow parties even harder after they win the title. Stevan Ridley’s vindication. Danny Amendola doing what Wes Welker couldn’t do….Julian Edelman doing what Welker couldn’t do. The awkward moment on the Championship DVD where the narrator talks about the Patriots’ preseason “challenges” while they show a shot of the Bristol County Jail.

Indianapolis: Andrew Luck winning it all in year two. Luck equalling Manning in Lombardi Trophies. Luck solidifying his status as the person you would pick to build your team around over any other player. Trent Richardson getting his much-deserved Super Bowl win (another bad joke). Reggie Wayne missing out on the magical ride. T.Y. Hilton becoming a household name and being over-drafted in every 2014 fantasy league. Some of Manning’s old teammates, like Robert Mathis, getting their second Super Bowl with the new Manning. Chuck Pagano’s made-in-Hollywood ride from leaving the team to receive cancer treatment to hoisting the trophy just 17 months later. Jim Irsay taking too much credit for the successful season (though I still argue his “tribute to Manning” in the Colts’ win over Denver was all part of his master plan to get Manning off his game).

San Diego: The 9-7 team that nobody wanted in the playoffs wins it all. Philip freaking Rivers finally goes all the way in the first year where no one gave him a chance. Mike McCoy easily escaping the shadow of Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner. Grizzled veteran Antonio Gates getting his moment of glory. LaDanian Tomlinson sheds a tear of self-pity somewhere in California. Seeing Rivers have no one to hate on for a brief moment, and yet, I bet his facial expression would still look like that of an infant throwing a tantrum.

Seattle: Bringing a championship to a long-suffering city that loves its sports. Proving that with a little bit of adderall, you can achieve anything. Russell Wilson solidifying his spot as “best young quarterback.” Defense can win championships. Home field advantage is still something that matters. The first team to really be the “best regular season team” and finish it off with a Super Bowl win in many years. Pete Carroll wins the big one, but three years later is forced by the NFL to vacate all the playoff wins. Humblest guy on the planet Richard Sherman gets to the top of the mountain (and of course stays humble in victory). Beast Mode proves that running backs can matter. Carroll immediately retires to chase his true dream, acting in a movie called “Cheerleaders In Khakis.”

Carolina: Cam Newton gets some real credibility among all the other sexy young quarterbacking names. He gets his name alongside Doug Williams as the only black starting QBs to win a Super Bowl. Ron Rivera, who came into the 2013 season presumably on the hot seat, gets Carolina its first Championship in franchise history. Steve Smith punches a reporter instead of saying “I’m going to Disney World.” The general public finally figures out which Carolina the Panthers play in (it’s the north one). Defense can win championships.

San Francisco: The 49ers’ first Championship since Steve Young. Colin Kaepernick becoming that best young quarterback (seems like that title is really up for grabs in these playoffs). Frank Gore, maybe the player most deserving of a Super Bowl in these playoffs. San Francisco tying Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl wins (6) in NFL history. A final tribute to Candlestick Park. Jim Harbaugh gets the thing his brother took out from under him last year. Anquan Boldin wins two consecutive Super Bowls on different teams (has that ever happened?).

New Orleans: Drew Brees gets #2, this time without the luxury of playing in the Superdome at any point in the playoffs. Sean Payton proves his ridiculous value. Vindication for the Saints from the Bountygate debacle. The team that couldn’t win on the road wins four outdoor road games. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, et al become the envy of offensive coordinators everywhere. Rob Ryan twirls his hair around his finger in the post game press conference. Rob Ryan parlays the Super Bowl win into a failed head coaching job. Rex Ryan calls a press conference to congratulate his brother, but also to say he’s looking forward to beating the Patriots next year.

Oh, you wanted some picks…

Here you go. Round Two picks:

New Orleans @ Seattle (-8) – Saturday, 1:35pm PST

What happened in their regular season matchup: Whether it was due to traveling to the Pacific Northwest and playing a road game in the toughest environment, or because it was Thanksgiving weekend and the Saints accidentally poisoned themselves with tryptophan right before kickoff, or because Seattle’s just really that good…the Saints got crushed in week 13 against the Seahawks, 34-7. Offensively the Saints had their worst performance in the eight-years that Sean Payton’s been head coach (188 total yards, 7 points). And New Orleans did nothing on defense to slow down the Seattle offense. The Seahawks gained 429 total yards while Russell Wilson walked away with 310 passing yards, three touchdowns and a 139.6 passer rating. You can absolutely point to one or two fluky things that went Seattle’s way on that Monday night: On the Saints’ second drive of the night, Brees was stripsacked and Seattle took it back for a defensive touchdown. Then in the 3rd quarter with the game already getting out of reach, Russell Wilson had one of the luckiest touchdown passes I’ve seen. It was this eight-yarder to Derrick Coleman. Unfortunately for the Saints, even if those two plays go their way, it’s only a 10-15 point swing in the best case scenario, meaning they still would have lost by a couple touchdowns.

What I think will happen in this game: In my week 13 preview I was astounded that the Seahawks were giving six points against an “evenly matched Saints team.” I thought it should have been a three-point line. Obviously I went big on New Orleans and got burned. This time the line seems more appropriate. I’m not buying into the Saints in this game just because they won a road game in Philly last week. In fact, getting that road monkey off their back or not has no bearing on how I pick this game because the Eagles and Seahawks are so far apart in talent and execution. The Saints are going up against the very best in the toughest stadium to visit in the NFL. By the time week 13 had rolled around, Seattle had already lost Brandon Browner for the season. So they’ve already shut down this Saints offense without a full arsenal. Oh, and there’s another potential wrinkle in Seattle’s favor this time…Percy Harvin is apparently practicing at full speed this week. Scary for the whole league.

While I expect New Orleans to play better overall and make it a closer game, it’s not going to be nearly close enough. I’ve got Seattle covering with a 42-27 win. The more you hear people talking themselves into the Saints possibly winning four outdoor games to capture their second Super Bowl, the more confident you should feel that they’re not going to advance past this round.

Indianapolis @ New England (-7.5) – Saturday, 5:15pm PST

What happened in their regular season matchup: There was no regular season game between these two teams. This is the only second round game not featuring a rematch of a regular season game. But the Patriots stomped the Colts 59-24 during the 2012 regular season if that means anything to anyone.

What I think will happen in this game: First, I’d like to pause and say WHAT THE FUCK DID THE PATRIOTS DO TO DESERVE THIS??? After all the in-season injuries, sure, why not add Brandon Spikes to the injured reserve during the bye week! At this point, might as well put the top 53 players on the IR and see what the second string, practice squad and street free agents can do against Indy. In case you’re wondering why us Patriots fans would care about Spikes, you should know that graded Spikes out as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the NFL this year and the best against the run. The best linebacker in the NFL against the run. Boom. Done for the season.

In less important news for regular Patriots fans but something that provides an interesting dilemma for me…Deion Branch is now a member of the Colts. Why a dilemma for me? My one authentic Patriots jersey is a #83 Deion Branch jersey. His original number when the Patriots picked him in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft. I bought his jersey after the third game of the ’02 season. So do I wear my 11-year-old jersey on Saturday because in my opinion it’s been a good luck charm over the years? Or do I keep it in the drawer for the first time in my decade plus of owning it because Branch is now on the opposing team? What in god’s name do I do? Someone help!

The analysis on this one is pretty easy. This current installment of the Patriots doesn’t blow out good teams. They also struggle defensively because of the 25,000 injuries they’ve sustained on that unit this year. All they seem to do is pull close wins out of their collective ass. They went 8-0 at home this year. Andrew Luck and the Colts in a rainy, windy, outdoor January game is very different than Luck and the Colts in the comforts of the Oil Rig. I love that this is 7.5 points and not something tempting like 4 points. I’m taking the Patriots to win but not cover, 27-23.

San Francisco (-3) @ Carolina

What happened in their regular season matchup: One can only hope we see a repeat of the barnburner these teams put together in week 10. Cam Newton threw for 169 yards. Colin Kaepernick threw for 91 yards. Yep, didn’t crack triple digits. They were a combined 27-of-54 passing. Newton ended up with a 52.7 passer rating; Kaepernick’s was 42.0. The two teams combined for 401 yards. Good lord. Maybe I go for a hike on Sunday morning instead? Oh, the Panthers won at San Francisco, 10-9. I guess that detail’s important.

What I think will happen in this game: No idea, really. If there’s a stay away game in round two, this is it. Has any wildcard team ever been a back-to-back road favorite in the playoffs? Doubtful. Are the 49ers this year’s “wildcard team that seems underwhelming during the regular season but makes a deep playoff run?” Possibly. Could they host one final surprise NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park? Doubtful, considering it would require the Saints to win in Seattle. And how about the Panthers? Are they our best guess for the team that gets a bye but totally lays an egg in their first playoff game? Maybe. As an inexperienced team that can’t throw the ball, they’re certainly a good candidate.

Early in the week I was leaning towards San Francisco. Middle of the week I was leaning towards Carolina. I flipped and flopped over and over. And then I remembered my 40/1 odds preseason bet on Carolina to win the Super Bowl. And I swung back to Carolina hard. But finally I thought…If the 9ers don’t win this game, which road team is winning this weekend? Because mark my words, one of them always does…except, almost never is there a home underdog in this round of the playoffs. So we could have all four home teams win but still have an underdog win outright. And by the way, the 49ers beat a Green Bay team by three points last week that was without Clay Matthews for the entire game and Sam Shields (one of their best defensive backs) for most of the game. That Packers team was not playing at nearly full strength. People are riding high on San Francisco, but the Panthers will be a completely different experience. Give me my long shot Super Bowl ticket to keep moving on. Carolina wins 26-21.

San Diego @ Denver (-9)

What happened in their regular season matchups: In game one, the Broncos won 28-20 in San Diego. Manning put up 330 yards and four touchdowns; Rivers was a pedestrian 19-of-29 for 218 yards. Somehow the Chargers had the ball for 16 more minutes than Denver and still lost by eight. In the rematch, the score was similar (27-20), and the visiting team won again…this time it was the Chargers. Once again San Diego dominated time of possession (had the ball for nearly 18 minutes longer than Denver), and once again Rivers was pedestrian. But it was the Charger running game (177 yards on 44 carries) that won it for them.

What I think will happen in this game: C’mon, at this point would you dare bet against San Diego? They were left for dead after barely sneaking into the playoffs. Cincinnati was supposed to crush them. But they didn’t. Now the Broncos are supposed to grab an even more-lopsided victory. But it’s not just Manning vs Rivers in this game. It’s an improved defense (San Diego) vs a declining defense (Denver). It’s a divisional rivalry that often sparks close games. Just like the Patriots, I think Denver pulls out a win, but doesn’t cover. The Broncos take it 41-34. And finally, we’re set for a turn-back-the-clock Brady vs Manning showdown for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It makes perfect sense.

If things play out exactly how I expect, we’re going to see two great Championship Gaames: Carolina vs Seattle, New England vs Denver. Why am I picking chalk with the #1 & #2 seeds of each conference advancing? Because this has been an abnormally strange year in the NFL, and the strangest thing that could happen this weekend is all four top seeds winning.

My Girlfriend’s Quick Picks for the week:

New Orleans over Seattle (-8): “Because Pete Carroll is the Drew Bledsoe of coaches.”

Indianapolis over New England (-7.5): “Because I hate Indy but they love me.”

Carolina over San Francisco (-3): “Because San Francisco is flying a little too close to the sun after last week, and no way they eke out back-to-back games. They’ve reached their eke limit.”

San Diego over Denver (-9): “Because when’s the last time Denver wasn’t a double-digit favorite? They’ve gotta have a bad game at some point.”

It’s not lost on me that my girlfriend just picked all four underdogs to cover. Perhaps this is the week I’ve been waiting for to do a four-team underdog parlay?

By the way, I’m kind of a prop bet master at this point. If you want to know what I’m thinking with prop bets, you should follow me on Twitter because I’ll let everyone know on Saturday morning which long shot props are definitely going to pay off.

Enjoy Round Two!

NFL Wildcard Weekend Recap: The Polar Opposite of Last Year’s Opening Round

andy dalton

The headline from my 2012 Wildcard Weekend recap said, “About as much fun as week 4 of the preseason.”

I resigned myself to seeing more of the same this year because this first weekend of the playoffs includes all the mediocre teams that only got into the postseason because they out-mediocred the other mediocre teams.

But by some incredible sports miracle, we nearly got the perfect weekend: Three of four games were won on a team’s final drive, including two walk-off field goals; we saw what will easily go down as one of the five most entertaining playoff games of the last 10 years; and we all got to let off our pent up critical energy on a favorite punching bag, Andy Dalton.

The reason it was nearly perfect and not perfect is because perfection would have included logical non-curious officiating assignments by the NFL. Instead we got the increasingly infamous Jeff Triplette handling the reffing duties for San Diego-Cincinnati, in the building where he most recently changed the game with a bad call.

While we got no underdog covers and only one road winner in the 2012 first round, we were treated to two underdogs covering this past weekend, both of whom were road underdogs! Hurray to exciting unpredictability!

Let’s begin with the game that had the seemingly most surprising result, but in reality, maybe we should have seen it coming all along.

San Diego 27, Cincinnati 10

Of course in the current NFL where 99% of the league is below average the team that struggled at home against an opponent full of backups in a week 17 must-win game would go on the road and handle a seemingly unbeatable-at-home Cincinnati team relatively easily.

Gambling 101 teaches us that there will always be one matchup where one of the teams gets picked by 100% of football fans and 100% of gamblers and will promptly crap the bed (think 2010 Patriots at home vs Jets). And if you’re a true veteran, you’ll pay attention in the days leading up to the games and figure out which team qualifies for this  public overconfidence vote and then bet against them hard. That’s your free tip for the day.

If you picked the Bengals to cover, some people are going to laugh at you and be all smug about how they knew all along that Cincy would choke. But I don’t think we should feel bad about picking a Cincy team that had averaged 34 points per game at home during the regular season and would be facing the worst statistical defense in the NFL. I doubt anybody really expected a 10-point turnover fest from Cincinnati.

A few Andy Dalton defenders will probably chalk this up to “one bad game,” and you can call it that if you want, but in the biggest game of his career with the pressure on, he shat himself. Two interceptions, two fumbles (one lost), missed a wide receiver by six yards on the game-losing 4th down 40 yard pass attempt, 67 passer rating, and he might have literally shit himself at some point.

And none of that mentions how 11 of his first 12 completions required the receiver to jump as high as they ever have and lay out for the ball. He was terrible.

Scary thing is I think the Bengals have to roll with Dalton next year. I understand the “this is his ceiling” comments, but it’s not like guys who can immediately get Cincy farther are growing on trees. It’s desperate times for the quality of NFL quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez was going to be the Jets’ starting QB until he had back-to-back playoff-less years. Then they could justify replacing him. Until the Bengals miss the playoffs, Dalton’s gotta stick around.

Maybe it would be possible for management to move away from Dalton if he was solely responsible for Sunday’s embarrassment, but the offensive line was pathetic. Most of the quarterback’s incompletions happened while he was scrambling away from a handful of angry defenders and throwing off his back foot. Awful job.

Pretty coincidental that two constant punching bags this year, Dalton and Trent Richardson, each lost a fumble without being touched by a defender, but Richardson will avoid criticism for the most part because his team ended up winning. As you can see from two paragraphs ago, Dalton is officially “new Sanchez.”

Let’s transition to what was almost dubbed “Trent Richardson’s final game as a Colt.”

Indianapolis 45, Kansas City 44

The final score tells you a lot of what you need to know about this game…it was a barnburner that came down to the very end. But it doesn’t tell you that the Colts dug themselves a 28-point hole at the beginning of the second half.

Other than the “all offense, no defense” aspect, it was good to see the NFL’s other primary calling cards on display in the first game of the playoffs: incompetent refs doing head-scratching things and an aggressive number of players leaving the game with injuries.

I’ve had a hard-on for T.Y. Hilton all season and it paid off in a big way this weekend. The best prop bet I hit was Hilton at 9/1 odds to have the most receiving yards this weekend…224 is more than I could have ever asked.

Weird game from a betting standpoint for me because of how much the line moved throughout the week. In my Pick ‘Em leagues where the lines are set on Tuesday, I had Colts -2.5 and lost. In my picks column that was based on Thursday’s lines, I had Colts -1 and pushed. And when I finally bet the game on Saturday morning, it was a PICK and  I won. Not sure that’s ever happened to me before.

My girlfriend may have outpicked me for round 1 (she went 2-0-2 against the spread, I went 1-1-2), but she also suggested at halftime that the Colts pull Andrew Luck. And yes, I’m so threatened by her dominating me every week that I’ll be throwing her under the bus every time she says something in accurate or makes a bad suggestion.

Regardless of who won and who lost, a standing ovation goes out to both teams for knocking our socks off in the opening game. Couldn’t have asked for a better game to get this madness started.

New Orleans 26, Philadelphia 24

When I traveled around Europe in 2009, I wrote on my blog at one point that “I feel bad for Madrid because it’s probably a great city with a ton of fun stuff to do, but it just so happens to come directly after I spent eight days in Barcelona…so no matter what it’s gonna seem boring.”

That’s what Saturday night’s game was facing. How could it possibly escape the Colts-Chiefs shadow?  It couldn’t. Maybe it was the fatigue from the first game’s excitement, maybe it was the magnum bottle of Sauvignon Blanc I crushed around 5pm, but there wasn’t a ton of note taking going on during this one.

Here’s what’s really bizarre about this round. Three of the four losing teams actually won the turnover battle in their games. That goes against everything we hear about the recipe for winning in the playoffs.

But the part that made sense is that in three of the four games, the team with the better quarterback won (Luck over Smith, Brees over Foles, Rivers over Dalton).

And three head coaches who have been criticized for years for making shaky decisions at the most important moments lost in the opening round (Andy Reid, Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy).

File that away…among all the craziness and unpredictability of this season, we might be able to fall back on the trusted QB/Coach competency to make our final seven picks of the season.

San Francisco 23, Green Bay 20

I admit betting on Kaepernick to rush for under 40.5 yards might have been the dumbest bet I’ve ever made. The guy does whatever he wants against Green Bay and I should probably just accept that.

More than anything, I’m glad this was a good game and that the Packers had a chance to win it because it would be terrible if those freezing fans had to endure a 24-point blowout by San Francisco.

And better than just showing up, that crowd was LOUD at all the right times. Good work, Green Bay fans.

I’d like to revisit something I wrote when Aaron Rodgers suffered his collarbone injury in October. I basically said Green Bay fans wouldn’t be in the wrong if they start worrying about Aaron Rodgers’ career and how they’ve only made the conference championship once so far. Rodgers’ career hasn’t produced the perennial playoff run like we all thought. Mark Sanchez has been to more conference title games than Rodgers.

The early lines for next week are out:

  • New Orleans @ Seattle (-8)
  • Indianapolis @ New England (-7.5)
  • San Francisco @ Carolina (PICK)
  • San Diego at Denver (-10)

My initial thought is to bet huge against New England. If you’ve paid attention to the Patriots this year, you know their games almost always come down to the final play. That’s not a recipe for a two score cover. And let’s not forget how scary that Indy offense looked when they finally decided to show up on Saturday.

But maybe like Peyton Manning, Luck is going to struggle against Bill Belichick and the Patriots over his first few years. Last season he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble while completing barely more than 50% of his passes against New England. The Patriots won 59-24.

And maybe outdoors in New England on a January night will have a drastically different effect on the Colts than being at home in the climate-controlled dome. And the early forecast for Saturday is 30-35 degrees and possibly rain/snow.

If you buy into this being another Patriots season of destiny, a throwback to the Championship years, you might be able to justify counting on the Pats to cover with a defensive or special teams play swinging the game.

A final gambling mini-story before I say goodbye: I’ve mentioned in my columns before that during the regular season I let my girlfriend make one ridiculous parlay per week just for fun. Usually I make her bet on at least 10 lines/moneylines/point totals and the $1 wager pays off at roughly $1,500. Except that it never pays off because she’s never won. Well in the playoffs, there are less games to bet on, obviously, so on Saturday morning I made her bet on each line and each point total. So she had eight components to the bet. A $1 wager would only get us $200 in profit. And the poor girl hit seven of the eight picks. Only Cincinnati-San Diego not hitting the over screwed her out of a huge win. And just like I’ve been planning for years, she’s now a bitter gambler just like me.

Round 2 picks coming up later in the week.

NFL Wildcard Weekend Picks: The March to 11-0 Begins


Welcome to Wildcard Weekend!


Or maybe it’s more like wooooooooh (LOUD MOUTH FART SOUND)…

If your memory is as sharp as mine, you’re probably having trouble getting excited for this first round of the NFL playoffs because last year’s opening round sucked major nutsack.

To refresh your memory:

  • All four favorites covered (Houston over Cincinnati, Green Bay over Minnesota, Baltimore over Indianapolis, Seattle over Washington).
  • Six of the eight teams didn’t crack 20 points (and the two that did only put up 24 points each).
  • Four of the eight quarterbacks threw for less than 200 yards (and not one of them got to 300).
  • There were few memorable individual performances (Anquan Boldin had 145 yards on 5 receptions, Arian Foster had 174 total yards…but you never would have remembered those performances if I didn’t write them here).
  • Three of the four games saw at least a 10-point final margin of victory.
  • While I would argue that there can be plenty of excitement in a blowout, it doesn’t come by way of a 24-9 final score. There wasn’t that 45-28 jaw-dropper like the 2011 wildcard round when New Orleans handled Detroit by 17 points in a super-exciting game.
  • I’m not exaggerating when I say the most interesting moment of last year’s wildcard round was when the Vikings announced just minutes before their Saturday night game that Joe Webb would be starting at QB over the injured Christian Ponder…because for a second there was hope that we’d get treated to a decent game. But then we all saw Webb’s first pass attempt and remembered this was a guy who couldn’t overcome Christian Friggen Ponder on the depth chart.
  • We also witnessed a maniacal head coach blatantly try to ruin the career of one of football’s newest stars when Mike Shanahan continued to march Robert Griffin out onto FedEx Field on one good leg. I’d hate to think the lingering memory of the 2012 playoffs is “the day the RGIII magic went away for good.”

Let’s move on because this is getting depressing.

While the wildcard round traditionally has at least one blowout, there’s reason to be hopeful for a much more entertaining slate of games this time around. Look no further than the offenses that are getting ready to play this weekend. Exit Baltimore, Minnesota and Houston. Enter Philadelphia, San Diego and New Orleans. Seven of the eight teams playing in round one ranked in the top half of the league on offense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings.

That may not seem like a big deal, but for reference, last year’s opening weekend saw five teams in the bottom half of the league from an offensive standpoint.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up a step and take stock of the entire 12-team playoff field. It’s a particularly intriguing one.

In the AFC we have…um…well, what the hell do we have with these six teams? No overwhelming favorite. No team really peaking on its way into the playoffs. No quarterback having a record-setting year that we can look to as the X factor of the conference (I’m kidding, I’m kidding). Oh, and let’s not forget backbreaking injuries to the top four seeds that could easily be used as an excuse if/when any of them lose over the next month. The AFC is up for grabs because everyone kinda sucks.

In the NFC we have…well, we also have a cluster fuck, but it’s not a cluster fuck of mediocrity. It’s a cluster fuck of competence and goodness. The obvious names that we expected to be here in September are here: Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans (Green Bay’s 8-7-1 record seems like it belongs in the AFC, but let’s not forget Aaron Rodgers missed eight games). And the two surprises, Carolina and Philadelphia, are beyond scary. The Panthers have won 11 of their last 12 games (while only allowing an opponent to score more than 20 points once…in the loss at New Orleans). The Eagles have won seven of their last eight (including five wins by two touchdowns or more). These two newcomers to the playoff party might be the most dangerous. The sucky part of all this for the NFC teams (but to the delight of us fans) is that wildcard weekend features two incredible matchups between four NFC teams that could lay claim to being the best in the conference.

Can we petition the NFL to have the two AFC games decided by computer simulation while extending the length of the two NFC games to 120 minutes each? Would anybody be upset with that?

Before we jump into this weekend’s picks, let me throw some random numbers and facts out there for you. Use the info, don’t use the info, I don’t care…I already got you to click on this blog post, didn’t I?

  • Since the start of the 21st century, the 2007 Giants was the worst team to win the Super Bowl, coming in at #14 on Football Outsider’s DVOA rankings.
  • This year only the Packers are ranked lower than that mark. They’re 21st in DVOA, but there’s a huge caveat there…Mr. Rodgers’ broken collarbone that forced him to the sidelines for eight weeks.
  • San Diego (12) and Indianapolis (13) are the other two teams walking that fine line between playoff-worthy and mediocrity.
  • Five of the top 10 teams in Defensive DVOA made the playoffs (and eight of the top 16 teams).
  • The two worst defenses, statistically speaking, made the playoffs: Green Bay and San Diego (interestingly enough, if Dallas had won the NFC East instead of Philly, it would be the three worst defensive teams in the playoffs).
  • On the other side of the ball, nine of the top 10 teams in Offensive DVOA made the playoffs.
  • No playoff team is worse offensively than Cincinnati (#17). Kansas City (15) and Indianapolis (13) are close.
  • And looking at the unit that correlates the least to making the playoffs, only four of the top 10 teams in Special Teams DVOA made the playoffs.
  • And two of the 10 worst special teams units made it to January: New Orleans (24) and Philly (25). Since these two teams play each other this weekend, are we going to see neither team being able to return a kick or a punt more than five yards? Or does it swing the other way and we see special teams touchdown after special teams touchdown?
  • Eight of the top 10 quarterbacks according to QBR are in the playoffs.
  • Alex Smith is the worst playoff QB, ranking 20th in QBR.
  • Cam Newton (17) and Andy Dalton (16) are right in Smith’s neighborhood.
  • There are four Super Bowl-winning QBs in the playoffs (Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers).
  • There are three others who have made it at least to a conference championship game (Smith, Rivers, Kaepernick).
  • There are three more who have made the playoffs but haven’t yet gotten past the divisional round (Dalton, Luck, Wilson).
  • And then there are two making their playoff debuts (Newton, Foles).
  • None of that means anything, of course, as Joe Flacco proved last year.
  • Beware of the #5 seeds. San Francisco and Kansas City both deserved to win their respective divisions in a normal year, but they just so happened to be playing in the same division as their conference’s #1 seeds. Even though neither the 49ers nor the Chiefs are going to play a home game in the playoffs, the rest of the league might want to be on high alert still. Both of those teams went 6-2 on the road this year.
  • So did Philadelphia, who will take their road success to Carolina in the second round if they can get past New Orleans on Saturday.
  • If you’re looking ahead to the Super Bowl already, remember that the NFC went 34-30 against the AFC during the regular season.
  • But here’s the interesting thing: the NFC West went a ridiculous 13-3 against the AFC in 2013, meaning the rest of the NFC went 21-27 against the other conference.
  • Does that mean there is one elite division in all of football and seven mediocre ones? Possibly. If Seattle and San Francisco run rampant through the playoffs, we’ll have our answer.
  • The NFC is currently a 2.5-point favorite over the AFC in the Super Bowl.

A final note before we pick these first four games. I have a sports gambling bucket list that is becoming quite the nuisance, mostly because I haven’t been able to knock anything off the list in my 13 years of gambling. One is to win a March Madness bracket pool (if Illinois had beaten UNC in the National Title game in 2005, I would have been able to cross this off the list). Another is to win an NFL Suicide Pool (have never even come that close…I usually make it to week 5 or 6). The third is to go undefeated during a fantasy football season (there’s gotta be a way to do this). And the final bucket list item is one that I plan to take care of over these next five weeks…going 11-0 against the spread in the NFL playoffs. Last year I went 8-3 (after a 1-3 start in Wildcard weekend I’ll have you know). Not bad. But not the bucket list sweep that I need.

Let’s see if I can keep that dream alive beyond the first game of the first weekend of the playoffs (something I couldn’t do last year). Here are the Wildcard round picks:

Kansas City @ Indianapolis (-1) – Saturday, 1:35pm PST

What the numbers say: It all tilts in Kansas City’s favor, but not drastically. The Chiefs are the better overall team (7th in DVOA vs 13th for the Colts), the better defensive team (9th for KC, 16th for Indy) and they have the best special teams unit in football (compared to Indy’s 17th-ranked group of specialists). Only the offensive numbers favor the Colts (Indy was the 13th-ranked offense while Kansas City was 15th). While the Colts had a respectable +55 point differential in the regular season, Kansas City blew them out of the water by outscoring their opponents by 125 points.

The Chiefs went a ghastly 1-5 against playoff teams this year (caveat alert: Their week 17 loss to San Diego was accomplished with mostly backups). The Colts went 4-2 against eventual playoff teams. And the Colts crushed the Chiefs in their head-to-head matchup 23-7. And that game was in Kansas City!

You can see why Vegas made this game essentially a coin flip.

What I say: Both teams could play the “no respect” card. The Chiefs won 11 games (starting the season winning nine straight), but are underdogs against a team that looks inferior in every aspect of the game on paper?? The Colts beat the Chiefs by 16 points just two weeks ago on the road, but now they’re only favored by one point at home???

I’m siding with the Colts on this one. They should be favored by the standard three points. The biggest knock against Indy in the regular season is that they played down to their competition. Obviously that’s not a concern in the playoffs. These teams are very evenly matched, and I don’t feel right betting against Andrew Luck in his first home playoff game. He got that “welcome to the playoffs” moment out of the way last year, now it’s time for him to make a mark in the postseason. I’ve got a six-point win for Indianapolis (the same margin of victory they had in home wins against Seattle and Denver earlier this year). Indianapolis covers and wins 27-21.

New Orleans @ Philadelphia (-3) – Saturday, 5:10pm PST

What the numbers say: New Orleans rates out as the 4th best team in the NFL according to Football Outsiders. Philly wasn’t far behind, coming in at #8. While the Eagles have the offensive advantage (2nd vs 5th), the Saints have the edge on defense (10th vs 23rd). The special teams difference is negligible as I already mentioned both teams are in the bottom third of the league in this area. As was the case in our first game, one team had a far superior point differential in the regular season. And once again, it’s the road team that wins in this category (New Orleans’ point differential was +110 while Philly’s was +60).

Neither team was particularly awesome against the other good teams of the NFL. The Eagles went 1-3 against playoff teams while the Saints went 2-3. And if you’re into the “Drew Brees struggles on the road” theory, his team did manage to lose five of its final six road games this year.

What I say: I’m eliminating that “can’t win on the road” factor from my decision…because if you’re going to make a decision based on the Saints’ 3-5 road record in 2013, then you also have to ding the Eagles for only going 4-4 at home. Let’s pretend those two anomalies cancel each other out. I have to pick the Saints in this game. If all other things are equal, I have to go with the offensive juggernaut that’s been an offensive juggernaut for many years…the genius NFL coach who’s been a genius NFL coach for many years…and the Pro Bowl QB who’s been a Pro Bowl QB for many years. What I’m trying to say is that while the Eagles offense, Chip Kelly and Nick Foles appear to be on the same level as their New Orleans counterparts, I just have to give the nod to the guys who have proved it over and over.

You know why else I love the Saints in this game? Because this just might be the overflowing bandwagon game. The one where 85% of the public money comes in on one team because of one statistic or narrative that gets overplayed in the media. Drew Brees and the Saints can’t win outdoors and they can’t win in the cold weather! Turns out they’ll be forced to play outdoors AND in the cold on Saturday night! They have no chance!

Give me a Saints mini-upset as they win 31-26.

San Diego @ Cincinnati (-7) – Sunday, 10:05am PST

What the numbers say: A little closer than you think, actually. The Bengals check in as the 9th best team in the league (17th on offense, 5th on defense and 12th on special teams). The Chargers got all the way to #12 in the league after their late season push (3rd on offense, 32nd on defense and 15th on special teams). The Bengals also had a solid +125 point differential while the Chargers outscored its opponents by only 48.

Both teams were awesome against the stiffest competition: San Diego went 5-2 against playoff teams (including the week 17 win over Kansas City’s B team), and Cincinnati went 4-0 (including a 17-10 win over San Diego in week 13).

The Bengals obviously have a decided advantage…more so than any team in the first two games we previewed, but considering the magic it took for San Diego to even get into the postseason, the gap’s not as large as you might expect.

What I say: As improbable as it seemed a few weeks ago, I kept telling people I was rooting for San Diego to get that #6 seed over the other teams vying for the spot. My thinking was that the Chargers’ offense would be far more entertaining this weekend than whatever the hell Miami, Baltimore or Pittsburgh could throw out there. Unfortunately I no longer think that’s the case. Remember how there must be at least one blowout in every Wildcard round? This is it. Cincy has been a monster at home this year. I don’t totally distrust Andy Dalton at home. There are so many weapons on that offense now. AND despite the numerous injuries, the Bengal defense has still performed  very well in the second half of the year. I don’t see where the Chargers will get the advantage (and if you point out that Andy Dalton just tossed a cool four interceptions in his team’s final home game one week ago, I will quickly change the subject and look at you like you’re crazy).

I hate to do it because I’m not rooting for this to happen, but I’m seeing a Cincinnati cover and win by a score of 34-13.

San Francisco (-3) @ Green Bay – Sunday, 1:40pm PST

What the numbers say: This is a pointless exercise for this game. Aaron Rodgers’ half-season injury makes any numbers Green Bay put up in 2013 completely useless. The Packers were 21st in total DVOA (9th on offense, 31st on defense and 19th on special teams). San Francisco was the 6th best team (8th on offense, 13th on defense and 7th on special teams). The 49ers were certainly much more balanced. And that second-to-last rated defense for Green Bay is scary. You can’t blame too much of that on Rodgers’ injury (sure you can blame some…not as many long offensive drives leading to a more tired defense, etc, etc, etc).

The point differential is another useless stat this time around: San Francisco’s was +134 (the 3rd best mark in football), Green Bay’s was -11 (the only team in the negative in the playoffs).

Somewhat surprisingly, both teams were terrible against playoff teams. The Packers were 0-3 (one of those losses coming when Rodgers was out) and the 49ers were 2-4 (including an opening-weekend win over these Packers in San Francisco).

It’s probably best to ignore all stats related to Green Bay’s season when picking this game.

What I say: It seems like almost every year a wildcard team that won 11 games in the regular season is forced to travel to a divisional champ that finished with only seven, eight or nine wins. And every time, we all bet heavily on the road favorite because “how could they possibly lose??” And every time, we’re proven wrong. Don’t you remember Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23 during the 2011 playoffs? The one where Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Broncos got a huge overtime win against the 12-4 Steelers. Or how about the 2010 playoffs? There was outrage that the 11-5 Saints had to travel all the way to Seattle to face the 7-9 division-winning Seahawks. What a slap in the face. Except that Seattle won by five.

What am I trying to say? That I think Aaron Rodgers finally gets his revenge on San Francisco for not drafting him in 2005 (and more recently, revenge for three straight 49er wins over the Packers, including last year’s embarrassing playoff blowout at Candlestick Park).

Rather than flip a coin on this game, which is what I really want to do, I’m going to use the weather as the final deciding factor. I hear it’s supposed to be something like -45 with the windchill when this game kicks off on Sunday night. I’ll take Rodgers in the elements and count on an incredible 38-35 win for the Packers (and if I turn it out to be wrong, maybe Green Bay will at least only lose by 1-2 points so we can still complete the four-cover weekend).

Just for shits and giggles, here are my girlfriend’s picks for Wildcard weekend:

  • Indianapolis (-1) over Kansas City: “Because every time I pick KC they lose, and most of the time that I pick Indianapolis they win. Natural conclusion, Indy wins.
  • New Orleans (+3) over Philadelphia: “The Saints are one of the teams I tend towards usually, and Philly is one of the teams I tend away from…for no real reason.”
  • San Diego (+7) over Cincinnati: “Cincinnati probably got some snow this week so maybe their muscles are tight from all the practicing in the cold? That’s not good for your body.”
  • San Francisco (-3) over Green Bay: “I just feel like San Francisco wins so much.”

Enjoy the Wildcard round. Hopefully we get some actual wildness this year.

Movie Reviews: A Predictable Disappointment & The Best Movie of 2013

american hustle

Maybe on this New Year’s Day you’ve decided to wait out the hangover by heading to the movie theater. It’s not the worst play to be when you’re recovering from too much partying: It’s dark, the seats are generally comfortable, you’re actually encouraged to eat greasy junk food, and you don’t have to speak to other humans.

Or maybe one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to see more movies (that’s a weird one, try harder next time).

Either way, I wanted to weigh in on two movies I’ve recently seen in the theater: Anchorman 2 and American Hustle. 

Anyone who’s already seen these two movies knows it’s a travesty to compare them. One of them is an over-the-top, zany, hilarious and clever film featuring some of the finest actors Hollywood has to offer. And the other one is Anchorman 2.

Let’s just knock this out of the way quickly: Anchorman 2 wasn’t very good. You can convince me that there were enough individual funny moments to make seeing the movie worthwhile, but if you try to argue that it comes anywhere near the brilliance of the original Anchorman, you’ve lost all credibility with me forever. Maybe in similar fashion to the first Anchorman, this latest installment will prove better the more I watch it. But we’ll have to wait and see. For now, I remain unimpressed. I don’t think I laughed once during the opening 25 minutes, and I was secretly rooting for the film to take a drastic turn where it would focus solely on Brick Tamland & Chani’s amazingly awkward love (Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig).

Don’t see this movie in the theater. Save it for a Netflix night when you only want to laugh a little bit. On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I give it a 4.5 out of 10. 

Now that we’ve gotten than bit of unpleasantness out of the way, let’s turn our attention American Hustle, a comedy-drama crime film that will most certainly be getting some Oscar nominations, both for its actors and its director/screenwriters.

Like other David O. Russell films, it’s tough to do the plot justice via a written description. The movie’s loosely based on an FBI operation from the 1970s (so loosely based, in fact, that the movie opens with these words on the screen: “Some of this actually happened”) that involves a couple of con artists working with the Feds to entrap some of New Jersey’s greedier politicians. Except that the FBI agent leading the operation is almost as incompetent and distractable as the con artists he’s supposed to be in charge of. And while Christian Bale’s con artist Irving Rosenfeld and Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent Richie DiMaso appear to be the people in charge of this cat-and-mouse game, it’s really the women that make the big moves and drive the story. Amy Adams is fantastic as Bale’s partner who ends up in the middle of everything, but Jennifer Lawrence steals the show as Bale’s bitter and unstable wife. I’d estimate Lawrence only had 20 minutes of screen time in this entire movie, but she was so good, she’d better win Best Supporting Actress at the 86h Academy Awards in March or else.. (or else what? Or else I will never attend the Academy Awards no matter how bad they want me there. That’s how serious I am about this.)

If the previous paragraph didn’t sound like much of a plot description, that’s because it’s impossible to appropriately capture all the madcap zaniness of this film. Just know that it was super entertaining the entire time, the acting was amazing and the twists and turns at the end completely legitimize this movie as a crime drama.

You should see this movie if: You enjoy incredible movies; you liked other David O. Russell films; you enjoy seeing today’s best actors submitting possibly their best work of their careers; you gravitate towards movies that have the perfect amount of comedy, drama and intelligent plot; you’re as obsessed with Jennifer Lawrence as I now am; you appreciate outrageous comb-overs and perms; you want to see the most glorious usage of constant side boob ever seen on screen.

You should not see this movie if: I don’t know, actually…if you hate good entertainment, I guess?

On the RWS, I give it a 9.5 out of 10. This is now the highest-rated film of all time using the RWS.

Poor Wolf of Wall Street…before I even see it I know it doesn’t stand a chance to match wits with American Hustle.

2013 in Review: My Best & Worst NFL Predictions

2013 crystal ball

Yesterday was supposed to be the final day to look back on 2013, but I couldn’t help myself. So many sports analysts/columnists/experts don’t hold themselves accountable for the outrageous predictions they make at the beginning of a sports season. But I spent the last day of the year digging through my archives to find my predictions that were spot on and the ones that were…terrible.

So let’s take one final stroll down 2013’s memory lane…

Best of the AFC Predictions

  • On Denver: “Demaryius Thomas could force his way to the top of the NFL’s WR rankings in ’13.” (His finishing WR ranks: 1st in touchdowns, 9th in receptions, 4th in yards, 1st in yards after catch)
  • On Denver again: “Another 1 seed for Denver.”
  • On Miami: “The Dolphin’s ceiling is 8-8..Tannehill isn’t good even though people talk like he is.” (Admittedly, Tannehill was better in 2013, but he still didn’t crack the top 20 for quarterbacks in completion percentage and passer rating)
  • On New England: “Anyone who thinks their offense won’t skip a beat just because they’ve looked good in the preseason is delusional, naive or in denial. There will be struggles for sure…12-4 seems right.”
  • Team’s records I nailed: Buffalo (6-10), New England (12-4)
  • Playoff seedings I nailed: #1 Denver, #2 New England

Worst of the AFC Predictions

  • On Cincinnati: “9-7 but no playoffs.”
  • On Cleveland: “What if Weeden becomes slightly above average? What if Richardson makes a significant leap in year two? …They could be a surprise division winner. Call me crazy, but I’m going 9-7 for this team.”
  • On Houston: “Seven automatic wins…they’l finish 9-7 and make no noise in the playoffs.” (Technically I could argue putting this in the “best” section because they won’t be making any noise in the playoffs.)
  • On Kansas City: “I’m fine with some improvement, but not playoff-level improvement. 6-10 for the Chiefs.”
  • On the Jets: “This team stinks and won’t do better than 5-11.” (But it’s true!! They do stink!!)

Best of the NFC Predictions

  • On Carolina: “I made a bet in Vegas on Carolina to win the Super Bowl at 40/1 odds.” (Their updated odds as we head into week 1 of the playoffs? 10/1.)
  • On Dallas: “You can pencil them in for 8-8.”
  • On Detroit: “You’ve gotta account for several losses due to boneheaded plays or being underprepared. Don’t see this team making a serious playoff run until they replace the head coach.”
  • On Green Bay: “Their underwhelming playoff results the last two years might allow them to fly under the radar, but don’t sleep on a team that went a combined 27-5 over the past two regular seasons.” (OK, so even I didn’t think they’d fly this far under the radar with that 8-7-1 record.)
  • Team’s records I nailed: Dallas (8-8), St. Louis (7-9), San Francisco (12-4)
  • Playoff seedings I nailed: #1 Seattle, #5 San Francisco

Worst of the NFC Predictions

  • On Arizona: “I honestly think they only have two winnable games, but I’ll give them a 6-10 record because I might be underrating their defense.”
  • On Atlanta: “Significant home field advantage. 10-6 seems right.” (Their final record: 4-12 overall and only 3-5 at home.)
  • On Carolina: “8-8 is doable but I’m actually going with 6-10 for the Panthers because I don’t think they can keep up offensively”
  • On Tampa: “9-7 with an extremely fun offense to watch.” (I doubt any sane person can call anything about that Bucs season “fun.”)
  • On Washington: “Isn’t Washington to win it all at 33/1 odds somewhat intriguing…I say 11-5 and a deep playoff run.” (Wow, ouch, terrible.)

Worse than any of that…

  • On Atlanta: “A tough division might cause them to limp into the playoffs looking more like a pretender than a contender, but the key is just getting there. Atlanta will improbably move through the NFC bracket while the AFC essentially goes as expected. Atlanta beats Denver in the Super Bowl. Count on it.” (Four months later, I’m no longer willing to recommend that you count on this exact Super Bowl matchup. Just a hunch.)

Best of Individual Player Predictions

  • “I’m going with Peyton Manning to lead the league in passing yards.”
  • “I’m going with Peyton Manning to win the 2013 MVP award, and sadly I think that offense might look like the 2007 Patriots when it’s all said and done.”
  • “I’m saying Josh Freeman is the first quarterback benched due to ineffectiveness.” (I may have been wrong about mostly everything else, but you gotta admit, I NAILED these QB predictions!)

Worst of Individual Player/Coach Predictions

  • Doug Martin is my 2013 rushing champ.” (Hey, he was only 1151 yards shy of LeSean McCoy’s league-leading rushing total.)
  • “I think Cleveland wins the AFC North, and if they do that, Rob Chudzinski automatically wins Coach of the Year so that’s who I’m picking.” (Worst prediction ever?)
  • I predicted Titans owner Bud Adams wouldn’t live to see the end of the 2013 season. (Technically I was right and this belongs in the “best of” section, but it just feels wrong to accurately predict someone’s death, so I’m sticking it on the “worst of” list instead.)

So if you’re keeping score at home, it turns out I’m even worse at preseason predictions than I am at in-season against the spread picks. I’m the worst.

But look out for my AFC & NFC playoff predictions later this week…I can’t be any worse than the regular season!